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2016 June

20

Jun
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: The Have a Good Day Cafe by Frances and Ginger Park

On 20, Jun 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Good Day CafeHave a Good Day Cafe written by Frances and Ginger Park, illustrated by Katherine Potter

From Goodreads: Early each morning Mike and his family drive to the city with their food cart. They sell bagels and orange juice for breakfast, hot dogs and pizza for lunch. Mike passes the time by drawing pictures, and Grandma sits in the shade, fanning herself and missing life back home in Korea.One day two other food carts show up on the family’s street corner. All summer long business dwindles away, and Mike’s worried parents start thinking about giving up their cart. Now it’s up to Mike, and Grandma, to find a way to bring back their customers.

This was a really sweet story featuring a family business and three generations. The ending is maybe a wee bit unrealistic, but children will appreciate that it’s Mike, the boy, who figures out how to save his family’s food cart business.

One thing I particularly like about this book is that it shows a Korean family looking like any other family. They live in contemporary America and look like it. Even the grandmother doesn’t wear traditional clothing which makes the family look like the Korean families I know and that might read this book. They don’t look like immigrants or some “other” that is exotic and intended to be gawked at. The story does encourage embracing your own culture, but could just as easily be read as encouraging sharing your culture.

I know it can be dicey to teach culture through food, but I think it’s a really great way to get kids interested so long as you continue to delve more deeply into the culture. The Have a Good Day Cafe would be a great start to looking at Korean food and culture. It would also be a great book to trot out at Grandparents Day, a holiday our school celebrates.

I added this one to our summer reading lists and will be adding it to the collection in the fall. I am hoping our second grade uses it with their Asian cultures study, but it would make a great read aloud. The length probably makes it better for a group of first or second graders, but there’s no reason it couldn’t be shared with younger kids.

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19

Jun
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Leo: A Ghost Story by Mac Barnett

On 19, Jun 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

LeoLeo: A Ghost Story written by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Christian Robinson

From Goodreads: You would like being friends with Leo. He likes to draw, he makes delicious snacks, and most people can’t even see him. Because Leo is also a ghost. When a new family moves into his home and Leo’s efforts to welcome them are misunderstood, Leo decides it is time to leave and see the world. That is how he meets Jane, a kid with a tremendous imagination and an open position for a worthy knight. That is how Leo and Jane become friends. And that is when their adventures begin.

There is something about this story and the illustrations that, although they are thoroughly modern, feels very timeless and classic. I guess it harkens back to the Georgie books for me, all of which I read and loved as a child.

It’s Mac Barnett, so it’s funny. Christian Robinson’s illustrations are so charming. But despite it’s subtitle, this isn’t a scary or creepy story. It’s a lovely book about friendship and acceptance. Leo is completely misunderstood by the family that moves into his old home. When he sets out in search of bigger better situations he comes across Jane who not only can see him, but strikes up a friendship with him. Ultimately Leo saves the day when a robber breaks into Jane’s apartment.

Robinson talked a little bit about the book in his Effie Lee Morris Lecture (you can watch that here, it’s well worth it) and noted that people wonder why he put a “white” boy on the cover. He explained that ghosts tend to be white. Excellent point. He went on to say that, make not mistake, despite being technically blue, Jane is black and lives in the ‘hood (his words). Watch the video here, it will start at the spot where he talks about Leo. He makes the excellent point that we need to do our research and not simply rely on covers to tell us if there is diversity in a story, which I think is an important point.

I suggest pairing this with Ghosts in the House by for a not-so-scary Halloween read aloud. Either that or pair it with other friendship books around either the beginning of the year or Valentine’s Day. It would be a refreshing break from all the hearts and pink.

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18

Jun
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Nonfiction Review: Surfer of the Century by Ellie Crowe

On 18, Jun 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Surfer of the CenturySurfer of the Century: The Life of Duke Kahanamoku written by Ellie Crowe, illustrated by Richard Waldrep

From Goodreads: The true story of Hawaiian Duke Kahanamoku, six-time Olympic swimming champion and legendary surfer who popularized surfing around the world.

Considering our diversity numbers in our biography collection, I was surprised we had a copy of this in the library. It’s been on my TBR pile for about a year now and I decided to pick it up just before the end of school and see if it might work for our summer reading lists.

I think kids will really enjoy the story because Kahanamoku was very driven and inspiring. When he couldn’t get into the local surf club because he was native Hawaiian, he and his friends made their own. When he wanted to swim, he hopped in the water and invented a new technique to make himself swim faster. He much preferred being in the water to being in school and I think we all know kids who will relate to that! Be sure to read the notes at the back. The story of how he met his wife is both funny, touching, and surprising.

Besides being a refreshing and much needed book about a Native Hawaiian , a woefully underrepresented culture in children’s literature, that doesn’t involve the hula and coconut palms this is also a book about sports we don’t see a lot of, namely swimming and surfing. I am sure there are plenty of students in my library who, at the very least, swim and would love to see that interest in some of their books. (E.g. we have a lot of baseball and basketball and even quite a bit of football, but not many other sports on our shelves.) I can’t speak to how well it portrays Native Hawaiians, but it does address the discrimination that Kahanamoku faced particularly in sports/swimming. It isn’t unlike many of the African American sports figures from the same era and I highly recommend pairing it with books about Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson and others.

I loved the illustrations in the book. Something about the technique and color palette that gives it a fun, summery feel. It is a picture book biography which means there is a fair amount of text, so in terms of reading level and attention span this is best suited to fourth grade and up but could certainly be read to younger audiences if there is interest. This is the perfect addition to any summer reading list. Not only is Kahanamoku worth reading about, but who doesn’t want to read about swimming, Hawaii, and surfing in the summer?

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17

Jun
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Nonfiction Review: Cesar: Si, Se Puede! Yes, We Can! by Carmen Bernier-Grand

On 17, Jun 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

CesarCesar: Si, Se Puede! Yes, We Can! written by Carmen T. Bernier-Grand, illustrated by David Diaz

From Goodreads: Born in 1927 in Yuma, Arizona, César Chavez lived the hard-scrabble life of a migrant worker during the depression. He grew to be a charismatic leader and founded the National Farm Workers Association, an organization that fought for basic rights for his fellow farm workers.

This is a book we already have in our library and I’m very glad we do. Not only is it a great poetry and picture book biography, but I think in California it’s especially important we have materials on Cesar Chavez and migrant farm workers.

I absolutely love Harvesting Hope by Kathleen Krull and read it out loud to my second and third grade students this past year around Cesar Chavez day. None of them were aware of who Chavez was or what he had done. They were only vaguely aware of the migrant farm workers who plant, tend and pick most of our produce. And we live in California’s Central Valley. Our curriculum does a good job of talking about and presenting slavery and even the Civil Rights Movement (thanks to our music teacher, of all people) but we don’t talk much about the struggles of people other than African Americans.

 

In Cesar the poems got a bit confusing in the middle of Cesar’s life, but either with a little background information (provided by the author’s notes in the back or a teacher) kids won’t have any trouble getting through. Not only does poetry let children approach difficult topics, it can also makes reading feel like a breeze. Short lines, few words on a page, and rhythm and rhyme help those reluctant and struggling readers through a whole book. And yet, it conveys so much. So much emotion and information and story.

I think Cesar is worth having in most library collections, but I would recommend making sure you have more resources about either Chavez or the fight for farm workers. I also recommend having Separate Is Never Equal by Duncan Tonatiuh about Sylvia Mendez. All these books together, in a small strong collection, will give students a more complete picture of the struggle for civil rights and more awareness about where their food comes from.

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16

Jun
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Float by Daniel Miyares

On 16, Jun 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

FloatFloat illustrated by Daniel Miyares

From Goodreads: A little boy takes a boat made of newspaper out for a rainy-day adventure. The boy and his boat dance in the downpour and play in the puddles, but when the boy sends his boat floating down a gutter stream, it quickly gets away from him. So of course the little boy goes on the hunt for his beloved boat, and when the rain lets up, he finds himself on a new adventure altogether.

These are the kinds of books I’m really looking for. Ones where the story features a child of color (or any kind of diversity), but doesn’t draw attention to their diversity. Basically books that don’t default white, cis, able bodied, etc. etc. Those books have their place, but as I’ve noted recently I’m trying to be cautious that all our books that feature diversity don’t create some sort of narrative that makes all African Americans seem like they are poor, single parent homes. Or make the books  seem like books only our black students would want. You get the idea. (The irony of me harping on diversity while looking for books that don’t isn’t lost on me.)

Float is such a beautiful story about adventure, creativity and resiliency. The illustrations are so soft and beautiful. They capture the dreariness of a rainy day, but the pop of yellow of the little boy’s rain coat and boots draw your eye to him as he moves across the page and through the story. It also emphasizes that you can have fun even when the weather isn’t what you expected. Pay special attention to the end papers, they have instructions for folding the boat and kite that you see the boy in the story.

The book is wordless which makes it a little more difficult to use with story time groups, but I think there is plenty of fodder for discussion. We have it in our home library and it’s great for my pre-reader daughter to sit and look at. We have had great success sharing the telling of the story with it too. Just an all around beautiful book for sharing with young audiences (and maybe older ones if you are looking at visual storytelling either as part of language arts or even in a something like a film class). Worth the purchase if you have young patrons. Be prepared to get out the newspaper and rubber boots after reading it.

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15

Jun
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: We Came to America by Faith Ringgold

On 15, Jun 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

We Came to AmericaWe Came to America written and illustrated by Faith Ringgold

From Goodreads: From the Native Americans who first called this land their home, to the millions of people who have flocked to its shores ever since, America is a country rich in diversity. Some of our ancestors were driven by dreams and hope. Others came in chains, or were escaping poverty or persecution. No matter what brought them here, each person embodied a unique gift their art and music, their determination and grit, their stories and their culture. And together they forever shaped the country we all call home.

I definitely liked the message in this one. No matter where our ancestors came from or why they came, we have become Americans. This is one of the few books I’ve seen so far for children that acknowledges that the Native Americans were here first. But it also kind of glosses over that and subsumes everyone into being American, which for the Native Americans isn’t exactly correct. Their history with people coming to America is fraught and they are sovereign nations which means they aren’t really American.

I think in theory the book works to show the diversity of our country that makes us great. It’s also the kind of book that can spark discussion but because of that I hesitate. It needs more context for any kid who reads it. This makes it a good read aloud for class. The repetition of the poem also makes it a good read aloud. The simplicity of it would make it appropriate for preschool or younger, but any older and I hesitate.It feels a bit too much like a book schools would use to make their social studies units more diverse without actually having the harder diversity conversations. If I do buy it, it would go out on the shelf, but I would also make sure it went out to classrooms to be read and was read during storytimes in the library so that all-important context is being addressed.

The folk art feel of the illustrations works for a simple poem about all the disparate pieces that make up our country, but again I’m not sure it strikes the right chord for me. Folk art seems to be pretty white (at least in my experience with it) and I don’t think that’s what Ringgold was going for in creating this book. There was also an illustration where the line of text says  that people came because they were being persecuted in their home countries, but all the people on the page (who look a bit like Jews from the Ellis Island era) are smiling. It was kind of weird.

I guess I recommend this one with reservations at best. I wish I had liked it more because the idea is a good one, but I think it might have simplified the history a bit too much in an attempt to unify us. I also wish I had an alternative to suggest. I think if you have a strong curriculum and strong library collection that features diversity it’s worth looking into purchasing (meaning it might be worth it if your collection and curriculum are already providing the context).

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14

Jun
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Night of the Moon by Hena Khan

On 14, Jun 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Night of the MoonNight of the Moon: A Muslim Holiday Story written by Hena Khan, illustrated by Julie Paschkis

From Goodreads: Yasmeen, a seven-year-old Pakistani-American girl, celebrates the Muslim holidays of Ramadan, “The Night of the Moon” (Chaand Raat), and Eid. With lush illustrations that evoke Islamic art, this beautiful story offers a window into modern Muslim culture—and into the ancient roots from within its traditions have grown.

Night of the Moon is a longer picture book, engaging, but still a bit long. In the line up of Ramadan books we’ve read it hasn’t been my most favorite, but it will make a solid addition to my library’s collection. While the story would be suitable for Muslim families to share there was a lot of defining within the text of “unfamiliar” terms so, to me at least, it felt like a story about Ramadan more for non-Muslim audiences.

BUT the best part of this book is the ending. Yasmeen receives a telescope for Eid! I love any book that promotes science and girls. Yasmeen is super excited to be able to use her new telescope to look at the moon more closely as she’s been following it all month. In fact, this would be a cool book to pair with an older story time that focuses on the moon or to encourage kids to go out and look at the moon. If you or your science department has a telescope that would make a cool library pairing too (I’m thinking specifically of school libraries for that).

I find Julie Paschkis’ illustrations to be charming. I’m not exactly sure what technique she uses, but I love the outlines around shapes and people in her pictures. The colors are bright and inviting even though many of the pictures have blue and green palettes for nighttime. There isn’t a lot of diversity of skin color among the people (they all look very white to me), but since I’ve reviewed a number of other books that look a little more reflective of the diversity in the Muslim community I’ll give this book a pass. The story and illustrations are strong enough.

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13

Jun
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Rashad’s Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr by Lisa Bullard

On 13, Jun 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Rashad's RamadanRashad’s Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr written by Lisa Bullard, illustrated by Holli Conger

From Goodreads: For Muslims, Ramadan is a time for fasting, prayer, and thinking of others. Rashad tries to be good all month. When it’s time for Eid al-Fitr, he feasts and plays! Find out how people celebrate this special time of year.

This was a tricky one. On the one hand there is a very simple text in the book that walks Rashad through Ramadan. There is a story here and it’s not especially didactic, but does specifically talk about Ramadan.

However, there were a lot of side bar boxes that added a lot of information for the non-Muslim. I would have thought it would make the book feel like it was intended for both Muslim and non-Muslim audiences alike, but it didn’t. Maybe it’s because the story is so, so simple (which makes it great for young audiences). Or maybe  It’s just that most Muslims would probably skip the informational boxes and glossary at the end which makes more than half the content in the book irrelevant.

I think this one would make a better supplement to an already strong collection or if you are looking for basic informational books about the holiday. The family is black (it never says they live in America which could make the setting a lot of different places), so if you have a strong black Muslim population in your library you should consider adding it to your collection. For our collection, I’m looking for books that have stories with Muslim families and center around holidays, but are not so informational so I think I’ll pass. I’m also in favor of a smaller, stronger collection versus a large one.

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12

Jun
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Ramadan Moon by Na’ima B Robert

On 12, Jun 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Ramadan MoonRamadan Moon written by Na’ima B Robert, illustrated by Shirin Adi

From Goodreads: Ramadan, the month of fasting, Doesn’t begin all at once. It begins with a whisper. And a prayer. And a wish. Muslims all over the world celebrate Ramadan and the joyful days of Eid-ul-Fitr at the end of the month of fasting as the most special time of year. This lyrical and inspiring picture book captures the wonder and joy of this great annual event, from the perspective of a child.

It was the illustrations that got me on this one. I love them. All that beautiful, colorful, textured paper combined with a bit of coloring and black line drawing. There are a lot of fabric scraps cleverly worked in that add more color and texture and even pages from the Quran are used as a background (I think that’s okay? I’ll defer to the illustrator there and assume she knew what she was doing). It’s all so charming. The colors are bright and friendly and the people are darling. I have to note my daughter told me she wasn’t so fond of the pictures and when asked to elaborate it sounds like we have different tastes in art. :)

The story itself focuses on following the family through the month where the  narrator (presumably the little girl on the cover) shares all the things they do throughout the month like fasting, donating used items to charity, and visiting the mosque. I can’t quite put my finger on what it was, but it just does not come across as explaining the holiday so much as celebrating it and reveling in the joy of the month. It’s definitely not didactic but you still get a very good sense of what the month of Ramadan is and what it means.

The family in the story could be white (they look like the Charlie and Lola characters) or they could be  Iranian (the illustrator grew up in Iran) which makes this a good candidate for talking about how Muslims come in all colors. Again, not that we need to white wash Muslims to help our non Muslim students and children accept them, just another good book to help build a balanced narrative around the religion. Their house looks like any other suburban home with children’s toys, a baby high chair and paisley sofa. Again, the illustrations are just so charming! Another good addition to library collections.

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11

Jun
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Lailah’s Lunchbox by Reem Faruqi

On 11, Jun 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Lailah's LunchboxLailah’s Lunchbox: A Ramadan Story written by Reem Faruqi, illustrated by Lea Lyon

From the publisher: Lailiah’s family has moved to Georgia from Abu Dhabi, and Lailah still misses her friends. Although a lot has changed, good things are happening, too: this year her parents have agreed that she’s old enough to take part in fasting for Ramadan. Lailah won’t be taking her lunchbox to school for a whole month! But Lailah’s excitment turns to worry. Will Mrs. Penworth and her classmates understand that she hasn’t just forgotten her lunch? How can she explain that fasting for Ramadan is an important part of growing up?

According to the author’s note this is based on Reem Faruqi’s own experience as a new immigrant to Georgia. She was worried about whether or not her teacher and classmates would grasp the significance of being allowed to fast all Ramadan for the first time. And she was missing her best friends, a relatable experience for any child who has moved schools, cities, states or countries.

One of the things I really loved about the story was that Lailah was very excited to be allowed to fast. As the author’s note pointed out this is a big step in growing up. Leena in A Party in Ramadan was also excited to be allowed to fast for a day in Ramadan and I suspect Muslim children will like seeing that significance recognized in the pages of a book.

Like A Party in Ramadan, Lailah’s Lunchbox touches on how difficult it can be to fast when others around you are not. Lailah seeks refuge in the library both from her rumbling stomach and from her shyness over sharing why she doesn’t have a lunch. I thought this rang true to the inexplicable and sometimes fickle nature of kids becoming shy over sharing something. Lailah had no particular reason to feel embarrassed about fasting, but she got nervous about what her classmates would think and it became a big deal. I’ve seen kids do this time and again with things ranging from being shy about new shoes to going on fun vacations.

Lailah’s Lunchbox would make an excellent addition to library collections. It’s nice to see other Ramadan stories set here in the contemporary US. As I said before it makes Muslims and Ramadan feel more familiar for non-Muslim kids and looks more familiar to Muslim kids celebrating in our classrooms and libraries. This is particularly true because it is not an informational book clearly designed for non-Mulsim kids, but a book both Muslim and non-Mulsims alike can enjoy.

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