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2016 July

31

Jul
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Wild Berries by Julie Flett

On 31, Jul 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Wild BerriesWild Berries written and illustrated by Julie Flett

From Goodreads: Spend the day picking wild blueberries with Clarence and his grandmother. Meet ant, spider, and fox in a beautiful woodland landscape, the ancestral home of author and illustrator Julie Flett. This book is written in both English and Cree, in particular the n-dialect, also known as Swampy Cree from the Cumberland House area.

Wild Berries is such a charming story about a little boy and his grandmother going out to collect blueberries. The two enjoy nature, each other’s company, and of course blueberries. Grandma likes soft sweet ones, while Clarence likes large sour ones.

Flett’s illustrations have this very modern quality to them that is just beautiful. They are simple but not simplistic and there is always plenty to look at. I love her use of a muted, natural palette. It fits well with the wild berry picking story. She also employs textures very effectively. They seem to draw your eye around the page and to important details.

The typography in the book is also incredibly stunning. It stuck out to me in a way few other books have. Certain key words are pulled out of the text and placed on their own line in a more fanciful font. This is then echoed with the word written in the Swampy Cree dialect in the same font, but this time in red. (There is a very interesting note at the beginning and end about the Cree dialect used in the book.)

The book is, at least to American audiences, akin to Blueberries for Sal and if you are looking for diverse books to incorporate into your curriculum you could certainly use this one in place of Blueberries or in tandem with it. I would recommend this to parents looking to diversify their bookshelves too. Make space in your budget and on your shelves for this one.

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30

Jul
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: The Best Eid Ever by Asma Mobin-Uddin

On 30, Jul 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

The Best Eid EverThe Best Eid Ever written by Asma Mobin-Uddin, illustrated by Laura Jacobsen

From Goodreads: This Eid, Aneesa should be happy. But, her parents are thousands of miles away for the Hajj pilgrimage. To cheer her up, her Nonni gives her a gift of beautiful clothes, one outfit for each of the three days of Eid. At the prayer hall, Aneesa meets two sisters who are dressed in ill-fitting clothes for the holiday. She soon discovers that the girls are refugees – they had to leave everything behind when they left their native country to live in America. Aneesa, who can’t stop thinking about what Eid must be like for them, comes up with a plan – a plan to help make it the best Eid holiday ever.

The Best Eid Ever provides a lot of fodder for discussion with children. Aneesa is privileged in that her family is clearly financially secure. Not only have her parents gone off on hajj from the US, Aneesa gets several new outfits for Eid and there is plenty of food on the table. Contrast this with the refugee family she meets at the mosque. They have little food, one parent, and old clothes.

I know kids don’t need Messages in their books, but I do think there is a time and place for them, and a book that focuses on a holiday that encourages generosity is certainly one of those places. It is never heavy handed. Aneesa decides to do a good deed by sharing both food and clothing with the girls she has met. At first the refugee father is reluctant to take hand outs, but his daughters convince him that it’s okay to accept a helping hand.

The refugee family in the book would be a great conversation opener about the Syrian refugee crisis we’re currently seeing. I’m sure most of our kids are not blind to it. The book itself is longer with a fair amount of text on each page making it well suited to a second or even third grade age, which is also a good age to start talking to our students and children about these difficult issues (if you haven’t already).

This is certainly a worthwhile book for libraries to add to their holiday collections. Even though it’s about a Muslim holiday, the themes of generosity and compassion are not limited to Muslims and make it a book any child can learn from. As with The Perfect Gift, this is about Eid al-Adha, not Eid al-Fitr (Ramadan Eid), so be aware of this when shelving and cataloging it.

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29

Jul
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Sing With Me! illustrated by Naoko Stoop

On 29, Jul 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Sing With MeSing With Me!: Action Songs Every Child Should Know illustrated by Naoko Stoop

From cover flap: It’s never too early to sing with your child. In this beautifully illustrated collection, thirteen favorite action songs, including “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”, “Itsy-Bitsy Spider”, and “Pat-a-Cake”, are brought to life with sweet animals characters and charming scenes. The perfect gift for new babies — and toddlers, too!

I should start by saying I like this book (which of course you now know I’m going to be critical). The choice of rhymes are certainly reminiscent of my childhood (I do acknowledge later that that may not be the case for everyone!). The illustrations are darling. Joyous little children and animals dance across the pages. The illustrations are also done on sheets of plywood. This gives them an incredibly visually interesting texture and background. I was excited because the illustrator is Asian and I want to support diverse authors and illustrators (since a lot of books about other cultures and people are still written by white authors and illustrators). The children on the front (and to some extent inside) are also visually diverse and I’m always looking for natural, incidental diversity.

Here’s the other shoe dropping, though. First of all the rhymes/actions are all pretty standard. I have at least four other books in my personal collection that have these same rhymes and more. I don’t think we have as many nursery rhyme books in our school library. I suspect the rhymes all come from the Western European tradition. Which then begs the question, why are they songs all children should know? Sure, they’re fine and many of us know them, but I wish it had been a little more inclusive. Even if that meant translations of other rhymes.

And for a book titles Sing With Me! there is a distinct lack of music in the book. None of the songs include a tune or music telling you how to sing them. I think it would be a fair argument that a lot of people can’t read music, but I think a lot of us are familiar with a handful of children’s tunes (“Hokey Pokey”, “Twinkle Twinkle”, etc.) and a note telling the reader to sing the words to one of these familiar tunes would work just as well. Some of the rhymes are meant to be chanted, not sung (Pat-a-cake, I’m looking at you). And can “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” really be considered an action rhyme if you’re simply pointing at the stars or gazing at them? I know this stuff is kind of nit-picky, but I was hoping for a book that had music and more interesting actions to go with lyrics and I think the title and description are bit misleading.

I think it’s worth adding to collections only if you have the money and if you are lacking in books with action rhymes/traditional nursery rhymes. I actually think both of these were true for us so I’m fine having purchased it.

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28

Jul
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Middle Grade Review: Half a Man by Michael Morpurgo

On 28, Jul 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Half a ManHalf a Man by Michael Morpurgo

From Goodreads: From a young age, Michael was both fascinated by and afraid of his grandfather. Grandpa’s ship was torpedoed during the Second World War, leaving him with terrible burns. Every time he came to stay, Michael was warned by his mother that he must not stare, he must not make too much noise, he must not ask Grandpa any questions about his past. As he grows older, Michael stays with his grandfather during the summer holidays, and as he finally learns the story behind Grandpa’s injuries, he gets to know the real man behind the solemn figure from his childhood. Michael can see beyond the burns, and this gives him the power to begin healing some of the scars that have divided his family for so long.

This was such an interesting book. It was a very simple, but very deep. It looked at World War II from the perspective of its lasting impact on veteran’s families. Michael’s grandfather was badly burned while fighting in the Pacific and both his mental trauma, particularly how it made him feel about himself, and his physical change, make his life a struggle. People are afraid of him, his wife leaves him, and he is frequently angry. His daughter was afraid of him and at first his grandson was too.

But here is where the story really takes off. Michael, in visiting his grandfather, begins to look past the scars and taciturn attitude. He realizes they share a lot in common including a love of being together quietly. The grandfather becomes a friend to Michael and finds some redemption for the botched childhood of his daughter and his failed marriage. He begins to share his wounds and his regrets with Michael and his mother. I wouldn’t say life becomes grand and rosy, but the two find a deep connection and love that is the star of the story.

World War II books seem popular at any level, but I would say it’s best suited to middle and high school. Even adults could enjoy it (I certainly did). There isn’t anything overly gruesome in the story, it’s just deeper than I think most young readers are going to read and I don’t think they’ll find it particularly interesting.

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27

Jul
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: My New Mom and Me by Renata Galindo

On 27, Jul 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

My New Mom and MeMy New Mom & Me written and illustrated by Renata Galindo

From Goodreads: When a puppy comes to live with his new mom, he is nervous. After all, his mom has stripes and he doesn’t. But his mom says she likes that they look different, and soon the puppy likes it, too. (And who cares what anyone else thinks!)
The puppy’s new mom does all the things other parents do. She plays with him, takes care of him, and sometimes even makes him mad! But that’s okay, because when he’s feeling sad, she knows just what to say.

Over the summer I have been weeding in our picture book collection. The shelves are practically bursting with books and we needed room! The project gave me an opportunity to flip through all our picture books and get sense of what is in our collection. I was pleasantly surprised by the diversity I saw (I still think it could be better, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been). One thing I was surprised by were a handful of books that represented families with adopted children.

Just before school ended I purchased My New Mom and Me. We have a variety of family structures at our school and I’m trying to get books on the shelves the directly represent them and also positively show that not every family has a married mom and dad and blood-related child(ren).

I liked that this book shows what appears to be a slightly older child being adopted. The adoption books I noticed in our collection and that I’ve seen around tend to focus on babies and toddlers being adopted. But older kids can be adopted too and it I’m glad to have a book that reflects that reality.

The illustrations feature the color palette you see on the cover. They are fairly simple and clean, but feel very cozy to me. Galindo has used shadow very effectively in several of the illustrations to denote sadness and a feeling of disconnect and worry. But in all, the illustrations are comforting and gentle.

I am still a little unsure about the fact that the two characters are animals. It doesn’t bother me personally and I know plenty of children who choose animal books over people books (my own daughter included), so I think you could think of this as an adoption book for those kids. Still, it distances the reader a bit from what is going on. I would be curious to know why Galindo chose to depict her characters that way. I suspect it has to do with making it clear they do not appear related, which is how I read it, but it may not have been her reasoning.

The book is as much about fitting in with a new family, particularly when you don’t look like them, as it is about familial love and acceptance. I think children who are not adopted will find as much to love in this book as children who are. Mom loves Puppy even when he’s naughty, even when he’s sad. That is such a comforting message for kids to see. I also think this could be a book to gently introduce adoption to kids who are unfamiliar with the concept.

I would recommend this to most libraries. Think about how you feel about the depiction of the two as animals versus people. You may get varying mileage out of that depending on your community. I certainly recommend it if you don’t have many or any books about adoption and featuring adopted kids.

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26

Jul
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Middle Grade Review: The Monkey King’s Daughter by T. A. DeBonis

On 26, Jul 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Monkey King's Daughter

The Monkey King’s Daughter written by T. A. DeBonis

From Goodreads: The Monkey King’s Daughter isn’t about Sun Wukong, the Monkey King – it’s about his daughter, Meilin. Only, Meilin doesn’t know she’s the Monkey King’s daughter. In fact, she doesn’t know she’s half-monkey at all. As far as Meilin knows, she’s an ordinary 14 year-old high school freshman from Midland Hills, California, facing all the problems that bright young girls face at that age- flakey girlfriends, zits, too much homework, bad hair, obnoxious boys… But all of that changes when her ancient past catches up with her. (And she thought high school was gonna be easy…)

Today I have another great self published series. I said in another recent review that I am getting rather tired of Greek mythology. Because of Percy Jackson it seems to be everywhere. As a kid I went through a phase where I was into Greek mythology and I still enjoy it, but there is a lot of really interesting mythology out there (I was always way more fascinated with Egyptian mythology) and I wish I had been able to discover it as a young reader. The Monkey King’s Daughter is based in Chinese stories of the Monkey King. If you’ve read Gene Luen Yang’s American Born Chinese you will be familiar with the myth this book draws on. Plenty of it is explained in the course of the story and will make sense to kids unfamiliar with it.

Despite Melin’s age and the fact that she’s in high school, the book is totally appropriate for upper elementary. It’s perfect for kids who like to age up. I would also highly recommend it for lower readers in middle school. The story is exciting enough, but the reading level isn’t particularly difficult.

The pacing was off in a few places. Most of the time the story plugged along, but there were a couple places where things happened a little quickly, felt rushed, and were glossed over. I think this has less to do with it being self published and more to do with the reading level it’s intended for. I don’t know exactly where it falls, but it’s a little more difficult than beginning chapter books, but not nearly as difficult as Percy Jackson (or as long).

My only other complaint is that when Meilin meets her father for the first time she isn’t awkward or angry or anything. She runs into his arms and they spend an evening star gazing together, enjoying each other’s company. I just had a hard time believing that a kid who hasn’t met her father would feel overwhelming love for a man who was never around. Will most kids care about this? The only kids who might are ones who have not met their fathers or who have experienced meeting them later in life. Does that make the book unworthy? I don’t think so. I doubt most kids who will tear through the adventure in this will mind that it isn’t totally authentic. Just be aware it may fall a little flat for some readers.

I really hope this story leads kids to the original Monkey King stories from the different parts of Asia. They’re very exciting and funny. Meilin takes some things in stride, but she was a very realistic kid. She didn’t suddenly become good at everything when she discovered her heritage and fell into her adventure. This is the first in a series and I’ll be buying the rest (I bought the first to try it out). It’s well worth having on our library shelves, particularly if you have kids who love mythology (we all have Riordan fans) and kids who like action.

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25

Jul
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Kidlit Review: The Wild Book by Margarita Engle

On 25, Jul 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

The Wild BookThe Wild Book by Margarita Engle

From Goodreads: Fefa struggles with words. She has word blindness, or dyslexia, and the doctor says she will never read or write. Every time she tries, the letters jumble and spill off the page, leaping and hopping away like bullfrogs. How will she ever understand them? But her mother has an idea. She gives Fefa a blank book filled with clean white pages. “Think of it as a garden,” she says. Soon Fefa starts to sprinkle words across the pages of her wild book. She lets her words sprout like seedlings, shaky at first, then growing stronger and surer with each new day. And when her family is threatened, it is what Fefa has learned from her wild book that saves them.

Margartia Engle writes the most beautiful novels in verse. In The Wild Book she draws on her family history to tell the story of Fefa who is dyslexic. I think this alone makes the book worth having on the shelf for the one or two kids who struggle with dyslexia and need to see themselves and their struggles in the pages of a book. Fefa is bound and determined, but constantly discouraged by her lack of progress, and I think she could be a very relatable character. I can’t speak to how accurately the disability is presented, but Engle does appear to have drawn directly out of family stories about her so I suspect she is pretty close to accurate in depicting her great aunt.

The story beyond Fefa is interesting, but fairly quiet. Fefa is growing up in a small village with a large family. They are squabbles and mean sisters. One brother ends up injured in a pretty severe accident and becomes Fefa’s teacher. He isn’t particularly sensitive to Fefa’s difficulty reading, but he pushes her and eventually she comes to appreciate how he is helping her. There is some sense of danger in the book precipitated by historical events that might pique kids’ interest, but the tension is fairly low in the book itself. Kids who like quite books will enjoy this story.

I don’t see the kids picking these up off the shelf on their own too often (I like the cover, but I’m not sure it appeals to kids), but to me that means we need to do a better job of talking them up and drawing attention to them. I’ve said many times, novels in verse (and graphic novels) are good alternative formats that work well for reluctant readers. This one even more so because some of those reluctant readers may be struggling with a learning disability that makes reading difficult.

I think I put this on the summer reading list for fourth grade, but I can’t quite remember. I’m hoping some kids read it and it hooks them into the format and the author. We actually have two copies of the book in the library. I recommend it if you have kids who like this format and if you have reluctant readers you are looking at hooking. I also suggest it if you have students that like slice of life, realistic fiction. It’s fairly inexpensive so I think it would be well worth giving a try if for no other reason than to have more representation of learning disability on the shelves. If you hand sell it, it will get read.

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24

Jul
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Middle Grade Review: Lowriders to the Center of the Earth by Cathy Camper

On 24, Jul 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

LowridersLowriders to the Center of the Earth written by Cathy Camper, illustrated by Raul the Third

From Goodreads: The lovable trio from the acclaimed Lowriders in Space are back! Lupe Impala, Elirio Malaria, and El Chavo Octopus are living their dream at last. They’re the proud owners of their very own garage. But when their beloved cat Genie goes missing, they need to do everything they can to find him. Little do they know the trail will lead them to the realm of Mictlantecuhtli, the Aztec god of the Underworld, who is keeping Genie prisoner! With cool Spanish phrases on every page, a glossary of terms, and an action-packed plot that sneaks in science as well as Aztec lore, Lowriders to the Center of the Earth is a linguistic and visual delight. ¡Que suave!

I love, love, love these books. They are so much fun. The first book featured themes of friendship, culture, adventure, and perseverance and the second also has these. They make for a really enjoyable story. It’s not necessary to have read the first book, but kids should read it anyways because it’s is also such a great story.

In this one there is a lot of Aztec mythology worked into the story. The culture is so fluidly written in (not surprisingly, but it’s refreshing to read that). This would make Lowriders a great suggestion for kids who want to read mythology, but are not ready for the task of Percy Jackson (plus I’m really bored with Greek mythology, it’s everywhere). Camper has even thrown in a bit about rock science by using some pretty silly, pun-ny jokes.

The art. Oh my gosh, the art! Raul the Third is incredible. I believe, as with the first book, the pictures are done with ball point pens! I can’t even. How does he turn out such amazing illustrations with just three or four colors? And ball point pens? Not exactly fine artistic tools, but his art is incredible. Each picture and panel is full of interesting details, little jokes, and humor.

An added bonus, this is a bit science fiction-y and we need more of that in our collection. The graphic novel format is a great way to hook in reluctant readers, as are the subjects of adventure and cars. I’ve already bought a copy for the library and highly recommend it for anyone with students third grade and up.

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23

Jul
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Kidlit Review: Manatee Rescue by Nicola Davies

On 23, Jul 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Manatee RescueManatee Rescue by Nicola Davies

From Goodreads: Manuela had imagined that killing a manatee would be like killing a very big fish, just more exciting. But when her father successfully harpoons one, leaving its baby orphaned, she finds that her feelings have changed. She vows to rescue the baby manatee and return it to the river. But she soon realizes what an enormous task she’s taken on. Will she be able to save the baby manatee—and protect him from being hunted in the future, too?

I was surprised by the author on this one. I am familiar with her picture books and wondered how she would handle a chapter book. I was a little worried about a white author writing about a rural population in Colombia. And then it’s about conservation which can be contentious with poor, rural people. I wasn’t sure if it would read like someone denigrating the people trying to survive or imposing white values on a society that sees the world differently. I would love to hear someone who has a better sense of these things chime in, but I thought Davies did a fine job telling the story.

The writing was good and the story well told. She tackles the idea that the people are poor and reliant on the land, but that they would have reasons to want to join conservation movements. The story is actually based partially on a true story and a real manatee conservation organization. Airuwe is a real manatee who was rescued. I think that lends the story some authenticity that might have otherwise been hard to capture. Davies never made the people seem backwards or ignorant. She didn’t dwell on their poverty. While Manuela cares for the manatee baby she is watched by her village. She respectfully tries to teach them about why they might want to save Airuwe and manatees in general. Moreover, most of the villagers come to the conclusion that they shouldn’t hunt manatees on their own.

I liked that Manuela was not a hero per se. She did what felt right to her. The first scene where she and her father hunt and kill the mother manatee is not graphic, but it changes her. She realizes what it means to take the life of an animal and she decides she needs to save the baby.

Manatee Rescue reminds me of Tiger Boy by Mitali Perkins. If that one is popular in your library you should definitely purchase this one. Both are great books about animal conservation. This would make a good addition to a library that has kids interested in animals and conservation. There is a bit of back matter in this one that discusses manatees and their precarious situation across the globe. It also shares a bit about conservation efforts along the Amazon.

There are some sweet black and white water color pictures sprinkled into the book. They don’t add a whole lot to the book, but they are charming. I am not wild about the cover and I am curious if that is the correct kind of manatee. There are three kinds apparently and that one looks like the ones I’ve seen in Florida and it appears to be missing the distinctive white chest patch of Amazonian manatees.

I will definitely be buying this one for out mellow yellow section. It’s the transition from chapter books into the honest-to-goodness fiction section. We have books like The One and Only Ivan shelved there. In theory it could probably go in our transitional chapter book section. It isn’t terribly difficult and it clocks in at just under 100 pages. It would be one of our harder chapter books which is why I think I would bump it up. Either way it’s a good addition to those kids working their way into harder fiction books.

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22

Jul
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Zachariah’s Perfect Day by Farrah Qazi

On 22, Jul 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Zachariah's Perfect DayZachariah’s Perfect Day written by Farrah Qazi, illustrated by Durre Waseem

From Goodreads: The book discusses the typical routine of Muslim families who fast during the month of Ramadan. It explains the purpose and benefit of fasting. It also includes stories and recipes of special treats to eat during Ramadan.

Zachariah’s Perfect Day chronicles one day in Ramadan. Zachariah is practicing fasting for a day for the first time and he is incredibly excited. The day comes with it’s challenges, but Zachariah meets them with a positive attitude. The story is a bit of a hybrid of plot and informational text. Based on the note from the author and the description of the book (there was more text that I didn’t copy over from Goodreads) made it seem that this hybrid was intentional. It was not jarring or awkward, by any means and I think it struck a decent balance for explaining to non-Muslims what Ramadan is all about and giving the Muslims enough of a story to see themselves in (please chime in if you don’t agree!).

The illustrations are okay. They could use higher resolution images, because some of them are pixelated. I really love all the background patterns. Each two-page spread has a some kind of design. It might be distracting to some readers, but I loved looking at all the colors and designs. The patterns did affect the layout because the text needed to be on a white background and placing the text boxes and illustrations felt cluttered in a couple places.

The text isn’t overly complicated, but there is a fair amount and it balances out the pictures on each page. I think that makes this better suited to slightly older readers (2nd-4th grade or even 5th).

The recipe at the back for parathas sound delicious, but doesn’t have a very thorough ingredient list or set of instructions. It calls for flour to be made into a dough using water. Presumably that means you should mix in enough water to the flour to make a dough, but how much flour? How sticky should the dough be? How much water? If you aren’t already a cook, this will be an impossible recipe to figure out.

The book is self published which comes with one big problem: the binding. It’s stapled and paperback. I’m not sure how well this would hold up in somewhere like a public library where it could potentially get a lot of use. I also worry that it will get lost on our shelves since it’s so thin. Still, I bought a copy because we need books about Islam and Muslim holidays written by Muslims. I want good things on our shelves to share with all our students and I want to support these authors and illustrators. I don’t need perfect, just good and I think Zachariah’s Perfect Day fits the bill.

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