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2016 October



In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Easy Reader Review: When Andy Met Sandy by Tomie dePaola

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

when-andy-met-sandyWhen Andy Met Sandy written by Tomie dePaola, cowritten with Jim Lewis

From Goodreads: Andy is small. Sandy is tall. Andy is quiet. Sandy is LOUD. But when these two seemingly opposites meet at a playground one day, it might just be the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Written in simple words and short, declarative sentences, this book is perfect for little ones just learning to read on their own.

So my own daughter just started reading a week or so ago. She’s been asking about letter sounds and sounding out words for a few months, but she really started putting it together about a week ago. And this has given me a huge new appreciation and perspective on easy readers.

When Andy Met Sandy is a really sweet friendship story between two little kids. They both arrive at the playground where one is new and the other is familiar with it. The see each other and dance around playing with one another because they are both a bit shy and afraid of asking the other to play. They visit different structures that can be played on by individual kids, but eventually end up at the seesaw. Since they both want to play on it they have to ask the other to join. Once they do, they realize they both wanted to play with each other and can have a lot of fun together.

As an introvert and kid who didn’t always want to join in with other kids, I appreciated that the story doesn’t have them miserable and not having fun when playing alone. They do realize they can have fun together, but it isn’t set up as bad that they played alone and worked up the courage to talk to the other child.

Andy is clearly not white, but it isn’t stated or obvious what he is. He has no last name, no parents in sight, and doesn’t speak in another language. It isn’t necessary to have it made clear and I think allows non white kids to read their own identity into Andy’s. I am looking for books that have diversity in them and this certainly fits the bill there.

Finally, the actual reading level. The text is easy. “I am Sandy.” and “I am Andy.” are the first two sentences, but they get a bit more complicated. Easy readers are supposedly designed to be read by an emerging reader, but I find many if not most of them are only for those with a fairly decent working ability to actually read. Children like my daughter who are just learning to read need a lot more predictability in the word/letter sounds (i.e. more short vowel sounds and short words, fewer digraphs and consonant blends). When Andy Met Sandy has some vocabulary that a new reader could sound out (phonetic) and use the pictures to help them figure out more difficult words. But, there is a fair amount of vocabulary that would have to be in a child’s sight word vocabulary (words like through, could, climb, yourself, etc.) or would require an adult sitting next to the child to help tackle those words. Some of them would also require a knowledge, either explicit or internalized, of long vowel patterns.

This is on the easier end of what I have in my library collection, but it still requires some ability to read. I do need books like that because they are few and far between in our actual collection (our classroom libraries have a lot more targeted and leveled books that help develop reading skill). Andy’s ethnicity and the sweet story also make this an excellent addition to any easy reader collection.

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In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: That’s Not Fair! by Danielle McLaughlan

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

thats-not-fairThat’s Not Fair!: Getting to Know Your Rights and Freedoms written by Danielle McLaughlan, illustrated by Dharmali Patel

From Goodreads: This unique addition to the CitizenKid collection, written by by Danielle S. McLaughlin, provides an accessible exploration of the rights and freedoms of citizens in a democracy through a series of six short stories starring Mayor Moe and the councillors of a sometimes wacky city. In each story, the councillors are first presented with a problem, and the group then makes a decision to address the problem with a new law, only to discover later there were unintended consequences. There is one councillor, Bug, who objects to each decision being proposed by commenting, “That’s not fair!” — a sentiment familiar to children, who have an innate sense of justice.

I loved this book. I thought it did a fantastic job of explaining rights and freedoms in a way that would both make sense to kids and would appeal to their innate sense of justice.

The book would work best as a parent-child or teacher-class read aloud. Certainly a fourth or fifth grader could pick this up on their own and read it and I would put it in any library for that reason. But the conversations that can and should come up around the rights and freedoms are what will really make this book.

It could easily lead into how our democracy works. It looks at the issues from a lot of perspectives and taps into SEL ideas we work with in our school. It think it would also be an excellent jumping off point to talk about how not all people enjoy these freedoms we like to think of as being fundamental and essential.

I do wish Mayor Moe wasn’t such a bungling idiot because things in life are not quite so cut and dry and I think children are very capable of grasping gray-area conversations. Mayor Moe is pretty much always the culpable party for taking away freedoms. Injustice comes from a lot of places and not just one person which is how the book makes it seem. On the flip side, I know kids will grasp that Mayor Moe is a stand in for those people and ideas.

Considering our current political climate and the circus that is our presidential election this would be an excellent book to have out. I will be working through it with my daughter soon and if I had third grade in the library this year this would have been the first half of our year.

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In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Today Is the Day by Eric Walters

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

today-is-the-dayToday Is the Day written by Eric Walters, illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes

From Goodreads: Mutanu is excited. As she goes about her chores, she thinks about the day to come and what surprises it might bring. For today is no ordinary day at the orphanage she lives in. Every year, the orphanage honors its newest arrivals by creating a birthday day especially for them. From that moment forward, the orphans have a day that they know is theirs–a day to celebrate, a day to enjoy, a day to remember. And today is the day! 

I would cautiously recommend this one. It’s a sweet story. One the one hand it exposes children to the idea of orphanages, orphans, and issues in Kenya with poverty and illness. On the other I think it plays into the narrative of poverty stricken Africa. It is also written by a white man and illustrated by a white woman. So it isn’t #ownvoices and that makes me nervous around the larger narrative it taps into.

I know that at one point we did have a little girl in our school who was adopted from an orphanage in China and I know there are kids out there that have a story similar to this. They deserve to see themselves in books. Today Is the Day wasn’t depressing, in fact the focus around a birthday party made it really upbeat. But I prefer Michaela dePrince’s story. It too taps into the idea of orphanages and West Africa’s problems with war and poverty, but her story is told by her and has a lot more nuance because you follow her through her hard work to become a ballerina.

I don’t feel totally sure that our collection of books set in various countries around Africa show them as modern and not poverty stricken. It’s on the never ending list of pieces of the collection to examine. In the meantime I will hold off on purchasing this book.

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In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Nonfiction Review: How to Build a Museum by Tonya Bolden

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

how-to-build-a-museumHow to Build a Museum written by Tonya Bolden

From Goodreads: The first national museum whose mission is to illuminate for all people, the rich, diverse, complicated, and important experiences and contributions of African Americans in America is opening.
And the history of NMAAHC–the last museum to be built on the National Mall–is the history of America.
The campaign to set up a museum honoring black citizens is nearly 100 years old; building the museum itself and assembling its incredibly far-reaching collections is a modern story that involves all kinds of people, from educators and activists, to politicians, architects, curators, construction workers, and ordinary Americans who donated cherished belongings to be included in NMAAHC’s thematically-organized exhibits. 

This was really fascinating, but being a museum and history nerd it isn’t surprising that I was hooked. But would a kid be?

The book is not overly long and it focuses on the entire history of the museum, from the inception of the idea way back in the early 20th century, through appointing a head, to construction of the building, to building the collections. The process for how they acquired artifacts was clever and well done. There were the typical auction acquisitions, but they ran an Antiques Roadshow style event in several cities across the US. There they had people bring three items from their family heirlooms and they would give them some historical context. Any they were interested in they asked to keep and restore (and I believe purchase). Each chapter takes on a different piece of building the museum. Some of the more technical aspects, like signing it into law and finding a director may be less interesting to kids, but it isn’t overly detailed and lengthy.

The final two-page spreads focus on a variety of the exhibitions in the museum. There are pictures of artifacts with captions and some text that gives the context behind the exhibit. There is a music collection and an athletics collection that may really pique reluctant reader interest.

I was pleased to see a shout out to Sacramento. A white couple had bought a plane to restore and it turned out to be a plane that had been used to train Tuskegee Airmen. A number of them had even signed the cockpit. The couple did restore the plane and ultimately donated it to the museum. They also flew it across the country to deliver it!

This is the kind of nonfiction I want to be curating in my older/harder nonfiction collection. It’s engaging without being too long. It has a mix of pictures and text, but isn’t so busy it’s hard to read and follow the narrative. I would say this book would work for kids in fourth grade on up into middle school (and maybe even high school for lower readers or students that are particularly interested in the topic). It’s certainly timely and important. Arguably it’s interesting in that you don’t see the creation of these spaces discussed or focused on in children’s nonfiction much. History buffs may take particular delight in this one.

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In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Easy Reader Review: The White Feather

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

the-white-featherThe White Feather written by Ruth Eitzen, illustrated by Allan Eitzen

From Goodreads: A Quaker family living in Ohio in the early 1800’s makes peace with a Shawnee Indian tribe during a very troubled time.

This is actually a book that is on our easy reader shelf. On seeing it I immediately pulled it, worried that it contained stereotypes and racist content. Judging by the cover and style it looks like a book from the 1960s. It’s not. It was written in 1987. I will say upfront this book is not perfect, but I am leaving it on our shelf. Here’s why.

I was reminded of Joseph Bruchac’s The Arrow Over the Door so I turned to that book’s author’s note for good historical context and research into the actual events these books are based on. Bruchac did extensive research into both white and native perspectives on dealings between native tribes and the Friends (Quakers). There was an actual event similar to the one featured here and most similar to Bruchac’s story. The biggest differences being that The White Feather takes place in Ohio and Arrow takes place in New York and in Arrow the Native Americans come to a meeting of Quakers, not an individual homestead. The use of the broken arrow is also more accurate than the use of a feather.

I found some evidence that the book was written by a Quaker couple who were probably familiar with the story Bruchac researched. It has, over the years, become changed and exaggerated (as you might expect). Problems with The White Feather include the lack of acknowledgement that the Quakers were still taking land from the native tribes. And being kind didn’t exonerate them from this injustice. This is not a true story so the way it’s fleshed out is not as accurate as it could be. The historical context provided in the back is short and not overly informative. The natives all look the same, but I kind of think the white people do too. I think it’s the style? It’s pretty simplistic and not great art.

The story is, however, tribe specific (Shawnee) and accurate to the tribes living in the area of the story. Their clothing is close to what was worn (although maybe not totally true to the times they would have worn it (feathers I’m looking at you). Bruchac’s is also tribe-specific, but because of the setting it is a different tribe.

One of the first scenes in the book has the little boy making a war cry and scaring his mother and sister and their neighbors. He is very quickly reprimanded and corrected by his mother who angrily shames him “Abe, never, never do such a thing again! You know the Indians have always been our friends!” She later tells him they are worried because the Shawnee are angry over settlers taking what is not theirs and cheating them. She is nervous they will be targeted, and this is why she was frightened, but she is also makes the point that what the white settlers are doing is not okay and the Shawnee are justified in their anger.

In the next chapter Abe accompanies his father on a trip to visit the Shawnee tribe. There the father speaks with them “in their own language”. We are also told this is not his first trip to visit them. He has a relationship with the tribe. When the men of the tribe return the visit a few days or weeks later, they are not violent (although they do make a mess eating the biscuits and molasses the mother provides) nor are they unreasonable. They are a bit abrupt, but I think that has more to do with the fact that Abe, the boy telling the story, doesn’t speak their language the way their father does. The father provides some context for the children as the events unfold.

This would make a decent book to have a discussion around. It’s a little grey-er in the open collection. It makes me a bit uncomfortable, but I also spent the summer weeding our Native American resources and know that is a strong collection. Kids picking up this book will also be having conversations in their classrooms and will be exposed to all kinds of good resources and #ownvoices. The cover is unfortunate in that it makes the Shawnee look war-like and the white settlers look peaceable. If you read the story though, it’s considerably more nuanced. Like I said, it isn’t perfect and Bruchac’s book is much better and longer, but Bruchac also takes some liberties with the story. I think in the context of our collection it works. I do like that it provides an entree into Bruchac’s book and I would eventually point children interested in this book to that one. I would not recommend going out of your way to purchase this (but do go out of your way to purchase The Arrow Over the Door), but if it’s on your shelf take a look at the collection as a whole.

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In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

The State of: the Easy Reader Collection

On 11, Oct 2016 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

I’m back this October with numbers and ideas about our easy reader collection. I have a couple goals here. The first is obvious, I want to be aware of what kind of diversity is visible in our collection with the intent of making it a stronger, more diverse collection. The second, I would like to restructure the collection so it’s more of a learning-to-read collection. These books don’t check out very much and I would like to help boost their circulation by leveling them and marketing them as books to help kids learn to read.

Now, I despise book levels, but I think with this collection they might really help kids find just-right books. I think having a really basic level system with them will also make them more friendly to browse. Currently they’re crammed into some small book racks. It isn’t terrible, but it’s really hard to browse because they’re in there so tightly and they aren’t easy to see. Plus they’re about to explode out of their little corner. We also have some popular titles (In a Dark, Dark Room for example) in two places in the library- the easy reader shelf and the holiday collection- so I’m not worried about kids shying away from some fun classics because of a book level sticker on it.

Beyond this post with the statistics of the collection and thoughts on what we need to do to make the collection better, I’ll be reviewing books in the collection and new books that I want to buy for the collection. I will also be sharing information about what we are doing to level the collection. (Although that may take longer as we have a long list of projects going in the library.)

The Collection

There are approximately 260 books in the collection. A good number of them are checked out so I did a report that pulled up a list of books with the sublocation “Blue Easy Reader” in order to create the tallies. This may have missed a handful of titles that were not on the shelf and are not marked properly in the catalog (that kind of happens a lot, but I’m working on it). The collection seems fairly old with a handful of new books added over the past few years and it ranges in reading ability/reading level. There are a lot of different reading series, such as I Can Read and Ready to Read. Nearly all the books are fiction with our easy reader nonfiction sorted out into the regular nonfiction collection. If/when I start leveling the books I will pull the majority of easy reader nonfiction off those shelves and bring it back to this collection.

The Numbers

In creating these numbers I lumped series together. So Henry and Mudge has quite a few books in the series, but I only counted it once. Same with things like Poppleton and Amelia Bedelia.

Thoughts & Concerns

Well, we could certainly be doing better. There are actually more animal stories than there are stories about white kids. And those two categories make up the bulk of main characters. It doesn’t look much different than overall statistics of children’s literature or the other collections I have examined. I do worry that it’s going to be nearly impossible to find easy readers featuring Indian Americans and Native Americans and even Latino/as. If they’re already such a small part of what is being published they’re probably going to be even harder to find in easy reader format. But I will be looking and if you know of any, please, please, please let me know.

The one big surprise here was how many female authors there were in the collection. I do have to wonder if that has to do with the fact that women often get relegated to little kids and little kid stuff. I didn’t bother to look at the race/ethnicity of the authors. It’s nearly all white with a few exceptions.

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