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2017 September



In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Chisom the Champ Meets the World by Dr. Irene Okoronkwo-Obika

On 12, Sep 2017 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Chisom the ChampChisom the Champ Meets the World written by Dr. Irene Okoronkwo-Obika DNP, ARPN FNP-C, PMHNP-BC

From Goodreads: Enter into the life of Chisom, a young Nigerian boy, who repeatedly gets bullied for his cultural identity in a Western Society. Read along as he discovers that his strength is actually found in his family upbringing and in embracing his cultural values. The story of Chisom teaches children across the world that self-love is key to overcoming bullies and other interpersonal obstacles experienced in life’s journey. 

Disclosure: I was sent a copy of the book by the publisher Melanin Origins in exchange for an honest review.

Where was this book a year ago when I was building the character education collection in the library? This was exactly the kind of book that we needed! It tackles bullying, cultural and self pride, and standing up for yourself and others.

Chisom appears to be growing up in the United States, but he makes it clear that his family is Igbo and shares some of his culture with the reader. His name has cultural significance, his parents are called by the traditional naming convention, Papa and Mama Chisom. Mama Chisom is apparently a good cook and, darn it, every book about Nigerian families features jollof rice and it makes me hungry every time. Chisom also wears traditional Igbo clothes, which eventually gets him in trouble with the school bully.

Billy Bob is a large red-headed boy who wears cowboy boots and teases everyone. He decides to start picking on Chisom calling him names and making fun of his clothing. Chisom is, understandably, really upset by this. After talking to his mom about it and reflecting on the pride his parents instilled in him he decides to stand up to the bully. The next day at school when Billy Bob starts in on Chisom, he tells Billy Bob to stop and explains that Billy Bob’s cowboy boots set him apart as much as Chisom’s Isiagu. He tells Billy Bob that everyone deserves respect and then, best of all, calls him in asking him to be a champion by giving up bullying.

The book is clearly made to encourage children to stand up for what is right. Chisom is a sweet boy with a loving and supportive family and he makes a great character for kids to connect with and root for. Certainly the book is important for all children to show that just because we look and dress differently doesn’t mean we deserve to be bullied. But I think this book is most important for children from immigrant families and black children who are often not allowed to feel pride in their heritage and families. Moreover, the book provides a good jumping off point for teachers and parents to talk about how to stand up for yourself and others. I think there are a lot of children out there that want to stand up to bullying and teasing, but don’t know where to start. Chisom gives them some good ideas, particularly the importance of calling people in (instead of simply calling them out) and language around those ideas. The ending may involve a bit of wish fulfillment, but it’s good for kids to see happy endings to these situations so they can keep a positive mindset.

Pair this with the charming The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade by Justin Roberts, Red by Jan de Kinder for a storytime about standing up against bullying. Well worth adding to school library collections, particularly if you have a character education curriculum or anti-bullying campaign. Also well worth adding to classroom libraries for those first few weeks when you work on building community.

Purchase copies here (not affiliate link):

Amazon (available in hardcover, paperback, and ebook)

Final note: If you do purchase this book, please post a review of it on Amazon. This will help other folks find the book and know that it’s worth purchasing. If you use any other book services like GoodReads or your local library’s online catalog be sure to post a review there too! And if your local library doesn’t have a copy, request that they purchase one.

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In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Numbers With Bella by Lorraine O’Garro

On 11, Sep 2017 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Numbers With BellaNumbers With Bella written by Lorraine O’Garro, illustrated by Katlego Kgabale

From Goodreads: Following the success of The Alphabet with Bella, this book supports the learning of numbers from one to ten in a unique and colourful way. Numbers with Bella is full of fun learning opportunities for small children.

Disclosure: I was sent a copy of the book by the publisher Melanin Origins in exchange for an honest review.

The first thing that came to mind with this book was one of my favorites as a child, Ten, Nine, Eight by Molly Bang. I have stacks of counting and alphabet books, but the majority of them feature animals or white children. I think Bella brought to mind Ten, Nine, Eight because they both stick out to me for featuring a little African American girl. The final page where Bella sits wiggling her toes, recently liberated from her shoes, also felt like a nod to the classic counting book. It’s really refreshing to see representation making its way into all genres of children’s literature, from chapter books to picture books to concept books like Bella. Kids of all type deserve to see themselves everywhere, not just in certain narratives or certain genres.

The basic idea of the book is Bella counting a variety of objects from 1-10. Each number has its own two page spread. A white background makes Bella standout and we see the written word for each number, the numeral, and the designated number of objects. A few pages have some additional setting, but for the most part the illustrations are spare. From page to page we see her happily lounging in the sun, joyfully playing a drum, snorkeling, juggling coconuts, and a variety of other activities. While some might not like the lack of busy backgrounds and extra detail, the clean simplicity of this book make it perfect for sharing with very young children interested in counting. It’s a true learning tool. When reading the book with your child be sure to point out the numeral and then count each of the items with Bella before moving on to the next page. The simplicity also make it ideal for children to flip through on their own once having the counting modeled for them.

I could also see this working well in stations or provocations in classrooms (or even enlightened libraries that have book-related activities out for children). Set it out with number cards and counters. As kids flip through the pages they can set up the matching numeral and the corresponding number of counters. They could also place the counters directly on the page as they count out loud.

Bella is totally adorable and I see kids being drawn to her and her counting antics. This would make a great addition to concept book collections in preschool classrooms, daycares, and libraries that serve young patrons.

Purchase copies here (not an affiliate link):

Amazon (available in hardcover, paperback, and ebook)

Final note: If you do purchase this book, please post a review of it on Amazon. This will help other folks find the book and know that it’s worth purchasing. If you use any other book services like GoodReads or your local library’s online catalog be sure to post a review there too! And if your local library doesn’t have a copy, request that they purchase one.

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In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

I’m Over the Play Teepee Trend

On 09, Sep 2017 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

This isn’t exactly a library related post, except I wouldn’t be surprised to see the trend start spilling over into children’s areas at libraries and into classrooms. I originally wrote and posted this on my personal blog, which primarily documents the homeschooling I do with my daughter. But it was just to important to pass up cross posting here, I think. If anything I have said here is problematic for marginalized people, please reach out to me so I can fix any problems. 

To be honest I was never comfortable with it, so to say I’m over it is a misrepresentation, but they’ve become ubiquitous. You can’t look through Pinterest or your Facebook feed without seeing a clean modern children’s play area set up with one: a play teepee. Meant to be twee little nests for children to hide away in, the reality of what they represent is quite insidious. When I look at them I see the worst of cultural appropriation, hurtful cultural stereotyping, Native erasure, and fetishizing.

Teepees, or tipis, are a real cultural object used as dwellings by several Native Nations, including the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota. They were and are real homes for real people and continue to be used ceremonially by many of these tribes too as they hold onto their traditional ways that have been forcibly erased. In reducing something that was integral to the cultures of these Nations to adorn your living room, we erase its cultural significance and history. These play teepees are generic, where the originals would not have been. Even the word itself “teepee” is a generic, Anglicization of the real term used for these dwellings, which comes to English from a Lakota word. Parents aren’t using these play tents as a way to talk to their children about the history or culture of the people they come from. We’re appropriating them as something cutesy for our playrooms.

Which leads to another piece of this trend, native erasure. The teepee is so often used as a generic symbol of all North American indigenous people. Except they were used by some Native Nations, not all. Moreover, teepees as a generic dwelling, have been used by other indigenous people in other places around the world. In pairing them with broader stereotyped depictions of “Indians” seen in popular culture and ignoring their cultural and historical importance, we reinforce those hurtful stereotypes that have allowed these people to be colonized and erased. It also reduces the cultures and people in the eyes of our children to something they can take from to make their homes and spaces more on trend and ultimately discard when no longer fashionable.

I also fear that this will encourage a resurgence in children “playing Indian”. The idea is still out there, even though I think most people see it as something kids did in the 50s and 60s. I see it depicted again and again in new children’s books and even in magazines and certainly at Halloween time. “Playing Indian” either includes fighting and villainizing the “Indians” or fetishizing them as the gentle, nature loving Native Americans. It’s all more stereotyping. But a stereotype of people who were exterminated by white settlers and government and continue to be marginalized.  Again neither villainizing nor fetishizing gets at the history of colonization of Native Nations, nor does it show our children that their cultures are not there for our taking.

Now I’m sure there are some people who want to argue that these play teepees honor the cultures they come from and I want to directly address that. You would only be honoring the culture if you were talking about their cultural and historical importance and, considering how generic the play teepees look, you aren’t. Just having it in your house does not impart the significance of the object if you do not give it the proper context. More importantly a big, non-Native company has taken this culturally significant object and turned it into something generic that they are now marketing and making money off of. None of those sales are going to benefit the Native Nations the object has come from (not that that would indicate any form of reverence, anyway). They have appropriated the teepee to make it into something they can sell stylish parents and make a quick buck. In no way does any of that honor a living culture.

If you have a teepee please consider opening a conversation with your child about what it is and remove it from your living room too. If you are considering buying one, don’t. Click through to the links below (also found in the links in the paragraph above) if you need more convincing. They are articles written by people more knowledgable than me as they are members of Native Nations. I will be writing letters to companies that sell them. A drop in the ocean to these companies, but if you agree and would like to join me, maybe we can make a difference.

Repost: Step away from the “Indian” costume! by Dr. Adrienne Keane, Cherokee, from her blog Native Appropriations

When Media Promotes Offensive Indian Stereotypes by Sarah Sunshine Manning from Indian Country Today

Lane Smith’s new picture book: There Is a TRIBE of KIDS (plus a response to Rosanne Parry) by Dr. Debbie Reese, Nambe Owingeh, from her blog American Indians in Children’s Literature



In Uncategorized

By Elizabeth Wroten

Back to Blogging

On 08, Sep 2017 | In Uncategorized | By Elizabeth Wroten

Just a quick post to say I dropped the ball this summer with my Hundred Days project. I found out in July I am pregnant with our second kid and spent the next two months meekly lying on the sofa trying not to barf. I’m in the second trimester now and starting to feel much better, so I’m just going to pick up where I left off. I started homeschooling my daughter and I’m taking a class at the local community college, so I have a few other commitments that might make blogging everyday difficult, but I will be trying to get posts up with some regularity.