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2018 June

20

Jun
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Rerun: Thank You O Allah! written by Ayesha bint Mahmood

On 20, Jun 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Thank you O AllahThank You O Allah! written by Ayesha bint Mahmood, illustrated by Asiya Clarke

From Goodreads: A glorious array of Allah’s never-ending bounties that will evoke a child’s feeling of gratitude for everything God, Allah in Arabic, has given – from faith and knowledge to family and health, from animals and nature to food and life itself.

Thank You O Allah is a title I purchased to diversify our collection. Being an independent school we don’t have a lot of religious books (unless you count our 2 billion Christmas books), but there are a handful. There are a couple “biographies” of saints and religious figures (Mary, Joseph, Moses), but mostly our Christian books take the same form as this book. They’re vaguely religious prayers that examine the everyday life and surroundings of a small child and thank God for them. I’m thinking most prominently about the Caldecott winner Prayer for a Child.

There are a couple places where I’m pretty sure this was originally a British release, but it won’t confuse anyone. The text takes on a repetitious form that really has rhythm to it. In some ways it brought to mind the chanting of Islamic texts. The only annoying thing about it was that each verse starts with “And let’s thank…”. I don’t think the “and” was necessary each time. That’s an incredibly minor quibble, though.

The illustrations are really beautiful. Bright and inviting they show things most children will be familiar with except for maybe the Q’aaba. I love the cover, but I am sucker for rainbows (I blame Lisa Frank!). The book is certainly Islam-centric, but I think the message in it could be shared with any child. I would consider using it around Thanksgiving, when kids are gearing up into the gimmies season, as a reminder of all the good things we already have.

I would recommend purchasing it if for no other reason than to be sure you have at least one Islamic book on your shelves. Christian books abound and end up on shelves even if a library or school isn’t religious, so I don’t see why we can’t then have Islamic books too. Plus exposure to Islam will teach children tolerance and make them less ignorant. In terms of quality this one is pretty good with nice illustrations, good text, and nice print quality. I’ve been desperate to find Islamic holiday books and I’m willing to relax my quality standards so we can have them on the shelf, but no compromises needed here.

 

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18

Jun
2018

In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

The importance of the self published book

On 18, Jun 2018 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

I know I touched on this when I announced the theme for my 100 Day Project last summer, but I wanted to come back to it again.

While self-published and small press books can have their pitfalls (paperbacks have such a hard time standing out on library shelves!), I cannot stress enough the essential hole they fill. The traditional publishing industry has the poor judgement to not want to publish books about diverse people (claiming they won’t sell or the books don’t read authentically enough for white audiences) and the gatekeepers in the industry tend not to allow authors of color (or anything other than white, able bodied, cisgendered, usually female) into their industry.

I for one am tired of stories about the same quirky, upper middle class white girl. I am tired of the stories about white boys surviving.  I’m tired of families that look approximately like mine. I want variety in my reading. And, more and most importantly, I know there are kids out there desperate to see themselves in books. I was lucky enough that that quirky girl resembled me in a lot of ways. I never had trouble finding characters and people that looked like me. But I’ve heard countless stories of adults and children who, while they enjoyed some of the same characters I did, wished they shared more in common with them. They wished those characters looked like them.

If the traditional publishing industry isn’t going to give us those books and authors and illustrators, we need to set aside our preconceived notions about self published and small press books. We need to recognize that if our students and children can love Dragons Love Tacos 2 (a god awful sequel that looks hastily slapped together and weakly plotted, but published by a major publishing house) then they can love these books as much and probably more than those traditional books.

So, if you have any kind of buying power, either personal or institutional, look for small press and self published books. Seek them out. And buy them. Put them on your library or home bookshelves. That doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t buy books from big-name publishers. You will and you should (especially when they occasionally publish #ownvoices authors and illustrators). Just don’t let these be the only books you give to your students. Vote with your dollars and support small publishers and authors/illustrators working outside the traditional system.

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15

Jun
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Perseverance: The Story of Mary Jane Patterson by Quineka Ragsdale

On 15, Jun 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

PerseveranceThe Story of Mary Jane Patterson written by Quineka Ragsdale, illustrated by Hatice Bayramoglu

From Goodreads: Read along as renowned author, Quineka Ragsdale of the Demarcus Jones series, tells of the 1st African American woman to receive a four-year Bachelor’s Degree: Mary Jane Patterson. The life of Mary Patterson inspires and encourages children to excel in their education, set goals, and work towards achieving them.

Melanin Origins brings us yet another interesting, but obscure historical figure. This time Mary Jane Patterson, the first African American woman to obtain a B.A. degree. She graduated from Oberlin College in 1862. After college she went on to teach and inspire other young African American children to get an education.

While education is not the only factor in what gets people ahead, it is undeniably an important one. Mary Jane Patterson paved the way for future generations of African American men and women to earn degrees from four-year universities. Her story, born into slavery and taught by her mother, certainly demonstrates that perseverance can help people obtain their goals.

Instead of overloading on dry facts and dates, something that is sure bore children and ensure they tune out, Ragsdale has taken Patterson’s story and pulled out the inspiring underlying message of her life. Hard work, determination, and perseverance is what helped Mary Jane stay in school and get more than the customary two years of college education. At a time when slavery was still hotly contested, that could not have been an easy task. As with the Snippet in the Life series from Melanin Origins, Mary Jane Patterson breaks the fourth wall and talks to the reader encouraging them to follow their dreams and believe in themselves as they strive to achieve them.

Perseverance would make a great addition to libraries that serve young audiences, but would be especially impactful in classroom libraries where teachers can use the book to encourage their students to build up their growth mindset and their self esteem. Mary Jane can encourage kids to work hard and have faith in their own abilities. She might also inspire some biography projects when kids want to discover more about this amazing woman’s life.

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

The book releases August 1, so I will link here to purchase then:

On Amazon: available as a paperback, hardback, 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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13

Jun
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Rerun: Billie’s Blues written by Zetta Elliott

On 13, Jun 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

billies-bluesBillie’s Blues written by Zetta Elliott, pictures by Paul Melecky and Purple Wong

From Goodreads: Billie’s best friend thinks their neighbor, Ms. Marble, is crazy. Supposedly Ms. Marble has a hundred cats in her apartment and sings to them all day long. But when Billie spends an afternoon with her elderly neighbor, she discovers that Ms. Marble is actually a lot of fun! Ms. Marble introduces Billie to Lady Day, Ma Rainey, and other great blues singers. Together they dress up in antique clothes, and sing and dance to the blues. Then Ms. Marble shares an old secret she has been keeping in her heart. Billie learns that “some hurts stay inside you a mighty long time,” but the optimism of the blues triumphs in the end; Ms. Marble assures her young friend that “the sun’s gonna shine in my back door someday.”

Another excellent title from Zetta Elliott. Billie has the blues. It’s raining, her best friend is sick, her babysitter is running late and now she has to go with her mom to the community college for a few hours. Just as the elevator arrives on their floor, Ms. Marble, their elderly neighbor, pokes her head out to say hello. Billie grabs the opportunity and invites herself over to Ms. Marble’s apartment for the afternoon. Ms. Marble is delighted and the two spend an amazing afternoon listening to jazz, dressing up, and eating cookies.

The story was actually really cozy, despite the secret Ms. Marble shares (more on that in a minute). I think the story is a wonderful celebration of a cross-generational friendship developing. And I think readers will be able to discover all the great music and singers that Billie is introduced to that afternoon. I found Billie to be funny. She narrates inside her head and admits the times she is doing things her mother will find rude, like asking too many questions, using “ain’t”, and inviting herself over. But she also rather impishly says her mom isn’t there so she doesn’t care. That seemed like such a kid thing to do and made me chuckle. I think it also makes her really relatable to kids. They’ll have the same questions Billie does and be relieved she just up and asks.

I’m going to spoil the secret that Ms. Marble shares with Billie: her sweetheart was lynched in the South. The text does not specifically mention lynching, just that he was “taken”, but the illustration on the page shows a young Ms. Marble crying with a noose and gallows off in the distance. It’s certainly subtle and for some kids it won’t really register. Others may know exactly what happened. I suppose people’s tolerance for lynching in a book aimed at third through fifth graders will vary. Professionally, I don’t see any reason not to have the book on your shelf where families, children and teachers can make those decisions for themselves. Personally, I think children are very good at grasping difficult history, feeling compassion and tapping into their strong sense of social justice. (For those of you who think children don’t have a sense of social justice, go out to a playground at recess and pay attention.) Parents, teachers and librarians may need to be ready to answer questions that arise, but to me that’s the most important aspect of books like these. It opens up hard conversations, teaches history that isn’t usually discussed and validates children’s ability to really see the world as it is. There is a little bit of age appropriate information included in the back. It might seem radical to some conservative library populations (even my school would have parents that would object), but I guarantee you children will be able to handle it (yes, I’ve talked about this and worse with my five year old).

The book ends on a happy note and a hint at Billie and Ms. Marble’s friendship continuing. If you don’t have Elliott’s books on your shelves yet, what are you waiting for? They are exactly the kind of stuff we need to give to our kids. Run, don’t walk, to her website and/or Amazon and buy all of them now!

 

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11

Jun
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Carefree, Like Me! by Rashad Malik Davis

On 11, Jun 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Carefree Like MeCarefree, Like Me! Chapter 1: Root the Brave written and illustrated by Rashad Malik Davis

From Goodreads: What happens when two best friends get bored? They go to another universe of course! Introducing Carefree Like Me, the illustrated tales of a sensitive, heart-on-your-sleeve type kid named Amir, his no-nonsense, rough and tumble best friend Neena, and the grand adventure they find themselves on in a whole ‘nother realm! This will be the first book in a series of 7, each book dedicated to telling a larger story with a focus on a particular hero and a brand new adventure. 

I’m posting a review of this book today because there is currently a Kickstarter campaign running for the second installment in the story. The author/illustrator is really passionate about producing these books and they’re a lot of fun. If you can or would like to donate go here: Carefree, Like Me! Chapter 2

Carefree, Like Me! is a series designed to help encourage emotional intelligence in children. The first book follows two children, Amir and Neena, as they go on an adventure to discover different emotions. While playing one day the two friends run out of ideas for things to do. Amir goes to his father who gives him a magic amulet that takes the two kids to the spirit world.

Once there they meet a creature who asks for help and takes them to the king. The king is terrified and hiding out in his bedroom. He keeps hearing a scratching sound under his bed. The kids find this funny because of the king, who turns out to be a bull named Root, is so large. But they’re also sympathetic. Amir shares some advice his dad has given him when he has been scared: face your fears head on. Together Root, Amir and Neena peer under the bed and discover…well, I won’t spoil the surprise, but it’s not at all what anyone expected.

The book ends on a cliffhanger. Just as the kids begin to celebrate conquering fear and practice bravery, they’re transported off to another place and another adventure. Davis has created a truly enjoyable series with endearing characters. He has bravely written the book in verse and while I personally find rhymed text a little irritating, it works here. It helps pace the book and makes a topic that can feel didactic (social-emotional intelligence education) and preachy (spirituality) feel playful and engaging. The text itself is not super complex and I would probably call this an easy reader as well as a picture book. The size of the book makes it feel more like a picture book, but it could easily be read by an emerging reader. Certainly it isn’t any more difficult than some of the more challenging easy readers available on library shelves.

Davis has not only developed the story line and written the story, he has also illustrated the book. Here his style is cartoonish and exuberant and it really fits the mood of the story. Amir and Neena are drawn as brown-skinned kids. There aren’t many sci-fi/fantasy books featuring non-white characters and yet there are plenty of non-white kids that love to read those stories. How refreshing to see these children reflected in the genre.

Be sure to try and get a copy of the series as it comes out and include it for your fantasy readers and kids who like humorous stories with a little substance.

 

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08

Jun
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Louisiana Belle by LaChanda Casteal

On 08, Jun 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Louisiana BelleLouisiana Belle: A Snippet in the Life of Madam CJ Walker written by LaChanda Casteal, illustrated by M. Ridho Mentarie

From Goodreads: Born in the bayous of Delta, Louisiana, Madame C.J. Walker emerged as a great leader in modern American history. Madame Walker was a leader in the movement for equal and civil rights, she was a philanthropist, and not only was she a successful entrepreneur – Madame C.J. Walker was the first woman to be a self-made millionaire through her line of quality hair products. Journey with Melanin Origins as we explore the greatness of this magnificent woman and her contributions to society.

Louisiana Belle is another addition to the Snippet in the Life series from publisher Melanin Origins. Once again a lesser known, but no less important, historical figure gives a brief overview of her life along with some encouragement for children reading the book.

Louisiana Belle feels very on point combining recent trends, both in picture books and in society at large, that celebrate natural hair styles on black women and plucky, entrepreneurial women. When I first picked up the book, I thought I had heard of Madam CJ Walker, but I couldn’t remember what she was famous for. She created a successful hair products business designed to care for natural hair. She started out as a wash girl in a salon and through hard work, inspiration, and determination she created her own line of products. Not unlike other black female created product lines we see today, like Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty or Unsun Cosmetics.

I have to admit I laughed out loud at the opening. The second page features the line “What is a millionaire you ask? A millionaire is a person who has a lot of money.” The accompanying illustration shows Madam CJ Walker flashing some cash surrounded by gleeful, open-mouthed kids. As shallow as it sounds, kids of all stripes love money. They love the idea of all the toys and candy they can buy with it or just how cool they think it sounds to be a millionaire (even though most of them think $20 qualifies them as such). This just felt like such a clever and humorous way to rope kids into Madame CJ Walker’s life story. They’ll want to know more about this fabulous millionaire woman.

Louisiana Belle hits all the right notes for a young crowd. Short and to the point, it promotes black girl magic while introducing an interesting but lesser known American. This should be on your shelves with all the other Snippet in the Life books, at home, in the library, or in the classroom (preferable all three). How many more biographies of Harriet Tubman and Jane Goodall do you need? The answer is none. Four or five is more than enough. Seriously. Diversify those biography/picture book shelves and get Madame CJ Walker nestled in with the stale biographies of George Washington and Woodrow Wilson.

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

Purchase the book here:

On Amazon: available as a paperback, hardback, 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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06

Jun
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Rerun: Papa Lemon’s Little Wanderers

On 06, Jun 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Papa Lemon

I’m rerunning this post now because Papa Lemon has a Kickstarter project up right now. They are looking to publish another book in the series that deals with bullying. I enjoyed these early chapter books and would love to see their project fully funded. I’ll be giving what we can at  this time and I hope you will consider backing it as well! It ends June 29th. You can see it here.

Papa Lemon’s Little Wanderers written by Lehman Riley, illustrated by Joshua Wallace

  • Book 1: Meeting Dr. Martin Luther King
  • Book 2: The Dangerous Escape From Slavery
  • Book 3: World War II, The Navajo Wind Talkers
  • Book 4: The Life of Babe Didrikson
  • Book 5: The California Gold Rush
  • Book 6: Dr. Daniel Williams and the First Successful Hear Surgery in 1893

From Goodreads: Papa Lemon and Mama Sarah are the neighborhood grandparents in the small town of West, Mississippi. Papa Lemon helps five multi-cultural friends learn about our nations diverse heritage by sending them back in time via a magical train.

Papa Lemon’s Little Wanderers is a series I came across through another blog’s supporters page. Several of the books in the series cover time periods and events that are studied in my school, so I thought I would buy the series and give them a shot.

I really enjoyed them, and while there are a few issues, by and large they are well worth adding to a chapter book collection. Each book features a group of friends who travel back in time to explore different historical periods and meet historical figures. There’s a bit of belief suspension required around their time traveling locomotive, but I think only sticklers will mind. The writing in the books flows nicely and isn’t overly complex or overly simplified. They are short, beginning chapter books so the stories are bit simplistic, but again for the reading level that is perfect. The dialog is never stilted and nothing felt jarring or awkwardly phrased.

One technicality. There are no actual chapters in these. I’m calling them chapter books because of their length, the ratio of pictures to text, and the complexity of the stories and text. I really wish they had chapter breaks, though. It would help sell the books to readers who are looking for that grown-up feel of chapters. I also wish the trim size was smaller. Again, it makes the kids feel like they are reading older, harder books.

I also wish someone like Debbie Reese would look at the third book which talks about the Navajo Wind Talkers. There are good books out there about them (Joseph Bruchac’s for example), but they’re are all written for older, stronger readers. I think Riley was respectful in handling the Native uncle, but there wasn’t much information about the Wind Talkers. I suppose by stating he was a Wind Talker, it identifies the uncle’s, and by extension Kaya’s, native nation, but I wonder if it could have been more specific. I also wonder if there could have been more information about the Navajo that would have helped the story along. When the friends end up traveling back in time in the book they go to the Pacific theatre to meet another friend’s uncle, not to see the Wind Talkers.

The illustrations are fine if sometimes a little awkward, but there really aren’t that many of them. This is the place where the books feel like something self published. Kids like slick books, but in my experience what they think of as slick and what adults think of as slick can be vastly different. I think the trim size of these books is more likely to make them hesitate to pick them up. The friends are drawn as a diverse group with a mix of genders and ethnic backgrounds. Based on the third book the Native American girl is identified as Navajo. My only complaint about how the text and illustrations work together is AJ, the white friend. In the text he’s always hungry. No mention of his build or shape is made, but the illustrations show him as overweight. I think it’s a stereotype and while I think it would be great to have an overweight kid in the book, I don’t think he should be the one who is always hungry and wanting to find a snack. There’s no reason he has to be drawn that way.

A short historical note at the end of these that either elaborated on the historical period or pointed readers to more information would make them a little stronger. I completely understand that the books are not deep historical accounts of the time periods the kids visit. These are short chapter books for emerging readers. They are absolutely perfect for sparking their interest in these historical time periods and figures, so why not point them in the right direction to find more information.

Be aware that some of the titles appear to be out of print and need to be purchased used. The print quality and overall production quality has gotten better over the series, which is nice if they are going to be circulating. I plan on hand selling these to my second graders and any third graders I can find (I think I’m switching from working with third grade to pre-k this coming year? we’ll see) and I’ll report back on how they are received. I think between our Civil Rights study in music in the second semester and the (flawed) study of the Underground Railroad I can rope them in with the first two books. I’m still chewing on AJ and how problematic he is.

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04

Jun
2018

In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

I’m Still Learning

On 04, Jun 2018 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

Today in my Feedly I read this thought-provoking article from the blog Reading While White. If you are white you need to hop over and read through it. The author, Elisa Gall, discusses troubling aspects of the traditional publishing industry including the publication of books about oppressed and marginalized people by white people as the industry’s answer to the call for more diversity. The article also calls out the fact that we’re seeing less “I don’t see color” arguments, but are seeing more people calling for books with what they call “casual diversity”. I’ve heard and used the term “incidental diversity”.

As I was reading, though, I was embarrassed to realize I am guilty of looking for those casual diversity books and naming some of the diversity I see in picture books as such. And from there I realized, as Gall points out, this is because I’m still looking at those books with a white lens. While I may never be able to remove that lens completely (or at all), I should not be looking for books that simply have brown or disabled or queer characters in circumstances or stories or places that are essentially white or able bodied or hetero. And if those characters can be swapped out for a white character, it may not be true diversity.

Now that being said, this does not mean we need one story to represent all black people (or all disabled people, etc.). Nor does it mean that a black and white character may not be able to be seen in a similar story. I think my own blindspot over this stemmed from my desire to see the abundance of stories that reflect me and my children available to children of color (and others). The problem with that is that I didn’t stop to examine whether or not those same stories would be applicable to those other children. In some cases they might be, but in many others they are not. It was a really good check on my privilege to read that article and realize how careful I need to be when reviewing books and a good reminder that I am not always the best person to be reviewing diverse content. I’m trying to use my gatekeeper status and the fact that white librarians might (sadly) be more likely to listen to my recommendations, but that doesn’t mean I will have the most accurate perception of how a book will work for an audience that isn’t white, cisgender, able-bodied, straight, and middle class.

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01

Jun
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Perfect As I Am by Maame Serwaa

On 01, Jun 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Perfect As I AmPerfect As I Am written by Maame Serwaa, illustrated by Fleance Forkuo

From Goodreads: Read along with Micah and Myrah as they use the principles of positive affirmations to demonstrate their self-worth. Perfect As I Am will empower young children to love themselves just as they are. With these powerful affirmations, children will learn to build their confidence in preparation for the many opportunities life will afford them.

This appears to be the first in a series featuring a cute pair of siblings or friends, Micah and Myrah, and it’s along the same lines as the book I reviewed last week, Note To Self. As I said there, these types of books are really important to share with children of all levels of confidence. It bolsters how they feel about themselves, validates their self esteem, and teaches them positive self talk.

Unlike Note To Self, this is clearly geared toward both boys and girls. The bright colors and simple text will appeal to young audiences. The illustrations feature Micah and Myrah, two adorable big-eyed kids,  on alternate two-page spreads that offer up affirmations. These affirmations can be easily understood by children and memorized for times when they need to remind themselves that they have value.

I could easily see adding this to a friendship themed storytime or unit in the library or classroom. As with Note To Self, Perfect As I Am would make a great bedtime read aloud to remind. If you have a peace corner in your house or classroom, a calming space where kids can go to chill out and focus, this would be a perfect addition to the book basket or rack there. When children (and grown ups) feel valuable and can come from a place where they feel important and empowered they are more empathetic, can control themselves better, and are happier. Positive self talk and positive feelings about yourself are an incredibly important part of social-emotional learning. If your school, classroom, or home works on SEL skills, be sure to include Perfect As I Am in your repertoire.

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

Purchase the book here (not an affiliate link):

On Amazon: available as a paperback, hardback, 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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