Image Image Image Image Image
Scroll to Top

To Top

2018 June

29

Jun
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Maxine’s New Job by Lynda Jones-Mubarak

On 29, Jun 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Maxine's New JobMaxine’s New Job written by Lynda Jones-Mubarak, illustrated by Adua Hernandez

From Goodreads: Maxine Hill is an inquisitive 4th grade student who has a talent for solving problems and enjoys helping people in need. While using her quirky skills of observation, Maxine discovers an unexpected secret about Mrs. Sullivan, her sweet, quiet neighbor that changed their relationship forever.

We’re back in the world of Shorty and the Sullivans, this time across the street with Maxine Hill, a precocious fourth grader. Maxine is an adorable girl with big glasses and a big heart. Her family is gentle too and I enjoyed meeting them. The illustrations have a cozy feeling to them as we see into the places in Maxine’s world.

The book is definitely on the long side for a picture book. Obviously this isn’t unheard of, I simply tend to prefer keeping picture books shorter and saving more complex stories for transitional chapter books, but that’s totally a personal preference. I think the story and length does make the book a better fit for older audiences, first or second grade and up. If you could get your third and fourth graders into it, it would be great!

From a social justice standpoint I thought this book really tackled some interesting problems. Maxine and her family support being involved in community and helping out how and when they can. They volunteer at a food pantry once a month and started to do so after Maxine noticed an unhoused man and began asking questions. (Side note, I wish the book had called him unhoused instead of homeless.) I really love that her family is so willing to engage in this way and the way Mubarak has written it, it comes across as genuine and sincere instead of didactic.

It’s this ethic of service that leads Maxine to help Mrs. Sullivan, her neighbor across the street, solve a problem. It turns out Mrs Sullivan is functionally illiterate, largely because she struggled so much in school learning to read, never got the help she needed to be successful, and then dropped out of school. I have never seen a picture book that takes on this issue, but it isn’t an uncommon one. I know my library system has a program for adults who are illiterate or need more reading instruction and it isn’t the only program like that out there by any means. It might not be super realistic that a fourth grader is going to help a woman with learning disabilities to learn to read, but I love books that take a positive stance on children stepping in and stepping up, even if it’s not totally plausible. I think it’s a representation of sorts. It shows kids they can help and puts faith in them. No need to squash their optimism and willingness to do good. If anything I think it encourages them to stay engaged and find ways they can help even if it doesn’t look exactly the way they first think it will.

I do have to point out two criticisms of the book. First there is a typo (an incorrect name) on the second to last page. Not a huge deal, but I wish it had been caught. There’s also a continuity error. The text says Maxine has a puppy named Amos, but he is pictured as a cat in the illustrations. That being said, before you decide not to purchase the book and roll your eyes, writing it off as a mistake only made in small press/indie press/self published books, know that there are frequently typos in traditionally published books. Both in continuity and in the form of typos. While it’s unfortunate when it happens and can be frustrating for readers, it’s not uncommon. Don’t let this deter you from considering this book (for personal copies feel free to cross out words and correct them). The overall message and story and the representation on the page are far too important to write it off.

Update: I was sent an early, uncorrected copy of the book. The author reached out to me and graciously offered me a new copy. The mistakes have been fixed! So definitely be sure to get your copy today!!

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

Purchase the book here (not affiliate links):

On IndieBound: paperback and hardback

On Amazon as an 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.

Tags | , , , , ,

27

Jun
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Rerun: Melena’s Jubilee written by Zetta Elliott

On 27, Jun 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

melenas-jubileeMelena’s Jubilee written by Zetta Elliott, illustrated by Aaron Boyd

From Goodreads: At breakfast she learns she has been given a “fresh start,” and she decides to celebrate by doing things differently for the rest of the day. Melena chooses not to fight with her brother, and shares the money she has rather than demanding to be repaid by a less fortunate friend. This story introduces children to the concept of jubilee, which stresses the important principles of debt relief, generosity, and forgiveness.

I will buy nearly any book that Zetta Elliott writes and publishes, my exception being YA because I work in an elementary library (but to be honest I buy those for myself to read). Everything she writes is excellent and the books are popular with our students. I chose this book in particular to be my first review of the year because of the turning-over-a-new-leaf theme that seemed so appropriate for a new year.

Melena’s Jubilee follows Melena through a day where she decides to have a fresh start. She wakes up feeling new and refreshed. The day before she had been in trouble, but today she wants to make things right and make good choices. She inadvertently and indirectly broke a vase of her mother’s and her mother offers to help her glue it back together. She decides to let her brother be instead of whacking him with a pillow. She forgives money owed to her by a friend and she shares her ice cream with her neighborhood friends.

As far as a book to read in the classroom, both the idea of forgiveness and making better choices are concepts we focus on and I think the story will really resonate with some discussion. The idea of starting over also really appeals to me as an educator for helping children move on from bad days. They happen to everyone, but that doesn’t mean they have to hang over us. As a parent I also like these ideas and have talked about them with my daughter when she or I have had a rough day. I originally ordered the book for my library, but after reading it to my daughter she asked for her own copy. Something about the illustrations and the story really clicked for her. This was the first book in a couple months that she has requested I buy.

I hate to say this, but Boyd’s illustrations are bright and rainbow-hued which is like catnip to children. Shallow, but true. The illustrations are beautiful, though and the brightness celebrates the message of the book. The various types of prints and papers used really makes them interesting to pore over. While Elliott’s story is beautiful by itself and has a message without hitting you over the head with it, I think the two together make this a great book. I’m pretty sure the rainbow on the cover and the sun at the end sealed the deal for my daughter. :)

If you have money in your budget, be sure to purchase this one. It will find many appreciative readers, from parents to teachers to students.

Tags | , , , , , , ,

25

Jun
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Chapter Book Review: The Hidden Temple of Ogiso by O. T. Begho

On 25, Jun 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Obi and TitiThe Adventures of Obi and Titi: The Hidden Temple of Ogiso (book 1) written by O. T. Begho

From Goodreads: The Adventures of Obi and Titi is an epic African adventure series that follows the story of two brave, young children and a very naughty monkey who set out on an unexpected journey of knowledge, hope and everlasting friendship. Deep in the heart of Africa, where civilization truly began, two young children, Obi and Titi, unwittingly find a hidden temple and a mysterious map. This discovery sets off a chain of events that will change their lives forever. For once they must settle their differences and work together, as they set off on a magical adventure to save their village and the ones they love. 

This is the perfect book and series for the summer! We just finished reading it last night and I cannot recommend it enough. Usually it takes us a week or more to get through chapter books- we’re tired, my daughter spends the night at my mom’s house, we watch a movie instead of reading- even though they’re not especially long or difficult to get through. But Obi and Titi had us hooked and we plowed through it in three nights. It was such an exciting read!

Set in historical Benin, Obi and Titi have been friends since they were tiny as their father’s were also close friends. Titi is the daughter of the Oba, or king, and Obi is the son of his greatest warrior. Except Obi’s father hasn’t been seen or heard from in years. He set off one day and no one seems to know where to or if he’s even still alive. One day while playing on the edge of the forbidden forest, Obi is pulled into the river by some creature and dragged downstream and into the forest. Titi goes looking for him and when they find each other, they also unexpectedly find Obi’s father’s spear. This sets them off on an investigation of an entrance to what they believe is the lost Temple of Ogiso, which ultimately puts them on a much bigger quest to save the kingdom from evil.

It was so wonderful to read a story that had a boy-girl friendship that didn’t have to be fraught with them jabbing each other over their gender or hinting at some romance. They’re kids and they’re friends. Even the two year age difference doesn’t cause much of a conflict. Titi and Obi solve the mysteries, puzzles, and riddles they encounter together and Titi isn’t the caricature of a chiding, rule-following girl that we so often see in these types of books.

This is perfect for reluctant readers, although the reading level might be a wee bit high, and it can keep interest in reading going through the summer when those reluctant readers might fall behind. Each chapter ends with a cliff hanger which make this perfect for reading aloud and keeps the pages turning. It might also lead to some under-the-covers-after-lights-out sneak reading. You’ve been warned.

It definitely has the feel of Indiana Jones and other adventure/action/mystery stories. Begho did a phenomenal job of balancing wrapping up the story arc for this particular book while setting up the series and enticing you to keep reading it (we’ll be buying the rest!). I would recommend the book for kids 5 or 6 and up if you’re reading it aloud. For independent reading, it would be excellent for second through fourth grades. They also did a really good job of creating a chapter book that has a complex enough story to be interesting but isn’t burdensome for readers who are just coming to chapter books.

Be sure to buy this series if your library serves kids in beginning chapter books or if you have a second, third or fourth grade classroom. Also check out the series website and Facebook page for more games, historical information, to set up author visits, and updates on the series.

Tags | , , , , ,

22

Jun
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Brick by Brick by Louie T. McClain

On 22, Jun 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Brick by BrickBrick by Brick: A Snippet in the Life of Booker T. Washington written by Louie T. McClain, illustrated by M. Ridho Mentarie

From Goodreads: A children’s book snippet about the life, accomplishments, and achievements of the great Booker T. Washington – an inspirational African-American innovator, leader, scholar, and philanthropist.

Oddly enough I haven’t reviewed this book yet despite it being the first in the A Snippet in the Life series. Brick by Brick shares a bit of the accomplishments of Booker T. Washington as well as inspiration around how he managed to accomplish so much.

If you’re resisting the Snippet series because the historical figures tend to be less well known, there’s no excuse here. Booker T. Washington is a well-known African American figure and his Tuskegee Institute is arguably more influential. It’s still around today, but also was home to George Washington Carver (who is fascinating in and of himself, peanut research aside) and the Airmen we see in Flying Above Expectations.

This book in particular is very motivational. It encourages kids, whether or not they are familiar with Washington and the Tuskegee Institute, to work hard, have faith in themselves, and rely on good friends. All of these are great messages for children to hear. Grit is one of those educational buzz words that’s been popular for a few years, as has the idea of a growth mindset. These books, besides introducing important black historical figures, also plug directly into those concepts and make them really great additions to classroom libraries. Brick by Brick can open conversations about how important it is to believe in yourself and have faith in your abilities. It can also provide a little dose of inspiration during read alouds.

I’ll be honest, McClain hasn’t hit his stride for the series with this book just yet. The later books do a really good job balancing sharing some historical facts with inspiration. While Brick by Brick is worth your time and shelf space (I had it in my library), I think it’s better as an inspirational, growth-mindset builder rather than peek into the historical aspects of Booker T. Washington. That being said, if you aren’t familiar with Washington of the Tuskegee Institute your interest will be piqued enough to look him up.

Sort of off topic, but something I wanted to bring up in regard to these books by Melanin Origins. Nearly all their books are available as ebooks, hardbacks, and paperbacks. While not everyone has access to ebooks, Kindle does have an app that can be downloaded to a smartphone and is in full color. These are an incredibly affordable way to get ahold of these titles. For libraries the hardbacks are great because they don’t get lost on the shelf. And for home and classroom libraries the paperbacks are an incredibly affordable option. You’re also supporting a black owned business when you purchase them, so it’s a great option all around with something for everyone.

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

Purchase the book here (not affiliate links):

On IndieBound: paperback and hardback

On Amazon as an 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.

Tags | , , , , , , ,

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.

 

Tags | , , , , , , , ,

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.

Tags | ,

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, but you can preorder the book here (not an affiliate link):

On IndieBound: paperback and hardback

On Amazon as an 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.

Tags | , , , , , ,

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!

 

Tags | , , , , , , ,

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.

 

Tags | , , , ,

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 (not affiliate links):

On IndieBound: paperback and hardback

On Amazon as an 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.

Tags | , , , , , ,