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2018 June



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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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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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 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.

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