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2019 March

29

Mar
2019

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: LaDonna Plays Hoops by Kimberly Gordon Biddle

On 29, Mar 2019 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

LaDonna Plays HoopsLaDonna Plays Hoops written by Kimberly A. Gordon Biddle, illustrated by Heath Gray

From Goodreads: This is an inspirational and contemporary story of a young, African-American girl who goes to visit her grandma for a family reunion. While there, she tries to become the family hoops star. She wonders if she has the skill and the will. The story presents subtle, everyday events that teach life lessons.

Two years ago LaDonna played her cousin Tyrone in basketball and lost. That loss stung and now, two years older and wiser, she wants a rematch. Or at least she thinks she does. Her dad reminds her that whether or not she wins or loses, the practice will be good for her. LaDonna is by turns confident that she’ll beat Tyrone and nervous that she won’t be able to. She’s grown in the last two years and even gone to basketball camp, but Tyrone is also bigger and has more practice under his belt. He rather rudely reminds her that he plays on a basketball league. Fortunately, LaDonna doesn’t let a scraped knee or her nerves get the best of her and she handily wins the match.

This was such a fun read with lots to love. LaDonna dresses girly with leggings, a skirt, and a lot of pink, but she loves sports. She’s all confidence and swagger on the outside, but inside she’s afraid she won’t be able to take Tyrone’s title as family hoops star. Biddle clearly has a good read on kids and I love that the text and illustrations don’t paint LaDonna as anything more than a kid. So many times we see girls who like sports represented with boy clothes and body language and an all consuming confidence. Grandma calls her a tomboy at one point, but in reality LaDonna didn’t stick out from the group of kids in the family.

I also love that her whole family is clearly waiting for this rematch to happen. They all stare when Tyrone shuffles in off the basketball court to the backyard where LaDonna is jumping rope with a gaggle of other cousins. They all scowl as Tyrone tries to call a foul on LaDonna and won’t let him get away with it. And they all cheer as Tyrone meets his match. I imagine the adults of the family talking over the phone about this rematch, wondering if it will happen, who will initiate it, and speculating on who will win. I also imagine all the kids listening in on these conversations and wondering too about it. So when it comes time for the highly anticipated game, everyone is all ears and eyes. Her cousin Veronica quickly steps up to watch LaDonna’s pet frog for her during the match.

The illustrations are bright and colorful and cute. The cartoony style lends itself perfectly to such a light and funny family story. LaDonna’s family is shown to be primarily African American, but there are a few white folks in it too. Grandma lives in a clean, suburban neighborhood and it’s good to see a middle class African American family represented in kidlit. It shouldn’t be such a rarity, but it is.

The book would be great in a sports themed storytime as well as in classrooms with sports fans. Even better, the books shows that girls can enjoy and be good at basketball and all kids will benefit from being exposed to that narrative. In terms of ages, I would say first through third grade, but the lack of both racial and sporty girl representation might push this up into fourth grade. Kindergarten ages would probably be fine, especially if you learn the song that goes along with it (see below).

One last thing to add, I happen to know the author of this book through my last library and she told me she would be reading her book at a local Barnes and Noble. I took my daughter to hear the reading and get a copy signed. Not only were there cookies, stickers, coloring sheets and pencils, but Biddle has also written a little song that her husband plays on the ukulele while the two sing it during the read aloud. It was charming to say the least. And also catchy. Looking at the picture I used in this post, it seems that you can now get copies of the song to learn. 🙂

It is also worth noting that this book is available from the publisher with a special dyslexic font. I think this is both fascinating and wonderful. The story is high interest and the font can help readers who normally struggle.

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22

Mar
2019

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: The Shaky Achy Tooth by Tiara Burnett Varner

On 22, Mar 2019 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

The Onyx BrothersThe Adventures of the Onyx Brothers: The Shaky Achy Tooth written by Tiara Burnett Varner, illustrated by Cynthia Tapia Greene

From Goodreads: Isaiah Onyx is the youngest brother of the three Onyx brothers.  He cannot figure out why his mouth is hurting.   In this first book of The Onyx Brothers series, the brothers use teamwork to solve the mystery of Isaiah’s achy mouth.  Come along and join the Onyx Brothers as they take you on an adventure to explore, investigate, and solve life’s everyday mysteries-all while having fun!

Do you have siblings in your library? Yes? Then you need this book. This is the first, hopefully of many, books about the Onyx brothers. It starts with some introductions by the oldest, Ijalon, who informs us that this trio of brothers is creative, smart, adventurous, and amazing (how’s that for #blackboyjoy?). Ijalon is funny and readers are going to want to turn those pages to learn about the “death defying adventures and life altering experiences” he promises (well…actually, their parents forbid those kinds of antics, but these three goofy kids are sure to come up with something fun).

In this first installment the youngest is acting funny. Ijalon chalks it up to how all little kids act until he hears that Isaiah has passed up chocolate chip cookies. Ijalon immediately jumps up to help, but Elijah, the middle brother, suggests they polish off the cookies before offering their services. See? Funny! And spot on with the sibling dynamics.

Turns our Isaiah has a loose tooth that hurts, so his brothers offer to remove it. Ijalon puts on a hazmat suit and Elijah ties a string to the door knob. He looks very excited to try out this technique. They both give poor Isaiah some wild ideas about his tooth leaving his mouth. Isaiah’s imagination runs away with him and he gets more than a little nervous. Would you let them pull your tooth? Neither does Isaiah.

Fortunately mom shows up just in time to gently remove the tooth and explain what’s really going on. After she pulls the tooth with no drama, the two older brothers exchange knowing glances, reassuring each other that they at least were right about what needed to happen, even if Isaiah wouldn’t let them take care of it.

The illustrations are absolutely gorgeous. Realistic colored pencil style drawings of the boys and their environments grace every page. I love bright, digitally enhanced illustrations, but I am a real sucker for this type of lovingly made illustration. The expressions on the boys’ faces are priceless and they really enhance the storytelling. It’s just so beautiful. Greene has a real knack for drawing people.

The book seems long, but the text on each page is mostly spare making it good for a range of audiences, including younger kids. I was surprised when my daughter lost her first tooth at five (that’s kindergarten age!) and there are plenty more to go at nearly eight years old, so you’ll get plenty of mileage out of this book at home, in the classroom, or in the library collection.

If you want the best tooth-themed storytime around, pair this with Tallulah the Tooth Fairy CEO. Find a nonfiction book about good brushing habits and you’re set. Paper teeth to match the achy shaky tooth of Isaiah’s imagination would make a perfect craft to round out a fun half hour of dental-themed fun.

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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15

Mar
2019

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Nonficiton Review: Newton’s Law Going Through the Motions by Marlene Downing

On 15, Mar 2019 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Newton’s Law: Going Through the Motions written by Marlene Downing, created by Bryheem Charity

From the publisher: All children are unique with different personalities and learning styles. Nadiyah is a student that struggles to understand the lesson in her classroom. Watching other students eagerly raise their hands makes her more frustrated and anxious. Nadiyah continues “going through the motions” until Maximus steps in to guide her on a fun, educational journey. The two of them discover that a hands-on approach is the antidote to Nadiyah’s style of learning. Going Through the Motions highlights the fact that different learning styles require a different approach. Nadiyah learns about Newton’s three laws of motion during her journey into the futuristic world. 

Think Magic School Bus, but for an older crowd. Nadiyah, a middle schooler, is confused in science class. They just learned Newton’s laws of motion and it feels like everyone gets it but her. A pep talk from her mother that evening seems to send Nadiyah off to an exciting dreamland where she meets Maximus, the school role model who is there to help her understand her science lessons.

Lucky for Nadiyah this dream middle school has an epic playground. It looks like an amusement park. Maximus tells her ” I know that learning something can be confusing. That’s why you need to make it as fun as you possibly can while you’re learning.” On the playground they use the soccer field, the swings, and a pond to demonstrate the principles.

I couldn’t agree more with Maximus. Not every topic is going to be riveting for every student, but learning should be fun, engaging and feel relevant to kids. By moving to a more hands on approach and in a setting outside the classroom the Laws of Motion feel a lot more engaged with every day life.

This was a great little primer on Newton’s Laws. I know they aren’t typically covered until middle school, but I would suggest that kids as young as second or third grade will easily grasp these concepts with Maximus helping them out. Which of course makes this an excellent little volume to have on your public or school library shelves. Any kids who are interested in science will enjoy reading Going Through the Motions and they will definitely enjoy being able to explain the Laws of Motion to their friends and families.

Unlike Magic School Bus, Going Through the Motions a lot less frenetic. I think this makes it more accessible as a read aloud, to younger audiences that might be distracted by ALL THE THINGS going on in MSB, and to older students who might feel that MSB is too young.

I particularly appreciate both that Nadiyah is an African American girl and that she doesn’t initially get it. I think science is one of those subjects where the narrative around kids who like it is that they understand it right away. Nadiyah realizes how enjoyable science and physics is once she’s given a little extra time with the lesson and a different approach to the concepts. This doesn’t mean she can’t enjoy science or that she isn’t smart enough. When you book talk this or hand sell it to a student, be sure you aren’t just giving it to the kids who are your science-y kids. Offer it to students who you think my enjoy science more if it was a little less academic and more active. And don’t discount using this book for older grades (fifth grade and up). It clearly explains Newton’s Laws of Motion in an easy to understand format with clear examples. There are kids in middle school too that need a little extra oomph.

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08

Mar
2019

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Chapter Book Review: The Adventures of Papa Lemon’s Little Wanderers: Bullying by Lehman Riley

On 08, Mar 2019 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

BullyingThe Adventures of Papa Lemon’s Little Wanderers: Bullying a choice with consequences written by Lehman Riley

From the publisher: What will the Little Wanderers do when they see their classmate Anna being bullied? Will cruel words keep her from achieving her dreams? When Papa Lemon suggests a trip back to 1953, the kids meet a judge named Rosa and get a first-hand look at how bullying has always been a problem. The kids also get an important reminder that their choices can either help or hurt the people around them. 

I came across this series a few years ago when looking to build and diversify my chapter book collection and I’m really glad I did. I think you would be surprised by how homogenous chapter books are. I find so many of them are exclusively about contemporary friendships with the occasional quirky character thrown in. They also tend to be pretty white (or feature animal characters). Don’t get me wrong, some of my favorite kidlit features any and all of those characteristics, but my library collection wasn’t about me. Plus who wants to read the same type of book over and over again? I’ll tell you who doesn’t- kids.

When I found Papa Lemon, I found a diverse group of friends tackling issues that are relevant to kids, such as bullying in this most recent book, and drawing on history for lessons that can be applied to these issues now. Not only is there time travel (science fiction!), but there is history (historical fiction that isn’t Britain in the Elizabethan era!).

Another thing I especially appreciate about these books is how they aren’t so tediously formulaic (I’m looking at you Magic Treehouse). This might make them a little more difficult to follow for emerging readers, but it’s well worth it. Especially if you’re the parent or teacher or friend reading them aloud to someone.

It’s also incredibly refreshing to see an older character, Papa Lemon, guiding the kids but not being a frail, wizened old man. He’s up and going about his own business, but he points the friends in the right direction when they need a little guidance.

This book in particular feels well polished. Clearly Riley is hitting his stride in writing these stories. I’ve said this before for other books and I want to be clear this is not to imply that previous books were unpolished or bad. It’s just that this one feels like he’s refined his storytelling and gotten the formula down for the story.

In this book in particular I appreciate that the kids take their harassment to their phones and start texting each other about a mistake their classmate Anna makes in class.

These books are great for emerging chapter book readers. They feature an easy to follow plot line with a good lesson woven in. They can be a bit didactic, but I think it’s a really fine line to walk writing these types of books. You want them to be interesting and if you want a message in them you can’t bury that too deeply as the intended audience is still practicing the mechanics of reading (hence the formulaic book series at this level). The whole series is well worth having on your shelves for kids who want to branch out from simple friendship books.

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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01

Mar
2019

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Urban Toons presents Cinderella by Ki’el Ebon Ibrahim

On 01, Mar 2019 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

CinderellaUrban Toons presents Cinderella: A Princess of the Moors written by Ki’el Ebon Ibrahim

From Goodreads: Beautiful, smart, and kind, Safiya lived a charmed life in Italy until her beloved mother died. Her father remarried, bringing two selfish “sisters” into Safiya’s home. Now Safiya is Cinderella, pretty much a servant to her stepsisters. When the prince is looking for a wife, will Cinderella’s natural beauty shine through?

I know what you’re thinking. Really? Another retelling of Cinderella? How many different versions of Cinderella are out there? I know, I know. Tons. I see them on discount shelves at Barnes and Noble, on racks at Costco. None of them take the story further or add anything. And yet, there are several pieces of this version of Cinderella that I loved and that I think make it worth considering adding to your shelves if you collect Cinderella retellings, teach a fairy tale unit, or simply want a version of this classic story to read aloud.

The first is the vocabulary in it. So many of the rehashings of fairy tales simplify the language and I’m not sure why. In this version though, the text is rich with words that will build your child’s vocabulary and make the story so much more interesting to read. Words like “gilt”, “transcend”, and “sorrow”. Be sure to check in from time to time to briefly define some of these words. They make the reading experience so rich.

The second is that the princess is black and the story is set in Moorish Spain. The last library I worked in had a three-foot long section of shelf dedicated to Cinderella retellings that were used by the first grade in their Cinderella study. I don’t think there was a single one that featured a black Cinderella, African American or otherwise. There were a couple Asian (Chinese and Vietnamese, I believe) retellings and tons of Euro-centric versions plus several animal ones. In Cinderella: A Princess of the Moors readers get a little glimpse into an often ignored piece of European history (because we tend to teach European history as something that is exclusive to much whiter and lighter peoples).

Finally, I also love that this publisher, UrbanToons, is taking stories and populating them with black characters. There isn’t a token character of color stuffed into the story somewhere. Black characters fill all the roles and take center stage and that’s very powerful in the current publishing industry.

I personally have mixed feelings about fairy tales but I also recognize many, many people love them and read them. If you’re one of those teachers, parents or librarians be sure to diversify your story collections. Remember that Cinderella, and other fairy tales, aren’t specific to one culture or geographical region. The bones of the story can be broadly applied and we can demand diversity in these traditional stories too.

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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