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2019 July

19

Jul
2019

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Maxine Listens by Dr. Lynda Jones Mubarak

On 19, Jul 2019 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Maxine Listens written by Dr. Lynda Jones Mubarak, illustrated by Adua Hernandez

From Goodreads: Maxine Hill continues her investigative techniques to solve mysteries and puzzles while practicing community service and human compassion at school and in her community. A new medical diagnosis sends Maxine on a journey to find answers to a very personal concern. What will Max discover this time? Will she be successful? Follow young, Detective Maxine Hill as she seeks to unravel and address another important challenge. 

Maxine Hill is back and she’s ready to tackle the latest mystery, this time in her own family. Her dad has been asking her to repeat herself a lot lately and while on a trip to get new glasses her mom breaks the news that a health issue is causing hearing loss. Maxine makes it her mission to understand the deaf/hard of hearing community better in order to understand what is happening to her dad.

In order to understand the hearing loss Maxine decides to research online and to befriend the three hearing impaired children in her grade at school. The research is an opportunity for her to share what she discovers with the reader and her classmates in the form of an oral presentation. The kids she befriends humanize hearing loss and share different stories and experiences with the condition.

While the relationships she starts to build could come off as transactional or disingenuous on Maxine’s part she bears in mind something her mother has said when she first approaches them “if you want to learn the truth about a person, take some time to learn the truth about how they live, work, and play”. Chastising herself for not really noticing them before or making an attempt to get to know them, she ends up becoming friends with them and the three kids get to share their stories and their dreams for their futures, which makes them less one-dimensional or props exclusively for Maxine. (Bearing in mind this isn’t a novel, more like a beginning chapter book, the space for developing any character is limited.) They are also portrayed as people and not people that need saving by or validation from Maxine. She doesn’t bring them into the cool group and, while she uses what she has learned from them in her report, the report is about how to be inclusive and her own family’s experience, rather than speaking for the other kids.

Also, if you have a student, patron, or kiddo who is needing glasses, Maxine notices her eyesight worsening and over the course of the book gets a new prescription for her glasses. It’s great to see a story that has a glasses-wearing kid taking the change in vision seriously and in stride.

If I had one suggestion about the book it’s the form factor/format! Both Maxine books would make excellent beginning chapter books. Breaking the text up into short chapters (not removing any content, simply breaking it out) and reducing the trim size of the book to match chapter books would make this book an easy peasy sell to kids and librarians alike. Hernandez’s illustrations have a sophisticated, clean feel to them that make them perfect for helping break up and support the text without making kids feel like they’re reading a “baby book”. Maxine is charmingly rendered and will appeal to the chapter book audience in the same way Clementine or Judy Moody does.

If you want smart, interesting female characters on your shelves (you do, right?) then be sure to get both Maxine books. Another winner from Dr. Mubarak.

To be clear, I am not a visually impaired or hearing impaired person. Which of course means this is my read of the book which might very well be incomplete or downright wrong. I would love to hear what people in those communities have to say.

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):

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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05

Jul
2019

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: The Royal Alphabets by Maame Serwaa

On 05, Jul 2019 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

The Royal Alphabets: A Collection of African Empires in World History written by by Maame Serwaa, illustrated by Fleance Forkuo

From Goodreads: Take a trip back to the riches of African history and brace yourself as this book utilizes the alphabets to educate readers on pre-colonial Africa. The Royal Alphabets is a unique and positive representation of Africa and its many cultures dating back thousands of years and into present time. In this captivating book, readers will learn of Royal figures throughout the continent as well as gain understanding of the importance of African history as it relates to the rest of the world. This page turner is sure to leave readers enlightened and curious for more.

I consider myself lucky. In my sophomore year of high school we studied “World Cultures” in our history class. This started with the three famous empires of West Africa (Mali, Ghana, and Songhai). It then continued into China and only China. The previous year was Ancient History- Egypt, Greece, and Rome- and while you might think Egypt opened up the ability to look at African and Middle Eastern cultures, you would be wrong. It was very whitewashed. The following years focused on U.S. history and European history, the later of which conveniently started after 1300 AD and after much contact with non-white empires had occurred. I think it’s telling that the single year we studied “the World” was actually a very small snapshot of the diversity of peoples and cultures that have lived on this planet across time (but it is not a coincidence).

In college I took anthropology and history classes that focused on West Africa, the Southern Pacific islands, and Indonesia. But once again, a lot of it was both contemporary and seen through the lens of colonization. I am forever grateful I had any and all those classes despite their flaws because they planted the seeds that the World is not White by default nor a place where White people were the only ones to create history or civilization.

And yet, knowing this, I am still stymied as a parent trying to find ways to teach my kids about history that doesn’t involve the slave trade or Black folks being enslaved. (As a White parent I am talking about those things with my kids, but just as Black parents want their children to know about the rich history of Black and African people, I do too, although maybe not for the same reasons.)

All of this is a long, roundabout way of getting to the book The Royal Alphabets which features twenty six kings, queens, armies and empires of African civilizations. This is another important book from Melanin Origins and author Maame Serwaa. Each letter entry has tiny tidbits of information about the historical figure, figures, or empire. In some ways I wish there was more, but I think as with many of Melanin Origins books, they aren’t complete history lessons. Just good introductions that encourage the reader to follow their curiosity to research and learn more. The book brings to mind From Ashanti to Zulu, which is quite lovely, but also incredibly boring and isn’t without its own issues of representation. I think Royal Alphabets strikes the perfect balance between giving information and keeping it moving. My own daughter was really excited about the Dohemian Female Army because she made the connection to the Dora Milaje from Black Panther.

I know I say this all the time, but here is another book that should be on your shelves. Black parents can use this as a confidence builder around culture and Micah and Myra, the two narrators, say as much in their introduction. Black and African people have accomplished so much through the ages, but traditional education has completely erased their contributions or reduced them to slavery and the Civil Rights Era and maybe peanut butter. Other students of color and White students will also be better off knowing that it wasn’t only White, Christian, cisgender, heterosexual men who accomplished things and are worthy of history books.

I think all types of libraries can find a place for this in their collections. Schools should, of course, be committed to giving students access to a robust history curriculum and resources. Public libraries I am sure have families of all stripes that would like to share these people and accomplishments with their children. Home libraries, daycares, classrooms all have the same commitments and audiences, too.

I have one criticism of the book, the entry on Sundiata Keita. He was physically disabled and the entry on him uses the word “crippled”, which is a word that can be hurtful in the disabled community as it has been used as a slur. It also says he “overcame” his disability. I think it might be more accurate and less ableist to say he was both physically disabled and a successful, just, strong king. Overcoming implies that it was something that was deficient in him, which considering his power, fame, and success, he was clearly not at a deficit. Despite this, the rest of the book is strong and necessary. Maybe subsequent editions of the book can change the language a bit?

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 Amazon: paperback, hardback, and ebook.
  • On IndieBound: paperback and hardback.

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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