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Review

21

Mar
2020

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Missing Daddy by Mariame Kaba

On 21, Mar 2020 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Missing Daddy written by Mariame Kaba, illustrated by bria royal

A little child with brown skin and short hair is holding a dandelion puff. They are blowing the seeds out over a scene of buildings and hills. The child wears an orange shirt. In the sky a a few fireflies and the moon.
Image description: A little child with brown skin and short hair is holding a dandelion puff. They are blowing the seeds out over a scene of buildings and hills. The child wears an orange shirt. In the sky a a few fireflies and the moon.

From Goodreads: A little girl who misses her father because he’s away in prison shares how his absence affects different parts of her life. Her greatest excitement is the days when she gets to visit her beloved father. With gorgeous illustrations throughout, this book illuminates the heartaches of dealing with missing a parent and shows that a little girl’s love can overcome her father’s incarceration.

Missing Daddy is one of those picture books where its simplicity belies its power. A little girl speaks about what it’s like having a parent in prison. Her grandmother helps out and her mom works hard. Good days are when she can visit her father and hug him. She has some support in the form of her teacher and adults she can share her thoughts and feelings with. But sometimes the kids at school tease her. She also has a half sibling that lives in DC that she wishes she could talk to more so they can talk about missing their dad. The text is rhymed and the final page shows the girl standing at the front of a classroom holding a piece of paper which I understood to mean the books is supposed to be a poem she’s written and is now sharing with her class.

There are a handful of picture books that deal with incarcerated parents (Visiting Day by Jacqueline Woodson, An Angel for Mariqua by Zetta Elliott, and Mama’s Nightingale by Edwidge Danticat all come to mind)*, but it’s not a commonly covered topic. And yet, there are 5 million children who have had a parent incarcerated at some point during their childhood. This is not a topic we can or should sweep under the rug. These children deserve to see themselves in the pages of picture books and need to see their feelings validated. If you don’t know Mariam Kaba, what are you doing with your life? Look her up. She does incredible prison abolition work and you need to have her work on your radar.

The illustrations are awesome. I love the color palate. I love the sketchy black outlines filled with blocks of color. It makes the book feel very modern and appealing. The line drawings of the people remind me of the posters and remembrances of people in the Black Lives Matter signs. It’s also incredible that the illustrator centers “black and brown imaginations of womxnhood, femininity and gender fluidity”. We need to be supporting artists like this and it’s not very common in traditional publishing.

For those of you using this in a classroom or with your children, there is a discussion guide in the back to help guide your conversations around the story. I know these conversations can seem hard, particularly if you are not used to having tough conversations about big topics like this and a discussion guide can help.

If you are a library or school with populations that experience incarceration this must be on your shelves. Honestly, you may not know if a family has someone incarcerated, so even if you think you don’t serve families with incarcerated folks, you might. But please also consider having this on your shelf if you don’t have kids with incarcerated parents. This is a topic everyone should be discussing with their kids- don’t let these families be invisible to yours just because you don’t have someone in prison. Knowing that some children have their families torn apart by the criminal (in)justice system and that it harms them will foster empathy in kids who are fortunate enough not to be experiencing it (and hopefully inspire them to fight the system).

You can purchase the book here on Amazon or directly from the publisher Haymarket Books. If you work with any organizations that do jail support where they offer coffee, snacks, and supplies to folks visiting jails and/or being released from jails, donate copies to have out for kids heading in to visit incarcerated family members.

*Interestingly, I realized all three of these books and Missing Daddy feature girls with incarcerated parents.

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16

Mar
2020

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Penelope Embraces Her Uniqueness by Katrina Hunt

On 16, Mar 2020 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Penelope Embraces Her Uniqueness written by Katrina Hunt, illustrated by Adua Hernandez

A purple book cover features a little girl with two hair poofs. She has her eyes closed and her arms wrapped around herself. She is wearing a bright yellow, sleeveless dress. She is being encircled by glowing musical notes. In the background is a baby grand piano.
Image description: A purple book cover features a little girl with two hair poofs. She has her eyes closed and her arms wrapped around herself. She is wearing a bright yellow, sleeveless dress. She is being encircled by glowing musical notes. In the background is a baby grand piano.

From Goodreads: Read along as author, Katrina Hunt, tells the story of a young girl named Penelope who has some struggles embracing all of the things that make her special/unique. Penelope eventually realizes that life is so much more than how she looks, but it’s her wonderful gifts and talents that make her one of a kind, too. Penelope Embraces Her Uniqueness inspires and encourages children to embrace who they are, and let their uniqueness shine through.

Penelope is having a hard time feeling like she’s different from everyone around her. She’s focused on how she looks different- her feet aren’t dainty, her skin is darker than the other girls, her hair is poofy. But one night she visits a fair and starts dancing at the music tent. She’s invited up on stage and discovers she is good at something. All the body criticism falls away and she realizes that it’s okay to be different and that she has had this talent and inner strength all along.

I think these types of books are especially wonderful in school and classroom libraries where there are groups of children who may end up comparing themselves to each other. This is something Penelope struggles with in the story. Not to mention the trend of working with children on their social and emotional intelligences in those venues. Penelope encourages children to find their gifts and talents and the special things that make them them.

I also think that, while every child can benefit from the positive message here, Black children (and a lot of children of color more broadly) will especially benefit from seeing a little girl who looks like them on the page. Traditional publishing still overwhelmingly centers white characters and this is true for those books that show quirky kids being accepted as they are. Librarians who serve populations with kids of color and Black children should be sure to have this on their shelves, especially if they also have books like Madeline, Lady Bug Girl, and Pippi Longstocking.

Adua Hernandez is always a strong illustrator. Her people are adorable and so much of her art features bright, friendly colors and patterns. It’s part manga, part cartoon. Penelope is hard on herself for her looks, but in reality she’s a sweet little girl with her hair in poofs, big brown eyes, and a yellow dress that pops against her brown skin. She also looks a lot like the author’s daughter who can be seen on the dedication page. As always the colors are bright and inviting and draw the reader into the page.

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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02

Mar
2020

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Hermanito: Little Brother and Hermanita: Little Sister by Dr. Khalid White & Isela Garcia White

On 02, Mar 2020 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Hermanito: Little Brother written by Dr. Khalid White & Isela Garcia White, illustrated by Adua Hernandez

Hermanita: Little Sister written by Dr. Khalid White & Isela Garcia White, illustrated by Adua Hernandez

Cover of the book features a light yellow background with the title across the top. In the center is a pink and purple rug with the three siblings sitting on it.
Image description: Cover of the book features a light yellow background with the title across the top. In the center is a pink and purple rug with the three siblings sitting on it.

From Goodreads: Read along as Mateo and Amaya laugh, share, and play with their little brother, Santiago. Hermanito teaches children the values of teamwork, responsibility and love in an environment filled with positive imagery from a lovely Afro-Latinx family. The story is told in both English and in Spanish for bilingual readers and language learners.

From Goodreads: Read along as Ximena and Miguel laugh, share and play with their little sister, Ariana. While in play, the older siblings show Ariana the values of teamwork, responsibility and love as only a family can. The story is told in both English and in Spanish for bilingual readers and language learners.

I’m reviewing these two books together because they are written in the tradition of books like What Mommies Do Best/What Daddies Do Best by Laura Numeroff, The Brother Book/The Sister Book by Todd Parr, and various potty training books geared toward boys or girls, as you might be able to tell from the titles here. Depending on what sibling order you have in your family, you could choose either title.

A light pink cover features three siblings with various shades of brown skin sit on a brightly striped rug. On the baby's lap is an open book.
Image description: A light pink cover features three siblings with various shades of brown skin sit on a brightly striped rug. On the baby’s lap is an open book.

The illustrations in both books are superb. Hernandez has a knack for creating adorable children and in these two books we get a gaggle of them. She also always uses bright, friendly colors, textures, and settings that make her books very inviting especially to children.

The families appear to be mixed Latinx/Black families. They also have a range of skin tones including some darker skinned people (the mix is different in each book). It’s not common to see mixed families except when the book is specifically talking about diversity and usually the mixed family is Black and White. Of course there are Black folks who are also Latinx and these books could easily be representing them too. And of course there are Black families that are not mixed who have a variety of skin tones and again this book could be reflecting them, although there are a few details that make it seem more like the families have some Latinx roots.

I absolutely love that in each home there is a small alter for the Virgin Mary with candles and flowers. It’s just a small detail and the homes for the most part look very American (if suspiciously clean for having three kids in them!), but this is the type of detail that can mean the world to children who are seeing their homes and family traditions reflected on the page.

The story in each book is split into two sections, the first shows the parents making a meal for the family and, once seated at the table, they talk about how they expect the older siblings to show the youngest how to be responsible and take personal responsibility. The second half shows the siblings doing exactly this. They talk about helping out around the house, taking care of pets, and playing. I appreciate that there are a mix of activities for both the brother and sister that show them being active and helping around the house. This second portion of the text is done is a sing-song type of verse which make it easy for young readers to join in and read or repeat along:

“Little Sister, Little Sister. We love to make you dance. Little Sister. Little Sister. Go put on some pants!”

“Little Brother. Little Brother. Let’s all play with the ball. Little Brother. Little Brother. We won’t let you fall.”

These would make great books for older siblings to share with their pre- and emerging reader younger sibs. They could skip the first part if the child they are reading to is young and may not sit through the whole story.

The books are also translated into Spanish (another reason I think the family has some Latinx roots). If you are a librarian in a bilingual school either because your population speaks Spanish or because you are an emersion school, these would make great additions to your collection.

The end of each book has some blank pages with questions on them for readers to answer, such as what do you like to do with your family and how might you help them. I love when books have these spaces to have kids personalize the stories and really think about the ideas. I really appreciate that the author has asked children to write OR draw to answer the questions- a very important distinction to make for kids who might not yet be writing.

All in all, both of these are sweet books that would be wonderful additions to collections with other sibling books on the shelves (including home libraries).

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)

Hermanito:

Hermanita:

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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24

Feb
2020

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Testing Jitters by Alisha Chenevert

On 24, Feb 2020 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Testing Jitters written by Alisha Chenevert, illustrated by Hatice Bayramoglu

On the cover of the picture book is a classroom. A variety of children are sitting at desks with papers in front of them and pencils in hand. In the center of the picture is a girl with braided pigtails, a bright pink shirt, and brown skin.
Image descritpion: On the cover of the picture book is a classroom. A variety of children are sitting at desks with papers in front of them and pencils in hand. In the center of the picture is a girl with braided pigtails, a bright pink shirt, and brown skin.

From Goodreads: Read along as a brilliant young lady by the name of Mya shares her struggles of testing anxiety. As Mya prepares for bed the night before a big test, she finds herself unable to fall asleep. Suddenly, a genie appears to grant her ten wishes which includes a journey through some of Mya’s favorite adventures. Throughout her journey, Mya learns to focus on positive thoughts that bring her joy and help her to relax as she prepares for a test. She awakes to find that she no longer has testing jitters and that all is well.

I once read an article that encouraged teachers to call tests “Zimbabwes” because that word was silly and less threatening than the word “test”. Besides being kind of racist for calling the name of a country in Africa silly and implying that it isn’t threatening, this isn’t a particularly useful strategy for reducing anxiety since kids aren’t stupid. They know a test is a test no matter what you call it and for those kids who get performance anxiety or testing jitters, they need REAL strategies for focusing their minds and working with their anxiety.

There are also studies about how simply mentioning or implying that certain groups are not good at a subject (such as saying women aren’t good at math) prior to administering a test impacts performance in a measurable way. All of which to say is, testing anxiety is real and some kids need extra help. Tests are something we all have to suffer through even in the adult world (hello, DMV) so working on the anxiety as a child can help kids become successful, fully functioning adults.

In Testing Jitters Mya is nervous about a big test at school the next day. Her mom tries to soothe her and offers words of encouragement as well as to make a good breakfast in the morning, but she still goes to bed worried. In her dreams that night she is met by Gina, a genie. Together the two girls talk about things that bring Mya joy. They dance, swing, and visit the beach. Gina teaches Mya that she can calm herself by thinking of her favorite activities and places as well as taking deep breaths and believing in herself. She wakes up refreshed and takes her mom up on a hearty breakfast.

This is definitely a book for school libraries as well as classroom collections that teachers can pull out for working with anxious kiddos. Parents can work with kids to develop a list of strategies to try out for calming nerves- deep breaths, talking back to the anxious voice, finding some favorite places to visit to center themselves, etc. It’s helpful to see Mya do these things and find comfort in them as she sits down to take her big test. Testing anxiety (and honestly anxiety in general) is not a topic I see tackled a whole lot in kidlit, so Testing Jitters is a great addition to book shelves.

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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22

Feb
2020

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Landon’s Lemonade Stand by Randy Williams

On 22, Feb 2020 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Landon’s Lemonade Stand written by Randy Williams, illustrated by Mark “mas” Stewart

In the center foreground, a little boy with short dreadlocks holds up a red cup of lemonade in one hand and flyer advertising his lemonade stand in the other. Behind him is a shiny, red, new bike and a table with a sign for his lemonade stand. Across the top is the title of the book with lemons on either side in the corners.
Image description: In the center foreground, a little boy with short dreadlocks holds up a red cup of lemonade in one hand and flyer advertising his lemonade stand in the other. Behind him is a shiny, red, new bike and a table with a sign for his lemonade stand. Across the top is the title of the book with lemons on either side in the corners.

From Goodreads: Landon’s Lemonade Stand is about a young African American child who learns to be an entrepreneur by opening a lemonade stand to earn money for a brand new RBG Speedster bicycle. Author Randy Williams inspires young girls and boys alike with messages of leadership and financial responsibility while encouraging children to seek entrepreneurship at a young age.

Watching TV one morning Landon sees an ad for a new bike and decides he really, really wants it. His parents see an opportunity to have Landon take on the responsibility of getting what he wants for himself and suggest a lemonade stand. From there they support him through the process of getting it up and running and teaching him some basic business practices.

The pacing in this story was excellent. It starts with Landon seeing the bike on TV and has him run to his parents asking for it. Then the story takes us through the steps for getting his lemonade stand up and running and then shows resolution of his initial desire to get a bike. Nothing in the story drags, feels overly expository, or gets bogged down with too much detail. Williams keeps reader interest through the whole story while also giving them a blueprint for how to start up their own lemonade stand.

As a mom, I have to say I love the expressions on Landon’s mom’s face. Especially when they’re in the grocery store getting supplies. She’s making hard eye contact and raising an eyebrow. Landon is busy assuring her he has a good grip on what he needs and a complete list of supplies and she’s just being doubly sure, because she will not be driving back for forgotten items, so help her God. All the illustrations have a fun comic book style that matches the enthusiasm and lightness of the story.

With warmer weather heading our way in the Northern Hemisphere, this is sure to inspire kids to get out there and make lemonade. Libraries should have this book on their shelves during summer months to encourage all young entrepreneurs out there. Schools with summer programs and access to their libraries should definitely have this and even if the library is closed over the summer have it to inspire kids in April and May.

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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17

Feb
2020

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: My Grandma Is a Lady by Jalissa B. Pollard

On 17, Feb 2020 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

My Grandma Is a Lady written by Jalissa B. Pollard, illustrated by Hatice Bayramoglu

Picture of the cover of the book. It features a grandmother with light brown skin wearing a white jacket and short white veil over her gray hair. She is holding a makeup compact and is raising a powder puff up to her cheek. She is looking back at her granddaughter who is sitting on her bed in a pink dress holding a doll. On the vanity table is a yellow vase of purple flowers and the grandmother's glasses.
Image description: Picture of the cover of the book. It features a grandmother with light brown skin wearing a white jacket and short white veil over her gray hair. She is holding a makeup compact and is raising a powder puff up to her cheek. She is looking back at her granddaughter who is sitting on her bed in a pink dress holding a doll. On the vanity table is a yellow vase of purple flowers and the grandmother’s glasses.

From Goodreads: My Grandma is a Lady is about a young African American girl that chronicles her memories of her grandmother’s participation and membership in the Ladies’ Auxiliary of the Knights of Peter Claver, a historically black lay organization of Catholics. Representation matters. This story resonates with many children of the Catholic faith worldwide.

My Grandma Is a Lady is a lovely ode to religious grandmas everywhere, specifically Catholic grandmas. The little girl we see on the cover tells us about the things her grandmother does. She dresses in white every second Sunday, she reminds the girl of her mother’s birthday, she prays rosary in the park with her lady friends in the Fall. The girl concludes that she hopes to be like her grandmother one day, a faithful lady.

The illustrations are bight and airy lending the book a lightness despite how austere and dower church and church ladies are often depicted. Clearly the author and the girl in the book see the grandmother’s religion and faith as very positive things. Christianity and religion doesn’t get a lot of press in mainstream children’s publishing and the religious presses tend to have heavy-handed, moralizing books for kids. It’s refreshing to see this depiction of religion and a religious family member where it is clearly a love letter to a beloved grandmother, rather than a hard sell on converting kids. And I think a lot of folks have grandmothers and grandparents that take great pride in religion, so they get to see their favorite family members reflected in a positive way here.

For those readers concerned by the word lady, don’t let it hang you up too much if you’re looking for a book celebrating grandmas. While the grandmother is a lady, the things that make her a lady are not overly feminine or gendered. They seem to be things that make her more religious and faithful.

It isn’t explicit in the story whether or not the little girl narrating is living with her grandmother or whether her mother may be dead. It reminded me of the book Sunday Shopping where the little girl lives with her grandmother because her mother is in the military, although it’s ambiguous whether the mother is simply deployed or dead. I personally think the ambiguity makes it more relatable for a wider variety of families, but I also imagine some families are looking for less ambiguity.

Libraries situated in religious communities would be well advised to get a copy of this on their shelves. Ditto classrooms and schools with large religious communities. If religion is less of a community value, but you do celebrate grandparents, then this book is still highly recommended.

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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17

Feb
2020

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Shapes with Logan by Lorraine O’Garro

On 17, Feb 2020 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

A white cover features the title across the top in large red letters shadowed by a yellow outline. Logan, a little black boy with a flat top, khaki shorts, tennis shoes, green long sleeve shirt and a maroon puffy vest marches at the front of a line of shape with legs. He is followed by a red square, green oval, and yellow triangle.
Image description: A white cover features the title across the top in large red letters shadowed by a yellow outline. Logan, a little black boy with a flat top, khaki shorts, tennis shoes, green long sleeve shirt and a maroon puffy vest marches at the front of a line of shapes with legs. He is followed by a red square, green oval, and yellow triangle.

Shapes with Logan written by Lorraine O’Garro, illustrated by Katlego Kgabale

From Goodreads: Join Logan as he teaches you the shapes in the world around us. This book presents shapes like you’ve never seen them before. Perfect for young learners and curious minds. Logan is the newest character to join Bella in her world adventures.

Author Lorraine O’Garro and illustrator Katlego Kgabale are back, building on Numbers with Bella and The Alphabet with Bella. They have brought us another wonderful concept book with little Logan teaching readers to identify shapes. Bella makes some appearances too!

The simplicity of these books belies how good they are. Each shape is given a two-page spread. On the left the name of the shape is written in large, friendly text. Hello, print awareness for our pre-readers! Below each word is the actual shape. On the right-hand side Logan can be seen discovering or interacting with the shape in real life. For example, “rectangle” shows Logan and Bella floating in a rectangular pool and “hexagon” shows Logan in beekeeping get up (I do love bees) looking at a close-up of honey comb. Below each illustration is the word for the object we’re looking at, which of course draws the readers’ attention to the shape found in the world.

I appreciate that the list of shapes Logan shows readers does not include ridiculously useless shapes like parallelogram (try teaching a three year old to say that, let alone identify one in real life), rhombus (just call it a kite or a diamond), or whatever you call a nine-sided shape (I have gotten through all these years without knowing so clearly it’s not essential). It is also very simply, but intentionally, illustrated. Concept books are wonderful as they help kids and caregivers learn to categorize the world around them, identify and discuss what they are seeing, and generally give kids language. But let’s not forget that concept books are for some of our youngest readers. So many of them over complicate things for young readers and feel like they are more for the adults reading the books than the children they should be for. This is not the case with the Logan and Bella books. They are pitch perfect for this age group.

I know there are lots of concept books out there to choose from, but beyond thoughtful inclusions and sweet illustrations, the Bella and Logan concept books feature Black kids. If you’re going to have a collection of concept books, be sure it is diverse and include Shapes with Logan.

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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11

Sep
2019

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: The ABCs of the Black Panther Party by S. Khalilah Brann

On 11, Sep 2019 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

The ABCs of the Black Panther Party written by S. Khalilah Brann and Chemay Morales-James, illustrated by Uela May

From Goodreads: The ABCs of the Black Panther Party introduces and gives an overview of the Black Panther Party for children (suggested ages 7-12). The ABCs of the BPP acts as a catalyst for research, supports the expansion of oral and written language and helps to develop the social political consciousness of our children.

Our book utilizes the American alphabet to lay a foundational understanding of the aims of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense, discuss the impact of various members and explores the lasting effect of the Black Power Movement of the 1960s. It is our aim to empower the next generation of leaders to help build strong communities of color focused on Positive Racial Identity Development through Education (PRIDE).

We are reclaiming our sheroes and heroes and providing our young with a blueprint for their own liberation movement.

This is such a necessary book. It’s up there for me as a parent and educator with The People Shall Continue and A Coyote Columbus Story. All these books share history that is both hard and obscured in favor of white-centric and white-washed narratives of our country’s history.

For all the years I had to take American history in school we rarely made it into any history post WWII and when we did I assure you the Black Panthers were never mentioned. My general impression of them, probably formed from pop culture references, up until a few years ago was that they were a Black militant group. That’s not exactly untrue, but the implication was that they were bad and nothing could be farther from the truth. I live in Sacramento and had no idea that they took over the capital building. Nor did I know we had an active chapter here in one of our historically Black neighborhoods.

The ABCs of the Black Panther Party is the kind of book I was hoping to eventually find so I can share the Panthers with my daughter. I hope librarians and teachers also purchase this book and push its use in classrooms and within history curricula. While the authors write books and materials intended to uplift Black history and, in turn, Black children, there is nothing about this book that cannot be read by any audience. We all need to know the real history of this country and the Black Panther Party is part of that. No more vilifying them.

Their history is particularly important because it lays some of the foundation for the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Compare the BBP Ten Point Program (the letter T in ABCs) with the BLM principles. They are different, affirming many of the things that the resistance efforts of the 60s and 70s left out such as queer identity and contributions, but are still remarkably similar in their demands. Many of the Black liberation movements today continue the programs of the BBP, such as copwatch (check out Oakland’s APTP), freedom schools, and other community support programs. It’s essential for families involved in racial justice and abolition work to know the history of where their movements come from.

All libraries need this beautiful book on their shelves in with their 900s and, really, it should be out on display. Have you heard of Black August? Put it out in August. Put it out in February, obviously, but also in January for MLK Day, and in October to commemorate their founding on the 15th.

A note on using it in the classroom or the home: there are 26 letters in our alphabet and each one has a short lyric and then a more detailed description of the concept or person associated with the letter. It makes for a very long read if you want to do it cover to cover. I recommend dipping in and out over several days. This keeps it moving for kids, as well as gives you time to reflect and process and discuss further. In the classroom you could use it to frame a whole unit on Black resistance or the history of that time period, introducing a letter or two each day that guides discussion and further research. We treated it like a chapter book at bedtime in our house and read three or four letters a night for several nights in a row.

I would love to see more books about the Black Panthers for children. I would really love some biographies of the leaders and friends of the party- Huey Newton, Fred Hampton, Kathleen Cleaver, Angela Davis, Assata Shakur, and Stokely Carmichael/Kwame Ture. Maybe Melanin Origins would be up for producing a special series of Snippet in the Life biographies that are a little longer and geared toward slightly older children that focus on four or five of the BBP leaders and the Oakland Community School? 😉

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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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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