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In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: A Mother’s Wish by W. D. Lax

On 10, May 2019 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

A Mother’s Wish written by W. D. Lax, illustrated by Juan Hernandez Jr.

From Goodreads: What’s A Mother’s Wish?  Providence summed it up in 3 John 1:2 when the apostle stated, “I wish above all things that you prosper and be in good health, even as your soul prospers.” This book is for praying mothers who only desire the best for their children.

I was fully expecting a book that was geared more toward parents. So often I think books about parental wishes and love tug on publishers’ heartstrings but don’t resonate with kids. They wax a bit poetic and can even be sappy and that’s not, at least in my experience, what kids are looking for. I fully admit to having a couple of those in my own personal collection and there’s nothing wrong with them, but they also tend to end up as standard gift fare for birthday parties, baby showers, and holidays.

A Mother’s Wish, however, felt different to me. First, it feels less like a lecture and more like a gentle reminder of how mother’s feel about their children. It’s earnest without being over-the-top mushy. Second, the language. It’s a prayer. It feels hushed and reverent. Certainly the mentions of God make it feel religious, but many people believe in a higher power without tying a specific religion to it. I could see memorizing pieces of this or reading it each night before bed to remind your children how much you love them. I could see this then being a comfort when mom is not available for bedtime. Prayerful, soothing words that convey the love and hope a mother often feels. The language is specific to the mother-son bond, but it could be altered if you wanted to make it work for a family with daughters. Don’t be afraid to change language when you read aloud- I’ve been doing this with pronouns recently to make books less tied to the gender binary.

I also really want to mention the illustrations. They are these lovely water colors of people. They match each stanza of the prayer nicely and the mix of skin tones and hair colors makes the book accessible to a variety families. Going back to the mother-son specific language, the pictures show a lot of children, and while I assume because of the language in the book they are boys, there is nothing that makes them male. Kids, if dressed in t-shirts and shorts, often don’t look like one gender or another. So the illustrations wouldn’t hinder you if you wanted to change up the language.

With Mother’s Day coming up, this would make a lovely read aloud in the classroom (although be cautious around this and be sure you include books about families that don’t have mothers too!) or library if you have religious audiences. It would be a beautiful addition to home collections and to library displays featuring families and mothers. If you have titles like On the Night You Were Born or I Wish You More, add this one as well.

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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In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

B Is for Brotherhood by Joa MacNalie

On 03, May 2019 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

B Is for Brotherhood written by Joa MacNalie, illustrated by Adua Hernandez

From Goodreads: Read along as best-selling author, Joa Macnalie of the Athletes and Activism series curates the conversation of police brutality/misconduct and the racial climate of our country. The lives of influencers such as Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid encourage children to use their voice in order to effect change, help children become critical consumers of media, and to stand for what they believe in, even in the midst of great adversity.

This book is lit, y’all. Every parent, every teacher, every librarian, every adult, every kid should own this book and be reading it. Reading it aloud; to themselves; in storytime; at bedtime; at school; in the library; EVERYWHERE. Get this book on your shelves NOW. Do not wait, run to Amazon or Indiebound or wherever you order your books online. Get. It.

Okay, it’s on its way to you? Perfect. Let’s talk about it. I have a handful of books that really, really look racism (of the systemic kind) in the face. There is a place for books showing Black and brown folks going about their lives, living their culture and generally being. There is a place for books that speak more to existential injustice that allow children (and their grown ups) to chew on meaty questions and ideas. But there is equally a place that calls out racism and speaks out against it. Truth to power, folks. B Is for Brotherhood is just that kind of book. It is a book we can share with our young readers to draw connections between news events and how they show us the racism that is in the waters of America.

The book starts with a look at Kaepernick and his protest of the national anthem, then draws in a handful of people who stood (or knelt) with him in his protest. We are introduced to the veteran who spoke with Kaepernick and encouraged him to kneel out of respect for veterans but still in protest of injustice for people of color in America. Then the book dives into the backlash to his protest. The racist comments by owners, fans, and commentators likening players to inmates and telling them to shut up and dribble.

Then Brotherhood says

” If racism ended a long time ago then riddle me this,

Why is there room for 954 hate groups to live on and persist?

Why can white men dress in white robes, light torches, and terrorize?

While colored folks are left to dispute the significance of their own lives.

Why indeed? No flinching there from the ugly fact that white people are still upholding white supremacy. That our president can say there were “good people on both sides” about a group of White terrorists that ran over peaceful anti-racist protestors. This book validates Black lives and the struggle for liberation. It is also imperative that White children hear these ideas and messages and Brotherhood does that too. Bias, racism, and white supremacy need the light shined on them so White folks can fight it within ourselves.

The book pivots from here to look more broadly at what Kap was/is protesting. MacNalie weaves in BBQ Becky, the two men arrested for sitting in Starbucks, H&M’s racist sweatshirt, EA Games, and other current events that have sparked an awaking for some, business as usual for others, and grabbed some amount of media attention. James Baldwin gets quoted and MacNalie says “If it’s still hard to see racism…take the veil off your face.” If that’s not a call to White folks to step up, see the world for what it is, and take action, I don’t know what is.

After looking at recent racist incidents, Brotherhood then turns back to Kap. This time by looking at both the fallout within the NFL and the many awards and recognitions Kaepernick has gotten including his campaign with Nike. Again, a few sentences are dedicated to examining the fallout specifically from that.

MacNalie ends with the powerful

It wasn’t about the bus when Rosa Parks sat and it’s not about the flag now.

Sixty years later Blacks still are not allowed.

Before you dispute our claims, know that privilege is meant to be unseen…”

Which of course takes Rosa Parks, a favorite story of White liberals, and reminds everyone that she wasn’t just a tired old lady at the end of her shift. Her act of resistance targeted a system, not just the ability to sit on a bus. And it was planned. Parks was a lifetime activist and she was chosen for this direct action. But the more things change, the more they stay the same. If we don’t recognize the system of privilege and white supremacy and actively choose to fight it, it’s not going anywhere.

This is such a powerful book. It can open so many conversations and breaks the silence on white supremacy. A silence that is intentional, as it up holds systemic racism. Teachers who want to be anti-racist should have this book proudly out on their shelves and should be proudly reading it to their students. Teachers of color have a book that upholds the validity and necessity of the struggle for liberation. Parents and librarians of the same stripes have this as well in B Is for Brotherhood. Get it on your shelves and then get it into your student’s hands.

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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In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Maggie and the Sprinkle Tree by John Bray

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

Maggie and the Sprinkle Tree Maggie and the Sprinkle Treewritten by John Bray, illustrated by Christian Jackson

From the publisher: Maggie is a busy girl with an active curiosity. But when her imagination swirls everything together, things can get pretty interesting. In this magical story, follow Maggie as she adventures out well past her bedtime and learns how delicious her adventures can be.  

I was really struck by this story because it really sounds like Maggie could be my own daughter. She doesn’t like wearing socks, she is creative and likes to make things, she’s 7 3/4 years old, and taller than average. We were in from page one.

The story itself is silly and lively and just fun. The original Kickstarter campaign ran on the idea that they wanted to create a children’s book that wasn’t moralizing and preachy. I think there is a place for books that have meaning with a capital “M”, but there is is equally a place for fun books like this. I found this to be an ode to kids who love to experiment with household things and what I imagine they wish their experiments would create. It’s wish fulfillment and joy and sometimes we need those books. As educators we want to be sure we’re showing kids that books don’t have to be read just for information or for learning (although we often learn when we least expect it and are having fun), but that reading can be a pleasure. Maggie is a pleasure to read and dream with.

For a self published book, Maggie is pretty swish. It’s a large picture book, in hardcover with a dustjacket. I personally take dustjackets off, but I know they help in libraries to keep books just a hair cleaner and less scuffed up. That’s a big win for any libraries wanting to add this to their collection. The illustrator has also done art for both the jacket and the cover underneath, which is always fun when reading aloud. When this is the case I like to take a little peek under the jacket and then discuss what it might be telling us about the story to come.

I find the illustrations to be quite charming. They’re brightly colored and have lots of details that make it fun to look at while reading. I also love that many of the words in the story are incorporated into the pictures. Words made from sprinkles, words that point directions, words with arrows directing you to look around the page and pay attention. It makes the reading experience a lot more fun and interactive.

So, why am I reviewing this book? It doesn’t feature a diverse cast, just Maggie and the author is a white guy. I actually listen to a podcast John Bray hosts with another author (and blogger) and he pointed listeners to his newsletter. Every couple weeks I get a very brief (thank god, I’m tired of these long newsletters folks send out) newsletter with a little rambling and an even shorter piece of writing from John Bray. His stories are absolutely charming. They always make me smile. If this sounds interesting to you, definitely sign up.

I would highly recommend the book for libraries and classrooms with kids who like to experiment with slime (that’s a big thing right now, I guess?). I could see first and second graders being really into the story. If you have a makerspace with books the encourage creativity on the shelf, here’s one to add.

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In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Paseka: A Little Elephant Brave by Ruth James

On 12, Apr 2019 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Paseka: A Little Elephant Brave written by Ruth James, illustrated by Kent Laforme

The book opens with Paseka (pronounced Pa-see-kah), a baby elephant , staggering around a grassland looking for her mother. She is being attacked by a pack of hyenas who bite her and frighten her. Something large and rumbling approaches and Paseka mistakes it for her mother and follows it. Luckily, it also frightens off the hyenas.

It turns out to be a jeep that is heading back to a campsite where Paseka tramples an old shed down and is tranquilized. A group of men put her into the back of the jeep and take her to a rehabilitation camp. Upon waking Paseka finds a herd of elephants where she thinks she spots her mother. The matriarch of the herd checks her out and accepts her into the group and she begins to find a place where she will be cared for. The herd eventually takes Paseka to a place where there are elephant bones and we discover her mother has been poached. Paseka comes to terms with the death of her mother and hears her mother encourage her to be brave.

The publisher contacted me about writing a review of Paseka and gave me access to a digital copy. Before I got a copy I did some research and found it was written by a white woman who has lived in Tanzania. I hoped the book would steer clear of a white savior narrative, exoticizing Tanzania and its people, and looking at it from an outsiders perspective. I think for the most part it does and Paseka does a couple things that are useful. The first is, and this was pointed out in the publicity for the book, it gives children from Tanzania, and Eastern Africa more broadly, a picture book featuring local folks, local wildlife, and local habitats. The author works with a nonprofit that provides books to children in Tanzania and Kenya (as well as other services). In terms of distributing books to children in other parts of the world, picture books written with American, Canadian and European children in mind don’t have the same cultural relevance to children elsewhere. It’s important for them to see themselves and their homelands reflected in the literature they read and Paseka does that. It also has a Kiswahili translation of the text in the back. I worry a lot about the white savior aspects of the non profit, but the book itself doesn’t feature any white folks. It’s all Tanzanian people caring for Paseka and reuniting her with other elephants. I cannot speak to how it fits with local beliefs and sensibilities either, but I hope the author knew enough to at least try to make a relevant book. I do wish publishers sought out African authors and illustrators and gave them the opportunity to write books about their lives and their countries. That’s the ideal, the gold standard.

The other thing the book does is open conversations around wildlife conservation, the importance of local people being involved in those operations, and allows educators and parents to take a hard look at who is doing the poaching and why. I’m thinking of that dentist a few years back that killed the famous lion, but also capitalism and its expansion and the expectations it breeds around access to things like ivory, etc. And also exploitation of places impoverished by colonialism. These are important conversations for us to have with our children and students.

The text is definitely on the long side and it starts out scary with a hyena attack on the baby elephant. Proceed with caution with younger audiences. That being said, I think the ending actually delves beautifully into the majesty of elephants, their intelligence and intuition. Paseka is taken to tree where bones of poached elephants lay. There she finds a skull that brings to mind a heartsong that “she had heard…every day before she came into the great wide world.” So while sad and heart wrenching at first, it ends with warmth and love.

The illustrations are soft, sparse watercolors and I love that all the elephants look different. I’m a hippie at heart who had a home birth so the illustration of Paseka in wrapped in warm-toned swirls and hearts with an umbilical cord and her mother floating on the opposite page looking on lovingly and floating in what appears to be the universe really hit me in the feels.

I definitely think if you have books like Owen and Mzee and they’re popular and/or they fit with your curriculum this is a book worth having. It will also appeal to those environmental/animal activists in your library and classrooms. But use it open up hard discussions about places like Tanzania and why they need organizations to come in and provide children with books and why they have economic needs that facilitate poaching. Also use it to talk about the beauty and resilience of these countries and their people. Talk about how they want to preserve their land and their fauna and how they help themselves do that. Don’t let this book live in isolation in your collection or classroom.

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In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Dreaming Their Way Out by Leonard Williams

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

Dreaming Their Way OutDreaming Their Way Out written by Leonard Williams, illustrated by Ohana Tozato

From Goodreads: Dreaming Their Way Out is about seven orphans who are desperately yearning for a family. One night when they dreamed about escaping the orphanage something indescribable happens. They do not realize that this discovery will change their lives forever.

Dreaming Their Way Out felt like pure wish fulfillment. Seven children are in a nun-operated orphanage, Roald Dahl style. They have to do all the hard work around the house and Sister Agatha is using them to earn money. Thankfully there does not appear to be any physical violence against the children and we don’t know why the children are orphaned (so no violent or tragic stories about their parents explicitly spelled out). One night, after another tedious and unpleasant day, in a shower of silver sparkles the kids meet a group of adults with wings. They discover that these people are their guardians and they take them off to a magical dream land where they eat good food, play with animals, and fly around magnificent natural places. Now that the children know they can spend time with the grown ups who care for and about them and can visit such a spectacular world they can’t wait to get through the days and dream their way out.

I certainly see this appealing to dreamy kids with their heads in the clouds. I’ll be honest, I was a day-dreamy kid growing up and had all kinds of wild fantasies that involved wild narratives like living in the woods, living on a farm, being able to talk to animals. And each of these stories I made up in my head did not involve parents and had limited adult roles in them. I could see a kid like myself eating this story up. I could even see it inspiring kids to write their own fantastical, hopeful, warm stories.

In terms of handing this to a kid in the foster system or a kid who is up for adoption or has been adopted, I’ll be honest, I don’t know. I’m not well versed enough in the issues of foster care and adoption to say how this story aligns with the treatment they receive, any stigma there might be against them, or if this kind of narrative is harmful. I would say proceed with caution. I only recently became aware of adoption kidlit as a genre and how problematic it can be. Is this different because it’s just so winsome? Again, I don’t feel qualified to say for sure. As with all books don’t treat it like something only a child with that type of story would enjoy. All kids can benefit for books with stories different than their own.

I do really appreciate that a story with such fantastical, magical adventures features seven kids of color. This is so rare and such a gap that needs filling in kidlit.

The book was a little on the long side which would make it better suited to reading with one or two kids at a time. But that also makes it a good fit for classroom and school libraries where kids check books out and have them to either take home or read over more than one sitting. The language isn’t terribly difficult which would make it accessible to a second or third grader.

The story ends on a high note, but also with a “to be continued…”. I’ll be curious to see what other magical adventures this group of friends finds in the years to come.

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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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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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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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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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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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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