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10

Sep
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Chapter Book Review: The Mystery of the Troubled Toucan by Lisa Travis

On 10, Sep 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Troubled ToucanThe Mystery of the Troubled Toucan: A Pack-N-Go Girls Adventure by Lisa Travis

From Goodreads: Nine-year-old Sofia Diaz’s world is coming apart. So is the rickety old boat that carries her far up the Rio Negro river in Brazil. Crocodiles swim in the dark waters. Spiders scurry up the twisted tree trunks. And a crazy toucan screeches a warning. It chases Sofia and Júlia, her new friend, deep into the steamy rainforest. There they stumble upon a shocking discovery.

Heads up! Not all of these feature diverse settings and girls. Some are set in Austria. That being said the Pack-n-Go Girls adventures are a lot of fun. The main character, in this book, travels to Brazil with her dad. Her parents are getting a divorce and it’s a trip for her father to get away and spend some time with Sofia. As in all the books in the series I’ve read, Sofia quickly makes a friend when she arrives at the hotel they’ll be staying in. Together the two girls uncover a poacher trapping pink dolphins and they decide to try and discover who it is and bring them to justice.

These are definitely wish-fulfillment books to some extent. The girls get themselves into situations that, in real life, would be incredibly dangerous and difficult for them to resolve. But that’s okay! I think girls are looking for those types of stories, the ones where they can be the heroes even though they are young and female. I think it also encourages girls to stand up when they see things that are not right. Often the girls are scared and eventually they loop adults into what they’re doing to get back up when needed.

Libraries should absolutely have these books on their shelves. They’re quick chapter book reads, not to easy and not too difficult, great transitional reads. If kids like the conservation efforts in this book they can move on to Manatee Rescue and Carl Hiassen. There are several different places visited by different girls including Mexico, Thailand, and Austria so if readers aren’t ready to move on they can stay with the series. I will say proceed with caution with the others. I haven’t read them and cannot vouch for how well they handle other cultures and countries. Still, they are well worth looking into if you would like to build up your chapter book collection.

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07

Sep
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book: Ilyas and Duck Search for Allah by Omar Khawaja

On 07, Sep 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Ilyas and DuckIlyas and Duck Search for Allah written by Omar Khawaja, illustrated by Leo Antolini

From Goodreads: Ilyas and Duck search for Allah is an adorable storybook for kids about a boy’s quest to find God. “Where is God?” is a question that any muslim parent teaching their kids will one day have to answer. This book helps parents answer that question from an Islamic perspective while conveying the profound mystery of it all in a fun way. In this story, lovable Ilyas pairs up with Duck to ask the one question repeatedly in different scenarios. With whimsical and poetic replies, Ilyas slowly begins to realize what his question truly means. 

This was a beautiful book gifted to us by some friends. I saw it at their house and was amazed at how simply and beautifully it took a very deep and complex idea and distilled it down into something children can easily understand without taking away the majesty of the concept. Plus the illustrations are adorable.

Ilyas and Duck wonder exactly where they can find God and they head out on a rather silly search. In every place they look the pair encounters an animal who clearly knows, but is rather cryptic about answering their question. Slowly, Ilyas comes to realize that God is all around, reflected back in the places and things they meet, and not person to be found in one place.

Children will really appreciate this book for not speaking down to them. It merely puts the idea of God into a form they can grasp. They’ll be drawn in and kept entertained by the silliness of the hunt, especially once they’ve read through it once and heard the punchline (so to speak). The pictures, with darling little Ilyas and cute Duck, will also keep them interested in turning the pages and returning to them.

You should definitely include this in your collection if one of two things is true for your library or classroom. One, if you have Muslim children or families that you serve. This book is written for them to help families explain a complex and abstract concept that is fundamental to monotheistic religions, but can be incredibly difficult for children to grasp. Two, if you have Christian themed books on your shelf. Now be aware these books can be subtle and you may have a blindspot for them in you were raised Christian or are white. Remember, although highly commercialized and nationalized respectively, Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day are Christian holidays. Chances are good you have books that take a Christian perspective, so balance that out by having books available for your non-Christian families to use.

I’ll admit school libraries may have a harder time making the case to add this kind of book to their collection, but I think it’s also important to point out that while the book uses the Arabic word for God, it doesn’t feel exclusive to Islam. If you have families wanting to explain the concept of God or god or a higher power this book does a phenomenal job of doing just that. The book is probably meant for younger preschool/Kindergarten age kids, but I think because it does such an incredibly job explaining a difficult subject you should consider it for collections that serve older students and children as well, say up into third grade.

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11

Sep
2017

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Numbers With Bella by Lorraine O’Garro

On 11, Sep 2017 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Numbers With BellaNumbers With Bella written by Lorraine O’Garro, illustrated by Katlego Kgabale

From Goodreads: Following the success of The Alphabet with Bella, this book supports the learning of numbers from one to ten in a unique and colourful way. Numbers with Bella is full of fun learning opportunities for small children.

Disclosure: I was sent a copy of the book by the publisher Melanin Origins in exchange for an honest review.

The first thing that came to mind with this book was one of my favorites as a child, Ten, Nine, Eight by Molly Bang. I have stacks of counting and alphabet books, but the majority of them feature animals or white children. I think Bella brought to mind Ten, Nine, Eight because they both stick out to me for featuring a little African American girl. The final page where Bella sits wiggling her toes, recently liberated from her shoes, also felt like a nod to the classic counting book. It’s really refreshing to see representation making its way into all genres of children’s literature, from chapter books to picture books to concept books like Bella. Kids of all type deserve to see themselves everywhere, not just in certain narratives or certain genres.

The basic idea of the book is Bella counting a variety of objects from 1-10. Each number has its own two page spread. A white background makes Bella standout and we see the written word for each number, the numeral, and the designated number of objects. A few pages have some additional setting, but for the most part the illustrations are spare. From page to page we see her happily lounging in the sun, joyfully playing a drum, snorkeling, juggling coconuts, and a variety of other activities. While some might not like the lack of busy backgrounds and extra detail, the clean simplicity of this book make it perfect for sharing with very young children interested in counting. It’s a true learning tool. When reading the book with your child be sure to point out the numeral and then count each of the items with Bella before moving on to the next page. The simplicity also make it ideal for children to flip through on their own once having the counting modeled for them.

I could also see this working well in stations or provocations in classrooms (or even enlightened libraries that have book-related activities out for children). Set it out with number cards and counters. As kids flip through the pages they can set up the matching numeral and the corresponding number of counters. They could also place the counters directly on the page as they count out loud.

Bella is totally adorable and I see kids being drawn to her and her counting antics. This would make a great addition to concept book collections in preschool classrooms, daycares, and libraries that serve young patrons.

Purchase the book here (not affiliate links):

On IndieBound: paperback and hardback

On Amazon as an ebook.

Final note: If you do purchase this book, please post a review of it on Amazon. This will help other folks find the book and know that it’s worth purchasing. If you use any other book services like GoodReads or your local library’s online catalog be sure to post a review there too! And if your local library doesn’t have a copy, request that they purchase one.

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22

Sep
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: A Balloon for Grandad by Nigel Gray

On 22, Sep 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

a-balloon-for-grandadA Balloon for Grandad written and illustrated by Nigel Gray

From Goodreads: Unhappy when he loses his silver and red balloon, Sam is comforted by imagining it on its way to visit his grandfather in Egypt.

I have had a copy of this book for years now and always trot it out around Grandparents’ Day. It’s such a lovely little story that doesn’t have to be about grandparents (the idea for the escaped balloon is more about comforting Sam than about thinking of grandad), but turns into a really lovely connection between them. I might also have a soft spot for this one because his grandfather is clearly Egyptian.

I think, beyond the fact that Sam and his family are of Egyptian descent, it’s lovely to see a book about families and grandparents where the grandparents live far away. It always seems that books featuring grandparents and grandchildren show them living close by or together. But plenty of families do not live near grandparents and it’s wonderful to see that reality reflected (it’s also why my school changed Grandparents’ Day to Grandparents and Grand Friends Day). Certainly many children have grandparents that live in another state, and I think the book could have shown a family like that, but I think this makes the story all the more special for showing a family that has immigrated and does not live near this grandfather.

Whether or not children have had a balloon escape from them I think the whimsical story of the balloon traveling over the mountains, ocean and desert is very appealing. Children can imagine their own balloons going on a journey and the whole concept feels very magical. I’ve read this book to second graders and they have enjoyed it. It might also work for slightly older students, but I think it’s best for second grade and down. I would pair this one with Mango, Abuela, and Me for a deeper look at grandparents from other countries and another side of that situation.

A Balloon for Grandad appears to be out of print, but if your library has a copy hang onto it. If not, and you want to go to the trouble of ordering it used, it would make an excellent addition to libraries that celebrate families and grandparents.

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21

Sep
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Umbrella by Taro Yashima

On 21, Sep 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

umbrellaUmbrella written and illustrated by Taro Yashima

From Goodreads: Momo can’t wait to use the red boots and umbrella she received on her birthday.  All she needs now is a rainy day!  Soft illustrations portray a thoughtful story about patience and growing independence.

At it’s heart Umbrella is a story about independence. When Momo recieves a new umbrella and rain boots she is so excited. The first day she is able to use the umbrella she focuses very hard on walking carefully like a grown up lady and on not dropping the umbrella. This means, though she doesn’t realize the significance, that she cannot hold her father’s hand when walking to and from school.

Umbrella is also a slice of life story. A small memory that grown up Momo doesn’t even remember. But the narrator shares the significance: it was the first time she walked on her own without holding a parent’s hand. The book moves fairly slowly and doesn’t have a big adventure. There are no mishaps on the walk. It’s just a little girl and her umbrella. I don’t think that kind of book appeals to all readers, but it makes for a very special, contemplative reading experience.

Yashima nails the childhood experience from the excitement, to the music made on the umbrella, to the thoughts of Momo as she walks. When she first receives the umbrella she isn’t able to use it because it’s not raining. She’s so excited to use it though, she comes up with several ideas for why she should (the sun is too bright, the wind bothers her eyes). Then there is the sound made on the umbrella: bon polo, bon polo, ponpolo, ponpolo, bolo bolo ponpolo. It’s so wonderful and evocative of that rainy day.

Yashima’s illustrations are always beautiful. The shading is lovely and mixes in all sorts of colors where you least expect them. It also lends itself to showing the rainy day. I think it’s interesting that none of the adults’ faces are shown giving the book the impression of a small child’s perspective.

This is a lovely little book to have on library shelves. It shows a Japanese-American girl (her parents, we are told came from Japan) living in a city and experiencing a little step toward independence. I think it would easily appeal to preschoolers, but even older children who don’t mind quieter stories will be captivated by Momo’s experience and may see their own first experiences reflected in the story. Be sure to check out Crow Boy, also by Taro Yashima. It’s set in a small Japanese town or village, but features a boy who is probably on the ASD spectrum.

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20

Sep
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: A Feast for 10 by Cathryn Falwell

On 20, Sep 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

I’m falling down here on the #100daysproject! I was waiting for a couple books to come into the library and they haven’t yet, so I’m going to finish up my challenge with some oldies, but goodies.

a-feast-for-10A Feast For 10 written and illustrated by Cathryn Falwell

From Goodreads: A counting book that features an African-American family shopping for food, preparing dinner, and sitting down to eat. Lively read-aloud text paired with bright collage illustrations.

We have had this book on our home library shelves for several years now and it’s always a favorite. Even now that I’ve tucked the board books into a basket and most don’t see the light of day, this one comes out from time to time (I make sure to pull it out around Thanksgiving). It’s just such a charming book that centers around a family coming together to make a meal.

I love that this is an interesting take on the counting book. Usually I see these concept books count related objects with no real story between them. Feast for 10 has a simple story arc that follows a family through the grocery store counting from 1-10. Then it follows them home where they prepare a meal for ten, counting, again, from 1-10. The meal seems pretty traditionally Southern to me, fried chicken, cooked greens, mashed potatoes, etc. (it’s what my father in law occasionally requests as a throw back to his childhood in rural Mississippi and Louisiana) and it always makes us hungry. The format is, I think, more engaging for older kids (preschool-kindergarten age).Certainly many kids can count to ten by that point, but this is more than just counting objects arranged on a page, so those kids are just as attentive to the story as kids who are interested in the numbers.

The book is not an #ownvoices, unfortunately, and I would certainly recommend one of those over this one. Otherwise I think it’s well worth having on shelves where there are concept books. It’s a great picture of a family coming together and working together to put on a feast!

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11

Sep
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book: Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions by Chris Barton

On 11, Sep 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

whooshWhoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions written by Chris Barton, illustrated by Don Tate

From Goodreads: A love for rockets, robots, inventions, and a mind for creativity began early in Lonnie Johnson’s life. Growing up in a house full of brothers and sisters, persistence and a passion for problem solving became the cornerstone for a career as an engineer and his work with NASA. But it is his invention of the Super Soaker water gun that has made his most memorable splash with kids and adults.

I think every kid in the nineties had a Super Soaker or at least had a friend with one. But when picking out this book I wondered if it was just nostalgia for people my age or if it would resonate with kids today.

Lonnie Johnson spent his childhood (and adulthood) tinkering with things. He took odds and ends as a kid and put them together to make creations. He took things apart to harvest parts and see how they worked. Then, as he got older, he moved on, with his robot Linex, to make inventions that worked and kept on inventing. He was also persistent and determined, even in the face of failure, an important skill that kids can learn in the makerspace and need to be seeing modeled.

I thought it was refreshing to have a biography of someone who is still alive today. Even better to be adding more diversity to our biography collection. The author’s note adds a bit more context to the story and Barton shares his inspiration for writing the book.

Johnson grew up in the South in the late sixties and into the seventies. Whoosh! does touch on some of the race issues (segregation and racism), but it’s a light touch. I think it was a good balance here where the the purpose of the book was to expose children to a scientist who is black and his inventions instead of dwelling on how he overcame racism. We have a number of those books, and they are excellent, but as I’ve said again and again they create a certain narrative that is not a full picture.

I definitely think children can find inspiration and humor in this story, whether or not they own a Super Soaker or have seen one and it’s the perfect makerspace book. I would hand this to kids who like to invent and tinker. I will also be adding it to our summer reading lists so kids can go out after reading it and have a water fight. I don’t think the time period or nostalgia of the book make it irrelevant for kids today. The message of perseverance and fun in it are timeless.

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10

Sep
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Lift Your Light a Little Higher by Heather Henson

On 10, Sep 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

lift-your-lightLift Your Light a Little Higher: The Story of Stephen Bishop Slave-Explorer written by Heather Henson, illustrated by Bryan Collier

From Goodreads: Welcome to Mammoth Cave. It’s 1840 and my name’s Stephen Bishop. I’ll be your guide, so come with me, by the light of my lantern, into the deepest biggest cave in all of the United States. Down here, beneath the earth, I’m not just a slave. I’m a pioneer. I know the cave’s twists and turns. It taught me to not be afraid of the dark. And watching all these people write their names on the ceiling? Well, it taught me how to read too. Imagine that. A slave, reading. But like I said, down here I’m not just a slave. I’m a guide. I’m a man. And this is my story.

As soon as I read the review of this in the Horn Book I purchased it. Not only does our second grade study slavery (in the context of the Underground Railroad) in the spring, but our third grade does a science unit on caves in the fall. It felt like the perfect bridge between the two grades.

Like all picture book biographies there is a storyline that follows Bishop’s life that is followed up by a historical author’s note that provides more context. I have mixed feelings about that format because I think that kids often skip the two pages of text unless they’re really interested. I suppose that’s fine if they’re getting some good tidbits and thinking points in the story (they do here). However, I think it makes these books perfect for classroom settings where teachers can provide further context and connection and will also be able to read the note aloud to students, ensuring they get that extra information.

I thought the idea of having Bishop tell his own story was an interesting choice. It certainly brings the reader into his life story. I think it also gives the man a voice when he really didn’t have one. According to the note at the end he didn’t leave any real personal record of himself and there wasn’t much left by his white owners or other historical records either. I will point out that this is not #ownvoices, so take that into consideration especially since the book does give a voice to a slave who never really had one.

I’m not sure these are the absolute best illustrations I’ve seen by Collier, but they really tell the story. I actually think the print job on the book could have been better and that the paper and print quality diminished them a bit. Most, if not all the pages (I’m sorry I don’t have the book in front of me right now) have a split level. You see above ground and also below ground which fits perfectly with the idea of the split in Bishops life: above ground- slave, below ground-just a man. There are white people in the pictures, but Bishop is, appropriately, front and center.

Both the cave system and Bishop made for a fascinating picture book biography and would make a good addition to any biography collection.

Side note, going back to print quality. The paper was kind of thin and a little too shiny. It felt kind of cheap. And the dust jacket was like a good several centimeters too long for the hard cover which made it strangely floppy and weird to put into a Gaylord cover. Wth print company? Wth, publisher? Do better. Make nice picture books that will last. The lack of quality kind of makes your second-rating of books about people of color show.

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09

Sep
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty

On 09, Sep 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

ada-twist-scientistAda Twist, Scientist written by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts

From Goodreads: Like her classmates, builder Iggy and inventor Rosie, scientist Ada, a character of color, has a boundless imagination and has always been hopelessly curious. Why are there pointy things stuck to a rose? Why are there hairs growing inside your nose? When her house fills with a horrific, toe-curling smell, Ada knows it’s up to her to find the source. Not afraid of failure, she embarks on a fact-finding mission and conducts scientific experiments, all in the name of discovery. But, this time, her experiments lead to even more stink and get her into trouble!

I don’t have much to add about this book that won’t be said. It’s great because Ada is a girl scientist. Even better she is black and her family doesn’t look like a stereotype. All great things. Add to this that the book can serve as a jumping off point for talking about the scientific method and scientific inquiry.

What I will say is that, personally, the rhyme scheme of all three of these books (and Dr. Seuss, too) drive me absolutely bonkers. I can’t read other books afterward because my brain keeps looking for those irritating rhymes. It also causes me to rush through the story. And in general I find it annoying and precious.

The organizer in me loves that the background of many pages, including the end papers, are those nice graph paper squares. I’ve already bought the book for our collection as these are incredibly popular with students, parents and teachers alike. I think purely for the representation it’s worth the money, but I also feel a little hesitant because the author is white. Nothing here points to black culture and Ada and her family are simply colored brown so I don’t think they’re being misrepresented per se. I just wish more of the books about African Americans and blacks were #ownvoices. That’s all. In the meantime, I buy what I can that’s #ownvoices and try to be sure I’m getting good representation with the books that are not. I suppose this one is neutral in that regard. I also kind of hate purchasing it because I know it will be such a big success. That means it will tell publishers that we’re okay with white authors simply shifting to telling stories with characters of color instead of demanding #ownvoices. Still, we need books like this. Girls that are scientists. Black girls that are scientists. Just black girls, period.

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07

Sep
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Chapter Book Review: Jaden Toussaint, The Greatest by Marti Dumas

On 07, Sep 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Jaden ToussaintJaden Toussaint, The Greatest Episode 1: The Quest for Screen Time written by Marti Dumas, illustrated by Marie Muravski

From Goodreads: Jaden Toussaint is a five year-old who knows it all. I mean, really knows it all. Animal Scientist. Great Debater. Master of the art of ninja dancing. There’s nothing Jaden Toussaint can’t do. The only problem is that grown-ups keep trying to convince him that, even though he’s really smart, he doesn’t know EVERYTHING. The thing is…he kind of does. This time our hero must use all his super-powered brain power to convince the grown-ups that he needs more screen time.

This book was hilarious and it was humor I think both kids and adults will enjoy. Dumas has really captured the inner thoughts of a young kid in a way that is both funny and serious. Even as an adult I throughly enjoyed reading this.

The chapter breaks are perfect. Just as Jaden has an idea or something new needs to be introduced the current chapter ends and the next chapter begins, complete with chapter title that repeats the introduction. So for example Jaden is talking about wanting to get more screen time to play games online and look up facts on the internet. He’s tried begging and asking various people in his family, but nothing has worked. All that changes with Miss Bates, the text says. Cut to the next chapter entitled “Miss Bates Class”. Most of the chapters are like this and, to me, it reads like good comic timing.

The story itself is probably pretty relatable to kids. Jaden has had a taste of screen time and is trying to finagle some more when his teacher assigns homework. One task they can choose for homework is time on the computer, but Jaden’s parents still say no screen time. Jaden decides to create a petition for all the Kindergarteners to sign asking for more screen time on the homework sheet in order to force his parents to give him some. Also, there is a ninja dance break.

The illustrations are fine. There are little nods to some great African Americans and blacks on the wall of Jaden’s room. The beginning also starts out a little graphic-novelish with sparse text scattered around the illustrations as Jaden’s family is introduced. They provide good breaks for the beginning reader. Also a bonus, the trim size is more like a big-kid chapter book (it’s still a little large). Despite the easy language and format it looks less like an easy reader and more like what older kids would want to pick up.

Since our public library didn’t have this one I bought the first book, but I will be purchasing the next couple “episodes” this year. I highly recommend this to collections that need some easy, easy chapter books that look more grown up. I can’t emphasize enough how kid-like the logic is in the story and how that makes it so appealing for a child audience with a good sense of humor and an adult audience who is familiar with dealing with that logic. Kids love humorous books and this fits the bill perfectly.

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