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In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Middle Grade Review: Bad Hair Day by Adrienne Vincent Sutton

On 17, Aug 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Bad Hair DayBad Hair Day by Adrienne Vincent Sutton

From Goodreads: Gabby McGee is a 12-year-old girl trying to shed her “bad hair,” her parent’s strict rules, and her insecurities—all at the same time. If only she could change her hair from nappy, kinky, and unruly, to straight, long, and flowing, she could finally fit in. But she soon learns that going behind her mother’s back to get a chemical hair relaxer isn’t the way to do it. After a failed trip to the hair salon leaves her in debt, she devises a hair-brained scheme to pay it off, which involves her crush, a French kiss, and a bake-off. Is it just crazy enough to work? Is changing her hair really what she wants? Or, could the money troubles of a classmate at her snooty private school cause her to change her attitude instead?

So hair and hair angst is a theme I see a fair amount of in books written for black girls and it unfortunately stems from girls feeling a need to conform to white beauty standards. A lot of picture books tackling this issue work hard to show girls that their hair is fine exactly as it is. But that’s not going to work in a chapter book. It’s not nuanced enough.

Bad Hair Day was an incredibly fun read and added that nuance needed to flesh out a middle grade novel dealing with how girls feel about natural hair. I had a hard time putting it down as Gabby worked herself deeper and deeper into a silly, and poorly thought out, plan to straighten her hair. It rang so true for the shenanigans that middle schoolers get themselves into as they try to act more adult than they are.

I enjoyed reading a book that featured primarily black characters with a black girl as the main character that was funny, not tragic. While I think Gabby is clearly black, I also think we see stories like these featuring white girls all the time. As always, it’s refreshing to see black girls taking the lead in a light-hearted, fun read.

I do have two complaints about the book. There are a fair number of typos in it. They’re minor, but they’re there. The other is that, while I like the idea behind the design on the cover, the font in the hair is kind of hard to read which might deter readers who are choosing purely on seeing the cover. I think these are minor and shouldn’t deter you from putting this one on your shelves.

A final thoughts, before you write this off as a book for black girls only (I see you librarians and teachers out there skimming over on this review!), it’s not. Besides giving non-black girls a window into this particular issue their peers are struggling with, it also gives them a mirror. The beauty standard doesn’t fit most girls, black or not. And even girls who technically do fit the narrow standard often have a lot of hatred for their own hair and looks. Everyone will enjoy the book for its message of self acceptance and for the hilarity that ensues when Gabby makes a mistake and has to find a way out. Be sure to purchase this one for girls who like light reads about funny social situations.

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In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Rerun: Mikis and the Donkey by Bibi Dumon Tak

On 15, Aug 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Mikis and the DonkeyMikis and the Donkey written by Bibi Dumon Tak, illustrated by Philip Hopman, translated by Laura Watkinson

From Goodreads: One day, Mikis’s grandfather has a surprise for him: a new donkey waiting! Mikis falls in love with the creature, but his grandparents tell him that the donkey is a working animal, not a pet. However, they still let Mikis choose her name — Tsaki — and allow the two of them to spend their Sundays together. Mikis and Tsaki soon become fast friends, and together the two have some grand adventures. Eventually, both Mikis and his grandfather learn a bit more about what exactly it means to care for another creature.

Mikis and the Donkey is such a sweet gentle story. Mikis is completely captivated with the donkey his grandparents buy to help with some work around their property.

Mikis seems to understand the donkey and loves her from the start. He speaks up for her health and her happiness. His grandparents are rather baffled by his affinity for the animal, but with some cajoling from Mikis, they support his doting on her. The funniest part is Mikis and his friend’s idea to introduce Tsaki to another donkey who lives just outside their small village. Adults will see what comes next, but Mikis’ total and utter surprise at the baby donkey who results from this donkey friendship is hilarious and sweet.

In addition to the story line about Mikis and Tsaki, there is a friendship story between humans too. One of Mikis’ classmates, a quite girl, is captivated with Tsaki. Over their love of the donkey Mikis and this little girl become close friends. Mikis discovers that though she is quiet the little girl has a lot to offer.

I think the book would make a great read aloud and it’s certainly one for any animal lover. The book does have a slow pace which might make it less popular. I see it as one you would book talk to specific kids instead of one that will fly off the shelf at every opportunity. The book isn’t too long, but I suspect the reading level is a little bit higher. It would probably go in our tiny “mellow yellow” section which is a transition from our red chapter books to our higher yellow fiction books (things that are usually called middle grade). I still think it would be fine for kids who are working their way up through chapter books.

Updated 7/10/2016: I forgot to note, since the summary from Goodreads doesn’t say, the book is set in a small village on the Greek island of Corfu. In someways I think this might be an interesting way to make the connection between the Syrian (and others) migrant crisis, as many of them are washing up and landing on the Greek islands. It might be a little contrived, but you could certainly talk about other events in this part of the world in conjunction with looking at the story of Mikis.

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In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Rerun: Wolf & Vampire by Ellie Ann

On 13, Aug 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Wolf & Vampire written by Ellie Ann, illustrated by MJ Erickson

From the publisher: Wolf likes pie, fish, mud, singing to the moon, and most of all her family. On the other hill lives a vampire family, whom she’s taught to fear. One day, silver rain attacks Wolf’s house, and she runs, injured. Wolf meets Vampire, who has also been injured. She must decide if she should help someone she’s afraid of. Can they team up in order to save their families?

This is the third Castor Tales easy reader I got and it was as good as the others. There is both family diversity as well as racial diversity. Wolf is a biracial werewolf. Her father is white (he looks like a hipster werewolf, which made me laugh) and her mother is a woman of color (it’s not stated what she is and it isn’t obvious from the illustrations). Vampire is a girl of color (again it is not specified) who has two dads, one of whom is black.

One day while out and about Wolf’s family is overtaken by a silver storm. They scramble into a cave where they run into their rival, Vampire’s family. Vampire’s family has been chased out of their house by the garlic people. Just try not to laugh at the garlic people when you finally see them. They are hilarious and I think give an otherwise serious story a hit of levity. The story is about how initially the two families distrust each other, but after their concurrent tragedies the two girls bring them together. The werewolf family cleans up the garlic people and the vampire family sweeps up the debris the silver rain left. In the end they have changed their minds about each other and share some tea together.

There were two things that, to me, set this one apart. First, the language seemed a little harder. It still has the great repetition of the others, the list of sight words, and small word count per page. For whatever reason, though, some of the words used seemed just slightly harder. That’s perfect, the series grows with the reader. Second, it will take some background knowledge about vampires and werewolves for kids to understand what exactly is going on in the story. Nothing a little explanation from a parent or teacher couldn’t provide.

This whole series has been incredibly refreshing. Between the diverse casts of characters to the fantasy genre of the books they are really different from the usual early easy reader fare.

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In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Dear Queens by Nastashia Roach

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

Dear QueensDear Queens written by Nastashia Roach, illustrated by Adua Hernandez

From Goodreads: A rhyming children’s poem book for little girls to uplift and encourage them to be great despite their insecurities. Author Nastashia Roach encourages children everywhere to recognize their own beauty – inside and out.

I’m seeing a trend in picture books. Positive, uplifting books that affirm how beautiful, whole, and worthy kids of color are. Admittedly I’m seeing more of them in the self published/small press market more than from major publishers, but even they’re jumping on the affirmation bandwagon.

I know from raising two white children and having looked back at my own childhood, books that make white kids feel worthy are a dime a dozen. The sheer quantity of books that feature white children points to the value society places on them and on their whiteness. But what about kids of color? Where are their mirrors? Where is the value that society places on them?  (Hint: look at all the news stories of black and brown children being killed by law enforcement or separated from their families at the border.) Quite frankly the publishing industry has some reparations to make to those kids (and other aspects of diversity that are lacking in traditional publishing). I wish that the traditional publishing industry would step up on being inclusive both in terms of what they publish and who they publish, but until then it’s up to small presses and self publishing to fill the gap. Thank goodness for companies like Melanin Origins who sees this need and is stepping up to produce content that is so desperately needed.

Dear Queens is a stand out title in the trend of uplifting books. One of the best aspects of this book is its ability to function either as a picture book or an easy reader. The text is simple and short and rhymed making it easy for new readers to tackle on their own or with a little help. The trim size of the book makes it fit perfectly alongside your Mo Willems’ Piggy and Elephant books. The fact that the text is not repetitive or stilted makes it a good read aloud at bedtime or storytime and it will leave kids feeling all fuzzy and warm inside.

I am in love with the rainbow hues of the illustrations. It’s all cotton candy, sunshine, and frills. Not what I would normally go for, but it’s so inviting, especially for the target demographic- little girls. My daughter picked it up just as I set it down out of the package freshly delivered by our mailman. She’s not overly girly in her tastes, either, so it appeals even to girls who don’t normally go for princesses and pink.

As parents, librarians, and teachers we need to recognize that traditional publishing is failing many of our kids. We need to seek out the books that fill the gap and ensure that we have positive, multifaceted, and affirming representation on our shelves. And we need it in our picture books, in our easy readers, in our chapter books, and in our nonfiction sections. Be sure to add this delicious confection of a book to your shelves for those princess girls who aren’t used to seeing themselves there.

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 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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In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Rerun: Wild Berries written and illustrated by Julie Flett

On 08, Aug 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Wild BerriesWild Berries written and illustrated by Julie Flett

From Goodreads: Spend the day picking wild blueberries with Clarence and his grandmother. Meet ant, spider, and fox in a beautiful woodland landscape, the ancestral home of author and illustrator Julie Flett. This book is written in both English and Cree, in particular the n-dialect, also known as Swampy Cree from the Cumberland House area.

Wild Berries is such a charming story about a little boy and his grandmother going out to collect blueberries. The two enjoy nature, each other’s company, and of course blueberries. Grandma likes soft sweet ones, while Clarence likes large sour ones.

Flett’s illustrations have this very modern quality to them that is just beautiful. They are simple but not simplistic and there is always plenty to look at. I love her use of a muted, natural palette. It fits well with the wild berry picking story. She also employs textures very effectively. They seem to draw your eye around the page and to important details.

The typography in the book is also incredibly stunning. It stuck out to me in a way few other books have. Certain key words are pulled out of the text and placed on their own line in a more fanciful font. This is then echoed with the word written in the Swampy Cree dialect in the same font, but this time in red. (There is a very interesting note at the beginning and end about the Cree dialect used in the book.)

The book is, at least to American audiences, akin to Blueberries for Sal and if you are looking for diverse books to incorporate into your curriculum you could certainly use this one in place of Blueberries or in tandem with it. I would recommend this to parents looking to diversify their bookshelves too. Make space in your budget and on your shelves for this one.

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In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Rerun: Petra by Ellie Ann

On 06, Aug 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

PetraPetra written by Ellie Ann, illustrated by Courtney Hicks

From the publisher: Petra’s the best archer in the world. They shoot high, they shoot low, and hit whatever they aim for. One day, soldiers come and offer them gold if they’ll do a hard job. Should Petra take it? This book is about using your skills for good, and features a non-gendered protagonist.

This another one of the three Castor Tales that I got and I like it as much as I like Rook. Petra is a talented archer who is approached one day by a group of men who want Petra to shoot a man. They try to justify the murder by saying the man is bad and Petra is a good girl. Petra responds with “I am no girl! I am no boy! I am Petra!” There are two important things going on here. First is the message of standing up to people trying to coerce you into making bad choices. I am not fond of books with a Message or moral, but I think it’s subtle enough here and empowering. That empowerment I think comes from the second thing going on in the story, the fact that Petra both declares that they are only Petra, neither boy nor girl. Petra’s power and strength come from being uniquely Petra. I am not positive, but I hope this story allows children who may be struggling to fit into gender norms a strong character to identify with.

It’s also empowering for children to see that Petra, a fellow child, is brave enough to stand up to adults who want to do something bad. It can be really difficult for children to stand up to older children and adults in order to follow their moral compass. So often we teach them to submit to authority without question. Petra gives kids a good example of someone being true to themselves and not being afraid to speak up and reject the authority figures.

Petra is then approached by another set of people who want help. At first Petra is frustrated thinking they want another murder, but it turns out they need help healing the sick moon. Petra is glad to help with that task and saves the day.

The art is very different from Rook. It’s a lot wispier and softer with a celestial feel that suits Petra’s ultimate task of helping the moon. It also gives the clothing and hair a lot of movement and makes the faces expressive. As with RookPetra is very simple and would be a great addition to classrooms and libraries with emerging readers. These books are not first readers, but they’re close. Nearly all the words are either simple to sound out or come from a list of first sight words.  They range from 5-20 words per page and when that count is on the upper end of the range most of the words are repeated. For example: “I shoot the sea. I can even shoot the moon! Boom! But I do not. I do not want to hurt the moon.” So just to be clear readers will have to know or be ready for some simple sight words plus have some skills to sound out a word or two.

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In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: One Good Turtle by Stefan Michel Burns

On 03, Aug 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

One Good TurtleOne Good Turtle written by Stefan Michel Burns, illustrated by Stephanie Fliss

From Goodreads: Turtle hides while Alligator lashes out. What insecurities are they dealing with, and what lessons can Turtle and Alligator learn in order to face and conquer their fears? In this inspiring story about a shy turtle and a frightening alligator, the complex issue of bullying is addressed in an easy-to-understand manner for kids and adults alike.

I recently came across One Good Turtle through a friend of mine who knows the author. I am really glad I bought a copy of the book. This is a great resource for teachers, librarians, and parents alike that want good resources for discussing and taking on bullying they see at school and on the playground.

Turtle and his friends are being targeted by Alligator before and after school. He follows them around looking for opportunities to scare, intimidate, and harass them. A few of the animals have defenses that deter Alligator, but many of them, Turtle included, are vulnerable. One day, though, the bullying takes a turn and becomes particularly intense. At this point Turtle makes a quick decision to puff himself up and strike back at Alligator, defending himself and his frightened friends.

The story itself is pretty textbook for bullying behavior and how it escalates, but that’s fine. Kids need to learn to identify it when it’s happening and educators and parents can use this as a jumping off point for discussing the nuance of bullying. It also has a happy ending where everyone’s needs are met, including Alligator. While this may or may not happen in real-life bullying situations, I think it’s important to show the ideal way for resolving these situations. Alligator had needs that were clearly not being met and it’s very heart warming to see him get the help and encouragement he needed. I think it also speaks to restorative justice and how punitive measures only perpetuate the problem. The book doesn’t go into that, but the resolution does show an outcome that you might expect in a restorative justice environment.

I think the book does a really good job with two aspects of bullying you don’t always see addressed. The first is that Alligator is given some backstory, a backstory that shows why he has made poor behavior choices. It doesn’t excuse those choices, but you get a sense that when bullies lash out, it comes from a place of pain (emotional or physical). It’s important that children (and grown ups too) understand this and learn to be empathetic, even while holding bullies accountable for their choices. The second is that it shows how bullying is systematic and targeted. Sometimes kids are just poops. Sometimes they’re poops on several occasions. But bullying is something that targets one particular kid or a few, takes place over a long period of time, and involves a power dynamic (physical, social, or both). It’s a distinction that isn’t always made. We should absolutely be encouraging kids to stand up to any type of unkind behavior, but we should also be particularly aware of how bullying is systematic and prolonged.

One Good Turtle is designed to tackle a specific issue and that issue is front and center in the story. There is so much value in books that have messages and teach lessons, tackling them with nuance. They are the perfect opportunity to open conversations between teachers and students and parents and children. As social emotional learning is becoming a popular topic in schools One Good Turtle fits beautifully with any program that teaches children about peer interaction and being a good friend. It also shows kids how important it is to stand up for yourself and others, even if that is a hard and scary thing to do. I think if there was one thing I wish I had seen in the book, it would be the animals looping an adult into the situation. That being said, I know that kids often do not seek out adult help when these types of situations arise and I like that the books shows the animals being bullied standing up to the bully.

The book is beautifully illustrated with what look like watercolor and ink drawings. The color palette makes the book inviting and warm and the use of light and shadow really showcase the animals in the story. The animals themselves are very sweet, yet still realistic which my daughter loved. When it arrived on our doorstep she immediately picked it up and began flipping through it. She asked to read it that night. Always the sign of an enticing book. The text is also full of good, rare words that will build readers’ vocabulary while they learn about an important topic. We stopped at several points to check in on a number of words, which is one of the reasons picture books are such good experiences for children to have all through their elementary school years.

I definitely think this should be in classroom and school libraries. It’s certainly appropriate for all ages and can be aged up or down depending on the conversations you start with your students or children around the book. Activist parents might also want to take note. The book speaks to the need to stand up when you see something wrong happening, even if you are frightened, and encourages readers to not be bystanders.

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In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Rerun: Indian Boyhood: A True Story of a Sioux Upbringing by Charles Eastman (Ohiyesa)

On 01, Aug 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Indian BoyhoodIndian Boyhood: A True Story of a Sioux Upbringing by Charles Eastman (Ohiyesa), adapted by Michael Oren Fitzgerald, illustrated by Heidi M. Rasch, foreword by Charles Trimble

From Goodreads: Imagine a childhood full of adventure. Where riding horses, playing in the woods, and hunting for food was part of everyday life; where a grizzly bear, a raccoon, or a squirrel was your favorite pet. But imagine, too, being an orphan at the age of six, being forced off your land by U.S. soldiers, and often going hungry. Such was the childhood of the first great American Indian author, Charles Eastman, or Ohiyesa (1858-1939). Carefully edited for a younger audience by multiple award-winning author and editor, Michael Oren Fitzgerald, Indian Boyhood recalls Eastman s earliest childhood memories. He was born in a buffalo hide tipi in western Minnesota, and raised in the traditional Dakota Sioux manner until he was fifteen years old. He was then transplanted into the white man s world. Educated at Dartmouth College, he went on to become a medical doctor, renowned author, field secretary for the YMCA, and a spokesman for American Indians. Eastman was at Pine Ridge during the Ghost Dance rebellion of 1890-91, and he cared for the wounded Indians after the massacre at Wounded Knee. In 1910 he began his long association with the Boy Scouts of America, helping Ernest Thompson Seton establish the organization.

The book starts off well with an interesting foreword by Charles Trimble, a registered Oglala Lakota, that identifies the specific nation that Ohiyesa/Eastman was part of. In the foreword he presents the historical context and sets the scene for the book and while not graphic, he is unflinching in how he presents the events that shaped Ohiyesa/Eastman’s life.

“In the so-called Indian Uprising of 1862 the Dakota people rebelled against white incursions onto their lands and the government’s withholding of treaty-guaranteed rations that left them starving. Ohiyesa/Eastman’s extended family fled to Canada to escape the U.S. Army, which was hell-bent on brutal vengeance…”

This foreword is followed up by an editor’s note in which Fitzgerald is upfront about what changes he has made to the original text. The story and text is adapted from Ohiyesa/Eastman’s autobiography. It seems most of the text was simplified and shortened to make it more accessible to younger readers and to fit it into this format. It appears that all involved with the project are hoping to spark interest in Ohiyesa/Eastman. In a brief footnote Fitzgerald also explains that he is using the term Sioux because it is the term in the original work. He goes on to at least acknowledge that the term is European-American and lists the Nations that fall under that category. At the end of the note Fitzgerald claims that all royalties are being donated to various American Indian causes. We’ll have to take him at his word on that.

The story itself is an interesting look at the Sioux way of life and follows Eastman through the first 15 or so years of his life. The text is fairly short which really makes it best suited to young audiences (first and second grade, probably even kindergarten). In some places I was left wanting more information and detail. That is part of the purpose of the book, but I do think there could have been a little bit more. It paints an idyllic and fun life for a child with hours of play and learning skills like tracking and hunting. But he also shares times that the families went hungry. I do wish the story had continued further and addressed some of his time being schooled in the white town he moves to with his father.

The illustrations are pretty and are reminiscent of Paul Goble’s illustrations. I am not familiar with art from those nations or that area and the similarity makes me wonder if it copies a style seen in Sioux art. There is a page of notes on the illustrations that explains what objects in the illustrations are and their significance. I’m a little put off by the last picture that, according to the notes, is an “imaginative image of Eastman”. It hits a little close to stereotypes, even if its depiction is accurate.

I have mixed feelings about them using Ohiyesa’s white name as the author and including his given name in parentheses. I am glad they included it, but I am left wondering which he would have preferred and which is more culturally appropriate (I suspect the given name).

The reason I reviewed this book, beyond it being interesting, was that I am looking for materials for our third grade class which studies the Sioux. While I am not qualified to make decisive judgements on books about Native Nations, I have to make some calls on what materials to purchase. I think for a general collection this would make a great addition. It’s a little idyllic, but taking into account the fact that it’s true and the book’s notes outside the text, it seems well rounded. I also think it would make an appropriate addition to a home or classroom library for the same reasons. I prefer something like this over presenting made up “native American” legends or stories that are told by outsiders. I am going to pass it along to our third grade teachers, but I suspect the text itself may be a little bare bones for their tastes. I would recommend using it in a classroom in conjunction with both other materials (maybe even Eastman’s original books) and being sure to read the notes and foreword together.

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In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Rerun: Rook by Ellie Ann

On 30, Jul 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

RookRook written by Ellie Ann, illustrated by Brittany Ngo

From the publisher: Rook is about a cunning young thief who takes whatever she wants. But one day, she steals from the wrong witch and she’s caught! The witch takes her in, and teaches her how to create, not take.

Rook came as one of three in a set of easy readers from Castor Tales. I got them through a Kickstarter campaign. The purpose was to put out easy reader fantasies with diverse characters. Last year when I went through our easy reader collection (you can see the stats here) I was unsurprised to discover it was very homogenous and focused almost entirely on talking animals and/or realistic fiction. Now, I’m sure there are plenty of kids who love those kinds of stories, but if we’re trying to get kids interested in reading we need to be sure we can serve all kids, including those that like nonfiction, fantasy, and science fiction. I think this is especially true for roping in reluctant readers.

When I set out to improve the collection, I struggled to find high quality easy readers that featured diversity in their genres and characters. It often worked out that I could get one or the other but rarely both. I gave to the Kickstarter campaign because I saw first hand the lack of variety and diversity and realized there is a need for books like these.

Rook was a lot of fun. She’s a thief with a pet corvid and, in the beginning of the story, we see her stealing from a variety of people. Then she steals from a witch, oh poo. But instead of a cruel witch, she wants to help Rook change her ways. While you could focus on the theme of making better choices or even friendship, I saw an opening for a discussion around society’s current obsession with consumption. Rook begins by proudly announcing she is a thief who always takes. But with the support of a friend, someone who wants to accept her, she is able to shift to creating. Not to sound like the grumpy old man shouting about getting off the lawn, but kids do a lot of consuming, particularly of online content. I think it’s healthy for us to have conversations with them about not only consuming, but also creating their own content to put out into the world.

Other great features of the book are bright and lively illustrations. They feel like they come right out of an animated series. I especially adore Rook herself. She’s got jewelry, henna or tattoos, a partially shaved head and dirt smudges. I appreciate when characters in picture books don’t conform to some clean, White ideal of what people should look like. Showing girls that they can be strong and beautiful no matter how they choose to look (or are born looking) is an incredibly powerful and important message we need to send.

The book also features a list of the sight words used in the story on the back cover. These are easy readers with some thought put into them. I am tired of books marketed as level one easy readers that have way too many words on a page or really complex spelling patterns. Even a classic like Frog and Toad is not for emerging readers. Rook has a few more difficult words that have more complex spelling patterns in them (“create”), but, by and large, the book uses simple sight words (as seen on the back) and basic, predictable spelling patterns. My own daughter should be able to read it with me in a few months (she recently started reading). Even the harder words are repeated so children will have a chance to see them several times in the course of the story. The text also cleverly repeats which allows them to draw on their memory and shows new readers that, while they are reading the same words again, the meaning has changed.

So, I definitely recommend Rook for classrooms and libraries that serve emerging readers. Unfortunately I don’t think you can buy them just yet. You can visit the website and Kickstarter campaign, but I couldn’t find anything about when or if they would be available outside the campaign which ended last fall. In the meantime I would suggest keeping your eye out for them or contacting the publisher.

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In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Rerun: Furqan’s First Flat Top written and illustrated by Robert Liu-Trujillo

On 25, Jul 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Furqan's First Flat TopFurqan’s First Flat Top written and illustrated by Robert Liu-Trujillo

From Amazon: Furqan Moreno wakes up and decides that today he wants his hair cut for the first time. His dad has just the style: a flat top fade! He wants his new haircut to be cool but when they get to the barbershop, he’s a bit nervous about his decision. He begins to worry that his hair will look funny, imagining all the flat objects in his day to day life. Before he knows it, his haircut is done and he realizes that his dad was right-Furqan’s first flat top is the freshest!

I’ll point out right at the start that this a book that was published with a Kickstarter campaign. I know that some libraries cannot buy books that are self-published or not reviewed. Sad for them. This book is amazing.

Liu-Trujillo is an incredible artist. I am always impressed when people can successfully paint anything besides a wash with watercolor, but he’s managed to capture expressions, places, and objects perfectly. Furqan Bathroom SceneI adore the illustration with the father shaving in the bathroom in mismatched socks and his underwear while Furqan stands by the tub with a tentative look on his face. Throughout the book the dad has the look of love on his face as he reassures Furqan and supports him by taking him to the barbershop.

The story is a sweet one about Furqan wanting to cut his hair. He’s always worn it short and curly, but he thinks he wants a flat top. Liu-Trujillo has perfectly captured the illogical anxiety kids can have over everyday things like haircuts. Furqan worries his hair will be flat like a pancake or record. He’s also worried about the reaction he’ll get at school. While the story is about a change in hairstyle, I think it applies more broadly to the anxiety children can have over their first haircut. Will it hurt? Will it look silly? Will it grow back?

Liu-Trujillo also nails a supportive and reassuring dad. I appreciate the book even more for mentioning a mom, but not showing her involved in the story. Even as an involved mother I want to share books with my daughter that show dads can be involved and good parents too. If you have young kids who may be getting their first haircuts or older kids who may want to change their style you have an automatic audience.  The cover and illustrations are so appealing that kids will pick this off the shelf and want to take it home regardless of their hair. Pair it with Zetta Elliot’s A Hand to Hold for books about first experiences and wonderful dads.

If you can buy this book, do it. The copy I ordered came in a beautifully addressed envelope! It was signed and had three stickers, too! I should also point out that I read it to my daughter and I’m going to have to order a new copy for the library because she loves this book.

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