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06

Jun
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Rerun: Papa Lemon’s Little Wanderers

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

Papa Lemon

I’m rerunning this post now because Papa Lemon has a Kickstarter project up right now. They are looking to publish another book in the series that deals with bullying. I enjoyed these early chapter books and would love to see their project fully funded. I’ll be giving what we can at  this time and I hope you will consider backing it as well! It ends June 29th. You can see it here.

Papa Lemon’s Little Wanderers written by Lehman Riley, illustrated by Joshua Wallace

  • Book 1: Meeting Dr. Martin Luther King
  • Book 2: The Dangerous Escape From Slavery
  • Book 3: World War II, The Navajo Wind Talkers
  • Book 4: The Life of Babe Didrikson
  • Book 5: The California Gold Rush
  • Book 6: Dr. Daniel Williams and the First Successful Hear Surgery in 1893

From Goodreads: Papa Lemon and Mama Sarah are the neighborhood grandparents in the small town of West, Mississippi. Papa Lemon helps five multi-cultural friends learn about our nations diverse heritage by sending them back in time via a magical train.

Papa Lemon’s Little Wanderers is a series I came across through another blog’s supporters page. Several of the books in the series cover time periods and events that are studied in my school, so I thought I would buy the series and give them a shot.

I really enjoyed them, and while there are a few issues, by and large they are well worth adding to a chapter book collection. Each book features a group of friends who travel back in time to explore different historical periods and meet historical figures. There’s a bit of belief suspension required around their time traveling locomotive, but I think only sticklers will mind. The writing in the books flows nicely and isn’t overly complex or overly simplified. They are short, beginning chapter books so the stories are bit simplistic, but again for the reading level that is perfect. The dialog is never stilted and nothing felt jarring or awkwardly phrased.

One technicality. There are no actual chapters in these. I’m calling them chapter books because of their length, the ratio of pictures to text, and the complexity of the stories and text. I really wish they had chapter breaks, though. It would help sell the books to readers who are looking for that grown-up feel of chapters. I also wish the trim size was smaller. Again, it makes the kids feel like they are reading older, harder books.

I also wish someone like Debbie Reese would look at the third book which talks about the Navajo Wind Talkers. There are good books out there about them (Joseph Bruchac’s for example), but they’re are all written for older, stronger readers. I think Riley was respectful in handling the Native uncle, but there wasn’t much information about the Wind Talkers. I suppose by stating he was a Wind Talker, it identifies the uncle’s, and by extension Kaya’s, native nation, but I wonder if it could have been more specific. I also wonder if there could have been more information about the Navajo that would have helped the story along. When the friends end up traveling back in time in the book they go to the Pacific theatre to meet another friend’s uncle, not to see the Wind Talkers.

The illustrations are fine if sometimes a little awkward, but there really aren’t that many of them. This is the place where the books feel like something self published. Kids like slick books, but in my experience what they think of as slick and what adults think of as slick can be vastly different. I think the trim size of these books is more likely to make them hesitate to pick them up. The friends are drawn as a diverse group with a mix of genders and ethnic backgrounds. Based on the third book the Native American girl is identified as Navajo. My only complaint about how the text and illustrations work together is AJ, the white friend. In the text he’s always hungry. No mention of his build or shape is made, but the illustrations show him as overweight. I think it’s a stereotype and while I think it would be great to have an overweight kid in the book, I don’t think he should be the one who is always hungry and wanting to find a snack. There’s no reason he has to be drawn that way.

A short historical note at the end of these that either elaborated on the historical period or pointed readers to more information would make them a little stronger. I completely understand that the books are not deep historical accounts of the time periods the kids visit. These are short chapter books for emerging readers. They are absolutely perfect for sparking their interest in these historical time periods and figures, so why not point them in the right direction to find more information.

Be aware that some of the titles appear to be out of print and need to be purchased used. The print quality and overall production quality has gotten better over the series, which is nice if they are going to be circulating. I plan on hand selling these to my second graders and any third graders I can find (I think I’m switching from working with third grade to pre-k this coming year? we’ll see) and I’ll report back on how they are received. I think between our Civil Rights study in music in the second semester and the (flawed) study of the Underground Railroad I can rope them in with the first two books. I’m still chewing on AJ and how problematic he is.

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01

Jun
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Perfect As I Am by Maame Serwaa

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

Perfect As I AmPerfect As I Am written by Maame Serwaa, illustrated by Fleance Forkuo

From Goodreads: Read along with Micah and Myrah as they use the principles of positive affirmations to demonstrate their self-worth. Perfect As I Am will empower young children to love themselves just as they are. With these powerful affirmations, children will learn to build their confidence in preparation for the many opportunities life will afford them.

This appears to be the first in a series featuring a cute pair of siblings or friends, Micah and Myrah, and it’s along the same lines as the book I reviewed last week, Note To Self. As I said there, these types of books are really important to share with children of all levels of confidence. It bolsters how they feel about themselves, validates their self esteem, and teaches them positive self talk.

Unlike Note To Self, this is clearly geared toward both boys and girls. The bright colors and simple text will appeal to young audiences. The illustrations feature Micah and Myrah, two adorable big-eyed kids,  on alternate two-page spreads that offer up affirmations. These affirmations can be easily understood by children and memorized for times when they need to remind themselves that they have value.

I could easily see adding this to a friendship themed storytime or unit in the library or classroom. As with Note To Self, Perfect As I Am would make a great bedtime read aloud to remind. If you have a peace corner in your house or classroom, a calming space where kids can go to chill out and focus, this would be a perfect addition to the book basket or rack there. When children (and grown ups) feel valuable and can come from a place where they feel important and empowered they are more empathetic, can control themselves better, and are happier. Positive self talk and positive feelings about yourself are an incredibly important part of social-emotional learning. If your school, classroom, or home works on SEL skills, be sure to include Perfect As I Am in your repertoire.

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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30

May
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Rerun: The City Kids by Zetta Elliott

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

PhoenixThe City Kids series by Zetta Elliot

The Phoenix on Barkely Street

From Goodreads: Best friends Carlos and Tariq love their block, but Barkley Street has started to change. The playground has been taken over by older boys, which leaves Carlos and Tariq with no place to call their own. They decide to turn the yard of an abandoned brownstone into their secret hang-out spot. Carlos and Tariq soon discover, however, that the overgrown yard is already occupied by an ancient phoenix! When the Pythons try to claim the yard for their gang, the magical bird gives the friends the courage to make a stand against the bullies who threaten to ruin their beloved neighborhood.

Dayshaun’s Gift

From Goodreads: Summer vacation has just begun and Dayshaun wants to spend Saturday morning playing his new video game. But Dayshaun’s mother has other plans: she volunteers at a nearby community garden and that means Dayshaun has to volunteer, too. When Dayshaun puts on his grandfather’s grubby old gardening hat, something unexpected happens-the hands of time turn backward and Dayshaun finds himself in the free Black community of Weeksville during the summer of 1863! While helping the survivors of the New York City Draft Riots, Dayshaun meets a frail old man who entrusts him with a precious family heirloom. But will this gift help Dayshaun find his way back to the 21st century?

So far this is a great series for readers who are ready for a little more text, but aren’t ready for full blown chapter books yet. In other words, they’re transitional. And totally engaging. I’m not normally one for science fiction/fantasy in my books, but I know a lot of kids who are and, as I’ve found this year, there aren’t a lot of those books out there for them unless they are strong readers (most fantasy books seem to be damn thick books with small print, even in the middle grade section). Even fewer of the books available across the beginning chapter book market feature diverse kids or kids who live in urban settings (we didn’t all grow up on a farm or in a large house, myself included). There is a lot here to appeal to kids at the second/third grade level.

In The Phoenix on Barkley Street kids who are all about being green will love that the kids clean up and repurpose a vacant building’s yard. The bullying theme will resonate with many children who, at the beginning chapter book age, are very attuned to social justice. Parents looking for a book that promotes community and friendship will appreciate the themes in the book as well.

I especially loved Dayshaun’s Gift. It was such a great time travel book and it took him back to a period of history that, despite taking American History three times in my school career, I never even heard mentioned. Dayshaun is such a kid, though, and he will feel very real and inviting to kids, even ones who might not pick up a books if there is a whiff of anything educational about it. This is one of the brilliant things about all Elliot’s books. She manages to open your eyes to something new and teach you about it without the books feeling didactic or breaking the story. Spoiler alert: Dayshaun does make it back to the present and he returns to the outhouse of the Weeksville historical village. Kids will LOVE that tiny detail.

It’s times like these I feel very grateful that I am in charge of what books we buy and where we buy them from for our library. Elliot has self published many of her books and that makes it difficult for some libraries to buy her books. If you have any say, these would make an incredible addition to any library collection that serves kids starting out in chapter 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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25

May
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Note to Self by Celina Monique McMillian

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

Note To SelfNote To Self: Affirmations to Young Queens written by Celina Monique McMillian, MSW, illustrated by Autumn Hayes

From Goodreads: This book is intended to empower and influence girls (Queens) to realize they are ENOUGH, to embrace their flaws, and to expand their vocabulary. Affirmations are valuable and powerful. They encourage self-love, self-worth, and self-respect. What we speak, we believe; and what we believe, we achieve.

I recently started listening to a podcast that presents talks by indigenous people. It’s called Think Indigenous and in one episode a woman spoke about the necessity of teaching her children that they have value as humans, since the world will try to teach them otherwise. Despite having parenting practices around this, she was surprised and inspired by a practice her sister had started. Every morning before the sister’s kids got out of the car at school she would call out affirmations and have the kids repeat them back.

Note To Self brought this to mind for me. The subtitle says it all, these are lovely affirmations for girls of color and they can be used for the same purpose as the speaker on Think Indigenous.

While they are geared toward girls, who probably need them the most, parents can easily read them to all their kids. They can talk about how they apply specifically to their own children to help them see their value.

Teachers can use them, too, to inspire their whole class or bolster a single student who needs the extra encouragement. Don’t underestimate the importance of teaching positive self talk.

Daily or weekly readings of the book paired with bringing the encouragement off the page can do wonders for children struggling to find their value. Repeat the affirmations as mantras at the start or end of the day. Repeat them during hard moments together. Send them home written in slips of paper for students to find when they get home or to read before bed. Slip them in lunch boxes or bags or backpacks for children to find at recess or lunch. A quick pick-me-up to remind them you are thinning of them and believe in them.

Another worthwhile and necessary publication from Melanin Origins.

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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23

May
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Rerun: Museum Mysteries by Steve Brezenoff

On 23, May 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Museum MysteriesMuseum Mysteries written by Steve Brezenoff, pictures by Lisa Weber

The Haunted History Museum

The Case of the Missing Museum Archives

The Case of the Portrait Vandal

The Case of the Stolen Sculpture

I bought and read three of these little mysteries. It’s such a tricky balance to strike in these early chapter books, trying to get enough story and character in there that it’s well written without making it too complex and long for kids who are just beginning to read. I personally am fine with books that lack a bit in an involved mystery and character development. I know kids who read these types of stories and enjoy them. I also happened to be one of those kids. I think these mysteries really do a good job of striking that balance. The diversity in ethnicity of the kids comes off as a little shallow, but I think for this type of books it’s just fine. Kids in my library are just happy to see themselves on the cover and read about a kid that they can picture looking like them.

Book number two (the one pictured at the left) is especially important right now. It’s a girl in a hijab who is not a terrorist. She also happens to love space travel and math. STEM girl for the win. The story is wee bit far fetched as the father is about to be fired for something that he didn’t do and the evidence that he lost some important documents is shaky at best. But the characters are likable and the story is fun if you put aside your grown up sensibilities.

When I bought these there were only four that I found on Amazon. On Goodreads it appears there are a few more that feature the same kids in new mysteries which if you have a population that likes mysteries I highly recommend getting. The original Nate the Great was pretty easy, but some of the later chapter books he is in get a lot longer and more wordy. I would say these could replace those longer Nate the Greats of be a place to move to afterward.

I highly recommend these for beginning chapter book collections. They’re a fun introduction to mystery novels and they feature a diverse cast of characters.

 

 

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18

May
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Shorty and the Sullivans by Linda J. Mubarak

On 18, May 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

ShortyShorty and the Sullivans written by Lynda Jones-Mubarak, illustrated by M. Ridho Mentarie

From Goodreads: Meet The Sullivans, an African American couple in their early 50s. They do not have children, but they do have a big, black dog named Ebony Joyce who they sometimes call Ebony J. In this story, the Sullivans discover that sympathy, empathy and compassion can emerge from very small events, and that sometimes, the best friendships can develop from very unusual circumstances.

Shorty and the Sullivans is another sweet, gentle book from Dr. Linda Mubarak. It’s a story full of heart and compassion. From a collection development perspective, this book has the kind of representation we should be looking for and demanding in our picture books. The Sullivans are a kind older couple who, in the course of the story, take in a young pup. At its heart Shorty and the Sullivans is just a story about dogs and the Sullivans are unremarkably black. It’s the kind of story we see all the time with white (and straight and two-parent and cisgender) families and characters but rarely see with anyone else. This kind of representation is so desperately needed because it normalizes families that aren’t white and doesn’t fall victim to somehow painting whiteness as normal and default. The publisher, Melanin Origins, strives to provide this representation as well as providing affirmation for children of color and shedding light on forgotten or unfairly obscure historical figures. Yet the book isn’t a political statement for its target audience, nor does it need to be. So, will kids like it? In a word, yes. It’s a book about two dogs and their humans. Kids love stories about dogs. Case in point, when the book showed up on our doorstep my daughter immediately noticed the dogs on the cover and began asking what the book was about and if we could read it right then and there. For adults who need more substance than just dogs, it’s also a lovely lesson in empathy as Mrs. Sullivan takes in the homeless puppy and the family learns to incorporate the new family member. The text is on the longer side in this book so I recommend it for classrooms and libraries that serve slightly older children, first through third grade. But I definitely encourage you to check it out and add it to your collections.

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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16

May
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Rerun: Following My Paint Brush by Dulari Devi

On 16, May 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Following My Paint BrushI have a bunch of reruns from last summer that are associated with my 100 Day Project. Since they’re all set up and ready to go, I’m going to go ahead and run them. That way if you want to search the tag #The100DayProject or #100daysofselfpublishedkidlit all the posts will be there. Just a heads up that you’ll be seeing these come across the blog over the coming weeks.

Following My Paint Brush text by Gita Wolf based on Dulari Devi’s oral narrative, art by Dulari Devi

From Goodreads: Following My Paint Brush is the story of Dulari Devi, a domestic helper who went on to become an artist in the Mithila style of folk painting from Bihar, eastern India. Dulari is from a community of fisherfolk whose occupation is river-fishing. Used to a life of hard and relentless labor, she discovered painting while working as a domestic helper in an artist’s house.
Dulari learned by doing, and very soon came to adapt artistic rules and conventions to her own expressive needs. Following My Paint Brush narrates Dulari’s momentous journey from a worker who knew no rest to an artist who is willing to go where her imagination leads her.

The art in this picture book is absolutely gorgeous. It’s bright and colorful and charming. Dulari Devi told the story of her life to Gita Wolf who simplified it and wrote it out. I think it’s one of those books that could be quite inspirational for aspiring artists. I could even see the art potentially inspiring some pen, ink and watercolor drawings (although I think that’s a fine line since it is a traditional art form).

I think this would make a nice addition to our biography collection to go alongside other picture book biographies of artists, particularly Draw What You See, The Noisy Paint Box, and also the books we have about Frida Kahlo. It would also make a nice addition to our art collection where we could showcase this traditional art form (I’ll have to think very hard about where it might get the best circulation and use).

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, I try very hard to ensure that the books we have about other cultures don’t create a narrative of pity and poverty. Heads up, this book is a story about a woman who grew up very poor and uneducated in India. I will be buying the book for our collection because of the art (did I mention it’s beautiful?) and the worthwhile story, but I am also going to check our other books about India and Indians to be sure we have books that show other narratives from the country.

I would like to share that last year we had a kindergartener who is Indian. She wears a bindi everyday. Some of the other kids in the class (white, as far as I know) asked her about it. Eventually their questions and curiosity started to sound a lot like teasing and bullying. Her teacher came to the library asking if we had books she could read to and share with the class that featured Indian or Indian American characters. There weren’t many. The thing is this little girl is not poor or uneducated and neither are her parents. I worried that the few books we did have would feed the kids another idea about this little girl and her family, namely that they were poor, uneducated and in need of pity (or worse would paint a picture of colonialism in India). I did end up finding a handful of books that were good and the teacher did share them (including Hot, Hot Roti for Dada-Ji). She also invited the little girl’s parents in to talk about an aspect of their culture of their choosing. I am not sure how the whole situation resolved or if it actually did, but that is exactly why I want to be very careful to be sure there is a variety of stories about cultures in our library.

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11

May
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book: Breaking the Sickle by Louie T. McClain II

On 11, May 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Breaking the SickleBreaking the Sickle: A Snippet of the Life of Dr. Yvette Fay Francis-McBarnette written by Louie T. McClain II, edited by Francis W. Minikon Jr., illustrated by M. Ridho Mentarie

From Goodreads: Have you ever wondered what your passion was? What you were put on this Earth to do? Dr. Yvette Fay Francis-McBarnette, a trail blazing woman of medicine, understood exactly what her purpose was in life. Her interest and area of expertise was researching ways to identify those with sickle cell early on, and providing therapeutic solutions to induce an improved quality of life for those who suffered from the disease. Dr. Francis-McBarnette led an extraordinary life that tells such an amazing story of hope and encouragement. Read along as Melanin Origins presents a childlike perspective of her formula for breaking the cycle of Sickle Cell Disease.

I have a secret way of testing out all books that I bring into the house. Kids books that is. I casually leave them out in a basket, next to the bed, or on the kitchen table. Then I wait to see how long it takes my daughter to pick them up, peruse them, and ask to have them read to her. A litmus test of sorts.

I have admitted before that upon seeing these “Snippet in the Life of” biographies for the first time I was confused by the representation of the subjects as modern looking children. “Why not draw the people as they were in the historical settings they lived in?” I wondered. As with Booker T. Washington, Flying Above Expectations, and Ida B. Wells I was not in the know. It takes my daughter no time at all to see these biographies and pick them up, curious about who they are about. They are always that night’s bedtime story when they arrive.

This installment in the series features Dr. Francis-McBarnette, a female doctor dedicated to helping African Americans through her research and treatment of sickle cell disease. The book is part affirmations, part science introduction, and part biography. Dr. Francis-McBarnette, a woman who hailed from Jamaica, entered Yale’s medical school at the age of 19. She was also only the second black woman at the school. Depicted as a young girl, Yvette, takes the reader through her life and explains that when she saw the impact sickle cell disease had on people and families she became determined to help manage the disease. She emphasizes the hard work she put into her studies and her life in order to accomplish the things she did and she encourages readers to do the same. She also gives a simple lesson on how sickle cell disease works. Not so long as to confuse or bore readers, not so short as to be uninformative. Perfect for budding scientists.

While the book is a snippet of a great woman’s life, it also provides many parents with an opportunity to talk to their children about how incredible her accomplishments were because of the color of her skin. She worked hard and also overcame obstacles that normally held women and people of color back. It makes her story all the more amazing.

The text in the book is spare enough that it will keep younger audiences engaged. For children curious for more about her, tearchers, librarians or parents can help them research her further online. But the book stands on its own, whetting children’s appetites for learning about less well-known historical figures that are probably passed over because of their race and/or gender. This is the kind of representation we need more of in children’s books (and grown up books too, to be honest). We need to have young women of color on the covers of picture books. We need to be reading books about women in science and especially women of color in science to all kids, not just kids of color.

Libraries, classrooms, and home collections need to be considering the “Snippet in the Life of” series. Melanin Origins is now releasing all of them in both paper- and hardback and they are super affordable. They need to be on our shelves showing all children that it wasn’t just white men who made history. There were plenty of other heroes out there working to make the world a better place. Before you turn your nose up at books published outside traditional channels consider the lack of diversity in the books available through those channels. This book in particular shows children that a disease that affects many black and African American people is and was important enough to be studied, addressed, and managed. It also fits the bill for promoting STEM/STEAM education, particularly with girls (so it’s really on point :) ). I also recommend the book for families affected by sickle cell disease. It’s a great introduction for young children to understand what the disease is and why they may be getting the treatment they are.

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.

On Melanin Origins website

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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12

Feb
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book: Carver Park by Dr. Lynda Mubarak

On 12, Feb 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Carver ParkCarver Park written by Dr. Lynda Jones Mubarak, illustrated by Eminence System

From Goodreads: It would seem that growing up in segregated Waco, Texas in the 1950s would be filled with challenges and disappointments for any African-American child, but one little girl learned everything possible about the world beyond segregation due to the influences of her family, friends, neighbors and teachers. Waco, TX had its on Black Wall Street in the Bridge Street area and it flourished. Carver Park gives us a view into the life of one child who found that regardless of society’s circumstances, the persons in our lives provide us with the knowledge and support needed to learn, survive and progress during a time of great social unrest and historical change.

Carver Park is a fascinating series of reflections on growing up in the segregated black neighborhood of Waco, TX, a city I must shamefully confess I’m more familiar with for the siege with the Branch Davidians. I suspect for teachers and parents my age (and possibly older) that will be the point of reference. Carver Park really replaces that narrative though, with small vignettes of Dr. Mubarak’s childhood in the 1950s. To be honest it reads a lot like the stories my own mother shares about growing up in the same era. The family here just happens to be black and live in a segregated neighborhood.

This is the perfect type of book to share during Black History Month. To begin with, it veers away from the typical narrative of exceptional African Americans who pull themselves up by the bootstraps we see touted during this month. Those books have a place and are important, but they feed into the idea that black people have worth and history only as it fits in with slavery, Jim Crow laws, and nonviolent Civil Rights era marches. Carver Park is the kind of book we see about white families all the time and it’s incredibly refreshing to see it reflect a different kind of family for once. It’s a kind of representation that we need to see for black children.

That isn’t to say the family doesn’t have its challenges. No mention is made of their SES, so I can’t be sure money wasn’t always a worry for her parents. Nor does she shy away from pointing out that they faced institutional racism and discrimination. They lived in a segregated neighborhood after all. But it’s told from little Lynda’s perspective so those things don’t factor into her perception of growing up in the same way they may now as she reflects back on her childhood as an adult.

I especially love the relationship Lynda has with her parents, and her father in particular. He was always careful to explain things to her and make sure she understood what she was seeing and experiencing as a child. Both her parents include her in their day-to-day lives and make a point to do things as family. Also, her dad sews!!! He’s a tailor and it’s so incredible to see a man sewing, a skill that is usually relegated to women if you see it at all in a picture book. I’ll be honest, it’s the kind of book I hope my own daughter would write about our family. It’s so clear how loving and supportive Mubarak’s family was and how, despite what were less than ideal circumstances in a racist world, they helped her see her worth and value and build happy memories.

This book is more of an illustrated book than picture book and if I had one suggestion about it, it’s that I wish it was printed in a chapter book form factor instead of the large square picture book format. It’s also not going to be a book that hooks in every reader. It’s quieter and more contemplative. Personally I love that kind of book and I have known plenty of children over the years who also love those types of stories, but be aware of that when recommending it to readers.

This would be a great addition to any library, classroom or home collection. Tie it in with Black History Month right now and use it to start a conversation about segregation of our neighborhoods. I recommend it for older audiences, second grade up, simply because the text is longer and will require longer attention span and/or higher reading level skills.

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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29

Jan
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Hadara’s Hijab by Dr. Irene Okoronkwo-Obika

On 29, Jan 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Hadara's Hijab

Hadara’s Hijab written by Dr. Irene Okoronkwo-Obika DNP, ARPN, FNP-C, PMHNP-BC

From GoodReads: Journey with Hadara and her father as they migrate to the United States from South Sudan for a new life. Hadara is ecstatic to embark on her new life and gain meaningful friendships in a new land, but soon discovers the harsh realities of being bullied due to her physical appearance. However, after an encounter with her peer, Chisom The Champ, Hadara is empowered to regain her self-love and self-acceptance.

We’re back in Chisom the Champ‘s world for Hadara’s Hijab, this time following Hadara, a young South Sudanese girl who has come to the United States with her father in hopes of getting a good education. Right off the bat I have to say I appreciate that this is not a refugee story from South Sudan. Certainly it is important for us to realize what is going on in other parts of the world, but the story of South Sudan often runs into what Chimamanda Adiche calls the danger of a single story. Mainstream media almost always depicts refugees from South Sudan fleeing violence. There are other stories of immigrants from South Sudan and other countries, though, and it’s important to see them. Moreover, there is no hint of exceptionalism here with Hadara. She wants to be a mathematician, but the text doesn’t call her out as a genius or make her out to be anything more than a girl who likes school. I assume she’s a bright girl and her father is a perfectly decent man too. But all they’re looking for is a better education for Hadara instead of expecting them to be model immigrants with exceptional qualities that make them “good enough” to be in the United States, a narrative we’re seeing a lot of in this political climate.

Hadara is obviously Muslim and not the kind of Muslim we see in a lot of picture books (although there are definitely a few from African countries, Deep in the Sahara comes to mind). It’s refreshing to see a non-Middle Eastern Muslim represented in a picture book as it gets away from that single story as well. The book does not center around her faith, which is also refreshing in that it can simply be ancillary to the story. It’s nice when faith is woven in, but Christian children get to see vaguely Christian children represented all the time (how many new Christmas books come out every year?) without their faith being specifically called out, so why not Muslim kids?

It should be said that Hadara is called out for being black primarily by the class mean girl (also for being Muslim, but the most hateful attacks are for being black). The language used against her is very specific. It made me uncomfortable reading it and I wonder about reading it to kids of color. I don’t doubt that it’s language they’ve heard before, but it felt very harsh. I think part of my own discomfort is the fact that I am white and felt conflicted about repeating the insults, particularly when reading the book to my white child. White teachers and librarians will need to unpack that feeling when using the book. It’s also probably nothing my daughter hasn’t explicitly or implicitly heard somewhere in media. My point being, your mileage may vary, but don’t discount it for that. I think the book really opens up a good conversation between adults and children about anti-blackness (and xenophobia). On a second read through with my daughter I discussed racism and bullying and how the two often go hand-in-hand. In our house, it’s a conversation we have regularly, but for those parents or teachers who aren’t used to the conversation this can both serve as a starting point and as a resource in a larger conversation.

Ultimately the girl doing the bullying comes around. At first I thought the resolution felt unrealistic. The mean girl really has a change of heart after Chisom and Billy Bob step in on Hadara’s behalf. But after thinking it through I realized we need stories that have those happy endings. Aren’t there enough ambiguities and unhappy endings going around right now? Why can’t we model how a mean girl can recognize her bad behavior, apologize for it, and make a commitment to do better? I think it’s a healthy ending to use with audiences who may need to see how that conflict resolution plays out.

I also think this is where the strength of the book lies. Chisom and Billy Bob intervene on Hadara’s behalf at two different points in the story. They overhear the mean comments and laughter of the students and don’t allow themselves to be bystanders. They speak up. Kids need to be shown how to do this. They need role models that do this. So much of the anti-bullying I see being taught in schools revolves around focusing on reforming the bullies and preventing the behavior. This is necessary, but most kids won’t be the bullies. They’ll be the bystanders overhearing the mean remarks and hateful language and they need to know that they can and should speak up when that happens. They also need to be explicitly taught how to speak up.

All in all, this is another book to have in your pocket (or on your shelf) to help combat bullying. It deals with it very explicitly and I think we really need resources that do that. Even more, it deals with anti-black and anti-Muslim prejudice and bullying which are issues our kids are seeing all around them. They need honest conversations with the adults in their lives and Hadara’s Hijab gives them an opportunity to face the problem head on and see how it can be dealt with.

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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