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01

Aug
2018

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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20

Jul
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Education Is Power by Lenny Williams

On 20, Jul 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Education is PowerEducation Is Power: A Snippet in the Life of W.E.B. DuBois written by Lenny Williams, illustrated by Adua Hernandez

From Goodreads: This story is about African-American civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois and it teaches children about the need for education. Young W.E.B. Du Bois will be talking about how education gave him the POWER to become a great learner and a great teacher. This power, found through education, led him to become a leader, an author, a humanitarian, an activist, and an overall great person that made an impact in the world. Du Bois encourages children that they can do whatever they put their mind too through the power of education.

Like Ida B. Wells, DuBois is one of those historical figures I know by name, but could not have told you why he is well known. Education is Power both answered that question for me and intrigued me enough to look him up and I suspect it will do the same for kids and educators using the book. That is the beauty and genius of the Snippet in the Life series from Melanin Origins. It is so good at introducing important black and African-American figures that we should all know but our history classes leave out in favor of an all-white, primarily male, cast of characters.

While some may complain that the book is light on historical facts and dates, I have found that to be a blessing when reading them with my students and daughter. Education is Power (and the other Snippet books) uses a more narrative approach to introducing DuBois. The reader is taken chronologically through his life and touches on a variety of his experiences and accomplishments without being overly detailed. The important thing to remember here is that these books are geared toward young readers, two or three years old up to about six or seven years old. Books that contain too much information overwhelm these young readers, particularly if they have already been turned off to reading by a lack of representation in the stories that have been shared with them. But even the most intrepid six year old will quickly lose interest in a history book that is too dense, even if it is for children.

On top of the historical lesson, the message here is a good one. I worry that education is not always the magic pill to break free of poverty and discrimination, especially for people of color, but education still goes a long way in helping people achieve. Education is Power drives the message home that education is a tool that can be used to empower those who put in the time and effort to attain it. As with the other books in the series, the message is front and center, but doesn’t read as ham-fisted.

Another feature of the Snippet in the Life series is featuring the historical figure as a contemporary young person and Education is Power follows the trend. While this seemed odd at first, I have found it makes these figures and their messages clearer and more easily identifiable for the young audiences the books are geared toward. It just does.

Definitely add this one to your biography collections if your library or classroom serves young kids.

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

Purchase the book here:

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

Jun
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Brick by Brick by Louie T. McClain

On 22, Jun 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Brick by BrickBrick by Brick: A Snippet in the Life of Booker T. Washington written by Louie T. McClain, illustrated by M. Ridho Mentarie

From Goodreads: A children’s book snippet about the life, accomplishments, and achievements of the great Booker T. Washington – an inspirational African-American innovator, leader, scholar, and philanthropist.

Oddly enough I haven’t reviewed this book yet despite it being the first in the A Snippet in the Life series. Brick by Brick shares a bit of the accomplishments of Booker T. Washington as well as inspiration around how he managed to accomplish so much.

If you’re resisting the Snippet series because the historical figures tend to be less well known, there’s no excuse here. Booker T. Washington is a well-known African American figure and his Tuskegee Institute is arguably more influential. It’s still around today, but also was home to George Washington Carver (who is fascinating in and of himself, peanut research aside) and the Airmen we see in Flying Above Expectations.

This book in particular is very motivational. It encourages kids, whether or not they are familiar with Washington and the Tuskegee Institute, to work hard, have faith in themselves, and rely on good friends. All of these are great messages for children to hear. Grit is one of those educational buzz words that’s been popular for a few years, as has the idea of a growth mindset. These books, besides introducing important black historical figures, also plug directly into those concepts and make them really great additions to classroom libraries. Brick by Brick can open conversations about how important it is to believe in yourself and have faith in your abilities. It can also provide a little dose of inspiration during read alouds.

I’ll be honest, McClain hasn’t hit his stride for the series with this book just yet. The later books do a really good job balancing sharing some historical facts with inspiration. While Brick by Brick is worth your time and shelf space (I had it in my library), I think it’s better as an inspirational, growth-mindset builder rather than peek into the historical aspects of Booker T. Washington. That being said, if you aren’t familiar with Washington of the Tuskegee Institute your interest will be piqued enough to look him up.

Sort of off topic, but something I wanted to bring up in regard to these books by Melanin Origins. Nearly all their books are available as ebooks, hardbacks, and paperbacks. While not everyone has access to ebooks, Kindle does have an app that can be downloaded to a smartphone and is in full color. These are an incredibly affordable way to get ahold of these titles. For libraries the hardbacks are great because they don’t get lost on the shelf. And for home and classroom libraries the paperbacks are an incredibly affordable option. You’re also supporting a black owned business when you purchase them, so it’s a great option all around with something for everyone.

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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15

Jun
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Perseverance: The Story of Mary Jane Patterson by Quineka Ragsdale

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

PerseveranceThe Story of Mary Jane Patterson written by Quineka Ragsdale, illustrated by Hatice Bayramoglu

From Goodreads: Read along as renowned author, Quineka Ragsdale of the Demarcus Jones series, tells of the 1st African American woman to receive a four-year Bachelor’s Degree: Mary Jane Patterson. The life of Mary Patterson inspires and encourages children to excel in their education, set goals, and work towards achieving them.

Melanin Origins brings us yet another interesting, but obscure historical figure. This time Mary Jane Patterson, the first African American woman to obtain a B.A. degree. She graduated from Oberlin College in 1862. After college she went on to teach and inspire other young African American children to get an education.

While education is not the only factor in what gets people ahead, it is undeniably an important one. Mary Jane Patterson paved the way for future generations of African American men and women to earn degrees from four-year universities. Her story, born into slavery and taught by her mother, certainly demonstrates that perseverance can help people obtain their goals.

Instead of overloading on dry facts and dates, something that is sure bore children and ensure they tune out, Ragsdale has taken Patterson’s story and pulled out the inspiring underlying message of her life. Hard work, determination, and perseverance is what helped Mary Jane stay in school and get more than the customary two years of college education. At a time when slavery was still hotly contested, that could not have been an easy task. As with the Snippet in the Life series from Melanin Origins, Mary Jane Patterson breaks the fourth wall and talks to the reader encouraging them to follow their dreams and believe in themselves as they strive to achieve them.

Perseverance would make a great addition to libraries that serve young audiences, but would be especially impactful in classroom libraries where teachers can use the book to encourage their students to build up their growth mindset and their self esteem. Mary Jane can encourage kids to work hard and have faith in their own abilities. She might also inspire some biography projects when kids want to discover more about this amazing woman’s life.

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

The book releases August 1, but you can preorder the book here (not an affiliate link):

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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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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05

Jul
2017

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Rerun: The Amazing Discoveries of Ibn Sina written by Fatima Sharafeddine

On 05, Jul 2017 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Ibn Sina

This one appears to have gone out of print or is at least not available through Amazon. If you wouls like a copy you can buy it here through Kitaab World. I highly recommend ordering through them anyways. They have an amazing selection of books dealing with Islam and South Asian culture. Again, I can’t recommend enough getting more books about Muslims into all parts of your collection. This is a particularly lovely biography with wonderful illustrations and good information.

The Amazing Discoveries of Ibn Sina written by Fatima Sharafeddine, illustrated by Intelaq Mohammed Ali

Form Goodreads: Born in Persia more than a thousand years ago, Ibn Sina was one of the greatest thinkers of his time — a philosopher, scientist and physician who made significant discoveries, especially in the field of medicine, and wrote more than one hundred books. As a child, Ibn Sina was extremely bright, a voracious reader who loved to learn and was fortunate to have the best teachers. He memorized the Qur’an by the age of ten and completed his medical studies at sixteen. He spent his life traveling, treating the sick, seeking knowledge through research, and writing about his discoveries. He came up with new theories in the fields of physics, chemistry, astronomy and education. His most famous work is The Canon of Medicine, a collection of books that were used for teaching in universities across the Islamic world and Europe for centuries.

So I wasn’t totally captivated by the text in this one. It was in first person which I understand brings the reader closer to the subject, but it also made for a few awkward places. In looking further at the book I discovered that it was originally published in Arabic, which might explain the awkwardness. Things lost in translation.

Otherwise, Ibn Sina made me feel totally inadequate. NBD. He just finished his medical studies at 16. I mean I know it wasn’t like medical school these days, but still. 16. Clearly the man was a genius. The story of his accomplishments was really fascinating. He did a lot and was very interested in life long learning. He studied philosophy, education and even advocated for what we might today consider respectful parenting and teaching.

I wish there had been a little more historical context. He moved around a lot as an adult, but there was only a brief mention that one of the cities he lived in was frequently fighting with another. I think kids in the US will not be particularly familiar with the geography or history of the area or era and need more information. But I also understand that it could potentially make the book unwieldy and boring. A longer more detailed author’s note might have sufficed. I did appreciate that Sharafeddine noted that Islamic contributions to the world are rarely taught in US schools and that was a driving factor in bringing out this book.

I really like the illustrations. They’re done on a speckled brownish paper that makes the colors pop and is different from the usual white paper. The lines are so soft and the shading is spectacular. Everyone has these huge half moon eyes that make them kind of darling and friendly. The illustrations were done in colored pencil and are so saturated and rich.

I’ll definitely be buying this as our budget allows this year. We need more Islamic biographies and I don’t think we have anything on the Islamic Golden Age. The illustrations will entice my students to pick it up. My complaints about the text aren’t significant enough for me to not purchase it.

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16

Jan
2017

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Power in My Pen by Louie T. McClain III

On 16, Jan 2017 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Power in My PenPower in My Pen: A Snippet in the Life of Ida B. Wells written by Louie T. McClain III, edited by Francis W. Minikon, illustrated byM. Ridho Mentarie

From Goodreads: Step into the world of Ida B. Wells as she uses her life experiences and obstacles as motivation to achieve many firsts in editing and journalism in the United States of America and abroad.  Read along as she flourishes in the wake of family tragedy and ever changing life situations.  “Power in My Pen” encourages penmanship, free thought, and historical lessons from a highly influential leader in the early 1900’s.  The strong intelligent woman we know as Ida B. Wells proved, no matter who you are, you can share your message and your truth to the world through the power of the pen.

I have to admit I expected there to a Message with a capital “m” in the book. There is, but it doesn’t beat you over the head with it. Wells’ life was far more the focus and as a parent reading the book with my child I was able to draw the message out through her life and work. She sums it up at the end succinctly, but we were able look back over her life and see her living it.

The book quickly passed the high interest test. The first night it was on our shelf my daughter asked to read it and she has dug it out of our considerable bedtime book stack several times since.

The book is clearly geared toward young audiences. The text is simple, but still includes some good vocabulary and syntax. It does simplify her life, but in a way that makes it much more accessible to younger kids. They get a sense of who Ida B. Wells was and what she accomplished without being bogged down in dates (in my experience these are totally meaningless to kids under 5 or 6) or timelines or tons of details. We’ve tried some biographies at home and not many have been chosen for a second read through (exceptions being this one, Jane Goodall, Misty Copeland and Trombone Shorty).

Personally, the name Ida B. Wells rang a bell, but I couldn’t have told you who exactly she was. The book clued me in and made me curious, though, and I started looking her up for my own edification. We did look up her Wikipedia article right after reading it the first time to get a little more information about her. I could see using the book in the classroom or library with a biography project. It’s perfect for getting a good overview and piquing interest.

The illustrations are charming with a happy smiling Ida B. Wells (her actual photographs make her look incredibly dour, like most photos from that era). I thought it was an interesting choice to show Ida and the other characters in more modern clothing and settings. At first I wasn’t sure about it, but I realized my daughter was connecting better with the characters on the page. I think this is one more piece that helps the book appeal and click with the younger target audience.

My one complaint is that the book is a thin paperback. It’s going to get lost on the shelf! To solve this I will be sure it will sit face out as long as possible, but hardcovers still tend to fair better. The books are not terribly expensive and the company has been running a deal with a buy-one-get-one for a the past month or so. There are a number of series of biographies that are geared toward young audiences (Ordinary People Change the World, for example) that are also very popular. If you have an extra $10 in your budget this is well worth adding. Plus it adds an important African American woman to our collections who doesn’t usually see elementary school library shelves (or high school for that matter).

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30

Nov
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: I Am Jazz written by Jazz Jennings

On 30, Nov 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

i-am-jazzI Am Jazz written by Jessica Hershel and Jazz Jennings, illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas

From Goodreads: From the time she was two years old, Jazz knew that she had a girl’s brain in a boy’s body. She loved pink and dressing up as a mermaid and didn’t feel like herself in boys’ clothing. This confused her family, until they took her to a doctor who said that Jazz was transgender and that she was born that way. Jazz’s story is based on her real-life experience and she tells it in a simple, clear way that will be appreciated by picture book readers, their parents, and teachers.

So this book needs to be in everyone’s collection. There aren’t very many books about transgender kids or gender non-conforming kids, but those kids are out there and it’s important for them to be reflected in our collections.

The book itself is well written and clear. It isn’t particularly text-heavy, but does have more information in the back of the book including some pictures of Jazz both before and after. I think the text could be helpful both for children who are confused by the feelings they may have and for parents who are also confused and scared. The illustrations are lovely and soft and inviting and really add to the quality of the book.

To be sure the this is an issue book. It follows Jazz Jennings as a young child through her struggle to understand why she wasn’t born female and her family’s struggle to understand as well. It’s all incredibly upbeat, which I think is appropriate for the intended audience. I would love to see books where transgender kids are just par for the course, but these books will strengthen our collections. Both types of books will play a role in making our collections windows and mirrors for all out students, children, and families.

As a side note, I’m seeing nearly all these picture books that focus on what could be transgender kids center around boys who are transgender or feminine. Like Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress or One of a Kind Like Me. Most of these books feature boys who like to wear girls clothing, an interest that is not necessarily gay or transgender, but more to the point where are the girls who are transgender? I wonder if this is in part that girls being more boy-like (i.e. tomboy) is more acceptable and we just haven’t seen as much of a need to write about them yet? (Which isn’t to say those books aren’t needed. They are.) Or if that’s just a harder thing to show in picture books? I would like to see some more books that feature girls, though.

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14

Nov
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: I Am Not a Number by Jenny Kay Dupuis

On 14, Nov 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

i-am-not-a-numberI Am Not a Number written by Jenny Kay Dupuis and Kathy Kacer, illustrated by Gillian Newland

From Goodreads: When eight-year-old Irene is removed from her First Nations family to live in a residential school she is confused, frightened, and terribly homesick. She tries to remember who she is and where she came from, despite the efforts of the nuns who are in charge at the school and who tell her that she is not to use her own name but instead use the number they have assigned to her. When she goes home for summer holidays, Irene’s parents decide never to send her and her brothers away again. But where will they hide? And what will happen when her parents disobey the law?

This was the book I read to my daughter the day after the election. I decided it was important for her to start learning the history of how Native Nations have been treated over the years. It isn’t necessarily a new conversation with her, but I think this was one of the most real. Her newest thing is to ask, is this a true story? And this one is.

I can’t say the book is a beautiful story, but it is a beautiful book. It tackles a dark and difficult topic. Irene and two of her brothers are sent off by the local official to the residential school. They last one year and upon returning home for the summer spill the atrocities that they have encountered. Their father comes up with a plan, stands up to the government official, and manages to prevent them from having to go back. Many were not so lucky. A personal and informative author’s note at the end adds a little more detail to the story.

The illustrations fit this beautifully. The sombre color palette and the simple, clean settings perfectly reflect both the mood and place of the book. The nuns are creepily white as I’m sure they probably seemed in their dour habits.

This is a long picture book. Many pages are full of text with a picture on the facing page. I do think it’s intended for a slightly older audience and I think you could use it as a read aloud well up into middle school. But I will say my five year old sat through it with no complaints. The story was captivatingly told.

I can’t stress the importance of having these books in your library collection enough. They reflect accurately the experiences of many Native families and the history of many Native peoples (not just the ones in Canada). They can start conversations, albeit hard ones for us white teachers and parents, around the deep seated racism in our country and how that has played out over the years. They can also ensure that children are being exposed to this history. It is unlikely that most schools are teaching about this in any classroom, even in high schools. If you work in a middle or high school library I recommend putting this on your shelf, but if you can’t or won’t put a picture book out, get Fatty Legs and promote that.

I had a private school education and as an adult I find myself asking what the hell my parents paid for. I learned nothing. Nothing. Ignoring the difficult parts of history and literature, I still learned nothing. Make sure that doesn’t happen to your students.

 

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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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