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13

Jun
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Rerun: Billie’s Blues written by Zetta Elliott

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

billies-bluesBillie’s Blues written by Zetta Elliott, pictures by Paul Melecky and Purple Wong

From Goodreads: Billie’s best friend thinks their neighbor, Ms. Marble, is crazy. Supposedly Ms. Marble has a hundred cats in her apartment and sings to them all day long. But when Billie spends an afternoon with her elderly neighbor, she discovers that Ms. Marble is actually a lot of fun! Ms. Marble introduces Billie to Lady Day, Ma Rainey, and other great blues singers. Together they dress up in antique clothes, and sing and dance to the blues. Then Ms. Marble shares an old secret she has been keeping in her heart. Billie learns that “some hurts stay inside you a mighty long time,” but the optimism of the blues triumphs in the end; Ms. Marble assures her young friend that “the sun’s gonna shine in my back door someday.”

Another excellent title from Zetta Elliott. Billie has the blues. It’s raining, her best friend is sick, her babysitter is running late and now she has to go with her mom to the community college for a few hours. Just as the elevator arrives on their floor, Ms. Marble, their elderly neighbor, pokes her head out to say hello. Billie grabs the opportunity and invites herself over to Ms. Marble’s apartment for the afternoon. Ms. Marble is delighted and the two spend an amazing afternoon listening to jazz, dressing up, and eating cookies.

The story was actually really cozy, despite the secret Ms. Marble shares (more on that in a minute). I think the story is a wonderful celebration of a cross-generational friendship developing. And I think readers will be able to discover all the great music and singers that Billie is introduced to that afternoon. I found Billie to be funny. She narrates inside her head and admits the times she is doing things her mother will find rude, like asking too many questions, using “ain’t”, and inviting herself over. But she also rather impishly says her mom isn’t there so she doesn’t care. That seemed like such a kid thing to do and made me chuckle. I think it also makes her really relatable to kids. They’ll have the same questions Billie does and be relieved she just up and asks.

I’m going to spoil the secret that Ms. Marble shares with Billie: her sweetheart was lynched in the South. The text does not specifically mention lynching, just that he was “taken”, but the illustration on the page shows a young Ms. Marble crying with a noose and gallows off in the distance. It’s certainly subtle and for some kids it won’t really register. Others may know exactly what happened. I suppose people’s tolerance for lynching in a book aimed at third through fifth graders will vary. Professionally, I don’t see any reason not to have the book on your shelf where families, children and teachers can make those decisions for themselves. Personally, I think children are very good at grasping difficult history, feeling compassion and tapping into their strong sense of social justice. (For those of you who think children don’t have a sense of social justice, go out to a playground at recess and pay attention.) Parents, teachers and librarians may need to be ready to answer questions that arise, but to me that’s the most important aspect of books like these. It opens up hard conversations, teaches history that isn’t usually discussed and validates children’s ability to really see the world as it is. There is a little bit of age appropriate information included in the back. It might seem radical to some conservative library populations (even my school would have parents that would object), but I guarantee you children will be able to handle it (yes, I’ve talked about this and worse with my five year old).

The book ends on a happy note and a hint at Billie and Ms. Marble’s friendship continuing. If you don’t have Elliott’s books on your shelves yet, what are you waiting for? They are exactly the kind of stuff we need to give to our kids. Run, don’t walk, to her website and/or Amazon and buy all of them now!

 

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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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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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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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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 an affiliate link):

On Amazon: available as a paperback or hardback

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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10

Jul
2017

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Chapter Book Review: Ellis and the Hidden Cave

On 10, Jul 2017 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Ellis and the Hidden CaveEllis and the Hidden Cave story by Cerece and Aryeh Rennie Murphy, written by Carol Kim, art by Gregory Garay

From Goodreads: An ancient civilization. An underwater world. And a new quest for the StoneKeeper! Ellis, Toro and Freddye are at it again in the 2nd book in the Ellis Monroe Series Early Reader Chapter Book! Join them as they explore a hidden world, face more nasty Bugabols and discover that there are many kinds of superpowers!

A solid sequel to Ellis and the Magic Mirror. These books do not have overly complex plots and are not long and that is perfect. I cannot emphasize how important this is for kids not ready to make the jump into older chapter books. In The Hidden Cave, Ellis, his sister Freddye, and his best friend Toro travel to India with their parents. When they arrive they head off to a newly discovered site of ruins that are rather mysterious. As the children head off to explore they find a secret entrance to an underwater world, opened to them because of Ellis’ power as a Stonekeeper. Once in the underwater world, Ellis, Freddye, and Toro encounter more bugabols (troll-like creatures) and Ellis discovers someone who can give him more information about being a Stonekeeper. While there Ellis learns a valuable lesson about the importance of kindness and empathy even when it is not being given to you.

While this book could stand alone, it will make a lot more sense if you’ve read the first book. There is a very quick recap that gives enough information, but it might take a stronger reader to really pick up on the parts that carry over. Ellis and Freddye, who are clearly African American, have well-educated university professor parents. This representation is particularly important to have in your collection if most of your books about black families show them in poverty, struggling, or working class.

If there were things I would have liked to see to make the book a little stronger in terms of diversity, I would say we need more specificity about where they are in India and we could see more influence of Indian culture and history. But you have to strike a balance between how much an emerging chapter book reader can take and get through with adding a lot more to the story. While I think that these additions would have made the book better for adults evaluating it, I am not sure it would have made it a better book for emerging readers. Kids need these quick and relatively easy books to grab their attention and encourage them to read more. As with the first book, it’s a thin paperback with no title on the spine making it a good candidate for facing out on the shelf or staying on display.

These books make a great addition to library and classroom collections that serve kids making the transition from easy readers to chapter books. They feature a diverse cast and fun fantasy plots that move quickly enough to keep early readers engaged while giving them a taste of the genre and what books can offer in terms of adventure. Parents and teachers will appreciate the subtle messages in the books that encourage readers to be brave and empathetic.

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07

Jul
2017

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Rerun: Ellis and the Magic Mirror written by Cerece Rennie Murphy

On 07, Jul 2017 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Ellis and the Magic Mirror

I went back and reread this book a few months ago and it was just as enjoyable the second time around. I kept it out on display at the library and had at least one taker that I remember (and I think one of the second grade teachers hand sold it to a reader, too?). At any rate it’s well worth having on your shelf. I’m rerunning this today because Monday I will be run a review of the sequel that I just discovered! Pretty excited about that. I also bought copies of both this book and the second to read out loud to my daughter since she’s into chapter books at bedtime.

Ellis and the Magic Mirror written by Cerece Rennie Murphy, pictures by Gregory Garay

From Goodreads: Ellis Monroe has always been curious about the world. When his father brings home an ancient mirror with the power to reveal the truth about the people and things around him, Ellis begins to see the world in a whole new way.
But things get more than a little strange when Ellis takes the mirror to school. While playing with it on the playground with his best friend, Toro Quispe, Ellis discovers that someone – or something – is hiding out at Harriet Tubman Elementary and trying to stop children from learning. Determined to solve the new mystery, Ellis, Toro, and his little sister, Freddye go on a secret mission to find out the truth about the troublesome Buddy Cruster and stop whatever he and his friends have planned.

I can’t quite put my finger on why, but Ellis and the Magic Mirror brought Akata Witch to mind. I think it was the group of friends banding together and working together paired with the magic. This was another good self published chapter book. The story was action packed and fast moving (often important in early chapter books). The cast is, as you can see by the cover, diverse.

There is a strong theme of friendship and working together in the story that I enjoyed, too. It showed the friends teaming up to both figure out the mystery around what the mirror was showing them and dealing with the trolls they discover. I also liked the sibling relationship between Ellis and Freddye. It was healthy. They bicker a bit, but the two clearly care for each other and work together well despite an age gap. I’m personally really tired of books with siblings that are at each other’s throats constantly (although I understand there are families where that is the case).

So a lot of times there are stories that I feel could be resolved more easily if children would just bring the problem to the attention of an adult. Particularly when things get dangerous. But then the kids just don’t for what appears to be no other reason than to drive the plot. I know that can be realistic to an extent, but I think it also runs counter to what we tell children to do in threatening situations. Ellis finds himself in a situation like that here, except the book gives two really good reasons for not telling adults. First, there is magic involved and it’s unlikely an adult would believe the kids. Second, Ellis has stolen the mirror from his dad and doesn’t want him to know that he has the mirror. I infinitely prefer stories where there are solid reasons for not telling an adult. I’m not sure if that’s a preference for me as an adult or someone who is very literal, but I am much more likely to willingly suspend my belief in what is going on and fall into the world of the story.

Once again the trim size a little large on this one and I wish it was a bit smaller. Also I don’t know if self published titles have this option, but most of them seem not to have the title and author printed on the spine. That means once they are shelved in the library they tend to disappear onto the shelf. Thicker books don’t disappear as much, but I try to leave them out on display as often as possible so they don’t get lost.

In all, a book worth putting on your shelf if you need a little magic and friendship in the early chapter book section.

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03

Jul
2017

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Rerun: Hello Ruby: Adventures in Coding by Linda Liukas

On 03, Jul 2017 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Hello Ruby

This one is a little out of character because Ruby is (obviously) white, but it’s worth it for having a girl involved in coding! I used this book this past year with my second grade class to begin teaching them about how computers think. Hello Ruby does teach basics of coding, but for me it was important for the kids to learn how computers access information as early as possible. In just a couple years they will be asked to do some online research and they need to understand how best to go about it BEFORE they start out. That doesn’t mean they’ll do it perfectly the first time or even fully grasp what is going on, but it’s about putting the scaffolding in place. A second book in this series is coming out this fall and I’m excited to see how I can use that.  In addition to going through the book with my second graders, my own daughter loved the book and activities. She didn’t get all of them as she was only 5 when we read it, but she still really enjoyed it.

Hello Ruby: Adventures in Coding by Linda Liukas

From Goodreads: Meet Ruby—a small girl with a huge imagination, and the determination to solve any puzzle. As Ruby stomps around her world making new friends, including the Wise Snow Leopard, the Friendly Foxes, and the Messy Robots, kids will be introduced to the fundamentals of computational thinking, like how to break big problems into small ones, create step-by-step plans, look for patterns and think outside the box through storytelling. Then, these basic concepts at the core of coding and programming will be reinforced through fun playful exercises and activities that encourage exploration and creativity.

Hello Ruby is an interesting hybrid of chapter book and activity book. Oddly, though, the activities are included in the back half of the book and not in or at the end of each chapter. The introduction also says that the book is designed for a parent to read the story to their child(ren) and work through the activities together.

The story is cute and simple with a pretty easy reading level (with some help a second grader could manage), however it jumps from something realistic into what I think is Ruby’s imagination. Ruby’s dad has hidden gems and left her some cryptic messages as clues to finding them. I was a little confused as to how Ruby managed to create a map for a world that I thought was supposed to be around her house, but ended up with a river and a forest. I stuck with it and the story eventually made more sense, it just required accepting that this was not our world. I’m not sure kids will be thrown by the leap into Ruby’s imagination since they are less familiar with genres and rules about worlds and stories. Some of the chapters were a little confusing unless you looked at and did the activities with them.

I did appreciate that the activities built on each other, getting more difficult as the book went on. One helps kids understand Booleans which I might have to use in the library when we talk about them.

I’m going to spend next week going through the chapters and exercises with my daughter to see how engaging it is for kids (I realize she’s a little younger than this is probably gear toward, but it will give me a sense). Considering it needs a parent to go through it with the child (not a bad thing! I wish more parents of older kids were still reading and working with their kids), it’s probably not the kind of book that would be popular in my library. It should work for a public library or a home collection if coding is popular. What I think I might do is buy it to have in the makerspace I run.

 

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28

Jun
2017

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Rerun: Room in My Heart by Zetta Elliott

On 28, Jun 2017 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Room in my heart

You just can’t go wrong with Zetta Elliott books on your shelf. You just can’t. I still really appreciate that this shows a divorced family doing their thing. In the past two years this one didn’t check out all that often, but it did check out. If there was one thing I could change it would be the physical size of the book. This has the trim size of an easy reader, but it’s clearly an mid-range chapter book. Size does matter here, but obviously it didn’t deter my students from reading it.

Room In My Heart by Zetta Elliott

From Goodreads: It took some time for Nikki to adjust to her parents’ divorce, but now she and her little sister Natalie enjoy their new routine. Daddy comes over for dinner on Tuesday nights and the girls spend each weekend with him. But everything changes when Daddy picks them up for their weekend visit and introduces the girls to his new friend Sylvia. Nikki feels invisible when Sylvia’s around and so she decides not to spend the weekend with Daddy anymore. Only after talking about her feelings with her aunt does Nikki learn that her father’s love is unchanging, and that there is room in his heart to love many different people.

Another Zetta Elliott that I bought for my library and love, love, loved. I have to say I connected with this book on a personal level as much as I saw it being a good book for the right kid. Forgive me, but I’m about to get a bit personal in this review. My parents divorced when I was young but this was not something I often saw reflected either in my reading or other pop culture I consumed. My mom remarried a couple times and my dad dated a lot. Although I don’t remember struggling in quite the way Nikki does here, I related to so many of her feelings and her situation. It’s hard going between two households and it’s weird when you introduce new people into the family. I am so glad to see a book that reflects that and talks about it without feeling forced or as if it is telling a child how to feel or respond.

I also think the book does a beautiful job allowing Nikki to have her feelings without casting them as something awful or something she shouldn’t have. We often don’t allow children their emotions. We’re always shushing them and telling them they’re okay when they cry, etc. I think this is best seen when Nikki is upset with her father and decides not to spend the weekend with him, her mother says her father is disappointed:

I just shrugged and went upstairs to unpack my overnight bag. I told myself I didn’t care if my father was disappointed in me. I was disappointed in him!

The father in Room In My Heart puts manners and politeness and his own feelings before Nikki’s. Elliott gets at the ridiculousness of this. Sure, Nikki learns something by the end of the book, but Elliott doesn’t invalidate her feelings. She makes all the characters acknowledge them and address them. All this is to say that Elliott really hit the nail on the head in conveying many of the feelings and troubles of kids whose parents are divorced and at some larger issues for children.

As with Max Loves Munecas I worried that I would have to hand sell this to the kids, that they wouldn’t pick it up on their own. I don’t mind hand selling books and I think those hand sells are very important especially for reluctant readers, however I just don’t have nearly enough time to do it often enough or well enough. So I worry that the books won’t get read after the first few months they’ve been in the library. But Zetta Elliott put this post up on her blog* and in her first part of the conversation she totally speaks to why that doesn’t matter. I am so glad she framed it this way and I feel silly for not having thought of it that way before.  I am not going to worry about that any more. Thank you, Zetta Elliott, for assuaging my anxiety about this and for making books that are perfect for giving to the right reader at just the right time. (Update: I put the book out on our new arrivals shelf and lo and behold a kid checked it out with zero prompting from me. I was totally wrong about it.)

*This is not at all the point of her whole post, by the way. I do recommend reading the whole thing. There is so much there to think about and reflect on and Elliott and Kwaymullina are great people to be learning from.

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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27

Jun
2017

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Rerun: Max Loves Munecas by Zetta Elliott

On 27, Jun 2017 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Max Loves Munecas

So not only have I hand sold this to several second and third graders who have loved it, but my friend and second grade teacher reads this out loud to her class every year. And she says the kids get super invested in the story. They are rooting for Max and come away with a new appreciation for things that don’t see to conform to the gender norms they know. Everything Elliott writes is worth having in the library and is the gold standard for self publishing, but this one brings a lot to the table. Be sure to add it to your classroom or library collection.

Max Loves Muñecas by Zetta Elliott, illustrations by

From Goodreads: Max wants to visit a beautiful boutique that sells handmade dolls, but he worries that other children will tease him. When he finally finds the courage to enter the store, Max meets Senor Pepe who has been making dolls since he was a boy in Honduras. Senor Pepe shares his story with Max and reminds him that, “There is no shame in making something beautiful with your hands. Sewing is a skill–just like hitting a baseball or fixing a car.”

I love, love, loved this book. Despite having read the blurb, something about the cover and the title gave me a different impression of what the story would be about. I thought it would be more about Max and him wanting to play with dolls. Instead it’s an inspirational story about Senor Pepe and how he learned to sew and how he grew up in Honduras and then New York with a difficult, but not insurmountable, childhood. And Elliott accomplishes this in just a little over 100 readable pages for third and fourth graders.

I appreciated the story because of my connection to the makerspace. I think it’s important for us not to gender activities. Sewing, dolls, crafts, art, cooking, you name it. Max is struggling with his desire to examine the dolls in Senor Pepe’s shop, afraid the other kids will tease him. He may want to play with them, that’s not really touched on, but his interest is in the technical aspects. He loves their jewelry and their clothes, wonders about how they are made and wants to make them himself.

The ability to create this stuff is not girly, it’s an art form and a difficult one at that. I find it sad that by the time my second graders get to makerspace the girls do the crafts with glitter and the boys make weapons. Why not the other way around? I have had only two boys learn to use the sewing machines and that was once they realized to finish the invention they were working on they needed to sew something. Huh. Sewing machine as tool. Not badge of womanhood. Weird.

While I want my kids to read this story, the illustrations and title might make it something that I will have to hand sell (not a problem). I decided, though, to give it first to one of the second grade teachers. Our second grade studies various cultures through the year as part of their social studies curriculum and the final unit is Latinos. I thought this would be an excellent opportunity to have the book read aloud to the students so they can discuss and appreciate the story.

I also want to point out that the story ends happily. It’s not free of sadness and distress (Pepe is orphaned fairly early on and lives for awhile in fear that he will be turned out onto the street), but it’s not so maudlin that kids will leave it feeling depressed.

An excellent addition to any school or public library collection.

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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