Image Image Image Image Image
Scroll to Top

To Top

chapter book

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.

Tags | , , , , , , ,

15

Jun
2017

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Rerun: The Magic Mirror by Zetta Elliott

On 15, Jun 2017 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Magic Mirror

I introduced The Magic Mirror into the library collection awhile ago and had good luck hand selling it to a several second graders who wanted chapter books but weren’t quite ready for some of the longer ones in our transitional collection. I cannot recommend books written by Zetta Elliott enough. They are always high quality and engaging and often focus on history that you won’t find in textbooks.

The Magic Mirror by Zetta Elliott

From Goodreads: When a boy at school hurts Kamara’s feelings, she goes home and asks her grandmother if the mean words are really true. Gramma tells Kamara to go upstairs and clean the old mirror in the guest room. But when Kamara starts to rub the glass, she discovers that the mirror is magical! Kamara sees brave women from the past who faced many challenges yet never gave up hope. When the historical journey ends in the twenty-first century, the mirror once again shows Kamara her own reflection. She sheds her self-doubt and instead draws strength from the courage of the women she met in the magic mirror.

The Magic Mirror is another self published gem from Zetta Elliott. At it’s heart it is a story about bullying. Kamara has been teased at school and she has come home to seek comfort from her grandmother. While Kamara shares that she’s been called a name, that word is never used, which allows readers to fill in what it might be. Sadly, I’m sure African American kids can fill in worse words than what my students might. I like, though, that the book leaves it open for interpretation to some extent (as an adult it seems pretty clear to me that Kamara has been called something awful).

With a little magic in her grandmother’s mirror, Kamara is taken on a journey through history, seeing her ancestors deal with racism and injustice over the centuries and decades since Africans were brought in chains. The history she sees can be rather unflinching, but it isn’t inappropriate (i.e. graphic or overly informative) for the target audience. Elliott knows what she’s doing in sharing difficult history with children.

The beauty, if there can be any beauty in a racist interaction, is that Kamara, and by extension the reader, comes away with a fascinating and uplifting look at black history in America. The fact that this is mostly a realistic fiction story with some school yard drama make this an incredibly appealing book for kids transitioning into chapter books. There is a lot of realistic fiction at this reading level and kids seem to really want that. The book also isn’t especially long, nor is the text especially difficult, which again make it a great addition to a moving-up collection.

If I could change one thing about the book it would be the trim size. It’s somewhere between chapter book and picture book. Not only would making it smaller make the book thicker (and appear longer), but it would match with the chapter books my students desperately want to read. I just don’t understand the stigma against picture books at that second/third grade age. I suspect it comes from adults, though. Despite this, The Magic Mirror is well worth adding to your collection if you can add self published books. The first day it was in the library I had a girl gleefully grab it off the shelf and check it out. It went out at least one other time after that and I added it in the last couple months of school. I’ll be booktalking it at the beginning of the year with my second grade group.

Tags | , , , , , , ,

13

Jun
2017

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Rerun: Fatty Legs written by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton

On 13, Jun 2017 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Fatty Legs

I bought Fatty Legs awhile back for the library and was able to hand sell it to several readers (and one parent looking for something that was #ownvoices and a historically accurate treatment of First Nations people. I didn’t get feedback from all the students who read it, but the ones I checked in with did enjoy the book (as much as you can enjoy a book about bullying and residential schools). I have edited the review below just a little bit because I think I see even more merit in this book than I originally did and I wanted the review to reflect that.

Fatty Legs: A True Story written by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton, pictures by Liz Amini-Holmes

From Goodreads: The moving memoir of an Inuit girl who emerges from a residential school with her spirit intact.

Eight-year-old Margaret Pokiak has set her sights on learning to read, even though it means leaving her village in the high Arctic. Faced with unceasing pressure, her father finally agrees to let her make the five-day journey to attend school, but he warns Margaret of the terrors of residential schools.

I was pleasantly surprised by Fatty Legs. I expected a depressing book about the hardships of a boarding school meant to strip children of their language, culture and family. Certainly the school tried to do that. But they were in a for a run for their money with Margaret. She would not be dominated or crushed, although the two years she spent in school were damaging and depressing, it made her more determined.

I’m not opposed to sharing with children, even younger ones, the terrible things that have been done to native populations (North American and other places).  I also feel depressing and disheartening books have their merit. Fatty Legs shows the despicable nature of these boarding schools, but it gives kids get a strong girl to identify with and root for. Margaret’s ability to be upbeat while telling a story that is, at heart, difficult, unjust, and upsetting is felt like a good balance for the age group the book is aimed at.

I know plenty of Native American children know of the horrors of these boarding schools and it’s incredibly important that we share that and talk about it in hopes that it doesn’t happen again. And in hopes of creating a generation of people who are more tolerant and understanding. I know I’ve said this before, but children are incredibly attuned to injustice and, for most, it’s infuriating. Fatty Legs does an excellent job of showing the injustice that will make kids angry, but without going over the top and making it a book parents (especially white parents) will balk at. In other words, kids will get it. They’ll know what happened wasn’t right and they’ll start asking questions and opening conversations.

The book includes photographs at the back of Margaret, her family, and many of the places mentioned in the story. In the text there are small notes in the margins directing the readers to these pictures which I think is unintrusive while providing some really interesting context. I’m amazed that she seems to have so many photographs of these critical moments from the story! It’s incredibly fortunate. There are also definitions of unfamiliar words down at the bottom of the page , which again is unintrusive, but provides context for kids who don’t know the words. Plus, what kid uses a glossary? The words are right there on the page, no need to flip back and forth breaking your concentration and flow.

My only complaint about the book is the format. The full color pictures and larger size of the book make it feel younger. It’s certainly appropriate for fourth graders and would make a great class read in third grade, even a strong third grade reader could pick it up on their own. But fifth grade and sixth grade, who would also make a perfect audience, might shy away from it purely based on looks. It drives me crazy when publishers do that to good books.

Excellent book for reflecting the experiences of many Inuit families and opening up discussions with non-native children who are probably ignorant of what went on less than a century ago.

Tags | , , , , , , , ,

12

Jun
2017

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Easy Reader: My Own Special Way by Vivian French

On 12, Jun 2017 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

My Own Special WayMy Own Special Way written by Maitha al-Khayat, translated by Vivian French, illustrated by Maya Fidawi

From Goodreads: Hamda has just become big enough to start wearing her veil like her older sisters. Each sister chips in with her own suggestions based on what worked for her. But it is up to Hamda to work out her own unique way to wear the veil making it a part of her active and happy life.

This is a gentle little family story about Hamda growing up and finding her place. It just so happens that for Hamada and her family, that means wearing hijab. It’s also a story about ingenuity. Hamada has to find a way that works for her to put the hijab on and keep it on.

Hamda is a funny and determined little girl who wants to be a “big girl”. She’s the youngest in the family and is finally tired of being told she’s too little to join her sisters in their activities. I think as parents and teachers we all know a couple of those. After a little pep talk with her mother, Hamda realizes part of becoming a big girl is deciding to wear the veil. And here is where this book gets very important for American audiences. This is not something Hamda is being forced to wear nor are her sisters, but it is a really big deal for the family. They are exceedingly proud that Hamda has recognized the step that choosing to wear hijab is and feels ready.

Except putting the scarf on and keeping it on as Hamda frolics turns out to be much harder than Hamda thought it would be. Each sister shows her how she wraps the scarf, but none of their ways work for Hamda. When Hamda goes down to say goodbye to her father before he heads out to the mosque she notices his cufflinks and this gives her an idea for her problem. It’s a bit Goldilocks, a bit Rosie Revere (or any of those inspired girl books).

The one thing I can’t decide about is the fact that religion is not mentioned in relation to the hijab. I suspect this is because the book was originally published in Arabic for a Muslim and/or Arab audience that would have assumed the characters were Muslim or at least understood where the tradition comes from. I don’t think it will be confusing for American children unfamiliar with Islamic practices, but I do think it will be important to point out that they are Muslim so the connection is made with average families and Islam. I found it rather refreshing that they weren’t overly or overtly religious. Not all Muslims are, just as not all Christian are, so I think it’s only fair to show them being Muslim in a range of ways just as Christians are in children’s books.

From a purely reading level perspective this is a worthwhile book to have on the shelf . It is certainly an easy reader in that it has large font, repetitive text, and is fairly short. But it has chapters and a story that carries across those chapters, so in a lot of ways if feels like a beginning chapter book instead of an easy reader.

A few words about the illustrations. They are, as you can see from the cover, quite adorable. Each page has at least one spot illustration and quite a few illustrations spread across the bottom of two pages or are full bleed across the spreads. It’s just another way that the book helps those emerging readers. Hamda is absolutely adorable with her secret smile and curly hair. She looks a bit mischievous, actually. Her mother has some wild red hair and her sisters are all lovely girls, but Hamda steals the show. The pictures are all in a more pastel palette, but they manage to be bright and inviting. Try not to laugh when Hamda tries (and fails) to copy her fashionable sister Jamila (which means beautiful in Arabic). The result of her tying scarfs together looks striking on Jamila and just plain funny on Hamda. I tested the book out on my daughter and she loved the story (we read it several times over the following days), but I think she really clicked with the illustrations and Hamda.

I don’t think this is technically a small press publication, but it was originally put out in Arabic (in the Emirates) and was then translated and brought over to the UK market (as far as I can tell), so I fudged it. :) I cannot recommend My Own Special Way enough for all library and classroom collections that have easy readers and early chapter books. It’s a gentle little family story that shows a side of Islam and Arabs we don’t normally see. It’s also a perfect transitional book for kids moving from easy readers into chapters or for those kids that want to look like they’re a big kid reading a chapter book.

Tags | , , , , , , ,

06

Jun
2017

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Rerun: Jaden Toussaint, The Greatest Episode 1 by Marti Dumas

On 06, Jun 2017 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Jaden Toussaint

When I first brought this one into the library I book talked it with my second graders. After that I couldn’t keep it on the shelf for months. The kids really liked this book and the sequel. There are now three or four “episodes” out and I highly recommend them. Now that my own daughter is into reading a chapter book before bed I’m also going to be purchasing her a copy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tags | , , , , , , ,

18

Jan
2017

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Chapter Book Review: The Infamous Ratsos by Kara LeReau

On 18, Jan 2017 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Infamous RatsosThe Infamous Ratsos written by Kara LaReau, pictures by Matt Myers

From Goodreads: Louie and Ralphie Ratso’s dad, Big Lou, always says that there are two kinds of people: those who are tough and those who are soft. Louie and Ralphie are tough, tough, tough, just like Big Lou, and they’re going to prove it. But every time they try to show just how tough they are, the Ratso brothers end up accidentally doing good deeds instead. What’ll Big Lou do when he finds out they’ve been acting like softies all over the Big City? Perfect for emerging and reluctant readers, this clever and surprisingly warmhearted chapter book shows that being tough all the time can be really tough.

So, if I’m not mistaken, this little book tackles toxic masculinity in large font and with pictures. Pretty neat.

This is the type of book I’ve been looking for to add to my red section. That’s the beginning chapter book section. I weeded it really well last year and have been upping the diversity (and awesomeness) ever since. But I’ve noticed that many of the beginning chapter books take quite a leap from Frog and Toad to the next step. I’ve also noticed there isn’t much in the way of genres beyond realistic fiction, but that’s a problem for another day. Despite being about rats, this is a realistic fiction story. However, the book is most definitely a step up from Frog and Toad, but still not as hard as something like Junie B. Jones. It’s perfect for kids who want to look and feel more grown up with the smaller trim size and higher page count, but can’t tackle something like Stink or Charlie Bumpers. I would say it’s close to Magic Treehouse (but WAY less boring), but still a bit lower. (Just to give you a sense of where it falls on the spectrum of chapter books.) There are a fair number of pictures that really help break up the text and give a bit of support. I don’t recall the vocabulary being too much of a stretch, but it would still provide a stretch for emerging chapter book readers.

The story itself has kid appeal all over it. As Louie and Ralphie try to be tough and make trouble all their plans backfire. They end up going sideways and their actions are misconstrued by the people they’ve targeted. But of course they go wrong in really funny ways that will have readers laughing with the characters. They end up looking really kind instead “tough”, which they’ve interpreted as being mean. While the kindness is a great message for kids, more importantly, in the end, their actions cause their father to reflect on the example he’s been setting for his sons. All of their mishaps turn into a family that sets out to perform random acts of kindness. One little head’s up, their mother has passed away and their sadness is what has caused their father to be emotionally distant and clearly there is some pain in the boys. It isn’t dwelled on, but be aware there is a dead parent.

I would highly recommend this title to school libraries. The message aligns perfectly with the SEL/character education curriculums that many schools use and it fills a gap for readers making the jump from easy reader to chapter book. Look for it at your library if you have a child who needs a new story to pick up and wants a chapter book.

Tags | , ,

14

Dec
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Chapter Book Review: Billie’s Blues by Zetta Elliott

On 14, Dec 2016 | 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!

Tags | , , ,

07

Sep
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tags | , , , , , ,

20

Aug
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Middle Grade Review: Towers Falling by Jewel Parker Rhodes

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

Towers FallingTowers Falling by Jewel Parker Rhodes

From Goodreads: When her fifth-grade teacher hints that a series of lessons about home and community will culminate with one big answer about two tall towers once visible outside their classroom window, Deja can’t help but feel confused. She sets off on a journey of discovery, with new friends Ben and Sabeen by her side. But just as she gets closer to answering big questions about who she is, what America means, and how communities can grow (and heal), she uncovers new questions, too. Like, why does Pop get so angry when she brings up anything about the towers?

I’m pretty sure I’ve read all of Jewel Parker Rhodes middle grade novels at this point and I have loved them all. This was no exception.

I think it would be a mistake to sell this book to kids as only a September 11th book. It needs to be about the friendships and family themes in the book. Most kids in our elementary schools are vaguely aware of 9/11. It’s important and upsetting to those of us who were alive then, but not so much to our young students. I know they can grasp the importance and we’re certainly seeing the ripples of it still with our conflicts in the Middle East, but that’s Over There and way more abstract for these kids. Deja, the main character, struggles with understanding that and it makes the book all more relevant to kids today.

So, Towers Falling is not really a story about 9/11. It’s more a story about how families cope with trauma (or don’t). It’s about how parents and adults give their baggage to children and have expectations of them they can never meet because they don’t know the rules to the game their playing. It’s a story about a family that has fallen on hard times, like so many over the past years, and how it disrupts the children’s ability to function. It all coincides nicely with the anniversary of the attacks on 9/11 and provides a way to talk about those as well, but I think in the years to come the book will have staying power because it is about teaching children to look past the surface of a person.

Deja is deep and she’s hurting and things are hard. She lashes out, she says inconsiderate things, she behaves poorly, not because she wants to or doesn’t know any better, but because there is a lot going on in her life and in her past and those things make it impossible for her not to. She’s been taught to be tough and mean and unfeeling and hurt others before getting hurt herself, but is being held to a standard that expects her to not do those things. Towers Falling is a story about how the past ripples out into the present. Again that happens to be the 9/11 attacks in this story, but it could just as easily be any other event- a shooting, an illness, a car accident. It’s also about how Deja grows through good friends, a conducive environment and learning about the root of many of her family’s troubles (which happen to be the September 11th attacks). It’s about how Deja becomes more aware of what is going on around her.

I found the book incredibly powerful. I realized I have never actually watched the footage of the attacks. I’ve seen the clips of the second plane and I remember a few photographs from the newspaper and that’s it. But I remember that day very vividly. I think it’s hard for me to say with certainly this book is an important part of collection development because I have an emotional reaction to the 9/11 attacks. I believe it’s important for kids to know about them and I think this is a good story to learn about them through. I also think the story itself is only partly about 9/11 and has a lot of value and merit on its own. Recent history is important and I can’t figure out why we’re happy to talk about things like slavery and WWII, but deem 9/11 too hard for kids to learn about.  This is a good book, but I know there will be resistance to putting it on shelves in elementary and middle school libraries. I think it should be on all library shelves and do think we need to consider putting this out there.

Tags | , , , , , , ,

04

Aug
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Chapter Book Review: Ellis and the Magic Mirror by Cerece Rennie Murphy

On 04, Aug 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Ellis and the Magic MirrorEllis 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.

Tags | , , , , , ,