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11

Jan
2019

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Chapter Book Review: An Angel for Mariqua by Zetta Elliott

On 11, Jan 2019 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Angel for MariquaAn Angel for Mariqua by Zetta Elliott

From Goodreads: Christmas is coming, but eight-year-old Mariqua Thatcher isn’t looking forward to the holidays. Mama’s gone and Gramma doesn’t know what to do with her feisty granddaughter. Almost every day Mariqua gets into a fight at school, and no one seems to understand how she feels inside. But things start to change when a mysterious street vendor gives Mariqua a beautifully carved angel as a gift. 

I know I’m a little late in reviewing this as it’s a Christmas book, but don’t pass over this review just yet. An Angel for Mariqua needs to be on your shelves. Mariqua’s mother has been incarcerated for a drug offense and now Mariqua is living with her grandmother attending a new school. Grandma is kind, but also elderly and not well equipped to raise a child. At school Mariqua is teased by one boy in particular, but sometimes by others, for having a “jailbird” mother. All this makes Mariqua feel small and angry and she lashes out at her one friend, her grandmother, and her classmates. She’s not a bad kid by any means, but she’s struggling. Then a chance encounter with a street vendor who gifts her a brown-skinned angel and meeting an older girl from her building helps Mariqua begin to come to terms with the big changes she’s faced in her life.

This is such a beautiful story about a girl making friends and learning to find value and the good in herself. She comes to find joy in small things and small kindnesses, while also coming to accept her situation and the friendship people offer her. When she is befriended by Valina, Mariqua also learns to see that others are also struggling. Valina is a beautiful example of a friend who isn’t perfect (she has her own family struggles that prevent her from keeping all her promises), but sets such a good example for Mariqua of how to be gracious and graceful. I absolutely adore the friendship the two girls form. Valina has been where Mariqua is, as far as being angry at the world for unfair but uncontrollable circumstances, and she can offer so much support to Mariqua as she works her way through her loneliness and anger.

The reading level would be good for strong third graders, many/most fourth graders, and fifth grade readers based on the length and complexity of the text. But I read it aloud to my seven year old (second grade age) and she enjoyed it very much. I would put it in a transitional chapter book section in the library.

I would caution libraries and collections to ensure that they have other representations of black children and children of color. While the book doesn’t pander to stereotypes, it does have an incarcerated mother with drug charges and an absent black father. These are very real issues for some children of color, but it cannot be the only narrative in book collections about families of color. Still, this is an incredibly positive representation of the situation and Elliott is such a wonderful, deft, and sensitive writer that you can’t go wrong with having it on your shelf. Make it a part of your holiday collections, displays, and read alouds.

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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24

Oct
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Chapter Book Review: The Ghosts in the Castle by Zetta Elliott

On 24, Oct 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

The Ghosts in the CastleThe Ghosts in the Castle by Zetta Elliott

From Goodreads: Zaria has dreamed of England for as long as she can remember—according to the novels she’s read, everything magical happens there! When her grandfather suffers a stroke, Zaria and her mother head to London to help care for him. Zaria reads fantastic tales to her grandfather every afternoon, and she’s thrilled to discover that her cousin Winston shares her love of wands, wizards, and mythical creatures. But Zaria soon finds that life in London is actually quite ordinary—until she goes on a day trip to nearby Windsor Castle. There Zaria meets two extraordinary ghosts who need help finding their way back to the African continent they once called home.

My daughter is loving this series so much. We quickly read through the first three books at bedtime and will be getting the fourth soon. This one was especially timely because we read it just at the time of the royal wedding (something we were not at all keeping up on, except that it was on the news) and I was able to point out the connection of Windsor Castle to her. It made finding pictures of it really easy.

That being said, this has nothing to do with a wedding or British royalty. Not really. I absolutely loved getting to meet Zaria, Tariq’s sister from the first book. She’s a really awesome kid and very kind. Zaria takes to her nerdy, smart, and slightly awkward cousin Winston and the two have an experience of a lifetime. The ghosts make this a great read for October, but the puzzle and history make it an interesting read for any time of the year.

I shouldn’t be, but I am always surprised at how well Elliott can jump between types of children’s literature. It’s certainly something other authors are not nearly so successful with. Here Elliott has written a chapter book that most fourth and even some third graders should be able to tackle. I recall the the first two books in the series being slightly easier and shorter than this one which is perfect. As kids improve through reading the series levels up with them. It also makes for a great read aloud (they all do, actually). The plot isn’t overly complicated and the books aren’t too long so it holds the interest and imagination of kids just learning to listen to chapter books.

I know kids love those Magic Tree House books, but they are awful- inaccurate history, THE WORST dialog ever, insipid characters. If you are looking for somewhere to start with read alouds for your kids or students this is a great series. You will enjoy them as much as your kids. They’re full of likable characters, interesting and important history, and magic. If you’re a librarian looking to add to your chapter book collection, please, please, please add these. It’s okay to have those tedious chapter books written for reading practice (although the inaccurate history is issue), but let’s diversify those shelves in terms of the representation AND the writing quality.

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

Sep
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Chapter Book Review: The Mystery of the Troubled Toucan by Lisa Travis

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

Troubled ToucanThe Mystery of the Troubled Toucan: A Pack-N-Go Girls Adventure by Lisa Travis

From Goodreads: Nine-year-old Sofia Diaz’s world is coming apart. So is the rickety old boat that carries her far up the Rio Negro river in Brazil. Crocodiles swim in the dark waters. Spiders scurry up the twisted tree trunks. And a crazy toucan screeches a warning. It chases Sofia and Júlia, her new friend, deep into the steamy rainforest. There they stumble upon a shocking discovery.

Heads up! Not all of these feature diverse settings and girls. Some are set in Austria. That being said the Pack-n-Go Girls adventures are a lot of fun. The main character, in this book, travels to Brazil with her dad. Her parents are getting a divorce and it’s a trip for her father to get away and spend some time with Sofia. As in all the books in the series I’ve read, Sofia quickly makes a friend when she arrives at the hotel they’ll be staying in. Together the two girls uncover a poacher trapping pink dolphins and they decide to try and discover who it is and bring them to justice.

These are definitely wish-fulfillment books to some extent. The girls get themselves into situations that, in real life, would be incredibly dangerous and difficult for them to resolve. But that’s okay! I think girls are looking for those types of stories, the ones where they can be the heroes even though they are young and female. I think it also encourages girls to stand up when they see things that are not right. Often the girls are scared and eventually they loop adults into what they’re doing to get back up when needed.

Libraries should absolutely have these books on their shelves. They’re quick chapter book reads, not to easy and not too difficult, great transitional reads. If kids like the conservation efforts in this book they can move on to Manatee Rescue and Carl Hiassen. There are several different places visited by different girls including Mexico, Thailand, and Austria so if readers aren’t ready to move on they can stay with the series. I will say proceed with caution with the others. I haven’t read them and cannot vouch for how well they handle other cultures and countries. Still, they are well worth looking into if you would like to build up your chapter book collection.

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31

Aug
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Chapter Book: The Hijab Boutique by Michelle Kahn

On 31, Aug 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Hijab BoutiqueThe Hijab Boutique written by Michelle Kahn

From Goodreads: Farah enjoyed her private girls’ school and fun with her friends. Then an assignment meant she had to talk about her mother for “International Woman’s Day” in front of the whole class. Compared to her friends’ glamorous actress, make-up artist, and tap-dancing mothers, what can her modest mother possibly have that is worth sharing with her classmates? To Farah’s surprise, her mother was quite the business woman before putting her career on hold to care for her daughter.

I love the mother-daughter relationship here. What kid hasn’t looked at their parent and been only able to see a boring/uncool/conventional person, especially when compared to the parents of your peers. Farrah isn’t necessarily embarrassed by her mom, nor does she think the other girls in her class have better parents, but her mother seems so other to her for a time. Thankfully the book shows how that is not the case as Farrah begins to see her mother build a new life for them.

Which leads me to the other part of the book I thought made it stand out. The theme of letting go. Farrah’s father was killed in a drunk driving accident several years before the book takes place. She and her mother have been financially and emotionally stable since then, but they are still stuck in the past to some extent. Farrah’s mother, unbeknownst to Farrah, has decided that while they loved the life they had in their expensive, prestigious neighborhood it’s time for her to let go of that and make a new life of meaning for herself and her daughter. She and Farrah talk about this and agree that they aren’t forgetting her father, they are letting go and moving on in a very healthy way.

In some ways this book may have a hard time finding its place on library shelves, but not in the collection. It’s slim and unassuming, but the language, particularly the vocabulary, make this higher level. My first instinct was to consider it a chapter book and it certainly could be a good transition from the chapter book section into the middle grade section. But it would also be at home in the middle grade section based on the age of the characters and vocabulary. Just be sure it doesn’t get lost on the shelf. I think the author must be Canadian? Some of the slang sounds Canadian despite the Los Angeles setting.

This book should be on your shelves despite it being tricky to categorize, though. It shows a beautiful mother-daughter relationship between two strong Muslim women. It’s also wonderful to see a book about hijab and women who wear hijab that isn’t focused on explaining the religious aspect of it. Sure, hijab has to do with faith, but Muslim girls (and boys!) know this already. They don’t need convincing that women who choose to wear it for any reason are not necessarily oppressed. It feels like a lot of those books exist to explain hijab to non-Muslim audiences and make them more comfortable, but books like this and My Own Special Way are clearly for families who are Muslim and will take it in stride or for families who don’t feel like they need to have other people’s religious choices defended so they can accept them.

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

Aug
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Middle Grade Review: A Boy Called Bat by Elana K. Arnold

On 27, Aug 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Boy Called BatA Boy Called Bat written by Elana K. Arnold, pictures by Charles Santoso

From Goodreads: For Bixby Alexander Tam (nicknamed Bat), life tends to be full of surprises—some of them good, some not so good. Today, though, is a good-surprise day. Bat’s mom, a veterinarian, has brought home a baby skunk, which she needs to take care of until she can hand him over to a wild-animal shelter.
But the minute Bat meets the kit, he knows they belong together. And he’s got one month to show his mom that a baby skunk might just make a pretty terrific pet.

I actually think this one is on the cusp of middle grade and chapter book. It looked a lot longer than it actually was because it had large spacing between the lines and larger font size, but the content wasn’t predictable in the way that chapter books usually are. Which, of course, makes it a good fit for kids moving out of chapter books and into the regular middle grade section of the library.

The story itself will be familiar to nearly all kids. Bat wants to keep the animal his mom has found (it just so happens to be a skunk) and he needs to figure out how to convince her to let him keep it. The fact that Bat loves animals will also resonate with many readers. Bat is lucky enough to have a veterinarian for a mom and she is able to keep the skunk kit for a little while. Bat knows he’ll have an uphill battle getting his mom to come around to at least letting him raise the skunk until it’s ready for release back into the wild, let alone allowing him to keep it as a pet. The book moves not slowly, but it’s a slice-of-life type story so there aren’t any fast paced scenes or major excitement.

Bat’s sister gets a shout out (or call out) here. She has her moments of being a fine human being, but most of the time she was kind of a jerk. Maybe it’s her age? Maybe it’s because I’m an only child and don’t get the sibling dynamic? She’s just sort of an all around twit and she wasn’t overly kind to Bat. Sometimes she seems to barely tolerate him. I don’t expect her to be a saint, but on the other hand she was just a straight up mean. I suspect that family dynamic will resonate with a lot of readers, though.

It also bears mentioning that Bat’s parents are divorced. They don’t share equal custody, but Bat and his sister do spend a weekend with their dad. There isn’t any drama around the parents or the divorce or the custody. It was refreshing to see a split family like that in a book. At some point families do get on the with the business of living after a divorce and not all families have drama around new spouses or children (a common trope of divorced families I’ve noticed in children’s literature). As a kid from a divorced family I can say my own experience matched this much more closely than most depictions I have seen in kidlit.

Bat is supposed to be nonneurotypical. He isn’t great at reading social cues and facial expressions. He can be pretty literal and he stims sometimes. To me he outwardly seemed like a handful of nonneurotypical children I have worked with over the years. Does that mean he’s a perfect representation of someone who is? No. I felt like it was fairly nuanced, more so than other books I’ve read, but I don’t feel comfortable speaking directly to that representation. Especially since the book is narrated by and seen from the perspective of Bat. Certainly we need representation, but not at the expense of accurate representation. I can say it didn’t seem to veer into the inspiration porn kind of narrative that books like Wonder do.*

The story itself is a lot of fun and will be recognizable to many a pet-desperate kid, but if it doesn’t give a full and correct picture of autistic kids then it doesn’t matter how good the story is. I would cautiously recommend this to libraries.

*The blog Disability in Kidlit reviewed the book with an eye toward the representation of ASD. You can and should read that here.

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15

Aug
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Rerun: Mikis and the Donkey by Bibi Dumon Tak

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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11

Jul
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Rerun: The Monkey King’s Daughter written by T. A. DeBonis

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

Monkey King's DaughterThe Monkey King’s Daughter written by T. A. DeBonis

From Goodreads: The Monkey King’s Daughter isn’t about Sun Wukong, the Monkey King – it’s about his daughter, Meilin. Only, Meilin doesn’t know she’s the Monkey King’s daughter. In fact, she doesn’t know she’s half-monkey at all. As far as Meilin knows, she’s an ordinary 14 year-old high school freshman from Midland Hills, California, facing all the problems that bright young girls face at that age- flakey girlfriends, zits, too much homework, bad hair, obnoxious boys… But all of that changes when her ancient past catches up with her. (And she thought high school was gonna be easy…)

Today I have another great self published series. I said in another recent review that I am getting rather tired of Greek mythology. Because of Percy Jackson it seems to be everywhere. As a kid I went through a phase where I was into Greek mythology and I still enjoy it, but there is a lot of really interesting mythology out there (I was always way more fascinated with Egyptian mythology) and I wish I had been able to discover it as a young reader. The Monkey King’s Daughter is based in Chinese stories of the Monkey King. If you’ve read Gene Luen Yang’s American Born Chinese you will be familiar with the myth this book draws on. Plenty of it is explained in the course of the story and will make sense to kids unfamiliar with it.

Despite Melin’s age and the fact that she’s in high school, the book is totally appropriate for upper elementary. It’s perfect for kids who like to age up. I would also highly recommend it for lower readers in middle school. The story is exciting enough, but the reading level isn’t particularly difficult.

The pacing was off in a few places. Most of the time the story plugged along, but there were a couple places where things happened a little quickly, felt rushed, and were glossed over. I think this has less to do with it being self published and more to do with the reading level it’s intended for. I don’t know exactly where it falls, but it’s a little more difficult than beginning chapter books, but not nearly as difficult as Percy Jackson (or as long).

My only other complaint is that when Meilin meets her father for the first time she isn’t awkward or angry or anything. She runs into his arms and they spend an evening star gazing together, enjoying each other’s company. I just had a hard time believing that a kid who hasn’t met her father would feel overwhelming love for a man who was never around. Will most kids care about this? The only kids who might are ones who have not met their fathers or who have experienced meeting them later in life. Does that make the book unworthy? I don’t think so. I doubt most kids who will tear through the adventure in this will mind that it isn’t totally authentic. Just be aware it may fall a little flat for some readers.

I really hope this story leads kids to the original Monkey King stories from the different parts of Asia. They’re very exciting and funny. Meilin takes some things in stride, but she was a very realistic kid. She didn’t suddenly become good at everything when she discovered her heritage and fell into her adventure. This is the first in a series and I’ll be buying the rest (I bought the first to try it out). It’s well worth having on our library shelves, particularly if you have kids who love mythology (we all have Riordan fans) and kids who like action.

 

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02

Jul
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Chapter Book Review: The Mockingbird’s Manual by Seth Muller

On 02, Jul 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

The Mockingbird's ManualThe Mockingbird’s Manual written by Seth Muller, pictures by Bahe Whitethorn, Jr.

Book 1 of Windclaw Chronicles

From Goodreads: Near a dry streambed on a wind-swept spring day, Ellie Tsosie makes a strange discovery. She finds a startling gift, a book called The Mockingbird’s Manual. Ellie slowly wakes to a new and magical world, formed of the birds who have always lived around her home. But until the discovery, she never knew of their lives or of their secrets. In the first book of the Keepers of the Windclaw Chronicles, Ellie takes her first steps into the fantastic realm of the Animal World, where she comes to learn that she has a mission.

I would have LOVED this book as a girl. I am a bird person and the idea that you could find a book that allowed you to speak with birds, would have been so magical to me. The story follows Ellie as she discovers a manual that helps her communicate with the birds in her southwestern home. It takes Ellie a few days to figure out what is going on and what she needs to do to help.

Despite being the first in a series of three books The Mockingbird’s Manual does an excellent job of walking the line between setting up the series and creating a story that fits within the confines of the book. It isn’t a fast paced novel by any means, but it also isn’t slow and plodding. Again it strikes a nice balance, this time between giving growing readers something interesting to read without making it too complex for them to work through the mechanics of reading and keeping track of the plot. In other words, it’s a perfect transitional chapter book. I have not read the other two so I can’t speak to their difficulty level although I do know they are slightly longer than this one.

In terms of representation, the book is set in the Navajo Nation. Debbie Reese, children’s literature scholar and Nambe Pueblo member, always stresses the importance of tribal specificity in literature. “Native American” is far too broad of a term to be meaningful to anyone who is actually indigenous. This gives Native kids solid, realistic representation.

I would highly recommend the book (and the series) to all school libraries that serve third grade and up. I hesitate to call it a fantasy novel as the Native Nation it comes from may not view it as fantasy, but it fits in with other Euro-centric fantasy novels with talking animals, magical powers, and mystery. Not to mention Ellie being called to help in the Animal World. It would be a good series to start with before jumping into those (prolific) Warriors books or the Spirit Animals series. Be sure to hand it to kids who like animal books and your quiet fantasy loving girls who may not be quite ready for more difficult series.

Most beginning chapter book collections are lacking in any kind of diversity. It’s even more difficult to find Native representation so be sure to add this to your collections- home, school, or public library.

Final note: If you do purchase this book, please post a review of it on Amazon. This will help other folks find the book and know that it’s worth purchasing. If you use any other book services like GoodReads or your local library’s online catalog be sure to post a review there too! And if your local library doesn’t have a copy, request that they purchase one.

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25

Jun
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Chapter Book Review: The Hidden Temple of Ogiso by O. T. Begho

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

Obi and TitiThe Adventures of Obi and Titi: The Hidden Temple of Ogiso (book 1) written by O. T. Begho

From Goodreads: The Adventures of Obi and Titi is an epic African adventure series that follows the story of two brave, young children and a very naughty monkey who set out on an unexpected journey of knowledge, hope and everlasting friendship. Deep in the heart of Africa, where civilization truly began, two young children, Obi and Titi, unwittingly find a hidden temple and a mysterious map. This discovery sets off a chain of events that will change their lives forever. For once they must settle their differences and work together, as they set off on a magical adventure to save their village and the ones they love. 

This is the perfect book and series for the summer! We just finished reading it last night and I cannot recommend it enough. Usually it takes us a week or more to get through chapter books- we’re tired, my daughter spends the night at my mom’s house, we watch a movie instead of reading- even though they’re not especially long or difficult to get through. But Obi and Titi had us hooked and we plowed through it in three nights. It was such an exciting read!

Set in historical Benin, Obi and Titi have been friends since they were tiny as their father’s were also close friends. Titi is the daughter of the Oba, or king, and Obi is the son of his greatest warrior. Except Obi’s father hasn’t been seen or heard from in years. He set off one day and no one seems to know where to or if he’s even still alive. One day while playing on the edge of the forbidden forest, Obi is pulled into the river by some creature and dragged downstream and into the forest. Titi goes looking for him and when they find each other, they also unexpectedly find Obi’s father’s spear. This sets them off on an investigation of an entrance to what they believe is the lost Temple of Ogiso, which ultimately puts them on a much bigger quest to save the kingdom from evil.

It was so wonderful to read a story that had a boy-girl friendship that didn’t have to be fraught with them jabbing each other over their gender or hinting at some romance. They’re kids and they’re friends. Even the two year age difference doesn’t cause much of a conflict. Titi and Obi solve the mysteries, puzzles, and riddles they encounter together and Titi isn’t the caricature of a chiding, rule-following girl that we so often see in these types of books.

This is perfect for reluctant readers, although the reading level might be a wee bit high, and it can keep interest in reading going through the summer when those reluctant readers might fall behind. Each chapter ends with a cliff hanger which make this perfect for reading aloud and keeps the pages turning. It might also lead to some under-the-covers-after-lights-out sneak reading. You’ve been warned.

It definitely has the feel of Indiana Jones and other adventure/action/mystery stories. Begho did a phenomenal job of balancing wrapping up the story arc for this particular book while setting up the series and enticing you to keep reading it (we’ll be buying the rest!). I would recommend the book for kids 5 or 6 and up if you’re reading it aloud. For independent reading, it would be excellent for second through fourth grades. They also did a really good job of creating a chapter book that has a complex enough story to be interesting but isn’t burdensome for readers who are just coming to chapter books.

Be sure to buy this series if your library serves kids in beginning chapter books or if you have a second, third or fourth grade classroom. Also check out the series website and Facebook page for more games, historical information, to set up author visits, and updates on the series.

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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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