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02

Aug
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Chapter Book Review: March of the Mini Beasts by Ada Hopper

On 02, Aug 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

March of the Mini BeastsMarch of the Mini Beasts (The D.A.T.A. Set #1) written by Ada Hopper, pictures by Sam Ricks

From Goodreads: Gabe, Laura, and Cesar live on a quiet cul-de-sac. They are the whiz kids of Newtonburg Elementary and each specializes in their own subject. In fact, everyone in town lovingly refers to them as the Data Set. However, their quiet days of learning take a sudden turn for the exciting when they meet Dr. Gustav Bunsen—a mad scientist who throws the kids into a wild spiral of adventures.
When Dr. Bunsen’s latest invention, a growth ray, hits several tiny animal toys, the mini beasts don’t just grow, they come to life! The DATA Set love their new tiny pets…until they continue to grow. Now there’s an actual elephant in the room—not to mention a chimp, a giraffe, and a dinosaur. When the beasts wander off, it’s up to the DATA Set to track them down. But will they catch the mini beasts before they grow big enough to start trouble in town?

I came across this one at the local Barnes and Noble. We are in desperate need of science fiction in our chapter book collection and I wasn’t disappointed with it in terms of story. It was a fun and funny book. As an adult I had to put aside how eager Dr. Bunsen was to work with a group of kids (is that creepy? or is he that much of an absent-minded scientist?) and the science was shaky at best. Still, kids will enjoy the story.

In it, the DATA set, a group of friends, are trying to sell chocolate bars to raise money for their club. They approach the run down house at the end of the block and meet Dr. Bunsen who happens to love chocolate. He invites them in and is delighted when the kids take an interest in his inventions. The kids and Doctor pair up and decide to test out his growth ray on their toy animals. And it works! This seems cool until the animals escape their enclosures and wreak some havoc. The kids come up with a solution for the more traditional animals, but what about the dinosaur? The book ends on a cliff hanger, setting the sequel up.

The cast is diverse and in particular you see it with Cesar who speaks some Spanish at home. The book falls into that same gray area that I was talking about with The Gold Medal Mess yesterday. It’s pretty shallow diversity even with the Spanish, but I’ve yet to see a simple chapter book like this really engage with diversity while not making the story entirely about it. I think Zetta Elliot does it best in her second City Kids book, but that is more historical fiction than science fiction (despite the time travel) and the history focuses on race. I have yet to see a lot more books like that one.

The thing is the book is fine and I think kids will like it. There is some diversity represented in the pictures. It’s not a perfect solution, but a compromise I think I have to make right now. A compromise between having no diversity and wanting more. In some ways I feel like I have to buy these books to show publishers that I want diversity so they will publish better titles in the future. Nothing in this felt problematic just shallow (if someone else catches something, please let me know), so it’s diversity I’m comfortable having on the shelf. Recommended if you need more science fiction on your shelves.

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01

Aug
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Chapter Book Review: The Gold Medal Mess by David A. Kelly

On 01, Aug 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Gold Medal MessThe Gold Medal Mess (MVP #1) by David A. Kelly

From Goodreads: Five friends are ready for their school’s Olympics field day. There will be relay races, archery contests, and more! But not everyone wants to play fair—someone is trying to ruin the events! Can the kids in the Most Valuable Player club solve the mystery, save the Olympics, and take home the gold?

I’m not sure I really need more mysteries in my chapter book collection, but I do need more sports themed books. I was also happy to see that two of the children pictured on the front of the book are not white. As far as I can remember their ethnicity isn’t commented on (I really don’t remember if their skin color or hair were mentioned) so it was a choice by the illustrator to make them non-white.

This book falls into that odd space where the diversity of the kids isn’t really commented on. On the one hand I want books where the diversity is incidental, but I also wonder if that’s just surface diversity and not okay. The thing about this book is, it’s a very simple chapter book with a fast paced mystery. Diversity, particularly ethnicity, doesn’t factor into the story and might be interesting to explore if it wasn’t a book intended for kids who are just learning to get through chapter books. If you load these books down kids don’t want to read them until they’re older. I’m fairly confident in our collection of chapter books. There is a range of types of stories and the diversity is considered in some and not others. I think it’s fine to add this to our collection for those kids who want to literally see themselves (on the cover), but want a fun, easy mystery. You’ll have to take your own opinion about this into consideration and an assessment of your own collection to know if it’s the right book for your library.

In terms of story, it was a simple, fun mystery. Someone is trying to sabotage the school olympics and five friends decide they need to find out who. It isn’t a huge surprise. It isn’t a deep book, but it was a lot of fun. I do recommend it if you are looking for more sports books that weren’t written thirty years ago. Also, why are there so many baseball books in the chapter book genre? I think we have one kid a year who plays baseball and yet nearly every sports chapter book we have is baseball. A fun, quick mystery involving sports and sportsmanship is a win in my collection.

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26

Jul
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Middle Grade Review: The Monkey King’s Daughter by T. A. DeBonis

On 26, Jul 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Monkey King's Daughter

The 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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23

Jul
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Kidlit Review: Manatee Rescue by Nicola Davies

On 23, Jul 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Manatee RescueManatee Rescue by Nicola Davies

From Goodreads: Manuela had imagined that killing a manatee would be like killing a very big fish, just more exciting. But when her father successfully harpoons one, leaving its baby orphaned, she finds that her feelings have changed. She vows to rescue the baby manatee and return it to the river. But she soon realizes what an enormous task she’s taken on. Will she be able to save the baby manatee—and protect him from being hunted in the future, too?

I was surprised by the author on this one. I am familiar with her picture books and wondered how she would handle a chapter book. I was a little worried about a white author writing about a rural population in Colombia. And then it’s about conservation which can be contentious with poor, rural people. I wasn’t sure if it would read like someone denigrating the people trying to survive or imposing white values on a society that sees the world differently. I would love to hear someone who has a better sense of these things chime in, but I thought Davies did a fine job telling the story.

The writing was good and the story well told. She tackles the idea that the people are poor and reliant on the land, but that they would have reasons to want to join conservation movements. The story is actually based partially on a true story and a real manatee conservation organization. Airuwe is a real manatee who was rescued. I think that lends the story some authenticity that might have otherwise been hard to capture. Davies never made the people seem backwards or ignorant. She didn’t dwell on their poverty. While Manuela cares for the manatee baby she is watched by her village. She respectfully tries to teach them about why they might want to save Airuwe and manatees in general. Moreover, most of the villagers come to the conclusion that they shouldn’t hunt manatees on their own.

I liked that Manuela was not a hero per se. She did what felt right to her. The first scene where she and her father hunt and kill the mother manatee is not graphic, but it changes her. She realizes what it means to take the life of an animal and she decides she needs to save the baby.

Manatee Rescue reminds me of Tiger Boy by Mitali Perkins. If that one is popular in your library you should definitely purchase this one. Both are great books about animal conservation. This would make a good addition to a library that has kids interested in animals and conservation. There is a bit of back matter in this one that discusses manatees and their precarious situation across the globe. It also shares a bit about conservation efforts along the Amazon.

There are some sweet black and white water color pictures sprinkled into the book. They don’t add a whole lot to the book, but they are charming. I am not wild about the cover and I am curious if that is the correct kind of manatee. There are three kinds apparently and that one looks like the ones I’ve seen in Florida and it appears to be missing the distinctive white chest patch of Amazonian manatees.

I will definitely be buying this one for out mellow yellow section. It’s the transition from chapter books into the honest-to-goodness fiction section. We have books like The One and Only Ivan shelved there. In theory it could probably go in our transitional chapter book section. It isn’t terribly difficult and it clocks in at just under 100 pages. It would be one of our harder chapter books which is why I think I would bump it up. Either way it’s a good addition to those kids working their way into harder fiction books.

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18

Jul
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Chapter Book Series Review: Papa Lemon’s Little Wanderers

On 18, Jul 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Papa LemonPapa 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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09

Jul
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Chapter Book Review: Mikis and the Donkey by Bibi Dumon Tak

On 09, Jul 2016 | 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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07

Jul
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Nonfiction Review: Hello Ruby: Adventures in Coding by Linda Liukas

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

Hello RubyHello 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.

In case you were wondering about the diversity tag on this book, I considered it diverse because Ruby is involved in computer science, something that is not traditionally assumed to be a girl’s activity.

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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04

Jul
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Chapter Book Review: The Toothpaste Millionaire by Jean Merrill

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

Toothpaste MillionaireThe Toothpaste Millionaire by Jean Merrill

From Goodreads: Sixth-grader Rufus Mayflower doesn’t set out to become a millionaire. He just wants to save on toothpaste. Betting he can make a gallon of his own for the same price as one tube from the store, Rufus develops a step-by-step production plan with help from his good friend Kate MacKinstrey. By the time he reaches the eighth grade, Rufus makes more than a gallon — he makes a million! This fun, breezy story set in 1960s Cleveland, Ohio contains many real-life mathematical problems which the characters must solve to succeed in their budding business.

Happy Fourth of July. Here’s a book about the entrepreneurial spirit of the US for today. Considering the original publication date of this book, 1972, it’s surprising that one of the primary characters is African American. Kate MacKinstrey tells the story of how she and Rufus, two kids who didn’t quite fit in with their peers, became friends over making things and then started a business. Kate is new to town and is having trouble making friends until Rufus helps her clean up her spilled backpack one day on the way to school. She’s intrigued by his messenger bag he made for himself (and he offers to make her one as well).

This story has awesome all over it. It features a boy-girl friendship. Rufus is black and Kate is white. Kate isn’t into “girly” things and she starts up the business with Rufus. She helps make toothpaste, pack it up, and helps find a tube supplier and a factory to ramp up production. Rufus may have had the toothpaste formula idea, but Kate is as much of an entrepreneur as he is handling practical logistics. The kids also get to run around town by themselves! On bikes! I think it will seem extraordinary to kids these days, but also very enticing. I do wish that the story was more about Rufus. For example, I wish we knew why he choose Kate as a friend. He helps her and their friendship just starts up. It didn’t feel forced, but he just sort of assumes that after that point they are friends. Kate is grateful and takes it in stride. I am glad that on this cover Rufus is front and center.

I loved Rufus, he is so practical and straight forward. He starts the toothpaste production because he is convinced toothpaste companies are charging way too much and he could do it just as well for less and still make a profit. I do wonder if he falls into any stereotypes. Not only is he African American, but he also strikes me that he could have Asperger’s. I am not certain about that, but I wonder if he was supposed to be like one of those kids and if he is too much of a stereotype.

For a chapter book this one is on the higher end. In terms of interest I think kids from second to seventh grade would enjoy the story. I would recommend it for any elementary school library, but consider it if you have middle schoolers who are into inventing or need some lower reading level, high interest stories.

 

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03

Jul
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Chapter Book Review: My Life in Pictures by Deborah Zemke

On 03, Jul 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

My Life in PicturesMy Life in Pictures written and pictures by Deborah Zemke

From Goodreads: Bea Garcia is an artist. She draws anywhere and everywhere—but mostly in her own notebook. When Bea’s first and only best friend Yvonne moves to Australia, not even drawing makes Bea feel better. And things only get worse when a loud, rambunctious boy moves in next door. He’s nothing at all like Yvonne! But with a little imagination and a whole lot of doodles, Bea Garcia might just make a new friend.

Poor Bea! Her best friend has just moved away to Australia, all the way across the globe. Bea is heartbroken. To make matters worse, a weasel of a kid has moved next door into Yvonne’s old house and he’s ruining everything.

This was an interesting book to read as an adult and a teacher. I got how upset Bea was and how she didn’t know how to process her feelings. I think we’ve all felt the heartbreak of a good friendship splitting up, either because someone moves or because people change. I knew that feeling as a kid, but as an adult I thought about how tough it is to keep in touch with far away friends when you are so young. I also saw Burt, the annoying new neighbor boy, from both perspectives. To the kid mourning the loss of her best friend, Burt was obnoxious and forced on her by well-meaning adults. As an adult I saw that Burt was struggling too. He was new to the neighborhood and school and didn’t know how to insert himself in a constructive way into the class dynamic and to ask for friendship.

I love that Bea learns that Burt isn’t so bad. I love that her teacher doesn’t humiliate her for doodling some rather unkind things. She realizes Bea knows she was being unkind and unfair to Burt and puts an incredibly positive spin on her drawing while still making a subtle point to Bea, and Bea only, that she needs to write in her school notebook not her doodling book.

Bea is Latina, maybe biracial? The thing is, the story doesn’t make a big deal out of it and I’m not sure if that’s a good or a bad thing. I appreciate that, once again, we don’t have a book that makes being something other than white seem other and doesn’t focus the story on that. But I’m also wondering if it was a little shallow? Her name and a handful of Spanish words are just about the extent of her cultural identity in the book. There is the fact that this is a pretty simple book for readers who are just getting into chapter books so the need to keep the story short and more to the point was probably a big factor. I can’t find much information about Zemke either so I can’t tell if she’s writing as an insider (considering the state of children’s publishing I would guess not).

This really brings up another issue for me, which is, I bought the book for my library and is that a step in the right direction toward telling publishers I want books with diversity? Once they see diversity sells will they be more willing to get more of it on their lists, including diverse authors? I don’t know. I worry it encourages them to have their white authors write diverse content and we end up with a glut of shallow diversity. Things to think about.

In the end, the book is wonderful. Bea is like a lot of kids I have known over the years and I think a lot of readers will connect with her and want to follow her adventures (this is a planned series). Good addition to a chapter book collection.

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24

Jun
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Chapter Book Review: Magid Fasts for Ramadan by Mary Matthews

On 24, Jun 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Magid FastsMagid Fasts for Ramadan written by Mary Matthews, illustrated by E. B. Lewis

From Goodreads: It is the first day of Ramadan, the month when good Muslims eat nothing and drink nothing all day, every day, from sunrise to sunset. Mama and Baba have told Magid he isn’t old enough to fast, but even Magid’s sister, Aisha, is fasting, and Magid doesn’t want to wait.

I thought this was a nice little story about honesty and also feeling left out of something “grown up”. Magid is your typical kid. He finds a way to get around the restrictions placed on him without really thinking through the consequences. I thought Matthews nailed that. The illustrations dated the book somewhat, but it was nice to see an average looking, modern Egyptian family (as in, the family doesn’t look like they lived 300 years ago). The story is about Magid wanting to fast for Ramadan and to be a devout Muslim. But it’s also about honesty and how something that is meant well and done with good intentions can still be dishonest.

Aaaaand then I read the reviews on Amazon. It seems like a fair number of Muslim parents have chimed in on it. Some like the story, others don’t. Most didn’t like that Magid was actively discouraged from fasting even though he wanted to and that his sister was such a pill. All valid points. On the other hand many liked the story for its message about honesty and weren’t perturbed by Magid being discouraged from fasting. I can’t find much about the author and I’m not sure where she got the idea for the story. I’m also relatively sure that she isn’t Muslim so there is very much the issue of authenticity here.

I think in the end, it has a Message with a capital “m” (it didn’t bother me, but that was my personal opinion) and if you don’t want a book that explicitly teaches something, you don’t want this book. I think it’s worth buying for library collections as there are obviously Muslim families that like it, but if you’re looking at it for your family see if the public library has it first and see if it fits with your conception of Ramadan and Islamic values.

The book itself is an odd hybrid of chapter book (it has chapters) and picture book (most pages have an illustration spread much like a picture book). The text is longer, like a chapter book, but the amount of illustrations make it feel younger. I would encourage you to share it with many age levels, as the story is worthwhile. I wish the publisher would reissue it in a small, chapter book trim size. I think it would fit better in the collection and would circulate better. We do have chapter books that have lots of pictures, but they need that seemingly more grown-up size to appeal to those readers who are moving up.

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