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Diversity

15

Mar
2019

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Nonficiton Review: Newton’s Law Going Through the Motions by Marlene Downing

On 15, Mar 2019 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Newton’s Law: Going Through the Motions written by Marlene Downing, created by Bryheem Charity

From the publisher: All children are unique with different personalities and learning styles. Nadiyah is a student that struggles to understand the lesson in her classroom. Watching other students eagerly raise their hands makes her more frustrated and anxious. Nadiyah continues “going through the motions” until Maximus steps in to guide her on a fun, educational journey. The two of them discover that a hands-on approach is the antidote to Nadiyah’s style of learning. Going Through the Motions highlights the fact that different learning styles require a different approach. Nadiyah learns about Newton’s three laws of motion during her journey into the futuristic world. 

Think Magic School Bus, but for an older crowd. Nadiyah, a middle schooler, is confused in science class. They just learned Newton’s laws of motion and it feels like everyone gets it but her. A pep talk from her mother that evening seems to send Nadiyah off to an exciting dreamland where she meets Maximus, the school role model who is there to help her understand her science lessons.

Lucky for Nadiyah this dream middle school has an epic playground. It looks like an amusement park. Maximus tells her ” I know that learning something can be confusing. That’s why you need to make it as fun as you possibly can while you’re learning.” On the playground they use the soccer field, the swings, and a pond to demonstrate the principles.

I couldn’t agree more with Maximus. Not every topic is going to be riveting for every student, but learning should be fun, engaging and feel relevant to kids. By moving to a more hands on approach and in a setting outside the classroom the Laws of Motion feel a lot more engaged with every day life.

This was a great little primer on Newton’s Laws. I know they aren’t typically covered until middle school, but I would suggest that kids as young as second or third grade will easily grasp these concepts with Maximus helping them out. Which of course makes this an excellent little volume to have on your public or school library shelves. Any kids who are interested in science will enjoy reading Going Through the Motions and they will definitely enjoy being able to explain the Laws of Motion to their friends and families.

Unlike Magic School Bus, Going Through the Motions a lot less frenetic. I think this makes it more accessible as a read aloud, to younger audiences that might be distracted by ALL THE THINGS going on in MSB, and to older students who might feel that MSB is too young.

I particularly appreciate both that Nadiyah is an African American girl and that she doesn’t initially get it. I think science is one of those subjects where the narrative around kids who like it is that they understand it right away. Nadiyah realizes how enjoyable science and physics is once she’s given a little extra time with the lesson and a different approach to the concepts. This doesn’t mean she can’t enjoy science or that she isn’t smart enough. When you book talk this or hand sell it to a student, be sure you aren’t just giving it to the kids who are your science-y kids. Offer it to students who you think my enjoy science more if it was a little less academic and more active. And don’t discount using this book for older grades (fifth grade and up). It clearly explains Newton’s Laws of Motion in an easy to understand format with clear examples. There are kids in middle school too that need a little extra oomph.

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08

Mar
2019

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Chapter Book Review: The Adventures of Papa Lemon’s Little Wanderers: Bullying by Lehman Riley

On 08, Mar 2019 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

BullyingThe Adventures of Papa Lemon’s Little Wanderers: Bullying a choice with consequences written by Lehman Riley

From the publisher: What will the Little Wanderers do when they see their classmate Anna being bullied? Will cruel words keep her from achieving her dreams? When Papa Lemon suggests a trip back to 1953, the kids meet a judge named Rosa and get a first-hand look at how bullying has always been a problem. The kids also get an important reminder that their choices can either help or hurt the people around them. 

I came across this series a few years ago when looking to build and diversify my chapter book collection and I’m really glad I did. I think you would be surprised by how homogenous chapter books are. I find so many of them are exclusively about contemporary friendships with the occasional quirky character thrown in. They also tend to be pretty white (or feature animal characters). Don’t get me wrong, some of my favorite kidlit features any and all of those characteristics, but my library collection wasn’t about me. Plus who wants to read the same type of book over and over again? I’ll tell you who doesn’t- kids.

When I found Papa Lemon, I found a diverse group of friends tackling issues that are relevant to kids, such as bullying in this most recent book, and drawing on history for lessons that can be applied to these issues now. Not only is there time travel (science fiction!), but there is history (historical fiction that isn’t Britain in the Elizabethan era!).

Another thing I especially appreciate about these books is how they aren’t so tediously formulaic (I’m looking at you Magic Treehouse). This might make them a little more difficult to follow for emerging readers, but it’s well worth it. Especially if you’re the parent or teacher or friend reading them aloud to someone.

It’s also incredibly refreshing to see an older character, Papa Lemon, guiding the kids but not being a frail, wizened old man. He’s up and going about his own business, but he points the friends in the right direction when they need a little guidance.

This book in particular feels well polished. Clearly Riley is hitting his stride in writing these stories. I’ve said this before for other books and I want to be clear this is not to imply that previous books were unpolished or bad. It’s just that this one feels like he’s refined his storytelling and gotten the formula down for the story.

In this book in particular I appreciate that the kids take their harassment to their phones and start texting each other about a mistake their classmate Anna makes in class.

These books are great for emerging chapter book readers. They feature an easy to follow plot line with a good lesson woven in. They can be a bit didactic, but I think it’s a really fine line to walk writing these types of books. You want them to be interesting and if you want a message in them you can’t bury that too deeply as the intended audience is still practicing the mechanics of reading (hence the formulaic book series at this level). The whole series is well worth having on your shelves for kids who want to branch out from simple friendship books.

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

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01

Mar
2019

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Urban Toons presents Cinderella by Ki’el Ebon Ibrahim

On 01, Mar 2019 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

CinderellaUrban Toons presents Cinderella: A Princess of the Moors written by Ki’el Ebon Ibrahim

From Goodreads: Beautiful, smart, and kind, Safiya lived a charmed life in Italy until her beloved mother died. Her father remarried, bringing two selfish “sisters” into Safiya’s home. Now Safiya is Cinderella, pretty much a servant to her stepsisters. When the prince is looking for a wife, will Cinderella’s natural beauty shine through?

I know what you’re thinking. Really? Another retelling of Cinderella? How many different versions of Cinderella are out there? I know, I know. Tons. I see them on discount shelves at Barnes and Noble, on racks at Costco. None of them take the story further or add anything. And yet, there are several pieces of this version of Cinderella that I loved and that I think make it worth considering adding to your shelves if you collect Cinderella retellings, teach a fairy tale unit, or simply want a version of this classic story to read aloud.

The first is the vocabulary in it. So many of the rehashings of fairy tales simplify the language and I’m not sure why. In this version though, the text is rich with words that will build your child’s vocabulary and make the story so much more interesting to read. Words like “gilt”, “transcend”, and “sorrow”. Be sure to check in from time to time to briefly define some of these words. They make the reading experience so rich.

The second is that the princess is black and the story is set in Moorish Spain. The last library I worked in had a three-foot long section of shelf dedicated to Cinderella retellings that were used by the first grade in their Cinderella study. I don’t think there was a single one that featured a black Cinderella, African American or otherwise. There were a couple Asian (Chinese and Vietnamese, I believe) retellings and tons of Euro-centric versions plus several animal ones. In Cinderella: A Princess of the Moors readers get a little glimpse into an often ignored piece of European history (because we tend to teach European history as something that is exclusive to much whiter and lighter peoples).

Finally, I also love that this publisher, UrbanToons, is taking stories and populating them with black characters. There isn’t a token character of color stuffed into the story somewhere. Black characters fill all the roles and take center stage and that’s very powerful in the current publishing industry.

I personally have mixed feelings about fairy tales but I also recognize many, many people love them and read them. If you’re one of those teachers, parents or librarians be sure to diversify your story collections. Remember that Cinderella, and other fairy tales, aren’t specific to one culture or geographical region. The bones of the story can be broadly applied and we can demand diversity in these traditional stories too.

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

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22

Feb
2019

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: I Love My Mocha Skin by Crystal Garry

On 22, Feb 2019 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

I Love My Mocha SkinI Love My Mocha Skin written by Crystal Garry, pictures by Mocha Decor

From Goodreads: I Love My Mocha Skin is a short, poetic book that encourages African-American children to love themselves and embrace the skin they were born with.

At its heart this is such a simple book. Each page features a doe-eyed girl in a variety of outfits and hairstyles (although mostly the puffs seen on the cover), while the text celebrates something about her skin color. But there is nothing simple about taking joy in black skin.

I Love My Mocha Skin is such an effervescent celebration of girls of color. Crystal Garry and Mocha Decor have made an appealing character with large brown eyes, cute hair, and exciting outfits that are sure to grab your girly girls. She embraces all the varieties of color skin can come in and how it makes her feel empowered, beautiful, and alive.

Even if you only have one or two kids of color in your library or school or classroom population you need to be sure to have books like this one on your shelves. It’s vitally important that those kids see themselves reflected in your collection in positive, affirming ways. The book is not designed for white children, but don’t discount the importance of white children seeing positive, loving, beautiful representations of children of color. Constantly seeing an all-white cast of characters in books and media gives very powerful messages to all children about who is valuable and who is not.

Do you do a storytime that celebrates black boy joy and/or black girl magic? This would be perfect for younger audiences.

Another lovely book to encourage positive self image in kids of color.

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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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21

Dec
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Jewels from Our Ancestors by Dr. Tamara Pizzoli

On 21, Dec 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Jewels from our ancestorsJewels from Our Ancestors: A Book of African Proverbs by Dr. Tamara Pizzoli, illustrated by Jamilla Okubo

From Goodreads: Jewels from Our Ancestors: A Book of African Proverbs is a short, illustrated literary collection of words of wisdom from the continent of Africa. The book honors the elders who have come before us and gifted us with sensible sayings that compel both readers and listeners to reflect, learn and grow.

I remember stumbling across The Night Has Ears when I was cleaning up our folk and fairy tales picture book section of the library. I was surprised to discover it was by one of my favorite children’s book authors Ashley Bryan and was quite taken with it both because of his art and the complex simplicity of the proverbs themselves. It seemed like such a grown-up thing to be sharing with children and yet when I shared it with some of my students they clearly grasped these ideas so well.

Dr. Tamara Pizzoli has given us another stunning collection of proverbs for children here with Jewels from Our Ancestors. This is, on the surface, a simple collection of proverbs paired with stunning paintings that depict the saying. Where Bryan’s illustrations are on the psychedelic side, Okubo’s are understated, but no less beautiful. People are shown in silhouette with lovely patterned fabrics. Blue predominates giving it an ethereal quality, but so too do earth tones give the sayings a feeling of groundedness. You can see the brush strokes in the paintings which give large expanses like walls and backgrounds a texture that breaks them up in an inviting way.

The simple proverbs collected by Pizzoli again feel so sophisticated and yet accessible for young audiences. Many share profound advice that all readers would do well to heed while others are light yet meaningful. And while children may or may not be readily able to use the advice they might gather from this collection, they can certainly mull it over for years to come.

The concepts here give the book such a broad range of ways it can be incorporated into the classroom or the home and I see so many uses and applications for the book. For classrooms that study African cultures, you can share these. Of course this should be a piece in a broader study of African cultures and be wary of slipping into fetishizing or exoticising African wisdom and African cultures. Older students might want to research, if they can, the origins of the proverbs and how they relate to the cultures they originated in.

Jewels would also make a great addition to language arts studies of idioms, proverbs, and sayings. Many cultures have proverbs and sayings that impart wisdom in succinct and condensed nuggets. Compare them across cultures and examine their use of sparse, but impactful language. How is that these important pieces of knowledge can be distilled down into such short statements?

In my own home we have a set of cards with affirmations on them that relate to social ideas, emotional regulation, and building self esteem. We tend to read one at the breakfast or dinner table and discuss how it relates to our day or how we feel about it. I could see incorporating these proverbs into dinnertime discussion. Talk about what they mean, how they relate to your day or week, or how you might incorporate them into your daily life. Do any of them speak directly to you or what is going on in your life? I know a number of these did for me and it’s something I would like to share with my daughter. Grown-ups, remember to share your own ideas with children! This isn’t about grilling them about their New Year’s Resolutions, it’s a conversation about how we can all benefit and grow from these pieces of wisdom.

With such beautiful illustrations you could also use the book as a model for collage art. Cutting silhouetted people, using patterned papers to illustrate student’s stories and painted backgrounds and details make this a good model for mixed media art. Let kids experiment with various materials and see if they can illustrate their favorite proverb from the collection.

This would make an excellent addition to any school or home library that wants to diversify it’s collection. And with all the ways you can use it will be worth the purchase price. Please support small independent artists, authors, and presses. The English Schoolhouse in particular puts out gorgeous books at reasonable prices that will make your library collection well rounded and beautiful.

Disclosure: I was sent a review copy of the book by the author to use in a giveaway on Instagram.

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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14

Dec
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Nonfiction Review: Of Gods and Goddesses by Dr. Tamara Pizzoli

On 14, Dec 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Of Gods and GoddessesOf Gods and Goddesses: Deities of Ancient Rome written by Dr. Tamara Pizzoli, illustrated by Elena Tommasi Ferroni

From Goodreads: As a young child, I remember reading books about mythology from all over the world and feeling a very strong connection to each of the mythical beings, even though I never recognized myself in the illustrations for the texts I read. In Of Gods and Goddesses: Deities of Ancient Rome, master Italian painter Elena Tommasi Ferroni and I reimagined sixteen ancient Roman deities to reflect the multicultural society of today.

Before my decade long obsession with Ancient Egypt there was Ancient Greece and Rome. I remember a friend of mine giving me a copy of some Usborne book about Ancient Greece and I was off and running from there exploring the ancient world and voraciously reading all the illustrated books about Greek and Roman mythology that I could get my hands on. I wrote reports in my free time I was so excited by this stuff. I would get out of my seat at free reading time to share things with my teacher that I read. I pored over books at home, wrote my own, and drew pictures. I even made a plaster of paris and cardboard Trojan horse. The art aside, this was unlike anything I had ever done before. I was fascinated and I don’t think I was or am alone in that fascination. From my time in the classroom and the library in elementary, middle and high school I have seen kids fall in love with Ancient Rome over and over.

Looking back as an adult I see some pieces to that interest that I was completely unaware of at the time. The first is that, as white girl, I saw myself reflected in the homogenous and white-washed Greek and Roman world presented in children’s books. I didn’t feel alienated or unseen by the books I was consuming. I now know, from further reading I have done in just the past year or two, that the ancient world was far from WASP-y. It feels like a palm-to-forehead kind of idea now, but it just hadn’t occurred to me because of the media I was consuming around it and because of the prevailing narrative we see in education, particularly primary education. With her new book Dr. Tamara Pizzoli has produced something incredible to correct this. She has intentionally included pictures of the gods and goddesses with dark skin and natural hair. A glimpse of the cover lets you know you are in for a treat and that this is not Ancient Rome as usually seen by children.

Which brings me, briefly, to the illustrations. They are stunning. Each one is frame-able (and you can buy prints of them on her website!) they are so beautiful. Each god or goddess is depicted with some symbols of their essence. There are a variety of skin tones, hair types, and clothes (no one is naked, btw, for those of you who need to worry about that). Ferroni illustrated Fatou and Kora, another of Pizzoli’s beautiful books. She has outdone herself here with these portraits. The paper they were originally done on gives them a texture that makes you want to stroke the pages. The color palette is muted and earthy and each text page features a tiled pattern down the left side of the page. It all feels very cohesive and polished. It makes most of the other mythology books I’ve seen seem garish and absurd. This feels like putting high art in a kid’s hands.

The second part of my obsession I have seen upon reflection is that I was struggling with reading at the time. I remember carrying around books and checking them out and even buying a few that I was just not ready to sit down and read through. I read as a kid, but I hit some kind of plateau in forth or fifth grade and didn’t break free from it until middle school. This is why I have such a sympathy for those reluctant readers. And it wasn’t about not having found what interested me. I had a number of interests, but the books that were considered “appropriate” or “at my level” were just too hard. I would stare at the pages and not be able to make heads or tails of the text. I loved flipping through those Eyewitness books, but I didn’t even know where to being reading (as an adult I can see exactly what I should have been doing reading them, but at that time it was too overwhelming). Of Gods and Goddesses is perfect for this type of student. It’s perfect for any student, but if you have those reluctant readers that are dying to get into this topic, you need this book on your shelves. It’s so accessible. Pizzoli has distilled the pantheon down and shared the most relevant information about these gods and goddesses. It gives just enough information to show kids what role these deities played in Ancient Rome while giving them a push to explore more when they’re ready. I know I would have memorized this book as a kid and been able to list off the information whenever I wanted to talk about it with someone.

I know people love to think that picture books are only for young kids, but they are wrong for so many reasons. I cannot recommend this book enough if you serve upper elementary and middle school populations. Waldorf schools in particular come to mind for me here as an educator. They do studies of the Ancient Greek and Roman (and maybe Norse and Egyptian) worlds. Especially the deities. Plus they emphasize beautiful art. Here is a perfect vessel for that study. Ditch your D’Aulaires for this pantheon. They have plenty of problematic content to begin with and this is so much better on all fronts. We all have students who love mythology and the Ancient World, make sure you have this book on your shelves for them.

If you are on Instagram and are reading this before December 21, 2018 hop over to my Instagram account for a chance to win a copy of the book.

Disclosure: I was sent a review copy of the book by the author to use in a giveaway on Instagram.

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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21

Nov
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: The Water Walker by Joanne Robertston

On 21, Nov 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Water WalkerThe Water Walker written and illustrated by Joanne Robertson

From Goodreads: The determined story of an Ojibwe grandmother (nokomis), Josephine Mandamin, and her great love for nibi (water). Nokomis walks to raise awareness of our need to protect nibi for future generations and for all life on the planet. She, along with other women, men and youth, has walked around all the Great Lakes from the four salt waters, or oceans, to Lake Superior. The walks are full of challenges, and by her example she challenges us all to take up our responsibility to protect our water, the giver of life, and to protect our planet for all generations.

Based on a true story, The Water Walker, shares the story of Josephine Mandamin, a woman who was inspired by a prophecy to protect water. The book tracks her activism around water protection and the group of Water Walkers that she formed who join her on her many walks across North America.

I appreciate that the book shows simple activism. There are not organized marches here, no fundraisers, no political campaigns. Just a woman with a passion and a pair of shoes. Activism comes in many forms, but this is an accessible form for children. Just get out and do something to make a point and draw attention to an issue you’re passionate about. Don’t feel like you have to raise tons of money or get celebrities to endorse your cause.

It has the most adorable illustrations. They are bright and inviting and have a child-like feel to them that will really appeal to kids. To be clear, I don’t think a child could have drawn these, just the stylized form and watercolor/marker (?) medium make it feel like children’s drawings. Kids love to see books that mirror their art and are often inspired by them to make their own books and tell their own stories.

I love that Ojibwe words are just dropped into the text and not translated. This centers an Ojibwe-speaking audience instead of a non-Native audience. There are a lot of children’s books out there that are faux-Native, but this is an #ownvoices story that doesn’t pander to a white audience. There is a little glossary at the back of the book so if you couldn’t figure out what the word is from the context, there’s help. Also, it’s contemporary, not historical. It is vitally important that we show our students and children that Indigenous people are still here despite the best efforts of the U.S government (and previous colonial powers) to eradicate them.

While you could certainly use this book during Native American Heritage Month, it should be out all year long. Indigenous people are still here and they deserve representation in our classrooms and on our shelves all year long. Water is also a perennial issue with climate change, drought, Flint, Michigan, pollution, and myriad other issues that bring it to the forefront. You should be talking about these things with your children and your students. If you want to work it into a classroom study, use it with the water cycle. Put it out near the water table or with your water play station. Use it near Earth Day or when you study recycle/reduce/reuse. Pull it out when your kids are letting the faucet run too long while they wash their hands or brush their teeth. Or just use it to start a conversation about environmental justice. It’s a great way to get representation into science lessons and a great way to work environmental justice and social justice into lessons where we haven’t traditionally seen those topics. However you use it, put it on your shelf and get it into kids hands.

Pair this one with Young Water Protectors by Aslan Tudor.

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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17

Nov
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Nonfiction Review: They She He Me: Free to Be! by Maya and Matthew Gonzalez

On 17, Nov 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

They She He MeThey She He Me: Free to Be! written and illustrated by Maya and Matthew Gonzalez

From the publisher: Pronouns sere as a familiar starting point for kids and grown-ups to expand ideas about gender and celebrate personal expression with fun imagery that provides a place to meet and play. 

I don’t normally read other reviews prior to writing my own, but I happened to read some for this book and I want to address something I saw in a couple of them. And that is the idea that this book must be read with a parent to help children understand it. I call b.s. on that idea. It can absolutely be used as a conversation starter between parent and child (or educator and child) and since many young children cannot read on their own it may be a shared reading experience. But, the idea that kids need an adult to explain the idea of gender and especially a non-binary idea of gender to them is very, very gender normative and promotes cisgender as both normal and dominant. I think most children understand that male and female and the roles “traditionally” assigned to those labels are very limiting and frequently inadequate in expressing how they feel about gender. I certainly remember the feeling of “not being a good girl” because I liked to run around with the boys and because I wasn’t into pink or princesses, while still having close girl friends and loving My Little Ponys and identifying at cisgender female. Kids understand that a gender binary is too limiting, even if they identify as cisgender and this book gives them validation that they are right about that and also gives them the language they can use to express that.

Okay, with that out of the way, this is wonderful little book to have on your shelves. It’s very simple in it’s execution, which actually makes it work well as a picture book and an easy reader. Just a quick note, “they”, “she”, “he”, “me”, “we”, “to” and “be” are all sight words (words kids need to memorize on sight instead of sounding out each and every time they encounter them in a text). Very young kids will enjoy reading through this and looking at the people and even older children will be captivated by the ideas shown here (my seven year old still likes to read this one).

Maya’s illustrations are always so charming. Happy people and children with flushed cheeks, she presents a mix of skin colors, clothing, ability, and hair. Babies and toddlers, who love faces, will enjoy looking at the pictures, while young kids will enjoy the added experience of seeing the pronouns the people identify with below them. If you can read this to babies and toddlers all the better, as it will counteract some (but by no means all) of the societal pressure to conform to narrow ideas of male and female.

This is definitely one to have in your home and on your library shelves. Might you get push back from parents and patrons? Yes. But don’t let that deter you. Kids who don’t conform to the male-female binary deserve and need to see themselves in our books. We also need to give kids the vocabulary to describe gender. Please read my post about soft censoring books for more on the insidious nature of caving to the pressure of possible complaints.

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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07

Nov
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: K is for Kahlo by Dr. Tamara Pizzoli

On 07, Nov 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

K is for KahloK is for Kahlo written by Dr. Tamara Pizzoli, pictures by Howell Edwards Creative

From Goodreads: K is for Kahlo is an artistic tour of the alphabet featuring notable artists from all around the globe. From painters to sculptors to muralists to architects, explore the creativity of some of the most influential artists in this vibrant and unique take on the abc’s.

Normally I’m a little confused by ABC books. What exactly is their purpose? Their content seems to be aimed at the three and under set, kids who aren’t really learning letters yet per se. Add to this that a lot of them use words that do not correctly represent the sound the letter makes (e.g. using owl for “o” or giraffe for “g”), so they’re not particularly helpful even if a kid was learning their letters. And by the time kids are actually learning their ABCs to employ in the process of reading, they’re past the simplicity of an ABC book.

K is for Kahlo, on the other hand, turns the ABC book format on it’s head. Pizzoli, of Tallulah brilliance, has employed the ABC form in a way that makes perfect sense. She takes the form and gives it function. Each letter is associated with an artist and features the letter clearly written and a stylized image of their face. The illustrations are lovely and simple and make this an excellent choice to share with babies and toddlers who love to look at faces. My seven month old was quite captivated by it and kept chuckling as we turned the pages and gazed at the new faces (she also tried to eat it, so I wish this came in a board book format).

There is a great mix of artists here (male, female, contemporary, old masters, a variety of national origins), meaning it’s not just a list of old Eurpopean white dudes. There’s even a nod to Pizzoli’s friend and artist Elena Tommasi-Ferroni who has illustrated a few of Pizzol’s books include the beautiful Fatou and the Kora. Which makes this perfect for older children, it can spark conversations about all these different artists. Blessedly Pizzoli has included a two-page spread at the back that gives the full name, dates, and one or two sentence description of each artist. “B is for Basquiat” led my seven year old to pull out our copy of Radiant Child and of course a quick Google search showed various pieces by each of the artists she was curious about.

This is yet another book that’s appropriate for classroom libraries, school libraries, home libraries, and public libraries alike. I could see classrooms using this book in an art center or even with a self-portrait project or station. For small collections skip the commercialized and terrible ABC books and get one or two that open up conversation around the content and not the letters.

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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