By Elizabeth Wroten
On 08, Jun 2017 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Little Blk Books: Everyone is excited about Auntie Cynthia’s wedding – everyone except little Femi. He is not excited about having to share his room or meeting new cousins who may play with his toys. What do weddings have to do with little boys anyway? When his family arrives from Nigeria, Femi is amazed at the beautiful crowns and colorful garments they wear. With the help of Auntie Koy, he learns the value of family and the importance of tradition.
I signed my daughter up for the Wam! Book Bundle which sends us three books a month that feature diverse characters. It’s always a big deal when the box shows up on our porch. This past month they included their first independently published book and it was the first book my daughter picked out to read.
The story reminded me a bit of The Wedding Week, another phenomenal independently published book that I reran yesterday, in that Femi’s family is Nigerian (although he and his parents live here in the US) and they’re prepping for an upcoming wedding. Here, though, the story is about building up cultural pride. Femi is bored by the idea of a wedding (“Wedding? For the last few months Mommie and his Aunties looked at girl stuff and got excited about silly flowers.”) and worried about sharing his bedroom and toys with visiting cousins (“From left to right, and every space in between, he couldn’t find a single place where his cousins could sleep.”).
Fortunately Auntie Koy steps in to help Femi see the positive side of weddings. She explains that everyone will be wearing a crown, geles for the women and filas for the men. The tradition started a long time ago and is meant to show everyone that their people are royalty. Femi begins to think it might not be so bad after all if he gets to be a prince. And when his cousins show up he discovers they’re actually a lot of fun to have around.
The wedding is a success and Femi has a blast. Even though he’s sad everyone has left he draws on the warm feelings his Auntie Koy left him with around the meaning of the fila he has to wear and the memories of the wedding. The book does a really good job of balancing giving the reader a story to follow and providing cultural information. It’s buy turns funny and heart warming.
The reading level is maybe just a little lower than most picture books which would make it a good selection if you have kids that want to try and read these books on their own. Otherwise it’s right in the mix. The book itself is paperback which I know can be a drag for libraries. The print quality is actually quite good, though. The pages are a nice thick, glossy paper. I think this is a must for library collections if you can order books like this. It’s a great story with bright and inviting illustrations and it centers family and cultural pride.
If you are interested order the book here on their website: Little Blk Books
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 07, Jun 2017 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
I think the first thing I noticed about my old review is the fact that I admit to worrying about self published quality. As I said in my intro post to the summer project, I worry a lot less about that now. As far as this book specifically, my daughter has pulled it out to read on several occasions and always enjoys it. I have friend who teaches second grade and she makes a point to read it every year with her class and they also really enjoy the book and make connections to weddings they have attended.
The Wedding Week: Around the World in Seven Weddings written by Chimaechi Allan, illustrated by Amber Cooper-Davies
From Amazon: You’re invited to seven diverse weddings around the world! Join Femi, Kemi and Geko the Lizard on a journey from saris to chuppahs. Each day, you’ll discover an exciting new thing that happens at weddings in different cultures. This vibrant story is set in contemporary Africa.
This is the book from the Kickstarter campaign I posted about awhile back. We’ve had the digital copy for about a month or so now, but I have to admit I don’t tend to read digital picture books to my daughter. I’m not opposed to them, I just don’t bust out the iPad during the day with her. So, I was really excited when a package arrived from the UK with this beauty in it.
You kind of worry with nontraditional publishing channels (i.e. Kickstarter) that a picture book will be poorly written and badly illustrated. That is not at all the case with The Wedding Week. The story is engaging, fun and well written and the cut-paper illustrations (as you can see from the cover) are lovely.
I was personally even more excited because we chose a dual language Igbo and English edition of the book. I don’t speak Igbo, but I want to expose my daughter to tons of languages. Even if we don’t know how anything is pronounced, just seeing the language written out and knowing that someone out there speaks it (and where they speak it) opens her world view up immensely. Even more so because it isn’t a language Americans normally see or hear (there’s more than French and Spanish out there).
In The Wedding Week Femi and Kemi are excited that they will be attending a wedding. To build excitement, and tied in with weekly goings-on, various family members share tidbits about what weddings are like in other countries and cultures. The story was incredibly engaging. My three year old sat through the whole book. She was especially captivated by the little Geko who acts as a guide and appears in every two-page spread. In the Kickstarter video I believe Allan discussed the idea behind choosing weddings for the book was that they are so universal. They are also joyful occasions filled with food, music, and tradition and I think she’s right that kids click with them and are interested in them.
Each tradition and culture that was introduced comes through a connection to the wedding Femi and Kemi will be attending and I like that the reader isn’t overloaded with tons of information. It’s a simple introduction to a few wedding customs around the world with a beautiful and intricate illustration that adds depth. Kids love little facts and the book doesn’t beat them over the head with too much information that would detract from actually telling the story of Femi and Kemi preparing for a family wedding. In other words, it’s a perfect mix of information and storytelling.
Personally, I love the cut-paper illustration style and the pictures for The Wedding Week are fantastic. It’s fun to spot different patterns and colors of paper and I also think this is an inspiring type of art for young readers. Obviously it would take years of practice and training to turn out something this lovely, but I think the idea of layering paper and breaking objects and people into parts that you cut out of different papers is not beyond kids. It’s also a great lesson in really looking at the illustrations and thinking about creating your own art.
In terms of reading level the book is on the upper end of elementary I think, but it would make a perfect addition to any classroom or library collection. The story is incredibly accessible and enjoyable for all ages through elementary school and I’m sure read alouds will elicit many stories of weddings kids have been to. It’s also a great addition to home libraries (we’re loving our copy) particularly if you are going to attend a wedding, have attended one, or if you like books that expose your child to traditions and cultures around the world. Chimaechi Allan wrote the book so Nigerian children could see themselves in books, but works beautifully for giving our children in the US a window onto the world.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 06, Jun 2017 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
When I first brought this one into the library I book talked it with my second graders. After that I couldn’t keep it on the shelf for months. The kids really liked this book and the sequel. There are now three or four “episodes” out and I highly recommend them. Now that my own daughter is into reading a chapter book before bed I’m also going to be purchasing her a copy.
Jaden Toussaint, The Greatest Episode 1: The Quest for Screen Time written by Marti Dumas, illustrated by Marie Muravski
From Goodreads: Jaden Toussaint is a five year-old who knows it all. I mean, really knows it all. Animal Scientist. Great Debater. Master of the art of ninja dancing. There’s nothing Jaden Toussaint can’t do. The only problem is that grown-ups keep trying to convince him that, even though he’s really smart, he doesn’t know EVERYTHING. The thing is…he kind of does. This time our hero must use all his super-powered brain power to convince the grown-ups that he needs more screen time.
This book was hilarious and it was humor I think both kids and adults will enjoy. Dumas has really captured the inner thoughts of a young kid in a way that is both funny and serious. Even as an adult I throughly enjoyed reading this.
The chapter breaks are perfect. Just as Jaden has an idea or something new needs to be introduced the current chapter ends and the next chapter begins, complete with chapter title that repeats the introduction. So for example Jaden is talking about wanting to get more screen time to play games online and look up facts on the internet. He’s tried begging and asking various people in his family, but nothing has worked. All that changes with Miss Bates, the text says. Cut to the next chapter entitled “Miss Bates Class”. Most of the chapters are like this and, to me, it reads like good comic timing.
The story itself is probably pretty relatable to kids. Jaden has had a taste of screen time and is trying to finagle some more when his teacher assigns homework. One task they can choose for homework is time on the computer, but Jaden’s parents still say no screen time. Jaden decides to create a petition for all the Kindergarteners to sign asking for more screen time on the homework sheet in order to force his parents to give him some. Also, there is a ninja dance break.
The illustrations are fine. There are little nods to some great African Americans and blacks on the wall of Jaden’s room. The beginning also starts out a little graphic-novelish with sparse text scattered around the illustrations as Jaden’s family is introduced. They provide good breaks for the beginning reader. Also a bonus, the trim size is more like a big-kid chapter book (it’s still a little large). Despite the easy language and format it looks less like an easy reader and more like what older kids would want to pick up.
Since our public library didn’t have this one I bought the first book, but I will be purchasing the next couple “episodes” this year. I highly recommend this to collections that need some easy, easy chapter books that look more grown up. I can’t emphasize enough how kid-like the logic is in the story and how that makes it so appealing for a child audience with a good sense of humor and an adult audience who is familiar with dealing with that logic. Kids love humorous books and this fits the bill perfectly.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 15, Feb 2017 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: Fatou and the Kora is a modern West African fairy tale set in Dakar, Senegal. Fatou, a young Senegalese girl, resides in a region where it is thought by many that the kora, or the African harp, is an instrument that is not to be played by girls. Fatou follows her instinct and discovers a generational gift within herself, while also teaching her father an unexpected lesson.
The book is lushly illustrated and heavy with symbolism. After reading through it the first time I came away feeling it really and truly was a modern fairy tale. It had the same qualities of being both a good story and a story with a lesson and, combined with the illustrations, an invitation to revisit it after chewing on it for awhile.
Fatou is a quiet, thoughtful little girl. The rich illustrations that introduce the story show the reader her world and how she sees it. It’s peopled with family and full of vibrant animals and scenery. Fatou spends much of her time observing all that is around her and while observing she discovers the beauty of the kora.
It calls to her and reminds her of her mother when she was pregnant and of Yemaya, a Yoruba goddess. Unfortunately the kora is reserved for men, as emphasized the by the picture of Fatou’s father playing it with his father, then grandfather, and great-grandfather nested inside the body of the kora, each playing the instrument that has been passed down the generations. But when Fatou reflects on it, the kora is drawn as Fatou sees it and you can’t help but agree with her interpretation. Fatou begins to sneak her father’s kora out into the forest to practice everyday after lunch. Her father is dozing and won’t notice she or the kora are gone. Her mother does, however, notice and keeps Fatou’s secret. As in all fairy tales the deception is found out, but with the help of the natural world Fatou has been watching all her life, her father comes to see that Fatou not only has talent, but also belongs to the music and the instrument.
For what it’s worth the book reminds me of Drum Dream Girl by Margarita Engle in that it’s about a girl who takes up an instrument that is traditionally played by men. The two stories are actually very different, but you could certainly pair them up to discuss breaking out of gender expectations and limitations. For American audiences this would also make an excellent jumping off point for looking at Senegalese (and Yoruba) culture as well as West African history and gender roles and expectations in different cultures. It also shows what appears to be an average family, meaning it gets away from that narrative that everyone in Africa is destitute and pitiful.
One final thought, I love how the book begins “In the West African city of Dakar, not so long ago- in a land once compose of kingdoms and empires that is now known as modern Senegal…”. It’s such a perfect and subtle nod to the fact that “Senegal” is a European and colonial construct and not what once was. It’s also so enticing to hear about kingdoms and empires. It will make readers want to discover more about that. Highly recommend this title. Particularly important if your school or class does a generic Africa unit.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 23, Jan 2017 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: Tomorrow is the school parade, and Danny knows exactly what he will be: a princess. Mommy supports him 100%, and they race to the thrift store to find his costume. It’s almost closing time; will Danny find the costume of his dreams in time?
This is another one of Liu-Trujillo’s books that I had intended to put in the library collection, but was not allowed to leave our house by my daughter. We probably read this once a week. Her favorite, the spread of Nifty Thrifty, the thrift shop Danny and his mom visit to find his costume. There are racks and racks of clothes and she loves to see if she can spot any purple before Danny and his mom start their search aisle by aisle.
This is a must purchase for any family or library looking to add books about gender non conforming kids. While I’m all for books like I Am Jazz that focus on being either gender non-conforming or transgender (those must be in your collection too!), I think the beauty of this particular story is that Danny just wants a purple princess costume. There isn’t much beyond that and that’s fine. We’ve had boys come through our lower school who haven’t struggled with gender identity per se, but love to wear dresses and fancy shoes. This book is for them. Danny is confronted by his friends at the end, but he has the perfect response. Mom and Grandpa are both super supportive and don’t bat an eye when Danny presents the picture of his costume.
The story is also a great one about using your imagination and making something when you can’t find exactly what you’re looking for. Danny is convinced that his purple princess dress is at Nifty Thrifty, but they can’t find it. Just before the story closes Danny realizes all the pieces of it are there. He and his mom just have to put them together. After some cutting and sewing Danny has the costume he pictured and it’s perfect.
The pastel color palette is perfect for the gentle story and the pictures alternate between lots of white space and racks of clothing filling the page. As always the people are lovely and have great expressions and body language.
I don’t think this should be the only book you have in your collection about gender non conforming kids. It must also include books like I Am Jazz, Jacob’s New Dress, and Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress. (I am having a MUCH harder time finding books for gender non conforming girls.) But it should absolutely be there. It’s for those kids who aren’t quite sure yet about themselves and need to see their reflections. It’s also for those kids who are out there and want to be different. They’ll see themselves too. And it’s for their classmates, so they can see their diverse world, the one they see everyday, reflected. And if you think you don’t have one of those kids in your school, buy it anyways. You might not know that you do, you might eventually, and your students will eventually encounter someone like Danny. They deserve to see a wider world too.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 16, Jan 2017 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: Step into the world of Ida B. Wells as she uses her life experiences and obstacles as motivation to achieve many firsts in editing and journalism in the United States of America and abroad. Read along as she flourishes in the wake of family tragedy and ever changing life situations. “Power in My Pen” encourages penmanship, free thought, and historical lessons from a highly influential leader in the early 1900’s. The strong intelligent woman we know as Ida B. Wells proved, no matter who you are, you can share your message and your truth to the world through the power of the pen.
I have to admit I expected there to a Message with a capital “m” in the book. There is, but it doesn’t beat you over the head with it. Wells’ life was far more the focus and as a parent reading the book with my child I was able to draw the message out through her life and work. She sums it up at the end succinctly, but we were able look back over her life and see her living it.
The book quickly passed the high interest test. The first night it was on our shelf my daughter asked to read it and she has dug it out of our considerable bedtime book stack several times since.
The book is clearly geared toward young audiences. The text is simple, but still includes some good vocabulary and syntax. It does simplify her life, but in a way that makes it much more accessible to younger kids. They get a sense of who Ida B. Wells was and what she accomplished without being bogged down in dates (in my experience these are totally meaningless to kids under 5 or 6) or timelines or tons of details. We’ve tried some biographies at home and not many have been chosen for a second read through (exceptions being this one, Jane Goodall, Misty Copeland and Trombone Shorty).
Personally, the name Ida B. Wells rang a bell, but I couldn’t have told you who exactly she was. The book clued me in and made me curious, though, and I started looking her up for my own edification. We did look up her Wikipedia article right after reading it the first time to get a little more information about her. I could see using the book in the classroom or library with a biography project. It’s perfect for getting a good overview and piquing interest.
The illustrations are charming with a happy smiling Ida B. Wells (her actual photographs make her look incredibly dour, like most photos from that era). I thought it was an interesting choice to show Ida and the other characters in more modern clothing and settings. At first I wasn’t sure about it, but I realized my daughter was connecting better with the characters on the page. I think this is one more piece that helps the book appeal and click with the younger target audience.
My one complaint is that the book is a thin paperback. It’s going to get lost on the shelf! To solve this I will be sure it will sit face out as long as possible, but hardcovers still tend to fair better. The books are not terribly expensive and the company has been running a deal with a buy-one-get-one for a the past month or so. There are a number of series of biographies that are geared toward young audiences (Ordinary People Change the World, for example) that are also very popular. If you have an extra $10 in your budget this is well worth adding. Plus it adds an important African American woman to our collections who doesn’t usually see elementary school library shelves (or high school for that matter).
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 13, Jan 2017 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: Tallulah the Tooth Fairy is not only the founder and CEO of the largest teeth collecting organization on the planet, Teeth Titans, Incorporated, she’s a clever and wildly successful business woman with an affinity for all things dental. A natural innovator and problem solver, Tallulah finds herself unexpectedly stumped when six year-old Ballard Burchell leaves a note instead of his tooth under his pillow. What’s a Tooth Fairy to do when there’s no tooth to take?
This book is amazing! It’s got great illustrations, excellent text, tons of humor that will appeal to both kids and the adults reading it to them, wonderful vocabulary and lots of details relating to teeth that are fun to spot, not to mention a good story.
I had originally bought the book for my daughter. She’s kind of into the idea of mythical people and creatures like Santa, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy despite the fact that we don’t actually celebrate them. Go figure. (Thanks, consumerism that markets those ideas so strongly to children.) I wanted to get it because look at her! Tallulah is amazing and a CEO!
I absolutely love that the story challenges the usual idea and imagery of the tooth fairy that shows her as white, blonde, and medieval. In fact, the story takes that head on. In the note written by Ballard, he has drawn the tooth fairy in that way despite being black himself. Tallulah reads the note and the first comment she makes is “that looks nothing like me”. She does comment in the next sentence that she isn’t that small, but between those lines is the unspoken fact that she is also clearly not white.
The text is longer, so unless you think your child or younger audience is motivated to listen, or is good at listening, I would recommend it for 1st through 3rd grade (my third grade class last year had a superb sense of humor and would have LOVED this book). The vocabulary is pretty sophisticated too. The vast majority of it makes perfect sense in context and shouldn’t cause a problem. It very much brought to mind William Steig, particularly Dr. DeSoto and Shrek and how he uses language.
The language also ties into the humor of the story. There are plenty of funny asides for parents and kids and the twist at the end is both a great message and satisfying. Do not miss the boardroom scene wherein Tallulah asks for advice about what to do with Ballard’s note. Her board is made up of all black women, except for one white dude, who is complaining about the lack of diversity and wearing an All Fairies Matter shirt. Hilarious nod to current events and again a subtle nod to defaulting the Tooth Fairy to white.
The illustrations appealed to me because of their clean modernity which made Tallulah seem all the more cool. The colors are bright without being garish or saccharine. The art appealed to my daughter because each picture has lots of tiny tooth details and invite long looks (I highly recommend flipping through the pictures before reading it through the first time because they are so captivating).
If you are looking for general books to add to your collection this is well worth it. Move it to the top of your list or gift it the next time a tooth falls out.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 11, Jan 2017 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: What do daddies do with their children? They style hair, they carpool, they cuddle (after they look under beds for monsters). They play, they motivate, and they comfort. Dads may sometimes wonder if they’re doing a good job. But one thing they’re sure of is that they love every moment with their children.
Generally, I liked this book. The pictures show a diverse set of families with a range of ages of children. Plus, it’s all dads doing things with their children, including things that are traditionally seen as female, like cooking and brushing hair.
The bright colors and bright pictures make this a really visually appealing book. I actually wish it was a board book edition, because it’s perfect for babies and toddlers to look at. They love to look at pictures of real people and especially at faces and this has plenty of those. It also challenges gender norms which you can’t do early enough with children.
My only issue with the book, and the reason I don’t think this is an absolute must in library collections, is that the text is rather sentimental. It strikes me as something that appeals more to parents than to kids. I didn’t mind the text, but my daughter was more interested in talking about the pictures than listening to me read the actual text. I could see reading this in a storytime and using it as a jumping off point for talking about what the dads are doing in the pictures and relating it back to the kids own dads and lives.
I would say it would make a great classroom purchase for preschools and daycares. I think it’s an as-funds-allow purchase for libraries that serve those populations as well as older kids. If your child at home is really into photographic books and bright colors then they will enjoy this one. And if they come out with a board book version I definitely think it’s a must for parents, classrooms and libraries with babies and toddlers.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 04, Jan 2017 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: Milo is excited about her class trip to the museum. The docent leads them on a tour and afterward Milo has time to look around on her own. But something doesn’t feel right, and Milo gradually realizes that the people from her community are missing from the museum. When her aunt urges her to find a solution, Milo takes matters into her own hands and opens her own museum!
It’s just a Zetta Elliott kind of week around here. Whatever she publishes, I buy it as soon as it’s available (or as soon as I find out about it) and you should too. Milo’s Museum is a book I wish I had had as a kid, because after seeing Milo create her own museum, I would have done the exact same thing. Milo does it for reasons that would not have been my own, but just the idea of curating your own collection was (and still kind of is!) incredibly enticing.
This book was interesting in light of reading the Tonya Bolden book about the building of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Milo doesn’t see herself in the local museum she visits on a field trip so she decides to create her own. That brought to mind part of the impetus behind the NMAA. As Milo walks around the museum she becomes increasingly uncomfortable. She isn’t quite sure why, but eventually realizes that she isn’t seeing herself or her community reflected in any of the art or artists.
I would highly recommend this for school libraries and classrooms. Be sure to read it before and/or after visiting a museum on a class field trip. I think it will certainly inspire kids of all ages to curate and create their own museums that reflect them and their communities. And I would encourage you to help your students do just that. Milo takes different people through her museum so you can see what she has chosen. She also gives explanations for why she has chosen objects. This provides a good model for helping students choose what they want in their own museum. I also think with older students you could open up a discussion about who decides what will go into a museum and how that unfairly tends to keeps certain artists and people out of them.
An all around inspiring and important book. As with Melena’s Jubilee, if you have the money this is a must to have on your shelves.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 03, Jan 2017 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: At breakfast she learns she has been given a “fresh start,” and she decides to celebrate by doing things differently for the rest of the day. Melena chooses not to fight with her brother, and shares the money she has rather than demanding to be repaid by a less fortunate friend. This story introduces children to the concept of jubilee, which stresses the important principles of debt relief, generosity, and forgiveness.
I will buy nearly any book that Zetta Elliott writes and publishes, my exception being YA because I work in an elementary library (but to be honest I buy those for myself to read). Everything she writes is excellent and the books are popular with our students. I chose this book in particular to be my first review of the year because of the turning-over-a-new-leaf theme that seemed so appropriate for a new year.
Melena’s Jubilee follows Melena through a day where she decides to have a fresh start. She wakes up feeling new and refreshed. The day before she had been in trouble, but today she wants to make things right and make good choices. She inadvertently and indirectly broke a vase of her mother’s and her mother offers to help her glue it back together. She decides to let her brother be instead of whacking him with a pillow. She forgives money owed to her by a friend and she shares her ice cream with her neighborhood friends.
As far as a book to read in the classroom, both the idea of forgiveness and making better choices are concepts we focus on and I think the story will really resonate with some discussion. The idea of starting over also really appeals to me as an educator for helping children move on from bad days. They happen to everyone, but that doesn’t mean they have to hang over us. As a parent I also like these ideas and have talked about them with my daughter when she or I have had a rough day. I originally ordered the book for my library, but after reading it to my daughter she asked for her own copy. Something about the illustrations and the story really clicked for her. This was the first book in a couple months that she has requested I buy.
I hate to say this, but Boyd’s illustrations are bright and rainbow-hued which is like catnip to children. Shallow, but true. The illustrations are beautiful, though and the brightness celebrates the message of the book. The various types of prints and papers used really makes them interesting to pore over. While Elliott’s story is beautiful by itself and has a message without hitting you over the head with it, I think the two together make this a great book. I’m pretty sure the rainbow at the end sealed the deal for my daughter.
If you have money in your budget, be sure to purchase this one. It will find many appreciative readers, from parents to teachers to students.