By Elizabeth Wroten
On 13, Dec 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: Once a month, when the moon is full, twenty-nine of the meanest, scariest, ugliest, wickedest witches that ever lived come out of their cave to terrify the villagers . . . until one day the wise rabbi invents a plan to rid his village of those wicked witches forever. The rabbi’s clever plan works with hilarious results!
In addition to working on getting visible/racial diversity into our library collection, I am also working on other forms of diversity including disability, family structure and, as is the case with this book, religious diversity. We used to have a lot of Jewish students in our school when I was a student there, but those numbers seem to have dropped somewhat. I don’t really know why, although I think it isn’t so much that there are fewer Jewish kids, just that we have more students snd from more diverse backgrounds so the percentage has dropped. Whatever the case, we are woefully low on books featuring Jewish families and children and, in comparison with Christian holidays, Jewish festivals and holidays. I would be happy if we never bought another Christmas book again.
As evidenced by the title The Rabbi and the Twenty-Nine Witches is a story about a little Jewish town. Every full moon the town is plagued by twenty nine witches that fly around shrieking, frightening the animals, and terrorizing people’s dreams. No on in the town has ever been able to go out and look at the full moon because of the witches. One day, though, an old woman speaks to the rabbi. She wants to be able to see the full moon before she dies so the rabbi comes up with a plan to get rid of the witches. I won’t spoil the plot twist, because even I didn’t see it coming, but he very cleverly finds a way to rid the town of the witches forever. I was reminded of Hershel and the Hanukah Goblins in the trick the rabbi uses, so if you like that kind of cleverness this is well worth looking into.
I was really fortunate in that I found this for a dollar at our local Goodwill!! There were a number of other Jewish books that I was able to snag including Latkes, Latkes Good to Eat (one of my favorites to read at this time of year). Unfortunately it looks like this one is out of print, but if you can find it used for a few dollars it’s well worth adding to your collection. It would be a fun read around Halloween because of the witches or you could tie it in with a moon study because of the full moon. Because it’s out of print I won’t say it’s an absolute necessity, but if you can get it I recommend it. While it features a clearly Jewish town it does not focus on either a holiday or being overtly Jewish. It’s a nice backdrop to the story, like we so often see for Christian stories.
I think this particular books is best for that first-through-third grade range. There is some disagreement in our library on whether or not younger library patrons (i.e. Kindergarteners) can handle books with creepy characters like goblins and witches. The witches are described as scary and mean, but they don’t look particularly mean and they get their comeuppance in the end. My own five year old daughter (the perpetual tester, poor thing) enjoyed the story very much. Your mileage may vary with library patrons, students and children. The book also has a fair amount of text which requires some sitting still and listening. Again, mileage will vary. Finally, the illustrations are black, white, grey and light blue. They’re certainly engaging with lots to look at, but they aren’t bright and colorful. I think the palette enhances and emphasizes the moonlight that the villagers really want to see and enjoy, but it also makes looking at it a little less engaging for younger audiences. Again, mileage will vary and this is why I suggest first through third graders instead of younger audiences.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 07, Dec 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: Berry Gordy began Motown in 1959 with an $800 loan from his family. He converted the garage of a residential house into a studio and recruited teenagers from the neighborhood-like Smokey Robinson, Mary Wells, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and Diana Ross-to sing for his new label. Meanwhile, the country was on the brink of a cultural revolution, and one of the most powerful agents of change in the following decade would be this group of young black performers from urban Detroit. From Berry Gordy and his remarkable vision to the Civil Rights movement, from the behind-the-scenes musicians, choreographers, and song writers to the most famous recording artists of the century, Andrea Davis Pinkney takes readers on a Rhythm Ride through the story of Motown.
I love this book as a whole package. It’s square like a vinyl record and the cover looks like an old album cover with the font and lines. The woman on the cover is made with words that pertain to Motown and Hitsville and it looks really neat. I also love the color palette. Inside the page numbers are written on little records and the chapter titles use that same clean font you see on the front.
As far as the actual text, I’m lukewarm. It was incredibly fascinating the history and story presented and I was very engrossed in that. But Pinkney frames it as the story being told by “the groove” and the groove talks to a “child” as they drive along following the story. That narration comes with some extra text that introduces each chapter and also some stuff embedded in the chapters, like “Whenever it was time to perform, he had more than butterflies in his stomach. He was plagued with big-winged bats who had a flapping party in Marvin’s belly every time he was about to go onstage.” I can’t decide if kids will appreciate that and feel like it helps them understand the text and information more or if it’s just distracting and forced. Personally, it wasn’t my thing, but I also know kids have a hard time with dry straight facts so I think it might actually draw younger readers in. All in all, the story of Motown is incredible and an appendix lists songs young readers can look up and listen to (I highly recommend librarians and parents suggest they do this as they read!!). Only a handful of songs will be familiar to kids these days (and get off my lawn!).
So, we have this in our collection, a collection for pre-k through fifth grade. It’s definitely shelved in the more difficult nonfiction section. The book isn’t overly long and the chapters are mostly short, but it’s still a fair amount of text. It would be a handful of my fifth graders that could read this on their own. I’m of the mind, however, that we should be filling our shelves with high quality nonfiction that looks interesting, covers a range of topics, and will invite kids to at least flip through the books.I see it as the type of book you might hand to an open-minded kid who is willing to try any book you say is interesting or one who simply likes nonfiction and is open to just about any topic. In other words, I can certainly hand sell this one. I also think this is the kind of book that will appeal to a few special kids who are really interested in music and/or Motown and/or African American cultural history. Those kind of kids are also going to be motivated enough by interest that they’ll find ways to read the book despite a higher reading level. The book should certainly be on any middle school library (and even high school, those kids have less time to read for pleasure so give them some manageable stuff!) shelf where there is a music collection and it will definitely add to a nonfiction section in need of something interesting.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 30, Nov 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: From the time she was two years old, Jazz knew that she had a girl’s brain in a boy’s body. She loved pink and dressing up as a mermaid and didn’t feel like herself in boys’ clothing. This confused her family, until they took her to a doctor who said that Jazz was transgender and that she was born that way. Jazz’s story is based on her real-life experience and she tells it in a simple, clear way that will be appreciated by picture book readers, their parents, and teachers.
So this book needs to be in everyone’s collection. There aren’t very many books about transgender kids or gender non-conforming kids, but those kids are out there and it’s important for them to be reflected in our collections.
The book itself is well written and clear. It isn’t particularly text-heavy, but does have more information in the back of the book including some pictures of Jazz both before and after. I think the text could be helpful both for children who are confused by the feelings they may have and for parents who are also confused and scared. The illustrations are lovely and soft and inviting and really add to the quality of the book.
To be sure the this is an issue book. It follows Jazz Jennings as a young child through her struggle to understand why she wasn’t born female and her family’s struggle to understand as well. It’s all incredibly upbeat, which I think is appropriate for the intended audience. I would love to see books where transgender kids are just par for the course, but these books will strengthen our collections. Both types of books will play a role in making our collections windows and mirrors for all out students, children, and families.
As a side note, I’m seeing nearly all these picture books that focus on what could be transgender kids center around boys who are transgender or feminine. Like Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress or One of a Kind Like Me. Most of these books feature boys who like to wear girls clothing, an interest that is not necessarily gay or transgender, but more to the point where are the girls who are transgender? I wonder if this is in part that girls being more boy-like (i.e. tomboy) is more acceptable and we just haven’t seen as much of a need to write about them yet? (Which isn’t to say those books aren’t needed. They are.) Or if that’s just a harder thing to show in picture books? I would like to see some more books that feature girls, though.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 28, Nov 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: Just savor these bouquets of babies—cocoa-brown, cinnamon, peaches and cream. As they grow, their clever skin does too, enjoying hugs and tickles, protecting them inside and out, and making them one of a kind. Fran Manushkin’s rollicking text and Lauren Tobia’s delicious illustrations paint a breezy and irresistible picture of the human family—and how wonderful it is to be just who you are.
This would be the perfect book to pair with Shades of People and it’s geared toward that age of audience (pre-school and below). It’s also a great starting off point for talking about how we all look different. While there isn’t exactly a plot to the story, the illustrations seem to tie the text to something like one. The loose plot of the illustrations follows a biracial family around their city as they encounter other people. The families shown in the book are a mix of colors, religions, parents, and abilities (as you can probably tell from the cover).
This is definitely the type of book we want on our shelves as it obviously celebrates the diversity we see in people and families. It reminds me a lot of concept book in both it’s plot and subject matter. For that reason I think it would make an excellent addition to storytimes.
The joyful and fun illustrations and gentle text will certainly hold an audience, but it might not make this a book kids are clamoring to check out. My own daughter really enjoyed reading it, but never picked it up on her own to have me read it again. Bear that in mind when thinking about purchasing the book.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 23, Nov 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: Freckleface and her best friend, Windy Pants Patrick, each have something secret in their backpacks: sticky, gooey gum and a squished, messy donut. When it comes time to pull their homework from their backpacks to hand in to the teacher, suddenly their snack choices seem like a really bad idea.
From Goodreads: Everyone’s favorite red-haired seven-year-old has a loose tooth! And if it comes out at school, she gets a special prize from the nurse. But what if it doesn’t budge before the bell rings? Kids who are at the stage of wiggly teeth will laugh along as they read this light and funny story about Freckleface’s pursuit of the ultimate loose-tooth prize.
So this is a cute little series. It’s a good addition to the actually-easy, easy readers (although it still requires some reading skill and knowledge of sight words). I read the above two titles and one other in the series, but know that neither is the first in the series. I have not read the first book so I cannot speak to how hard/easy it is in terms of reading ability. My hold at the library was cancelled, but it looks like it might be a bit harder than these. It is not part of any of the easy reader series and the trim size makes it look more like a beginning chapter book than easy reader. While all the books appear to be numbered on Goodreads, they did not need to be read in order. They made perfect sense being read out of order and with gaps (I read 4, 5, and 6 but not in order).
The reason I picked these up to see about purchasing them is that Freckleface’s best bud, Windy Pants Patrick, has two moms and it isn’t a big deal. Unfortunately, they do not make appearances in Loose Tooth! or Lunch or What’s That? (the other I read) only Backpacks! Now, they could appear in others and I’m hoping they do, but what I loved best is they were shown right alongside Freckleface’s hetero family and it isn’t even really something of note. It’s just a stated fact, naturally part of the text, and the reader moves on. Perfect. This is exactly the kind of representation that I am looking for and am struggling to find. These aren’t gay-family issue books, they’re messy-kid and loose-tooth issue books.
All in all, the books are cute and funny. I wish we saw Windy Pants’ moms in more books (and they may appear in others, I’ll be checking before buying). The author and characters are white and I don’t especially need more of those books, but the illustrator is a woman of color (Vietnamese-American) and if Windy Pants’ moms make an appearance those particular titles are worth it to me.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 21, Nov 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: After Lester is adopted by Daddy Albert and Daddy Rich, he develops a big problem—he can’t fall asleep. Night after night he creeps into his parents’ room and attempts to crawl in between his two daddies, confident that if he’s with them and their dog, Wincka, nothing bad will happen to him ever again. But every night, Lester’s new dads walk him back to his own room, hoping that eventually Lester will get used to the new house and his new family and feel as though he belongs. They buy him a bike and take him for ice cream. They make cocoa and introduce him to his cousins. But no matter how happy Lester seems during the day, he still gets scared and worried at night! It’s the sweet dog Wincka who finally solves the problem when she climbs into Lester’s bed and promptly falls asleep, serving as both his pillow and his protector. Lester feels home at last.
While from the cover you might think this is a story about a family with two dads, it’s actually a story about adoption. Lester has been living in a children’s home for over a year when he is finally adopted by a family. It just so happens that this family is made up of two dads.
And while the story is about Lester’s struggles with adapting to a new home and a new life while still dealing with the trauma of his earlier life, it’s also just a story about a kid who is afraid of the dark and ends up in his parents’ room every night. As nice as it is for kids to see new situations reflected in their books, this book presents a familiar situation for families with small kids.
I will say the story wanders a bit and could have focused a little more sharply. There is a point where I always think the book is over and then there are a couple more pages. It also has an odd timeline that when reading feels like it stretches over months, but appears to only cover a few weeks at most. To me it felt like it could have used a bit more editing. The text is long, however my own five year old is totally engaged with the story and has asked to read it over and over.
The amazing thing is that this is NOT a book about a family with two dads. It’s a story about adoption and the issues the family faces as parents with an adopted child. Lester is adopted by two dads, but that is just par for the course. There is zero commentary about that and that is such a beautiful thing. In fact there are even a couple illustrated spreads that show the two dads in bed together. I’m sure more prudish and conservative readers will find this scandalous. And in one of those spreads Lester talks about wanting to snuggle up between his two dads to feel safe. I know that will really send some (parent) readers over the edge. But it’s no different than other books I have read showing children snuggled between their heterosexual parents.
I think this is an important book to have on library shelves. It’s there for kids with two dads and adopted children to reflect their lives and it’s there for kids who live with biological, heterosexual parents who will see their peers reflected and come away with a new sense of empathy. It’s there for all kids who have struggled with nighttime fears and loneliness. All in all the sweet story and importance of showing a family with two dads where it isn’t a big deal far outweighs any complaints about it.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 16, Nov 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: Buzz Beaker keeps oversleeping. He misses the school bus. He wears his pajamas to school. He knows he can’t be late again, so he finds a way to win the race to school!
From Goodreads: Buzz is excited when a toy store owner hires him to sell science kits at her store. After trying a few different sales tactics, Buzz finds a hit with a science show with goo, but then he faces a new problem. The goo won’t stop growing! What will he do with all that goo?
These were the perfect little easy readers. They feature Buzz Beaker, a kid of color and a scientist. The books are also humorous In The Race to School, Buzz ends up at school in his PJs. In The Growing Goo, Buzz entices customers to buy science kits at the toy store by showing off some goo that ends up getting out of hand. A funny punch line at the end will make readers think and laugh as they get the joke. I cannot stress how much we need humorous books on our library shelves. They are what kids want and yet it seems they aren’t what is there. Many of our easy readers seem so serious! Not depressing or sad, but serious. And the ones that are funny seem to have a pretty sophisticated sense of humor (Owl At Home I’m looking at you).
The focus isn’t really on the actual science Buzz is doing. He’s presented as enjoying science, so much so that he is constantly late for school and wants to help sell the science kits at the toy store, but he never talks about his experiments or gets into jargon. I think this keeps these easy readers from getting bogged down in difficult vocabulary and concepts, so to my mind it isn’t a problem. Your diehard nonfiction fans might not buy into it or might give one or two a try. On the other hand, they might really relate to Buzz and his mishaps and inventions and get into them. Either way they should end up on your shelves if they can.
I know Ada Twist is a girl scientist, but for the kids who like her I would recommend these books to read by themselves. As I’ve said my library desperately needs to add more diversity to the easy reader collection. I also feel like libraries can’t have too many easy readers. They’re short reads even if kids are just learning so they need lots of books in that easy reader range to practice with. These are on the lower end, but feel more sophisticated, which seems to be a rare combination. Buzz Beaker is a fantastic option to add to your collection.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 14, Nov 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: When eight-year-old Irene is removed from her First Nations family to live in a residential school she is confused, frightened, and terribly homesick. She tries to remember who she is and where she came from, despite the efforts of the nuns who are in charge at the school and who tell her that she is not to use her own name but instead use the number they have assigned to her. When she goes home for summer holidays, Irene’s parents decide never to send her and her brothers away again. But where will they hide? And what will happen when her parents disobey the law?
This was the book I read to my daughter the day after the election. I decided it was important for her to start learning the history of how Native Nations have been treated over the years. It isn’t necessarily a new conversation with her, but I think this was one of the most real. Her newest thing is to ask, is this a true story? And this one is.
I can’t say the book is a beautiful story, but it is a beautiful book. It tackles a dark and difficult topic. Irene and two of her brothers are sent off by the local official to the residential school. They last one year and upon returning home for the summer spill the atrocities that they have encountered. Their father comes up with a plan, stands up to the government official, and manages to prevent them from having to go back. Many were not so lucky. A personal and informative author’s note at the end adds a little more detail to the story.
The illustrations fit this beautifully. The sombre color palette and the simple, clean settings perfectly reflect both the mood and place of the book. The nuns are creepily white as I’m sure they probably seemed in their dour habits.
This is a long picture book. Many pages are full of text with a picture on the facing page. I do think it’s intended for a slightly older audience and I think you could use it as a read aloud well up into middle school. But I will say my five year old sat through it with no complaints. The story was captivatingly told.
I can’t stress the importance of having these books in your library collection enough. They reflect accurately the experiences of many Native families and the history of many Native peoples (not just the ones in Canada). They can start conversations, albeit hard ones for us white teachers and parents, around the deep seated racism in our country and how that has played out over the years. They can also ensure that children are being exposed to this history. It is unlikely that most schools are teaching about this in any classroom, even in high schools. If you work in a middle or high school library I recommend putting this on your shelf, but if you can’t or won’t put a picture book out, get Fatty Legs and promote that.
I had a private school education and as an adult I find myself asking what the hell my parents paid for. I learned nothing. Nothing. Ignoring the difficult parts of history and literature, I still learned nothing. Make sure that doesn’t happen to your students.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 07, Nov 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: Mo Jackson is a small boy with a big passion for sports. He may not be the biggest, the fastest, or the strongest kid on the team, but he won’t let that stop him from playing!
I would call this a cute story. Mo is the youngest and smallest on his baseball team. He’s kind of bummed because he always bats last and he always plays right field. He is also pretty terrible at bat. Through the course of the game he thinks about how to bat well enough to get a hit. He also thinks he wants to get a home run. In the last inning and after two strikes Mo turns to hear what his coach is yelling and accidentally gets a hit. It’s not a great hit, certainly not a home run, but Mo gets to second base and bats in two other runners, winning the game. Mo realizes home runs are nice, but not necessary to win.
I loved that the crowd and players on the team were diverse. There are girls and boys and various skin tones. Mo himself, as you can see on the cover, looks African American. I particularly like that. It seems that usually these books feature a white main character and you see the diversity in the background.
The reading level is fairly low which is just right for those emerging readers (but not very beginning readers). I think I have first graders and some low second grade readers who would be confident reading this. There are a handful of sight words and a few more advanced spelling patterns, but otherwise it’s totally manageable.
My only complaint is that it’s baseball. We really don’t have any kids that play baseball right now (okay, maybe one or two?). I suppose they may enjoy reading about baseball even if they don’t play it, but it seems to be our basketball and soccer books that check out more regularly. Regardless, I’ll be purchasing a copy of this one for the easy reader collection. I would recommend it if you are looking to add diversity to that collection too, or if you need some easier readers or if you want a sports themed book.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 27, Oct 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: Andy is small. Sandy is tall. Andy is quiet. Sandy is LOUD. But when these two seemingly opposites meet at a playground one day, it might just be the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Written in simple words and short, declarative sentences, this book is perfect for little ones just learning to read on their own.
So my own daughter just started reading a week or so ago. She’s been asking about letter sounds and sounding out words for a few months, but she really started putting it together about a week ago. And this has given me a huge new appreciation and perspective on easy readers.
When Andy Met Sandy is a really sweet friendship story between two little kids. They both arrive at the playground where one is new and the other is familiar with it. The see each other and dance around playing with one another because they are both a bit shy and afraid of asking the other to play. They visit different structures that can be played on by individual kids, but eventually end up at the seesaw. Since they both want to play on it they have to ask the other to join. Once they do, they realize they both wanted to play with each other and can have a lot of fun together.
As an introvert and kid who didn’t always want to join in with other kids, I appreciated that the story doesn’t have them miserable and not having fun when playing alone. They do realize they can have fun together, but it isn’t set up as bad that they played alone and worked up the courage to talk to the other child.
Andy is clearly not white, but it isn’t stated or obvious what he is. He has no last name, no parents in sight, and doesn’t speak in another language. It isn’t necessary to have it made clear and I think allows non white kids to read their own identity into Andy’s. I am looking for books that have diversity in them and this certainly fits the bill there.
Finally, the actual reading level. The text is easy. “I am Sandy.” and “I am Andy.” are the first two sentences, but they get a bit more complicated. Easy readers are supposedly designed to be read by an emerging reader, but I find many if not most of them are only for those with a fairly decent working ability to actually read. Children like my daughter who are just learning to read need a lot more predictability in the word/letter sounds (i.e. more short vowel sounds and short words, fewer digraphs and consonant blends). When Andy Met Sandy has some vocabulary that a new reader could sound out (phonetic) and use the pictures to help them figure out more difficult words. But, there is a fair amount of vocabulary that would have to be in a child’s sight word vocabulary (words like through, could, climb, yourself, etc.) or would require an adult sitting next to the child to help tackle those words. Some of them would also require a knowledge, either explicit or internalized, of long vowel patterns.
This is on the easier end of what I have in my library collection, but it still requires some ability to read. I do need books like that because they are few and far between in our actual collection (our classroom libraries have a lot more targeted and leveled books that help develop reading skill). Andy’s ethnicity and the sweet story also make this an excellent addition to any easy reader collection.