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Kidlit

10

Sep
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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07

Sep
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book: Ilyas and Duck Search for Allah by Omar Khawaja

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

Ilyas and DuckIlyas and Duck Search for Allah written by Omar Khawaja, illustrated by Leo Antolini

From Goodreads: Ilyas and Duck search for Allah is an adorable storybook for kids about a boy’s quest to find God. “Where is God?” is a question that any muslim parent teaching their kids will one day have to answer. This book helps parents answer that question from an Islamic perspective while conveying the profound mystery of it all in a fun way. In this story, lovable Ilyas pairs up with Duck to ask the one question repeatedly in different scenarios. With whimsical and poetic replies, Ilyas slowly begins to realize what his question truly means. 

This was a beautiful book gifted to us by some friends. I saw it at their house and was amazed at how simply and beautifully it took a very deep and complex idea and distilled it down into something children can easily understand without taking away the majesty of the concept. Plus the illustrations are adorable.

Ilyas and Duck wonder exactly where they can find God and they head out on a rather silly search. In every place they look the pair encounters an animal who clearly knows, but is rather cryptic about answering their question. Slowly, Ilyas comes to realize that God is all around, reflected back in the places and things they meet, and not person to be found in one place.

Children will really appreciate this book for not speaking down to them. It merely puts the idea of God into a form they can grasp. They’ll be drawn in and kept entertained by the silliness of the hunt, especially once they’ve read through it once and heard the punchline (so to speak). The pictures, with darling little Ilyas and cute Duck, will also keep them interested in turning the pages and returning to them.

You should definitely include this in your collection if one of two things is true for your library or classroom. One, if you have Muslim children or families that you serve. This book is written for them to help families explain a complex and abstract concept that is fundamental to monotheistic religions, but can be incredibly difficult for children to grasp. Two, if you have Christian themed books on your shelf. Now be aware these books can be subtle and you may have a blindspot for them in you were raised Christian or are white. Remember, although highly commercialized and nationalized respectively, Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day are Christian holidays. Chances are good you have books that take a Christian perspective, so balance that out by having books available for your non-Christian families to use.

I’ll admit school libraries may have a harder time making the case to add this kind of book to their collection, but I think it’s also important to point out that while the book uses the Arabic word for God, it doesn’t feel exclusive to Islam. If you have families wanting to explain the concept of God or god or a higher power this book does a phenomenal job of doing just that. The book is probably meant for younger preschool/Kindergarten age kids, but I think because it does such an incredibly job explaining a difficult subject you should consider it for collections that serve older students and children as well, say up into third grade.

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03

Sep
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Rerun: Rumplepimple by Suzanne DeWitt Hall

On 03, Sep 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

RumplepimpleRumplepimple written by Suzanne DeWitt Hall, illustrated by Kevin Scott Gierman

From Goodreads: Life isn’t easy when your big sister is an annoying cat and your moms can’t understand a word you say. But that doesn’t stop Rumplepimple from saving the day in a most unusual way. Find out how a car ride transforms a naughty terrier into a grocery store hero.

I bought this earlier in the year to put in my Read-T0-A-Dog basket in the library. I bought my own copy a week or two ago and my daughter has been asking to read it frequenly ever since.

I love that this book has a lot to talk about in it. The most obvious is how Rumplepimple stands up to a bully. When a little boy has snatched his sister’s blanket from her in the grocery store, Rumplepimple hears her cry and rushes in to give the blanket back. When I read this with my daughter we talked about how Rumplepimple saved the day and did a good thing by intervening when something wrong was happening.

Of course this is not what his mom sees. After he slips out the car door and rushes into the store he loses his mom. She ultimately finds him peering in the meat department case licking his lips and assumes he has been up to no good. This is also a great conversation starter about doing the right thing even when no one is looking and even if you don’t get recognized for it. It can also lead to discussing doing the right thing even if you get in trouble for it.

While all this is well and good, my daughter and students loved it because Rumplepimple is a cute dog. The story sounds like the thoughts that go through a dog’s head and are quite funny. Or at least what I imagine does. :) I love the nod to The Farside comics with the “Blah, blah, blah, Rumplepimple” line when he’s being scolded in the car after being recaptured.

I have a few design issues, but they’re minor and neither my students nor my daughter noticed them. I wish more of the illustrations filled the page instead of the spot illustrations. There’s a lot of white space in the book and it feels sparse. I think it could have been a couple pages shorter too, but again it’s all minor.

If you want a cute dog story (don’t all kids?), then this book is well worth adding to your collection. It’s paperback so get the book tape out. Rumplepimple has two moms and, while their relationship is not specified, I think it’s implied that they are in a relationship. This is a great book to get some incidental diversity into your storytimes and collections!

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31

Aug
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Chapter Book: The Hijab Boutique by Michelle Kahn

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

Hijab BoutiqueThe Hijab Boutique written by Michelle Kahn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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29

Aug
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Rerun: A Hand to Hold by Zetta Elliott

On 29, Aug 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Hand to HoldA Hand to Hold written by Zetta Elliott, illustrated by Purple Wong

From Goodreads: Can you hold onto someone with your heart instead of your hand? When it’s time to start school, a little girl must let go of her father’s hand in order to reach out and grab hold of something new.

THANKS A LOT, ZETTA ELLIOTT. I AM NOW WEEPING INTO MY COFFEE CUP. You pretty much nailed what it’s like trying to take my daughter anywhere. And what I hope she will be able to do when she sees another child having a hard time, too. Add to that the special relationship fathers and daughters can have. I can’t even.

A little girl goes all sorts of places holding her father’s hand- the library, crossing the street, etc. It’s a comforting gesture that makes her feel safe and protected. But one day she finds herself holding his hand at school and he’s telling her it’s time to let go. He’ll be back later and that is HARD. He explains that although they are not holding hands, she can hold him in her heart until he returns. Still the little girl is scared and upset until the teacher brings over another little girl who is having an equally hard time. Just then the little girl knows just what to do. She grabs the other girl’s hand, says a few comforting words, and the two head off to play together as dad slips out the door.

Although the book packs an emotional punch that gets at  how hard it is for many kids to separate from their parents (and speaks to the parent who has mixed emotions about that step their child is taking away from them), it never feels saccharine. Yes, even despite my misty (okay, teary!) eyes. It reminds me of The Kissing Hand which I find just too sappy. I don’t know why, but I do. With the twist of the little girl helping another girl, a new friend, feel better the story feels more genuine and less about separating from the father and more about the girl finding her way into the world.

Every library who serves young children needs this book. Particularly school libraries. We always, always, always have a few kids each year that have a hard time saying goodbye to mom or dad. Ones who are a little bit scared and just need a little push in the right direction. Talk about a perfect book for story time in those first few days of school.

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15

Aug
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Rerun: Mikis and the Donkey by Bibi Dumon Tak

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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10

Aug
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Dear Queens by Nastashia Roach

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

Dear QueensDear Queens written by Nastashia Roach, illustrated by Adua Hernandez

From Goodreads: A rhyming children’s poem book for little girls to uplift and encourage them to be great despite their insecurities. Author Nastashia Roach encourages children everywhere to recognize their own beauty – inside and out.

I’m seeing a trend in picture books. Positive, uplifting books that affirm how beautiful, whole, and worthy kids of color are. Admittedly I’m seeing more of them in the self published/small press market more than from major publishers, but even they’re jumping on the affirmation bandwagon.

I know from raising two white children and having looked back at my own childhood, books that make white kids feel worthy are a dime a dozen. The sheer quantity of books that feature white children points to the value society places on them and on their whiteness. But what about kids of color? Where are their mirrors? Where is the value that society places on them?  (Hint: look at all the news stories of black and brown children being killed by law enforcement or separated from their families at the border.) Quite frankly the publishing industry has some reparations to make to those kids (and other aspects of diversity that are lacking in traditional publishing). I wish that the traditional publishing industry would step up on being inclusive both in terms of what they publish and who they publish, but until then it’s up to small presses and self publishing to fill the gap. Thank goodness for companies like Melanin Origins who sees this need and is stepping up to produce content that is so desperately needed.

Dear Queens is a stand out title in the trend of uplifting books. One of the best aspects of this book is its ability to function either as a picture book or an easy reader. The text is simple and short and rhymed making it easy for new readers to tackle on their own or with a little help. The trim size of the book makes it fit perfectly alongside your Mo Willems’ Piggy and Elephant books. The fact that the text is not repetitive or stilted makes it a good read aloud at bedtime or storytime and it will leave kids feeling all fuzzy and warm inside.

I am in love with the rainbow hues of the illustrations. It’s all cotton candy, sunshine, and frills. Not what I would normally go for, but it’s so inviting, especially for the target demographic- little girls. My daughter picked it up just as I set it down out of the package freshly delivered by our mailman. She’s not overly girly in her tastes, either, so it appeals even to girls who don’t normally go for princesses and pink.

As parents, librarians, and teachers we need to recognize that traditional publishing is failing many of our kids. We need to seek out the books that fill the gap and ensure that we have positive, multifaceted, and affirming representation on our shelves. And we need it in our picture books, in our easy readers, in our chapter books, and in our nonfiction sections. Be sure to add this delicious confection of a book to your shelves for those princess girls who aren’t used to seeing themselves there.

Disclosure: I was sent a review copy by the publisher, Melanin Origins, in exchange for an honest review.

Purchase the book here (not affiliate links):

On IndieBound: paperback and hardback

On Amazon as an ebook.

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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08

Aug
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Rerun: Wild Berries written and illustrated by Julie Flett

On 08, Aug 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Wild BerriesWild Berries written and illustrated by Julie Flett

From Goodreads: Spend the day picking wild blueberries with Clarence and his grandmother. Meet ant, spider, and fox in a beautiful woodland landscape, the ancestral home of author and illustrator Julie Flett. This book is written in both English and Cree, in particular the n-dialect, also known as Swampy Cree from the Cumberland House area.

Wild Berries is such a charming story about a little boy and his grandmother going out to collect blueberries. The two enjoy nature, each other’s company, and of course blueberries. Grandma likes soft sweet ones, while Clarence likes large sour ones.

Flett’s illustrations have this very modern quality to them that is just beautiful. They are simple but not simplistic and there is always plenty to look at. I love her use of a muted, natural palette. It fits well with the wild berry picking story. She also employs textures very effectively. They seem to draw your eye around the page and to important details.

The typography in the book is also incredibly stunning. It stuck out to me in a way few other books have. Certain key words are pulled out of the text and placed on their own line in a more fanciful font. This is then echoed with the word written in the Swampy Cree dialect in the same font, but this time in red. (There is a very interesting note at the beginning and end about the Cree dialect used in the book.)

The book is, at least to American audiences, akin to Blueberries for Sal and if you are looking for diverse books to incorporate into your curriculum you could certainly use this one in place of Blueberries or in tandem with it. I would recommend this to parents looking to diversify their bookshelves too. Make space in your budget and on your shelves for this one.

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06

Aug
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Rerun: Petra by Ellie Ann

On 06, Aug 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

PetraPetra written by Ellie Ann, illustrated by Courtney Hicks

From the publisher: Petra’s the best archer in the world. They shoot high, they shoot low, and hit whatever they aim for. One day, soldiers come and offer them gold if they’ll do a hard job. Should Petra take it? This book is about using your skills for good, and features a non-gendered protagonist.

This another one of the three Castor Tales that I got and I like it as much as I like Rook. Petra is a talented archer who is approached one day by a group of men who want Petra to shoot a man. They try to justify the murder by saying the man is bad and Petra is a good girl. Petra responds with “I am no girl! I am no boy! I am Petra!” There are two important things going on here. First is the message of standing up to people trying to coerce you into making bad choices. I am not fond of books with a Message or moral, but I think it’s subtle enough here and empowering. That empowerment I think comes from the second thing going on in the story, the fact that Petra both declares that they are only Petra, neither boy nor girl. Petra’s power and strength come from being uniquely Petra. I am not positive, but I hope this story allows children who may be struggling to fit into gender norms a strong character to identify with.

It’s also empowering for children to see that Petra, a fellow child, is brave enough to stand up to adults who want to do something bad. It can be really difficult for children to stand up to older children and adults in order to follow their moral compass. So often we teach them to submit to authority without question. Petra gives kids a good example of someone being true to themselves and not being afraid to speak up and reject the authority figures.

Petra is then approached by another set of people who want help. At first Petra is frustrated thinking they want another murder, but it turns out they need help healing the sick moon. Petra is glad to help with that task and saves the day.

The art is very different from Rook. It’s a lot wispier and softer with a celestial feel that suits Petra’s ultimate task of helping the moon. It also gives the clothing and hair a lot of movement and makes the faces expressive. As with RookPetra is very simple and would be a great addition to classrooms and libraries with emerging readers. These books are not first readers, but they’re close. Nearly all the words are either simple to sound out or come from a list of first sight words.  They range from 5-20 words per page and when that count is on the upper end of the range most of the words are repeated. For example: “I shoot the sea. I can even shoot the moon! Boom! But I do not. I do not want to hurt the moon.” So just to be clear readers will have to know or be ready for some simple sight words plus have some skills to sound out a word or two.

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03

Aug
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: One Good Turtle by Stefan Michel Burns

On 03, Aug 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

One Good TurtleOne Good Turtle written by Stefan Michel Burns, illustrated by Stephanie Fliss

From Goodreads: Turtle hides while Alligator lashes out. What insecurities are they dealing with, and what lessons can Turtle and Alligator learn in order to face and conquer their fears? In this inspiring story about a shy turtle and a frightening alligator, the complex issue of bullying is addressed in an easy-to-understand manner for kids and adults alike.

I recently came across One Good Turtle through a friend of mine who knows the author. I am really glad I bought a copy of the book. This is a great resource for teachers, librarians, and parents alike that want good resources for discussing and taking on bullying they see at school and on the playground.

Turtle and his friends are being targeted by Alligator before and after school. He follows them around looking for opportunities to scare, intimidate, and harass them. A few of the animals have defenses that deter Alligator, but many of them, Turtle included, are vulnerable. One day, though, the bullying takes a turn and becomes particularly intense. At this point Turtle makes a quick decision to puff himself up and strike back at Alligator, defending himself and his frightened friends.

The story itself is pretty textbook for bullying behavior and how it escalates, but that’s fine. Kids need to learn to identify it when it’s happening and educators and parents can use this as a jumping off point for discussing the nuance of bullying. It also has a happy ending where everyone’s needs are met, including Alligator. While this may or may not happen in real-life bullying situations, I think it’s important to show the ideal way for resolving these situations. Alligator had needs that were clearly not being met and it’s very heart warming to see him get the help and encouragement he needed. I think it also speaks to restorative justice and how punitive measures only perpetuate the problem. The book doesn’t go into that, but the resolution does show an outcome that you might expect in a restorative justice environment.

I think the book does a really good job with two aspects of bullying you don’t always see addressed. The first is that Alligator is given some backstory, a backstory that shows why he has made poor behavior choices. It doesn’t excuse those choices, but you get a sense that when bullies lash out, it comes from a place of pain (emotional or physical). It’s important that children (and grown ups too) understand this and learn to be empathetic, even while holding bullies accountable for their choices. The second is that it shows how bullying is systematic and targeted. Sometimes kids are just poops. Sometimes they’re poops on several occasions. But bullying is something that targets one particular kid or a few, takes place over a long period of time, and involves a power dynamic (physical, social, or both). It’s a distinction that isn’t always made. We should absolutely be encouraging kids to stand up to any type of unkind behavior, but we should also be particularly aware of how bullying is systematic and prolonged.

One Good Turtle is designed to tackle a specific issue and that issue is front and center in the story. There is so much value in books that have messages and teach lessons, tackling them with nuance. They are the perfect opportunity to open conversations between teachers and students and parents and children. As social emotional learning is becoming a popular topic in schools One Good Turtle fits beautifully with any program that teaches children about peer interaction and being a good friend. It also shows kids how important it is to stand up for yourself and others, even if that is a hard and scary thing to do. I think if there was one thing I wish I had seen in the book, it would be the animals looping an adult into the situation. That being said, I know that kids often do not seek out adult help when these types of situations arise and I like that the books shows the animals being bullied standing up to the bully.

The book is beautifully illustrated with what look like watercolor and ink drawings. The color palette makes the book inviting and warm and the use of light and shadow really showcase the animals in the story. The animals themselves are very sweet, yet still realistic which my daughter loved. When it arrived on our doorstep she immediately picked it up and began flipping through it. She asked to read it that night. Always the sign of an enticing book. The text is also full of good, rare words that will build readers’ vocabulary while they learn about an important topic. We stopped at several points to check in on a number of words, which is one of the reasons picture books are such good experiences for children to have all through their elementary school years.

I definitely think this should be in classroom and school libraries. It’s certainly appropriate for all ages and can be aged up or down depending on the conversations you start with your students or children around the book. Activist parents might also want to take note. The book speaks to the need to stand up when you see something wrong happening, even if you are frightened, and encourages readers to not be bystanders.

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