By Elizabeth Wroten
On 20, Jun 2017 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From the publisher: Swift Walker loved to walk fast. His sister warned him, “One day, you’ll walk so fast you won’t be able to stop!” Sure enough, his speedy legs took him on a journey to see all the oceans of the world.
This was the perfect introduction to the names and locations of the world’s oceans. Swift Walker is a young boy who loves to move and as he’s out walking one day he finds himself exploring the six oceans on our planet. After a quick jaunt around the globe Swift finds himself at home just in time for dinner.
This was the perfect level for preschool, Kindergarten and even first grade. It didn’t get too detailed so the story and information wasn’t bogged down. I tested the book out with my daughter and caught myself wondering if they book should have had more facts and details. However, I noticed that my daughter was super engaged and didn’t ask to skip sections or just flip the page in the middle of reading as she does with nonfiction books that do have more. I realized it was right where she needed it to be. It’s a simple introduction to the idea of geography and that while we have one big ocean we do break it down into smaller sections that share location and ecology. Working a fun character and silly story into the book made the information much easier for her to take in too. I think Swift will be recognizable to most kids. He can’t keep still and wants to set off on adventures.
I would like to point out the font in the book (you can see it there on the cover with the subtitle). It’s a pretty traditional school font, kind of like D’Nealian. For kids learning to read and recognize letters these familiar and simple fonts are so important to have in books. As much as I love a beautiful font and fun with text elements in picture books they can make the reading experience frustrating and nearly impossible for emerging readers. The simplicity of this book would make this one a great shared reading experience with a parent and child or student and teacher. The illustrations are bright and colorful and make for a fun reading experience. I will say, I’m sorry librarians, it’s paperback. If you can tape it up and bear with it, it will be well worth it. As with a lot of these self published and small press books, you may have to hand sell them. Although with Swift Walker the covers are incredibly inviting, so they may sell themselves if you turn them face out on the shelf or on display.
Ultimately the book was a lot of fun to read and offered a quick dip into the oceans of the world without overburdening young readers. It would make a great addition to collections that serve curious young minds that want to explore the world.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 13, Jun 2017 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
I bought Fatty Legs awhile back for the library and was able to hand sell it to several readers (and one parent looking for something that was #ownvoices and a historically accurate treatment of First Nations people. I didn’t get feedback from all the students who read it, but the ones I checked in with did enjoy the book (as much as you can enjoy a book about bullying and residential schools). I have edited the review below just a little bit because I think I see even more merit in this book than I originally did and I wanted the review to reflect that.
Fatty Legs: A True Story written by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton, pictures by Liz Amini-Holmes
From Goodreads: The moving memoir of an Inuit girl who emerges from a residential school with her spirit intact.
Eight-year-old Margaret Pokiak has set her sights on learning to read, even though it means leaving her village in the high Arctic. Faced with unceasing pressure, her father finally agrees to let her make the five-day journey to attend school, but he warns Margaret of the terrors of residential schools.
I was pleasantly surprised by Fatty Legs. I expected a depressing book about the hardships of a boarding school meant to strip children of their language, culture and family. Certainly the school tried to do that. But they were in a for a run for their money with Margaret. She would not be dominated or crushed, although the two years she spent in school were damaging and depressing, it made her more determined.
I’m not opposed to sharing with children, even younger ones, the terrible things that have been done to native populations (North American and other places). I also feel depressing and disheartening books have their merit. Fatty Legs shows the despicable nature of these boarding schools, but it gives kids get a strong girl to identify with and root for. Margaret’s ability to be upbeat while telling a story that is, at heart, difficult, unjust, and upsetting is felt like a good balance for the age group the book is aimed at.
I know plenty of Native American children know of the horrors of these boarding schools and it’s incredibly important that we share that and talk about it in hopes that it doesn’t happen again. And in hopes of creating a generation of people who are more tolerant and understanding. I know I’ve said this before, but children are incredibly attuned to injustice and, for most, it’s infuriating. Fatty Legs does an excellent job of showing the injustice that will make kids angry, but without going over the top and making it a book parents (especially white parents) will balk at. In other words, kids will get it. They’ll know what happened wasn’t right and they’ll start asking questions and opening conversations.
The book includes photographs at the back of Margaret, her family, and many of the places mentioned in the story. In the text there are small notes in the margins directing the readers to these pictures which I think is unintrusive while providing some really interesting context. I’m amazed that she seems to have so many photographs of these critical moments from the story! It’s incredibly fortunate. There are also definitions of unfamiliar words down at the bottom of the page , which again is unintrusive, but provides context for kids who don’t know the words. Plus, what kid uses a glossary? The words are right there on the page, no need to flip back and forth breaking your concentration and flow.
My only complaint about the book is the format. The full color pictures and larger size of the book make it feel younger. It’s certainly appropriate for fourth graders and would make a great class read in third grade, even a strong third grade reader could pick it up on their own. But fifth grade and sixth grade, who would also make a perfect audience, might shy away from it purely based on looks. It drives me crazy when publishers do that to good books.
Excellent book for reflecting the experiences of many Inuit families and opening up discussions with non-native children who are probably ignorant of what went on less than a century ago.
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 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 20, Dec 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: In this powerful story of the building of the White House, Coretta Scott King Award winners Charles R. Smith Jr. and Floyd Cooper capture the emotion and toil that created this incredible structure, the home of our president. The White House was created by many hands, several of the slaves’, who will be remembered throughout history for their extraordinary feat. Many slaves were able to purchase their freedom after earning money from learning a trade through this work, which speaks to their unbelievable strength.
I don’t really remember where I came across this book, but I do remember I came across it shortly after all that ridiculous flack Michelle Obama got for mentioning in a speech that the White House was, in part, built by enslaved people. It seemed logical to me even though our educational system managed to miss teaching that fact. I guess it wasn’t logical for others?
Well, here’s a book to make sure your school does actually teach about who really built the White House and who profited from that work. While I think this book does a great job celebrating the hard work people, especially enslaved men and women, put into building the iconic building and how they were eventually able to use it to their advantage, I think it also does a really good job emphasizing that, by and large, the money and rewards went to the white owners of these enslaved people. There is a refrain “Slave hands saw/ twelve hours a day,/ but slave owners take/slave hands’ pay.” that repeats several times after longer passages that show the hard work everyone was putting into the building.
This is definitely a book that should be on school library shelves (public libraries too!). It counters the whitewashed and sanitized history we teach in schools. It shows pride in the work the enslaved and free blacks did. It’s history as it really was. Our second grade does a unit on African Americans, the Underground Railroad, and a little bit on slavery. It bugs me that, while the school claims to be progressive, we still only focus on African folktales (mostly written by white people in the 60s), slavery and the Civil Rights movement when studying anyone black (although with some new teachers this narrative is changing). I am aware that this is still a book that takes place during a time when Africans were enslaved in the US, but it’s a much less well known piece of that history. It does mention that there were free blacks and white immigrants who worked on the project as well. Again, something that isn’t well taught or known. This is the kind of book I want in my collection that counters the narrative of blacks only having two places in history (slavery and Civil Rights Movement).
While the text is important and interesting, the illustrations are also beautiful. Floyd Cooper always does amazing work. Here the illustrations have a hazy, tan wash over them that makes the work seem hot, dusty, and difficult. I love that Cooper gives each person a face to go with the names listed off in the text. It humanizes the people who worked on the White House.
The text is not long, nor is it graphic about slavery or anything that might be deemed too much for young children. I would say you could read this book down into first grade and up into the higher grades. There is a short author’s note at the end that adds a little more historical context that is fascinating and will stretch the picture book into the upper elementary grades. If your school has a library this should be in it. If any of your classes study the nascent nation, this needs to be in your collection. Make sure our kids are learning all our history.
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 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 25, Oct 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: This unique addition to the CitizenKid collection, written by by Danielle S. McLaughlin, provides an accessible exploration of the rights and freedoms of citizens in a democracy through a series of six short stories starring Mayor Moe and the councillors of a sometimes wacky city. In each story, the councillors are first presented with a problem, and the group then makes a decision to address the problem with a new law, only to discover later there were unintended consequences. There is one councillor, Bug, who objects to each decision being proposed by commenting, “That’s not fair!” — a sentiment familiar to children, who have an innate sense of justice.
I loved this book. I thought it did a fantastic job of explaining rights and freedoms in a way that would both make sense to kids and would appeal to their innate sense of justice.
The book would work best as a parent-child or teacher-class read aloud. Certainly a fourth or fifth grader could pick this up on their own and read it and I would put it in any library for that reason. But the conversations that can and should come up around the rights and freedoms are what will really make this book.
It could easily lead into how our democracy works. It looks at the issues from a lot of perspectives and taps into SEL ideas we work with in our school. It think it would also be an excellent jumping off point to talk about how not all people enjoy these freedoms we like to think of as being fundamental and essential.
I do wish Mayor Moe wasn’t such a bungling idiot because things in life are not quite so cut and dry and I think children are very capable of grasping gray-area conversations. Mayor Moe is pretty much always the culpable party for taking away freedoms. Injustice comes from a lot of places and not just one person which is how the book makes it seem. On the flip side, I know kids will grasp that Mayor Moe is a stand in for those people and ideas.
Considering our current political climate and the circus that is our presidential election this would be an excellent book to have out. I will be working through it with my daughter soon and if I had third grade in the library this year this would have been the first half of our year.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 18, Oct 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: The first national museum whose mission is to illuminate for all people, the rich, diverse, complicated, and important experiences and contributions of African Americans in America is opening.
And the history of NMAAHC–the last museum to be built on the National Mall–is the history of America.
The campaign to set up a museum honoring black citizens is nearly 100 years old; building the museum itself and assembling its incredibly far-reaching collections is a modern story that involves all kinds of people, from educators and activists, to politicians, architects, curators, construction workers, and ordinary Americans who donated cherished belongings to be included in NMAAHC’s thematically-organized exhibits.
This was really fascinating, but being a museum and history nerd it isn’t surprising that I was hooked. But would a kid be?
The book is not overly long and it focuses on the entire history of the museum, from the inception of the idea way back in the early 20th century, through appointing a head, to construction of the building, to building the collections. The process for how they acquired artifacts was clever and well done. There were the typical auction acquisitions, but they ran an Antiques Roadshow style event in several cities across the US. There they had people bring three items from their family heirlooms and they would give them some historical context. Any they were interested in they asked to keep and restore (and I believe purchase). Each chapter takes on a different piece of building the museum. Some of the more technical aspects, like signing it into law and finding a director may be less interesting to kids, but it isn’t overly detailed and lengthy.
The final two-page spreads focus on a variety of the exhibitions in the museum. There are pictures of artifacts with captions and some text that gives the context behind the exhibit. There is a music collection and an athletics collection that may really pique reluctant reader interest.
I was pleased to see a shout out to Sacramento. A white couple had bought a plane to restore and it turned out to be a plane that had been used to train Tuskegee Airmen. A number of them had even signed the cockpit. The couple did restore the plane and ultimately donated it to the museum. They also flew it across the country to deliver it!
This is the kind of nonfiction I want to be curating in my older/harder nonfiction collection. It’s engaging without being too long. It has a mix of pictures and text, but isn’t so busy it’s hard to read and follow the narrative. I would say this book would work for kids in fourth grade on up into middle school (and maybe even high school for lower readers or students that are particularly interested in the topic). It’s certainly timely and important. Arguably it’s interesting in that you don’t see the creation of these spaces discussed or focused on in children’s nonfiction much. History buffs may take particular delight in this one.