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06

Jul
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Taylor’s STEM Adventures: Hawaii by Mary Payton

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

Taylors STEM HawaiiTaylor’s STEM Adventures: Hawaii written by Mary Payton, illustrated by M. Ridho Mentarie

From Goodreads: Taylor’s STEM Adventures Hawaii is the first in a series of stories about the young son of two military members from STEM career fields. As his family moves to various duty locations, Taylor guides you through his adventures in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) at each military base. Taylor gives military children the insight into the STEM adventures and activities that await them in their next military move.

I tested this one out on my in-house book tester (i.e. my six-year-old daughter) and we absolutely loved it! STEM is a hot trend in education and while I tend to hate things that become wildly popular as they rarely measure up to the hype, I do love STEM and STEAM. Not only are they important for our kids to become well versed in, but they are interesting and encourage children to be inquisitive, something that’s been really lacking in traditional education for awhile.

Taylor’s parents both work in the U.S. military which is why they live in Hawaii. Books with military families are not particularly easy to come by. Even less so are books with military families where deployment isn’t the main focus. Here Taylor has two parents involved in STEM careers in the military and from them he has had a love of these subjects fostered.

Taylor’s STEM Adventures is part Hawaiian tour, part conversation starter. The book does a couple things with the things Taylor introduces the reader to. First, he gives a broad swath of ways STEM can be found in Hawaii and in everyday life. Second, it creates interest around the concepts and ideas. We stopped at many different points and talked more about volcanoes, observatories, coral reefs, architectures, and history. It was particularly apropos because of the volcano that has been erupting in Hawaii that’s been in the news. Taylor shows the reader how Hawaii was formed and the role volcanoes played. He takes you to historical and scientific points of interest. He also discusses oceanography and a couple famous buildings on Oahu. It’s not unlike the Snippet in the Life series also published by Melanin Origins in that these topics are introduced, but not discussed at great length, allowing readers to take interest and then pursue the ones they find most relevant to themselves. This will help hold the interest of younger readers while guiding older readers to new subjects and ideas.

If you’re looking for some good nonfiction titles to pique interest and encourage curiosity make sure to add this to your collection! Also be sure to hand it to Moana fans that want to get a little more serious about learning about the part of the world she came from. I can’t wait to see more STEM adventures with Taylor.

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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22

Jun
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Brick by Brick by Louie T. McClain

On 22, Jun 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Brick by BrickBrick by Brick: A Snippet in the Life of Booker T. Washington written by Louie T. McClain, illustrated by M. Ridho Mentarie

From Goodreads: A children’s book snippet about the life, accomplishments, and achievements of the great Booker T. Washington – an inspirational African-American innovator, leader, scholar, and philanthropist.

Oddly enough I haven’t reviewed this book yet despite it being the first in the A Snippet in the Life series. Brick by Brick shares a bit of the accomplishments of Booker T. Washington as well as inspiration around how he managed to accomplish so much.

If you’re resisting the Snippet series because the historical figures tend to be less well known, there’s no excuse here. Booker T. Washington is a well-known African American figure and his Tuskegee Institute is arguably more influential. It’s still around today, but also was home to George Washington Carver (who is fascinating in and of himself, peanut research aside) and the Airmen we see in Flying Above Expectations.

This book in particular is very motivational. It encourages kids, whether or not they are familiar with Washington and the Tuskegee Institute, to work hard, have faith in themselves, and rely on good friends. All of these are great messages for children to hear. Grit is one of those educational buzz words that’s been popular for a few years, as has the idea of a growth mindset. These books, besides introducing important black historical figures, also plug directly into those concepts and make them really great additions to classroom libraries. Brick by Brick can open conversations about how important it is to believe in yourself and have faith in your abilities. It can also provide a little dose of inspiration during read alouds.

I’ll be honest, McClain hasn’t hit his stride for the series with this book just yet. The later books do a really good job balancing sharing some historical facts with inspiration. While Brick by Brick is worth your time and shelf space (I had it in my library), I think it’s better as an inspirational, growth-mindset builder rather than peek into the historical aspects of Booker T. Washington. That being said, if you aren’t familiar with Washington of the Tuskegee Institute your interest will be piqued enough to look him up.

Sort of off topic, but something I wanted to bring up in regard to these books by Melanin Origins. Nearly all their books are available as ebooks, hardbacks, and paperbacks. While not everyone has access to ebooks, Kindle does have an app that can be downloaded to a smartphone and is in full color. These are an incredibly affordable way to get ahold of these titles. For libraries the hardbacks are great because they don’t get lost on the shelf. And for home and classroom libraries the paperbacks are an incredibly affordable option. You’re also supporting a black owned business when you purchase them, so it’s a great option all around with something for everyone.

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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20

Jun
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Rerun: Thank You O Allah! written by Ayesha bint Mahmood

On 20, Jun 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Thank you O AllahThank You O Allah! written by Ayesha bint Mahmood, illustrated by Asiya Clarke

From Goodreads: A glorious array of Allah’s never-ending bounties that will evoke a child’s feeling of gratitude for everything God, Allah in Arabic, has given – from faith and knowledge to family and health, from animals and nature to food and life itself.

Thank You O Allah is a title I purchased to diversify our collection. Being an independent school we don’t have a lot of religious books (unless you count our 2 billion Christmas books), but there are a handful. There are a couple “biographies” of saints and religious figures (Mary, Joseph, Moses), but mostly our Christian books take the same form as this book. They’re vaguely religious prayers that examine the everyday life and surroundings of a small child and thank God for them. I’m thinking most prominently about the Caldecott winner Prayer for a Child.

There are a couple places where I’m pretty sure this was originally a British release, but it won’t confuse anyone. The text takes on a repetitious form that really has rhythm to it. In some ways it brought to mind the chanting of Islamic texts. The only annoying thing about it was that each verse starts with “And let’s thank…”. I don’t think the “and” was necessary each time. That’s an incredibly minor quibble, though.

The illustrations are really beautiful. Bright and inviting they show things most children will be familiar with except for maybe the Q’aaba. I love the cover, but I am sucker for rainbows (I blame Lisa Frank!). The book is certainly Islam-centric, but I think the message in it could be shared with any child. I would consider using it around Thanksgiving, when kids are gearing up into the gimmies season, as a reminder of all the good things we already have.

I would recommend purchasing it if for no other reason than to be sure you have at least one Islamic book on your shelves. Christian books abound and end up on shelves even if a library or school isn’t religious, so I don’t see why we can’t then have Islamic books too. Plus exposure to Islam will teach children tolerance and make them less ignorant. In terms of quality this one is pretty good with nice illustrations, good text, and nice print quality. I’ve been desperate to find Islamic holiday books and I’m willing to relax my quality standards so we can have them on the shelf, but no compromises needed here.

 

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15

Jun
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Perseverance: The Story of Mary Jane Patterson by Quineka Ragsdale

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

PerseveranceThe Story of Mary Jane Patterson written by Quineka Ragsdale, illustrated by Hatice Bayramoglu

From Goodreads: Read along as renowned author, Quineka Ragsdale of the Demarcus Jones series, tells of the 1st African American woman to receive a four-year Bachelor’s Degree: Mary Jane Patterson. The life of Mary Patterson inspires and encourages children to excel in their education, set goals, and work towards achieving them.

Melanin Origins brings us yet another interesting, but obscure historical figure. This time Mary Jane Patterson, the first African American woman to obtain a B.A. degree. She graduated from Oberlin College in 1862. After college she went on to teach and inspire other young African American children to get an education.

While education is not the only factor in what gets people ahead, it is undeniably an important one. Mary Jane Patterson paved the way for future generations of African American men and women to earn degrees from four-year universities. Her story, born into slavery and taught by her mother, certainly demonstrates that perseverance can help people obtain their goals.

Instead of overloading on dry facts and dates, something that is sure bore children and ensure they tune out, Ragsdale has taken Patterson’s story and pulled out the inspiring underlying message of her life. Hard work, determination, and perseverance is what helped Mary Jane stay in school and get more than the customary two years of college education. At a time when slavery was still hotly contested, that could not have been an easy task. As with the Snippet in the Life series from Melanin Origins, Mary Jane Patterson breaks the fourth wall and talks to the reader encouraging them to follow their dreams and believe in themselves as they strive to achieve them.

Perseverance would make a great addition to libraries that serve young audiences, but would be especially impactful in classroom libraries where teachers can use the book to encourage their students to build up their growth mindset and their self esteem. Mary Jane can encourage kids to work hard and have faith in their own abilities. She might also inspire some biography projects when kids want to discover more about this amazing woman’s life.

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

The book releases August 1, but you can preorder the book here (not an affiliate link):

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

Jun
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Louisiana Belle by LaChanda Casteal

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

Louisiana BelleLouisiana Belle: A Snippet in the Life of Madam CJ Walker written by LaChanda Casteal, illustrated by M. Ridho Mentarie

From Goodreads: Born in the bayous of Delta, Louisiana, Madame C.J. Walker emerged as a great leader in modern American history. Madame Walker was a leader in the movement for equal and civil rights, she was a philanthropist, and not only was she a successful entrepreneur – Madame C.J. Walker was the first woman to be a self-made millionaire through her line of quality hair products. Journey with Melanin Origins as we explore the greatness of this magnificent woman and her contributions to society.

Louisiana Belle is another addition to the Snippet in the Life series from publisher Melanin Origins. Once again a lesser known, but no less important, historical figure gives a brief overview of her life along with some encouragement for children reading the book.

Louisiana Belle feels very on point combining recent trends, both in picture books and in society at large, that celebrate natural hair styles on black women and plucky, entrepreneurial women. When I first picked up the book, I thought I had heard of Madam CJ Walker, but I couldn’t remember what she was famous for. She created a successful hair products business designed to care for natural hair. She started out as a wash girl in a salon and through hard work, inspiration, and determination she created her own line of products. Not unlike other black female created product lines we see today, like Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty or Unsun Cosmetics.

I have to admit I laughed out loud at the opening. The second page features the line “What is a millionaire you ask? A millionaire is a person who has a lot of money.” The accompanying illustration shows Madam CJ Walker flashing some cash surrounded by gleeful, open-mouthed kids. As shallow as it sounds, kids of all stripes love money. They love the idea of all the toys and candy they can buy with it or just how cool they think it sounds to be a millionaire (even though most of them think $20 qualifies them as such). This just felt like such a clever and humorous way to rope kids into Madame CJ Walker’s life story. They’ll want to know more about this fabulous millionaire woman.

Louisiana Belle hits all the right notes for a young crowd. Short and to the point, it promotes black girl magic while introducing an interesting but lesser known American. This should be on your shelves with all the other Snippet in the Life books, at home, in the library, or in the classroom (preferable all three). How many more biographies of Harriet Tubman and Jane Goodall do you need? The answer is none. Four or five is more than enough. Seriously. Diversify those biography/picture book shelves and get Madame CJ Walker nestled in with the stale biographies of George Washington and Woodrow Wilson.

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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01

Jun
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Perfect As I Am by Maame Serwaa

On 01, Jun 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Perfect As I AmPerfect As I Am written by Maame Serwaa, illustrated by Fleance Forkuo

From Goodreads: Read along with Micah and Myrah as they use the principles of positive affirmations to demonstrate their self-worth. Perfect As I Am will empower young children to love themselves just as they are. With these powerful affirmations, children will learn to build their confidence in preparation for the many opportunities life will afford them.

This appears to be the first in a series featuring a cute pair of siblings or friends, Micah and Myrah, and it’s along the same lines as the book I reviewed last week, Note To Self. As I said there, these types of books are really important to share with children of all levels of confidence. It bolsters how they feel about themselves, validates their self esteem, and teaches them positive self talk.

Unlike Note To Self, this is clearly geared toward both boys and girls. The bright colors and simple text will appeal to young audiences. The illustrations feature Micah and Myrah, two adorable big-eyed kids,  on alternate two-page spreads that offer up affirmations. These affirmations can be easily understood by children and memorized for times when they need to remind themselves that they have value.

I could easily see adding this to a friendship themed storytime or unit in the library or classroom. As with Note To Self, Perfect As I Am would make a great bedtime read aloud to remind. If you have a peace corner in your house or classroom, a calming space where kids can go to chill out and focus, this would be a perfect addition to the book basket or rack there. When children (and grown ups) feel valuable and can come from a place where they feel important and empowered they are more empathetic, can control themselves better, and are happier. Positive self talk and positive feelings about yourself are an incredibly important part of social-emotional learning. If your school, classroom, or home works on SEL skills, be sure to include Perfect As I Am in your repertoire.

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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25

May
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Note to Self by Celina Monique McMillian

On 25, May 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Note To SelfNote To Self: Affirmations to Young Queens written by Celina Monique McMillian, MSW, illustrated by Autumn Hayes

From Goodreads: This book is intended to empower and influence girls (Queens) to realize they are ENOUGH, to embrace their flaws, and to expand their vocabulary. Affirmations are valuable and powerful. They encourage self-love, self-worth, and self-respect. What we speak, we believe; and what we believe, we achieve.

I recently started listening to a podcast that presents talks by indigenous people. It’s called Think Indigenous and in one episode a woman spoke about the necessity of teaching her children that they have value as humans, since the world will try to teach them otherwise. Despite having parenting practices around this, she was surprised and inspired by a practice her sister had started. Every morning before the sister’s kids got out of the car at school she would call out affirmations and have the kids repeat them back.

Note To Self brought this to mind for me. The subtitle says it all, these are lovely affirmations for girls of color and they can be used for the same purpose as the speaker on Think Indigenous.

While they are geared toward girls, who probably need them the most, parents can easily read them to all their kids. They can talk about how they apply specifically to their own children to help them see their value.

Teachers can use them, too, to inspire their whole class or bolster a single student who needs the extra encouragement. Don’t underestimate the importance of teaching positive self talk.

Daily or weekly readings of the book paired with bringing the encouragement off the page can do wonders for children struggling to find their value. Repeat the affirmations as mantras at the start or end of the day. Repeat them during hard moments together. Send them home written in slips of paper for students to find when they get home or to read before bed. Slip them in lunch boxes or bags or backpacks for children to find at recess or lunch. A quick pick-me-up to remind them you are thinning of them and believe in them.

Another worthwhile and necessary publication from Melanin Origins.

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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11

May
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book: Breaking the Sickle by Louie T. McClain II

On 11, May 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Breaking the SickleBreaking the Sickle: A Snippet of the Life of Dr. Yvette Fay Francis-McBarnette written by Louie T. McClain II, edited by Francis W. Minikon Jr., illustrated by M. Ridho Mentarie

From Goodreads: Have you ever wondered what your passion was? What you were put on this Earth to do? Dr. Yvette Fay Francis-McBarnette, a trail blazing woman of medicine, understood exactly what her purpose was in life. Her interest and area of expertise was researching ways to identify those with sickle cell early on, and providing therapeutic solutions to induce an improved quality of life for those who suffered from the disease. Dr. Francis-McBarnette led an extraordinary life that tells such an amazing story of hope and encouragement. Read along as Melanin Origins presents a childlike perspective of her formula for breaking the cycle of Sickle Cell Disease.

I have a secret way of testing out all books that I bring into the house. Kids books that is. I casually leave them out in a basket, next to the bed, or on the kitchen table. Then I wait to see how long it takes my daughter to pick them up, peruse them, and ask to have them read to her. A litmus test of sorts.

I have admitted before that upon seeing these “Snippet in the Life of” biographies for the first time I was confused by the representation of the subjects as modern looking children. “Why not draw the people as they were in the historical settings they lived in?” I wondered. As with Booker T. Washington, Flying Above Expectations, and Ida B. Wells I was not in the know. It takes my daughter no time at all to see these biographies and pick them up, curious about who they are about. They are always that night’s bedtime story when they arrive.

This installment in the series features Dr. Francis-McBarnette, a female doctor dedicated to helping African Americans through her research and treatment of sickle cell disease. The book is part affirmations, part science introduction, and part biography. Dr. Francis-McBarnette, a woman who hailed from Jamaica, entered Yale’s medical school at the age of 19. She was also only the second black woman at the school. Depicted as a young girl, Yvette, takes the reader through her life and explains that when she saw the impact sickle cell disease had on people and families she became determined to help manage the disease. She emphasizes the hard work she put into her studies and her life in order to accomplish the things she did and she encourages readers to do the same. She also gives a simple lesson on how sickle cell disease works. Not so long as to confuse or bore readers, not so short as to be uninformative. Perfect for budding scientists.

While the book is a snippet of a great woman’s life, it also provides many parents with an opportunity to talk to their children about how incredible her accomplishments were because of the color of her skin. She worked hard and also overcame obstacles that normally held women and people of color back. It makes her story all the more amazing.

The text in the book is spare enough that it will keep younger audiences engaged. For children curious for more about her, tearchers, librarians or parents can help them research her further online. But the book stands on its own, whetting children’s appetites for learning about less well-known historical figures that are probably passed over because of their race and/or gender. This is the kind of representation we need more of in children’s books (and grown up books too, to be honest). We need to have young women of color on the covers of picture books. We need to be reading books about women in science and especially women of color in science to all kids, not just kids of color.

Libraries, classrooms, and home collections need to be considering the “Snippet in the Life of” series. Melanin Origins is now releasing all of them in both paper- and hardback and they are super affordable. They need to be on our shelves showing all children that it wasn’t just white men who made history. There were plenty of other heroes out there working to make the world a better place. Before you turn your nose up at books published outside traditional channels consider the lack of diversity in the books available through those channels. This book in particular shows children that a disease that affects many black and African American people is and was important enough to be studied, addressed, and managed. It also fits the bill for promoting STEM/STEAM education, particularly with girls (so it’s really on point :) ). I also recommend the book for families affected by sickle cell disease. It’s a great introduction for young children to understand what the disease is and why they may be getting the treatment they are.

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.

On Melanin Origins website

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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12

Feb
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book: Carver Park by Dr. Lynda Mubarak

On 12, Feb 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Carver ParkCarver Park written by Dr. Lynda Jones Mubarak, illustrated by Eminence System

From Goodreads: It would seem that growing up in segregated Waco, Texas in the 1950s would be filled with challenges and disappointments for any African-American child, but one little girl learned everything possible about the world beyond segregation due to the influences of her family, friends, neighbors and teachers. Waco, TX had its on Black Wall Street in the Bridge Street area and it flourished. Carver Park gives us a view into the life of one child who found that regardless of society’s circumstances, the persons in our lives provide us with the knowledge and support needed to learn, survive and progress during a time of great social unrest and historical change.

Carver Park is a fascinating series of reflections on growing up in the segregated black neighborhood of Waco, TX, a city I must shamefully confess I’m more familiar with for the siege with the Branch Davidians. I suspect for teachers and parents my age (and possibly older) that will be the point of reference. Carver Park really replaces that narrative though, with small vignettes of Dr. Mubarak’s childhood in the 1950s. To be honest it reads a lot like the stories my own mother shares about growing up in the same era. The family here just happens to be black and live in a segregated neighborhood.

This is the perfect type of book to share during Black History Month. To begin with, it veers away from the typical narrative of exceptional African Americans who pull themselves up by the bootstraps we see touted during this month. Those books have a place and are important, but they feed into the idea that black people have worth and history only as it fits in with slavery, Jim Crow laws, and nonviolent Civil Rights era marches. Carver Park is the kind of book we see about white families all the time and it’s incredibly refreshing to see it reflect a different kind of family for once. It’s a kind of representation that we need to see for black children.

That isn’t to say the family doesn’t have its challenges. No mention is made of their SES, so I can’t be sure money wasn’t always a worry for her parents. Nor does she shy away from pointing out that they faced institutional racism and discrimination. They lived in a segregated neighborhood after all. But it’s told from little Lynda’s perspective so those things don’t factor into her perception of growing up in the same way they may now as she reflects back on her childhood as an adult.

I especially love the relationship Lynda has with her parents, and her father in particular. He was always careful to explain things to her and make sure she understood what she was seeing and experiencing as a child. Both her parents include her in their day-to-day lives and make a point to do things as family. Also, her dad sews!!! He’s a tailor and it’s so incredible to see a man sewing, a skill that is usually relegated to women if you see it at all in a picture book. I’ll be honest, it’s the kind of book I hope my own daughter would write about our family. It’s so clear how loving and supportive Mubarak’s family was and how, despite what were less than ideal circumstances in a racist world, they helped her see her worth and value and build happy memories.

This book is more of an illustrated book than picture book and if I had one suggestion about it, it’s that I wish it was printed in a chapter book form factor instead of the large square picture book format. It’s also not going to be a book that hooks in every reader. It’s quieter and more contemplative. Personally I love that kind of book and I have known plenty of children over the years who also love those types of stories, but be aware of that when recommending it to readers.

This would be a great addition to any library, classroom or home collection. Tie it in with Black History Month right now and use it to start a conversation about segregation of our neighborhoods. I recommend it for older audiences, second grade up, simply because the text is longer and will require longer attention span and/or higher reading level skills.

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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12

Jan
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Flying Above Expectations by Larry Simmons

On 12, Jan 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Flying Above ExpectationsFlying Above Expectations written by Larry Simmons, Jr., illustrated by Shereen Shahzad

Published by Melanin Origins

From GoodReads: Join Melanin Origins as we tell of the Tuskegee Airmen and a few of their accomplishments in flight and in moral character. Author Larry Simmons penned this story for children worldwide in hopes to awaken the conquering, persevering and ambitious nature in every child that reads this book. 

I know these reviews I write are designed to recommend books based on whether or not they would make valuable additions to library collections and I will talk about this book in those terms (or just go out and buy it already since it’s well worth it), but first I have to share how it really resonated on a personal level in our house. My daughter is nearly six and a half years old and while we managed to avoid the terrible twos and threes, she has really struggled this year with resilience in the face of difficulty and failure. For example, a small mistake on a drawing escalates quickly to her throwing her entire body on the floor wailing, “Everything is ruined!”. I would find it comical if I didn’t find it so incredibly frustrating. I have written before about how important I find the maker movement in large part because it teaches kids how to successfully fail and how to persevere. Yet here I am faced with my own daughter struggling to do that.

Thus far we’ve discussed how to handle disappointment and mistakes and I’m slowly amassing a pile of books that (not so subtly) hit perseverance over the head as a message with a capital “M”. The problem with them is that even the good ones tend to be pretty sneaky about teaching their lesson. I know a lot of people love that and don’t want to get slapped with a lesson, but I need help here. She needs to hear that message loud and clear.

So, when I got this book in the mail the other day I expected a fun historical story about the Tuskegee Airmen. I added it to our bedtime book pile. That night my daughter picked it out of a pile about a foot tall, so clearly it spoke to her. No surprise, the cover is bright and enticing and a little mysterious with the heart on the pilot. As I started reading it I noticed there were two colors of text on the page. The first few black lines of text follow the story of Anderson, the first African American to earn his private pilot’s license. Then a line or two of red text at the bottom of each page are affirmations and encouragement. Things like ” We all get sad, mad, upset, confused and frustrated, but don’t let those things knock you off course! You can still choose to fly above expectations.” Each piece of advice is tied to Anderson’s story, but not so intimately that readers will only see them as relevant to Anderson’s story. I think they do a brilliant job helping kids see how not only is Anderson’s story interesting, but it is applicable to their own lives. They can draw inspiration from him.

My daughter didn’t necessarily make the leap from these lines of encouragement to her own struggles (probably in large part because she wasn’t currently upset about losing a Lego she needed), but she did notice the two different colors of text. I did see how helpful these ideas will be and I immediately explained to her that they were special words from the author to her that were meant to help her see how Anderson helped himself make it through some very challenging situations.  The book is full of wisdom about pursuing dreams, keeping at things even when they seem insurmountable, and believing in yourself even when others don’t. We’re keeping this book in the bedtime rotation so we can refer back to it and use the advice as mantras when she does have one of those knock-down-drag-out tantrums.

Now I know my daughter was not necessarily the target audience here as a white, middle class kid. She’s got plenty going for her, especially if the worst thing she suffers from is an errant mark on an art project. I certainly took the opportunity to explain how it was important for her to keep trying and learn from failure, but I also took the opportunity to explain that race was a major factor in what led people to underestimate and discriminate against Anderson and the Tuskegee Airmen and also children of color she knows now. (For anyone interested, there’s a fabulous novel called Flygirl by Sherri Smith about a young woman from the same era wanting to be a pilot in the Air Force and passing as white to do so). The positive affirmation geared toward children of color that can be found in the story and the words of encouragement are reason enough for libraries to have this book on their shelves. Classrooms too! I suspect those children will get even more out of this story than my own daughter. Parents who need something in their back pocket for encouraging resilience, perseverance, and persistence should also have this on their shelves.

If I had one criticism it’s that I wish the illustrations were a little more detailed. My daughter is still on this kick where she really wants to know if the books we read are “true stories”. More historical detail might have helped her see the ties to its era. But not every book needs to be a historical study and the story, positive representation, and affirmations more than make up for the fact that the pictures lack some historical detail. She was excited to discover a photograph of Anderson at the end of the book.

Purchase the book here (not affiliate links):

On IndieBound: paperback and hardback

On Amazon as an ebook.

Disclosure: I was sent a review copy in return for an honest review. 

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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