Image Image Image Image Image
Scroll to Top

To Top

nonfiction

11

Jan
2017

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: I Wonder by Doyin Richards

On 11, Jan 2017 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

i-wonderI Wonder: Celebrating Daddies Doin’ Work written and illustrated by Doyin Richards

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.

Tags | , , , ,

20

Dec
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Brick by Brick by Charles R. Smith, Jr.

On 20, Dec 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

brick-by-brickBrick by Brick written by Charles R. Smith, Jr, illustrated by Floyd Cooper

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.

Tags | , , , ,

07

Dec
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Nonfiction Review: Rhythm Ride by Andrea Davis Pinkney

On 07, Dec 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

rhythm-rideRhythm Ride: A Road Trip Through Motown Sound written by Andrea Davis Pinkney

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.

Tags | , , ,

30

Nov
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: I Am Jazz written by Jazz Jennings

On 30, Nov 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

i-am-jazzI Am Jazz written by Jessica Hershel and Jazz Jennings, illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas

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.

Tags | , , , ,

14

Nov
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: I Am Not a Number by Jenny Kay Dupuis

On 14, Nov 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

i-am-not-a-numberI Am Not a Number written by Jenny Kay Dupuis and Kathy Kacer, illustrated by Gillian Newland

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.

 

Tags | , , , , ,

25

Oct
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: That’s Not Fair! by Danielle McLaughlan

On 25, Oct 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

thats-not-fairThat’s Not Fair!: Getting to Know Your Rights and Freedoms written by Danielle McLaughlan, illustrated by Dharmali Patel

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.

Tags | , , ,

18

Oct
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Nonfiction Review: How to Build a Museum by Tonya Bolden

On 18, Oct 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

how-to-build-a-museumHow to Build a Museum written by Tonya Bolden

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.

Tags | , , , ,

11

Sep
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book: Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions by Chris Barton

On 11, Sep 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

whooshWhoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions written by Chris Barton, illustrated by Don Tate

From Goodreads: A love for rockets, robots, inventions, and a mind for creativity began early in Lonnie Johnson’s life. Growing up in a house full of brothers and sisters, persistence and a passion for problem solving became the cornerstone for a career as an engineer and his work with NASA. But it is his invention of the Super Soaker water gun that has made his most memorable splash with kids and adults.

I think every kid in the nineties had a Super Soaker or at least had a friend with one. But when picking out this book I wondered if it was just nostalgia for people my age or if it would resonate with kids today.

Lonnie Johnson spent his childhood (and adulthood) tinkering with things. He took odds and ends as a kid and put them together to make creations. He took things apart to harvest parts and see how they worked. Then, as he got older, he moved on, with his robot Linex, to make inventions that worked and kept on inventing. He was also persistent and determined, even in the face of failure, an important skill that kids can learn in the makerspace and need to be seeing modeled.

I thought it was refreshing to have a biography of someone who is still alive today. Even better to be adding more diversity to our biography collection. The author’s note adds a bit more context to the story and Barton shares his inspiration for writing the book.

Johnson grew up in the South in the late sixties and into the seventies. Whoosh! does touch on some of the race issues (segregation and racism), but it’s a light touch. I think it was a good balance here where the the purpose of the book was to expose children to a scientist who is black and his inventions instead of dwelling on how he overcame racism. We have a number of those books, and they are excellent, but as I’ve said again and again they create a certain narrative that is not a full picture.

I definitely think children can find inspiration and humor in this story, whether or not they own a Super Soaker or have seen one and it’s the perfect makerspace book. I would hand this to kids who like to invent and tinker. I will also be adding it to our summer reading lists so kids can go out after reading it and have a water fight. I don’t think the time period or nostalgia of the book make it irrelevant for kids today. The message of perseverance and fun in it are timeless.

Tags | , , , , , , , ,

10

Sep
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Lift Your Light a Little Higher by Heather Henson

On 10, Sep 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

lift-your-lightLift Your Light a Little Higher: The Story of Stephen Bishop Slave-Explorer written by Heather Henson, illustrated by Bryan Collier

From Goodreads: Welcome to Mammoth Cave. It’s 1840 and my name’s Stephen Bishop. I’ll be your guide, so come with me, by the light of my lantern, into the deepest biggest cave in all of the United States. Down here, beneath the earth, I’m not just a slave. I’m a pioneer. I know the cave’s twists and turns. It taught me to not be afraid of the dark. And watching all these people write their names on the ceiling? Well, it taught me how to read too. Imagine that. A slave, reading. But like I said, down here I’m not just a slave. I’m a guide. I’m a man. And this is my story.

As soon as I read the review of this in the Horn Book I purchased it. Not only does our second grade study slavery (in the context of the Underground Railroad) in the spring, but our third grade does a science unit on caves in the fall. It felt like the perfect bridge between the two grades.

Like all picture book biographies there is a storyline that follows Bishop’s life that is followed up by a historical author’s note that provides more context. I have mixed feelings about that format because I think that kids often skip the two pages of text unless they’re really interested. I suppose that’s fine if they’re getting some good tidbits and thinking points in the story (they do here). However, I think it makes these books perfect for classroom settings where teachers can provide further context and connection and will also be able to read the note aloud to students, ensuring they get that extra information.

I thought the idea of having Bishop tell his own story was an interesting choice. It certainly brings the reader into his life story. I think it also gives the man a voice when he really didn’t have one. According to the note at the end he didn’t leave any real personal record of himself and there wasn’t much left by his white owners or other historical records either. I will point out that this is not #ownvoices, so take that into consideration especially since the book does give a voice to a slave who never really had one.

I’m not sure these are the absolute best illustrations I’ve seen by Collier, but they really tell the story. I actually think the print job on the book could have been better and that the paper and print quality diminished them a bit. Most, if not all the pages (I’m sorry I don’t have the book in front of me right now) have a split level. You see above ground and also below ground which fits perfectly with the idea of the split in Bishops life: above ground- slave, below ground-just a man. There are white people in the pictures, but Bishop is, appropriately, front and center.

Both the cave system and Bishop made for a fascinating picture book biography and would make a good addition to any biography collection.

Side note, going back to print quality. The paper was kind of thin and a little too shiny. It felt kind of cheap. And the dust jacket was like a good several centimeters too long for the hard cover which made it strangely floppy and weird to put into a Gaylord cover. Wth print company? Wth, publisher? Do better. Make nice picture books that will last. The lack of quality kind of makes your second-rating of books about people of color show.

Tags | , , , , , , , ,

03

Sep
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Freedom in Congo Square by Carole Boston Weatherford

On 03, Sep 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Congo SquareFreedom in Congo Square written by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie

From Goodreads: This poetic, nonfiction story about a little-known piece of African American history captures a human’s capacity to find hope and joy in difficult circumstances and demonstrates how New Orleans’ Congo Square was truly freedom’s heart.

I really love that there is a lot of context provided despite the simple text of the actual story. An informative foreword by Freddie Williams Evans, a historian and Congo Square expert, sets the stage explaining what Congo Square is and why it was/is significant. Her final paragraph ties the past to the present noting that although slavery was abolished people still gather in the square on Sundays to share music, dance, and performance. The text of the story if followed by an Author’s Note that reemphasizes some of the history from the foreword and adds some broader historical context.

Maybe unsurprisingly Freedom brought to mind Weatherford’s The Sound That Jazz Makes. The simple rhymed text that belies the deep history and pain of slavery and the role it played in shaping our country. Both are texts that could easily and confidently be shared with young children (I’ll be reading this to my five year old daughter). They don’t exactly flinch in presenting what happened, but they don’t go into gory detail. They both also share something good that came out of so much bad, here the culture of jazz, public performance, and melding of cultures and in Sound actual jazz music.

The illustrations are reminiscent of early American art, but they also brought to mind Benny Andrews with the long legs and arms and thin bodies. I was particularly drawn to the illustration of Saturday night where the slaves sleep in house-shaped buildings lying and stacked in a way that is reminiscent of slave ships. It was interesting how Christie used color palette and line to change the mood of the book as they slaves approached and celebrated Sunday. The colors don’t change significantly, but there is more color with little splashes breaking up the background expanses. The people during the week are bent at right angles or create clean, upright lines, but as soon as Sunday arrives they curve their bodies and arms, stretching up and out, taking up more space on the page. You also see little joyful details on their clothing like fur tails that wave while dancing, necklaces that swing, and instruments. Simply changing the lines really gives the impression of the freedom of the title.

I wish I had read this before I had gone to New Orleans years ago. I would have loved to pay more attention to Congo Square. I highly recommend this for school libraries to help flesh out their historical collections. For parents, I think this could be a good entree into talking about slavery and its history in our country. New Orleans had an interesting relationship with slavery and with the US since it was also a French and Spanish colony before being purchased, but it isn’t a part of the South that is explicitly studied in schools (at least not out here on the West Coast). I think having books like this show that the South was not monolithic in its history and invites children to look more deeply at an area that is rich in culture.

 

Tags | , , , , , , ,