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21

Jun
2019

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Taylor’s STEM Adventures Texas by Dr. Mary Payton

On 21, Jun 2019 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Taylor’s STEM Adventures Texas written by Dr. Mary Payton, illustrated by Jorge Mansilla

From Goodreads: Taylor’s STEM Adventures Texas is the second book 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 base. Taylor gives military children the insight into the STEM adventures and activities that await them in their next military move.

I am so excited that Taylor is back for his next adventure in STEM! You can go back and read my review of the first book where Taylor explores Hawaii with a STEM lens here. In the newest installment, Taylor and his parents have moved to Texas and he’s here to share about all the science based learning he’s doing in the new place.

I mentioned this last time, but was reminded how much I love that these books feature a military family. So many books that include military families are specifically about being a military family. This one is not and it’s so important for kids with parents in the military to see themselves doing regular things (like learning about science and visiting touristy spots). It’s equally important for kids who don’t have family in the military to see that military kids aren’t that different.

Texas families will be happy to see their home state being shown as more than cattle ranches, White cowboys in big hats, and barbecue. I’m a California girl born and raised and I found it a relief to see that there’s more to Texas than some antiquated (and White) history. I was personally really interested in the caves and caverns the book talked about. I love caves and cave-dwelling creatures, especially bats.

I think this time around Dr. Payton has continued to provide just enough information to give an overview and pique interest. But I think the book has leveled up in the best possible way. It’s longer this time around and a larger format (there was absolutely nothing wrong with that last time, for the record) making it appeal to a slightly older crowd. It aged up with my own daughter who was excited about Taylor’s trip to the Johnson Space Center.

There is a lot here making this another great addition to collections designed to grab kids interest and encourage them to explore further. Taylor explores architecture, bats, caves, dinosaurs, and NASA. School libraries should definitely have both of the Taylor books on their shelves and anyone with science oriented kids should too.

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):

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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14

Jun
2019

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Kiddo Lingo! by Tiffany K. Daniels

On 14, Jun 2019 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Kiddo Lingo!: Early Childhood Development Book Series written by Tiffany K. Daniels, illustrated by Jorge Mansilla and Ridho Mendari

From Goodreads: Tiffany K. Daniels, Speech-Language Pathologist embarks on a creative series that inspires and encourages children, in particular those with special needs to excel in their developmental skills. With Kiddo Lingo, the goal is to provide exposure to daily activities that children of all diverse cultures experience, so we can better understand the common goal that we all share: wanting the best for our children .

There are a lot of concept books out there intended to work with kids on early school-readiness skills like ABCs, 123s and colors. Most of them are pretty run-of-the-mill and a lot are downright boring. Then there are a newer crop of hip concept books that seem made for the entertainment of the parent/educator rather than the actual child (creepy hipster ABC book, I’m looking at you).

Thankfully Melanin Origins does not seem to be falling into these traps with the concept books they have published (check out John Ensley II’s My ABCs for a beautiful and culturally relevant concept book). Kiddo Lingo! is not quite your traditional concept book, as it doesn’t focus on ABCs or 123s. It takes on more complex school-readiness concepts like paying attention to detail, following directions, actively listening, and answering questions.

The book is broken into short sections with illustrated short narratives followed (or sometimes preceded) by instructions for an adult . This means the book is designed to be read together and talked about/interacted with. Nothing in it is difficult and nothing requires more than a caring adult and a child. This would make it a great book to take along to restaurants where young kids need to be wrangled and entertained. The games, such as a version of Simon Says and look-and-find pictures, can be done sitting down quietly or standing up and moving around. The length of the shorts are perfect for short attention spans (hello paying attention to realistic, age-appropriate expectations!) and allow the book to be picked up and put down without losing the thread between readings.

Not only does it have activities to do together, it features a diverse cast of characters including a child pictured in a wheelchair. We need more visual diversity like this because representation matters (I can’t say this enough). Thank you Jorge Mansilla and Ridho Mendari for adding those details in and keep up the good work to Melanin Origins for ensuring that representation is being published in books for kids. The illustrations are bright and inviting with big-eyed, charming kiddos.

This is the perfect book for a shared reading experience. Picture books are designed with that in mind, but not all of them hit the mark in the way this one does. Highly recommended for preschools, daycares, and home libraries. Kiddo Lingo! lives up to its subtitle “Early Child Development Book Series”. These are great skills for adults to work with kids on and they are developmentally appropriate for young kids (the 3-5 set). Grab a couple copies and give them out at toddler birthday parties and tuck them in the diaper bag for restaurant and doctor appointment outings.

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 Amazon: paperback, hardback, and ebook.
  • On IndieBound: paperback and hardback.

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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07

Jun
2019

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Lessons Learned Along the Journey by Louie T. McClain II

On 07, Jun 2019 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Lessons Learned Along the Journey written by Louie T. McClain II

From Goodreads: Meet Tia Patterson, the intelligent, humorous, and brave descendant of the first and only African American owned car manufacturing company: C.R. Patterson & Sons. Journey with Tia as she provides insight on being successful and courteous while navigating the wiles of life.

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

This is a great book to add to social-emotional curriculums. McClain has used an interesting character to take you through lessons for being a decent human being in this life. Tia Patterson uses driving metaphors to give readers ten pieces of solid advice. Patterson is the descendant of Frederick Douglas Patterson, owner of the first and only African American car manufacturing company. I appreciated the update of using Tia, a woman, to break the stereotype of men and boys being the only ones who like and understand cars.

As someone who moves a fair amount in activist circles where we stress “impact over intent”, I really appreciated how all the advice took into account how our personal choices can have an impact on those around us or create ripples that impact people further out from us. This is why the driving metaphors work so well here. This is a hard lesson to learn, especially for kids who are naturally self centered (I don’t mean that in a negative way) and need us to both explicitly teach them to look outside themselves and model that behavior.

Some of the driving scenarios that set the stage for the lessons might be a little complex for younger audiences, but then again so are the lessons. Teachers who use picture books in upper elementary and even middle school would be wise to incorporate this text. (You do use picture books with older kids, right?)

I’m hoping Melanin Origins and Louie McClain write a book for young readers about Frederick Douglas Patterson and his car company. Maybe an entry in the next Snippet in the Life series? I want to know more and I suspect readers of Lessons Learned will too.

Purchase the book here (not affiliate links):

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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28

May
2019

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: They Call Me Mix by Lourdes Rivas

On 28, May 2019 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

They Call Me Mix/Me Llaman Masestre written in English and Spanish by Lourdes Rivas, edited in Spanish by Alicia Arellano, illustrated by Breena Nunez

From Goodreads: The story starts with Lourdes recalling childhood and noticing how gendered everything about existence is since before we’re even born. Lourdes points out how people create categories to make life easier but when it comes to people, gender categories can make life so difficult – restrooms, clothing stores, toy stores, sports teams, fitting rooms. They have a hard time even imagining where they’ll ever fit in.

Then they find queer and trans community where they feel empowered to reinvent language that works for them and we see them doing fun everyday things with friends like play games, watch movies, build bonfires, etc. It ends with the message that people who identify as non binary look, dress, and sound all kinds of different ways and that gender is something everyone can decide for themselves at any moment in time.

I kind of wish that sometimes I was braver and less shy and awkward when meeting people. We drove out to Oakland on a rainy Saturday to go to the Turn the Page Book Fair just so I could meet Lourdes Rivas and buy copies of their book. I don’t remember how I came across They Call Me Mix, but several months ago I came across it on Instagram and started following them. So when I saw that Rivas was going to be at this (kind of) local book fair I geeked out, did a happy dance, and announced that we’d be hopping in the car and driving the two hours to go.

This is such a needed and necessary book. It starts by explaining how Rivas’ gender was assumed at birth and then how they were pushed into gendered expectations around dress, toys, appearance, and interests. They then go into how they don’t feel like the gender they were assumed to be. Some days they’re no gender, some days they’re everything in between. They do normal everyday things like hang out with friends and gender doesn’t have to define that. Then Rivas talks about becoming and educator and how they talk about what it means to be non binary with their students. They validate that kids can play with how they want to identify and try out words to describe themselves. Rivas themself uses Mx. instead of Mr., Mrs. or Ms. (hence the title of the book).

The illustrations are soft and plain. I’m a sucker for rainbows (a hold over from my Lisa Frank and My Little Pony days) so I loved the cover from the moment I saw it. At first I wondered about the choice to have simple black and white line drawings, but I quickly realized the brilliance of this because the only colors are pastel pink and blue which really serves to highlight that gender binary and tap that part of our brain that has been taught to see gender as only male/female. I was shocked when my own daughter was about three and said something about pink being only for girls, despite my being explicit about colors being for everyone. That association is strong and I think it serves the book well to have the illustrations really draw our attention to what is going on.

I think I sound like a broken record saying this, but this book NEEDS to be on your shelves, at home, in the library, and in the classroom. You NEED to be creating welcoming, inclusive, accepting spaces for children to be their whole selves and live their truths and to play with their identities. The reality is, you may be a child’s only space to do that. And you are teaching other children who have gender privilege to see how others may not fit a binary and be open and accepting of all the ways people can be in this world. It’s also validating for kids, like me, that identify as female (or male), but don’t fit the stereotype. Even I kind of felt like something was wrong with me growing up for not liking dresses or caring about pink and purple (my favorite color has always been orange) or painted nails. Sharing books like this in read alouds, having them on your shelves, and encouraging children to visit them again and again is a critical piece of doing the work of breaking down white supremacy (the gender binary is a facet of white supremacy).

The book is also in both English and Spanish. Woohoo! That makes the book that much more accessible to kids and families. If you have a Spanish language collection in your library, get two copies, one for both your English and Spanish language kids shelves.

The traditional publishing industry sure isn’t stepping up and offering #ownvoices works around gender (or race or religion or ability or…) and we can’t be waiting around for them to get with it. I say this because, again, I know indie books can be a hard sell to administrations and book buyers. Beyond your students, patrons, or children who need to feel seen, I also think you may have teachers who also need to feel supported and welcome and need a book like this to help kids (and parents) who haven’t been exposed to nonbinary folks open the conversation. Everyone, from children to adults, deserve to feel seen, supported, and loved and having books that represent them and their experiences can help with that.

For as much of a book nerd as I am, I freeze when I meet these authors and illustrators. I’m so star struck. I have met movie stars before, no big deal. But kidlit celebrities, I can’t formulate a thought to save my life. I totally froze when meeting Lourdes Rivas and I’m sure I was super awkward, even though I went specifically to meet them! If you see this, Lourdes, hi, sorry I was weird. I just have such a soft spot for books that embrace all children and people and I cannot express how brave I think it is that you are out there sharing your experience, how much I appreciate you doing it, and how excited I am to get these books into kids hands.

New to the idea of breaking through the gender binary with children? Check out these three blog posts from author, illustrator, and artist Maya Gonzalez. She links to a whole curriculum she has created (some of which I have reviewed here and here) to create loving and inclusive spaces.

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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24

May
2019

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: How Mamas Love Their Babies by Juniper Fitzgerald

On 24, May 2019 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

How Mamas Love Their BabiesHow Mamas Love Their Babies written by Juniper Fitzgerald, illustrated by Elise Peterson

From Goodreads: Illustrating different ways that mothers provide for their children—including dancing at a strip club—this children’s book is the first to depict a sex-worker parent. By introducing and normalizing the idea of bodily labor, it provides an expanded notion of working mothers overall, and challenges the idea that only some types of work result in good or appropriate parenting.

I already hear the arguments about not having this book on the kids shelves in libraries. And they’re all nonsense. Parents who work to provide for their kids deserve to be celebrated no matter how they do that. If you’re uncomfortable reading about a mother who dances to put food on the table and care for their children, you should look long and hard at your biases.

I loved the book because it celebrates mothers who work and mothers who stay home, and the myriad things mothers do to care for their children. There are pilots, farmers, house cleaners, artists, office workers, and dancers. Parents provide for their kids in the ways that they can and sex work is legitimate work. Entertainment is legitimate work. The book doesn’t get graphic about what a mother who dances all night might be doing or not doing making it an age-appropriate representation of the variety of jobs moms hold to put food on the table, shoes on their kids’ feet, and a roof over their heads.

It’s hard work being a parent (and a mom)* and I love that this book recognizes that and explains that it is because of this hard work that moms “helps their babies grow” and “helps their babies thrive”. There are plenty of books out there that present this syrupy, saccharine picture of motherhood. Books that glorify the self sacrificing that can come with motherhood. A picture that essentially upholds the white supremacy derivative patriarchy. I’m not saying some of those books haven’t hit me right in the feels, but they also feel kind of like they’re indoctrinating our boys to expect women to be nurturing and subservient and our girls to be those things. How Mamas Love Their Babies points out that being a mom is hard work and we do that hard work for the good of our children without making us seem like saints or like this is the only value we bring to the world.

I was also really drawn to this book for the illustrations. They’re this collage of vintage black and white photographs, many of which have been cut up and colored on, paper and that tomato soup colored texture you see in the background of the cover. I think the texture really ties it all together when it might feel a little all over the place. The photos are equal parts sweet and charming and real and, even better, they feature a variety of people- Black, brown, and White. I especially love the collages that incorporate women holding signs at protests/rallies. Signs that read “We need day care centers” and “Unfair to strippers”.

This is the book I want to be reading on Mother’s Day with my girls. And, you know what? It was. And I explained what a stripper was to my older daughter. And I personally felt validated by this book.

So, I know this book is going to be a hard sell in a lot of libraries. I know. Remember I quit my last job over a book about immigration and refugees. Sex workers are something that are even more taboo and stigmatized. That is also exactly why it needs to be on our shelves. Kids need books that celebrate mothers in this way and they need to see that all work mothers do is legitimate and good whether or not their moms dance all night in special shoes or go to the office from 9-5. If you work in a public library you won’t know what all your parents do for a living, so you may very well have sex workers with children in your population. Quite frankly the same is true in many school libraries too. To librarians in private school libraries, this is one of those times that you are going to have to stand up for representation. You can’t be fine with books that glorify settler colonialism, but not be okay with books that show the dignity of working parents regardless of their profession. Plus, how validating for those parents and children to finally see their families in a book.

*I’m a little torn using the term motherhood because I know not all mothers identify as female or as mothers, but the book has mother in the title, refers to mothers throughout the text, and uses pictures of people who present very female. I’m kind of going along with that…but I also recognize that might be leaving out other folks and I’m not quite sure how to incorporate that experience into a book that so specifically talks about mothers.

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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10

May
2019

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: A Mother’s Wish by W. D. Lax

On 10, May 2019 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

A Mother’s Wish written by W. D. Lax, illustrated by Juan Hernandez Jr.

From Goodreads: What’s A Mother’s Wish?  Providence summed it up in 3 John 1:2 when the apostle stated, “I wish above all things that you prosper and be in good health, even as your soul prospers.” This book is for praying mothers who only desire the best for their children.

I was fully expecting a book that was geared more toward parents. So often I think books about parental wishes and love tug on publishers’ heartstrings but don’t resonate with kids. They wax a bit poetic and can even be sappy and that’s not, at least in my experience, what kids are looking for. I fully admit to having a couple of those in my own personal collection and there’s nothing wrong with them, but they also tend to end up as standard gift fare for birthday parties, baby showers, and holidays.

A Mother’s Wish, however, felt different to me. First, it feels less like a lecture and more like a gentle reminder of how mother’s feel about their children. It’s earnest without being over-the-top mushy. Second, the language. It’s a prayer. It feels hushed and reverent. Certainly the mentions of God make it feel religious, but many people believe in a higher power without tying a specific religion to it. I could see memorizing pieces of this or reading it each night before bed to remind your children how much you love them. I could see this then being a comfort when mom is not available for bedtime. Prayerful, soothing words that convey the love and hope a mother often feels. The language is specific to the mother-son bond, but it could be altered if you wanted to make it work for a family with daughters. Don’t be afraid to change language when you read aloud- I’ve been doing this with pronouns recently to make books less tied to the gender binary.

I also really want to mention the illustrations. They are these lovely water colors of people. They match each stanza of the prayer nicely and the mix of skin tones and hair colors makes the book accessible to a variety families. Going back to the mother-son specific language, the pictures show a lot of children, and while I assume because of the language in the book they are boys, there is nothing that makes them male. Kids, if dressed in t-shirts and shorts, often don’t look like one gender or another. So the illustrations wouldn’t hinder you if you wanted to change up the language.

With Mother’s Day coming up, this would make a lovely read aloud in the classroom (although be cautious around this and be sure you include books about families that don’t have mothers too!) or library if you have religious audiences. It would be a beautiful addition to home collections and to library displays featuring families and mothers. If you have titles like On the Night You Were Born or I Wish You More, add this one as well.

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):

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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03

May
2019

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

B Is for Brotherhood by Joa MacNalie

On 03, May 2019 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

B Is for Brotherhood written by Joa MacNalie, illustrated by Adua Hernandez

From Goodreads: Read along as best-selling author, Joa Macnalie of the Athletes and Activism series curates the conversation of police brutality/misconduct and the racial climate of our country. The lives of influencers such as Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid encourage children to use their voice in order to effect change, help children become critical consumers of media, and to stand for what they believe in, even in the midst of great adversity.

This book is lit, y’all. Every parent, every teacher, every librarian, every adult, every kid should own this book and be reading it. Reading it aloud; to themselves; in storytime; at bedtime; at school; in the library; EVERYWHERE. Get this book on your shelves NOW. Do not wait, run to Amazon or Indiebound or wherever you order your books online. Get. It.

Okay, it’s on its way to you? Perfect. Let’s talk about it. I have a handful of books that really, really look racism (of the systemic kind) in the face. There is a place for books showing Black and brown folks going about their lives, living their culture and generally being. There is a place for books that speak more to existential injustice that allow children (and their grown ups) to chew on meaty questions and ideas. But there is equally a place that calls out racism and speaks out against it. Truth to power, folks. B Is for Brotherhood is just that kind of book. It is a book we can share with our young readers to draw connections between news events and how they show us the racism that is in the waters of America.

The book starts with a look at Kaepernick and his protest of the national anthem, then draws in a handful of people who stood (or knelt) with him in his protest. We are introduced to the veteran who spoke with Kaepernick and encouraged him to kneel out of respect for veterans but still in protest of injustice for people of color in America. Then the book dives into the backlash to his protest. The racist comments by owners, fans, and commentators likening players to inmates and telling them to shut up and dribble.

Then Brotherhood says

” If racism ended a long time ago then riddle me this,

Why is there room for 954 hate groups to live on and persist?

Why can white men dress in white robes, light torches, and terrorize?

While colored folks are left to dispute the significance of their own lives.

Why indeed? No flinching there from the ugly fact that white people are still upholding white supremacy. That our president can say there were “good people on both sides” about a group of White terrorists that ran over peaceful anti-racist protestors. This book validates Black lives and the struggle for liberation. It is also imperative that White children hear these ideas and messages and Brotherhood does that too. Bias, racism, and white supremacy need the light shined on them so White folks can fight it within ourselves.

The book pivots from here to look more broadly at what Kap was/is protesting. MacNalie weaves in BBQ Becky, the two men arrested for sitting in Starbucks, H&M’s racist sweatshirt, EA Games, and other current events that have sparked an awaking for some, business as usual for others, and grabbed some amount of media attention. James Baldwin gets quoted and MacNalie says “If it’s still hard to see racism…take the veil off your face.” If that’s not a call to White folks to step up, see the world for what it is, and take action, I don’t know what is.

After looking at recent racist incidents, Brotherhood then turns back to Kap. This time by looking at both the fallout within the NFL and the many awards and recognitions Kaepernick has gotten including his campaign with Nike. Again, a few sentences are dedicated to examining the fallout specifically from that.

MacNalie ends with the powerful

It wasn’t about the bus when Rosa Parks sat and it’s not about the flag now.

Sixty years later Blacks still are not allowed.

Before you dispute our claims, know that privilege is meant to be unseen…”

Which of course takes Rosa Parks, a favorite story of White liberals, and reminds everyone that she wasn’t just a tired old lady at the end of her shift. Her act of resistance targeted a system, not just the ability to sit on a bus. And it was planned. Parks was a lifetime activist and she was chosen for this direct action. But the more things change, the more they stay the same. If we don’t recognize the system of privilege and white supremacy and actively choose to fight it, it’s not going anywhere.

This is such a powerful book. It can open so many conversations and breaks the silence on white supremacy. A silence that is intentional, as it up holds systemic racism. Teachers who want to be anti-racist should have this book proudly out on their shelves and should be proudly reading it to their students. Teachers of color have a book that upholds the validity and necessity of the struggle for liberation. Parents and librarians of the same stripes have this as well in B Is for Brotherhood. Get it on your shelves and then get it into your student’s hands.

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):

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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19

Apr
2019

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Maggie and the Sprinkle Tree by John Bray

On 19, Apr 2019 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Maggie and the Sprinkle Tree Maggie and the Sprinkle Treewritten by John Bray, illustrated by Christian Jackson

From the publisher: Maggie is a busy girl with an active curiosity. But when her imagination swirls everything together, things can get pretty interesting. In this magical story, follow Maggie as she adventures out well past her bedtime and learns how delicious her adventures can be.  

I was really struck by this story because it really sounds like Maggie could be my own daughter. She doesn’t like wearing socks, she is creative and likes to make things, she’s 7 3/4 years old, and taller than average. We were in from page one.

The story itself is silly and lively and just fun. The original Kickstarter campaign ran on the idea that they wanted to create a children’s book that wasn’t moralizing and preachy. I think there is a place for books that have meaning with a capital “M”, but there is is equally a place for fun books like this. I found this to be an ode to kids who love to experiment with household things and what I imagine they wish their experiments would create. It’s wish fulfillment and joy and sometimes we need those books. As educators we want to be sure we’re showing kids that books don’t have to be read just for information or for learning (although we often learn when we least expect it and are having fun), but that reading can be a pleasure. Maggie is a pleasure to read and dream with.

For a self published book, Maggie is pretty swish. It’s a large picture book, in hardcover with a dustjacket. I personally take dustjackets off, but I know they help in libraries to keep books just a hair cleaner and less scuffed up. That’s a big win for any libraries wanting to add this to their collection. The illustrator has also done art for both the jacket and the cover underneath, which is always fun when reading aloud. When this is the case I like to take a little peek under the jacket and then discuss what it might be telling us about the story to come.

I find the illustrations to be quite charming. They’re brightly colored and have lots of details that make it fun to look at while reading. I also love that many of the words in the story are incorporated into the pictures. Words made from sprinkles, words that point directions, words with arrows directing you to look around the page and pay attention. It makes the reading experience a lot more fun and interactive.

So, why am I reviewing this book? It doesn’t feature a diverse cast, just Maggie and the author is a white guy. I actually listen to a podcast John Bray hosts with another author (and blogger) and he pointed listeners to his newsletter. Every couple weeks I get a very brief (thank god, I’m tired of these long newsletters folks send out) newsletter with a little rambling and an even shorter piece of writing from John Bray. His stories are absolutely charming. They always make me smile. If this sounds interesting to you, definitely sign up.

I would highly recommend the book for libraries and classrooms with kids who like to experiment with slime (that’s a big thing right now, I guess?). I could see first and second graders being really into the story. If you have a makerspace with books the encourage creativity on the shelf, here’s one to add.

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12

Apr
2019

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Paseka: A Little Elephant Brave by Ruth James

On 12, Apr 2019 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Paseka: A Little Elephant Brave written by Ruth James, illustrated by Kent Laforme

The book opens with Paseka (pronounced Pa-see-kah), a baby elephant , staggering around a grassland looking for her mother. She is being attacked by a pack of hyenas who bite her and frighten her. Something large and rumbling approaches and Paseka mistakes it for her mother and follows it. Luckily, it also frightens off the hyenas.

It turns out to be a jeep that is heading back to a campsite where Paseka tramples an old shed down and is tranquilized. A group of men put her into the back of the jeep and take her to a rehabilitation camp. Upon waking Paseka finds a herd of elephants where she thinks she spots her mother. The matriarch of the herd checks her out and accepts her into the group and she begins to find a place where she will be cared for. The herd eventually takes Paseka to a place where there are elephant bones and we discover her mother has been poached. Paseka comes to terms with the death of her mother and hears her mother encourage her to be brave.

The publisher contacted me about writing a review of Paseka and gave me access to a digital copy. Before I got a copy I did some research and found it was written by a white woman who has lived in Tanzania. I hoped the book would steer clear of a white savior narrative, exoticizing Tanzania and its people, and looking at it from an outsiders perspective. I think for the most part it does and Paseka does a couple things that are useful. The first is, and this was pointed out in the publicity for the book, it gives children from Tanzania, and Eastern Africa more broadly, a picture book featuring local folks, local wildlife, and local habitats. The author works with a nonprofit that provides books to children in Tanzania and Kenya (as well as other services). In terms of distributing books to children in other parts of the world, picture books written with American, Canadian and European children in mind don’t have the same cultural relevance to children elsewhere. It’s important for them to see themselves and their homelands reflected in the literature they read and Paseka does that. It also has a Kiswahili translation of the text in the back. I worry a lot about the white savior aspects of the non profit, but the book itself doesn’t feature any white folks. It’s all Tanzanian people caring for Paseka and reuniting her with other elephants. I cannot speak to how it fits with local beliefs and sensibilities either, but I hope the author knew enough to at least try to make a relevant book. I do wish publishers sought out African authors and illustrators and gave them the opportunity to write books about their lives and their countries. That’s the ideal, the gold standard.

The other thing the book does is open conversations around wildlife conservation, the importance of local people being involved in those operations, and allows educators and parents to take a hard look at who is doing the poaching and why. I’m thinking of that dentist a few years back that killed the famous lion, but also capitalism and its expansion and the expectations it breeds around access to things like ivory, etc. And also exploitation of places impoverished by colonialism. These are important conversations for us to have with our children and students.

The text is definitely on the long side and it starts out scary with a hyena attack on the baby elephant. Proceed with caution with younger audiences. That being said, I think the ending actually delves beautifully into the majesty of elephants, their intelligence and intuition. Paseka is taken to tree where bones of poached elephants lay. There she finds a skull that brings to mind a heartsong that “she had heard…every day before she came into the great wide world.” So while sad and heart wrenching at first, it ends with warmth and love.

The illustrations are soft, sparse watercolors and I love that all the elephants look different. I’m a hippie at heart who had a home birth so the illustration of Paseka in wrapped in warm-toned swirls and hearts with an umbilical cord and her mother floating on the opposite page looking on lovingly and floating in what appears to be the universe really hit me in the feels.

I definitely think if you have books like Owen and Mzee and they’re popular and/or they fit with your curriculum this is a book worth having. It will also appeal to those environmental/animal activists in your library and classrooms. But use it open up hard discussions about places like Tanzania and why they need organizations to come in and provide children with books and why they have economic needs that facilitate poaching. Also use it to talk about the beauty and resilience of these countries and their people. Talk about how they want to preserve their land and their fauna and how they help themselves do that. Don’t let this book live in isolation in your collection or classroom.

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05

Apr
2019

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Dreaming Their Way Out by Leonard Williams

On 05, Apr 2019 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Dreaming Their Way OutDreaming Their Way Out written by Leonard Williams, illustrated by Ohana Tozato

From Goodreads: Dreaming Their Way Out is about seven orphans who are desperately yearning for a family. One night when they dreamed about escaping the orphanage something indescribable happens. They do not realize that this discovery will change their lives forever.

Dreaming Their Way Out felt like pure wish fulfillment. Seven children are in a nun-operated orphanage, Roald Dahl style. They have to do all the hard work around the house and Sister Agatha is using them to earn money. Thankfully there does not appear to be any physical violence against the children and we don’t know why the children are orphaned (so no violent or tragic stories about their parents explicitly spelled out). One night, after another tedious and unpleasant day, in a shower of silver sparkles the kids meet a group of adults with wings. They discover that these people are their guardians and they take them off to a magical dream land where they eat good food, play with animals, and fly around magnificent natural places. Now that the children know they can spend time with the grown ups who care for and about them and can visit such a spectacular world they can’t wait to get through the days and dream their way out.

I certainly see this appealing to dreamy kids with their heads in the clouds. I’ll be honest, I was a day-dreamy kid growing up and had all kinds of wild fantasies that involved wild narratives like living in the woods, living on a farm, being able to talk to animals. And each of these stories I made up in my head did not involve parents and had limited adult roles in them. I could see a kid like myself eating this story up. I could even see it inspiring kids to write their own fantastical, hopeful, warm stories.

In terms of handing this to a kid in the foster system or a kid who is up for adoption or has been adopted, I’ll be honest, I don’t know. I’m not well versed enough in the issues of foster care and adoption to say how this story aligns with the treatment they receive, any stigma there might be against them, or if this kind of narrative is harmful. I would say proceed with caution. I only recently became aware of adoption kidlit as a genre and how problematic it can be. Is this different because it’s just so winsome? Again, I don’t feel qualified to say for sure. As with all books don’t treat it like something only a child with that type of story would enjoy. All kids can benefit for books with stories different than their own.

I do really appreciate that a story with such fantastical, magical adventures features seven kids of color. This is so rare and such a gap that needs filling in kidlit.

The book was a little on the long side which would make it better suited to reading with one or two kids at a time. But that also makes it a good fit for classroom and school libraries where kids check books out and have them to either take home or read over more than one sitting. The language isn’t terribly difficult which would make it accessible to a second or third grader.

The story ends on a high note, but also with a “to be continued…”. I’ll be curious to see what other magical adventures this group of friends finds in the years to come.

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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