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22

Feb
2020

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Landon’s Lemonade Stand by Randy Williams

On 22, Feb 2020 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Landon’s Lemonade Stand written by Randy Williams, illustrated by Mark “mas” Stewart

In the center foreground, a little boy with short dreadlocks holds up a red cup of lemonade in one hand and flyer advertising his lemonade stand in the other. Behind him is a shiny, red, new bike and a table with a sign for his lemonade stand. Across the top is the title of the book with lemons on either side in the corners.
Image description: In the center foreground, a little boy with short dreadlocks holds up a red cup of lemonade in one hand and flyer advertising his lemonade stand in the other. Behind him is a shiny, red, new bike and a table with a sign for his lemonade stand. Across the top is the title of the book with lemons on either side in the corners.

From Goodreads: Landon’s Lemonade Stand is about a young African American child who learns to be an entrepreneur by opening a lemonade stand to earn money for a brand new RBG Speedster bicycle. Author Randy Williams inspires young girls and boys alike with messages of leadership and financial responsibility while encouraging children to seek entrepreneurship at a young age.

Watching TV one morning Landon sees an ad for a new bike and decides he really, really wants it. His parents see an opportunity to have Landon take on the responsibility of getting what he wants for himself and suggest a lemonade stand. From there they support him through the process of getting it up and running and teaching him some basic business practices.

The pacing in this story was excellent. It starts with Landon seeing the bike on TV and has him run to his parents asking for it. Then the story takes us through the steps for getting his lemonade stand up and running and then shows resolution of his initial desire to get a bike. Nothing in the story drags, feels overly expository, or gets bogged down with too much detail. Williams keeps reader interest through the whole story while also giving them a blueprint for how to start up their own lemonade stand.

As a mom, I have to say I love the expressions on Landon’s mom’s face. Especially when they’re in the grocery store getting supplies. She’s making hard eye contact and raising an eyebrow. Landon is busy assuring her he has a good grip on what he needs and a complete list of supplies and she’s just being doubly sure, because she will not be driving back for forgotten items, so help her God. All the illustrations have a fun comic book style that matches the enthusiasm and lightness of the story.

With warmer weather heading our way in the Northern Hemisphere, this is sure to inspire kids to get out there and make lemonade. Libraries should have this book on their shelves during summer months to encourage all young entrepreneurs out there. Schools with summer programs and access to their libraries should definitely have this and even if the library is closed over the summer have it to inspire kids in April and May.

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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17

Feb
2020

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: My Grandma Is a Lady by Jalissa B. Pollard

On 17, Feb 2020 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

My Grandma Is a Lady written by Jalissa B. Pollard, illustrated by Hatice Bayramoglu

Picture of the cover of the book. It features a grandmother with light brown skin wearing a white jacket and short white veil over her gray hair. She is holding a makeup compact and is raising a powder puff up to her cheek. She is looking back at her granddaughter who is sitting on her bed in a pink dress holding a doll. On the vanity table is a yellow vase of purple flowers and the grandmother's glasses.
Image description: Picture of the cover of the book. It features a grandmother with light brown skin wearing a white jacket and short white veil over her gray hair. She is holding a makeup compact and is raising a powder puff up to her cheek. She is looking back at her granddaughter who is sitting on her bed in a pink dress holding a doll. On the vanity table is a yellow vase of purple flowers and the grandmother’s glasses.

From Goodreads: My Grandma is a Lady is about a young African American girl that chronicles her memories of her grandmother’s participation and membership in the Ladies’ Auxiliary of the Knights of Peter Claver, a historically black lay organization of Catholics. Representation matters. This story resonates with many children of the Catholic faith worldwide.

My Grandma Is a Lady is a lovely ode to religious grandmas everywhere, specifically Catholic grandmas. The little girl we see on the cover tells us about the things her grandmother does. She dresses in white every second Sunday, she reminds the girl of her mother’s birthday, she prays rosary in the park with her lady friends in the Fall. The girl concludes that she hopes to be like her grandmother one day, a faithful lady.

The illustrations are bight and airy lending the book a lightness despite how austere and dower church and church ladies are often depicted. Clearly the author and the girl in the book see the grandmother’s religion and faith as very positive things. Christianity and religion doesn’t get a lot of press in mainstream children’s publishing and the religious presses tend to have heavy-handed, moralizing books for kids. It’s refreshing to see this depiction of religion and a religious family member where it is clearly a love letter to a beloved grandmother, rather than a hard sell on converting kids. And I think a lot of folks have grandmothers and grandparents that take great pride in religion, so they get to see their favorite family members reflected in a positive way here.

For those readers concerned by the word lady, don’t let it hang you up too much if you’re looking for a book celebrating grandmas. While the grandmother is a lady, the things that make her a lady are not overly feminine or gendered. They seem to be things that make her more religious and faithful.

It isn’t explicit in the story whether or not the little girl narrating is living with her grandmother or whether her mother may be dead. It reminded me of the book Sunday Shopping where the little girl lives with her grandmother because her mother is in the military, although it’s ambiguous whether the mother is simply deployed or dead. I personally think the ambiguity makes it more relatable for a wider variety of families, but I also imagine some families are looking for less ambiguity.

Libraries situated in religious communities would be well advised to get a copy of this on their shelves. Ditto classrooms and schools with large religious communities. If religion is less of a community value, but you do celebrate grandparents, then this book is still highly recommended.

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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17

Feb
2020

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Shapes with Logan by Lorraine O’Garro

On 17, Feb 2020 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

A white cover features the title across the top in large red letters shadowed by a yellow outline. Logan, a little black boy with a flat top, khaki shorts, tennis shoes, green long sleeve shirt and a maroon puffy vest marches at the front of a line of shape with legs. He is followed by a red square, green oval, and yellow triangle.
Image description: A white cover features the title across the top in large red letters shadowed by a yellow outline. Logan, a little black boy with a flat top, khaki shorts, tennis shoes, green long sleeve shirt and a maroon puffy vest marches at the front of a line of shapes with legs. He is followed by a red square, green oval, and yellow triangle.

Shapes with Logan written by Lorraine O’Garro, illustrated by Katlego Kgabale

From Goodreads: Join Logan as he teaches you the shapes in the world around us. This book presents shapes like you’ve never seen them before. Perfect for young learners and curious minds. Logan is the newest character to join Bella in her world adventures.

Author Lorraine O’Garro and illustrator Katlego Kgabale are back, building on Numbers with Bella and The Alphabet with Bella. They have brought us another wonderful concept book with little Logan teaching readers to identify shapes. Bella makes some appearances too!

The simplicity of these books belies how good they are. Each shape is given a two-page spread. On the left the name of the shape is written in large, friendly text. Hello, print awareness for our pre-readers! Below each word is the actual shape. On the right-hand side Logan can be seen discovering or interacting with the shape in real life. For example, “rectangle” shows Logan and Bella floating in a rectangular pool and “hexagon” shows Logan in beekeeping get up (I do love bees) looking at a close-up of honey comb. Below each illustration is the word for the object we’re looking at, which of course draws the readers’ attention to the shape found in the world.

I appreciate that the list of shapes Logan shows readers does not include ridiculously useless shapes like parallelogram (try teaching a three year old to say that, let alone identify one in real life), rhombus (just call it a kite or a diamond), or whatever you call a nine-sided shape (I have gotten through all these years without knowing so clearly it’s not essential). It is also very simply, but intentionally, illustrated. Concept books are wonderful as they help kids and caregivers learn to categorize the world around them, identify and discuss what they are seeing, and generally give kids language. But let’s not forget that concept books are for some of our youngest readers. So many of them over complicate things for young readers and feel like they are more for the adults reading the books than the children they should be for. This is not the case with the Logan and Bella books. They are pitch perfect for this age group.

I know there are lots of concept books out there to choose from, but beyond thoughtful inclusions and sweet illustrations, the Bella and Logan concept books feature Black kids. If you’re going to have a collection of concept books, be sure it is diverse and include Shapes with Logan.

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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11

Sep
2019

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: The ABCs of the Black Panther Party by S. Khalilah Brann

On 11, Sep 2019 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

The ABCs of the Black Panther Party written by S. Khalilah Brann and Chemay Morales-James, illustrated by Uela May

From Goodreads: The ABCs of the Black Panther Party introduces and gives an overview of the Black Panther Party for children (suggested ages 7-12). The ABCs of the BPP acts as a catalyst for research, supports the expansion of oral and written language and helps to develop the social political consciousness of our children.

Our book utilizes the American alphabet to lay a foundational understanding of the aims of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense, discuss the impact of various members and explores the lasting effect of the Black Power Movement of the 1960s. It is our aim to empower the next generation of leaders to help build strong communities of color focused on Positive Racial Identity Development through Education (PRIDE).

We are reclaiming our sheroes and heroes and providing our young with a blueprint for their own liberation movement.

This is such a necessary book. It’s up there for me as a parent and educator with The People Shall Continue and A Coyote Columbus Story. All these books share history that is both hard and obscured in favor of white-centric and white-washed narratives of our country’s history.

For all the years I had to take American history in school we rarely made it into any history post WWII and when we did I assure you the Black Panthers were never mentioned. My general impression of them, probably formed from pop culture references, up until a few years ago was that they were a Black militant group. That’s not exactly untrue, but the implication was that they were bad and nothing could be farther from the truth. I live in Sacramento and had no idea that they took over the capital building. Nor did I know we had an active chapter here in one of our historically Black neighborhoods.

The ABCs of the Black Panther Party is the kind of book I was hoping to eventually find so I can share the Panthers with my daughter. I hope librarians and teachers also purchase this book and push its use in classrooms and within history curricula. While the authors write books and materials intended to uplift Black history and, in turn, Black children, there is nothing about this book that cannot be read by any audience. We all need to know the real history of this country and the Black Panther Party is part of that. No more vilifying them.

Their history is particularly important because it lays some of the foundation for the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Compare the BBP Ten Point Program (the letter T in ABCs) with the BLM principles. They are different, affirming many of the things that the resistance efforts of the 60s and 70s left out such as queer identity and contributions, but are still remarkably similar in their demands. Many of the Black liberation movements today continue the programs of the BBP, such as copwatch (check out Oakland’s APTP), freedom schools, and other community support programs. It’s essential for families involved in racial justice and abolition work to know the history of where their movements come from.

All libraries need this beautiful book on their shelves in with their 900s and, really, it should be out on display. Have you heard of Black August? Put it out in August. Put it out in February, obviously, but also in January for MLK Day, and in October to commemorate their founding on the 15th.

A note on using it in the classroom or the home: there are 26 letters in our alphabet and each one has a short lyric and then a more detailed description of the concept or person associated with the letter. It makes for a very long read if you want to do it cover to cover. I recommend dipping in and out over several days. This keeps it moving for kids, as well as gives you time to reflect and process and discuss further. In the classroom you could use it to frame a whole unit on Black resistance or the history of that time period, introducing a letter or two each day that guides discussion and further research. We treated it like a chapter book at bedtime in our house and read three or four letters a night for several nights in a row.

I would love to see more books about the Black Panthers for children. I would really love some biographies of the leaders and friends of the party- Huey Newton, Fred Hampton, Kathleen Cleaver, Angela Davis, Assata Shakur, and Stokely Carmichael/Kwame Ture. Maybe Melanin Origins would be up for producing a special series of Snippet in the Life biographies that are a little longer and geared toward slightly older children that focus on four or five of the BBP leaders and the Oakland Community School? 😉

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

Jul
2019

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Maxine Listens by Dr. Lynda Jones Mubarak

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

Maxine Listens written by Dr. Lynda Jones Mubarak, illustrated by Adua Hernandez

From Goodreads: Maxine Hill continues her investigative techniques to solve mysteries and puzzles while practicing community service and human compassion at school and in her community. A new medical diagnosis sends Maxine on a journey to find answers to a very personal concern. What will Max discover this time? Will she be successful? Follow young, Detective Maxine Hill as she seeks to unravel and address another important challenge. 

Maxine Hill is back and she’s ready to tackle the latest mystery, this time in her own family. Her dad has been asking her to repeat herself a lot lately and while on a trip to get new glasses her mom breaks the news that a health issue is causing hearing loss. Maxine makes it her mission to understand the deaf/hard of hearing community better in order to understand what is happening to her dad.

In order to understand the hearing loss Maxine decides to research online and to befriend the three hearing impaired children in her grade at school. The research is an opportunity for her to share what she discovers with the reader and her classmates in the form of an oral presentation. The kids she befriends humanize hearing loss and share different stories and experiences with the condition.

While the relationships she starts to build could come off as transactional or disingenuous on Maxine’s part she bears in mind something her mother has said when she first approaches them “if you want to learn the truth about a person, take some time to learn the truth about how they live, work, and play”. Chastising herself for not really noticing them before or making an attempt to get to know them, she ends up becoming friends with them and the three kids get to share their stories and their dreams for their futures, which makes them less one-dimensional or props exclusively for Maxine. (Bearing in mind this isn’t a novel, more like a beginning chapter book, the space for developing any character is limited.) They are also portrayed as people and not people that need saving by or validation from Maxine. She doesn’t bring them into the cool group and, while she uses what she has learned from them in her report, the report is about how to be inclusive and her own family’s experience, rather than speaking for the other kids.

Also, if you have a student, patron, or kiddo who is needing glasses, Maxine notices her eyesight worsening and over the course of the book gets a new prescription for her glasses. It’s great to see a story that has a glasses-wearing kid taking the change in vision seriously and in stride.

If I had one suggestion about the book it’s the form factor/format! Both Maxine books would make excellent beginning chapter books. Breaking the text up into short chapters (not removing any content, simply breaking it out) and reducing the trim size of the book to match chapter books would make this book an easy peasy sell to kids and librarians alike. Hernandez’s illustrations have a sophisticated, clean feel to them that make them perfect for helping break up and support the text without making kids feel like they’re reading a “baby book”. Maxine is charmingly rendered and will appeal to the chapter book audience in the same way Clementine or Judy Moody does.

If you want smart, interesting female characters on your shelves (you do, right?) then be sure to get both Maxine books. Another winner from Dr. Mubarak.

To be clear, I am not a visually impaired or hearing impaired person. Which of course means this is my read of the book which might very well be incomplete or downright wrong. I would love to hear what people in those communities have to say.

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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28

Jun
2019

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: If You Look Up to the Sky by Angela Dalton

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

If You Look Up to the Sky written by Angela Dalton, illustrated by Margarita Sikorskaia

From Goodreads: There are times when a full moon will guide you, a storm will excite you, and a big, blue sky will inspire you to believe anything is possible. These are a few of the many gifts we receive from the sky and universe when life feels scary and confusing.

Told by a grandmother to her grandchild,
If You Look Up to the Sky is about the power of everlasting love and the ways the sky connects us through good times and bad. It offers a child comfort in knowing that you never need to be afraid… if you look up to the sky. 

I wish I had had this book to review in April, National Poetry Month. It is such a beautiful, prayer-like ode to slowing down and worrying less. It’s also a beautiful remembrance of a grandmother who knew how to soothe a worried child.

Each line of the poem starts with “If you look up to the sky…” The child seen in the illustrations shares that their grandmother would encourage them to look up and notice what was in the sky. Through the story they share each of the meanings held by the different skies you might encounter. Some meanings are affirmations about a person’s worth or what they bring to the world. Others are mantras about taking life as it comes and finding solace and strength in whatever comes your way.

I know in our house we’re dealing with some anxiety and I have been looking for ways to help my daughter feel loved, seen, and connected and give her some ideas she can keep in her back pocket for when she’s feeling worried. I’m putting this book into heavy rotation at bedtime and mentioning it during times she’s struggling.

I also appreciate that the book can be used to help with grief over the loss of a loved one. In the beginning the young child remembers what their grandmother would say when she sat the child on her lap. As the book progresses, the child ages up and appears to become an adult. The final stanza is “But know that you will always find me, in the brightness of the moon…If you look up to the sky.” The final illustration shows the grandmother’s face in the face of the full moon shining down on the silhouette of a parent and child waving up at the moon grandmother. I interpreted this to mean that the grandmother had passed on, but had left the gift of looking at the sky as well as a memory of her in the moon for her family. I don’t think you need to draw a connection to this explicitly, but if you are looking for some comfort in a time of loss, I do think this book could be a resource and help.

The illustrations all feature a child of color, which, at least in my experience, is rare in a bedtime-style book (Ten Nine Eight by Molly Bang notably comes to mind, but few others do). The soft colors and fuzzy edges give the pictures a dreamy, soothing quality that really matches the message of the book. Nature features prominently too, as you might expect with stanzas interpreting what the sky indicates.

I highly recommend this one for home libraries. I do think there is a place for it on library shelves as children need to find it and find the wisdom in it. I see it fitting better with the mission of public libraries who provide books for families to share without needing to support a curriculum or study, but school libraries should consider it if they do social-emotional learning or have a collection with affirming books.

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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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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