By Elizabeth Wroten
On 27, Apr 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: As a boy and his mother move quickly through the city, they’re drawn to different things. The boy sees a dog, a butterfly, and a hungry duck while his mother rushes them toward the departing train. It’s push and pull, but in the end, they both find something to stop for.
Well I feel judged after reading that. I actually have really liked all the Antoinette Portis’ books I have read. Not A Box is one of my all time favorites because it embodies the makerspace spirit and idea and children love it, even the older ones.
Portis’s illustrations are always charming and the thick black lines and use of white space really give it a child-like feel that I think appeals to kids. Portis also really captures what a child would want to stop and look at in the story too and draws your attention to these things even before the mother notices them, giving the reader the little boy’s perspective. The few repeated words on the pages with engaging pictures make this a good one for pre-readers. They can skip the words all together or quickly memorize the three or four words used. This also makes the book less suited to school libraries (unless you have very young audiences), but perfect for public libraries.
But as a parent I kind of take issue with the book. Sure, it’s a creative and beautiful book with a wonderful message, but I also feel like I don’t need something else adding to my mommy guilt. We all know we need to slow down and I do think the book reminds us that there is a time and a place to do that, but it can feel pretty judgemental to parents. All told I like the book as it encourages us to slow down, but if you have any kind of parental guilt, it’s going to strike a bit close to home.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 25, Apr 2016 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten
Okay, I forgot to count exactly how many books we have and really the number tallied isn’t quite the right number since there are a few collections not included (more on that below) and a pile or two I may have forgotten. There are books all over our house, not surprisingly. There are about 320 picture books. I don’t have very many chapter books lying around yet since my daughter is not even reading yet so they are not in here.
I thought this would be an interesting collection to look at and was spurred on by this talk by Grace Lin. It also prompted me to get rid of a lot of books I had, but didn’t really like (or my daughter wasn’t really interested in). It’s also given me a good look at where I would like to build the collection up (more diversity, not surprisingly). Multitasking for the win! I was able to purge and look at how I can better support diversity in our home.
Once again the numbers don’t lie, I need to work on building diversity in my home collection too. In this first chart none refers to books with weren’t really nonfiction, but didn’t really feature people or animals prominently or have inanimate objects (think The Day the Crayons Came Home).
Thoughts and Ideas
I got most of the books tallied, but not all of them. I think it doesn’t really matter if I have all of them it wasn’t going to push my numbers either way.
I did not included our poetry books in this count as most of them don’t have main characters (although many feature incidental diversity). I also skipped the non fiction collection for basically the same reason. Only a handful even feature people that could be counted for their diversity or lack of diversity.
I also did not tally in our holiday collection. It would have skewed our numbers for sure, but really that part of our picture book collection is all about supporting the holidays we celebrate as a family. Unlike the library collection there is only one child using this collection and she is white and German, so that’s very strongly reflected in our holiday books. I would very much like to get a handful more diverse holidays, but those books will primarily be informational since we don’t celebrate Ramadan or Kwanza or Diwali. I guess what I’m trying to say is these are probably not books we’ll own, but will get from the library. I want to read them, but I would rather devote the money I have to spend on books for us to building diversity elsewhere.
Can you tell I have a soft spot for animal books? So does my daughter. Too bad animal books often look pretty white too.
All in all, we need more diversity. The bulk of this collection was built while I worked in a book store in my very early twenties at which point I was totally oblivious to everything. Meaning, the bulk of the collection was built completely unintentionally. I did get a fair amount of diversity in despite that, but not nearly enough. As the years have continued I’ve added favorites of mine as well as things that I know feature diversity and are amazing books to boot.
I have work to do, but as with all the collections, this will be better and easier with these numbers in hand.
I would love to see more Native American stories and books in here and, considering the wonderful stuff I’ve seen lately, I’m surprised I don’t have more. I did recently weed through the folk tales portion of our collection so that I could remove anything that wasn’t quality content and that basically removed a good portion of those books. I would rather have fewer high quality ones than a lot of crappy, racist books.
This is going to be really good when I start buying chapter books. I can be super intentional as I build up that collection (seriously I have maybe 25 upper elementary and middle grade chapter books).
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 20, Apr 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: Sunday nights are special for Evie and Grandma. That s when they go on their weekly shopping spree. Grandma flips open the newspaper to see what s advertised, and the imaginary tour of neighborhood stores begins. Toting a wallet filled with colorful pretend bills, Evie and Grandma take turns buying whatever catches their fancy. A big chunk of ham, a sofa with a secret, and a dress with spangles are just a few of the treasures they purchase. Most special of all is the jewelry box Evie chooses for the gold heart necklace Mama gave her and the bouquet of flowers Evie leaves as a surprise for Grandma.
This was such a great story about imagination. Evie and Grandma spend Sunday evenings pretending to buy all sorts of items from stores in their neighborhood. They snip out pictures and pass Monopoly money back and forth to purchase their items. I would have EATEN THIS UP as a kid. Evie and Grandma are having such a good time flipping through the ads and cutting things out and coming up with what they’ll eat during the week or why they want certain things (a jewelry box for a special necklace). As Evie and Grandma keep adding items and visiting stores the illustrations fill up with all their finds. Each piece looks cut from an add and stuck down making the reader feel a part of the fun.
I would like to point out a couple details about the book that make it important. The first is that Evie is clearly living with her grandmother, but there is a picture of her mom on the bedside table. Her mother is in a military uniform in the picture. It’s never stated if the mother is dead or if she is deployed allowing children with parents in the service to read into it what they need to. The second detail is that it’s never said that Evie and Grandma do this because they don’t actually have the money to go shopping. This is purely a game. A game where Evie is practicing her math skills! I feel like so many of the books we have that feature African American families, especially those where the grandparent is raising the grandchild, portray them as poor. Again, kids can read into it what they need to. For my particular library population I hate that narrative that all African Americans are poor- it’s so obviously not the case and I don’t want my African American students to be uncomfortable and I don’t want my white students to internalize that. This might actually be a great conversation starter for parents and teachers if their kids or students make the assumption that Evie and her grandma are poor.
Another beautiful book to celebrate grandparents, different family structures, and creativity. You could certainly get out some play money, scissors, and ads once you’ve read the book and copy Evie and Grandma.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 14, Mar 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: Can you hold onto someone with your heart instead of your hand? When it’s time to start school, a little girl must let go of her father’s hand in order to reach out and grab hold of something new.
THANKS A LOT, ZETTA ELLIOTT. I AM NOW WEEPING INTO MY COFFEE CUP. You pretty much nailed what it’s like trying to take my daughter anywhere. And what I hope she will be able to do when she sees another child having a hard time, too. Add to that the special relationship fathers and daughters can have. I can’t even.
A little girl goes all sorts of places holding her father’s hand- the library, crossing the street, etc. It’s a comforting gesture that makes her feel safe and protected. But one day she finds herself holding his hand at school and he’s telling her it’s time to let go. He’ll be back later and that is HARD. He explains that although they are not holding hands, she can hold him in her heart until he returns. Still the little girl is scared and upset until the teacher brings over another little girl who is having an equally hard time. Just then the little girl knows just what to do. She grabs the other girl’s hand, says a few comforting words, and the two head off to play together as dad slips out the door.
Although the book packs an emotional punch that gets at how hard it is for many kids to separate from their parents (and speaks to the parent who has mixed emotions about that step their child is taking away from them), it never feels saccharine. Yes, even despite my misty (okay, teary!) eyes. It reminds me of The Kissing Hand which I find just too sappy. I don’t know why, but I do. With the twist of the little girl helping another girl, a new friend, feel better the story feels more genuine and less about separating from the father and more about the girl finding her way into the world.
Every library who serves young children needs this book. Particularly school libraries. We always, always, always have a few kids each year that have a hard time saying goodbye to mom or dad. Ones who are a little bit scared and just need a little push in the right direction. Talk about a perfect book for story time in those first few days of school.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 09, Mar 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: Just how many things can “one” be? One box of crayons. One batch of cookies. One world. One family. From veteran picture book author George Shannon and up-and-coming artist Blanca Gomez comes a playful, interactive book that shows how a family can be big or small and comprised of people of a range of genders and races.
I didn’t realize it when I requested the book, but this is an interesting twist on the traditional concept counting book. There is plenty to count in the book, but it focuses on the message that a family is a family no matter how many or who is in it. And it does so by examining the use of “one” as a collective number, which is a very abstract idea, but something kids will immediately understand.
The pictures are wonderful. They have that modern vibe that seems to be popular right now (and appeals to me personally). A bit computer-y but also whimsical and studiously less than perfect. The families come in all shapes, sizes, colors, genders, religions, etc. And this was the real draw for me. Again, I’m going to share a little about myself and get personal with the review.
With Room in My Heart I shared that my parents are divorced, remarried, re-divorced, and remarried. Well, so are my husband’s parents. That means our daughter has seven (SEVEN!) grandparents (and one crotchety great grandparent). And they all live within a few miles of us. Blessing and curse, let me tell you. The thing is, this isn’t exactly the norm. Our family gatherings are full of adults that are related in weird and complicated ways to each other and it’s hard for our daughter to understand that. She is so blessed to have so many people that love her, but she’s surrounded by some difficult baggage and emotions too. The majority of our friends with kids do not have anything rivaling this crazy family situation and I really don’t want our daughter to grow up feeling embarrassed by our crazy family. I want her to see that families come in all shapes and sizes. Now, of course out in the real world she does see a lot of different family makeups, but this is not usually reflected in picture books (as I noted with divorced families) and it often feels like something no one talks about.
All this is a long way of saying books like this are so important because they show families that don’t look like the white mother-father-2 kids picture society likes to paint and picture books reinforce.
My only hesitation with the book for my library is that we technically serve a population that is beyond the counting from one to ten books. But I want it in our collection. I can shelve it with the picture books and it would be an excellent one to trot out for any of out pre-k or kindergarten family units (which usually come at the start of the year and are short). The message is way too important here to pass over. I think libraries that serve young children should all have it, even if the kids are a bit too old for counting books.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 10, Feb 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
A Chicken Followed Me Home!: Questions and Answers About a Familiar Fowl written and illustrated by Robin Page
From Goodreads: Celebrated author-illustrator Robin Page leads a step-by-step, question-and-answer-style journey through the world of chickens. Along the way you’ll explore different breeds, discover different types of coops, and learn everything there is to know about chicken reproduction and hatching.
I had to pick this book up. For starters it’s about chickens, but also, that chicken on the cover could be our Rhode Island Red. I love chickens!
I seem to remember reading a review of this book that talked about the text being fairly difficult. At least for picture book nonfiction. It’s certainly not easy. Done in question and answer style, each page has a fair amount of text on it, but it’s all very clearly written. I read it to my four-year-old daughter and she had no trouble comprehending it.
The information itself is true (see my rant about that here) and interesting. And it answers some basic questions about how egg production works. I cannot tell you how many people do not understand egg production and chickens. The most common question we get is if a rooster is needed to get hens to lay eggs. No. If there was a rooster there would be babies, folks. Basic biology there. Let’s be sure our children know where eggs come from and how that whole process works.
An excellent book for schools that have units on birds and/or farm animals. It would also make a nice addition to public library collections as most children love farm animals and are curious about them (I borrowed the copy from my public library).
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 08, Feb 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: Annel’s grandparents have come to stay, all the way from India. Aneel loves the sweet smell of his grandmother’s incense and his grandfather, Dada-Ji, tells the world’s best stories. This title features recipes which have useful pictures and easy-to-follow instructions.
My school is getting to be a lot more diverse, which is a great thing, but our collection (as I’ve said before) needs some help reflecting that. Many of our students of color are of Indian descent and our collection is woefully lacking in books that reflect that culture or those kids. WOEFULLY. Thus far I have found them to be hard to come by, at least ones that show Indian Americans.
Hot, Hot Roti is one I came across and immediately bought. It’s such an funny story with Aneel reminiscing about the stories his grandfather shares with him of his grandfather’s youth and Aneel basically trying to help his grandfather get his mojo back.
What I loved most about the book, besides it being a funny uplifting story, is the relationship between Aneel and his grandfather. He talks a lot about how much he admires him and enjoys the stories he shares. He also talks about his grandmother and how much he loves her too, but it’s clear there is a special connection between grandfather and grandson. There is a sweet comparison between Aneel and the grandfather and it becomes apparent that Aneel is a lot like his grandfather.
Best of all Annel does the cooking. He makes the roti. Without help. Hooray for kids cooking and especially the image of boys cooking! The only thing I would give a caveat about is being sure to have other books that show Indian American families that don’t wear traditional clothes and cook Indian foods. Many families do, but we don’t want to fall into stereotypes. When Aneel goes to make the roti the book shows his other family members (parents and sister) and they are doing very typical American things, so I think (correct me if I am off the mark here) the book does a good job of balancing a family rooted in Indian culture without focusing solely on that culture. An excellent picture book to add to any library collection. Be sure to put it out to celebrate Grandparents’ Day.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 03, Feb 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: What happens when two shy children meet at a very crowded pool? Dive in to find out! Deceptively simple, this masterful book tells a story of quiet moments and surprising encounters, and reminds us that friendship and imagination have no bounds.
I really loved this book as did my daughter. It’s very magical and the illustrations are beautiful. A little boy is alone at the pool gazing into it when a large group of boisterous people show up and jump right in. They splash and make a lot of noise (well, I assume they do, there aren’t actually any words to show they are) and generally make the boy feel out of place and more shy. As he dives down under the ruckus another swimmer sees him and follows. It’s a little girl and the two head off to see what they can under the water.
They end up in a magical, imaginative world under water where they have a good time together. As they resurface they remove their goggles and discover who each other are. Everyone else climbs out of the pool and the girl heads off with them.
It really is, as the description says, a beautiful book about friendship and imagination. I think it speaks to the experience not of lasting friendships, but fleeting ones. The ones children make on the playground at the park for an hour or at the pool.
My one thought or concern is that all the people in the pool, the ones taking up all the space and generally being obnoxious, are fat. That worries me that it’s playing into a stereotype or fat shaming. I’m not really sure, but it made me a little bit uncomfortable.
That aside, it’s a gorgeous wordless picture book well worth having if no one else chimes in chastising it for the depiction of the people in the pool.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 20, Jan 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: In this exuberant and lyrical follow-up to the award-winning Over and Under the Snow, discover the wonders that lie hidden between stalks, under the shade of leaves . . . and down in the dirt. Explore the hidden world and many lives of a garden through the course of a year! Up in the garden, the world is full of green—leaves and sprouts, growing vegetables, ripening fruit. But down in the dirt exists a busy world—earthworms dig, snakes hunt, skunks burrow—populated by all the animals that make a garden their home.
I am a sucker for garden books. Even more so if they follow the garden through the seasons. The passing of seasons is the best part of gardening. Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt is exactly that kind of garden book which is why I picked it up. However, I am not the target audience. I have now read the book several times to my daughter who is more or less interested in it.
Through this book I found the other book by this author-illustrator pair. My daughter is a lot more interested in that one, I think because snow is such a foreign concept to us. Both books have a great end section that discusses the different animals you see throughout the book giving more detail and information.
The illustrations are sweet and interesting and a little child-like. The cut aways of the soil are really what fascinates my daughter and is one of the things that make the book stand out. I love that the grandmother is the one showing the girl about gardening and isn’t your bespectacled, bun-headed stereotype. She looks a little more fashionable and younger, which is more inline with grandmothers I see these days (including my daughter’s three grandmothers).
The book doesn’t win any points for diversity, which leads me to say it’s recommended if you are in a school that has a garden or gardening unit, but is only really necessary as an addition to a collection of garden books. It’s one I’ll add to our home collection, because I can’t help myself, and the other librarian bought it for our first grade and pre-kindergarten who do garden units, but otherwise I would have passed.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 13, Jan 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: Written in a spare, lyrical style using fresh, evocative imagery, In a Village by the Sea tells the story of longing for the comforts of home. A perfect book for teaching about diverse cultures and lifestyles through rich pictures and words, moving from the wide world to the snugness of home and back out again.
I love these kinds of books for bedtime stories. They are a bit poetic and sing-songy which makes them comforting and lull you to sleep. The story follows the pattern of The House in the Night or the nursery rhyme that is book based on “Key to the Kingdom”. Each verse pulls you in a little closer or out a little further from the starting point. In a Village gives it a bit of a special twist by ending in a different place from the start, but with a nod to the fishing boat out at sea.
I think because of the bedtime story feel and the young audience it may be intended for, it’s not an absolute necessity for school library collections. However, because both the setting and the authors are Vietnamese it’s one every library should consider purchasing. The book makes for a great read aloud and there is a lot to look at and discuss in the illustrations if you give it the time.