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.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 11, Jan 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: In this poignant story, a girl finds it funny when her classmate starts blushing on the school playground. Her friends laugh along with her, but one student takes the teasing too far. Torn between her sympathy for her classmate and her fear of the bully, the girl must make a difficult choice.
I have a long list of picture books I’ve read and need to review and many of them are fading to the point that I am re-checking them out from the library to refresh my memory. However I decided to tackle Red today even though I read (ha!) it yesterday and have to bump it up the list.
The basic premise of the book is that a child on the playground blushes and a little girl, the narrator of the story, points it out. This starts a wave of teasing led primarily by a twit of a kid named Paul. The little girl who originally pointed out the redness (hence the title) realizes her mistake and wants to stand up to Paul, but she’s cowed by him and the fear that she may be alone.
The illustrations are sparse in cream, black, white, gray and red. The use of white space and limited palate really make it feel very modern and clean. Red in particular is used to great effect through out the story and not just on the little boy’s cheeks.
I bought it for our library in part because we are having problems with bullying across the grades (even in Kindergarten!!) and think we need more books the teachers can use in their classrooms when these issues arise. I also bought it because I wanted to read it per a long-forgotten review of it and the public library curiously did not have it.
The one problem I see with the book is that it’s probably a story better suited to use in classrooms. It’s the kind of book adults love, but kids don’t necessarily click with. It won’t be one they ask to read over and over again (for starters the story, despite it’s happy ending, is kind of depressing). I think students will understand the message and will enjoy the story and conversations it will induce, but it’s not quite the type of story that children will be drawn to. And if they are I suspect it will be because the message really resonates with their current situation.
Despite this, I highly recommend this book for school library collections and classroom libraries. We all deal with bullying situations and need to address them and this book is an excellent starting place. It has a Message with a capital m, but it doesn’t feel preachy. I think it especially speaks to the kids who are bystanders and the fear they feel about speaking out. It may give them courage to stop what they see and it definitely gives teachers a place to start the conversation.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 06, Jan 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: Almost everything Callie’s family owns is spread out in their front yard—their furniture, their potted flowers, even Callie’s bike. They can’t stay in this house, so they’re moving to an apartment in the city. The new place is “small but nice,” Mom says, and most of their things won’t fit, so today they are having a yard sale. But it’s kind of hard to watch people buy your stuff, even if you understand why it has to happen. With sensitivity and grace, Eve Bunting and Lauren Castillo portray an event at once familiar and difficult, making clear that a home isn’t about what you have, but whom you hold close.
I was kind of meh on this one even though I know a lot of other people liked it. The message in it was great and I think the comment the woman makes to Callie at the yard sale is spot on and I know it shows a reality for a lot of kids during the recession. I just didn’t personally click with the story.
I am always looking for books that help kids understand that things are not nearly as important as our society would have you believe and this one fits the bill. An older woman approaches Callie at the yard sale and asks if she is for sale prompting a huge gush of tears from Callie (unsurprisingly). Her parents quickly shut down the yard sale and help Callie understand both that she is not for sale and what was out on the lawn was just stuff and in the scheme of things really unimportant. Especially when compared to their family.
Callie’s family is moving into a smaller space (an apartment if memory serves me) and they have to sell most of their belongings. Callie is struggling with this idea and spends most of the yard sale wandering around feeling sad about seeing their stuff go. I think this is pitch perfect for a young child watching this turmoil and I also think it was a reality for a lot of kids during the recession and, sadly, probably now too. That makes the book a good one for sharing in communities that were hit by the recession to open conversations and show kids they aren’t alone. It would also be a good one for communities like mine where we can build empathy and awareness that not everyone lives like they do.
Lauren Castillo also illustrated Nana in the City and I believe Nana is the woman who approaches Callie at the yard sale asking if she’s for sale. I have to say this is exactly the kind of insensitive comment my own daughter gets from older people (particularly women) when we go out. Comments that are meant to be funny but do not make sense to the child and make them feel bad or, worse, scared. I suspect this story has probably happened at countless yard sales and been very disturbing for the child while the adult leaves thinking they made a joke and is oblivious to the drama they have started. Nana, in this case, disappears completely from the sale on the very next page after dropping in to make her “joke”.
Despite my own personal feelings about the book I think it should be in all library collections.