By Elizabeth Wroten
On 04, Jan 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: A little girl—lost and alone—follows a mysterious stag deep into the woods, and, like Alice down the rabbit hole, she finds herself in a strange and wondrous world. But… home and family are very far away. How will she get back there?
I have The Only Child listed as a picture book (and before it came in at the library for me I thought it was), but it’s more graphic novel than picture book. It’s rather long (by picture book standards) and the themes are fairly complex, but the book itself is large and it’s completely wordless. So just a heads up there. I think it will still sell well with graphic novel readers and I think younger readers (first and second grade) will be willing to pick it up and read through it too. There’s a lot for everyone here.
As with many books I was of two minds. Professionally speaking it’s a book that should be in collections. The illustrations are gorgeous. It’s written by and about an author of color so we need to support that.
The story is both beautiful and haunting. I think it really gets at some deep-seated fears of children of getting lost. But it then takes this whimsical turn and ends happily (actually it has a bittersweet ending). This idea and theme will be very relatable for children (and possibly contemplative adults). It’s such a magical story too that fantasy lovers will eat it up, but with just enough realism that your realistic fiction lovers will be willing to pick it up. And if you have animal lovers (who doesn’t?), give it to them too. They will particularly appreciate the artist’s ability to portray the bittersweetness of the ending on the face of the child and in how the panels cut back and forth and zoom in.
My other, personal, mind about the book? I hated it. The author’s note talks about how the story is based on something that happened to the author when she was a child. She also goes on to talk about how lonely she was as an only child (she was product of China’s one-child policy) and I am so tired of this narrative about the poor, lonely, pathetic only child. It makes me so mad for several reasons. First, it fuels the fire with people who have vocal opinions about my choice to only have one child. Second, both my husband, myself, and many of our friends are only children AND WE WEREN’T LONELY OR WEIRD BECAUSE OF IT. In fact all of us enjoyed being only children and made sibling-like bonds with our friends. Third, and this is something I remember from being a kid and reading books with this underlying narrative, it makes only children feel inadequate. Particularly if you like being an Only.
I know, I know. This is not a criticism of the book. It’s me bringing my own baggage, which I why I say this book needs to be in library collections across the board. I just can’t read it without those undertones. Be aware that your only child patrons may not appreciate it either if they read the author’s note or pick up on the stance toward only children in it.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 25, Sep 2015 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: Spend a day at the beach, and take in the ocean through the senses of sight, hearing, feeling, taste, and smell in this lively romp through sand and waves. Glorious illustrations of water, sun, and sky accompany brief, evocative verses, making this a perfect keepsake of a seaside vacation or a striking introduction to the pleasures of a day by the ocean.
Hello Ocean skews a little young since it’s essentially a book about senses. But Ryan doesn’t make it feel like a silly book for little kids, she uses great vocabulary and interesting slant rhymes. Books about senses, at least in my experience, can feel very didactic and very similar to one another. It’s refreshing to see the topic tackled from a nature perspective and a little less heavy-handed with the lesson.
Of course that makes me wonder if this book is better suited to kids who have actually been to the ocean, particularly because it focuses on all the senses instead of just sound and sight, which could be gotten from a video. The book was perfect for a bedtime story in our house this week because we were just at the ocean and it was a nice reminder of our vacation and of the sights, sounds, smells, and feelings my daughter had while running around on the beach.
It would certainly make a nice addition to classrooms studying the ocean, ocean conservation, senses, and poetry. It would also pair well with other beaches although there is specific mention of the salty water.
Reading all of these varied books by Pam Munoz Ryan has been interesting. She’s clearly a talented author, but she manages to handle everything from poetry to picture books to middle grade well. I think any of her books would make great additions to home, classroom and library collections.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 24, Sep 2015 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From GoodReads: Recipe for a Festive Story Time: Mix 1 birthday party, 1 delicious Mexican meal, and lots of children, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, cousins, and surprise guests into a fun romp. Add comic illustrations, jaunty rhythms, and playful refrains. Spice with mystery, and stir everything into a book.
Serve aloud to large groups or small. Finally, store leftovers on a shelf in a child’s bedroom, library, or classroom. Enjoy!
Another terrible book description. Mice and Beans does focus around the grandmother making food for a party, but there’s no recipe or real focus on actual cooking. Little Catalina’s birthday is coming up next weekend and her grandmother is preparing for a party in her small house. Remembering her mother’s advice, Rosa Maria knows her small house can hold all the family, but not mice. Each day of the week she preps something new for the party, from food to having Little Catalina’s present assembled in the backyard. Each night she sets a new mousetrap which mysteriously disappears in the night. Rosa Maria, however, forgets to fill the piñata, but when the party rolls around it has candy in it. Where did the help come from and could she have been remembering her mother’s advice incorrectly?
This couldn’t have come at a better time since my daughter just had her birthday. It’s such a sweet story with the mice creeping about the illustrations helping out. There is plenty of gentle humor in the book as well as the doting grandmother. And be sure to keep your eye out for Rosa Maria and Little Catalina’s mouse counterparts. Give this to kids who enjoyed the story in Just a Minute by Yuyi Morales which features another grandmother preparing for a birthday celebration. It’s also a great read aloud.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 21, Sep 2015 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: People have been gobbling up yummy, nutritious raisins for centuries. Ancient Greeks and Romans awarded them at sporting events and astronauts have taken raisins into space. Find out how grapes become raisins, who introduced the seedless grape, and the many uses for raisins.
Oddly enough we picked up a copy of this book four years ago at the SunMaid Raisin factory. At the time I had no idea who had written it (I just didn’t pay any attention), but we liked the information and how it was presented.
The book is clearly informational, but Ryan writes little rhyming questions and then answers them. This makes for a more engaging nonfiction book. My own daughter has been willing to read the book for a couple years now despite it being rather long. Everything is very interesting. I had no idea how prevalent raisins are or how naturally they are made. After three weeks of drying in the sun, it only takes 10 minutes to get them into the factory and then into a box. This is a good book for all those people who want kids to know where their food comes from.
I will say, I’m not personally overly fond of the illustrations. Some of them are great, but others feel like they fall a little flat. Some pages don’t have a full illustration, but one or two smaller pictures to illustrate one or two questions and answers. The white space around those doesn’t feel intentional. It feels almost lazy. There is also some funny formatting with where the questions and answer paragraphs are placed on the page that can make it a little difficult to follow the text properly. And I really don’t like the font they used for the title and questions, but that’s totally a personal preference.
The book is probably best suited to classrooms and library collections, unless your family is really into food and how it’s made (or if you love the SunMaid factory like we do!). There’s a lot of science and history here so it’s a book you could use in a number of different units of study, such as food science, nutrition, and farm-to-fork.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 15, Sep 2015 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From GoodReads: They went by many names, but the world came to know them best as the Harlem Hellfighters. Two thousand strong, these black Americans from New York picked up brass instruments—under the leadership of famed bandleader and lieutenant James Reese Europe—to take the musical sound of Harlem into the heart of war. From the creators of the 2012Boston Globe–Horn Book Award Honor Book, And the Soldiers Sang, this remarkable narrative nonfiction rendering of WWI — and American — history uses free-verse poetry and captivating art to tell century-old story of hellish combat, racist times, rare courage, and inspired music.
Told with incredible illustrations and spare chunks of text, Harlem Hellfighters is not just a story of WWI, but a story of race relations during that era. The small pieces of the story help pack an emotional punch but also shield young readers from the true horrors of WWI.
The 369th, an all black unit, was assembled and sent to France. The men hoped they would be fighting on the front lines, but that evaded them for a long time because of their race. Instead they found themselves doing grunt work far behind the fighting. Under the direction of James Reese Europe, ninety of the men played a fusion jazz that inspired and excited many soldiers and civilians.
Eventually they were sent to the front where they fought admirably and tenaciously. They earned the German nickname Harlem Hellfighters. Many of the men were killed and wounded, but many earned medals of honor, including Henry Johnson who earned a Croix de Guerre, the first American to do so.
The color palette of the illustrations is wonderful. Dark grays, black, blues, browns and purples give them a cold and gritty atmosphere. The text is lyrical and poetic which also contributes to the atmosphere of the book.
This is definitely a worthwhile picture book. A picture book that shows they aren’t just for preschoolers. The language is complex, beautiful and evocative. Although it’s not packed with facts, it will definitely spark interest in race relation, WWI, and jazz. And would be an excellent book to read together, either as a class or family, to process the events. There’s a lot to think about here.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 08, Sep 2015 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
A series of profiles of eight native Alaskan children. Profiles feature pictures of the kids in their everyday lives and often in native dress.
I looked this one up first on Debbie Reese’s AICL blog and she doesn’t appear to have a review. However she mentions another book that recommends it with reservations.
From my own reading of it I thought it was an interesting book. I love that they were little slices of life and it talked a lot about how many of these kids are trying to recapture their cultures that were forcibly taken from them. The essays don’t go into detail about it, but many of them do mention it.
It does use the word Eskimo which I thought was something you weren’t supposed to do, so I found that a little confusing. The pictures are a bit dated as well and I couldn’t help but wonder how different life might be today with Internet access and more technology.
I also wondered how these children, who would now be in their twenties, are passing their cultures on to their children and if they’ve kept up with their desire to keep their cultures alive.
What surprised me most was that while reading it at bedtime to myself, my four year old daughter was captivated by it. She asked what it was about and, not wanting to engage her too much, I said it was a book about children who lived very far up north in Alaska. Instead of putting her off she became very curious and kept asking questions about the children. Where did they live? Did they live in houses that far North? What kind of clothes did they wear? What did they eat? I explained to her that they were native people and that they had a culture and celebrations and languages that were different than ours, but that were like our German culture and celebrations. I finally had to promise to read some of the profiles to her the next day.
I know there may be reservations about the book and how it portrays and handles native culture, but the book piqued my daughter’s interest. Not only can it be exposure to these tribes and children, but it can be a jumping off point for learning more and for discussions about why these children are needing to bring their native cultures back. I suspect this would be a good book to add to a collection that features other strong books about native Alaskan cultures.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 03, Sep 2015 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From GoodReads: Hailing from the Tremé neighborhood in New Orleans, Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews got his nickname by wielding a trombone twice as long as he was high. A prodigy, he was leading his own band by age six, and today this Grammy-nominated artist headlines the legendary New Orleans Jazz Fest.
Along with esteemed illustrator Bryan Collier, Andrews has created a lively picture book autobiography about how he followed his dream of becoming a musician, despite the odds, until he reached international stardom.
I just love this book. The illustrations are gorgeous with lots of fun details that make them pop off the page (like the cover). The story has rhythm and how can you resist the picture in the Author’s Note of Troy Andrews, who looks to be about three feet tall, with this ridiculously long trombone?
Music definitely infuses the story, from the repeated refrain “Where y’at? Where y’at?” to the great analogies he uses to describe how he made music. Music was always in his home and in his neighborhood.
The message of the next generation carrying on the musical tradition of New Orleans is also very appealing. I think stories that are positive and encourage kids to both keep their roots and forge ahead are very inspiring. They tell children that they have something of value to offer the world and I don’t think that message is given out very often. Plus Andrews has such a can-do attitude about music. It was just in him and he sought out opportunities to make it and enjoy it. He and his friends made their own band and their own instruments and . The fact that he didn’t need much, or any money and things, to get started following his dream is incredibly refreshing and inspiring. Especially with this generation of children that are so heavily marketed to.
A great addition to any biography collection and a great read aloud for kids of all ages.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 10, Jun 2015 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
For the summer reading lists I was trying to get some newer, more diverse titles into the suggested titles sections. None of the previous titles were bad, they were just older lists. There was almost no poetry on the lists and I wanted to expose the kids to some good titles in that genre. I also wanted to show parents of older kids (third and fourth grade) that it’s okay for their kids to still read picture books. Many picture books are actually harder to read than chapter books. Plus they’re beautiful. Why turn kids off to them? This post is considerably shorter than the chapter book review mania. Many of the picture books I added are ones I have already reviewed, but I wanted to get a few thoughts down about the following titles.
Orangutanka: A Story in Poems written by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Renee Kurilla
From GoodReads: All the orangutans are ready for a nap in the sleepy depths of the afternoon . . . all except one. This little orangutan wants to dance! A hip-hop, cha-cha-cha dance full of somersaults and cartwheels. But who will dance with her? Written in bold poems in the tanka style, an ancient Japanese form of poetry that is often used as a travel diary, this exuberant orangutan celebration from acclaimed poet Margarita Engle will make readers want to dance, too!
The illustrations in this book are gorgeous and adorable. The story is cute, but the book really shines in that it encourages kids to write their own tanka poems and do their own orangudance. Engle has included some really interesting information in the back of the book too.
This would be the perfect book for kids who love animals, particularly apes and monkeys. In the classroom it would be a great book for units on conservation, environment, habit and habit destruction, Southeast Asia, and poetry.
Don’t be fooled by the word count, it’s amazing what Engle can convey through a few short poems. You get a sense of where the orangutans live, how they live and see the adventure the older sister has with some children visiting the wildlife preserve.
I put this on the third grade list, but it could have gone on any of the younger lists and really even onto the fourth grade list. A third grader could handle the text on their own I think, but it would make an excellent read aloud and I suspect there are animal lovers in fourth grade that would adore the pictures and poems.
From GoodReads: Born in 1905, Anna May Wong spent her childhood working in her family’s laundry in Los Angeles s Chinatown. Whenever she could afford it, Anna May slipped off to the movies, escaping to a world of adventure, glamour, and excitement. After seeing a movie being filmed in her neighborhood, young Anna May was hooked. She decided she would become a movie star!
Anna May struggled to pursue an acting career in Hollywood in the 1930s. There were very few roles for Asian Americans, and many were demeaning and stereotypical. Anna May made the most of each limited part. She worked hard and always gave her best performance. Finally, after years of unfulfilling roles, Anna May began crusading for more meaningful roles for herself and other Asian American actors.
This was an incredible story. I had no idea who Anna May Wong was although I knew there was discrimination and racism in early Hollywood (and there probably still is). Wong is an interesting figure. She dreamed of being an actress and despite her parents objections she made that dream happen for herself. Thankfully her parents eventually supported her, with her father driving her to auditions even though he didn’t understand her desire. Wong went on to see the racism in Hollywood and want to change it. She was in lots of films and her early films often had her playing a stereotypical Chinese woman (either a shrinking violet or a tiger lady). When she began to have more clout and when she began to realize the impact she had as a role model she decided to fight against these stereotypical portrayals.
I put this on our second grade list because they study a few Asian cultures in the second grade curriculum (primarily Vietnamese and Japanese). The book is actually much closer to a fourth or fifth grade reading level (maybe higher?). It’s long, but it’s really interesting and we encourage our families to read aloud with their students all the way through lower school. I also chose the book because it’s a California story. Anna May was born and raised in the Los Angeles area and her father lived and worked right here in Sacramento. There’s nothing like a good story that hits close to home.
From GoodReads: Cesar Chavez is known as one of America’s greatest civil rights leaders. When he led a 340-mile peaceful protest march through California, he ignited a cause and improved the lives of thousands of migrant farmworkers. But Cesar wasn’t always a leader. As a boy, he was shy and teased at school. His family slaved in the fields for barely enough money to survive.
Cesar knew things had to change, and he thought that–maybe–he could help change them. So he took charge. He spoke up. And an entire country listened.
I am embarrassed to admit I knew virtually nothing about Cesar Chavez despite living in the capital of California. Harvesting Hope was a lot longer and more detailed about Chavez than I expected, but that was fantastic. There was a lot of information about his formative years and his beginnings as an activist. The book never read like a dry nonfiction, though. The story was incredibly engaging.
Morales pictures really add to the book too. The warm inviting colors give a sense of the happiness Chavez felt growing up on his family farm. They also really bring his march to Sacramento to life and are just plain beautiful.
As a read aloud it would work for much younger audiences (down into first grade), but tackling it on their own a child would need to be older. It touches on issues of racism and discrimination so be prepared for conversations about those topics. It’s length really does make it better suited to second or third grade and up. Excellent picture book biography.
From GoodReads: This inspirational picture book biography, written by Laurie Ann Thompson and illustrated by Sean Qualls, tells the true story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah, who bicycled across Ghana–nearly 400 miles–with only one leg. With that achievement he forever changed how his country treats people with disabilities, and he shows us all that one person is enough to change the world.
I liked the message in this book and obviously the story is incredibly inspiring. It is not a detailed picture book biography, but a telling of the story of how Emmanuel came to ride around Ghana and fight for the rights of disabled people in his country. I think this makes it the perfect type of biography for younger kids and for whetting kids appetite for books about activists and/or to get the interested in these types of causes.
I think it’s both important to help children see that people live differently around the world and to encourage them to want to help. I also think the book does a great job showing that you shouldn’t let society’s perception of you hold you back if there is something you want to accomplish, and that’s an excellent thing for kids to hear.
From GoodReads: A bilingual collection of poetry by acclaimed Chicano poet Francisco X. Alarcon celebrating family, community, nature, and the positive power of dreams to shape our future.
This is a beautiful collection of poems about dreams from Alarcon (who visited our school a number of years ago!). The poems are all fairly short, but they really lend themselves to discussing the craft of poetry. There is a fair amount of word play and a need to understand that dreams and dreaming can mean a lot of different things to different people.
I think this is a great book for exposing children to beautiful poetry, but I really think it would make a great read and discuss book for parents and children or for a class. The book also clearly shares some of Alaracon’s experiences growing up and talks about his family which makes for more interesting discussion about how he has shared these memories as poems instead of short stories or picture books.
The dual language format makes the book accessible to a lot more kids and families (hopefully). Our students take a foreign language in lower school so I included it on the list for anyone who may also be interested in hearing the language they are learning and for kids who might be able to identify a word here or there.
From GoodReads: In this stunningly illustrated introduction to the world’s most beautiful birds, Jean Roussen and Emmanuelle Walker pay homage to an alphabet of birds in all their feathery fancies. From Warblers to Blue-tits and Kakapos to Owls, Roussen’s playful, melodic poem is complemented beautifully by Walker’s delicate illustrations.
Beautiful Birds is incredibly illustrated. The colors alone practically glow on the page (this picture doesn’t do it justice). The birds are so sculptural and really reminiscent of Charley Harper. The text is clever and draws some really interesting connections as well as introduces some unusual, but beautiful, birds.
I put this on our first grade list because it is a concept alphabet book and they study birds in the spring. However I first got the book for my own daughter who was so taken with it we had to buy our own copy which we have read again and again. There is a very interesting twist/reveal at the very end of the book where you realize there is an actual narrator. My daughter finds this twist riotously funny and laughs every time.
A great book for bird lovers. Also, don’t miss the end papers where the eggs inside the front cover hatch into these darling little fluff balls inside the back cover.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 03, Jun 2015 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Amazon: You’re invited to seven diverse weddings around the world! Join Femi, Kemi and Geko the Lizard on a journey from saris to chuppahs. Each day, you’ll discover an exciting new thing that happens at weddings in different cultures. This vibrant story is set in contemporary Africa.
This is the book from the Kickstarter campaign I posted about awhile back. We’ve had the digital copy for about a month or so now, but I have to admit I don’t tend to read digital picture books to my daughter. I’m not opposed to them, I just don’t bust out the iPad during the day with her. So, I was really excited when a package arrived from the UK with this beauty in it.
You kind of worry with nontraditional publishing channels (i.e. Kickstarter) that a picture book will be poorly written and badly illustrated. That is not at all the case with The Wedding Week. The story is engaging, fun and well written and the cut-paper illustrations (as you can see from the cover) are lovely.
I was personally even more excited because we chose a dual language Igbo and English edition of the book. I don’t speak Igbo, but I want to expose my daughter to tons of languages. Even if we don’t know how anything is pronounced, just seeing the language written out and knowing that someone out there speaks it (and where they speak it) opens her world view up immensely. Even more so because it isn’t a language Americans normally see or hear (there’s more than French and Spanish out there).
In The Wedding Week Femi and Kemi are excited that they will be attending a wedding. To build excitement, and tied in with weekly goings-on, various family members share tidbits about what weddings are like in other countries and cultures. The story was incredibly engaging. My three year old sat through the whole book. She was especially captivated by the little Geko who acts as a guide and appears in every two-page spread. In the Kickstarter video I believe Allan discussed the idea behind choosing weddings for the book was that they are so universal. They are also joyful occasions filled with food, music, and tradition and I think she’s right that kids click with them and are interested in them.
Each tradition and culture that was introduced comes through a connection to the wedding Femi and Kemi will be attending and I like that the reader isn’t overloaded with tons of information. It’s a simple introduction to a few wedding customs around the world with a beautiful and intricate illustration that adds depth. Kids love little facts and the book doesn’t beat them over the head with too much information that would detract from actually telling the story of Femi and Kemi preparing for a family wedding. In other words, it’s a perfect mix of information and storytelling.
Personally, I love the cut-paper illustration style and the pictures for The Wedding Week are fantastic. It’s fun to spot different patterns and colors of paper and I also think this is an inspiring type of art for young readers. Obviously it would take years of practice and training to turn out something this lovely, but I think the idea of layering paper and breaking objects and people into parts that you cut out of different papers is not beyond kids. It’s also a great lesson in really looking at the illustrations and thinking about creating your own art.
In terms of reading level the book is on the upper end of elementary I think, but it would make a perfect addition to any classroom or library collection. The story is incredibly accessible and enjoyable for all ages through elementary school and I’m sure read alouds will elicit many stories of weddings kids have been to. It’s also a great addition to home libraries (we’re loving our copy) particularly if you are going to attend a wedding, have attended one, or if you like books that expose your child to traditions and cultures around the world. Chimaechi Allan wrote the book so Nigerian children could see themselves in books, but works beautifully for giving our children in the US a window onto the world.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 27, May 2015 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From GoodReads: Martha Tom, a young Choctaw girl, knows better than to cross Bok Chitto, but one day—in search of blackberries—she disobeys her mother and finds herself on the other side. A tall slave discovers Martha Tom. A friendship begins between Martha Tom and the slave’s family, most particularly his young son, Little Mo. Soon afterwards, Little Mo’s mother finds out that she is going to be sold. The situation seems hopeless, except that Martha Tom teaches Little Mo’s family how to walk on water to their freedom.
The story of friendship here between Martha Tom and Little Mo is really sweet, but the addition of the beautiful illustrations really bring the story to life. Bridges does an excellent job creating suspense and atmosphere to make the story jump off the page.
This is a Tingle book that I don’t have any mixed feelings about. While I think Crossing Bok Chitto makes a great story of friendship, history, and kindness for any picture book reader I think it would make an excellent classroom read aloud. There are a lot of Underground Railroad/slave escape books out there, many of which are excellent, but this one is particularly good because of the inclusion of the Choctaw community. In my experience the books about people helping runaway slaves tend to be white, which can lean toward the white savior complex. Here we see others helping runaway slaves. There’s a lot to the story that could stimulate good discussion. Also, importantly the book is written by a Choctaw author and is illustrated by a native artist.
My only regret about the book is that Little Mo and Martha Tom won’t get to see one another again.