By Elizabeth Wroten
On 11, Jul 2017 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: In this classical updated children’s story taken place in the beautiful land of Africa. Little Red Riding Hood is slightly cautious when her grandmother looks suspiciously like a sly Panther.
I came across UrbanToons on Instagram a couple months ago and was excited to see that they have published a number of retold fairy tales. Generally I have mixed feelings about fairy tales, both as a parent and as an educator. On the one hand they are referenced throughout our culture and do carry messages, on the other hand they tend to be Western European (the most common being Grimms from Germany) and are often watered down to be considered “suitable” for children today.
The UrbanToons Little Red Riding Hood is the story we are all familiar with and in terms of fairy tales, one that we don’t see censored too much (except for omitting the woodsman cutting the wolf open). I was pleased by how much I enjoyed this one. While the description above says the book is set in Africa, the actual book specifies a country (Kenya) and a tribe (Maasai). I think this is incredibly important when setting books in Africa with African characters. Africa is not a country or a monolith and there is incredible variety in environment, culture, and people across the massive continent. Much like Debbie Reese encourages parents and educators to look for tribal specificity and nationhood in books with Native Nations, I think we need to do the same with African cultures and countries.
I loved that instead of a wolf Little Red is approached by a panther. The girl also has a name, not something she has in the original story as far as I know, which is refreshing because most fairy tale girls are pretty passive and have names that refer to their looks (Snow White) or their situation (Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella). I think that if you are going to share fairy tales with kids this would be a great retelling to have on hand. If you do a study of this particular tale or of fairy tales in general, read it along with the fantastic retelling Petite Rouge: A Cajun Red Riding Hood.
I definitely recommend adding this to your fairy/folk tale collection. That is a collection that desperately needs more diversity, either with retellings of with original tales respectfully told. It tends to center Western European fairy tales and would benefit from branching out. There is a lot of wonderful mythology and storytelling out there, why not bring some of it into the library and classroom?
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 06, Jul 2017 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: Life isn’t easy when your big sister is an annoying cat and your moms can’t understand a word you say. But that doesn’t stop Rumplepimple from saving the day in a most unusual way. Find out how a car ride transforms a naughty terrier into a grocery store hero.
I bought this earlier in the year to put in my Read-T0-A-Dog basket in the library. I bought my own copy a week or two ago and my daughter has been asking to read it frequenly ever since.
I love that this book has a lot to talk about in it. The most obvious is how Rumplepimple stands up to a bully. When a little boy has snatched his sister’s blanket from her in the grocery store, Rumplepimple hears her cry and rushes in to give the blanket back. When I read this with my daughter we talked about how Rumplepimple saved the day and did a good thing by intervening when something wrong was happening.
Of course this is not what his mom sees. After he slips out the car door and rushes into the store he loses his mom. She ultimately finds him peering in the meat department case licking his lips and assumes he has been up to no good. This is also a great conversation starter about doing the right thing even when no one is looking and even if you don’t get recognized for it. It can also lead to discussing doing the right thing even if you get in trouble for it.
While all this is well and good, my daughter and students loved it because Rumplepimple is a cute dog. The story sounds like the thoughts that go through a dog’s head and are quite funny. Or at least what I imagine does. I love the nod to The Farside comics with the “Blah, blah, blah, Rumplepimple” line when he’s being scolded in the car after being recaptured.
I have a few design issues, but they’re minor and neither my students nor my daughter noticed them. I wish more of the illustrations filled the page instead of the spot illustrations. There’s a lot of white space in the book and it feels sparse. I think it could have been a couple pages shorter too, but again it’s all minor.
If you want a cute dog story (don’t all kids?), then this book is well worth adding to your collection. It’s paperback so get the book tape out. Rumplepimple has two moms and, while their relationship is not specified, I think it’s implied that they are in a relationship. This is a great book to get some incidental diversity into your storytimes and collections!
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 05, Jul 2017 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
This one appears to have gone out of print or is at least not available through Amazon. If you wouls like a copy you can buy it here through Kitaab World. I highly recommend ordering through them anyways. They have an amazing selection of books dealing with Islam and South Asian culture. Again, I can’t recommend enough getting more books about Muslims into all parts of your collection. This is a particularly lovely biography with wonderful illustrations and good information.
The Amazing Discoveries of Ibn Sina written by Fatima Sharafeddine, illustrated by Intelaq Mohammed Ali
Form Goodreads: Born in Persia more than a thousand years ago, Ibn Sina was one of the greatest thinkers of his time — a philosopher, scientist and physician who made significant discoveries, especially in the field of medicine, and wrote more than one hundred books. As a child, Ibn Sina was extremely bright, a voracious reader who loved to learn and was fortunate to have the best teachers. He memorized the Qur’an by the age of ten and completed his medical studies at sixteen. He spent his life traveling, treating the sick, seeking knowledge through research, and writing about his discoveries. He came up with new theories in the fields of physics, chemistry, astronomy and education. His most famous work is The Canon of Medicine, a collection of books that were used for teaching in universities across the Islamic world and Europe for centuries.
So I wasn’t totally captivated by the text in this one. It was in first person which I understand brings the reader closer to the subject, but it also made for a few awkward places. In looking further at the book I discovered that it was originally published in Arabic, which might explain the awkwardness. Things lost in translation.
Otherwise, Ibn Sina made me feel totally inadequate. NBD. He just finished his medical studies at 16. I mean I know it wasn’t like medical school these days, but still. 16. Clearly the man was a genius. The story of his accomplishments was really fascinating. He did a lot and was very interested in life long learning. He studied philosophy, education and even advocated for what we might today consider respectful parenting and teaching.
I wish there had been a little more historical context. He moved around a lot as an adult, but there was only a brief mention that one of the cities he lived in was frequently fighting with another. I think kids in the US will not be particularly familiar with the geography or history of the area or era and need more information. But I also understand that it could potentially make the book unwieldy and boring. A longer more detailed author’s note might have sufficed. I did appreciate that Sharafeddine noted that Islamic contributions to the world are rarely taught in US schools and that was a driving factor in bringing out this book.
I really like the illustrations. They’re done on a speckled brownish paper that makes the colors pop and is different from the usual white paper. The lines are so soft and the shading is spectacular. Everyone has these huge half moon eyes that make them kind of darling and friendly. The illustrations were done in colored pencil and are so saturated and rich.
I’ll definitely be buying this as our budget allows this year. We need more Islamic biographies and I don’t think we have anything on the Islamic Golden Age. The illustrations will entice my students to pick it up. My complaints about the text aren’t significant enough for me to not purchase it.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 30, Jun 2017 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
I don’t know if the teachers paired this with the Sequoyah biography, but I do know the kids really enjoyed this book. It got them thinking and that’s always a good thing. I still highly recommend this title.
The Apple Tree: A Cherokee Story written by Sandy Tharp-Thee, illustrated by Marlena Campbell Hodson
From Goodreads: A little boy plants an apple seed, and as soon as it sprouts the boy can see the apple tree it is meant to be. But the little apple tree isn’t so sure. Young and impatient, the tree begins to doubt its calling, especially after apples fail to appear that first October. How can the little boy encourage the tree to give the seasons and years the time to work their magic?
I saw this one recommended on Debbie Reese’s site and bought it to replace some of the many Native Nations books I withdrew this summer.
I thought this was a nice gentle story and it’s so sweet. It’s also a quick read. It brought to mind The Giving Tree, a book that I know is beloved by many, but I find incredibly disturbing. Here the little boy helps his apple tree feel better until it can produce it’s own apples. He talks to the tree and interacts with it. Which also brings to mind the book Maple.
Someone in the comments section of AICL noted that Kirkus did not review the book well and that the reviewer was confused by the story. Another commenter posted some quotes from the review. I don’t think the book is confusing at all and found the complaints of the Kirkus review more confusing than this story. If you understood The Giving Tree, you won’t have trouble with this story. Neither will your students.
The text is presented both in English and Cherokee which is a really cool talking point for students. We have a biography of Sequoyah. I can’t speak to how accurate it is (so much of children’s nonfiction is terrible!!), but we are using it. I suggested my second grade teachers pair these two books. Debbie Reese also recommends that you show children the Cherokee tribal website.
It’s a far less disturbing story like The Giving Tree. I highly recommend it for libraries looking to strengthen their collections of Native Nations books. I also suggest it if you have classrooms that do fall themes, trees, or want a story about patience.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 21, Jun 2017 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From the publisher: Rook is about a cunning young thief who takes whatever she wants. But one day, she steals from the wrong witch and she’s caught! The witch takes her in, and teaches her how to create, not take.
Rook came as one of three in a set of easy readers from Castor Tales. I got them through a Kickstarter campaign. The purpose was to put out easy reader fantasies with diverse characters. Last year when I went through our easy reader collection (you can see the stats here) I was unsurprised to discover it was very homogenous and focused almost entirely on talking animals and/or realistic fiction. Now, I’m sure there are plenty of kids who love those kinds of stories, but if we’re trying to get kids interested in reading we need to be sure we can serve all kids, including those that like nonfiction, fantasy, and science fiction. I think this is especially true for roping in reluctant readers.
When I set out to improve the collection, I struggled to find high quality easy readers that featured diversity in their genres and characters. It often worked out that I could get one or the other but rarely both. I gave to the Kickstarter campaign because I saw first hand the lack of variety and diversity and realized there is a need for books like these.
Rook was a lot of fun. She’s a thief with a pet corvid and, in the beginning of the story, we see her stealing from a variety of people. Then she steals from a witch, oh poo. But instead of a cruel witch, she wants to help Rook change her ways. While you could focus on the theme of making better choices or even friendship, I saw an opening for a discussion around society’s current obsession with consumption. Rook begins by proudly announcing she is a thief who always takes. But with the support of a friend, someone who wants to accept her, she is able to shift to creating. Not to sound like the grumpy old man shouting about getting off the lawn, but kids do a lot of consuming, particularly of online content. I think it’s healthy for us to have conversations with them about not only consuming, but also creating their own content to put out into the world.
Other great features of the book are bright and lively illustrations. They feel like they come right out of an animated series. I especially adore Rook herself. She’s got jewelry, henna or tattoos, a partially shaved head and dirt smudges. I appreciate when characters in picture books don’t conform to some clean, White ideal of what people should look like. Showing girls that they can be strong and beautiful no matter how they choose to look (or are born looking) is an incredibly powerful and important message we need to send.
The book also features a list of the sight words used in the story on the back cover. These are easy readers with some thought put into them. I am tired of books marketed as level one easy readers that have way too many words on a page or really complex spelling patterns. Even a classic like Frog and Toad is not for emerging readers. Rook has a few more difficult words that have more complex spelling patterns in them (“create”), but, by and large, the book uses simple sight words (as seen on the back) and basic, predictable spelling patterns. My own daughter should be able to read it with me in a few months (she recently started reading). Even the harder words are repeated so children will have a chance to see them several times in the course of the story. The text also cleverly repeats which allows them to draw on their memory and shows new readers that, while they are reading the same words again, the meaning has changed.
So, I definitely recommend Rook for classrooms and libraries that serve emerging readers. Unfortunately I don’t think you can buy them just yet. You can visit the website and Kickstarter campaign, but I couldn’t find anything about when or if they would be available outside the campaign which ended last fall. In the meantime I would suggest keeping your eye out for them or contacting the publisher.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 20, Jun 2017 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From the publisher: Swift Walker loved to walk fast. His sister warned him, “One day, you’ll walk so fast you won’t be able to stop!” Sure enough, his speedy legs took him on a journey to see all the oceans of the world.
This was the perfect introduction to the names and locations of the world’s oceans. Swift Walker is a young boy who loves to move and as he’s out walking one day he finds himself exploring the six oceans on our planet. After a quick jaunt around the globe Swift finds himself at home just in time for dinner.
This was the perfect level for preschool, Kindergarten and even first grade. It didn’t get too detailed so the story and information wasn’t bogged down. I tested the book out with my daughter and caught myself wondering if they book should have had more facts and details. However, I noticed that my daughter was super engaged and didn’t ask to skip sections or just flip the page in the middle of reading as she does with nonfiction books that do have more. I realized it was right where she needed it to be. It’s a simple introduction to the idea of geography and that while we have one big ocean we do break it down into smaller sections that share location and ecology. Working a fun character and silly story into the book made the information much easier for her to take in too. I think Swift will be recognizable to most kids. He can’t keep still and wants to set off on adventures.
I would like to point out the font in the book (you can see it there on the cover with the subtitle). It’s a pretty traditional school font, kind of like D’Nealian. For kids learning to read and recognize letters these familiar and simple fonts are so important to have in books. As much as I love a beautiful font and fun with text elements in picture books they can make the reading experience frustrating and nearly impossible for emerging readers. The simplicity of this book would make this one a great shared reading experience with a parent and child or student and teacher. The illustrations are bright and colorful and make for a fun reading experience. I will say, I’m sorry librarians, it’s paperback. If you can tape it up and bear with it, it will be well worth it. As with a lot of these self published and small press books, you may have to hand sell them. Although with Swift Walker the covers are incredibly inviting, so they may sell themselves if you turn them face out on the shelf or on display.
Ultimately the book was a lot of fun to read and offered a quick dip into the oceans of the world without overburdening young readers. It would make a great addition to collections that serve curious young minds that want to explore the world.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 10, Jun 2017 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: In this multicultural and educational series from Bollywood Groove, join Maya, Neel and their pet squirrel, Chintu, as they visit a Muslim family in India to celebrate Ramadan & Eid! Kids will learn about history, food, language and cultural elements of Ramadan & Eid… all while making two new best friends!
Since it is currently Ramadan, we got out our holiday books. I decided to purchase this one to review and add to our collection. It’s a mix of nonfiction and fiction where Maya and Neel (and their pet squirrel Chintu) have traveled to India to celebrate the month with family. Through the month they learn about how Ramadan and Eid are celebrated.
Interestingly, there is no mention of why the month is so special to Muslims which seemed strange at first. Then I remembered the four shelves of Christmas books in the library that are bursting with books that make no mention of the reason for that holiday. Why hold books about Muslim holidays to higher standards or expect them to be everything to everyone? Maya and Neel do learn about fasting, reading the Quran, children’s options for celebrating (instead of fasting), and, importantly, that there are two Eids in Islam. They are also taught about the importance of helping those less fortunate. On their final day they meet a number of Muslims from other places and are exposed to customs from those countries.
I really appreciate that Maya and Neel are in India celebrating Ramadan and Eid. It’s not the typical picture of Muslim holidays we see in kids books and that is incredibly important right now. Islam is not a monolith and neither are Muslims (although you would think they are with the current media coverage). Sure, some of the celebrations and certainly the meaning of the holiday is the same no matter who is celebrating, but you see them out wearing more traditionally Indian/Pakistani clothing and eating foods from that region.
The illustrations are a bit static and they aren’t as rich in detail and texture as hand-drawn illustrations are, but they’re just fine. My daughter makes no distinction between these illustrations and those by Caldecott winners. I think more importantly this is another paperback. I’m sorry! I know those are hard in libraries where books circulate a lot. I highly recommend this one to broaden Muslim holiday book collections.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 09, Jun 2017 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
I ran this review not too long ago, but I cannot recommend this book enough. It is just so good. And now my daughter got her first loose tooth and wants to know when and if Tallulah will be delivering her a note and present. I bought a copy for home and then one for the library and it checked out several times when I hand sold it to kids with loose teeth. Everyone has enjoyed it.
Talullah the Tooth Fairy CEO written by Tamara Pizzloi, illustrated by Federico Fabiani
From Goodreads: Tallulah the Tooth Fairy is not only the founder and CEO of the largest teeth collecting organization on the planet, Teeth Titans, Incorporated, she’s a clever and wildly successful business woman with an affinity for all things dental. A natural innovator and problem solver, Tallulah finds herself unexpectedly stumped when six year-old Ballard Burchell leaves a note instead of his tooth under his pillow. What’s a Tooth Fairy to do when there’s no tooth to take?
This book is amazing! It’s got great illustrations, excellent text, tons of humor that will appeal to both kids and the adults reading it to them, wonderful vocabulary and lots of details relating to teeth that are fun to spot, not to mention a good story.
I had originally bought the book for my daughter. She’s kind of into the idea of mythical people and creatures like Santa, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy despite the fact that we don’t actually celebrate them. Go figure. (Thanks, consumerism that markets those ideas so strongly to children.) I wanted to get it because look at her! Tallulah is amazing and a CEO!
I absolutely love that the story challenges the usual idea and imagery of the tooth fairy that shows her as white, blonde, and medieval. In fact, the story takes that head on. In the note written by Ballard, he has drawn the tooth fairy in that way despite being black himself. Tallulah reads the note and the first comment she makes is “that looks nothing like me”. She does comment in the next sentence that she isn’t that small, but between those lines is the unspoken fact that she is also clearly not white.
The text is longer, so unless you think your child or younger audience is motivated to listen, or is good at listening, I would recommend it for 1st through 3rd grade (my third grade class last year had a superb sense of humor and would have LOVED this book). The vocabulary is pretty sophisticated too. The vast majority of it makes perfect sense in context and shouldn’t cause a problem. It very much brought to mind William Steig, particularly Dr. DeSoto and Shrek and how he uses language.
The language also ties into the humor of the story. There are plenty of funny asides for parents and kids and the twist at the end is both a great message and satisfying. Do not miss the boardroom scene wherein Tallulah asks for advice about what to do with Ballard’s note. Her board is made up of all black women, except for one white dude, who is complaining about the lack of diversity and wearing an All Fairies Matter shirt. Hilarious nod to current events and again a subtle nod to defaulting the Tooth Fairy to white.
The illustrations appealed to me because of their clean modernity which made Tallulah seem all the more cool. The colors are bright without being garish or saccharine. The art appealed to my daughter because each picture has lots of tiny tooth details and invite long looks (I highly recommend flipping through the pictures before reading it through the first time because they are so captivating).
If you are looking for general books to add to your collection this is well worth it. Move it to the top of your list or gift it the next time a tooth falls out.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 08, Jun 2017 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Little Blk Books: Everyone is excited about Auntie Cynthia’s wedding – everyone except little Femi. He is not excited about having to share his room or meeting new cousins who may play with his toys. What do weddings have to do with little boys anyway? When his family arrives from Nigeria, Femi is amazed at the beautiful crowns and colorful garments they wear. With the help of Auntie Koy, he learns the value of family and the importance of tradition.
I signed my daughter up for the Wam! Book Bundle which sends us three books a month that feature diverse characters. It’s always a big deal when the box shows up on our porch. This past month they included their first independently published book and it was the first book my daughter picked out to read.
The story reminded me a bit of The Wedding Week, another phenomenal independently published book that I reran yesterday, in that Femi’s family is Nigerian (although he and his parents live here in the US) and they’re prepping for an upcoming wedding. Here, though, the story is about building up cultural pride. Femi is bored by the idea of a wedding (“Wedding? For the last few months Mommie and his Aunties looked at girl stuff and got excited about silly flowers.”) and worried about sharing his bedroom and toys with visiting cousins (“From left to right, and every space in between, he couldn’t find a single place where his cousins could sleep.”).
Fortunately Auntie Koy steps in to help Femi see the positive side of weddings. She explains that everyone will be wearing a crown, geles for the women and filas for the men. The tradition started a long time ago and is meant to show everyone that their people are royalty. Femi begins to think it might not be so bad after all if he gets to be a prince. And when his cousins show up he discovers they’re actually a lot of fun to have around.
The wedding is a success and Femi has a blast. Even though he’s sad everyone has left he draws on the warm feelings his Auntie Koy left him with around the meaning of the fila he has to wear and the memories of the wedding. The book does a really good job of balancing giving the reader a story to follow and providing cultural information. It’s buy turns funny and heart warming.
The reading level is maybe just a little lower than most picture books which would make it a good selection if you have kids that want to try and read these books on their own. Otherwise it’s right in the mix. The book itself is paperback which I know can be a drag for libraries. The print quality is actually quite good, though. The pages are a nice thick, glossy paper. I think this is a must for library collections if you can order books like this. It’s a great story with bright and inviting illustrations and it centers family and cultural pride.
If you are interested order the book here on their website: Little Blk Books
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 07, Jun 2017 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
I think the first thing I noticed about my old review is the fact that I admit to worrying about self published quality. As I said in my intro post to the summer project, I worry a lot less about that now. As far as this book specifically, my daughter has pulled it out to read on several occasions and always enjoys it. I have friend who teaches second grade and she makes a point to read it every year with her class and they also really enjoy the book and make connections to weddings they have attended.
The Wedding Week: Around the World in Seven Weddings written by Chimaechi Allan, illustrated by Amber Cooper-Davies
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.