By Elizabeth Wroten
On 14, Nov 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: When eight-year-old Irene is removed from her First Nations family to live in a residential school she is confused, frightened, and terribly homesick. She tries to remember who she is and where she came from, despite the efforts of the nuns who are in charge at the school and who tell her that she is not to use her own name but instead use the number they have assigned to her. When she goes home for summer holidays, Irene’s parents decide never to send her and her brothers away again. But where will they hide? And what will happen when her parents disobey the law?
This was the book I read to my daughter the day after the election. I decided it was important for her to start learning the history of how Native Nations have been treated over the years. It isn’t necessarily a new conversation with her, but I think this was one of the most real. Her newest thing is to ask, is this a true story? And this one is.
I can’t say the book is a beautiful story, but it is a beautiful book. It tackles a dark and difficult topic. Irene and two of her brothers are sent off by the local official to the residential school. They last one year and upon returning home for the summer spill the atrocities that they have encountered. Their father comes up with a plan, stands up to the government official, and manages to prevent them from having to go back. Many were not so lucky. A personal and informative author’s note at the end adds a little more detail to the story.
The illustrations fit this beautifully. The sombre color palette and the simple, clean settings perfectly reflect both the mood and place of the book. The nuns are creepily white as I’m sure they probably seemed in their dour habits.
This is a long picture book. Many pages are full of text with a picture on the facing page. I do think it’s intended for a slightly older audience and I think you could use it as a read aloud well up into middle school. But I will say my five year old sat through it with no complaints. The story was captivatingly told.
I can’t stress the importance of having these books in your library collection enough. They reflect accurately the experiences of many Native families and the history of many Native peoples (not just the ones in Canada). They can start conversations, albeit hard ones for us white teachers and parents, around the deep seated racism in our country and how that has played out over the years. They can also ensure that children are being exposed to this history. It is unlikely that most schools are teaching about this in any classroom, even in high schools. If you work in a middle or high school library I recommend putting this on your shelf, but if you can’t or won’t put a picture book out, get Fatty Legs and promote that.
I had a private school education and as an adult I find myself asking what the hell my parents paid for. I learned nothing. Nothing. Ignoring the difficult parts of history and literature, I still learned nothing. Make sure that doesn’t happen to your students.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 07, Nov 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: Mo Jackson is a small boy with a big passion for sports. He may not be the biggest, the fastest, or the strongest kid on the team, but he won’t let that stop him from playing!
I would call this a cute story. Mo is the youngest and smallest on his baseball team. He’s kind of bummed because he always bats last and he always plays right field. He is also pretty terrible at bat. Through the course of the game he thinks about how to bat well enough to get a hit. He also thinks he wants to get a home run. In the last inning and after two strikes Mo turns to hear what his coach is yelling and accidentally gets a hit. It’s not a great hit, certainly not a home run, but Mo gets to second base and bats in two other runners, winning the game. Mo realizes home runs are nice, but not necessary to win.
I loved that the crowd and players on the team were diverse. There are girls and boys and various skin tones. Mo himself, as you can see on the cover, looks African American. I particularly like that. It seems that usually these books feature a white main character and you see the diversity in the background.
The reading level is fairly low which is just right for those emerging readers (but not very beginning readers). I think I have first graders and some low second grade readers who would be confident reading this. There are a handful of sight words and a few more advanced spelling patterns, but otherwise it’s totally manageable.
My only complaint is that it’s baseball. We really don’t have any kids that play baseball right now (okay, maybe one or two?). I suppose they may enjoy reading about baseball even if they don’t play it, but it seems to be our basketball and soccer books that check out more regularly. Regardless, I’ll be purchasing a copy of this one for the easy reader collection. I would recommend it if you are looking to add diversity to that collection too, or if you need some easier readers or if you want a sports themed book.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 01, Nov 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: Four friends. Three cookies. One problem. Hippo, Croc, and the Squirrels are determined to have equal cookies for all! But how? There are only three cookies . . . and four of them! They need to act fast before nervous Hippo breaks all the cookies into crumbs!
From Goodreads: Walt and his friends are growing up! Everyone is the something-est. But . . . what about Walt? He is not the tallest, or the curliest, or the silliest. He is not the anything-est! As a BIG surprise inches closer, Walt discovers something special of his own!
So Elephant and Piggie are kind of back. They introduce these new easy readers which have totally different characters and stories in them. Both books seem to follow that funny and successful format of the Elephant and Piggie books. The characters want to do something, but there is a problem. Everyone overreacts and then a solution presents itself.
I think kids will like these books. I know in my library we have to limit the kids to one Elephant and Piggie book per check out otherwise there aren’t enough to go around. The similar format will help pull them in. They have a similar sense of humor which kids L-O-V-E, LOVE. The illustrations are great and they have the same quality as Elephant and Piggie so I suspect they’ll hold up as long as those.
In terms of difficulty of spelling patterns and vocabulary, they aren’t for your very first readers even if they don’t have that many words in them. They’ll require some knowledge of spelling patterns like -ing and a good ability to blend sounds. They also have a fair amount of sight words in them. I would say they’ll work for first grade and early second grade and any low readers. Certainly anyone who has read Elephant and Piggie will be able to manage them.
I’ll be buying these, but they don’t feature any diversity. It’s all animals and grass. We don’t need more animals books in our easy reader section, but I know our kids will love these and I have to balance my desire to improve the collection with getting things I know the kids will go bananas over. Which isn’t to say there aren’t diverse readers out there that the kids won’t go bananas over, I just haven’t found them yet.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 25, Oct 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: This unique addition to the CitizenKid collection, written by by Danielle S. McLaughlin, provides an accessible exploration of the rights and freedoms of citizens in a democracy through a series of six short stories starring Mayor Moe and the councillors of a sometimes wacky city. In each story, the councillors are first presented with a problem, and the group then makes a decision to address the problem with a new law, only to discover later there were unintended consequences. There is one councillor, Bug, who objects to each decision being proposed by commenting, “That’s not fair!” — a sentiment familiar to children, who have an innate sense of justice.
I loved this book. I thought it did a fantastic job of explaining rights and freedoms in a way that would both make sense to kids and would appeal to their innate sense of justice.
The book would work best as a parent-child or teacher-class read aloud. Certainly a fourth or fifth grader could pick this up on their own and read it and I would put it in any library for that reason. But the conversations that can and should come up around the rights and freedoms are what will really make this book.
It could easily lead into how our democracy works. It looks at the issues from a lot of perspectives and taps into SEL ideas we work with in our school. It think it would also be an excellent jumping off point to talk about how not all people enjoy these freedoms we like to think of as being fundamental and essential.
I do wish Mayor Moe wasn’t such a bungling idiot because things in life are not quite so cut and dry and I think children are very capable of grasping gray-area conversations. Mayor Moe is pretty much always the culpable party for taking away freedoms. Injustice comes from a lot of places and not just one person which is how the book makes it seem. On the flip side, I know kids will grasp that Mayor Moe is a stand in for those people and ideas.
Considering our current political climate and the circus that is our presidential election this would be an excellent book to have out. I will be working through it with my daughter soon and if I had third grade in the library this year this would have been the first half of our year.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 20, Oct 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: Mutanu is excited. As she goes about her chores, she thinks about the day to come and what surprises it might bring. For today is no ordinary day at the orphanage she lives in. Every year, the orphanage honors its newest arrivals by creating a birthday day especially for them. From that moment forward, the orphans have a day that they know is theirs–a day to celebrate, a day to enjoy, a day to remember. And today is the day!
I would cautiously recommend this one. It’s a sweet story. One the one hand it exposes children to the idea of orphanages, orphans, and issues in Kenya with poverty and illness. On the other I think it plays into the narrative of poverty stricken Africa. It is also written by a white man and illustrated by a white woman. So it isn’t #ownvoices and that makes me nervous around the larger narrative it taps into.
I know that at one point we did have a little girl in our school who was adopted from an orphanage in China and I know there are kids out there that have a story similar to this. They deserve to see themselves in books. Today Is the Day wasn’t depressing, in fact the focus around a birthday party made it really upbeat. But I prefer Michaela dePrince’s story. It too taps into the idea of orphanages and West Africa’s problems with war and poverty, but her story is told by her and has a lot more nuance because you follow her through her hard work to become a ballerina.
I don’t feel totally sure that our collection of books set in various countries around Africa show them as modern and not poverty stricken. It’s on the never ending list of pieces of the collection to examine. In the meantime I will hold off on purchasing this book.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 22, Sep 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: Unhappy when he loses his silver and red balloon, Sam is comforted by imagining it on its way to visit his grandfather in Egypt.
I have had a copy of this book for years now and always trot it out around Grandparents’ Day. It’s such a lovely little story that doesn’t have to be about grandparents (the idea for the escaped balloon is more about comforting Sam than about thinking of grandad), but turns into a really lovely connection between them. I might also have a soft spot for this one because his grandfather is clearly Egyptian.
I think, beyond the fact that Sam and his family are of Egyptian descent, it’s lovely to see a book about families and grandparents where the grandparents live far away. It always seems that books featuring grandparents and grandchildren show them living close by or together. But plenty of families do not live near grandparents and it’s wonderful to see that reality reflected (it’s also why my school changed Grandparents’ Day to Grandparents and Grand Friends Day). Certainly many children have grandparents that live in another state, and I think the book could have shown a family like that, but I think this makes the story all the more special for showing a family that has immigrated and does not live near this grandfather.
Whether or not children have had a balloon escape from them I think the whimsical story of the balloon traveling over the mountains, ocean and desert is very appealing. Children can imagine their own balloons going on a journey and the whole concept feels very magical. I’ve read this book to second graders and they have enjoyed it. It might also work for slightly older students, but I think it’s best for second grade and down. I would pair this one with Mango, Abuela, and Me for a deeper look at grandparents from other countries and another side of that situation.
A Balloon for Grandad appears to be out of print, but if your library has a copy hang onto it. If not, and you want to go to the trouble of ordering it used, it would make an excellent addition to libraries that celebrate families and grandparents.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 21, Sep 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: Momo can’t wait to use the red boots and umbrella she received on her birthday. All she needs now is a rainy day! Soft illustrations portray a thoughtful story about patience and growing independence.
At it’s heart Umbrella is a story about independence. When Momo recieves a new umbrella and rain boots she is so excited. The first day she is able to use the umbrella she focuses very hard on walking carefully like a grown up lady and on not dropping the umbrella. This means, though she doesn’t realize the significance, that she cannot hold her father’s hand when walking to and from school.
Umbrella is also a slice of life story. A small memory that grown up Momo doesn’t even remember. But the narrator shares the significance: it was the first time she walked on her own without holding a parent’s hand. The book moves fairly slowly and doesn’t have a big adventure. There are no mishaps on the walk. It’s just a little girl and her umbrella. I don’t think that kind of book appeals to all readers, but it makes for a very special, contemplative reading experience.
Yashima nails the childhood experience from the excitement, to the music made on the umbrella, to the thoughts of Momo as she walks. When she first receives the umbrella she isn’t able to use it because it’s not raining. She’s so excited to use it though, she comes up with several ideas for why she should (the sun is too bright, the wind bothers her eyes). Then there is the sound made on the umbrella: bon polo, bon polo, ponpolo, ponpolo, bolo bolo ponpolo. It’s so wonderful and evocative of that rainy day.
Yashima’s illustrations are always beautiful. The shading is lovely and mixes in all sorts of colors where you least expect them. It also lends itself to showing the rainy day. I think it’s interesting that none of the adults’ faces are shown giving the book the impression of a small child’s perspective.
This is a lovely little book to have on library shelves. It shows a Japanese-American girl (her parents, we are told came from Japan) living in a city and experiencing a little step toward independence. I think it would easily appeal to preschoolers, but even older children who don’t mind quieter stories will be captivated by Momo’s experience and may see their own first experiences reflected in the story. Be sure to check out Crow Boy, also by Taro Yashima. It’s set in a small Japanese town or village, but features a boy who is probably on the ASD spectrum.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 20, Sep 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
I’m falling down here on the #100daysproject! I was waiting for a couple books to come into the library and they haven’t yet, so I’m going to finish up my challenge with some oldies, but goodies.
From Goodreads: A counting book that features an African-American family shopping for food, preparing dinner, and sitting down to eat. Lively read-aloud text paired with bright collage illustrations.
We have had this book on our home library shelves for several years now and it’s always a favorite. Even now that I’ve tucked the board books into a basket and most don’t see the light of day, this one comes out from time to time (I make sure to pull it out around Thanksgiving). It’s just such a charming book that centers around a family coming together to make a meal.
I love that this is an interesting take on the counting book. Usually I see these concept books count related objects with no real story between them. Feast for 10 has a simple story arc that follows a family through the grocery store counting from 1-10. Then it follows them home where they prepare a meal for ten, counting, again, from 1-10. The meal seems pretty traditionally Southern to me, fried chicken, cooked greens, mashed potatoes, etc. (it’s what my father in law occasionally requests as a throw back to his childhood in rural Mississippi and Louisiana) and it always makes us hungry. The format is, I think, more engaging for older kids (preschool-kindergarten age).Certainly many kids can count to ten by that point, but this is more than just counting objects arranged on a page, so those kids are just as attentive to the story as kids who are interested in the numbers.
The book is not an #ownvoices, unfortunately, and I would certainly recommend one of those over this one. Otherwise I think it’s well worth having on shelves where there are concept books. It’s a great picture of a family coming together and working together to put on a feast!
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 11, Sep 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: A love for rockets, robots, inventions, and a mind for creativity began early in Lonnie Johnson’s life. Growing up in a house full of brothers and sisters, persistence and a passion for problem solving became the cornerstone for a career as an engineer and his work with NASA. But it is his invention of the Super Soaker water gun that has made his most memorable splash with kids and adults.
I think every kid in the nineties had a Super Soaker or at least had a friend with one. But when picking out this book I wondered if it was just nostalgia for people my age or if it would resonate with kids today.
Lonnie Johnson spent his childhood (and adulthood) tinkering with things. He took odds and ends as a kid and put them together to make creations. He took things apart to harvest parts and see how they worked. Then, as he got older, he moved on, with his robot Linex, to make inventions that worked and kept on inventing. He was also persistent and determined, even in the face of failure, an important skill that kids can learn in the makerspace and need to be seeing modeled.
I thought it was refreshing to have a biography of someone who is still alive today. Even better to be adding more diversity to our biography collection. The author’s note adds a bit more context to the story and Barton shares his inspiration for writing the book.
Johnson grew up in the South in the late sixties and into the seventies. Whoosh! does touch on some of the race issues (segregation and racism), but it’s a light touch. I think it was a good balance here where the the purpose of the book was to expose children to a scientist who is black and his inventions instead of dwelling on how he overcame racism. We have a number of those books, and they are excellent, but as I’ve said again and again they create a certain narrative that is not a full picture.
I definitely think children can find inspiration and humor in this story, whether or not they own a Super Soaker or have seen one and it’s the perfect makerspace book. I would hand this to kids who like to invent and tinker. I will also be adding it to our summer reading lists so kids can go out after reading it and have a water fight. I don’t think the time period or nostalgia of the book make it irrelevant for kids today. The message of perseverance and fun in it are timeless.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 10, Sep 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: Welcome to Mammoth Cave. It’s 1840 and my name’s Stephen Bishop. I’ll be your guide, so come with me, by the light of my lantern, into the deepest biggest cave in all of the United States. Down here, beneath the earth, I’m not just a slave. I’m a pioneer. I know the cave’s twists and turns. It taught me to not be afraid of the dark. And watching all these people write their names on the ceiling? Well, it taught me how to read too. Imagine that. A slave, reading. But like I said, down here I’m not just a slave. I’m a guide. I’m a man. And this is my story.
As soon as I read the review of this in the Horn Book I purchased it. Not only does our second grade study slavery (in the context of the Underground Railroad) in the spring, but our third grade does a science unit on caves in the fall. It felt like the perfect bridge between the two grades.
Like all picture book biographies there is a storyline that follows Bishop’s life that is followed up by a historical author’s note that provides more context. I have mixed feelings about that format because I think that kids often skip the two pages of text unless they’re really interested. I suppose that’s fine if they’re getting some good tidbits and thinking points in the story (they do here). However, I think it makes these books perfect for classroom settings where teachers can provide further context and connection and will also be able to read the note aloud to students, ensuring they get that extra information.
I thought the idea of having Bishop tell his own story was an interesting choice. It certainly brings the reader into his life story. I think it also gives the man a voice when he really didn’t have one. According to the note at the end he didn’t leave any real personal record of himself and there wasn’t much left by his white owners or other historical records either. I will point out that this is not #ownvoices, so take that into consideration especially since the book does give a voice to a slave who never really had one.
I’m not sure these are the absolute best illustrations I’ve seen by Collier, but they really tell the story. I actually think the print job on the book could have been better and that the paper and print quality diminished them a bit. Most, if not all the pages (I’m sorry I don’t have the book in front of me right now) have a split level. You see above ground and also below ground which fits perfectly with the idea of the split in Bishops life: above ground- slave, below ground-just a man. There are white people in the pictures, but Bishop is, appropriately, front and center.
Both the cave system and Bishop made for a fascinating picture book biography and would make a good addition to any biography collection.
Side note, going back to print quality. The paper was kind of thin and a little too shiny. It felt kind of cheap. And the dust jacket was like a good several centimeters too long for the hard cover which made it strangely floppy and weird to put into a Gaylord cover. Wth print company? Wth, publisher? Do better. Make nice picture books that will last. The lack of quality kind of makes your second-rating of books about people of color show.