By Elizabeth Wroten
On 17, Jul 2017 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
So, the author of this book came across my review and was very moved by it. I may have a longer post about the importance of supporting these small press and self published authors in a few days, but his response has made my conviction stronger to keep reviewing and sharing these types of books. If the traditional publishing industry won’t publish these books and won’t allow #ownvoices authors into their club, then I for one think we need to look elsewhere.
I still stand behind what I said in this original review, the book is well worth having on your shelf. Show kids the important historical figures that don’t get seen very often, if ever, because they are black, Asian, disabled, etc. We need a broader swath of people to study, so kids can build pride in their cultures and so they can learn about the amazing lives and accomplishments of incredible people like Ida B. Wells. Since originally publishing this, my daughter still asks to read this book and we have since talked more about Wells’ career as a journalist and as an advocate against lynching. It has been a powerful entree into a difficult piece of history for both of us. I hope other parents and librarians purchase this book and enjoy it as much as we do.
Power in My Pen: A Snippet in the Life of Ida B. Wells written by Louie T. McClain III, edited by Francis W. Minikon, illustrated byM. Ridho Mentarie
From Goodreads: Step into the world of Ida B. Wells as she uses her life experiences and obstacles as motivation to achieve many firsts in editing and journalism in the United States of America and abroad. Read along as she flourishes in the wake of family tragedy and ever changing life situations. “Power in My Pen” encourages penmanship, free thought, and historical lessons from a highly influential leader in the early 1900’s. The strong intelligent woman we know as Ida B. Wells proved, no matter who you are, you can share your message and your truth to the world through the power of the pen.
I have to admit I expected there to a Message with a capital “m” in the book. There is, but it doesn’t beat you over the head with it. Wells’ life was far more the focus and as a parent reading the book with my child I was able to draw the message out through her life and work. She sums it up at the end succinctly, but we were able look back over her life and see her living it.
The book quickly passed the high interest test. The first night it was on our shelf my daughter asked to read it and she has dug it out of our considerable bedtime book stack several times since.
The book is clearly geared toward young audiences. The text is simple, but still includes some good vocabulary and syntax. It does simplify her life, but in a way that makes it much more accessible to younger kids. They get a sense of who Ida B. Wells was and what she accomplished without being bogged down in dates (in my experience these are totally meaningless to kids under 5 or 6) or timelines or tons of details. We’ve tried some biographies at home and not many have been chosen for a second read through (exceptions being this one, Jane Goodall, Misty Copeland and Trombone Shorty).
Personally, the name Ida B. Wells rang a bell, but I couldn’t have told you who exactly she was. The book clued me in and made me curious, though, and I started looking her up for my own edification. We did look up her Wikipedia article right after reading it the first time to get a little more information about her. I could see using the book in the classroom or library with a biography project. It’s perfect for getting a good overview and piquing interest.
The illustrations are charming with a happy smiling Ida B. Wells (her actual photographs make her look incredibly dour, like most photos from that era). I thought it was an interesting choice to show Ida and the other characters in more modern clothing and settings. At first I wasn’t sure about it, but I realized my daughter was connecting better with the characters on the page. I think this is one more piece that helps the book appeal and click with the younger target audience.
My one complaint is that the book is a thin paperback. It’s going to get lost on the shelf! To solve this I will be sure it will sit face out as long as possible, but hardcovers still tend to fair better. The books are not terribly expensive and the company has been running a deal with a buy-one-get-one for a the past month or so. There are a number of series of biographies that are geared toward young audiences (Ordinary People Change the World, for example) that are also very popular. If you have an extra $10 in your budget this is well worth adding. Plus it adds an important African American woman to our collections who doesn’t usually see elementary school library shelves (or high school for that matter).
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 14, Jul 2017 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: When the girl, Silence, is sent by the trees to save Yesterday, she doesn’t know what her task is, only that it is important. Returning to the village that cast her out, Silence recognizes her purpose: to join the dead with the living in an act that celebrates their memory.
I had to read through this book a couple times before it started to click with me. It seems to start rather abruptly:
“When the people of the village sent the girl into the forest, it was the trees as ancient as breath who took her in and raised her. She loved living with them, but now they were asking her to leave.”
I kept wondering, who is this girl? Why was she abandoned? How old was she when she was abandoned? If you keep reading, however, the backstory begins to fill in and my questions were eventually answered. The language in the story is full of flourishes and smilies. Again, this was something that required more than one read through to appreciate and absorb.
The illustrations are beautiful. As you can see from the cover they colors are rich and vibrant. Light plays an important part in the story and the use of the warm color palette really emphasizes that. It also contrasts nicely with the lush, cool world of the trees that Silence comes from.
I’m not sure if it’s the kind of book that a child would pick up on their own to read, but I do think it would work very well in a family that has a celebration of their dead (Dia de los Muertos, Samhain, All Soul’s Day, etc.). I think it could work very well in a classroom setting, too, where there can be discussion about the meaning of the story and how it works as a fable or parable without using a religious story. I definitely think it would be better suited to older children because of the complexity of the language. I’m still not sure I’ll be buying it. I would need the right teacher to champion it and read it to their class and I’m not sure I have that person.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 12, Jul 2017 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: If you had one chance to achieve your dream, what would you do? Long ago in Persia lived Barbad the musician, who dreamed of playing before the king. Blocked by a jealous rival, Barbad’s solution was simple: hide up in a tree and wait for the king to arrive!
This was a pretty gentle story. There weren’t really any great dramatics or adventures, but that was just fine. Barbad’s trick of befriending the gardener and hiding in a tree to play for the king is rather clever and even humorous.
Something was off in the timing of the story, though. There were pages with only one or two sentences and followed by pages with long paragraphs. The sentences would have long periods of time passing and then the paragraphs would focus in on a short event, which sounds like it would make sense, but felt more like it needed better editing and a little artistic license used to compress the story. It made the timeline harder to follow and felt unnecessarily disjointed.
I was also a bit turned off by the ending. Barbad is vying for a position held by another musician, Sarkash, and the king only keeps one musician in the palace. Admittedly Sarkash is a jerk. He prevents Barbad from playing for the king for a whole year, but he does it because it means he’ll be out of his job. The thing is, couldn’t the king have kept both? I know, I know that isn’t how things always work out. And I wouldn’t be surprised if the historical Barbad and Sarkash were a lot more nuanced than this simple story lets on. They’re here in this story to stand in as metaphors and lessons. Still. Barbad is not exactly a shining example either. He wants to be the king’s musician so he can live in the palace. Sure, he’ll send money back to his family but the book doesn’t say they’re in dire need, just that it was customary to send money home if you were making it. It makes his motive sound more selfish than selfless or artistically driven. He also thinks he’s better than Sarkash and when he finally gets his audience with the king he tattles on him for preventing him from seeing the king. One of the final scenes has Sarkash out on his ass (no, really! his donkey), riding away from the palace, turned out by the king. I couldn’t help but think, why didn’t Barbad choose to be a bigger person and not rat out Sarkash. It felt kind of petty. It also made me kind of hope that there’s a story somewhere where Barbad finds himself in the same position and realizing that maybe Sarkash wasn’t such a bad guy, just one who was afraid to lose his job. Maybe I’m reading way too much into this children’s book.
The illustrations are quite lovely with lots of bright birds and lush foliage. The contrast of the greens of the garden with the yellows and oranges of the sky and lighting are stunning. The lines of the illustration really draw your eye around the pages too. The text was long, but engaging enough. My own daughter sat through the story without complaint. I would still say it’s better for first or second grade over preschool. You could even read it up into third or fourth, although it might be a bit simplistic for older readers.
The story sounds, from the author’s note, like it is a well known Persian tale based on a historical character. For that reason alone I would consider purchasing this, but we have a surprising number of stories from Persian and Iran already so I think I will pass for now. If you are needing to add to or start a collection of Persian tales I would certainly consider this one.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 07, Jul 2017 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
I went back and reread this book a few months ago and it was just as enjoyable the second time around. I kept it out on display at the library and had at least one taker that I remember (and I think one of the second grade teachers hand sold it to a reader, too?). At any rate it’s well worth having on your shelf. I’m rerunning this today because Monday I will be run a review of the sequel that I just discovered! Pretty excited about that. I also bought copies of both this book and the second to read out loud to my daughter since she’s into chapter books at bedtime.
Ellis and the Magic Mirror written by Cerece Rennie Murphy, pictures by Gregory Garay
From Goodreads: Ellis Monroe has always been curious about the world. When his father brings home an ancient mirror with the power to reveal the truth about the people and things around him, Ellis begins to see the world in a whole new way.
But things get more than a little strange when Ellis takes the mirror to school. While playing with it on the playground with his best friend, Toro Quispe, Ellis discovers that someone – or something – is hiding out at Harriet Tubman Elementary and trying to stop children from learning. Determined to solve the new mystery, Ellis, Toro, and his little sister, Freddye go on a secret mission to find out the truth about the troublesome Buddy Cruster and stop whatever he and his friends have planned.
I can’t quite put my finger on why, but Ellis and the Magic Mirror brought Akata Witch to mind. I think it was the group of friends banding together and working together paired with the magic. This was another good self published chapter book. The story was action packed and fast moving (often important in early chapter books). The cast is, as you can see by the cover, diverse.
There is a strong theme of friendship and working together in the story that I enjoyed, too. It showed the friends teaming up to both figure out the mystery around what the mirror was showing them and dealing with the trolls they discover. I also liked the sibling relationship between Ellis and Freddye. It was healthy. They bicker a bit, but the two clearly care for each other and work together well despite an age gap. I’m personally really tired of books with siblings that are at each other’s throats constantly (although I understand there are families where that is the case).
So a lot of times there are stories that I feel could be resolved more easily if children would just bring the problem to the attention of an adult. Particularly when things get dangerous. But then the kids just don’t for what appears to be no other reason than to drive the plot. I know that can be realistic to an extent, but I think it also runs counter to what we tell children to do in threatening situations. Ellis finds himself in a situation like that here, except the book gives two really good reasons for not telling adults. First, there is magic involved and it’s unlikely an adult would believe the kids. Second, Ellis has stolen the mirror from his dad and doesn’t want him to know that he has the mirror. I infinitely prefer stories where there are solid reasons for not telling an adult. I’m not sure if that’s a preference for me as an adult or someone who is very literal, but I am much more likely to willingly suspend my belief in what is going on and fall into the world of the story.
Once again the trim size a little large on this one and I wish it was a bit smaller. Also I don’t know if self published titles have this option, but most of them seem not to have the title and author printed on the spine. That means once they are shelved in the library they tend to disappear onto the shelf. Thicker books don’t disappear as much, but I try to leave them out on display as often as possible so they don’t get lost.
In all, a book worth putting on your shelf if you need a little magic and friendship in the early chapter book section.
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 03, Jul 2017 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
This one is a little out of character because Ruby is (obviously) white, but it’s worth it for having a girl involved in coding! I used this book this past year with my second grade class to begin teaching them about how computers think. Hello Ruby does teach basics of coding, but for me it was important for the kids to learn how computers access information as early as possible. In just a couple years they will be asked to do some online research and they need to understand how best to go about it BEFORE they start out. That doesn’t mean they’ll do it perfectly the first time or even fully grasp what is going on, but it’s about putting the scaffolding in place. A second book in this series is coming out this fall and I’m excited to see how I can use that. In addition to going through the book with my second graders, my own daughter loved the book and activities. She didn’t get all of them as she was only 5 when we read it, but she still really enjoyed it.
Hello Ruby: Adventures in Coding by Linda Liukas
From Goodreads: Meet Ruby—a small girl with a huge imagination, and the determination to solve any puzzle. As Ruby stomps around her world making new friends, including the Wise Snow Leopard, the Friendly Foxes, and the Messy Robots, kids will be introduced to the fundamentals of computational thinking, like how to break big problems into small ones, create step-by-step plans, look for patterns and think outside the box through storytelling. Then, these basic concepts at the core of coding and programming will be reinforced through fun playful exercises and activities that encourage exploration and creativity.
Hello Ruby is an interesting hybrid of chapter book and activity book. Oddly, though, the activities are included in the back half of the book and not in or at the end of each chapter. The introduction also says that the book is designed for a parent to read the story to their child(ren) and work through the activities together.
The story is cute and simple with a pretty easy reading level (with some help a second grader could manage), however it jumps from something realistic into what I think is Ruby’s imagination. Ruby’s dad has hidden gems and left her some cryptic messages as clues to finding them. I was a little confused as to how Ruby managed to create a map for a world that I thought was supposed to be around her house, but ended up with a river and a forest. I stuck with it and the story eventually made more sense, it just required accepting that this was not our world. I’m not sure kids will be thrown by the leap into Ruby’s imagination since they are less familiar with genres and rules about worlds and stories. Some of the chapters were a little confusing unless you looked at and did the activities with them.
I did appreciate that the activities built on each other, getting more difficult as the book went on. One helps kids understand Booleans which I might have to use in the library when we talk about them.
I’m going to spend next week going through the chapters and exercises with my daughter to see how engaging it is for kids (I realize she’s a little younger than this is probably gear toward, but it will give me a sense). Considering it needs a parent to go through it with the child (not a bad thing! I wish more parents of older kids were still reading and working with their kids), it’s probably not the kind of book that would be popular in my library. It should work for a public library or a home collection if coding is popular. What I think I might do is buy it to have in the makerspace I run.
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 28, Jun 2017 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
You just can’t go wrong with Zetta Elliott books on your shelf. You just can’t. I still really appreciate that this shows a divorced family doing their thing. In the past two years this one didn’t check out all that often, but it did check out. If there was one think I could change it would be the physical size of the book. This has the trim size of an easy reader, but it’s clearly an mid-range chapter book. Size does matter here, but obviously it didn’t deter my students from reading it.
Room In My Heart by Zetta Elliott
From Goodreads: It took some time for Nikki to adjust to her parents’ divorce, but now she and her little sister Natalie enjoy their new routine. Daddy comes over for dinner on Tuesday nights and the girls spend each weekend with him. But everything changes when Daddy picks them up for their weekend visit and introduces the girls to his new friend Sylvia. Nikki feels invisible when Sylvia’s around and so she decides not to spend the weekend with Daddy anymore. Only after talking about her feelings with her aunt does Nikki learn that her father’s love is unchanging, and that there is room in his heart to love many different people.
Another Zetta Elliott that I bought for my library and love, love, loved. I have to say I connected with this book on a personal level as much as I saw it being a good book for the right kid. Forgive me, but I’m about to get a bit personal in this review. My parents divorced when I was young but this was not something I often saw reflected either in my reading or other pop culture I consumed. My mom remarried a couple times and my dad dated a lot. Although I don’t remember struggling in quite the way Nikki does here, I related to so many of her feelings and her situation. It’s hard going between two households and it’s weird when you introduce new people into the family. I am so glad to see a book that reflects that and talks about it without feeling forced or as if it is telling a child how to feel or respond.
I also think the book does a beautiful job allowing Nikki to have her feelings without casting them as something awful or something she shouldn’t have. We often don’t allow children their emotions. We’re always shushing them and telling them they’re okay when they cry, etc. I think this is best seen when Nikki is upset with her father and decides not to spend the weekend with him, her mother says her father is disappointed:
I just shrugged and went upstairs to unpack my overnight bag. I told myself I didn’t care if my father was disappointed in me. I was disappointed in him!
The father in Room In My Heart puts manners and politeness and his own feelings before Nikki’s. Elliott gets at the ridiculousness of this. Sure, Nikki learns something by the end of the book, but Elliott doesn’t invalidate her feelings. She makes all the characters acknowledge them and address them. All this is to say that Elliott really hit the nail on the head in conveying many of the feelings and troubles of kids whose parents are divorced and at some larger issues for children.
As with Max Loves Munecas I worried that I would have to hand sell this to the kids, that they wouldn’t pick it up on their own. I don’t mind hand selling books and I think those hand sells are very important especially for reluctant readers, however I just don’t have nearly enough time to do it often enough or well enough. So I worry that the books won’t get read after the first few months they’ve been in the library. But Zetta Elliott put this post up on her blog* and in her first part of the conversation she totally speaks to why that doesn’t matter. I am so glad she framed it this way and I feel silly for not having thought of it that way before. I am not going to worry about that any more. Thank you, Zetta Elliott, for assuaging my anxiety about this and for making books that are perfect for giving to the right reader at just the right time. (Update: I put the book out on our new arrivals shelf and lo and behold a kid checked it out with zero prompting from me. I was totally wrong about it.)
*This is not at all the point of her whole post, by the way. I do recommend reading the whole thing. There is so much there to think about and reflect on and Elliott and Kwaymullina are great people to be learning from.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 27, Jun 2017 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
So not only have I hand sold this to several second and third graders who have loved it, but my friend and second grade teacher reads this out loud to her class every year. And she says the kids get super invested in the story. They are rooting for Max and come away with a new appreciation for things that don’t see to conform to the gender norms they know. Everything Elliott writes is worth having in the library and is the gold standard for self publishing, but this one brings a lot to the table. Be sure to add it to your classroom or library collection.
Max Loves Muñecas by Zetta Elliott, illustrations by
From Goodreads: Max wants to visit a beautiful boutique that sells handmade dolls, but he worries that other children will tease him. When he finally finds the courage to enter the store, Max meets Senor Pepe who has been making dolls since he was a boy in Honduras. Senor Pepe shares his story with Max and reminds him that, “There is no shame in making something beautiful with your hands. Sewing is a skill–just like hitting a baseball or fixing a car.”
I love, love, loved this book. Despite having read the blurb, something about the cover and the title gave me a different impression of what the story would be about. I thought it would be more about Max and him wanting to play with dolls. Instead it’s an inspirational story about Senor Pepe and how he learned to sew and how he grew up in Honduras and then New York with a difficult, but not insurmountable, childhood. And Elliott accomplishes this in just a little over 100 readable pages for third and fourth graders.
I appreciated the story because of my connection to the makerspace. I think it’s important for us not to gender activities. Sewing, dolls, crafts, art, cooking, you name it. Max is struggling with his desire to examine the dolls in Senor Pepe’s shop, afraid the other kids will tease him. He may want to play with them, that’s not really touched on, but his interest is in the technical aspects. He loves their jewelry and their clothes, wonders about how they are made and wants to make them himself.
The ability to create this stuff is not girly, it’s an art form and a difficult one at that. I find it sad that by the time my second graders get to makerspace the girls do the crafts with glitter and the boys make weapons. Why not the other way around? I have had only two boys learn to use the sewing machines and that was once they realized to finish the invention they were working on they needed to sew something. Huh. Sewing machine as tool. Not badge of womanhood. Weird.
While I want my kids to read this story, the illustrations and title might make it something that I will have to hand sell (not a problem). I decided, though, to give it first to one of the second grade teachers. Our second grade studies various cultures through the year as part of their social studies curriculum and the final unit is Latinos. I thought this would be an excellent opportunity to have the book read aloud to the students so they can discuss and appreciate the story.
I also want to point out that the story ends happily. It’s not free of sadness and distress (Pepe is orphaned fairly early on and lives for awhile in fear that he will be turned out onto the street), but it’s not so maudlin that kids will leave it feeling depressed.
An excellent addition to any school or public library collection.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 15, Jun 2017 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
I introduced The Magic Mirror into the library collection awhile ago and had good luck hand selling it to a several second graders who wanted chapter books but weren’t quite ready for some of the longer ones in our transitional collection. I cannot recommend books written by Zetta Elliott enough. They are always high quality and engaging and often focus on history that you won’t find in textbooks.
The Magic Mirror by Zetta Elliott
From Goodreads: When a boy at school hurts Kamara’s feelings, she goes home and asks her grandmother if the mean words are really true. Gramma tells Kamara to go upstairs and clean the old mirror in the guest room. But when Kamara starts to rub the glass, she discovers that the mirror is magical! Kamara sees brave women from the past who faced many challenges yet never gave up hope. When the historical journey ends in the twenty-first century, the mirror once again shows Kamara her own reflection. She sheds her self-doubt and instead draws strength from the courage of the women she met in the magic mirror.
The Magic Mirror is another self published gem from Zetta Elliott. At it’s heart it is a story about bullying. Kamara has been teased at school and she has come home to seek comfort from her grandmother. While Kamara shares that she’s been called a name, that word is never used, which allows readers to fill in what it might be. Sadly, I’m sure African American kids can fill in worse words than what my students might. I like, though, that the book leaves it open for interpretation to some extent (as an adult it seems pretty clear to me that Kamara has been called something awful).
With a little magic in her grandmother’s mirror, Kamara is taken on a journey through history, seeing her ancestors deal with racism and injustice over the centuries and decades since Africans were brought in chains. The history she sees can be rather unflinching, but it isn’t inappropriate (i.e. graphic or overly informative) for the target audience. Elliott knows what she’s doing in sharing difficult history with children.
The beauty, if there can be any beauty in a racist interaction, is that Kamara, and by extension the reader, comes away with a fascinating and uplifting look at black history in America. The fact that this is mostly a realistic fiction story with some school yard drama make this an incredibly appealing book for kids transitioning into chapter books. There is a lot of realistic fiction at this reading level and kids seem to really want that. The book also isn’t especially long, nor is the text especially difficult, which again make it a great addition to a moving-up collection.
If I could change one thing about the book it would be the trim size. It’s somewhere between chapter book and picture book. Not only would making it smaller make the book thicker (and appear longer), but it would match with the chapter books my students desperately want to read. I just don’t understand the stigma against picture books at that second/third grade age. I suspect it comes from adults, though. Despite this, The Magic Mirror is well worth adding to your collection if you can add self published books. The first day it was in the library I had a girl gleefully grab it off the shelf and check it out. It went out at least one other time after that and I added it in the last couple months of school. I’ll be booktalking it at the beginning of the year with my second grade group.