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.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 13, Jun 2017 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
I bought Fatty Legs awhile back for the library and was able to hand sell it to several readers (and one parent looking for something that was #ownvoices and a historically accurate treatment of First Nations people. I didn’t get feedback from all the students who read it, but the ones I checked in with did enjoy the book (as much as you can enjoy a book about bullying and residential schools). I have edited the review below just a little bit because I think I see even more merit in this book than I originally did and I wanted the review to reflect that.
Fatty Legs: A True Story written by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton, pictures by Liz Amini-Holmes
From Goodreads: The moving memoir of an Inuit girl who emerges from a residential school with her spirit intact.
Eight-year-old Margaret Pokiak has set her sights on learning to read, even though it means leaving her village in the high Arctic. Faced with unceasing pressure, her father finally agrees to let her make the five-day journey to attend school, but he warns Margaret of the terrors of residential schools.
I was pleasantly surprised by Fatty Legs. I expected a depressing book about the hardships of a boarding school meant to strip children of their language, culture and family. Certainly the school tried to do that. But they were in a for a run for their money with Margaret. She would not be dominated or crushed, although the two years she spent in school were damaging and depressing, it made her more determined.
I’m not opposed to sharing with children, even younger ones, the terrible things that have been done to native populations (North American and other places). I also feel depressing and disheartening books have their merit. Fatty Legs shows the despicable nature of these boarding schools, but it gives kids get a strong girl to identify with and root for. Margaret’s ability to be upbeat while telling a story that is, at heart, difficult, unjust, and upsetting is felt like a good balance for the age group the book is aimed at.
I know plenty of Native American children know of the horrors of these boarding schools and it’s incredibly important that we share that and talk about it in hopes that it doesn’t happen again. And in hopes of creating a generation of people who are more tolerant and understanding. I know I’ve said this before, but children are incredibly attuned to injustice and, for most, it’s infuriating. Fatty Legs does an excellent job of showing the injustice that will make kids angry, but without going over the top and making it a book parents (especially white parents) will balk at. In other words, kids will get it. They’ll know what happened wasn’t right and they’ll start asking questions and opening conversations.
The book includes photographs at the back of Margaret, her family, and many of the places mentioned in the story. In the text there are small notes in the margins directing the readers to these pictures which I think is unintrusive while providing some really interesting context. I’m amazed that she seems to have so many photographs of these critical moments from the story! It’s incredibly fortunate. There are also definitions of unfamiliar words down at the bottom of the page , which again is unintrusive, but provides context for kids who don’t know the words. Plus, what kid uses a glossary? The words are right there on the page, no need to flip back and forth breaking your concentration and flow.
My only complaint about the book is the format. The full color pictures and larger size of the book make it feel younger. It’s certainly appropriate for fourth graders and would make a great class read in third grade, even a strong third grade reader could pick it up on their own. But fifth grade and sixth grade, who would also make a perfect audience, might shy away from it purely based on looks. It drives me crazy when publishers do that to good books.
Excellent book for reflecting the experiences of many Inuit families and opening up discussions with non-native children who are probably ignorant of what went on less than a century ago.
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 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.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 06, Jun 2017 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
When I first brought this one into the library I book talked it with my second graders. After that I couldn’t keep it on the shelf for months. The kids really liked this book and the sequel. There are now three or four “episodes” out and I highly recommend them. Now that my own daughter is into reading a chapter book before bed I’m also going to be purchasing her a copy.
Jaden Toussaint, The Greatest Episode 1: The Quest for Screen Time written by Marti Dumas, illustrated by Marie Muravski
From Goodreads: Jaden Toussaint is a five year-old who knows it all. I mean, really knows it all. Animal Scientist. Great Debater. Master of the art of ninja dancing. There’s nothing Jaden Toussaint can’t do. The only problem is that grown-ups keep trying to convince him that, even though he’s really smart, he doesn’t know EVERYTHING. The thing is…he kind of does. This time our hero must use all his super-powered brain power to convince the grown-ups that he needs more screen time.
This book was hilarious and it was humor I think both kids and adults will enjoy. Dumas has really captured the inner thoughts of a young kid in a way that is both funny and serious. Even as an adult I throughly enjoyed reading this.
The chapter breaks are perfect. Just as Jaden has an idea or something new needs to be introduced the current chapter ends and the next chapter begins, complete with chapter title that repeats the introduction. So for example Jaden is talking about wanting to get more screen time to play games online and look up facts on the internet. He’s tried begging and asking various people in his family, but nothing has worked. All that changes with Miss Bates, the text says. Cut to the next chapter entitled “Miss Bates Class”. Most of the chapters are like this and, to me, it reads like good comic timing.
The story itself is probably pretty relatable to kids. Jaden has had a taste of screen time and is trying to finagle some more when his teacher assigns homework. One task they can choose for homework is time on the computer, but Jaden’s parents still say no screen time. Jaden decides to create a petition for all the Kindergarteners to sign asking for more screen time on the homework sheet in order to force his parents to give him some. Also, there is a ninja dance break.
The illustrations are fine. There are little nods to some great African Americans and blacks on the wall of Jaden’s room. The beginning also starts out a little graphic-novelish with sparse text scattered around the illustrations as Jaden’s family is introduced. They provide good breaks for the beginning reader. Also a bonus, the trim size is more like a big-kid chapter book (it’s still a little large). Despite the easy language and format it looks less like an easy reader and more like what older kids would want to pick up.
Since our public library didn’t have this one I bought the first book, but I will be purchasing the next couple “episodes” this year. I highly recommend this to collections that need some easy, easy chapter books that look more grown up. I can’t emphasize enough how kid-like the logic is in the story and how that makes it so appealing for a child audience with a good sense of humor and an adult audience who is familiar with dealing with that logic. Kids love humorous books and this fits the bill perfectly.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 03, Jun 2017 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
Here’s another rerun (I promise I’ll be getting to some new content this coming week). In reading back over it I agree with what I said, especially the worry of it getting lost on the shelf with such a thin binding. Don’t let that deter you, though. We need more #ownvoices books and more books about Muslims.
Zachariah’s Perfect Day written by Farrah Qazi, illustrated by Durre Waseem
From Goodreads: The book discusses the typical routine of Muslim families who fast during the month of Ramadan. It explains the purpose and benefit of fasting. It also includes stories and recipes of special treats to eat during Ramadan.
Zachariah’s Perfect Day chronicles one day in Ramadan. Zachariah is practicing fasting for a day for the first time and he is incredibly excited. The day comes with it’s challenges, but Zachariah meets them with a positive attitude. The story is a bit of a hybrid of plot and informational text. Based on the note from the author and the description of the book (there was more text that I didn’t copy over from Goodreads) made it seem that this hybrid was intentional. It was not jarring or awkward, by any means and I think it struck a decent balance for explaining to non-Muslims what Ramadan is all about and giving the Muslims enough of a story to see themselves in (please chime in if you don’t agree!).
The illustrations are okay. They could use higher resolution images, because some of them are pixelated. I really love all the background patterns. Each two-page spread has a some kind of design. It might be distracting to some readers, but I loved looking at all the colors and designs. The patterns did affect the layout because the text needed to be on a white background and placing the text boxes and illustrations felt cluttered in a couple places.
The text isn’t overly complicated, but there is a fair amount and it balances out the pictures on each page. I think that makes this better suited to slightly older readers (2nd-4th grade or even 5th).
The recipe at the back for parathas sound delicious, but doesn’t have a very thorough ingredient list or set of instructions. It calls for flour to be made into a dough using water. Presumably that means you should mix in enough water to the flour to make a dough, but how much flour? How sticky should the dough be? How much water? If you aren’t already a cook, this will be an impossible recipe to figure out.
The book is self published which comes with one big problem: the binding. It’s stapled and paperback. I’m not sure how well this would hold up in somewhere like a public library where it could potentially get a lot of use. I also worry that it will get lost on our shelves since it’s so thin. Still, I bought a copy because we need books about Islam and Muslim holidays written by Muslims. I want good things on our shelves to share with all our students and I want to support these authors and illustrators. I don’t need perfect, just good and I think Zachariah’s Perfect Day fits the bill.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 02, Jun 2017 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
This is a rerun of a book I reviewed almost exactly a year ago. I’m rerunning it today in honor of Ramadan. To this review I would like to add that we are going into our second year reading this book and using the cards at home and my daughter absolutely loves the whole package. When I got our copy it came with a book, a stuffed Rafiq, a plate for serving dates to break the fast, and a set of cards for each day of Ramadan. This is one of those top three books in my daughter’s repertoire. Through the past year she has played with the doll and the plate and when Ramadan rolled around she checked to be sure we’d be getting the cards and book out. I cannot recommend it enough for building up a collection of books around Ramadan. For libraries, if you use toys and things in your displays the plush Rafiq is a nice little addition.
Rafiq and Friends: The Ramadan Date Palm written by Fatemeh Mashouf, illustrated by Vera Pavlova
I bought this through a LaunchGood campaign while looking for good Ramadan books that were not informational, but more story-like for the library. The book comes in a set with a plush, a plate, and a deck of activity cards. There is information about Ramadan in the book, but it’s clearly information directed at Muslim children. The set was designed to give Muslim children a pride and interest in Ramadan. (Seriously watch the video on their website, it’s both painful and hilarious.)
The book comes with a plush date palm, activity cards, and a plate for serving dates to break the fast. When the box showed up on my porch my daughter was over the moon excited. She wanted to immediately read the book, so we did. And then she wanted to start all over again. And again. And again. She carried the Rafiq doll around with her for days and she started serving pretend tea using the plate. She also wanted to start doing the activity cards that day.
You guys, we’re vaguely Christian and German and the Germans DO Christmas. We have an advent calendar with activities each day. We celebrate St. Nicholas Night (sans Black Peter). We even make a point to celebrate all twelve days of Christmas and then celebrate Epiphany. My point is, there is build up and lots of celebration around Christmas for us. And yet my daughter barely gives two poops. But she is stoked to celebrate Ramadan because of this book.
The story is charming. It’s got information that will rope in Muslim children, but will also make sense (mostly) to non-Muslim children. Ramadan and the joy that surrounds it is introduced by Rafiq, the date palm, Najjah the adorable sheep, and Asal the bee. Rafiq introduces what happens during Ramadan and what to expect. She then meets Najjah who talks about the history of the holiday and the importance of prayer and reading the Quran. Finally they meet Asal who covers the foods across the Muslim world. All three are very excited to celebrate this holiday. As I said, this would certainly make sense to and explain Ramadan to a non Muslim child, but that isn’t the intended audience. Muslim children who are just learning about what Ramadan means to their religion will capture the joy and excitement that surrounds the month.
The illustrations are darling if a bit muted with pastel colors. I had to buy a whole new set for the library because there is NO WAY my daughter is giving this one up. Ramadan starts today (if I’m not mistaken??) which is why I chose to feature the book today and you can be sure we will be doing the first activity card today and reading the story tonight.