summer reading 2017
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 15, Aug 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: One day, Mikis’s grandfather has a surprise for him: a new donkey waiting! Mikis falls in love with the creature, but his grandparents tell him that the donkey is a working animal, not a pet. However, they still let Mikis choose her name — Tsaki — and allow the two of them to spend their Sundays together. Mikis and Tsaki soon become fast friends, and together the two have some grand adventures. Eventually, both Mikis and his grandfather learn a bit more about what exactly it means to care for another creature.
Mikis and the Donkey is such a sweet gentle story. Mikis is completely captivated with the donkey his grandparents buy to help with some work around their property.
Mikis seems to understand the donkey and loves her from the start. He speaks up for her health and her happiness. His grandparents are rather baffled by his affinity for the animal, but with some cajoling from Mikis, they support his doting on her. The funniest part is Mikis and his friend’s idea to introduce Tsaki to another donkey who lives just outside their small village. Adults will see what comes next, but Mikis’ total and utter surprise at the baby donkey who results from this donkey friendship is hilarious and sweet.
In addition to the story line about Mikis and Tsaki, there is a friendship story between humans too. One of Mikis’ classmates, a quite girl, is captivated with Tsaki. Over their love of the donkey Mikis and this little girl become close friends. Mikis discovers that though she is quiet the little girl has a lot to offer.
I think the book would make a great read aloud and it’s certainly one for any animal lover. The book does have a slow pace which might make it less popular. I see it as one you would book talk to specific kids instead of one that will fly off the shelf at every opportunity. The book isn’t too long, but I suspect the reading level is a little bit higher. It would probably go in our tiny “mellow yellow” section which is a transition from our red chapter books to our higher yellow fiction books (things that are usually called middle grade). I still think it would be fine for kids who are working their way up through chapter books.
Updated 7/10/2016: I forgot to note, since the summary from Goodreads doesn’t say, the book is set in a small village on the Greek island of Corfu. In someways I think this might be an interesting way to make the connection between the Syrian (and others) migrant crisis, as many of them are washing up and landing on the Greek islands. It might be a little contrived, but you could certainly talk about other events in this part of the world in conjunction with looking at the story of Mikis.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 08, Aug 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: Spend the day picking wild blueberries with Clarence and his grandmother. Meet ant, spider, and fox in a beautiful woodland landscape, the ancestral home of author and illustrator Julie Flett. This book is written in both English and Cree, in particular the n-dialect, also known as Swampy Cree from the Cumberland House area.
Wild Berries is such a charming story about a little boy and his grandmother going out to collect blueberries. The two enjoy nature, each other’s company, and of course blueberries. Grandma likes soft sweet ones, while Clarence likes large sour ones.
Flett’s illustrations have this very modern quality to them that is just beautiful. They are simple but not simplistic and there is always plenty to look at. I love her use of a muted, natural palette. It fits well with the wild berry picking story. She also employs textures very effectively. They seem to draw your eye around the page and to important details.
The typography in the book is also incredibly stunning. It stuck out to me in a way few other books have. Certain key words are pulled out of the text and placed on their own line in a more fanciful font. This is then echoed with the word written in the Swampy Cree dialect in the same font, but this time in red. (There is a very interesting note at the beginning and end about the Cree dialect used in the book.)
The book is, at least to American audiences, akin to Blueberries for Sal and if you are looking for diverse books to incorporate into your curriculum you could certainly use this one in place of Blueberries or in tandem with it. I would recommend this to parents looking to diversify their bookshelves too. Make space in your budget and on your shelves for this one.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 01, Aug 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: Imagine a childhood full of adventure. Where riding horses, playing in the woods, and hunting for food was part of everyday life; where a grizzly bear, a raccoon, or a squirrel was your favorite pet. But imagine, too, being an orphan at the age of six, being forced off your land by U.S. soldiers, and often going hungry. Such was the childhood of the first great American Indian author, Charles Eastman, or Ohiyesa (1858-1939). Carefully edited for a younger audience by multiple award-winning author and editor, Michael Oren Fitzgerald, Indian Boyhood recalls Eastman s earliest childhood memories. He was born in a buffalo hide tipi in western Minnesota, and raised in the traditional Dakota Sioux manner until he was fifteen years old. He was then transplanted into the white man s world. Educated at Dartmouth College, he went on to become a medical doctor, renowned author, field secretary for the YMCA, and a spokesman for American Indians. Eastman was at Pine Ridge during the Ghost Dance rebellion of 1890-91, and he cared for the wounded Indians after the massacre at Wounded Knee. In 1910 he began his long association with the Boy Scouts of America, helping Ernest Thompson Seton establish the organization.
The book starts off well with an interesting foreword by Charles Trimble, a registered Oglala Lakota, that identifies the specific nation that Ohiyesa/Eastman was part of. In the foreword he presents the historical context and sets the scene for the book and while not graphic, he is unflinching in how he presents the events that shaped Ohiyesa/Eastman’s life.
“In the so-called Indian Uprising of 1862 the Dakota people rebelled against white incursions onto their lands and the government’s withholding of treaty-guaranteed rations that left them starving. Ohiyesa/Eastman’s extended family fled to Canada to escape the U.S. Army, which was hell-bent on brutal vengeance…”
This foreword is followed up by an editor’s note in which Fitzgerald is upfront about what changes he has made to the original text. The story and text is adapted from Ohiyesa/Eastman’s autobiography. It seems most of the text was simplified and shortened to make it more accessible to younger readers and to fit it into this format. It appears that all involved with the project are hoping to spark interest in Ohiyesa/Eastman. In a brief footnote Fitzgerald also explains that he is using the term Sioux because it is the term in the original work. He goes on to at least acknowledge that the term is European-American and lists the Nations that fall under that category. At the end of the note Fitzgerald claims that all royalties are being donated to various American Indian causes. We’ll have to take him at his word on that.
The story itself is an interesting look at the Sioux way of life and follows Eastman through the first 15 or so years of his life. The text is fairly short which really makes it best suited to young audiences (first and second grade, probably even kindergarten). In some places I was left wanting more information and detail. That is part of the purpose of the book, but I do think there could have been a little bit more. It paints an idyllic and fun life for a child with hours of play and learning skills like tracking and hunting. But he also shares times that the families went hungry. I do wish the story had continued further and addressed some of his time being schooled in the white town he moves to with his father.
The illustrations are pretty and are reminiscent of Paul Goble’s illustrations. I am not familiar with art from those nations or that area and the similarity makes me wonder if it copies a style seen in Sioux art. There is a page of notes on the illustrations that explains what objects in the illustrations are and their significance. I’m a little put off by the last picture that, according to the notes, is an “imaginative image of Eastman”. It hits a little close to stereotypes, even if its depiction is accurate.
I have mixed feelings about them using Ohiyesa’s white name as the author and including his given name in parentheses. I am glad they included it, but I am left wondering which he would have preferred and which is more culturally appropriate (I suspect the given name).
The reason I reviewed this book, beyond it being interesting, was that I am looking for materials for our third grade class which studies the Sioux. While I am not qualified to make decisive judgements on books about Native Nations, I have to make some calls on what materials to purchase. I think for a general collection this would make a great addition. It’s a little idyllic, but taking into account the fact that it’s true and the book’s notes outside the text, it seems well rounded. I also think it would make an appropriate addition to a home or classroom library for the same reasons. I prefer something like this over presenting made up “native American” legends or stories that are told by outsiders. I am going to pass it along to our third grade teachers, but I suspect the text itself may be a little bare bones for their tastes. I would recommend using it in a classroom in conjunction with both other materials (maybe even Eastman’s original books) and being sure to read the notes and foreword together.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 25, Jul 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Amazon: Furqan Moreno wakes up and decides that today he wants his hair cut for the first time. His dad has just the style: a flat top fade! He wants his new haircut to be cool but when they get to the barbershop, he’s a bit nervous about his decision. He begins to worry that his hair will look funny, imagining all the flat objects in his day to day life. Before he knows it, his haircut is done and he realizes that his dad was right-Furqan’s first flat top is the freshest!
I’ll point out right at the start that this a book that was published with a Kickstarter campaign. I know that some libraries cannot buy books that are self-published or not reviewed. Sad for them. This book is amazing.
Liu-Trujillo is an incredible artist. I am always impressed when people can successfully paint anything besides a wash with watercolor, but he’s managed to capture expressions, places, and objects perfectly. I adore the illustration with the father shaving in the bathroom in mismatched socks and his underwear while Furqan stands by the tub with a tentative look on his face. Throughout the book the dad has the look of love on his face as he reassures Furqan and supports him by taking him to the barbershop.
The story is a sweet one about Furqan wanting to cut his hair. He’s always worn it short and curly, but he thinks he wants a flat top. Liu-Trujillo has perfectly captured the illogical anxiety kids can have over everyday things like haircuts. Furqan worries his hair will be flat like a pancake or record. He’s also worried about the reaction he’ll get at school. While the story is about a change in hairstyle, I think it applies more broadly to the anxiety children can have over their first haircut. Will it hurt? Will it look silly? Will it grow back?
Liu-Trujillo also nails a supportive and reassuring dad. I appreciate the book even more for mentioning a mom, but not showing her involved in the story. Even as an involved mother I want to share books with my daughter that show dads can be involved and good parents too. If you have young kids who may be getting their first haircuts or older kids who may want to change their style you have an automatic audience. The cover and illustrations are so appealing that kids will pick this off the shelf and want to take it home regardless of their hair. Pair it with Zetta Elliot’s A Hand to Hold for books about first experiences and wonderful dads.
If you can buy this book, do it. The copy I ordered came in a beautifully addressed envelope! It was signed and had three stickers, too! I should also point out that I read it to my daughter and I’m going to have to order a new copy for the library because she loves this book.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 18, Jul 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: Milo is excited about her class trip to the museum. The docent leads them on a tour and afterward Milo has time to look around on her own. But something doesn’t feel right, and Milo gradually realizes that the people from her community are missing from the museum. When her aunt urges her to find a solution, Milo takes matters into her own hands and opens her own museum!
It’s just a Zetta Elliott kind of week around here. Whatever she publishes, I buy it as soon as it’s available (or as soon as I find out about it) and you should too. Milo’s Museum is a book I wish I had had as a kid, because after seeing Milo create her own museum, I would have done the exact same thing. Milo does it for reasons that would not have been my own, but just the idea of curating your own collection was (and still kind of is!) incredibly enticing.
This book was interesting in light of reading the Tonya Bolden book about the building of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Milo doesn’t see herself in the local museum she visits on a field trip so she decides to create her own. That brought to mind part of the impetus behind the NMAA. As Milo walks around the museum she becomes increasingly uncomfortable. She isn’t quite sure why, but eventually realizes that she isn’t seeing herself or her community reflected in any of the art or artists.
I would highly recommend this for school libraries and classrooms. Be sure to read it before and/or after visiting a museum on a class field trip. I think it will certainly inspire kids of all ages to curate and create their own museums that reflect them and their communities. And I would encourage you to help your students do just that. Milo takes different people through her museum so you can see what she has chosen. She also gives explanations for why she has chosen objects. This provides a good model for helping students choose what they want in their own museum. I also think with older students you could open up a discussion about who decides what will go into a museum and how that unfairly tends to keeps certain artists and people out of them.
An all around inspiring and important book. As with Melena’s Jubilee, if you have the money this is a must to have on your shelves.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 11, Jul 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: The Monkey King’s Daughter isn’t about Sun Wukong, the Monkey King – it’s about his daughter, Meilin. Only, Meilin doesn’t know she’s the Monkey King’s daughter. In fact, she doesn’t know she’s half-monkey at all. As far as Meilin knows, she’s an ordinary 14 year-old high school freshman from Midland Hills, California, facing all the problems that bright young girls face at that age- flakey girlfriends, zits, too much homework, bad hair, obnoxious boys… But all of that changes when her ancient past catches up with her. (And she thought high school was gonna be easy…)
Today I have another great self published series. I said in another recent review that I am getting rather tired of Greek mythology. Because of Percy Jackson it seems to be everywhere. As a kid I went through a phase where I was into Greek mythology and I still enjoy it, but there is a lot of really interesting mythology out there (I was always way more fascinated with Egyptian mythology) and I wish I had been able to discover it as a young reader. The Monkey King’s Daughter is based in Chinese stories of the Monkey King. If you’ve read Gene Luen Yang’s American Born Chinese you will be familiar with the myth this book draws on. Plenty of it is explained in the course of the story and will make sense to kids unfamiliar with it.
Despite Melin’s age and the fact that she’s in high school, the book is totally appropriate for upper elementary. It’s perfect for kids who like to age up. I would also highly recommend it for lower readers in middle school. The story is exciting enough, but the reading level isn’t particularly difficult.
The pacing was off in a few places. Most of the time the story plugged along, but there were a couple places where things happened a little quickly, felt rushed, and were glossed over. I think this has less to do with it being self published and more to do with the reading level it’s intended for. I don’t know exactly where it falls, but it’s a little more difficult than beginning chapter books, but not nearly as difficult as Percy Jackson (or as long).
My only other complaint is that when Meilin meets her father for the first time she isn’t awkward or angry or anything. She runs into his arms and they spend an evening star gazing together, enjoying each other’s company. I just had a hard time believing that a kid who hasn’t met her father would feel overwhelming love for a man who was never around. Will most kids care about this? The only kids who might are ones who have not met their fathers or who have experienced meeting them later in life. Does that make the book unworthy? I don’t think so. I doubt most kids who will tear through the adventure in this will mind that it isn’t totally authentic. Just be aware it may fall a little flat for some readers.
I really hope this story leads kids to the original Monkey King stories from the different parts of Asia. They’re very exciting and funny. Meilin takes some things in stride, but she was a very realistic kid. She didn’t suddenly become good at everything when she discovered her heritage and fell into her adventure. This is the first in a series and I’ll be buying the rest (I bought the first to try it out). It’s well worth having on our library shelves, particularly if you have kids who love mythology (we all have Riordan fans) and kids who like action.
By Elizabeth Wroten
Rerun: The Remembering Day/ El Dia de los Muertos written by Pat Mora, illustrated by Robert Casilla
On 04, Jul 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: Long ago in what would come to be called Mexico, as Mama Alma and her granddaughter, Bella, recall happy times while walking in the garden they have tended together since Bella was a baby, Mama Alma asks that after she is gone her family remember her on one special day each year. Includes facts about The Remembering Day, El dia de los muertos.
I bought this one for our Spanish collection and because I know several classes, including our music class, study El dia de los muertos. Mora imagines a time when the tradition of El dia de los muertos began in this sweet story about Bella and her grandmother. The story is fairly quiet as the two remember the happy times they have had together. As Mama Alma realizes she is going to die she asks Bella to start a celebration of those who have died in their village.
I think this one would make a great addition to any collection. While it has the cultural component of looking at El dia de los muertos, it’s meaning and possible origin, it is also a story about a grandparent dying. I think it would be a good story to offer to children and families who have lost someone. My own family celebrates the Celtic version of a remembering day each fall and this would be a fantastic book to read at that time.
I loved that Mora’s first line makes it clear that this is something that started before colonizers from Europe came and she touches on it again in the note at the end of the story. Remembering the dead is not uniquely Catholic or even Christian and the practice goes back much further into our human history. I think it’s important to acknowledge that with our students and children.
The illustrations are warm and inviting. They show Bella and Mama Alma working in their garden, weaving, and playing together. The soft, warm colors enhance the nostalgic and gentle mood of the text. The text is a bit on the long side so your mileage may vary with very young audiences. I bought this specifically for my second grade classes, but I think it could be read up into fifth grade and down into Kindergarten. The story is just so worthwhile.
I am curious, the title in English is The Remembering Day while the Spanish title is El Dia de los Muertos. I understand that the holiday is about remembering and respecting the dead, so does that mean The Remembering Day is a more accurate translation? I like it better. Calling it the Day of the Dead always brings Halloween to mind for my students and sort of sucks the meaningful significance out of the holiday (we are actually one of those families that do not celebrate American Halloween, for the record, so this could just be a personal bugaboo). To my limited knowledge of the holiday The Remembering Day seems a lot more inline with what the holiday is about.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 02, Jul 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
Book 1 of Windclaw Chronicles
From Goodreads: Near a dry streambed on a wind-swept spring day, Ellie Tsosie makes a strange discovery. She finds a startling gift, a book called The Mockingbird’s Manual. Ellie slowly wakes to a new and magical world, formed of the birds who have always lived around her home. But until the discovery, she never knew of their lives or of their secrets. In the first book of the Keepers of the Windclaw Chronicles, Ellie takes her first steps into the fantastic realm of the Animal World, where she comes to learn that she has a mission.
I would have LOVED this book as a girl. I am a bird person and the idea that you could find a book that allowed you to speak with birds, would have been so magical to me. The story follows Ellie as she discovers a manual that helps her communicate with the birds in her southwestern home. It takes Ellie a few days to figure out what is going on and what she needs to do to help.
Despite being the first in a series of three books The Mockingbird’s Manual does an excellent job of walking the line between setting up the series and creating a story that fits within the confines of the book. It isn’t a fast paced novel by any means, but it also isn’t slow and plodding. Again it strikes a nice balance, this time between giving growing readers something interesting to read without making it too complex for them to work through the mechanics of reading and keeping track of the plot. In other words, it’s a perfect transitional chapter book. I have not read the other two so I can’t speak to their difficulty level although I do know they are slightly longer than this one.
In terms of representation, the book is set in the Navajo Nation. Debbie Reese, children’s literature scholar and Nambe Pueblo member, always stresses the importance of tribal specificity in literature. “Native American” is far too broad of a term to be meaningful to anyone who is actually indigenous. This gives Native kids solid, realistic representation.
I would highly recommend the book (and the series) to all school libraries that serve third grade and up. I hesitate to call it a fantasy novel as the Native Nation it comes from may not view it as fantasy, but it fits in with other Euro-centric fantasy novels with talking animals, magical powers, and mystery. Not to mention Ellie being called to help in the Animal World. It would be a good series to start with before jumping into those (prolific) Warriors books or the Spirit Animals series. Be sure to hand it to kids who like animal books and your quiet fantasy loving girls who may not be quite ready for more difficult series.
Most beginning chapter book collections are lacking in any kind of diversity. It’s even more difficult to find Native representation so be sure to add this to your collections- home, school, or public library.
Final note: If you do purchase this book, please post a review of it on Amazon. This will help other folks find the book and know that it’s worth purchasing. If you use any other book services like GoodReads or your local library’s online catalog be sure to post a review there too! And if your local library doesn’t have a copy, request that they purchase one.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 27, Jun 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: At breakfast she learns she has been given a “fresh start,” and she decides to celebrate by doing things differently for the rest of the day. Melena chooses not to fight with her brother, and shares the money she has rather than demanding to be repaid by a less fortunate friend. This story introduces children to the concept of jubilee, which stresses the important principles of debt relief, generosity, and forgiveness.
I will buy nearly any book that Zetta Elliott writes and publishes, my exception being YA because I work in an elementary library (but to be honest I buy those for myself to read). Everything she writes is excellent and the books are popular with our students. I chose this book in particular to be my first review of the year because of the turning-over-a-new-leaf theme that seemed so appropriate for a new year.
Melena’s Jubilee follows Melena through a day where she decides to have a fresh start. She wakes up feeling new and refreshed. The day before she had been in trouble, but today she wants to make things right and make good choices. She inadvertently and indirectly broke a vase of her mother’s and her mother offers to help her glue it back together. She decides to let her brother be instead of whacking him with a pillow. She forgives money owed to her by a friend and she shares her ice cream with her neighborhood friends.
As far as a book to read in the classroom, both the idea of forgiveness and making better choices are concepts we focus on and I think the story will really resonate with some discussion. The idea of starting over also really appeals to me as an educator for helping children move on from bad days. They happen to everyone, but that doesn’t mean they have to hang over us. As a parent I also like these ideas and have talked about them with my daughter when she or I have had a rough day. I originally ordered the book for my library, but after reading it to my daughter she asked for her own copy. Something about the illustrations and the story really clicked for her. This was the first book in a couple months that she has requested I buy.
I hate to say this, but Boyd’s illustrations are bright and rainbow-hued which is like catnip to children. Shallow, but true. The illustrations are beautiful, though and the brightness celebrates the message of the book. The various types of prints and papers used really makes them interesting to pore over. While Elliott’s story is beautiful by itself and has a message without hitting you over the head with it, I think the two together make this a great book. I’m pretty sure the rainbow on the cover and the sun at the end sealed the deal for my daughter.
If you have money in your budget, be sure to purchase this one. It will find many appreciative readers, from parents to teachers to students.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 20, Jun 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: A glorious array of Allah’s never-ending bounties that will evoke a child’s feeling of gratitude for everything God, Allah in Arabic, has given – from faith and knowledge to family and health, from animals and nature to food and life itself.
Thank You O Allah is a title I purchased to diversify our collection. Being an independent school we don’t have a lot of religious books (unless you count our 2 billion Christmas books), but there are a handful. There are a couple “biographies” of saints and religious figures (Mary, Joseph, Moses), but mostly our Christian books take the same form as this book. They’re vaguely religious prayers that examine the everyday life and surroundings of a small child and thank God for them. I’m thinking most prominently about the Caldecott winner Prayer for a Child.
There are a couple places where I’m pretty sure this was originally a British release, but it won’t confuse anyone. The text takes on a repetitious form that really has rhythm to it. In some ways it brought to mind the chanting of Islamic texts. The only annoying thing about it was that each verse starts with “And let’s thank…”. I don’t think the “and” was necessary each time. That’s an incredibly minor quibble, though.
The illustrations are really beautiful. Bright and inviting they show things most children will be familiar with except for maybe the Q’aaba. I love the cover, but I am sucker for rainbows (I blame Lisa Frank!). The book is certainly Islam-centric, but I think the message in it could be shared with any child. I would consider using it around Thanksgiving, when kids are gearing up into the gimmies season, as a reminder of all the good things we already have.
I would recommend purchasing it if for no other reason than to be sure you have at least one Islamic book on your shelves. Christian books abound and end up on shelves even if a library or school isn’t religious, so I don’t see why we can’t then have Islamic books too. Plus exposure to Islam will teach children tolerance and make them less ignorant. In terms of quality this one is pretty good with nice illustrations, good text, and nice print quality. I’ve been desperate to find Islamic holiday books and I’m willing to relax my quality standards so we can have them on the shelf, but no compromises needed here.