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summer reading 2017



In Review

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

The Remembering DayThe Remembering Day/ El Dia de los Muertos written by Pat Mora, illustrated by Robert Casilla

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.

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In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Chapter Book Review: The Mockingbird’s Manual by Seth Muller

On 02, Jul 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

The Mockingbird's ManualThe Mockingbird’s Manual written by Seth Muller, pictures by Bahe Whitethorn, Jr.

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.

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In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Rerun: Melena’s Jubilee written by Zetta Elliott

On 27, Jun 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

melenas-jubileeMelena’s Jubilee written by Zetta Elliott, illustrated by Aaron Boyd

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.

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In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Rerun: Thank You O Allah! written by Ayesha bint Mahmood

On 20, Jun 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Thank you O AllahThank You O Allah! written by Ayesha bint Mahmood, illustrated by Asiya Clarke

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.


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In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Rerun: Billie’s Blues written by Zetta Elliott

On 13, Jun 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

billies-bluesBillie’s Blues written by Zetta Elliott, pictures by Paul Melecky and Purple Wong

From Goodreads: Billie’s best friend thinks their neighbor, Ms. Marble, is crazy. Supposedly Ms. Marble has a hundred cats in her apartment and sings to them all day long. But when Billie spends an afternoon with her elderly neighbor, she discovers that Ms. Marble is actually a lot of fun! Ms. Marble introduces Billie to Lady Day, Ma Rainey, and other great blues singers. Together they dress up in antique clothes, and sing and dance to the blues. Then Ms. Marble shares an old secret she has been keeping in her heart. Billie learns that “some hurts stay inside you a mighty long time,” but the optimism of the blues triumphs in the end; Ms. Marble assures her young friend that “the sun’s gonna shine in my back door someday.”

Another excellent title from Zetta Elliott. Billie has the blues. It’s raining, her best friend is sick, her babysitter is running late and now she has to go with her mom to the community college for a few hours. Just as the elevator arrives on their floor, Ms. Marble, their elderly neighbor, pokes her head out to say hello. Billie grabs the opportunity and invites herself over to Ms. Marble’s apartment for the afternoon. Ms. Marble is delighted and the two spend an amazing afternoon listening to jazz, dressing up, and eating cookies.

The story was actually really cozy, despite the secret Ms. Marble shares (more on that in a minute). I think the story is a wonderful celebration of a cross-generational friendship developing. And I think readers will be able to discover all the great music and singers that Billie is introduced to that afternoon. I found Billie to be funny. She narrates inside her head and admits the times she is doing things her mother will find rude, like asking too many questions, using “ain’t”, and inviting herself over. But she also rather impishly says her mom isn’t there so she doesn’t care. That seemed like such a kid thing to do and made me chuckle. I think it also makes her really relatable to kids. They’ll have the same questions Billie does and be relieved she just up and asks.

I’m going to spoil the secret that Ms. Marble shares with Billie: her sweetheart was lynched in the South. The text does not specifically mention lynching, just that he was “taken”, but the illustration on the page shows a young Ms. Marble crying with a noose and gallows off in the distance. It’s certainly subtle and for some kids it won’t really register. Others may know exactly what happened. I suppose people’s tolerance for lynching in a book aimed at third through fifth graders will vary. Professionally, I don’t see any reason not to have the book on your shelf where families, children and teachers can make those decisions for themselves. Personally, I think children are very good at grasping difficult history, feeling compassion and tapping into their strong sense of social justice. (For those of you who think children don’t have a sense of social justice, go out to a playground at recess and pay attention.) Parents, teachers and librarians may need to be ready to answer questions that arise, but to me that’s the most important aspect of books like these. It opens up hard conversations, teaches history that isn’t usually discussed and validates children’s ability to really see the world as it is. There is a little bit of age appropriate information included in the back. It might seem radical to some conservative library populations (even my school would have parents that would object), but I guarantee you children will be able to handle it (yes, I’ve talked about this and worse with my five year old).

The book ends on a happy note and a hint at Billie and Ms. Marble’s friendship continuing. If you don’t have Elliott’s books on your shelves yet, what are you waiting for? They are exactly the kind of stuff we need to give to our kids. Run, don’t walk, to her website and/or Amazon and buy all of them now!


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In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Rerun: Papa Lemon’s Little Wanderers

On 06, Jun 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Papa Lemon

I’m rerunning this post now because Papa Lemon has a Kickstarter project up right now. They are looking to publish another book in the series that deals with bullying. I enjoyed these early chapter books and would love to see their project fully funded. I’ll be giving what we can at  this time and I hope you will consider backing it as well! It ends June 29th. You can see it here.

Papa Lemon’s Little Wanderers written by Lehman Riley, illustrated by Joshua Wallace

  • Book 1: Meeting Dr. Martin Luther King
  • Book 2: The Dangerous Escape From Slavery
  • Book 3: World War II, The Navajo Wind Talkers
  • Book 4: The Life of Babe Didrikson
  • Book 5: The California Gold Rush
  • Book 6: Dr. Daniel Williams and the First Successful Hear Surgery in 1893

From Goodreads: Papa Lemon and Mama Sarah are the neighborhood grandparents in the small town of West, Mississippi. Papa Lemon helps five multi-cultural friends learn about our nations diverse heritage by sending them back in time via a magical train.

Papa Lemon’s Little Wanderers is a series I came across through another blog’s supporters page. Several of the books in the series cover time periods and events that are studied in my school, so I thought I would buy the series and give them a shot.

I really enjoyed them, and while there are a few issues, by and large they are well worth adding to a chapter book collection. Each book features a group of friends who travel back in time to explore different historical periods and meet historical figures. There’s a bit of belief suspension required around their time traveling locomotive, but I think only sticklers will mind. The writing in the books flows nicely and isn’t overly complex or overly simplified. They are short, beginning chapter books so the stories are bit simplistic, but again for the reading level that is perfect. The dialog is never stilted and nothing felt jarring or awkwardly phrased.

One technicality. There are no actual chapters in these. I’m calling them chapter books because of their length, the ratio of pictures to text, and the complexity of the stories and text. I really wish they had chapter breaks, though. It would help sell the books to readers who are looking for that grown-up feel of chapters. I also wish the trim size was smaller. Again, it makes the kids feel like they are reading older, harder books.

I also wish someone like Debbie Reese would look at the third book which talks about the Navajo Wind Talkers. There are good books out there about them (Joseph Bruchac’s for example), but they’re are all written for older, stronger readers. I think Riley was respectful in handling the Native uncle, but there wasn’t much information about the Wind Talkers. I suppose by stating he was a Wind Talker, it identifies the uncle’s, and by extension Kaya’s, native nation, but I wonder if it could have been more specific. I also wonder if there could have been more information about the Navajo that would have helped the story along. When the friends end up traveling back in time in the book they go to the Pacific theatre to meet another friend’s uncle, not to see the Wind Talkers.

The illustrations are fine if sometimes a little awkward, but there really aren’t that many of them. This is the place where the books feel like something self published. Kids like slick books, but in my experience what they think of as slick and what adults think of as slick can be vastly different. I think the trim size of these books is more likely to make them hesitate to pick them up. The friends are drawn as a diverse group with a mix of genders and ethnic backgrounds. Based on the third book the Native American girl is identified as Navajo. My only complaint about how the text and illustrations work together is AJ, the white friend. In the text he’s always hungry. No mention of his build or shape is made, but the illustrations show him as overweight. I think it’s a stereotype and while I think it would be great to have an overweight kid in the book, I don’t think he should be the one who is always hungry and wanting to find a snack. There’s no reason he has to be drawn that way.

A short historical note at the end of these that either elaborated on the historical period or pointed readers to more information would make them a little stronger. I completely understand that the books are not deep historical accounts of the time periods the kids visit. These are short chapter books for emerging readers. They are absolutely perfect for sparking their interest in these historical time periods and figures, so why not point them in the right direction to find more information.

Be aware that some of the titles appear to be out of print and need to be purchased used. The print quality and overall production quality has gotten better over the series, which is nice if they are going to be circulating. I plan on hand selling these to my second graders and any third graders I can find (I think I’m switching from working with third grade to pre-k this coming year? we’ll see) and I’ll report back on how they are received. I think between our Civil Rights study in music in the second semester and the (flawed) study of the Underground Railroad I can rope them in with the first two books. I’m still chewing on AJ and how problematic he is.

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In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Rerun: The City Kids by Zetta Elliott

On 30, May 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

PhoenixThe City Kids series by Zetta Elliot

The Phoenix on Barkely Street

From Goodreads: Best friends Carlos and Tariq love their block, but Barkley Street has started to change. The playground has been taken over by older boys, which leaves Carlos and Tariq with no place to call their own. They decide to turn the yard of an abandoned brownstone into their secret hang-out spot. Carlos and Tariq soon discover, however, that the overgrown yard is already occupied by an ancient phoenix! When the Pythons try to claim the yard for their gang, the magical bird gives the friends the courage to make a stand against the bullies who threaten to ruin their beloved neighborhood.

Dayshaun’s Gift

From Goodreads: Summer vacation has just begun and Dayshaun wants to spend Saturday morning playing his new video game. But Dayshaun’s mother has other plans: she volunteers at a nearby community garden and that means Dayshaun has to volunteer, too. When Dayshaun puts on his grandfather’s grubby old gardening hat, something unexpected happens-the hands of time turn backward and Dayshaun finds himself in the free Black community of Weeksville during the summer of 1863! While helping the survivors of the New York City Draft Riots, Dayshaun meets a frail old man who entrusts him with a precious family heirloom. But will this gift help Dayshaun find his way back to the 21st century?

So far this is a great series for readers who are ready for a little more text, but aren’t ready for full blown chapter books yet. In other words, they’re transitional. And totally engaging. I’m not normally one for science fiction/fantasy in my books, but I know a lot of kids who are and, as I’ve found this year, there aren’t a lot of those books out there for them unless they are strong readers (most fantasy books seem to be damn thick books with small print, even in the middle grade section). Even fewer of the books available across the beginning chapter book market feature diverse kids or kids who live in urban settings (we didn’t all grow up on a farm or in a large house, myself included). There is a lot here to appeal to kids at the second/third grade level.

In The Phoenix on Barkley Street kids who are all about being green will love that the kids clean up and repurpose a vacant building’s yard. The bullying theme will resonate with many children who, at the beginning chapter book age, are very attuned to social justice. Parents looking for a book that promotes community and friendship will appreciate the themes in the book as well.

I especially loved Dayshaun’s Gift. It was such a great time travel book and it took him back to a period of history that, despite taking American History three times in my school career, I never even heard mentioned. Dayshaun is such a kid, though, and he will feel very real and inviting to kids, even ones who might not pick up a books if there is a whiff of anything educational about it. This is one of the brilliant things about all Elliot’s books. She manages to open your eyes to something new and teach you about it without the books feeling didactic or breaking the story. Spoiler alert: Dayshaun does make it back to the present and he returns to the outhouse of the Weeksville historical village. Kids will LOVE that tiny detail.

It’s times like these I feel very grateful that I am in charge of what books we buy and where we buy them from for our library. Elliot has self published many of her books and that makes it difficult for some libraries to buy her books. If you have any say, these would make an incredible addition to any library collection that serves kids starting out in chapter books.

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.

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In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Rerun: Museum Mysteries by Steve Brezenoff

On 23, May 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Museum MysteriesMuseum Mysteries written by Steve Brezenoff, pictures by Lisa Weber

The Haunted History Museum

The Case of the Missing Museum Archives

The Case of the Portrait Vandal

The Case of the Stolen Sculpture

I bought and read three of these little mysteries. It’s such a tricky balance to strike in these early chapter books, trying to get enough story and character in there that it’s well written without making it too complex and long for kids who are just beginning to read. I personally am fine with books that lack a bit in an involved mystery and character development. I know kids who read these types of stories and enjoy them. I also happened to be one of those kids. I think these mysteries really do a good job of striking that balance. The diversity in ethnicity of the kids comes off as a little shallow, but I think for this type of books it’s just fine. Kids in my library are just happy to see themselves on the cover and read about a kid that they can picture looking like them.

Book number two (the one pictured at the left) is especially important right now. It’s a girl in a hijab who is not a terrorist. She also happens to love space travel and math. STEM girl for the win. The story is wee bit far fetched as the father is about to be fired for something that he didn’t do and the evidence that he lost some important documents is shaky at best. But the characters are likable and the story is fun if you put aside your grown up sensibilities.

When I bought these there were only four that I found on Amazon. On Goodreads it appears there are a few more that feature the same kids in new mysteries which if you have a population that likes mysteries I highly recommend getting. The original Nate the Great was pretty easy, but some of the later chapter books he is in get a lot longer and more wordy. I would say these could replace those longer Nate the Greats of be a place to move to afterward.

I highly recommend these for beginning chapter book collections. They’re a fun introduction to mystery novels and they feature a diverse cast of characters.



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In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Rerun: Following My Paint Brush by Dulari Devi

On 16, May 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Following My Paint BrushI have a bunch of reruns from last summer that are associated with my 100 Day Project. Since they’re all set up and ready to go, I’m going to go ahead and run them. That way if you want to search the tag #The100DayProject or #100daysofselfpublishedkidlit all the posts will be there. Just a heads up that you’ll be seeing these come across the blog over the coming weeks.

Following My Paint Brush text by Gita Wolf based on Dulari Devi’s oral narrative, art by Dulari Devi

From Goodreads: Following My Paint Brush is the story of Dulari Devi, a domestic helper who went on to become an artist in the Mithila style of folk painting from Bihar, eastern India. Dulari is from a community of fisherfolk whose occupation is river-fishing. Used to a life of hard and relentless labor, she discovered painting while working as a domestic helper in an artist’s house.
Dulari learned by doing, and very soon came to adapt artistic rules and conventions to her own expressive needs. Following My Paint Brush narrates Dulari’s momentous journey from a worker who knew no rest to an artist who is willing to go where her imagination leads her.

The art in this picture book is absolutely gorgeous. It’s bright and colorful and charming. Dulari Devi told the story of her life to Gita Wolf who simplified it and wrote it out. I think it’s one of those books that could be quite inspirational for aspiring artists. I could even see the art potentially inspiring some pen, ink and watercolor drawings (although I think that’s a fine line since it is a traditional art form).

I think this would make a nice addition to our biography collection to go alongside other picture book biographies of artists, particularly Draw What You See, The Noisy Paint Box, and also the books we have about Frida Kahlo. It would also make a nice addition to our art collection where we could showcase this traditional art form (I’ll have to think very hard about where it might get the best circulation and use).

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, I try very hard to ensure that the books we have about other cultures don’t create a narrative of pity and poverty. Heads up, this book is a story about a woman who grew up very poor and uneducated in India. I will be buying the book for our collection because of the art (did I mention it’s beautiful?) and the worthwhile story, but I am also going to check our other books about India and Indians to be sure we have books that show other narratives from the country.

I would like to share that last year we had a kindergartener who is Indian. She wears a bindi everyday. Some of the other kids in the class (white, as far as I know) asked her about it. Eventually their questions and curiosity started to sound a lot like teasing and bullying. Her teacher came to the library asking if we had books she could read to and share with the class that featured Indian or Indian American characters. There weren’t many. The thing is this little girl is not poor or uneducated and neither are her parents. I worried that the few books we did have would feed the kids another idea about this little girl and her family, namely that they were poor, uneducated and in need of pity (or worse would paint a picture of colonialism in India). I did end up finding a handful of books that were good and the teacher did share them (including Hot, Hot Roti for Dada-Ji). She also invited the little girl’s parents in to talk about an aspect of their culture of their choosing. I am not sure how the whole situation resolved or if it actually did, but that is exactly why I want to be very careful to be sure there is a variety of stories about cultures in our library.

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In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Rerun: Power in My Pen: A Snippet in the Life of Ida B. Wells written by Louie T. McClain III

On 17, Jul 2017 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Power in My Pen

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).

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.

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