summer reading 2017
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 08, Jun 2017 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Little Blk Books: Everyone is excited about Auntie Cynthia’s wedding – everyone except little Femi. He is not excited about having to share his room or meeting new cousins who may play with his toys. What do weddings have to do with little boys anyway? When his family arrives from Nigeria, Femi is amazed at the beautiful crowns and colorful garments they wear. With the help of Auntie Koy, he learns the value of family and the importance of tradition.
I signed my daughter up for the Wam! Book Bundle which sends us three books a month that feature diverse characters. It’s always a big deal when the box shows up on our porch. This past month they included their first independently published book and it was the first book my daughter picked out to read.
The story reminded me a bit of The Wedding Week, another phenomenal independently published book that I reran yesterday, in that Femi’s family is Nigerian (although he and his parents live here in the US) and they’re prepping for an upcoming wedding. Here, though, the story is about building up cultural pride. Femi is bored by the idea of a wedding (“Wedding? For the last few months Mommie and his Aunties looked at girl stuff and got excited about silly flowers.”) and worried about sharing his bedroom and toys with visiting cousins (“From left to right, and every space in between, he couldn’t find a single place where his cousins could sleep.”).
Fortunately Auntie Koy steps in to help Femi see the positive side of weddings. She explains that everyone will be wearing a crown, geles for the women and filas for the men. The tradition started a long time ago and is meant to show everyone that their people are royalty. Femi begins to think it might not be so bad after all if he gets to be a prince. And when his cousins show up he discovers they’re actually a lot of fun to have around.
The wedding is a success and Femi has a blast. Even though he’s sad everyone has left he draws on the warm feelings his Auntie Koy left him with around the meaning of the fila he has to wear and the memories of the wedding. The book does a really good job of balancing giving the reader a story to follow and providing cultural information. It’s buy turns funny and heart warming.
The reading level is maybe just a little lower than most picture books which would make it a good selection if you have kids that want to try and read these books on their own. Otherwise it’s right in the mix. The book itself is paperback which I know can be a drag for libraries. The print quality is actually quite good, though. The pages are a nice thick, glossy paper. I think this is a must for library collections if you can order books like this. It’s a great story with bright and inviting illustrations and it centers family and cultural pride.
If you are interested order the book here on their website: Little Blk Books
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.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 01, Jun 2017 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten
Over the last year I’ve been really attracted to small presses and self published books as a way to get more diversity into library (and home!) collections. This spring the Cooperative Children’s Book Center’s blog posted some graphs created using the diversity statistics they collect each year. It shows a huge gap in #ownvoices for African American children’s books. If you haven’t seen these statistics, graphs, and commentary head over here to read it . Maya Christina Gonzales and her Reflection Press also used these statistics to great effect showing how many books would need to be published to have an equitable children’s publishing industry. If you haven’t seen or read about that, check it out here. Zetta Elliott, who self publishes many of her phenomenal books, has also addressed the lack of diversity in the mainstream publishing industry. Between her advocacy for small press and self published books and Reflection Press’s project to quickly publish quality books to fill some of these needs and gaps, I started going out of my way to find self published children’s books.
I know there is a stigma against a lot of these books, and certainly there are terrible self published materials out there, but while some of them lack the slick covers, illustrations, and marketing of major publishers I found that my daughter and students didn’t mind them at all. In fact I think my daughter’s top three books are small or self published. Basically, kids don’t hold books to the same standards that adults do. That isn’t to say they can’t sniff out something that is too didactic or trying to push an agenda or that they don’t have standards of any kind. What kids are looking for is just different than what adults are looking for. There is a case and a place for having beautiful, amazing books that traditional publishers put out around children, but not at the expense and exclusion of giving them reflections of themselves and the world around them.
All this is to say that for my #100dayproject I will be reviewing a self published or small press title each day. It may take me more than 100 days, to be honest. Most of these are not available in my local library, so I have to buy them myself and that adds up. I’ve got a little stash right now and I’m also planning on rerunning blog posts from the past year or so where I have reviewed self published books. It can’t hurt to get more exposure for these titles. (To be clear, I don’t mind buying them! I want to buy self published and small press books, but it just adds up.) After these 100 (or so) days I’m going to keep on with this type of book. I will occasionally review the traditionally published book, but there are plenty of reviews and blogs out there dedicated to them so I want to call attention to books that might not otherwise get much press.
Obviously you can follow along here on the blog, I’ll be posting daily. You can also follow along on Instagram as I’ll be taking a picture each day to go with the post. I will also be sure to share the photo on Twitter when I post it. I’ll be using #100daysofselfpublishedkidlit. It’s long and cumbersome and leaves out the small press aspect, I know, but it is what it is.