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17

Jun
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Nonfiction Review: Cesar: Si, Se Puede! Yes, We Can! by Carmen Bernier-Grand

On 17, Jun 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

CesarCesar: Si, Se Puede! Yes, We Can! written by Carmen T. Bernier-Grand, illustrated by David Diaz

From Goodreads: Born in 1927 in Yuma, Arizona, César Chavez lived the hard-scrabble life of a migrant worker during the depression. He grew to be a charismatic leader and founded the National Farm Workers Association, an organization that fought for basic rights for his fellow farm workers.

This is a book we already have in our library and I’m very glad we do. Not only is it a great poetry and picture book biography, but I think in California it’s especially important we have materials on Cesar Chavez and migrant farm workers.

I absolutely love Harvesting Hope by Kathleen Krull and read it out loud to my second and third grade students this past year around Cesar Chavez day. None of them were aware of who Chavez was or what he had done. They were only vaguely aware of the migrant farm workers who plant, tend and pick most of our produce. And we live in California’s Central Valley. Our curriculum does a good job of talking about and presenting slavery and even the Civil Rights Movement (thanks to our music teacher, of all people) but we don’t talk much about the struggles of people other than African Americans.

 

In Cesar the poems got a bit confusing in the middle of Cesar’s life, but either with a little background information (provided by the author’s notes in the back or a teacher) kids won’t have any trouble getting through. Not only does poetry let children approach difficult topics, it can also makes reading feel like a breeze. Short lines, few words on a page, and rhythm and rhyme help those reluctant and struggling readers through a whole book. And yet, it conveys so much. So much emotion and information and story.

I think Cesar is worth having in most library collections, but I would recommend making sure you have more resources about either Chavez or the fight for farm workers. I also recommend having Separate Is Never Equal by Duncan Tonatiuh about Sylvia Mendez. All these books together, in a small strong collection, will give students a more complete picture of the struggle for civil rights and more awareness about where their food comes from.

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16

Jun
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Float by Daniel Miyares

On 16, Jun 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

FloatFloat illustrated by Daniel Miyares

From Goodreads: A little boy takes a boat made of newspaper out for a rainy-day adventure. The boy and his boat dance in the downpour and play in the puddles, but when the boy sends his boat floating down a gutter stream, it quickly gets away from him. So of course the little boy goes on the hunt for his beloved boat, and when the rain lets up, he finds himself on a new adventure altogether.

These are the kinds of books I’m really looking for. Ones where the story features a child of color (or any kind of diversity), but doesn’t draw attention to their diversity. Basically books that don’t default white, cis, able bodied, etc. etc. Those books have their place, but as I’ve noted recently I’m trying to be cautious that all our books that feature diversity don’t create some sort of narrative that makes all African Americans seem like they are poor, single parent homes. Or make the books  seem like books only our black students would want. You get the idea. (The irony of me harping on diversity while looking for books that don’t isn’t lost on me.)

Float is such a beautiful story about adventure, creativity and resiliency. The illustrations are so soft and beautiful. They capture the dreariness of a rainy day, but the pop of yellow of the little boy’s rain coat and boots draw your eye to him as he moves across the page and through the story. It also emphasizes that you can have fun even when the weather isn’t what you expected. Pay special attention to the end papers, they have instructions for folding the boat and kite that you see the boy in the story.

The book is wordless which makes it a little more difficult to use with story time groups, but I think there is plenty of fodder for discussion. We have it in our home library and it’s great for my pre-reader daughter to sit and look at. We have had great success sharing the telling of the story with it too. Just an all around beautiful book for sharing with young audiences (and maybe older ones if you are looking at visual storytelling either as part of language arts or even in a something like a film class). Worth the purchase if you have young patrons. Be prepared to get out the newspaper and rubber boots after reading it.

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15

Jun
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: We Came to America by Faith Ringgold

On 15, Jun 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

We Came to AmericaWe Came to America written and illustrated by Faith Ringgold

From Goodreads: From the Native Americans who first called this land their home, to the millions of people who have flocked to its shores ever since, America is a country rich in diversity. Some of our ancestors were driven by dreams and hope. Others came in chains, or were escaping poverty or persecution. No matter what brought them here, each person embodied a unique gift their art and music, their determination and grit, their stories and their culture. And together they forever shaped the country we all call home.

I definitely liked the message in this one. No matter where our ancestors came from or why they came, we have become Americans. This is one of the few books I’ve seen so far for children that acknowledges that the Native Americans were here first. But it also kind of glosses over that and subsumes everyone into being American, which for the Native Americans isn’t exactly correct. Their history with people coming to America is fraught and they are sovereign nations which means they aren’t really American.

I think in theory the book works to show the diversity of our country that makes us great. It’s also the kind of book that can spark discussion but because of that I hesitate. It needs more context for any kid who reads it. This makes it a good read aloud for class. The repetition of the poem also makes it a good read aloud. The simplicity of it would make it appropriate for preschool or younger, but any older and I hesitate.It feels a bit too much like a book schools would use to make their social studies units more diverse without actually having the harder diversity conversations. If I do buy it, it would go out on the shelf, but I would also make sure it went out to classrooms to be read and was read during storytimes in the library so that all-important context is being addressed.

The folk art feel of the illustrations works for a simple poem about all the disparate pieces that make up our country, but again I’m not sure it strikes the right chord for me. Folk art seems to be pretty white (at least in my experience with it) and I don’t think that’s what Ringgold was going for in creating this book. There was also an illustration where the line of text says  that people came because they were being persecuted in their home countries, but all the people on the page (who look a bit like Jews from the Ellis Island era) are smiling. It was kind of weird.

I guess I recommend this one with reservations at best. I wish I had liked it more because the idea is a good one, but I think it might have simplified the history a bit too much in an attempt to unify us. I also wish I had an alternative to suggest. I think if you have a strong curriculum and strong library collection that features diversity it’s worth looking into purchasing (meaning it might be worth it if your collection and curriculum are already providing the context).

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14

Jun
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Night of the Moon by Hena Khan

On 14, Jun 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Night of the MoonNight of the Moon: A Muslim Holiday Story written by Hena Khan, illustrated by Julie Paschkis

From Goodreads: Yasmeen, a seven-year-old Pakistani-American girl, celebrates the Muslim holidays of Ramadan, “The Night of the Moon” (Chaand Raat), and Eid. With lush illustrations that evoke Islamic art, this beautiful story offers a window into modern Muslim culture—and into the ancient roots from within its traditions have grown.

Night of the Moon is a longer picture book, engaging, but still a bit long. In the line up of Ramadan books we’ve read it hasn’t been my most favorite, but it will make a solid addition to my library’s collection. While the story would be suitable for Muslim families to share there was a lot of defining within the text of “unfamiliar” terms so, to me at least, it felt like a story about Ramadan more for non-Muslim audiences.

BUT the best part of this book is the ending. Yasmeen receives a telescope for Eid! I love any book that promotes science and girls. Yasmeen is super excited to be able to use her new telescope to look at the moon more closely as she’s been following it all month. In fact, this would be a cool book to pair with an older story time that focuses on the moon or to encourage kids to go out and look at the moon. If you or your science department has a telescope that would make a cool library pairing too (I’m thinking specifically of school libraries for that).

I find Julie Paschkis’ illustrations to be charming. I’m not exactly sure what technique she uses, but I love the outlines around shapes and people in her pictures. The colors are bright and inviting even though many of the pictures have blue and green palettes for nighttime. There isn’t a lot of diversity of skin color among the people (they all look very white to me), but since I’ve reviewed a number of other books that look a little more reflective of the diversity in the Muslim community I’ll give this book a pass. The story and illustrations are strong enough.

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13

Jun
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Rashad’s Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr by Lisa Bullard

On 13, Jun 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Rashad's RamadanRashad’s Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr written by Lisa Bullard, illustrated by Holli Conger

From Goodreads: For Muslims, Ramadan is a time for fasting, prayer, and thinking of others. Rashad tries to be good all month. When it’s time for Eid al-Fitr, he feasts and plays! Find out how people celebrate this special time of year.

This was a tricky one. On the one hand there is a very simple text in the book that walks Rashad through Ramadan. There is a story here and it’s not especially didactic, but does specifically talk about Ramadan.

However, there were a lot of side bar boxes that added a lot of information for the non-Muslim. I would have thought it would make the book feel like it was intended for both Muslim and non-Muslim audiences alike, but it didn’t. Maybe it’s because the story is so, so simple (which makes it great for young audiences). Or maybe  It’s just that most Muslims would probably skip the informational boxes and glossary at the end which makes more than half the content in the book irrelevant.

I think this one would make a better supplement to an already strong collection or if you are looking for basic informational books about the holiday. The family is black (it never says they live in America which could make the setting a lot of different places), so if you have a strong black Muslim population in your library you should consider adding it to your collection. For our collection, I’m looking for books that have stories with Muslim families and center around holidays, but are not so informational so I think I’ll pass. I’m also in favor of a smaller, stronger collection versus a large one.

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12

Jun
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Ramadan Moon by Na’ima B Robert

On 12, Jun 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Ramadan MoonRamadan Moon written by Na’ima B Robert, illustrated by Shirin Adi

From Goodreads: Ramadan, the month of fasting, Doesn’t begin all at once. It begins with a whisper. And a prayer. And a wish. Muslims all over the world celebrate Ramadan and the joyful days of Eid-ul-Fitr at the end of the month of fasting as the most special time of year. This lyrical and inspiring picture book captures the wonder and joy of this great annual event, from the perspective of a child.

It was the illustrations that got me on this one. I love them. All that beautiful, colorful, textured paper combined with a bit of coloring and black line drawing. There are a lot of fabric scraps cleverly worked in that add more color and texture and even pages from the Quran are used as a background (I think that’s okay? I’ll defer to the illustrator there and assume she knew what she was doing). It’s all so charming. The colors are bright and friendly and the people are darling. I have to note my daughter told me she wasn’t so fond of the pictures and when asked to elaborate it sounds like we have different tastes in art. :)

The story itself focuses on following the family through the month where the  narrator (presumably the little girl on the cover) shares all the things they do throughout the month like fasting, donating used items to charity, and visiting the mosque. I can’t quite put my finger on what it was, but it just does not come across as explaining the holiday so much as celebrating it and reveling in the joy of the month. It’s definitely not didactic but you still get a very good sense of what the month of Ramadan is and what it means.

The family in the story could be white (they look like the Charlie and Lola characters) or they could be  Iranian (the illustrator grew up in Iran) which makes this a good candidate for talking about how Muslims come in all colors. Again, not that we need to white wash Muslims to help our non Muslim students and children accept them, just another good book to help build a balanced narrative around the religion. Their house looks like any other suburban home with children’s toys, a baby high chair and paisley sofa. Again, the illustrations are just so charming! Another good addition to library collections.

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11

Jun
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Lailah’s Lunchbox by Reem Faruqi

On 11, Jun 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Lailah's LunchboxLailah’s Lunchbox: A Ramadan Story written by Reem Faruqi, illustrated by Lea Lyon

From the publisher: Lailiah’s family has moved to Georgia from Abu Dhabi, and Lailah still misses her friends. Although a lot has changed, good things are happening, too: this year her parents have agreed that she’s old enough to take part in fasting for Ramadan. Lailah won’t be taking her lunchbox to school for a whole month! But Lailah’s excitment turns to worry. Will Mrs. Penworth and her classmates understand that she hasn’t just forgotten her lunch? How can she explain that fasting for Ramadan is an important part of growing up?

According to the author’s note this is based on Reem Faruqi’s own experience as a new immigrant to Georgia. She was worried about whether or not her teacher and classmates would grasp the significance of being allowed to fast all Ramadan for the first time. And she was missing her best friends, a relatable experience for any child who has moved schools, cities, states or countries.

One of the things I really loved about the story was that Lailah was very excited to be allowed to fast. As the author’s note pointed out this is a big step in growing up. Leena in A Party in Ramadan was also excited to be allowed to fast for a day in Ramadan and I suspect Muslim children will like seeing that significance recognized in the pages of a book.

Like A Party in Ramadan, Lailah’s Lunchbox touches on how difficult it can be to fast when others around you are not. Lailah seeks refuge in the library both from her rumbling stomach and from her shyness over sharing why she doesn’t have a lunch. I thought this rang true to the inexplicable and sometimes fickle nature of kids becoming shy over sharing something. Lailah had no particular reason to feel embarrassed about fasting, but she got nervous about what her classmates would think and it became a big deal. I’ve seen kids do this time and again with things ranging from being shy about new shoes to going on fun vacations.

Lailah’s Lunchbox would make an excellent addition to library collections. It’s nice to see other Ramadan stories set here in the contemporary US. As I said before it makes Muslims and Ramadan feel more familiar for non-Muslim kids and looks more familiar to Muslim kids celebrating in our classrooms and libraries. This is particularly true because it is not an informational book clearly designed for non-Mulsim kids, but a book both Muslim and non-Mulsims alike can enjoy.

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10

Jun
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: A Party in Ramadan by Asma Mobin-Uddin

On 10, Jun 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Party in RamadanA Party in Ramadan written by Asma Mobin-Uddin, illustrated by Laura Jacobsen

From Goodreads: Ramadan is coming and Leena is excited. Although she is too young to fast every day during the Muslim religious festival, Leena decides to fast each Friday instead. When Leena receives an invitation to a party which happens to fall on Friday, she has a dilemma. She doesn’t want to miss the party, but she doesn’t want to miss fasting either. So Leena decides to go to the party, but not eat or drink anything at all. Later, she will join her family for the meal known as iftar, when the daily fast is broken. But when Leena, who is the only Muslim at the party, sees her friends enjoying fresh lemonade and chocolate cake, her stomach starts to growl and her head begins to hurt. Will she keep her Ramadan fast?

This is another great addition for any library collection. The story takes place in what could be any Los Angeles suburb or really anywhere USA. Leena is a typical American girl, she is excited to go to a birthday party where there will be a real pony to ride and she likes chocolate cake and lemonade. But when the invitation arrives she discovers that the party will take place on the first day of Ramadan, the day she is supposed to fast for the first time. No problem, Leena assures her mother, she just won’t eat at the party.

At first it’s not a problem and Leena thinks her mother was worried and skeptical for no reason. As the afternoon wears on, though, Leena realizes that she is thirsty and that chocolate cake sure looks good. She eventually wanders off and takes a nap. When she wakes she is back home and feels much better than she did earlier. It’s also just about time to break the fast and she feels proud for managing the difficult situation.

Throughout the story Leena has supportive and understanding friends and adults, although her friend’s mother at first misunderstands what fasting entails. I think the story will really appeal to American Muslim kids who will be familiar with the difficulty of fasting in a country where the majority of people do not celebrate Ramadan. It’s a great reminder to non-Muslim kids of the difficulty associated with fasting, especially when there are things to tempt them like chocolate cake, and the importance and significance of maintaining the fast during the day. There is a very sweet scene at the end too where two of Leena’s friends and their families come by after sundown bearing chocolate cake that they saved for her from the party.

In recommending some of these Ramadan books over others I’m not encouraging library collections to only have books about modern American Muslims. My intention is to be wary of creating narratives (I talk a bit about it in this post) that make Muslims seem like people who only live in the Middle East or are other and foreign. I think it’s important for us to have books on our shelves that reflect the Muslim kids that can or do come in and read those books and allow our non-Muslim kids to see their peers. But our collections should also show both American-Muslim and American non-Muslim kids Muslims in other countries.

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09

Jun
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Nabeel’s New Pants by Fawzia Gilani-Williams

On 09, Jun 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

NabeelNabeel’s New Pants: An Eid Tale retold by Fawzia Gilani-Williams, illustrated by Proiti Roy

From Amazon: Ramadan has come to an end. The fast is over, and tomorrow the celebration of Eid will begin. Nabeel decides to buy each of his family members something special to wear for the holiday. But while he’s choosing, the shopkeeper persuades him also to buy a gift for himself—a pair of new pants that are too long! Nabeel asks his wife, his mother, and his daughter to hem them, but no one has the time—everyone is busy preparing for the festivities. Will Nabeel be able to wear his new pants to celebrate Eid? Only a pair of scissors can tell.

I came across this book on several lists of books for Ramadan. Unfortunately I didn’t discover until looking for a description of the story, the book appears to be out of print. That is very unhelpful for a lot people who may want to buy the book and I think for that reason I can’t exactly recommend it. It really irks me when bloggers recommend books that aren’t readily available. The fact that this is out of print after nine years tells me it wasn’t a great seller. Another problem, a problem that is endemic and feeds that myth that diversity doesn’t sell. Either way those of us wanting to add it to either our library or personal collections are going to have to go looking for it.

As far as the story goes, this is a very funny book. While the story is a bit long, the text does a lot of repeating so kids can chime in as they figure out what comes next. In other words, this makes a great read aloud. Nabeel buys a pair of pants for himself that are too long and he goes to each of his family members in turn asking if they will help him hem them. Each turns him down in the same way. Finally Nabeel decides to do it himself. Then, so do his family members, which makes for a pair of shorts instead of pants. Nabeel puts them on and the joke is revealed with a page turn. Fortunately they still have the scraps that have been cut off and the pants are put right. The illustrations remind me a bit of Simms Taback and they are just as charming. The simplicity and bright colors will certainly appeal to young audiences. I wish there was a little more specificity in where and when it takes place, but kid aren’t going to mind that. So long as you have other strong representations of Eid, Ramadan and Muslims I think it won’t matter nearly as much.

For parents, this was easily available through my library, hopefully it is in yours. For librarians and parents wanting to buy the book, there are a handful (18) available used on Amazon for a reasonable price (the new ones are ridiculously expensive which baffles me). If you can get it, get it. It’s funny and charming and sure to be a hit. Worth the extra effort it might take to locate a used copy in good shape.

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08

Jun
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: The White Nights of Ramadan by Maha Addasi

On 08, Jun 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

The White Nights of RamadanThe White Nights of Ramadan written by Maha Addasi, illustrated by Ned Gannon

From Goodreads: Mid-Ramadan is a special time for families in the Arabian (Persian) Gulf. These middle days are known as “the three whites,” because they include the day of the full moon, the day before, and the day after. It’s a time when children, dressed in traditional clothes, go from house to house collecting treats from their neighbors. When Noor sees the full moon rising, signaling the coming of Girgian, she and her brothers prepare for the fun. Together, they decorate the bags they’ll carry to collect the candies. But along with the fun, Noor remembers the true meaning of Ramadan: spending time with family and sharing with those less fortunate.

This is such a charming story about the middle nights of Ramadan. Any American kid will recognize Noor’s excitement over dressing up and going door-to-door asking for candy. It’s also nice to see a book that doesn’t focus on the fasting aspect of Ramadan. Children do not fast and this story gives kids a glimpse of something else that captures the excitement of the holiday. Noor also comes to appreciate one of the most important aspects of Ramadan, which is sharing and helping those less fortunate.

I have to say I felt like it was one of those books in the US that makes Ramadan and Muslims seem like something that happens far away to other people. It takes place in an unnamed Gulf country (although the author’s note at the end sets it in her native Kuwait. The parents and grandparents wear more traditional Arab clothing and their town looks like a Kuwaiti village. Many of the more unfamiliar terms are defined within the text, but there is also a glossary at the end. Considering that the story and the celebration of Girgian seems to be particular to the Gulf countries this may be helpful to some Muslim and non-Mulsim readers alike.

Don’t get me wrong. I will be purchasing this for our library collection and it’s well worth the read. Just be sure to pair it with something like A Party in Ramadan that shows Muslims and Ramadan in America.

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