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11

Jul
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: The Airport Book by Lisa Brown

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

The Airport BookThe Airport Book written and illustrated by Lisa Brown

From Goodreads: In a book that is as intriguing as it is useful and entertaining, we follow a family on its way through the complexities of a modern-day airport. From checking bags and watching them disappear on the mysterious conveyor belt, to security clearance and a seemingly endless wait at the gate to finally being airborne.

The Airport Book is one of those books that has a lot to look at and makes for a good book in the car or at a restaurant. The book has two storylines you can follow, the collection of visual stories in the pictures and the one being told by the text. I’ve already recommended it to other mom friends who are heading out on their first plane trip with their kids because the story in the text is a fairly simple narration of what to expect when you travel by plane.

Other happenings at the airport include the little girl’s stuffed monkey taking a special trip, a man carrying a large and suspicious package (don’t worry, it ends well), a girl’s soccer team traveling together, and a pair of kids traveling by themselves. Some pages feature more things going on and really provide an opportunity for parents to ask their children questions about what they see and if they can spot things.

As far as ages, I think it’s better for younger audiences (kindergarten and below). While the illustrations do have a number of stories to look at and follow through the pages, they don’t have the visual complexity of a Where’s Waldo? book, I Spy, or even Mamoko. I find those to be more inline with what grade school kids are interested in.

As you can see on the cover the book features racial diversity. You see this in the people in the airport, but most notably with the family that has a white mother and black father. This is the kind of diversity I’m looking for. Where it’s incidental to the story. Also where it isn’t showing the black family as poor or enslaved. I do have young kids in my library and because this is the kind of diversity I want to support I will buy a copy.

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10

Jul
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Following My Paint Brush by Dulari Devi

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

Following My Paint BrushFollowing 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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09

Jul
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Chapter Book Review: Mikis and the Donkey by Bibi Dumon Tak

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

Mikis and the DonkeyMikis and the Donkey written by Bibi Dumon Tak, illustrated by Philip Hopman, translated by Laura Watkinson

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.

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08

Jul
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Middle Grade Review: Zahrah the Windseeker by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu

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

ZahrahZahrah the Windseeker by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu

From Goodreads: In the northern Ooni Kingdom, fear of the unknown runs deep, and children born dada are rumored to have special powers. Thirteen-year-old Zahrah Tsami feels like a normal girl—she grows her own floral computer, has mirrors sewn onto her clothes, and stays clear of the Forbidden Greeny Jungle. But unlike other children in the village of Kirki, Zahrah was born with the telling dadalocks. Only her best friend, Dari, isn’t afraid of her, even when something unusual begins happening—something that definitely makes Zahrah different. The two friends determine to investigate, edging closer and closer to danger. When Dari’s life is threatened, Zahrah must face her worst fears alone, including the very thing that makes her different.

The world building in this book was incredible. Okorafor is so clever in the things she weaves into new worlds. There isn’t just a layer of magic or technology laid over our own world. And it isn’t some vaguely medieval setting. In the Ooni Kingdom plants are an integral part of their world. They are used to make technology (the old ebooks are a special kind of leaf), they are used to make buildings (they are literally hollowed out or shaped as they grow to create skyscrapers and libraries), and then there is the Greenie Jungle that lurks just on the outskirts of their world.

When Zahrah’s best friend falls into a coma she has to face both who she is and the Greenie Jungle to save him. I loved that Zahrah was not necessarily brave and she is fighting a lot of her demons, but her voice was never irritating. She is afraid, but she doesn’t throw up her hands and whine about how she can’t do it. She has been picked on at school and people think she’s strange for her hair. This has hurt her, but she doesn’t throw up her hands and let other people tell her who she is. It was refreshing, first to have a girl saving a boy, but also to watch a girl who come into her own without being a “chosen one”. The story is really about Zahrah finding her inner strength. She does have a special power, but she really only draws on it in a major way at the very end, and even then not in a deus-ex-machina way.

Zahrah’s journey also includes elements of discovering the world around her and questioning everything she has been taught. She comes to realize that maybe her people have been closed minded and afraid. I think a lot of adolescents go through this kind of discovery process where their worlds open up around them, at least in an intellectual sense. Zahrah’s transformation from timid girl to confident young woman is one a lot kids will want to relate to and watch. As an introvert I appreciated that, although she gains confidence in herself and discovers how to use her new skill, she doesn’t become a different person. She is still quiet and thoughtful, she just now has an inner strength.

The reading level and length make this much more of a book for middle school age kids, which is too bad because it was awesome and I would have loved to put it in my library. I may still. Buy this if you have fantasy fans in your library. Buy it if you are in an elementary library that has really strong readers. We need more variety in our fantasy and not another book set in a thinly disguised Europe.

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07

Jul
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Nonfiction Review: Hello Ruby: Adventures in Coding by Linda Liukas

On 07, Jul 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Hello RubyHello Ruby: Adventures in Coding by Linda Liukas

From Goodreads: Meet Ruby—a small girl with a huge imagination, and the determination to solve any puzzle. As Ruby stomps around her world making new friends, including the Wise Snow Leopard, the Friendly Foxes, and the Messy Robots, kids will be introduced to the fundamentals of computational thinking, like how to break big problems into small ones, create step-by-step plans, look for patterns and think outside the box through storytelling. Then, these basic concepts at the core of coding and programming will be reinforced through fun playful exercises and activities that encourage exploration and creativity.

Hello Ruby is an interesting hybrid of chapter book and activity book. Oddly, though, the activities are included in the back half of the book and not in or at the end of each chapter. The introduction also says that the book is designed for a parent to read the story to their child(ren) and work through the activities together.

The story is cute and simple with a pretty easy reading level (with some help a second grader could manage), however it jumps from something realistic into what I think is Ruby’s imagination. Ruby’s dad has hidden gems and left her some cryptic messages as clues to finding them. I was a little confused as to how Ruby managed to create a map for a world that I thought was supposed to be around her house, but ended up with a river and a forest. I stuck with it and the story eventually made more sense, it just required accepting that this was not our world. I’m not sure kids will be thrown by the leap into Ruby’s imagination since they are less familiar with genres and rules about worlds and stories. Some of the chapters were a little confusing unless you looked at and did the activities with them.

I did appreciate that the activities built on each other, getting more difficult as the book went on. One helps kids understand Booleans which I might have to use in the library when we talk about them.

In case you were wondering about the diversity tag on this book, I considered it diverse because Ruby is involved in computer science, something that is not traditionally assumed to be a girl’s activity.

I’m going to spend next week going through the chapters and exercises with my daughter to see how engaging it is for kids (I realize she’s a little younger than this is probably gear toward, but it will give me a sense). Considering it needs a parent to go through it with the child (not a bad thing! I wish more parents of older kids were still reading and working with their kids), it’s probably not the kind of book that would be popular in my library. It should work for a public library or a home collection if coding is popular. What I think I might do is buy it to have in the makerspace I run.

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06

Jul
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Nonfiction Review: The Cosmobiography of Sun Ra by Chris Raschka

On 06, Jul 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

CosmobiographyThe Cosmobiography of Sun Ra written and illustrated by Chris Raschka

From Goodreads: Jazz musician Sun Ra (1914–1993) always said that he came from Saturn. Being from another planet, he was naturally intrigued by everything earthly — especially music, because music is the one thing on Earth most like the stars. Earthlings themselves confused Sun Ra, the way they sorted themselves by color and fought wars against one another. So he made music. And he traveled with other musicians and singers, calling themselves the Sun Ra Arkestra, playing, singing, and dancing for people all over the planet. Because music, he said, is what holds us all together. Join acclaimed author-illustrator Chris Raschka in celebrating a legend of the jazz world who was truly one of a kind.

I am not usually a fan of Raschka’s art (A Ball for Daisy being the exception), but I think his sketchy, spotty, messy style fits perfectly with jazz. There is color everywhere on the pages of this book in splotches, washes, and swipes. There are also pieces of musical staff paper incorporated into the art.

The writing itself is perfect for a young audience . One of my big complaints is that a lot of picture book biographies are directed toward older readers (fourth or fifth grade and up) and they are hard to get those kids to pick up. Cosmobiography is pitch perfect for first through third grade. No, it isn’t the kind of book you could use as an exclusive resource for a biography project, but personally I think we do a disservice to kids, their curiosity and their education by creating projects that use only one dry source and require only one form of expressing their new-found knowledge.

Cosmobiography does cover Sun Ra’s life from his birth to his death. It doesn’t skimp on information about the man. It’s presented in a small digestible pieces for children. Pieces that may intrigue them and encourage them to learn more or simply gain some knowledge of one jazz great. The book starts out rather conspiratorially with the reader. Raschka points out that Sun Ra believed he was from Saturn, but acknowledges that the reader may find this unlikely. He then continues the book accepting the fact that Sun Ra was actually from Saturn. It also brings up the topic of race, discrimination, and segregation.

I highly recommend this one for biography collections. I’ll be adding it to ours this year for sure.

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05

Jul
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Nonfiction Review: Magic Windows by Carmen Lomas Garza

On 05, Jul 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Magic WindowsMagic Windows/ Ventanas magicas by Carmen Lomas Garza

From Goodreads: We look into Carmen’s studio and see her paint a Mexican jarabe tapatio dancer; we glimpse the hummingbirds that cross the US-Mexico border to taste the sweet nectar of the cactus flowers; and we watch Carmen teach her nieces and nephews how to make their own magic windows. Magic Windows is a continuing tribute to family and community as well as a way for Carmen to connect future generations to their ancestors by teaching and sharing with them this traditional folk art.

We are very fortunate in that our students take a foreign language in lower school (beginning in Kindergarten). The purpose of the program is not to create bilingual students, but to give the children exposure to another language and develop an ear for other languages. They can choose from French and Spanish (I really wish there were more options). I discovered this year that our Spanish teacher bought some books featuring Latina characters and a few bilingual books and while I tend to buy books that I want to use every year in my lessons and totally understood her impulse, I also felt a little like the library had let her down! We have a small collection of Spanish language and Latinx culture books, but it could be a little richer. So, now I’m keeping my eye out for books that can build that collection too. (So many places to build up the collection!)

I came across Magic Windows in a blog post somewhere and was intrigued and was rewarded with a fascinating book. It’s part family memoir, part art instruction, part culture introduction. Each page features a cut paper illustration that Garza has done with an explanation of what the picture is depicting. She also goes into her family history a bit with them, encourages the reader by sharing tidbits about making the papel picado, and shares some of the culture around various iconography. Each page features a few short paragraphs with this information in English and in Spanish.

Due to the length of the book I would say it’s better suited to older grades (second and up), but you could easily share a page or two with younger students. It would be a great jumping off point for an study into cut paper illustration and art. You could also pair it with books illustrated by Nikki McClure who uses a similar technique. It would also go well with a study of families and how we talk about them, honor them, celebrate them, and share our traditions and memories.

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04

Jul
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Chapter Book Review: The Toothpaste Millionaire by Jean Merrill

On 04, Jul 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Toothpaste MillionaireThe Toothpaste Millionaire by Jean Merrill

From Goodreads: Sixth-grader Rufus Mayflower doesn’t set out to become a millionaire. He just wants to save on toothpaste. Betting he can make a gallon of his own for the same price as one tube from the store, Rufus develops a step-by-step production plan with help from his good friend Kate MacKinstrey. By the time he reaches the eighth grade, Rufus makes more than a gallon — he makes a million! This fun, breezy story set in 1960s Cleveland, Ohio contains many real-life mathematical problems which the characters must solve to succeed in their budding business.

Happy Fourth of July. Here’s a book about the entrepreneurial spirit of the US for today. Considering the original publication date of this book, 1972, it’s surprising that one of the primary characters is African American. Kate MacKinstrey tells the story of how she and Rufus, two kids who didn’t quite fit in with their peers, became friends over making things and then started a business. Kate is new to town and is having trouble making friends until Rufus helps her clean up her spilled backpack one day on the way to school. She’s intrigued by his messenger bag he made for himself (and he offers to make her one as well).

This story has awesome all over it. It features a boy-girl friendship. Rufus is black and Kate is white. Kate isn’t into “girly” things and she starts up the business with Rufus. She helps make toothpaste, pack it up, and helps find a tube supplier and a factory to ramp up production. Rufus may have had the toothpaste formula idea, but Kate is as much of an entrepreneur as he is handling practical logistics. The kids also get to run around town by themselves! On bikes! I think it will seem extraordinary to kids these days, but also very enticing. I do wish that the story was more about Rufus. For example, I wish we knew why he choose Kate as a friend. He helps her and their friendship just starts up. It didn’t feel forced, but he just sort of assumes that after that point they are friends. Kate is grateful and takes it in stride. I am glad that on this cover Rufus is front and center.

I loved Rufus, he is so practical and straight forward. He starts the toothpaste production because he is convinced toothpaste companies are charging way too much and he could do it just as well for less and still make a profit. I do wonder if he falls into any stereotypes. Not only is he African American, but he also strikes me that he could have Asperger’s. I am not certain about that, but I wonder if he was supposed to be like one of those kids and if he is too much of a stereotype.

For a chapter book this one is on the higher end. In terms of interest I think kids from second to seventh grade would enjoy the story. I would recommend it for any elementary school library, but consider it if you have middle schoolers who are into inventing or need some lower reading level, high interest stories.

 

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03

Jul
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Chapter Book Review: My Life in Pictures by Deborah Zemke

On 03, Jul 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

My Life in PicturesMy Life in Pictures written and pictures by Deborah Zemke

From Goodreads: Bea Garcia is an artist. She draws anywhere and everywhere—but mostly in her own notebook. When Bea’s first and only best friend Yvonne moves to Australia, not even drawing makes Bea feel better. And things only get worse when a loud, rambunctious boy moves in next door. He’s nothing at all like Yvonne! But with a little imagination and a whole lot of doodles, Bea Garcia might just make a new friend.

Poor Bea! Her best friend has just moved away to Australia, all the way across the globe. Bea is heartbroken. To make matters worse, a weasel of a kid has moved next door into Yvonne’s old house and he’s ruining everything.

This was an interesting book to read as an adult and a teacher. I got how upset Bea was and how she didn’t know how to process her feelings. I think we’ve all felt the heartbreak of a good friendship splitting up, either because someone moves or because people change. I knew that feeling as a kid, but as an adult I thought about how tough it is to keep in touch with far away friends when you are so young. I also saw Burt, the annoying new neighbor boy, from both perspectives. To the kid mourning the loss of her best friend, Burt was obnoxious and forced on her by well-meaning adults. As an adult I saw that Burt was struggling too. He was new to the neighborhood and school and didn’t know how to insert himself in a constructive way into the class dynamic and to ask for friendship.

I love that Bea learns that Burt isn’t so bad. I love that her teacher doesn’t humiliate her for doodling some rather unkind things. She realizes Bea knows she was being unkind and unfair to Burt and puts an incredibly positive spin on her drawing while still making a subtle point to Bea, and Bea only, that she needs to write in her school notebook not her doodling book.

Bea is Latina, maybe biracial? The thing is, the story doesn’t make a big deal out of it and I’m not sure if that’s a good or a bad thing. I appreciate that, once again, we don’t have a book that makes being something other than white seem other and doesn’t focus the story on that. But I’m also wondering if it was a little shallow? Her name and a handful of Spanish words are just about the extent of her cultural identity in the book. There is the fact that this is a pretty simple book for readers who are just getting into chapter books so the need to keep the story short and more to the point was probably a big factor. I can’t find much information about Zemke either so I can’t tell if she’s writing as an insider (considering the state of children’s publishing I would guess not).

This really brings up another issue for me, which is, I bought the book for my library and is that a step in the right direction toward telling publishers I want books with diversity? Once they see diversity sells will they be more willing to get more of it on their lists, including diverse authors? I don’t know. I worry it encourages them to have their white authors write diverse content and we end up with a glut of shallow diversity. Things to think about.

In the end, the book is wonderful. Bea is like a lot of kids I have known over the years and I think a lot of readers will connect with her and want to follow her adventures (this is a planned series). Good addition to a chapter book collection.

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02

Jul
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Looking For Me by Betsy Rosenthal

On 02, Jul 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Looking for MeLooking For Me in this great big family by Besty Rosenthal

From Goodreads: One of 12 siblings growing up in depression-era Baltimore, Edith isn’t quite sure of who she is. Between working at her father’s diner, taking care of her younger siblings, and living in the shadow of her more mature sisters, Edith feels lost in a sea of siblings. When a kind teacher encourages Edith to be a teacher herself one day, Edith sees prospects for a future all her own.

Looking For Me was such an enjoyable book. Edith is a really likable girl who seems to get short shrift in her family.  It’s a memoir in verse of Betsy’s mother’s childhood growing up in a very large Jewish family. Edith really struggles to find her place and make her parents see her. There are also a lot of expectations put on her. She helps care for all the younger children because she is “the little mother”. This is a role she doesn’t necessarily mind, but she also resents having it be expected of her and having it be the only role her family sees her in. She also must work in the family restaurant after school everyday until nearly midnight. But she’s usually a happy kid with good perspective.

I am always looking for books that feature Jews, but not the holocaust. Why are all books with Jews about the holocaust?! Here the family is loud and boisterous and always short on money. They run a diner and barely keep a lid on all their children in the best possible way (I sort of imagine my dad’s childhood was a little like this, actually, running a bit feral with all his siblings). Their faith doesn’t play into the book too much, which I appreciated in that I am not looking for Jewish Books, but books with people who happen to be Jewish. Where the Judaism infuses their lives, but isn’t front and center.

A warning, one of Edith’s younger brothers dies. It’s a bit dramatic, but not detailed or gory. He comes down with what, at the time, was a fairly common childhood disease (I’m sorry I can’t remember what it is right now) and is whisked off to the hospital.

While appropriate for an elementary library, it seems better suited to middle schoolers who are really grappling with who they are. I think I have a few fifth graders who might enjoy this and they could certainly read it, I just worry that these glimpses into everyday life are not quite what they willingly pick up. I would give it to fans of Marilyn Nelson’s How I Discovered Poetry. Both are memoirs in verse and feature themes of self discovery. This would make a great addition to a classroom library as well. And I hate to give it the kiss of death, but it would be a good class read. I’m still undecided on whether or not I will purchase for our library.

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