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22

Jun
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Non-Fiction Review: Ramadan by David Marx

On 22, Jun 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Ramdan RookieRamadan written by David F. Marx (Rookie Read-About Holidays)

From Amazon: Following the well-known and much-loved Rookie Books format, these fun and informative books introduce early elementary-school children to the basic facts about major holidays. Each book explains the development of the holiday and how it is celebrated today, and includes holiday games, traditions, crafts, and foods.

I usually like this series and have even bought a couple titles in it for my own daughter, but this one, particularly compared to others that I will review this week, just fell very flat. The biggest issue I took was that it didn’t feel very informative about Ramadan. Don’t get me wrong, there is information here about the holiday, but it felt almost too simplified to make it sound particularly special or celebratory. It also has other facts about Muslims inserted into the text that made it feel discombobulated.

I will say, it has one very big thing going for it and that is a depiction of all kinds of Muslims. There are Arabs, Southeast Asians, blacks (they look American to me, but I’m not sure), people who look Indian and Pakistani, people who look Iranian. I haven’t seen a lot of books that show a mix of Muslims. Admittedly most of the books I have reviewed up to this point feature one family in a story as opposed to a non-fiction narrative, still seeing non-Arab Muslims seems to be rare.

I wouldn’t say don’t buy the book, especially if you have a younger population. Don’t buy it for your Muslim patrons, it’s way too basic for those kids. I would buy other books for your collection first unless you need something super inexpensive or want to have lots of books on the shelf.

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21

Jun
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

YA Review: Peas and Carrots by Tanita S. Davis

On 21, Jun 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Peas and CarrotsPeas and Carrots by Tanita S. Davis

From Goodreads: In this new YA novel by Tanita S. Davis, the Coretta Scott King Honor author of Mare’s War, a white teen named Dess is placed into foster care with a black family while her mother is incarcerated.

Dess has had a hard life. And things have gotten more complicated since her mother is incarcerated for her own protection. She is going to be a witness against Dess’s father, an abusive drug dealer who her mother has been tied to for years by her drug habit and children. Dess has endured years of abuse and neglect and has a baby brother she has tried to help care for, but ultimately they were put into the foster care system. Dess struggles with being separated from her brother and with the sudden appearance of controlling adults.

Dess has a grandmother, but she is just too old to care for Dess and her brother, something Dess doesn’t understand and cannot forgive her for. After causing trouble by running away from the group home, the family that took in Dess’s brother has offered to foster her as well. Now Dess has to recenter herself in this new family and find her place in it.

As much as the story is about Dess, it’s also about Hope, the biological daughter of the foster family who is the same age as Dess. The two really struggle to build a friendship and sisterhood with Dess constantly sniping at Hope and Hope’s selfishness.

Despite sounding like an incredibly depressing read from that description, it’s not! Peas and Carrots was a quick, fun read. Hope and Dess both come across as teenage girls and as an adult I kind of wanted to slap them both, but you understand where they’re coming from. This would be a great book to hand to girls who like girl drama and friendship in their books. They get in some funny jabs and Dess is totally bowled over by Hope’s handsome uncle which is hilarious.

I am not wild about the cover. I think it’s not particularly interesting and the font and colors are kind of an odd choice, BUT it did make me check my biases! I assumed that Dess, the foster girl, was the black girl (the description from Goodreads above was not the one I had read) on the cover. Ouch.

As always, Davis has delivered a fantastic book about family, friendship and finding yourself.

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20

Jun
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: The Have a Good Day Cafe by Frances and Ginger Park

On 20, Jun 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Good Day CafeHave a Good Day Cafe written by Frances and Ginger Park, illustrated by Katherine Potter

From Goodreads: Early each morning Mike and his family drive to the city with their food cart. They sell bagels and orange juice for breakfast, hot dogs and pizza for lunch. Mike passes the time by drawing pictures, and Grandma sits in the shade, fanning herself and missing life back home in Korea.One day two other food carts show up on the family’s street corner. All summer long business dwindles away, and Mike’s worried parents start thinking about giving up their cart. Now it’s up to Mike, and Grandma, to find a way to bring back their customers.

This was a really sweet story featuring a family business and three generations. The ending is maybe a wee bit unrealistic, but children will appreciate that it’s Mike, the boy, who figures out how to save his family’s food cart business.

One thing I particularly like about this book is that it shows a Korean family looking like any other family. They live in contemporary America and look like it. Even the grandmother doesn’t wear traditional clothing which makes the family look like the Korean families I know and that might read this book. They don’t look like immigrants or some “other” that is exotic and intended to be gawked at. The story does encourage embracing your own culture, but could just as easily be read as encouraging sharing your culture.

I know it can be dicey to teach culture through food, but I think it’s a really great way to get kids interested so long as you continue to delve more deeply into the culture. The Have a Good Day Cafe would be a great start to looking at Korean food and culture. It would also be a great book to trot out at Grandparents Day, a holiday our school celebrates.

I added this one to our summer reading lists and will be adding it to the collection in the fall. I am hoping our second grade uses it with their Asian cultures study, but it would make a great read aloud. The length probably makes it better for a group of first or second graders, but there’s no reason it couldn’t be shared with younger kids.

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19

Jun
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Leo: A Ghost Story by Mac Barnett

On 19, Jun 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

LeoLeo: A Ghost Story written by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Christian Robinson

From Goodreads: You would like being friends with Leo. He likes to draw, he makes delicious snacks, and most people can’t even see him. Because Leo is also a ghost. When a new family moves into his home and Leo’s efforts to welcome them are misunderstood, Leo decides it is time to leave and see the world. That is how he meets Jane, a kid with a tremendous imagination and an open position for a worthy knight. That is how Leo and Jane become friends. And that is when their adventures begin.

There is something about this story and the illustrations that, although they are thoroughly modern, feels very timeless and classic. I guess it harkens back to the Georgie books for me, all of which I read and loved as a child.

It’s Mac Barnett, so it’s funny. Christian Robinson’s illustrations are so charming. But despite it’s subtitle, this isn’t a scary or creepy story. It’s a lovely book about friendship and acceptance. Leo is completely misunderstood by the family that moves into his old home. When he sets out in search of bigger better situations he comes across Jane who not only can see him, but strikes up a friendship with him. Ultimately Leo saves the day when a robber breaks into Jane’s apartment.

Robinson talked a little bit about the book in his Effie Lee Morris Lecture (you can watch that here, it’s well worth it) and noted that people wonder why he put a “white” boy on the cover. He explained that ghosts tend to be white. Excellent point. He went on to say that, make not mistake, despite being technically blue, Jane is black and lives in the ‘hood (his words). Watch the video here, it will start at the spot where he talks about Leo. He makes the excellent point that we need to do our research and not simply rely on covers to tell us if there is diversity in a story, which I think is an important point.

I suggest pairing this with Ghosts in the House by for a not-so-scary Halloween read aloud. Either that or pair it with other friendship books around either the beginning of the year or Valentine’s Day. It would be a refreshing break from all the hearts and pink.

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18

Jun
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Nonfiction Review: Surfer of the Century by Ellie Crowe

On 18, Jun 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Surfer of the CenturySurfer of the Century: The Life of Duke Kahanamoku written by Ellie Crowe, illustrated by Richard Waldrep

From Goodreads: The true story of Hawaiian Duke Kahanamoku, six-time Olympic swimming champion and legendary surfer who popularized surfing around the world.

Considering our diversity numbers in our biography collection, I was surprised we had a copy of this in the library. It’s been on my TBR pile for about a year now and I decided to pick it up just before the end of school and see if it might work for our summer reading lists.

I think kids will really enjoy the story because Kahanamoku was very driven and inspiring. When he couldn’t get into the local surf club because he was native Hawaiian, he and his friends made their own. When he wanted to swim, he hopped in the water and invented a new technique to make himself swim faster. He much preferred being in the water to being in school and I think we all know kids who will relate to that! Be sure to read the notes at the back. The story of how he met his wife is both funny, touching, and surprising.

Besides being a refreshing and much needed book about a Native Hawaiian , a woefully underrepresented culture in children’s literature, that doesn’t involve the hula and coconut palms this is also a book about sports we don’t see a lot of, namely swimming and surfing. I am sure there are plenty of students in my library who, at the very least, swim and would love to see that interest in some of their books. (E.g. we have a lot of baseball and basketball and even quite a bit of football, but not many other sports on our shelves.) I can’t speak to how well it portrays Native Hawaiians, but it does address the discrimination that Kahanamoku faced particularly in sports/swimming. It isn’t unlike many of the African American sports figures from the same era and I highly recommend pairing it with books about Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson and others.

I loved the illustrations in the book. Something about the technique and color palette that gives it a fun, summery feel. It is a picture book biography which means there is a fair amount of text, so in terms of reading level and attention span this is best suited to fourth grade and up but could certainly be read to younger audiences if there is interest. This is the perfect addition to any summer reading list. Not only is Kahanamoku worth reading about, but who doesn’t want to read about swimming, Hawaii, and surfing in the summer?

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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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