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16

May
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Rerun: Following My Paint Brush by Dulari Devi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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11

May
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book: Breaking the Sickle by Louie T. McClain II

On 11, May 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Breaking the SickleBreaking the Sickle: A Snippet of the Life of Dr. Yvette Fay Francis-McBarnette written by Louie T. McClain II, edited by Francis W. Minikon Jr., illustrated by M. Ridho Mentarie

From Goodreads: Have you ever wondered what your passion was? What you were put on this Earth to do? Dr. Yvette Fay Francis-McBarnette, a trail blazing woman of medicine, understood exactly what her purpose was in life. Her interest and area of expertise was researching ways to identify those with sickle cell early on, and providing therapeutic solutions to induce an improved quality of life for those who suffered from the disease. Dr. Francis-McBarnette led an extraordinary life that tells such an amazing story of hope and encouragement. Read along as Melanin Origins presents a childlike perspective of her formula for breaking the cycle of Sickle Cell Disease.

I have a secret way of testing out all books that I bring into the house. Kids books that is. I casually leave them out in a basket, next to the bed, or on the kitchen table. Then I wait to see how long it takes my daughter to pick them up, peruse them, and ask to have them read to her. A litmus test of sorts.

I have admitted before that upon seeing these “Snippet in the Life of” biographies for the first time I was confused by the representation of the subjects as modern looking children. “Why not draw the people as they were in the historical settings they lived in?” I wondered. As with Booker T. Washington, Flying Above Expectations, and Ida B. Wells I was not in the know. It takes my daughter no time at all to see these biographies and pick them up, curious about who they are about. They are always that night’s bedtime story when they arrive.

This installment in the series features Dr. Francis-McBarnette, a female doctor dedicated to helping African Americans through her research and treatment of sickle cell disease. The book is part affirmations, part science introduction, and part biography. Dr. Francis-McBarnette, a woman who hailed from Jamaica, entered Yale’s medical school at the age of 19. She was also only the second black woman at the school. Depicted as a young girl, Yvette, takes the reader through her life and explains that when she saw the impact sickle cell disease had on people and families she became determined to help manage the disease. She emphasizes the hard work she put into her studies and her life in order to accomplish the things she did and she encourages readers to do the same. She also gives a simple lesson on how sickle cell disease works. Not so long as to confuse or bore readers, not so short as to be uninformative. Perfect for budding scientists.

While the book is a snippet of a great woman’s life, it also provides many parents with an opportunity to talk to their children about how incredible her accomplishments were because of the color of her skin. She worked hard and also overcame obstacles that normally held women and people of color back. It makes her story all the more amazing.

The text in the book is spare enough that it will keep younger audiences engaged. For children curious for more about her, tearchers, librarians or parents can help them research her further online. But the book stands on its own, whetting children’s appetites for learning about less well-known historical figures that are probably passed over because of their race and/or gender. This is the kind of representation we need more of in children’s books (and grown up books too, to be honest). We need to have young women of color on the covers of picture books. We need to be reading books about women in science and especially women of color in science to all kids, not just kids of color.

Libraries, classrooms, and home collections need to be considering the “Snippet in the Life of” series. Melanin Origins is now releasing all of them in both paper- and hardback and they are super affordable. They need to be on our shelves showing all children that it wasn’t just white men who made history. There were plenty of other heroes out there working to make the world a better place. Before you turn your nose up at books published outside traditional channels consider the lack of diversity in the books available through those channels. This book in particular shows children that a disease that affects many black and African American people is and was important enough to be studied, addressed, and managed. It also fits the bill for promoting STEM/STEAM education, particularly with girls (so it’s really on point :) ). I also recommend the book for families affected by sickle cell disease. It’s a great introduction for young children to understand what the disease is and why they may be getting the treatment they are.

Disclosure: I was sent a review copy by the publisher, Melanin Origins, in exchange for an honest review.

Purchase the book here (not affiliate links):

On Melanin Origins website

On Amazon: available as a paperback or hardback

Final note: If you do purchase this book, please post a review of it on Amazon. This will help other folks find the book and know that it’s worth purchasing. If you use any other book services like GoodReads or your local library’s online catalog be sure to post a review there too! And if your local library doesn’t have a copy, request that they purchase one.

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12

Feb
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book: Carver Park by Dr. Lynda Mubarak

On 12, Feb 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Carver ParkCarver Park written by Dr. Lynda Jones Mubarak, illustrated by Eminence System

From Goodreads: It would seem that growing up in segregated Waco, Texas in the 1950s would be filled with challenges and disappointments for any African-American child, but one little girl learned everything possible about the world beyond segregation due to the influences of her family, friends, neighbors and teachers. Waco, TX had its on Black Wall Street in the Bridge Street area and it flourished. Carver Park gives us a view into the life of one child who found that regardless of society’s circumstances, the persons in our lives provide us with the knowledge and support needed to learn, survive and progress during a time of great social unrest and historical change.

Carver Park is a fascinating series of reflections on growing up in the segregated black neighborhood of Waco, TX, a city I must shamefully confess I’m more familiar with for the siege with the Branch Davidians. I suspect for teachers and parents my age (and possibly older) that will be the point of reference. Carver Park really replaces that narrative though, with small vignettes of Dr. Mubarak’s childhood in the 1950s. To be honest it reads a lot like the stories my own mother shares about growing up in the same era. The family here just happens to be black and live in a segregated neighborhood.

This is the perfect type of book to share during Black History Month. To begin with, it veers away from the typical narrative of exceptional African Americans who pull themselves up by the bootstraps we see touted during this month. Those books have a place and are important, but they feed into the idea that black people have worth and history only as it fits in with slavery, Jim Crow laws, and nonviolent Civil Rights era marches. Carver Park is the kind of book we see about white families all the time and it’s incredibly refreshing to see it reflect a different kind of family for once. It’s a kind of representation that we need to see for black children.

That isn’t to say the family doesn’t have its challenges. No mention is made of their SES, so I can’t be sure money wasn’t always a worry for her parents. Nor does she shy away from pointing out that they faced institutional racism and discrimination. They lived in a segregated neighborhood after all. But it’s told from little Lynda’s perspective so those things don’t factor into her perception of growing up in the same way they may now as she reflects back on her childhood as an adult.

I especially love the relationship Lynda has with her parents, and her father in particular. He was always careful to explain things to her and make sure she understood what she was seeing and experiencing as a child. Both her parents include her in their day-to-day lives and make a point to do things as family. Also, her dad sews!!! He’s a tailor and it’s so incredible to see a man sewing, a skill that is usually relegated to women if you see it at all in a picture book. I’ll be honest, it’s the kind of book I hope my own daughter would write about our family. It’s so clear how loving and supportive Mubarak’s family was and how, despite what were less than ideal circumstances in a racist world, they helped her see her worth and value and build happy memories.

This book is more of an illustrated book than picture book and if I had one suggestion about it, it’s that I wish it was printed in a chapter book form factor instead of the large square picture book format. It’s also not going to be a book that hooks in every reader. It’s quieter and more contemplative. Personally I love that kind of book and I have known plenty of children over the years who also love those types of stories, but be aware of that when recommending it to readers.

This would be a great addition to any library, classroom or home collection. Tie it in with Black History Month right now and use it to start a conversation about segregation of our neighborhoods. I recommend it for older audiences, second grade up, simply because the text is longer and will require longer attention span and/or higher reading level skills.

Disclosure: I was sent a review copy by the publisher, Melanin Origins, in exchange for an honest review.

Purchase the book here (not an affiliate link):

On Amazon: available as a paperback or hardback

Final note: If you do purchase this book, please post a review of it on Amazon. This will help other folks find the book and know that it’s worth purchasing. If you use any other book services like GoodReads or your local library’s online catalog be sure to post a review there too! And if your local library doesn’t have a copy, request that they purchase one.

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29

Jan
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Hadara’s Hijab by Dr. Irene Okoronkwo-Obika

On 29, Jan 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Hadara's Hijab

Hadara’s Hijab written by Dr. Irene Okoronkwo-Obika DNP, ARPN, FNP-C, PMHNP-BC

From GoodReads: Journey with Hadara and her father as they migrate to the United States from South Sudan for a new life. Hadara is ecstatic to embark on her new life and gain meaningful friendships in a new land, but soon discovers the harsh realities of being bullied due to her physical appearance. However, after an encounter with her peer, Chisom The Champ, Hadara is empowered to regain her self-love and self-acceptance.

We’re back in Chisom the Champ‘s world for Hadara’s Hijab, this time following Hadara, a young South Sudanese girl who has come to the United States with her father in hopes of getting a good education. Right off the bat I have to say I appreciate that this is not a refugee story from South Sudan. Certainly it is important for us to realize what is going on in other parts of the world, but the story of South Sudan often runs into what Chimamanda Adiche calls the danger of a single story. Mainstream media almost always depicts refugees from South Sudan fleeing violence. There are other stories of immigrants from South Sudan and other countries, though, and it’s important to see them. Moreover, there is no hint of exceptionalism here with Hadara. She wants to be a mathematician, but the text doesn’t call her out as a genius or make her out to be anything more than a girl who likes school. I assume she’s a bright girl and her father is a perfectly decent man too. But all they’re looking for is a better education for Hadara instead of expecting them to be model immigrants with exceptional qualities that make them “good enough” to be in the United States, a narrative we’re seeing a lot of in this political climate.

Hadara is obviously Muslim and not the kind of Muslim we see in a lot of picture books (although there are definitely a few from African countries, Deep in the Sahara comes to mind). It’s refreshing to see a non-Middle Eastern Muslim represented in a picture book as it gets away from that single story as well. The book does not center around her faith, which is also refreshing in that it can simply be ancillary to the story. It’s nice when faith is woven in, but Christian children get to see vaguely Christian children represented all the time (how many new Christmas books come out every year?) without their faith being specifically called out, so why not Muslim kids?

It should be said that Hadara is called out for being black primarily by the class mean girl (also for being Muslim, but the most hateful attacks are for being black). The language used against her is very specific. It made me uncomfortable reading it and I wonder about reading it to kids of color. I don’t doubt that it’s language they’ve heard before, but it felt very harsh. I think part of my own discomfort is the fact that I am white and felt conflicted about repeating the insults, particularly when reading the book to my white child. White teachers and librarians will need to unpack that feeling when using the book. It’s also probably nothing my daughter hasn’t explicitly or implicitly heard somewhere in media. My point being, your mileage may vary, but don’t discount it for that. I think the book really opens up a good conversation between adults and children about anti-blackness (and xenophobia). On a second read through with my daughter I discussed racism and bullying and how the two often go hand-in-hand. In our house, it’s a conversation we have regularly, but for those parents or teachers who aren’t used to the conversation this can both serve as a starting point and as a resource in a larger conversation.

Ultimately the girl doing the bullying comes around. At first I thought the resolution felt unrealistic. The mean girl really has a change of heart after Chisom and Billy Bob step in on Hadara’s behalf. But after thinking it through I realized we need stories that have those happy endings. Aren’t there enough ambiguities and unhappy endings going around right now? Why can’t we model how a mean girl can recognize her bad behavior, apologize for it, and make a commitment to do better? I think it’s a healthy ending to use with audiences who may need to see how that conflict resolution plays out.

I also think this is where the strength of the book lies. Chisom and Billy Bob intervene on Hadara’s behalf at two different points in the story. They overhear the mean comments and laughter of the students and don’t allow themselves to be bystanders. They speak up. Kids need to be shown how to do this. They need role models that do this. So much of the anti-bullying I see being taught in schools revolves around focusing on reforming the bullies and preventing the behavior. This is necessary, but most kids won’t be the bullies. They’ll be the bystanders overhearing the mean remarks and hateful language and they need to know that they can and should speak up when that happens. They also need to be explicitly taught how to speak up.

All in all, this is another book to have in your pocket (or on your shelf) to help combat bullying. It deals with it very explicitly and I think we really need resources that do that. Even more, it deals with anti-black and anti-Muslim prejudice and bullying which are issues our kids are seeing all around them. They need honest conversations with the adults in their lives and Hadara’s Hijab gives them an opportunity to face the problem head on and see how it can be dealt with.

Disclosure: I was sent a review copy by the publisher, Melanin Origins, in exchange for an honest review.

Purchase the book here:

Hadara’s Hijab on Amazon (not an affiliate link) Available as an ebook, a paperback, and a hardback (woohoo!)

Final note: If you do purchase this book, please post a review of it on Amazon. This will help other folks find the book and know that it’s worth purchasing. If you use any other book services like GoodReads or your local library’s online catalog be sure to post a review there too! And if your local library doesn’t have a copy, request that they purchase one.

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25

Jan
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Rerun: Chisom the Champ Meets the World by Dr. Irene Okoronkwo-Obika

On 25, Jan 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

I originally ran this review back in September. I was still recovering from my first trimester woes and didn’t do much to promote it, so I’m fixing that now by reposting the review and making sure I cross post on GoodReads, Amazon and put up a picture on Instagram. I am also rerunning it because I will be posting a review in the next few days of a companion picture book in which Chisom has a cameo.

Chisom the ChampChisom the Champ Meets the World written by Dr. Irene Okoronkwo-Obika DNP, ARPN FNP-C, PMHNP-BC

From Goodreads: Enter into the life of Chisom, a young Nigerian boy, who repeatedly gets bullied for his cultural identity in a Western Society. Read along as he discovers that his strength is actually found in his family upbringing and in embracing his cultural values. The story of Chisom teaches children across the world that self-love is key to overcoming bullies and other interpersonal obstacles experienced in life’s journey. 

Disclosure: I was sent a copy of the book by the publisher Melanin Origins in exchange for an honest review.

Where was this book a year ago when I was building the character education collection in the library? This was exactly the kind of book that we needed! It tackles bullying, cultural and self pride, and standing up for yourself and others.

Chisom appears to be growing up in the United States, but he makes it clear that his family is Igbo and shares some of his culture with the reader. His name has cultural significance, his parents are called by the traditional naming convention, Papa and Mama Chisom. Mama Chisom is apparently a good cook and, darn it, every book about Nigerian families features jollof rice and it makes me hungry every time. Chisom also wears traditional Igbo clothes, which eventually gets him in trouble with the school bully.

Billy Bob is a large red-headed boy who wears cowboy boots and teases everyone. He decides to start picking on Chisom calling him names and making fun of his clothing. Chisom is, understandably, really upset by this. After talking to his mom about it and reflecting on the pride his parents instilled in him he decides to stand up to the bully. The next day at school when Billy Bob starts in on Chisom, he tells Billy Bob to stop and explains that Billy Bob’s cowboy boots set him apart as much as Chisom’s Isiagu. He tells Billy Bob that everyone deserves respect and then, best of all, calls him in asking him to be a champion by giving up bullying.

The book is clearly made to encourage children to stand up for what is right. Chisom is a sweet boy with a loving and supportive family and he makes a great character for kids to connect with and root for. Certainly the book is important for all children to show that just because we look and dress differently doesn’t mean we deserve to be bullied. But I think this book is most important for children from immigrant families and black children who are often not allowed to feel pride in their heritage and families. Moreover, the book provides a good jumping off point for teachers and parents to talk about how to stand up for yourself and others. I think there are a lot of children out there that want to stand up to bullying and teasing, but don’t know where to start. Chisom gives them some good ideas, particularly the importance of calling people in (instead of simply calling them out) and language around those ideas. The ending may involve a bit of wish fulfillment, but it’s good for kids to see happy endings to these situations so they can keep a positive mindset.

Pair this with the charming The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade by Justin Roberts, Red by Jan de Kinder for a storytime about standing up against bullying. Well worth adding to school library collections, particularly if you have a character education curriculum or anti-bullying campaign. Also well worth adding to classroom libraries for those first few weeks when you work on building community.

Purchase copies here (not an affiliate link):

Amazon (available in hardcover, paperback, and ebook)

Final note: If you do purchase this book, please post a review of it on Amazon. This will help other folks find the book and know that it’s worth purchasing. If you use any other book services like GoodReads or your local library’s online catalog be sure to post a review there too! And if your local library doesn’t have a copy, request that they purchase one.

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12

Jan
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Flying Above Expectations by Larry Simmons

On 12, Jan 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Flying Above ExpectationsFlying Above Expectations written by Larry Simmons, Jr., illustrated by Shereen Shahzad

Published by Melanin Origins

From GoodReads: Join Melanin Origins as we tell of the Tuskegee Airmen and a few of their accomplishments in flight and in moral character. Author Larry Simmons penned this story for children worldwide in hopes to awaken the conquering, persevering and ambitious nature in every child that reads this book. 

I know these reviews I write are designed to recommend books based on whether or not they would make valuable additions to library collections and I will talk about this book in those terms (or just go out and buy it already since it’s well worth it), but first I have to share how it really resonated on a personal level in our house. My daughter is nearly six and a half years old and while we managed to avoid the terrible twos and threes, she has really struggled this year with resilience in the face of difficulty and failure. For example, a small mistake on a drawing escalates quickly to her throwing her entire body on the floor wailing, “Everything is ruined!”. I would find it comical if I didn’t find it so incredibly frustrating. I have written before about how important I find the maker movement in large part because it teaches kids how to successfully fail and how to persevere. Yet here I am faced with my own daughter struggling to do that.

Thus far we’ve discussed how to handle disappointment and mistakes and I’m slowly amassing a pile of books that (not so subtly) hit perseverance over the head as a message with a capital “M”. The problem with them is that even the good ones tend to be pretty sneaky about teaching their lesson. I know a lot of people love that and don’t want to get slapped with a lesson, but I need help here. She needs to hear that message loud and clear.

So, when I got this book in the mail the other day I expected a fun historical story about the Tuskegee Airmen. I added it to our bedtime book pile. That night my daughter picked it out of a pile about a foot tall, so clearly it spoke to her. No surprise, the cover is bright and enticing and a little mysterious with the heart on the pilot. As I started reading it I noticed there were two colors of text on the page. The first few black lines of text follow the story of Anderson, the first African American to earn his private pilot’s license. Then a line or two of red text at the bottom of each page are affirmations and encouragement. Things like ” We all get sad, mad, upset, confused and frustrated, but don’t let those things knock you off course! You can still choose to fly above expectations.” Each piece of advice is tied to Anderson’s story, but not so intimately that readers will only see them as relevant to Anderson’s story. I think they do a brilliant job helping kids see how not only is Anderson’s story interesting, but it is applicable to their own lives. They can draw inspiration from him.

My daughter didn’t necessarily make the leap from these lines of encouragement to her own struggles (probably in large part because she wasn’t currently upset about losing a Lego she needed), but she did notice the two different colors of text. I did see how helpful these ideas will be and I immediately explained to her that they were special words from the author to her that were meant to help her see how Anderson helped himself make it through some very challenging situations.  The book is full of wisdom about pursuing dreams, keeping at things even when they seem insurmountable, and believing in yourself even when others don’t. We’re keeping this book in the bedtime rotation so we can refer back to it and use the advice as mantras when she does have one of those knock-down-drag-out tantrums.

Now I know my daughter was not necessarily the target audience here as a white, middle class kid. She’s got plenty going for her, especially if the worst thing she suffers from is an errant mark on an art project. I certainly took the opportunity to explain how it was important for her to keep trying and learn from failure, but I also took the opportunity to explain that race was a major factor in what led people to underestimate and discriminate against Anderson and the Tuskegee Airmen and also children of color she knows now. (For anyone interested, there’s a fabulous novel called Flygirl by Sherri Smith about a young woman from the same era wanting to be a pilot in the Air Force and passing as white to do so). The positive affirmation geared toward children of color that can be found in the story and the words of encouragement are reason enough for libraries to have this book on their shelves. Classrooms too! I suspect those children will get even more out of this story than my own daughter. Parents who need something in their back pocket for encouraging resilience, perseverance, and persistence should also have this on their shelves.

If I had one criticism it’s that I wish the illustrations were a little more detailed. My daughter is still on this kick where she really wants to know if the books we read are “true stories”. More historical detail might have helped her see the ties to its era. But not every book needs to be a historical study and the story, positive representation, and affirmations more than make up for the fact that the pictures lack some historical detail. She was excited to discover a photograph of Anderson at the end of the book.

It appears that the book is currently only available as an ebook. I was sent a paperback copy to review, so I’m hoping there will be a physical copy available soon. The book does not release until February 1st, timed I believe with Black History Month. If you want to pre-order/purchase a copy you can do so through the publisher here: Melanin Origins or through Amazon. (Not affiliate links.)

Disclosure: I was sent a review copy in return for an honest review. 

Final note: If you do purchase this book, please post a review of it on Amazon. This will help other folks find the book and know that it’s worth purchasing. If you use any other book services like GoodReads or your local library’s online catalog be sure to post a review there too! And if your local library doesn’t have a copy, request that they purchase one.

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08

Jan
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: My ABC’s by John W. Ensley II

On 08, Jan 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

My ABCsMy ABC’s written by John W. Ensley II, M.Ed., illustrated by Wesley Van Eeden

Published by Melanin Origins

From Goodreads: My ABC’s is an English alphabet learning tool that provides images associated with the cradle of civilization. This book provides a fun, colorful way for children to learn the alphabet and a little more about African culture in a manner unseen before.

Here’s the ABC book for all you modern parents with a clean aesthetic. This is such a beautiful book from a graphic standpoint (also from a bookish standpoint). The colors you see on the cover are the entirety of the color palette and it makes for a very clean, easy-on-the-eyes, but not boring, visual experience. It feels like something you’d see in one of those impossibly fancy Midcentury home magazines or on some hipster baby’s bookshelf. Each letter stands out boldly in white on the page with a red line inside it. If you’re using this in storytime, the classroom, or with your own child, have the kids run their finger along the red line to learn the shape of each letter.

From an educational standpoint this book avoids the pitfalls that many (most?) ABC books, cards, and products fall into. The vowels! So often I find alphabets that have a mix of long and short vowel sounds. Worse yet, sometimes they have indistinct vowel sounds such as when the “a” is mixed with an “r” or some other letter that changes the vowel sound enough that it’s impossible for children to isolate the sound. Books that do this may be beautiful or even amazing, but they’re functionally useless. Not so here. Each vowel is paired with the short vowel sound making it beautiful and useful. Then there are the letters that can have more than one sound! I have a number of alphabet books that have “g is for giraffe”. True, but only in writing. Otherwise the “g” is making the “j” sound. This is incredibly confusing for children trying to learn letter-sound correspondence. Again, My ABC’s comes through. The letter sounds are clear and easy to hear. Well, actually the letter “c” cleverly uses the word “circle”, a “c” word that features both sounds the letter makes.

Some letters have fairly generic words associated with them (“umbrella” and “vegetable”) but when they are embedded in an afrocentric alphabet that features “b for braid” and a picture of a man with braided hair or “s is for sankofa” they take on a far less generic significance. They can also be opportunities for discussing how these words relate to African and African American culture. For example, here in Sacramento we have a black-owned, urban farm in one of our historically black neighborhoods. The owners offer education and food to the community it’s nestled in. What a great conversation to have in a classroom or at storytime that can promote local entrepreneurship and community. Some letters celebrate African culture, again “sankofa”, while others celebrate important goals like “education” and “graduate” that show, respectively, a black man and black woman achieving these things.

I sound like a broken record hitting this idea again and again in my reviews of books with diverse content (read: books with few or no white people), but I’ll say it again because apparently people still don’t get it. There is something here for every reader. You do not have to be black to enjoy or appreciate or need this book. First off, it’s an ABC book. There are a ton of them out there, the vast vast majority of them are mediocre at best. Alphabet books are great well into the early elementary years as kids learn to recognize shapes, letters, letter sounds, and then eventually need help remembering how to write a letter (especially directions of some letters like “b” and “d”). Why not have one that celebrates African culture? Better yet, why not one that celebrates African culture AND is gorgeous? Secondly, the book celebrates Africa, African culture, and black people. African American children need to see themselves positively represented in books and quite frankly white children need to see that too.

The book is available in both paperback and hardback. I recommend the hardback considering the age of kids that will be reading the book, it’s just that much sturdier. School libraries and libraries that serve young children should have this one and need to promote it. I assure you, there are plenty of those mediocre alphabet books on your shelves already, so there’s no reason not to have this excellent ABC book there to outshine the others. Families should also consider this one for their collections. It can open up a lot of interesting conversations for all families around the various things represented by the letters.

You may buy the book on Amazon here or through the publisher, Melanin Origins, here. (Not affiliate links.)

Full disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. I also bought myself a copy because I want to read this to my daughters.

Final note: If you do purchase this book, please post a review of it on Amazon. This will help other folks find the book and know that it’s worth purchasing. If you use any other book services like GoodReads or your local library’s online catalog be sure to post a review there too! And if your local library doesn’t have a copy, request that they purchase one.

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12

Sep
2017

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Chisom the Champ Meets the World by Dr. Irene Okoronkwo-Obika

On 12, Sep 2017 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Chisom the ChampChisom the Champ Meets the World written by Dr. Irene Okoronkwo-Obika DNP, ARPN FNP-C, PMHNP-BC

From Goodreads: Enter into the life of Chisom, a young Nigerian boy, who repeatedly gets bullied for his cultural identity in a Western Society. Read along as he discovers that his strength is actually found in his family upbringing and in embracing his cultural values. The story of Chisom teaches children across the world that self-love is key to overcoming bullies and other interpersonal obstacles experienced in life’s journey. 

Disclosure: I was sent a copy of the book by the publisher Melanin Origins in exchange for an honest review.

Where was this book a year ago when I was building the character education collection in the library? This was exactly the kind of book that we needed! It tackles bullying, cultural and self pride, and standing up for yourself and others.

Chisom appears to be growing up in the United States, but he makes it clear that his family is Igbo and shares some of his culture with the reader. His name has cultural significance, his parents are called by the traditional naming convention, Papa and Mama Chisom. Mama Chisom is apparently a good cook and, darn it, every book about Nigerian families features jollof rice and it makes me hungry every time. Chisom also wears traditional Igbo clothes, which eventually gets him in trouble with the school bully.

Billy Bob is a large red-headed boy who wears cowboy boots and teases everyone. He decides to start picking on Chisom calling him names and making fun of his clothing. Chisom is, understandably, really upset by this. After talking to his mom about it and reflecting on the pride his parents instilled in him he decides to stand up to the bully. The next day at school when Billy Bob starts in on Chisom, he tells Billy Bob to stop and explains that Billy Bob’s cowboy boots set him apart as much as Chisom’s Isiagu. He tells Billy Bob that everyone deserves respect and then, best of all, calls him in asking him to be a champion by giving up bullying.

The book is clearly made to encourage children to stand up for what is right. Chisom is a sweet boy with a loving and supportive family and he makes a great character for kids to connect with and root for. Certainly the book is important for all children to show that just because we look and dress differently doesn’t mean we deserve to be bullied. But I think this book is most important for children from immigrant families and black children who are often not allowed to feel pride in their heritage and families. Moreover, the book provides a good jumping off point for teachers and parents to talk about how to stand up for yourself and others. I think there are a lot of children out there that want to stand up to bullying and teasing, but don’t know where to start. Chisom gives them some good ideas, particularly the importance of calling people in (instead of simply calling them out) and language around those ideas. The ending may involve a bit of wish fulfillment, but it’s good for kids to see happy endings to these situations so they can keep a positive mindset.

Pair this with the charming The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade by Justin Roberts, Red by Jan de Kinder for a storytime about standing up against bullying. Well worth adding to school library collections, particularly if you have a character education curriculum or anti-bullying campaign. Also well worth adding to classroom libraries for those first few weeks when you work on building community.

Purchase copies here (not affiliate link):

Amazon (available in hardcover, paperback, and ebook)

Final note: If you do purchase this book, please post a review of it on Amazon. This will help other folks find the book and know that it’s worth purchasing. If you use any other book services like GoodReads or your local library’s online catalog be sure to post a review there too! And if your local library doesn’t have a copy, request that they purchase one.

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11

Sep
2017

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Numbers With Bella by Lorraine O’Garro

On 11, Sep 2017 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Numbers With BellaNumbers With Bella written by Lorraine O’Garro, illustrated by Katlego Kgabale

From Goodreads: Following the success of The Alphabet with Bella, this book supports the learning of numbers from one to ten in a unique and colourful way. Numbers with Bella is full of fun learning opportunities for small children.

Disclosure: I was sent a copy of the book by the publisher Melanin Origins in exchange for an honest review.

The first thing that came to mind with this book was one of my favorites as a child, Ten, Nine, Eight by Molly Bang. I have stacks of counting and alphabet books, but the majority of them feature animals or white children. I think Bella brought to mind Ten, Nine, Eight because they both stick out to me for featuring a little African American girl. The final page where Bella sits wiggling her toes, recently liberated from her shoes, also felt like a nod to the classic counting book. It’s really refreshing to see representation making its way into all genres of children’s literature, from chapter books to picture books to concept books like Bella. Kids of all type deserve to see themselves everywhere, not just in certain narratives or certain genres.

The basic idea of the book is Bella counting a variety of objects from 1-10. Each number has its own two page spread. A white background makes Bella standout and we see the written word for each number, the numeral, and the designated number of objects. A few pages have some additional setting, but for the most part the illustrations are spare. From page to page we see her happily lounging in the sun, joyfully playing a drum, snorkeling, juggling coconuts, and a variety of other activities. While some might not like the lack of busy backgrounds and extra detail, the clean simplicity of this book make it perfect for sharing with very young children interested in counting. It’s a true learning tool. When reading the book with your child be sure to point out the numeral and then count each of the items with Bella before moving on to the next page. The simplicity also make it ideal for children to flip through on their own once having the counting modeled for them.

I could also see this working well in stations or provocations in classrooms (or even enlightened libraries that have book-related activities out for children). Set it out with number cards and counters. As kids flip through the pages they can set up the matching numeral and the corresponding number of counters. They could also place the counters directly on the page as they count out loud.

Bella is totally adorable and I see kids being drawn to her and her counting antics. This would make a great addition to concept book collections in preschool classrooms, daycares, and libraries that serve young patrons.

Purchase copies here (not an affiliate link):

Amazon (available in hardcover, paperback, and ebook)

Final note: If you do purchase this book, please post a review of it on Amazon. This will help other folks find the book and know that it’s worth purchasing. If you use any other book services like GoodReads or your local library’s online catalog be sure to post a review there too! And if your local library doesn’t have a copy, request that they purchase one.

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17

Jul
2017

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

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

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

Power in My Pen

So, the author of this book came across my review and was very moved by it. I may have a longer post about the importance of supporting these small press and self published authors in a few days, but his response has made my conviction stronger to keep reviewing and sharing these types of books. If the traditional publishing industry won’t publish these books and won’t allow #ownvoices authors into their club, then I for one think we need to look elsewhere.

I still stand behind what I said in this original review, the book is well worth having on your shelf. Show kids the important historical figures that don’t get seen very often, if ever, because they are black, Asian, disabled, etc. We need a broader swath of people to study, so kids can build pride in their cultures and so they can learn about the amazing lives and accomplishments of incredible people like Ida B. Wells. Since originally publishing this, my daughter still asks to read this book and we have since talked more about Wells’ career as a journalist and as an advocate against lynching. It has been a powerful entree into a difficult piece of history for both of us. I hope other parents and librarians purchase this book and enjoy it as much as we do.

Power in My Pen: A Snippet in the Life of Ida B. Wells written by Louie T. McClain III, edited by Francis W. Minikon, illustrated byM. Ridho Mentarie

From Goodreads: Step into the world of Ida B. Wells as she uses her life experiences and obstacles as motivation to achieve many firsts in editing and journalism in the United States of America and abroad.  Read along as she flourishes in the wake of family tragedy and ever changing life situations.  “Power in My Pen” encourages penmanship, free thought, and historical lessons from a highly influential leader in the early 1900’s.  The strong intelligent woman we know as Ida B. Wells proved, no matter who you are, you can share your message and your truth to the world through the power of the pen.

I have to admit I expected there to a Message with a capital “m” in the book. There is, but it doesn’t beat you over the head with it. Wells’ life was far more the focus and as a parent reading the book with my child I was able to draw the message out through her life and work. She sums it up at the end succinctly, but we were able look back over her life and see her living it.

The book quickly passed the high interest test. The first night it was on our shelf my daughter asked to read it and she has dug it out of our considerable bedtime book stack several times since.

The book is clearly geared toward young audiences. The text is simple, but still includes some good vocabulary and syntax. It does simplify her life, but in a way that makes it much more accessible to younger kids. They get a sense of who Ida B. Wells was and what she accomplished without being bogged down in dates (in my experience these are totally meaningless to kids under 5 or 6) or timelines or tons of details. We’ve tried some biographies at home and not many have been chosen for a second read through (exceptions being this one, Jane Goodall, Misty Copeland and Trombone Shorty).

Personally, the name Ida B. Wells rang a bell, but I couldn’t have told you who exactly she was. The book clued me in and made me curious, though, and I started looking her up for my own edification. We did look up her Wikipedia article right after reading it the first time to get a little more information about her. I could see using the book in the classroom or library with a biography project. It’s perfect for getting a good overview and piquing interest.

The illustrations are charming with a happy smiling Ida B. Wells (her actual photographs make her look incredibly dour, like most photos from that era). I thought it was an interesting choice to show Ida and the other characters in more modern clothing and settings. At first I wasn’t sure about it, but I realized my daughter was connecting better with the characters on the page. I think this is one more piece that helps the book appeal and click with the younger target audience.

My one complaint is that the book is a thin paperback. It’s going to get lost on the shelf! To solve this I will be sure it will sit face out as long as possible, but hardcovers still tend to fair better. The books are not terribly expensive and the company has been running a deal with a buy-one-get-one for a the past month or so. There are a number of series of biographies that are geared toward young audiences (Ordinary People Change the World, for example) that are also very popular. If you have an extra $10 in your budget this is well worth adding. Plus it adds an important African American woman to our collections who doesn’t usually see elementary school library shelves (or high school for that matter).

Final note: If you do purchase this book, please post a review of it on Amazon. This will help other folks find the book and know that it’s worth purchasing. If you use any other book services like GoodReads or your local library’s online catalog be sure to post a review there too! And if your local library doesn’t have a copy, request that they purchase one.

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