By Elizabeth Wroten
On 06, Jun 2017 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
When I first brought this one into the library I book talked it with my second graders. After that I couldn’t keep it on the shelf for months. The kids really liked this book and the sequel. There are now three or four “episodes” out and I highly recommend them. Now that my own daughter is into reading a chapter book before bed I’m also going to be purchasing her a copy.
Jaden Toussaint, The Greatest Episode 1: The Quest for Screen Time written by Marti Dumas, illustrated by Marie Muravski
From Goodreads: Jaden Toussaint is a five year-old who knows it all. I mean, really knows it all. Animal Scientist. Great Debater. Master of the art of ninja dancing. There’s nothing Jaden Toussaint can’t do. The only problem is that grown-ups keep trying to convince him that, even though he’s really smart, he doesn’t know EVERYTHING. The thing is…he kind of does. This time our hero must use all his super-powered brain power to convince the grown-ups that he needs more screen time.
This book was hilarious and it was humor I think both kids and adults will enjoy. Dumas has really captured the inner thoughts of a young kid in a way that is both funny and serious. Even as an adult I throughly enjoyed reading this.
The chapter breaks are perfect. Just as Jaden has an idea or something new needs to be introduced the current chapter ends and the next chapter begins, complete with chapter title that repeats the introduction. So for example Jaden is talking about wanting to get more screen time to play games online and look up facts on the internet. He’s tried begging and asking various people in his family, but nothing has worked. All that changes with Miss Bates, the text says. Cut to the next chapter entitled “Miss Bates Class”. Most of the chapters are like this and, to me, it reads like good comic timing.
The story itself is probably pretty relatable to kids. Jaden has had a taste of screen time and is trying to finagle some more when his teacher assigns homework. One task they can choose for homework is time on the computer, but Jaden’s parents still say no screen time. Jaden decides to create a petition for all the Kindergarteners to sign asking for more screen time on the homework sheet in order to force his parents to give him some. Also, there is a ninja dance break.
The illustrations are fine. There are little nods to some great African Americans and blacks on the wall of Jaden’s room. The beginning also starts out a little graphic-novelish with sparse text scattered around the illustrations as Jaden’s family is introduced. They provide good breaks for the beginning reader. Also a bonus, the trim size is more like a big-kid chapter book (it’s still a little large). Despite the easy language and format it looks less like an easy reader and more like what older kids would want to pick up.
Since our public library didn’t have this one I bought the first book, but I will be purchasing the next couple “episodes” this year. I highly recommend this to collections that need some easy, easy chapter books that look more grown up. I can’t emphasize enough how kid-like the logic is in the story and how that makes it so appealing for a child audience with a good sense of humor and an adult audience who is familiar with dealing with that logic. Kids love humorous books and this fits the bill perfectly.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 03, Jun 2017 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
Here’s another rerun (I promise I’ll be getting to some new content this coming week). In reading back over it I agree with what I said, especially the worry of it getting lost on the shelf with such a thin binding. Don’t let that deter you, though. We need more #ownvoices books and more books about Muslims.
Zachariah’s Perfect Day written by Farrah Qazi, illustrated by Durre Waseem
From Goodreads: The book discusses the typical routine of Muslim families who fast during the month of Ramadan. It explains the purpose and benefit of fasting. It also includes stories and recipes of special treats to eat during Ramadan.
Zachariah’s Perfect Day chronicles one day in Ramadan. Zachariah is practicing fasting for a day for the first time and he is incredibly excited. The day comes with it’s challenges, but Zachariah meets them with a positive attitude. The story is a bit of a hybrid of plot and informational text. Based on the note from the author and the description of the book (there was more text that I didn’t copy over from Goodreads) made it seem that this hybrid was intentional. It was not jarring or awkward, by any means and I think it struck a decent balance for explaining to non-Muslims what Ramadan is all about and giving the Muslims enough of a story to see themselves in (please chime in if you don’t agree!).
The illustrations are okay. They could use higher resolution images, because some of them are pixelated. I really love all the background patterns. Each two-page spread has a some kind of design. It might be distracting to some readers, but I loved looking at all the colors and designs. The patterns did affect the layout because the text needed to be on a white background and placing the text boxes and illustrations felt cluttered in a couple places.
The text isn’t overly complicated, but there is a fair amount and it balances out the pictures on each page. I think that makes this better suited to slightly older readers (2nd-4th grade or even 5th).
The recipe at the back for parathas sound delicious, but doesn’t have a very thorough ingredient list or set of instructions. It calls for flour to be made into a dough using water. Presumably that means you should mix in enough water to the flour to make a dough, but how much flour? How sticky should the dough be? How much water? If you aren’t already a cook, this will be an impossible recipe to figure out.
The book is self published which comes with one big problem: the binding. It’s stapled and paperback. I’m not sure how well this would hold up in somewhere like a public library where it could potentially get a lot of use. I also worry that it will get lost on our shelves since it’s so thin. Still, I bought a copy because we need books about Islam and Muslim holidays written by Muslims. I want good things on our shelves to share with all our students and I want to support these authors and illustrators. I don’t need perfect, just good and I think Zachariah’s Perfect Day fits the bill.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 02, Jun 2017 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
This is a rerun of a book I reviewed almost exactly a year ago. I’m rerunning it today in honor of Ramadan. To this review I would like to add that we are going into our second year reading this book and using the cards at home and my daughter absolutely loves the whole package. When I got our copy it came with a book, a stuffed Rafiq, a plate for serving dates to break the fast, and a set of cards for each day of Ramadan. This is one of those top three books in my daughter’s repertoire. Through the past year she has played with the doll and the plate and when Ramadan rolled around she checked to be sure we’d be getting the cards and book out. I cannot recommend it enough for building up a collection of books around Ramadan. For libraries, if you use toys and things in your displays the plush Rafiq is a nice little addition.
Rafiq and Friends: The Ramadan Date Palm written by Fatemeh Mashouf, illustrated by Vera Pavlova
I bought this through a LaunchGood campaign while looking for good Ramadan books that were not informational, but more story-like for the library. The book comes in a set with a plush, a plate, and a deck of activity cards. There is information about Ramadan in the book, but it’s clearly information directed at Muslim children. The set was designed to give Muslim children a pride and interest in Ramadan. (Seriously watch the video on their website, it’s both painful and hilarious.)
The book comes with a plush date palm, activity cards, and a plate for serving dates to break the fast. When the box showed up on my porch my daughter was over the moon excited. She wanted to immediately read the book, so we did. And then she wanted to start all over again. And again. And again. She carried the Rafiq doll around with her for days and she started serving pretend tea using the plate. She also wanted to start doing the activity cards that day.
You guys, we’re vaguely Christian and German and the Germans DO Christmas. We have an advent calendar with activities each day. We celebrate St. Nicholas Night (sans Black Peter). We even make a point to celebrate all twelve days of Christmas and then celebrate Epiphany. My point is, there is build up and lots of celebration around Christmas for us. And yet my daughter barely gives two poops. But she is stoked to celebrate Ramadan because of this book.
The story is charming. It’s got information that will rope in Muslim children, but will also make sense (mostly) to non-Muslim children. Ramadan and the joy that surrounds it is introduced by Rafiq, the date palm, Najjah the adorable sheep, and Asal the bee. Rafiq introduces what happens during Ramadan and what to expect. She then meets Najjah who talks about the history of the holiday and the importance of prayer and reading the Quran. Finally they meet Asal who covers the foods across the Muslim world. All three are very excited to celebrate this holiday. As I said, this would certainly make sense to and explain Ramadan to a non Muslim child, but that isn’t the intended audience. Muslim children who are just learning about what Ramadan means to their religion will capture the joy and excitement that surrounds the month.
The illustrations are darling if a bit muted with pastel colors. I had to buy a whole new set for the library because there is NO WAY my daughter is giving this one up. Ramadan starts today (if I’m not mistaken??) which is why I chose to feature the book today and you can be sure we will be doing the first activity card today and reading the story tonight.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 01, Jun 2017 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten
Over the last year I’ve been really attracted to small presses and self published books as a way to get more diversity into library (and home!) collections. This spring the Cooperative Children’s Book Center’s blog posted some graphs created using the diversity statistics they collect each year. It shows a huge gap in #ownvoices for African American children’s books. If you haven’t seen these statistics, graphs, and commentary head over here to read it . Maya Christina Gonzales and her Reflection Press also used these statistics to great effect showing how many books would need to be published to have an equitable children’s publishing industry. If you haven’t seen or read about that, check it out here. Zetta Elliott, who self publishes many of her phenomenal books, has also addressed the lack of diversity in the mainstream publishing industry. Between her advocacy for small press and self published books and Reflection Press’s project to quickly publish quality books to fill some of these needs and gaps, I started going out of my way to find self published children’s books.
I know there is a stigma against a lot of these books, and certainly there are terrible self published materials out there, but while some of them lack the slick covers, illustrations, and marketing of major publishers I found that my daughter and students didn’t mind them at all. In fact I think my daughter’s top three books are small or self published. Basically, kids don’t hold books to the same standards that adults do. That isn’t to say they can’t sniff out something that is too didactic or trying to push an agenda or that they don’t have standards of any kind. What kids are looking for is just different than what adults are looking for. There is a case and a place for having beautiful, amazing books that traditional publishers put out around children, but not at the expense and exclusion of giving them reflections of themselves and the world around them.
All this is to say that for my #100dayproject I will be reviewing a self published or small press title each day. It may take me more than 100 days, to be honest. Most of these are not available in my local library, so I have to buy them myself and that adds up. I’ve got a little stash right now and I’m also planning on rerunning blog posts from the past year or so where I have reviewed self published books. It can’t hurt to get more exposure for these titles. (To be clear, I don’t mind buying them! I want to buy self published and small press books, but it just adds up.) After these 100 (or so) days I’m going to keep on with this type of book. I will occasionally review the traditionally published book, but there are plenty of reviews and blogs out there dedicated to them so I want to call attention to books that might not otherwise get much press.
Obviously you can follow along here on the blog, I’ll be posting daily. You can also follow along on Instagram as I’ll be taking a picture each day to go with the post. I will also be sure to share the photo on Twitter when I post it. I’ll be using #100daysofselfpublishedkidlit. It’s long and cumbersome and leaves out the small press aspect, I know, but it is what it is.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 22, Sep 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: Unhappy when he loses his silver and red balloon, Sam is comforted by imagining it on its way to visit his grandfather in Egypt.
I have had a copy of this book for years now and always trot it out around Grandparents’ Day. It’s such a lovely little story that doesn’t have to be about grandparents (the idea for the escaped balloon is more about comforting Sam than about thinking of grandad), but turns into a really lovely connection between them. I might also have a soft spot for this one because his grandfather is clearly Egyptian.
I think, beyond the fact that Sam and his family are of Egyptian descent, it’s lovely to see a book about families and grandparents where the grandparents live far away. It always seems that books featuring grandparents and grandchildren show them living close by or together. But plenty of families do not live near grandparents and it’s wonderful to see that reality reflected (it’s also why my school changed Grandparents’ Day to Grandparents and Grand Friends Day). Certainly many children have grandparents that live in another state, and I think the book could have shown a family like that, but I think this makes the story all the more special for showing a family that has immigrated and does not live near this grandfather.
Whether or not children have had a balloon escape from them I think the whimsical story of the balloon traveling over the mountains, ocean and desert is very appealing. Children can imagine their own balloons going on a journey and the whole concept feels very magical. I’ve read this book to second graders and they have enjoyed it. It might also work for slightly older students, but I think it’s best for second grade and down. I would pair this one with Mango, Abuela, and Me for a deeper look at grandparents from other countries and another side of that situation.
A Balloon for Grandad appears to be out of print, but if your library has a copy hang onto it. If not, and you want to go to the trouble of ordering it used, it would make an excellent addition to libraries that celebrate families and grandparents.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 21, Sep 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: Momo can’t wait to use the red boots and umbrella she received on her birthday. All she needs now is a rainy day! Soft illustrations portray a thoughtful story about patience and growing independence.
At it’s heart Umbrella is a story about independence. When Momo recieves a new umbrella and rain boots she is so excited. The first day she is able to use the umbrella she focuses very hard on walking carefully like a grown up lady and on not dropping the umbrella. This means, though she doesn’t realize the significance, that she cannot hold her father’s hand when walking to and from school.
Umbrella is also a slice of life story. A small memory that grown up Momo doesn’t even remember. But the narrator shares the significance: it was the first time she walked on her own without holding a parent’s hand. The book moves fairly slowly and doesn’t have a big adventure. There are no mishaps on the walk. It’s just a little girl and her umbrella. I don’t think that kind of book appeals to all readers, but it makes for a very special, contemplative reading experience.
Yashima nails the childhood experience from the excitement, to the music made on the umbrella, to the thoughts of Momo as she walks. When she first receives the umbrella she isn’t able to use it because it’s not raining. She’s so excited to use it though, she comes up with several ideas for why she should (the sun is too bright, the wind bothers her eyes). Then there is the sound made on the umbrella: bon polo, bon polo, ponpolo, ponpolo, bolo bolo ponpolo. It’s so wonderful and evocative of that rainy day.
Yashima’s illustrations are always beautiful. The shading is lovely and mixes in all sorts of colors where you least expect them. It also lends itself to showing the rainy day. I think it’s interesting that none of the adults’ faces are shown giving the book the impression of a small child’s perspective.
This is a lovely little book to have on library shelves. It shows a Japanese-American girl (her parents, we are told came from Japan) living in a city and experiencing a little step toward independence. I think it would easily appeal to preschoolers, but even older children who don’t mind quieter stories will be captivated by Momo’s experience and may see their own first experiences reflected in the story. Be sure to check out Crow Boy, also by Taro Yashima. It’s set in a small Japanese town or village, but features a boy who is probably on the ASD spectrum.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 20, Sep 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
I’m falling down here on the #100daysproject! I was waiting for a couple books to come into the library and they haven’t yet, so I’m going to finish up my challenge with some oldies, but goodies.
From Goodreads: A counting book that features an African-American family shopping for food, preparing dinner, and sitting down to eat. Lively read-aloud text paired with bright collage illustrations.
We have had this book on our home library shelves for several years now and it’s always a favorite. Even now that I’ve tucked the board books into a basket and most don’t see the light of day, this one comes out from time to time (I make sure to pull it out around Thanksgiving). It’s just such a charming book that centers around a family coming together to make a meal.
I love that this is an interesting take on the counting book. Usually I see these concept books count related objects with no real story between them. Feast for 10 has a simple story arc that follows a family through the grocery store counting from 1-10. Then it follows them home where they prepare a meal for ten, counting, again, from 1-10. The meal seems pretty traditionally Southern to me, fried chicken, cooked greens, mashed potatoes, etc. (it’s what my father in law occasionally requests as a throw back to his childhood in rural Mississippi and Louisiana) and it always makes us hungry. The format is, I think, more engaging for older kids (preschool-kindergarten age).Certainly many kids can count to ten by that point, but this is more than just counting objects arranged on a page, so those kids are just as attentive to the story as kids who are interested in the numbers.
The book is not an #ownvoices, unfortunately, and I would certainly recommend one of those over this one. Otherwise I think it’s well worth having on shelves where there are concept books. It’s a great picture of a family coming together and working together to put on a feast!
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 11, Sep 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: A love for rockets, robots, inventions, and a mind for creativity began early in Lonnie Johnson’s life. Growing up in a house full of brothers and sisters, persistence and a passion for problem solving became the cornerstone for a career as an engineer and his work with NASA. But it is his invention of the Super Soaker water gun that has made his most memorable splash with kids and adults.
I think every kid in the nineties had a Super Soaker or at least had a friend with one. But when picking out this book I wondered if it was just nostalgia for people my age or if it would resonate with kids today.
Lonnie Johnson spent his childhood (and adulthood) tinkering with things. He took odds and ends as a kid and put them together to make creations. He took things apart to harvest parts and see how they worked. Then, as he got older, he moved on, with his robot Linex, to make inventions that worked and kept on inventing. He was also persistent and determined, even in the face of failure, an important skill that kids can learn in the makerspace and need to be seeing modeled.
I thought it was refreshing to have a biography of someone who is still alive today. Even better to be adding more diversity to our biography collection. The author’s note adds a bit more context to the story and Barton shares his inspiration for writing the book.
Johnson grew up in the South in the late sixties and into the seventies. Whoosh! does touch on some of the race issues (segregation and racism), but it’s a light touch. I think it was a good balance here where the the purpose of the book was to expose children to a scientist who is black and his inventions instead of dwelling on how he overcame racism. We have a number of those books, and they are excellent, but as I’ve said again and again they create a certain narrative that is not a full picture.
I definitely think children can find inspiration and humor in this story, whether or not they own a Super Soaker or have seen one and it’s the perfect makerspace book. I would hand this to kids who like to invent and tinker. I will also be adding it to our summer reading lists so kids can go out after reading it and have a water fight. I don’t think the time period or nostalgia of the book make it irrelevant for kids today. The message of perseverance and fun in it are timeless.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 10, Sep 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: Welcome to Mammoth Cave. It’s 1840 and my name’s Stephen Bishop. I’ll be your guide, so come with me, by the light of my lantern, into the deepest biggest cave in all of the United States. Down here, beneath the earth, I’m not just a slave. I’m a pioneer. I know the cave’s twists and turns. It taught me to not be afraid of the dark. And watching all these people write their names on the ceiling? Well, it taught me how to read too. Imagine that. A slave, reading. But like I said, down here I’m not just a slave. I’m a guide. I’m a man. And this is my story.
As soon as I read the review of this in the Horn Book I purchased it. Not only does our second grade study slavery (in the context of the Underground Railroad) in the spring, but our third grade does a science unit on caves in the fall. It felt like the perfect bridge between the two grades.
Like all picture book biographies there is a storyline that follows Bishop’s life that is followed up by a historical author’s note that provides more context. I have mixed feelings about that format because I think that kids often skip the two pages of text unless they’re really interested. I suppose that’s fine if they’re getting some good tidbits and thinking points in the story (they do here). However, I think it makes these books perfect for classroom settings where teachers can provide further context and connection and will also be able to read the note aloud to students, ensuring they get that extra information.
I thought the idea of having Bishop tell his own story was an interesting choice. It certainly brings the reader into his life story. I think it also gives the man a voice when he really didn’t have one. According to the note at the end he didn’t leave any real personal record of himself and there wasn’t much left by his white owners or other historical records either. I will point out that this is not #ownvoices, so take that into consideration especially since the book does give a voice to a slave who never really had one.
I’m not sure these are the absolute best illustrations I’ve seen by Collier, but they really tell the story. I actually think the print job on the book could have been better and that the paper and print quality diminished them a bit. Most, if not all the pages (I’m sorry I don’t have the book in front of me right now) have a split level. You see above ground and also below ground which fits perfectly with the idea of the split in Bishops life: above ground- slave, below ground-just a man. There are white people in the pictures, but Bishop is, appropriately, front and center.
Both the cave system and Bishop made for a fascinating picture book biography and would make a good addition to any biography collection.
Side note, going back to print quality. The paper was kind of thin and a little too shiny. It felt kind of cheap. And the dust jacket was like a good several centimeters too long for the hard cover which made it strangely floppy and weird to put into a Gaylord cover. Wth print company? Wth, publisher? Do better. Make nice picture books that will last. The lack of quality kind of makes your second-rating of books about people of color show.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 09, Sep 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: Like her classmates, builder Iggy and inventor Rosie, scientist Ada, a character of color, has a boundless imagination and has always been hopelessly curious. Why are there pointy things stuck to a rose? Why are there hairs growing inside your nose? When her house fills with a horrific, toe-curling smell, Ada knows it’s up to her to find the source. Not afraid of failure, she embarks on a fact-finding mission and conducts scientific experiments, all in the name of discovery. But, this time, her experiments lead to even more stink and get her into trouble!
I don’t have much to add about this book that won’t be said. It’s great because Ada is a girl scientist. Even better she is black and her family doesn’t look like a stereotype. All great things. Add to this that the book can serve as a jumping off point for talking about the scientific method and scientific inquiry.
What I will say is that, personally, the rhyme scheme of all three of these books (and Dr. Seuss, too) drive me absolutely bonkers. I can’t read other books afterward because my brain keeps looking for those irritating rhymes. It also causes me to rush through the story. And in general I find it annoying and precious.
The organizer in me loves that the background of many pages, including the end papers, are those nice graph paper squares. I’ve already bought the book for our collection as these are incredibly popular with students, parents and teachers alike. I think purely for the representation it’s worth the money, but I also feel a little hesitant because the author is white. Nothing here points to black culture and Ada and her family are simply colored brown so I don’t think they’re being misrepresented per se. I just wish more of the books about African Americans and blacks were #ownvoices. That’s all. In the meantime, I buy what I can that’s #ownvoices and try to be sure I’m getting good representation with the books that are not. I suppose this one is neutral in that regard. I also kind of hate purchasing it because I know it will be such a big success. That means it will tell publishers that we’re okay with white authors simply shifting to telling stories with characters of color instead of demanding #ownvoices. Still, we need books like this. Girls that are scientists. Black girls that are scientists. Just black girls, period.