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25

Jun
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Chapter Book Review: The Hidden Temple of Ogiso by O. T. Begho

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

Obi and TitiThe Adventures of Obi and Titi: The Hidden Temple of Ogiso (book 1) written by O. T. Begho

From Goodreads: The Adventures of Obi and Titi is an epic African adventure series that follows the story of two brave, young children and a very naughty monkey who set out on an unexpected journey of knowledge, hope and everlasting friendship. Deep in the heart of Africa, where civilization truly began, two young children, Obi and Titi, unwittingly find a hidden temple and a mysterious map. This discovery sets off a chain of events that will change their lives forever. For once they must settle their differences and work together, as they set off on a magical adventure to save their village and the ones they love. 

This is the perfect book and series for the summer! We just finished reading it last night and I cannot recommend it enough. Usually it takes us a week or more to get through chapter books- we’re tired, my daughter spends the night at my mom’s house, we watch a movie instead of reading- even though they’re not especially long or difficult to get through. But Obi and Titi had us hooked and we plowed through it in three nights. It was such an exciting read!

Set in historical Benin, Obi and Titi have been friends since they were tiny as their father’s were also close friends. Titi is the daughter of the Oba, or king, and Obi is the son of his greatest warrior. Except Obi’s father hasn’t been seen or heard from in years. He set off one day and no one seems to know where to or if he’s even still alive. One day while playing on the edge of the forbidden forest, Obi is pulled into the river by some creature and dragged downstream and into the forest. Titi goes looking for him and when they find each other, they also unexpectedly find Obi’s father’s spear. This sets them off on an investigation of an entrance to what they believe is the lost Temple of Ogiso, which ultimately puts them on a much bigger quest to save the kingdom from evil.

It was so wonderful to read a story that had a boy-girl friendship that didn’t have to be fraught with them jabbing each other over their gender or hinting at some romance. They’re kids and they’re friends. Even the two year age difference doesn’t cause much of a conflict. Titi and Obi solve the mysteries, puzzles, and riddles they encounter together and Titi isn’t the caricature of a chiding, rule-following girl that we so often see in these types of books.

This is perfect for reluctant readers, although the reading level might be a wee bit high, and it can keep interest in reading going through the summer when those reluctant readers might fall behind. Each chapter ends with a cliff hanger which make this perfect for reading aloud and keeps the pages turning. It might also lead to some under-the-covers-after-lights-out sneak reading. You’ve been warned.

It definitely has the feel of Indiana Jones and other adventure/action/mystery stories. Begho did a phenomenal job of balancing wrapping up the story arc for this particular book while setting up the series and enticing you to keep reading it (we’ll be buying the rest!). I would recommend the book for kids 5 or 6 and up if you’re reading it aloud. For independent reading, it would be excellent for second through fourth grades. They also did a really good job of creating a chapter book that has a complex enough story to be interesting but isn’t burdensome for readers who are just coming to chapter books.

Be sure to buy this series if your library serves kids in beginning chapter books or if you have a second, third or fourth grade classroom. Also check out the series website and Facebook page for more games, historical information, to set up author visits, and updates on the series.

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22

Jun
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Brick by Brick by Louie T. McClain

On 22, Jun 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Brick by BrickBrick by Brick: A Snippet in the Life of Booker T. Washington written by Louie T. McClain, illustrated by M. Ridho Mentarie

From Goodreads: A children’s book snippet about the life, accomplishments, and achievements of the great Booker T. Washington – an inspirational African-American innovator, leader, scholar, and philanthropist.

Oddly enough I haven’t reviewed this book yet despite it being the first in the A Snippet in the Life series. Brick by Brick shares a bit of the accomplishments of Booker T. Washington as well as inspiration around how he managed to accomplish so much.

If you’re resisting the Snippet series because the historical figures tend to be less well known, there’s no excuse here. Booker T. Washington is a well-known African American figure and his Tuskegee Institute is arguably more influential. It’s still around today, but also was home to George Washington Carver (who is fascinating in and of himself, peanut research aside) and the Airmen we see in Flying Above Expectations.

This book in particular is very motivational. It encourages kids, whether or not they are familiar with Washington and the Tuskegee Institute, to work hard, have faith in themselves, and rely on good friends. All of these are great messages for children to hear. Grit is one of those educational buzz words that’s been popular for a few years, as has the idea of a growth mindset. These books, besides introducing important black historical figures, also plug directly into those concepts and make them really great additions to classroom libraries. Brick by Brick can open conversations about how important it is to believe in yourself and have faith in your abilities. It can also provide a little dose of inspiration during read alouds.

I’ll be honest, McClain hasn’t hit his stride for the series with this book just yet. The later books do a really good job balancing sharing some historical facts with inspiration. While Brick by Brick is worth your time and shelf space (I had it in my library), I think it’s better as an inspirational, growth-mindset builder rather than peek into the historical aspects of Booker T. Washington. That being said, if you aren’t familiar with Washington of the Tuskegee Institute your interest will be piqued enough to look him up.

Sort of off topic, but something I wanted to bring up in regard to these books by Melanin Origins. Nearly all their books are available as ebooks, hardbacks, and paperbacks. While not everyone has access to ebooks, Kindle does have an app that can be downloaded to a smartphone and is in full color. These are an incredibly affordable way to get ahold of these titles. For libraries the hardbacks are great because they don’t get lost on the shelf. And for home and classroom libraries the paperbacks are an incredibly affordable option. You’re also supporting a black owned business when you purchase them, so it’s a great option all around with something for everyone.

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 IndieBound: paperback and hardback

On Amazon as an 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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20

Jun
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Rerun: Thank You O Allah! written by Ayesha bint Mahmood

On 20, Jun 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Thank you O AllahThank You O Allah! written by Ayesha bint Mahmood, illustrated by Asiya Clarke

From Goodreads: A glorious array of Allah’s never-ending bounties that will evoke a child’s feeling of gratitude for everything God, Allah in Arabic, has given – from faith and knowledge to family and health, from animals and nature to food and life itself.

Thank You O Allah is a title I purchased to diversify our collection. Being an independent school we don’t have a lot of religious books (unless you count our 2 billion Christmas books), but there are a handful. There are a couple “biographies” of saints and religious figures (Mary, Joseph, Moses), but mostly our Christian books take the same form as this book. They’re vaguely religious prayers that examine the everyday life and surroundings of a small child and thank God for them. I’m thinking most prominently about the Caldecott winner Prayer for a Child.

There are a couple places where I’m pretty sure this was originally a British release, but it won’t confuse anyone. The text takes on a repetitious form that really has rhythm to it. In some ways it brought to mind the chanting of Islamic texts. The only annoying thing about it was that each verse starts with “And let’s thank…”. I don’t think the “and” was necessary each time. That’s an incredibly minor quibble, though.

The illustrations are really beautiful. Bright and inviting they show things most children will be familiar with except for maybe the Q’aaba. I love the cover, but I am sucker for rainbows (I blame Lisa Frank!). The book is certainly Islam-centric, but I think the message in it could be shared with any child. I would consider using it around Thanksgiving, when kids are gearing up into the gimmies season, as a reminder of all the good things we already have.

I would recommend purchasing it if for no other reason than to be sure you have at least one Islamic book on your shelves. Christian books abound and end up on shelves even if a library or school isn’t religious, so I don’t see why we can’t then have Islamic books too. Plus exposure to Islam will teach children tolerance and make them less ignorant. In terms of quality this one is pretty good with nice illustrations, good text, and nice print quality. I’ve been desperate to find Islamic holiday books and I’m willing to relax my quality standards so we can have them on the shelf, but no compromises needed here.

 

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18

Jun
2018

In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

The importance of the self published book

On 18, Jun 2018 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

I know I touched on this when I announced the theme for my 100 Day Project last summer, but I wanted to come back to it again.

While self-published and small press books can have their pitfalls (paperbacks have such a hard time standing out on library shelves!), I cannot stress enough the essential hole they fill. The traditional publishing industry has the poor judgement to not want to publish books about diverse people (claiming they won’t sell or the books don’t read authentically enough for white audiences) and the gatekeepers in the industry tend not to allow authors of color (or anything other than white, able bodied, cisgendered, usually female) into their industry.

I for one am tired of stories about the same quirky, upper middle class white girl. I am tired of the stories about white boys surviving.  I’m tired of families that look approximately like mine. I want variety in my reading. And, more and most importantly, I know there are kids out there desperate to see themselves in books. I was lucky enough that that quirky girl resembled me in a lot of ways. I never had trouble finding characters and people that looked like me. But I’ve heard countless stories of adults and children who, while they enjoyed some of the same characters I did, wished they shared more in common with them. They wished those characters looked like them.

If the traditional publishing industry isn’t going to give us those books and authors and illustrators, we need to set aside our preconceived notions about self published and small press books. We need to recognize that if our students and children can love Dragons Love Tacos 2 (a god awful sequel that looks hastily slapped together and weakly plotted, but published by a major publishing house) then they can love these books as much and probably more than those traditional books.

So, if you have any kind of buying power, either personal or institutional, look for small press and self published books. Seek them out. And buy them. Put them on your library or home bookshelves. That doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t buy books from big-name publishers. You will and you should (especially when they occasionally publish #ownvoices authors and illustrators). Just don’t let these be the only books you give to your students. Vote with your dollars and support small publishers and authors/illustrators working outside the traditional system.

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15

Jun
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Perseverance: The Story of Mary Jane Patterson by Quineka Ragsdale

On 15, Jun 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

PerseveranceThe Story of Mary Jane Patterson written by Quineka Ragsdale, illustrated by Hatice Bayramoglu

From Goodreads: Read along as renowned author, Quineka Ragsdale of the Demarcus Jones series, tells of the 1st African American woman to receive a four-year Bachelor’s Degree: Mary Jane Patterson. The life of Mary Patterson inspires and encourages children to excel in their education, set goals, and work towards achieving them.

Melanin Origins brings us yet another interesting, but obscure historical figure. This time Mary Jane Patterson, the first African American woman to obtain a B.A. degree. She graduated from Oberlin College in 1862. After college she went on to teach and inspire other young African American children to get an education.

While education is not the only factor in what gets people ahead, it is undeniably an important one. Mary Jane Patterson paved the way for future generations of African American men and women to earn degrees from four-year universities. Her story, born into slavery and taught by her mother, certainly demonstrates that perseverance can help people obtain their goals.

Instead of overloading on dry facts and dates, something that is sure bore children and ensure they tune out, Ragsdale has taken Patterson’s story and pulled out the inspiring underlying message of her life. Hard work, determination, and perseverance is what helped Mary Jane stay in school and get more than the customary two years of college education. At a time when slavery was still hotly contested, that could not have been an easy task. As with the Snippet in the Life series from Melanin Origins, Mary Jane Patterson breaks the fourth wall and talks to the reader encouraging them to follow their dreams and believe in themselves as they strive to achieve them.

Perseverance would make a great addition to libraries that serve young audiences, but would be especially impactful in classroom libraries where teachers can use the book to encourage their students to build up their growth mindset and their self esteem. Mary Jane can encourage kids to work hard and have faith in their own abilities. She might also inspire some biography projects when kids want to discover more about this amazing woman’s life.

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

The book releases August 1, but you can preorder the book here (not an affiliate link):

On IndieBound: paperback and hardback

On Amazon as an 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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13

Jun
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Rerun: Billie’s Blues written by Zetta Elliott

On 13, Jun 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

billies-bluesBillie’s Blues written by Zetta Elliott, pictures by Paul Melecky and Purple Wong

From Goodreads: Billie’s best friend thinks their neighbor, Ms. Marble, is crazy. Supposedly Ms. Marble has a hundred cats in her apartment and sings to them all day long. But when Billie spends an afternoon with her elderly neighbor, she discovers that Ms. Marble is actually a lot of fun! Ms. Marble introduces Billie to Lady Day, Ma Rainey, and other great blues singers. Together they dress up in antique clothes, and sing and dance to the blues. Then Ms. Marble shares an old secret she has been keeping in her heart. Billie learns that “some hurts stay inside you a mighty long time,” but the optimism of the blues triumphs in the end; Ms. Marble assures her young friend that “the sun’s gonna shine in my back door someday.”

Another excellent title from Zetta Elliott. Billie has the blues. It’s raining, her best friend is sick, her babysitter is running late and now she has to go with her mom to the community college for a few hours. Just as the elevator arrives on their floor, Ms. Marble, their elderly neighbor, pokes her head out to say hello. Billie grabs the opportunity and invites herself over to Ms. Marble’s apartment for the afternoon. Ms. Marble is delighted and the two spend an amazing afternoon listening to jazz, dressing up, and eating cookies.

The story was actually really cozy, despite the secret Ms. Marble shares (more on that in a minute). I think the story is a wonderful celebration of a cross-generational friendship developing. And I think readers will be able to discover all the great music and singers that Billie is introduced to that afternoon. I found Billie to be funny. She narrates inside her head and admits the times she is doing things her mother will find rude, like asking too many questions, using “ain’t”, and inviting herself over. But she also rather impishly says her mom isn’t there so she doesn’t care. That seemed like such a kid thing to do and made me chuckle. I think it also makes her really relatable to kids. They’ll have the same questions Billie does and be relieved she just up and asks.

I’m going to spoil the secret that Ms. Marble shares with Billie: her sweetheart was lynched in the South. The text does not specifically mention lynching, just that he was “taken”, but the illustration on the page shows a young Ms. Marble crying with a noose and gallows off in the distance. It’s certainly subtle and for some kids it won’t really register. Others may know exactly what happened. I suppose people’s tolerance for lynching in a book aimed at third through fifth graders will vary. Professionally, I don’t see any reason not to have the book on your shelf where families, children and teachers can make those decisions for themselves. Personally, I think children are very good at grasping difficult history, feeling compassion and tapping into their strong sense of social justice. (For those of you who think children don’t have a sense of social justice, go out to a playground at recess and pay attention.) Parents, teachers and librarians may need to be ready to answer questions that arise, but to me that’s the most important aspect of books like these. It opens up hard conversations, teaches history that isn’t usually discussed and validates children’s ability to really see the world as it is. There is a little bit of age appropriate information included in the back. It might seem radical to some conservative library populations (even my school would have parents that would object), but I guarantee you children will be able to handle it (yes, I’ve talked about this and worse with my five year old).

The book ends on a happy note and a hint at Billie and Ms. Marble’s friendship continuing. If you don’t have Elliott’s books on your shelves yet, what are you waiting for? They are exactly the kind of stuff we need to give to our kids. Run, don’t walk, to her website and/or Amazon and buy all of them now!

 

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08

Jun
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Louisiana Belle by LaChanda Casteal

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

Louisiana BelleLouisiana Belle: A Snippet in the Life of Madam CJ Walker written by LaChanda Casteal, illustrated by M. Ridho Mentarie

From Goodreads: Born in the bayous of Delta, Louisiana, Madame C.J. Walker emerged as a great leader in modern American history. Madame Walker was a leader in the movement for equal and civil rights, she was a philanthropist, and not only was she a successful entrepreneur – Madame C.J. Walker was the first woman to be a self-made millionaire through her line of quality hair products. Journey with Melanin Origins as we explore the greatness of this magnificent woman and her contributions to society.

Louisiana Belle is another addition to the Snippet in the Life series from publisher Melanin Origins. Once again a lesser known, but no less important, historical figure gives a brief overview of her life along with some encouragement for children reading the book.

Louisiana Belle feels very on point combining recent trends, both in picture books and in society at large, that celebrate natural hair styles on black women and plucky, entrepreneurial women. When I first picked up the book, I thought I had heard of Madam CJ Walker, but I couldn’t remember what she was famous for. She created a successful hair products business designed to care for natural hair. She started out as a wash girl in a salon and through hard work, inspiration, and determination she created her own line of products. Not unlike other black female created product lines we see today, like Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty or Unsun Cosmetics.

I have to admit I laughed out loud at the opening. The second page features the line “What is a millionaire you ask? A millionaire is a person who has a lot of money.” The accompanying illustration shows Madam CJ Walker flashing some cash surrounded by gleeful, open-mouthed kids. As shallow as it sounds, kids of all stripes love money. They love the idea of all the toys and candy they can buy with it or just how cool they think it sounds to be a millionaire (even though most of them think $20 qualifies them as such). This just felt like such a clever and humorous way to rope kids into Madame CJ Walker’s life story. They’ll want to know more about this fabulous millionaire woman.

Louisiana Belle hits all the right notes for a young crowd. Short and to the point, it promotes black girl magic while introducing an interesting but lesser known American. This should be on your shelves with all the other Snippet in the Life books, at home, in the library, or in the classroom (preferable all three). How many more biographies of Harriet Tubman and Jane Goodall do you need? The answer is none. Four or five is more than enough. Seriously. Diversify those biography/picture book shelves and get Madame CJ Walker nestled in with the stale biographies of George Washington and Woodrow Wilson.

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 IndieBound: paperback and hardback

On Amazon as an 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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06

Jun
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Rerun: Papa Lemon’s Little Wanderers

On 06, Jun 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Papa Lemon

I’m rerunning this post now because Papa Lemon has a Kickstarter project up right now. They are looking to publish another book in the series that deals with bullying. I enjoyed these early chapter books and would love to see their project fully funded. I’ll be giving what we can at  this time and I hope you will consider backing it as well! It ends June 29th. You can see it here.

Papa Lemon’s Little Wanderers written by Lehman Riley, illustrated by Joshua Wallace

  • Book 1: Meeting Dr. Martin Luther King
  • Book 2: The Dangerous Escape From Slavery
  • Book 3: World War II, The Navajo Wind Talkers
  • Book 4: The Life of Babe Didrikson
  • Book 5: The California Gold Rush
  • Book 6: Dr. Daniel Williams and the First Successful Hear Surgery in 1893

From Goodreads: Papa Lemon and Mama Sarah are the neighborhood grandparents in the small town of West, Mississippi. Papa Lemon helps five multi-cultural friends learn about our nations diverse heritage by sending them back in time via a magical train.

Papa Lemon’s Little Wanderers is a series I came across through another blog’s supporters page. Several of the books in the series cover time periods and events that are studied in my school, so I thought I would buy the series and give them a shot.

I really enjoyed them, and while there are a few issues, by and large they are well worth adding to a chapter book collection. Each book features a group of friends who travel back in time to explore different historical periods and meet historical figures. There’s a bit of belief suspension required around their time traveling locomotive, but I think only sticklers will mind. The writing in the books flows nicely and isn’t overly complex or overly simplified. They are short, beginning chapter books so the stories are bit simplistic, but again for the reading level that is perfect. The dialog is never stilted and nothing felt jarring or awkwardly phrased.

One technicality. There are no actual chapters in these. I’m calling them chapter books because of their length, the ratio of pictures to text, and the complexity of the stories and text. I really wish they had chapter breaks, though. It would help sell the books to readers who are looking for that grown-up feel of chapters. I also wish the trim size was smaller. Again, it makes the kids feel like they are reading older, harder books.

I also wish someone like Debbie Reese would look at the third book which talks about the Navajo Wind Talkers. There are good books out there about them (Joseph Bruchac’s for example), but they’re are all written for older, stronger readers. I think Riley was respectful in handling the Native uncle, but there wasn’t much information about the Wind Talkers. I suppose by stating he was a Wind Talker, it identifies the uncle’s, and by extension Kaya’s, native nation, but I wonder if it could have been more specific. I also wonder if there could have been more information about the Navajo that would have helped the story along. When the friends end up traveling back in time in the book they go to the Pacific theatre to meet another friend’s uncle, not to see the Wind Talkers.

The illustrations are fine if sometimes a little awkward, but there really aren’t that many of them. This is the place where the books feel like something self published. Kids like slick books, but in my experience what they think of as slick and what adults think of as slick can be vastly different. I think the trim size of these books is more likely to make them hesitate to pick them up. The friends are drawn as a diverse group with a mix of genders and ethnic backgrounds. Based on the third book the Native American girl is identified as Navajo. My only complaint about how the text and illustrations work together is AJ, the white friend. In the text he’s always hungry. No mention of his build or shape is made, but the illustrations show him as overweight. I think it’s a stereotype and while I think it would be great to have an overweight kid in the book, I don’t think he should be the one who is always hungry and wanting to find a snack. There’s no reason he has to be drawn that way.

A short historical note at the end of these that either elaborated on the historical period or pointed readers to more information would make them a little stronger. I completely understand that the books are not deep historical accounts of the time periods the kids visit. These are short chapter books for emerging readers. They are absolutely perfect for sparking their interest in these historical time periods and figures, so why not point them in the right direction to find more information.

Be aware that some of the titles appear to be out of print and need to be purchased used. The print quality and overall production quality has gotten better over the series, which is nice if they are going to be circulating. I plan on hand selling these to my second graders and any third graders I can find (I think I’m switching from working with third grade to pre-k this coming year? we’ll see) and I’ll report back on how they are received. I think between our Civil Rights study in music in the second semester and the (flawed) study of the Underground Railroad I can rope them in with the first two books. I’m still chewing on AJ and how problematic he is.

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01

Jun
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Perfect As I Am by Maame Serwaa

On 01, Jun 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Perfect As I AmPerfect As I Am written by Maame Serwaa, illustrated by Fleance Forkuo

From Goodreads: Read along with Micah and Myrah as they use the principles of positive affirmations to demonstrate their self-worth. Perfect As I Am will empower young children to love themselves just as they are. With these powerful affirmations, children will learn to build their confidence in preparation for the many opportunities life will afford them.

This appears to be the first in a series featuring a cute pair of siblings or friends, Micah and Myrah, and it’s along the same lines as the book I reviewed last week, Note To Self. As I said there, these types of books are really important to share with children of all levels of confidence. It bolsters how they feel about themselves, validates their self esteem, and teaches them positive self talk.

Unlike Note To Self, this is clearly geared toward both boys and girls. The bright colors and simple text will appeal to young audiences. The illustrations feature Micah and Myrah, two adorable big-eyed kids,  on alternate two-page spreads that offer up affirmations. These affirmations can be easily understood by children and memorized for times when they need to remind themselves that they have value.

I could easily see adding this to a friendship themed storytime or unit in the library or classroom. As with Note To Self, Perfect As I Am would make a great bedtime read aloud to remind. If you have a peace corner in your house or classroom, a calming space where kids can go to chill out and focus, this would be a perfect addition to the book basket or rack there. When children (and grown ups) feel valuable and can come from a place where they feel important and empowered they are more empathetic, can control themselves better, and are happier. Positive self talk and positive feelings about yourself are an incredibly important part of social-emotional learning. If your school, classroom, or home works on SEL skills, be sure to include Perfect As I Am in your repertoire.

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 IndieBound: paperback and hardback

On Amazon as an 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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30

May
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Rerun: The City Kids by Zetta Elliott

On 30, May 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

PhoenixThe City Kids series by Zetta Elliot

The Phoenix on Barkely Street

From Goodreads: Best friends Carlos and Tariq love their block, but Barkley Street has started to change. The playground has been taken over by older boys, which leaves Carlos and Tariq with no place to call their own. They decide to turn the yard of an abandoned brownstone into their secret hang-out spot. Carlos and Tariq soon discover, however, that the overgrown yard is already occupied by an ancient phoenix! When the Pythons try to claim the yard for their gang, the magical bird gives the friends the courage to make a stand against the bullies who threaten to ruin their beloved neighborhood.

Dayshaun’s Gift

From Goodreads: Summer vacation has just begun and Dayshaun wants to spend Saturday morning playing his new video game. But Dayshaun’s mother has other plans: she volunteers at a nearby community garden and that means Dayshaun has to volunteer, too. When Dayshaun puts on his grandfather’s grubby old gardening hat, something unexpected happens-the hands of time turn backward and Dayshaun finds himself in the free Black community of Weeksville during the summer of 1863! While helping the survivors of the New York City Draft Riots, Dayshaun meets a frail old man who entrusts him with a precious family heirloom. But will this gift help Dayshaun find his way back to the 21st century?

So far this is a great series for readers who are ready for a little more text, but aren’t ready for full blown chapter books yet. In other words, they’re transitional. And totally engaging. I’m not normally one for science fiction/fantasy in my books, but I know a lot of kids who are and, as I’ve found this year, there aren’t a lot of those books out there for them unless they are strong readers (most fantasy books seem to be damn thick books with small print, even in the middle grade section). Even fewer of the books available across the beginning chapter book market feature diverse kids or kids who live in urban settings (we didn’t all grow up on a farm or in a large house, myself included). There is a lot here to appeal to kids at the second/third grade level.

In The Phoenix on Barkley Street kids who are all about being green will love that the kids clean up and repurpose a vacant building’s yard. The bullying theme will resonate with many children who, at the beginning chapter book age, are very attuned to social justice. Parents looking for a book that promotes community and friendship will appreciate the themes in the book as well.

I especially loved Dayshaun’s Gift. It was such a great time travel book and it took him back to a period of history that, despite taking American History three times in my school career, I never even heard mentioned. Dayshaun is such a kid, though, and he will feel very real and inviting to kids, even ones who might not pick up a books if there is a whiff of anything educational about it. This is one of the brilliant things about all Elliot’s books. She manages to open your eyes to something new and teach you about it without the books feeling didactic or breaking the story. Spoiler alert: Dayshaun does make it back to the present and he returns to the outhouse of the Weeksville historical village. Kids will LOVE that tiny detail.

It’s times like these I feel very grateful that I am in charge of what books we buy and where we buy them from for our library. Elliot has self published many of her books and that makes it difficult for some libraries to buy her books. If you have any say, these would make an incredible addition to any library collection that serves kids starting out in chapter books.

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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