Muhiima’s Quest

Muhiima's Quest Cover

Image Credit: Library and Archives Canada (LAC), Rahma Rodaah/Daria Horb

Muhiima wakes up with a special feeling on her birthday; she has no idea that an adventure is coming her way! Because she’s Muslim, she usually doesn’t celebrate her birthday, but on this day, her family has a surprise for her. Her mother gives her an old map that leads her to family members and friends around town. All of these people tell her positive affirmations, encourage her to continue being a smart, kind and intelligent girl and give her small purple boxes. Her grandmother, while knee deep in the rich earth of her garden, says to her:

“Don’t forget your roots; they are what ground you, nourish you and make you who you are. Your roots contain your history and support you as you grow into the future.”

Muhiima makes her way back home to discover the meaning of the purple boxes; everyone’s small gift makes one beautiful & meaningful gift, just for her! As a Muslim girl, she often wonders why she can’t be like other kids who have fun birthday celebrations. Her family gifts her with a quest to teach her that even though she doesn’t get a birthday party every year, they’re proud of her and are always behind her, rooting for her! What an important message for a young child.

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Image Credit: Library and Archives Canada (LAC), Rahma Rodaah/Daria Horb

 

This is a quiet story of familial love, religion and growing up. Muhiima has the constant support and encouragement of her family; it takes a village to raise a child. I love how central religion is in this book; Muhiima is reminded to always be a faithful servant of God by being a good person (they go hand in hand). This book is also about the every day life of a contemporary Muslim family; Muhiima’s dad owns a bookstore, her aunt has a henna salon, her uncle plays pick-up basketball with friends and she stops at her mosque to visit her Sunday school teacher. There are not enough picture books that celebrate Muslim families and Muslim children. One thing that I would’ve loved to see in this story is more of Muhiima’s thoughts. She receives a lot of knowledge from her elders but other than knowing how sad she is to not have a fancy birthday party, we don’t get to learn more about her. That being said, I think this is an important book and I’m so glad to have it to recommend!

The illustrations of this book are so sweet. Soft pinks, reds, browns and yellows fill the pages. Watercolor is the perfect medium for this story’s art; the colors are bright and full. From the beautiful pink of Muhiima’s bedroom to the deep browns of her grandparents’ backyard garden, color is important to this story. I love the scene where Muhiima visits her stylish Auntie in her henna salon. Her aunt’s dress is stained with henna as she smiles fully, happy to see her niece. The mood of the salon is warm and inviting.

I hope you’ll take a moment to seek out this awesome self published book by Rahma Rodaah and Daria Horb! Here’s to more stories about young Black Muslim girls on our bookshelves and in our homes!

 

Recommended for: All ages!
Great for: Family, Love, Religion, Islam, Community, Relationships, Celebration, Black Girl Magic, Discussion, Self Published, Diverse Books, Cultural Diversity
Book InfoMuhiima’s Quest by Rahma Rodaah/Illustrations by Daria Horb, 2017 Library and Archives Canada (LAC)/Rahmarodaah.com, ISBN: 9780995922907/9780995922921

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Take a Picture of Me, James VanDerZee!

Take a Picture of Me,James VanDerZee Cover

Image Credit: Lee & Low Books Inc., Andrea J. Loney/Keith Mallett

I’m so last minute this year, y’all! But bear with me…It’s still Black History Month and I got a post for you… 😀

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Another year, another Black History Month, another influential black soul to celebrate. I’m currently basking in the glory of the smash hit film Black Panther. All the black excellence in that film reminded me of another Black Creative who made it his life’s work to represent black excellence through photography.

James VanDerZee made black people look

Glamorous. Regal. Distinguished

at a time when black photography was very static. VanDerZee made it his business to show Black People Shining.

Take a Picture of Me, James VanDerZee! is one of my favorite non-fiction picture books of 2017. In it, we follow young VanDerZee from boyhood to his elderly years. Born into a middle class black family in Lenox, Massachussetts, he was frustrated as a child by his inability to capture fine details and accuracy when drawing people. When he discovered photography, he became fascinated and worked diligently to get his own camera (becoming only the second person in his town to have one)! VanDerZee, always a people person, had natural talent and worked to make his subjects feel comfortable; he wanted to make people look AND feel good while in his studio. At age 18, VanDerZee moved to bustling and vibrant Black Harlem, where he soared as a young artist. He’d later start his own studio where he’d photograph middle class Black Harlem as well as dignitaries, celebrities and athletes. VanDerZee is famous for his high level of skill in retouching (essentially early Photoshop) and photomontage.

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Patina (Track #2)

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Image Credit: Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books (Simon & Schuster), Jason Reynolds/Vanessa Brantley Newton

 

Happy New Year everyone!

I’m kicking off this year on Read It Real Good by inviting a friend to share a review. I met Chisom Onyeuku last year at Kweli Journal’s The Color of Children’s Literature Conference in NYC. Not only is he a kind person, he cares a lot about diverse books, representation and great stories, so it was a no-brainer to invite him here to share a bit of his writing with you. 🙂 He’s currently working on a middle grade novel titled Life in the Flats. If you’d like to talk to him about his review, you can find him on Facebook.

 

Patina by Jason Reynolds

Review by Chisom Onyeuku

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Sports stories have always been some of my favorites. When done right, they can encapsulate action, adventure, romance and highly personal stakes. For that reason, I was excited to pick up the first book of Jason Reynolds’ Defenders track series, GHOST, especially after I found out it was about a black boy coming into his own. GHOST was easily one of my favorite reads of 2017 and so when I found out that there would be a sequel, I knew I had to read it. PATINA picked right back where GHOST left off. What makes PATINA great is that although it takes place in the same “Defenders” universe, Patina’s story feels markedly different from Ghost’s. I love how the track becomes a catalyst for Patina to find comfort amidst some difficult circumstances and I enjoyed the interactions between Patina and her teammates.

When I encountered Patina at the beginning of the book, I was elated that, through her eyes, we get to watch Ghost finish the race from the end of the previous book. I won’t spoil the race but Jason expertly plays on the audience’s expectations to create a suspenseful scene. From there, we fully cross into Patina’s story arc.

Like Ghost, Patina has deeply personal reasons for running track that resonated with me as a former athlete. More importantly, they resonated with me as a person. Like every great novel, I found myself not only empathizing with the main character but also her friends and teammates. I appreciated that Jason introduces Patina’s surface motivations for running track before delving deeper into the story.

The pace of the book is much like a 400-meter dash. Out of the gate, Patina is running to prove to everyone that “Patty ain’t no junk.” By the 200-meter mark, she’s dealing with challenges of school and adapting to her new teammates. And the last 100 meters are focused on her family. After all of these stretches, we finally have a moment of quiet with Patina and her uncle. Like the diner scene from Ghost, I was caught off guard by how close that moment brought me to tears. It gave me time to appreciate Patina’s journey and growth but I was also reminded that no matter what she had been through, she still had her family and friends. She didn’t have to bear the weight of her struggles alone; a lesson that we should all be reminded of from time to time.

Like Patina, I had teammates that became friends who I now consider family. I feel like I’m watching that bond form between The Defenders. A large portion of the story revolves around Patina’s work with her relay teammates. Luckily, Ghost, Sunny and Lu are never too far away. You can see how much their bond has evolved since their formation. Even though PATINA stands alone, the story still feels part of something bigger. I consider that one of the markers of great series writing.

Jason has a knack for drawing you in with his writing and taking you on an emotional roller coaster. Growing up, I didn’t see myself in a lot of literature. However, I did when I encountered Ghost for the first time. Patina could have easily been a teammate and friend of mine. As I walked with them through their respective journeys, I was reminded of why I love sports stories so much. No matter what you bring to the track or to the page, you will always walk away with more than you brought to it.

 

 

Recommended for: 5th Grade and up
Great for: Friendship, Diversity, Teamwork, Track and Field, Sports, Middle School Life, Determination, Black Girl Magic
Book InfoPatina by Jason Reynolds/Jacket Illustrations by Vanessa Brantley Newton, 2017 Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books (Simon & Schuster), ISBN: 9781481450188

 

 

Where’s Halmoni?

Where'sHalmoni

Image Credit: Little Bigfoot (Sasquatch Books), Julie Kim

Where’s Halmoni? works on so many fantastic levels. It’s an #ownvoices graphic novel/picture book about two Korean-American siblings and their experience over their grandmother’s house. Simple right?? Nope! Just like the Korean folktales and characters that inspire this work, there’s a delightful mix of fantasy and realism. Kim’s portrayal of everyday Korean life (it’s in the little details) adds another important level of depth to this epic debut.

So let’s start with the story. Details, Details, Details! The story actually begins and ends on the endpages (cool right?). Grandma receives a package from Korea and inside the box is a wooden window she places on the wall of her bedroom. A tiger’s head pop out the window and the next thing we know, Grandma says “Aaah! Bad tiger!” in Korean and the story begins. Joon and his Noona (“누나 older sister” her name is not Noona, it’s what younger boys call older girls in Korean) let themselves into Grandma’s house only to find…that she’s missing!! There are clues to her disappearance though (enormous cat paw prints and a disheveled kitchen) and the kids discover the curious window in her bedroom. In a very Narnia-esque turn of events, they step through the window into a world straight out of Korean folklore. On the search for their grandma, they run into a tricky (and silly) rabbit 토끼, a rowdy and hungry bunch of goblins 도깨비, and finally, an untrustworthy tiger 호랑기 fighting over Grandma’s pot of delicious red bean porridge 팥죽 with a nine-tailed fox 구미호 (who suspiciously looks a bit like grandma)!! How far will they go to find and save their grandma?

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All the Way to Havana

AllTheWayToHavanaCover

Image Credit: Henry Holt and Company (Macmillan), Margarita Engle/Mike Curato

This is one of my most anticipated releases of 2017 and there’s a lot to love about it. All the Way to Havana celebrates the resilience of Cuban people, Cuba’s car culture, the importance of family and…it’s really pretty. Like REALLY pretty. It’s nothing new that Mike Curato is a very skilled illustrator, but he really stepped it up for this book.

All the Way to Havana is a flowing poem full of onomatopoeia. It’s a fun and lively read-aloud for little ones. The story starts with a little boy ready to head into the big city of Havana for his cousin’s zero-year birthday…but ACK! their old car, Cara Cara, doesn’t want to start, so he has to tinker on it with his dad to get it running. Once the car is running, it’s a crowded journey because his family gives rides to their neighbors, but before they know it, they arrive in Havana! At the party, the baby is too little to know what’s going on but the family has fun playing, eating and resting together. The trip home is a quiet one and the next day, the little boy is back working on the car with his dad, never giving up on it.

I love how Engle compares the hard metal of Cara Cara with nature. Cara Cara sounds like a chicken (cluck cluck & pío pío) and looks like the blue of a clear sky. The old car is a part of their family and they treat it lovingly. As much as All the Way to Havana is a book about family, it’s also a book about the gorgeous vintage cars of Cuba! Just take a look at the pretty endpapers! Even though the US still imposes trade restrictions upon Cuba (this is why they have so many old cars), Cubans take what they have and make it beautiful and lasting!!

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Image Credit: Henry Holt and Company (Macmillan), Margarita Engle/Mike Curato

The gorgeous illustrations bring readers to Cuba; they are so SMOOTH. The story starts in the country on a clear, beautiful day. Curato introduces us to smiling, blue-eyed brown boy holding a big present for his baby cousin. Curato’s mixed media illustrations are earthy, bright and super detailed. This is a CAR book, so almost every spread centers and highlights the beauty of Cara Cara and other cars just like it. The little boy is a friendly narrator; it’s fun to follow him and his family as they glide along the dirt roads to the city. It feels like we’re also cramped in the back seat of the old Chevy Delray. As we travel to the party, we pass a barber, a busy market, kids playing in the streets and many happy brown people of all shades (woo hoo!). There’s so much to look at in these illustrations but they’re not busy at all.

It’s crucial in kidlit to get it right. To do research. To be invited in. I like to reference Jacqueline Woodson’s article Who Can Tell My Story (check it out, really) because in it she discusses the importance of being invited (“My hope is that those who write about the tears and the laughter and the language in my grandmother’s house have first sat down at the table with us and dipped the bread of their own experiences into our stew.”). Mike Curato went to Cuba to research this book and Margarita Engle’s cousins showed him around. That is AWESOME & important. 🙂

All the Way to Havana is a beautiful collaboration between two master storytellers. I’m really excited to own this book. Let’s celebrate it, y’all!! Please add this one to your collections. I hope this book wins a Caldecott and/or Pura Belpré award next year. It is a delight.

 

P.S. Check out Mike Curato discussing All the Way to Havana and doing a live-drawing of Cara-Cara (and Little Elliot!) here. Also, make sure you take off the book’s jacket for a surprise. 😉 Vroom-Vroom!

 

 

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Family, Community, Cuba, Cuban Culture, Cars, City Life/Country Life, Perseverance, Determination, Colors, Read-Aloud
Book Info: All the Way to Havana by Margarita Engle/Illustrated by Mike Curato, 2017 Henry Holt and Company (Macmillan), ISBN: 9781627796422

Milky Way

 

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Image Credit: Yali Books, Mamta Nainy/Siddhartha Tripathi

Tashi lives with his grandmother and mother in Ladakh, India. He loves watching nature through the big window of their house. When he sits at his window, he can catch up with his favorite friend, the Moon. He joyfully greets him everyday with “Julley!” Tashi likes to ask questions and Moon always answers back, but one day, Tashi notices that his friend looks thinner than usual. Every night, the Moon is more and more a sliver of his former self until he disappears completely! Tashi’s Momo-ley (grandmother) reminds him that it’s New Moon Night, where they fast and pray to Buddha and drink only a glass of milk. Clever Tashi comes up with a plan; he’ll leave out a tall glass of milk to help Moon regain his strength! Before long, Moon looks like his normal, jolly self.

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Chicken in the Kitchen

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Image Credit: Lantana Publishing Ltd., Nnedi Okorafor/Mehrdokht Amini

A chicken in your kitchen is never a good thing. It can only lead to trouble, right? Anyaugo wakes up one night to a ruckus in her kitchen.  She bravely gets out of bed and peeks around the kitchen door to find a massive chicken. Not only is the chicken making a mess, it’s getting awfully close to the food her mom & aunties made for The New Yam Festival the next day! Anyaugo seeks out her trickster friend Wood Wit, a nature spirit, who tells her to talk to the creature. She builds up her courage and discovers that the chicken is really a friendly Masquerade Spirit!! Masquerade Spirits come to town during festivals and this hungry one stopped by her kitchen for a snack. 😉

What I love about this story is how it unabashedly celebrates Nigerian/Igbo culture. The chicken masquerade spirit and nature spirit are never referred to as “mythical creatures.” They are treated with respect, as they should be, and readers get a glimpse of the vibrant New Yam Festival on the last few pages of the book. Anyaugo protects the hard work of her mom and aunties by confronting the intimidating spirit. In the process, she makes a new friend. This #ownvoices book is magical, fun and refreshing. Nigerian American author Nnedi Okorafor’s storytelling is engaging and sweet. I hope to read more of her work soon!

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Image Credit: Lantana Publishing Ltd., Nnedi Okorafor/Mehrdokht Amini

Mehrdokht Amini’s mixed media illustrations are wonderfully detailed and rich. I’ve admired her work ever since I discovered Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns in my bookstore. She uses a palatte of reds, greens, blues and oranges for this book. Chicken masquerade spirit’s plummage is bright, majestic and eye-catching; the spirit easily blends into the other Yam Festival masquerades. Anyaugo has the rounded face and curious large almond eyes signature of Amini’s style. There are even clues in the illustrations to show readers how slippery Wood Wit really is!

This is a lovely book to share with your family and classroom. Enjoy! Now I really want some yams…

 

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Animals, Fear, Festivals, Spirits, Nigeria, Nigerian Culture, New Yam Festival, Problem Solving, Trickster Tales, OwnVoices, Diversity
Book InfoChicken in the Kitchen by Nnedi Okorafor/Illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini, 2015 Lantana Publishing Ltd., ISBN: 9780993225307

Drag Queen Story Hour for Pride Month

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On June 30th, I attended Cincinnati Library’s very first Drag Queen Story Hour at our Northside Branch! It was a fun way to end Pride Month in Cincinnati and was very well attended for being Cincinnati’s first go at this fast-growing library trend. If you want to learn more about Drag Queen Story Hours, click here.

After a bit of a wait (she was getting ready in the bathroom), Ms. Amaya made a glamorous appearance, read two stories and sang songs with everyone. After she put on her special reading glasses, she began with the Todd Parr classic, It’s Okay to Be Different and later read A Peacock Among Pigeons. In between stories we got moving & shaking to songs like “If You’re Happy and You Know It” and “The Hips on the Drag Queen (Go Shake Shake Shake).” Northside Library did an great job with this event. They made sure to have a table with books available for check out. A few featured books were I am Jazz, Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress and George, three books that discuss identity and trans youth. They even had a craft table at the back of the room where kids decorated and bedazzled crowns to take home.

The mood in the room was happy and vibrant. Everyone was smiling, dancing and having fun. I had a conversation with an author friend (who recently attended a Drag Queen Story Hour in her neighborhood) about whether or not Drag Queen Story Hours are as subversive as they’re advertised to be, especially if kids don’t understand what they’re experiencing. At our story hour, the kids ranged in age from infancy to 6 or 7 years old. There wasn’t any discussion, by library staff or Ms. Amaya, about what exactly a Drag Queen is or what Pride Month celebrates. Drag Queen Story Hours can be enhanced by parents having discussions with their kids about Drag Queens, performance, queerness, inclusivity, and identity. This might help fill in gaps of understanding, introduce new concepts and maybe even inspire questioning kids in attendance.

Drag Queen Story Hours are perfect events for libraries because libraries are community centers & welcoming spaces for all types of people. They’ve always been centers for learning and growth. These story hours are a welcome addition to more inclusive programming for children & families nationwide!

Maybe find a Drag Queen Story Hour in your area?

I hope you had a great Pride Month 2017! 🙂

Cradle Me

CradleMe

Image Credit: Star Bright Books, Inc., Debby Slier

Parents and caregivers know that babies like to look at all kinds of diverse faces. Faces that express different ranges of emotion are best. The vibrant baby photographs in this board book are great for developing little brains and sparking curiosity.

Cradle Me celebrates Native American babies from eleven different tribes tucked sweetly in their cradle boards. What a GORGEOUS book! Babies are “peeking,” “crying” and “yawning” all while looking very cute. I love that Slier includes a blank spot on every page for readers to fill in matching words from languages other than English; that’s so important for literacy & language survival.

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Image Credit: Star Bright Books, Inc., Debby Slier

At the end of the book, there’s a short note about the history and continued use of cradle boards by Native mothers. Here, readers will also learn the names of the eleven tribes the babies are from. This is a sweet book to give to the babies in your life. Not only is it a “mirror” book for Native babies, it’s a simple and effective way to introduce Native cultures to non-Native children…and introduce them SUPER early. Every beautiful cradle board has the same basic shape but each one is a little different; there are various blanket patterns, frame designs and beadwork patterns.

Enjoy!

 

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Baby Faces, New Baby, Native American, Family, Emotions, Vocabulary, Diversity, OwnVoices, Early Childhood Development
Book Info: Cradle Me by Debby Slier, 2012 Star Bright Books, Inc., ISBN: 9781595722744

A Bike Like Sergio’s

 

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Image Credit: Candlewick Press, Maribeth Boelts/Noah Z. Jones

In A Bike Like Sergio‘s, Ruben’s family has trouble making ends meet and money is always tight. His best friend Sergio has a slick new bike and doesn’t understand why Ruben can’t just ask his parents to buy him one too. Ruben, like many children around the world, already understands the necessity of being choosy about every purchase in order for his family to survive.

One day at the grocery store, a lady drops “just a dollar” that turns out to be a hundred and Ruben’s thoughts go straight to buying a new bike!! But when he sees his mother crossing items off their grocery list (they can’t afford all of it), he starts to feel guilty; the bill suddenly weighs heavy in his pocket. After Ruben scares himself by thinking he’s lost the money, and his dream bike, he develops empathy for the woman when he sees her again in the store…What’s the right decision to make when you’re so close to having something you desire, and maybe even deserve?

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