All the Way to Havana

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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

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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

Cradle Me

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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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Town Is by the Sea

 

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Image Credit: Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press, Joanne Schwartz/Sydney Smith

Coal. Here in the United States, we have a long history with the fossil fuel. Americans have been burning coal for hundreds of years and mined it heavily from the late 19th century until the mid 20th. Towns developed around coal, generations of families (of various ethnicities) mined it & depended on it. Though we don’t mine and burn coal like we used to (due to mechanization of mining & increasing natural gas usage), we still have deep, emotional ties to it.

Town Is By the Sea is a story of the Canadian coal town Cape Breton in the 1950s and a boy’s connection to coal, to the sea and to his family. This story has multiple layers; on the surface level, it’s a boy’s account of his daily life. But on a deeper level, Joanne Schwartz paints an intimate portrait of a coal mining town and a boy’s understanding of his role as a miner’s son. Continue reading

Classics, Colonization and a Call for Change by Padma Venkatraman

No brainer re-blog. I’ve talked before about pushing against a white canon of children’s literature. Why are our “classics” our classics? Excellent piece that educators, librarians and parents should read.

Nerdy Book Club

Last year, I gave in to horribly un-American behavior. Confident that my citizenship would not be revoked if indulged in censorship, I picked up a thick sharpie and blackened out offensive words in A Child’s Garden of Verse on my daughter’s shelf.

Other “classics” just plain aren’t on her shelf. I’m confident her childhood can be quite complete even if she isn’t exposed to every classic. After all, there are many brilliant authors influenced by modern sensibilities who write equally marvelous books. Instead of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series, she’s read Louise Erdich’s Birchbark House series. Has she missed something? Sure. Yes. But our time as children is limited, and really, aren’t those children who haven’t visited the Birchbark House because they’ve been so busy following Laura from one Little House to another, also missing something? Or, worse, perhaps they’re unquestioningly absorbing age-old prejudices…

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I’ll confess my desire to…

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Jasmine Toguchi: Mochi Queen

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Image Credit: Farrar Strauss Giroux Books for Young Readers, Debbi Michiko Florence/Elizabet Vuković

Whew! It’s been a while, yeah? Today’s review celebrates Asian Pacific American Heritage Month! Let’s go!!

The first in a delightful new beginning chapter book series, Jasmine Toguchi: Mochi Queen is a great addition to your bookshelves. I’m so excited to welcome this new series about a Japanese American girl & her family. Two areas of children’s literature that are lacking in diverse/#ownvoices stories are Beginning Chapter Book Series & Board Books, so it’s encouraging to see this new series *hopefully* flourish.

Every year, Jasmine’s family hosts a mochi-tsuki; they make sweet rice cakes to celebrate the New Year. But this year, OH THIS YEAR, Jasmine is determined to help make the mochi (even though she’s too young). Her bossy big sister Sophie is finally old enough to help the women roll the mochi…but she can’t! She thinks up a clever plan though; she’ll help the men of the family pound the mochi! In order to lift the big wooden hammer, she has to build up her strength first. Jasmine pushes against traditional gender roles in order to accomplish her goal of joining the men in the physical work.

I like how Florence invites the reader inside of Jasmine’s home; we’re placed right in the middle of the drama, love and mochi-tsuki. In addition to dealing with a bossy big sister, Jasmine battles a visiting cousin who’s a bully! Jasmine is eager, as most young children are, to do the same thing her big sister does. She’s also eager to show everyone how capable she is. Readers follow her ups and downs and by the end of the book, will admire and respect her fortitude. Jasmine is one determined kid!

I love Elisabet Vuković’s ink and watercolor illustrations; they really enhance the story. She’s great at characterization; Jasmine has confident body language and her spunky facial expressions are hilarious.

I hope your child will enjoy Jasmine’s story as much as I did! Don’t miss this one; libraries & bookstores, please add this one to your beginning chapter book sections!

 

P.S. Coming July 11th, 2017, Jasmine Toguchi: Mochi Queen includes an easy mochi recipe at the back of the book! How fun! Also, the second book in the series, Jasmine Toguchi: Super Sleuth, releases the same day!! Say, what?  😉

 

Recommended for: 2nd Grade and up
Great for: Family, Friendship, Siblings, Determination, Humor, Girl Power, Diversity, Japanese American Culture, Japanese Food, #Ownvoices
Book Info: Jasmine Toguchi: Mochi Queen by Debbi Michiko Florence/Illustrated by Elizabet Vuković, 2017 Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers, ISBN: 9780374304102

 

 

New York is My Playground

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Image Credit: POW! (powerHouse Packaging & Supply, Inc.), Jane Goodrich/Bob Raczka

City life. Movement. Happy kids.

New York is My Playground is a joyful romp though New York City. Goodrich’s vibrant photographs accompany Raczka’s playful words in this simple and beautiful book. It’s more of a collection of photographs with text than a story; one huge spread shows a little boy “holding up” a large red sculpture and he says “I feel like I can do anything in New York.”

This book showcases the hustle & bustle of New York but also explores the fact that you can find a quiet, restful spot when you need it. Curious kids twist, run, jump and play on every page. I love the diversity of the kids and the energy of the photography. Goodrich’s shots are dynamic! The typography, with its vibrant colors, is fun; it looks like graffiti covering the city landscape. Instead of sitting in straight lines on the page, the typography is blended & bended into the city landscape. It’s really visually interesting.

This is a fun one! Kids in New York might recognize familiar spots and kids not in New York have the opportunity to check out a new city. New York is My Playground, with words like “running,” “dancing,” and “jumping,” is great for getting kids up and moving during story time!

Enjoy!

 

Recommended for: All ages
Great for: City Life, New York, Movement, Diversity, Read Aloud, Friendship, Family, Photography, Exploration, Feelings, Colors
Book Info: New York is My Playground photographs by Jane Goodrich/Text by Bob Raczka, 2016 POW! (powerHouse Packaging & Supply, Inc.), ISBN: 9781576877890

Ghost: Track #1

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Image Credit: Atheneum Books for Young Readers (Simon & Schuster), Jason Reynolds

Three things I love about this book are:

1) The voice

2) The careful and thorough characterization

3) How Reynolds depicts black male love

Ghost is a character you won’t forget because he’s very honest about everything. He messes up, you feel for him. He does something right, you cheer for him. As he explains, he has “scream inside.” Many people would quickly label Ghost a “bad kid” but what Reynolds does so well is remind readers that behind every person, behind every relationship, there’s a story. Usually the “bad kids” have experienced heavy things and could benefit from real, caring relationships.

Ghost likes sunflower seeds & world records and takes a lot of crap from kids at school. After his dad tries to shoot him and his mom, the harrowing experience leaves him even more shaken up. He learns to run that night (“…running ain’t nothing I ever had to practice. It’s just something I knew how to do.”) and later earns a spot on a track team without even trying. Tough as nails (not really) “Coach” takes Ghost under his wing and they become closer as Ghost learns more about himself. He leaves it all out on the track; pushing himself to be better, in every way. He becomes more disciplined, he finds community in his team, and though he continues to make stupid mistakes, he grows as a young man.

Reynolds does an amazing job of creating voice for this book. Ghost’s AAVE is prominent and used unabashedly, he’s silly and makes interesting connections in his head. I love it; it feels fresh. Reynold’s characters are all very interesting people; he includes little memorable details like…Ghost’s mom hates studying and pretends to study while they watch her favorite love stories. Though this is a slim book, there’s a great amount of character development that’ll keep you interested and excited about the next book in the series.

I love Coach!! He’s the father-figure Ghost needs and deserves in his life. Though he’s kind enough to bail Ghost out of sticky situations, he makes sure to teach him important lessons too. It not just about Ghost’s track potential for him; he recognizes early that Ghost needs guidance and love. He comes from the same rough place as Ghost and is committed to shaping him. This entire book is about connections and relationships but Ghost and Coach’s relationship is what shines the most.

I really enjoyed this book! I’m curious about how children of color are reading/enjoying it too. This is my first book by Jason Reynolds and I can’t wait to read more.

On your mark…set…go!!

P.S. OMG I reviewed a chapter book (it’s been a while)…lol.

Recommended for: 6th Grade and up
Great for: Family, Diversity, Role Models, African American, Sports, Track and Field, Middle School Life, Bullying, Friendship, Determination, Black Boys, Love, Relationships
Book Info: Ghost by Jason Reynolds/Jacket Illustrations by Vanessa Brantley Newton, 2016 Atheneum Books for Young Readers (Simon & Schuster), ISBN: 9781481450157