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. ūüėČ

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 Info: Chicken in the Kitchen by Nnedi Okorafor/Illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini, 2015 Lantana Publishing Ltd., ISBN: 9780993225307

Silver Linings: It’s Tough to Lose Your Balloon & A Good Day

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Image Credit: Alfred A. Knopf (Penguin Random), Jarrett J Krosczka

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Image Credit: Greenwillow Books (HarperCollins), Kevin Henkes

Searching for the positive, for the silver lining, can be pretty rough. When you’re knee deep in sadness and frustration, it’s almost impossible to see the bright side. A big part of growing up is learning how to bounce back from these moments¬†and A Good Day and It’s Tough to Lose Your Balloon¬†beautifully & creatively discuss¬†this topic for children.

In A Good Day, four young animals have a bad day; little yellow bird loses his favorite feather and the other animals also face frustrating situations. But then, things slowly get better for each of them and even a little girl’s day brightens. This small book packs a big punch; it’s about relationships, interconnectedness and perspective. Sometimes things don’t get better but usually they do. The story is lovely in its pacing, format and emotion.¬†The art is, as usual for Henkes, strikingly simple. Children will enjoy looking at the bright watercolor animals. I love how he draws their furrowed brows!¬† Continue reading

Wait

Wait

Image Credit: A Neal Porter Book/Roaring Brook Press (MacMillan), Antoinette Portis

First of all, the cover illustration wraps around to the back of the book…so 10 points to Gryffindor!!

Secondly, what a precious book that speaks loudly to the idea of quiet, slow moments. Wait is about paying attention to the details and it encourages readers to slow down and enjoy.

There are only three words spoken in the entire book. In Wait,¬†a busy mother¬†rushes through the city with her young son in tow while she says “Hurry” and he says “Wait.” She encourages his curiosity¬†about the world around him while kindly nudging him on to their destination. I love how they’re¬†in two different worlds mentally but are still very connected; she holds his hand lovingly.

This book is so clever! Portis uses foreshadowing in the illustrations to give the reader hints about what’s coming next. Be sure to keep an eye on the truck with the fish and though it seems like Mom says no to the delicious rainbow treat, maybe they’ll get another rainbow treat later!

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Image Credit: A Neal Porter Book/Roaring Brook Press (MacMillan), Antoinette Portis

The first time I finished this book, I thought “Oh that’s sweet” but as I re-read it for¬†this review, I realized¬†how complex it¬†is! Portis’ illustrations are bold & confident with rich colors. The wide pages are perfect for depicting movement since the story starts at one point and ends at another. It’s a great story about city life, relationships and appreciating the little things! Check it out!

P.S. This book pairs excellently with Sidewalk Flowers by JonArno Lawson and Sydney Smith which is another beautiful book about a city commute.

 
Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: City Life, Beginning Readers, Patience, Relationships, Diversity
Book Info: Wait by Antoinette Portis, 2015 A Neal Porter Book/Roaring Brook Press (MacMillan), ISBN: 9781596439214

The Quickest Kid in Clarksville

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Image Credit: Chronicle Books, Pat Zietlow Miller/Frank Morrison

Sometimes it’s better to be friends than rivals, especially when you’re working towards the same goal!

In The Quickest Kid in Clarksville, Alta’s role model is¬†the amazing sprinter¬†Wilma Rudolph.¬†The story takes place in 1960 when everyone in Clarksville, Tennessee is preparing for the big parade to celebrate Wilma’s 3 Gold Medals¬†at the Rome Olympics. Wilma is the fastest woman in the world and Alta is the fastest kid in Clarksville. She’s confident in her feet. Problem is there’s a new girl named Charmaine who’s just as confident in her speed and struts around like she rules the block! It doesn’t help that she has shiny new sneakers while Alta’s are worn down. Nevertheless, Alta challenges¬†her to a race! ¬†On parade day, Alta and her friends struggle to get¬†their¬†bulky banner to the parade site and reluctantly accept Charmaine’s help. Relay-style (just like Wilma and her team) they arrive at the parade to celebrate their champion! Representation really matters and I can’t imagine how much Wilma meant to young black girls in the 60s (and now!).

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Image Credit: Chronicle Books, Pat Zietlow Miller/Frank Morrison

I enjoyed the writing of this book; there’s a nice rhythm and just the right amount of sass and confidence. Morrison’s beautiful watercolor illustrations pair perfectly with the words. Just take a look at the cover! Alta knows exactly who she is! Throughout the story, we see determination, confidence, worry, shame and happiness on her face and in her body language. My favorite spread is¬†when she’s ready to run, banner in hand with furrowed brows, chanting “Wil-ma Ru-dolph. Wil-ma Ru-dolph” in her head to boost her heart and her feet.

Just gorgeous!

P.S. Check out author Pat Zietlow Miller’s awesome Nerdy Book Club post about the process of making this book/finding the right story. Also check out this great photo of Wilma with her parents during the parade! ‚̧

 

Recommended for: All ages
Great for: Determination, Confidence, Friendship, Rivals, Relationships, Teamwork, Sports, Track and Field, Black Girl Magic, African American, Diversity, History, Segregation, Clarksville TN, Wilma Rudolph, Rhythm, Read-Aloud
Book Info: The Quickest Kid in Clarksville by Pat Zietlow Miller/Illustrated by Frank Morrison, 2015 Chronicle Books, ISBN: 9781452129365

Ragweed’s Farm Dog Handbook

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Image Credit: Candlewick Press, Anne Vittur Kennedy

This is, hands down, one of the funniest picture books of 2015! Love it. It makes me miss my crazy Ibizan hound Loki and his shenanigans…

In Ragweed’s Farm Dog Handbook, Ragweed is a confident little fellow. He wrote a handbook¬†so that other dogs can follow his lead on how to be the best farm dog ever. Ragweed¬†tells us all the things that are not a¬†farm dog’s job BUT…if a farm dog were to do them, there¬†might¬†be biscuits involved. He really shouldn’t wake the farmer but…if he does he’ll get a biscuit to go away! He knows EXACTLY what he’s doing. The writing of this book is very formulaic and funny and kids will be able to follow along easily. There’ll be lots of laughs and maybe a few “ewwws” too? ūüėČ

Anne Vittur Kennedy’s beautiful acrylic paintings really create the spirit of farm life and Ragweed is so adorable! That little scoundrel with his huge eyes, scraggly hair and long snout is sure to win your heart. He also has great expressions and the animals do too (they know to keep an eye on him!). Hope you enjoy this one as much as I did!

 

Recommended for: All ages
Great for: Humor, Animals, Dogs, Relationships, Farm Life, Love, Read-Aloud
Book Info: Ragweed’s Farm Dog Handbook¬†by Anne Vittur Kennedy, 2015 Candlewick Press,¬†ISBN: 9780763674175

Water is Water

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Image Credit: A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press (Macmillan), Miranda Paul/Jason Chin

In this rhythmical, science read-aloud, we follow a brother and sister through seasons and the water cycle. Like the water cycle, the story is cyclical. It starts in spring-time when the siblings spot a lone turtle in their pond. Water goes into a glass and in a dish for the turtle but it also becomes steam for the hot cocoa they share with their father! Miranda Paul tells a story of water changing in a unique way. Steam is steam but it also changes form to become clouds, which can form low to become fog and on and on.

As I write this review, there’s a light rain and it’s very foggy where I am. Snow is leftover from¬†yesterday and it’s starting to melt as the rain hits it. Maybe I should call my¬†friends and have a¬†snowball fight like the children in this book?! ¬†ūüôā ¬†Jason Chin does an amazing job of pairing Miranda Paul’s poetic lines with bright and colorful illustrations. He creates a very complete world with his art; after finishing Water is Water, I felt like I knew how to travel from the family’s house to the lake, to school and back again! His watercolor and gouache clouds and fall leaves are beautiful and I enjoyed little details like the reflective,¬†wet pavement on the school grounds.

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Image Credit: A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press (Macmillan), Miranda Paul/Jason Chin

The facts at the back of the book about the water cycle are GREAT because they¬†refer to scenes¬†in the book. Children can make connections between the story’s words, illustrations and terms like “evaporation.” This book is for storytime and¬†for¬†science class! Paul writes in an easy to understand way that young children can grasp. The story will make them smile and by the end of the book, they’ll understand how water moves from form to form.

Oh and hey, the children’s parents are black and white!! The story isn’t ABOUT their interracial family…they just happen to be so. It’s a quietly powerful display of diversity. Also the siblings’ friends are very diverse and happy. I love seeing happy children of many ethnicities in a picture book.

Be sure to check out Water is Water with your classroom and family…and go out and play in the rain!!

 

Recommended for: All ages
Great for: Family, Friendship, Relationships, Diversity, Weather, Seasons, Science, Water Cycle, Recycling, Imagination, Community, Animals, Nature, Read-Aloud, Rhythm
Book Info: Water is Water by Miranda Paul/Illustrated by Jason Chin, A Neal Porter Book, 2015 Roaring Brook Press (Macmillan), ISBN: 9781596439849

Voice of Freedom Fannie Lou Hamer: Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement

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Image Credit: Candlewick Press, Carole Boston Weatherford/Ekua Holmes

‚ÄúWe serve God by serving our fellow man.‚ÄĚ

Fannie Lou Hamer spent her entire life doing just that, fighting for black people’s rights to equality and justice. This mighty woman was one of class, power, strength and dignity. I see my grandmother in Fannie Lou Hamer’s big body and I see my mother in her strength despite her weariness. She suffered yet continued to rise and speak, and sing, and empower.

Weatherford does an amazing job (as usual) of crafting Fannie’s voice as we follow her story from childhood to adulthood. The words of the book are a combination of Weatherford’s storytelling and Fannie’s powerful quotes. While reading, I reflected on history and couldn’t help but compare the struggles people faced during her time to those of people of color today. I admire her strength. She grew up poor, the youngest of twenty children, picking cotton in the fields while living and breathing injustice. From an early age, she saw that black people didn’t have it equal; that they had to work hard just to get a little.

Fannie eventually marries and loses the ability to have her own children (her body is policed by white supremacy and classism) but she yearns¬†for change and starts to push for black voters’ rights. Her determination to vote brings attacks on her life but she keeps moving forward to become a leader¬†of the SNCC. Her spirit is never¬†broken. She runs for Congress several times and reaches back to help the younger generation with Freedom Summers. Towards the end of her life she starts programs to help poor folks and also wins a lawsuit to integrate the public schools of her home county in Mississippi.

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Image Credit: Candlewick Press, Carole Boston Weatherford/Ekua Holmes

I spent just as much time enjoying Ekua Holmes‚Äô illustrations as I did Weatherford‚Äôs words. After reading the rich text I‚Äôd turn to the illustrations and let them have their turn speaking to me.¬†So much is packed into her¬†painting-collages; varying shades of brown for skin, angular faces, flower bursts, patchwork, and texture. I love the pages where young Fannie holds a cotton plant quietly as her family members drag the long white bags that resemble ghosts and the final page, an older Fannie‚Äôs strong and beautiful profile with the American flag behind her. Weatherford’s books always have¬†amazing art and this one is no exception.

When I think on this woman, I wonder…was there ever a selfish bone in her body? No. Fannie Lou Hamer‚Äôs life was in every way about service.

What a picture book. What a way to start many meaningful discussions. Voice of Freedom Fannie Lou Hamer: Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement is deserving of all the honors it has received.

We’re still pushing ahead Fannie.

 

Recommended for: 2nd Grade and up
Great for: Civil Rights, Diversity, Discussion, Jim Crow, Segregation, Racism, Community, Family, Relationships, Black Girl Magic, Strength, Determination, Friendship, African-American, Social Issues, Social Justice, Injustice, Black History Month, Black History Month Children’s Books
Book Info: Voice of Freedom Fannie Lou Hamer: Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement by Carole Boston Weatherford/Illustrated by Ekua Holmes, 2015 Candlewick Press, ISBN: 9780763665319

The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth & Harlem’s Greatest Bookstore

 

Happy Black History Month!

Please use this concentrated acknowledgment of BLACK EXCELLENCE to learn something new and keep it with you throughout the year.

I’ll be reviewing quite a few books for Black History Month this year so I hope you’ll enjoy my posts!

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Image Credit: Carolrhoda Books (Lerner Publishing Group, Inc.), Vaunda Micheaux Nelson/R. Gregory Christie

The Book Itch was recently¬†awarded the Coretta Scott King (Illustrator) Honor and for good reason. Not only are the illustrations cool but the content!! The content is gloriously heavy. It’s inspirational and thought provoking. This is a unique book.

The story is told by the son of Lewis H. Micheaux, the founder & owner of the National Memorial African Bookstore in Harlem. “Louie” as his father calls him, takes us¬†back to 1960s Harlem, explains the significance of the bookstore and tells¬†a story that honors his father’s brilliance and determination. The bookstore is more than a bookstore, it’s a gathering place, a refuge, and space for knowledge and politics. All types of people visit, even Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X! We get to experience Louie’s sheer amazement and adoration when he meets such powerful Black figures of the time.

I love Lewis H. Micheaux’s way with words. His catch-phrases and poetic slogans are catchy and real. “Don’t get took! Read a book!” encourages young people of color to educate themselves through reading; a message as important today as it was in 1960s America! He constantly encourages his son to read and learn so that he can sort out the truth of the world. This book doesn’t shy away from discussing civil rights and racial issues; the bookstore often hosts rallies and Micheaux jokes “Anytime more than three black people congregate, the police get nervous.” The later half of the story¬†explores Micheaux’s close friendship with Malcolm X. As the reader finishes the book, he/she is left thinking about the power of words¬†and are reminded that some are¬†willing to die¬†for freedom.

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Image Credit: Carolrhoda Books (Lerner Publishing Group, Inc.), Vaunda Micheaux Nelson/R. Gregory Christie

R. Gregory Christie’s paintings¬†are excellent at creating place and mood. He places the reader directly in Harlem, on its streets and in the bookstore with its large collection of books knowledge.¬†He draws long lanky bodies again like he did in Freedom in Congo Square but this time he focuses¬†on detailed faces and expressions. His palette is dark and earthy and suits the story.

Please take time to read and discuss this book! The last few pages tell more about Lewis H. Michaeux’s life and there’s a great Author’s Note. I’m so grateful that Vaunda Micheaux Nelson created this book to share her great-uncle’s story; it’s a moment of Black History that I didn’t know about. The Book Itch¬†is one of the strongest non-fiction historical books for children to come out in 2015. Oh the power of books…and words.

 

P.S. I love endpapers and this book has GREAT ones! Check out some of Micheaux’s “poetry” ūüôā

 

Malcolm X delivering a speech outside of one his favorite places, The National Memorial African Bookstore, in 1961.

 

Recommended for: 2nd-3rd Grade and up
Great for: Civil Rights, We Need Diverse Books, Diversity, Discussion, 1960s America, Community, Black Bookstores, Family, Relationships, Friendship, Harlem, Lewis H. Micheaux, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Non-Fiction, Power of Words, Social Issues, The National Memorial African Bookstore, Determination, Injustice, Black History Month, Black History Month Children’s Books
Book Info: The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth and Harlem’s Greatest Bookstore¬†by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson/Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, 2015 Carolrhoda Books (Lerner Publishing Group, Inc.), ISBN: 9780761339434

Ballet Cat: The Totally Secret Secret

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Image Credit: Disney Hyperion, Bob Shea

I’m sitting in a coffee shop cracking up while reading this book. How’d it take me this long to read it?? I really don’t know. Bob Shea is a special, random guy. So special.

Ballet Cat: The Totally Secret Secret captures the adorable hilarity of friendship, expectations, and childhood. You know how sometimes you worry too much about what someone you care about is going to think if you “let them down?” That’s what Sparkles the Pony feels like. The story starts out with Sparkles asking Ballet Cat what she wants to play, to which she replies “You pick, Sparkles.” Haha, but not really. ¬†-_- ¬†Sparkles¬†wants to do something other than play ballet. He suggests doing crafts, playing checkers, making lemonade but Ballet Cat always has a reason why that’s not a good idea…

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Image Credit: Disney Hyperion, Bob Shea

As they twirl and dance and play ballet (like they do EVERY DAY), Ballet Cat can tell that something’s wrong but Sparkles doesn’t want to tell her his secret secret! Maybe they won’t be friends anymore if he does! Little does he know, Ballet Cat¬†has her own secret secret too (psssst it has something to do with friendship!).

Bob Shea’s writing is relaxed and reads like a real conversation between friends. His art is loose, sketchy, bright and fun. He only uses a few colors in the entire book but they pop so well (and there’s GLITTER on the cover!!). He’s also great¬†at drawing expressions! You can clearly see Sparkles’ agony and Ballet Cat’s surprise. I really enjoyed this book and I hope your beginning reader will enjoy it too. It’s also a great read-aloud!

 

Recommended for: All ages
Great for: Friendship, Best Friends, Secrets, Worry, Love, Play, Ballet, Trust, Animals, Humor, Read-Aloud, Beginning Readers, Relationships
Book Info: Ballet Cat: The Totally Secret Secret by Bob Shea, 2015 Disney Hyperion, ISBN: 9781484713785

Joelito’s Big Decision

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Image Credit: Hard Ball Press, Ann Berlak, Daniel Camacho, José Antonio Galloso

This book¬†discusses making change and social justice in an easy way for children to understand. They can connect to Joelito, his friend and his struggle to make a big decision. It’ll get¬†your children thinking about what they can do to improve our world and to ensure that everyone makes a living wage.

In Joelito’s Big Decision, Joelito wakes up Friday morning thinking about his family’s weekly trip to MacMann’s for burgers! At school, when his sister’s best friend’s backpack is stolen, he makes a comment that she can just go buy another one; he doesn’t get that his family is economically in a better place than his friend’s. Excited to finally get his burger, his family heads to MacMann’s but there are a lot of people standing outside with signs and no one’s eating. A big protest is happening because¬†MacMann’s pays low wages and the workers can’t live on what they make. Turns out his best friend Brandon’s mom and dad work there and they’re a part of the strike too! When Brandon invites Joelito to join the strike, Joelito is hesitant (he wants to sit and eat his burger!) and he has to decide what is most important to him.

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Image Credit: Hard Ball Press, Ann Berlak, Daniel Camacho, José Antonio Galloso

Joelito has to step outside his comfort zone. Until he encounters the strike, he doesn’t really¬†notice that his¬†friend’s family is struggling to make ends¬†meet. Things become personal for him and he empathizes. Sometimes, something as simple as giving up a favorite treat can show how much you care for someone…and for a cause.

Daniel Camacho’s illustrations are very cool. I like¬†the raw sketchy quality of the color pencil, his use of color, and the large, chunky bodies and hands of his figures. His illustrations suit the story very well. An extra treat to this book is that it’s bi-lingual (English & Spanish) and this duality will make it¬†accessible to more children, which is excellent and needed.

I really recommend this book for discussion and learning. Teachers, look at this page from Hard Ball Press for ideas on how to use this book in the classroom!

 

Recommended for: 1st grade and up
Great for: Social Justice, Social Issues, Friendship, Change, Economic Inequality, Empathy, Family, Immigrants, Latin-American, Low Wages, Moving, Perspective, Poverty, Relationships, Spanish Language, Struggles, We Need Diverse Books, Diversity
Book Info: Joelito’s Big Decision¬†by Ann Berlak/Illustrated by Daniel Camacho/Translated by¬†Jos√© Antonio Galloso, 2015¬†Hard Ball Press, ISBN: 9780986240096