I Am Not a Number

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Image Credit: Second Story Press, Jenny Kay Dupuis & Kathy Kacer/Gillian Newland

“Meta” picture books have their place, cute bunnies, princesses and dragons in picture books have their place too. But there’s no denying the power of a non-fiction narrative to teach. I Am Not a Number teaches about an often overlooked and ignored part of the history of Native peoples in the Americas; the history of boarding/residential schools and the pain associated with settler colonialism.

In I Am Not a Number, Anishinaabe/Ojibway (Nipissing First Nation) author and educator Dr. Jenny Kay Dupuis shares her grandmother’s story. With the help of author Kathy Kacer, Dupuis takes a tough and emotional subject and creates a learning tool. This book can also help First Nations children and families with healing and bringing forward stories of trauma. The emotional control and abuse afflicted upon children by Christian missionaries and the government has had lasting effects on First Nations communities. Some of the more well known examples of detrimental residential boarding school systems are in Australia, Canada and the United States. Here in the United States, Capt. Richard H. Pratt, founder of the Carlisle School, said that instead of killing “The Indian” one must “kill the Indian in him, and save the man.” Generations of Indigenous people around the world have suffered emotional trauma under states determined to “civilize” them.

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Image Credit: Second Story Press, Jenny Kay Dupuis & Kathy Kacer/Gillian Newland

 

I Am Not a Number begins on the Nipissing Reserve Number 10 in Ontario, Canada and follows young Irene as she’s forced to leave her home with two of her bothers. The Indian agent represents the law and Irene’s parents must send their children to residential school with him. Irene doesn’t know what awaits her but holds her mother’s words “Never forget who you are!” close. As the title of the book suggests, the children are stripped of the basic right of a name at the school; numbers are what the nuns refer to them by. They’re also beaten (and worse) for speaking their language. I Am Not a Number does not shy away from the gritty details of abuse in residential schools. This transparency is necessary for telling these stories. When summer finally comes, Irene and her brothers are allowed to go home for a while and the familiarity of their food, land and family are like a balm. Even speaking her language feel strange, though, and she suffers nightmares. Irene’s parents make the decision to fight to keep their children, no matter the consequences!

I’m glad for the back ground information at the end of the book about Canadian residential schools and especially Jenny Kay Dupuis’ afterword about her grandmother, Irene Couchie Dupuis. In addition to powerful storytelling, this book has moving and beautiful illustrations. Using a palette of grays, browns and greens, Gillian Newland brings Irene’s experience (and strength) to life for the reader. The images in this book don’t directly portray physical abuse but they show the aftermath in fearful, stunned and pained expressions. She also does a great job of portraying love; my favorite spread is of Irene and her father, forehead to forehead, eyes locked and comforting. Relieved to be reunited.

This is an important book that I hope you’ll take the time to experience with your children. Children’s non-fiction picture books are powerful and necessary for teaching history, empathy and respect. Thanks for sharing your grandmother’s story, Jenny Kay Dupuis!

 

 

Recommended for: 2nd Grade and up
Great for: Strength, Friendship, Indigenous Peoples, Boarding Schools, Family, Love, Resilience, Determination, Community, Canadian History, Colonialism, Emotional Trauma, Religion, Social Justice, Social Issues
Book Info: I Am Not a Number by Jenny Kay Dupuis and Kathy Kacer/Illustrated by Gillian Newland, 2016 Second Story Press, ISBN: 9781927583944

Sarla in the Sky

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Image Credit: Bharat Babies (Mascot Books), Anjali Joshi/Lisa Kurt

In the United States, Amelia Earhart is considered an inspiration and hero. The first African American female pilot, Bessie Coleman, isn’t very well known and until I read this book, I didn’t know about Sarla Thakral, India’s first female pilot. This simple and pretty beginning reader will teach readers of all ages about her and will perhaps inspire them to learn more.

In this story inspired by Sarla Thakral’s life and accomplishments, Sarla dreams of flying like the birds. When she’s a little girl, her best friend Prem reminds her that girls cannot fly but she’s inspired by a caterpillar to make her dreams a reality. As she grows up, she’s persistent despite the discouragement of others. She tells her critics that wings are not just for boys and continues on her path to the sky. Sarla finally gets her pilot’s license at age 21 and becomes India’s first female pilot. Like the caterpillar from her childhood, she grows into a courageous butterfly.

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Image Credit: Bharat Babies (Mascot Books), Anjali Joshi/Lisa Kurt

I enjoyed this story but it would’ve been just as good if not better if written in prose, not verse. There were some rhyming lines that didn’t quite work. That being said, I can see children enjoying this book as a read aloud. Lisa Kurt’s paintings are very pretty and I love the scene where Sarla day-dreams in the tall grass. I also liked discovering little details in her art like the use of a map of India for the butterfly’s wings.

It’s not often we get quality stories, especially in picture book or beginning reader format, that discuss Indian girls and women. This book is also important because it’s about a girl who loves science and mathematics. Sarla in the Sky is a great addition to any collection and I hope it inspires children, especially little Indian girls and boys, to dream big and fly high.

Click here to learn more about Sarla Thakral!

 

Recommended for: 1st-2nd Grade and up
Great for: Aviation, Dreams, Determination, India, History, History Inspired, Girls In STEM, Girl Power, Inner Strength, Diversity, Inspiration, Beginning Reader, Rhyme
Book Info: Sarla in the Sky by Anjali Joshi/Illustrated by Lisa Kurt, 2016 Bharat Babies (Mascot Books), ISBN: 9781631777462

 

Celebrating Our Grandmothers

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Image Credit: Inhabit Media Inc., Susan Avingaq & Maren Vsetula/Charlene Chua

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Image Credit: Carolrhoda Books (Lerner Publishing Group), Vaunda Micheaux Nelson/ Elizabeth Zunon

Today I’m doing a double review of two excellent books that explore relationships with grandmothers. Fishing with Grandma and Don’t Call Me Grandma are very different stories that feature loving and powerful grandmothers.

Don’t Call Me Grandma wasn’t what I expected it to be. From reading the title alone, I assumed it would be about a grandmother who doesn’t want to be reminded of her age but that’s not what it’s about at all! Vaunda Micheaux Nelson writes really great books by the way; I’ve already reviewed The Book Itch and Bad News for Outlaws. This book tells the story of a little girl and her relationship with her glamorous Great-Grandmother Nell. Great-Grandmother Nell has a strong personality; she’s very prickly but is also loving (in her own way). Nell’s great-granddaughter is slightly scared of her but because she knows how special she is, she works hard to get close to her.

I really enjoyed the flashbacks scenes in this book because they tell us more about Great-Grandmother Nell. The scene about Nell’s first heart-break is very moving, though it’s not the kind of heart-break you might expect. Great-Grandmother Nell is ninety six  years old and has lived through the civil rights movement and more. I’m glad to see this story discuss race and being a Colored girl (and later a Colored woman) in the United States.

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Image Credit: Carolrhoda Books (Lerner Publishing Group), Vaunda Micheaux Nelson/Elizabeth Zunon

Elizabeth Zunon’s illustrations are beautiful. Her style is a mix of watercolor, pen, markers, collage and pencil. Great-granddaughter favors Great-Grandmother and Great-Grandmother’s warm brown face is full of rich lines and wrinkles. All the beautiful perfume bottles on her vanity and the scene where she teaches her great-granddaughter how to blot her lipstick reminds me of my grandmother. For the flashback scenes, Zunon uses blotchy watercolors that give the feeling of hazy memory. Check out this behind the scenes blog post about how Zunon created the illustrations!

Great-Grandmother Nell is a strong grandmother and so is Anaanatsiaq (grandmother) in Fishing with Grandma. She drives an ATV and is always down for an adventure! In the story, a little boy and girl are excited to visit their favorite elder. Their visit starts with string games and fresh bannock from the oven but the children are eager for a little more adventure. They decide to go jigging for fish on the ice and Anaanatsiaq shows them how to dress for the cold. She also shows them to how to check the ice for thickness (safety first) and how to use traditional tools!

One of my favorite things about this book is that it’s full of Inuktitut words and describes Inuit fishing tools. Children can learn a bit of another language while enjoying a story about a loving indigenous family. Another plus is that the story is co-written by Inuit elder Susan Avingaq…so it’s a story about indigenous peoples written by an indigenous woman for children all over the world. This is the power of #ownvoices.

After the family has a successful day of fishing, Anaanatsiaq explains that the extra fish they caught will go to elders who can’t make it out to the lake. It’s important to give and think of others and also important to learn traditional skills, she says. These are good lessons for children all over the world to take away.

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Image Credit: Inhabit Media Inc., Susan Avingaq & Maren Vsetula/Charlene Chua

Charlene Chua’s digital illustrations are so clean and vibrant. I love how she brings their community to life and I especially like the spreads on the blue ice and underwater with the beautiful Arctic char. I like how she uses streaks of color to fill space; it creates a pretty effect. Her characters have such bright expressions and rosy cheeks! Annanatsiaq is loving and protective of her curious grandchildren; her happy face shows a lot of pride. They’re adventurers just like her!

I hope your family will take time to enjoy these two stories about grandmothers. Maybe you can even read them with your grandmothers!

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Family, Grandmothers, Relationships, Teamwork, Ice Fishing, Siblings, Love, Indigenous Peoples, Community, Diversity, Strong Women
Book Info: Fishing with Grandma by Susan Avingaq & Maren Vsetula/Illustrated by Charlene Chua, 2016 Inhabit Media Inc., ISBN: 9781772270846

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Family, Grandmothers, Racism, History, Relationships, African American, Strong Women, Patience, Understanding
Book Info: Don’t Call Me Grandma by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson/Illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon, 2016 Carolrhoda Books (Lerner Publishing Group), ISBN: 9781467742085

City Shapes

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Image Credit: Little, Brown and Company (Hachette Book Group), Diana Murray/Bryan Collier

I first saw this book cover online many, many months before it published and I couldn’t forget it. How could I?? Her smiling brown face is full of joy and wonder. Now I finally have my own copy of this book and it is a delight.

Summer is starting to wind down and like the little girl in this book, kids are holding onto the last bits of fun before they head back to school. City kids will really relate to City Shapes; it celebrates the beauty of city-living and also teaches shapes! In the story, a mama pigeon and an imaginative girl spend the day exploring their city. The dynamic spreads and gorgeous rhyming sentences teach children about shapes found in the city. Children will enjoy reading Murray’s rhymes and searching for shapes in the illustrations. Maybe they’ll even be inspired to search for shapes in their own home.

This book sounds beautiful read aloud. I hope families, teachers and librarians are reading it to their children. Murray’s flowing words are enhanced by Collier’s colorful and dreamy art. Collier’s signature watercolor and collage art has so many layers for children to explore; he truly brings the city to life. I especially love that the girl in the book is his daughter! In a time when we need many more excellent books staring black children, I’m so happy to have this one to love and recommend.

What a lovely book! With every read you’ll find something new to enjoy. ❤

 

P.S. Towards the end of the book, look for the tiny photograph of Collier’s daughter! 😀

 

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Imagination, Discovery, City Life, Creativity, Shapes, Animals, Friendship, Read-Aloud, Diversity, African American, Black Girl Magic
Book Info: City Shapes by Diana Murray/Illustrated by Bryan Collier, 2016 Little, Brown and Company (Hachette Book Group), ISBN: 9780316370929

 

 

 

 

What Do You See?

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Image Credit: Home Grown Books, Kyla Ryman/Wangechi Mutu

African contemporary artist Wangechi Mutu’s art hangs in galleries around the world and now little ones can experience her vivid and surreal art through this board book.

What I like about What Do You See? is that it’s a “seek & find” book and an introduction to contemporary art. There are many books that introduce children to art/artists but what stands out about this one is the energy of Mutu’s work and the clean design of the book. Each page has very simple text; a line that suggests what can be found in the art and a question to spark imagination. Giving a child something to find and also encouraging discussion about what they see is important for development.

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Image Credit: Home Grown Books, Kyla Ryman/Wangechi Mutu

Each page highlights one section of Mutu’s piece, Le Noble Savage and the final page shows a more complete piece section of the artwork. Is it a woman? A creature stretching elegantly and powerfully? She mixes ink with collage; warm reds, purples and pinks burst on the pages. Because her art is so detailed, there’s much to discover. The format of the book is portrait instead of landscape, which works well for showcasing her art. Another excellent thing about this book is that a portion of sales go to Every Mother Counts. How great is that! 😀

It’s always a pleasure to see see black female illustrators thrive but it’s quite special to see a black female contemporary artist’s work made into a children’s book. Maybe this book will inspire families to check out Wangechi Mutu’s art in person!

Recommended for: Toddlers to Early Elementary
Great for: Imagination, Art, Contemporary Art, Seek & Find, Discussion, Diversity, Women, African Artists, Inspiration, Early Childhood Development
Book Info: What Do You See? written by Kyla Ryman/Featuring the artwork of Wangechi Mutu, 2016 Home Grown Books, ISBN: 9780997058703

A Piece of Home

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Image Credit: Candlewick Press, Jeri Watts/Hyewon Yum

Creating a new ordinary.

Not everyone wants to stand out, especially if your family moves to a new country and you suddenly feel different from everyone else. Hee Jun is a self proclaimed “ordinary” Korean boy and his grandmother is a highly respected teacher in Korea…until Hee Jun’s father gets a job in West Virginia and everything changes. Hee Jun’s family goes through a roller coaster of emotions until they find comfort and familiarity in their new lives.

Jeri Watts does a great job of depicting Korean culture and children’s emotions during times of change. This story was inspired by a Korean student who desperately wanted her to understand him and felt out of place in his new home of Virginia. As great as her storytelling is, the book wouldn’t be what it is without Hyewon Yum’s authentic voice coming through in the art. From the first page, I felt like I was back on the side streets surrounding my 초등학교 (elementary school). My school had a 떡볶이 (spicy rice cake) shop across the street just like the high school Hee Jun’s grandmother teaches at. I love how Yum incorporates Korean words and sentences into the illustrations. Her art is evocative and she’s great at characterization and creating story.

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Image Credit: Candlewick Press, Jeri Watts/Hyewon Yum

I really connected to this book because (as you can probably guess) I used to live in Korea. I graduated from college and almost immediately flew over to start a new life as an English teacher. Similar to Hee Jun, I felt out of control and confused at times. He also reminds me of my students, especially the ones who wanted to get to know me but didn’t have confidence in their ability to communicate with me. I made them feel uncomfortable in their own space, which must’ve been nerve-wracking! The world caters to native English speakers but Native English speaking countries rarely cater to non-native English speakers! >_< Like Hee Jun’s grandmother, immigrants bring richness into the United States that shouldn’t be ignored just because they struggle with English.

The other day I snapped this photo of 무궁화 (Mugungwha/Rose of Sharon) growing near my house. It made me think of my city of 대구 and my friends and students there.
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I hope you enjoy A Piece of Home as much as I did. I think a lot of children will be able to relate to it!

 

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Family, Community, Immigration, Friendship, Korea, Korean Culture, Inner Strength, Difference, School Life, Diversity, Discussion, Language, Confidence
Book Info: A Piece of Home by Jeri Watts/Illustrated by Hyewon Yum, 2016 Candlewick Press, ISBN: 9780763669713

Have You Seen Elephant?

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Image Credit: Gecko Press USA (Gecko Press Ltd), David Barrow

I finally got my hands on this book, y’all!  I spotted it on Twitter months ago and it’s finally available in the US. *victory*

Do you know how refreshing it is to open a picture book that’s obviously about an interracial family…but doesn’t focus on it? We’re starting to see more books like this (The Airport Book) in children’s literature. Don’t get me wrong; books that focus on race are necessary but it’s also important to have ones that present multiculturalism as norm. The endpapers & first page of the book show a wall of family photographs that tell us a bit about the family’s genealogy.

In Have You Seen Elephant?, a boy is invited to play a thrilling game of hide and seek. Elephant kindly warns him that he’s very good. He’s up for the challenge though and it turns out that Elephant is rather good. My goodness, Elephant is in the most obvious places but no one sees him. 😉 After they finish their game, Turtle asks if they want to play tag…he’s quite speedy.

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Image Credit: Gecko Press USA (Gecko Press Ltd), David Barrow

I like this book very much. Not only is it very sweet, it’s playful, hopeful and kind. They’re all very good friends and care about each other. The text is sparse but it allows the illustrations to speak loudly. Children can fill in the gaps and decide for themselves whether Elephant is really good at hiding or if the boy and his family are very generous. Barrow’s illustrations are heartwarming; he uses lots of warm browns, golds, oranges and reds. There’s a lot of texture in his technique; spirals radiate out from light sources and scratches, splotches and drips are on every page.

I think you’re going to really enjoy this book. I can’t wait to see what’s next from David Barrow!

P.S. Pay attention to the endpapers for laughs. 😀

 

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Family, Friendship, Animals, Love, Diversity, Multiculturalism, Discussion, Read-Aloud, Humor
Book Info: Have You Seen Elephant? by David Barrow, 2016 Gecko Press USA (Gecko Press Ltd), ISBN: 9781776570089

It’s Ramadan, Curious George

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Image Credit: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Hena Khan/Mary O’Keefe

It’s the month of Ramadan, a time for Muslims around the world to pray, reflect, and fast with loved ones. Last night at a gay club in Orlando, Florida, at least fifty people were killed and the shooter seems to be Muslim.  In this time of sadness, this tragedy has already resulted in increased Islamophobia and racism towards Muslims in our country.

We MUST love and understand each other. Hatred has no place here.

It’s Ramadan, Curious George is an important and sweet addition to the Curious George book series. We need more books that are mirrors for Muslim children and this is one more to add to your shelf. There’s already a Happy Hanukkah, Curious Georgemany Christmas books, and now we have one to celebrate Ramadan! I hope this cute book makes it into the hands of Muslim children who need it and any child who wants to learn more about Ramadan and Islam.

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Image Credit: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Hena Khan/Mary O’Keefe

It’s Ramadan, Curious George is a tabbed board book; its sturdy size and format is perfect for little hands to grasp. Each tab highlights a chapter of the story with a small illustration. The story follows Curious George, The Man with the Yellow Hat and their new friend, Kareem. Kareem is going to try fasting for Ramadan for the first time and Curious George is actually helpful!  😉  He cooks delicious food with Kareem’s family and helps Kareem make it through his tough first day of fasting. The book also discusses the importance of sharing with others; Curious George helps with a food drive at the mosque and even inspires a new tradition! At the end of Ramadan, they happily celebrate Eid together and Curious George is glad to have experienced it all.

Hena Khan (Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns) did another great job with this one. Her informative rhyming text with Mary O’Keefe Young’s sweet illustrations is perfect. You’ll want to keep this book on your shelf not only for Ramadan, but all year long. Books like this are not only important for children who need them but are also important for fostering respect and understanding of different cultures at an early age. I hope you’ll enjoy it with your family!

Ramadan Mubarak!

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Family, Friendship, Community, Ramadan, Religion, Relationships, Love, Respect, Diversity, Cultural Diversity, Cultural Relativism, Cultures, Understanding, Discussion, Animals, Read-Aloud
Book Info: It’s Ramadan, Curious George by Hena Khan/Illustrated by Mary O’Keefe Young, 2016 Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, ISBN: 9780544652262

Teeny Tiny Toady

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Image Credit: Sterling Children’s Books (Sterling Publishing), Jill Esbaum/Keika Yamaguchi

Can you say “Modern Classic?” The story and art feel old in the best way. This book feels warm and happy, like sitting snuggled on Grandma’s lap as she reads you The Three Little Pigs and a slice of her chicken pot pie sits comfortably in your belly. Yup, Teeny Tiny Toady feels familiar…and EPIC.

The story starts in a super dramatic way; a big bad human picks Mama Toad up and traps her in a bucket! Cute little Teeny Toady rushes to get her seven big, burly, body-building older brothers to help her but they insist they can handle the situation themselves. The Toady Bros struggle to rescue their mother; every one of their attempts fail and of course they’re too busy to listen to their teeny sister’s suggestions! Before they know it, they’re in trouble too and Teeny must find courage & strength to become a Teeny Hero. There’s something to be said for brains over brawn and her Mama believes in her from the very beginning. 😉

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Image Credit: Sterling Children’s Books (Sterling Publishing), Jill Esbaum/Keika Yamaguchi

Esbaum’s rhyming text is delightful and sounds great when read aloud. She’s a very good storyteller; the pacing, drama, humor and characters are perfect. This story teaches an important lesson for little ones; have faith in yourself and even if you’re little, you can do big things! Yamaguchi’s digital illustrations are magical; lush greens, soft colors and warty chubby toad bodies fill the pages. The toads ARE.SO.CUTE. My goodness. I love how she illustrates and characterizes them; their expressions and personalities are great and feel inspired by Disney and/or anime (especially their eyes!).

One of my favorite spreads is when Teeny thinks up her plan; Esbaum’s text floats and curls from left to right alongside the swirls of leaves and color straight to Teeny’s brain! What a great story! You will fall in love with this family. Teeny Tiny Toady deserves a spot near your favorite fairy tales and fables.

 

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Fables, Lessons, Inner Strength, Creative Thinking, Determination, Rhyme, Family, Relationships, Siblings, Girl Power, Read-Aloud, Animals, Love
Book Info: Teeny Tiny Toady by Jill Esbaum/Illustrated by Keika Yamaguchi, 2016 Sterling Children’s Books (Sterling Publishing), ISBN: 9781454914549

Good Night, Baddies

Image Credit: Beach Lane Books (Simon & Schuster), Deborah Underwood/Juli Kangas

Image Credit: Beach Lane Books (Simon & Schuster), Deborah Underwood/Juli Kangas

After a long day of scaring, huffing & puffing, and being downright wicked, a baddie needs rest too. What?? You think baddies can’t relax and unwind? Tsk, Tsk! Shame on you!  😉

In Good Night, Baddies, all the familiar “bad guys” from our beloved tales travel back to their castle after a long day of being bad. The yawns are endless as they relax and prepare for bed. They save the impoliteness and nastiness for their jobs; home is for rest and good friends! I love a good story that flips the script and shows a different perspective. Underwood’s rhyme is just right to tell this wickedly sweet story. The final line of the book is the best and kids will get a kick out of it!

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Image Credit: Beach Lane Books (Simon & Schuster), Deborah Underwood/Juli Kangas

Juli Kangas’ art is divine. Her watercolors with oil washes are soft and inviting. There’s nothing scary about the baddies; they’re quite warm and inviting as they dine, read and laugh together. Her attention to detail is amazing and each scene is very well composed and executed. But beware! Reading this book may put you to sleep; the combination of Underwood’s quiet rhyme and Kangas’ soft candle lit scenes and sunsets will lull you away. Enjoy this one while snuggled in bed with someone you love and click here to listen to the Good Night, Baddies Song written and performed by the author herself!

P.S. The endpapers are lovely! This book opens with a very classic sephia leaf design that highlights every baddie being, well, bad. But the final endpaper shows all the baddies tucked in for the night; lost in dreamland. So cute!

 

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Animals, Fairytales, Fractured Fairytales, Personalities, Perspective, Rhyme, Read-Aloud, Lullaby
Book Info: Good Night, Baddies by Deborah Underwood/Illustrations by Juli Kangas, 2016 Beach Lane Books (Simon & Schuster), ISBN: 9781481409841