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

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

 

 

Finding Community at the 2017 Kweli Conference in NYC

 

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This Cincinnati girl hopped on a plane and became a New Yorker for a few days!

On April 8th, I woke up bright and early and took the train to downtown Manhattan for the Kweli: Color of Children’s Literature Conference. As I walked down the massive hallway of The New York Times building and rounded the corner, I saw conference organizer, Laura Pegram’s smiling face and I knew I was at home. I felt immediately welcome and energized for a day of connecting with authors, illustrators and publishing industry professionals. My friend/debut author Traci Sorell found me right away and gave me a huge hug; it was so great to finally meet her in person!  Continue reading

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

Ghost

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

NightLights

nightlights

Image Credit: Nobrow, Lorena Alvarez Gómez

Gorgeous.

NightLights is a new graphic novel about a magical girl who draws outside of the lines. Sandy has trouble fitting in; she’s a day-dreamer, a creative-type, and is misunderstood by not only her peers but her teachers.

Sandy has power. She takes the lights that appear in her bedroom and turns them into whimsical creatures. In her dreams she interacts with them and doodles them in the morning (and during class). Her classmates bully and tease her for having her head in the clouds until one day, a new girl named Morphie befriends her and tells her how good her art is. Interestingly enough, Sandy is the only person who can see Morphie but as she grows closer to the magical girl, she starts to feel uneasy.

Morphie is a greedy being; greedy for Sandy’s delicious & beautiful drawings. Even worse, Morphie begins to make Sandy question her creativity and independence; “And once you realize that you need me to tell you how brilliant you are, nothing will keep us apart!” she says.

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Image Credit: Nobrow, Lorena Alvarez Gómez

Morphie…is Sandy’s insecurity.

This story excellently explores the emotional difficulty of “not fitting in.” Sandy doesn’t think linearly; her mind blossoms with color and creatures and magic and so she has trouble in her rigid Catholic school. Insecurity slowly starts to creep in. As she battles herself, she finds strength by embracing her creativity (and even her insecurity and fear). This is such an important message for readers of all ages.

Alvarez creates a setting inspired by her hometown of Bogotá, Colombia (but dipped in colorful fantasy that rivals Miyazaki). NightLights works well as a graphic novel; each panel’s dialogue and illustration are well crafted. Her attention to detail and use of color is amazing! She weaves reality with fantasy to create a world that is both beautiful and terrifying. Readers will feel uneasy when Sandy interacts with Morphie & the twisted monsters she’s forced to create. They’ll also feel proud of her as she explores the beauty of her mind. I had a really great conversation with illustrator Erin Baker who pointed out the motif of “eyes” in this book. Sandy’s eyes are extremely expressive and the eyes of her fantasy creatures are fascinating and creepy.

There’s a lot packed into this graphic novel and I’m really excited for it to release in the United States. I hope you’ll check out NightLights!

Recommended for: 3rd Grade and up
Great for: Inner Strength, Insecurity, Determination, Power, Diversity, Community, Family, Confidence, Creepy, Fantasy, School Life, Daydreamers, Creative Thinking
Book Info: NightLights by Lorena Alvarez, 2017 Nobrow, ISBN: 9781910620137

Shades of Black: A Celebration of Our Children

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Image Credit: Cartwheel Books (Scholastic), Sandra L. Pinkney/Myles C. Pinkney

First of all, Happy Black History Month!! I always learn something new this month, so I hope you do too.

I really enjoyed Shades of Black; I recommend it as a board book and as a picture book.

Why is this book important?? Self love. It celebrates the complexity and beauty of black identity. Black people have a long history of complicated feelings about our skin color that’s connected to racism, mixed-heritage, and social constructs of beauty (White as most beautiful). For example, have you heard of the The Brown Paper Bag Test?  It was a way in which upper class & lighter-skinned Black people discriminated against darker-skinned Black people. During American slavery, lighter-skinned slaves were usually house slaves. In many cultures around the world, lighter skin is more desirable; some people even bleach their dark skin to be lighter. Hair is another complicated issue intertwined with skin color in the Black community; there’s “good hair” & “nappy hair”…

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A well worn loved copy of Shades of Black

So…a book for children that celebrates all shades of Blackness as beautiful? I’m all about it. Plus, it’s available as a board book for toddlers? This is awesome. Toddlers may not be thinking about their skin color just yet, but seeing positive images of children that look like them, that they can smile at, is important for healthy development.

Sandra L. Pinkney begins Shades of Black with “I am Black. I am Unique” in large, bold letters and it’s repeated several times throughout the text. Her words are paired with Miles C. Pinkney’s beautiful & vivid photographs. Sandra compares various shades of brown skin to colorful foods; the children in the photos are joyful and curious. She also talks about Black hair (“My hair is the soft puffs in a cotton ball and the stiff ringlets in lamb’s wool.”) and compares our eye colors to those found in semiprecious stones. At the end of the book, she reminds Black children that they come from ancient kings and queens; a fact that the institution of slavery tried to snuff out!!

I highly recommend Shades of Black; it shows that books written by #ownvoices are necessary…and beautiful! Pick up this book and read it with your child; the children’s smiles are infectious. Black children are gorgeous! ❤

**P.S. Shades of Black won the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Children’s Literary Work!

 

 

Recommended for: All ages
Great for: Empowerment, Positivity, Kid Faces, African-American, Black History Month, Happiness, Black Hair, Colors, Foods, Opposites, Diversity, Own Voices
Book Info: Shades of Black: A Celebration of Our Children by Sandra L. Pinkney/Photographs by Myles C. Pinkney, 2006 Cartwheel Books (Scholastic), ISBN: 9780439802512

 

 

A Hat for Mrs. Goldman: A Story About Knitting and Love

a-hat-for-mrs-goldman

Image Credit: Schwartz & Wade Books (Penguin Random House LLC), Michelle Edwards/G. Brian Karas

 

Happy New Year!! 😀

2017 is going to need a heaping spoonful of kindness. Kindness and consideration for others. But it’s not just “consideration” that we need, it’s holding people in our hearts. There’s a difference there. A deeper level of connection.

In A Hat for Mrs. Goldman, we meet Sophia and Mrs. Goldman who are close friends and neighbors. Mrs. Goldman has cared for and loved Sophia since she was a baby, when she knit her her first hat. Because Mrs. Goldman is so busy knitting for everyone else, she doesn’t have a hat to keep her head warm and Sophia decides to do something about it! Though she only vaguely remembers how to knit (her speciality is making pom-poms), she determinedly works on a special hat for her friend. It turns out a little lumpy but it’s beautiful because it’s a gift for her friend.

What I like so much about this book is that it’s very honest; two good friends love each other and work to take care of each other. The story is simple but touching storytelling and charming illustrations make it a winner. Children will learn Yiddish words like keppie (head) and mitzvah (good deed) too!  I love that Sophia is Latino and Mrs. Goldman is Jewish but it isn’t dwelled upon; there’s a great message of community and love here.

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Image Credit: Schwartz & Wade Books (Penguin Random House LLC), Michelle Edwards/G. Brian Karas

 

Karas’ sweet mixed media illustrations are full of gorgeous pale pinks, browns and blustery blues and greens. The illustrations are very soft, which adds to the comfortable, homey feel of the story. Sophia, with her determined expressions, brown skin and no-sense side-ponytail is a great character for children to emulate; even though she gets frustrated, she keeps working towards her goal!

Edwards even includes a pattern for Sophia’s Hat at the end of the book (Edwards writes for Lion Brand Yarn) so that children can dive into knitting themselves. What a sweet book about friendship and knitting! I hope you’ll enjoy this one as much as I did.

 

 

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Friendship, Mitzvah, Love, Caring, Selflessness, Determination, Creative Thinking, Kindness, Relationships, Diversity, Community, Knitting
Book Info: A Hat for Mrs. Goldman: A Story About Knitting and Love by Michelle Edwards/Illustrated by G. Brian Karas, 2016 Schwartz & Wade Books (Penguin Random House LLC), ISBN: 9780553497106

Dear Dragon

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Image Credit: Viking (Penguin Young Readers Group), Josh Funk/Rodolfo Montalvo

Like the dragon Blaise Dragomir, this excellent book has flown a bit under the radar. Josh Funk writes really amusing books and this is my favorite one so far! Dear Dragon has themes of kindness, inclusiveness and discovery; kids will enjoy watching these characters fall into friendship!

Blaise Dragomir (dragon boy) and George Slair (human boy) are matched through a poetry/pen-pal assignment in their classes. I love how the language they use is formal at first but as they get closer, it becomes more familiar. The boys have no idea that they’re different species; their friendship grows over several months. It’s fun to see how each boy imagines the life of the other; different experiences lead to different perspectives. When Blaise reads about George building a fort with his dad, he imagines two dragons hammering A REAL FORT, that protects a castle! He has no idea that George’s fort is built of cardboard (and that he is human! 😉  ). Their classes finally meet in the spring and though it’s quite a surprise, they roll with it!

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Image Credit: Viking (Penguin Young Readers Group), Josh Funk/Rodolfo Montalvo

 

Though dragons and humans don’t have the best history of peaceful interactions, these boys overcome that and recognize the goodness in each other. Children can relate to overcoming differences (and learned prejudices and fear) to connect with others. Also, at first Blaise and George don’t enjoy writing much, but though the project, they gain more confidence in their skills (as they gain a friend).

As with most excellent picture books, the synergy between the text and illustrations is phenomenal. Montalvo’s watercolor, ink and graphite illustrations are warm and so detailed! I happened to see the book’s cover months before it published and I remember being SO excited to see a brown boy with bushy hair! It’s not common to see brown boys on the cover of picture books so I’m glad to have one more gem to recommend. Montalvo brings Funk’s writing to life in a beautiful way.

I really enjoyed Dear Dragon and I hope you will too! In addition to being a very good read aloud, this book is perfect for pen-pal projects. Maybe a new (dragon?) friend is waiting…

 

 

Recommended for: 1st Grade and up
Great for: Friendship, Open-Mindedness, Courage, Acceptance, Read-Aloud, Rhyme, Humor, Pen-Pal, Inclusiveness, Diversity, Adventure, Animals
Book Info: Dear Dragon: A Pen-Pal Tale by Josh Funk/Illustrated by Rodolfo Montalvo, 2016 Viking (Penguin Young Readers Group), ISBN: 9780451472304

We Sang You Home

wesangyouhome

Image Credit: Orca Book Publishers, Richard Van Camp/Julie Flett

We’re about half-way through Native American Heritage Month 2016 and almost a week into a world where Donald J. Trump is the President-Elect of the United States of America…I’ve been reflecting and thinking a lot about peace, love and family. I’ve also been thinking about kindness and doing my best to share books that celebrate open-mindedness, different perspectives, cultures and #ownvoices. I can’t praise this one enough.

If you’re looking for a great book that celebrates the joy and wonder of having a child, look no further. We Sang You Home is beautifully written and illustrated. We’re slowly getting more books about Native families created by Native people but we need more. As a bookseller and blogger, I can’t wait for these stories! I want to share them and most importantly, Native kids need to see more of themselves on bookshelves.

In We Sang You Home, a Native couple tells their child how they wished and dreamed for him and how his arrival changes their lives. They are better for having him. “We sang you from a wish. We sang you from a prayer. We sang you home and you sang back.” A child holds its parents hopes, dreams and wishes. Van Camp writes beautifully and in the short format of a board book, tells a story of happiness. We’re reminded that a child chooses its family just as much as a family wishes for it; it’s magic.

Julie Flett is a great illustrator; I always enjoy reading and reviewing her books! In this one, she depicts the sweetness of Van Camp’s words with warm earth colors, sunsets & moonshine, toothy smiles and brown skin. Flat, blocks of color fill the pages. The simpler the better for board books and this one is simply beautiful.

I hope you’ll pick it up for Native American Heritage Month and enjoy it throughout the year! 🙂

 

P.S. Check out Debbie Reese’s beautiful review here.

 

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Celebration, Diversity, Love, Family, Happiness, Indigenous Peoples, Native Heritage Month, New Baby
Book Info: We Sang You Home by Richard Van Camp/Illustrated by Julie Flett, 2016 Orca Book Publishers, ISBN: 9781459811782