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

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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

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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

Music Is…

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Image Credit: Simon Kids (Simon & Schuster), Brandon Stosuy/Amy Martin

I’m not a big fan of music. I know that sounds weird. I mean, I enjoy listening to music. Of course there are songs that take me back; the memories connected to those songs are so vivid. I always dance and move to a good song or beat. I’m just not INTO music. Some people live and breathe it; they always have headphones on and bump it loud in their car. They talk music, they anticipate music, they live music.

That’s not me but I appreciate music and I love how happily this book celebrates it.

Music Is…has flowing text that begins simply, becomes more lyrical and ends reflectively. Contrasting words like quiet & loud, slow & fast, lo-fi & hi-fi lead to lines like “cymbals that splash and ba-da-ba bass and rat-a-tat-tat drums on a rumbling stage.” Stosuy’s words are great for reading aloud and invite discussion. “How is music happy?” “What is lo-fi?” “What does ‘Music is for everyone’ mean?” are just a few questions that children might ask when reading this book and for that reason, it’s a book for all ages! Music-loving parents will want this book to share with their children.

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Image Credit: Simon Kids (Simon & Schuster), Brandon Stosuy/Amy Martin

 

Amy Martin’s illustrations are bold, eye-catching and so diverse. I love how she uses colors that contrast and highlight. Her art shows children that indeed, music is for everyone. Her illustrations match the rhythm of Stosuy’s words and the cover of the book is so bright and inviting!

I hope you’ll check this one out. It’s a pretty cool board book to share and enjoy. 🙂

 

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Music, Music History, Diversity, Family, Emotions, Friendship, Relationships, Vocabulary, Humor
Book Info: Music Is… by Brandon Stosuy/Illustrated by Amy Martin, 2016 Little Simon (Simon & Schuster), ISBN: 9781481477024

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