I Like Myself!

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Image Credit: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Karen Beaumont/David Catrow

 

It’s the beginning of a new year! This is when we start thinking about how to improve ourselves physically, mentally and emotionally.

I Like Myself! happily celebrates identity and self esteem. It has a universal message and glows with positive energy; exactly what kids need to see. The little girl in this book isn’t worried about what you think because she’s focused on how awesome she is. The rhythm of the writing is catchy and comfortable and as she tells her story, we learn that she loves not only the physical aspects of her appearance but also loves her character. Even a lion is a little afraid of her WILD side and she’s cool with that! With her trusty dog by her side, she’s not letting anything bother her and is ready for the world.

“No matter if they stop and stare, no person ever anywhere can make me feel that what they see is all there really is to me.”

Beaumont’s writing reminds me of Seuss and so does Catrow’s style of illustration. He combines bright and vibrant colors with long, windy bodies, dramatic shapes and expressive faces. The fluid energy of the watercolors seems barely bound by pencil and ink; wiggles of color bounce on the page. I can’t say how much I love seeing a little brown girl with a wide smile, bright cheeks and twisty hair on the pages! She’s gorgeous and so is this book because it promotes self-confidence in a wonderful way.

 

Recommended for: All Ages! What a message…
Great for: Confidence, Self-Esteem, Girl Power, Diversity, We Need Diverse Books, Discussion, Rhyme, Rhythm, Imagination, Inspiration, Read-Aloud
Book Info: I Like Myself! by Karen Beaumont/Illustrated by David Catrow, 2004 Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, ISBN: 9780152020132

Growing Up Pedro

GrowingUpPedro

Image Credit: Candlewick Press, Matt Tavares

Let me get this off my chest…I’m not a baseball fan and I think that’s why it took me so long to pick up this book. I didn’t read it until I decided to participate in a Twitter Chat (SharpSchu) to discuss it. Sometimes I have to remind myself to open my eyes and embrace everything. I’m still not big on baseball but Growing Up Pedro isn’t just about baseball; it’s about the amazing relationship between brothers Ramón and Pedro Martínez.

The size of this picture book is large; it’s designed to be opened wide and fully experienced. As soon as you open the first page, you’ll see a sweeping landscape of the Dominican Republic in 1981 and little brown boys playing stickball. This sets the tone of the story where we’ll learn how two great baseball players came to dominate American baseball.

GrowingUpPedro

Image Credit: Candlewick Press, Matt Tavares

From an early age, Pedro admires his big brother Ramón’s skill and they practice together, throwing balls at the ripe mangos hanging from the trees. Eventually Ramón makes it to the LA Dodgers in 1985 and when he leaves for America, Pedro becomes more determined than ever to follow him. Ramón learns from his struggles and makes sure that Pedro is better in English than him when he’s ready to join him in the Major Leagues. Pedro isn’t as big as Ramón (this will cause some to doubt his ability) but his heart is just as big if not bigger. Heart pumping full of determination, he makes it to the Minor-Leagues just as his big brother is making waves on the Dodgers.

The brothers end up on the Dodgers, together. But before he knows it, Pedro is traded to Montreal! He continues to shine due to his inner strength and the support of his big brother. He DOMINATES as a pitcher and eventually surpasses even his brother in skill. Pedro goes to the Red Sox and later Ramón joins him again and together they lead the Red Sox to the American League Championship Series. Throughout their career, the Martínez Brothers are the pride of the Dominican Republic and never forget where they come from.

Tavares’ watercolor and gouache illustrations are dynamic. As I mentioned earlier, the wide, sweeping landscapes are gorgeous. I particularly enjoy the scenes of young Pedro and Ramón against the green trees, in shorts and caps, playing baseball with their friends and having fun! Baseball lovers will appreciate the almost photorealistic paintings of the brothers during their prime, pitching on the mound with determination in their eyes. If you’re looking for an excellent story about brotherhood, love and reaching for your dreams (oh and baseball 😉 ), pick up Growing Up Pedro!

P.S. If you buy this book, be sure to remove the jacket and check out the cover!! It’s really cool and brings the story full circle. Also, this book will be published in Spanish soon! SWEET!

 

Recommended for: 2nd Grade and up
Great for: Brotherhood, Ripe Mangos, Siblings, Relationships, Role Model, Admiration, Dreams, Determination, Coming of Age, Diversity, Cultural Diversity, We Need Diverse Books, Community, Friendship, Baseball, Biography, Sports, Sports History, Pedro Martínez, Ramón Martínez, LA Dodgers, Boston Red Sox, Montreal Expos, Dominican Republic, Inner-Strength
Book Info: Growing Up Pedro by Matt Tavares, 2015 Candlewick Press, ISBN: 9780763668242

Last Stop on Market Street

 

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Image Credit: G.P. Putnam’s Sons (Penguin Young Readers Group), Matt de la Peña/Christian Robinson

 

Last Stop on Market Street is one of the best of 2015.

It’s about the relationship between a grandmother and her grandson and what makes it shine is the grandmother’s magic. She’s pure positive energy and has the ability to see beauty in everything. Her wisdom is gentle yet strong enough to open CJ’s young eyes to his world. As they travel through their neighborhood, CJ yearns for what others have but her thoughtful corrections and caring perspective show him just how much he already has. She gives him the gift of positive reflection.

Their bus ride in the rain is full of colorful people. A man plays his guitar and a blind man jokingly says he closes his eyes to better hear the music, and they do as well. CJ especially, begins to SEE; he sees the music and all of its vibrancy. At the last stop on Market Street, he steps off the bus and his lessons continue as he walks with Nana down the street…

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Image Credit: G.P. Putnam’s Sons (Penguin Young Readers Group), Matt de la Peña/Christian Robinson

There are so many great things working together in this book. Until I sat down to write this review, I valued the story more, but when I slowed down (like CJ) and took time to appreciate the illustrations, I came to love how well they belong with this story. De la Peña’s poetic, rich and descriptive words combined with Robinson’s vibrant, blocky paint and collage illustrations carry the story to its destination.

I love the diverse people! I love how they speak in colloquial language! Nana sounds like my grandma and that detail is important; some young readers may connect to this book based on that detail alone. The everyday realness of this story shines brightly; Nana and CJ’s story is a reflection of us, our modern world and all of its amazing colors!

 

Recommended for: All ages
Great for: Community, Buses, Movement, Travel, Family, Lessons, Perspective, Diversity, We Need Diverse Books, Grandmother-Grandson, Community Service, Read-Aloud, Music, Disability, Discussion
Book Info: Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña/Illustrated by Christian Robinson, 2015 G.P. Putnam’s Sons (Penguin Young Readers Group), ISBN: 9780399257742

That Book Woman

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Image Credit: Atheneum Books for Young Readers (Simon & Schuster), Heather Henson/David Small


That Book Woman
is one of my favorite finds of this year. I LOVE this book. I found it sandwiched in the picture book stacks at my bookstore and it was actually on its way back to the publisher due to low sales. I’m telling you, I found some interesting books that way. This book tells the story of a family in the remote Appalachian mountains of Kentucky and is beautifully written both in style and in the smooth rhythm of Appalachian dialect.

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Image Credit: Atheneum Books for Young Readers (Simon & Schuster), Heather Henson/David Small

Cal holds a grudge against his sister Lark whose nose is always in book. He’s working hard and she’s always…readin’. Hmph. Well he doesn’t want to sit still reading “chicken scratch” and he’s baffled as to why a woman (in britches!) rides around bringing free books and why his sister treats those books so reverently. Pap though, he encourages his daughter’s love of reading and offers to the Book Woman what they can. Though all kinds of weather, the Book Woman rides her horse up the mountains and keeps coming to trade out books and Cal just can’t make sense of it! He starts to think that maybe…that woman is brave, maybe it’s worth seeing what’s so great about those books and what makes her so determined to share them.

That Book Woman is inspired by the real women who braved remote regions called the Pack Horse Women. Be sure to read the Author’s Note in the back to learn more about these amazing women who dared to work outside the home and do their best to improve literacy.

The art in this book is so right for the story. The soft watercolors and pastel chalk with heavy ink outlines are beautiful and David Small is so spot on with Cal’s expressions. Cal is so dang surly at first and we watch him soften as his curiosity gets the better of him. I love the scene of Pap and Lark together, a poke of berries in his hands as they gaze at each other. If you have a house full a readers who also love history, please check out That Book Woman. It’s a great story!

 

Recommended for: All ages
Great for: Reading, Literacy, Encouraging Reading, Discussion, History, Appalachian, Rhythm, Siblings, Family, Perspective, Growing Up, Girl Power, Pack Horse Librarians, Works Progress Administration, Rural Life, Cultural Diversity, We Need Diverse Books
Book Info: That Book Woman by Heather Henson/Illustrated by David Small, 2008 Atheneum Books for Young Reader (Simon & Schuster), ISBN: 9781416908128

The Black Snowman

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Image Credit: Blue Ribbon (Scholastic Inc.), Phil Mendez/Carole Byard

Merry Christmas!

This is quite a unique story and it’s been on my bookshelf since I was a little girl. Inspired by Frosty the Snowman, this retelling is Afrocentric, inspiring and reminds readers of the importance of love, family and having pride in oneself!

The Black Snowman is a story of a young black boy named Jacob who’s very sad and bitter. It’s almost Christmas and his mother is poor. He equates being black with being poor and comes to believe that all black things are bad; black magic, black people, black everything! We learn of a magic kente cloth from Africa that once belonged to a powerful storyteller. Hundreds of years later, sold like the Africans it once belonged to, the kente is but a rag and is lost…or is it?

On the city streets, Jacob and his brother Peewee make a snowman out of the black snow. Peewee finds the kente in a trash bin and drapes The Black Snowman with the beautiful rag and he comes to life! He tries to teach Jacob the majesty of Blackness. When Jacob is ready to listen, he also teaches him of the wonders and greatness of Africa; encouraging him to realize he descends from great people. The Black Snowman helps save Jacob and his brother Peewee in more ways than one. Jacob finally realizes how lucky he really is to have his mother and brother’s love and finds courage and pride within himself.

Carole Byard’s art is dynamic and colorful. She depicts the dark, cold streets of the inner city at wintertime in a wonderful way. The bright colors of the kente shine through the gray skies and blustery snow. My favorite page is the one with Jacob, Peewee and their mom smiling in the kitchen, embraced in a tight hug.

This unique story about family, poverty, Christmas, and pride in oneself and heritage has so many applications for discussion in the classroom and at home. I hope you’ll seek out The Black Snowman to read and enjoy.

**This book seems to be out of print! Boo…so check your local library and used bookseller!

Recommended for: All ages
Great for: Pride, Siblings, Social Issues, Poverty, Struggle With Identity, We Need Diverse Books, Diversity, Inner Strength, Discussion, Love, Family, Fantasy, Community, Christmas, Afrocentrism, Africa, Slavery, African-American
Book Info: The Black Snowman by Phil Mendez/Illustrated by Carole Byard, 1989 Blue Ribbon (Scholastic Inc.), ISBN: 9780590448734

Too Many Tamales

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Image Credit: Paperstar Book (Penguin Young Readers Group), Gary Soto/Ed Martinez

Merry Christmas!

Too Many Tamales is a funny and cute Christmas tale. Maria is finally old enough to help her mother prepare tamales for the family Christmas get-together! She’s excited to help her mom but she’s also tempted by her mom’s shiny ring sitting on the table. She slips it on (just for a minute!) to knead the masa for the delicious tamales but it falls off her finger! Her father helps finish the tamales and Maria runs off to play with her cousins as family members slowly arrive. Maria realizes the ring has slipped off her fingers and she corrals her cousins into helping her eat all twenty-four tamales! Bellies full of too many tamales and no ring in sight, she faces her mother, eyes full of tears but ready to confess the truth.

Ed Martinez’s oil paintings are warm with dark colors and glowing skin to reflect the lighting of a warm home during winter. The big plate of tamales looks tantalizingly delicious and Martinez pays special attention to the characters’ expressions. I love stories that talk about family, culture and food and this one reminds me of my family’s Christmas get-togethers when I was a child, when I’d run off to play with my cousins.

Too Many Tamales has been around since the early 90s so perhaps many families have grown up with this cute story of a Mexican-American family during Christmas. If you read this book, maybe you’ll be inspired to make tamales for Christmas. Mmmm delicious. Just don’t lose your ring in the masa like Maria!

 

Recommended for: All ages
Great for: Humor, Friendship, Family, Cousins, Christmas, We Need Diverse Books, Cultural Diversity, Mexican-American, Food Culture, Mexican Food, Tamales, Lessons, Discussion
Book Info: Too Many Tamales by Gary Soto/Illustrated by Ed Martinez, 1993 Paperstar Book (Penguin Young Readers Group), ISBN: 9780698114128

Nosh, Schlep, Schluff: Babyiddish

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Image Credit: Random House Children’s Books, Laurel Snyder/Tiphanie Beeke

I think this baby book just taught me some Yiddish! It also taught me that a word I already knew (klutz) IS Yiddish. Sweet.

Nosh, Schlep, Schluff: BabYiddish is a cool little board book that follows the daily life of a toddler boy as he explores his world. It’s in English with Yiddish words sprinkled throughout. What I love about the writing is that Yiddish words are incorporated into the sentences and children can figure out their meaning through context and by looking at the illustrations.

The illustrations are soft, vibrant paintings and the little baby is cute with his black hair and rosy cheeks. Beeke paints children of various ethnicities and this is lovely because it’s not only great to see, but it encourages the idea that everyone can learn a bissel Yiddish. 😉

I hope you’ll pick up this board book to share with your little one. It’s never too early to pick up another language!

 

Recommended for: Babies and Toddlers, but useful for All Ages!
Great for: Vocabulary, Yiddish, Cultural Diversity, We Need Diverse Books, Read-Aloud, Family, Friendship, Language Learning, Community, Rhyme, Storytime, Baby Shower, Jewish Culture
Book Info: Nosh, Schlepp, Schluff: BabYiddish by Laurel Snyder/Illustrated by Tiphanie Beeke, 2010 Random House Children’s Books, ISBN: 9780375864971

Katie Fry Private Eye: The Lost Kitten

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Image Credit: Scholastic Inc., Katherine Cox/ Vanessa Brantley Newton

Katie Fry is one smart cookie with a knack for solving mysteries. This Level 2 Beginning reader is a great short story for building confidence in reading. Katie is very modern and relatable and kids will enjoy following her adventures in her neighborhood. Katie Fry Private Eye: The Lost Kitten is the first in a series and in it we meet Katie and her family. She practices her detective skills on her dad and finds his glasses…on top of his head! Katie, being the thoughtful entrepreneur she is, sets up a booth to help people solve mysteries. Before she knows it, she’s on a case to find a missing kitten named Sherlock!

Vanessa Brantley Newton is one of my new favorite illustrators because her digital/mixed media illustrations have so much life to them. She’s great at creating characters with personality and spunk. Katie Fry, with her brown skin, curly natural hair and flower dress reminds me of my little cousin. THAT is the beauty of a diverse book; a child can see a reflection of themselves in the story and might even be inspired to be the best private eye on their street, just like Katie Fry.

If you like this book, there’s a sequel called Katie Fry Private Eye: The Missing Fox! If you enjoy mystery picture books like me, check out my reviews for Shark Detective and Hermelin the Detective Mouse. Happy Sleuthing!

 

Recommended for: Kindergarten-2nd grade
Great for: Humor, Friendship, Animals, Cats, Mystery, Girl Power, African-American, BlackGirlsRock, Diversity, We Need Diverse Books, Family, Community, Encouraging Reading, Beginning Readers
Book Info: Katie Fry Private Eye: The Lost Kitten by Katherine Cox/Illustrated by Vanessa Brantley Newton, 2015 Scholastic Inc., ISBN: 9780545666725

Joshua by the Sea

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Image Credit: Orchard Books, Angela Johnson/Rhonda Mitchell

I first discovered this sweet little board book at my bookstore, sitting outside in the bargain bins. It celebrates a black family’s day at the sea. I’m so happy to see the main character is a black boy because it’s still a rare thing to see in picture books.

In Joshua by the Sea, Joshua introduces himself as a boy who loves the sea and all its wonders. He happily plays with his toys in the sand and also introduces readers to his family as they relax and enjoy the beautiful day. He goes exploring with his big sister and also explores on his own, running happily through the water. My favorite page is the last one where Joshua gazes off into the sunset, his day at the sea coming to an end.

Mitchell’s watercolor illustrations are beautiful. She paints crisp blue foamy waters, white sea gulls and a beautiful rosy sunset. It’s easy to see why Joshua loves the sea. Your toddler or baby will enjoy looking through this book with its simple text, story and beautiful images. If you enjoy this book, there are a few more books in this series; Joshua’s Night Whispers, Mama bird, Baby Birds and Rain Feet.

Recommended for: Babies and Toddlers
Great for: Family, Sea, Vacation, Friendship, Adventure, Inquisitive Minds, Diversity, We Need Diverse Books, African-American
Book Info: Joshua by the Sea by Angela Johnson/Illustrated by Rhonda Mitchell, 1994 Orchard Books, ISBN: 9780531068465

Auntie Yang’s Great Soybean Picnic

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Image Credit: Lee & Low Books Inc., Ginnie Lo/Beth Lo

 

There’s nothing like finding a little bit of home in a new place.

Auntie Yang’s Great Soybean Picnic tells a story that may be familiar to many immigrant families in the US; a story about finding comfort with like minded people and forming community in a new country. Jinyi lives a little far away from her Auntie Yang but her family makes sure to visit often and stay close. She grows up with Chinese lessons, art lessons, cooking Chinese food and lots of playtime with her cousins.

One day on a lazy Sunday drive, Auntie Yang spots soybeans growing in a field! At this time, soybeans aren’t commonly eaten in the US. The farmer thinks the Chinese family wants the beans to feed their pig, but no, they will boil them to eat! And so begins the yearly tradition of The Great Soybean Picnic. Each year it gets bigger and bigger and more Chinese families in the Chicago area join in with lots of delicious Chinese dishes. Auntie Yang and her sister become less homesick because the happy discovery of soybeans brings them a new large and loving Chinese community in the US.

This is a sweet story of family, food and finding place…in a new place. It’s inspired by real events and in the back of the book, Ginnie and Beth Lo share family photos, more information about the Soybean Picnic, information about soybeans and a glossary of the Chinese words used in the book. We even get to see photos of the dynamic Auntie Yang!

Beth Lo’s paintings have a vintage mid-century Chinese art vibe to them that I like. I didn’t realize that the illustrations are actually painted on porcelain plates until I read the back of the book. I’ll repeat that, each “illustration” is a plate! How cool is that?? Auntie Yang’s Great Soybean Picnic is a great story to share with your family. I’m off to get some edamame! 😉

 

Recommended for: All ages
Great for: Chinese American Culture, Chinese Food, Friendship, Family, Food Culture, Community, Immigration, Soybeans, Cousins, Siblings, Cultural Diversity, We Need Diverse Books, Home Sickness, Discussion, New Traditions in a New Place, Chinese Language, Cultural Relativism
Book Info: Auntie Yang’s Great Soybean Picnic by Ginnie Lo/Illustrated by Beth Lo, 2012 Lee & Low Books Inc., ISBN: 9781600604423