Wednesday, February 27, 2013

World View - 3 Terrific Picture Books for Global Citizens

One of the best things that's happened to me since I started writing this blog is that I've become connected with a group of Multicultural Kid Bloggers. The (mostly) moms who write these blogs hail from all around the globe. They're raising their kiddos to be global citizens, by cultivating multilingualism, educating them on different cultures, traveling to faraway places, exploring societies through crafts and books, and generally making connections between their families and others around the world. I love that there are so many families who recognize the importance of giving their kids an inclusive worldview, and I'm thrilled to be a part of this community myself.

And in becoming connected with these bloggers, I've started thinking more about global citizenship in kidlit. The wonderful thing is that there are so many titles that adopt this perspective now, much more than there were when I was a child and more even then there were 10-15 years ago. It doesn't take much digging to find some excellent books on customs and cultures, food and languages, holidays and dress and the daily life of people all around the world. (Check out our Pinterest board for just a few great titles!)

Today's books are unique in sense that they literally help kids understand the interconnections between different parts of the world. The first title in our list, Willa Perlman's Good Night, World, will get kids thinking about the way night comes to each of us, in our turn, around the globe. This is a soft, quiet title, perfect for the hush of bedtime reading. Beginning with a young child heading to bed, the focus extends outward, to the other planets, to the rest of the earth, to the various aspects of nature, to people far and near. The artwork by Carolyn Fisher is breathtaking as well; kids are sure to enjoy the interplay of color and texture, light and shadow. My favorite line? "Elsewhere in the world it's light. It's morning there, but here it's night." That bit provides the perfect opportunity for us to talk with Sprout about his family in Ethiopia, and helps reinforce the idea that as he is going to sleep, they are preparing for their day.

On the Same Day in March by Marilyn Singer is subtitled "A tour of the world's weather", but it's so much more than that. As the title suggests, Singer examines various areas in the world, and not only what the weather is like there, but also how people there are going about their day. Singer manages to capture in a few lines not only the spirit of a place -- Parisians sipping chocolat, for instance, or a family preparing for a storm in Australia -- but also the connections between disparate locales. While it may be raining in two different places, one is cause for celebration and one for delaying a trip, depending on the season in each location. There's a lot to look at and think about in this one, and talking about the weather leads to many more topics, like the way people live in various parts of the world. An author note at the back also does a great job of explaining how seasons come about - an added bonus for teachers.

Kids love interactive books. The lift-the-flap title While You Are Sleeping by Durga Bernhard is an excellent choice for introducing the concept of time around the world to even the youngest kiddos. With simple text, the book begins with a Native Alaskan family reading at night, while in Nigeria, when we lift the flap, we see someone else getting dressed. From Nigeria we move to Japan, and on and on, reinforcing the idea that when it's one time where you are, around the world someone else is moving through a different part of their day. Visually this is just terrific, with each new scene depicted in an inset against a larger map showing the location. Since Sprout's a map guy (he has a big world map on the wall in his room and loves to just look at it), he was especially taken with the back endpaper, a global look at timezones that is colorful and intriguing. This creative and diverse title is an excellent addition to any classroom or library shelf. Don't miss it!

What are your favorite titles for building global citizenship? And how do you help your kiddos make the connection between themselves and the world around them?

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Bigger Than Daddy by Harriet Ziefert {The Children's Bookshelf}

This has been kind of a bittersweet weekend for our family. The time had finally arrived for us to upgrade Sprout from his toddler bed to a regular "big boy" bed. Sprout, of course, was thrilled -- what's not to love about the excitement of a huge new bed coupled with the fun of getting to pick out a new bed set? (After much deliberation, he went with Toy Story bedding, in case you're wondering.)

But for Sprout's mama and daddy, it was a much harder milestone, and yet another guidepost on the road to growing up. Oh, we know it's inevitable. We see it every day, in all the little ways his independence is coming out. And we hear about it, too, as in "When I get big. . . " and "I'm almost big enough for. . . ". It's enough to drive a mama crazy.

Fortunately Sprout's not too big for bedtime reading, nor do I anticipate that he will be any time soon. And today's pick speaks directly to his wish to be grown up -- Harriet Ziefert's Bigger Than Daddy. I love this fun title, all about one special day in the life of Edward and his daddy. Like Sprout, Edward can't wait to be big, as big as Daddy, or better yet, bigger! There are so many things he wants to do, like ride a racing bike or run fast as a fire truck. And Edward's daddy assures him that one day, Edward will be big enough for all those things.

But that's not quite good enough, so when the pair get home from the park, Edward decides a little role-reversal is in order. And so a game is in order, where Daddy is the little kid and Edward the big grownup -- which works out just fine until Edward discovers he's hungry, and Daddy's still being a little boy who can't make dinner for the pair. Suddenly Edward realizes that being a little guy and having a daddy to look after him seems just right.

This is a terrific story about the importance of the roles we each play in our various family dynamic. Kids will of course relate to Edward's desire to be big, and the frustration of feeling like that will never happen. And parents will empathize with Daddy's wish to keep Edward from growing up too soon. The illustrations done by Elliott Kreloff are just right for Ziefert's light tone, done in a sketchy style that mimics a child's own drawings (reminiscent of David Shannon's David books). In Sprout's case, the pictures are what keeps him coming back to this one - that cover art, with the face of a gleeful Edward aloft on his daddy's shoulders, is just so darn hard to resist!

If your little one is growing up a smidge too fast, or if you hear "When I get big. . . " as many times a day as we do, Bigger Than Daddy is a great choice for your next library trip. Because as big as they want to be, they'll still love snuggling together to read this sweet story of a boy and his dad.

Bigger Than Daddy by Harriet Ziefert, published by Blue Apple Books
Ages 2-6
Source: Library
First lines: "Edward was small. He wanted to be big."


This post is part of The Children’s Bookshelf, a weekly linky party with the goal of connecting parents with great books for their kids. Do you have a book review, literacy or book-related post that you think will be helpful for parents? If so, please add your link below.

NOTE: By linking up you are giving permission for any of the co-hosts to pin and/or feature a your photo on a future The Children’s Bookshelf post. Kindly link up to an individual post, not your blog’s homepage. The hosts reserve the right to delete any links to homepages, commercial links, repeat links or otherwise inappropriate links. Thank you for your understanding.

You can also follow The Children’s Bookshelf on Pinterest or visit TCB’s co-hosts: Sprout’s Bookshelf, What Do We Do All Day?, No Twiddle Twaddle, Smiling Like Sunshine, My Little Bookcase, The Picture Book ReviewMemeTales and Mouse Grows, Mouse Learns. You can find more details here.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Mom's Bookshelf - The Book of Happiness: Africa by Joseph Peter

You know what's great about book people - once they hear about a particular subject you're interested in, every time they come across something related to it, they can't help but share it with you. I'm guilty of this myself (as many who have had books eagerly foisted upon them by me can attest). And I love love love when it happens to me in reverse. Because let's be honest, even I can't spot every cool book on my lonesome, no matter how hard I try.

Today's pick is a perfect case-in-point, as it's one that one of our catalogers found and alerted me to. Though I like to think I'm pretty savvy with what's coming out in the world of kidlit, this one is an adult title, so it completely passed under my radar. And I'm so glad that Kim pointed it out, because it is an absolute keeper, one anyone with any sort of connection to Africa needs on their bookshelf. Really.

The story behind Joseph Peter's The Book of Happiness: Africa is a pretty terrific one. In 2010 Peter, a photographer and former pro soccer player, traveled the continent of Africa, visiting 50 countries in 75 days as part of the FIFA World Cup Trophy Tour. While he was there, he ended up shooting an incredible amount of images. The bulk of these were portraits of the faces of Africa, people from all regions and walks of life. When the project was completed, Peter had a stunning collection of photos, a selection of which are compiled in this volume, a twin to one that Peter made and presented as a gift to Nelson Mandela.

And let me tell you, the photos in this book are stunning. Jaw-dropping, heart-stopping. For all those who refer to Africa as though it were one country, waiting to be rescued by wealthy foreigners -- this book is the rebuttal to that argument. Here is the gorgeous diversity that comes from a continent of extraordinary richness. Here are the faces of Africans, celebratory and joyful, mischievous and sweet, elated and proud. Here is the fabric of life in a world of contradictions and contrasts, bursting from the page to bring a smile to every reader's face.

Peter has given the world a truly incredible piece of art in this collection, something that kids and adults alike will enjoy. I love that he's included a short blurb about each photo in the back, including where it was taken and some thoughts about the photo. All the photos are collected in an incredible montage of Nelson Mandela's face, that closes the book in perfect harmony. We couldn't get enough of looking at this title as a family, and explaining to Sprout that all of these faces were Africans, just like him, as we pointed out the countries where they lived.

Next time someone refers to "African" traditions or "African" people, whip out this terrific book and help them see how truly complex is the makeup of this diverse continent. And help them too see the joy in Africa, the pure and uncomplicated beauty that is manifested by the faces seen here through Peter's lens. Because yes, there's poverty, and yes, there's war. But there's hope too, and honor, and sheer delight in the bounty of life.

And that, my friends, is real happiness.

The Book of Happiness: Africa by Joseph Peter, published by Spiegel & Grau
All ages
Source: Library

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Religion Around the World - Books to Share Faith with Kids

Kids are a curious bunch, aren't they? Just when you think you've heard it all from your little one, they'll suddenly take up with a topic seemingly out of nowhere. The questions will begin to fly fast and furious. I know as a parent this has already happened with me, and as Sprout grows the topics will get even more complex - and controversial. Not looking forward to some of those conversations, believe you me!

For many parents, the topic of religion may be a tough one to discuss with their kids. Faith is a tricky thing, even harder to explain than it is to hold on to. And while it may be hard to describe one's own beliefs, defining those of another religion or group can be much more difficult. After all, religions are founded on deeply personal tenets and incorporate traditions from many cultural systems and communities. Those beliefs inspire passion and honor, making them seem like subjects that are vast and hard to define.

Still, many of us want our children to grow up understanding and respecting the belief systems of people around the world. A keystone of tolerance is an appreciation of the ways others live their lives, the beliefs that guide them and the ideologies they hold dear. And as parents raising global citizens, learning about religion is a first step in understanding cultures and people around the world.

Two terrific books to help parents begin the discussion about world religion are available from noted children's publisher DK. If you're familiar with the DK list, you know they produce quality offerings. Lavishly illustrated with inviting photographs and written in clear, straightforward fashion, the books on DK's publishing roster are the cornerstone of every well-rounded nonfiction collection, home or classroom.

A great place to start learning about faith is with DK's A Faith Like Mine, written by Laura Buller. This title is of course filled with intriguing photographs of people from all walks of life, engaging in the various traditions and ceremonies of their faith. Through the perspective of children just like them, kids can learn about what members of religious traditions believe and how they practice those beliefs on a daily basis. In the pages of Buller's book we meet 10-year-old Hasini, a Buddhist from Sri Lanka; 13-year-old Erin, a Jewish girl from the U.S.; and 9-year-old Leena, a Muslim from Jordan, just to name a few. Even very young children will enjoy flipping through this title and looking at all the amazing photos, which is a great way for discussions to begin naturally; parents and children will learn a lot from this well-researched and well-rounded title.

For kids who are ready to begin thinking and talking about the philosophical aspects of various religions, DK's book What Do You Believe? is a natural next step. Beginning with a discussion of why religions exist in the first place, this title examines the major faiths as well as many alternate views. I love that this book considers multiple perspectives on the same issue, and talks about how the practicalities of our lives -- how we dress, what we eat, how we celebrate -- are influenced by our belief systems. Even the origins of religious traditions are discussed, and native religions are also part of the conversation. Tolerance, peace, and the collision of conflicting beliefs is included here too, as well as a nicely rounded glossary to help define some of the basic terms. Visually, this title is incredibly impactful, and raises the same questions you might find in a comparative religion course, so it's a great educational tool.

Look for these titles, and others like them, to spark some lively debate and help you consider your own philosophies more deeply, as you examine the spectrum of belief with your children. You can use these books as a way to begin introducing complex topics with your kids, to see what they believe and to help them begin to comprehend the world around them. Yes, religion is complicated -- but never more so than when we try not to understand.

What books about belief does your family read? Have you thought about how broadening your bookshelf could strengthen your own faith?

Sunday, February 17, 2013

My Mom Has X-Ray Vision by Angela McAllister {The Children's Bookshelf}

Parenting a preschooler can be a real challenge. They have their own opinions, which they aren't afraid to share. They want to be independent at all costs. And they can dig in their heels like nobody's business when it's bedtime, bathtime, or just pick-up-your-Legos time. But the good news is you can still pull off some real parenting coups. Like say when you're in the other room and hear the candy drawer open, and you tell them "No candy before dinner!" To a preschooler this is still incredible -- how did she know?? -- and it's proof that Mom and Dad just might have superpowers.

That's the concept behind Angela McAllister's delightful picture book My Mom Has X-Ray Vision. Matthew's mom seems like everyone else's mom, but she has the uncanny knack of always knowing just what he's up to. Even when he's in the backyard or upstairs in his bedroom, Mom seems tuned in to Matthew's activities. It's a little spooky! So Matthew decides to devise a test of Mom's superpowers. He hides in his closet and waits for Mom to find him. But she doesn't come -- could Mom really be like all other mortals, or is there something else going on? Has Mom's x-ray vision really let Matthew down?

Preschoolers will love being in on the secret that Matthew can't see, and parents will appreciate the sly humor here. The whole effort is made even more charming with illustrations by Alex T. Smith, who builds in plenty of cute details and a keen understanding of a small boy's eye-view. Sprout likes the imaginative scenes best - Matthew wrestling with an octopus in the bath, or fighting a (not so) fearsome dragon in his room. Even the endpapers are part of the story, so be sure not to skip past those either!

This is a great humorous title to add to any kid's bookshelf. Hubs is crazy about it too, as a gateway to fostering Sprout's love of all things superhero and graphic novel. I'm not sure that McAllister's book convinced Sprout that I have superpowers -- we're still working on it -- but it's definitely planted the seed in his mind. And who am I to persuade him otherwise??

My Mom Has X-Ray Vision by Angela McAllister, published by Tiger Tales
Ages 3-6
Source: Library
Sample: "Matthew's mom was like all the other moms. She had ordinary hair, ordinary clothes, and a nice smile. Matthew's mom was just like all the other moms. . . except she could see through things. Matthew was pretty sure she had x-ray vision."

This post is part of The Children’s Bookshelf, a weekly linky party with the goal of connecting parents with great books for their kids. Do you have a book review, literacy or book-related post that you think will be helpful for parents? If so, please add your link below.

NOTE: By linking up you are giving permission for any of the co-hosts to pin and/or feature a your photo on a future The Children’s Bookshelf post. Kindly link up to an individual post, not your blog’s homepage. The hosts reserve the right to delete any links to homepages, commercial links, repeat links or otherwise inappropriate links. Thank you for your understanding.

You can also follow The Children’s Bookshelf on Pinterest or visit TCB’s co-hosts: Sprout’s Bookshelf, What Do We Do All Day?, No Twiddle Twaddle, Smiling Like Sunshine, My Little Bookcase, The Picture Book ReviewMemeTales and Mouse Grows, Mouse Learns. You can find more details here.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Teen Review - Endangered by Eliot Schrefer

Last month at ALA I ran into a former colleague from my bookselling days. It was great to catch up with her, and hear all about what her amazing children are up to. She's now working as a sales rep for Scholastic, so of course I asked what new books on their list I should be sure not to miss. And without missing a beat, Chris whipped a copy of Eliot Schrefer's Endangered off the display shelf behind her and proceeded to tell me it was the best thing she'd read in ages.

Well, that's high praise coming from a former bookstore owner and children's book expert. I wasn't about to waste time debating her recommendation, so I hightailed it to the library holds list. And I'm pleased to say that Chris was 100% right - this is a stunningly written book and perhaps the most evocative, compelling novel I have read in quite some time.

And that cover - in a word, breathtaking.

The plot of Endangered is really unique by current teen fiction trends, and I think that's a big selling point. Sure, we all love our fantasy, but what about a great adventure novel? Survival is what drives the story of Sophie Biyoya-Ciardulli, a narrator whose voice is completely unforgettable. Sophie is "home" in Congo, visiting her mother who runs a sanctuary for bonobos there. Sophie and her mother have a complex relationship, made even more fraught by the fact that when Sophie and her father moved back to Miami, her mother stayed behind with the bonobos. For Sophie, who spent a large chunk of her childhood in Congo, the trip is emotional to begin with - but then when she rescues a young bonobo from a trader, Sophie finds herself involved on a much deeper level.

And then war breaks out.

It is Congo, after all, and so not terribly unexpected that there should be political upheaval. But this is like nothing Sophie's ever dealt with - her mother is away, and Sophie's alone with the staff at the sanctuary when rebels come and take it over. Forced to flee with her young bonobo, Otto, Sophie first seeks refuge in the bonobo enclosure, a large parcel of land where the rehabilitated apes roam free. But it isn't long before even the enclosure isn't safe for Sophie and Otto, or the rest of the bonobos, and the fight to survive becomes a conflict of all new proportions.

It's not often that a book has me on the edge of my seat but Endangered absolutely did. There's no guarantee that Sophie will make it out alive, much less that her primate friends will, but as a reader I was pulling for all of them. The odds are more than insurmountable -- disease, dehydration, starvation, and exposure are all very real threats, equal to those faced at the hands of rebels with guns, not to mention the dangers of predators. Just when you think all is lost, Schrefer turns up the intensity a little more, and suddenly new elements of the story come into play. This is an author who's not pulling any punches, which makes the reading experience that much more intense.

Schrefer's made his way onto my list of must-read authors, and I can't wait to go back and explore his other titles as well. Give this to teens who crave adventure, but read it yourself as well. Trust me when I say that this stacks up against any adult title - it's sharply written, with compelling characters (human and bonobo), and enough thrills to keep you turning pages like a crazy person. And the emotion -- and relationships -- are as raw as the jungle itself.

Endangered by Eliot Schrefer, published by Scholastic
Ages 13+
Source: Library
First Words: "Concrete can rot. It turns green and black before crumbling away. Maybe only people from Congo know that."
Highly recommended

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Lovely Picture Books for Your Valentine!

It's almost Valentine's Day, and Sprout's preschool is abuzz with hearts, red and pink decorations and fun cards from friends. We made our own Valentines this year -- be very impressed because, as you know, I am not a crafty mom! -- and Sprout's excited to give them out to his classmates. And of course we have been reading some wonderful books all about love, friendship and the spirit of the season.

This year I was excited to share with Sprout one of my favorite Valentine titles, Eileen Spinelli's Somebody Loves You Mr Hatch. This is a sweet story about the powerful ways a little love can change someone's life, and Sprout loved it just as much as his mama does. When lonely Mr. Hatch receives a box of chocolates with a note reading "Somebody loves you", it changes his whole life. Suddenly he's helping others, connecting with his neighbors, enjoying life. But then Mr. Hatch finds out that the valentine was meant for someone else. Now it's up to his neighbors to show Mr. Hatch just how special he is to all of them. This is a true classic, one of those few books I think should be read by, or to, everyone.

Sprout also really enjoyed Todd Parr's The I Love You Book. It's hard not to enjoy Parr's work, as vibrant as it is with color and such compelling kid appeal. This is a terrifically inclusive title, as most of Parr's other books are as well, all about the many, many ways we love one another. The art in this book is bound to inspire budding artists to create their own colorful valentines. And I like that we've got good and bad included in this title - as in "I love you when you are stinky" right across from "I love you when you are squeaky clean". 'Cause let's be honest - even the cutest little Valentine is stinky sometimes, right?

Last year I wrote about how tough it is to find multicultural Valentine's Day titles - and guess what, it hasn't gotten any easier. But I did run across one title this time that's got some diversity represented and is also pretty fun to read -- Natasha Wing's The Night Before Valentine's Day. Wing has a series of these "Night Before" titles, all based loosely around the poem "'Twas the Night Before Christmas". In this outing, we get a sneak peek into one class's preparations for Valentine's Day, and then join in the fun of their class party. It's great to see a diverse group of kids here, and to have some humor in the mix with Heidi Petach's illustrations makes this choice all the sweeter!

Our final choice isn't a Valentine's Day book per se, but it's all about love, so it fits perfectly for us. What's Love? by Shelley Rotner and Deborah Carlin is a simple and impactful book about all the things, and people, in the world around us, that we love. From families to pets, from movement to music, this is a joyous celebration of love that's just right for sharing with little ones. Rotner's beautiful black-and-white photography makes this diverse pick even more perfect. Add it to your shelf for Valentine's Day, but read it all year round.

What are your favorite books for Valentine's Day? We'd love a peek at your list!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Little Night by Yuyi Morales {The Children's Bookshelf}

If there's one thing I've learned through the past two and a half years of motherhood, it's that you can never have enough good sleepytime stories in your arsenal. We tend to read 2-3 books at bedtime, and at least one of those is generally a winding-down kind of book, the sort that gathers up all Sprout's boundless energy and bundles it away for tomorrow. These books are critical for the active toddler/preschool years, to help transition into sleep, but who among us doesn't love a good snoozy story? I know I do, and the time of night when we're reading quiet tales is one of my favorite parts of the day.

A recent addition to our dozy books collection is Yuyi Morales's Little Night. I initially encountered Morales's work through my multicultural children's literature class, and from the first page of the first story I was hooked. Morales is one of those multitalented wonders who makes your jaw drop not only from her lavish and colorful illustrations, but also from her finely drawn text as well. Really, you can't go wrong with her books - she's definitely one that I consider a cornerstone of diverse children's literature in publishing today.

And with that in mind, let me just say that Little Night is one of my favorites from this extraordinary artist. The story is unique but has a whiff of the familiar about it, as though taken from legend: at the end of day, Mother Sky is helping her Little Night get ready, but the mischievous Little Night keeps disappearing. Mother Sky must stop and look for the silly little one, in places as unexpected as a rabbit hole or a bat cave, and as the colors in the sky deepen, it becomes that much harder to find Little Night. Finally, though, Little Night is all ready, dressed in her gown crocheted from clouds, with her starry pins in her hair. Mother Sky tosses her moon ball to Little Night, who is off to play amid the velvety shadows of the darkened sky.

Oh, this is a beautiful book, and one that you will enjoy just as much as your little one. Morales's story is set off perfectly by her illustrations, of a brown-skinned mother and child playing in the gathering darkness. There's so much whimsy to be had here too, in Mother Sky's curling braids and her trailing skirts, and in Little Night's twinkling eyes and upturned smile. And the colors are all those of the most incredible sunsets -- the palette is rich and deep, adding to the tone of gentle quiet that Morales sets up with her carefully chosen words. (A Spanish language edition is also available).

As we read this the first time Sprout and I talked about how the sky turns colors, from pink to purplish to dark violet and on to black. And now each time we look up at the night sky, I swear I can see Little Night, dancing among the stars with her moon ball, just within her mother's reach.

Little Night by Yuyi Morales, published by Roaring Brook Press
Ages 2-6
Source: Library
Sample: "Mother Sky sits Little Night on her lap and with her shiny comb she untangles the knots, twists the hair between her fingers, and makes little swirls, one on the left side, one on the right. / To keep them in place she takes three hairpins from her pocket. 'Venus on the east, Mercury on the west, and Jupiter above.'"

This post is part of The Children’s Bookshelf, a weekly linky party with the goal of connecting parents with great books for their kids. Do you have a book review, literacy or book-related post that you think will be helpful for parents? If so, please add your link below.

NOTE: By linking up you are giving permission for any of the co-hosts to pin and/or feature a your photo on a future The Children’s Bookshelf post. Kindly link up to an individual post, not your blog’s homepage. The hosts reserve the right to delete any links to homepages, commercial links, repeat links or otherwise inappropriate links. Thank you for your understanding.

You can also follow The Children’s Bookshelf on Pinterest or visit TCB’s co-hosts: Sprout’s Bookshelf, What Do We Do All Day?, No Twiddle Twaddle, Smiling Like Sunshine, My Little Bookcase, The Picture Book ReviewMemeTales and Mouse Grows, Mouse Learns. You can find more details here.

Friday, February 8, 2013

3 Terrific Chapter Books for Chinese New Year!

It's almost Chinese New Year! Sprout has a sort of horrified fascination with snakes at the moment, and when I told him this coming year was the Year of the Snake he wasn't sure whether to be thrilled or freaked out (Mama is definitely in the latter camp).

Last year we shared some great picture books for Chinese New Year, so this year I thought it would be fun to feature books for slightly older readers. Because let's remember that these sorts of celebrations aren't just for the youngest set - there's all kinds of celebratory fun to be had for older kids, teens and adults too. And as I pointed out last year, it's really important to choose selections that have cultural accuracy, in order to share with our kiddos the most authentic view of the holiday and the cultures that celebrate the Lunar New Year.

First up is Laurence Yep's The Star Maker. Yep is a prolific author with many award-winning books to his credit, including historical fiction and fantasy titles as well. In The Star Maker, Yep gives us the story of Artie, whose desire to fit in with his obnoxious cousin Petey leads him to make a rather rash promise - that he'll supply firecrackers for Chinese New Year for all the cousins. Now Artie has to figure out how to come up with all the money to pay for it. And he thinks he has the solution in his Uncle Chester; now if only Uncle Chester will come through. Set in 1953 in Chinatown, The Star Maker is a slice of life that kids will thoroughly enjoy. Even better, the fast pace and realistic conflicts makes it a perfect choice for those just transitioning into more advanced chapters.

Up next is Grace Lin, one of my favorite authors, and her novel The Year of the Dog. Pacy is excited because this is supposed to be the year she finds her special talent. What will it be? She has no idea, but she does know this is going to be a lucky year when she makes friends with Melody, who is Taiwanese just like Pacy. As the two girls get into trouble, have adventures, and work hard to find Pacy's talent, they learn about friendship, family, and the process of finding yourself when you have a foot in two cultures. This is a great book for readers who love stories about bright, determined heroines - and look for more of Pacy's adventures in The Year of the Rat and Dumpling Days.

Lensey Namioka has written a series of chapter books about the Yang family; while none of them focus specifically on Chinese New Year, they all provide an excellent perspective, that of a family of Chinese immigrants navigating life in America. In the first novel in the series, Yang the Youngest and His Terrible Ear, we hear the story of Yingtao, the only untalented member in a family of brilliant musicians. Yingtao is struggling to fit in not only at home but also in this strange new American life, where even his name is hard for Americans to understand. But Yingtao soon makes a friend and finds an activity he's truly passionate about -- only it isn't the violin. This is a well-written story of identity and individuation, and kids will understand Yingtao's twin desires to be himself without disappointing his family.

What are your favorite novels for Chinese New Year? We'd love to hear how you celebrate the holiday, and what traditions are most important to you and your family. We hope books are part of the fun!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Chapter Book Review - Mimi by John Newman

I'm incredibly proud of our adoption. I'm glad every single day that we chose that method to grow our family. But I have to say when we look at our son, we don't immediately think "adopted", even though he doesn't look a thing like us. He's just our Sprout, our funny and messy and creative and smart and stubborn and loving little dude. Good and bad, he's our kid, and while adoption is part of our story as a family, it isn't our whole story.

And that's why I was thrilled to run across the middle grade novel Mimi by John Newman. In this book, which takes place in the UK, the title character Mimi is adopted -- but that part of her story comes secondary to the fact that Mimi's dealing with some pretty tremendous changes in her home life. Oh, Mimi mentions her ethnicity right away, in an offhand way: her grandad's teaching her chess because she's Chinese and he thinks the Chinese invented chess. (In fact chess is thought to have originated in India, which Mimi fills us in on later.) But other than that there's not much mentioned about how Mimi's family came together, until it becomes important to the rest of her story.

When the book opens, it's been 149 days since Mimi's mum passed away, and things are pretty much falling apart at her house. Her dad's just about catatonic, her brother Conor just wants to bang away on his drums with his door closed and her sister Sally has taken up with a bunch of Goths. Mimi's doing her best to stay together but it's hard when there's no one to wash her school uniform or check her homework. Before long it's clear that the family is unraveling. Outsiders start to notice first: the dentist finds cavities, the neighbors complain about noise, the sub calls out Mimi's missing homework. And then it all gets really crazy, for Mimi and her siblings, who are just trying to fill the hole that Mum left behind.

I won't give away the ending, but suffice to say when a bully uses an aspect of Mimi's family life as a weapon, things come to an emotional breaking point. Newman's novel is honest and true, a real reflection of what grief and love look and feel like to a young girl. And while he sprinkles the plot with elements that relate in some ways to her history and their family composition, Newman never uses "adoption" or "transracial family" as the easy conflict. Instead he builds a story that works on multiple levels with a complexity that's beyond the average middle grade fare. Mimi mourns her mother, yes, but she also mourns the death of her family life, and the shift in how she relates to everyone, especially her father. What Mimi's facing is all wrapped up in relationships, which is so reflective of how we all live as families, isn't it?

Though a few of its more British references may be a challenge for some kids, I think Mimi is ultimately a story with which many young readers can connect. It's sad but funny, honest but ordinary all at once. Certainly kids who live in transracial families will respond to a story that isn't all about race, but rather about loss and loneliness, and how families can pull together to overcome the isolation that these emotions produce. And best of all is Mimi's clear voice, that shines like the brightest star throughout, making her a character you'll love from the very first bit.

Mimi by John Newman, published by Candlewick Press
Ages 9-12
Source: Library
Sample: "I used to find it hard to sleep with all the noise in our house. But you can get used to anything, and after a few words with Socky my eyes begin to close and my thumb slips into my mouth. 'Good night, Socky,' I tell my sock puppet, and he nods and says, 'Good night, you.' And then I slip him off my hand and tuck him under my pillow."

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Sunflower Sword by Mark Sperring {The Children's Bookshelf}

The other night, Sprout came home from preschool and over a plate of noodles and cheese, announced, "Ninja turtles have guns and they will shoot you dead."


It would appear we have entered that stage of the game, where what the oh-so-alluring older boy at preschool tells you absorbs into your consciousness fully. For the record, we aren't in favor of guns for our kiddo, play or otherwise. We're firm on that. And so this off-the-cuff ninja turtle comment elicited a response from Mama and Daddy, after a suitable period of non-commentary, where we talked with Sprout about guns and knives and how we don't feel that kind of play is appropriate, and why. It's not going to be the last conversation we have on the subject, and we aren't so naive as to think that he won't play guns and shooting and so forth. But we want to make our no-tolerance position clear from the beginning.

So it seemed fitting that a book we recently checked out move its way up to the top of the book stack. The Sunflower Sword by Mark Sperring is a wonderful book for many reasons: it's colorful, fun to read, and has some of Sprout's favorite things in it (knights! dragons! fire-breathing!). But what we like most is the narrative: a young boy wants to go fight dragons as he sees the grown-up knights do. He longs to swing his mighty blade and vanquish the dreaded beasts on his own.

Trouble is, Mom won't let him have a sword. Instead, she gives him -- a sunflower.

Well, what's a guy to do with that? Sure, it swishes through the air pretty fine, but fighting seems out of the question. Sighing, our little would-be knight makes his way up to Dragon Hill, making the best use he can out of his sunflower by sparring with imaginary dragons. But then, he runs into -- you guessed it -- a real dragon. Now how will a sunflower help our hero stand up to this fearsome beast?

Sperring's got an important message here, which wraps up with a satisfying conclusion. I appreciate that the conflict isn't resolved too easily - the knight doesn't warm to his mother's suggestion until he considers how it could best be used, and it works. That message, coupled with adorably snaggle-toothed dragons created by illustrator Miriam Latimer, brings the whole point home in a way that's subtle and yet powerful.

Whether you want to encourage nonviolent play or work on resolving conflicts creatively, The Sunflower Sword makes a great addition to bookshelves at home and in the classroom. [Sunflowers not included.]

The Sunflower Sword by Mark Sperring, published by Andersen Press
Ages 3-7
Source: Library
Sample: "Then he whooshed and swooshed it, just to see how well it whooshed and swooshed. / It whooshed and swooshed very well. 'But,' said the little knight, 'it won't be any good for fighting dragons.' 'No,' sighed his mother, 'I don't suppose it will, but keep it anyway.'"


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Friday, February 1, 2013

Picture Book Review - We March by Shane W. Evans

Today marks the first day of Black History Month here in the United States. While I have mixed feelings about this type of observation -- Black history is ongoing, and our discussions about the history of people of color in our nation shouldn't be confined to one 28 day period -- I do appreciate every attempt to bring diversity into the spotlight. I also applaud efforts like that of The Brown Bookshelf, which sponsors the 28 Days Later series featuring profiles of African American authors and illustrators of children's literature.

These sorts of events bring even more opportunities for Sprout and other children of color to learn about heroes who look like them. And that's important to me, as a parent, because role models are so crucial, both in terms of people you know in your everyday life and those you read and hear about. Because, let's face it: our country was not forged through the efforts of white males alone, but through the blood, sweat, tears and hopes of people of all colors, genders, religions, backgrounds, classes, nationalities, livelihoods, sexual orientations, abilities and ages -- whether or not the history books mention them.

I was thrilled to read today's pick not only because it's by a tremendous author/illustrator but because it takes a pivotal event in African American history -- the March on Washington -- and translates it into a picture book that is accessible and appealing to preschoolers. Shane W. Evans's We March accomplishes this by honing in on one family, relating their experience in participating in this historic event from August 28, 1963.

The book follows father, mother and two children as they rise in the wee hours of the morning, gather at their church and prepare for the day's events. The family paints signs and prays with others, then joins their leaders in a peaceful march through the nation's capital. The crowd Evans depicts is diverse, with young and old, male and female, well and infirm, black and white. "We walk together," writes Evans, picturing the family walking alongside the other marchers. "We sing."

The final spreads in the book shows the family listening to the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Evans's last illustration of the great leader is a stirring one, with the brilliant sun shining behind him and Dr. King's powerful words, "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty we are free at last!" shimmering in the distance. In an afterword, Evans provides an historical context for the events of the day, a nice addition for those planning to use this title in a larger unit on African American history.

What makes We March so memorable, for me, are the simplicity of Evans's narration, and his outstanding illustrations. Every time we pull this off the book stack Sprout just pores over it - not because of intricate detail, because these spreads are very clean and focused, but because of the urgency of the pictures. You feel the excitement radiating from the family, not just from the words but from the images themselves. You feel caught up in the spirit of the march, feel the pull of the enormity of the event as Evans pushes back to feature the crowd gathered at the Lincoln Memorial. Though the events they depict are fifty years gone, Evans's illustrations give the March on Washington an immediacy that brings readers right into the moment, and keeps them there.

As you choose books to read with your children this month, consider how you'll present African American history. Do we remember because it has happened, or do we remember because it is still happening, today, unfolding around us? The history of African Americans, like that of all citizens, affects us all in deep and profoundly moving ways -- and by sharing excellent titles like We March, we can make that history as much present as it ever was past.

We March by Shane W. Evans, published by Roaring Brook Press
All ages
Source: Library
Sample: "We are hot and tired, but we are filled with hope. / We lean on each other / as we march to justice, / to freedom, / to our dreams."
Highly recommended