Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Matatu by Eric Walters {The Children's Bookshelf}

Note: The Children's Bookshelf is going on vacation! We're taking the summer off with this linky, so we can all read even more terrific kidlit titles to share with you in the fall. Enjoy today's posts and remember you can always read any of our past posts for The Children's Bookshelf here.

Why read multicultural books to your kids? There are lots of reasons, many of which I've talked about here in the past. First and foremost, it opens up a child's mind to the notion that there are many people the world over who live in ways both different and the same. It helps connect them to their heritage, which is especially important for families who share multiple ethnicities. Multicultural literature develops tolerance and understanding, making kids mindful that we are all global citizens. And it's fun - young readers can travel around the world through litearture, all the while learning about traditions, customs and backgrounds from various countries.



Today's pick is a perfect example of a book that can accomplish all of the above, and that's got a good dose of humor besides. A brief note at the beginning explains that Eric Walters has been accepted as an elder of the Kamba people in Kenya; as such he is a cultural insider with the authority to relate one of the Kamba's stories in the form of his picture book The Matatu. What I love about this book is that Walters just tells the story - he doesn't exoticize the matatus, the buses that carry passengers and goods from village to village. And the traditional Kamba tale is tucked nicely into a story about young Kioko and his grandfather.

Kioko is excited to be celebrating his fifth birthday with a ride on a matatu! He rushes to get on board, then waits impatiently for his Babu, who seems to be taking forever. When the pair is finally settled in their seats, Kioko notices the dogs chasing the bus and asks his grandfather about them. Babu instructs Kioko to first look for sheep and goats, and see how they react when the matatu comes past. Then Babu tells Kioko the story of Dog, Goat, and Sheep, and how these animals took a ride on the matatu together. When it came time to pay, each animal had a different experience - and these encounters are why the various species run from or toward an approaching matatu. (No spoilers here - but if you've ever driven in Africa, you'll know the animal behaviors are spot on!).

An author's note explains the details of matatus and their role in Kenyan daily life, which adds even more authenticity to the tale. Eva Campbell did the illustrations and they are as colorful and lively as an African village. There's no shortage of excitement when a matatu rumbles through, and Campbell captures that spirit perfectly. Though the story of the dogs, goats and sheep forms the center of this story, the real heart of the book is Kioko's relationship with his Babu. It's terrific to see the the esteem with which the other villagers treat Babu, and this and his wonderful stories add to Kioko's appreciation of all his grandfather is for him.

The Matatu is a text-heavy title, which makes it a perfect choice for older preschoolers. Its sly humor is also best received by a slightly older audience (or really, their parents). This is a great addition to any unit about Africa. The genuine respect Walters feels for the Kamba people is evident throughout, and Campbell's illustrations bolster that feeling, which will translate to readers as well. Just don't be surprised if your kiddos want to jump on a matatu themselves!

The Matatu by Eric Walters, published by Orca Book Publishers
Ages 4-8
Source: Library
Sample: "Kioko raced toward the market. He passed huts, houses and stalls, not even glancing at the sweet mandazi for sale. / He ran past people, pushcarts and bicycles. Then he saw it - the matatu. A crowd of passengers waited to board. The roof was heavy with bags of maize, bundles of grass, a bed frame, a mattress and three chairs."
Recommended

Bonus: check out this clip of a matatu from Eric Walters' website

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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.



Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Beholding Bee by Kimberly Newton Fusco

Summer is right around the corner, and that can only mean one thing - Summer Reading! If you've followed this blog for very long, you know that I was a very bookish child who has become a bookish adult with a serious soft spot for Summer Reading. It was my favorite time of year: curling up in a sunny spot with my dog and a good book, or making a pilgrimage to the bookmobile (later the library) only to emerge with a bag of books I could barely carry. I read everything that caught my fancy in those years, and many things that I never would have otherwise tried, but for the fact that I suddenly had plenty of leisure time to explore new literary worlds.

Heaven, for me, is books, no question.



And today's pick is one that the young me would have devoured, and then gone right back to for a second read-through. Kimberly Newton Fusco's previous books have garnered starred reviews and awards, and no wonder, because they are just amazing. But in her latest book, Beholding Bee, a WWII-era novel, Fusco has scored a home run - a character whose voice is so indelible and unforgettable that she draws you right into her story, and you never look back.

Bee has lived with Pauline ever since her parents died when she was three, and the traveling carnival where Pauline works is the only world Bee's ever known. It's not an easy life, and it's made tougher by the presence of Bee's "diamond", a prominent birthmark that draws the attention of everyone who comes to buy hot dogs from Pauline. Bee knows her diamond makes her special, but it sometimes seems too much to bear. And then things get even tougher: Pauline takes up with a boyfriend and leaves Bee behind to manage the hot dog cart all by herself. Bee takes as much as she can stand from unpleasant carnival boss Ellis. But finally she's had enough, so Bee and her dog Peabody, plus a piglet named Cordelia take off at a run, literally. And eventually Bee finds herself at a house that looks like gingerbread, where two quirky old ladies seem to have been expecting her. It's not what Bee bargained for, but it might just be everything she needs.

Beholding Bee is a historical novel for all kinds of kids, but especially for those who know what it's like to be an outsider. As an orphan and an outcast, Bee's developed a unique perspective on the world, and that informs her every decision in a way that makes her a character you can't help but root for. She reminds me so much of other strong girls in literature: Gilly Hopkins, for one, or Hollis Woods, even a younger Dicey Tillerman. She's got heart, but she's not fragile - Bee's a girl who has taken what life dishes out to her and keeps going, because she must. I love the complexity of this character, and Fusco never takes the easy way out for Bee, which makes me love her all the more.

Older readers will likely suss out some of the more mysterious elements a little sooner, but that doesn't take away from the pure enjoyment of the story. And believe me when I tell you that Bee's voice will linger in your mind: I finished this novel over a week ago, and I can't stop replaying Bee's story, thinking about her and the other characters in this vivid, unforgettable tale. With this effort, Fusco confirms her place on my list of writers I'll continue to look out for -- and I hope the Newbery committee feels the same.

Beholding Bee by Kimberly Newton Fusco, published by Alfred A. Knopf
Ages 9-12
Source: Library
Sample: "I hear one lady tell her girl I must have done something horrid to be stained all over my face like that. Or maybe my mama is the one who did something awful, or maybe my daddy, and I am the one being punished. . . . But Pauline holds me and whispers they are not right. Otherwise, why would I have a beautiful jewel on my cheek the color of a rose at dusk and they do not? / I do so like Pauline's way of looking at things."
Highly recommended

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Lottie Paris and the Best Place by Angela Johnson {The Children's Bookshelf}

Well folks, it's official: I've completed my MLIS! (For those who don't speak academic jargon: Master's in Library and Information Science.) It's been several long years of juggling a full-time job, a family, and classes, but this past week I finished up my last exam and the grades are in. While it's been a struggle to get everything accomplished sometimes, I wouldn't trade away a minute of my experience. Becoming a librarian has been a goal of mine as long as I can remember, and now I can finally say that I am!



So what better way to celebrate than with a terrific picture book? Today's pick is one of our recent favorites, in a series we absolutely love. Angela Johnson's plucky heroine is back for a new adventure in Lottie Paris and the Best Place. If you've read Lottie's first outing, you won't want to miss this newest outing, in which Lottie heads off for her favorite place ever: the library!

Lottie wants to check out books about space, but she's not bargaining for the bonus she finds - a new friend, Carl, whose best place is also the library. Both Carl and Lottie know all about the library: how to behave (mostly), and where all the great books are kept. Carl's after dinosaur stories, and that's how he and Lottie run into one another. Right away they recognize kindred spirits, and by the end of this lively tale, the two are fast friends, sharing a cozy spot together in their best place, at the library.

Everything I loved about the first Lottie Paris title remains in this next adventure. She's every bit as vivacious and irrepressible as she was the first time around, and the illustrations by family favorite Scott M. Fischer have a lot to do with that. Fischer's spreads have a lot going on, but the action remains centered around our heroine, and now her new friend Carl as well. I love the way Fischer captures the joy of a child, particularly when Carl and Lottie each enter the library for the first time. (Pretty much exactly like that last panel of Sprout, above.)

Lottie Paris is a welcome new addition to the shelves of books about mighty girls - it's really nice to see one that features a heroine with brown skin and gorgeous curly hair. And even better, Lottie shows us just how fun books really are. After you read Lottie Paris and the Best Place, you won't be able to get to the library fast enough!

Lottie Paris and the Best Place by Angela Johnson, published by Simon & Schuster
Ages 3-6
Source: Library (where else?)
Sample: "In the morning Lottie Paris wakes to stars that glow all around her and to planets swiftly tilting from her ceiling. She imagines herself floating among them."
Recommended

Don't miss the first Lottie Paris adventure, Lottie Paris Lives Here

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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, May 16, 2013

Candy Shop by Jan Wahl

Tolerance. It's a quality that often seems in short supply in our modern world. As we hear about events playing out on a national and international scale, it frequently feels like there's a lot more hate in the world than there is tolerance, doesn't it? One reason we elected not to have cable in our home during Sprout's early years is that we don't especially want his impression of the world to be colored by the types of events that make the news. You know what I mean here, because when was the last time a story about kindness or friendship was the most prominent story on everyone's mind?

And to be honest, I'm not sure that tolerance is an instinctive human reaction. We all know babies are selfish, and that's not a bad thing; in order to learn about the world, they must first experience it, and that's done through the lens of their own perspective. So as parents, teachers, friends and loved ones, it's up to us to help kids learn about acceptance through our own actions first, as well as the stories and examples with which we surround them.



A terrific book I recently stumbled across seems like a natural for any classroom or library needing some titles about tolerance. Jan Wahl's Candy Shop is perfect because it's never preachy or didactic. Take a look at that cover - does that scream "Heavy-duty lesson ahead?" No way. Instead it looks like exactly what it is, a fun story about a spunky little cowboy who just happens to run across an opportunity to show love to someone who desperately needs it. And there's your tolerance lesson, all wrapped up in a cute picture book. Sneaky, right?

Daniel, our narrator, is the cowboy in question, and he's excited to be heading to the Mrs Chu's candy shop with his Aunt Thelma. Early in the story we discover that Daniel lives in a somewhat depressed urban area; though his street is well-manicured, that's not the case for the whole neighborhood. Daniel and Aunt Thelma head off to get some candy, but first they have a number of stops to make. Daniel bears most of this good-naturedly, with only a bit of the expected little-boy grumbling. Soon enough they make their way to Mrs. Chu's, only to see a huge crowd gathered outside. Daniel discovers that someone has written a nasty word on the pavement, something hurtful about Mrs. Chu, who is from Taiwan. And right then and there our little cowboy decides he's going to show Mrs. Chu just what a great friend she is, and takes it on himself to clean up the graffiti and shoo away the gawkers. A brave boy indeed!

Kids will love this one for the candy and for the familiar emotions of being dragged along on errands with an adult. But scratch the surface and we'll see the real message, about standing up in the face of prejudice and not remaining silent when someone you love is hurt in a very unjust fashion. Nicole Wong illustrates Candy Shop, and she does a remarkable job of capturing Daniel's emotions, not just on his face but in his body language too. The spread of Daniel scrubbing the pavement while Aunt Thelma hustles away the onlookers is a powerful one, and it demonstrates that tolerance is more than a silent emotion - instead, tolerance is action, putting feet on your feelings for someone and standing up even when it's hard.

If you're looking for a way to start talking about prejudice and tolerance with your little ones, Candy Shop is the perfect book to do so. And as you read it, begin to think about the ways you can show your kids how critical acceptance is. Because, as the saying goes, we all can be the change in someone's reality, right now.

Candy Shop by Jan Wahl, published by Charlesbridge Press
Ages 3-6
Source: Library
Sample: "On the sidewalk a lot of people are gatherine. Do they all want candy, I wonder? No -- they stare at something written on the sidewalk. / I can't see it but it makes Miz Chu cry."
Recommended

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Kate and Nate Are Running Late by Kate Egan {The Children's Bookshelf}

Happy Mother's Day! Around our house it is a festive day today indeed: Mother's Day, my last day of graduate school, and Sprout's 4th birthday. We have LOTS to celebrate -- don't worry, there will be cake. :)

With all that going on, it seems more evident than ever that there are just not enough hours in the day sometimes. And of course, there's a picture book for that! Today I'm sharing a title that we've recently been reading and enjoying, mostly because it seems to personify everyday events at our house. Kate and Nate Are Running Late by Kate Egan not only has a catchy title and fantastic illustrations -- by Dan Yaccarino, a perennial favorite of ours -- but it's also a pretty great look at life in our busy modern times.



Nate wakes his mom, Kate, up and the action begins. Everyone has overslept, AGAIN! So they must hit the ground running, and they do. While Mom herds Nate around getting him ready and making breakfast, lunches, etc., big sister Maddie's working on her get-ready list. Then both kiddos throw their stuff together while Mom takes a quick shower and hustles through her morning routine. It seems like things are going okay, but then disruptions come up, as they always do: the cats get out! Nate left something behind! But the family manages to scoot into the car and pull into the schoolyard just on time for everyone to get a big surprise.

I'm not going to spoil the fun by telling you what the surprise is, but suffice to say it's not the kind of news that would make your morning rush any better. Sprout quite likes the jokey ending of this one, and he's often asked me to read it again just so he can snicker through the story, knowing what's coming. Yaccarino's illustrations are a delightful companion to debut author Egan's rhyming text. Though the rhyme scheme's a bit uneven, it's still charming, and the frantic activity of the family's get-ready-rush comes through in both word and image. Maddie is pretty much serene and calm throughout, while Nate and his mom are the ones running around like chickens. There's a spread at the beginning that I just love -- Kate snatches Nate by the hand, trailing him in midair as she darts off to begin the morning frenzy. Can you relate? I'm usually the one scooting out the door first in our house, but it's a process of negotiating hugs, kisses, multiple goodbyes and a complicated door-opening schema that leaves me as breathless as Kate is at the very end.

It's a safe bet that most families will see themselves paralleled in the shenanigans in this home, whether you're running late for work or some other activity. And next time you're scrambling to get out the door, take a moment to stop and breathe, lest Kate and Nate's surprise be yours as well.

Kate and Nate Are Running Late by Kate Egan, published by Macmillan Children's
Ages 3-6
Source: Library
Sample: " 'It's getting late,' announces Nate. / Kate rolls over, rubs her eyes. / She sits up straight. 'Oh that's just great. / Not again!' Nate's mother sighs."
Recommended

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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.



Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Mom's Bookshelf - Instant Mom by Nia Vardalos

Three words for you: celebrity adoption book.

Gah!

Usually I run like crazy from this sort of thing. I mean, as adoptive parents, we've already had our share of inane comparisons to a certain megawatt celebrity couple (yes, because that's why we chose adoption to build our family - we thought it was trendy. Sheesh.)

But Nia Vardalos's book seemed promising. First, because I adore My Big Fat Greek Wedding (you know you do too). Second, because the blurb mentioned her struggles with fertility. And third, because she chose a route that is somewhat unusual for a celebrity - foster adoption.



And remarkably, Instant Mom does not disappoint. Sure, there's the requisite name-dropping, but it's done with a light touch - you get the sense that Vardalos isn't so much wanting her readers to be bowled over by her celebrity friends as she is proud of her very cool support network. And yes, she's got help in raising her daughter and keeping up her home. But really, like any one of us would pass up the chance to have someone  mop our kitchen floor? I sure wouldn't!

What works so well about this memoir is Vardalos's authenticity. She is unsparing in her honesty, about her feelings as she struggles to balance fame with her desire to be a mom, about her emotional ups and downs during fertility treatments, and then about her search for the right method to motherhood. She tells of a harrowing experience at the fertility clinic that finally convinced her and husband Ian Gomez to look into adoption. And she states forthrightly that though foster adoption worked for them, it isn't the strategy for everyone.

I also love her description of the early days with her daughter. Vardalos relates that, though she and her husband adored their little girl right away, it was clear that the feeling wasn't 100% mutual. Though their daughter wants to bond with them, she's also scared - so there's plenty of acting out and testing limits, all of which Vardalos and Gomez negotiate their way around with common sense and a healthy dose of humor (plus some help from Nia's mom). She describes the feeling of wanting it all to appear perfect, when in reality no one's getting much sleep and everyone is adjusting to this new arrangement, including the family dog. And she talks about that sensation of not being able to fully take a deep breath until their adoption is finalized -- the fear that something, anything, will interrupt the joy her family is experiencing at last.

So many adoption stories end with the placement. It's the perfect "happily ever after", isn't it? And we all want to think there's nothing but sunshine and Skittles after the social workers leave. But Vardalos dares to go further, and talk about what it's like to parent a hurt and fearful child, when you're not completely sure what you're doing -- and truly, who ever is? She's frank about the big issues, like sleep, which is a huge issue right at first. (She and Gomez switch off sleeping in their daughter's room, and inch by inch they ease her to a full night on her own. Sound familiar?) This is reality, and even though the parents are celebrities, they're living the experience we all know well, of bonding with a child whose story extends so far beyond the walls of your home, and whose presence in your life may be a dream come true, but isn't always 100% camera-ready.

This was a quick read, and a worthwhile one, not just because I became an instant mom myself when my son was handed over to me in Addis Ababa, but also because I know the feelings Vardalos describes. I've lived them, and they've been terrifying and glorious. There's fear here, and uncertainty, but delight and laughter too -- and at the end of the day, instant or not, that's what family truly is.

Instant Mom by Nia Vardalos, published by HarperCollins
Adult
Source: Library
Sample: "By the way, the only term I disagree with some on is 'adoptive mom.' Why the qualifying adjective? Why not just 'mom'? I've been introduced on talk shows as 'adoptive mom Nia Vardalos.' Um, once you've wiped a butt, you're a mom."
Recommended

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Suki's Kimono by Chieri Uegaki {The Children's Bookshelf}

As Sprout grows and makes friends, we have begun to talk about certain topics more and more. Being kind to others is a biggie, as is sharing (is this not a perpetual talk parents have with preschoolers??). But one topic I didn't expect to talk about as much as we do is identity. You see my darling son, while relatively strong-willed, is also a pleaser, and he wants very much to be just like his friends -- who among us can't relate to that? And so we've seen in the last several months a slow denying of things he likes in favor of things his friends like, or a shift in what he wants to take for "share day" based on what he thinks others will bring.

In these instances, we let him make his own choices, but we also gently remind him that he needs to be true to himself. What Sprout wants is a theme we return to again and again -- as in, is this what Best Friend of the Moment likes, or what Sprout likes? Sometimes he clings to the choice he's made, but sometimes he does rethink and select something we know is more "him". It's an ongoing discussion, and we know it's by no means going to reduce, quite the opposite. But we feel it's important to reinforce that his own identity is pretty awesome.



Naturally books that we share together are a great way to stress this idea with Sprout. One in particular that we recently checked out, Suki's Kimono by Chieri Uegaki, presents a character who's very confident and comfortable in her own skin, even after she has some brief doubts. Suki's determined to wear her favorite outfit on the first day of school. The outfit just happens to be her kimono, which her grandmother gave her on a very special outing over the summer. The outfit brings back warm memories of a wonderful day with someone she loves. Her sisters caution Suki that other kids will tease her, but Suki's unconcerned, even when her friend Penny tells her she's dressed funny ("I'm not dressed funny," Suki replies). She even shares about her kimono in front of the class, and does a little dance like the festival dancers she saw with her grandmother. But then Suki feels a little awkward -- will the other kids laugh, like her sisters warned her?

Delicate illustrations by St├ęphane Jorisch are the perfect accompaniment to this tale (we've loved his previous work, especially Betty Bunny Loves Chocolate Cake). The scenes where Suki and her grandmother attend the street festival draw young readers right into the moment, as you can just about hear the beat of the drums and smell the delicious treats too. Most of all, I love Suki's confidence throughout the story. Uegaki could easily have written Suki as embarrassed or slinking off to change her clothes at some point during the day. But she didn't. Instead Uegaki gave Suki the determination to share one of her favorite memories through the clothes she wears. Even when she is faced by a silent classroom after she dances for them, Suki's never willing to hide who she is -- and fortunately, the class all applauds her performance for the wonderful experience it was.

If we want our kids to be themselves, we need to surround them with examples of confidence and self-assurance to inspire them. Suki's Kimono is a terrific instance where a character believes in herself, even when others aren't so sure. And that's exactly who I want Sprout to be, no matter what comes his way.

Suki's Kimono by Chieri Uegaki, published by Kids Can Press
Ages 3-6
Source: Library
Sample: "But Suki shook her head. She didn't care for new. She didn't care for cool. She wanted to wear her favorite thing. And her favorite thing was her kimono."
Recommended

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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.