Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Picture Book Review - 'Twas Nochebuena by Roseanne Greenfield Thong

Christmas is a week away, can you believe it?? I'm in total shock. It feels like the past few weeks have just flown by, with a flurry of shopping, decorating and readying for all the events we've had going on. Last night was the Nativity play at Sprout's school, an absolutely terrific event that was full of just what you'd expect - a bit of confusion, some dropped lines, but lots of shining faces and kids singing enthusiastically with joy in their hearts. Such a special moment for us and for Sprout.



Tonight's pick is for all those who celebrate Christmas and want to add a bit of diversity into the mix. Roseanne Greenfield Thong is fast becoming one of my go-to authors for high-quality multicultural titles (in fact, I have two titles of her titles sitting on my desk at the moment!). And her new book 'Twas Nochebuena is just spectacular - a winner for Spanish-speakers as well as those who are still learning the language.

The story in 'Twas Nochebuena mirrors Clement C. Moore's poem 'Twas the Night Before Christmas, but puts an entirely fresh storyline in place. Gone are the nightcaps and that bowl full of jelly, to be replaced by farols and tamales. The heroine relates her family's Christmas tradition, making food together, decorating, visiting house to house, attending mass. The night culminates with fireworks, a midnight feast and lots of gifts. It's a joyous, exuberant celebration that readers will want to jump right into!

The festivities are captured by Thong's skillful rhymes, which integrate Spanish phrases into the text, allowing readers to discern meaning from context. That's a strategy I much prefer to the repetition that some books employ - I think this method makes books more accessible to all audiences. Sara Palacios did the illustrations for 'Twas Nochebuena and I *love* them. The tone is absolutely on-point: festive, fun, full of life and spirit, just like the holidays should be. Love the colors, the touches of collage, and the inclusion of multiracial families as well.

Add 'Twas Nochebuena to your holiday bookshelf and think about reading it as part of your Christmas Eve celebrations. Fair warning, though - you'll want to have champurrado (hot chocolate) close at hand!

'Twas Nochebuena by Roseanne Greenfield Thong, published by Viking
Ages 4-6
Source: Library
Recommended

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Picture Book Review - Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold by Joyce Sidman

Hello friends! Back at the blog after a little break to catch my breath from 30 Days of Diverse Picture Books. I really, really enjoyed the series and hope you did too. It was a great opportunity for me to call out some of the many fantastic diverse books that we've read over the past year. And, based on the response, I'll be back doing the series again next year!



On to tonight's pick, which is one we actually read a few weeks ago but I held onto because of the 30 Days series consuming my attention. Sprout has always been super interested in science and nature, and as he grows that interest is only deepening. He loves loves loves science-y facts - actually that's something his kindergarten teacher said during our recent conference, that he always shares facts and that she checks them later and he's always right. (Boo-yah!) So based on that, and knowing how much he'd enjoyed Swirl by Swirl, I felt pretty certain that Joyce Sidman's Winter Bees and Other Poems of the Cold was going to be a hit.

And naturally, it was. The poetry in Winter Bees is just lovely, simple enough for the target audience, but complex enough for adult readers to enjoy. The illustrations by Rick Allen -- rarely do words fail me, but these images left me speechless, thanks to the depth of detail, the texture, the emotion that is evoked. Sprout and I together stared at a picture of a den of hibernating garter snakes for at least five minutes -- and I'm terrified of snakes, for crying out loud! -- so that should tell you a little something about the magnificence of Allen's craftsmanship. Pair these pictures with Sidman's deft wordsmithing, and then spice them up with a juicy sidebar on each page that is loaded with scientific facts and you have a recipe for an absolute jaw-dropper of a book.

I really see Winter Bees as a great way to bridge the gap between art-lovers and science kids. This title is equal parts of each, all beautifully done, and is bound to sway skeptics on either side to find something to appreciate. Sidman and Allen received a Caldecott honor for their previous collaboration Dark Emperor, and for my money Winter Bees could easily go all the way this year.

Make Winter Bees part of your collection at home, school or library - it's a purchase well-served, for you and the kiddos!

Winter Bees and Other Poems of the Cold by Joyce Sidman
Ages 5-9
Source: Library
Highly recommended

Monday, December 1, 2014

30 Days of Diverse Picture Books - Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson

It's Day 30 of our 30 Days of Diverse Picture Books. Wha?? Did that month pass quickly for anyone else?? I can't believe we're at the end of this year's series already. I hope you've enjoyed all the picks we've shared as much as we've enjoyed reading them. When I started the series this month, my husband remarked that he hoped I'd have enough picks to make it -- and I'm pleased to say that there are several I didn't even get to, so look forward to more titles to come! (But maybe a break first. . . )



So, onto today's pick -- Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson. I originally had planned to share this one earlier in the series, but decided to wait, as this seemed like the perfect title to end with. Wilson's story centers around Chloe, who finds it hard to reach out to the new girl in her class. Maya doesn't have as much as some of the other girls, who laugh and make fun of her, and Chloe goes along. Even though Maya desperately wants to a friend, the girls rebuff her - and then Maya is gone from their school, and Chloe's left thinking about kindness, and what might have happened if she'd reached out to this girl who was all alone.

The theme of Each Kindness is a powerful one, one that I feel we all need to read and internalize. It's especially moving for me to read this one now with Sprout, and talk about the importance of understanding others, of walking a mile in their shoes, of demonstrating empathy even if we find it hard to agree. E. B. Lewis did the illustrations, and they are very moving. In particular we like the one that accompanies Chloe's teacher's explanation of kindness, like a ripple moving through a pool of water. It's an image that makes you stop and think in the same way Woodson's text does - quite a message, this.

I encourage you to read Each Kindness yourself, and to your kiddos, and think of it in light of our world today. If you reach out in kindness, to someone unlike yourself, you'll never know how far that kindness can go.

Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson, published by Nancy Paulsen Books

Sunday, November 30, 2014

30 Days of Diverse Picture Books - It's a Small World by Richard M. & Robert B. Sherman

It's Day 29 of our 30 Days of Diverse Picture Books. Tonight I'm really thankful for good friends. We spent the day with some friends at their annual Thanksgiving feast, which was loads of fun. Sprout got to show off his puzzle-building skills to a crowd. His latest trick is asking to be timed as he builds his 200 piece puzzles - he's going for a personal best. :)



Tonight's pick is also one that was a gift for Sprout from a great book-giving friend, just before our first trip to Disneyland as a family. It's a Small World is of course the recognizable (some might say painfully so) tune written by Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman for Walt Disney's iconic ride. Yep, you know it - the one with all the dolls. Love it or hate it, we bet you know the tune.

In this book, illustrator Joey Chou has re-envisioned the lyrics of the song as a picture book. Now, I will say that it's just about impossible to read this one without singing the song, so don't even try, especially if your kids know the words. But the thing that makes this one just about the best is Chou's illustration style. He brings those familiar dolls of all nations to life, as children playing and laughing and singing together in a fresh way that still pays homage to the ride's origins. Readers see the cherubic youngsters sharing a Mexican fiesta, playing in a jazz club, and enjoying the sights on the African savanna. It's all spirited and full of whimsy.

It's a Small World will bring back memories of many parents' childhood, and is the perfect introduction to the ride for a new generation of readers. And it's a great message for us all to share - it is a small world, and we're all its citizens!

It's a Small World by Richard M. & Robert B. Sherman, published by Disney Press

Saturday, November 29, 2014

30 Days of Diverse Picture Books - Maria Had a Little Llama by Angela Dominguez

It's Day 28 of our 30 Days of Diverse Picture Books. Sprout is fortunate that his school starts teaching Spanish in kindergarten. He absolutely adores it! They have class every Monday and I'll tell you, that kid bounces out of bed Monday mornings so thrilled for school and his Spanish class. As a result we've been seeking out bilingual books whenever possible, to give us more exposure and learning opportunities.



And tonight's pick, Maria Had a Little Llama by Angela Dominguez, is one of our favorites! I first heard about this title when it won the Pura Belpré Illustration Honor last year, but it had fallen off my radar for a bit. Then Sprout grabbed it off the shelf at a recent visit to the library and we were both hooked - the illustrations are just so darn cute that you can't help but smile from the cover right on through to the last page!

As you might expect, Maria Had a Little Llama is a spin on the familiar nursery rhyme "Mary Had a Little Lamb", but freshened up and set in Peru, and with a Spanish text added. Maria's llama loves her so much that he follows her to school, where trouble ensues (naturally) and the llama has to be sent out. But no matter, the two friends are soon reunited and the tale ends on a happy note. The story is simple enough to share with littles, but there are lots of points to talk over with older kids as well -- this would be a great springboard into reading about Peruvian culture, for example.

Maria Had a Little Llama is a terrific example of how to refresh a classic story: add a new location, throw in some cultural details and a second language to make the title accessible to a wider range of readers. Add to that the super adorable pictures, and you've got a title that wins on every level!

Maria Had a Little Llama by Angela Dominguez, published by Henry Holt

Friday, November 28, 2014

30 Days of Diverse Picture Books - Ruby's School Walk by Kathryn White

It's Day 27 of our 30 Days of Diverse Picture Books. You know, sometimes I go along in my little bubble, forgetting how hateful the world can be. And then I'm brought up short by something like social media, where I was informed yesterday that I am "close minded", prejudiced and raising my son to have racial biases. All of which was said "in love". And that reminds me why it's necessary for us to have diverse books - because there are many, many points of view, and intolerance has no place in this world.



So, moving on. Tonight's book is Ruby's School Walk by Kathryn White, part of the series of Ruby books published by Barefoot Books. Sprout saw me preparing to write about Ruby's School Walk and wanted to make sure I mentioned that he likes the pictures best. They really are super adorable, so there wasn't much need for the reminder! Still, he's a fan of illustrator Miriam Latimer's style, as am I - whimsical yet realistic, a great accompaniment to White's story about all the crazy things Ruby sees on her walk to school.

For this is no ordinary school walk, ladies and gentlement. Oh no - Ruby's seeing crocodiles and witches and tigers (where there actually are innocuous, everyday things, of course. Right?). This makes the walk all that more adventurous, but we soon see that Ruby's repeated phrase, "I must be brave, I must be strong" has more to do with the reassurance she needs to get through the school day. Luckily her sweet mama's got Ruby's back, giving her a gentle boost that helps strengthen Ruby's flagging confidence.

Ruby's School Walk is equal parts fun and affirming, a great blend in a package that will make kids smile. And really, in a world that can be unkind, isn't that what we all can use?

Ruby's School Walk by Kathryn White, published by Barefoot Books

Thursday, November 27, 2014

30 Days of Diverse Picture Books - Full, Full, Full of Love by Trish Cooke

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Today is Day 26 of our 30 Days of Diverse Picture Books. This post is coming up a bit late tonight because we had a full day of food, family and time to relax. I did intend to get to the blog this morning, but Sprout wanted to do puzzles - and I never turn that down!



Tonight's pick is one that appears on almost every best-of diverse books list out there, and for good reason. Trish Cooke's Full, Full, Full of Love is a colorful, cheerful celebration of a family gathering that's perfect for holiday time or anytime really. The story surrounds Jay Jay's experiences at Grandma's house, getting ready for Sunday dinner. It's a place Jay Jay adores, mostly because it's bursting with delicious smells, family and friends, and a whole lot of love. Jay Jay himself is clearly the apple of Grandma's eye, and both old and young thoroughly enjoy every minute of their day together.

I love these kinds of happy, sweet stories of family sharing and togetherness. The warm world created by Cooke's text sparks to life with illustrations by Paul Howard, particularly that cover image of Grandma holding Jay Jay close to her heart. Sprout has always liked the center spread of Grandma's table groaning under all that food (who can blame him - makes me want to pull a chair right on up and dig in!). The repetitive text makes Full, Full, Full of Love a great choice to share with emergent readers, who will absolutely be clamoring for more by the end.

Whether you wrap up this book for your kiddos, or add it to your library list, find a way to get your hands on Full, Full, Full of Love for the holidays. It'll make your family celebrations, big or small, all the richer!

Full, Full, Full of Love by Trish Cooke, published by Candlewick Press

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

30 Days of Diverse Picture Books - Buffalo Song by Joseph Bruchac

It's Day 25 of our 30 Days of Diverse Picture Books. Tonight's Thanksgiving Eve, and there's a lot of excitement in our house thanks to a four-day break from work and school. I don't know about you, but these days I feel more pressure and more busy-ness every day - it's exceedingly wonderful to know we have a few days to rest, relax, enjoy one another's company.



Tonight's pick is Joseph Bruchac's Buffalo Song, a title that honors the Native peoples of our land, and commemorates the work they did to rebuild the great buffalo herds that once called North America home. It's important to note that Bruchac is himself Abenaki, which makes him a cultural insider and therefore capable of avoiding all the stereotypes that so frequently surround depictions of Native Americans in children's books. Bruchac's title is one I've been anxious to share, not only because it comes highly recommended by sources I trust, but also because it's sensitive and thoughtfully written.

Expect some questions with Buffalo Song -- after all, in the opening pages, a young calf is orphaned by white hunters who kill her mother and herd. But the story, ultimately, is one of hope and honor, as it tells of Salish tribal member Walking Coyote and his wife Mary, who among others gave much of themselves to foster the then-declining buffalo population in the late 1800s. Bruchac examines the obstacles Walking Coyote faced, and doesn't gloss over the difficulties, which makes this a great title for discussing how we as individuals can remain committed to a vision and follow it through to an ending that really can change the world.

Buffalo Song carries a message that I think we all really need to hear right now. And that it celebrates Native peoples makes it an essential title for any diverse collection.

Buffalo Song by Joseph Bruchac, published by Lee & Low

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

30 Days of Diverse Picture Books - Snug by Carol Thompson

It's Day 24 of our 30 Days of Diverse Picture Books. I'm struggling today, in the wake of the Ferguson grand jury non-indictment. My heart is heavy for my son and for all the sons and daughters of Black America. But we press on, working for justice, inclusion, representation, equality. So, diverse books - because that's where my hope lies, for the next generation to change this world.



Tonight's pick is a gentle one, because that's what my spirit needs right now. Snug by Carol Thompson is a board book, one that seems the kind of book that a toddler would seize on and need to have read over and over. It makes me a little sad that Sprout's outgrown these types of books - time was, he would have obsessed over Snug, I'm pretty sure. But it's definitely something I'll be giving to friends for their little ones, because it's not only sweet but very inclusive.

With Snug, Thompson describes the snugness of various things in nature, starting of course with the bug in the rug, but then branching out to include a bulb deep in the earth, a mouse in a house, even a slug in the mud (why not?). Thompson juxtaposes the images of nature with adorable chubby-cheeked kiddos exploring the world, whether that's burrowing under a quilt or digging in the soil. And the pictures show a range of ethnicities and genders, plus even abilities, with one girl in a wheelchair. Love!

Check out Snug if you want a simple and sweet title for bedtime with your kiddo. And hold them close as you read it, just as I'll be holding my kiddo tonight.

Snug by Carol Thompson, published by Child's Play

Monday, November 24, 2014

Praying for Ferguson

No book tonight, I'm sorry. Instead: 

"Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly." 

Martin Luther King, Jr., "Letter from a Birmingham Jail", April 1963



Sunday, November 23, 2014

30 Days of Diverse Picture Books - Beautiful Moon by Tonya Bolden

Here we are at Day 23 of 30 Days of Diverse Picture Books. One week left! This has been such a fun series to research and share with all of you - I hope you are enjoying these picks as much as we've been enjoying reading each of them.



Today I'm sharing a new title, Beautiful Moon: A Child's Prayer by Tonya Bolden. I saw the cover of this book online and that was all it took for me to know I had to get a copy on our library list pronto. I mean, just look at it - that is a simply awe-inspiring painting by Eric Velasquez that graces the cover. Plus the kiddo looks a whole lot like Sprout, or at least how he'll look in a few years (good grief, probably before I know it!). And the spreads inside the book are just as stirring. Velasquez is one of the most talented artists working in children's books, in my opinion, and I so enjoy sharing his work with Sprout.

Bolden's premise for the book is a young boy praying at his bedside. She starts the story with the boy waking up, having forgotten his prayers before going to sleep. First we see him praying, then we see images of all the people he's praying for - those with no homes, those who've gone to war, those who are sick. It's a wonderful theme for a book, and Bolden's craft shows through in every line, demonstrating connection and empathy (and, bonus, the boy's dad is black and his mother is white). The best detail is the moon shining down on all, both the boy and those he prays for, a bit that, I'll confess, I didn't even notice, but Sprout picked right up on.

No matter your faith or beliefs, it's nice to have books like Beautiful Moon to share with our kids. Titles that show little ones the importance of caring for others, are so crucial - and when they're as well-done as Beautiful Moon, an absolute joy to read together.

Beautiful Moon by Tonya Bolden, published by Abrams Books for Young Readers

Saturday, November 22, 2014

30 Days of Diverse Picture Books - At the Same Moment, Around the World by Clotilde Perrin

It's Day 22 of our 30 Days of Diverse Picture Books. For those who are new to our blog, Sprout was born in Ethiopia. He feels a deep connection to his country of birth. Sprout's aware that Ethiopia is ten hours ahead of us on the clock - often at his bedtime we talk about how his family will be waking up soon. It comforts him, I think, to be aware that while he is sleeping, he has family awake keeping him in their thoughts.



That's probably why I love books like At the Same Moment, Around the World so much. In this title, author/illustrator Clotilde Perrin connects people around the world by examining the events that are going on in different areas through the construct of time zones. This can be a tricky thing for kids to understand, but Perrin explains it beautifully. Even better, she establishes a personal connection by identifying not just an activity that would be going on in a particular place, but an individual who might be doing it. So readers quickly come to realize that while Sofia in Bulgaria is on her way to school, Abby in Samoa is preparing dinner.

This is kind of mind-blowing; expect it to take a few read-throughs of At the Same Moment before kids really grasp what Perrin is teaching them. It helps that the book features a large fold-out world map at the end, to assist with a visual way of understanding the time zone concept. Also, I must add that the artwork is fantastic - evocative and full of the kind of small details kids love to examine at length. The cover on its own illustrates the book's premise beautifully. I suggest looking that over carefully before you start to read, just to set the tone.

At the Same Moment, Around the World is a delightful tool to help bolster the notion of global citizenship. Think our copy will be going in for show-and-tell -- if, that is, Sprout ever gets done looking at it!

At the Same Moment, Around the World by Clotilde Perrin, published by Chronicle Books

Friday, November 21, 2014

30 Days of Diverse Picture Books - Firebird by Misty Copeland

It's Day 21 of our 30 Days of Diverse Picture Books. Last night we finished rereading Charlotte's Web to Sprout - his kindergarten teacher read it to the class and he loved it so much, he checked it out from the school library and brought it home to reread. I adore seeing Sprout's fondness for books deepen and grow, and to hear him say, as we finished the last chapter, "I just love that story." Melts this mama's heart!



Tonight's pick is one that also melts my heart, because it's such an important example of representation. Firebird is a picture book by acclaimed American ballerina Misty Copeland. Copeland is the third African American soloist in the American Ballet Theatre, the only one in the past twenty years. She's written Firebird as though she's speaking to a young dancer who dreams of being a professional ballerina, but feels her goals are out of reach. Copeland explains in her author's note that she never saw herself in books about ballet when she was a child, and hopes to change that with this book.

Christopher Myers did the illustrations for Firebird, and as you might expect from Myers, the pictures are amazing. Somehow he's captured the fluidity and light and motion of ballet in static images, using color and texture to set off the figures that fly across the pages. Copeland's text is poetic and lyrical, sure to be an inspiration to young ballerinas. And it's lovely to see ballerinas with gorgeous brown skin, their costuming a match for their incredible athleticism. Major points to Copeland for using her fame to increase representation for young ballerinas of color.

Firebird is a stellar title that belongs on every aspiring ballerina's bookshelf -- while celebrity picture books rarely make my must list, this one deserves its place!

Firebird by Misty Copeland, published by G.P. Putnam's Sons

Thursday, November 20, 2014

30 Days of Diverse Picture Books - Ruby's Wish by Shirin Yim Bridges

It's Day 20 of our 30 Days of Diverse Picture Books. The National Book Awards were presented last night, and I was thrilled to see Jacqueline Woodson take home the honor for her spectacular memoir Brown Girl Dreaming. It is seriously magnificent, people - review coming when Picture Book Month is at an end.



Tonight's pick is one that often ends up on best-of lists, and for good reason - Ruby's Wish by Shirin Yim Bridges, like Woodson's Brown Girl Dreaming, honors a connection to the past and all those who've paved the way for future generations. Bridges tells the story of her grandmother, Ruby, a little girl growing up in China during a time when education was the province of boys, not girls. Ruby loves the color red, and she loves to learn, even putting in extra hours doing her domestic tasks just so she doesn't have to give up her studies when all the other girls do. And her grandfather sees Ruby's dedication and rewards it in a way that's most unusual for girls of that time period.

Ruby's Wish shines with the pride and love a granddaughter has for her grandmother, a message that young readers will no doubt find inspiring. Sophie Blackall rendered the exquisite watercolors for the book, and her art captures the time and place beautifully, as well as providing a gentle backdrop for the relationship between grandfather and granddaughter. (That cover - just amazing, no?) Modern readers may be surprised to learn of the restrictions on education - it's a great way to talk about how those limits continue in many countries, and discuss what we as global citizens can do to help broaden education worldwide.

Ruby's Wish is a stand-out addition to any home or classroom library. Read it for inspiration and history, in equal measures.

Ruby's Wish by Shirin Yim Bridges, published by Chronicle Books

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

30 Days of Diverse Picture Books - Rain! by Linda Ashman

It's Day 19 of our 30 Days of Diverse Picture Books. Can't quite believe that the month is going as quickly as it is, but the weather certainly seems like November. We've had some beautiful (but cold) days here in the Pacific Northwest, though I hear rain is not that far off. Sprout's anxious for snow, but I think that's going to be a while yet.



Tonight's pick is a weather-related one: Rain! by Linda Ashman. We seem to find a lot of books about rain in our travels - not sure if that's just because there's a good audience for such titles in our area, or if there really are a lot of them out there. No matter, though, because they've been some of our favorites, and Rain! definitely can be added to that list. This jubilant title is the perfect way to make a dreary day turn around.

Ashman's written a great intergenerational story, and she's done it with the fewest of words, making this a terrific choice for emerging readers. The two main characters are an older gentleman who's in a grumpy mood because of the weather, and a young boy who just loves it, even pretending to be a frog. I love the contrast here, and the way that the boy's infectious attitude manages to turn the grouchy guy completely around. Christian Robinson's art accompanies Ashman's text, and the graphics truly couldn't be better. If the real world looked like Robinson's version, no one could possibly be in a bad mood, even on a rainy day.

Next time the weather turns gray, don't pout - instead, grab a copy of Rain! and figure out how to turn all those puddles into opportunities for play!

Rain! by Linda Ashman, published by Houghton Mifflin

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

30 Days of Diverse Picture Books - Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales

It's Day 18 of our 30 Days of Diverse Picture Books. I'm often asked where I find so many great diverse titles to share. The truth is, they are out there but it sometimes takes a little bit of digging to find them! I have an advantage, being that I get paid to spend 40 hours a week working for the library (pinch me!). But I have begun to compile a list of recommended resources -- still a work in progress, so check back often.



Tonight's title is by the incredible artist Yuyi Morales: Viva Frida, a picture book homage to the artist Frida Kahlo. When this book arrived at my library, we really wrestled with where to put it, as it's an unusual take on a biography. We ended up putting it in the picture book section because frankly it's absolutely brilliant and I wanted it to get the widest audience it could, not be buried in biography. So there.

Morales's artwork is on full display here as she pays tribute to Frida Kahlo's life and work. There's an appearance by Diego Rivera, her self-portraits, her mystical realism, all of it. And the arresting imagery is accompanied by snippets of poetry that speak volumes. The final spread merely reads, "Vivo - I live!", but that's all the text that's needed, as Morales's image of Frida surrounded by animals and light and wearing vibrant clothing captures the essence of the artist entirely. It's a tremendous title, and would be the perfect starting place for an art unit inspired by Frida Kahlo's work. (An afterword fills in more details about Frida Kahlo's life.)

Pair Viva Frida with other art-infused picture books like Georgia's Bones or Vincent's Colors for an exploration of life, art and the world at large.

Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales, published by Roaring Brook Press

Monday, November 17, 2014

30 Days of Diverse Picture Books - Tiger in My Soup by Kashmira Sheth

It's Day 17 in our 30 Days of Diverse Picture Books. This morning I read a terrific post by Angie at Fat Girl Reading, on Librarians and the #WeNeedDiverseBooks initiative. Bottom line: if you want diverse books, and your library doesn't have them, ASK! (Angie says it much better.)



And now on to tonight's pick, Tiger in My Soup by the ever-terrific Kashmira Sheth. I love this one because it illustrates just how fun diverse books can be - they need not be heavy and lesson-oriented, though those titles have their place, but can be imaginative and full of fancy. And Tiger in My Soup definitely fits that description!

The story revolves around a young boy whose sister is in charge of him. Sis is preoccupied and won't read the book our hero wants, though she will microwave him some soup. And that's where the trouble begins, for out of the steam of the boy's lunch comes one big hungry tiger! Naturally the story spins off from there, and it's a whole lot of crazy adventure that will keep your kiddos scrambling to turn the page. Jeffrey Ebbeler did the illustrations for Tiger in My Soup, and he manages to perfectly capture not only the bored vibe of the older sister, but also the frenetic energy of the boy (and, of course, the tiger!).

Tiger in My Soup is terrific to show kids how exciting reading can be - but don't be surprised if they're looking carefully at the next book you read, to see if the characters are literally leaping off the page!

Tiger in My Soup by Kashmira Sheth, published by Peachtree Publishers

Sunday, November 16, 2014

30 Days of Diverse Picture Books - What's So Yummy? by Robie H. Harris

Today's Day 16 of our 30 Days of Diverse Picture Books. Nope, we haven't run out of picks yet - in fact, as always with this series, I'm starting to wonder if I'll get everything included! 



Tonight's pick is nonfiction, and I chose this one specifically because I think it's important to remember that nonfiction choices should also be inclusive. It's really easy to focus on the topic and worry less about diversity when choosing informative titles, but in my opinion, we need to be just as mindful there, if not more so. Fortunately there are plenty of good choices, such as What's So Yummy? by Robie H. Harris. The latest entry in the Let's Talk About You and Me series by Harris and Nadine Bernard Westcott, this title focuses on healthy eating and exercise, so it's a great choice to share with preschoolers on up!

Harris writes What's So Yummy? with an informative yet never boring tone - including plenty of facts that kids will find intriguing. There's even a discussion of allergies, something Sprout found relevant as two of his best school friends have significant allergies. But for me the icing on the cake with this title is the pictures - the main characters are a transracial family, a huge bonus for us. And the background is populated with folks of different ages, races, genders, and abilities. It's really a lovely recognition of the fact that our world is diverse and books for children should acknowledge that, no matter what their topic.

Teachers, librarians and parents: you can't go wrong with any of the titles by Harris and Westcott, but What's So Yummy? is especially delightful. Hats off to quality, inclusive nonfiction!

What's So Yummy? by Robie H. Harris, published by Candlewick Press


Saturday, November 15, 2014

30 Days of Diverse Picture Books - Faraway Home by Jane Kurtz

It's Day 15 of 30 Days of Diverse Picture Books. We're halfway through the series, can you believe it? What's your favorite title so far? I hope you've seen some old favorites as well as some new titles to add to your wish list!



Tonight's pick is one by the amazing author Jane Kurtz - one of her older titles, Faraway Home. We've read many of Jane's picture books and look forward to reading more, but I recently realized that somehow I've never reviewed any of her titles on the blog. (What the what?!? Fixing that now!) We feel a special connection to Jane because she grew up in Ethiopia, and is a fierce advocate for the country and its people. I especially admire her work for Ethiopia Reads.

Faraway Home is about Desta, an American-born girl whose father must return for a visit to Ethiopia because her grandmother is ill. Desta doesn't know Ethiopia and it makes her a little sad to hear the longing her father has for his homeland -- she's afraid her daddy won't return to America. But the more her father talks about the beautiful country, the more Desta is reassured, and the more she feels connected to the Ethiopia that lives in her too. Jane tells the story beautifully, thoughtfully and tenderly, and the breathtaking illustrations by E.B. Lewis evoke the spirit of the tale. This one always makes Sprout thoughtful as well, and I love to read it to reinforce his own ties to the land of his birth, which will always be in his heart.

Include Faraway Home in your collection for many reasons - its gentle reassurance, its exploration of the lives of immigrants, its celebration of family and connection. It's tough to get (come on, let's see this one back in print!) but well worth looking for!

Faraway Home by Jane Kurtz, published by Gulliver Books

Friday, November 14, 2014

30 Days of Diverse Picture Books - Not Norman by Kelly Bennett

It's Day 14 of our 30 Days of Diverse Picture Books. I have had such a great response to this series, so thank you! It's terrific to have so many folks supporting diverse books in general, and sharing the titles with others - love to see more demand being generated for inclusive books!



Today's pick is one we bought as part of our collection before Sprout came home. I ran into a paperback copy of Kelly Bennett's Not Norman very soon after we got Sprout's referral, and knew we had to add this book to our burgeoning bookshelf in the kiddo's room. I love that the little boy in the book is African American, but that his race is completely incidental to the story. That's a really nice touch, in a world where many picture books focus on issues of equality or identity - not that those things aren't important, but sometimes it's nice to have the story be about something entirely different.

Noah Z. Jones did the pictures for Not Norman, and we love their cartoony vibe. The story surrounds a little boy who's given a goldfish as a pet. It's not at ALL what he wanted, and he begins to scheme ways to trade Norman in for something better. But the more time our hero spends with Norman, the more he realizes this goldfish might just be the perfect pet after all. Bennett's upbeat story sneaks in a couple of lessons -- about being satisfied with what you have, and about not judging others -- and it's all so subtle Sprout never realized this was a book with a message!

Not Norman would be a title to include in a storytime or lesson plan about pets. And while cats and dogs get most of the love, Norman shows that goldfish are pretty awesome themselves.

Not Norman by Kelly Bennett, published by Candlewick Press

Thursday, November 13, 2014

30 Days of Diverse Picture Books - Lin Yi's Lantern by Brenda Williams & Benjamin Lacombe

It's lucky Day 13 of our 30 Days of Diverse Picture Books. If you have been enjoying our series, you definitely will want to mark your calendars for January 27, 2015 - Multicultural Children's Book Day! This special day is an event that will raise awareness about the need for diverse books and celebrate all the great books already on shelves. Sprout's Bookshelf is proud to be one of the co-hosts of this important event!



Tonight's pick fits right into the spirit of Multicultural Children's Book Day - it's Lin Yi's Lantern by Brenda Williams and Benjamin Lacombe. This gorgeous title is from Barefoot Books, always a great source for high-quality diverse picture books. (Really, you can't go wrong with Barefoot.) And this one is no exception - the story of a young boy tasked to buy supplies for the Moon Festival celebration, who longs for a red rabbit lantern but runs out of money. The choice Lin Yi makes is hard, but he knows it's the right one - and in the end, his love for his family is rewarded.

Everything's beautiful about Lin Yi's Lantern, from the touching storyline to the stunning illustrations. (The Moon Fairy at the end is a special favorite of mine.) I also love the thoughtful touches, from the legend that Lin Yi's Uncle tells, to the explanation of marketing in China, to the activity of making a Chinese lantern. Those are the qualities that help make multicultural literature more relatable to all kids, everywhere, and it's nice to see it so well done in this book!

Pick up Lin Yi's Lantern for the Moon Festival or really any time - it's a story of family and giving that you'll want to read all year round.

Lin Yi's Lantern by Brenda Williams and Benjamin Lacombe, published by Barefoot Books

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

30 Days of Diverse Picture Books - Boom Boom by Sarvinder Naberhaus

It's Day 12 of our series of 30 Days of Diverse Picture Books! One thing I really love about the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement is that by supporting diverse titles, you are often supporting diverse authors as well. It's fantastic when I get to read a book to Sprout and then we can talk about the author's origins - especially great when we can flip to an author photo and he sees someone who looks a lot like him!



Tonight's pick is by Sarvinder Naberhaus, who's from India, and whose debut picture book, Boom Boom, is a celebration of the seasons as seen through the eyes of a multicultural group of kids. The children are all part of a preschool class, and through a series of vignettes taking place in different seasons, readers get to experience the natural world with them.

Naberhaus's text is a terrifically simple poem with spot-on rhyme and rhythm. This would be a serious joy for storytime, with plenty of action words that kids could get up and move to, yet it's elemental enough that even very young ones will have no trouble catching on. The pictures are by Margaret Chodos-Irvine, one of my favorite artists for young children. Her illustration style is bold, energetic and textural, all things that make Boom Boom a standout for any collection.

Next time you're looking for a book on seasons, consider reaching beyond the usual suspects for a more inclusive pick. Books like Boom Boom will make you glad you did!

Boom Boom by Sarvinder Naberhaus, published by Beach Lane Books


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

30 Days of Diverse Picture Books - The Hula-Hoopin' Queen by Thelma Lynne Godin

Today's Day 11 of our 30 Days of Picture Books. As it was Veteran's Day, and gorgeous weather, we spent the day exploring one of the lovely state parks in our area. Hiking, walking the beach, kicking the soccer ball - pretty much a perfect day for Sprout, even though he was disappointed not to be in school!



Tonight's pick is a pretty new book published by one of my favorite publishers, Lee & Low. One of these days I'm going to do a post on the best publishers for multicultural lit and Lee & Low will be at the top of that list. With quality offerings like The Hula-Hoopin' Queen by Thelma Lynne Godin, it's not hard to see why - their books are always very well done and they are some of Sprout's top picks.

Godin's book focuses on Kameeka, who's given some tasks to do for a very special lady's birthday but who's got her mind on hula-hooping instead. Kameeka wants to beat her rival, but in her quest to do so, she almost ruins Miz Adeline's party. There's a surprise twist at the end of this one that makes everything all right, and adds a joyfulness to the story that makes it even better. And the illustrations by Vanessa Brantley-Newton are beautifully exuberant - her renditions of Godin's characters are so expressive they fairly leap off the page. It's absolutely a wonderful title.

The Hula-Hoopin' Queen is full of lessons about putting others first and being thoughtful, but Godin delivers it all in a lighthearted way, making this a sure-fire hit for reading aloud. (You might want to dig out the hula-hoops first though -- pretty sure you'll be needing them after storytime!)

The Hula-Hoopin' Queen by Thelma Lynne Godin, published by Lee & Low Books

Monday, November 10, 2014

30 Days of Diverse Picture Books - And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell

It's Day 10 of our 30 Days of Diverse Picture Books. I recently read a piece on the Diversity in YA blog about the intersection of banned books and diversity. It was very thought-provoking, and the research done by Malinda Lo, while informal, suggests that there does seem to be a tendency for diverse books to be challenged. I don't know what the answer is to overcome that, but I know one thing: stories like that make me want to read and share diverse books more than ever!



And I'm doing just that with tonight's pick, a fantastic picture book that seems always to end up on the challenge list: And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell. The story is based on that of Roy and Silo, two male penguins at the Central Park Zoo, who became a couple and thanks to the intervention of a zookeeper looking for a home for an egg, also became parents. The book is lovely and sweet, and a nice reassurance for kids with same-sex parents, even as it introduces other children to the idea in a nonthreatening fashion.

It's probably not hard to guess why the book is challenged, but it makes me very sad. I can't help but think of the message that gets sent to every LGBTQ child or family every time this book ends up on the challenged list. I'm proud to read Tango to Sprout -- especially proud because for him it's more about the fact that the parents are raising a baby than it is about the same-sex aspect. (Plus it's nice to have a solidly affirming adoption book, no matter who the parents are!) There's hope yet that the next generation of kiddos will be open, accepting and loving of all people, period.

Add And Tango Makes Three to your rotation simply because it's beautifully illustrated and perfectly told, and appreciate the fact that it makes everyone's world a little broader in the process.

And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, published by Simon and Schuster

Sunday, November 9, 2014

30 Days of Diverse Picture Books - I Know a Lot! by Stephen Krensky

It's Day 9 of our 30 Days of Diverse Picture Books. What's your favorite thing about picture books? At the top of my list has to be the closeness that they engender. When you read a picture book to a young child, you are building memories and relationships that will last a lifetime.



Tonight's pick is a board book that I absolutely love -- I Know a Lot! by Stephen Krensky. I first saw this title on a cart of new materials at work; the cover jumped right out at me, for the colors and retro feel as well as the adorable braided girl on the front cover. Sara Gillingham did the illustrations and they are terrific, the feel of classics updated for a new generation.

The other thing I really love about I Know a Lot! is the confidence-building aspect. The heroine is a preschooler, and she's proud of what she knows, sharing many facts with readers as she goes through her day with family and friends. Krensky works in opposites and other concepts quite cleverly, for an added bonus. And the diverse cast plus comforting rhythms of the text make this a winner for babies on up through preschool.

Put I Know a Lot! in a bin or on a shelf at eye level and little ones will be reaching for it every time. Look for more in Krensky and Gillingham's Empowerment Series (I Am So Brave! is another favorite of ours) for high-quality board books you and your kiddos will adore!

I Know a Lot! by Stephen Krensky, published by Abrams Appleseed

Saturday, November 8, 2014

30 Days of Diverse Picture Books - The Change Your Name Store by Leanne Shirtliffe

One week gone already! It's Day 8 of our 30 Days of Diverse Picture Books series. We're still building the list for the rest of the month, so if you have a favorite diverse picture book that you haven't yet seen here on the Bookshelf, let us know about it in the comments!



Tonight's pick is The Change Your Name Store by Leanne Shirtliffe. This one resonated with us because we've already had the conversation with Sprout about wanting his name to be different. Honestly, I'd imagine most kids go through this feeling at some point or another - I sure did, and so does the protagonist of this book, Wilma Lee Wu. So Wilma visits the Change Your Name Store, where she tries on a bunch of different names, from other kids around the globe, to decide what the best fit is for her. (You might be able to guess what she ends up with, but it doesn't feel like a forced lesson.)

I love that this book takes Wilma to several different countries, and also that the scenes in the Change Your Name Store feature a diverse cross-section of names on the lists pinned to the walls. One minor quibble: I wish the author had somehow acknowledged that while Wilma doesn't feel at home in Belize or Paris, these are perfectly wonderful places to live, just not right for our main character. But that's an easy talking point with your kiddos when you read, so not a reason to pass this colorful, lively story by!

From the pictures bursting with small details (courtesy of illustrator Tina Kügler) to the affirming message, The Change Your Name Store is a great way to diversify your bookshelf!

The Change Your Name Store by Leanne Shirtliffe, published by Sky Pony Press

(full disclosure: we received a copy of this book in exchange for our honest review).

Friday, November 7, 2014

30 Days of Diverse Picture Books - Lola Plants a Garden by Anna McQuinn

It's Day 7 of 30 Days of Diverse Picture Books. The cool thing about reading lots of picture books is that you begin to narrow down your favorite authors and illustrators. Even Sprout has quite a list going by now, and loves to look for them whenever we go to the library.



Tonight's pick is by an author and illustrator team that Sprout and I both adore. Lola Plants a Garden by Anna McQuinn is the latest entry in the series featuring Lola and her family, including brother Leo. We have loved every single book in this series, and I'm happy to report that this latest is just as awesome as all the rest!

One thing I love about Lola Plants a Garden is that it teaches kids how to work through a project from beginning to end. Lola gets the idea for a garden from reading a poem; she tells her mom and they work on the project together, from designing to planting to decorating the garden and then throwing a party to show it off. Winsome illustrations by Rosalind Beardshaw are the perfect touch to complement McQuinn's storytelling.

Add Lola Plants a Garden to your list -- this is a sweet celebration of flowers, friends and books, and what could be better than that?

Lola Plants a Garden by Anna McQuinn, published by Charlesbridge

Thursday, November 6, 2014

30 Days of Diverse Picture Books - Fire! Fuego! Brave Bomberos by Susan Middleton Elya

It's Day 6 of our 30 Days of Diverse Picture Books. How have you been celebrating Picture Book Month? I hope it's by sharing great titles with kiddos, or even just reading some yourself (or to the cat. . .we won't judge!)



Tonight's pick is one that Sprout's super obsessed with lately - Susan Middleton Elya's Fire! Fuego! Brave Bomberos. It's not surprising that he loves this book, since one of his favorite things about kindergarten is his weekly Spanish class. And Bomberos is tons of fun to read, so I'm glad to have it in heavy rotation.

Elya's done something really terrific with this book in that she mixes the Spanish throughout without subsequently translating the words. That's great for an emerging reader like Sprout, as it teaches him to interpret the unfamiliar words through the context and pictures. It also makes Bomberos more appealing to bilingual readers, who must cringe at every book that uses a Spanish phrase and follows that right up with English phrase. It also makes the text flow a lot better and doesn't take away from the fun (though there's a glossary with pronunciation guide at the end - super helpful.)

Bomberos is lively and exciting, just right for kids who want to get into the action of firefighting. And thanks to Dan Santat's sly touches with the illustrations (we really love the expressive animals!), this is one picture book that works all the way around. Muy bueno!

Fire! Fuego! Brave Bomberos by Susan Middleton Elya, published by Bloomsbury

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

30 Days of Diverse Picture Books - 100 Things that Make Me Happy by Amy Schwartz

It's Day 5 of 30 Days of Diverse Picture Books. Hope you are finding some new titles to add to your reading list through this series. Remember, diverse books flourish when we support them with our dollars and our checkouts...so get thee to a library or bookstore, 'kay?



Tonight's pick is a book that just makes me smile -- 100 Things That Make Me Happy by Amy Schwartz. On the surface this may not look like a diverse picture book, but crack the cover and you'll see why I'm including it. Schwartz populates her pages with people of all shapes, sizes, colors, and ages, though of course cute kiddies take the prize in this one.

This diverse cast is playing together and enjoying some truly stupendous things. You might not enjoy all 100 things yourself, but I'll bet more of them than not wind up on your awesome list. I mean, "chocolate chips / camping trips / goldfish / birthday wish / red bow / tic-tac-toe / hula-hoops / double scoops". What's not to love there? And I really appreciate that on this one spread, Schwartz has characters of at least four different skin colors, including one little boy who looks pretty much like Sprout (with his favorite, chocolate chips!).

Read 100 Things that Make Me Happy and then make up your own happy list. On the top of mine? Picture books and crochet hooks! :)

100 Things that Make Me Happy by Amy Schwartz, published by Abrams Appleseed

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

30 Days of Diverse Picture Books - Good Morning World by Paul Windsor

It's Day 4 of our 30 Days of Diverse Picture Books. It's been quite blustery here in Northwest Washington, and a lot darker thanks to the time change this past weekend. Which means we are all quite content to settle in with a good book in the evenings -- the best part of late fall!



Tonight's pick is Paul Windsor's Good Morning World, a knockout title that celebrates the Native cultures of the Pacific Northwest, specifically Native Canadians. And it's a board book, so perfect for sharing with the littles!

Windsor writes that his book was created to share good energy and help kids (and adults) with a positive attitude, connected to the world around them. The artwork is stunning, really breathtaking. Windsor is tribally enrolled in the Haisla and Heiltsuk tribes, and his illustrations honor his ancestors with images that are vibrant and alive.

There's a playful spirit to Good Morning World that young readers will pick up right away. From the beaver building his dam to the frogs leaping in the pond, all creatures have a smiling sun looking down on them. This is a terrific pick to emphasize our relationship to the earth and to one another. Good Morning World is a small-press title, so may be a little tougher to find - but definitely worth looking for to bring diversity to even the youngest readers.

Good Morning World by Paul Windsor, published by Native Northwest

Monday, November 3, 2014

30 Days of Diverse Picture Books - Little Melba and Her Big Trombone by Katheryn Russell-Brown

It's Day 3 of 30 Days of Diverse Picture Books. We're having a great time rereading some old favorites and checking out new books in order to select the titles for our 30 Days. Terrific stuff is coming your way!



Today's pick is a new title by debut picture book author Katheryn Russell-Brown -- Little Melba and Her Big Trombone. Russell-Brown joins the ranks of a number of authors who have turned the lives of Black Americans into engaging picture book material. In this case, Russell-Brown tells the story of Melba Liston, the first woman to achieve prominence in the jazz scene for her trombone playing.

And what playing it was! The book takes us back to Melba's youth, growing up in Kansas City "where you could reach out and feel the music". Melba longed to play an instrument, so her mother bought her a trombone. Melba set about teaching herself everything there was to know about that horn, achieving prominence as a composer and performer who worked with famous musicians of all sorts.

Melba Liston was a trailblazer, and it's wonderful to see her story brought so vividly to life (we especially love the jazz-infused style of illustrator Frank Morrison). Read this one with your kiddos and get ready to dance - 'cause Melba's story won't keep you in your seat for long!

Little Melba and Her Big Trombone by Katheryn Russell-Brown, published by Lee & Low

Sunday, November 2, 2014

30 Days of Diverse Picture Books - One is a Drummer by Roseanne Thong

It's Day 2 of 30 Days of Diverse Picture Books. Today's choice is an older title that for some reason hasn't made the blog until today. Not sure just why, because it's one we read and enjoyed when Sprout was quite a bit younger - but I'm making up for that now!



We really love One is a Drummer: A Book of Numbers by Roseanne Thong. The winsome illustrations by Grace Lin accompany Thong's text about activities like playing mahjong and racing dragon boats, as well as counting the days of the week and dancing in the sprinkler. I love the blending of pastimes that most kids will find familiar alongside some that may be new to them. Thong includes a glossary for further discussion points, which you'll find especially helpful for any questions that arise.

One is a Drummer works on multiple levels, making it a nice well-rounded addition to any collection since it serves several purposes. Concept book, check. Cultural introduction, check. Artistic inspiration, check. All this with rhymes that flow perfectly and a light, upbeat tone make One is a Drummer a winner!

One is a Drummer by Roseanne Thong, published by Chronicle Books

Saturday, November 1, 2014

30 Days of Diverse Picture Books - Little Humans by Brandon Stanton

Put down that leftover Halloween candy and get ready for something even sweeter! It's November, and you know what that means!


Woot woot! It's one of my favorite things that happens all year long - Picture Book Month, a 30 day celebration of the books that speak to all ages. If you need convincing as to why picture books are important, you'll find a new reason each day on the official Picture Book Month website. But I know you're all believers, just as we are, of the power of picture books to change lives young and old!

AND this year, with all the attention swirling around the call for diversity in children's literature, I decided this year would be 30 Days of Diverse Picture Books. That means books that celebrate difference in all its forms - because, after all, there is nothing so beautiful as literature that includes everyone.

On to our first pick!



For Day 1, I'm choosing a brand-new title that's written by blogger Brandon Stanton, best known for his blog Humans of New York. It's an incredible site, full of humanity and laughter and heartache. Stanton includes kids on his blog quite a bit, and has compiled a cross-section of fantastic photographs into his new picture book, Little Humans.

If you've followed Stanton's blog, you'll recognize many of the photos, but it's really fun to see them in an entirely new context. Stanton's added some text to tie the images together, though that seems unnecessary - honestly, I think he could just have had his incredibly winning photography stand on its own, and young readers would have been equally charmed. But it is loads of fun, and a great way to include diversity in a collection, demonstrating all the ways in which humans are both alike and different.

It's a brave new diverse world out there - and we love the way Little Humans celebrates it!

Little Humans by Brandon Stanton, published by Farrar Straus Giroux

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Graphic Novel Review - El Deafo by Cece Bell

First off, let me say that I am not a big graphic novel fan. Nothing against them - in fact, comics and graphic novels are what brought my husband and I together - and there are a number that I've enjoyed. It's just that I am far more likely to choose something else when I have leisure reading time.

But whenever a graphic novel pops up on my radar as many times as tonight's pick has, I feel pretty sure it's something I better make time to read. And when I enjoy a book as much as I did Cece Bell's El Deafo, I start thinking that graphic novels should be added into my rotation a little more frequently. (It's been a banner month for the format for me - first Sisters by Raina Telgemeier, now El Deafo!)



So, to the review: Cece Bell is an accomplished illustrator but El Deafo is her graphic novel debut. You'd never guess it, though, as it's a fully realized work with no false moments or plot threads left dangling. Likely that's because El Deafo is largely autobiographical. I say largely because the main character in El Deafo is a bunny named Cece Bell - presumably the author is not in fact a rabbit, but I don't totally know that because I haven't met her (maybe someday).

El Deafo tells Bell's story of growing up with severe deafness as a result of contracting meningitis when she was four years old. Don't think that she's going to gloss over any parts of her illness just because the book is for young readers; Bell talks about being in pain, about not knowing why, and the scariness of first realizing that she could no longer hear. We follow her through getting hearing aids, then a more powerful hearing aid for school - thus becoming, in time, "El Deafo", a girl with supersonic hearing thanks to her Phonic Ear and the microphone her teachers have to wear. (One superpower? Being able to hear when the teacher is coming back to the room so everyone can scramble back to their seats. Niiiiice.)

Bell is candid here about the ups and downs of her childhood, which I think all readers can relate to, hearing or not. There's a good dose of humor, and she's not afraid to laugh at herself or others - I really love that she brings out how one friend goes WAAY overboard with accentuating in-di-vi-du-al sy-ll-a-bl-es. El Deafo is Cece's alter ego, a person who does all the things Cece herself isn't always brave enough to do, like calling out that same friend for her pronunciation exaggeration. And I like that the struggles Cece faces don't always have to do with her deafness, but are rather those that kids and former kids everywhere will get - like feeling awkward, being frustrated with your mom, having trouble finding and keeping friends. That's childhood, people, and we all know what those issues are about.

Readers who enjoyed Smile and Sisters are a natural fit for this one. But go a bit further too - to readers who like novels like Wonder or A View from Saturday. El Deafo is one of my favorite books of this year, or any year really. Share this one with your kids, for the bright wit and serious insights, and the sheer joy of a story brilliantly crafted.

El Deafo by Cece Bell, published by Amulet Books
Ages 9-12
Source: Library
Highly recommended

Monday, October 13, 2014

One Old, One New - Picture Books About Construction

**Trying out a new feature here on the Bookshelf - a review that combines my thoughts about a classic along with those about a newer title, with a particular eye towards diversity. Like this type of thing? Let me know in the comments!**



It's kind of amazing how much kids change over the span of just a few years. I've been thinking about this the last few days, because Sprout's the V.I.P. in his kindergarten class this week and we've just made an "All About Me" poster for him to share. So, of course, that meant going through a whole lot of old photos to sort out the ones he wanted. And remembering all the different phases he's gone through thus far, noticing how the obsessions come and go, and which ones have remained (dinosaurs - all about the dinosaurs!).

Besides those prehistoric critters, an affinity for machinery has definitely hung in with Sprout. He's not as manic about trains as he once was, but we still go out of our way to pass by the tracks when we can, and every trip through a construction zone is cause for celebration. (Recently they excavated some gas tanks at a station near our home - you should have heard the excitement when we rode our bike past a huge hole with an excavator *inside* the hole!)



So, picture books on construction have been a staple since Sprout joined our family. One of the first we read him was Virginia Lee Burton's Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel. Now let me just say, I love that book, and so does Sprout. Hubs read this to him just about every single night for the first year or two he was in our family - waaay before he understood the words or story, when he was still learning English even, and he was riveted by it. A lot of that was the pictures, I think, and really that's hard not to be moved by. Hello, there's even a picture of Mary Ann digging the basement for the town hall and she's way down in the hole - not unlike that excavator we saw last week!



But of course, being published so many years ago, Mike Mulligan is a whitewash. And while I don't think there's anything wrong with reading a construction book like that to kids, it's nice to know that now there are much more inclusive choices being published, like the new title by Sally SuttonConstruction. This is the latest in a series of heavy-equipment themed titles by Sutton (read our review of Roadwork). While the story is a lot simpler than Mike Mulligan, there is a definite plot kids will follow, as the project is gradually revealed (spoiler alert: they're building a library! Woot woot!).

Construction showcases Brian Lovelock's trademark realistic style, which will feed young fans' cravings for up-close shots of big rigs and building equipment. (Nice glossary at the back too, when your kiddos want to know more.) Best of all, though, this title features not only racial diversity among the workers, but also gender diversity, with a female site director and a number of men stocking the library shelves. Way to go Sutton and Lovelock - I adore seeing roles reversed in such a way.

So while I'd definitely recommend Mike Mulligan -- there's a reason that it's hung around for so long, after all -- I also suggest adding in an updated perspective on building with Construction. Both great fun!