Thursday, April 16, 2015

Review - You Are Stardust by Elin Kelsey

I love this time of year in the Pacific Northwest. The gloom of winter is starting to lift, the flowering cherry trees and rhododendrons are showing their colors, and the days are getting longer. This year we're hoping to get out and about more - since Sprout learned to ride his bike over spring break, he's itching to find new trails to ride on and new sights to see, which is just dandy with me and hubs. It's fun to see the interest he takes in nature and in exploring.

Tonight's pick fits in nicely with that interest, and Sprout's generally science-y inclination. Elin Kelsey's You Are Stardust came to my attention when I was perusing a list of new releases and one of them referred to this 2012 picture book as an essential part of library collections. My good-book-radar thus set on high alert, I checked it out and brought it home for Sprout, who was thoroughly engaged, as much by Kelsey's text as by the fanciful dioramas created by illustrator Soyeon Kim.

You Are Stardust aims to help kids understand the connections between themselves and the natural world - not a huge surprise as Kelsey is an environmental educator. The way she does this, though, is fantastic. This is far from your typical dry, dull science tome, but instead a rich book of possibility and thought-provoking scenarios, all accomplished with text that's spare but evocative. The imagery is stunning: "Be still. Listen. Like you, the Earth breathes." And it's fun: "You sneeze with the force of a tornado." (Sprout loved that one.)

Kim's dioramas are just as absorbing as the prose in You Are Stardust. I love the way she weaves a multiracial cast of kids into the scenes Kelsey describes, in such fantastic ways - riding on clouds, swinging from treetops. This would be a great title to use in a science-art crossover lesson plan, as it will appeal to both creatives and fact-obsessed students alike. Think how much students would enjoy reading this, then researching some more facts and creating a classroom diorama of one's own, filled with cut-paper crafts and small illustrations from all students. What fun!

Kelsey knows what facts intrigue kids, and uses them to prompt even greater curiosity about the natural world and our connection to it. We are all stardust, so Kelsey's thesis goes - and as such, we are all bound together in this life, and on this earth.

You Are Stardust by Elin Kelsey, published by Owl Kids
Ages 4-6
Source: Library

Monday, April 13, 2015

Review - The Case for Loving by Selina Alko

If it's been quiet on the blog the last month, that's because I've had a few other things occupying my mind -- namely prep work to teach a class on Language and Literacy for the Young Child at my local community college. I spoke at this class last year and it was a wonderful experience, so when the opportunity came up to serve as co-instructor this year, I couldn't pass it up. But it has put a bit of a crimp in my free time to blog, so don't be surprised if new reviews are somewhat sparse for a few months.

Still, there are plenty of great books out there that I want to share, and today's is no exception. The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage by Selina Alko is a terrific addition to nonfiction shelves in classrooms and libraries. Alko and her husband Sean Qualls created this book as a labor of love; as an interracial couple themselves, the story of Richard Loving and Mildred Jeter Loving is close to their hearts. As part of a transracial family, it's a story that hits close to home for me as well.

The case of the Lovings was ground-breaking in that it represented a landmark in the fight for marriage equality, which of course we see continuing today. Richard Loving was white and Mildred Jeter was black & Native American. Though they were deeply in love, in 1958 it was still illegal for them to marry in their home state of Virginia. The couple wed in Washington D.C. instead, where it was legal, but once they returned to Virginia they faced legal prosecution for "unlawful cohabitation". Though the Lovings chose to move to D.C., they longed to return home to Virginia, and their eventual legal battle finally allowed them the freedom to live, with their three children, in the place they called home.

Alko presents the story of the Lovings in straightforward fashion that makes it perfect for sharing with grade-school readers. (Though there are concerns that the story may not fully represent the racial dynamics - see an excellent critique of the book by Debbie Reese on her blog.) Young readers are likely to be as upset by the injustices visited upon the Lovings as adults are, and they'll celebrate the happy resolution to their case. I think the book provides a great opportunity to discuss the fight that many gay couples have today to gain the same marriage equality, and to discuss how we as a nation are continuing to change and progress in acceptance of one another.

I can't end the review of The Case for Loving without mentioning Sean Qualls' illustrations though, because for me the pictures are what makes this book sing. The small touches throughout each spread, coupled with the collage-style artwork, add a sense of whimsy to what otherwise could be a very heavy read. I think this is what makes the story work for the intended age - a great blend of powerful story plus art that keeps the tough parts for being overwhelming. It's very well-done.

Check out The Case for Loving and join us in hoping for everyone to realize their happy ever after.

The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage by Selina Alko, published by Arthur A. Levine Books
Ages 6-9
Source: Library