Shelfie: August 9, 2017: Golden Light

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The light in this photo looks like late afternoon or sunset, aged, classic, but it’s really sunlight bouncing off of a Stanley Steemer truck parked on the street that lit the spines of our book stacks with gold.  I haven’t got anything philosophical or poetic to say about it, but I like the photo, and the circumstances make me laugh.  It’s just happy happenstances coming together to make a pleasing photo.

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Book Reviews: June 2020 Picture Book Roundup: Visiting Another’s Bookshelves

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Click to visit an article in a local paper about the books' publication.

Roanoke Baby by Paige Garrison. Baltimore: duopress-Workman, 2014.

Roanoke Baby is definitely a local and a niche market book, although most of the text would be very easily adaptable to any city in the way that the series from Good Night Books do or even more so as do the regional books put out by Sourcebooks, (except perhaps that [Roanoke babies] “live under a big, shiny STAR,” the Star referencing a giant, lit statue that looms over the city from atop one of its nearest mountains). The text itself is simple with sentences continuing on multiple page spreads, alleviating some of the repetition that could have made this story flounder. I am especially fond of the final page, which gives suggestions for several pages to help readers make the story more interactive: “Can you find the American flag in the picture?” “How many people do you see in these pictures?” “What colors do you see here?” “Can you find a square and a triangle?” The people in these illustrations reflect the diversity of the city with Black, Latinx, Asian, and white characters. On the page on festivals (“Roanoke babies love FESTIVALS…”), Asian (mother in kimono), African (mother in traditional, brightly patterned garb), Arabic (in traditional headgear, man in white keffiyeh with black agal), Greek (traditional vest, tasseled cloth belt, pointed hat), and white characters mingle at a festival that seems to be an amalgamation of several of local festivals or perhaps just the popular Strawberry Festival.

***

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample pages, and author's and illustrator's bios.

This Little Artist: An Art History Primer by Joan Holub and illustrated by Daniel Roode. New York: Little Simon-Simon & Schuster, 2019.  Intended audience: Ages 3-5, Grades PreK-K.

This book offers a very brief introduction to a few well-known artists, both modern and older from around the world. Knowing a bit of art history, I got a bit of a laugh at the wholesome, brief descriptions of these characters, particularly the bitter and vindictive Michelangelo shown here with a bright U of a smile. The descriptions focus more on what the artists created than on their biographies. The left side of the page spread is a simpler description of the artists’ works, beginning with “This little artist.” The right side of the page spread is a little bit more detailed and gives the artists’ full names. I was a little disappointed that Holub focused her primer on primarily white European and American artists, with the exception of Mexican Frida Kahlo and Jean-Michel Basquiat, who is Black and is the subject of the primer’s last two-page spread (although these two share the cover). The final pages, which highlight 17 different artists and leave a final space for “? YOU!”, include a few more artists of other ethnicities, including Yayoi Kusama, Jiangmei Wu, and Liu Bolin, as well as Faith Ringold, El Anatsui. The artists featured cover an impressive range of styles and mediums, particularly including the final 17. Many of these last 17 I was unfamiliar with and so learned from this primer myself. Of course, I have always laughed and said that my knowledge of art history ends around 1600, which is when my mind reached its saturation in my AP class (although I can pride myself on saying that I knew every of the 10 artists featured on the 2-page spreads and would struggle most with recognizing Basquiat, who I learned of only fairly recently, I am ashamed to say, when Radiant Child won the 2017 Caldecott award).

***

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, and sample pages.

Maybe by Kobi Yamada and illustrated by Gabriella Barouch. Seattle: Compendium, 2019.

I wasn’t as impressed by this book as I had hoped to be. I have enjoyed Yamada’s What Do You Do series, and I love cover illustration of this book by Barouch. But this book falls flat by just not adding much to the plethora of books out now that express a child’s future potential and the necessity of their existence on Earth. I do enjoy that the central character here, though white (pale skin, darker hair mostly hidden beneath a cap, freckles, pale brown eyes), is fairly gender neutral. The shoes to me suggest a more female presentation, but I know too that that’s society’s gender binary intruding on my imagination. I enjoyed the imaginative scenes with which the character interacts, and I love the sentiment that “the world has been waiting for centuries for someone exactly like you. One thing is for sure, you are here. And because you are here… anything is possible” is linked with the invention of wings for the child’s pet pig, making a visual pun of the phrase of “when pigs fly,” a cliche suggesting that something is impossible, and the illustration suggesting then the impossible is made possible through imagination and invention.

****

These reviews are not endorsed by any of the authors or publishers or anyone else involved in the making of these books. They are independent, honest reviews by a reader.

Book Reviews: Best of the Best of 2019

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I had genuinely forgotten until last year’s popped up as having been viewed on my stats page that I had been in the habit of pulling together these lists for you all. So while I am posting 2019 recap lists this month, have just I think one more.

This is a comprehensive list of all of the books that I read in 2019 that I rated 5 stars. Some of these are re-reads and have appeared on other such lists from me before. Some are new.

The last two years I have been on top of this and posting in January and using these to guess which books might win awards. The ALA conference is long-since past, so this year it’s a straight list.

Some of these books I had forgotten that I read and so enjoyed, and so I hope this list might remind you of a few favorites too or help you to find new ones. Go out and read! 

TODDLERS-KIDS (AGES 0-8)

MIDDLE GRADE (AGES 8-12)  

TEEN (AGES 13-19)

ADULT (AGES 20+)

 

LGBTQIA+ Representation in the Books That I Read in 2019

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It’s Pride Month! And it’s time to do another review of the books that I read the previous year that included LGBTQIA+ characters. I read 141 books in total in 2019. 15 of those included a character who identifies as LGBTQIA+. 10% of the books that I read in 2019 included LGBTQIA+ representation, up 5 percentage points from last year.  This year, the books I read represented a greater diversity of identities too (last year’s characters were all gay except for Apollo, who is bisexual).

Board Books and Picture Books (Ages 0-8)

Love Makes a Family by Sophie Beer. Dial-Penguin Random, 2018. Beer’s book represents all kinds of families including gay and lesbian parents.

Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love. Candlewick, 2018.  Julián Is a Mermaid won a Stonewall award, so the committee thought that Julián’s actions mark him as transgender, but I see his actions less so as necessarily identifying him as transgender though certainly rejecting heteronormative gender binary performance. That being said, Julián and his abuela identify Julián as a mermaid and not a merman even as she continues to call him mijo.

Love, Z by Jessie Sima. Simon & Schuster, 2018. Z is nonbinary, never given a gender within the text. I suspect that Beatrice’s love for her female friend with whom she holds hands as a young woman is more than platonic, but that is my supposition from knowing this author’s work and not explicit in the text.

Middle Grade Readers (Ages 8-12)

9 from the Nine Worlds by Rick Riordan.  Hyperion-Disney, 2018.  This is a series of short stories set in the world and featuring the characters from Magnus Chase. One of those characters is Alex, who is genderfluid and uses he/him/his and she/her/hers pronouns at different times within the series.

The Trials of Apollo, Book 2: The Dark Prophecy by Rick Riordan. Hyperion-Disney, 2017. & The Trials of Apollo, Book 3: The Burning Maze by Rick Riordan. Hyperion-Disney, 2018. Apollo, the protagonist of this series, is openly bisexual. In The Dark Prophecy, the protagonists stay with an older, lesbian couple who left immortality to love one another.

Teens (Ages 13-19)

Pet by Akwaeke Emezi. Make Me a World-Penguin Random, 2019. This book. The protagonist Jam is transgender, but her coming out is not the focus of this story and her identity is not presented as any kind of problem for her family, friends, or society. Her best friend’s parents are in a polyamorous relationship. One of his three parents uses they/them pronouns*Emezi uses they/them pronouns themself.

The Montague Siblings, Book 2: The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy by Mackenzi Lee. Katherine Tegen-HarperCollins, 2018. The protagonist is asexual! (Though she never uses the word in the text.) That excites me so much! And her brother is bisexual. And his lover is gay (I think; we never see him interested in any human other than Monty).

Wilder Girls by Rory Power. Delacorte-Penguin Random, 2019. Several of the girls, including one of the main characters, Hetty, are queer.

Again, but Better by Christine Riccio. Wednesday-St. Martin’s-Macmillan, 2019. Shane’s cousin Leo comes out as gay while she is abroad.

All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater. Scholastic, 2017. Double D ranch was owned by a lesbian couple. When her lover died before her, Darlene turned bitter and began a cockfighting ring.

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang. First Second-Roaring-Holtzbrinck, 2018. The prince enjoys dressing in gowns and sometimes feels uncomfortable with the image of himself as a man.  When in gowns, she calls herself Lady Crystallia. The prince uses masculine pronouns when he is dressed as a man and feminine pronouns when he is dressed in gowns. Genderqueer is how Wang described Sebastian/Crystallia in an interview with Forbes, but she says his identity is open to readers’ interpretations.  His queerness is outed by a neighboring prince, and Sebastian exiles himself from the royal court. His parents track him down, however, and in solidarity the king and his men dress in Frances’ gowns and parade them down the runway.  The king calls his son “perfect.”

Adults (Ages 20+)

Vox by Christina Dalcher.  Berkley-Penguin Random, 2018.  In this dystopian, future America, people who engage in homosexual relationships are forced into concentration camps. One of the leaders of the failed revolution, Jean’s college friend, Jackie Jaurez, is lesbian. She joins Jean and Lorenzo in their final flight at the novel’s end.

The Legend of Korra: Ruins of the Empire, Part 1 by Michael Dante DiMartino.   Dark Horse, 2019.  Korra and Asami are officially a couple in this second comic book series after the ending of the television series. Both girls are bisexual, based on what we know from the animated series.

Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie.  Random House Audio-Penguin Random, 2015.  Geronimo Manezes’ uncle, for whom Geronimo works and with whom he lives after immigrating to New York, is gay, and through his uncle, Geronimo encounters gay culture in New York. Geronimo is one of Dunia’s descendants who is present at the final battle between Dunia and Zumurrad for the control or the freedom of the human world.

As always, if you know or think that I misrepresented or misinterpreted any of these, please comment below.  Let me know.

Characters of Color in Books That I Read in 2019: Part 2: Picture Books

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A friend and I talking about Black creators in the publishing world on Facebook prompted me to go back through my list of rated picture books on Goodreads. I looked for books by and about Black characters for that age. I found remarkably few.

I am calling myself out.  *And I am still learning.  I have been reading that the preferred terminology is Black, capital B, Black being a more inclusive term, rather than African American, and African American only if told that that is the person’s preferred term, and that the two terms are not synonymous.  So I am editing this piece on June 14 to reflect this.  I apologize for being ill-informed before.  Please correct me if I am wrong.

I found among the picture books that I had rated 5-stars only ‪Mahogany L. Browne‘s board book, Woke Baby, illustrated by Theodore Taylor III, and‬ a picture book, ‪Quvenzhané WallisA Night Out with Mama‬, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton.

Looking further into my 4-star reads I found Sean Qualls illustrated The Case for Loving, the story of the couple that helped lift the ban on interracial marriage in the US. Edwidge Danticat, a black Haitian-American, wrote Mama’s Nightingale about the injustice of the detention of immigrants found to have overstayed their visas or entered without paperwork. Keith D. Shepherd illustrated Walking Home to Rosie Lee, which is about a freed boy looking for his mother in Reconstruction American.

I am highlighting these creators so that you might know their names too and look for them.

The following list is a compilation of picture books about characters of color.

I began these lists in 2016 to call myself to seek out more characters of color, to highlight the disparity of publications about white characters versus characters of color as highlighted by SLJ in 2015 and again in 2018 (those illustrations based off stats from this website), and to bring extra attention here to those works that do include characters of color.

I read 141 books altogether in 2019. These numbers include books for any age. 69 of those included a character of color, 49% of the total, very nearly half (28% in 2018, 27% in 2017, 26% in 2016, 23% in 2015). 26 of those included a character of color as a protagonist, 18% of the total and 38% of the books with a character of color at all (7% of the total in 2018, 14% in 2017, 9% in 2016). Those numbers are far better then than any year for which I have done this survey of my own reading, but I know I need to work to make them higher.

Picture books give me less information generally than do novels when trying to determine whether or not a character is a person of color or how that person would identify themselves, but I’ve done my best. I have also done my best this year to highlight creators of color based on biographies I found online.

Picture and Board Books (Ages 0-8)

Books with a POC as a protagonist 

I Will Be Fierce by Bea Birdsong and illustrated by Nidhi Chanani. Roaring Brook-Macmillan, 2019.  The protagonist and her family seem to be either Indian or Pakistani, as do most of the families in their apartment building, who are not shown, but whose names are on the mailboxes. Her classmates are diverse. One of the teachers seems to be a woman of color as well. *Chanani is Indian-American.

Woke Baby by Mahogany L. Browne and illustrated by Theodore Taylor III. Roaring Brook-Macmillan, 2018.  A darker skinned infant wakes in a crib and the text follows the child through all the day in this lyrical celebration of its body and its power. The family is Black. *Browne and Taylor are both Black.

When Grandma Gives You a Lemon Tree by Jamie L. B. Deenihan and illustrated by Lorraine Rocha. Sterling, 2019. The protagonist, a little girl, and her family are darker skinned, probably Black. They live in a large city with diverse citizens.

The People Could Fly by Virginia Hamilton and illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon. Knopf-Random, 2004.  This story was originally published by Hamilton in a collection of African American folktales. Told during a time of American enslavement, this is a tale about African people who had wings that fell off during the horrors of the Passage and the old man who spoke magic words to help a group of people on an American plantation fly away from their enslavement. In the author’s note, Hamilton notes that the power to fly is associated with the Gullah (Angolan) people. *Hamilton was Black and Leo Dillon was the son of Trinidadian immigrants to the US. 

Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love. Candlewick, 2018.  Julián is Afro-Latinx. Julián and his abuela speak in Spanish and English in the text. I think every character depicted even the crowd and street scenes is darker skinned.

Harrison Dwight, Ballerina and Knight by Rachael MacFarlane and illustrated by Spencer Laudiero. Macmillan. 2019.  Harrison appears to be biracial (his father has brown hair and a darker skin tone than his mother, who is blonde), and characters throughout the book have various skin tones and hair colors, including some of the characters in the city scenes and at the science fair, the winner of which appears to be Black as does the friend of Harrison’s that is moving away and the boy shown crying at a sad book while reading in bed. There is also a darker skinned ballerina.

Where Are You From? by Yamile Saied Méndez and illustrated by Jamie Kim. HarperCollins, 2019.  The family of the protagonist, a little girl, is from somewhere in the Pampas, a region in South America that stretches across Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil. This book provides a heartfelt answer full of love to the annoying question “But where are you from?”. * Méndez is Argentine-American. Kim is South Korean and immigrated to the US at 18.

A diverse cast with no protagonist

Sunny Day: A Celebration of Sesame Street by Joe Raposo and illustrated by Christian Robinson, Selina Alko, Brigette Barrager, Roger Bradford, Vanessa Brantley-Newton, Ziyue Chen, Joey Chou, Pat Cummings, Mike Curato, Leo Espinosa, Tom Lichtenheld, Rafael López, Emily Winfield Martin, Joe Mathieu, Kenard Pak, Greg Pizzoli, Sean Qualls, and Dan Santat. Random, 2019.  This book, each page spread illustrated by a different person, celebrates the power and history of Sesame Street. Most illustrators who use human characters (and almost all of them do) use diverse human characters. These include a woman in possibly a chador and several girls in hijabs. *Robinson, Brantley-Newton, Cummings, and Qualls are Black. Chen is from Singapore. Chou was born in Taiwan. Espinosa is Columbian. López is Mexican and splits his time between Mexico and the US now. Santat’s family is from Thailand.

Love Makes a Family by Sophie Beer. Dial-Penguin Random, 2018.  Beer’s book is about all the different kinds of families and these include interracial and darker skinned families, families that I would guess are Black, Arabic with the mother wearing a hijab, and Latinx.

I Am Enough by Grace Byers and illustrated by Keturah A. Bobo. Balzer + Bray-HarperCollins, 2018.  I Am Enough features a Black girl on its cover, but its story is about the inherent worth of every girl, including Black girls (with natural hair it should be noted) and with more than one shade of brown skin, one girl wears a hijab and is likely Arabic, one looks to be possibly of East Asian descent, and one looks possibly Latina. *Byers is Caymanian-American and biracial. Bobo is Black.

How to Trap a Leprechaun by Sue Fliess and illustrated by Emma Randall. Sky Pony-Skyhorse, 2017.  Of the four characters represented, two are white, one is dark skinned, probably Black, and the fourth has skin toned somewhere in the middle, possibly also Black or possibly meant to be maybe Latina. But all four children seem more props to the plot of explaining the legend of the leprechaun and how to trap one than full characters.

We’re Different, We’re the Same by Bobbi Jane Kates and illustrated by Joe Mathieu. Random, 1992.  This book is about diversity. Put out by Sesame Street, the puppets’ bodies are compared to those of illustrated humans. The human characters are from many backgrounds, including Black, Asian, and white. The illustrations focus more on differences in physical appearances while the text seems to focus on differences in physical abilities.

All You Need Is Love by John Lennon and illustrated by Marc Rosenthal. Little Simon-Simon & Schuster, 2019.  This book illustrates the Beatles song of the same name. The illustrations start in a forest following a bear that wanders towards a city and finds a boy playing with a toy truck who has light brown skin and dark hair. The citizens of the city that the two go to are a diverse group, including a woman wearing a headscarf. A few of the citizens look to possibly be of Asian descent.

An animal or nonhuman protagonist with a secondary character who is a POC with a speaking role

Merry Christmas, Little Elliot by Mike Curato. Henry Holt-Macmillan, 2018.  Elliot and Mouse search across New York City for the spirit of Christmas but are unsuccessful. They find a letter to Santa that has gone astray and travel to the suburbs to answer it, meeting a new friend, Noelle, who is darker skinned. The New Yorkers in the group scenes have different skin tones.

A Friend Like Him by Suzanne Francis and illustrated by Dominic Carola and Ryan Feltman. Disney, 2019.  This book was released by Disney in conjunction with the new, live-action Aladdin. Aladdin and the people of Agrabah are depicted as Arabic. Jinni is the protagonist, though, I would say, and though he disguises himself at Aladdin’s request as human, appearing then in the guise of Will Smith, who is Black, the character is a jinni and not human.

Corduroy by Don Freeman.  Penguin, 1968.  Corduroy is the protagonist of this story, but he is returned to his pristine condition and loved by a Black girl, Lisa.

The Duchess and Guy: A Rescue-to-Royalty Puppy Love Story by Nancy Furstinger and illustrated by Julia Bereciartu. Houghton Mifflin, 2019.  The dog, Guy, is the protagonist of this story, but he is loved by Meghan Markle, now Duchess of Sussex and married to a prince, is biracial; her mother is Black; her father is white. 

Daniel Chooses to Be Kind by Rachel Kalban and illustrated by Jason Fruchter.  Simon Spotlight-Simon & Schuster, 2017.  Daniel Tiger is the protagonist. Daniel is made king for a day by the white monarch, King Friday. In fulfilling his kingly duties, Daniel visits Baker Aker, who is darker skinned, and helps him with his rolls. He also visits Music Man Stan, who is darker skinned than Aker with a black afro hairstyle. Daniel helps Music Man Stan when his sheet music is caught in the wind. Daniel also cheers up Miss Elaina, a young dark skinned girl with textured hair. Miss Elaina as the daughter of Music Man Stan and Lady Elaine, who is white with blond hair, is biracial.

Love, Z by Jessie Sima. Simon & Schuster, 2018.  The letter that the robot Z finds is from Beatrice. Searching for love in delicious food, Z visits a dark skinned and black haired baker. In visiting the school, Z encounters children with various skin tones. As a child, Beatrice holds hands with a darker skinned, black haired girl who makes her feel safe.

An animal or nonhuman protagonist with diverse background characters

We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins. Hyperion-Disney, 2018. Penelope Rex, a young T. rex, is the protagonist, but her classmates are a diverse group including a hijabi and a boy in a yarmulke as well as children with varied skin tones.

A white protagonist with diverse background characters

Cookies for Santa: The Story of How Santa’s Favorite Cookie Saved Christmas. Illustrated by Johanna Tarkela. America’s Test Kitchen Kids-Sourcebooks Explore-Sourcebooks, 2019.  Santa and Santa’s family and the elves and the family that finds the cookbook are all white, but the family in lieu of getting the cookbook back to Santa in time for Christmas, broadcast the recipe and ask families across the country to bake cookies in Santa’s stead. (I cannot find a read-aloud online to check the illustrations for myself and the book is not currently on the shelves as it is not the season, so I am going from memory.)

Clifford the Small Red Puppy by Norman Bridwell. Cartwheel-Scholastic, 1972. One of the police officers who come to investigate the disturbance that is Clifford is darker skinned with gray, curly hair. Every other character in the book appears white.

Juno Valentine and the Fantastic Fashion Adventure by Eva Chen and illustrated by Derek Desierto. Feiwel & Friends-Macmillan, 2019..  Juno herself appears to be white. One of her friends has a skin tone near hers and blonde hair. Two have a tone that is darker. And one has a skin tone darker than any of the others’. In the story, Juno becomes famous women throughout history, many of whom are women of color. In the place of such women, Juno interacts with a few characters of color, including a few servants (slaves more likely) serving Cleopatra, possibly of Egyptian heritage. As Misty Copeland, Juno encounters ballerinas with a range of skin tones and hair colors. *Chen’s parents are from Taipei and Shanghai.  Derek Desierto is Canadian-Filipino.

No More Monsters Under Your Bed! by Jordan Chouteau and illustrated by Anat Even Or. JIMMY Patterson-Little, Brown-Hatchette, 2019..  The unnamed boy appears white. The first child that the boy shares his magic pin with appears to be a Black girl with natural, curly hair. *Or was born in Tel-Aviv.

We Are the Gardeners by Joanna Gaines and illustrated by Julianna Swaney. Thomas Nelson-HarperCollins, 2019.  *Gaines’ mother is Korean and her father is half-Lebanese/half-German.  She and her family are the protagonists of this story, which is really more nonfiction than fiction.

Elle the Entrepreneur by Andrea B. Newman. Petite, 2016.  The second family to whom Elle reaches out are darker skinned with black hair and gray or brown eyes. They do not hire Elle because setting the table is already one of the chores that their children do.

We’re All Wonders by R. J. Palacio. Alfred A. Knopf-Penguin Random, 2017.  The protagonist is actually pictured as having white—no, white—skin. The protagonist claims that he doesn’t look “ordinary […] like other kids.” The other kids he imagines are a diverse group include skin tones across the spectrum and a girl who wears something akin to a hijab. This diverse group is among those that “sometimes […] stare […] point or laugh [and] even say mean things behind [his] back.” The friend that he makes at the end is darker skinned, but this boy is never given any dialogue or narrative role. *Palacio’s parents were Columbian immigrants to the US.

Dear Girl, by Amy Krouse and Paris Rosenthal and illustrated by Holly Hatam. HarperCollins, 2017.  The protagonist is a white skinned girl with black hair. A dark skinned girl with a black afro is seen thanking her birthmark for making her unique. Another dark skinned girl offers a hug. Another plays soccer and one with a lighter brown skin tone and brown hair paints.

Dear Boy, by Paris and Jason Rosenthal and illustrated by Holly Hatam. HarperCollins, 2019. The protagonist is an unnaturally white skinned boy with black hair but the friends who cheer him on are diverse. The inclusion of characters with more naturally white skin (more of a sawdust than milk) make me wonder if the boy’s white skin, skin so white as to match the uncolored page is meant to be an absence of skin tone rather than a white, but other characters are also represented as unnaturally white skinned too.

Greta and the Giants by Zoë Tucker and illustrated by Zoe Persico. Frances Lincoln Children’s-Quarto, 2019.  Greta Thunberg is of course Swedish, but in this fantastic reimagining of her fight against disinterested governments and greedy big businesses, the second child to join her protest is a darker skinned boy. And the growing crowd of protesters is diverse.

As always, if you know I have misrepresented anyone, please tell me so that I can correct my information.

Book Reviews: January 2020 Picture Book Roundup: Read Until the End

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Newer Series & Writers

 Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, reviews, trailer, sample pages, and activity sheets.

Thelma the Unicorn by Aaron Blabey. Scholastic, 2015. Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

I enjoyed this story of a round pony who wants to be a unicorn so badly that she fashions herself a horn from a carrot and who pulls off the costume so well that she so startles a truck driver that he loses his load—of pink paint and glitter—all over Thelma. Thelma as the world’s living unicorn rockets to fame. And she enjoys it for a time. But her fans are everywhere and never leave her alone, and some people ridicule and hurt her. And she misses her friend, a donkey from her pasture. So she ditches the costume and returns to her life as a pony; her fans don’t recognize her without her costume. The ultimate lessons are that fame is not all its cracked up to be and that it is better to be yourself than to pretend to be someone else for fame and fortune. The rhyme works well here.

***

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, trailer, sample pages, and activities.

The Return of Thelma the Unicorn by Aaron Blabey. Scholastic, 2019. Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

The world is sad because Thelma the Unicorn has disappeared. Otis (the donkey) convinces Thelma that the world needs her and the smiles that she brought to everyone. He offers to be her backup, to go with her on the road. “The world needs unicorns” (it’s okay to stand out) is an excellent message alongside “There’s nothing wrong with make-believe […] as long as you remember what you love and who you are.”

****

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, trailer, sample pages, audio sample, and reviews.

Pig the Tourist by Aaron Blabey. Scholastic, 2020. Intended audience: Ages 4-7.

Pig is a terrible tourist. Of course he is. That’s the pattern of these stories. Pig is insensitive to anyone else’s feelings. Here he makes fun of locals, disregards and mocks traditions, destroys monuments, and graffitis a polar bear. All of which I found particularly difficult, more so than any of Pig’s many bad behaviors across these five books. Perhaps because his behaviors hurt humans in this or perhaps because his behaviors hurt so many more than just Trevor. Perhaps because the behaviors are (some of them) reproducible and offensive to living peoples and cultures—on a cultural rather than a personal scale.  I am wary of putting ideas into minds even if the text makes clear that Pig’s behaviors are reprehensible.  For the most part, he seems to get away with it all.  He is chased in the African savanna.  He is bit by piranhas when he ignores a “No Swimming” sign, but no apologies are given and no consequences seem felt in the many other countries that he visits.  For me that’s neither enough comeuppance or repentance.  I need Pig to grow.

*

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample pages, reviews, and author's bio.

Grumpy Monkey: Party Time! by Suzanne Lang and illustrated by Max Lang. Penguin Random, 2019. Intended audience: Ages 3-7.

Jim Panzee is back in the classic story of a character who says that he doesn’t or can’t dance being taught by his friends how to do and realizing that he has to find his own beat—only Jim’s beat, is no beat. Jim learns how to dance from his friends, and his friends are all impressed and want to dance with Jim at Porcupine’s party. But after so long dancing, Jim can’t take it anymore. He decides to leave the party rather than dance anymore. And that’s when he discovers that there is party food—lots of delicious party food that Porcupine needs help eating. So Jim and the other animals that he emboldens to admit their dislike of dancing stay at the party, and they eat, and they even play a few games, but they don’t dance. As another individual who has found that dancing is not one of my favorite activities, I always appreciate parties that make plain that not dancing is socially acceptable. For that alone, I can enjoy this book. I wonder if its message gets to its targets audience as much as it does to the fed-up adult readers who have been conditioned to think that events like weddings or even proms require dancing. More parties with board games is what I’m advocating. I still like the inclusion of some lesser-known creatures though I find it odd that only Norman the gorilla from next-door and Jim Panzee have names separate from their species.

***

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, trailer, sample pages, reviews, and author's and illustrator's bios.

Don’t Feed the Coos! by Jonathan Stutzman and illustrated by Heather Fox. Henry Holt-Macmillan, 2020. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

I was recently reading about how what we imagine as pigeon poo is actually a visible sign of pigeons’ distress because they are not native animals that thrive in the environments where they now live but rather unemployed and released livestock that can survive but not thrive in places like cities. But that is not the story that this book is telling. This is about the nuisance of pigeons—coos the narrator calls them—and of their poos—yes, the unhealthy, white, runny ones. The protagonist, a girl with darker skin, feeds one coo, and becomes adopted by a flock of them who follow her everywhere, much to the chagrin of… everyone. But after lamenting for several pages and trying to get the coos to leave, she accepts her fate. She makes the coos scarves and names them and leashes them to take them on walks through the park. And it is there that she finally finds a way to ditch her coos. The narrator is an unseen character who warns the protagonist, then narrates her through her trial, and then compliments her on discovering a way out of her dilemma. The joy of this book seems to be in the adorableness of both the name “coos” and the bulbous birds themselves as well as the emotive protagonist.

***

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order and summary.

How to Catch a Dragon by Adam Wallace and illustrated by Andy Elkerton. Wonderland-Sourcebooks, 2019.

This book from Wallace’s series celebrates Chinese New Year. This one is narrated not by the creature that is being hunted but by one of the hunters, a Chinese boy. His mother mentions that their celebration lacks a dragon to bring them health and fortune. And so the hunt begins. The town’s children are diverse though the setting seems like a very traditionally built Chinese town. China is one part of the world that I have yet to visit, so I can’t speak knowledgeably as to whether this architecture might be typically found in a city today, but something about it feels more like a UNESCO site than what I would expect to find on visiting the country. The children use some of the trappings of the holiday to try to capture the dragon—from noodles to a red envelope of gold coins, to drums and a dragon dance, but little to no explanation is given about the significance of these trappings to the holiday, why they might be on display or used or eaten during the celebration. The story ends after the children’s failure to capture the dragon with the boy returning to his mother, dejected, bringing her only a small, toy dragon, but she hugs him and tells him that he is her favorite dragon. The boy realizes that he is lucky to be with his family (a mother and grandmother). This has been by far the sweetest of the series that I have read. Wallace and Elkerton have included words in Chinese (both in phonetic English and in Chinese characters), some translated and some not. One Goodreads reviewer, Laura, notes that the English words highlighted in the text are displayed as Chinese characters somewhere in the illustrations on that page, and I will take her word for it, but as she points out, it is nowhere noted in the book that this is the case so the lesson falls by unlearned. I’m almost tempted to give this book another half point for feeling like more of a story with a beginning, middle, and end than many of the series, but that’s comparing it to the rest of its series and not to the world of books out there. The intentions for instruction seem good, but the framing seems strikingly Western and the lessons poorly explained.

***

Old Favorites Revisted

 Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample pages, and author's bio.

Five Little Ducks by Raffi Cavoukian and illustrated by Jose Aruego and Ariane Dewey. Penguin Random, 1999. Intended audience: Ages 0-3. Originally published 1988.

I grew up on Raffi. I never knew that Raffi had a last name, that Raffi wasn’t his last name, and that seems silly now. I never knew that Raffi was born in Egypt to Armenian parents before immigrating to Canada. I never knew he was Canadian.

I was impressed by the distressed emotion that the Aruego and Dewey were able to impart to the mother duck in their illustrations. The illustration of Mother Duck searching for her ducklings sans text as the seasons pass her was touching. I can’t possibly rate this text. This was a song for which I didn’t even have to look up the tune before the story time. I can rate the illustrations. And I rate them

****

 Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, trailer, sample pages, and audio sample.

Pete the Cat: Five Little Ducks by James Dean. HarperCollins, 2017. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

This is a spin-off of Raffi’s iconic children’s song “Five Little Ducks,” and it was a cleverer spin-off than I expected it to be. There was more variation in this text than there is in the song lyrics. Pete finds the ducklings and tempts them to play with him, but he tempts fewer and fewer ducklings as the ducklings get distracted. Mother Duck is absent. In the end all five ducklings return to play with Pete.  The ducklings are differentiated by different articles of clothing that they wear, including a pair of red shoes that recall Pete’s in I Love My White Shoes.

****

Cultural Treats (I Saved the Best for Last)

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample pages, reviews, awards list, and author's and illustrator's bios.

Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Malliard and illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal. Roaring Brook-Macmillan, 2019. Intended audience: Ages 3-6.

Each page of text begins with “Fry bread is” and goes on to describe the bread in real and abstract ways, painting a remarkably clear and emotive image of this (for me) unfamiliar bread. The cast of characters who make the bread are diverse though the eldest does appear to be Native American. I appreciate that one of the adults—an adult woman—is tattooed too; that is rare in picture books. It is a story of unity and a story of unique identity too. A recipe is included in the back along with extensive notes on Native American culture, fry bread itself, and history. Fry Bread won the 2020 Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award for most distinguished informational book for children as well as picking up an honor for 2020’s American Indian Youth Literature Picture Book.  The text is just absolutely beautiful, and I fully recommend giving it a read.

*****

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, trailer, sample pages, reviews, activities, and author's and illustrator's bios.

Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao by Kat Zhang and illustrated by Charlene Chua. Aladdin-Simon & Schuster, 2019. Intended audience: Ages 4-8, Grades PreK-3.

This book I read for the Chinese New Year, but it isn’t so interested in informing the outsider about the holiday as it is about celebrating in a universal way the tradition—and can be read any time of the year (it’s not explicitly for any holiday!). Amy and her family make bao together, but she struggles to get her bao right. Until Amy realizes that the bao is cut for adult hands and not Amy’s small hands. So Amy asks her grandma to cut the dough for her—and Amy becomes a bao-making master! Each is perfect! Once they are all cooked, Amy enjoys the bao she has made. And the not-so-perfect bao taste just as good as the perfect ones. Amy’s insight and practical solutions, her acceptance of the less-than-perfect in shape, the inclusion of her adorable white kitten, all culminate to make this an utterly delightful and wholesome and precious read. Included is a recipe too!

*****

These reviews are not endorsed by any of the authors or publishers or anyone else involved in the making of these books. They are independent, honest reviews by a reader.

Challenge: Katie Merkle’s Literary Scavenger Hunt: Rounds 2 & 3: Some Favorite Series

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So Katie Merkle created this scavenger hunt to amuse us all during this time of global chaos, and I have taken it and run. Last week I completed the scavenger hunt using only my 12 most recent reads.  I warned then that I had other ideas for this scavenger hunt.

Round 2: Can I complete this scavenger hunt using JUST Rick Riordan’s books? I sure can! I can do it with just his first series, Percy Jackson and the Olympians! Spoilers ahead! Ready? Go!

Categories:

1. A weapon – So this one is easy. The best weapon is Anaklusmos, Riptide, Percy’s pen and sometimes sword that always returns to his pocket because magic.  Or it is the most prominent anyway.  I am actually fascinated by and wish we knew more about the forging of Backbiter.

2. A difficult decision – I think the most difficult decision of the series is Percy’s to sit back, to not be the hero—or to let his inaction rather than his action be heroic.

3. A beautiful setting – I miss the beach. So how about the camp’s beach on Long Island Sound with the fireworks reflecting on the water.

4. A first kiss – The first kiss was shared in Mount St. Helen’s forge, right?

5. A mistake – So, so many mistakes. Though mistakes get hard to define when there’s so much of fate and prophecy in this series. But I think the biggest mistake of the series is trusting that Kronos’ future will be better than the present.

6. A betrayal – I’m going to say that Luke’s betrayal is the hardest.

7. A loss – Beckendorf’s loss was the hardest for me.

8. Best friends – Percy and Grover are the most iconic friends in this series I think.

9. More than two siblings – *laughs in demigod*  But if we’re insisting on full siblings, then there’re the godly children of Kronos and Rhea: Hestia, Hera, Demeter, Hades, Poseidon, and Zeus.

10. A single parent – *laughs harder in demigod* But the best single parent is Sally Jackson. We’re all in agreement on this, yes?

11. A grandparent – Kronos is grandfather to every child of Zeus, Hades, Poseidon, and Demeter. If Hera and Hestia have any demigod children, he’s their grandfather too, but I am fairly sure that they have actually remained celibate.

12. A talking animal – Blackjack is the best talking animal, right? In this series? Followed shortly by pink poodle Gladiola.


Round 3: Can I do it with Harry Potter?  Again, spoilers.

Categories:
1. A weapon – The weapon we have is love.  That’s how the song goes, isn’t it?  But the Deathstick becomes perhaps the most important physical weapon of the series in the end.

2. A difficult decision – Shout-out to the Hat Stalls (which may a cop-out on my part, refusing to decide on a difficult decision to highlight).

3. A beautiful setting – I’ve already used the Burrow once for this.  But you know what other location has grown on me?  The shade beneath the lakeside beech tree with the giant squid’s tentacles skimming the surface.

4. A first kiss – “OI!  There’s a war going on here!”

5. A mistake – It was a mistake to put Hedwig in her cage.

6. A betrayal – I’ve been re-reading Prisoner of Azkaban, and I forgot how painful is the confession wrung from Peter by Sirius and Remus.

7. A loss – Dobby’s was the hardest for me.  I think because of the blood, and because things were just about to be all right—except….

8. Best friends – This has to be Harry and Ron, right?

9. More than two siblings – The Weasleys are my favorite.

10. A single parent – There aren’t a whole lot of single parent households that are mentioned in the text.  There are the Gaunts’ and the Lovegoods’ and Augusta Longbottom seems to be raising her grandson alone.

11. A grandparent – Augusta Longbottom is a pretty awesome grandparent—in the end.

12. A talking animal – “Thanksss, amigo.”

Are there other series or the collected works of other authors that you think you could use to complete this scavenger hunt?  Let me see your answers!  Somewhere out there, I feel, is someone who could do it for almost every author of multiple stand-alone novels.  I would love to see someone do it for, say, Jane Austen, Stephen King, Shakespeare, Georgette Heyer, Agatha Christie, Nora Roberts, Neil Gaiman….

Challenge: Katie Merkel’s Literary Scavenger Hunt

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20200518_134509I first found Olivia Berrier’s answers to Katie Merkel’s original challenge.  I’m still not in the right headspace to give you all serious book reviews, and I am reading fewer books and rereading more favorites during this time anyway.  So I hope you’ll permit me another week of fun challenges:

Rules:
1. Look in books to find something that satisfies each category.
2. A different book must be used for each category.
3. Once you’ve found all twelve categories, share what you found and the books they came from in the comments section.

Both of them seem to answer this challenge with their favorites from their libraries.  And I may do that too.  But you all ought to know by now that I like imposing extra rules on challenges (plus it makes it so that I can use the same challenge more than once, and choosing favorites is so HARD!).

Round 1: Can I complete this scavenger hunt using only the 12 books that I have read most recently? Can I do it in order from the most recent to the less recently?

Categories:
1. A weapon – Endgames by Ru Xu features Crow, a sentient android that controls the Goswing’s murder of flying, heavily armed drones.

2. A difficult decision – Of all the difficult decisions in Diane Duane’s A Wizard Abroad… I’m going to have to give this one to Ronan. For a boy who has always needed to be in control, yielding his self to Another and not knowing what would become of his mind or physical form afterwards took guts.

3. A beautiful setting – The Burrow has always felt like home, gnomes and weeds and chaos of housing a family of nine plus guests and all. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is when we first touchdown in the Burrow’s drive.  It’s beautiful in the way that a clean kitchen is with the kettle steaming on the stove top.

4. A first kiss – It certainly isn’t Monty’s first kiss, but the first kiss between him and the boy he loves does happen during a stolen night away from their chaperone in Paris in Mackenzi Lee’s The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue.  It’s kind of a big deal for Monty.

5. A mistake – Pig definitely doesn’t mean, I don’t think, to drive the van up the ramp to the broken section of the dam’s wall and then over the wall in Dice Tsutsumi and Robert Kondo’s The Dam Keeper: World Without Darkness.  Poor kid just can’t both see over the dashboard and reach the petals.  And I expect being chased by a frog with a gun is distracting for the best drivers.

6. A betrayal – The biggest betrayal by far in the first book of the series The Dam Keeper is Pig’s father’s abandonment of him, leaving him in charge at such a young age of himself and the dam.  I have feelings about this, and I hope he does turn out to be mad, because I’m not sure I’m going to accept any other explanations.  (Libraries are still closed.  I am still unable to borrow the third and final volume.)

7. A loss – Oof. Yeah, lots of loss in Jennifer A. Nielsen’s The False Prince. I think the loss of the queen of Carthya hits Sage the hardest.

8. Best friends – I don’t want to be cliche, but Jo and Laurie are a pretty iconic duo still in Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy by Rey Terciero and Bre Indigo.

9. More than two siblings – Turns out Clay has a whole squadron of blood siblings in the graphic novel of Tui T. Sutherland’s The Dragonet Prophecy.

10. A single parent – This one is harder…. The eponymous wayward children of Every Heart a Doorway are mostly grieved by their parents and sent away to Miss West’s Home to in theory become the children that they were before the “traumatic” experiences that those parents don’t recognize as wonderful adventures in other lands. Most of the children I recall having had both parents, and this is the first book in this list that I don’t have in the house to recheck my memory. So can we go out on a limb and call Eleanor West a parent? She is in loco parentis, and she does a pretty fine job of it considering the task that she has assigned herself.  And Kade is her nephew and is not wanted back by his parents.

11. A grandparent – I haven’t got a copy of Dav Pilkey’s Dog Man with me either, but I don’t recall any grandparents in this volume. The first is more like disjointed short adventures than a continuous plot.  Dog Man may have saved a grandparent at some point… I really don’t recall.

12. A talking animal – I am in luck here! In Kazu Kibuishi’s The Stonekeeper’s Curse, the inhabitants of Kanalis have been becoming slowly more animal as part of a curse. The vulpine Leon Redbeard joins the crew. He’s a bipedal, clothing-wearing, talking fox.

So… kind of almost? To find a grandparent in these 12, I have to go to Endgames where Queen Corazana Lina’s recently deceased grandmother Queen Corazana began a war that Endgames, well, ends. Her portraits make appearances in the text.

If you want a more technically parental single parent, among these 12 the most befitting the title is Emily’s and Navin’s mother from Kibuishi’s Amulet series, though Pig’s father also qualifies, as does Sutherland’s Kestrel, I guess.

Look out for more versions of this game as I have a few more fun ideas for it, and thank you, Katie Merkel for the original hunt!

Challenge: Quarantine 2020 Book Tag

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I needed something lighthearted and fun this week for you all. I was going to play MASH again, which I haven’t done since 2015 and was thinking about again because I am again re-reading Harry Potter (my last round included seven very poorly named children whose names came from The Goblet of Fire).

Then I thought, “There must be some good new book tags about quarantine!” And there are, but the ones that I found are all the type where you answer more serious questions about your reading habits and make book recommendations.

I prefer the sillier book tags where you choose a number of books and the first word on a page becomes your answer to a question.

So I have written a quarantine book tag on my own! This will is the first book tag that I have ever originated. Please join in the fun. Please mention me as the originator.  Use it on whatever platform you like.

All told to answer these you will need the last six books that you read, your current read, and (if not among those seven) the first book that you finished in April and the last book that you finished in March. Good luck!


Quarantine 2020 Book Tag

You are quarantined with the protagonists of the last three books that you finished. Who are you locked in a house with?

I most recently finished Diane Duane’s A Wizard Abroad, fourth in the Young Wizards series, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and Mackenzi Lee’s The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, so I am in a house with Nita Callahan, Harry Potter, and Monty Montague.

Where are you in your current read? That’s where you are all holed up.

I’m reading Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban now, and we’re all quarantining together in the Shrieking Shack.

Did any of those protagonists bring pets to be locked in the house with you?

It looks like our only animal companion is Hedwig, who admittedly is a very useful companion during these odd times. She can get our mail out and back safely and take a bit of weight off the US Postal Service.

What are your house-mates all doing while locked inside? Open the last three books that you finished to a page at random. Each time find the first dynamic verb on the page. Use them to describe what each of them is up to.  (I changed the tenses to make them fit in my new sentences.)

Nita is coexisting with everyone. Just coexisting. She can have a bit of temper, but on the whole she is fairly easy to get along with. Harry doesn’t know what to do. Monty doesn’t say how he feels or what he’s doing. That’s probably extremely accurate.

How are your house-mates all doing while locked inside? Grab the three books you finished most recently. Open each to its first page. Find the first emotive adjective or adverb (you probably don’t want to use words like “small” or “red” here or “swiftly”; continue further than page 1 if you need to do) and use those to describe how they are all feeling.

It’s not easy for Nita. Harry is bored. Monty finds this all disorienting.

Make a grocery list. What favorite foods are you bringing back for each of your protagonist house-mates?

I think I am bringing back a lot of drinks: pumpkin juice, Coke, and booze.

You boldly venture to the grocery store for essentials and see the protagonists of the three books that you finished before that. Those protagonists are wearing masks and keeping a safe six feet distant from you. Give them a socially distanced high five.

I am waving hello to Pig from The Dam Keeper series by Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi, Sage from Jennifer A. Nielsen’s The False Prince, and Jo March from Rey Terciero and Bre Indigo’s Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy.

The antagonist of the book you most recently finished reading is NOT adhering to the rules and is grabbing up all the toilet paper.

The most recent book that I finished was A Wizard Abroad, so the Lone One in the form of Balor is hoarding the toilet paper.  Sowing chaos and destruction as usual.  Greetings and defiance to you, Lone One.  But you know what… I don’t know that I can stop him.  It took all the wizards of Ireland and the Sidhe to do so in this book, working with three ancient treasures of Ireland.  I am surprised to see Balor fit inside the grocery store at all.

What was the first book you finished in April? Open that book to a random page. The first name on the page is your cashier at the grocery store. Thank them for being there to help you.

The first book that I finished in April was Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.  Lucius Malfoy surprises me by being my cashier, but he’s here, and he’s following the procedures put in place to keep everyone safe if only to keep his job at the store, so I’ll thank him.

Open it again. The first person on that next page is cleaning the carts for you. Thank them too.

Draco’s cleaning the carts. This is not the staff that I expected to find here.

Safely home (in the Shrieking Shack for me), you join a video chat with the sidekick of the book that finished last in March. What is she or he or they going to do to cheer you up?

That for me was The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, which means Percy Newton and Felicity Montague (they really take turns being helpful to Monty) are there to back me up by video chat.  What are they doing to cheer me up?  Felicity is distracting me with scholarly discussions, I think, and tells me all she has learned about the virus and immune systems in general.  Percy is just being his sweet self.


I hope you are all doing as well as can do in your real-life quarantine situations. I hope you are healthy and sane. I hope you are keeping safe. And I hope you have toilet paper.