Women in History and Today
My First Book of Feminism (for Boys) by Julie Merberg and illustrated by Michéle Brummer-Everett. Downtown Bookworks-Simon & Schuster, 2018. Intended audience: Ages 0-3.
Feminism for boys! Very young boys! Or boys of all ages. And women who need reminders about these same principles. This is about respecting women as people, allowing space for their voices and ideas, and about unlearning the toxic masculinity both that says that boys can take advantage of girls and that tries to define what men and women should and should not do. It suggests some simple acts one can do to express one’s respect for oneself and for the women in one’s life. The illustrations, though sparing in color, using only the primary three, green, black, and white, seem to represent a more inclusive feminism too than is too often practiced, which I appreciate.
Juno Valentine and the Magical Shoes by Eva Chen and illustrated by Derek Desierto. Feiwel & Friends-MacMillan, 2018. Intended audience: Ages 4-6.
This was an odd one for me. Juno is searching for her own favorite shoes, plain white Keds, when she discovers a magical portal to a magical closet filled with shoes from historical women which, when she puts them on, transform her into the women who owned the shoes. Or that’s how it seems. There’s not a whole lot of explanation about what is happening to Juno or about the women themselves. I would have liked to have this be a very long story about Juno overcoming with these women the trials that they faced both in their climb to greatness and then once that greatness had been achieved. What I got was a line each about one quality that helped each woman succeed. And I suppose in its way that that’s its own positive message, but it was not what I expected, and it wasn’t the story that I wanted—because it was really not much of a story. This was not about overcoming adversity but about possessing certain qualities—and shoes. This book supports in part the idea that clothes make the woman, and while I understand that Eva Chen is a fashion director, a former editor-in-chief of the fashion magazine Lucky, and a former beauty and health director for Teen Vogue, it’s not the message that I want to send to children who may not be able to afford or who may not be interested in owning the shoes that are chic for their chosen profession. It closes with Eva changing her own shoes to reflect her experiences in the shoes of and her present in the footsteps of these powerful women. In the back, there is a page with a bit more about each of the women, but the picture book itself really is the type of story that only works if you already know the figures. In short, I think the book, the idea had a lot of potential that it didn’t live up to because it didn’t go far enough. As an introduction to influential women of history, it is far from the best that I have seen, and right now, there are a lot of fish to choose from in that pond. There are better, more comprehensive books even for younger audiences. Had this been printed another year, several years earlier, I probably would have rated it more highly because it would have been filling a need. It does have a more creative plot than many of the other books about influential women for children that I can think of which are often written more as encyclopedias than stories, but it slides past those women’s experiences in favor of the protagonist’s to the point that only a foreknowledge of the women gives the women context.
My First Little People, Big Dreams: Amelia Earhart by María Isabel Sánchez Vegara and illustrated by MARIADIAMANTES. Frances Lincoln-Quarto, 2018.
I learned a bit about both of these women from these board books. I pulled a copy of each of the available board books in this series for a story time and offered to read any in which the audience was interested. (Also available in board book form from this series are biographies of Coco Chanel, Frida Kahlo, Marie Curie, and Maya Angelou; more are coming in February.) The kids didn’t voice any opinions, but two adults in the audience expressed interest. Vegara does a good job of keeping to the truth without going into either too much detail for her audience or too romanticizing the history. Hepburn’s war-torn childhood is not forgotten nor is Earhart’s disappearance left out. These books talk not just about the one act that these women are most famous for, but also their philanthropy, what influenced their lives, and their influence on others. Their lives are framed as models and lessons. I’m not 100% sure what the appropriate audience would be for these books. As with many nonfiction board books today, I’m just not sure if the interest is there for the 0-3 year olds that board books are marketed towards, but I had no trouble reading these to my story time audience which consisted that day of children probably up to age 7.
Fangsgiving by Ethan Long. Bloomsbury, 2018.
I was truly pleased by this original Thanksgiving tale. A group of monsters (a vampire named Vladimir, a werewolf, a witch, a mummy named Mumford) every fourth Thursday in November get together to celebrate Thanksgiving, and they all cook a special dish. When Vladimir’s family drop in unexpectedly, they go about expressing their distaste for the dishes and improving them with their own ghastly twists (boogie butter, eyeballs, baboon farts), much to the chagrin of the monsters whose food and hard work they disparage. Because they are family and he loves them, Vladimir wants to make the best of it, but when their dog Spike eats the feast in its entirety, Vladimir cries that they have ruined Thanksgiving. To which his family responds that they were only trying to help, that he can’t be mad at them because they are family. Vladimir reminds them that families forgive one another and work together, and together with Vladimir’s friends, they set out to make a second feast that takes everyone’s tastes and ideas into account. Spike remains outside, and the monsters start a new tradition: Fangsgiving on the fourth Friday of every November. There are some important lessons that this book has to impart to the young and the old any time that they are about to embark on a day of getting together with family and friends (Thanksgiving, yes, but other holidays and events too). Family and friends don’t always have the same ideas or tastes as you or as each other. Though they are often acting with the best intentions, they may forget their boundaries and their manners. It’s okay to get angry. Sometimes you have to let them know that what they are doing is hurtful. Once you have done so, you can forgive one another and work towards a more perfect day. With lots of gross ingredients and several puns to get laughs, plus the spooky characters, this is a likely hit with most kids, despite its more narrow color palette.
Bear Can’t Sleep by Karma Wilson and illustrated by Jane Chapman. Margaret K. McElderry, 2018. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.
Bear’s considerate friends stop into his cave to see that he is warm and comfortable when he should be hibernating. But Bear can’t sleep, despite his best intentions, earnest attempts, and his friends’ acts of kindness. The friends try building up the fire and turning down the lights. They make him warm milk to drink. They sing him a lullaby. But nothing is working. So Bear gives up and decides that since they are here and he is not asleep, he will tell them a story—a new story. And just before the end, he falls asleep, snoring. The friends will have to wait till Spring to hear the end. As with most of these stories, Chapman’s soft, warm, realistic illustrations are the star. This would make a good bedtime story.
Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse Goes Christmas Shopping by Annie North Bedford, Bob Moore, and Xavier Atencio. Little Golden-Golden-Penguin Random, 2018. Originally published 1953. Intended audience: Ages 2-5.
We read this book with the help of a Google Home Mini, which produced background music and sound effects cued to the words of the story as spoken by my voice—which was really neat when it worked. It once lost me very early in the story, but then found me again. It seemed to lose me again while the boys were on the space ride. It cut out entirely when the store closed—and it never did pick back up. I wonder if it works better when in private and not in a store on a Black Friday weekend. But that’s another review for another day. The story itself does not show Mickey or Minnie in the best light ever. They take their nephews shopping, but then each think that they’ve left the boys with the other, and end up leaving them unsupervised and then in the store altogether after it closes—which must mean that neither sought and found the rest of the family much before if at all before the store closed and neither was watching the boys or one another. This was about doing a chore and not about spending time with family as the boys had hoped. Of course, the boys too were distracted by the toys and the rides in the toy department. After realizing that they have fallen asleep in the enclosed pod of the ride and awoken in a closed store (no employee checked the ride?), the boys find the store’s Santa Claus, still in his suit, and Santa delivers them to the front door, where Mickey and Minnie are banging to be let in to find their renegade nephews. Perhaps because I know Mickey and Minnie and not Ferdie and Mortie, I judge as negligent and in need of correction the adults’ actions more than I do Ferdie’s and Mortie’s.
Merry Christmas, Little Elliot by Mike Curato. Henry Holt-Macmillan, 2018. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.
This cover does not do this book justice. I understand that the publishers were going for a more classic, more simplistic cover, but the cover it has would not make me pick the book up as readily as if a full-page illustration had been used. That’s probably personal preference and a small quibble though. The inside is every bit as vibrant and realistic and amazing as I remember Curato’s illustrations being. Mouse is really excited for Christmas, but Elliot just is not. When they go to see Santa, Elliot asks for Christmas spirit from Saint Nick, but Santa says Elliot will have to find that himself. Elliot and Mouse try lots of wintertime activities to try to find Elliot’s Christmas spirit, but to no avail; this elephant has no luck. Walking home, a letter blows into Elliot’s hands. It’s for Santa. They go back to the store to try to hand-deliver it, but they’ve missed him. So Elliot with Mouse decide that they need to fulfill the Christmas wish themselves. They take a cab outside of the city to become friends with the letter’s sender, a little Asian American girl named Noelle. And in granting her wish, Elliot finds his Christmas spirit too. This story is saccharine in the best way, a tale of Christmas spirit that isn’t commercial and is truly attainable magic.
Santa Bruce by Ryan T. Higgins. Disney-Hyperion, 2018. Intended audience: Ages 3-5.
The mice are overstepping again, this time making commitments for Bruce that Bruce does not want to keep. He is a grumpy bear, and wearing red long johns should not volunteer him to be Santa Claus despite one excited raccoon’s mistaking him for the jolly saint. Nevertheless, the mice invite excited animals into Bruce’s home not once but twice and say that Bruce will deliver presents overnight to the woodland creatures. Very, very reluctantly and because the mice have done all of the work and have promised to do in fact more work than they can actually do—forcing some of the onus onto Bruce once they are already out in the snow—Bruce agrees to their plot. Presents are delivered, a joyous feast is attended, and Bruce—Bruce is still grumpy, vowing to sleep through next year’s Christmas as he had hoped to do through this. I actually like that Bruce is not won over and filled with the holiday spirit. It’s a change from the Scrooge & Grinch narrative that so pervades Christmas stories. Though much Christmas cheer is spread here and everyone (except Bruce) is celebrating, there is no real miracle here, just a grumpy bear fulfilling promises made on his unwilling behalf because deep down he is a softie for kids—being mother himself to four nearly grown geese.
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.