January – Little One’s Favorites!

Since starting this blog, I have often started the year sharing some of my own childhood favorites, sometimes while wincing and hoping they held up. But this year I’m doing it a bit differently. This year, I’ll be featuring some of the books my little one hands me to read over and over.

Out of respect for you, I will only include the ones I don’t actually mind reading over and over. His tastes are capricious and he doesn’t have a long attention span, but when he loves something, he can listen to it a seemingly infinite number of times.

He is roughly a year and a half now and has only recently become obsessed with books.  When he was younger he was never one to sit on your lap and leaf through the pages or quietly peek under flaps. He was a page tearer, a flap ripper-offer and a get down now-er.  But recently he’s been into books and I need to up my picture book game.

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The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street

The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser  Interior Illustrations by Karina Yan Glaser
Jacket Illustration by Karl James Mountford
Adorable Map Endpapers by Jennifer Thermes

Only a few days before Christmas the Vanderbeeker parents must give their children some heartbreaking news: they must move out of their beloved brownstone; their landlord won’t renew their lease. The spunky group is despondent but soon hatch a plan to win over the curmudgeon and save their home.

They’ve got a whole range of plans to save the day, from pretty respectable to absolutely harebrained. My favorite thing however is that they are REALLY bad at actually getting around to doing anything. The Vanderbeekers are horrible procrastinators and I love them all the better for it. They are forever not quite getting around to do these plans they formulate, but never fear, they’ll manage something in the nick of time.  The Vanderbeekers isn’t just schemes and sunshine however. It has a true heart. There’s a bit of tragedy that gets discovered as the story unfolds and there is of course the grief of losing a home. But the great thing about all of this is that adults are shown having emotions. Sometimes they cry, lash out or get quiet, but they really do show kids how they deal with their pain. And it ends up giving readers a model for ways to handle difficult situations and how their reactions affect others.

Ideal for fans of the Penderwicks, All-of-a-Kind Family, the Family Fletcher; the Vanderbeekers are your new motley crew. A biracial family with four sisters and one brother, they have widely divergent interests and talents, your little ones are bound to find someone to connect with. And…bear with me here…as a huge fan of Meet Me in St. Louis, I even got some Meet Me in St. Louis vibes from this: the big family with one boy in the middle, a big move near Christmas that no one wants, a neighbor boy with a crush. Go ahead, tell me I’m wrong. 

Age Recommendation:  This would make a good family read aloud, probably from age 7 or 8 and up, depending on how well your child could handle the spoiler below. I would use it in a classroom in Grades 4-5 and it would hold interest even for kids older than that.

The dialogue at the start of the book is intense. Some readers may have trouble differentiating  between all the characters. It is a great teaching opportunity. Using a graphic organizer to help readers organize their knowledge and thoughts about each character is a great way to help. I would love to have different members of a reading group work on each character and build a poster for reference with all their ideas.

There are also so many references: musicians, scientists, etc., that would be really fund for readers to explore with classmates, on their own, or with their families!

Sex, Nudity, Dating – An eighth grade boy wants to take a seventh grade girl to a dance.
Profanity – “screwed up”, “sucks”, “kick-butt”, “jerk face”
Death, Violence and Gore – Oliver jokes about taking someone down with a sword. A girl punches someone who insults her sister. SPOILER: Biederman’s wife and child died, hit by a cab.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – None.
Frightening or Intense Things – None.

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December: A Call to Action

This time of year libraries, books stores, newspapers, EVERYONE is putting out lists.

Best of 2017! Holiday Gift Ideas! So many lists of books. It is wonderful and also, sometimes, overwhelming.

But this year, I have a request to make. This is a book blog. This is not a politics blog. But the two are inextricably intertwined. Since the inauguration, hate crimes in this country have risen. The government has taken actions that have a disproportionately negative effect on people of color, on people of certain religions. So this year, I’m asking you, at the very smallest, most local level, to take a stand for diversity, inclusion and tolerance.

When you pick up that Best of 2017 list, that librarian penned “Holiday Gift Ideas for your Kid” list, can you please see if it is blindingly, painfully white, or if it is full all the same people that make up our country?

My local library, which I adore, put out a list that had almost no authors of color, almost no characters of color. And as uncomfortable as it made me, I said something. I spoke to the librarian and explained why I was passionate about these lists providing children with a better range of choices. I don’t know if she’ll consider my words when making future lists. I don’t know if I was as persuasive as I’d hoped, but I do know that I tried. I didn’t let it pass unremarked upon.

For many of us, this has been a year of picking up the phone, calling Senators, calling Representatives. It can be harder to challenge someone you see and interact with daily. But it also can be more personal. You have a greater chance of being heard. So if you possibly can, check your list. If it’s great, thank everyone and anyone who had a hand in it. If it’s not, take a stand.

If you need some resources, I think Grace Lin’s Ted Talk on Windows is very powerful.
Angie Manfredi’s list is excellent.
The Falmouth Public Library’s list is also full of wonderful picks.
Consulting Debbie Reese’s American Indians in Children’s Literature list is also always a great idea.

If you have seen any great, diverse, inclusive year end lists, please link them in the comments!

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Around America To Win The Vote

Around America to Win the Vote: Two Suffragists, a Kitten, and 10,000 Miles by Mara Rockcliff, Illustrated by Hadley Hooper

In 1916, Nell Richardson and Alice Burke took to the streets championing voting rights for women. Not ones to be kept at home, they traveled the country in a little yellow Saxon motor car. Their trip clearly spread the word in a publicity friendly way!

Rockliff focuses heavily on the positive in this book: circus parades, awards for driving cross country, daffodils clearing recalcitrant horses from their path and fancy dress parties. Nearly every negative encounter is nature-made; a blizzard, sticky mud puddles, or largely harmless, i.e. a hotel that doesn’t allow kittens. While it’s a sweet introduction the hard work put in by suffragists to secure the vote for women, it’s also a pure fairy tale. Even the Author’s Note at the end fails to mention violence done to suffragettes, beyond “arrest” and another major shortcoming is that the book fails to acknowledge, either in the text or in the author’s note, how the women’s voting rights movement excluded women of color.

If you are reading this with your children or in a school setting, it would be good to have a conversation about the true adversaries suffragettes faced and that any social or political movement working for change will not be all kittens in yellow bows and garden parties. You may also want to discuss ways to ensure marginalized people are included in any rights movement (and maybe be prepared to discuss how they’ve been at the forefront of many themselves).

Hooper’s illustrations make the book irresistible however. Beautifully rich with yellows, the color of the women’s votes movement, the illustrations will charm readers of all ages.

Age Recommendation: Little readers are happy to hear a story of adventuring with a cat. My four year old liked it immensely. School age readers will be ready to discuss the importance of voting rights for everyone. Older readers could be challenged to research and report back on the true hardships and sacrifices made by the women involved in the fight for voting rights. Middle grades students and older should be able and encouraged to draw parallels between the suffragist movement and some of today’s political movements (like BLM) and today’s voting restriction issues (gerrymandering, poll tax, voter ID laws, no votes for felons, etc).

Sex, Nudity, Dating – None.
Profanity – None.
Death, Violence and Gore – Two men holding guns are shown on a page where it mentions the women “dodged bullets by the Rio Grande”.  A cow skull is shown on a page about the desert.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – None.
Frightening or Intense Things – None.

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When Penny Met POTUS

When Penny Met POTUS
by Rachel Ruiz, Illustrated by Melissa Manwill

Penny’s mother works for POTUS in a big white house. Since Penny has never met this mysterious POTUS, her imagination runs wild, envisioning an exuberant blue furry monster, complete with horns. The monster flies atop Air Force One, fends off fearsome aliens in outer space with the help of his trusty secret service agents and guzzles coffee straight from the pot. When Penny finally meets POTUS, she is surprised to find POTUS is…human!

The payoff laugh comes because we are expecting the line to be “But you’re a-” woman. Penny is of course, far more interested in POTUS’s non-monstery qualities than her gender. Written and published ahead of the 2016 election, this book projects a hope and certainty that a woman can be president. After Hillary Clinton’s loss the joke falls more than a little flat, in fact, the ending stings a bit.

Age Recommendation: It is helpful if the children reading (or listening to) the book are a bit more savvy than Penny. If they know who works in the White House, that POTUS stands for President of the United States, these details mean they are in on the joke from the start. But for kids who don’t know the acronym, have any background knowledge about the White House, the humor may fall a bit flat. I mean, who wouldn’t be disappointed like Penny to find out there’s no furry monster on the job.

That said, my 17 month old adores it. So Melissa Manwill’s fuzzy blue monster illustrations will charm even those who have no idea what is going on in the text.

Sex, Nudity, Dating – None.
Profanity – None.
Death, Violence and Gore – None.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – None.
Frightening or Intense Things – None.

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Elections Ahoy!

For many of us, our level of political engagement increased exponentially following the inauguration of the 45th president. We went from reading Facebook, watching the news and chatting with friends to organizing, making daily calls to our elected officials and showing the heck up for primaries.

This month I read a few (just a few, I’m easing back into things here) books with a bit of politics between their pages. Stop back to see what’s up!

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Coming Soon…

It has been over a year since this blog went on hiatus due to the impending arrival of my second child. So needless to say, it has been a busy year, despite the quiet here. But it has a been a really important year of reflection. Having time away from the blog and the continued pressure to read and review has allowed me to see what changes I want to make as I plan my return.

In today’s political climate, more than ever, I want to make sure that the books I feature will show a wide variety of characters and highlight authors from many different backgrounds. I want to make sure that I am not contributing to the promotion of works with harmful or negative representation and that if they appear here (because of their popularity) that the issues with the content are made clear.

In the past,  like many other bloggers of privilege, I have made mistakes. I have given books positive reviews when members of one of the marginalized groups depicted have asked loud and clear for people to acknowledge the problems. (e.g.: Eleanor & Park, Lies We Tell Ourselves, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime). I have unintentionally used ableist language. I have sometimes written up content in a manner that that could lead readers to believe that I consider content with characters that are not allocishet to be concerning. It is not! (Unless of course, it’s bad rep!)

It will take me awhile to go back through all my old posts to fix past errors, but as I move forward I will do my best to avoid making the same mistakes.

Thanks for bearing with me! I hope we can share lots more books together!

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Usually May is reserved for miscellany.  Any books that I didn’t quite finish in time for their monthly post, things that didn’t quite match up with their intended theme and of course, things I’d been dying to read and review even though they didn’t fit any of my plans, they all found a home here.

But this month I am promising nothing.  I am expecting a baby in June, but this past week (way too far before his due date) he sent me to the hospital for a little excitement.  Meaning, I need to take it easy.  I am very much not skilled in this category.  Taking it easy when  I have things to do makes my skin crawl. I wish very much that I could use this enforced quiet to read, read, read, but my mind races and writes up to do lists that I have to other people execute for me and I cannot force it to focus on a page.

So, hopefully, I’ll get a few things done, and read a bit and spend zero additional time in the hospital before the baby is actually supposed to come.  But I’m in no position to deliver any type of promises.  Begging forgiveness and hoping that you’ll all fill me in on the wonderful things you are reading so that I can at least live vicariously!



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Rickshaw Girl

Rickshaw Girl by Mitali Perkins

When I first read Rickshaw Girl years ago, I loved it for the message it sent: that there is something intrinsically valuable in being a girl and that it is possible for girls to achieve their dreams even in situations where it may not seem possible.

It is set in Bangladesh, at a time when girls are only afforded limited education and have nearly no options when it comes to earning money and helping their families financially.  Naima and her sister are always aware of their families delicate monetary situation and sadly, Naima overhears her mother wish that one of her daughters had been born a son.  Frustrated at her inability to contribute, Naima is determined to find a way to help. She knows that in some places women can do more, achieve more and she wants this for herself.  She is not successful until she draws on her own talents and is able to be herself.  Surprisingly enough, she learns that there are women close to home who have ability, ambition and the desire to help other girls find a way to succeed.

Clearly I’m not the only one who sees the value in this slim volume, because it’s currently slated to be made into a movie!  I can only hope that it’s done well because I imagine it will be greatly enjoyed by audiences.

Age Recommendation: This is one of those elusive beginning chapter books, perfect for readers who are transitioning to something a little longer.  Unlike many other shorter texts, it’s packed with positivity, depth and characters that will broaden readers understanding of the world.  I think it could be enjoyed by anyone old enough to read it and although it is short, it would make an excellent choice for even upper elementary readers.

Sex, Nudity, Dating – None.
Profanity – None.
Death, Violence and Gore – None.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – None.
Frightening or Intense Things – None.

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Honor Girl

Honor Girl: A Graphic Memoir by Maggie Thrash

Maggie Thrash is not afraid to bring on the awkward in her graphic memoir, Honor Girl.  There is so much angst here, as there should be when you have a fifteen year old girl struggling through her first non-Backstreet Boy crush, who also just happens female. And a counselor at her camp.  Generally speaking all you need is camp+crush to achieve a good palm-sweat level of nervousness and stomach churning, but this really upped the ante.

Maggie is away at the same camp she has always gone to.  And that her mother attended before her.  And her mother before that.  It is all girls and heavy on tradition.  Maggie finds herself crushing on a counselor on the camp, a situation that she is certain will be frowned upon.  When a fellow camper discovers her secret, she and Maggie strike up a friendship born of secrets.  This new friendship sparks its own set of rumors, causing Maggie some problems, but the biggest troublemakers for her are the girls who surrounded her shooting rival, Libby.  Libby’s always been the best shot at camp, but Maggie’s need to escape her thoughts has led her to excel, rising even above Libby.  Libby’s friends take mean-girl bullying to the next level, making things physical at times.

I love the way friendships are shown in Honor Girl.  The way a situational friendship, one that has occurred because of a shared situation, or secret information, can blossom and almost supplant those that were in place prior.  It’s so very real the way you can be caught up with someone and end up telling them things that you wouldn’t tell people who are closer friends.  That whirlwind is captured perfectly here.

A myriad of reactions to Maggie’s sexual orientation are shown in Honor Girl. From complete blasé acceptance, to good-natured teasing, to disbelief, brushing it off, requiring she keep her feelings hidden and of course, the old “you can change”, it shows a full range of reactions that a teen might face.  Having so many different attitudes shown is great. I also appreciated that a counselor spoke to Maggie frankly about statutory rape and its potential consequences.  This is so often glossed over in books. Teens are routinely shown as engaging in relationships that fall in this category and yet it is never brought up. But it’s a real thing and in Maggie’s case, where people’s reaction to the sexual orientation of the people involved might be negative, there is possibly even a greater chance of adult involvement in the case and a desire to prosecute.

Framed in a flashback that allows Maggie to give you the final outcome of her summer of realizations and longing, Honor Girl will strike a chord with all readers who have felt the bittersweet pull of summer love and the deep longing that it will be requited.

Age Recommendation: Grades 9+  due to language and because it features a high school student.  But I would be happy to hand this to an 8th grader who was interested and would advocate making it available to anyone over Grade 6 who may have feelings for people of their own gender.

Sex, Nudity, Dating – a “sex quiz” is passed around in which campers record what base they’ve gotten to and who they’d like to lose their virginity to.  There’s a joke that a camper is a sexual prisoner.  There’s discussion of mooning people.  Naked butts are shown.  Campers discuss which boy is the cutest.  Someone has seen one with his shirt off.  There is teasing related to crushes.  Love notes are written.  There’s talk about a “gay code”.  Maggie wonders if her feelings make her a pervert.  There were rumors about a pair of campers, that they would wear each other’s underwear and sneak out together and were found together naked in a sleeping bag.  Maggie’s crush is discovered, her secret in another’s hands.  Penises are mentioned.  There is handholding.  There’s kissing.  There are rumors spread.  Campers joke about dressing like sluts.  A boy calls a camper sexy. There’s a comment about being on all fours.
Profanity – “fucking”, “God”, “freaking”, “shit”, “for Christ sake”, “bitch”, “dickheads”, “moron”, “jiz face” “damn”, “asshole”, “twat”,  “Jesus Christ”, also, while not profane, “midget” is a term that is considered offensive.
Death, Violence and Gore – The camp director would occasionally threaten to paddle the girls.  Girls shoot guns at a rifle range, trying to earn a certification from the NRA.  A girl slams another to the ground.  A book is thrown at a camper’s face, cutting it and causing her to bleed.  There is a joke about beating up boys.  A camper jokes (I think) about being suicidal.  A camper slaps another camper across the face, forcing her to the ground. A camper jokes about going on a killing spree. A camper says “say away from me or I’ll kill you”.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – A boy tells a camper to “stay off the crack”.  She is not using crack.  Counselors are smoking.  Campers speculate that the counselors are drinking alcohol.  Someone who is hosting the campers is likely drunk and shown pouring a drink from a can that is very similar to a recognizable beer can.
Frightening or Intense Things – There’s some typical mean girl behavior.  Rumors are spread about girls.

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