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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May…

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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Girls! Girls! Girls!

It is a terribly common thing to publish a book with the word girl in the title.  Many of these books are actually adult books about women, in which case the word girl grates a bit. But around these parts, namely young adult, middle grades and kidlit, girl is generally very literal.

This month, I’ll be exploring some of these titles that feature girls.  You will be shocked, SHOCKED to learn that most of them also have female main characters.  I know, it’s earth-shattering.  This is also probably the time to remind you (just in case you’d forgotten), that books with girl in the title, books about girls and their interests and activities and lives, are not just for girls.  They are for anyone and everyone.  It is a fallacy that boys are not interested in stories about girls and the perpetuation of this myth by parents, teachers, librarians and yes, also peers, is doing a great disservice, to our young men, who are learning their way in this world, and to our young women who need allies for equality.

So check out these titles, think widely and broadly when recommending them and ENJOY!

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Fenway and Hattie

Fenway and Hattie by Victoria J. Coe

Fenway and Hattie have always been best buddies.  They play, romp at the dog park and Fenway sleeps cuddled up in Hattie’s mint and vanilla scented bed.  But a big move from the city to a house shakes everything up. Most concerning, Hattie suddenly doesn’t have time for Fenway and seems to be pulling away.

Fenway’s exuberant personality means that’s he’s undaunted.  Despite veiled warnings from the dogs next door, a sad move from Hattie’s cuddly bed to a room with a gate, Fenway is sure he can get his beloved short human back.

Written from Fenway’s point of view, this book will doubtless charm young readers.  The text is fairly simple, meaning it will work well for either K-2 readers who are reading above grade level or 3rd graders.  The point of view will require a lot of inference on the part of students which is a great skill to develop.

Unfortunately, I just didn’t love it.   I wish I had, but I found it slow in parts, pretty repetitive and I wanted bigger plot, bigger goings on. So while I know plenty of young dog lovers that would enjoy it, and it certainly is a welcome break from the likes of the endless Puppy Place series, I would likely only recommend it to readers who already had a love for dogs.

Age Recommendation: Fenway and Hattie is appropriate for all ages, but will probably hold the most interest for students up to age 10.

Sex, Nudity, Dating – None.
Profanity – None.
Death, Violence and Gore – Dogs and squirrels are clearly enemies.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – None.
Frightening or Intense Things – None.

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Miss Moon: Wise Words from a Dog Governess

Miss Moon: Wise Words from a Dog Governess by Janet Hill

If you’ve ever thought your child could use a coffee table book this would clearly be the one to own.  I fully expect to see it in Anthropologie’s terribly well curated book section.  High-end precious baby stores should be delicately tucking it into photo shoots, positioned just so in the nursery or child’s room of your dreams. It is just that beautiful.

Certainly there is nothing shocking, groundbreaking or riveting in Miss Moon’s recommendations for good behavior. A brief sentence per page is all we’re afforded. Therefore, it is not the words that will capture readers’ attention or make you wish you could walk directly into a page.  It’s Janet Hill’s exquisite illustrations that do that.  And after you have read the book and admired its beauty, please curb the impulse to rip out the pages and frame them for your walls.  After all, they (and many more dreamy images – I dare you not to fall in love with Lisette and the Skunk) are available for purchase at Janet Hill’s Etsy shop: Janet Hill Studio.  What’s more, they are completely reasonably priced.

I would love to see more from Janet Hill, next time with a rich, perhaps magical plot that offers as much to read as there is to look at.

Side note to teachers:  If anyone still does picture prompts for writing I would retire the masterful yet ubiquitous Chris Van Allsburg pages in favor of some of Hill’s art for a change!

Age Recommendation: Recommended for anyone who likes things of beauty.  The prints could be admired by the youngest baby in a crib and there are certainly adults who might want to place a copy somewhere that both they and their guests could enjoy.

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

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