Posted in Intermediate, Middle Grade, Non-fiction, Non-Fiction

Malala Yousafzai: Warrior with Words

Malala Yousafzai: Warrior with Words, by Karen Leggett Abouraya/Illustrated by Susan L. Roth, (Jan. 2019, Lee and Low), $19.95, ISBN: 9781620148389

Ages 6-10

This latest biography of activist and Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai speaks to younger, intermediate readers on their level: she grew up in Pakistan’s Swat Valley, lovingly referred to by Malala as “my Swat”. Her father was the principal of a school for girls, and she grew up loving books and learning. In 2007, when the Taliban came to power and tried to ban education for girls and women, Malala began blogging, under a pen name; her blog was picked up by the BBC’s website in 2009. Her family fled the Swat Valley when Pakistan’s army fought the Taliban, but they returned when the fighting was over, finding much of their home destroyed. In 2012, Malala and two friends   were shot by Taliban soldiers who boarded their school bus. She was taken to a hospital in England, and her activism became a worldwide phenomenon, speaking at the United Nations and receiving a Nobel Prize for her work.

The text is straightforward, describing the Taliban’s policies and even Malala’s shooting in plain language. The Taliban doesn’t get to take Malala’s story away from her: she shines here, with her accomplishments and her dedication to education for all being the main focus of the book. Her awards and her studies are lauded, as is her love of the color pink and her love for her family and her home. Back matter includes information on Pakistan, the Taliban, The Malala Fund, and a spotlight on youth activism and organizations.

The collage art is outstanding. Most of the artwork is soft, using felts and fabrics with warm and soft colors to create Malala, her family, her world, and the diversity of the United Nations and our world; even when women must don black clothing to avoid notice by the Taliban, the crisp blacks and whites of the characters clothing are felt: soft, warm. That all changes for the two pages introducing the Taliban, which depicts them using photo art with crudely drawn, mask-like faces. It made me sit up the first time I read the book, and on subsequent readings, I realized how brilliant illustrator Susan L. Roth is. It’s a subtle, but jarring change that lets readers experience just a fraction of the discomfort, the fear, that these figures brought with them. Incredible artwork by an award-winning illustrator, and it supports and gives life to Karen Leggett Abouraya’s informative reporting. Add this to your picture book biographies.

Posted in Intermediate, Non-Fiction, Preschool Reads

Show kids the excitement of cooking with Kids Cooking!

Kids Cooking: Students Prepare and Eat Foods From Around the World, by George Ancona, (Oct. 2018, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9780763698768

Ages 4-7

When my son (now a high schooler) was in first grade, his school participated in a great program called CookShop. The teachers ran the program, and we parents volunteered as helpers, and a couple of times a month, kids learned cooking skills: chopping (with plastic knives), mixing, and the math involved in putting together a recipe. I loved it, and he loved the process of creating meals. No, he didn’t eat anything he made (that honor went to me), but working together brought us even closer, and the whole class came together as a group to prepare and share food. I may have enjoyed CookShop more than he did – I still have my apron! – and am glad it’s still a program in NYC schools. When I read Kids Cooking: Students Prepare and Eat Foods From Around the World, I was immediately brought back to that first grade classroom and the warm memories.

Kids Cooking is photographer George Ancona’s venture into classrooms where a similar organization, Cooking with Kids, brings children from diverse backgrounds come together to prepare healthy meals from different cultures. They roast vegetables and prepare a Moroccan sauce called chermoula; make Chinese-American fried rice with sweet and sour cucumbers; work together to cook up an Italian minestrone soup with breadsticks, and learn about different tomatoes that go into making a Mexican salsa with tortillas and tamales. They draw pictures as they go; teachers use a globe to demonstrate where different meals originate, and parents and teachers make sure that everyone’s cooking experience is safe and exciting.

The book presents photos of the kids and grownups at work, along with some of the children’s artwork, and phrases from the cultures whose meals they’ve prepared. It’s a celebration of food, friendship, and different cultures: meals prepared and shared together are the best meals. An author’s note mentions the Cooking With Kids program and the schools that participated in the book.

With the holidays on the horizon, Kids Cooking is a great book to read to kids and get them talking about meals they enjoy at home. A recipe link included in the book didn’t work for me, but the Cooking with Kids website has recipes available: see if your family wants to try a few out!

You can find more of George Ancona’s photos and learn more about his children’s books here.

Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

#AmalUnbound is unputdownable!

Amal Unbound, by Aisha Saeed, (May 2018, Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin Kids), $17.99, ISBN: 978-0-399-54468-2

Recommended for readers 10-14

Twelve-year-old Amal is a girl living in a Punjabi village in Pakistan. When she has a rough interaction with the village’s wealthy and cruel landowner, Jawad Sahib, he demands payment for her “insult” by taking her on as an unpaid servant to work off her family’s debt. Charged for room and board, yet receiving no pay for her labor, it becomes clear all too quickly that Amal may be doomed to spend the rest of her life there. Jawad antagonizes her, and other servants are initially cruel to her, but she finds some solace as servant to Sahib’s mother, who is kinder. Amal fears her dreams of education and teaching are gone for good until a Sahib family venture opens the opportunity for Amal to attend school – and possibly, give her the chance to regain her freedom.

Inspired by Malala Yousafszai and young women like her, Amal Unbound is a compulsively readable upper middle-grade story about indentured servitude, gender inequality, and the right to education. Amal is a bookish young woman forced to drop out of school when her sister is born. She’s angry at the reaction that the birth of a girl, rather than a boy, brings not only to her family, but her neighbors. Furious that women are valued less than men, and angry that she must put her own dreams on hold, she lashes out at the local landowner, who takes advantage of her family’s debt to get even with her. She refuses to feel powerless, which further aggravates Jawad Sahib; his mother Nasreen Baji intervenes on Amal’s behalf, but she’s still part of a corrupt system that lets her family keep indentured servants – essentially, slaves – as labor. Amal discovers that Nasreen Baji is in a gilded cage of her own, but does that excuse her own injustices? It creates a good discussion point; one of many readers will discover in the pages of Amal Unbound. Publisher Penguin has you covered with a free, downloadable discussion guide.

Aisha Saeed creates complex characters and a strong story that you won’t want to put down until you’ve turned the last page. I hope I get summer reading lists with Amal Unbound on them; I can’t wait to booktalk this one to my library kids.

Book Riot has a good interview with Aisha Saeed and Shehzil Malik, designer of that beautiful cover, that you should check out and add to your booktalk info. Amal Unbound has starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly, School Library Journal, and Kirkus, and is on my Newbery shortlist.

Posted in professional development

Professional Development Reading: Time for a Story

Time for a Story: Sharing Books with Infants and Toddlers, by Amy Brooks Read & Saroj Nadkarni Ghoting, (Nov. 2015, Gryphon House), $19.95, ISBN: 9780876596586

I’m always looking for new ways to learn within my profession and expand on that knowledge. And since the family finances are like, “Nuh-uh” when it comes to getting another grad degree, I’ve turned to books. There is some great stuff out there! Since I’m always in search of strengthening my storytimes, especially to babies and toddlers, I started with Time for a Story. Saroj Ghoting spoke at an in-service at my library one time, and I really liked the way she talked about storytelling and how to apply learning to storytime, so I jumped at the chance to read a book she had a hand in.

Time for a Story is a good start to digging into storytime and how to incorporate singing, play, talking, reading, and writing into any and every book you pick up. Amy Brooks Read and Saroj Ghoting have tips and reading lists ready for babies and toddlers, concentrating on the early childhood literacy and the best ways to introduce a lifelong love of reading in kids. Reading, you say? Yes, reading! Kids start making connections early – print awareness is wonderful, we all know that. Keep books all over the place for kids to develop that print awareness. Let them chew on those board books (not library books, though, PLEASE), let them hold books and turn pages. I hand out books for kids to hold onto and explore during my storytimes, so it was gratifying to read that here. I was also relieved to discover that it is okay for my kiddos to wander during storytime, and for me to keep reading – they’re still paying attention while they explore. Family Literacy Tips are great to post around your libraries and classrooms, and talk through with parents during storytime.

There are book lists and samples of ways to read different books. I appreciated the advice on reading wordless or sparsely worded books, like Peggy Rathmann’s Good Night Gorilla, because I feel like it’s an untapped resource for my storytimes.

This was a nice start to my professional development reading, with information that I will come back to. Saroj Ghoting has a very useful website where you can find resources in a multitude of languages, including Spanish and Chinese. Gryphon House has a video of Amy Brooks Read discussing storytime strategies on their website.

Posted in Animal Fiction, Early Reader, Fiction, Preschool Reads

Sugar and Spice and everything… Candy Pink?

candy-pink-coverCandy Pink, by Adela Turin/Illustrated by Nella Bosnia, (Nov. 2016, NubeOcho), $15.95, ISBN: 978-84-944446-7-8

Recommended for ages 5-8

A classic written 40 years ago with the goal to promote equality between boys and girls arrives in the United States for the first time. Candy Pink is written in the style of a folk tale, explaining how elephant all became gray. You see, male elephants were always gray, but female elephants were candy pink. To get that color, they ate only peonies and anemones, wore bibs and shoes, and stayed together in a little walled garden, while the boy elephants playing in the mud, eating yummy grass, and sleeping beneath trees. When one little elephant named Daisy doesn’t turn pink, her father is harsh and cruel, her mother, sad. They pressure her to eat more pink food and threaten her by telling her no one will want to marry her. When they finally give up, the girl elephant embraces her freedom, sheds her bib and shoes, and enjoys life – something that doesn’t go unnoticed by the other female elephants. And, well… you can’t tell the difference between boy and girl elephants anymore, can you?

I was taken aback the first time I read Candy Pink, because it seems harsh on a young girl: the emphasis on appearance and girlish pursuits, Daisy’s parents’ terrible reaction to her inability to fit their mold for her. A second reading put more in perspective for me – the little elephant embraced her uniqueness and wasn’t ostracized for it – the other female elephants flocked to her, and made a huge change that exists to this day. It’s a powerful little story for school-age kids that lends itself to some pretty big ideas. Originally published in Italian in 1976 with the title Rosaconfetto, Adela Turin tackled gender identity and the pressure society puts on appearances by using a parable that everyone could understand and that young girls could relate to. Forty years later, Candy Pink is just as relevant.

Award-winning illustrator Nella Bosnia’s artwork is beautiful. She uses shades of gray and pink against muted background colors for the world of the story; primarily greens, blues, and yellows for the assorted flora and fauna. The bibs, shoes, and bows on the elephants tails are frilly and exaggerated, even pinker than the pale pink elephants; against Daisy’s natural gray, it’s a true contrast.

An interesting and still-timely look at gender, society, and the expectations parents put on their own children. A good addition to bookshelves. Booktalk and display with self-esteem boosters like Karen Beaumont’s I Like Myself!, Peter Reynolds’ Ish, and Todd Parr’s It’s Okay to Be Different. Want another elephant fairy tale? Emma Dodd’s Cinderelephant is a light-hearted, fun take on the classic fairy tale.

Posted in Early Reader, Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Realistic Fiction

A school can be anywhere: Armando and the Blue Tarp School

armandoArmando and the Blue Tarp School, by Edith Hope Fine, Judith Pinkerton Josephson/Illustrated by Hernán Sosa (March 2014, Lee & Low), $12.95, ISBN: 9781620141656

Recommended for ages 5-8

Armando’s family are pepenadores -trash pickers – living off things they can use, recycle, and sell from the city trash dump community where they live. Armando works with his father to help support the family, but dreams of being one of Señor David’s regular students. Señor David sets up a blue tarp in his colonia and teaches the children how to spell, count, and learn words in English, and says a school can be anywhere – even on a tarp in a colonia. At first, Armando’s parents discourage him from attending the school, saying that they need him to help the family and that they have always been pepenadores, but slowly, his father sees the importance of an education and allows Armando to attend the school. Shortly after, a fire burns down several homes in the colonia, Armando’s included, and it’s Armando’s picture of the blaze that runs in a newspaper and calls support to the colonia. Money and support come into the community, allowing for a new school building to be built.

Inspired by the real-life Señor David: a New York City special education teacher in the 1980s who went to Mexico to teach children living in the Tijuana colonia – Armando and the Blue Tarp School shows kids that education is a privilege not every child enjoys. Armando desperately wants to learn; he saves bits of erasers, paints, and paper he finds while working alongside his father in the trash dumps, and is thrilled when Señor David returns to his area. Kids will also see that not all parents understand the value of education: Armando’s father scoffs at his son’s “dreams of school”. To many parents in poverty-stricken areas, education takes time away that could be spent working and earning money for the family. For many families, work is survival and education is an expense they can’t afford.

This is a great book to use in classroom, library, and home discussion about how education is perceived throughout the world, and it opens up a chance to find out from kids what they think about education. Do they understand how important it is in the long run? Ask themselves to think about Armando, and put themselves in his place. There are some activities at the Blue Tarp website, some discussion questions, and suggestions for expanding on the story’s theme.

Armando and the Blue Tarp School was a nominee for a California Young Reader Medal and was turned into a stage production in 2009; kids can listen to one of the songs from the show and watch video taken from the show at the Lee & Low blog.

An author’s note at the end of the book provides more information about David Lynch, his Responsibility organization, and the Los Angeles Times article about his work in Mexico that prompted an anonymous donor to donate money to build a school in the Tijuana colonia. There are photos of Lynch and his colonia students, success stories of previous students, and a glossary and pronunciation guide.

A valuable addition to #weneeddiversebooks and school-age collections.


Posted in Uncategorized

The Last Boy at St. Edith’s wants OUT!

last boyThe Last Boy at St. Edith’s, by Lee Gjersten Malone (Feb. 2016, Aladdin), $16.99, ISBN: 9781481444354

Recommended for ages 8-12

Seventh-grader, Jeremy, is not thrilled. His school, St. Edith’s, was formerly an all-girls’ school that briefly admitted boys, but it never quite caught on. He’s been counting down the number of boys leaving the school, until Andrew – #2 on his list – announced he was leaving, making Jeremy the last boy at St. Edith’s. It’s embarrassing and it’s really annoying, but his mom, who works at the school so he and his sisters can go for free, will not even consider letting him go to the local public school. Desperate, Jeremy decides to take matters into his own hands: he’s going to get expelled.

Turning to his best friend, Claudia, the two come up with a series of pranks that should do the trick. Jeremy has rules: no one gets embarrassed or hurt, and no permanent damage gets done. But the mysterious prankster’s first gag gets huge laughs, and Jeremy finds himself caught in the snowballing effect of pranking; he’s got to up the ante, but things start getting out of control. How far will Jeremy go to get thrown out?

I LOVED this book. Jeremy has a distinct voice that comes through loud and clear, and he’s got some valid arguments: he’s the butt of other school’s jokes; his own school’s teachers refer to the student body as “ladies”, so he feels humiliated in his own environment; his mother, however valid her reasons are for keeping him at St. Edith’s, is too stressed out to really listen and understand Jeremy; and his flaky tree-hugging dad is not there for him at all. He still manages to keep a sense of humor about him, and he’s a likable kid. He’s a good kid from a good family who just wants one thing to go his way, and he’s got a conscience – whether he always listens to it remains to be seen.

There are plenty of social and family issues addressed in this seemingly light read: family relationships; divorce; social classes; gender roles; friendship, and consequences. The Last Boy at St. Edith’s deserves a spot on summer reading lists, for sure. I’ll be putting together some discussion questions and a booktalk to generate interest in this great debut.

The Last Boy at St. Edith’s has received a starred review from Kirkus Reviews. You can visit Ms. Malone’s author website for more information about her, including links to social media and information on school and library visits.


Posted in Non-fiction, Uncategorized

The Battle for Room 314: One Teacher’s Story

room314The Battle for Room 314: My Year of Hope and Despair in a New York City High School, by Ed Boland (Feb. 2016, Grand Central Publishing), $26, ISBN: 978-1455560615

Recommended for ages 16+

I normally review books for children here at MomReadIt, but I felt like this was an important book to review here for parents, educators, and anyone else trying to wrap their heads around education these days. Education is a hot-button topic everywhere – it’s always been, because it concerns our kids, and our future, but it’s never hotter than it is during an election year, and that’s exactly where we’re heading.

We know the education system needs help. We know that underserved communities in our country are falling through the system’s cracks. The Battle for Room 314 tells the story of one man who tried to make a difference in both arenas. Ed Boland left a high-profile career at a non-profit to teach in a New York City public high school. He was ready to make a difference in the lives of young people, having seen the fantastic results of his non-profile organization, which sends exemplary children from low-income neighborhoods to the best schools, giving them an advantage in life they wouldn’t otherwise have. He’s ready to cut out the middleman and help these kids himself.

What a rude awakening. What Mr. Boland learns in his year of teaching is that politics enters the classroom at all levels. That the problems aren’t only in the classroom, they’re in the homes that these children come from. That teachers are burned out, overworked, and when they try to propose changes that will benefit the students and make things easier on themselves, they get stymied by their own union. He can’t make these kids turn on to learning, not when the issues they’re facing in their individual lives seem almost insurmountable. He met young girls who were prostituting themselves at middle grade age; children homeschooled on the subway by their homeless parents; kids who were running drug rings for their incarcerated family members. Their realities are so far away from anything Boland could comprehend – and myself, reading this book – that it seems like the ultimate Sisyphean task.

This isn’t going to be a fairy tale ending: the title alone is your heads-up to that. It’s not meant to be. It’s an indictment of so-called education reform and a plea for the powers that be to understand that changes need to be made at ALL levels, by multiple organizations. More standardized testing isn’t going to make these children succeed. Common Core isn’t going to help these kids.

I loved this book. Boland has a sense of humor and a sincerity in his belief that makes it hard to read this book at times. I hurt for him, and I hurt for the kids in the classroom just as much as I wanted to scream at them for Boland. I’m a public librarian in an area that serves a lot of underprivileged kids, and I only see a fragment of what Boland witnessed in his classroom every day. There are some days where I just knock my head against a wall and wonder if I’m ever going to get through to “my kids”. Some days, the answer is “maybe”. Some days, I even feel like it’s a “yes”. Boland’s book spurs me on, to keep doing what I’m doing, but I’m in a completely different area, doing a completely different job. I see where I can make change, and go for it. And that’s what Mr. Boland’s book reminded me to keep in mind.

Parents, read this book and understand what our educators are up against. Educators, read this book and know that you’re not alone. People get it, and more people will continue to get it. All we have to do is keep pushing for the right changes to be identified. And it has nothing to do with a new state test.

Posted in History, Middle Grade, Non-fiction, Tween Reads, Women's History

For the Right to Learn tells Malala’s story for younger readers

malalaFor the Right to Learn: Malala Yousafzai’s Story, by Rebecca Langston-George/Illus. by Janna Bock (Sept. 2015, Capstone), $15.95, ISBN: 9781623704261

Recommended for ages 9-14

There are some great books available on Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager that defied the Taliban by demanding education for girls and young women, and was shot for her activism. I have most of them in my library – I buy every book I can on Malala, because I want boys and girls alike to know her story and understand that education is a right that not every child enjoys in this world, and the lengths that children will go to in order to have that right.

Rebecca Langston-George’s book For the Right to Learn: Malala Yousafzai’s Story, illustrated by Janna Bock, is nonfiction that reads like fiction. We’ve seen Malala’s photos at the UN, of Malala in the hospital, Malala with her family, but illustrating a book on Malala allows us to see the events in her life that led to the present. Digitally created images, like Malala writing science formulas on her hands when other girls drew flowers are powerful and beautiful. The fear in her eyes and her friends’ eyes when a Taliban soldier boards her school bus, looking for her, grips readers who know what will happen – the drops of blood on a fallen book, set against a stark white background with the words, “Three shots shattered the silence”, is incredibly effective.

For visual middle grade learners, this is a great companion to any social studies/current events discussions. There is a glossary and an index in the back of the book, and there’s a great blog with Web resources that can round out any lesson plan on Malala.