Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

The special bond between grandparent and grandchild: I Dream of Popo

I Dream of Popo, by Livia Blackburne/Illustrated by Julia Kuo, (Jan. 2021, Roaring Brook Press), $18.99, ISBN: 9781250249319

Ages 3-7

Inspired by the author’s own story, I Dream of Popo is about the special connection between a young girl and her grandmother, that crosses the distance between Taiwan and America. The girl grows up spending time with her grandmother, rocking on her lap and enjoying food and holidays together, but when she moves to America with her family, Popo – grandma – stays in Taiwan. She sees her over videochat and even visits, and their love endures even as she sees Popo’s hair get gray and she gets sick. A book rich with emotion and connection, this is an incredible #OwnVoices story that will resonate with all families, especially when most of our visits are conducted via device screen. Livia Blackburne creates a yearning feel for Popo and her granddaughter throughout the story; her connection to her own Popo shines through in her prose. Julia Kuo’s artwork is vibrant, deep reds, greens, and golds weaving a warm atmosphere to comfort readers. Back matter includes an author note and an illustrator note, each remembering their relationships with their own grandparents, and a glossary.

I was lucky enough to be at a Macmillan live event with other librarians and the author and illustrator, and they each spoke at length about their inspiration for the prose and artwork for the book. They drew on their relationships with their grandparents, lived on two shores and over phone, in the days before videochat. The book is stunning; Livia Blackburne and Julia Kuo put their hearts into creating a testament to the enduring love between grandparent and grandchild. An instabuy for collections, I Dream of Popo has a starred review from Kirkus.

Posted in Intermediate, Non-Fiction, picture books

#HomesCool Reads: Math & Nature

There are so many great books that have come out, and are coming out in the next couple of months! With school having started for some kids (NYC doesn’t go back until after Labor Day), I’m transitioning #SummersCool into #HomesCool, since a lot of us will be learning in either a blended or completely remote environment. For everyone who’s back in a classroom, or had to make the decision on how to schedule your children for learning, hang in there. And thank you, teachers!

Up this time, we’ve got folk tales using math and logic; we’ve got lion queens in India, and an archaeologist who discovered Peru’s ancient cultures. Let’s go!

Sharuko: El arqueólogo peruano Julio C. Tello/Peruvian Archaeologist Julio C. Tello, by Monica Brown/Illustrated by Elisa Chavarri, Translated by Adriana Domínguez, (Aug. 2020, Lee & Low Books), $19.95, ISBN: 9780892394234

Ages 7-11

This bilingual (English/Spanish) biography of Peruvian archaeologist Julio C. Tello, nicknamed “Sharuko”, is a beautifully written, illustrated, and translated story of Julio Tello, an Indigenous boy growing up in late 1800s Peru, who became a leading expert in Peru’s Indigenous culture. As a boy, Sharuko – a nickname meaning “brave” in Quechua, the language spoken by the Indigenous people of Peru – explored caves and burial grounds in the Peruvian Andes. As he got older and continued his education, he read articles about skulls he had found as a child, which were sent to the city of Lima to be further studied. The article inspired Julio to devote his medical school training to study Peru’s indigenous history; going on to prove that Peru’s Indigenous culture was established thousands of years before, not inherited from other countries, as was the pervasive belief. He awakened pride in his country’s ancestry and its cultural legacy and became a hero to the people of Peru.

Elisa Chavarri’s watercolor and gouache artwork is colorful, with maps, beautiful landscapes, and artifacts all coming together to tell Julio Tello’s story. Author Monica Brown tells Tello’s story in a way that will captivate readers and possibly inspire new generations of archaeologists and anthropologists. The Spanish translation is parallel to the English text, which helps learning readers (like me!) learn the flow of the language, be it Spanish or English. Back matter includes an afterword a note on the illustration, and additional sources. I need more picture book biographies in my Spanish/bilingual collection. Happy to add this one.

Sharuko: El arqueólogo peruano Julio C. Tello/Peruvian Archaeologist Julio C. Tello has starred reviews from The Horn Book, Booklist, and School Library Journal.

 

The Lion Queens of India, by Jan Reynolds, (Sept. 2020, Lee and Low Books), $18.95, ISBN: 9781643790510

Ages 6-8

Award-winning photojournalist Jan Reynolds introduces readers to the Lion Queens – a group of female forest guards who track and protect the lions in the Gir Sanctuary. Narrated by Rashila, the first Lion Queen, readers learn about a day in the life of the Lion Queens; from patrolling areas on motorcycle to checking on food and water availability for the lions. There are facts about lions throughout, and Rashila talks about the different lions’ personalities, the “Web of Life” balance in the Gir, and the growing lion population, coming back from the brink of extinction. The Queens work with communities to educate and inform; they discuss conservation and preservation and how to live alongside the lions without hurting the habitats that both human and lion rely on to survive. Back matter includes an author’s note and bibliography. The book is filled with beautiful photos of the lions of the Gir Sanctuary and Rashila and her fellow Lion Queens, and the sentences are brief and to the point, making this a great nonfiction book for emerging readers and for storytimes. It’s an exciting subject to introduce to kids – especially on a Career Day! Consider looking up the Lion Queens of India documentary from Animal Planet to have on hand.

 

Seven Golden Rings: A Tale of Music and Math, by Rajani LaRocca/Illustrated by Archana Sreenivasan, (Oct. 2020, Lee and Low Books), $19.95, ISBN: 9781885008978

Ages 6-10

Set in ancient India, Bhagat is a boy living with his mother. They are poor and they are hungry, but a chance to win a place at the Rajah’s court as a singer gives Bhagat some hope for bettering their circumstances. As he leaves for the Rajah’s city, his mother gives him the last of their wealth – seven gold links from her wedding necklace – to pay for his food and lodging, and Bhagat knows he must be careful in budgeting, as he doesn’t know how long it will take for the Rajah to see him and he doesn’t want to overpay and run out of money. Bhagat uses math to work out how to safely pay his way and keep the innkeeper satisfied, and his math skills lead to a happy resolution.

There are lessons in computational thinking and mathematics, and has the building blocks for coding units here. An author’s note explains the mathematics at work in the story, touching on binary numbers, base 10, and the history of mathematics in the ancient world. The digital artwork is bright, warm, and attractive, with clear illustrations explaining Bhagat’s use of the golden rings. A solid addition to your fables/folk tales and math tales like the Sir Cumference series, One Grain of Rice, and The Grapes of Math.

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

No Voice Too Small lifts up kids voices

No Voice Too Small: 14 Young Americans Making History, edited by Lindsay H. Metcalf, Keila Dawson, & Jeanette Bradley/Illustrated by Jeanette Bradley, (Sept. 2020, Charlesbridge), $18.99, ISBN: 9781623541316

Ages 5-12

Fourteen outstanding young people who saw injustice and took action are celebrated here in poetry and art. Activists include Mari Copeny – “Little Miss Flint” – who demanded clean water for her community and got President Obama’s attention; Virsidiana Sanchez Santos, whose quinceañera at the Texas State Capitol called attention to the state’s stringent immigration policy; and Marley Dias, the girl who started the #1000BlackGirlBooks initative to collect books with characters who looked like her, and so many other readers looking for representation. These activists and 11 more find a place in the pages here, celebrated by luminaries including G. Neri, Nikki Grimes, Joseph Bruchac, and Lesléa Newman. Each profile includes a biographical paragraph; back matter explains the poetry forms used throughout the book, and profiles on each of the featured poets. Callout quotes invite readers to think about ways they can take action. The artwork showcases each of individual, and endpapers look like blackboards, with quotes from each activist in a chalk-white font. One percent of hardcover sales will go to TeachingforChange.org.

Posted in Fiction, Realistic Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Hearts Unbroken is strong, smart #ownvoices YA

Hearts Unbroken, by Cynthia Leitich Smith, (Oct. 2018, Candlewick), $17.99, ISBN: 9780763681142

Ages 13+

High school senior dumps her jock boyfriend when he makes disparaging comments about Natives in front of her. You see, she’s Native: Creek nation – Muscogee – to be precise. She shakes off his badmouthing and focuses on the school year: she’s on the school newspaper staff and she’s paired with Joey Kairouz, the new photojournalist. Her brother, Hughie, is a new freshman at the same school, too, and lands a coveted spot in the school play: he’s going to be the Tin Man in the school production of The Wizard of Oz. Not every parent is thrilled with the diverse casting, though: a group calling themselves Parents Against Revisionist Theater starts lodging complaints and pressuring local businesses against supporting the play. Hughie and other actors of color start receiving anonymous hate mail. Battle lines are drawn throughout the student body and faculty. Joey and Louise try navigating a relationship while they work on the paper together, but Louise’s worries about “dating while Native” may cause more hurt to Joey than she expects.

Hearts Unbroken is just consuming. I didn’t want to put it down until I finished it. There are such rich, realistic characters, and Louise is just brilliant. She’s no simpering heroine – the book starts with her breaking up with her boyfriend for disparaging Natives, and she never looks back. Cynthia Leitich Smith creates such textured, layered characters and educates readers on Native life and language, giving me an even deeper respect for #ownvoices work than I already had. She gives Louise and her family challenges both common and unique: Louise has a bad breakup; she is self-absorbed and isn’t a mindful friend when her friend Shelby needs her; she works through her feelings about sex and when she will be ready. Louise and her family also deal with racism and whitewashing among their own neighbors and classmates. Hughie agonizes over discovering that L. Frank Baum, who created the wonderful world of Oz, so rich in its own diversity, was a virulent racist who published pro-genocide editorials surrounding the death of Sitting Bull and the massacre at Wounded Knee. It’s heartbreaking and infuriating to read, but it’s real, and she transfers this ache and this anger to her characters, giving them big decisions to make on their own while educating readers, too.

Cynthia Leitich Smith, who, like Louise is a citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, provides a Mvskoke/English Glossary to help readers with some of the phrases that appear in the book, and an author’s note that talks about parallels between Louise and herself, and the writing of Hearts Unbroken. Dr. Debbie Reese has a fantastic write-up of Hearts Unbroken on her page, American Indians in Children’s Literature.

An absolute must-add to your YA collections. Read a sample chapter and the author’s note on the Candlewick page.
Posted in Intermediate, Non-Fiction, picture books

La Frontera: An #OwnVoices story in two languages

La Frontera: El viaje con papá – My Journey with Papa, by Alfredo Alva and Deborah Mills/Illustrated by Claudia Navarro, (May 2018, Barefoot Books), $17.99, ISBN: 9781782853886
Recommended for readers 6-10
This bilingual picture book tells the true story of the author’s childhood migration, with his father, from Mexico to Texas to find work and a better life. Young Alfredo and his family live in a small Mexican village, where his father, grandfather, and uncle work as laborers. When the labor becomes too difficult for Alfredo’s grandfather, Alfredo and his father must leave their village and cross la frontera (the border) to find work.
Based on the author’s true story,  La Frontera: El viaje con papá takes place in the 1980s, but resonates with readers today: a child and his father leave everything they know to come to the United States for a new life. The boy has to adjust to a new culture, new language, and new people; people who may not always be welcoming. Claudia Navarro’s artwork is expressive and warm at times, harrowing in others, providing an emotional punch to the story: the crossing itself, in particular.
The book is bilingual English and Spanish, which makes me so happy. These books build a bridge between two cultures by sharing a language; I loved having them at my last library, where most of my patrons are bilingual Spanish/English language learners. It works on an empathy-building level, too; sharing a story together can speak volumes to readers who may not understand another’s struggles. Here, a personal story with strong themes of family, separation, migration, poverty, and resilience can illustrate what a nightly news story may not. Back matter discusses the author’s background, borders, and immigration, and features photos.
 La Frontera: El viaje con papá has a starred review from Booklist and is a Junior Library Guild Selection for the 2018 elementary Spanish category. It’s a worthy add to Own Voices collections. Booktalk this with another powerful bilingual picture book, Somos como las nubes/We Are Like the Clouds, by Jorge Argueta.