Tag Archives: Book Review

Decolonize Your Bookshelf: Let’s Talk About Body Boundaries, Consent and Respect by Jayneen Sanders

Decolonize Your Bookshelf

I have a few thoughts I need to get out before I get into a review of this book. First is that colonization goes hand-in-hand with patriarchy, so despite the fact that this book isn’t really about incorporating more diversity into your shelves, it does relate very closely. The second is, what the fuck, with the confirmation of our newest Chief Justice bodily autonomy is apparently still up for debate (to be honest, I knew it was, but it still feels weird).

Lets Talk AboutLet’s Talk About Body Boundaries, Consent and Respect: Teach children about body ownership, respect, feelings, choices and recognizing bullying behaviors
written by Jayneen Sanders, illustrated by Sarah Jennings

It’s never really too early to talk to your children about body boundaries. You should also be teaching your children the correct anatomical terms for body parts. So yes, that means teaching your two year old the words penis, vagina, and vulva. There is nothing inherently bad or embarrassing about these words. This will be easier or harder depending on how you were brought up thinking about these words and the actual parts. There is no shame in bringing your own baggage to these conversations. But for the safety of our children we need to move through that discomfort and teach them to not be ashamed of their bodies (body positivity) or their feelings (sex positivity). Children who are taught correct body parts and boundaries (appropriate touches vs. inappropriate touches) and taught to set boundaries without shame will be able to share when someone has crossed those boundaries and exactly how. They will also learn to develop healthy, happy relationships. 

Not only does this book open those conversations for parents who may feel uncomfortable with talking about these topics, but it gives parents who are confused about where to start a good jumping off point. Despite my rant above, body parts are not mentioned. It’s primarily hugging and kissing of a very innocuous kind. And there aren’t any scenes with creepy adults crossing lines. But the concepts covered here are vitally important for a lifetime of needing to define and hold boundaries.

We found the illustrations to be engaging and fun and the text, while it got a little long overall, was also engaging. Do be prepared to stop and talk about the concepts covered here. There are a lot of notes at the end that can help you ask good questions and give you plenty of food for thought for each page of the book. This is immensely helpful, even for parents who know what they want to talk about. High five to the illustrator for including a child in a wheelchair and showing that that child’s body boundary includes the chair.  

Remember patriarchy is about power and by teaching girls to please above all else, as well as neglecting to teach them about body boundaries, we set them up in that power structure that takes advantage of them. Teaching boys that they have a right to women and girls gives them permission to use the power patriarchy mistakenly gives them. That’s not to say when girls don’t speak up assault or harassment is their fault or for boys that by going along with all the implicit messages we send them removes their culpability. It’s not and it doesn’t. Smash that patriarchy by reading this book with your daughters and your sons. Teach them that consent is sexy and that consent should always be enthusiastic.  Teach them: their body, their choice. And then be sure to back that up when relatives want a hug or kiss and they don’t want to give it.

A big shout out to Aisha Ray of Raising Luminaries/Books for Littles for bringing this book to my attention with her amazing review that I came across on Facebook. If you don’t already follow her, go do that now and then give to her Patreon. She works hard and is such an incredible resource for parents fighting to bring about change in this world. 

Decolonize Your Bookshelf: Tallulah the Tooth Fairy CEO by Tamara Pizzoli

 

Decolonize Your Bookshelf

The Diverse Bookshelf is a series that shares a book we are enjoying at home. Some of the content may be from my library blog At Home Librarian. 

TallulahTalullah the Tooth Fairy CEO written by Tamara Pizzloi, illustrated by Federico Fabiani

From Goodreads: Tallulah the Tooth Fairy is not only the founder and CEO of the largest teeth collecting organization on the planet, Teeth Titans, Incorporated, she’s a clever and wildly successful business woman with an affinity for all things dental. A natural innovator and problem solver, Tallulah finds herself unexpectedly stumped when six year-old Ballard Burchell leaves a note instead of his tooth under his pillow. What’s a Tooth Fairy to do when there’s no tooth to take?

This book is amazing! It’s got great illustrations, excellent text, tons of humor that will appeal to both kids and the adults reading it to them, wonderful vocabulary and lots of details relating to teeth that are fun to spot, not to mention a good story.

I bought the book for Cam when she was intrigued by mythical people like Santa and the Easter Bunny. We don’t actually use any of those conventions, but for whatever reason she keeps hoping we will. I wanted to get it because, well, look at her! Tallulah is amazing with her Afro and huge sunglasses and she’s a CEO! Cam got her first loose tooth a few months ago and has since lost four more. Every time she has a new tooth to tuck under her pillow she’s got her fingers crossed that Tallulah will pay her a visit.

I absolutely love that the story challenges the usual idea and imagery of the tooth fairy that shows her as white, blonde, and medieval. In fact, the story tackles that head on. In the note written by Ballard, he has drawn the tooth fairy in that way despite being black himself. Tallulah reads the note and the first comment she makes is “that looks nothing like me”. She does comment in the next sentence that she isn’t that small, but between those lines is the unspoken fact that she is also clearly not white.

The text is longer, so unless you think your child or younger audience is motivated to listen, or is good at listening, I would recommend it for 1st through 3rd grade (my third grade class last year had a superb sense of humor and would have LOVED this book) which are prime tooth-losing years. The vocabulary is pretty sophisticated too. The vast majority of it makes perfect sense in context and shouldn’t cause a problem. It very much brought to mind William Steig, particularly Dr. DeSoto and Shrek and how he uses language.

The language also ties into the humor of the story. There are plenty of funny asides for parents and kids and the twist at the end is both a great message and satisfying. Do not miss the boardroom scene wherein Tallulah asks for advice about what to do with Ballard’s note. Her board is made up of all black women, except for one white dude, who is complaining about the lack of diversity and wearing an All Fairies Matter shirt. Hilarious nod to current events and again a subtle nod to defaulting the Tooth Fairy to white.

The illustrations appealed to me because of their clean modernity which made Tallulah seem all the more cool. The colors are bright without being garish or saccharine. The art appealed to my daughter because each picture has lots of tiny tooth details and invite long looks (I highly recommend flipping through the pictures before reading it through the first time because they are so captivating).

If you are looking for general books to add to your collection this is well worth it. Move it to the top of your list or gift it the next time a tooth falls out.

*I edited this review from what ran on my library blog.

Decolonize Your Bookshelf: The Parakeet Named Dreidel by Isaac Bashevis Singer

 

Decolonize Your Bookshelf

Parakeet Named DreidelThe Parakeet Named Dreidel written by Isaac Bashevis Singer, illustrated by Suzanne Raphael Berkson

Today the book I’m sharing features religious diversity. While we have a lot of holiday picture books that line up with the religious and cultural celebrations that are specific to our family, but I also love to expose Cam to other holidays and celebrations. Since we aren’t about to crash Friday prayer or someone’s shabbat, I try to share books with Cam that give her a peek inside other families traditions. 

We are bird people in our house with all the chickens and ducks and the conures, so I thought this one sounded interesting. The author is very well known for his works for adults, too. That can be hit or miss with children’s book because, contrary to popular belief, writing good books for children is hard. I was delighted by the story, though.

One cold, snowy Hanukkah night a small parakeet turns up at David’s window. The family lets the bird in and spends a few weeks trying to locate the owner. The only real clue is a Yiddish phrase the bird can say (“Go to sleep, Zelda”). When no one comes forward the family keeps the bird and enjoys his company for nine years. Then, when David is off at a Hanukkah party in college, he tells the story of how they found Dreidel, the parakeet. A girl at the party, a girl David has been taking out on dates, excitedly tells him that she is the Zelda the bird knew. The next day the two families meet and Zelda’s family is overjoyed to see their beloved pet again. Except, with two attached families, who will keep the bird?

The story is set on a backdrop of Hanukkah, but it isn’t a particularly religious story. It’s really a book about how attached we can become to our pets and the joy they bring to our lives. This is a perfect theme for our family with all our animals. I like that it gives a glimpse into Hanukkah, but I wouldn’t use it as my only book about Hanukkah to teach Cam about the holiday and its significance to Jews. Still, we enjoyed the story. 

I had a couple complaints about the story. There are a few places where the text is a little overly descriptive or includes details that seem important to adults, but will just annoy kids. I think this may be a function of the story being written by an adult author or the book was originally a short story forced into picture book format. Also, it’s unlikely that the bird described would be a parakeet. They don’t live particularly long and rarely learn to speak understandable words. Its more likely that this would be a conure.

All told, I’ll be adding this to our collection and repertoire of holiday books. It was such a heartwarming story.

Decolonize Your Bookshelf: Gordon Parks by Carole Boston Weatherford

 

 

Decolonize Your BookshelfGordon ParksGordon Parks: How the Photographer Captured Black and White America written by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Jamey Christoph

From Goodreads: His white teacher tells her all-black class, You’ll all wind up porters and waiters. What did she know? Gordon Parks is most famous for being the first black director in Hollywood. But before he made movies and wrote books, he was a poor African American looking for work. When he bought a camera, his life changed forever. He taught himself how to take pictures and before long, people noticed. His success as a fashion photographer landed him a job working for the government. In Washington DC, Gordon went looking for a subject, but what he found was segregation. He and others were treated differently because of the color of their skin. Gordon wanted to take a stand against the racism he observed. With his camera in hand, he found a way.

Don’t let the heavy-sounding description deter you from this fantastic little book. It does tackle some very difficult issues, but it does it in such an accessible way for young audiences. Carole Boston Weatherford tends to write picture books in verse, collections of poems that tell a story, and they are usually fairly lengthy books. I was surprised to discover that Gordon Parks was fairly sparse in terms of text. Each page has just a few short sentences with fairly easy vocabulary.

Of course, the simplicity of the text belies the difficulty of subject. Parks grew up and lived in a segregated country, and he was not living in the South. When he became a photographer he decided to document the racism and inequality he saw between the black and white communities. It’s here in the story that the book really shines. So much is said with so little and it leaves us, as parents and educators, with the perfect entree into asking open ended questions about these hard topics. Topics like racism and inequality that seem to be so front and center lately. Things that kids notice, but we (and by we I mean white parents), often try very hard not to look to directly at. 

The art in the book is wonderful. It has that vintage and modern feel to it, but instead of featuring buildings and classy inanimate objects, the focus of each illustration is the people. They fill the frame, they draw the eye. And that ties in so beautifully with the story itself. One about seeing blacks as human. Seeing working class people as human. The color palette is limited which makes it feel sophisticated, but also warm, inviting, and cozy. 

If you’re looking for a book about an interesting Renaissance man, this is it. If you’re looking for a book to help you start difficult conversations, this is it. Or just read the book and let your child make inferences. The message is there. 

Decolonize Your Bookshelf: City Shapes by Diana Murray

Decolonize Your BookshelfCity ShapesCity Shapes written by Diana Murray, illustrated by Bryan Collier

From Goodreads: From shimmering skyscrapers to fluttering kites to twinkling stars high in the sky, everyday scenes become extraordinary as a young girl walks through her neighborhood noticing exciting new shapes at every turn. Far more than a simple concept book, City Shapes is an explosion of life. Diana Murray’s richly crafted yet playful verse encourages readers to discover shapes in the most surprising places, and Bryan Collier’s dynamic collages add even more layers to each scene in this ode to city living.

I know concept books can seem babyish, but this book is anything but. Maybe it’s the city setting that makes it feel more hip and sophisticated. The shapes the story presents are fairly basic, but there is a lot to look at on the pages and I think it can inspire your child to begin looking around them.

Murray has used rhymed couplets to great effect here. They give the book some music and really keep you turning the pages. The shapes shared in the book are pretty basic, but I think how they are being used focuses more on visual literacy than learning the names of shapes. 

I don’t know how Collier does it, but he illustrates the most amazing people. They always seem to glow on the page and your eye is drawn right to them. If you want to have an art discussion with your child, point out that Colliers has used a collage style for these illustrations. Ask them how they think the collage style lends itself to this particular story. 

I’m going to be using this book in a storytime this fall in my library. As I said above, concept books (books about a concept like shapes or numbers or letters instead of a story with a plot or straight nonfiction) can seem aimed at babies, but my purpose in sharing this book with older children to is encourage them to begin looking around them. If they can find shapes in the world around them, they can break art down into its composite pieces and analyze it which is a skill I’m going to be working on with my preschoolers. Looking around is exactly what the little girl in City Shapes is doing. 

After reading this I highly recommend you take a walk with your child and see what shapes you can find in your own house or neighborhood. 

Decolonize Your Bookshelf: Furqan’s First Flat Top

Decolonize Your BookshelfFurqan's First Flat TopFurqan’s First Flat Top written and illustrated by Robert Liu-Trujillo

Furquan has always worn his hair short and curly, but one day he decides that he wants to try a new style. He asks his dad to take him to get a flat top. The two venture down to the barbershop where Furqan frets over what the new hairstyle will look like and if it will be too flat. Dad calmly reassures him until Furqan can see the new ‘do and realizes how fresh it looks. 

Why is personal hygiene so hard for children? In our house we battle over toothbrushing, showering/bathing, hair brushing, and changing clothes. Battle may be too strong a word, but Cam hates anything that resembles self-care and I don’t think she’s alone in this aversion. 

I originally bought this book for my library where I’m trying very hard to get a lot more diverse literature onto the shelves. It is a a little self-published jewel, funded by a Kickstarter campaign. When the package arrived, beautifully addressed and complete with three stickers of some of the artwork, Cam wouldn’t let the book go. We’ve read it several times since at her request. I’m going to have to buy another copy for work. 

Liu-Turjillo’s watercolor illustrations are as masterful as they are charming. He perfectly captures Furqan’s expressions and body language. Throughout Dad has this gentle, loving expression on his face that perfectly matches his calm reassurance and support. I really think the illustrations are half the appeal here. All the people are so expressive and you know exactly the conversations they’re having just by looking at them. The barbershop is bright and lively and interesting. 

Liu-Trujillo also perfectly captures the weird, illogical anxieties kids have over everyday things, like haircuts. Furqan frets that his hair will be flat like a record or a skateboard or a pancake. Those are things kids would come up with and worry about because they’re flat, even though they don’t resemble hair at all. What I initially thought would be a good book for my library about the worry a child feels about changing their look, turned out to be a great book to help Cam verbalize her nervousness about a first haircut. I think she likes seeing another child struggling with the idea too and may eventually come around. 

One final thing to say, there is a mother mentioned in the text, but she isn’t part of the story. I love seeing and reading books to Cam about involved and loving fathers. This is an excellent example of one such story. 

A worthwhile addition to any bookshelf, whether or not hair brushing is an issue in your family.

Decolonize Your Bookshelf: Sail Away

Decolonize Your BookshelfSail AwaySail Away pictures by Ashley Bryan, poems by Langston Hughes

From Goodreads: The great African-American poet Langston Hughes penned poem after poem about the majesty of the sea, and the great African-American artist Ashley Bryan, who’s spent more than half his life on a small island, is as drawn to the sea as much as he draws the sea. Their talents combine in this windswept collection of illustrated poems—from “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” to “Seascape,” from “Sea Calm” to “Sea Charm”— that celebrates all things oceanic.

I’ve said before how much I love Ashley Bryan’s work, so when I saw he had a new book coming out I bought it without even getting from the library to preview it. I was not disappointed. 

The poems are absolutely beautiful and give you a lot to discuss about symbolism, metaphor, and forming a picture in your mind using words. Bryan’s pictures are also intricate and beautiful and do a wonderful job of pulling out important images from the poetry and splashing them across the page. If you love Lois Ehlert’s cut paper then give Bryan a try. 

I highly recommend reading through these once with your child then returning to the ones that really speak to you. Ask your child if they understand what is being said and help them form a picture of the poem in their mind by defining difficult and new words and asking them questions that get them to think deeply about what is being said. You could also pick one to say at night before bed. There’s a beautiful one about April showers that would be perfect for April nights. You could also get out some scissors and colored paper and ask your child to recreate one of the poems with the materials. 

Pair this with Ocean Sings Blue, another collection of poems about the sea or Water Rolls, Water Rises