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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. 

Diversity Swap: Wild Berries by Julie Flett

Starting this fall I am going to be regularly posting primarily on books. This is the start of one of three book series I am going to be running that gives you diverse book selections to try in lieu or in tandem with classics. While I am passionate about getting diverse books, which are often new books, into kid’s hands I am not advocating that we remove the classics from their hands before placing the diverse ones there. This series is intended to give you more books, not fewer to read. For similar recommendations be sure to check out We Need Diverse Books Summer Reading Series. They are doing the same thing, but feature a wide age range for their books. Book posts will appear (usually) on Fridays. 

This first book I am presenting is pretty close to the classic, but many of them won’t be exactly analogous. Most of us know Little Sal and her mother from Robert McCloskey’s Blueberries for Sal. If you are unfamiliar, go check it out. The art is lovely and the story is both funny and nostalgic. This classic has been around for ages, and with good reason. Children and parents alike love the story. 

Blueberries for SalFor another book about a grandmother and child going out to pick blueberries and enjoy nature, try Julie Flett’s Wild Berries. Both stories take place in similar locations. Flett’s book will work well for younger audiences as well as older ones (Blueberries for Sal is rather long, although engaging). I think this book, like Sal is very timeless. In Sal, it’s clear it’s the 40s or 50s, but really there is no reason this exact story couldn’t be happening today. The same is true in BerriesWild Berries also features the Cree dialect which can open up discussions about the number and variety of Native Nations that live across the US.  

Wild Berries

Flett’s art is incredibly beautiful, be sure to check out her other books (I particularly like We All Count, a counting book in Cree and English).

 

Books, Books, and More Books

So, you may have noticed that I’ve really been posting mostly about books lately. There are several reasons for that, the biggest being that this past year I was officially working in a library and my world has been books. I read a lot. I read to see if books are right for our library. I read to see if I can use them in lessons. I read them to see if they need to weeded out of our collection. I read them for fun. I read them to see if Cam would like them. I read them to Cam. 

Please don’t get the impression that libraries and librarians are all about books. I am not actually paid to read books. I am paid to shelve them, process them, and teach kids that come to visit me in the library. A big part of that teaching has nothing to do with pleasure reading. Nothing. At. All. I do work hard to make sure my students like to read, can read, and come in to read for pleasure. While pleasure reading is incredibly important, I also realize that it isn’t for everyone. Just like baseball isn’t something everyone wants to do. However, reading for information, reading to learn, reading to inform is of the utmost importance. So is evaluating what you are reading. Evaluating it critically. Looking at something and deciding if you agree. Deciding if an article is well reasoned and makes sense. Looking at who wrote an article (or book, or whatever) and sussing out their motives and evaluating those. Basically I teach critical thinking. That is what a librarian, especially a school librarian, is really there for. That is why you don’t see me writing a lot about literacy activities to force your child into interacting more with a book. I do write a lot about why or how a book might work for a family or child. That is just how I think about books. 

One thing I have become incredibly passionate about, and I’ve said this before, is getting more diverse books onto our library shelves. Personal libraries and institutional ones. And that’s where this passion and this blog have begun to collide lately. In light of all the recent crappy events in the world I think it’s more important than ever that we get positive representations of diversity (i.e. non-white) into our children’s hands, minds, and hearts. Books are an excellent, non threatening way to do that.

I am still trying to find how I want to focus my attention here and honestly that is a constantly moving target. I still plan on sharing what’s going on on the family farm and the things I am doing with Cam, but right now I want a space where I can promote books, particularly good diverse ones, with parents. I have a library blog that you can check out which is nearly all reviews, but I focus there on talking about books and how they can work for a library collection and that is very different beast from the home environment. 

The single best things you can do to make your child love reading are:

  1. Read to them
  2. Don’t make it a chore: No reading logs, no timers, no page number requirements.
  3. Let them choose what they read to themselves and what you read to them. Yes, even if that means a book you hate like Captain Underpants.
  4. Don’t tie it with punishment or reward: Don’t withhold reading for not doing chores, don’t make it a punishment for not doing chores, and don’t make them interact with a book they don’t like. If they have to read something particular for school I highly recommend you read it out loud to them. And PLEASE talk to them about why they are not enjoying it. Boring is not a response. Show them how to be more specific and articulate in their criticism. Encourage them to share those thoughts with their teacher. And be honest about your opinon about the book. I tell Cam all the time if I don’t like books and why (usually because they are racist).
  5. Read to them some more
  6. Did I say, read to them? Yes? Well, do it again. 
  7. Make sure they see YOU reading for pleasure. I know MANY parents that proudly say they’ve read all of two books in a year (or fewer) and yet fight with their children to make them read 30 minutes a day. Take a look at your relationship with reading. Seeing you read is going to be a much more effective motivator. And if you don’t hold yourself to a high reading standard, why hold your kids to it? If you don’t value it enough to do it 30 minutes a day, why would they? This also applies to #3. Don’t make them read high brow literature when all you read are New York Times bestsellers. By and large those are not high literature. That’s fine! We all read books to escape and have fun. Much like we all enjoy a candy bar or bag of potato chips from time to time. Just know that kids and their reading habits can and will look like yours. Just like your eating habits. 
  8. Know that reading doesn’t just happen in chapter books. Picture books are reading. Comics are reading. Text messages are reading. You read all day everyday, you just don’t think about it. You read emails, tweets, articles online, Facebook. That’s all reading. Don’t hold your child to an impossible standard of only reading the most difficult nonfiction text they can. And make sure they know reading comes in a lot of forms and formats including audiobooks. Even if they aren’t your preferences, they might be for your child. 
  9. Make sure they are seeing other people in books as well as seeing themselves. This can be difficult, but keep looking. 
  10. And just for good measure, read to them. Even when they seem way too old. 

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.

Friday Five: Grandparents

With summer here many kids may be over at the grandparents’ house while out of school or the whole family may head off to visit grandparents. Here is a list of five great books about grandparents.

Tea with Grandpa1. Tea with Grandpa written and illustrated by Barney Saltzberg

This is such a darling story about a little girl having a tea party with her grandfather. They pour tea and nibble on cookies together every week at the same time. The text is simple and the illustrations are lovely and gentle. A clever page turn at the end reveals, though, that the two are having tea over Skype. A great story for kids whose grandparents aren’t nearby. 

 

 

 

Sunday Shopping2. Sunday Shopping written by Sally Derby, illustrated by Shadra Strickland

This is the kind of book that I would have loved as a child. Every Sunday night Evie and her grandmother get out the sale papers, some glue and a pair of scissors. Together they go through and cut out things they would love to buy, from a ham for dinner and lunches that week to a special jewelry box. Sunday Shopping is such a lovely story about creativity, storytelling, and a special time spent each week with a grandparent. It isn’t stated whether Evie lives with her grandmother or just visits, but there is a picture of Evie’s mother on the night stand that shows her in uniform. I think a lot kids would love to try out the game after reading this story. 

 

Love as Strong3. Love as Strong as Ginger written by Lenore Look, illustrated by Stephen T. Johnson

Katie loves to eat the delicious food her GninGnin prepares for her. She also loves stories of the crab factory where GninGnin works. One day she is able to join her grandmother, rising early and watching what it is GninGnin does as the crab chong. Katie discovers that the day is long and hard, but that her grandmother continues so that Katie will have a better future. While the book is about the sacrifice the grandmother is willing to make for her granddaughter, it’s also about Katie’s realization of how much her grandmother loves her and how she shows it. 

 

 

The Airport Book4. The Airport Book written and illustrated by Lisa Brown

A family packs up their suitcases and heads for the airport. The text follows them through the various stops and processes that are involved with airports and flying and makes a good introduction for kids headed to the airport for the first time. The trip culminates in a beach vacation with their grandparents. The text is okay in this one, it certainly offers a lot to children curious about airports and flying, but it’s the pictures that make the book shine. There is so much to look at in them and lots of untold stories that you can follow through the book (be sure to keep your eye on Monkey who has an adventure of her own!). A good one for families headed on a plane to visit grandparents. 

 

 

Gooligulch5. My Grandma Live in Gooligulch written and illustrated by Graeme Base

I have loved this book since I was girl. It’s just plain wacky and fun, like most of Graeme Base’s books. The story introduces a particularly eccentric grandmother who lives in a tiny town in Australia and then follows her on an ill-fated trip to the seaside. Grandma has all kinds of animals that come visit her tiny home in Gooligulch and she encounters more on her vacation. There is a lot to look at in the illustrations (again, this is typical of Graeme Base’s books) and makes for a great time poring over. The end leaves the reader with the question, was any of this real or is it wishful thinking on the narrator’s part? It’s also fun to imagine if this was your own grandmother!

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

Decolonize Your Bookshelf: Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts

Decolonize Your BookshelfThose ShoesThose Shoes by Maribeth Boelts, illustrated by Noah Z. Jones

From Goodreads: All Jeremy wants is a pair of those shoes, the ones everyone at school seems to be wearing. But Jeremy’s grandma tells him they don’t have room for “want,” just “need,” and what Jeremy needs are new boots for winter. When Jeremy’s shoes fall apart at school, and the guidance counselor gives him a hand-me-down pair, the boy is more determined than ever to have those shoes, even a thrift-shop pair that are much too small. But sore feet aren’t much fun, and Jeremy comes to realize that the things he has — warm boots, a loving grandma, and the chance to help a friend — are worth more than the things he wants.

I think almost all kids have experienced what Jeremy does in this book. There is something new and shiny and it seems everyone has it, but them. And their parents, for whatever reason, won’t buy it. 

I think it’s incredibly impressive that Jeremy decides to spend his own money that he’s saved up on the pair of shoes he finds at the thrift shop. This is another layer of values added to the story. If you really want something you can rely on yourself to provide it instead of going to your family with an open hand. 

My only complaint about the book is that it shows an African American family having money trouble and it often seems like when there is representation of African Americans in children’s literature they are poor. It’s compounded by the fact that the author is white. Obviously this is not always the case. There are wealthy and middle class African American families, just like there are poor white families. However, I like that the book is not about being a poor African American, it’s just about wanting to fit in and have those shoes, but not being able to. 

I think the message of the book- that you can’t always have the latest and greatest- is a powerful one for kids no matter their socio-economic status. My own daughter is growing up middle class and she can’t have every toy, book and piece of clothing her heart desires. And that’s okay! But I think seeing that reflected in a book is very resonant. I also think for my own daughter seeing that other people struggle more with money than we do is also incredibly important. It’s good for her to look beyond outward appearances. 

Decolonize Your Bookshelf: Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena

Decolonize Your BookshelfLast StopLast Stop on Market Street written by Matt de la Pena, illustrated by Christian Robinson

From GoodReads: Every Sunday after church, CJ and his grandma ride the bus across town. But today, CJ wonders why they don’t own a car like his friend Colby. Why doesn’t he have an iPod like the boys on the bus? How come they always have to get off in the dirty part of town? Each question is met with an encouraging answer from grandma, who helps him see the beauty—and fun—in their routine and the world around them.

This book is getting a lot press not only because the characters are diverse, but also because it shows a less than desirable part of town. After church on Sunday, CJ and his grandmother hop the bus and take it down to the soup kitchen where they help serve a meal. Along the way CJ is full of questions, some easy and some hard. His grandmother has an answer for all of them and they are often wise answers. 

I was glad to find the book because of our resolution this year to give regularly to the food bank. Last year when I was researching effective ways to give I wanted to start a conversation with Cam and being the librarian I am I went in search of picture books that could help me do that. I don’t recall any specific titles, but I do remember not being able to find many and that of the two or three I found they were not particularly engaging or were too long and complex for a three year old. Last Stop on Market Street is perfect for sharing the idea of giving to the needy, and especially the hungry, with younger audiences (and older ones too, if you’d like). And repeat readings of the book have brought deeper meaning and reflection for Cam. She notices new things each time we read it and she asks new questions about the answers CJ’s grandmother gives to him. It’s been a great conversation starter and entree into talking about how we give to our local food bank. 

In the end of the story, and after some grousing, CJ admits to his grandmother he’s glad they came to the soup kitchen after all. This is the perfect ending as it is so true to how a child might feel about the whole experience. It acknowledges that there are other things CJ may want to be doing and that the journey feels arduous to him, but that there is a pay off in making friends with people you would not normally know and feeling good about helping them out. 

Decolonize Your Bookshelf: Draw! by Raul Colon

Decolonize Your BookshelfDraw!Draw! illustrated by Raul Colon

Here is the review I wrote on my library  blog: 

I had a really emotional reaction to this book. It is such an incredible story and told entirely without words. It reminds me of some of the best visual storytelling you see in movies (the opening credits of Watchmenand the tear-jerker montage in Up to name two) which is not easy to do well.

While in his room a young boy, possibly Colon, sits on his bed reading a book. The mood strikes him and he picks up his sketch pad. As you leave the world of his bedroom for the African continent the art style changes and the new style, a more lush, layered and colorful style, comes into view through a series of panels that grow in size indicating how they slowly fill the room and the boy’s mind. The effect is done in reverse when the boy returns from his adventure. In the fantasy you see small details included from the room. The backpack of bread slowly empties as the boy shares it with the creatures he meets. He wears the same clothes. It becomes apparent that the elephant is his guide through the savannah. It’s these subtle details that really make the story effective and more complex and therefore interesting.

The story, while about a boy drawing, is really about how art can transport you. And not just drawing but books as well. It’s the book the boy was reading that inspired him to pick up paper and visually represent what he had been reading. I think this book is great for quietly perusing, but is also a great inspriration for kids who love to draw, paint, and create. It would also be a good discussion starter for classes learning about art and inspiration. I know a lot of parents think picture books are for young children, but this book would be wonderful for any age as the story is so timeless and universal.

I want to address that last part of my review. Don’t discount wordless books (or picture books) for any age! They are great for learning visual literacy. They are great for storytelling. I love to ask Cam to help me interpret the story when we look at these types of books together. They are great for looking at details without the distraction of an author telling you the story. They are also wonderful at allowing the reader to add their own spin, interpretation, and experiences to the story. Kids will read picture books at any age so long as you, as the adult, aren’t telling them they are for younger kids, which they often aren’t. I know this doesn’t apply to wordless books, but picture books often have higher reading levels than those chapter books so many parents push on their kids and they require the added visual literacy piece of interpreting and meshing the pictures with the story told in words. Draw! is such a beautiful book and can be enjoyed in your collection for years to come. 

Here’s a great little article on The Horn Book blogs that talks about using wordless picture books in the classroom which could just as easily be done in the home (there are no grand activities to accompany the books, just the books themselves). 

Handwork: Aso-Oke Weaving

I have not really made anything in the last month! I’m working on a little divided container that has a letter in each space and a tiny object whose name begins with that letter. Cam’s showed a bit of interest in letters so I’m working on drawing her attention to initial sounds. She listens, but isn’t overly enthralled so finishing the box hasn’t been at the top of my list. 

However, I came across this awesome blog post on one of the blogs I follow (Africa is a Country) and it most certainly has to do with handwork. The post, Tunde Owolabi brings Aso-Oke to the gallery, is an interview of an artist who became interested in the Yoruba tradition of Aso-Oke weaving. He studied the craft and the people who create the fabric in a village and area that specializes in making it. The interview is short but informative, but watch the video where one of the curators talks about the exhibition and the fabric. The clips of the men weaving the fabric are mesmerizing. You could definitely share the video with your kids.

One of the reasons I find this particularly fascinating is in discovering how much work goes into manufacturing it! Sure, this is a fancy cloth, but all cloth and clothes took that much work to make not that long ago. It kind of boggles the mind.