March 28, 2020

Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , at 9:26 pm by suebe2

Prairie Lotus
by Linda Sue Park
Clarion Books

It is 1880 when Hanna and her Papa arrive in LaForge in the Dakota Territory.  Hanna is excited to learn that the town has a school. She’s never been to school before and hopes that this will be the place.  Mama used to tutor her but she has been dead for three long, sad years.  Hanna promised Mama that she would graduate and she wants to keep that promise.

Papa plans to open a dress goods shop and he knows tht any bad blood between his family and other residents could jeopardize the shop.  While he works on construction, Hanna organizes the materials that arrive to fill the shop, but she has to stay hidden.  Hanna is half Asian and many people make assumptions about what she will be like.

It is really hard to write about this book without detailing the entire plot.  There is just so much to it!

Readers will learn about prairie life, setting up a business, and what life was like for anyone who was not white.  In her author’s note, Linda Sue Park discusses how much she loved the Little House books as a child although as someone of Korean descent she loathed the overt racism of Ma’s hatred of Native American’s and Pa’s performance in black face.

For Park, the solution was this – to write a book that shows what life would have been like for an Asian girl on the prairie.  Park did her research and quickly realized that while she couldn’t get away with making Hanna Korean, she could be part Korean as certainly many Chinese were.

As I read this, I relived my love of the Little House books.  But I also wished this book had come out while my mom, a noteworthy seamstress, was still alive.  She would have loved the details about dressmaking and adapting patterns.

This book is definitely a much needed addition to the classroom and library bookshelf, creating a more complete picture of life on the American prairie.



February 29, 2020

When Aidan Became a Brother by Kyle Lukoff, illustrated by Kaylani Juanita

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 11:37 pm by suebe2

When Aidan Became a Brother
by Kyle Lukoff
illustrated by Kaylani Juanita
Lee and Low Books

Aidan is excited to know that he will be a big brother.  He helps paint the new bedroom to look like the sky.  He practices reading – because babies need someone to read to them.

But Aidan is also worried. What if he says or does something that makes the baby feel pigeon-holed? That who they are has been predetermined?  After all, Aidan knows what that is like.  When he was born, his parents thought that he was a girl.  Then people thought he was a tomboy.  Sometimes people still give him funny looks, looks that make him uncomfortable.  He doesn’t want this baby to have to work so hard to be themself.

I can’t say enough how much I loved this book.  When I was pregnant (long, long ago), it bothered me when people asked if I was having a boy or a girl.  And was he going to be a doctor.  Or a teacher.  Or . . . I always wanted to yell.  “How should I know?  I haven’t even met that baby!”

Author Kyle Lukoff, himself a transgender man, has written a story that is about so much more than being transgender.  It is about love and identiy.  It is about expectation and acceptance and love.  Do I sound a little fan girl?  Perhaps I am.

I thought the illustrations were ink and watercolor.  But Kaylani Juanita created them digitally.  I love the colors and the patterns that bring this story to life.

This book is a great choice for expanding families and to launch discussions about acceptance, patience and love.  It is easy to see why the American Library Association chose it as the Stonewall Book Award winner back in January.  Add it to your bookshelf today.


February 21, 2020

Keep Calm and Carry On Children by Sharon Mayhew

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 4:18 pm by suebe2

Keep Calm and Carry On Children
by Sharon Mayhew
Black Rose Writing

A while back, I won a copy of this book in a drawing complete with a variety of British snacks to accompany my reading experience.  That’s ironic, snacks to munch on while reading about rationing and the like.

I’ve read a number of books about Britain during World War II and the bombings that took such a heavy toll on London.  But this story is told from the perspective of eleven year-old Joyce.  Through her eyes, I saw just how many assumptions I had made.  My first?  I pictured commercial bomb shelters, government built shelters for neighborhoods and metro tunnels.  I hadn’t realized that numerous people sheltered in what were essentially trenches with a piece of sheet metal over the top.

After their neighbor’s shelter fails to keep him safe, Joyce and her younger sister are sent away as part of operation Pied Piper.  Trains were filled with children and sent into the countryside for the duration of the war.  My second assumption?  I thought that there would be homes lined up for the children.  I didn’t realize that once they got off the train, they were told to walk along the road until someone picked them out.

Keep Calm and Carry On Children tells of the situation in London as well as the lives that many children faced once the evacuated.  Some were used as laborers.  Others found loving families.  And many of these children brought comfort to the families who took them in.

Sharon’s story was inspired by her grandfather’s tales of being evacuated to the countryside.  The details that she includes in her story, both those gleaned from her grandfather and those she found in her research, bring this world to life for her readers.  Readers will also be inspired by Joyce because although she was frightened she kept an eye not only on her sister but also on other children on the train.

The story is realistic without being gory and will bring history to life for Sharon’s readers.


February 15, 2020

Pies from Nowhere by Dee Romito illustrated by Laura Freeman

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 10:05 pm by suebe2

Pies from Nowhere
by Dee Romito
illustrated by Laura Freeman
Little Bee Books

At the time of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Georgia Gilmore was a cook at the National Lunch Company.  Georgie cooked at the customers sat in one section or the other.  One side of the lunch counter was for whites.  The other side was for black customers.  Georgia had been treated badly by bus drivers.  Many people had.  So she decided that she wanted to help.  But she wanted to do more than boycott the buses.

Georgia and a group of women cooked and cooked.  They brought dinners to the meetings.  They sold sandwiches and dinners.  The women were afraid that they would lose their jobs so Georgia hid their identities.  When she turned in the money, people asked where it came from and she told them nowhere.  The women became known as the Club from Nowhere.

The food paid for gasoline.  People who didn’t ride the buses still needed to get to work so carpools were organized.  The women even bought cars for the carpools.

When the National Lunch Company found out that Georgia was taking part in the boycott, they didn’t care what a good cook she was.  She lost her job.  Georgia started her own business, cooking and feeding the people who came to her home.

Freeman’s illustrations help bring this story to life.  The bright colors of the women’s clothing offsets the warm browns of the pies and pound cake baked by Georgia.

Many of the women who worked in the Civil Right movement are unsung.  With this book, Romito gives one of them a voice.  Recently, I saw a TED Talk about the myth of Rosa Parks.  I was glad to see that Romito told Parks’ story vs the less threatening story in which she was simply too tired to give up her seat.  These people were fighting for their rights and that is clear in this book.

Definitely a book that should be on classroom shelves and in school libraries.  Share this with your young reader and use it as a jumping off point to discuss Civil Rights and the parts that various people played in the fight.


February 8, 2020

Home in the Woods by Eliza Wheeler

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 3:33 am by suebe2

Home in the Woods 
by Eliza Wheeler
Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin Putnam

Marvel’s dad lives with the angels now and her family needs to find a new home.  They head into the woods in search of someplace to call their own.  When they find a tarpaper shack, Marvel is unimpressed.  “‘You never know what treasures we’ll find,’ says Mum.”

It is summer when 6 year-old Marvel, her mum, and her seven siblings find the shack.  Mum isn’t entirely wrong.  The shack may be only one room but in the cellar below there is a pump that brings up cool, clear water.  They plant a garden and gather berries.  Using the cook stove, Mum cans and they begin to put up food for the winter.  Mum works and earns a few coins which they use on necessities.  Otherwise, their garden and the forest provide what they need.

This story is set in the Great Depression.  Wheeler based it on events from her grandmother’s life in Wisconsin.  Wheeler’s water color, ink and pastel pencil illustrations give the story an old time feel.  Personally, it reminded me of the Box Car Children although this family was much larger and included mom.  Still, the two stories are comparable in that the characters learn to make do with what they can find and it is a loving, family story.

The illustrations are detailed and help pull the reader into the story.  Several illustrations are labeled, including the first interior of the shack and a holiday meal, helping to clarify new settings and information for young reader.

While the story itself would be compelling for story time, the illustrations need to be viewed closely and savored.  There is so much to them that the reader could easily get lost in the art work alone.

Wheeler has created a touching story that will inform even as it touches the heart.


January 31, 2020

Fry Bread by Kevin Noble Maillard, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 5:08 pm by suebe2

Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story
by Kevin Noble Maillard
illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal
Roaring Brook Press

Fry bread is food.
“It is warm and delicious, piled high on a plate.

Fry bread is time.
It brings families together for meals and new memories.

Fry bread is nation.
It is shared by many, from coast to coast and beyond.

At 48 pages, Fry Bread is slightly longer than the norm for a picture book.  The more typical length is 32 pages.  But Maillard has written a book in fast-moving, fact-filled verse.  Mallaird tells a fast-paced story about making this tasty treat.  He also explains that it is more than that – it is tradition in the face of struggle.

The moment I saw this book, I wanted to read it.  I had to read it.  Fry bread may be my favorite bread ever.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with fry bread, it is a indigenous treat.  Although I had never thought about it, there are as many recipes for fry bread as there are for meatloaf or cornbread or chili.  Think about the dish that you love as long as it is your grandmother’s or mother’s recipe.  Me?  Meatloaf has to be like Mom’s and cherry pie like G-ma’s.  Now you understand a bit about fry bread.  Why had I never considered the variety of breads?  At our local pow wows, the fry bread is a fist-sized pillow.  Crisp on the outside and soft on the inside.  It is likely regional.

The beauty of this book is that it honors this variety.  It discusses the wide variety of breads, shapes, and textures.  It also presents young readers with the reality that the people who make it are just as varied and they are still among us today.

Monday as I read over the books that had received awards from the American Library Association, I was thrilled to find Fry Bread on the list.  It is the winner of the Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award.

This is Mallaird’s first book.  His clean, powerful text was paired with the acryllic and pencil illustrations of Juana Martinez-Neal.  Her art brings the people to life.

Share this book with the young readers in your lives and be prepared for their request to try fry bread.   You’ll need to have butter and honey on hand because, really?  That’s the best way to eat it.


January 10, 2020

Zombie in Love 2 +1 by Kelly DiPucchio, illustratrated by Scott Campbell

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 11:44 pm by suebe2

Zombie in Love 2+1
by Kelly DiPucchio
Illustratrated by Scott Campbell

Mortimer and Mildred (the zombie couple from Zombie in Lovehave gotten married and pink healthy baby has joined their happy home.  Pink and healthy?  Sonny isn’t a zombie baby.  He’s just a regular baby and Mom and Dad aren’t at all sure how to handle him.  His teeth are coming in vs falling out.  He almost never cries.  And, worst of all, he’s awake all day!

Like many concerned parents, Mortimer and Mildred take him to the doctor.  He examines the pink, healthy baby and pronounces him – normal!  “I’d say you two are very lucky parents!”  Finally Mortimer and Mildred can relax and just enjoy their time with Sonny.

If you aren’t familiar with Zombie in Love, be warned.  This is true zombie humor. It is gross.  It is off color.  And it is 100% funny.  My favorite part?  When Mildred says that Sonny has Mortimer’s nose, she doesn’t mean that their baby resembles Mortimer.  Nope.  Mortimer’s nose is literally in the tot’s hand.

Scott Campbell’s illustrations add delightful details to this story.  The text reads that they are taking Sonny to the doctor.  The illustration includes the doctor’s name – Dr. Frank N. Stein, M.D.   The doctor’s assistant is in the background and looks more like Mortimer and Mildred than Sonny does.

No, I wouldn’t pick this book for fans of Fancy Nancy but my son loved zombies even when he was little. This book would have been perfect for him.  And if you have someone who loves zombie and all things gross and this person is about to become a parent?  Really.  They need this book.  They’ll enjoy the gruesome details and having a set of marvelous parents they can study for top notch parenting techniques.


December 6, 2019

My Pet Wants a Pet by Elise Broach, illustrated by Eric Barclay

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 9:59 pm by suebe2

My Pet Wants a Pet
by Elise Broach
illustrated by Eric Barclay
Christy Ottaviano Books/Henry Holt

When a boy wanted something to take care of, something of his very own, he begged his mom for a puppy.  Eventually she said yes.

The boy loved and cared for his puppy and the pair became fast friends.  But then the puppy wanted something to take care of.  Something of his very own.  The puppy gets a cat.  So what happens when the cat wants something to take care of?

To stand up to multiple readings, picture books need to be layered.  On one hand, this is a book about something universal – the drive to love and care for something/someone.  On the other hand, it is also a marvelous cumulative tale with the puppy getting a kitten, getting a bird, getting . . .

Where is it all going to stop? As is so often the case in real life, it all ends with Mom.  With a puppy going in and out of the doggie door, a kitten on her lap and a bird fluttering around the house, Mom looks more and more frazzled as the book goes on.  In the end, they all have to find a way to make Mom happy because, as the old saying goes, “if mom’s not happy no one is happy.”  But you’re going to have to read the book to see they pull this off.

This book isn’t as slapstick as a lot of cumulative tales but it is every bit as funny.  The pet puppy wants a pet.  The pet kitten wants a pet.  Then even the pet bird wants a pet.  It is ridiculous!

Barclay’s ink and watercolor illustrations are cartoon-y and add to the overall sense of play and fun.

Use this title as a jumping off point for discussing pets and responsibility.  While it isn’t super rowdy, I would use it for reading time that isn’t bed time since the silliness and humor may prompt conversation which isn’t what you want at night.  Cuddle up on the sofa with your young reader or share it in the classroom instead.


November 15, 2019

Sky Color by Peter Reynolds

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 5:14 pm by suebe2

Sky Color
by Peter Reynolds
Candlewick Press

Marisol has turned the family refrigerator into her own art gallery and she loves to share her art with her friends.  So she is beyond excited when her teacher announces that the class is painting a mural for the library.

Together they sketched the long drawing and one by one her classmates announce which part they want to paint – fish and ocean.  Marisol gladly accepts the broad expanse of the sky, but then she realizes that there is no blue paint left for her to use.

On the way home from school, she stares out the bus window.  The sun approached the horizon.  At home, she watched the sky as day turned to night.  The next morning she smiled into the drizzle.  She was fully ready to paint in sky color.

You definitely have to see Reynold’s art work to see how Marisol works this out.  You can find the book read on Youtube but I hope you will read it yourself.

For those of you who have yet to experience a book written and illustrated by Reynolds, this one is a must read.  Sure, Marisol could have talked to her classmates about sharing the blue paint.  Or she could have asked her teacher for more. But that isn’t the story that Reynolds chooses to share.  Yet again, Reynolds has created a story about creativity and thinking outside the boxes that we create for ourselves.

This book is a short read – only 305 words but it tells a powerful story.  Reynolds art work begins with pen and ink to which he adds watercolor and even tea.  Share this book in your classroom or at reading time.  It is sure to inspire both discussion and also art work. But it would also make a good quiet read to share one on one.

Marisol is a character who truly sees.  Then she finds a way to share her vision with her friends.  But should we be surprised?  Probably not.  Because as Reynolds already told us.  Marisol is an artist.


November 6, 2019

Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 8:32 pm by suebe2

Patron Saints of Nothing
by Randy Ribay

For years Jay and his cousin Jun wrote each other — not e-mails, not texts but real paper letters.  Jay was born in the Philippines but raised in the US while Jun remained in the island nation, growing up in an exclusive gated community.

Jay has started to hear back from colleges when he learns that his cousin has been killed.  Although his Filipino father refuses to tell him anything, his mother reveals that Jun had been using drugs.  His death was one of many sanctioned by Philippine President Duterte in the nation’s war against drugs.

Jay knows this can’t be true.  Jun was ridiculously smart and often at odds with his father, a high ranking police official who rules the family with an iron fist.  Jay decides to give up his spring break to travel to the Philippines and find out what really happened.

I’m not going to spoil the plot. If you want to know what happened, you will have to read the book. Suffice it to say that Jay’s eyes are opened when he returns to the country of his birth.

Author Randy Ribay has done an excellent job in creating a complex situation that is not as simple or straight forward as many people would believe.  In Jay, he has also created a character that defies stereotype.  Readers will realize just how little they know about the Philippines, both historically and in terms of the geography and culture.

What authority does Ribay have to write this book?  Like his character, he was born in the Philippines but grew up in the Midwest.

One thing that would have helped me was a Tagalog glossary since phrases in this Filipino language pepper the text.  Then again, the omission of a glossary may have been intentional since its absence left my floundering alongside the main character.

While mature middle school readers could deal with the content, I’m not sure they would find Jay’s concern about his college applications interesting or relatable.   This book is definitely worth sharing in the classroom as it is sure to spark discussions on diversity, media, and more.   An excellent choice for book club reading.


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