January 22, 2018

Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword by Barry Deutsch

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 9:43 pm by suebe2

How Mirka Got Her Sword
by Barry Deutsch
Colors by Jake Richmond
Amulet Books

Yet Another Troll-Fighting 11-Year-Old Orthodox Jewish Girl.

First it was a web comic but it is now a graphic novel for young readers.

More than anything Mirka wants to fight dragons.  She longs to be a hero.  She aches for adventure.  Yet her step-mothers insists that Mirka learn to knit, set the table and help with meals like a good girl sure to make a good wife.

But when it comes it isn’t exactly what she expected.  In the woods, Mirka spots a tall house.  Perhaps the woman she sees is a witch. She later heads back to the house with her sisters and brother.  As fourteen year-old Gittel lectures their brother about not stealing one of the enormous grapes, Mirka impulsively pops one off the vine and eats it.

A strange beast confronts them and chases Mirka through the woods.  Only stepsister Rochel, who has lived outside of Orthodox Hereville, recognize the monster as a pig.  The talking, vengeful animal chases Mirka through the woods and eventually she tumbles down a hill only to fall into the neighbor’s back yard where the men are gathered around the grill.

The pig is a reoccuring figure in the story as it chases Mirka again and again until she makes her  peace with the witch.  The witch explains that Mirka can get the sword she wants if she defeats a nearby troll.  But first Mirka must go to her stepmother to find out how to defeat a troll.

I don’t want to give away any more of the story. Suffice it to say that Mirka’s flaws, or at least weaknesses, almost cost her the sword but it is her greatest strength, or at least her strongest talent, that saves the day.

Deutsch has created a graphic novel that is authentically Orthodox (take the word of other reviewers for this) and also a strong fantasy. The interactions of the siblings also ring true.  After all, no one can annoy you quite the way your own sister can.

Mirka is a smart, determined character from a culture that is not often represented in books for young readers.  Add it to your shelf and share it with the young girl in your life who needs a bit of inspiration to go after her own sword, microscope, or fantasy.


January 18, 2018

Take a Picture of Me, James VanDerZee! by Andrea J. Loney, illustrated by Keith Mallett

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 8:11 pm by suebe2

Take a Picture of Me, James VanDerZee!
by Andrea J. Loney
illustrated by Keith Mallett

As a boy, James VanDerZee loved to paint but  he found drawing people incredibly difficult. They never looked quite right.  Then a photographer came through the town of Lenox, Massachusetts. When he returned later with the photo, James was amazed.  It perfectly captured his mother’s smile.  He was determined to learn to take his own photographs.

James worked hard to win a camera in the contest but the camera didn’t fit together right.  This time he worked to earn the money and bought his own camera.  James loved his family, friends and town so when he took and developed photos he worked hard to make people look their best.

At 18, he took this skill to Harlem. Harlem was where things were happening.  He took a job as an assistant photographer at a New Jersey studio. His boss worried that customers wouldn’t want to work with a black photographer so he sent James to the dark room. James knew he could take better photos than his boss and he got his chance when the man left on vacation.

James took his time posing people.  He retouched photos in the dark room.  James was the photographer people wanted! Soon he moved back to New York and opened his own studio in Harlem. Politicians, musicians and athletes came to him for photos.

I have to admit that although I’ve dabbled in photography, this book escaped my notice until someone recommended it to me.  But I’m so glad I picked it up.  In addition to being a ground breaking photographer, VanDerZee restored other people’s photos and captured the Harlem Renaissance on film.  This is what brought him back into the public eye when the Metropolitan Museum of Art put together an exhibit called Harlem On My Mind.  After this exhibit, VanDerZee’s skill as a photographer was once again in demand.

This is a fast-moving, touching slice of American history.  It chronicles African-American history as well as the history of photography. Loney’s text is smooth and flowing.  It is complimented perfectly by Mallett’s paintings.

This book is a must for the classroom and the would be artist.  Share it with the young reader in your life today.



January 9, 2018

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: The Case of R.B.G. vs Inequality by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Stacy Innerst

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 8:30 pm by suebe2

Ruth Bader Ginsburg:
The Case of R.B.G. vs Inequality
by Jonah Winter
illustrated by Stacy Innerst
Abrams Books for Young Readers

When Ruth Bader was growing up in Brooklyn, there were a lot of Jewish families but there was also a lot of hate there and elsewhere in the country.  Once when she and her parents were driving cross-country, they spotted a sign outside a resort.  “No Dogs or Jews Allowed.”

In spite of this, Ruth thrived.  Her father was a hard worker but had never graduated from high school.  Her mother finished high school and was an excellent student.  But because she was a girl she got to help earn money to send her brother to college.  She didn’t complain.  She worked hard, read a lot, and saved money for her daughter to go to college.

At Cornell, Ruth studied hard although at first she hid to study.  A girl who wanted a date couldn’t act too smart.  Fortunately she met Martin Ginsburg who loved her as much for her love of learning as he personality.  On the job, in law school, and even teaching at law school, every where she went Ruth Bader Ginsburg found discrimination.  Sometimes it was because she was Jewish.  Sometimes it was because she was a woman but that’s okay.  Ruth was ready to show them what a Jewish girl from Brooklyn could do. From the court of appeals to the US Supreme Court, Ruth has been speaking out for others, dissenting and leading the way.

What an amazing book.  In addition to the inspiration that is RBG herself, the author does not write down to young readers.  Evidence, dissent, argument, these legal terms and more pepper the text which isn’t preachy but inspirational.  Stacy Innerst illustrations pull the reader in as they search for the tiny figure that is RBG on each and every spread.  I hesitated to use the word tiny but when you see the spread on the Supreme Court . . . tiny but mighty.

A definite must for the classroom.  But expect this book to launch discussions on education, discrimination and everyone who is put down or put in their place.


January 5, 2018

A Different Pond by Bao Phi, illustrated by Thi Bui

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 11:38 pm by suebe2

A Different Pond
by Bao Phi
illustrated by Thi Bui
Capstone Young Readers

The sky is still dark when a young boy is awakened by his father.  Together they leave the leave home and head to the bait store, open even though the stars still twinkle in the sky.  The only time to fish is before Dad has to go to work – he’s working two jobs now.

At the pond, they are the only ones there although sometimes other fishermen join them.  Dad sets up their fishing gear.  The boy gathers small sticks for a small camp fire.  While Dad fishes he talks about fishing with his brother when he was a boy.  Sometimes Dad tells about fighting in the war in Vietnam, side-by-side with his brother, but not this time.  And then their bobber dips.

The boy guides the fish on the line, a crappie, into the bucket.  Dad is happy because tonight the family will have a good dinner. As they leave, the boy looks at the trees and wonders what the trees look like around the pond back in Vietnam.

The sun is up by the time they get home.  Time for Mom and Dad to go to work.  The boy thinks about everyone gathered around the table for dinner, laughing and telling stories as they share the fish he helped catch.

Bao Phi has woven together a story of family and working together, of continuity even in the face of change.  Although this is the story of an immigrant family in the 1970s, it is also a story of immigrant families today.  It is a story of hard work, devotion, longing, love, and strength.

That strength is depicted in the bold lines of Thi Bui’s illustrations.  Her art work is reminiscent of the panels of a graphic novel and she shows the night world in bold black lines and strong blues and browns.

This is a heartfelt thought-provoking story that is sure to prompt discussions among young readers and the adults who shape them.



Stolen Words by Melanie Florence, illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 1:42 am by suebe2

Stolen Words
by Melanie Florence
illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard
Second Story Press

A little girl is walking home from school with her grandpa when she asks him how to say grandfather in Cree. For several seconds he freezes and then he tells her the story of the boarding schools.  The government took him to live at a school away from his family. They punished children for saying words in their own languages.  Because of this, the children lost their words.  He no longer remembers how to say anything in Cree.

The next day the little girl comes out of school and pulled a small, battered book from her pack.  Introduction to Cree.  

Together they sound out words.  She tells him that her teacher helped her find this book so that she could share it with him.  So that together they could rediscover his beautiful words.

This is one of the sweetest books that I’ve read in a long time.  But not overly sweet.  The story of the boarding schools is harsh and bitter.  It is balanced with the innocence and love that this girl feels.  It is also balanced by contrasting his school experience with hers where she makes a dream catcher at school and brings home a book full of Cree words.

Gabrielle Grimard’s art work helps bring the story to life.  Rich colors depict this girl with raven wing hair and show the life and vibrancy that still exist.  Depictions of past events are created in washed out, weaker colors telling the reader without words that the past may impact the present but clearly this bright little girl is stronger than the heartless past.

This book was written for ages 6 to 9.  Although the boarding school reality is frightening, this retelling is age appropriate. The grandfather’s recollections will form a skeleton on which to hang additional facts at a later date.  Use this book as a jumping off point for discussions in Native Rights, language and culture, and even immigration.

A must read for any diverse classroom.



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