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March 2017

    book reviews, children's books

    The Banana-Leaf Ball: How Play Can Change the World

    The Banana-Leaf Ball: How Play Can Change the World by Katie Smith Milway, illustrated by Shane W. Evans

    Publisher: Kids Can Press (CitizenKid Series)
    Format: Hardcover
    Pages: 32
    Age Range: 4-8 years and up
    Grade Level: 3 – 7
    Lexile Measure: 780
    Available for Sale: April 4, 2017

    Synopsis
    Separated from his family when they were forced to flee their home, a young East African boy named Deo lives alone in the Lukole refugee camp in Tanzania. With scarce resources at the camp, bullies have formed gangs to steal what they can, and a leader named Remy has begun targeting Deo. Then one day a coach gathers all the children to play soccer. Though Deo loves soccer and has even made his own ball out of banana leaves, he’s unsure at first about joining in when he sees Remy on the field. But as Deo and the other boys get drawn into the game, everything begins to change. Their shared joy in playing provides the children — including Remy — with a sense of belonging.  Ball by ball, practice by practice, children who were once afraid of each other laugh together, the book explains, and no one feels so alone anymore.

    Based on a true story, Katie Smith Milway’s inspiring tale shows how a desperate situation can be improved by finding common ground through play. It provides a perfect starting point for discussing the social justice issues surrounding the growing number of refugees worldwide. Award-winning Shane W. Evans’s artwork powerfully and poignantly personalizes for children the experience of refugees. Furthermore, the book examines the value of using sports to build pro-social behavior, particularly as it relates to bullying. By depicting characters who change and evolve over the course of the story, kids of all backgrounds and experiences will find something positive to relate to. The back matter contains information about the real Deo, instructions for games that build trust and inclusion through play, and suggestions for how to support play-based nonprofit organizations.

    Reflection
    Just like representation, play matters! Based on a true story, The Banana-Leaf Ball is the perfect example to showcase the importance of play for children of all ages.

    Little Deo and his family must flee their home in Burundi after a war breaks out. Leaving with just the essentials (pots, blankets and food), Deo is saddened there is no room for his beloved his soccer ball made from banana leaves. His father promises him he can make one when he gets to the Lukole refugee camp in Tanzania.


    Source: Twitter @Kids Can Press

    Separated by his family, Deo feels alone at the camp and he is bullied by a gang leader. He misses his family and longs for the days of playing soccer with his friends. Before long, Deo shows all of his new friends how to make banana-leaf balls so they can practice and play soccer together. Although there are still problems in the refugee camp, the boys all feel like a team. They formed a special bond all because of banana leaves and their love of playing soccer.

    I think this book is great!  Apart from the illustrations, the thing I like the best is the amazing organizations listed in the back all centered around the importance of play! The organizations all use soccer and other forms of play to build compassion and confidence in boys and girls. Each organization also lists different games (including directions) you can play with your kids.  I also enjoyed the wide variety of themes featured throughout including: sports (soccer), teamwork, bullying, refugees, community, war, confidence, social change, overcoming differences, and friendship.

    In the back little readers can learn more about the real Deo and see pictures of what real banana leaf balls look like. Recommended for soccer lovers, little agents of change and children interested in social justice.

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    book reviews, children's books, read aloud

    Thunder Underground by Jane Yolen (A Book Review)

    Thunder Underground by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Josée Massee

    Publisher: WordSong
    Format: Hardcover
    Age Range: 5 – 10 years
    Grade Level: Kindergarten – 5
    Pages: 32

    Synopsis
    In this collection of poems, noted children’s poet Jane Yolen takes readers on an expedition underground, exploring everything from animal burrows and human creations, like subways, near the surface—to ancient cities and fossils, lower down—to caves, magma, and Earth’s tectonic plates, deeper still below our feet. At the same time, in Josée Masse’s rich art, a girl and boy, accompanied by several animals, go on a fantastic underground journey. This book contains science, poetry, and an adventure story all rolled into one. But it’s also more than that: In these poems we see that beneath us are the past, present, future—history, truth, and story. This thought-provoking collection will evoke a sense of wonder and awe in readers, as they discover the mysterious world underneath us.

    Reflection
    Did you know that corn plants can “talk”?  Recent scientific studies show the roots of corn roots emit sounds that can’t be heard by the human ear alone, but can be recorded.  How interesting!  This is just one of the fascinating things little readers will learn by reading Thunder Underground, a fun and informative poetry book great for children ages 5 – 10.

    In this book, a young Black girl and White boy go an adventure to explore a variety of things commonly found underground: fossils, animals, tree roots, subway stations and buried treasures.  Each of the twenty-one poems challenges children to use their imagination and wonder.

    There are several wonderful poems throughout this book, but my favorites are entitled: Under, Seeds and Corny Conversations.  The thing I like most about this book is it exposes children to nature, science and poetry all at the same time.  By reading the additional notes in the back, there is even more scientific and personal information about each of the poems.  I even learned a new word by reading this book – “spelunk” which is the word for “going caving.”

    I think the wordplay in this book is excellent and really challenges children to think on a deeper level in order to grasp the meaning of some of the poems.

    Where we all end.
    And we all start.

    This dot,
    this spot,
    this period at the end
    of winter’s sentence
    writes its way up
    through the full slate of soil
    into the paragraph of spring.

    I think Thunder Underground would be great for reading aloud with younger children, but it’s also ideal to use in an English or creative writing class especially during National Poetry Month.

    Your turn: Are you excited to check this poetry book out?  What are some of your favorite Jane Yolen books?  Feel free to share in the comments.

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    book reviews, children's books

    Breaking the Sickle: A Snippet of the Life of Dr. Yvette Fay Francis-McBarnette

    Breaking the Sickle: A Snippet of the Life of Dr. Yvette Fay Francis-McBarnette by Louie McClain II

    Publisher: Melanin Origins LLC
    Pages: 34
    Format: Paperback
    Grade Level: Kindergarten – 2nd Grade

    Synopsis
    Have you ever wondered what your passion was? What you were put on this Earth to do? Dr. Yvette Fay Francis-McBarnette, a trail blazing woman of medicine, understood exactly what her purpose was in life. Her interest and area of expertise was researching ways to identify those with sickle cell early on, and providing therapeutic solutions to induce an improved quality of life for those who suffered from the disease. Dr. Francis-McBarnette led an extraordinary life that tells such an amazing story of hope and encouragement. Read along as Melanin Origins presents a childlike perspective of her formula for breaking the cycle of Sickle Cell Disease.

    Reflection
    In this third book in the Melanin Origins series, little readers learn about Dr. Yvette Fay Francis-McBarnette, a Jamaican-born medical pioneer in treating children with sickle cell anemia.  Dr. McBarnette was born in Kingston, Jamaica, on May 10, 1926.  She died on March 28, 2016 in Alexandria, Virginia. She was 89 years old.

    In true Melanin Origins fashion, Breaking the Sickle exposes children to another important and prominent historical figure with a modern twist.  The graphic illustrations are vivid and include a variety of diverse childlike and adult characters throughout.  Not only does this book teach children about Dr. McBarnette’s life, it also explains what sickle cell disease is along with listing a few of the symptoms and statistics.  So there is a little STEM involved in this book too!  Through easy to understand text and illustrations, children can see the difference between normal red blood cells and sickle cells.

    I think Breaking the Sickle does a wonderful job educating children about a strong woman who broke down barriers of both race and gender throughout her lifetime.  I’m also impressed that 25% of all proceeds from this book will be donated to the Sickle Cell Disease Association of North Texas.  Those proceeds will be used to help fund research to cure Sickle Cell Disease and enhance the quality of life for people suffering from this disease around the world.

    Since sickle cell disease mostly affects people of African ancestry, I think this is an important book to expose to African-American children (or any children) who may be suffering from the disease.  Children (or adults) born with sickle cell will be able to relate to this book in a positive way seeing themselves being represented.  Check out this great story of determination, hope and encouragement with your little readers.

    Connect with Melanin Origins!
    Website | FacebookTwitter | Instagram

    melaninorigins

    Disclaimer: I received a FREE copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.  All opinions expressed are my own.

    Your turn: What is your favorite book in the Melanin Origins series?  Feel free to share in the comments.

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    adult books, book reviews, diverse books

    My Brown Baby: On the Joys and Challenges of Raising African-American Children

    My Brown Baby: On the Joys and Challenges of Raising African-American Children by Denene Millner

    Publisher: Agate Bolden
    Pages: 272
    Format: Paperback

    Synopsis
    For almost a decade, national parenting expert and bestselling author Denene Millner has published thought-provoking, insightful, sometimes wickedly funny commentary about motherhood on her critically acclaimed website MyBrownBaby.com. The site, hailed as a “must-read” by the New York Times, speaks to the experiences, joys, fears, sorrows, and triumphs of African American motherhood, from pregnancy and child-rearing to relationships and the politics of parenting black children.

    After publishing almost 2,000 posts aimed at lifting the voices of moms and dads of color, Millner has now curated My Brown Baby, a collection of the website’s most important and insightful essays. This one-of-a-kind parenting book offers perspectives on the issues moms of color and mothers of children of color face as they raise their kids—from birthing while black to negotiating discipline to preparing children for racism.

    Through her website, Millner has created a space for African American moms and parents of black children, many of whom long to lend their critical but all-too-often ignored voices to the national parenting discussion. Full of essays that readers of all backgrounds will find provocative, My Brown Baby acknowledges that there absolutely are issues that African American parents must deal with that white parents never have to confront if they’re not raising brown children. This book chronicles these differences with open arms, a lot of love, and the deep belief that though we may come from separate places and have different backgrounds, all parents want the same things for our families, and especially for our children.

    Reflection
    Are you an African-American mom or mom-to-be? Buy this book! A parent raising adopted children of color? Buy this book! Thinking about having your own children or adopting children of color in the future? Buy this book! Curious about what it’s like as a parent raising Black or mixed race children? Buy this book!

    It’s a collection of personal essays taken from Denene Millner’s popular website mybrownbaby.com over the past decade. The essays are organized by the different stages of parenting with topics like: the nuts and bolts of parenting Black children, the joys, pains, and politics of natural hair, Black children and racism, and tending to the self-esteem of Black children.

    My personal favorite topics include: new motherhood,  raising them up, hair stories, the souls of black folk and mother love.  I found myself laughing out loud, nodding my head, smiling, and even tearing up a bit as I read this book. Being a Black parent raising two Black children, I found this book to be very relatable to me and our family.  I love that Millner has created this book to be the “voice” for us parents raising Black and brown children. While raising children is virtually the same for all parents across the board (regardless of race), there are in fact certain issues that parents raising White children will never have to confront.  Millner outlines these differences and embraces them with open arms throughout the book.

    There are so many good nuggets of information and great essays found in the pages of My Brown Baby. You may find yourself highlighting and underlining several different passages or earmarking pages that you want to refer back to another time.  That is what happened to me.  This book really gets into the nitty gritty details of parenting Black children and “tells it like it is” through the eyes of the author who also happens to be a mother of two beautiful daughters. You’ll learn how to tend to the self-esteem for Black children, tackling naturally kinky hair, how to guard your children from the “N” word, and why Millner lets her children watch reality TV shows.

    I also like the fact that readers get to know a little more about the author through some personal narrative.  She openly shares an early miscarriage story and also lets readers know that she is adopted.  I find Millner’s personal journey as a mother to be fascinating.  It’s so interesting to see how her experiences helped shape her into the wife and parent she is today.

    While this book is geared towards African-Americans raising Black and Brown children, it can be read and enjoyed by people of all races.  Check it out for a dose of laughter and inspiration while learning modern-day parenting tips and techniques.

    Your turn: Have you read this book yet?  Feel free to share your thoughts on the book in the comments.

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    book reviews, children's books, diverse books

    Fidel Creations: Amharic/English Bilingual Board Books for Kids

    Have you ever heard of Ge’ez Script?  It’s a native African writing system used in Ethiopia and Eritrea.  Fidel Creations has a goal to celebrate this fascinating ancient script and bring it to the forefront through their line of beautiful bilingual books and other baby and parent-friendly products.

    The books My Farm Animal Friends and My Wild Animal Friends introduces colorful and delightfully illustrated animals to children.  The text is written in both Amharic and English.  Both books include the names of common farm animals as well as exotic wild animal life: cat, dog, rooster, elephant, monkey and lion just to name a few. Transliteration of Amharic names are also displayed to help guide readers to correctly pronounce Amharic translations as well as enable non-Amharic readers to learn a few Amharic words.

    While I don’t currently have any plans to learn Amharic or teach it to my children, these books may help other families – especially families raising children from Ethiopia or Eritrea.  I think it’s important to keep kids connected to their birth culture.  By Fidel Creations making these bilingual board books they are helping babies, toddlers and parents learn a few Amharic words to use in their everyday life.  A durable and high quality bilingual board book series for babies and toddlers.  Check them out!

    Connect with Fidel Creations!

    Website | Instagram | Etsy | Facebook

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    book reviews, children's books

    My Kicks: A Sneaker Story by Susan Verde (A Book Review)

    My Kicks: A Sneaker Story by Susan Verde, illustrated by Katie Kath

    Publisher: Abrams Books for Young Readers
    Format: Hardcover
    Pages: 40
    Age Range: 5 – 7 years
    Grade Level: Kindergarten – 2
    Available for Sale: April 11, 2017

    Synopsis
    Boys love sneakers. But when a child finds that his toes have outgrown his favorite shoes, and they’ve gotten too dirty and smelly, his mom says it’s time for a new pair. Resistant to let go, the boy reminisces about all the good times he’s had with his favorite kicks on the city streets. There’s the paint splatter from his masterpiece and the drip from a Popsicle. There’s the scuff from when he fell off his skateboard. And there are those frayed laces that he learned to tie in bows and doubles. A new pair just won’t be the same. But, with bigger shoes to fill, the boy realizes new adventures await him. Maybe he could paint a little better? Or skate a little faster? This picture book explores the love and pride that kids have for their sneakers and the joy that can be found in growing up, growing out, and moving on.

    Reflection
    Let’s face it, many kids are rough on shoes after they’ve worn them a few times.  I’ve witnessed my kids kick off their shoes when they get home, drag them across the floor and jump in puddles or snow.  Shoes take a beating everyday and many bear the scars and signs of wear and tear.  But as we learn in the book My Kicks: A Sneaker Story, there’s nothing like an old pair of kicks (sneakers).  They have so many stories to tell.

    My Kicks is a charming story about a little boy who has outgrown his favorite pair of red sneakers during his summer vacation. When the boys’ mom tells him it’s time to to get a new pair, he starts reminiscing about all the fun he’s had with his favorite pair of kicks.  It’s through the boys’ flashbacks that little readers learn a little more about him like: he knows how to tie his shoes, he likes to run and jump in puddles, he rides a skateboard, he likes to climb trees, he enjoys painting and playing soccer. When he finally picks out a new pair of yellow sneakers and tries them on he can’t wait to start making new memories.

    The kids and I really enjoy this story because we can relate to it.  While the kids enjoy getting new shoes, there have been times when they’ve wanted to keep their old ones because they were so attached to them.  Much like the boy in this story, they are excited when they finally try on their new shoes for the first time.  Once that happens they don’t want to take them off!

    The watercolor illustrations are cute and whimsical showing a diverse set of characters throughout.  I like the ending where they boy is shown placing his old shoes on the dresser in his bedroom instead of throwing them away.  It shows just how much he really likes them.  In addition, it shows children they can still hold on to their beloved possessions a little while longer until it’s truly time to let them go.  I also like the overall messages and themes of this story.  It touches upon topics like: letting go and moving on, growing up, making decisions, friendship and the joys of playing and being a kid.

    There is also a fun surprise for kids if you remove the dust jacket of this book: a handy step-by-step shoe tying guide. I personally think this should have been placed in the endpapers or at the beginning of this book instead of on the cover as it can easily be missed if you don’t know it’s there.  If you don’t want to take off the dust jacket you can visit the author’s website to find the shoe tying guide there.



    I think parents will enjoy reading this story and start reminiscing about their favorite pair of kicks growing up. Thinking back to my own childhood, name brand sneakers like Nike, Reebox, L.A. Gear and Adidas were popular.  I remember getting my first pair of Reebox sneakers.  I thought I was so hot!  Prior to that all of my other sneakers ubiquitous, unbranded, ugly and cheap.  I loved my cheap shoes though because they were so easy to run around in, and my mom loved them because they saved wear and tear on my “real” shoes.  It’s fascinating to see how much sneakers have morphed into designer athletic shoes over the years.

    Overall, this is a fun read for kids (boys and girls) ages 5- 7 and up.  Check it out in April 2017 when it publishes!

    Connect with Susan Verde!
    Website | Twitter | Instagram | Facebook

    Connect with Katie Kath!
    Website | TwitterFacebook

    Your turn: Are you looking forward to reading this book with your little readers?  What was your favorite pair of kicks growing up? Feel free to share in the comments.

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    STEM, subscription boxes

    Bitsbox: Teach Your Kids to Code Before Middle School!

    Photo courtesy of Bitsbox

    We’re all familiar with the basic skills of learning also known as the three Rs: reading, writing and arithmetic. Now that we’re in the 21st century, I think in addition to knowing the three Rs children should also know and understand the basics of coding.  How about reading, writing, arithmetic and … html?  Or reading, writing, arithmetic and … Javascript?

    As a Computer Programmer and lover of all things STEM, it’s important for me to expose my children to technology in order to help them build foundations for future academic and career success.  I want them to be as code-savvy as possible from a young age.  Online skills are becoming as important as reading and writing for the younger generations, so why not give them a head start?  Since they are both still currently under the age of 5, my main goals are making sure they know their way around a computer and teaching them the basics of coding.  They already know how to navigate smartphones and tablets better than many older adults.

    When I came across Bitsbox on Instagram I was thrilled!  Did you happen to see their appearance on Shark Tank a few weeks ago?  Bitsbox is a subscription box that sends coding exercises to kids each month in order to help them learn coding. It includes app cards and coding themed toys to keep the kids interested in learning more month after month.  Kids can see the exact code and the results of their changes in real time!

    Here are a few reasons why I absolutely LOVE Bitsbox:

    • It sends a clear reminder to parents that “coding is the new literacy.”
    • Coding experience is NOT required!  Remember, this is simple and it’s designed for kids.
    • You receive a cute “Apper Keeper” to store and organize all of the coding exercises.  Remember the old Trapper Keepers from the 1980’s?
    • Through repeated repetition, kids have the chance to play around and see how basic coding and functions work before they graduate to more complex learning.
    • It encourages children to learn design while fostering their problem solving abilities. Kids can change colors, add different backgrounds, songs and sounds to their creations.
    • It is specially designed for young children (ages 6-14) to give them a developmentally appropriate understanding of how coding works.
    • It helps teach children how to type and become more familiar with a keyboard.
    • Once you become a Bitsbox user you have access to the website for free, and can continue to use the cards and online apps for as long as the website is available for continued teaching and learning.
    • They offer different resources for parents AND classroom teachers.
    • It’s fun: My kids LOVE doing it! (And they are currently only 3.5 and 4.5 years old!)

    The first box focuses on the coding skill of coordinates.  Remember plotting x and y coordinates on graphing paper for math homework?  This is the exact same concept except it’s done by typing code.  The coordinates tell the computer where to place an object on the screen.  Sound too complex?  Don’t worry, Bitsbox made this super simple to understand by including a handy explanation guide for kids (and grownups).

    To get started coding with Bitsbox all you need is a computer with a keyboard (desktop or laptop) and a web browser. (It’s currently not available to use on a tablet or smartphone.)  You then go to the Bitsbox website and login using either a grownup account or a kids account.  (All of your work will be saved to your account so you can refer back to it later.)  Next, your child starts building  their own customized apps which can be downloaded to a phone or tablet just like any other app!

    Remember handing assignments in on paper, or even via email?  Thanks to the push for computer science education and subscription boxes like Bitsbox, it seems likely that students of the future will be handing in their homework with hand-built websites and even smartphone applications.  How cool would that be?

    Our family is now officially a Bitsbox-loving family!  I honestly think it’s a fantastic way for kids and grownups to learn to code together.  It’s fun and easy to use even if you have no previous computer coding experience.  I’m confident as the kids get older they’ll need less assistance from me – that’s how easy it is to use and understand.

    Ready to try Bitsbox for yourself? Save 20% on a subscription with my discount code: HEREWEEREAD20.  We can’t wait to receive our next box and share our experience with you!

    Disclaimer:  We received a free subscription box from Bitsbox in exchange for an honest review.  All opinions expressed are my own.

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