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    book reviews, children's books, diverse books

    Iqbal and His Ingenious Idea: How a Science Project Helps One Family and the Planet (A Book Review)

    Disclaimer: We received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.  As always, all opinions expressed are my own.

    Iqbal and His Ingenious Idea by Elizabeth Suneby, illustrated by Rebecca Green

    Publisher: CitizenKid
    Format: Hardcover
    Age Range: 6 – 9 and up
    Grade Level: 3 –  7
    Publication Date: May 1, 2018

    It’s monsoon season in Bangladesh, which means Iqbal’s mother must cook the family’s meals indoors, over an open fire. The smoke from the fire makes breathing difficult for his mother and baby sister, and it’s even making them sick. Hearing them coughing at night worries Iqbal. So when he learns that his school’s upcoming science fair has the theme of sustainability, Iqbal comes up with the perfect idea for his entry: he’ll design a stove that doesn’t produce smoke! With help from his teacher, Iqbal learns all about solar energy cooking, which uses heat from the sun to cook — ingenious! Has Iqbal found a way to win first prize in the science fair while providing cleaner air and better health for his family at the same time?

    It’s monsoon season in Bangladesh, which means many families must cook over an open flame. But all of the smoke is making Iqbal’s mother and other family members sick.  Iqbal wants to help, so he enters the district science fair which offers a cash prize for winning first place. Iqbal is determined to win the grand prize so he can buy a gas stove that doesn’t produce harmful fumes.

    I love how creative Iqbal was and how he thoroughly researched his idea to create a solar cooker.  He learned that solar cookers provide many benefits including: protects the environment, reduces health problems, empowers women and girls, increases safety and saves money.

    I also like the special bond between Iqbal and his sister Sadia.  Sadia offers to be Iqbal’s assistant and helps him assemble the solar cooker.  The brother sister duo also receive help from their parents to put the final touches on their invention.  What a great display of family teamwork to accomplish a common goal!  Despite not having much money, they all pulled together and used the little they did have to help Iqbal complete his project.

    Aspiring creatives, engineers, scientists and inventors are likely to enjoy this inspirational story that shows how one child can champion the protection of the environment and help raise awareness about a global health issue.  There are themes of: STEM, creativity, family and solar power.  You truly are never too young or old to make a difference!

    The back matter has additional information about clean cookstoves, a glossary and a neat DIY (do-it-yourself) pizza box solar cooker activity for kids to try.

    Your turn: Have you ever invented anything?  If so, what was it?  Feel free to share in the comments.

    book reviews, children's books, diverse books

    Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal (A Book Review)

    Disclaimer: We received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.  As always, all opinions expressed are my own.

    Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal

    Publisher: Candlewick
    Format: Hardcover
    Age Range: 4- 8
    Grade Level: Preschool – 3
    Publication Date: April 10, 2018


    What’s in a name? For one little girl, her very long name tells the vibrant story of where she came from — and who she may one day be.

    If you ask her, Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela has way too many names: six! How did such a small person wind up with such a large name? Alma turns to Daddy for an answer and learns of Sofia, the grandmother who loved books and flowers; Esperanza, the great-grandmother who longed to travel; José, the grandfather who was an artist; and other namesakes, too. As she hears the story of her name, Alma starts to think it might be a perfect fit after all — and realizes that she will one day have her own story to tell. In her author-illustrator debut, Juana Martinez-Neal opens a treasure box of discovery for children who may be curious about their own origin stories or names.

    I think this book is an absolutely adorable story about a little girl named Alma who is initially unhappy with her really long name.  She has six names: Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela.  After Alma’s father tells her the story of her name she appreciates it and fully accepts it.  For example, Alma learns she was given the name “Sofia” because of her grandmother who loved books, poetry and jasmine flowers.

    I love that Alma’s father goes on to tell her different stories of where each of the remaining names came from.  Each story provides Alma with a sense of identity through time, and helps her understand who she is in the world.  Through his stories, Alma’s father gives her a wealth of information about her distant grandparents, great-grandparents, and great aunt.  Alma also learned some things about her family’s heritage which will undoubtedly provide her with an important connection to her own identity and may possibly open her up to a new world into other cultures and traditions.

    When Alma learns her first name was picked just for her she couldn’t be more happy!

    I love the story of my name!  Now, tell me about Alma, Daddy.  Where does that come from?

    I picked the name Alma just for you.  You are the first and the only Alma.  You will make your own story.

    In the end, Alma proudly proclaims her name in big, bold font which is a drastic change from how she wrote her name in the beginning of the book.

    That’s my name, and it fits me just right!  I am Alma, and I have a story to tell.

    Alma and How She Got Her Name is perfect for kids who have long names and are curious about the origin of their names.  A great overall message about identity rings throughout accompanied by gorgeous colored pencil illustrations in tones of red, white, pink, blue and grey.  There are wonderful messages of acceptance, family, heritage, culture, love and individuality.

    The author’s note tells little readers the story of how she got her name.  A Spanish version of this book will publish on the same date the English version publishes.  Recommended for kids ages 4-8 and up.

    Your turn: How many names do you have? I have 3, my first, middle and last name. Well, 4 if you count “Mommy”. Make that 5 if you count “Babe”.

    book reviews, children's books, diverse books

    Mommy’s Khimar by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow (A Book Review)

    Disclaimer: We received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.  As always, all opinions expressed are my own.

    Mommy’s Khimar
    by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow, illustrated by Ebony Glenn

    Published by: Salaam Reads / Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
    Age Range: 4 – 8 years old
    Grade Level: Preschool – 3
    Format: Hardcover

    A young Muslim girl spends a busy day wrapped up in her mother’s colorful headscarf in this sweet and fanciful picture book.

    A khimar is a flowing scarf that my mommy wears.
    Before she walks out the door each day, she wraps one around her head.

    A young girl plays dress up with her mother’s headscarves, feeling her mother’s love with every one she tries on. Charming and vibrant illustrations showcase the beauty of the diverse and welcoming community in this portrait of a young Muslim American girl’s life.


    When the publisher Salaam Reads was founded back in 2016, I was so excited!  Salaam Reads is an imprint that aims to introduce readers of all faiths and backgrounds to a wide variety of Muslim children and families and offer Muslim kids an opportunity to see themselves reflected positively in published works. The imprint, which takes its name from the Arabic word for “peace,” plans to publish books for young readers of all ages, including picture books, chapter books, middle grade, and young adult.  Isn’t that great news?

    Today there are very few good children’s books that have Muslim or Islamic themes.  There are even fewer books that focus on the African-American Muslim experience like Mommy’s Khimar.  I love this adorable story about a little Muslim American girl who likes to play dress up with her mother’s khimar (hijab).  It’s a lively and upbeat story with engaging words and vibrant illustrations that oozes with love!

    Playing dress-up has never been so much fun!  Especially when you have a closet full of beautifully designed headscarves to choose from.

    Some have tassles.  Some have beads.  Some have sparkly things all over.

    The little girl’s excitement at dressing up in mother’s khimar is infectious.  She uses her creative imagination to become a queen with a golden train, the sun, a mama bird and a superhero in a cape.

    When I wear Mommy’s khimar, I am a mama bird.  I spread my golden wings and shield my baby brother as he sleeps in his nest.

    At the end of the day, it’s time to take off the khimar and go to sleep, but not without one last stroke of mommy’s khimar.  The little girl takes her mother’s scents of coconut oil, cocoa butter and cinnamon with her as she drifts off to sleep.  It’s as if her mother is right there lying next to her.  Sometimes, a girl needs to know that her mother’s love will still be there, even when it’s time to go to bed.  Fortunately, smelling the khimar one last time lets the little girl know that Mama’s love won’t ever go away. This story is perfect for reminding children that a mother’s love will always endure.

    I really enjoyed reading this story with my kids.  The pages dance with pastel colored illustrations that really make the story come alive.  Ebony Glenn’s illustrations doing a fantastic job showcasing the beauty of a timeless khimar.  My favorite thing about this book is the mother daughter bond that is displayed throughout.  It’s clear that the girl admires her mother and wants to follow in her mother’s footsteps.  I love the way the little girl expresses her affection for her mom and how much love is shown to the girl from her community: her dad, grandmother and other women at the mosque.

    Overall, I think Mommy’s Khimar beautifully captures the childhood of playing dress up and make believe while contextualizing it against the backdrop of the African American Muslim experience. Mommy’s Khimar can serve not only as a window for other cultures, but as a mirror for Muslim-American children.  It may make many little girls want to snuggle up and read this book with their mother and spark meaningful conversations as their mother shares stories about each one of her beloved khimars.

    children's books, diverse books

    So You Want to Talk About Race: Picture Book Recommendations for Kids

    Have you started having conversations about race and racism with your children yet?  It’s a topic I have touched upon (in the most simplistic way) with my children on several occasions.  As they get older, these topics will become more important to talk about on a more regular basis.

    If you’re thinking: “Why do I need to to talk to my children about race?” or “My kids are too young to start having those types of conversations?” or “Will talking about race promote racism or bigotry?” or “Isn’t that the teacher’s job?”  Think again.

    I understand that talking about race can sometimes feel dangerous and overwhelming for some people, but it’s important work if we want to truly get to a place where all people are treated as equals. I believe it is crucial that we talk to our kids openly and honestly about race as soon as they are old enough to understand that people come in all different colors, shapes and sizes.

    I think it’s important to give children the words and language to understand both the superficial outer differences between people, as well as the very real, lived differences that exist under the surface. As parents, caregivers and educators, we need to teach them to respect and value those differences as well as the many similarities that all people share.

    The books I’ve listed here provide you with a sort of simple blueprint for educating your children or students about race and being unique. It helps them become more compassionate toward people and allows them to help push the lever toward true equality. In essence, these books helps kids to see beyond the superficial outward differences and look deeper for common interests, similar likes and dislikes, values, beliefs, and attitudes. We all have a story to tell.

    Mariama: Different But Just the Same by Jerónimo Cornelles

    Lovely by Jess Hong

    Why Am I Me? by Paige Britt

    Everybody Cooks Rice by Norah Dooley

    All the Colors of the Earth by Sheila Hamanaka

    Tan to Tamarind: Poems About the Color Brown by Malathi Michelle Iyengar

    Skin Again
    by Bell Hooks

    The Colors of Us by Karen Katz

    The Skin You Live In by Michael Tyler

    Let’s Talk About Race by Julius Lester

    Shades of People by Sheila M. Kelly

    Shades of Black: A Celebration of Our Children by Sandra L. Pinkney

    Same, Same But Different by Jenny Sue

    Happy In Our Skin by Fran Manushkin

    I Am Mixed by Garcelle Beauvais

    We All Sing With the Same Voice by J. Philip Miller

    Whoever You Are by Mem Fox

    What I Like About Me! by Allia Zobel Nolan

    Chocolate Me! by Taye Diggs

    Your turn: Which books would you add to this list?  Feel free to share in the comments.

    book reviews, children's books, diverse books, read aloud

    The Little Red Fort by Brenda Maier (A Book Review)

    The Little Red Fort by Brenda Maier, illustrated by Sonia Sanchez

    Publisher: Scholastic
    Format: Hardcover
    Pages: 40
    Age Range: 4- 8
    Grade Level: Preschool – 3

    Ruby’s mind is always full of ideas.  One day, she finds some old boards and decides to build something.
    She invites her brothers to help, but they just laugh and tell her she doesn’t know how to build.

    “Then I’ll learn,” she says.  And she does!

    When she creates a dazzling fort that they all want to play in, it is Ruby who has the last laugh.

    With sprightly text and winsome pictures, this modern spin on a timeless favorite celebrates the pluck and ingenuity of young creators everywhere!

    We have a new favorite read aloud that me and my kids adore: The Little Red Fort!

    This book is not only fun, but it’s empowering too. Little Ruby’s mind is always full of ideas. One day, she decides to build a fort and asks her three brothers for help. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done: the plans have to be drawn up, supplies need to be gathered, boards need to be cut, and more.

    Illustration courtesy of The Little Red Fort

    When Ruby asks her three brothers (Oscar Lee, Rodrigo and José) for help, they all say they’re too busy to give her a hand. When the fort is finally completed, Ruby asks her brothers if they want to play in her fort. Of course, they all jump at the opportunity once they see how amazing and fun the fort is, but Ruby doesn’t let them get off so easily.

    I adore this retelling of the folktale The Little Red Hen featuring a little Latina protagonist! This book has great read aloud appeal, vibrant and bright illustrations and STEM. I love that the brothers learn a great lesson and that little Ruby has a determined mind of her own to build a fort. Although she didn’t have support from her brothers in the beginning, her mom, dad and grandmother help pitch in showing great teamwork and family support.

    The Little Red Fort pays homage to the classic folk tale and commemorates its one hundredth anniversary in picture book form.

    Disclaimer: I was provided with a complimentary book in exchange for an honest review.  As always, all opinions expressed are my own.

    Your turn: Have you ever read the classic folktale The Little Red Hen?  Feel free to share in the comments.

    children's books, diverse books

    This Is It: A Heartwarming Book Trailer and the Amazing Story Behind It

    This Is It by Daria Peoples-Riley

    Publisher: Greenwillow Books
    Format: Hardcover
    Pages: 40
    Age Range: 4-8 years
    Grade Level: Preschool – 3

    Daria Peoples-Riley’s debut picture book is a celebration of individuality, self-expression, and dance. Fans of Misty Copeland’s Firebird and Matt de la Peña’s Last Stop on Market Street will want to read it over and over again.

    When a young dancer is nervous about her upcoming auditions, her shadow springs to life and leads her on a joyous exploration of their city. Soon enough, the young girl finds confidence in her skills, her body, and her ability to shine.

    With an energetic, rhythmic text that begs to be read aloud and striking, exuberant artwork, This Is It is a love story to originality and the simple joy of movement.

    Check out the amazingly heartwarming book trailer for This Is It here:

    What’s the Story Behind the Book Trailer?

    Tell us a little bit about the trailer.
    It’s not the average book trailer for a picture book. I know, right? Well, I’ve always been interested in making films, so when THIS IS IT was acquired, I knew I wasn’t going to do an animated book trailer. Creating a live action book trailer would be the perfect opportunity to try filmmaking. I thought the idea of bringing my heroine to real life would be more impactful. To be honest, as a child, I wasn’t very interested in cartoons. I liked shows and movies with real people. It’s hard for me to believe there aren’t more kids out there like that. The book trailer is the prologue to the book, and you have to read the book to find out what happens next. It was a wonderful opportunity to create my first experience as a filmmaker.

    Who was some of the talent behind the scenes of the trailer?
    I enlisted the expertise of Patrick Lascu, a Los Angeles based filmmaker, and he put together a crew of amazing talent. He really went out of his way to involve me in the creative process. I learned a lot from him, and hope we can work together again in the near future.

    And in front of the camera, who plays the shadow?
    The shadow is played by my daughter, Jonah Marie. She is an aspiring ballerina who inspired the poem in THIS IS IT.

    Jonah, can you tell us a little bit about your ballet training?
    I train in Vaganova Ballet, a style of Russian ballet. I train about ten hours a week right now, and in the summer I attend summer intensives. Last summer, I attended Los Angeles Ballet School and next summer I will attend UNCSA’s classical ballet intensive.

    What was it like dancing as the shadow?
    It was really fun because I didn’t have to worry about being on the camera, but I was still apart of the trailer. Besides ballet, what are some of your other interests? I like fashion and baking.

    What are some of your dreams for the future?
    I would love to become a professional ballet dancer. The mom and the daughter—who plays those roles? The mom is played by Tanya Hill, and her daughter Jalyn Noelle. They are real mom and daughter, so the connection was natural.

    How did you go about finding Tanya and Jalyn?
    It was pretty unconventional actually. We call it a God story—one of those acts of Providence only God could orchestrate. Patrick and I were looking for actors, and reached out to a few casting directors, but we hadn’t found anyone who looked quite like the character in THIS IS IT. However, after a couple of weeks of unsuccessfully finding anyone, I was leaving a hotel in
    Buena Park, California when I drove by Tanya and Jalyn who were standing along the street at a crosswalk. Immediately, I was amazed at how much Jalyn looked like my heroine, so I pulled over. It wasn’t until I got out of my car to approach them, I realized Jalyn and Tanya were holding a homeless sign and asking for money.

    What did you do next?
    Truthfully, it caught me off-guard a little and probably out of nervousness, I commented on Tanya’s t-shirt, a North Carolina Panther’s shirt. I don’t really watch football, but I am a Cam Newton fan because of all the wonderful things he does for kids, so the first thing I said was something like “I’m a Cam Newton fan!” Awkward, right? So funny. But she said, “I am too!” Then, we Cam-dabbed together. Once the ice was broken, I told her I was an author/illustrator who wrote a book, and her daughter looked a lot like the character in my story. I asked her if she was interested in acting in my book trailer, and that was when Jalyn told me, “Of course, I’m an actor.” Tanya told me she was struggling after relocating to California from North Carolina. She cried tears of joy when I offered Jalyn the role. Then, I cried. Then, we celebrated by taking a selfie. We exchanged information, and Jalyn became my real life heroine. The best thing about it was I was able to compensate Jalyn for her talent.

    How are Jalyn and her mom doing now? Can you give us an update? Do you still keep in touch? Absolutely! We keep each other updated. Jalyn and her mom will be in my heart forever. They are doing wonderful. Shortly after our first meeting, I reached out to my aunt who lives in the LA area to find Tanya and Jalyn housing. She enlisted the help of Boys II Men singer, Nathan Morris who has a heart for helping the homeless. Together, we raised $9,000 in three days on GoFundMe. Jalyn and her mom moved back to the Carolinas. Jalyn is acting and attending school and mom is working as a manager of an optical gallery.

    Jalyn, what did you think about Daria asking you to be in her trailer?
    I felt excited because I wanted to be an actress and she just came in my life and helped me fulfill my dreams, and well, it was the first time I was on onset with cameras. I did NarroWay, A Christian theater in South Carolina, but it wasn’t like that.

    How was your experience? What was your favorite part?
    I loved the experience. It was a lot of fun doing it. My favorite part was learning ballet. It was the first time I ever tried it, but now I actually want to do ballet.

    What are you doing now?
    Well, I went back to NarroWay and now I’m doing a show called Not Just Another Love Story.

    What are your some of your dreams for the future?
    One of my dreams is becoming a veterinarian. I love animals and I really want to help the homeless. I’ve been in that situation before, and it’s not fun.

    Where can people purchase the book?
    This Is It is available now online (the publisher’s website, Amazon, Barnes and Noble) and in bookstores wherever books are sold.  You can also check your local library to see if they have it in their circulation. If they don’t simply request your library to order a copy.

    Connect with Daria Peoples-Riley!
    Website | Instagram | Twitter

    Your turn: Are you looking forward to reading this with your little readers now that you’ve seen the trailer and read the story behind it?  Feel free to share in the comments.

    black history, book reviews, children's books, diverse books

    Libba: The Magnificent Musical Life of Elizabeth Cotten by Laura Veirs (A Book Review)

    Libba: The Magnificent Musical Life of Elizabeth Cotten by Laura Veirs, illustrated by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh

    Publisher: Chronicle Books
    Format: Hardcover
    Pages: 40
    Age Range: 5 – 8
    Grade Level: Kindergarten – 3

    Elizabeth Cotten was only a little girl when she picked up a guitar for the first time. It wasn’t hers (it was her big brother’s), and it wasn’t strung right for her (she was left-handed). But she flipped that guitar upside down and backwards and taught herself how to play it anyway. By age eleven, she’d written “Freight Train,” one of the most famous folk songs of the twentieth century. And by the end of her life, people everywhere—from the sunny beaches of California to the rolling hills of England—knew her music.

    Prior to reading this book, I had never heard of Elizabeth Cotten before.  Born near Chapel Hill, North Carolina in 1893, Grammy Award Winner Elizabeth “Libba” Cotten (born Elizabeth Nevills) was an African-American blues guitarist who invented “cotten picking.” At age 11, she picked up her brother Claude’s guitar and picked the strings with the instrument upside down and backwards (because she was left-handed), and kept the sound in perfect pitch.  It’s no surprise though since she was constantly surrounded by music and she came from a musical family.

    Soon after her first encounter with the guitar her brother moved out to go find a job, taking his guitar with him.  But little Libba didn’t let that stop her.  She was determined to work odd jobs and earn enough money to buy her own guitar.  That’s how much she loved music – it was in her bones.  She wrote her own songs like her most popular one “Freight Train” before she was even thirteen years old.

    But soon, Libba would have to go to work for a living as a maid. Times were tough in the 1900’s in the segregated South especially for poor Black females like her.  So Libba put down the guitar and put her musical days behind her.  As the years went on, she married and had children, not returning to the guitar again until she was 60 years old.

    Years later, while working as a maid for the Seeger family, who were musicians, Libba started playing the guitar again and the Seeger family recorded her music at home.  The Seeger family truly believed in her talent and helped spread the word about her music.  Libba played shows with big names like Muddy Waters and performed at prestigious cathedrals in London and Rome.  She played until she was well into her 80’s. In 1984, she finally got her big break and won the Grammy Award for “Best Ethnic or Traditional Recording”.  Libba spent her last days in Syracuse, New York until she died in 1987.  Fans of her music might be inspired to visit the park called “Libba Cotten Grove” in Syracuse, New York which still exists today.

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this picture book biography and learning about the life of Elizabeth Cotten.  I am inspired by her skills, talent and determination at such a young age.  The story is not only informative, but the plot is very engaging and it flows well.  The gorgeous graphite illustrations and color palette complement the time period of the book so well.  I truly felt like I stepped back in time to the country South in the 1900s.

    It was so interesting to see how Libba’s musical life came full circle.  From her early days of sneaking into her brother’s room to play his guitar to winning a Grammy award.  How serendipitous of her to eventually become a live in maid working for such a musical family like the Seegers!  It’s clear Libba’s musical genius deserved to shine in the spotlight even if her career didn’t take off until well into her adulthood.

    The back matter includes an author’s note and links to different websites, videos, interviews and recordings of Elizabeth Cotten’s music and her story.  I’d recommend this book for music lovers of all ages who want to learn about a lesser-known African-American female who made a huge impact on the music world.  This would also be a great book to read during Black History Month or Women’s History Month.

    Your turn: Have you ever heard of Elizabeth Cotten and shared her story with your little readers?  Feel free to share in the comments.