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    book reviews, children's books, diverse books

    Lovely by Jess Hong (A Book Review)

    Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  All opinions expressed are my own and have not been influenced in any way.

    Lovely
     by Jess Hong

    Publisher: Creston Books
    Pages: 32
    Format: Hardcover
    Age Range: 3 – 7
    Grade Level: Preschool – 2
    Publication Date: October 1, 2017 Available for pre-order now by clicking here!

    Synopsis
    Big, small, curly, straight, loud, quiet, smooth, wrinkly. Lovely explores a world of differences that all add up to the same thing: we are all lovely!

    Reflection
    Growing up, I was regularly exposed to people, ideas and foods from other countries all over the world. Now that I’m a parent I try to encourage my children to be open-minded about people who look, act or think differently than they do. It’s central to our family beliefs.

    I think this forthcoming picture book does a good job embracing diversity and inclusion across race, ethnicity, capability and sexual preference for younger readers. It starts off by asking the question: What is Lovely? The simple one sentence per page or one word per page answers the question by letting little readers know that lovely is different and comes in many forms. All people are lovely in their own way.

    Lovely is you. Lovely is me. Lovely is different, weird and wonderful.

    What makes this book stand out to me is the colorful and striking illustrations since the story itself is quite simple, yet poignant. Little readers will be exposed to a little girl with two different eye colors (one blue, one brown), a child wearing braces, a person in a wheelchair, someone wearing a prosthetic leg and more.  Recommended for ages 3-7.

    Your turn: What makes you lovely?  Feel free to share in the comments?

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    Picture Book for Little Activists and Nina Simone Fans!

    Nina: Jazz Legend and Civil-Rights Activist Nina Simone by by Alice Brière-Haquet, illustrated by Bruno Liance

    Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  All thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.

    Publisher: Charlesbridge Publishing
    Pages: 40
    Format: Hardcover
    Age Range: 4 – 8
    Grade Level: Preschool – 3
    Publication Date: December 5, 2017, Available for pre-order now by clicking here!

    Synopsis
    A stunning picture-book biography of the High Priestess of Soul and one of the greatest voices of the 20th century.

    With evocative black-and-white illustrations and moving prose, readers are introduced to Nina Simone, jazz-music legend and civil-rights activist. Shared as a lullaby to her daughter, a soulful song recounts Simone’s career, the trials she faced as an African-American woman, and the stand she took during the Civil Rights Movement. This poignant picture book offers a melodic tale that is both a historic account of an iconic figure and an extraordinary look at how far we’ve come and how far we still need to go for social justice and equality. A timeless and timely message aptly appropriate for today’s social and political climates.

    Reflection
    If you are a Nina Simone fan you are definitely going to want to add this picture book to your home library! Even if you’re not a Nina fan or have no idea who she is, I’d still highly recommend this book.

    I think it’s so well done! It uses the black and white keys on the piano as a metaphor to tell a beautiful story with themes of: racism, activism, standing up and speaking out, talent and success. Oh, and the black and white illustrations throughout are to die for!

    Here are a couple quotes from the book that really stood out to me:

    Music has no color.  In music there is only one rhythm.  Only one heart.

    Black people were nothing but half notes on a huge ivory keyboard.

    Martin’s dream (referencing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.) was my symphony.  Black and white people could come together in the big dance of life.

    I also want to point out this book is not a historical biography about Nina Simone’s life.  There are some parts of Nina’s childhood that are highlighted like her first childhood memory of seeing a piano for the first time.  There’s also mention of Nina’s first solo piano performance at her church concert.  The book reads like a melodic lullaby being told from the perspective of Nina Simone from beginning to end.  Her daughter has trouble falling asleep so Nina tells her a bedtime story.  Fun fact: Nina Simone’s daughter is currently still alive and well.  Her name is Lisa Celeste Stroud and she is a singer, songwriter and actress.

    Overall, I think it’s a great introduction to Nina Simone and activism for little readers.  Not knowing much about Nina Simone and her life myself, this book made me curious to want to learn more.  I think some children may also want to do their own research and find out more about her too after reading this book especially since this book does not contain any biographical information about Nina’s life in the back matter.  That is perhaps the only thing I can think to add – a brief one page summary about some hit songs, accomplishments and achievements throughout Nina’s lifetime in both jazz and civil rights.

    Your turn: Are you looking forward to reading this book with your little readers?  What’s your favorite Nina Simone song?  Feel free to share in the comments.

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    Muslim Picture Book for Kids: Muhiima’s Quest (A Book Review)

    Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this book from the author to facilitate this review.  As always, all opinions are my own.

    Muslim picture books for kids are not easy to come by.  Especially ones that showcase kids doing normal everyday things.  Enter Muhiima’s Quest, a charming and inspirational book of self-discovery and a celebration of diversity with the message that our heritage and faith are what make us unique and special.

    Synopsis
    Although her family does not celebrate birthdays, Muhiima wakes on the morning of her 10th birthday to an unusual surprise. Her mother gives her a carefully drawn map with instructions not to ask questions, but to simply follow the map. Muhiima sets off on her bicycle to begin a quest that will take her all around town. At each destination on the map she is gifted with an important message and a mysterious little box. Travel with Muhiima on her journey and discover how the pieces of this puzzle come together.

    Reflection
    Muhiima’s Quest is a delight and the illustrations are adorable! The story follows Muhiima a young Muslim American girl as she goes on a quest riding her bicycle around town. You see, it’s Muhiima’s 10th birthday and since traditional Muslims don’t celebrate their birthdays (or any other holidays with the exception of Eid), Muhiima’s parents have decided to do something very unique for their daughter. Her mother gives her a map and tells her to “find her way”. Muhiima’s job is to visit all of the places on the map until she reaches her final destination back at home.

    Along the way, Muhiima is given tiny boxes from trusted family adults. When she gets back home all of the people she visited are at her house waiting to surprise her. One by one, Muhiima opens the tiny boxes and is surprised to see each one contains a tiny pearl to make a beautiful pearl necklace. In the end, they all enjoy a feast in celebration of Muhiima.

    Although Muhiima doesn’t have a traditional American birthday party, I love how all of the adults came together to make her day so special. You could truly feel all the love and appreciation each person has for her. To me, this book signified a sort of rite of passage for Muhiima as she’s transitioning to her double digit years.

    Reading this book presents adult readers with a great chance to talk to little readers about when they encounter something new or unfamiliar to foster a connection between them and Muhiima. For example, you could talk about how each family has their own beliefs and traditions that others may not. That may make others different in some ways, but that’s not a bad thing. You could also talk to kids about embracing their uniqueness and the importance of having a supportive village of people around you.  Muhiima’s friends and family members imparted so much wisdom on her by saying things like: “know your value and hold your head high” and “never boast about your blessings”. Themes include: family, diversity, Muslim culture, Islamic teachings, self-confidence, faith and heritage.  There is also an activity section for kids to write down their own pearls of wisdom.

    I’d probably recommend this book for children ages 7-8 and up for independent reading since some of the paragraphs are a little lengthy. However, I think this book could be read aloud by an adult to smaller children as well.

    Connect with Author Rahma Rodaah!

    Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

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    Take a Picture of Me, James Vanderzee! (A Book Review)

    Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this book from the publisher to facilitate this review.  As always, all opinions are my own and are not influenced in any way.

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

    Publisher: Lee & Low Books
    Format: Hardcover
    Pages: 40
    Age Range: 6 – 9 and up
    Grade Level: 1- 4

    Synopsis
    James Van Der Zee was just a young boy when he saved enough money to buy his first camera. He took photos of his family, classmates, and anyone who would sit still for a portrait. By the fifth grade, James was the school photographer and unofficial town photographer. Eventually he outgrew his small town and moved to the exciting, fast-paced world of New York City. After being told by his boss that no one would want his or her photo taken -by a black man, – James opened his own portrait studio in Harlem. He took photographs of legendary figures of the Harlem Renaissance–politicians such as Marcus Garvey, performers including Florence Mills, Bill -Bojangles- Robinson, and Mamie Smith–and ordinary folks in the neighborhood too. Everyone wanted fancy portraits by James Van Der Zee. Winner of Lee & Low’s New Voices Award, Take a Picture of Me, James Van Der Zee! tells the story of a groundbreaking artist who chronicled an important era in Harlem and showed the beauty and pride of its people.

    Reflection
    During his lifetime, photographer and artist James VanDerZee created thousands of portraits and took more than 75,000 pictures. Years later long after James put his camera away due to advanced technology, the Metropolitan Museum of Art found thousands of his photographs showing Harlem residents. They decided to use the photos for an exhibit on the history of Harlem called Harlem on My Mind.

    This book is not only informative, but it’s beautifully illustrated too. I learned so much about this important man in history who I had never heard of prior to reading this book.  It tells the story of James VanDerZee and his love of the arts, specifically photography. Born in Lennox, Massachusetts, James decided to take his camera and move to Harlem at the age of 18. He soon found work as an assistant photographer, but then took his camera to the streets of Harlem during the height of the Harlem Renaissance. Little did James know those photos would make him famous many years later.  Sadly, James passed away in 1983 and the age of ninety-six.  Since his passing, the world has never seen the city of Harlem in quite the same way.

    I think this would be a great book for budding photographers or for anyone who wants to learn more about James Vanderzee’s life and his extraordinary contribution to the arts and photography.  There are themes of: music, art, photography, hard work, determination, racism, and family. The back matter has additional information and original photographs.

    Your turn: Have you ever heard of James Vanderzee before?  Are you looking forward to reading this book with your children?  Feel free to share in the comments.

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    Sleep Well Siba & Saba (A Book Review)

    Sleep Well Siba & Saba by Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl, illustrated by Sandra Van Doorn

    Published by: Lantana Publishing
    Pages: 32
    Format: Paperback
    Age Range: 4- 8
    Grade Level: Preschool – 3

    Synopsis
    Forgetful sisters Siba and Saba are always losing something. Sandals, slippers, sweaters – you name it, they lose it. When the two sisters fall asleep each night, they dream about the things they have lost that day. Until, one night, their dreams begin to reveal something entirely unexpected…With playful illustrations and a lullaby-like rhythm, this heart-warming story set in Uganda is truly one to be treasured.

    Reflection
    I am so impressed with this new independent publishing company, Lantana Publishing! They publish award-winning diverse children’s books and wholeheartedly believe that ALL children deserve to see themselves in books.
    Lantana’s mission is to select outstanding writing from around the world, working with prize-winning authors and illustrators from many countries, while at the same time nurturing new writing talent.

    Since their company began in the UK in 2014, they have published a variety of different books including my personal favorite, Sleep Well Siba & Saba. It’s a beautifully written story about two forgetful sisters from Uganda, Africa who always lose their physical belongings and then dream about them in their sleep.  They only thing they didn’t lose was each other.  One night their dreams start to change which forces them to start looking forward to things in their future.

    Why I like this book:

    • the illustrations – I like the calming color palette chosen as well as the variety of exotic animals, interesting shapes and gorgeous patterns
    • the language…it’s so well written!
    • the overall message of not dwelling on things you no longer have, but looking forward to things in your future with great anticipation

    I think this book also has a much deeper message too: We are not our stuff.  We are much more than our possessions.  The sisters seemed to understand their memories are within themselves, not within their things.  They were able to let go of the things from their past and free themselves for much more exciting things to come in their future.  They also learned to use their imagination and dream big. I love the illustration on the last page that shows the sisters looking forward to new adventures with their suitcase in hand.

    A lovely book that teaches children there are always new things to discover!

    Connect with Lantana Publishing
    Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

    Check out these other exciting diverse books from Lantana Publishing!

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    New LGBT Picture Book for Kids: Sparkle Boy

    Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this book from the publisher to facilitate this review.  As always, all opinions are my own and are not influenced in any way.


    Sparkle Boy
    by Leslea Newman, illustrated by Maria Mola


    Publisher: Lee & Low Books
    Pages: 32
    Format: Hardcover
    Age Range: 4 – 8 years
    Grade Level: Preschool – 3

    Synopsis
    Casey loves to play with his blocks, puzzles, and dump truck, but he also loves things that sparkle, shimmer, and glitter. When his older sister, Jessie, shows off her new shimmery skirt, Casey wants to wear a shimmery skirt too. When Jessie comes home from a party with glittery nails, Casey wants glittery nails too. And when Abuelita visits wearing an armful of sparkly bracelets, Casey gets one to wear, just like Jessie. The adults in Casey’s life embrace his interests, but Jessie isn’t so sure. Boys aren’t supposed to wear sparkly, shimmery, glittery things. Then, when older boys at the library tease Casey for wearing “girl” things, Jessie realizes that Casey has the right to be himself and wear whatever he wants. Why can’t both she and Casey love all things shimmery, glittery, and sparkly? Here is a sweet, heartwarming story about acceptance, respect, and the freedom to be yourself in a world where any gender expression should be celebrated. Sparkly things are for everyone to enjoy!

    Reflection
    Little Casey likes dressing up in shimmery skirts, wearing glittery nail polish and sparkly bracelets. But Casey’s older sister Jessie does not approve. She thinks only girls are allowed to do those things.

    When Casey is bullied and laughed at one day in the library, his sister protects him and she finally learns to accept her brother for who he is. In the end, Casey is free to be himself and revel in the love of his parents, his abuelita (grandmother) and his sister.

    In addition to Sparkle Boy tackling the issues of diversity, acceptance and respect, there are also elements of sibling rivalry, bullying and the freedom to be yourself. Why shouldn’t boys like sparkly and glittery things and girls like trucks? Who made up those rules? Sometimes boys like pretty stuff and that’s ok. Sometimes girls are tomboys and that’s ok too.

    While some may think it’s a bit harsh, I appreciate that little readers are shown the difficult sides of self expression from others in this book. For example, when Casey is being made fun of by the older boys in the library. To me, it reflects a real life situation that many boys who were dressed like Casey in a public place may have also experienced. Because, let’s face it, kids can be very cruel and you can’t always shield and protect your kids from others. That’s life.

    I also like that this book celebrates the uniqueness of Casey without tagging it with a label. It honors his desire to wear girl’s clothing and other things traditionally worn by girls. I think this book would be good for children who are gender non-conforming, but also other kids to promote understanding and tolerance. One to check out during Pride Month with your little readers.


    Your turn: Have you read this book with your little readers yet?  Feel free to share in the comments.

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    Bathing Around the World: Around the World in a Bathtub (A Book Review)

    Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this book from the author to facilitate this review.  As always, all opinions are my own and are not influenced in any way.

    Around the World in a Bathtub: Bathing All Over the Globe by Wade Bradford, illustrated by Micha Archer

    Publisher: Charlesbridge Publishing
    Pages: 32
    Format: Hardcover
    Age Range: 3 – 7
    Grade Level: Preschool – 2

    Synopsis
    A lively look at bath time around the world.  From a hammam in Turkey to a maqii on the Alaskan tundra, this colorful picture book shares the bath-time battle that happens every night, around the world. “Yes, yes!” say the grown-ups, “No, no!” say the children, and the chase is on!

    Reflection
    We’ve seen picture books that embrace different cultures and customs, right? These books help us understand what people in other countries eat, how they dress, and where they hang out. But have you ever thought about how people in other countries bathe?

    Bathing can be very special to people in different ways. For some it’s a way to relax and escape from the stresses of everyday life. For others it’s precious family time – a bonding moment between a mother and her child and time for creating special memories together.  My kids love taking baths although there are occasions when they put up a fight. If you’re a parent, I’m sure you’ve experienced that before with your kids at some point during their childhood.

    The newly released book Around the World in a Bathtub introduces little readers to bathing customs, preferences and tendencies from around the world. Who knew the way you bathed depended on so many factors like your geographical location, climate, lifestyle or beliefs. From the U.S. to Japan to France to South Africa, when it comes to bathing habits, how different — and yet the same — we all are is fascinating. Each day, millions of children around the world take baths. At first, many of them don’t want to, but once they get in it’s hard to get them out.

    This cute diverse book with bright and colorful collage illustrations may help make your child’s bathing experience more fulfilling and you might even learn a thing or two about bathing!  For example, did you in Japan the family members, from oldest to youngest, take turns relaxing in a square tub called an ofuro?  Interesting, right?  The back matter contains additional information about different bathing habits around the globe.

    Connect with the Author & Illustrator!
    Wade Bradford is the author of more than thirty plays, as well as the picture book Why Do I Have to Make My Bed?  When not soaking in the tub, singing in the shower, or floating in his favorite swimming hole, Wade teaches writing at Moorpark College.  He currently lives in California with his wife, two daughters, two dogs, and a rabbit.  Visit his website.

    Micha Archer created the collages in this book using origami paper, Indian textile stamps, and other materials from around the world.  When Micha isn’t traveling, she splits her time between Costa Rica and western Massachusetts. Visit her website.

    Your turn: What unique bathing customs or rituals do you and your family practice?  Feel free to share in the comments.

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