Pizza Party by Grace Maccarone, illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully.
Cartwheel Books Imprint, Scholastic, New York, 1994, my reprint edition 2003.
Rhyming realistic fiction, 30 pages.
Lexile: BR (What does BR mean in Lexile?)
AR Level: 0.5 (worth 0.5 points)
Five people gather for a pizza party and work together to make, then eat a pizza in this diverse early reader for children who have just mastered the basic sight words. This is the third book of my thrift store finds.
Author Grace Maccarone has written many early readers, mostly for various older Scholastic imprints. She’s probably best known for Monster Math or the First Grade Friends series. She is a white woman, as is illustrator Emily Arnold McCully. However, McCully has also illustrated Black is Brown is Tan and Maccarone included a disabled character and a character of color in her First Grade Friends series, so one could argue that they have some awareness of diversity.
Actually, technically the words could fit with any book, so most of the credit for this probably goes to McCully, who did her best to portray a diverse cast at the pizza party.
On the cover of my book, the colors are weirdly off, causing the adult to look greyish, and the curly-haired girl to look pale. Allow me to assure you that the inside is fine even if your cover is rather sickly.
The cast of characters is five: the only adult is an African-American man. (For the purposes of this review I’m going to assume that characters gender aligns with their outward appearance, because otherwise it would be awfully hard to write about 5 unnamed characters.)
There is a boy who looks like he could be biologically related to the man, because they have similar hair and the same skin tone. A girl with curly hair and brown skin lighter than the boy and man has a pink bow. In the blue shirt is a girl with glasses and red hair. And while it varies from page to page, the boy in the striped shirt generally appears to be of Asian descent.
One problem is consistency. On page ten the girl with glasses is shown standing next to the African-American boy and appears taller than him, but on the next page, he appears taller than her. This wasn’t a huge problem (the characters are wearing the same clothes and hairstyles throughout and come from a variety of races, so they are easily distinguishable), but did did pull me out of the book a bit.
The text is great! The main sight word for this book is “we,” which starts almost every sentence. A beginning reader could partner read by saying that word as it appears, while a reader who already knows beginning and ending sounds could probably figure out most of the book from context. Even if some words are missed, the pictures are interesting enough to give a complete story, to which the slightly rhyming words add value and meaning.
Because the relationships between the characters are never clearly defined, this book could fit into a variety of situations. The man could be a foster or adoptive parent with his children, he could be an uncle, neighbor, babysitter, or friend taking care of them for a while, he could be a father on a visit, there could be any number of situations. You can lead the children into whatever interpretation would be beneficial for them, or you can stand back and see what they think of. The man is seen arriving at the beginning of the book and then leaving at the end, so keep that in mind.
Beyond that aspect, my next favorite part of the book is that a black man is seen patiently leading, teaching, and nurturing the children (as least one of whom could easily be interpreted as his son). There simply are not enough picture books with people of color in leadership roles in general, let alone those showing African-American men caring for their children. This is so important that I am thrilled whenever I find a children’s book that effortlessly includes a black man in a leadership role, even if it’s not an #ownvoice.
If you are a kindergarten to second grade teacher, or if you have a student just learning to read in the house, I’d recommend this book.