Review: Dressmaker of Khair Khana

“To him it was his highest obligation and a duty of his faith to educate his children so that they could share their knowledge and serve their communities.” page 27

The Dressmaker of Khair Khana: Five Sisters, One Remarkable Family, and the Woman Who Risked Everything to Keep Them Safe by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon.
Harper Perennial, Harper Collins, New York, 2012 (first published 2011).
Nonfiction, 270 pages including extras.
Lexile:  1090L  .
AR Level:  not leveled

The story of one young woman and her five sisters who stayed in Kabul and started a home dressmaking business under Taliban rule that not only provided for their family, but also allowed them to teach other women sewing and positioned them to be leaders in Afghanistan’s economy.

Dressmaker of Khair Khana
The Dressmaker of Khair Khana by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon.

I’d been traveling and was hoping to visit a specialty gift shop to pick up some diverse books, only to find it closed, so I found a nearby library.  The library wasn’t so diverse, but had extremely cheap books, so I purchased a bunch for under $1 total, including this one.

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Board Book Review: It’s Ramadan

Our 36th board book will be great once Baby’s a little older.

It’s Ramadan, Curious George by Hena Khan, illustrated by Mary O’Keefe Young.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston, Massachusetts, 2016.
Tabbed board book, 14 pages.

Curious George is guided through Ramadan by his friend Kareem.

It's Ramadan, Curious George cover resized
It’s Ramadan, Curious George by Hena Khan, illustrated by Mary O’Keefe Young.

This is the largest board book we’ve gotten yet, almost the size of a regular picture book!  The text also is fairly advanced for a picture book.  Each two-page spread (there are seven, as you can see by the tabs down the side) has three full paragraphs of text following an abcb rhyme scheme.

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Why Books About Holidays?

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you might have noticed that I tend to turn onto rabbit trails quite a bit.  Sometimes the causes are obvious – I started collecting and reviewing board books after Baby arrived, I started the Diverse Disabled booklist because I wanted to read more books specifically about people of color who were disabled and couldn’t find a similar list anywhere else.

At other times the causes are less obvious.  I started the 30 Day Project because I couldn’t find anything like it at the time (but later found plenty of places with similar information).  There are lots of booklists for indigenous #ownvoices books, but I wanted to record my own progress on the subject and keep the info about each author’s ancestry or tribal membership in one place rather than scattered across various reviews.

This year I’ll be posting some reviews of holiday-themed books, but with a twist.  These books look at popular holidays from a different perspective.  So while I will be posting reviews of some books that look at minority holidays or celebrations, what I mean by this is books that look at Thanksgiving from a Native American or immigrant or Latino perspective, or a book about the Fourth of July from a Chinese-American perspective.  Some of these are more recent publications, while others are classics that I wish were better known.

This particular series has the distinction of being the longest-planned yet on my blog, being that I had the idea and started gathering and reviewing the books a full year ago.  It was set in motion by a particular incident around the book How Many Days to America?, and originally I planned to share the story when I reviewed that book, but it got too long to include in a review, so here it is now.

How Many Days to America? is the book that got me interested in multicultural Thanksgiving stories.  It’s a rather unusual topic and not the easiest to find books about, yet there are many available.  Thanksgiving Day is a uniquely American/Canadian holiday, but most books about it are rife with inaccuracies and downright offensive to the indigenous peoples whose land was stolen, whose way of life was destroyed, and many of whom were outright killed off when Europeans entered the Americas.

Yet… Teachers are still teaching Thanksgiving in classrooms today.  I even occasionally do a lesson with that theme, with a focus on modern Native Americans to counter the dominant culture a little bit and inform my students.  Every so often a teacher comes to me on library day with a desperate request to read something that will help them meet their learning objectives for the week.  That’s how I came across this book.

A teacher needed me to change my prepared read-aloud to something relating to Thankgiving.  I let her know I would not be reading any of the popular texts that perpetuate disinformation.  She was okay with that, so then I had a few minutes to find something currently in the library before class started.

That particular library is quite small and didn’t have many books on Native Americans, those I would normally recommend were already checked out for the holiday.  So I grabbed this text instead.  It was too heavy for the young class in that day, but it worked out okay, and got me interested in other diverse Thanksgiving titles.  (I also after that time made sure to have one in reserve in case this happened again.)

After keeping a lookout for Thanksgiving books of this nature, I started to notice books about other holidays as well.  Having noticed them, of course I wanted to read and review those too…

And that’s how I ended up down this rabbit hole, and you’ll get quite a few quirky offbeat holiday book reviews this year, as I’ve been doing them for the past year and saving them up!

 

Review: An XL Life

“I had loved myself at 500 pounds. I loved myself now, even with my loose skin.” page 203

An XL Life: Staying Big at Half the Size by Big Boy (Kurt Alexander).
Cash Money Content, 2011.
Autobiography/memoir, 237 pages.
Not leveled.

The autobiography of Los Angeles radio personality Big Boy, once known for his size as much as the music he played.

An XL Life resized

This book opened with Alexander talking about the father he never knew and how he didn’t feel that contributed to his weight at all.  It’s a marked contrast to the last biography of a black man I read, Un-Ashamed.

On the other hand, Alexander was greatly impacted by constantly moving around as a child.  His stories about homelessness and frequent moves reminded me more of Janet Mock’s Redefining Realness, although he wasn’t moving from relative to relative.  His mother must have been truly remarkable, because his six siblings stayed with the family through various moves and hardships, even after they were adults.

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Five Strategies for Reading Nonfiction

How I manage to read some non-fiction with a busy life, and where my system fails.

This is a question I’ve gotten a few times lately and thought it might be good to address.  I work full time plus most of the year and the family keeps me pretty busy too.  However, I still read a lot of non-fiction.  How do I do it?

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Review: Flygirl

“Sure, they’d only been around a few years, they were dangerous, and quite frankly, only a handful of colored people knew how to fly.” page 29

Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith.
Scholastic, New York, 2008.
YA historical fiction, 275 pages.
Lexile:  HL680L  ( What does HL mean in Lexile? )
AR Level:  4.3 (worth 11.0 points)  .

Ida Mae Jones just wants to fly.  But her mother’s dead set against her even going North to get her pilot’s license.  So using her light skin color to join the WASP shouldn’t even be an option, but Ida will do anything to get in the air and help her military brother.

Flygirl

Those of you who have been reading for a while will recall that I’m pretty tough on historical fiction.  I want it to be inclusive of diverse characters and perspectives, but also realistic.  (A character might be targeted with hateful language, but the author should also make clear that those words are wrong.)  Depending on the grade level, I’d also like it to be appropriate for the age recommended, not too graphic nor too idealistic for young readers.  And, of course, it should be well written and have an interesting plot and intriguing characters.

I’m happy to share that Flygirl succeeds on every count.

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Review: The Kidnapped Prince (YRE)

“Still I do not believe that traders in slaves are born worse than other men. It is the slave trade and the greed it brings that hardens men’s minds and kills their capacity for kindness.” page 81

The Kidnapped Prince: The Life of Olaudah Equiano by Olaudah Equiano, adapted by Ann Cameron.  (With an introduction by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.)
Knopf Books for Young Readers, 1995.  My edition reprinted, Yearling, Random House Children’s Books, New York, 2005.
Lexile:  840L  .
AR Level:  5.7 (worth 4.0 points)  .

Olaudah Equiano was an African prince from Benin who was kidnapped and sold into slavery, in which condition he traveled widely and had many different experiences.  Ann Cameron abridged and adapted this book for young, modern readers.

The Kidnapped Prince resized

Although this book has a great deal of adventure, the prologue is more of a moral lesson, and in the first chapter Olaudah describes home life during his early years.  For this reason, I’d recommend getting through the first bit quickly to hook kids into the narrative.  If you are in a library or another setting where you can’t, then tell the kids about Olaudah’s life so they stay interested.

After chapter two, the pace increases.  Cameron breaks the narrative up into short, topical chapters.  Some reviews complained about the narrative ending before Olaudah’s book finished, but the afterword summarizes the rest of his life.

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Review: Major Taylor

“Asked by reporters how he managed to keep calm despite attacks by other cyclists, Marshall answered ‘I simply ride away.’ ” page 19

Major Taylor: Champion Cyclist by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James E. Ransome.
Antheneum Books for Young Readers imprint, Simon & Schuster, New York, 2004.
Picture book biography, 32 pages.
Lexile:  AD1020L  (What does AD mean in Lexile?)
AR Level:  5.7 (worth 0.5 points)

Major Taylor became the World Champion of cycling in the early 1900s.  He combined perseverance, an incredible athleticism, and a little luck to set world records and popularize the sport of bicycling in America.  Yet his story is largely unknown today.

Major Taylor cover resized

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Review: Two Tickets to Freedom

“Mrs. Hilliard had to tell her that slave catchers had come from Georgia and that she and William had been right to be suspicious.” page 65

Two Tickets to Freedom: The True Story of William and Ellen Craft, Fugitive Slaves by Florence B. Freedman, illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats.
My edition Scholastic, New York, 1995.  Orig. pub. Simon & Schuster, 1971.
Nonfiction, 96 pages.
Lexile:  1030L  .
AR Level:  6.8 (worth 3.0 points)  .

This book tells the life story of husband and wife William and Ellen Craft, best known for their famous escape from slavery.

Two Tickets to Freedom
Two Tickets to Freedom by Florence B. Freedman, illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats.

In case you are not familiar with this couple, William was a skilled tradesman whose entire family was separated by slavery.  Ellen was given to her sister as a wedding present from her father’s wife.  They had better lives than many slaves – Ellen was a house servant with comparatively light duties, William was allowed to do extra work and earn his own money, and their owners permitted them to live together in a common-law marriage (it was not legal for slaves to complete a religious or civil marriage ceremony).

However, both deplored the condition of slavery, and they decided not to have children as slaves.  One day, William came up with an idea.  Ellen was light-skinned and could easily pass for white.  They had money from William’s extra work.  Ellen would disguise herself as a young man (since a white woman would never travel alone with a male slave) and William as her slave.

It’s a fascinating story, and I’m often surprised that it isn’t better known.  We read a book about it (that also includes a reader’s theater) back during the 30 day project., so I was excited to learn more.  The kids kept asking what happened next, and the picture book only gave a page of text to tell what happened in the next part of their life.

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Review: Rosa Parks – My Story

“All those laws against segregation have been passed, and all that progress has been made. But a whole lot of white people’s hearts have not been changed.” page 187

Rosa Parks: My Story by Rosa Parks, with Jim Haskins.
Puffin, Penguin Group, New York, 1992 (my edition 1999).
Middle grade autobiography, 192 pages including index and timeline.
Lexile:  970L  .
AR Level:  6.2 (worth 6.0 points)  .

This is Rosa Parks’ own telling of her story – the story of her life, and the story of that fateful day when she became the icon of a movement.

Rosa Parks My Story resized

Some books are ubiquitous – this is one of those books.  As far as I can recall, every school library I’ve been in has this book, though I haven’t checked them all.  However, I’d never read it before, so when we saw a cheap copy at the used bookstore, we bought it.

I have no regrets about adding this to our collection.  While the book is accessible to children, it works as a quick adult read too!

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