Web: Diverse Children’s Books

This week I have a very important post to share – written by a teacher who happens to be Asian American.

Having Diverse Books Isn’t Enough by Katharine Hale

Katherine shares about her book buying experience at a teacher’s conference, and reviews the book she bought.

Be sure to read all the way to the end for a well-thought out book review and a twist to the book-buying story.  The comments also have some interesting points, which leads me to our next link:

Ten Quick Ways to Analyze Children’s Books for Racism and Sexism by Sarah Park

I first came across this ages ago and was happy to find it linked in the comments of the first article, because this is such a great reference.  This line in particular jumped out at me: “In friendships between white and non-white children, is it the child of color who does most of the understanding and forgiving?”  because that is a subtle indication of bias that I have overlooked in the past.

Review: On Her Own

“Some children were happy at the orphanage. Living there was better than having no home at all.” p. 19

On Her Own: The Life of Betty Brinn, written by Priscilla Pardini, illustrated by Joanne Scholler Bowring.
Elizabeth A. Brinn Foundation, Elm Grove, WI, 2001.
Picture book biography, 32 pages.
Not leveled.

In Wisconsin, especially Milwaukee County, Betty Brinn is known for the excellent children’s museum bearing her name.  However, not many people know her story, or how her own experiences as an institutionalized, and later a foster child drove her to philanthropy.

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On Her Own: The Life of Betty Brinn written by Priscilla Pardini, illustrated by Joanne Scholler Bowring.

The first half of the book focuses on Betty’s birth family and her life in the orphanage.  On page 21, she and her sister move to a foster home.  Betty was in 17 different foster homes, so this book only focuses on the Stinson family, whom she lived with between ages 13-16.  The final pages cover her adult life from struggles to success to her early death from cancer.

This book is ubiquitous at used bookstores near Milwaukee.  At one I occasionally visit, there is always a copy on the children’s discount bookshelves, so I picked it up for a dollar.  (The paperback retails for $4.50 new.)

I’m glad that I read this because I definitely learned a lot about Betty Brinn’s life and why she was driven to do what she did.  However, I also am not sure who to recommend this for.  The words and pictures don’t exactly connect to each other.  Reading about the author and illustrator, it appears that Priscilla Pardini is an experienced author but had never written for children before, and that really shows in the writing.

There are at least two paragraphs of text in every two-page spread, sometimes more.  One two page-spread has seven paragraphs!  The text seems to be geared towards a fourth or fifth grade level while the pictures are aimed at a younger audience.  The writing is factual but doesn’t really tell a story that engages kids.

Due to the density of the small print, this doesn’t make a good read-aloud.  The kids who are drawn to the pictures typically aren’t ready to read such challenging text.  And the kids who are able to read the text dismiss it as babyish.

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On Her Own, front cover interior map of Milwaukee County Children’s Home in the 1940s.

There are some lovely details in the book.  The front and back covers have maps of the orphanage and the Stinson’s farm.  It certainly gives a comprehensive overview of Betty Brinn’s life.  The writing is solid non-fiction.  Unfortunately there is a fundamental disconnect between the disparate elements of the book.

If you have interest in Betty Brinn, orphanages, or foster care, then this book may be for you.  But I cannot recommend it in general.

 

 

Review: Black Soldiers in the Civil War

“Black soldiers servied in artillery and infantry, and black women, who could not formally join the army, nonetheless served as nurses, spies, and scouts.” ~p. 24

Black Soldiers in the Civil War by Rick Beard.  (America’s National Parks Press Series)
America’s National Parks Press, Eastern National, Fort Washington, PA, 2016.
High school informative non-fiction, 24 pages.
Not leveled.

This is a short little book, almost a pamphlet, giving an overview of black soldiers’ service in the Civil War from their eagerness to fight (met with a resistance to arm blacks) to the discrimination and marginalization of surviving veterans.

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Black Soldiers in the Civil War by Rick Beard.

Before we get into the review, let me explain how I came across this book.  Elementary school teachers will already be well aware of the wonders of Dollar Tree.  These days I have the amazing luxury to afford brand new books, but once upon a time I got new books by saving some cash and going to the thrift store, or maybe a library sale.  Dollar Tree was a revelation – I could buy brand new books for a dollar with no cigarette smell or disgusting surprises between the pages.

These days I occasionally do a quick run and grab less than $10 worth of books.  Sure, half of them may be horrible and quickly given away or resold, but I’ve also discovered some real gems there.

The selection changes as it is mainly remaindered books, but there are a few constants – National Geographic always has some books, and there are always at least a few of these National Parks Service titles.  They change but always have some patriotic theme – Washington, The Liberty Bell, etc.  I like them because they are a nice cheap way to fill out a patriotic classroom collection.  The short length and the contemporary portraits and photography make them resemble a picture book, but the reading level and content is aimed at more of a teen or adult audience.

For example, here is a sentence from this particular book:

“Within days of Douglass’ fiery speech, Secretary of War Simon Cameron tersely deflected an offer of “three hundred reliable colored citizens” to help defend Washington during the suspenseful first weeks of the war, when a Confederate assault on the nation’s capital city seemed imminent.” ~p. 5

The vocabulary and sentence complexity combined with the overall knowledge of the Civil War required bump this book’s level, but a talented or particularly motivated middle school student could read it.  I will warn that the word “negro” does appear in context of primary source quotations, and death, injustice, and discrimination are present.

This is a great little book.  The format makes it easy to digest, it uses a lot of primary source quotations, summarizes complex information quickly, and for the adult reader, gives a comprehensive overview in one sitting.

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Black Soldiers in the Civil War, pages 7 and 8.

Best of all is the price.  As of this writing, you can buy a used copy on Amazon for $9, or you can go to your local Dollar Tree and score one for $1.  That’s cheap enough that you might be able to get a couple copies for small group work.  I’ve used this series to study non-fiction text features with some success.

We got two copies of this book so N can follow along in her copy as I read it aloud to her.  If you are able to get this from your local Dollar Tree, then it is well worth the dollar.  I learned a lot from it.

Review: Dara Palmer’s Major Drama

“If I had to choose, I have no idea who I would pick between a biological brother I didn’t know and Felix, who I loved so much.” p. 171

Dara Palmer’s Major Drama by Emma Shevah.
UK: The Chicken House.  US reprint: Scholastic, New York, 2015.
Middle grade realistic fiction, illuminated book, 282 pages (including extras).
Lexile: 760L
AR Level: 4.8 (worth 7.0 points)

Dara Palmer’s life is sooo dramatic.  She was clearly born to be a star, you can tell by how much TV she watches!  It’s life or death that she gets the part of Maria in her school’s production of The Sound of Music, so when she doesn’t, some family members feel that it’s her dark skin keeping her from a part in the musical, not her overacting.

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Dara Palmer’s Major Drama by Emma Shevah

This was entirely an impulse buy.  When I opened the book and discovered that it was illuminated (text is complemented/completed by pictures drawn around the margins and in the white space of the book), I was surprised.  Another surprise followed as I found out the book was set in Great Britain.  This edition is slightly Americanized (5th grade instead of 6th year), but the characters are still very British.

Dara Palmer is a pretty unlikeable character.  She literally states this at the end of the first chapter:

“This all happened a while ago now.  Let me just say, I was a different person back then.  I don’t know if you’re going to like the old me much when you hear what I was like, but I’ve changed.  Stuff happened along the way – all kinds of stuff, actually.  Nuns and noodles were just the beginning.” ~page 2

Dara is self-absorbed, overly dramatic, and yet somehow magnetic.  She comes off as very unsympathetic, until we get to know her a little more.  If it wasn’t for the caveat in the first chapter, I might not have made it past the second.  And that would have been a shame.

Continue reading “Review: Dara Palmer’s Major Drama”

Review: Summer on the Short Bus

Summer on the Short Bus by Bethany Crandell.
Running Press Teen, Running Press, Philadelphia, PA, 2014.
Teen realistic fiction, 252 pages.
Not leveled.
Note: This is fiction although I am not reviewing it on Fiction Friday.

Cricket Montgomery was caught trying to smoke pot in the stables (we later find out it was actually oregano), so her usually lenient father has shipped her off to be a camp counselor.  She knows nothing about the camp, so she faints when she finds out she’s going to be working with disabled teens and pre-teens.  Her goal is to get out of camp as quickly as possible, but an attractive fellow counselor might change her mind.

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Summer on the Short Bus by Bethany Crandell.

Continue reading “Review: Summer on the Short Bus”

Web: Simone Biles

For the last little bit I’ve been thinking about occasionally sharing websites that relate to the books or topics I’m writing about as well, so here is a new category: Website Wednesday.  I won’t be doing this every week, just as I feel there is something I want to share or remember for later.

Having just reviewed Simone Biles’ new autobiography, I thought I would start off by sharing a few of my favorite sites/articles about her.  There is a lot available, this is just the tip of the iceberg!

The New York Times has a great interactive journalistic piece, which, if it will load on your computer, does a nice job breaking down why exactly Simone Biles is the best gymnast in the world, with lots of videos and commentaries.

NPR has a short interview with her which I enjoyed.

ESPN has a rare interview with her mom that gave additional perspective on her life.

And of course, you can order the book or read the first chapter from her website.

Review: Courage to Soar

“Adam was the one who’d suggested Bannon’s Gymnastix for the field trip. It was just down the street from the day care, and he knew that his little sisters would enjoy it…” p. 44

Courage to Soar: A Body in Motion, A Life in Balance by Simone Biles, with Michelle Burford.
Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2016.
Young adult biography/autobiography, 250 pages.
Not yet leveled.

This is the story of Simone Biles, a gymnast who came to national and international attention as the first female gymnast ever to win three consecutive all-around titles, and then again as she took the Olympics by storm in Rio this year.

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Courage to Soar: A Body in Motion, a Life in Balance by Simone Biles with Michelle Burford.

This book is co-authored by Michelle Burford, a founding editor of O magazine who has assisted several public figures with their biographies, including Gabby Douglas.

Continue reading “Review: Courage to Soar”