Early Chapter Book Review: Pedro – First Grade Hero

A multicultural cast for the very youngest of chapter book readers.

Pedro: First Grade Hero by Fran Manushkin, Illustrated by Tammie Lyon.
Picture Window Books, Capstone, 2016.
Early chapter book fiction, 90 pages + 5 pages of bonus material.
Lexile: Pedro Goes Buggy – 310L
Pedro’s Big Goal – 250L
Pedro’s Mystery Club – 330L
Pedro for President – 320L
AR Level:  Pedro Goes Buggy – 1.9
Pedro’s Big Goal – 1.9
Pedro’s Mystery Club – 2.3
Pedro for President – 2.2
All worth 0.5 points each.
NOTE: This early chapter book is a compilation of the first four Pedro books.

Pedro is a hard worker who loves to have fun too.  He plays soccer, solves mysteries, collects bugs, and even runs for class president, all with his best friends Katie and JoJo.

I got this book at Target because after reading this article, I changed my buying habits there.  My local store recently cut way back on books, so I like to encourage them by buying something every month or two.  Ever since reading that article, I make a point of buying practically ANY diverse books that turn up at Target, doing my little bit to tell them that diversity matters to their customers.  I’ve gotten an interesting variety of books.

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Pedro: First Grade Hero by Fran Manushkin, Illustrated by Tammie Lyon.

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Graphic Novel Review: awkward

If only all books made diversity seem so effortless and normal!

awkward by Svetlana Chmakova, coloring assistance by Ru Xu and Melissa McCommon, lettering by JuYoun Lee.
Yen Press, New York, 2015.
Middle grade/middle school fiction graphic novel, 210 pages + extras.
Lexile: GN280L  (What does GN mean in Lexile Levels? )
AR level: 2.8 (worth 1.o points)

Penelope (Peppi) Torres has a few rules for surviving at a new school.  But on the very first day, she runs right into a shy boy in the hallway.  What do you do when you’re associated with the school nerd on your first day?  Why shove him away of course!

Beyond the Peppi/Jaimie drama, the main plot of this book follows her friends in the art club as they fight for the right to a table at the annual school club fair while bickering with the science club, their biggest rivals.

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awkward by Svetlana Chmakova

So why am I reviewing this book? Well, Peppi is clearly a person of color.  My guess based on her portrayal and name is that she’s Latina, but it never really comes up.  In fact, this book is incredibly diverse, with most ethnic groups represented by at least one character.  There is a girl wearing a hijab and a character in a wheelchair.  The characters have ethnically diverse names and sometimes appropriate backstories as well.  But the best part of this?  It has nothing to do with the story!  There is a full plot which just happens to have a diverse cast of characters.

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Early Chapter Book Review: Little Shaq

This high-quality early reader is strongly recommended for 1st-3rd graders who enjoy basketball or struggling readers from higher grades.

Little Shaq, written by Shaquille O’Neal, illustrated by Theodore Taylor III
Bloomsbury Children’s, New York, 2015.
Early Chapter Book autobiographical fiction, 73 pages
Lexile: 520L
AR level: 3.4 (worth 0.5 points)

I got this book as a gift from a list of requests I made.  Husband and I are either indifferent to or dislike most organized sports but the kids love basketball, so I added this title without knowing too much about it.

This book is the first in what is now a series of early chapter books by famed NBA player Shaquille O’Neal (so famous even I have heard of him).  Originally I was surprised not to see a ghostwriter or a co-author credited on a book by an athlete, but upon reading the conclusion, I was happy to see that Mr. O’Neal has an MBA and a P.Hd. in education.  He also has been heavily involved in the Boys and Girls Club and has children of his own, so he is undoubtedly familiar with the limited books available for early chapter book readers of color.

This book focuses on Shaq and his cousin Barry, who also happen to be best friends.  Sure, Shaq might be better at basketball, and maybe even a little better at their favorite video game.  But as neighbor Rosa is quick to point out, that doesn’t mean Barry shouldn’t get a chance to shoot for a basket or his turn to be player 1.  When the video game breaks during their disagreement, the boys have to figure out a way to earn enough money to buy a new one.

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Little Shaq, the first in a series of high-quality early chapter book readers from an amazing team.

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Review: My Name is Truth

Significant flaws mar this ambitious book.

My Name is Truth: The Life of Sojourner Truth by Ann Turner, illustrated by James Ransome.
Harper Collins Children’s Books, New York, 2015.
Picture book biography, 32 pages.
Illustrator has won Coretta Scott King Award, and author has won other awards.
Lexile: AD1410L   (What does AD mean in Lexile levels?)
AR Level: 4.4 (Worth 0.5 points)

Award-winning author Ann Turner and illustrator James Ransome team up for a lyrical biography of Sojourner Truth, inspired as much as possible by her own words.

I purchased this book new at full price because I couldn’t get any used books about Sojourner Truth from the local used bookstore in the time frame required, but the other bookstore had this.

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My Name is Truth by Ann Turner, Illustrated by James Ransome

This book had so many excellent elements that simply failed to make a cohesive whole.  The text is written in a first-person, somewhat poetic style.  It is a picture book biography but has difficult language and content such that I was somewhat uncomfortable reading it with an 8 year old, let alone the younger children this seems to be marketed to.

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Review: Ruby Bridges Goes to School

Just one big caveat before using this early reader in a school library or classroom.

Ruby Bridges Goes to School: My True Story by Ruby Bridges.
Scholastic, Cartwheel Books, New York, 2009.
Early reader (Scholastic Level 2) non-fiction with photographs, 30 pages.
Lexile: 410L
AR Level: 2.5 (worth 0.5 points)

This is a nonfiction early reader about the life of Ruby Bridges, written by her. This book covers her historic integration of the William Frantz Elementary School in Louisiana, as well as some information about reactions to the integration and her later life (particularly a reunion with her teacher).

It’s not entirely clear whether she wrote an entirely new book or simplified her book In My Eyes for a younger reading audience, however she is attributed with both the text and the photo compilation, so until I read the other book, I’m going to assume these are two separate works.

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Most of the children’s non-fiction books about African-American history tend to be aimed at second grade on up.  There are, of course, many picture books intended to be read aloud by an adult, but most of the basic early readers are predominately white.  This sets up the disturbing standard of the “white default” early in life.

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Different Types of Books for Elementary School Students

Picture books, chapter books, independent reading or read-aloud books. Are there any diverse early chapter books you can recommend?

For those of you who aren’t currently teaching or parenting an elementary school student, you might not realize how complicated the different types of elementary school books are.

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Review: Abby Takes a Stand – Scraps of Time 1960

This meaningful chapter book uses one family’s story to explain a chapter in African-American history.

Abby Takes a Stand (Scraps of Time 1960) by Patricia C. McKissack, illustrated by Gordon James.
Puffin Books, Penguin Young Readers Group, New York, 2005.
Elementary historical fiction, 104 pages.  Author has won the Newberry for previous work.
Lexile: 580L
Not in AR yet

The Scraps of Time series is built around the idea of a grandmother and three grandchildren building a scrapbook about their family from items kept in their grandmother’s attic.  One of the children finds something and asks Gee about it, and then the story proper begins as she tells them the story behind that item.

In this case the item is a lunch menu from a long-gone, segregated restaurant.  Gee herself was just a ten-year old girl named Abby when she accepted a flyer for a free ride on a merry-go-round at the mall’s restaurant, only to find out that she is not welcome there.

This experience changes her and causes her family to become involved in the peaceful protests.  Not all members want to be involved, and both opinions are given some discussion.  Abby and her best friend are too young to join the protests, but they hand out flyers and even sneak downtown where they witness the more dangerous side of protesting.

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Abby Takes a Stand, first book in the Scraps of Time series of historical fiction

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