Review: Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

“Mrs. Sikelo took me behind a curtain to a smaller room, where three floor-to-ceiling shelves were filled with books. It smelled sweet and musty, like nothing I’d ever encountered.” page 161

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer.
William Morrow, HarperCollins, New York, 2009.  My P.S. edition 2010.
New York Times Bestseller.
Lexile:  960L  .
AR Level:  6.4 (worth 15.0 points)  .
NOTE: There are three books with this title.  This review is of the adult edition.  There is also a picture book and a young reader’s edition chapter book.

William Kamkwamba had access to a small library and a scrapyard full of parts, and a dream – to ensure that his family would never starve again.  Against all odds and despite ridicule, he built a windmill and brought electricity to his family’s rural Malawian home.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

This book surprised me.  I knew the basic premise – boy builds windmill with scrap parts to bring change to his village.  But I didn’t realize that this was actually the story of Kamkwamba’s life, which starts long before windmills were even a gleam in his eye.

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Board Book Review: Peekaboo Morning

The simple format of our seventh board book is perfect for babies and toddlers.

Peekaboo Morning by Rachel Isadora.
Putnam, New York, 2008.
Board book, 24 pages.

This book starts with “Peekaboo!  I see…” and then the reader (or their adult helper) must turn the page to find out what.  Baby sees Mommy, Daddy, and many other people and things.

Peekaboo Morning cover resized

I had no idea what to expect when I ordered this book sight unseen.  At the time it didn’t occur to me that it could be simply a game of peekaboo.  It’s pretty cleverly done though.  As baby moves through his morning, he sees his entire family and many other items.

The pages with the repeating text “Peekaboo! I see…” are set off from the others by being visually smaller, with a large white space around the illustration and the text directly below the illustration in the white space.  The text is cleverly worked into the illustration of the other pages, but remains typed and clearly readable.

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Peekaboo Morning pages seven and eight.

Generally I’m not too into pastels as a medium for illustrating an entire book, but it works well here.  Isadora is able to work a lot of detail into each illustration and I was particularly impressed with her ability to show very expressive faces for baby.

The best and most intriguing part of this book is the set up for each peekaboo.  Baby is subtly moving through his morning (waking up, getting dressed, eating breakfast).  More often than not, each illustration includes some nod both toward what will be revealed as well as the previous page.  Some of the peekaboos are fairly obvious to the adult reader while others are actually surprising (at least on the first or second read-through).

My absolute favorite part of this, however, is that baby is anchored in a loving nuclear family and caring extended family who are part of his day.  He is clearly loved and cherished by his family and nurtured in his home environment.  This is exactly the sort of subliminal message I want the kids to be receiving before the outside media and majority white culture is able to negatively impact their developing minds.

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Peekaboo Morning page nine.

The author is intriguing.  A white woman who was formerly a ballerina, more than half of her currently in-print books feature children of color.  Even this book is part of a series with follow-ups Peekaboo Evening and Uh-Oh.  Unfortunately the other books aren’t available as board books – too bad because I would definitely buy them!

Baby likes this book, but won’t yet sit through the whole thing every time.  It is the perfect size for him to hold so at the moment he likes to bang it on the floor or against the table.  As he gets older I expect it will interest him more.  This book is great for babies from about three months up to toddlers but won’t hold much interest for older children.

Review: A Time to Dance

“There are no dancers / on this temple’s walls. / Here, even Shiva / stands still.” page 99

A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman.
Nancy Paulsen Books, Penguin Group, New York, 2014.
Novel in verse, 307 pages.
Lexile:  720L  .
AR Level:  4.8 (worth 5.0 points)  .

Veda is a classical dance prodigy starting out on a glorious career in Bharatanatyam when her leg has to be amputated.  But dance is her life and the center of her being.  Can she forge a new life?  Can dance be part of it?

A Time to Dance

Pretty sure this is going on my favorite 2017 reads list although the competition will be steep this year.  Not what you expected me to say about a novel in verse, right?

My biggest problem with novels in verse is that they are incredibly difficult to balance.  I love novels, and I love poetry, but inevitably most novels in verse lose out either in plot or in poetry.  This book has ample plot and appropriate narrative arc, while still having generally gorgeous poetry.  I’m in awe of how Venkatraman pulled this off, because it is very, very difficult to do.

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Board Book Review: Baby Dance

The diverse characters in our sixth board book will get you and baby dancing!

Baby Dance by Ann Taylor, pictures by Marjorie van Heerden.
HarperFestival Devision, HarperCollinsPublishers, New York, 1999.
Board book, 14 pages.

Baby is crying and Mom and the cat are napping, so Dad takes baby for a movement-filled dance that dries up the tears until the happy, well-rested family reunites on their couch.

Baby Dance cover resized

I absolutely loved the swirling movement of the illustrations, and the way that the background subtly moved through the rainbow from a calm purple to an energetic yellow.

I wasn’t keen on the depiction of the hair.  We meet three characters – mother, baby, and a man presumably father, but not named, so he could also be an uncle, stepfather, or other relation.  Mom’s hair is long and curly/wavy.  Baby’s hair appears in some pictures to be in twists or short braids, but in others to be loose with bows on it.  Dad’s hair is equally ambiguous.  In this case I would have liked a little more definition for the hair.

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Baby Dance pages 13 and 14 depict the family reunited on the couch.

Again referring to the art, I was a bit confused by how baby was drawn.  Were the pictures intending to depict an older child, or did the illustrator just not have much experience drawing babies?  Since father and child are continually in motion, the art is much more difficult to execute, and the child looked adult or awkward on some pages.

However, I did enjoy the shading, interesting backgrounds, and portrayal of dad.  I’m curious what medium was used (chalk? pastels?) to get the layered swirls of color on the backgrounds.  The balance of text/picture was perfect for a board book; there is never more than a sentence on each page spread.

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Baby Dance pages 9 and 10 show dad dancing with baby.

The text is based on a poem from the 1800s – I assume white South African illustrator Marjorie van Heerden did the adaption, although perhaps it was the publisher.

Probably the aspect of this that annoys me the most is the spine.  This is part of the Harper Growing Tree line, so the spine is red to correspond with the level and the logo takes up half the space.  It doesn’t connect with the book at all, and since the book is rather slim, this makes it quite hard to pick it out off the shelf when I want to read it.

Rated for Newborns and up, this certainly is interactive to read to a wee baby and dance along.  However, the size is a bit big for Baby to play with, so we mainly use this as a lap book.  I think it will be more intriguing to a toddler, and the text, despite a few difficult words (ceiling), could be deciphered by an early reader.

I did have some qualms about a few aspects of this book, but overall the dancing and portrayal of a caring, involved father figure won me over.

Review: Absolutely True Diary Part-Time Indian

“Traveling between Reardan and Wellpinit, between the white town and the reservation, I always felt like a stranger. // I was half Indian in one place and half white in the other.” page 118

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian: A Novel by Sherman Alexie, illustrated by Ellen Forney.
Little, Brown, and Company, Hachette Book Group, New York, 2007, my edition 2009.
YA realistic fiction, 230 pages not including extras.
Winner of many awards including a National Book Award.
Lexile:  600L  .
AR Level:  4.0 (worth 6.0 points)  .
NOTE: Due to content, this is not generally recommended for middle school students.

Junior is a Spokane Indian with a life from a Greek tragedy – medical woes, funerals, poverty, and picked on, he still tries to find the humor in life and look for the hope in his future in this semi-autobiographical novel.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian resized

Despite all the accolades, and my recent positive experiences of Alexie’s work, I did not expect to love this book the way I did.  Alexie seems mostly known for his literary fiction.  Diary is a YA book still interesting to the general adult fiction reader.  Unlike The Sun is Also a Star, which I might recommend to certain adults, The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian is a teen coming-of-age story that I would recommend to almost any adult reader.  Arnold Spirit, Junior, is a Spokane Indian with hydrocephalus, a stutter, and a few other challenges, like dire poverty and 30-year-old textbooks.

Despite a life where the cards seem stacked against him, Junior perseveres, chasing his hope through tragic deaths and ridiculous logistics (how do you get to school 22 miles away when you’re incredibly poor and there’s no bus?  Answer: sometimes you don’t.  Sometimes you walk.)

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Review: Mission to Space

“I am Commander John B. Herrington and I am Chickasaw.” page 4

Mission to Space by John Herrington.
White Dog Press, Chickasaw Press, Ada, Oklahoma, 2016.
Picture book informative non-fiction, 20 pages including glossary.
Not yet leveled.

John Herrington tells about space travel, including the preparations for what happened during his trip to space.  Since he is an enrolled tribal member of the Chickasaw Nation, his experiences as an astronaut are also viewed through the lens of his indigenous heritage.

Mission to Space

I had to get this after reading Debbie Reese’s review at AICL.  Not only did she strongly recommend it, but the pictures she shared from the book also had me convinced that this would be great for my students.  Many of them love space, and most are ill-informed about indigenous peoples, so this book would be a great way to interest and educate.  Plus, the book trailer was great too.

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Review: Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer

“When I first got my library card and wrote Blackbird Farm on the form, she didn’t know I was Dad’s daughter or Jim Brown’s grandniece, and she asked me how long my family was working there. I think she still feels bad about that.” page 76

Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones, illustrated by Katie Kath.
Borzoi, Alfred A. Knopf, Random House, New York, 2015.
Speculative/realistic fiction epistolary novel, 216 pages.
Lexile:  880L
AR Level:  5.2 (worth 5.0 points)

Sophie Brown’s family has moved from LA to Gravenstein, California.  They’ve traded their apartment for a house and farm filled with all the many things her great-uncle Jim had saved.  A farm doesn’t feel right without any animals, but they’ll have to be cheap because money is tight since Dad lost his job and they started relying on Mom’s income as a freelance writer.  Then a chicken turns up… a very special chicken.

Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer

Amazon kept recommending this book to me since I started buying diverse books.  Nothing in the description suggests a PoC is in this book and in the tiny cover preview, Sophie didn’t look dark-skinned.  Eventually I ordered a copy – but mistakenly got a hardcover instead of the paperback.  Once it arrived I was glad for the mistake, because as soon as he saw this book, our reluctant reader started insisting that I read it to him that night.  I don’t turn down his book requests, and they are loving it so far.

This book was a wonderful surprise.  The format is unusual (just like those chickens).  There also is a paranormal/science fiction aspect that would be a major spoiler to discuss.

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