Review: Trailblazing Pilot

A solid biography for early elementary readers.

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Bessie Coleman: Trailblazing Pilot (Rookie Biographies) by Carol Alexander.
Children’s Press, Scholastic, New York, 2016.
Picture book biography/early chapter book, 32 pages.
Lexile:  600L  .
AR Level:  3.4 (worth 0.5 points)  .
NOTE: Despite the reading level, these are typically used by first and second graders, or read aloud to younger students.

The life of Bessie Coleman, the first female African-American pilot.

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Rookie Biographies Bessie Coleman: Trailblazing Pilot by Carol Alexander.

Rookie Biographies is a series of books that use photographs and simple text to inform students about the lives of various historical and modern-day figures.  This series tends to be perfect for second or third graders to read independently, although I’ve also seen them used with higher or lower elementary school students.

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Review: Worm Loves Worm

“Worm loves Worm. ‘Let’s be married’ says Worm to Worm. ‘Yes!’ answers Worm.”

Worm Loves Worm by J. J. Austrian, illustrated by Mike Curato.
Balzer + Bray imprint, HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 2016.
Picture book, 28 pages.
Lexile:  not yet leveled
AR Level:  2.0 (worth 0.5 points) .

Worm loves Worm.  So Worm proposes.  They want to be married.  But then Cricket and Beetle and the rest all have their own ideas about what a wedding should look like.  Will Worm and Worm ever be able to just be married?

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This book got a lot of attention while marriage equality was still in the news, but the buzz has died down.  Although immigration has replaced marriage equality as the hot topic of the moment, Worm Loves Worm is still a valuable addition to your library.

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Review: The Shadow in the Moon

“I tell my family I am thankful for them, especially wise Ah-Ma. Maybe even for my little sister.” page 27

The Shadow in the Moon: A Tale of the Mid-Autumn Festival by Christina Matula, illustrated by Pearl Law.
Charlesbridge, Watertown, Massachsetts, 2018.
Picture book fiction, 32 pages.
Lexile:  640L  .
AR Level:  not yet leveled
NOTE: I received a free copy of this book from the author as a part of the 2019 Multicultural Children’s Book Day, in exchange for an honest review.

The story of a young girl in the modern day celebrating the Mid-Autumn Festival, including her grandmother’s telling of the traditional story of Chang’e and Hou Yi.

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Our family loves learning about different holidays.  We are Christian and American so you can guess that we celebrate Christmas and Fourth of July.  We’ve been lucky enough to access community gatherings or have friends invite us to many other celebrations, including the Lunar New Year.  But none of us had ever heard of the Mid-Autumn festival before.

Looking for other books on the topic, I could only find a half-dozen books about this specific festival, some of which didn’t have reviews.  There were two by big-name authors – both Grace Lin and Amy Tan have written picture books on the topic.  All of which is a rather lengthy notice that this is a welcome addition to our holiday bookshelf, and sorely needed.

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Review: Lion Dancer

“Today it is very hard for me to sit still. Chinese New Year starts tonight. And tomorrow morning, I will dance in the street.” page 7

Lion Dancer: Ernie Wan’s Chinese New Year by Kate Waters and Madeline Slovenz-Low, photographs by Martha Cooper.
Scholastic, New York, 1990.
Nonfiction picture book, 32 pages.
Lexile:  540L  .
AR Level:  2.9 (worth 0.5 points)  .

The is the story of six-year-old Ernie Wan’s first Lion Dance, which he’s been preparing for since he was three.  For the Chinese New Year, he will perform on the streets of New York City.

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Ernie is one-fifth of a loving family.  His father is, according to the dust jacket text, “a kung fu master” so studying kung fu is very important to his family.  (I put that portion in quotes not because I disbelieve his qualifications but because I wasn’t sure if that’s how he would describe himself.  Often the jacket text isn’t written by the author so it’s difficult to tell just how accurate this might be.)

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Review: My Brother Martin

“We three stuck together / like the pages in a brand-new book. / And being normal young children, / we were almost always up to something.” page 10

My Brother Martin: A Sister Remembers Growing Up with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Christine King Farris, illustrated by Chris Soentpiet.
Simon and Schuster, New York, 2003.
Picture book nonfiction, 40 pages.
Lexile:  970L  .
AR Level:  5.0 (worth 0.5 points)  .

Personal remembrances of Martin Luther King Jr.’s childhood from his older sister Christine.

My Brother Martin

I debated a lot before buying this book.  Our local libraries didn’t have it and the cover, especially in a small thumbnail version, is just so unattractive.  However, I was hoping for something different from the standard stories, which is exactly what this book delivers.  Luckily the interior art is excellent!

The book does skew a bit toward older readers with denser text and more difficult words like chifforobe, Cyclorama, Auburn, cruelty, bigotry, nourishing.  The main focus here is on MLK’s childhood, specifically on two fronts – both the ways in which he was an ordinary, sometimes mischievous little boy, and the events that shaped his personality.

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Martin Luther King’s congregation includes his son MLK, Jr. on pages 28 and 29 of My Brother Martin.

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Review: Black Cowboy, Wild Horses

“Bob had been a slave and had never learned to read words. But he could look at the ground and read what animals had walked on it, their size and weight, when they had passed by, and where they were going.” page 7

Black Cowboy, Wild Horses: A True Story by Julius Lester, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney.
Dial Books for Young Readers, Penguin, New York, 1998.
Picture book nonfiction, 40 pages.
Lexile:  710L  .
AR Level:  4.5 (worth 0.5 points)  .

One expedition of a cowboy named Bob Lemmons, famed for his ability to bring in herds of wild mustangs solo.

Black Cowboy Wild Horses
Black Cowboy, Wild Horses: A True Story by Julius Lester, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney.

As a young reader I acquired a childish interest in the West.  Actually, I’m pretty sure it was from Laura Ignalls Wilder (and yes, I now know how problematic that was, and our kids read Louise Erdrich instead).  In adult life, I’ve been learning just how very much was wrong, or omitted, from my early education.  Even so, it was surprising to learn that the common all-white image of cowboys were actually roughly a third Hispanic and that one in four cowboys was African-American.

Luckily there are several diverse books about this, so I can share a much more accurate and sensitive culturally appropriate portrayal of the West with our kids.  Since we love Jerry Pinkney, of course this was our first title.

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Review: Tapenum’s Day

“The Wampanoag culture is a living culture. Today there are many Wampanoag people living in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.” p. 37

Tapenum’s Day: A Wampanoag Indian Boy in Pilgrim Times by Kate Waters, Photographs by Russ Kendall.
Scholastic, New York, 1996.
Informative fiction, 40 pages.
Lexile:  680L  .
AR Level:  4.6 (worth 0.5 points)  .

The story of a Wampanoag boy in the 1620s.  While others in this series follow an imaginary day in the life of a recorded person, this book aims to show what daily indigenous life was like at the time and place of the Plimoth settlement.

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Tapenum’s Day by Kate Waters, photographed by Russ Kendall.

It was with great relief that I found and read this book.  Diverse books about Thanksgiving are in short supply, and it is one of the holidays always in demand from both families and teachers.

Before reading it, however, I was sorely disappointed in many of the reviews.  Quite a few people made basic errors despite having supposedly read the book.  Some confused the time period, assuming it takes place in the present day.  Others confused the location, assuming that this one story about the Wampanoag people in what is now Massachusetts/Rhode Island represents an entire continent of indigenous peoples.

The errors in reviewing made it very difficult to determine if I should buy this, so to clarify – this is very clearly a book about Wampanoag life in the 1620s.  The one confusion I could see is that a specific date is not given on the title page.  However there are four pages of notes outlining the historical and geographical setting so even a cursory glance should clarify when and where this book is set.

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