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    Using Literature to Eradicate Xenophobia: One Educator’s Response to COVID-19

    By Thu Anh Nguyen
     | Apr 14, 2020

    multiracial group of students
    “No one cares where you’re from.”

    Such a short phrase, and yet so damaging. In one of my first years teaching at this school, some students had left an anonymous note on my desk. The note was two pages full of hurtful and racist language, but what I remember most was that particular sentence.

    In the weeks and months since COVID-19 appeared, many worse racist things have been said and actions taken against those perceived to be in the Asian community. Asians have been physically harmed and verbally harassed. Every time I read an article about these incidents, or heard about them on the radio or in the news, I kept remembering the note left on my desk, that no one cares where I’m from.

    If they actually cared, if they understood, then their empathy would not allow such cruel behavior and words.

    I started to wonder how I might make people care about where I’m from, how I might address the xenophobia and racism against Asians since the COVID-19 disease was publicized as the “Chinese virus” and blamed on the Asian community. Books, for me, have always been an answer to challenging questions. Reading widely about the various Asian experiences is more important now than ever.

    I have spent much of my time as an educator concentrating on providing mirrors to my students so that they can see their identities reflected in the works that they read. Right now, I am also very consciously making sure I include Asian voices and perspectives to provide windows to non-Asian readers so that they develop the empathy necessary to recognize and combat xenophobia and racism.

    Luckily for all of us, there are so many good, complex, and contemporary books for all ages about the Asian experience. I have taught Gene Luen Yang’s American Born Chinese (Macmillan) to middle and high schoolers. Students love the graphic novel format, and the perspective of the young Chinese narrator allows readers to explore common microaggressions and racism committed against Asian students.

    Yang also recently released Dragon Hoops (First Second), and it has been a huge hit with my middle school sports-loving students because of its basketball theme. Even if they are not Asian, students can relate to the Asian main character in this book through the lens of sports, and that ability to connect is the first step in understanding where someone is from.

    Just three months ago, when things seemed much simpler, a seemingly lighthearted book was published by HarperTeen, and I devoured it. Loveboat, Taipei by Abigail Hing Wen is about a Taiwanese girl who grows up in the United States and is sent by her parents on a summer pilgrimage to Taipei to learn about her heritage. The “Loveboat” experience is famous among Asian Americans and is similar to pilgrimages in other cultures such as Birthright Israel trips. In the 414-page novel, it’s not until page 351 that the main character realizes the racism that her family has had to endure. Once she has that realization, she and her friends can’t help but talk about all of the stereotyping they too have endured.

    I think it’s crucial that the book doesn’t even touch the topic of racism until it’s mostly over. By then, you have gotten to know the characters. You have laughed with them, and at them. You have sympathized with the teenage experience of wanting to set out on your own while feeling held back by your parents. You have fallen in love with the characters, and so you are ready to be sad when they are sad. You are ready to be outraged when someone makes fun of the way they talk. Your ears are more open to hearing the multiple stories of how Asians have been mistreated through the specific examples of how the characters have been mistreated. That is the beauty of the literature: It opens us up more so that if we have not experienced something, it allows us to imagine experiencing it.

    As I was writing this piece, I was working from home while trying to keep my own young children occupied. My 7-year-old son was reading Bao Phi’s A Different Pond (Capstone Young Readers). It’s the subtle and beautiful story of a father and son who go fishing together. As they sit quietly and wait for fish, the father talks about growing up in Vietnam, a different pond from where they are now in the United States. We so often live in our own worlds, unable to envision what it is like in others’ landscapes. It is as if we are fishing from different ponds.

    This is a time for more understanding. Cultural literacy is about fluency in another culture, its customs and beliefs; it is understanding gained through literacy. In A Different Pond, the father tells his son stories so that at the end of the book, when he’s drifting off to sleep, the boy “will dream of fish in faraway ponds.” The boy is now able to do what he had not been able to before, which is to imagine his father’s world.

    Literacy in Asian culture, when so many people are misunderstanding and harming each other, is vital. We must continue to read stories that reveal to us the truths of others so that we can know where we are all from, and care for each other with more kindness and grace.

    Recommended reading (in order of reading level from youngest to adults)

    • Drawn Together by Minh Lê (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)
    • A Different Pond by Bao Phi (Capstone Young Readers)
    • Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang (First Second)
    • Butterfly Yellow by Thanhhà Lai (HarperCollins)
    • Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park (Clarion Books)
    • Frankly In Love by David Yoon (G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Reader)
    • Loveboat, Taipei by Abigail Hing Wen (HarperTeen)
    • I Was Their American Dream: A Graphic Memoir by Malaka Gharib (Clarkson Potter)
    • The Mountains Sing by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai (Algonquin Books)
    • On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong (Penguin Press)

    Thu Anh Nguyen teaches sixth grade at Sidwell Friends School in Washington, DC., and writes and performs poetry.

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    Books Across the Curriculum

    By Nancy Brashear and Carolyn Angus
     | Aug 26, 2019

    Trade books support learning across the curriculum in classrooms at all grade levels. The books reviewed in this week’s column include recently published books that are strong choices for introducing units as well as for delving into topics and issues of interest. They enrich instruction, encourage discussion, and stimulate interest in further exploration through independent reading.

    Ages 4–8

    Don’t Let Them Disappear: 12 Endangered Species Across the Globe. Chelsea Clinton. Ill. Gianna Marino. 2019. Philomel/Penguin.

    Don't Let Them DisappearThrough colorful, full-bleed, gouache paintings, this book introduces 12 animals (giraffes, gorillas, blue whales, rhinoceroses, giant pandas, whale sharks, polar bears, lions, sea otters, orangutans, tigers, and elephants) that are in danger of becoming extinct. A paragraph provides information about the characteristics and behavior of the featured animal, ending with “Don’t let them disappear!” as well as an inset listing range, endangered status, and why. Back matter includes additional information about reasons these animals are endangered, a “What Can You Do?” list things to do to help endangered species, and a list of 12 days of the year to celebrate such as Endangered Species Day (May 18) and World Rhino Day (September 22).
    —CA

    Home, Sweet Home: What Makes a House a Home? Moira Butterfield. Ill. Clair Rossiter. 2019. Kane Miller.

    Home, Sweet Home“The world is full of different homes, from tents and huts to bobbing boats, and apartments high up in the sky. What’s your home like?” Double-page spreads with colorful, richly detailed illustrations and accessible text invite readers to consider how the houses in which people live around the world today and in the past are similar and different to their own houses. The illustration on the final spread is the same as that on the first page but with the scene of different types of homes now filled with the people who live in them, which provides the perfect answer to the question as to what makes a house a home: “…it’s the people we love and share our homes with.”
    —CA

    Riding a Donkey Backwards: Wise and Foolish Tales of Mulla Nasruddin. Sean Taylor & the Khayaal Theatre. Ill. Shirin Adl. 2019. Candlewick.

    Riding a Donkey BackwardsMaster storyteller Sean Taylor teams up with the British Khayaal Theatre and British–Iranian illustrator Shirin Adl to present tales of the beloved trickster of Middle Eastern folklore, Mulla Nasruddin. The 21 short tales and vibrant mixed media illustrations in this collection will leave readers both laughing and thinking about the wisdom and foolishness so playfully imparted by Nasruddin, such as why he’s thankful after losing his donkey, and what he’d like to hear being said about him at his funeral. The book ends with Nasruddin answering the question as to why he rides his donkey backward and a glossary.
    —CA

    Spend It! (Moneybunny). Cinders McLeod. 2019. Nancy Paulsen/Penguin.

    Spend It!Every Saturday, Sonny earns three carrots. Of course, he wants to buy EVERYTHING (a toy rocket—2 carrots, a pogo stick—3 carrots, and a bouncy castle—100 carrots), but his allowance only goes so far. With a little advice from his mom about making choices, Sonny turns to math and logic for help. After he chooses the pogo stick, his mother declares, “Wow, Sonny! You’re getting good at this money stuff,” and he boings all over the page with glee. “Yes, I’m a smart spender! And I LOVE it!” Part of the Moneybunny series that teaches young children simple facts about money, Spend It!, with its colorful illustrations featuring an adorable bunny (drawn with pencil and then digitally colored), is sure to be worth every penny!
    —NB

    Ages 9–11

    Flights of Fancy: Creative Inspiration from Ten Award-Winning Authors and Illustrators. 2019. Walker/Candlewick.

    Flights of FancyThis anthology celebrating 20 years of the British Children’s Laureate program includes contributions by the 10 Laureates to date—Quentin Blake (the first Laureate from 19992001), Anne Fine, Michael Morpurgo, Jacqueline Wilson, Michael Rosen, Anthony Browne, Julia Donaldson, Malorie Blackman, Chris Riddell, and Lauren Child (the 20172019 Laureate)—that use a variety of formats including poems, short stories, and pictures to offer creative inspiration on writing and illustrating. Back matter includes a “20 Ideas for Creative Projects” section based on the Laureates’ tips and prompts and “More About the Laureates” biographical notes (including caricatures by Chris Riddell). Flights of Fancy is a valuable resource of inspiring activities as well as engaging introductions to the work of these award-winning British authors and illustrators.   
    —CA

    A Green Place to Be: The Creation of Central Park. Ashley Benham Yazdani. 2019. Candlewick.

    A Green Place To BeIn 1858, New York City developed so quickly that forests and fields disappeared overnight as buildings and roads took over. The winning team of a design contest for the perfect park to be built in a deserted bog—architect Calvert Vaux (18221903) and Frederick Law Olmstead (18241895), the new park’s supervisor and landscape architect—created Central Park, “the green place to be” that people needed. Their design included parkland, ponds, a lake, walking paths, play areas, fountains, pagodas, entertainment venues, a Children’s District (with a petting zoo), and other features. The vibrant watercolor and pencil illustrations capture the details of the park with cartoon-like figures engaged in interesting activities. Back matter includes mini-biographies on Vaux and Olmstead, a trivia page with items to spot in the pictures (for example, people, buildings, 34 arches, trees, and a recurring squirrel), an author’s note, and a bibliography.
    —NB

    Hooray for Women! Marcia Williams. 2019. Candlewick.

    Hooray For Women!With her signature colorful, richly detailed comic book panels filled with facts, quotes, and witty conversations, Marcia Williams celebrates the accomplishments of inspirational women from around the world and throughout history. She presents comic-strip style profiles of 16 women chronologically from Queen of Egypt Cleopatra VII to children’s and women’s rights activist Malala Yousafzai, followed by three double-page spreads with thumbnail sketches of leaders, world changers, athletes, creatives, scientists, pioneers, and adventurers. Along the side borders, birds chirp comments about what’s happening in the panel and add facts, while two children (and a mouse) frolic across the bottom of the pages, adding their opinions and moving readers along to the next entry. Back matter includes a “Dear Reader” letter in which Williams talks about the difficulty she had in choosing her favorite inspirational women and challenges the reader to identify their own list and an index.
    —CA

    Ages 12–14

    Beast Rider: A Boy’s Journey Across the Border. Tony Johnston & Marîa Elena Fontanot de Rhoads. 2019. Amulet/Abrams.

    Beast RiderLa Bestia, the train that travels between Mexico and the United States, is sometimes the only way that people can get from one country to another without papers. After his brother Toño hops on the beast to Los Angeles to begin a new life, 12-year-old Manuel Flores, who can’t stop thinking about him, decides to be a beast rider and leave his family of farmers to join him. This disturbing saga that takes place over three years begins with Manual’s almost immediate arrest by Mexican police, his being robbed, and, later, being brutalized by thugs on the trains. He also meets with kindness by people in most unlikely places. After Manual finally reunites with his brother, he learns something he didn’t realize about himself, which leads to a surprising decision. Back matter includes an author’s note about La Bestia and a glossary of Spanish terms.
    —NB

    Crossing on Time: Steam Engines, Fast Ships, and a Journey to the New World. David Macaulay. 2019. Roaring Brook.

    Crossing on TimeThis fascinating story of the development of steam engines is told against the backdrop of David Macaulay’s personal narrative of his family’s trip across the ocean from England to the United States in 1957 at age 8, and concludes as his family settles into their new home in a New Jersey neighborhood, where this “foreign land became home.” Historical information is accompanied by detailed drawings and schematics of pumps and pistons, early steam engines, steam-powered paddleboats, river steamboats, compound engines, steam turbines, and the building of the SS United States (the ship the Macaulay family sailed on). Back matter includes an afterword with Macaulay’s nostalgic look at how his past has twined with transportation advances, a timeline (from 14972011) detailing pivotal events in the history of steam engines and transportation, and a reading list.
    —NB  

    Ages 15+

    The Magnificent Migration: On Safari with Africa’s Last Great Herds. Sy Montgomery. Ill. Roger Wood & Logan Wood. 2019. Houghton Mifflin.

    The Magnificent MigrationReaders join Sy Montgomery on the safari she took with Dr. Richard Estes, the leading expert on wildebeests, to study the antelope’s year-round clockwise migration of over 800 miles from Kenya’s Masai Mara south to Tanzania, west and north across the Serengeti Plains, and north to Kenya again, “the largest mass movement of animals on land.” Maps, numerous captioned full-color photographs, and brief biographies of the safari team complement the narrative. She also includes inserts on other “magnificent migrants”: Arctic terns, Christmas Island red crabs, loggerhead sea turtles, monarch butterflies, pilchard sardines, and zooplankton. In an epilogue, Montgomery addresses the endangered status of the wildebeest and the vulnerability of the Serengeti ecosystem. Back matter includes a bibliography, a “Get Involved” section, and an index.
    —CA

    All Ages

    You Are Home: An Ode to the National Parks. Evan Turk. 2019. Atheneum/Simon & Schuster.

    You Are HomeEvan Turk’s stunning landscapes, created with pastels on black paper, and the expressive lyrical text of his ode to the National Parks are both awe-inspiring and thought-provoking. The words “to the child whose / family has just / left its first footprints / on new shore; / to the child whose ancestors / lived on these lands before / the star and stripes / took them as their own / you are still home” beautifully express that the parks are home to everyone. In his author’s note, Turk considers the history of the National Parks as a symbol of our country’s best ideals and the importance of protecting the parks “under threat from so many pressures—pollution, climate change, and politics.” A map of the National Parks and a list of those shown in the book are included.
    —CA

    Nancy Brashear is Professor Emeritus of English, Azusa Pacific University, in Azusa, California. Carolyn Angus is former director of the George G. Stone Center for Children's Books, Claremont Graduate University, in Claremont, California.  

    These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG) and are published weekly on Literacy Daily

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    Back-to-School Stories

    By Skye Deiter and Jennifer W. Shettel
     | Aug 19, 2019
    As students head to school—some for the first time—with their backpacks filled with new school supplies, it is time to round up some new school-themed stories for teachers, librarians, and parents to share with pre-K to sixth-grade students as they start the new school year.


    Ages 4–8

    Clothesline Clues to the First Day of School. Kathryn Heling & Deborah Hembrook. Ill. Andy Robert Davies. 2019. Charlesbridge.

    Clothesline Clues“High on the clothesline / hang clue after clue. / It’s the first day of school! / Who wants to meet you?” This picture book features rhyming riddles about the people children may encounter on their first day of school such as different teachers, the custodian, the crossing guard, the cafeteria worker, and fellow students. Double-page spreads featuring a clothesline hung with colorful clothing and items associated with each individual and a riddle offer children visual and textual clues to answer the recurring question “Who wants to meet you?” With a turn of the page, they see if their answer was correct.
    —JS

    Did You Burp?: How to Ask Questions (or Not!) April Pulley Sayre. Ill. Leeza Hernandez. 2019. Charlesbridge.

    Did You Burp“Questions are the beginning of learning about the world. So be brave. Be bold. Ask questions!” This ask-out-loud story is perfect to teach young, curious children how to formulate questions. The book is divided into sections with headings like “Why ask questions?” or “How to ask a question” that teach effective question-asking strategies. April Pulley Sayre explores question words—who, what, when, where, how, and why—and helps readers know the right time to ask (or not ask) their questions. She even addresses what a question is not (for example, a story or comment). Leeza Hernandez’s digitally created illustrations feature children asking and responding to questions in accompanying speech bubbles.
    —SD

    The King of Kindergarten. Derrick Barnes. Ill. Vanessa Brantley-Newton. 2019. Nancy Paulsen/Penguin.

    The King of Kindergarten 2It’s the first day of kindergarten and enthusiasm is high for a little boy who is headed off to school for the first time. The second-person narrative invites the reader to feel like the little boy in the story—a young “prince” (as his mother calls him) ready to make his mark on the world, confident in his ability to be “the King of Kindergarten.” Filled with royal-themed phrases, this book takes the reader on a joyful journey into the “Kindergarten Kingdom” while details in brightly colored mixed-media illustrations keep the setting in a modern classroom and school. 
    —JS

    Linus The Little Yellow Pencil. Scott Magoon. 2019. Disney-Hyperion.

    Linus the Little Yellow PencilLinus the Pencil is determined to win the grand prize at the family art show, but his eraser, Ernie, is complicating matters. Ernie didn’t like a single mark Linus made. “Rubba-dubba-rubb went Ernie, and Linus’s lines were gone.” Scott Magoon’s artistic puns bring an inanimate protagonist to life as jealous Linus sees other supplies creating their artwork. While watching Brush paint, he bristles with envy and thinks, “Must be nice to brush those cares aside.” The humor continues as Linus and Ernie struggle to create their own masterpiece. Frustrated, Linus is “drawn to the very edge” where, feeling “dull,” he enters a cave he has spied. Linus leaves the cave (a pencil sharpener) feeling much “sharper” with an artistic idea that just might work!
    —SD

    Lola Goes to School (Lola Reads). Anna McQuinn. Ill. Rosalind Beardshaw. 2019. Charlesbridge.

    Lola Goes to SchoolIn Anna McQuinn’s latest book, charming, book-loving Lola is starting school. First-time school-goers will relate to Lola’s feelings of excitement and anticipation as she packs her school bag, picks out her first-day outfit, and walks to school with her mom. During the day, Lola reads books, participates in group activities, and goes outside to play with her new friends. At the end of the day, mom arrives to walk her home and after a having a snack, a happy but tired Lola falls asleep. A simple text and brightly colored acrylic artwork perfectly depict the school setting and Lola’s diverse group of classmates.
    —JS

    Nugget & Fang Go to School (Nugget & Fang #2). Tammi Sauer. Ill. Michael Slack. 2019. Clarion/Houghton Mifflin.

    Nugget & Fang Go to SchoolIn this story about an unlikely ocean friendship between Nugget, a mini minnow, and Fang, a vegetarian shark, Nugget and the other minnows, who are thankful to have Fang as a friend, want him to attend Mini Minnows Elementary with them. Fang has his reservations. “What if I yawn and accidentally swallow someone? What if a whale accidentally swallows me?” Nugget tells him, “You’ll be fine.” As Fang struggles in every subject at school, his small friend is there to offer reassurances and shows him how special it is to have a best friend. Young readers will delight in the ironic twists of Tami Sauer’s first-day-of-school story and the warm humor of Michael Slack’s colorful, digitally created cartoon illustration.
    —SD

    Pencil: A Story With a Point. Ann Ingalls. Ill. Dean Griffiths. 2019. Pajama Press.

    Pencil A Story With a PointYoung Jackson loves Pencil! They draw, sketch, and doodle all day until Tablet moves in and tries to take Pencil’s place as Jackson’s new go-to tool. When Pencil is banished to the dreaded Junk Drawer, he meets up with other discarded tools like Scissors, Eraser, Ruler, and Marker. What will it take for Pencil to make his mark and win his way back into Jackson’s heart? Dean Griffiths’ digitally rendered cartoon illustrations featuring animated school supplies complement Ann Ingalls’ clever, pun-filled story which has a point to make: New tools are not always better than old ones. 
    —JS

    The Pigeon HAS to Go to School! Mo Willems. 2019. Disney-Hyperion.

    The Pigeon HAS to Go to School!“WAIT! Don’t read that title! / Too late. Rats . . . / Why do I have to go to school?” The hilarious pigeon returns with his notorious excuses and rebuttals to convince young readers that he doesn’t need to go to school. After all, he already knows EVERYTHING! “Well, I know almost everything,” he admits. Readers can expect the usual format of Pigeon front and center on bright backgrounds, surrounded by wildly shaped speech bubbles. Mo Willems also adds lines, loose feathers, and other symbols to his illustrations to capture Pigeon’s frantic emotions, adding to the fun of the reading experience. The front endpaper features empty desks and chairs, while the back endpaper shows all kinds of birds (including Pigeon) sitting at desks, ready to learn.
    —SD

    When Pencil Met Eraser.Karen Kilpatrick & Luis O. Ramos, Jr. Ill. Germán Blanco. 2019. Imprint/Macmillan.

    When Pencil Met EraserDid you ever wonder how Pencil and Eraser came to be linked with each other? This humorous picture book takes a stab at explaining how the two friends started out as separate entities and eventually paired up to become the handy writing tool we all use. Readers of this imaginative story (with illustrations drawn in pencil, of course) watch the drama of this fortuitous meeting unfold as Pencil’s drawings are changed and improved upon with the help of Eraser.
    —JS

    Ages 9–11

    Bigger, Badder, Nerdier (Geeked Out #2). Obert Skye. 2019. Christy Ottaviano/Henry Holt/Macmillan.

    Bigger, Badder, NerdierIn this sequel to Geeked Out (2018), Tip and his nerdy friends Owen, Mindy, and Xen return with their secret vigilante group, the League of Average and Mediocre Entities (aka LAME) to save their school, once again, from the evil secretary, Mrs. “Darth” Susan. With their world facing semi-apocalyptic conditions after the release of a terrible movie, the foursome must use their “mediocre” powers—super hearing and glowing eyes (Owen), deadly claps (Mindy), destructive burps (Xen), and electronic mind control (Tip)— to unveil Darth Susan’s mysterious plan and out-geek an imposter LAME group, before their school is doomed! Obert Skye uses spoof tactics in his text and graphics, transitioning smoothly between the two, to poke fun at the comical similarities of occurrences in the book and the real world.
    —SD

    The Friendship War. Andrew Clements. 2019. Random House.

    The Friendship WarSixth grader Grace returns home from a visit with her grandfather right before the start of the new school year with boxes of buttons from an old mill he is planning to renovate. When her teacher announces that they will be studying the Industrial Revolution, Grace brings a few buttons into school to show her classmates. Her friends are intrigued by the buttons and before you know it, Grace has inadvertently started a new fad of button collecting, causing the sixth graders to go bonkers for buttons! Swept up in a button-trading frenzy, Grace finds herself in a feud with her best friend, Ellie, while also making a new friend named Hank, who shares her love for data collection and history. Upper elementary readers will enjoy finding out how Grace discovers a way to stop the fad and save her friendship in Andrew Clements’ newest school story.
    —JS 

    Parker Bell and the Science of Friendship. Cynthia Platt. Ill. Rea Zhai. 2019. Clarion/Houghton Mifflin.

    Parker BellParker Bell loves all things science and hopes to be a famous scientist someday, just like her idols Jane Goodall and Mae Jemison. She even has a Mad Science Lab in her house to create fantastic contraptions and conduct experiments. So, when her teacher announces that they are going to participate in the Science Triathlon, Parker’s enthusiasm level is through the roof. She’s excited to pair up with her best friend, Cassie, but isn’t sure what to think when Cassie invites Theo to join them. Will Theo prove to be a valuable partner in their quest for the gold medal? Readers find out in this story about friendship, teamwork, and the scientific method.
    —JS

    President of Poplar Lane (Poplar Kids #2). Margaret Mincks. 2019. Viking/Penguin.
     
    President of Poplar LanePoplar Lane neighbors Clover O’Reilly and Michael Strange find themselves running against each other for class president, but are they each running for the right reasons? Clover, whose family of seven is about to include yet another sister, likes the idea of having an office to decorate since she must continue sharing a bedroom. Alternating chapters reveal Clover’s and Mike’s points of view. Mike “the Unusual” prefers performing magic over playing sports and hopes a presidential win will please his disapproving father and boost his Magic Camp application. Occasional inserts provide additional context in the storyline such as daily online posts from blogger Mel Chang as she follows the week-long election campaign.
    —SD

    Skye Deiter is an elementary classroom teacher in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and a recent graduate from Pennsylvania State Harrisburg’s Masters in Literacy Education Program.Jennifer W. Shettel is a professor at Millersville University of Pennsylvania, where she teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in literacy for preservice and practicing teachers. Prior to joining the faculty at Millersville, she spent 16 years as an elementary classroom teacher and reading specialist in the public schools.

    These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG) and are published weekly on Literacy Daily

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    Compassion, Empathy, and Understanding

    By Barbara A. Ward
     | Aug 12, 2019

    Although it might not be a part of the Common Core State Standards or easy to measure, teaching our students compassion, empathy, and understanding is an important part of the curriculum. Following are some recently published books that are good choices for reading aloud to foster discussion as well as for independent reading.

    Ages 4–8

    Big Mouth Elizabeth (A Is for Elizabeth #2). Rachel Vail. Ill. Paige Keiser. 2019. Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan.

    A Is for ElizabethSecond grader Elizabeth Case longs to be part of the Big Mouth Club, which is made up of children who have lost a baby tooth. Because she hasn’t done so yet, Elizabeth feels immature. When a classmate she calls Babyish Cali reaches out to her, Elizabeth is reluctant to accept her offer of friendship. With insistence from her mother, she accepts a playdate and realizes that Cali isn’t all that babyish, after all. The text and illustrations in this chapter book capture perfectly how it feels to be left out as well as how affirming it feels to be a part of something. In all her relatable imperfections, Elizabeth will remind many readers of themselves. Reading the book aloud might provide an avenue for discussing acceptance, inclusion, and empathy.

    Lili Macaroni. Nicole Testa. Ill. Annie Boulanger. 2019. Pajama Press.

    Lili MacaroniLili Macaroni loves all the things that make her unique since they come from her mother, father, grandmother, and grandfather. But her self-esteem is rocked once she begins school and classmates tease her about her name, her hair, her freckles, her eyes, and even her laugh. Consequently, Lili starts to withdraw and wonders what life might be like if she didn't have these features. Although she draws a self-portrait that erases them, ultimately, she decides that rejecting these parts of her would be like rejecting her family, something she doesn't want to do. She follows her father's suggestion to draw a butterfly, which will then help her feel better as it flies away with her heartache. Lili is fortunate to have an understanding teacher in Mrs. Tamara, who hugs her when she shares her feelings and her polka dotted butterfly. Her classmates feel guilty about what they've done, and they come back to class after the weekend with their own butterflies.

    A Place to Stay: A Shelter Story. Erin Gunti. Ill. Esteli Meza. 2019. Barefoot.

    A Place to StayThis picture book follows a mother and her daughter on the first night of their stay in a shelter, during which Mama tries to cast the building as a palace with a treasure cave and a rocket ship. After meeting a couple of residents and making a friend, the young girl is ready for a shower and decides to match her mother's imaginative play by pretending that the two of them are deep sea divers while the water warms up. The shelter isn't home but, at least it is a safe, warm place. Created with pencils and acrylic paints and then digitally manipulated, the illustrations capture the child's nervousness and her mother's imaginative response to their surroundings, which are surely bleak in some respects. Back matter includes a discussion of reasons that someone might be staying in a shelter like this, making A Place to Stay a good introduction to homelessness for young children.

    Say Something. Peter H. Reynolds. 2019. Orchard/Scholastic.

    Say Something!The endpapers of this picture book contain encouraging words and mark instances in which someone has spoken up or coined a pithy saying. The book itself is a simple but important reminder that all voices matter and that the speaker need not worry about getting all the words right or being loud. All that matters is speaking up through spoken or written words or actions. The book also provides specific examples of possible actions upon encountering various situations such as a blank canvas, a lonely person, fallow ground, and someone being bullied. The text and images remind readers that a voice "can inspire, heal, and transform. Your voice can change the world,” inviting readers to get involved and "say something.” This small picture book offers much food for discussion about the power of words and deeds and what we lose by not saying something.

    Ages 9–11

    Because of the Rabbit. Cynthia Lord. 2019. Scholastic.

    Because of the RabbitWith the lightest of touches, Cynthia Lord tells a story about staying true to yourself. Emma has been homeschooled but after her older brother, Owen, decides to attend public high school, she wants to give public school a try, too. It isn't an easy transition. The fifth graders have established social sets, and anything different from what they see as the norm is considered unacceptable. Emma tells little lies or partial truths to be accepted by a group of girls, and she even betrays Jack, the only classmate who was kind and welcoming from the start. Like her, he loves animals and has some unusual hobbies, but classmates shun him and consider him to be different—in a bad way. When Jack visits her home to work on a school project, she introduces him to Lapi, a bunny that she and her father rescued. When another classmate mentions that she saw posters looking for a lost bunny during the summer, Emma knows she must do the right thing and see if she has that person's pet. She also comes to realize that the best friend she's been looking for has been there all along.

    Harvey Comes Home. Colleen Nelson. Ill. Tara Anderson. 2019. Pajama Press.

    Harvey Comes HomeWhen his human companion, Maggie, is away on a trip with her family, Harvey (a terrier) follows the scent of a squirrel out of his yard and gets lost. Eventually, he ends up outside Brayside, an assisted living facility where a boy named Austin is volunteering. Austin knows that Harvey must belong to someone, but he becomes attached to the dog. Harvey becomes the bridge between Austin and Mr. Walter Pickering, a miserable elderly man shunned by just about everyone because of his grumpiness. As the three spend time together, Mr. Pickering tells stories from his youth about his beloved dog, General; rough times on the prairies during the Great Depression and its aftermath; and a girl named Bertie. The chapters alternate from the perspectives of Austin, Harvey, and Maggie, an effective device that allows readers to develop an understanding of the emotions and behaviors of the characters.

    Pie in the Sky. Remy Lai. 2019. Henry Holt/Macmillan.

    Pie in the SkyAfter the death of his father, 11-year-old Jingwen, his younger brother Yanghao, and their mother move to Australia from China, something his father had dreamed of doing. Lost in a new culture and awash in a new language, Jingwen carries a lot of emotional baggage, but he becomes convinced that life will improve if he bakes the special cakes he and his father once baked together while dreaming of their future bakery in their new home. As the two brothers prepare each of their father’s cakes, they end up eating them all to hide their activities from their mother who has forbidden them to use the oven while she is at work. While the classroom scenes depicting Jingwen’s struggles to read aloud are painful to read, readers will enjoy the humor of Remy Lai’s text and cartoon illustration, and the descriptions of these special cakes may prompt them to do some baking. (A recipe for Rainbow Cake is included.)

    Ages 12–14

    Focused. Alyson Gerber. 2019. Scholastic.

    FocusedSeventh-grader Clea Adams has every intention to complete her homework and stay focused on tasks, but lately, it has been a challenge to do so. When her poor academic performance jeopardizes her involvement on the school chess team, Clea also struggles with her friendships, her parents, her teachers, and herself, even denigrating her own intelligence. After she has been tested and identified as having ADHD, Clea finally has some answers for why her attention is scattered. With the help of medication and counseling as well as support from her friend, Sanam, she learns some coping mechanisms. Still, hers is not an overnight success story since she still sometimes blurts things out without thinking and is easily distracted by certain noises. Readers’ hearts will hurt for this well-intentioned girl as she tries to navigate unexpected challenges.

    Ages 15+

    Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me. Mariko Tamaki. Ill. Rosemary Valero-O’Connell. 2019.  First Second/Roaring Brook.

    Laura Dean Keps Breaking Up With MeLove might be a many splendored thing, as a song tells us, but it can also be painful. In the case of Laura Dean, as charismatic, charming, and romantic as she might be, she is not right for Frederica Riley. Despite their turbulent relationship, Freddy takes Laura Dean back after each break up, moping around and running back to her when beckoned. When Laura Dean toys with her yet again, causing Freddy to abandon her friend Doodle in her hour of need, she has finally had enough and does what every reader will want her to do—break up with Laura Dean for good. The text and illustrations in this graphic novel capture the feeling of first love as well as the desolation of being addicted to someone poisonous and careless with the hearts of others.

    Barbara A. Ward teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in literacy at Washington State University, Pullman. She spent 25 years teaching in the public schools of New Orleans, where she worked with students at every grade level, from kindergarten through high school as well as several ability levels. She is certified in elementary education, English education, and gifted education. She holds a bachelor's in communications, a master's in English education from the University of Tennessee, and a PhD in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of New Orleans.

    These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG) and are published weekly on 
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    Biographies and the Arts

    By Nancy Brashear and Carolyn Angus
     | Aug 05, 2019

    The biographies reviewed this week introduce readers to creative individuals who have made contributions in the visual, literary, and performing arts. Included are books that are great choices for reading aloud to spark interest and discussion on a topic in classrooms, libraries, and homes as well as for independent reading.

    Ages 4–8

    Birds of a Feather: Bowerbirds and Me. Susan L. Roth. 2019. Neal Porter/Holiday House.

    Birds of a FeatherSusan L. Roth clearly demonstrates how she and bowerbirds are “birds of a feather” by enumerating similarities between her creating of collage illustrations for books and the male bowerbird’s building of a bower (not a nest) decorated to attract a mate. With her signature colorful, textured collage art on double-page spreads, Roth shows herself and a bowerbird at work on their creations. Roth states that they begin with the collection of “unusual, often unrelated stuff that we use in unusual ways to create different and unexpected compositions . . .” and share the hope that their “finished works are much greater than the sum of their parts.” Roth includes lists of facts about bowerbirds, how these birds work, how she works, and how bowerbirds and she are the same.
    —CA

    Dancing Through Fields of Color: The Story of Helen Frankenthaler. Elizabeth Brown. Ill. Aimée Sicuro. 2019. Abrams.

    Dancing Through Fields of ColorHelen Frankenthaler (1928–2011), a leading abstract expressionist of the 20th century, “never wanted to follow the rules” in her paintings, collages, card making, chalk drawings, and beadwork. After graduating from college and meeting Jackson Pollock, an artist who broke all the rules, Helen Frankenthaler revolutionized modern art with her Color Field school of painting which included her “soak stain” technique and use of unexpected tools (mops, sponges, and squeegees). Her abstract art was tied to nature and human emotions, and she achieved success in a field dominated by male artists. Aimée Sicuro’s illustrations in watercolor, ink, and charcoal pencil with evocative words dancing across some of the double-page spreads convey Frankenthaler’s creative spirit with their movement, energy, and color. Back matter includes a “More About Helen Frankenthaler” section, a timeline, a Poured Paint/Soak-Stain Activity, an author’s note, sources of quotes, and a bibliography.
    —NB

    The Important Thing About Margaret Wise Brown. Mac Barnett. Ill. Sarah Jacoby. 2019. Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins.

    The Important Thing About Margaret Wise Brown“The important thing about Margaret Wise Brown is that she wrote books.” This statement, made in the beginning and repeated at the end of the book, emphasizes the importance of the life and work of the beloved children’s author, who died at the age of 42. Mac Barnett points out that some people thought Brown and her books were strange, and he includes the criticism of Anne Carroll Moore, the influential librarian at the New York Public Library. Moore thought Brown’s books were not the kind of books children should be reading and stamped them “NOT RECOMMENDED FOR PURCHASE BY EXPERT.” Sarah Jacoby’s whimsical illustrations depicting scenes in Brown’s life and bunny children reading books (including some of Brown’s) complement this tribute to Margaret Wise Brown and the importance of books like hers in the lives of children.
    —CA

    Sparky & Spike: Charles Schulz and the Wildest, Smartest Dog Ever. Barbara Lowell. Ill. Dan Andreasen. 2019. Cameron Kids.

    Sparky & SpikeSparky dreams of becoming a cartoonist, and encouraged by his classmates and teacher, he keeps practicing his art. One day Sparky sends a drawing of Spike, his wild, smart hunting dog “that eats pins, tacks, screws, and razor blades” to the Ripley’s Believe It or Not comic strip. Two months later, his picture of Spike is published in the Sunday comics. Later, Sparky—Charles Schulz (19222000)—will become famous for his Peanuts comic strip featuring Charlie Brown and his beagle, Snoopy. Back matter in this picture biographywith cartoon illustrations in full-page spreads and panels includes an illustrator’s note (with a letter of encouragement Schulz sent Dan Andreasen when he was a boy)and an author’s note (with biographical information and photos of Sparky and Spike).
    —NB

    Ages 9–11

    Degas, Painter of Ballerinas. Susan Goldman Rubin. 2019. Abrams.

    Degas Painter of BallerinasThis beautifully designed book is a study of the French artist Edgar Degas (1834-1917) and his works of art—drawings, pastels, paintings, and sculptures—of ballerinas. Susan Goldman Rubin’s writing, which incorporates numerous quotes, is informative and engaging. Additional information about Degas’ artistic techniques and use of various media is provided in the descriptive captions for illustrations of Degas’ artwork (most from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art), which are identified by title and date of creation. Back matter includes a brief biography, an author’s note, source notes, a glossary of art terms and ballet terms, a list of places where Degas’ art can be seen, a bibliography of works on Degas and on ballet, a list of illustrations, and an index.
    —CA

    Smile: How Young Charlie Chaplin Taught the World to Laugh (and Cry). Gary Golio. Ill. Ed Young. 2019. Candlewick.

    SmileAt age 5, London-born Charlie Chaplin (18891977) sang and danced before a public audience for the first time. After his parents divorced and his mother, a singer, lost her voice, he joined a theater troupe for boys and discovered how “Funny and Sad went hand in hand.” While touring America with an acting company in 1912, he was recruited by filmmaker Mack Sennett to act in silent movies. Wearing baggy old pants, a short topcoat, oversized shoes, and his signature black bowler hat, in his alter ego role, Little Tramp, Chaplin became famous. Ed Young’s clever illustrations done in collage and ink capture this man who made the world “laugh and cry” without saying a word. Readers will discover a special treat with a quick flip of the pages. Back matter includes an afterword about Chaplin’s Tramp character, a “Facts About Charlie Chaplin” list, and resources.
    —NB

    Two Brothers, Four Hands: The Artists Alberto and Diego Giacometti. Jan Greenberg & Sandra Jordan. Ill. Hadley Hooper. 2019. Holiday House.

    Two Brothers, Four HandsA spare, lyrical text and expressive mixed-media illustrations tell the life stories of artists Alberto Giacometti (19011966) and Diego Giacometti (19021985). Growing up in Switzerland, Alberto is the family’s artistic genius; adventurous Diego roams the countryside. In Paris, Alberto establishes his art studio; unsettled Diego joins him. Alberto abandons painting and devotes his time to sculpting; Diego becomes his model and helper in the studio. During World War II, Alberto lives in Switzerland; Diego stays in Paris to guard the studio. After the war, Alberto begins sculpting the skeletal figures that gain him worldwide recognition; Diego begins creating handcrafted furniture and sculptures of animals that will eventually make him famous, too. Back matter includes a “Looking at Alberto Giacometti’s Walking Man” activity, a timeline, photographs of artwork, and a bibliography.
    —CA

    Ages 1214

    Before They Were Authors: Famous Writers as Kids. Elizabeth Haidle. 2019. Houghton Mifflin.

    Before They Were AuthorsIn this collective biography, Elizabeth Haidle tells the stories behind the stories of 10 popular American and British authors—Mark Twain, Maya Angelou, Dr. Seuss, Sandra Cisneros, Roald Dahl, J.K. Rowling, Gene Luen Yang, Beatrix Potter, C. S. Lewis, and Madeleine L’Engle. Following a “What Makes a Writer?” introduction, each chapter is five pages long and begins with a full-page spread with a portrait of the featured author, a simple timeline including dates of publication of some of their best-known books, and a quote from a book. Cartoon panels provide information about the authors’ childhoods including books that they loved to read as well as their paths to becoming published authors and images of their books. Back matter includes source notes and a bibliography.
    —CA

    The Roots of Rap: 16 Bars on the 4 Pillars. Carole Boston Weatherford. Ill. Frank Morrison. 2019. Little Bee.

    The Roots of RapFrom “Folktales, street rhymes, spirituals—rooted in spoken word. / Props to poets Hughes and Dunbar; published. Ain’t you heard?” to “From Atlanta to Zanzibar, youth spit freestyle freedom sounds. / Hip-hop is a language that’s spoken the whole world ‘round,” Carole Boston Weatherford’s 16 rhyming couplets and Frank Morrison’s stunning mural-like double-page spreads provide a moving history of the hip-hop movement based on its four “pillars”—graffiti, breakdancing, rapping/MCing, and DJing. Extensive back matter includes notes by Weatherford and Morrison, a glossary, and a “Hip-hop Who’s Who” with brief biographical notes on the creative artists and others who influenced the development of the hip-hop culture.
    —CA

    Ages 15+

    The Great Nijinsky: God of Dance. Lynn Curlee. 2019. Charlesbridge Teen/Charlesbridge.

    The Great NinjinskyBorn in Russia, Vaslav Nijinsky (18901950) was a shy dance prodigy who transfigured into a mesmerizing and sensational dancer on stage. Transforming the field of ballet through his unique dance moves and costuming, he became one of the world’s greatest dancers of the 20th century before he was 30. Later he wrote storylines and choreographed ballets. Although Nijinsky was incapacitated by mental illness later in life, his legacy lives on in ballet today. Nijinsky was a creative genius who lived a tumultuous life with complicated professional and personal relationships during a time in which bisexuality was not accepted by society. Narrative on different phases of Nijinsky’s life and program notes on ballets he performed or choreographed (The Firebird, Scheherazade, Carnaval, Afternoon of a Faun, and other classics) are accompanied by beautiful paintings and archival photographs. Back matter includes an author’s note, a list of Nijinsky performances, “Ballet Performances Online” notes, source notes, a bibliography, and an index.
    —NB

    All Ages

    Helen Oxenbury: A Life in Illustration. Leonard S. Marcus. 2019. Candlewick.

    Helen OxenburyIn this substantial and inspirational tribute to Helen Oxenbury (born in Ipswich in 1938 and lives in North London), one of the world’s most famous children’s authorillustrators, Leonard S. Marcus’ study of her life and work shows how Oxenbury immerses herself in people watching and expressing humanity’s need to accept each other’s imperfections in her evolving artistic creations for children. Oxenbury’s first book, Numbers of Things (one of the first board books starring babies), was published in 1967, and she has published more than 100 children’s picture and board books up to now. After an introductory interview with Helen Oxenbury, the book is divided into seven time periods, each with biographical narratives, photos, and illustrations (including covers along with some double-page spreads and excerpts from her books). Back matter includes a “Postscripts” section with testimonies from colleagues and collaborators; a “Bibliography” section with 88 of Oxenbury’s books listed by publication dates; a “The Walker Bear” section about the logo Oxenbury drew for her UK publisher, Walker Books, and her contribution to Walker Books and Candlewick Press; and a “Significant Awards” section.
    —NB

    Nancy Brashear is Professor Emeritus of English, Azusa Pacific University, in Azusa, California. Carolyn Angus is former director of the George G. Stone Center for Children's Books, Claremont Graduate University, in Claremont, California.

    These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG) and are published weekly on Literacy Daily. 

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