PASHMINA by Nidhi Chanani: Heart-Warming New Graphic Novel

December 11, 2017

Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani

Meet Priyanka Das, called Pri by her friends and family. She lives in the United States with her single mom, and works hard to juggle two cultures and worlds, as she learns about her Indian heritage and comes to terms with being Indian-American.  Lots of mystery as the story unfolds.  Why did her mother abandon her life in India?  What is the mysterious shadow that follows Pri?  And the mysteries multiply when Pri discovers a beautiful  old pashmina shawl in one of her mother’s suitcases. Wrapped up in the shawl, Pri is transported to a colorful and vibrant vision of India that only furthers her interest in the country and her mother’s past.  The art is as beautiful as the writing and story-telling.  A truly wonderful book for young teens making choices in their lives.  But I can sincerely recommend the book for all ages.

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TURTLES ALL THE WAY DOWN by John Green

December 2, 2017

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

Like most John Green fans, I have been eagerly awaiting his latest novel.  And I wasn’t disappointed.  It was as amazing as his other books, but also one of the most difficult I have read in quite a while.  The main character, Asa, is delightful in many ways:  creative, brilliant, brave.  But she is suffering so  from her mental illness that it makes for very tough reading reading.  John Green does the almost impossible, by making her a compelling and mostly sympathetic character, and yet it is so hard to be in her mind and in her skin as we read about her many compulsions.  Perhaps heartbroken is the word that best describes my emotional state as the novel unfolded.

But, surprisingly, there are such funny moments, and such compelling dialogue that I couldn’t put the book down.  The teens are realistic, honest, brave, and very endearing.  Not only is it a beautiful story of friendship and understanding, it is also a fascinating mystery story filled with twists and turns.

I look forward to deep conversations with the teens and older adults that are reading the book.  Highly recommended!


New Magazines for Girls

November 25, 2017
I’ve always made room for magazines in my reading diet.  While they may not hold a space on my bookshelves, you’ll find them littered around my house, on the kitchen table, coffee table, nightstand, and often in my go-to backpack for trips where I need something fast to grab that will soothe my reading addiction when I am not near a ready stash of books.  Right now, my two favorites are The Sun  and The New Yorker, (though I am not above Rolling Stone or People if they are offered to me).   While I have on-line subscriptions to a couple of journals, there’s something about the tangible feel of a magazine that is hard to replace.  When my kids were little, I got them subscriptions to Ranger Rick and Cobblestone, which they seemed to enjoy at the time, though always as a second choice to the books they were immersed in.
But the benefits have been on my mind lately, so I thought I would mention two new magazines that I think have the potential to be great reading experiences for the girls in my life–and maybe for yours as well.

I just heard about–and got a subscription to–Kazoo to have on hand for my friends and family who are the intended audience:  girls!

I should receive my copy any day, so I can’t yet review it from actual experience, but in case you want to get a subscription as a Christmas gift, the website has this  write-up on the latest issue:
Kazoo #07 is so full of light, it practically glows. In it, you’ll lead astronaut Peggy Whitson through the stars, overcome any fear of the dark with author Meg Wolitzer, spot differences in “a lab of one’s own” with cartoonist Alison Bechdel, fly to the sun with heliophysicist Nicola Fox, Ph.D., dive into glowing seas with marine biologist Séverine Martini, Ph.D., spread light with author Kate DiCamillo, learn about rainbows with atmospheric scientist Alison Nugent, Ph.D., make stained glass candy inspired by artist Judith Schaechter, build lanterns with Secret Lantern Society’s Naomi Singer, make a sunny breakfast with Pies ‘n’ Thighs chef Sarah Sanneh, and celebrate lighthouse keeper Ida Lewis in a comic by Rebecca Mock. Plus, do a secret code, a dot-to-dot, and so much more. (64 pages, no ads. On shelves–and, for subscribers, in your mailbox–in December.)

It looks pretty amazing, and like some very cool women contribute. . .

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I’m also checking out Bright Lite Magazine.

It’s by girls, for girls.  I’ll update when I have held these magazines in my hands, pored over the pages, and read the articles!


MALALA’S MAGIC PENCIL by Malala Yousafzai, illustrated Kerascoet

November 18, 2017

Malala’s Magic Pencil by Malala Yousafzai, illustrated by Kerascoet

Malala is one of the most famous young women in the world, and justly so.  The youngest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, she is renown for her courage and her devotion to the good of the people and her belief that all girls everywhere deserve an education. Her astounding book I am Malala:  How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World remains an international best seller.  (See our review of the Young Reader edition).  And now she has teamed up with extraordinary illustrator Kerascoet to create an inspiring picture book for all ages.  The watercolors create a compelling soft palette that draws young–and older–readers into the story.  So many threads in this book that call for deeper exploration:  the importance of standing up to violence, of educating girls, of recognizing and helping poverty in communities. . . and of courage.  The “magic pen” itself is also an important message, as it begins with Malala using the pen to draw a magic lock that keeps her brothers out of her room, and moves to drawing a world without war and conflict, where girls and boys are treated as equals.  The violence against her is treated simply and appropriately for the young audience: the page is black and the text reads:  “My voice became so powerful that the dangerous men tried to silence me. But they failed.”  The danger and hardship of Malala’s life and chosen path are framed by Malala’s overwhelmingly positive message of idealism and her belief in the goodness of people. Depending on the age of the kids you are reading the book with, the book can be an invitation to take them deeper into Malala’s story and experiences.  Let us know how your readers respond.


Rethinking Thanksgiving Through Picture Books

November 11, 2017

We’ve already published a list of children’s books that give a more compete version to “the Thanksgiving story” than the current predominant myth (see Thanksgiving Books With a Difference).

This year, we want to invite you to add to this list by checking out the suggested picture books from Indian Country Today, who recommend 5 Picture Books That Set the Record Straight.

The title of the piece is important, (“Beyond the So-Called First Thanksgiving “) and we recommend that you read the entire piece and bookmark Indian Country Today as a terrific resource.

If these books are new to you, we hope you’ll add them to your Thanksgiving bookshelf that counter the narrative of the first Thanksgiving.


November 13th is World Kindness Day: Picture Books to Read and Share

November 5, 2017

World Kindness Day is approaching, and what could be more important to remember and celebrate than acts of kindness and compassion?  For special inspiration, you might turn to the World Kindness Day website.  And then, settle down with our list of picture books for all the members of your family and community to enjoy–and to take to heart.

Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by E.B. Lewis

A picture book to spark deep conversations among a whole classroom or family.  In this poignant tale, a new girl to school, Maya, is introduced to the class, but she is not welcomed or talked to.  The story is told through the lens of Chloe, who is part of a clique who not only refuse to accept Maya, but call her “Never New” because of her hand-me-down clothes. Maya is cheerful and independent, but her offers to play are rebuffed by Chloe and her friends. The writing is subtle and provocative, rather than stereotypical bullying and good and bad guys.  No judgement is stated.  At the end of the book, the teacher invites the class to throw a pebble in the water and watch the ripples to symbolize an act of kindness they have shared wth the class. It is then that Chloe realizes that Maya is no longer there as her family has had to move again, and she ponders if she had ever been kind to the new girl.The watercolor illustrations are a perfect complement to the writing, and show a rural diverse classroom.  I appreciate the attention to detail, especially the expressions on the faces of the children.

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Most People by Michael Leannah, illustrated by Jennifer E. Morris

The central theme of this book is an important one:  most people are kind.  Yes, it’s important to teach children to be careful in a sometimes scary world, but it’s also vital to believe in the kindness that most people harbor for others.  The book follows two families through their day, interacting with people in their community who show simple acts of kindness. The sense of community and messages of kindness embedded in the story are well-expressssed and never preachy.  The book also explains with simple reasoning that people who do bad things can change ― “there is a seed of goodness inside [each person] waiting to sprout.” The author’s note acknowledges that while children need to be careful of strangers, they also need to know that most people are good, kind, and helpful. Our children don’t deserve to be overly fearful of the world despite what they may see in the media. The illustrations celebrate a diversity of race, religion, gender, and class.

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A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Phillip C. Stead, illustrated by Erin E. Stead

This is one you probably know since it is a “new” classic and winner of the Caldecott Award. But it’s worth returning to on World Kindness Day.  Amos is such a caring zookeeper, truly friends with all the animals, showing them care and compassion.  When he is sick, they return the favor.  A lovely and heart-warming book of compassion, empathy, and the power of kind gestures of friendship.  The text is one kids are drawn to, noting patterns, and recurring objects and characters.  Some of the best artwork you’ll see, too.

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Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena, illustrated by Christian Robinson

We love this book and have declared it one of the very best picture books that came out in 2015.  Oh, and so did a lot of other people:

Winner of the 2016 Newbery Medal
A 2016 Caldecott Honor Book
A 2016 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Book
A New York Times Book Review Notable Children’s Book of 2015
A Wall Street Journal Best Children’s Book of 2015

And that’s only the tip of the iceberg of this fine book’s medals and awards. While it’s a simple plot line, it is so lyrically written and beautifully illustrated, I guarantee you’ll get goosebumps.  A young boy and his grandmother take the bus after church each week.  At the stops along the way, they meet people of different cultures and talk about noticing the world around and being thankful. I really love that it talks about looking  closely at what you have and opportunities to give to others in a world where it easy to focus on what we don’t have.

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THE WOLF, THE DUCK AND THE MOUSE by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen

October 28, 2017

The Wolf, the Duck and the Mouse by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen

How did the publishing date slip past me? The book came out October 10th, and I just read it now, 2 full weeks later.  I am always on the lookout for the latest by this talented and funny duo.  If you were like me, and weren’t aware of this delightful picture book, don’t delay.  Time to add it to your classroom library or home bookshelf.  It’s that good.  As usual, the plot is decidedly off-beat.  It seems a duck, then a mouse get swallowed by a wolf.  But the duck has a courageous and optimistic outlook: “I may have been swallowed,” says the duck, “but I have no intention of being eaten.”  Turns out with a bit of scavenging, the duck has turned the wolf’s insides into quite a delightful place, cozy and inviting with good food–and with the arrival of the mouse–great company.  Very witty, both in words and pictures.  The eyes are expressions of the creatures’ inner thoughts, including the hunter later in the tale, relaying so much of the emotion as well as the irony of the story.  And speaking of the hunter, how can the duck and the mouse save their happy home when the hunter tracks down the wolf, who trips over a tree root?  You’ll have to read it to find out.  Vivian, my five-year-old friend, loved this book so much that when I finished reading it, she immediately told me to “Read it again!”