Friday, July 18, 2014

Picture Book Review - Niño Wrestles the World by Yuyi Morales

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of sharing a presentation on diversity in kidlit with a class of Early Childhood Education students. It was a serious honor to be asked to present, and warmed my heart to see all these future educators so excited about children's lit with diverse characters. The problem, though, was in choosing what books to share with them -- so many great choices, so little space (and time).

So I enlisted Sprout to help me pick, asking him what books we've read that he really liked. And among those he described was today's feature, the absolutely amazing Niño Wrestles the World by Yuyi Morales. I wasn't surprised that he mentioned this one, since we've had it checked out more or less nonstop since it debuted last summer. But I was a bit shocked that I hadn't blogged about it yet. Seriously, I had to check through the archives just to be sure!

Lo and behold, this one slipped through the cracks for us, I guess. Time to right that imbalance pronto. Because, my friends, Niño is one fantastically fun read-aloud and it deserves as wide an audience as it can possibly get. I mean, I dare you to read this one aloud and not collapse in a fit of giggles, just due to the sound effects alone.

The story follows our hero, Niño, who we right away discover is a pretty formidable wrestler in the lucha libre style of wrestling. Don't worry if you're not familiar with the concept - Morales has a very nice author note at the end that will answer your kiddos' questions about this type of wrestling. Suffice to say that lucha libre is pretty over the top, and that's exactly what our hero loves about it. Niño fights against all matter of crazy opponents and defeats them all handily, with plenty of awesome comic-inspired "whunks" and "zzwaps". But in the final measure, there is one pair of foes not even a fearless undie-clad hero can defeat -- his baby sisters!

I asked Sprout what he likes best about this one and he said "everything". I tend to agree. From the fast pace, to the zany opponents, to the colorful backdrops and sprinkling of Spanish phrases throughout, Niño is a total winner. . . even if he can't hold out against two little charmers (but who ever could?).

Niño Wrestles the World by Yuyi Morales, published by Roaring Brook Press
Ages 4-6
Source: Library
Highly recommended

Monday, July 14, 2014

Read Around the World Summer Series

If you haven't been following us on Facebook or Twitter (and why not?!), then you've been missing out. As part of the Multicultural Kid Bloggers group, we're happy to be sharing some terrific picks from the Read Around the World Summer Series. Today's it's our turn, so I've picked one of our favorite picture books set in Africa: Rain School by James Rumford. Read our review here, and hit up your library to find a copy of this one-of-a-kind picture book -- this is a great one to read before your kiddos start school!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

YA Review - Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina

I'm finally getting around to writing reviews of some of those incredible books I read during the 48 Hour Book Challenge a few weeks ago! (It takes me a while, sometimes.) Part of the reason is that I needed to process what I read - my goal during this year's challenge was to maximize my reading time, so I pretty much read straight through, with only a few stopovers on social media and other participants' blogs. And so it was one big happy blur of diverse titles, all of which I needed to digest a bit before I sat down and put fingers to keyboard.

But I definitely don't want to forget about these books, so on with the reviews. First up is a teen pick, Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina. This one caught my attention when it won the Pura Belpre award last year, and kept my attention when it started being challenged for various reasons. (I kind of secretly love when a great book is challenged, because what is a more sure-fire way to guarantee that teenagers read something, than to tell them not to?). So of course I knew this was going to be a 48 Hour Book Challenge title for me, and I'm so glad I included it with my list.

The story begins when Piddy Sanchez finds out that "Yaqui Delgado wants to kick your ass," from some other girl she doesn't even know. Piddy doesn't know Yaqui either -- she's new at the school, hardly knows anyone -- and is equally mystified as to why this unknown stranger would want to beat her up. She's sure she doesn't want trouble, though, so she decides to avoid Yaqui at all costs. And for a while that works, as Piddy focuses on her job, school and the mystery of who her father is and why her mother never speaks of him. But then things with Yaqui start to heat up, in a serious fashion, and suddenly Piddy finds herself doing whatever she can to avoid confrontation and to find a little peace - even if that means acting out in ways she's never thought of before. What will Piddy do to cope, and can she stay out of Yaqui's way without hurting her other relationships?

OK, first of all, let's get out of the way the fact that this title has the word "ass" in it.

Yep, a swear.

If that's a stumbling block for you, well, just stop reading now.

Because if it is, I guarantee you won't want to read the honest, soul-baring novel that carries this name. Yaqui Delgado is a tough book at times, not because of language or situations but because of the real human pain that bleeds through on the pages. Piddy is a character that many kids can relate to, and her struggles are so familiar that I'd venture to guess few high schools don't have a host of Piddys walking their halls. So for me, tough as it might be, this is a book that needs to be shared because I believe it can save the lives of kids who are experiencing Piddy's problems right now.

At its core, Yaqui Delgado is a novel about bullying that stands apart from the pack, because it shows how bullying is a problem that can't be easily solved like the movie-of-the-week wants us to think. Medina doesn't shrink from demonstrating how the conflict with Yaqui, undeserved as it turns out to be, changes Piddy's life in ways large and small. That's the real tragedy, that adults in Piddy's life turn out not to recognize the issue or aren't able to help in any meaningful way. The scary thing is all the little cracks that the bullying creates in Piddy's life, causing her to make choices like pulling away from some people and drawing close to others, all in an attempt to make some sense of this relentless, controlling force. I was moved to tears at some points by Piddy's desperation, and haunted by the idea that this conflict is shaping Piddy's life in ways she will forever feel.

Medina is a powerhouse of an author, one who's not afraid to show the hard truth and pose the difficult questions. There's a complexity here that belies the simple characterization of this as a bullying book - which it is, but so much more also. Though Piddy and Yaqui are both female, both Latina, they are very different, and the conflict between them speaks to concepts of race and gender that run deep within our society. This isn't a simple story and it isn't one that wraps up tidily. But it is a truthful one, a provocative one, and a story that teens and adults need to read and share.

Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina, published by Candlewick
Age 12+
Source: Library
First lines: "'Yaqui Delgado wants to kick your ass.' / A kid named Vanesa tells me this in the morning before school. She springs out with no warning and blocks my way, her textbook held at her chest like a shield. She's tall like me and caramel. I've seen her in the lunchroom, I think. Or maybe just in the halls. It's hard to remember. / Then, just like that, Vanesa disappears into the swell of bodies all around."
Highly recommended

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Picture Book Review - The New Girl...and Me by Jacqui Robbins

We've been thinking a lot about transitions around here lately. For one thing, I'm in the process of transitioning to a new job -- as Collection Development Librarian for the library system I'm currently in. It's absolutely a dream job for me, made even better by the fact that I didn't have to leave the team of folks I already love working with. But as with all new situations it requires a bit of a shift in mindset and workflow, and so I'm between two worlds right at the moment.

Of course, Sprout's about to be in transition himself, as he'll be leaving his beloved preschool behind in the fall when he enters the big time. Kindergarten. I'm in total denial about this, or I was until preschool graduation last night when the director introduced us to the class of 2027. Yeeeeeep. That's a step Mommy's going to have to adjust to gradually -- good things we've got two more months at preschool to get used to the idea.

Transitions are rough for lots of reasons, probably the most significant being that vague fear of the unknown that happens to take hold when you least expect it. I had that in mind when Sprout and I read Jacqui Robbins' The New Girl...and Me, a library pick that we just recently discovered. The story follows a young girl whose class is welcoming a new student. Shakeeta is quiet; all she tells the class by way of introduction is that she has a pet iguana. Our narrator Mia wants to befriend Shakeeta, but she just isn't sure - it can be scary to befriend someone new, after all. Then an incident on the playground leaves both girls on the sidelines, and suddenly Mia works up the courage to reach out. And what she discovers is that sometimes laughter is the best way to bridge the gaps between us.

This is a thoughtful, sensitive story that's as much about being the new child in an already-settled classroom as it is about making friends with a stranger. I love the realness of the story, that there isn't any big dramatic scene but rather a small conflict that kids will really relate to. Being on the sidelines isn't any fun, and of course Shakeeta gets upset, which is what ends up drawing the two girls together. Robbins' skill in telling this story is the way she shoes the quiet strength of friendship, and how relationships can blossom even when there doesn't seem to be much to get them started.

And of course I couldn't talk about this book without mentioning the illustrations by Matt Phelan. At the time this book was done, he was relatively new to the kidlit scene, but of course now he's illustrated books by some of my favorite authors. It's not hard to see why, with his relatable, energetic style that suits the classroom dynamic in this story to a T. There are a few spreads that I find especially poignant: in particular, I love the one-page evolution of the friendship between Mia and Shakeeta, where Phelan shows us the two girls coming together in the space of a walk between playground and school door. It's a great example of the power of words and pictures to work together, the strength of all great picture books.

Making a transition yourself, or anticipating one in the near future? Check out The New Girl...and Me. It's older, so you may need to hit the library, but this is one pitch-perfect picture book that you'll want to read more than once.

The New Girl...And Me by Jacqui Robbins, published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Ages 4-6
Source: Library

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

What Happens When #DadsRead

One of the first posts I wrote when I started this blog was this one, about the power of a reading dad. In that post, I wrote that "not only do kids need to see us read, they need to hear it and be surrounded by it, in an environment that establishes the importance of reading in everyday life, not just for school or because we have to." After all, we can only tell our kids so much, but when we show them, when we model the behavior for them, our actions say more than our words ever can. 

That's especially critical for fathers of young sons, because of the pervasive idea that reading is somehow a behavior more suited for girls than boys. My husband and I met because of books, and some of the best moments in our marriage have come through the shared love of reading. One of the most important things that Hubs and I can give Sprout, in our estimation, is a love of books - because in doing that, we're giving him the power to satisfy his naturally boundless curiosity. We don't see this as a boy-girl issue, but as an issue of opening up the world to Sprout. And what parent doesn't want to do that for their child?

I wrote, in that original post, of the bonding that took place between Sprout and Daddy during those early months at home. Those were special times, when Hubs rocked Sprout to sleep with a bottle and a stack of picture books. In those often-bumpy first days when our family was first starting out, the familiar rhythm of our own childhood favorites soothed us as parents as much as it did Sprout -- maybe more, if you consider that he didn't know the language yet. It cemented a ritual that we always knew we wanted to establish, even before the first round of adoption paperwork was begun: that of bedtime reading, time to cuddle up with a story and ease into rest and relaxation.

Three years later, I can say that the power of a reading dad has remained undiminished in our household. I absolutely credit my husband's love for literature with the fact that Sprout's enthusiasm for books has only grown. The kiddo is as quick to suggest a family trip to the library on a Saturday afternoon as I am -- while Mommy and Sprout check out the picture books, Daddy's amassing a stack of graphic novels, and we all leave with bookbags bursting. One of Sprout's favorite spots to visit is a local comic shop, where the boys play pinball and arcade games, then check out the racks for the new adventures of Spider-Man or Super Dinosaur. Some nights we read a chapter book at bedtime, other nights Sprout asks for a comic book (and that's usually Daddy's province, since nobody does the Scooby-Doo voice like Daddy!).

I'm so grateful that my husband loves to read and shares that with Sprout. But not all dads are fully aware of the importance of reading, so Zoobean and The Good Men Project have teamed up to promote the culture of reading dads. This is a great initiative and something that's very close to our hearts.

How can you help? Share your stories of what happens when dads read to and with their kids. Share your photos too - post them on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook, and be sure to tag them #dadsread. And tonight, when your kiddos are putting on their pjs, pick out books to share some special #dadsread time together.