Thursday, June 7, 2018

Hello Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly

Newbery Award winning book. You can tell when an author is talented when they can mesh together a series of themes in a book without making it seem convoluted, preachy or otherwise.

Virgil Salinas is from a loving family of Filipino descent and sometimes feels a little overlooked. For starters, his older twin brothers are sport-loving and outgoing. His mother calls him Turtle and at times he feels like a turtle putting his head in his shell, especially when it comes to his regular run-ins with his tormentor Chet Bullens. He also wants to make himself known to a classmate, but is too shy to approach her.

Lola, Virgil's awesome grandma dispenses her own brand of homespun wisdom and advice to Virgil. Luckily he can also count on a friend to help with the second of these problems and it is while trying to do this that something unfortunate occurs. It is then that we see just big people's hearts are and how the universe works things out in its own time.

If you've read this blog at all you know how much I absolutely love finding books featuring diverse characters. Kids from different backgrounds need to see themselves represented. This book has several which is refreshing, I won't give away some of it if you haven't read it however. I recommend this book for ages 9 and up. Some read alikes are Lynda Hunt's Fish in a Tree,  E.L. Konigsburg's The View from Saturday and Sarah Weeks' Save Me a Seat.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Summer book lists for young readers


It is summer once again and whether your library is doing a summer reading program, a summer learning program or anything in between if you spend any time at the reference desk you will be asked to recommend a book (or two, or three or ten).

Even if you read a lot of jfic this is sometimes tricky since some readers red so voraciously that even after you produce good books with a flourish you're met with those dreaded words, "I've already read it." Thus, I scoured the corners of the web for some good recommendations and what follows are three of the ones that I found to be the broadest and most useful.

Professional organizations usually have some good resources and often times you can find some great annotated lists. Every year, ALSC (Association of Library Service to Children) provides a great summer reading list that contains some of the best books published recently. This year's list is no different and is handily divided up into categories for the different reading levels.  The 6-8th grade list has a few of the books that this blog has reviewed and I am pleased to see that it features many diverse titles. It is important for readers from all backgrounds to see themselves represented in literature.

Mental floss is not a site that I think of when I think of book lists-they do have some awesome fact lists-but last week or thereabouts they published a list that was compiled by the Children's Book Committee at Bank Street College of Education. What I like about this list is that it features both fiction and nonfiction titles from both the U.S. and Canada and there are very thought-provoking titles on the lists for older readers as well.

Hashtag lit (I made that term up) is big right now as people are inspired by trending hashtags to search out literature that goes with their personal ethos or perhaps to learn more about a topic. School Library Journal recently published a post about buzzworthy nonfiction.  The titles on this list deal with gender inequality, STEM and maker spaces and quite a few other topics.

These are but a few lists, there are many more out there that are worth a look. Feel free to share them in the comments and have a great summer!

Thursday, May 24, 2018

The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora by Pablo Cartaya

Image result for the epic fail of arturo
It's summer and Arturo Zamora one of the younger members of the close-knit Zamora clan is excited because he will get to hang out with his best buds as well as be around La Cocina, the restaurant started by his Abuela (and which means "the kitchen" in Spanish) where his mom is now the manager. Arturo is old enough to do a real job now- assistant prep kitchen dishwasher.

That's not all, his mom's goddaughter is in town and she seems different than he remembered. For starters, whenever he's around her Arturo's stomach gets queasy and his palms get sweaty.

To make matters worse a shady developer called Wilfrido Pipo has come to town and starts throwing gifts and swag around while extolling the virtues of a new place he plans to develop if city council approves, Pipo Place. Pipo Place will be unlike anything seen before in their little corner of Coral Grove, but it might mean the end of La Cocina.

Arturo and his family are in for the fight of their lives. I recommend this book for ages 9 and up. Some read alikes are Lucky for Good by Susan Patron, Free Baseball by Sue Corbett and All Four Stars by Tara Dairman.




Thursday, May 17, 2018

Rafi and Rosi Pirates! by Lulu Delacre

Rafi and Rosi Pirates! By Lulu Delacre
Image result for rafi and rosi pirates

This book for beginning readers contains three stories of  the adventures of two young frogs who live in the Caribbean, specifically the island of enchantment, Puerto Rico. This is the third instalment in the Rafi and Rosi books by distinguished Puerto Rican author Lulu Delacre (a three-time Pura Belpre award honoree). On her website Delacre states that she believes in authoring books that empower Latino children by giving them a sense of pride in themselves and in their culture. This book holds true to that as it playfully exposes readers to two young, playful frogs whose adventures occur in a culturally authentic setting. Older brother Rafi and his sister Rosi get into all sorts of adventures but learn valuable lessons about themselves, their history and culture along the way.  


The book contains a glossary of terms in the front which I think some parents and caregivers will find very helpful as they translate the expressions used and . I especially liked the Did You Know section towards the back of the book which is a treasure trove of  information that parents and caregivers can choose to share with young readers. The facts in this section can also be used as a jumping off point for classroom discussion, social studies units or even library craft programs for Hispanic Heritage Month and the like.

Rafi and Rosi are frogs, specifically coqui frogs, the coqui being  a small frog that is native to Puerto Rico and though small, its distinctive cry can be heard throughout the island around dusk. For Puerto Ricans the sound of the coqui is iconic and one of the things Puerto Ricans miss most about life away from the island. Rafi and Rosi are very apt representations of coquies as their cries can be heard all over San Juan.

One of the must see sights when one visits the island of Puerto Rico is Castillo San Felipe del Morro, also known as El Morro  El Morro is the backdrop for the three stories in this book and in real life is one of the three largest and oldest forts in the Caribbean and has been designated a World Heritage Site by Unesco and such is very well preserved. When one visits the fort, the tour guides do a fantastic job of bringing the fort and the role it played in Puerto Rico’s history to life. The author does  a wonderful job of using the lore and history of the fort to create a playground where young children’s imaginations come to life.

Delacre includes historical figures such as Cofresi (Roberto Cofresí, a famous Puerto Rican pirate, who was very much a Robin Hood type figure on the island during the period of Spanish colonial rule and for whom various caves, beaches and other hideouts have been named in Puerto Rico). I for one, found the small detail about Cofresí intriguing and this motivated me to search for more information on this pirate.

Some Puerto Ricans use what is known in linguistics as a “code-switch” i.e. alternating between two or more languages (Puerto Rico has been a colony of the United States since 1898 and Puerto Ricans US citizens since 1917) and Delacre uses some of that in this book as well. Overall, the Spanish used is accurate and is comprised of simple vocabulary that would be easily accessible to a young reader. In the text, Delacre uses word sandwiches to ensure that meaning is understood, e.g. “Sí,” said Rafi, “Yes.”

Many books in the current book market are written from by Mexican American or Chicano authors, which is understandable since this group is one of the largest ethnicities in the United States, and thus feature cultural elements germane to that culture.  Puerto Ricans however regularly migrate to the mainland United States and are a vibrant and important part of the community. Rafi and Rosi, for me represent a welcome addition to the canon of books written for young readers who may be of Puerto Rican descent. This is not to say that the book will be foreign to children that aren’t Puerto Rican, I think that the opposite holds true- young readers of many cultures will enjoy the wonderful adventures related here and will want to learn more. Delacre, in presenting Puerto Rico through the eyes of two young, funny, charming frogs has helped give the island some very positive exposure.


In summary, this book would be a wonderful addition to a classroom library, public library or personal collection. It is well written, accessible and perhaps most importantly, culturally authentic. The previous books in the series are Rafi and Rosi and Rafi and Rosi Carnival!  This book is recommended for readers in grades 1 to 3 and some read alikes would be See Fred Run by Kevin Bolger, That’s My Book! And other Stories by Salina Yoon and What is Chasing Duck by Jan Thomas.  The book is also available in a Spanish edition, Rafi y Rosi ¡Piratas!  which would be a great read for heritage speakers of Spanish as well as children enrolled in bilingual programs and so forth.

This review can also be seen on Anansesem's website 

Also click here for some then and now pics showing Puerto Rico and how the island is coping. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Black Panther: The Young Prince by Ronald L. Smith

Image result for black panther the young prince  All things Black Panther and Marvel are the rage right now.  My coworkers put this book on display to capitalize on the buzz around the movie earlier this year.

The movie starts in media res and we meet T'Challa as an adult, fully formed Black Panther. In this middle grade novel, Smith re imagines life for a younger version of the Wakandan prince. T'Challa is not the Black Panther yet and in truth, he is still learning about himself and his role as a prince. This means sitting in on long ceremonies and dealing with his father's adopted son, Hunter. He can count n one friend however, M'Baku with whom he can do boyish escapades.

When there is some turmoil in the kingdom, T'Challa's father decides to send him to Chicago under an assumed identity. M'Baku is sent to accompany the young prince and soon the two boys find themselves finding their way in the various social hierarchies in the school. As in any school there are various cliques but one such clique is weird and a little dangerous, just like their leader Gemini Jones. That's not all, weird stuff starts happening at school and T'Challa must decide if he should use his Wakandan technology and risk revealing his true identity.

Overall I think this is a great read for middle grades and I especially like that it features young people of color. Some read alikes are Junior Hero Blues by J.K. Pendragon,  V is for Villain by Peter Moore and Sidekicked by John David Anderson and Powerless by Matthew Cody.


Thursday, April 5, 2018

The Boggart Fights Back by Susan Cooper

Image result for the boggart strikes backA bombastic, super rich man who always gets his way and whose last name is a five letter word ending in T...does sound like anyone you know?  Mr. Trout is a big businessman who has come to beautiful Scotland in order to build a new resort complete with golf courses a marina for yachts and so forth. The development will bring lots of jobs as well, or so he claims.

Old Angus Cameron doesn't believe it and neither do his grandkids, Allie and Jay who are visiting from Canada. Granda is a stubborn old Scotsman who loves the land and doesn't want to see development just for the sake of it; he especially doesn't approve of Mr. Trout and his way of doing business.

Mr. Trout doesn't back down from anyone or anything as the children and Granda soon discover. The Boggart, an ancient friendly spirit, along with some of his friends are soon called in and the hijinks begin.

The Scottish countryside and Scottish mannerisms are well depicted, so well indeed that I had to double check to see if Cooper was Scottish (she isn't).  I also liked the conservation theme that ran through the novel. Young ones are smarter than we give them credit for and will probably decipher that on their own.

Another takeaway for me was that as adults we sometimes (for good reason) lose sight of the innocence and wonder of childhood. Cooper conveys the wonder of both scientist father Tim and Granda upon realizing that the Boggart is back. This is actually the third book in the Boggart series. There are also The Boggart and The Boggart and the Monster. Some read alikes are Beyond the Kingdoms by Chris Colfer, Talons of Power by Tui Sutherland and Kelly Barnhill's awesome The Girl Who Drank the Moon.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Lists of books and crafts for Black History Month

Things have been hectic lately but I still wanted to drop a short post today highlighting some great  lists I found. I like lists as they usually enable me to pick and choose items. Even the worst list has at least one valuable tidbit. So here goes...

This PBS list provides a short summary as well as some themes the book explores. The books are written from a variety of perspectives and thus are a wonderful tool to help young ones of all ethnic origins.

It's not always easy to find books about Black heroes so this buzzfeed list is timely and very useful. I will be the first to admit that I don't frequent buzzfeed's website (the few times I have, I found it to be frivolous) but this list has made me view the editors in a different light. Activists, ball players and chefs are just some of the folks featured.





                    Image result for black history kids




Do you have a middle grade reader?  How about this list featuring middle grade books that feature the black experience- from slavery to civil rights to life in the so-called post racial era. I've read the excellent One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia but I need to add more of the books here to my to-read list. I would like to see some more boy friendly titles added to it as well.


If you are teaching at a preschool, after school center or simply want some crafts to celebrate Black History month, this site has 29 crafts (one for every day and one extra). I would add that several of the crafts reference Pinterest so that may be another resource to find similar things.


Last but not least, one of my go-to sites, education.com has compiled a comprehensive list of activities for Black History Month (everything from making a Jackie Robinson baseball card to making a shekere). Check it out here.