Monday, August 5, 2019

Mary Wears What She Wants, by Keith Negley

I wasn't going to write about this book, primarily because there are countless children's books out there either explicitly about feminism or with main characters who are brave, smart girls.  And we're lucky that at an age when many children start to segregate themselves by gender, my son still has many female friends.  He remains gobsmacked by the idea that any of these hilarious, interesting, fun girls he knows would ever be treated differently than a boy; the best player on his basketball team is a girl and in his eyes Serena Williams is the "best tennis player in the world!"  However, there was something about this book - my son won't let me return it to the library and at a time when he mostly wants to read chapter books he keeps picking this off the shelf at night.

The story itself is simple.  Mary and the other girls are all expected to wear skirts, all the time.  My son found this so outrageously shocking the first time we read the story that he actually stared at me with his mouth hanging open!  However, one day Mary wears pants, only to be met with outrage.  After a talk with her dad, she wears them again the next day, but happily discovers that some of the the other girls are now wearing pants as well.

There is a page in the back discussing Mary Edwards Walker, who the story is based on.  I think that this is part of the appeal, how grounded the story is in reality and how clear cut the disparate treatment is.  His favorite part was discussing how Dr. Walker was a surgeon in the Civil War and was captured by the Confederates (but still lived to tell the tale).

BUY HERE (or, even better, request at your local library!)

Edited to recommend a similar book, Born to Ride by Larissa Theule.  I'm not going to do a separate post because both my son and I far preferred Mary Wears What She Wants, but this is also a historically accurate story about how girls were initially discouraged from riding bikes because of the risk of "bicycle face" - essentially, that the strain of riding a bicycle could potentially disfigure a girl's face.  We checked this out of the library and read it several times, and if your child is into the history of feminism this is a worthwhile and entertaining book.

Friday, June 14, 2019

The Great Cake Mystery, by Alexander McCall Smith

Precious Ramotswe, an observant young girl in Botswana, is positive she would make a fine detective.  Luckily for her, a mystery quickly presents itself - a piece of cake goes missing at school.  Precious avoids jumping to conclusions about the culprit (unlike some of her classmates, to her dismay), and slowly pieces together that in fact the monkeys are the guilty ones!

We were thrilled to discover this easy to read chapter book set in Botswana - we always keep our eyes out for books set in any African country and our son (5 years old) was instantly engaged.  He guessed early on that the monkeys had stolen the cake - but this only made him want to keep reading (to confirm his hunch) and we finished the book quickly over the course of two days.  This is a great book for kids just getting into chapter books and for parents who are sick of poorly written easy reader books with annoying characters and dull plots (or is that just me?).

BUY HERE (or even better, request at your local library!)

Edited to add that we've since read The Mystery of Meerkat Hill and The Mystery of the Missing Lion and that my son was equally thrilled by these mysteries, while I was thrilled by how the author thoughtfully wove in lessons about kindness and poverty.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Desmond Cole Ghost Patrol Series, by Andrew Miedoso

Andres Miedoso moves next door to Desmond Cole and shortly thereafter, and somewhat reluctantly, finds himself part of the Ghost Patrol.  The town of Kersville is filled with not-too-frightening ghosts, zombies, and other odd creatures and best friends Andres and Desmond seemingly can't go anywhere without bumping into something scary, though at the end of the books the duo always ends of befriending these initially scary creatures. 

Someone recommended these to me when I was searching for easy, fun chapter books with a main character who wasn't white, and when I brought the first one home from the library my son was thrilled and asked to read it immediately.  It wasn't until the end of the first book that he casually asked if Desmond was black like him.  Race isn't discussed in the books, but based on illustrations Desmond is black and based on Andres Miedoso's name he is Latino (the author's name is also Andres Miedoso and his bio notes that he returns to Kersville as needed to visit Desmond - which my son found thrilling).  This series is EXACTLY what we wanted - exciting, plot-driven books that are always fun to read and just happen to feature children of color as the main characters.  We've read the first 5 books in the series in the last two weeks; sadly there are only 7 available currently but there are 2 more slated to be released shortly and I hope this series continues for a long time!

BUY HERE (or request at your local library!)

Friday, March 22, 2019

Not Norman, by Kelly Bennett

I've been so focused on writing about newer library books that we're into that I neglected a long-time favorite we just came across again! 

Not Norman follows the story of a young black boy who desperately wants a pet, but is not so thrilled to receive a goldfish for his birthday.  He has various plans to get rid of Norman, but in the process finds himself enjoying Norman's company.  It's a straightforward well told story that we both enjoyed reading over and over, and one that I would highly recommend to all families.  Absolutely no downsides to this wonderful book!

BUY HERE (or request at your local library!)

Sunday, March 17, 2019

The Bat Boy & His Violin, by Gavin Curtis

Reginald, a young black boy who excels at the violin, lives with a father who prefers baseball, and in fact manages the Dukes - a team in the Negro National League.  His father signs him up to be bat boy, a task Reginald is largely uninterested in.  However, it turns out that the players love Reginald's music and it even seems to inspire them to play better! 

This book was a natural fit for my sports (and music) obsessed son.  It does require that your child have a basic understanding of discrimination - the book is set in 1948, when baseball teams are becoming integrated but at the same time the Dukes aren't able to find a hotel to sleep in the night before their big game (with one clerk stating "We don't exactly cotton to coloreds sleepin' in our beds").  If your child loves Jackie Robinson as much as mine, this will deepen their understanding of his bravery and historical significance.

An added bonus is that this book is both written and illustrated by black men!

BUY HERE (or request at your local library!)

Thursday, March 7, 2019

I Am Jazz, by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings

I grabbed this at the library, grateful for a book that would help explain what it means to be transgender but at the same time honestly not expecting much (given that we haven't generally liked many children's books written by celebrities - though Jazz Jennings is perhaps better viewed as an activist).  However, I was pleasantly surprised by this story!  While there isn't really a story - there is a clear narrative of Jazz's experience as a transgender child and my son really, really just got it on the first reading.  

One minor caveat - the book does present gender very simplistically, in that it seems to point to Jazz's interests in princesses, mermaid costumes, and dresses (versus trucks or tools) as a reason that she is a girl.  Problematic when my son is at an age where he is starting to come home from school and make pronouncements like "I hate princesses" (despite his obsession with Moana).  And while these may be specific things that Jazz is (and is not) interested in I didn't want to convey the message to my son that girls like these things and boys like these other things, and so I ended up changing a few of the parts of the book when I read it aloud to my son.  However, overall this book is an excellent introduction to what transgender means for younger readers.  

BUY HERE (or request at your local library!)

Friday, January 18, 2019

Wild About You, by Judy Sierra

Another cautious recommendation for a book that touches on adoption.  Cautious because there are many problematic elements (as there nearly always are), but a recommendation nonetheless because there are also some wonderful lessons that I haven't seen elsewhere. 

In Wild About You, all the animals are having babies!  Except for the tree kangaroo and the pandas - who desperately want babies and even attempt asking the crocodiles if they can have theirs.  A zookeeper offers up an abandoned egg and while all of the birds refuse to adopt it (saying it's too small or they don't have space), the tree kangaroo steps forward.  Eventually, out hatches a penguin.  The tree kangaroo is surprised but loves him completely, while acknowledging that she needs help from other animals to raise her penguin "because penguins eat fishes."  And the community steps up!  The penguins bring fish, the flamingos invite the penguin over for a playdate, but the bond remains between the penguin and her adoptive mother.  Meanwhile, the pandas adopt a kitten they find and similarly, the tigers bring fresh milk and the meerkats set up playdates.  The lesson of the book is summed up at the end: "To bring up a baby . . . IT TAKES THE WHOLE ZOO." 

Obviously, there are problems with this narrative - the big two being focusing entirely on the deep desire of the parents for a child (and ignoring the child's loss and point of view) and the refusal of the other animals to adopt the egg.  However, as a adoptive parent, and in particular a parent with a transracially adopted child, I really appreciated that the book celebrated adoptive animals reaching out to other animals who were better suited to help their child when it was necessary.  There is a nice parallel to best practices for adoptive families, as they reach out to people of the same race of their child, as well as finding a community of other adoptive families and adopted individuals for their child to relate to. 

BUY HERE (or request at your local library!)

Mary Wears What She Wants, by Keith Negley

I wasn't going to write about this book, primarily because there are countless children's books out there either explicitly about ...