Picture Book Review: How Mamas Love Their Babies by Juniper Fitzgerald

How Mamas Love Their BabiesHow Mamas Love Their Babies written by Juniper Fitzgerald, illustrated by Elise Peterson

From Goodreads: Illustrating different ways that mothers provide for their children—including dancing at a strip club—this children’s book is the first to depict a sex-worker parent. By introducing and normalizing the idea of bodily labor, it provides an expanded notion of working mothers overall, and challenges the idea that only some types of work result in good or appropriate parenting.

I already hear the arguments about not having this book on the kids shelves in libraries. And they’re all nonsense. Parents who work to provide for their kids deserve to be celebrated no matter how they do that. If you’re uncomfortable reading about a mother who dances to put food on the table and care for their children, you should look long and hard at your biases (also if you think you’re a feminist and still don’t like sex work you’re probably a SWERF).

I loved the book because it celebrates mothers who work and mothers who stay home, and the myriad things mothers do to care for their children. There are pilots, farmers, house cleaners, artists, office workers, and dancers. Parents provide for their kids in the ways that they can and sex work is legitimate work. Entertainment is legitimate work. The book doesn’t get graphic about what a mother who dances all night might be doing or not doing making it an age-appropriate representation of the variety of jobs moms hold to put food on the table, shoes on their kids’ feet, and a roof over their heads.

It’s hard work being a parent (and a mom)* and I love that this book recognizes that and explains that it is because of this hard work that moms “helps their babies grow” and “helps their babies thrive”. There are plenty of books out there that present this syrupy, saccharine picture of motherhood. Books that glorify the self sacrificing that can come with motherhood. A picture that essentially upholds the white supremacy derivative patriarchy. I’m not saying some of those books haven’t hit me right in the feels, but they also feel kind of like they’re indoctrinating our boys to expect women to be nurturing and subservient and our girls to be those things. How Mamas Love Their Babies points out that being a mom is hard work and we do that hard work for the good of our children without making us seem like saints or like this is the only value we bring to the world.

I was also really drawn to this book for the illustrations. They’re this collage of vintage black and white photographs, many of which have been cut up and colored on, paper and that tomato soup colored texture you see in the background of the cover. I think the texture really ties it all together when it might feel a little all over the place. The photos are equal parts sweet and charming and real and, even better, they feature a variety of people- Black, brown, and White. I especially love the collages that incorporate women holding signs at protests/rallies. Signs that read “We need day care centers” and “Unfair to strippers”.

This is the book I want to be reading on Mother’s Day with my girls. And, you know what? It was. And I explained what a stripper was to my older daughter. And I personally felt validated by this book.

So, I know this book is going to be a hard sell in a lot of libraries. I know. Remember I quit my last job over a book about immigration and refugees. Sex workers are something that are even more taboo and stigmatized. That is also exactly why it needs to be on our shelves. Kids need books that celebrate mothers in this way and they need to see that all work mothers do is legitimate and good whether or not their moms dance all night in special shoes or go to the office from 9-5. If you work in a public library you won’t know what all your parents do for a living, so you may very well have sex workers with children in your population. Quite frankly the same is true in many school libraries too. To librarians in private school libraries, this is one of those times that you are going to have to stand up for representation. You can’t be fine with books that glorify settler colonialism, but not be okay with books that show the dignity of working parents regardless of their profession. Plus, how validating for those parents and children to finally see their families in a book.

*I’m a little torn using the term motherhood because I know not all mothers identify as female or as mothers, but the book has mother in the title, refers to mothers throughout the text, and uses pictures of people who present very female. I’m kind of going along with that…but I also recognize that might be leaving out other folks and I’m not quite sure how to incorporate that experience into a book that so specifically talks about mothers.

Final note: If you do purchase this book, please post a review of it on Amazon. This will help other folks find the book and know that it’s worth purchasing. If you use any other book services like GoodReads or your local library’s online catalog be sure to post a review there too! And if your local library doesn’t have a copy, request that they purchase one.

Middle Grade Review: Ma Llorona by Maya Gonzalez

Ma LloronaMa Llorona by Maya Gonzalez

From Goodreads: In times filled with terror and torment, one woman’s haunting grief rises from beyond to become the people’s howl in the dark. Sometimes a heartache is so great, it belongs to everyone. Sometimes a healing is so powerful it holds within it the spark to change everything….if we’re ready. A queer reclamation of the classic Mexican ghost story, La Llorona, spanning from MesoAmerica 1500 to present day San Francisco.

I have liked every book I have gotten my hands on from Reflection Press, but this one was just beautiful. I do not think I will be able to do it justice in describing and reviewing it, but here goes.

It’s definitely a ghost story, but not in the way I have typically thought of ghost stories. There is no creep factor, no horror (except for the horror of genocide which is touched on but not dwelt on and isn’t really the focus of the ghost part of this story), and it’s probably not the La Llorona you’ve heard of.

At its heart, Ma Llorona is a love story. Texocamiltic and Cualtzin live in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica where the two women fall in love and are planning a life together. But just as Cualtzin embarks on her last journey with her cohort of warriors, Texocamiltic is raped by a “pale man”, who the reader recognizes as the first wave of colonizers. In the absence of her Love and broken by the trauma, Texocamiltic transforms into Chocatiuh, a weeping woman, has twins and ultimately is drawn into the river with the babies where they all drown. Time passes and she returns as a blue light, tied to the river. Eventually she meets Cualtzin as an old woman who encourages her to explore the world using the rivers as passage. She spends the next centuries exploring, sleeping, and seeking out Cualtzin on the other side. Centuries later she meets a girl in San Francisco and her spirit helps Xochitl find her voice to help others still impacted by colonization and oppression.

While love is certainly a piece of this story, it is not the syrupy commercialized love we tend to think of or see portrayed in romance novels. This is a love across time, between women, but also between the universe, the land, and the people. People who were and are brutalized and marginalized. The love and love story do not end or even completely revolve around the self-absorbed love between to people infatuated with one another (not that Texocamiltic and Cualtzin are).

This book is perfect for showing readers that love doesn’t necessarily mean pining away for your soulmate or spending eternity lamenting the life you didn’t get together. It shows how many forms love can take and how true love between people can empower one person to go beyond themselves even when they are not physically alive. While Texocamiltic is heart broken over the loss of the life she thought she would have with Cualtzin, she doesn’t spend eternity mourning that. They do get a love scene, but it’s ancillary to the rest of the story of how they go into the world with their love for each other. The story also shows how folklore/mythology can be a powerful tool in activism. How it lends hope and light in dark times, brings comfort when things are bleak, and keeps community alive when white supremacy is trying to eradicate it.

Gonzalez is also clearly a poet as the language in the book is so poetically beautiful. She isn’t wordy, but you see the story, characters, and world so clearly through her use of language. The spare passages bring to mind such rich detail. It’s a book you will want to re-read passages from just to roll the words around in your mind feeling their textures and exploring their layers.

This is definitely a YA novel, but I do believe you could have it in a middle school library. Just know the story starts with an off-page rape followed by a suicide. I personally don’t have a problem talking about those things in age-appropriate terms with younger kids (my own, specifically), but your mileage may vary depending on your community. Don’t let the fear of parents or complaints deter you, but also know its in here. Do put this book on your shelves. Hand sell it to kids who like history, light romance, mythology/ghost stories, or are budding activists. It is also fairly short and a quick read so reluctant readers, who may struggle with mechanics, language, or have struggled to find themselves reflected in pages of books, will have no problem jumping in and connecting. Be sure to have copies in the classroom and on school library shelves. I would even suggest using this as a book to study in English class. Ditch one of those books written by a white man for this beautiful, rich ghosty-love story.

Final note: If you do purchase this book, please post a review of it on Amazon. This will help other folks find the book and know that it’s worth purchasing. If you use any other book services like GoodReads or your local library’s online catalog be sure to post a review there too! And if your local library doesn’t have a copy, request that they purchase one.


Chapter Book Review: The Mystery of the Troubled Toucan by Lisa Travis

Troubled ToucanThe Mystery of the Troubled Toucan: A Pack-N-Go Girls Adventure by Lisa Travis

From Goodreads: Nine-year-old Sofia Diaz’s world is coming apart. So is the rickety old boat that carries her far up the Rio Negro river in Brazil. Crocodiles swim in the dark waters. Spiders scurry up the twisted tree trunks. And a crazy toucan screeches a warning. It chases Sofia and Júlia, her new friend, deep into the steamy rainforest. There they stumble upon a shocking discovery.

Heads up! Not all of these feature diverse settings and girls. Some are set in Austria. That being said the Pack-n-Go Girls adventures are a lot of fun. The main character, in this book, travels to Brazil with her dad. Her parents are getting a divorce and it’s a trip for her father to get away and spend some time with Sofia. As in all the books in the series I’ve read, Sofia quickly makes a friend when she arrives at the hotel they’ll be staying in. Together the two girls uncover a poacher trapping pink dolphins and they decide to try and discover who it is and bring them to justice.

These are definitely wish-fulfillment books to some extent. The girls get themselves into situations that, in real life, would be incredibly dangerous and difficult for them to resolve. But that’s okay! I think girls are looking for those types of stories, the ones where they can be the heroes even though they are young and female. I think it also encourages girls to stand up when they see things that are not right. Often the girls are scared and eventually they loop adults into what they’re doing to get back up when needed.

Libraries should absolutely have these books on their shelves. They’re quick chapter book reads, not to easy and not too difficult, great transitional reads. If kids like the conservation efforts in this book they can move on to Manatee Rescue and Carl Hiassen. There are several different places visited by different girls including Mexico, Thailand, and Austria so if readers aren’t ready to move on they can stay with the series. I will say proceed with caution with the others. I haven’t read them and cannot vouch for how well they handle other cultures and countries. Still, they are well worth looking into if you would like to build up your chapter book collection.

Picture Book: Ilyas and Duck Search for Allah by Omar Khawaja

Ilyas and DuckIlyas and Duck Search for Allah written by Omar Khawaja, illustrated by Leo Antolini

From Goodreads: Ilyas and Duck search for Allah is an adorable storybook for kids about a boy’s quest to find God. “Where is God?” is a question that any muslim parent teaching their kids will one day have to answer. This book helps parents answer that question from an Islamic perspective while conveying the profound mystery of it all in a fun way. In this story, lovable Ilyas pairs up with Duck to ask the one question repeatedly in different scenarios. With whimsical and poetic replies, Ilyas slowly begins to realize what his question truly means. 

This was a beautiful book gifted to us by some friends. I saw it at their house and was amazed at how simply and beautifully it took a very deep and complex idea and distilled it down into something children can easily understand without taking away the majesty of the concept. Plus the illustrations are adorable.

Ilyas and Duck wonder exactly where they can find God and they head out on a rather silly search. In every place they look the pair encounters an animal who clearly knows, but is rather cryptic about answering their question. Slowly, Ilyas comes to realize that God is all around, reflected back in the places and things they meet, and not person to be found in one place.

Children will really appreciate this book for not speaking down to them. It merely puts the idea of God into a form they can grasp. They’ll be drawn in and kept entertained by the silliness of the hunt, especially once they’ve read through it once and heard the punchline (so to speak). The pictures, with darling little Ilyas and cute Duck, will also keep them interested in turning the pages and returning to them.

You should definitely include this in your collection if one of two things is true for your library or classroom. One, if you have Muslim children or families that you serve. This book is written for them to help families explain a complex and abstract concept that is fundamental to monotheistic religions, but can be incredibly difficult for children to grasp. Two, if you have Christian themed books on your shelf. Now be aware these books can be subtle and you may have a blindspot for them in you were raised Christian or are white. Remember, although highly commercialized and nationalized respectively, Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day are Christian holidays. Chances are good you have books that take a Christian perspective, so balance that out by having books available for your non-Christian families to use.

I’ll admit school libraries may have a harder time making the case to add this kind of book to their collection, but I think it’s also important to point out that while the book uses the Arabic word for God, it doesn’t feel exclusive to Islam. If you have families wanting to explain the concept of God or god or a higher power this book does a phenomenal job of doing just that. The book is probably meant for younger preschool/Kindergarten age kids, but I think because it does such an incredibly job explaining a difficult subject you should consider it for collections that serve older students and children as well, say up into third grade.

Picture Book Review: Numbers With Bella by Lorraine O’Garro

Numbers With BellaNumbers With Bella written by Lorraine O’Garro, illustrated by Katlego Kgabale

From Goodreads: Following the success of The Alphabet with Bella, this book supports the learning of numbers from one to ten in a unique and colourful way. Numbers with Bella is full of fun learning opportunities for small children.

Disclosure: I was sent a copy of the book by the publisher Melanin Origins in exchange for an honest review.

The first thing that came to mind with this book was one of my favorites as a child, Ten, Nine, Eight by Molly Bang. I have stacks of counting and alphabet books, but the majority of them feature animals or white children. I think Bella brought to mind Ten, Nine, Eight because they both stick out to me for featuring a little African American girl. The final page where Bella sits wiggling her toes, recently liberated from her shoes, also felt like a nod to the classic counting book. It’s really refreshing to see representation making its way into all genres of children’s literature, from chapter books to picture books to concept books like Bella. Kids of all type deserve to see themselves everywhere, not just in certain narratives or certain genres.

The basic idea of the book is Bella counting a variety of objects from 1-10. Each number has its own two page spread. A white background makes Bella standout and we see the written word for each number, the numeral, and the designated number of objects. A few pages have some additional setting, but for the most part the illustrations are spare. From page to page we see her happily lounging in the sun, joyfully playing a drum, snorkeling, juggling coconuts, and a variety of other activities. While some might not like the lack of busy backgrounds and extra detail, the clean simplicity of this book make it perfect for sharing with very young children interested in counting. It’s a true learning tool. When reading the book with your child be sure to point out the numeral and then count each of the items with Bella before moving on to the next page. The simplicity also make it ideal for children to flip through on their own once having the counting modeled for them.

I could also see this working well in stations or provocations in classrooms (or even enlightened libraries that have book-related activities out for children). Set it out with number cards and counters. As kids flip through the pages they can set up the matching numeral and the corresponding number of counters. They could also place the counters directly on the page as they count out loud.

Bella is totally adorable and I see kids being drawn to her and her counting antics. This would make a great addition to concept book collections in preschool classrooms, daycares, and libraries that serve young patrons.

Purchase the book here (not affiliate links):

On IndieBound: paperback and hardback

On Amazon as an ebook.

Final note: If you do purchase this book, please post a review of it on Amazon. This will help other folks find the book and know that it’s worth purchasing. If you use any other book services like GoodReads or your local library’s online catalog be sure to post a review there too! And if your local library doesn’t have a copy, request that they purchase one.

Picture Book Review: A Balloon for Grandad by Nigel Gray

a-balloon-for-grandadA Balloon for Grandad written and illustrated by Nigel Gray

From Goodreads: Unhappy when he loses his silver and red balloon, Sam is comforted by imagining it on its way to visit his grandfather in Egypt.

I have had a copy of this book for years now and always trot it out around Grandparents’ Day. It’s such a lovely little story that doesn’t have to be about grandparents (the idea for the escaped balloon is more about comforting Sam than about thinking of grandad), but turns into a really lovely connection between them. I might also have a soft spot for this one because his grandfather is clearly Egyptian.

I think, beyond the fact that Sam and his family are of Egyptian descent, it’s lovely to see a book about families and grandparents where the grandparents live far away. It always seems that books featuring grandparents and grandchildren show them living close by or together. But plenty of families do not live near grandparents and it’s wonderful to see that reality reflected (it’s also why my school changed Grandparents’ Day to Grandparents and Grand Friends Day). Certainly many children have grandparents that live in another state, and I think the book could have shown a family like that, but I think this makes the story all the more special for showing a family that has immigrated and does not live near this grandfather.

Whether or not children have had a balloon escape from them I think the whimsical story of the balloon traveling over the mountains, ocean and desert is very appealing. Children can imagine their own balloons going on a journey and the whole concept feels very magical. I’ve read this book to second graders and they have enjoyed it. It might also work for slightly older students, but I think it’s best for second grade and down. I would pair this one with Mango, Abuela, and Me for a deeper look at grandparents from other countries and another side of that situation.

A Balloon for Grandad appears to be out of print, but if your library has a copy hang onto it. If not, and you want to go to the trouble of ordering it used, it would make an excellent addition to libraries that celebrate families and grandparents.

Picture Book Review: Umbrella by Taro Yashima

umbrellaUmbrella written and illustrated by Taro Yashima

From Goodreads: Momo can’t wait to use the red boots and umbrella she received on her birthday.  All she needs now is a rainy day!  Soft illustrations portray a thoughtful story about patience and growing independence.

At it’s heart Umbrella is a story about independence. When Momo recieves a new umbrella and rain boots she is so excited. The first day she is able to use the umbrella she focuses very hard on walking carefully like a grown up lady and on not dropping the umbrella. This means, though she doesn’t realize the significance, that she cannot hold her father’s hand when walking to and from school.

Umbrella is also a slice of life story. A small memory that grown up Momo doesn’t even remember. But the narrator shares the significance: it was the first time she walked on her own without holding a parent’s hand. The book moves fairly slowly and doesn’t have a big adventure. There are no mishaps on the walk. It’s just a little girl and her umbrella. I don’t think that kind of book appeals to all readers, but it makes for a very special, contemplative reading experience.

Yashima nails the childhood experience from the excitement, to the music made on the umbrella, to the thoughts of Momo as she walks. When she first receives the umbrella she isn’t able to use it because it’s not raining. She’s so excited to use it though, she comes up with several ideas for why she should (the sun is too bright, the wind bothers her eyes). Then there is the sound made on the umbrella: bon polo, bon polo, ponpolo, ponpolo, bolo bolo ponpolo. It’s so wonderful and evocative of that rainy day.

Yashima’s illustrations are always beautiful. The shading is lovely and mixes in all sorts of colors where you least expect them. It also lends itself to showing the rainy day. I think it’s interesting that none of the adults’ faces are shown giving the book the impression of a small child’s perspective.

This is a lovely little book to have on library shelves. It shows a Japanese-American girl (her parents, we are told came from Japan) living in a city and experiencing a little step toward independence. I think it would easily appeal to preschoolers, but even older children who don’t mind quieter stories will be captivated by Momo’s experience and may see their own first experiences reflected in the story. Be sure to check out Crow Boy, also by Taro Yashima. It’s set in a small Japanese town or village, but features a boy who is probably on the ASD spectrum.

Picture Book Review: A Feast for 10 by Cathryn Falwell

I’m falling down here on the #100daysproject! I was waiting for a couple books to come into the library and they haven’t yet, so I’m going to finish up my challenge with some oldies, but goodies.

a-feast-for-10A Feast For 10 written and illustrated by Cathryn Falwell

From Goodreads: A counting book that features an African-American family shopping for food, preparing dinner, and sitting down to eat. Lively read-aloud text paired with bright collage illustrations.

We have had this book on our home library shelves for several years now and it’s always a favorite. Even now that I’ve tucked the board books into a basket and most don’t see the light of day, this one comes out from time to time (I make sure to pull it out around Thanksgiving). It’s just such a charming book that centers around a family coming together to make a meal.

I love that this is an interesting take on the counting book. Usually I see these concept books count related objects with no real story between them. Feast for 10 has a simple story arc that follows a family through the grocery store counting from 1-10. Then it follows them home where they prepare a meal for ten, counting, again, from 1-10. The meal seems pretty traditionally Southern to me, fried chicken, cooked greens, mashed potatoes, etc. (it’s what my father in law occasionally requests as a throw back to his childhood in rural Mississippi and Louisiana) and it always makes us hungry. The format is, I think, more engaging for older kids (preschool-kindergarten age).Certainly many kids can count to ten by that point, but this is more than just counting objects arranged on a page, so those kids are just as attentive to the story as kids who are interested in the numbers.

The book is not an #ownvoices, unfortunately, and I would certainly recommend one of those over this one. Otherwise I think it’s well worth having on shelves where there are concept books. It’s a great picture of a family coming together and working together to put on a feast!

Picture Book: Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions by Chris Barton

whooshWhoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions written by Chris Barton, illustrated by Don Tate

From Goodreads: A love for rockets, robots, inventions, and a mind for creativity began early in Lonnie Johnson’s life. Growing up in a house full of brothers and sisters, persistence and a passion for problem solving became the cornerstone for a career as an engineer and his work with NASA. But it is his invention of the Super Soaker water gun that has made his most memorable splash with kids and adults.

I think every kid in the nineties had a Super Soaker or at least had a friend with one. But when picking out this book I wondered if it was just nostalgia for people my age or if it would resonate with kids today.

Lonnie Johnson spent his childhood (and adulthood) tinkering with things. He took odds and ends as a kid and put them together to make creations. He took things apart to harvest parts and see how they worked. Then, as he got older, he moved on, with his robot Linex, to make inventions that worked and kept on inventing. He was also persistent and determined, even in the face of failure, an important skill that kids can learn in the makerspace and need to be seeing modeled.

I thought it was refreshing to have a biography of someone who is still alive today. Even better to be adding more diversity to our biography collection. The author’s note adds a bit more context to the story and Barton shares his inspiration for writing the book.

Johnson grew up in the South in the late sixties and into the seventies. Whoosh! does touch on some of the race issues (segregation and racism), but it’s a light touch. I think it was a good balance here where the the purpose of the book was to expose children to a scientist who is black and his inventions instead of dwelling on how he overcame racism. We have a number of those books, and they are excellent, but as I’ve said again and again they create a certain narrative that is not a full picture.

I definitely think children can find inspiration and humor in this story, whether or not they own a Super Soaker or have seen one and it’s the perfect makerspace book. I would hand this to kids who like to invent and tinker. I will also be adding it to our summer reading lists so kids can go out after reading it and have a water fight. I don’t think the time period or nostalgia of the book make it irrelevant for kids today. The message of perseverance and fun in it are timeless.