Picture book Review: Abraham’s Great Love by Louie T. McClain II

Image description: A watercolor leaf background with tan and pale greens. On it is a blue square paperback book. On the cover is a group of people in biblical robes. In the foreground is a boy with brown skin and dreadlocks. He is looking out at the reader smiling. The title arcs across the top “Abraham’s Great Love”. In the corners are gold filigrees.

Abraham’s Great Love written by Louie T. McClain II, illustrated by Xander A. Nesbitt

Book description: Journey with Melanin Origins as we share a short story about Abraham, the “Father of Many Nations”, and how his life lines up with the Fruit of the Spirit: Love. As a believer dedicated to doing God’s Will, Abraham lived a life that demonstrated love for all mankind.

Melanin Origins has launched a new series, the All In All Series, focusing on figures from the Old Testament. Faith communities take note, these sweet little books are going to be perfect for families, Sunday school, children’s chapel, and holidays.

The first in the series is Abraham. The story follows Abraham through key points in his life while focusing primarily on the overarching theme of his story. These books are perfect for their advertised audience, second grade and below. They feature bright illustrations with big-eyed people. Each page has a short sentence or two which will keep kids engaged through the story. And they don’t get bogged down in scripture, old-fashioned language, or the strange minutiae that can sometimes happen in the Bible.

The book also strikes a balance between telling Abraham’s biographical story and focusing on the message of his story. As you could probably tell from the title, love is the theme here, and even for someone like me who is not religious I can’t help but feel this message is an important one for children, especially in this time. Kids need to feel loved and they need to be taught to love. Moreover, the story demonstrates how love guided Abraham- through difficulty, in relationships with people and the Earth, and in faith. Abraham uses love to guide his decisions in putting others first and how he approaches God.

The illustrations are especially exciting. The people are adorable and very inviting with large cartoon eyes and big faces. Kids will be drawn to them. Many religious books depict characters of the Bible as blonde haired and blue eyed, not exactly culturally or historically accurate to say the least. Here we see a cast of characters that have a variety of brown skin tones and differing hair colors and textures (including the loc’d Abraham). Not only will these illustrations feel more relevant than the typical Biblical illustrations, but they’re more accurate too.

For all you non-religious families, I have a pet theory that Biblical references are everywhere in our culture and to be fully culturally literate it helps to know a little something about the major monotheistic religions and the stories of the Bible. If you don’t know Noah, you won’t understand when someone makes a remark about going two-by-two or building an arc. It’s maybe not totally necessary, but you would be surprised how often these images and references appear if you actually pay attention. If you want a fun way to introduce these stories to your children so they have a general frame of reference, these would be a way to get started.

Abraham, and the rest of the series, is highly recommended for churches, religious schools and preschools, and families alike. Libraries should seriously consider carrying them for their religious families and Christian homeschoolers.

Purchase the book here (not affiliate links). Please, in this uncertain time, if at all possible, purchase from an independent/local bookstore. They need our help right now.

Please note, if you want to search for the book to purchase it you will need to use the title in parentheses above.

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: Alejandria Fights Back!/La Lucha de Alejandria! by Leticia Hernandez-Linares

Image description: A young girl with light brown skin and curly brown hair stands behind a podium. She is wearing a green hoodie and holding a map. There is a microphone on the podium. Behind her and to her left and right are people from her neighborhood wearing all manner of clothes, all ages, and all with various shades of brown skin. They hold signs saying “Our roots are here” and “No nos moveran” and “People over profits”. The title of the book is across the bottom in magenta text.

Alejandria Fights Back!/La Lucha de Alejandria! by Leticia Hernandez-Linares and the Rise-Home Stories Project, illustrated by Robert Liu Trujillo

From Goodreads:

For nine-year-old Alejandria, home isn’t just the apartment she shares with Mami and her abuela, Tita, but rather the whole neighborhood. Home is the bakery where Ms. Beatrice makes yummy picos; the sidewalk where Ms. Alicia sells flowers with her little dog, Duende; and the corner store with friendly Mr. Amir.

But lately the city has been changing, and rent prices are going up. Many people in el barrio are leaving because they can no longer afford their homes, and For Sale signs are popping up everywhere. Then the worst thing happens: Mami receives a letter saying they’ll have to move out too.

Alejandria knows it isn’t fair, but she’s not about to give up and leave. Join Alejandria as she brings her community together to fight and save their neighborhood!

Remember those essays you had to write every September about what you did over the summer? Usually they were pretty boring, either you did nothing or you did the same kinds of things your friends did- camp, summer school, watched TV. Imagine having a story to tell about how you helped your neighborhood resist evictions, though. That is exactly what Alejandria has.

I love how the story is framed in this familiar way. It begins with a friend who has been away for the summer asking Alejandria what she’s been up to and boy does she have a story to tell. Rising rents early in the summer meant families in Ale’s building were being forced to move out and evicted. Their building, and others in the neighborhood, were owned by an outside company who saw an opportunity to attract wealthier tenants. Alejandria noticed some of her friends packing up and her own family got an eviction notice.

This energizes Ale and she and her grandmother plug in with a tenant’s rights group. Ale’s mom is hesitant to make waves and is against speaking up. I think this tension is realistic and the fear of making things worse is real. I think this story works on several levels, first it reflects the reality of a lot of families and kids watching their neighborhoods and communities gentrify. I especially appreciate how this shows the cost of this gentrification (but if you work in a mostly white middle class community expect this book to make people uncomfortable), the community is in danger of unraveling. The book starts with Ale showing a map of her neighborhood and talking about the people and places that make it a vibrant, functioning community. This is what is at stake for her.

Second, the book is a roadmap of sorts or how kids and adults can take steps to protect their communities. While this story is particular to gentrification, the ideas behind organizing community are the same no matter what issue you take on. I also really appreciate the ideas presented here around organizing the people around you to show up to City Hall to speak at council meetings and also getting plugged into organizations working specifically on the issue at hand. Most books for kids that talk about “activism” are about making signs and showing up at marches they didn’t organize. That can be a piece of activism, but it’s often not the most effective and is typically only a piece of the whole strategy. I think we need to disabuse people of the idea that it’s enough to just hold a sign at some march. We need everyone showing up in places of power and decisions to demand their needs be met. We need people, even kids, showing up with organizations that are mobilizing, educating, and empowering communities. Collectively we’re powerful.

Trujillo is back with his lovely watercolor (guache?) illustrations. As always he captures the heart of the people and places he illustrates. The neighborhood is vibrant and the people diverse. His composition fits well with capturing the emotional core of the story. For example the spot illustrations showing Ale going to door to door in her building to get folks to come out to the City Hall meeting and speak up about what was going on. And the picture of Ale standing in her friend Julian’s apartment realizing he’s all packed up and moving out, disrupting the community she’s always known.

As I pointed out above, this book is going to make people who typically feel like they should be allowed to gentrify areas uncomfortable and maybe even angry. It’s a book that shows the folks they push out and the cost of their entitlement to places that aren’t actually theirs. This should not deter you from having these conversations and having this book on your shelves, but it might get some complaints and raised eyebrows. And for those communities on the frontlines of these issues, this is a book to encourage the youngest community members to use their voices.

Purchase the book here (not affiliate links):

On Bookshop.org (support independent bookstores!): hardback

On Amazon: hardback, 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: The Tale of the Cell by Georgene’ Glass

In the background is a close up of a cell. There are two cascades of blood cells, some round and some sickle shaped. In the foreground is a little girl wearing a blue shirt, blue skirt, blue leggings, and brown boots. Her hair is pulled up into two puffs one of which has a pink bow on it. She has her hands up in the air and is kicking up one leg. Around her are three characters from the book, a black cat, a red blood cell, and a white blood cell. All have arms and faces and are waving at the reader.

The Tale of the Cell written by Georgene’ Glass, illustrated by M. Ridho Mentarie

Image description: In the background is a close up of a cell. There are two cascades of blood cells, some round and some sickle shaped. In the foreground is a little girl wearing a blue shirt, blue skirt, blue leggings, and brown boots. Her hair is pulled up into two puffs one of which has a pink bow on it. She has her hands up in the air and is kicking up one leg. Around her are three characters from the book, a black cat, a red blood cell, and a white blood cell. All have arms and faces and are waving at the reader.

From Amazon: The Tale of the Cell is a picture book about the trials that children and adults experience while battling Sickle Cell Disease. While Gia goes through the joys and pains of living with Sickle Cell, she never looses her confidence because her “Dream Team” is by her side. The adventure to raise awareness about living with Sickle Cell Disease begins with the Tale of the Cell.

September is Sickle Cell Awareness Month and Melanin Origins has you covered on titles that will help you talk about this disease with the kids in your life. Their latest is The Tale of the Cell featuring Gia telling readers about both her experience with sickle cell anemia and the facts about the disease.

Glass does an amazing job normalizing SCD and making the disability into something that is neither scary nor shameful. For this alone it’s a good addition to book collections for how it handles disability as part of a normal spectrum of life. There is a lot of information here and you may need to approach this book in more than one reading with younger audiences. However, I would highly recommend this book if you have a student or child in your life that has SCD. This will help you explain it in child-friendly terms to them. It can also open discussions with younger siblings or classmates who may have questions about

As always Mentarie has fleshed out the text with bright, exciting illustrations. I can attest to their enticement- my own kids saw the book sitting on the sofa and asked to read it several times while poring over the pictures. Gia is adorable with her afro puffs and her boots, leggings, and skirt outfit. And she’s joined by a cast of funny characters like a blood cell in a lab coat and white blood cell in a nurse’s hat.

All in all a brilliant book about a common disease presented in kid-friendly language and visuals.

Purchase the book here (not affiliate links):

On Bookshop.org (support independent bookstores!): paperback, hardback

On Amazon: paperback, hardback


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: Queen Olivia and The Lava Monster by Kristin Mosely

Image description: A little Black girl wearing beads in her hair and a crown on her head rides on a pink unicorn. The unicorn has sparkly teal hair and Olivia has a white t-shirt, pink skirt, and white sneakers. In the background is a green and gold field leading up to a purple castle at the top of a hill. Across the top in the blue sky is the title in a purple script.

Queen Olivia and The Lava Monster written by Kristin Mosely, illustrated by Jorge Mansilla

From Amazon: Queen Olivia is the ruler of Happy Land and she encounters a dreaded foe that threatens to take over her land. But little did this foe know that it was no match for Queen Olivia and her townspeople.

On the surface this is a silly and fun story about a young queen and the lava monster melting through her queendom. It’s joyfully reminiscent of the games kids play on the playground or at home on rainy days. There’s lava, it’s coming for you, and you have to jump from couch to coffee table to chair to keep from getting caught.

The big-eyed, frothy bright colors of Happy Land, Queen Olivia, and the unicorn she rides are incredibly enticing for kids who love all the My Little Ponies, Littlest Pet Shop, LOL Dolls, etc. Putting it cover out on the book shelf is going to grab readers on the illustrations alone.

But there’s more to this book and it feels like a particularly apt story to have right now in the middle of all the upheaval and uncertainty of the world. The lava feels like a metaphor for the insidious creep of the uncertainty, fear, and anxiety we’re all experiencing. Olivia faces the darkness and finds a way to keep her spirits up as well as those around her. She laughs in the face of the approaching lava. Children can smell b.s. from a mile away and are not interested in the patronizing pats on their head from adults who disingenuously tell them not to worry. They know there is something big going on and know that plastering a smile on your face isn’t going to fix anything. But Olivia reminds us that attitude is important and keeping a sense of humor as well as finding the light in the dark is still important for maintaining hope in a time of big feelings and uncertainty.

My own kids loved the book enough to take it over to their grandma’s house and have her read it several more times. Queen Olivia is highly recommended for preschool and kindergarten kiddos, be they in your house, your classroom, or your library. It would make a good book to have on hand when you need to help little ones deal with feelings of worry.

Purchase the book here (not affiliate links):

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: The ABCs of the Black Panther Party by S. Khalilah Brann

The ABCs of the Black Panther Party written by S. Khalilah Brann and Chemay Morales-James, illustrated by Uela May

From Goodreads: The ABCs of the Black Panther Party introduces and gives an overview of the Black Panther Party for children (suggested ages 7-12). The ABCs of the BPP acts as a catalyst for research, supports the expansion of oral and written language and helps to develop the social political consciousness of our children.

Our book utilizes the American alphabet to lay a foundational understanding of the aims of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense, discuss the impact of various members and explores the lasting effect of the Black Power Movement of the 1960s. It is our aim to empower the next generation of leaders to help build strong communities of color focused on Positive Racial Identity Development through Education (PRIDE).

We are reclaiming our sheroes and heroes and providing our young with a blueprint for their own liberation movement.

This is such a necessary book. It’s up there for me as a parent and educator with The People Shall Continue and A Coyote Columbus Story. All these books share history that is both hard and obscured in favor of white-centric and white-washed narratives of our country’s history.

For all the years I had to take American history in school we rarely made it into any history post WWII and when we did I assure you the Black Panthers were never mentioned. My general impression of them, probably formed from pop culture references, up until a few years ago was that they were a Black militant group. That’s not exactly untrue, but the implication was that they were bad and nothing could be farther from the truth. I live in Sacramento and had no idea that they took over the capital building. Nor did I know we had an active chapter here in one of our historically Black neighborhoods.

The ABCs of the Black Panther Party is the kind of book I was hoping to eventually find so I can share the Panthers with my daughter. I hope librarians and teachers also purchase this book and push its use in classrooms and within history curricula. While the authors write books and materials intended to uplift Black history and, in turn, Black children, there is nothing about this book that cannot be read by any audience. We all need to know the real history of this country and the Black Panther Party is part of that. No more vilifying them.

Their history is particularly important because it lays some of the foundation for the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Compare the BBP Ten Point Program (the letter T in ABCs) with the BLM principles. They are different, affirming many of the things that the resistance efforts of the 60s and 70s left out such as queer identity and contributions, but are still remarkably similar in their demands. Many of the Black liberation movements today continue the programs of the BBP, such as copwatch (check out Oakland’s APTP), freedom schools, and other community support programs. It’s essential for families involved in racial justice and abolition work to know the history of where their movements come from.

All libraries need this beautiful book on their shelves in with their 900s and, really, it should be out on display. Have you heard of Black August? Put it out in August. Put it out in February, obviously, but also in January for MLK Day, and in October to commemorate their founding on the 15th.

A note on using it in the classroom or the home: there are 26 letters in our alphabet and each one has a short lyric and then a more detailed description of the concept or person associated with the letter. It makes for a very long read if you want to do it cover to cover. I recommend dipping in and out over several days. This keeps it moving for kids, as well as gives you time to reflect and process and discuss further. In the classroom you could use it to frame a whole unit on Black resistance or the history of that time period, introducing a letter or two each day that guides discussion and further research. We treated it like a chapter book at bedtime in our house and read three or four letters a night for several nights in a row.

I would love to see more books about the Black Panthers for children. I would really love some biographies of the leaders and friends of the party- Huey Newton, Fred Hampton, Kathleen Cleaver, Angela Davis, Assata Shakur, and Stokely Carmichael/Kwame Ture. Maybe Melanin Origins would be up for producing a special series of Snippet in the Life biographies that are a little longer and geared toward slightly older children that focus on four or five of the BBP leaders and the Oakland Community School? 😉

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: 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.

Picture Book Review: Dreaming Their Way Out by Leonard Williams

Dreaming Their Way OutDreaming Their Way Out written by Leonard Williams, illustrated by Ohana Tozato

From Goodreads: Dreaming Their Way Out is about seven orphans who are desperately yearning for a family. One night when they dreamed about escaping the orphanage something indescribable happens. They do not realize that this discovery will change their lives forever.

Dreaming Their Way Out felt like pure wish fulfillment. Seven children are in a nun-operated orphanage, Roald Dahl style. They have to do all the hard work around the house and Sister Agatha is using them to earn money. Thankfully there does not appear to be any physical violence against the children and we don’t know why the children are orphaned (so no violent or tragic stories about their parents explicitly spelled out). One night, after another tedious and unpleasant day, in a shower of silver sparkles the kids meet a group of adults with wings. They discover that these people are their guardians and they take them off to a magical dream land where they eat good food, play with animals, and fly around magnificent natural places. Now that the children know they can spend time with the grown ups who care for and about them and can visit such a spectacular world they can’t wait to get through the days and dream their way out.

I certainly see this appealing to dreamy kids with their heads in the clouds. I’ll be honest, I was a day-dreamy kid growing up and had all kinds of wild fantasies that involved wild narratives like living in the woods, living on a farm, being able to talk to animals. And each of these stories I made up in my head did not involve parents and had limited adult roles in them. I could see a kid like myself eating this story up. I could even see it inspiring kids to write their own fantastical, hopeful, warm stories.

In terms of handing this to a kid in the foster system or a kid who is up for adoption or has been adopted, I’ll be honest, I don’t know. I’m not well versed enough in the issues of foster care and adoption to say how this story aligns with the treatment they receive, any stigma there might be against them, or if this kind of narrative is harmful. I would say proceed with caution. I only recently became aware of adoption kidlit as a genre and how problematic it can be. Is this different because it’s just so winsome? Again, I don’t feel qualified to say for sure. As with all books don’t treat it like something only a child with that type of story would enjoy. All kids can benefit for books with stories different than their own.

I do really appreciate that a story with such fantastical, magical adventures features seven kids of color. This is so rare and such a gap that needs filling in kidlit.

The book was a little on the long side which would make it better suited to reading with one or two kids at a time. But that also makes it a good fit for classroom and school libraries where kids check books out and have them to either take home or read over more than one sitting. The language isn’t terribly difficult which would make it accessible to a second or third grader.

The story ends on a high note, but also with a “to be continued…”. I’ll be curious to see what other magical adventures this group of friends finds in the years to come.

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: LaDonna Plays Hoops by Kimberly Gordon Biddle

LaDonna Plays HoopsLaDonna Plays Hoops written by Kimberly A. Gordon Biddle, illustrated by Heath Gray

From Goodreads: This is an inspirational and contemporary story of a young, African-American girl who goes to visit her grandma for a family reunion. While there, she tries to become the family hoops star. She wonders if she has the skill and the will. The story presents subtle, everyday events that teach life lessons.

Two years ago LaDonna played her cousin Tyrone in basketball and lost. That loss stung and now, two years older and wiser, she wants a rematch. Or at least she thinks she does. Her dad reminds her that whether or not she wins or loses, the practice will be good for her. LaDonna is by turns confident that she’ll beat Tyrone and nervous that she won’t be able to. She’s grown in the last two years and even gone to basketball camp, but Tyrone is also bigger and has more practice under his belt. He rather rudely reminds her that he plays on a basketball league. Fortunately, LaDonna doesn’t let a scraped knee or her nerves get the best of her and she handily wins the match.

This was such a fun read with lots to love. LaDonna dresses girly with leggings, a skirt, and a lot of pink, but she loves sports. She’s all confidence and swagger on the outside, but inside she’s afraid she won’t be able to take Tyrone’s title as family hoops star. Biddle clearly has a good read on kids and I love that the text and illustrations don’t paint LaDonna as anything more than a kid. So many times we see girls who like sports represented with boy clothes and body language and an all consuming confidence. Grandma calls her a tomboy at one point, but in reality LaDonna didn’t stick out from the group of kids in the family.

I also love that her whole family is clearly waiting for this rematch to happen. They all stare when Tyrone shuffles in off the basketball court to the backyard where LaDonna is jumping rope with a gaggle of other cousins. They all scowl as Tyrone tries to call a foul on LaDonna and won’t let him get away with it. And they all cheer as Tyrone meets his match. I imagine the adults of the family talking over the phone about this rematch, wondering if it will happen, who will initiate it, and speculating on who will win. I also imagine all the kids listening in on these conversations and wondering too about it. So when it comes time for the highly anticipated game, everyone is all ears and eyes. Her cousin Veronica quickly steps up to watch LaDonna’s pet frog for her during the match.

The illustrations are bright and colorful and cute. The cartoony style lends itself perfectly to such a light and funny family story. LaDonna’s family is shown to be primarily African American, but there are a few white folks in it too. Grandma lives in a clean, suburban neighborhood and it’s good to see a middle class African American family represented in kidlit. It shouldn’t be such a rarity, but it is.

The book would be great in a sports themed storytime as well as in classrooms with sports fans. Even better, the books shows that girls can enjoy and be good at basketball and all kids will benefit from being exposed to that narrative. In terms of ages, I would say first through third grade, but the lack of both racial and sporty girl representation might push this up into fourth grade. Kindergarten ages would probably be fine, especially if you learn the song that goes along with it (see below).

One last thing to add, I happen to know the author of this book through my last library and she told me she would be reading her book at a local Barnes and Noble. I took my daughter to hear the reading and get a copy signed. Not only were there cookies, stickers, coloring sheets and pencils, but Biddle has also written a little song that her husband plays on the ukulele while the two sing it during the read aloud. It was charming to say the least. And also catchy. Looking at the picture I used in this post, it seems that you can now get copies of the song to learn. 🙂

It is also worth noting that this book is available from the publisher with a special dyslexic font. I think this is both fascinating and wonderful. The story is high interest and the font can help readers who normally struggle.

Picture Book Review: The Shaky Achy Tooth by Tiara Burnett Varner

The Onyx BrothersThe Adventures of the Onyx Brothers: The Shaky Achy Tooth written by Tiara Burnett Varner, illustrated by Cynthia Tapia Greene

From Goodreads: Isaiah Onyx is the youngest brother of the three Onyx brothers.  He cannot figure out why his mouth is hurting.   In this first book of The Onyx Brothers series, the brothers use teamwork to solve the mystery of Isaiah’s achy mouth.  Come along and join the Onyx Brothers as they take you on an adventure to explore, investigate, and solve life’s everyday mysteries-all while having fun!

Do you have siblings in your library? Yes? Then you need this book. This is the first, hopefully of many, books about the Onyx brothers. It starts with some introductions by the oldest, Ijalon, who informs us that this trio of brothers is creative, smart, adventurous, and amazing (how’s that for #blackboyjoy?). Ijalon is funny and readers are going to want to turn those pages to learn about the “death defying adventures and life altering experiences” he promises (well…actually, their parents forbid those kinds of antics, but these three goofy kids are sure to come up with something fun).

In this first installment the youngest is acting funny. Ijalon chalks it up to how all little kids act until he hears that Isaiah has passed up chocolate chip cookies. Ijalon immediately jumps up to help, but Elijah, the middle brother, suggests they polish off the cookies before offering their services. See? Funny! And spot on with the sibling dynamics.

Turns our Isaiah has a loose tooth that hurts, so his brothers offer to remove it. Ijalon puts on a hazmat suit and Elijah ties a string to the door knob. He looks very excited to try out this technique. They both give poor Isaiah some wild ideas about his tooth leaving his mouth. Isaiah’s imagination runs away with him and he gets more than a little nervous. Would you let them pull your tooth? Neither does Isaiah.

Fortunately mom shows up just in time to gently remove the tooth and explain what’s really going on. After she pulls the tooth with no drama, the two older brothers exchange knowing glances, reassuring each other that they at least were right about what needed to happen, even if Isaiah wouldn’t let them take care of it.

The illustrations are absolutely gorgeous. Realistic colored pencil style drawings of the boys and their environments grace every page. I love bright, digitally enhanced illustrations, but I am a real sucker for this type of lovingly made illustration. The expressions on the boys’ faces are priceless and they really enhance the storytelling. It’s just so beautiful. Greene has a real knack for drawing people.

The book seems long, but the text on each page is mostly spare making it good for a range of audiences, including younger kids. I was surprised when my daughter lost her first tooth at five (that’s kindergarten age!) and there are plenty more to go at nearly eight years old, so you’ll get plenty of mileage out of this book at home, in the classroom, or in the library collection.

If you want the best tooth-themed storytime around, pair this with Tallulah the Tooth Fairy CEO. Find a nonfiction book about good brushing habits and you’re set. Paper teeth to match the achy shaky tooth of Isaiah’s imagination would make a perfect craft to round out a fun half hour of dental-themed fun.

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.