Picture Book Review: The People You May See by Lisa Marie Koehler

Black and white hyper-realistic pictures of people laid out in a grid. From left to right, top to bottom there is a woman wearing a bindi, a girl with an eye patch, a man with a brightly colored beard, a boy with a red birthmark on his face, a child with a hearing aid, a woman in a hijab, , two men holding a baby together, a woman with a large bow on her head, a baby with a helmet, and a toddler wearing glasses. . The title of the book is in the middle in black text.
Image description: Black and white hyper-realistic pictures of people laid out in a grid. From left to right, top to bottom there is a woman wearing a bindi, a girl with an eye patch, a man with a brightly colored beard, a boy with a red birthmark on his face, a child with a hearing aid, a woman in a hijab, , two men holding a baby together, a woman with a large bow on her head, a baby with a helmet, and a toddler wearing glasses. . The title of the book is in the middle in black text.

The People You May See written and illustrated Lisa Marie Koehler

From Goodreads: Sometimes you will see someone that makes you curious about what they are wearing, saying, or doing. Many of these people experience strange looks, personal questions, and bullying. Volunteer models have agreed to be part of this book in an effort to spread awareness and to educate. Children are curious and have many questions about what they are seeing. You can use this book as a guide to approach the world with kindness, understanding, and an open heart.

Children are deeply curious people so long as you do not kill their desire to constantly ask questions about the world. They are sorting through the things they see to make sense of how the world works and how they fit in it. This is a double edged sword. On the one side, they are incredibly open and affirming of human variety. On the other, if you are not explicit in discussing what they see (and don’t see) they are open to broader societal ideas about white supremacy, ableism, sexism, homophobia, transmisia (hatred for trans people), anti-semitism, fatphobia, etc.

If you are a school or family who doesn’t have a diversity of people around you, first you need to take a hard look at why and do the work to fix that. Then you need to present your children with places to see diversity before you’re out and about. Head some of these questions off at the pass, so to speak.

This was a long intro to a beautiful book that celebrates the diversity people come in. The illustrations are hyper realistic portraits of real people. Mostly in black and white pencil some feature small splashes of color, such as the person with a beard featured on the cover. For the most part it works well, but my one complaint is that race is not directly addressed and the black and white illustrations make it hard to see that the people don’t all have white skin. Instead of discounting the book for that, it merely points to the need to have a variety of books that showcase skin color and other physical differences.

I appreciate the range of people shown and it may be the first (or only) place a child sees themself reflected. For that reason alone it needs to be on book shelves everywhere. It’s also a book you can come to after your child has seen or noticed someone different and a book you can read to prep them for what they might see out in the world. Let your child be curious about these things. It’s completely normal and not malicious. By explicitly talking to them about these things, you can help them make sense of the world in a positive and affirming way. Don’t worry if you don’t know the answers to all their questions. You should stay curious too and be honest when you don’t know the answer. This book is a great starting point.

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.

I bought this book several years ago and apparently never reviewed it. Since then the book appears to have been release in a second edition with both English and Spanish. I am linking to both options.

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: Maxine’s Hands by Dr. Lynda Jones Mubarak

A night time scene in a bedroom. Maxine, a brown skinned girl with large round glasses, sits at her desk looking at her laptop and writing in a notebook. To her right is a dollhouse and to her left is her orange cat.
Image description: A night time scene in a bedroom. Maxine, a brown skinned girl with large round glasses, sits at her desk looking at her laptop and writing in a notebook. To her right is a dollhouse and to her left is her orange cat.

Maxine’s Hands written by Dr. Lynda Jones Mubarak, picture by Adua Hernandez

From Goodreads: Have you ever been busy with an important project and discovered another situation that is just as important as your current challenge? Follow reading detective Maxine Hill as she finds another surprise waiting in her local neighborhood. A little investigation will often lead to new knowledge.

Maxine is back in this third installment. She and her family are still planning their camping trip and Maxine is now working on building a model house. Inspired by seeing an unhoused family, Maxine wants to learn how to build houses, how recycled and reused supplies can be incorporated into the design, and how she can use this skill to insure everyone has their basic need for housing met.

As always Maxine’s curiosity and enthusiasm for her projects is incredibly endearing. Max is a little better organized and a lot smarter than I was at her age, but I was totally the kid who got inspired and did my own research and projects (like writing books and building things) to satisfy my curiosity. I think kids like that will see themselves reflected here in a positive, encouraging way and those who may be curious but aren’t quite sure what to do with that feeling can see Maxine model a way forward for them.

Mubarak uses a lot of great vocabulary here and in the other Maxine books. That gears the books toward kids who are about Maxine’s age if they’re reading on their own or makes for a rich shared reading experience if read aloud to younger kiddos. The length and fewer illustrations make this better suited to second grade and up.

As I’ve said with the other Maxine books, a small form factor for the physical book might make this more appealing to the audience it’s targeted for. There are fewer pictures in this installment, which is perfect for the fourth/fifth grade readers who the book should inspire.

Adua Hernandez continues to make enticing, sweet illustrations. Maxine, with her huge glasses, and bright colors is very inviting and relatable. I can’t help but feel that in the hands of a Big Five publisher Maxine would be illustrated as white because no mention of her race or ethnicity are ever made. Thank goodness for Melanin Origins publishing Black authors and BIPOC illustrators. To me the illustrations by Hernandez are perfectly suited to Maxine’s stories and in other books she has illustrated for M. O. she drops little culturally specific details that you just don’t see in the conventional publishing industry.

Certainly have this on the shelf for fans of the previous books, but also hand sell it to the kids who love the science fair or always do the extra credit. They’ll see themselves in Maxine.

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

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: Beautiful Black Girl by Keshia Johnson

A pink background with large script-like letters along the top that spell out the title Beautiful Black Girl. Below a little girl with brown skin and black hair up in two puffs has her hand on her hip. She is turned slightly and is looking sideways at herself in a mirror. She wears a sparkly yellow dress and two white bows in her hair.
Image description: A pink background with large script-like letters along the top that spell out the title Beautiful Black Girl. Below a little girl with brown skin and black hair up in two puffs has her hand on her hip. She is turned slightly and is looking sideways at herself in a mirror. She wears a sparkly yellow dress and two white bows in her hair.

Beautiful Black Girl written by Keshia Johnson, illustrated by Mark Mas Stewart

From Goodreads: Read along as renowned author, Keshia Johnson of Beautiful Black Girl, tells the story of a young girl Mila, whose grandmother Molly takes her on a journey of falling in love with her beautiful black skin. The story of Mila’s journey to self-love inspires and encourages black girls everywhere to embrace who they are and conquer the world.

Melanin Origins publishes a line of books designed to bolster the self esteem of Black children, and especially Black girls. These books are necessary and it is amazing that Melanin Origins continues to bring them into the world. Beautiful Black Girl joins the ranks with Penelope Embraces Her Uniqueness, Perfect As I Am, and I Love My Mocha Skin.

If for no other reason, Beautiful Black Girl should be on library shelves to tell Black girls they are beautiful, capable, and worthy. This message feels even more urgent in the current time with the pandemic and kids being out of their routines and elements. Morale is low, kids are struggling. Getting some extra love and encouragement to wrap around them and reminding them that they are loved is crucial right now.

This also works as an anti-bullying book. Mila comes home from school feeling sad because the kids made fun of her hair and lips and also her desire to be a doctor when she grows up. This is the beauty of picture books- they are meant to be a shared reading experience and allow for discussion about the illustrations, the story, and/or the messages within the story. If used as a read aloud in classrooms or libraries this first scene can open up discussion about how these comments made Mila feel, what the children could have said instead, how to care for yourself when someone says something hurtful, and what a bystander could have done if they over heard these hurtful comments. Sometimes young children are curious and helping them learn to rephrase their questions or who might be a more appropriate person to ask questions of is an important skill they need guidance with as is the skill of not saying everything that pops into your head and putting yourself in someone else’s shoes to understand how comments can hurt feelings even if that wasn’t the intent.

One of the aspects of this book I love the most about is that the focus is not just on Mila’s appearance. Her grandmother encourages her to dream big and not let the narrow minds of her classmates hinder what she sees herself as capable of accomplishing. I know a lot of Black children, and especially girls, are teased for their appearance- skin that is “too dark”, hair that is “too natural”, etc. – and it is critically important that adults explicitly counter those messages and call out the anti-blackness of them. But girls also need messages beyond their appearance, because they are more than their bodies. Mila wants to be a doctor when she grows up and her grandmother pushes her to keep that dream and elaborate on it.

Finally Mila takes the book out to her friends at the end to encourage them and boost their spirits as well. The model of sharing the love with those you care about is also a critically important skill for kids to witness and internalize. The illustrations here, as with all Melanin Origin books are adorable. Keisha has endearing hair puffs and big, sweet eyes.

I also want to use this as a reminder to adults not to put your own ideas about this book onto children. It is written for Black girls and that by itself is perfect. But even if you have an all white patron base at your library (this should concern you, by the way!), you never know what child will connect with the message. I have seen my own daughter, who is so pale she looks blue, pick up these books in Melanin Origins’ catalog and love them and get a boost from them. I’m not saying kids are colorblind, but kids don’t always need the trappings of race to connect with a book and adults should be mindful of this when offering them books on the library shelves.

All in all, a great addition to the books that support Black girls. There are a lot of possibilities for this book in the hands of parents and educators. It would be perfect for kindergarten, first, and even second grade discussion and reading.

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

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: Mama Bird, Baby Bird: Leap of Faith by Blaise Harris

Image description: A White background with the title handwritten at the top. A pink bird with purple fluff on her head has her wing around a small apprehensive looking blue bird. They sit in a brown nest.

Mama Bird, Baby Bird: Leap of Faith by Blaise Harris, illustrated by AttitudeCheck

From Goodreads: To encourage someone and to help others overcome their fears. Be a good friends and motivate each other to fly.

Baby Bird needs to learn to fly, but he’s nervous! Mama Bird knows he’s ready, though. With some gentle encouragement, and a little push, Baby Bird is out of the nest and flying.

On the surface this is a very simple story with a clear message about learning to fly with some encouragement. The story is short and straight forward, told with a just a sentence per page. The length and clarity makes it perfect for the 2-5 year old set.

The illustrations in Mama Bird are absolutely adorable. With simple, colored pencil drawings of the nest and two birds, the facial expressions and bright colors are inviting for young children. Their clarity makes the storytelling support they provide perfect for emerging readers and young audiences.

But don’t let the simplicity of the illustrations or text fool you. This is an Aesop fable, not your run-of-the-mill easy reader. The back includes two inspirational quotes, a note on what it means to encourage your friends, and a question for discussion. This is the perfect back matter for a perfect story. It shows that even simple stories can be deceptively full of good ideas that make you think. What exactly does it mean to encourage yourself, your friends, and family? What does it mean to have faith- not necessarily religious faith, but faith in your own abilities or others? Kids will quickly get the connection between these ideas and the story and can use it like a fable in their everyday lives as they learn to be supportive and encouraging friends.

This is definitely an excellent pick for school and classroom libraries with social emotional curriculums. It would make a great read aloud and discussion in kindergarten and even early first grade classrooms too. I could even see it working well in Sunday School/religious classrooms. Parents with Nervous Nellys (that would be my household!) can also benefit from sharing this story of faith and encouragement with their own Baby Birds.

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

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: I Am Sausal Creek by Melissa Reyes

Image description: Two children play in a small creek. They are looking at the rocks in the creek bed. Both children have brown skin and brown hair. One wears jeans and a red and white shirt; the other wears jeans and a yellow shirt. Behind them is a lush, green forest.

I Am Sausal Creek/Soy El Arroyo Sausal written by Melissa Reyes, illustrated by Robert Trujillo, translated by Cinthya Jeanette Muñoz Ramos

From Goodreads: I Am Sausal Creek/Soy El Arroyo Sausal is a bilingual children’s book about the environmental and cultural history of Oakland told through the voice of a local waterway, Sausal Creek.

I love everything about this book. It’s part natural history, part human history, part resistance. The story is the history of the Oakland, CA area which is usually pushed aside for its shinier, tonier neighbor San Francisco. Sausal Creek narrates, sharing what the natural world was, then follows the Ohlone people onto the land, then European, Mexican, and American settlers, the Gold Rush, and then the city of Oakland being built. Finally, the Creek tells how some people are helping to free it from the concrete that has bound it for so long and how nature is ever present and encouraging us to live more harmoniously with it.

I was surprised to learn that the Fruitvale area, now infamous for the murder of Oscar Grant, was named because of the fruit that was grown there nearly a century ago. I haven’t thought of the Bay Area as a fruit or food producing area since in my lifetime it’s always been very built out. For my own family this was a good conversation to have since my daughter knows Fruitvale Station for its tragedy and I’m glad she can see the area (generally and specifically) not just for trauma but for its changeful beauty. The end of the book includes a three page history of the area that will appeal to older children who want more information and will help teachers and caregivers tie it in with historical and ecological curriculums.

Trujillo always does beautiful pen and watercolor illustrations. I think his style lends itself especially well to nature with rich colors and flowy edges. His people are always wonderful and he plays with perspective in a unique and fun way in this book. I think my favorite illustration is one of the final pages where the reader looks up through the creek, as if laying on the bottom, past some fish and toward two boys one of whom is reaching down into the water. It’s so beautiful. Other pages require you to flip the book 90 degrees to show how tall the redwoods once were and to take in a sweeping view of the mouth of the creek as it flows out into the Bay.

We own at least one other book that takes the perspective of a natural object, an oak tree in that book. Neither that book nor this one anthropomorphize the tree or creek and I think it’s a fascinating way to connect children to the natural world. It shows them that these plants (or animals or natural features) do not require human-like feelings or sentience to still matter in the world and to have life, intelligence, and a right to be.

In this strange time that is COVID-19, I think this is a story we all need. One that encourages us from the first lines to sit quietly and listen to a story that is older than any of us, older than our cities, older even than most civilizations and peoples. It’s comforting in its long view that even this shall pass, bring change, and, if we play it right, change for the better of nature and us.

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.

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: Missing Daddy by Mariame Kaba

Missing Daddy written by Mariame Kaba, illustrated by bria royal

A little child with brown skin and short hair is holding a dandelion puff. They are blowing the seeds out over a scene of buildings and hills. The child wears an orange shirt. In the sky a a few fireflies and the moon.
Image description: A little child with brown skin and short hair is holding a dandelion puff. They are blowing the seeds out over a scene of buildings and hills. The child wears an orange shirt. In the sky a a few fireflies and the moon.

From Goodreads: A little girl who misses her father because he’s away in prison shares how his absence affects different parts of her life. Her greatest excitement is the days when she gets to visit her beloved father. With gorgeous illustrations throughout, this book illuminates the heartaches of dealing with missing a parent and shows that a little girl’s love can overcome her father’s incarceration.

Missing Daddy is one of those picture books where its simplicity belies its power. A little girl speaks about what it’s like having a parent in prison. Her grandmother helps out and her mom works hard. Good days are when she can visit her father and hug him. She has some support in the form of her teacher and adults she can share her thoughts and feelings with. But sometimes the kids at school tease her. She also has a half sibling that lives in DC that she wishes she could talk to more so they can talk about missing their dad. The text is rhymed and the final page shows the girl standing at the front of a classroom holding a piece of paper which I understood to mean the books is supposed to be a poem she’s written and is now sharing with her class.

There are a handful of picture books that deal with incarcerated parents (Visiting Day by Jacqueline Woodson, An Angel for Mariqua by Zetta Elliott, and Mama’s Nightingale by Edwidge Danticat all come to mind)*, but it’s not a commonly covered topic. And yet, there are 5 million children who have had a parent incarcerated at some point during their childhood. This is not a topic we can or should sweep under the rug. These children deserve to see themselves in the pages of picture books and need to see their feelings validated. If you don’t know Mariam Kaba, what are you doing with your life? Look her up. She does incredible prison abolition work and you need to have her work on your radar.

The illustrations are awesome. I love the color palate. I love the sketchy black outlines filled with blocks of color. It makes the book feel very modern and appealing. The line drawings of the people remind me of the posters and remembrances of people in the Black Lives Matter signs. It’s also incredible that the illustrator centers “black and brown imaginations of womxnhood, femininity and gender fluidity”. We need to be supporting artists like this and it’s not very common in traditional publishing.

For those of you using this in a classroom or with your children, there is a discussion guide in the back to help guide your conversations around the story. I know these conversations can seem hard, particularly if you are not used to having tough conversations about big topics like this and a discussion guide can help.

If you are a library or school with populations that experience incarceration this must be on your shelves. Honestly, you may not know if a family has someone incarcerated, so even if you think you don’t serve families with incarcerated folks, you might. But please also consider having this on your shelf if you don’t have kids with incarcerated parents. This is a topic everyone should be discussing with their kids- don’t let these families be invisible to yours just because you don’t have someone in prison. Knowing that some children have their families torn apart by the criminal (in)justice system and that it harms them will foster empathy in kids who are fortunate enough not to be experiencing it (and hopefully inspire them to fight the system).

You can purchase the book here on Amazon or directly from the publisher Haymarket Books. If you work with any organizations that do jail support where they offer coffee, snacks, and supplies to folks visiting jails and/or being released from jails, donate copies to have out for kids heading in to visit incarcerated family members.

*Interestingly, I realized all three of these books and Missing Daddy feature girls with incarcerated parents.

Picture Book Review: Penelope Embraces Her Uniqueness by Katrina Hunt

Penelope Embraces Her Uniqueness written by Katrina Hunt, illustrated by Adua Hernandez

A purple book cover features a little girl with two hair poofs. She has her eyes closed and her arms wrapped around herself. She is wearing a bright yellow, sleeveless dress. She is being encircled by glowing musical notes. In the background is a baby grand piano.
Image description: A purple book cover features a little girl with two hair poofs. She has her eyes closed and her arms wrapped around herself. She is wearing a bright yellow, sleeveless dress. She is being encircled by glowing musical notes. In the background is a baby grand piano.

From Goodreads: Read along as author, Katrina Hunt, tells the story of a young girl named Penelope who has some struggles embracing all of the things that make her special/unique. Penelope eventually realizes that life is so much more than how she looks, but it’s her wonderful gifts and talents that make her one of a kind, too. Penelope Embraces Her Uniqueness inspires and encourages children to embrace who they are, and let their uniqueness shine through.

Penelope is having a hard time feeling like she’s different from everyone around her. She’s focused on how she looks different- her feet aren’t dainty, her skin is darker than the other girls, her hair is poofy. But one night she visits a fair and starts dancing at the music tent. She’s invited up on stage and discovers she is good at something. All the body criticism falls away and she realizes that it’s okay to be different and that she has had this talent and inner strength all along.

I think these types of books are especially wonderful in school and classroom libraries where there are groups of children who may end up comparing themselves to each other. This is something Penelope struggles with in the story. Not to mention the trend of working with children on their social and emotional intelligences in those venues. Penelope encourages children to find their gifts and talents and the special things that make them them.

I also think that, while every child can benefit from the positive message here, Black children (and a lot of children of color more broadly) will especially benefit from seeing a little girl who looks like them on the page. Traditional publishing still overwhelmingly centers white characters and this is true for those books that show quirky kids being accepted as they are. Librarians who serve populations with kids of color and Black children should be sure to have this on their shelves, especially if they also have books like Madeline, Lady Bug Girl, and Pippi Longstocking.

Adua Hernandez is always a strong illustrator. Her people are adorable and so much of her art features bright, friendly colors and patterns. It’s part manga, part cartoon. Penelope is hard on herself for her looks, but in reality she’s a sweet little girl with her hair in poofs, big brown eyes, and a yellow dress that pops against her brown skin. She also looks a lot like the author’s daughter who can be seen on the dedication page. As always the colors are bright and inviting and draw the reader into the page.

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

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: Hermanito: Little Brother and Hermanita: Little Sister by Dr. Khalid White & Isela Garcia White

Hermanito: Little Brother written by Dr. Khalid White & Isela Garcia White, illustrated by Adua Hernandez

Hermanita: Little Sister written by Dr. Khalid White & Isela Garcia White, illustrated by Adua Hernandez

Cover of the book features a light yellow background with the title across the top. In the center is a pink and purple rug with the three siblings sitting on it.
Image description: Cover of the book features a light yellow background with the title across the top. In the center is a pink and purple rug with the three siblings sitting on it.

From Goodreads: Read along as Mateo and Amaya laugh, share, and play with their little brother, Santiago. Hermanito teaches children the values of teamwork, responsibility and love in an environment filled with positive imagery from a lovely Afro-Latinx family. The story is told in both English and in Spanish for bilingual readers and language learners.

From Goodreads: Read along as Ximena and Miguel laugh, share and play with their little sister, Ariana. While in play, the older siblings show Ariana the values of teamwork, responsibility and love as only a family can. The story is told in both English and in Spanish for bilingual readers and language learners.

I’m reviewing these two books together because they are written in the tradition of books like What Mommies Do Best/What Daddies Do Best by Laura Numeroff, The Brother Book/The Sister Book by Todd Parr, and various potty training books geared toward boys or girls, as you might be able to tell from the titles here. Depending on what sibling order you have in your family, you could choose either title.

A light pink cover features three siblings with various shades of brown skin sit on a brightly striped rug. On the baby's lap is an open book.
Image description: A light pink cover features three siblings with various shades of brown skin sit on a brightly striped rug. On the baby’s lap is an open book.

The illustrations in both books are superb. Hernandez has a knack for creating adorable children and in these two books we get a gaggle of them. She also always uses bright, friendly colors, textures, and settings that make her books very inviting especially to children.

The families appear to be mixed Latinx/Black families. They also have a range of skin tones including some darker skinned people (the mix is different in each book). It’s not common to see mixed families except when the book is specifically talking about diversity and usually the mixed family is Black and White. Of course there are Black folks who are also Latinx and these books could easily be representing them too. And of course there are Black families that are not mixed who have a variety of skin tones and again this book could be reflecting them, although there are a few details that make it seem more like the families have some Latinx roots.

I absolutely love that in each home there is a small alter for the Virgin Mary with candles and flowers. It’s just a small detail and the homes for the most part look very American (if suspiciously clean for having three kids in them!), but this is the type of detail that can mean the world to children who are seeing their homes and family traditions reflected on the page.

The story in each book is split into two sections, the first shows the parents making a meal for the family and, once seated at the table, they talk about how they expect the older siblings to show the youngest how to be responsible and take personal responsibility. The second half shows the siblings doing exactly this. They talk about helping out around the house, taking care of pets, and playing. I appreciate that there are a mix of activities for both the brother and sister that show them being active and helping around the house. This second portion of the text is done is a sing-song type of verse which make it easy for young readers to join in and read or repeat along:

“Little Sister, Little Sister. We love to make you dance. Little Sister. Little Sister. Go put on some pants!”

“Little Brother. Little Brother. Let’s all play with the ball. Little Brother. Little Brother. We won’t let you fall.”

These would make great books for older siblings to share with their pre- and emerging reader younger sibs. They could skip the first part if the child they are reading to is young and may not sit through the whole story.

The books are also translated into Spanish (another reason I think the family has some Latinx roots). If you are a librarian in a bilingual school either because your population speaks Spanish or because you are an emersion school, these would make great additions to your collection.

The end of each book has some blank pages with questions on them for readers to answer, such as what do you like to do with your family and how might you help them. I love when books have these spaces to have kids personalize the stories and really think about the ideas. I really appreciate that the author has asked children to write OR draw to answer the questions- a very important distinction to make for kids who might not yet be writing.

All in all, both of these are sweet books that would be wonderful additions to collections with other sibling books on the shelves (including home libraries).

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

Purchase the book here (not affiliate links)

Hermanito:

Hermanita:

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: Testing Jitters by Alisha Chenevert

Testing Jitters written by Alisha Chenevert, illustrated by Hatice Bayramoglu

On the cover of the picture book is a classroom. A variety of children are sitting at desks with papers in front of them and pencils in hand. In the center of the picture is a girl with braided pigtails, a bright pink shirt, and brown skin.
Image descritpion: On the cover of the picture book is a classroom. A variety of children are sitting at desks with papers in front of them and pencils in hand. In the center of the picture is a girl with braided pigtails, a bright pink shirt, and brown skin.

From Goodreads: Read along as a brilliant young lady by the name of Mya shares her struggles of testing anxiety. As Mya prepares for bed the night before a big test, she finds herself unable to fall asleep. Suddenly, a genie appears to grant her ten wishes which includes a journey through some of Mya’s favorite adventures. Throughout her journey, Mya learns to focus on positive thoughts that bring her joy and help her to relax as she prepares for a test. She awakes to find that she no longer has testing jitters and that all is well.

I once read an article that encouraged teachers to call tests “Zimbabwes” because that word was silly and less threatening than the word “test”. Besides being kind of racist for calling the name of a country in Africa silly and implying that it isn’t threatening, this isn’t a particularly useful strategy for reducing anxiety since kids aren’t stupid. They know a test is a test no matter what you call it and for those kids who get performance anxiety or testing jitters, they need REAL strategies for focusing their minds and working with their anxiety.

There are also studies about how simply mentioning or implying that certain groups are not good at a subject (such as saying women aren’t good at math) prior to administering a test impacts performance in a measurable way. All of which to say is, testing anxiety is real and some kids need extra help. Tests are something we all have to suffer through even in the adult world (hello, DMV) so working on the anxiety as a child can help kids become successful, fully functioning adults.

In Testing Jitters Mya is nervous about a big test at school the next day. Her mom tries to soothe her and offers words of encouragement as well as to make a good breakfast in the morning, but she still goes to bed worried. In her dreams that night she is met by Gina, a genie. Together the two girls talk about things that bring Mya joy. They dance, swing, and visit the beach. Gina teaches Mya that she can calm herself by thinking of her favorite activities and places as well as taking deep breaths and believing in herself. She wakes up refreshed and takes her mom up on a hearty breakfast.

This is definitely a book for school libraries as well as classroom collections that teachers can pull out for working with anxious kiddos. Parents can work with kids to develop a list of strategies to try out for calming nerves- deep breaths, talking back to the anxious voice, finding some favorite places to visit to center themselves, etc. It’s helpful to see Mya do these things and find comfort in them as she sits down to take her big test. Testing anxiety (and honestly anxiety in general) is not a topic I see tackled a whole lot in kidlit, so Testing Jitters is a great addition to book shelves.

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

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