The Scoop on Children & Adolescent Literature

Posts Tagged ‘Diversity’

Ramadan Moon by Na’ima B Robert and Shirin Adl

Posted by hollybookscoops on June 25, 2012

This is a sweet book written in verse about the Muslim celebration of Ramadan. I first learned about Ramadan from one of my neighbors in Forest Grove, Oregon back in 2001. I believe my neighbor was pregnant at the time, and the idea of fasting from dawn to dusk was astonishing to me. Iman (my beautiful neighbor) was cheerful about it though. I wish I had this book back then to help me understand all that was celebrated and looked forward to with henna patterns on hands, Eid day and an increased focus on charity, sharing, praying and giving.

Ramadan Moon is a rich and comprehensive picture book that reaches out to share some of the treasured beliefs of Muslim families everywhere. I love the collage enhancements on the illustrations. Well done!

Posted in Picture Books, Poetry | Tagged: , , , | 4 Comments »

Black Book of Colors by Menena Cottin, Illustrated by Rosana Faria, Translated by Elisa Amado

Posted by bookscoops on November 28, 2009

Holly: The Black Book of Colors is amazing. I just keep thinking about how amazing it is. Combining English and Braille, does that qualify as bi-lingual? I’m not sure of the right term to use.

Cari: I loved how the author attempted to describe colors without being able to see, I loved it! The words are delicious.

Holly: Hmmm, I would venture to say that yellow tastes like lemon, not mustard, but it could taste like mustard, or lemon or banana. Which I guess are all delicious in their proper setting.

Cari: I really liked that it made you think differently and appreciate maybe what the world is like for someone who can’t see. I thought the author did an excellent job, and I want it in Spanish since it was orginally written in Spanish.

Holly: Really? It was done in Spanish first?

Cari; Yep, some of the other reviews said that the braille isn’t what a blind person really would read, it needs to be more raised. But it makes you think how important tactile books are for children who are blind because that is how they see the world.

Holly: I had my kids read the book with their eyes closed. (Of course, mine were open, so I could read). They wanted to peek so they could see, their favorite was the rain pouring down – they thought that felt like rain.

Cari: We should clarify that all of the pictures are black, they are not in color, The text is grey.

Holly: The most controversial ‘picture’ for us was the one that was hair and my littlest one adamantly insisted  that doesn’t feel like mommy’s hair.

Cari: I loved that part, I thought it felt like hair.

Holly: I thought it felt like hair too, or at least how hair would ‘feel’ like illustrated on paper.

Cari: I wonder what things felt like for Great Grandma B when she went blind?

Holly: She must have been able to tell quite a bit by the limited colors she could see and what she could feel . . .

Cari: . . .because we each got a quilt made especially for us as her great grandchildren.

Holly: Yep. I still have mine. . . but I won’t rub that little fact in or anything.

Cari: Go right ahead. It’s not like we’ve never brought up this subject before.

And now . . . for a trip down memory lane:

One of our favorite shows to watch growing up was Little House on the Prairie. We loved it so much that we actually played Little House on frequent occasions. A monumental day was when Mary Ingalls was actually declared blind. That changed everything. How would we pretend to be Mary if she couldn’t see? Shortly after this episode, we were hanging out with some friends when we decided to play Little House. Cari got to be the fun-loving rambunctious Laura while Holly (enraptured with the beautiful Melissa Sue Anderson) was thrilled to play Mary.

Cari: You can be Mary, Holly, but it has to be Mary before she was blind, you can’t pretend you can’t see, we all know you can see.

Holly: Oh yeah? I can be blind like Mary, I’ll just keep my eyes closed!

Cari: I’ll make a bet with you. If you can keep your eyes closed the whole time, I’ll let you . . .

Holly: What?

Cari: Um, I’m not sure. I guess I’ll let you be in charge next time.

Holly: Okay! Hey guys, do you want to come over to our house? We could all put on pioneer dresses and play Little House on the Prairie

Cari: Yeah, let’s go. I’ll race you there on my bike.

Friend #1: How are we gonna get there if Holly has to have her eyes closed?

Friend #2: Yeah, you can’t ride a bike with your eyes closed!

Holly: You wanna bet? I betcha I can ride my bike all the way to my house without peaking. Not even once.

Cari: All right! The last one there’s the rotten egg!

Holly: That’s not fair! I didn’t say I’d get there fast! Wait for me!!!

Friend # 1: Woah, Cari, look! I think Holly really has her eyes closed.

Friend # 2: Are you really closing your eyes?

Holly: Don’t my eyes look closed? I promise I”m not peeking. (okay, so honesty didn’t always work in my favor when it came to bets with Cari) Keep talking so I can follow your voices.

Cari: Woah! I think she’s really doing it! She must have learned how to tell where she’s going from that one pillowcase game we play. I didn’t know she’d gotten so good.

Holly: See, I told you I could do it. Now, I get to be in charge! Laura, you’re the younger sister so you have to do what I say. Now, go take care of Carrie!

Cari: No, Mary. I’m too busy playing with my friends right now. We’re going to go fishing by the creek! Too bad you’re blind Mary, or maybe you could come with us. See you later!

Holly: Hey! Wait! I’ll be the Mary before she goes blind! I wanna go fishing too. Wait up!

Posted in Double Scoops, Picture Books | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

When Marion Sang by Pam Muñoz Ryan, Illustrated by Brian Selznick

Posted by caribookscoops on March 13, 2009


In most of my picture book reviews I start with a review of the text, but this one I am going to start with the artwork. Brian Selznick does an oustanding job of creating a text that makes you fell as you are part of the audience listening to Marian Anderson sing. First off the cover page looks like a the front program of a recital program and I really like Selznick’s pictures in liquitex acrylics. Secondly, the brown and tan hues he uses really work well with text.

Now Pam Muñoz Ryan’s words are beautifully crafted and interwined with song words that Marian actually sang. They make you want to sing after reading about Marian Anderson. Here is a quote from the front cover, just to give you a feel for what I mean.

It was her range of notes that caused all the commotion. With one breath she sounded like, rain, sprinkling high notes in the morning sun. And with the next she was thunder, resounding deep in a dark sky.

See doesn’t that make you want to sing or at least hear Marian Anderson’s voice.

Who was Marian Anderson? Well she was an African American opera singer. Born in 1887, she was denied entrance into a singing school during high school because of her ethinicity.   Later she trained with Giuseppe Boghetti and toured Europe. She could sing in eight languages, but it was years into her singing career before she was able to perform at the prestigious Metropolitan Opera House because Jim Crow Laws. In addition she was forbidden to sing at  Constitution Hall by the DAR (Daughter’s of the American Revolution). First Lady,  Eleanore Roosevelt resigned her membership and invited her to sing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1939. Marian sang beautifully even though she was frightened and feared that protesters might bring violence. She sang in front of 75,000 people.

Pam Muñoz Ryan’s website and Brian Selznick’s website

When Marian Sang is one of the books I am reviewing for Women’s History Month for March. Stay tuned for more books for Women’s History Month.

Posted in Picture Books | Tagged: , | 5 Comments »

From Slave Ship to Freedom Road by Julius Lester Illustrated by Rod Brown

Posted by caribookscoops on February 6, 2009

slaveshiptofreedomroadThis is the MOST Powerful picture book about the history of African slavery in the United States, that I know of. I don’t think I have seen another picture book with illustrations that are so riveting. I was captivated by Rod Brown’s paintings from the moment I saw them – beyond words. Julius Lester’s text in this book is beautiful, powerful and provoking. I used this book every year that I taught US History about the African slave trade and it reaches people in a way that a textbook cannot. The text and paintings work intricatingly and passionately together to make history come to life. 

Lester had written about slavery before and said this, ”When presented with Rod Brown’s paintings. I was jolted into the realization that perhaps I had not done with writing about what it was like to be a slave. His work was a visceral response to slavery that eschewed photographic realism for a raw power that gave flesh to soul.”

From the book  (emphasis as in the book),

They took the sick and the dead and dropped them into the sea like empty wine barrels. But wine barrels did not have beating hearts, crying eyes, and screaming mouths.

I think often of those ancestors of mine whose names I do not know, whose names I will never know, those ancestors who saw people thrown in the sea like promises casually made and easily broken. . . .Millions were taken. No one knows how many millions died.

The Lester asks the reader to imagine what it would be like to be an African aboard a slave ship

Voice One: The darkness blacker than any night. Where was my father? my mother? Did they where I was? Why didn’t they come and get me? Did the ever know what happened to me?

Voice Two: Our bodies did what they had to do where we lay. Urine and excrement fell on me from above, and mine onto those below. The smell was as thick as hatred.

Voice Three: I was shackled by my wrists and ankles to a man on my right and one on my left. I could not stand. I could not turn over. I will never understand what I did to deserve this.

For me one of the most thought provoking, is when Lester asks the reader both black and white to consider what it would be like to be the perpetrator – the one doing the hurting. It’s easy to imagine what it is would be like to be the victim, to be torn from your family, but what about the person doing the hurting. He asks this,

We may think we would never whip someone until their flesh cried blood. But what if you would not be punished for doing it? What if your peers approved and deemed you honorable and good for beating someone? What then?

Such a powerful book, but is not picture book for young children. The recommended age group is 9-12 and I used it with 13-14 year olds – quite effectively and the book is also excellent for teaching literary devices for those English teachers out there. I have not yet read this to my barely turned 5 year old. I did think about showing it to her, but decided it was too much for her at this age. I would definitely follow the age recommendation on this one.

Julius Lester’s blog at A Commonplace Book and website

Rod Brown’s Art Collection – you can see several of his art pieces including some for this book!!!! Go check it out.

Posted in Middle Readers, Non-Fiction, Picture Books | Tagged: , , | 5 Comments »

Nightjohn by Gary Paulsen

Posted by bookscoops on February 4, 2009

nightjohnIn honor of Black History Month we chose a title from acclaimed author Gary Paulsen – the author of Hatchet the Brian books. His website is here and Iditarod Journal here. We really struggled with this post and it took a while for us to figure it out. After our review we discuss why.

Some spoilers below!!!!!

Cari: We also chose the book because of the emphasis on literacy and the power literacy brings to those who have it and the efforts and extremes people go to prevent people from learning to read.

Holly: You can turn that around to say the lengths people will go to to learn to read.

Cari: The main character’s name is Sarny and she is a young slave about 12 years old who cannot read and who more importantly is forbidden to learn to read. The title of the book comes from another slave named Nightjohn who is purchased by Sarny’s owner (Waller) during the course of the story.

Parts we liked:

Holly: I’m not sure there are parts I really liked in the sense that it’s a fun read because it’s not. It’s hard to read about the cruelty.  I do like when Sarny was drawing the numbers she saw on a bag because it shows that children are naturally oriented towards learning. Sarny is a curious and thoughtful child. She observes just about everything.

Cari: I liked that Paulsen did research to write his book. This is going to sound very teacherish of me, but I told my students all the time that good writers do research about their topics especially with historical fiction. I also think he does a good job of describing what life was like as a black slave in the United States.

Things that shocked us

Cari: I actually first listened to the book several years ago with my husband on a road trip. Got to love audio books, they can save you on long trips. I remember being shocked at how the women were viewed as breeders and only certain men were allowed to ‘breed’. I think Paulsen does it to give you a sense of how dehumanizing slavery can be.

Holly: I was surprised to learn that they were forbidden to pray. Was it that way everywhere? I thought they were encouraged to be Christian?

Cari: I don’t know if all praying was forbidden.

Holly: I thought sometimes slaves were required or told to pray

Cari: Maybe the concern was with praying for freedom because I could see where that would cause problems if  you don’t want your slaves thinking about running away.

Holly:  I was saddened by the fact that the girls . . . well that Sarny tries to hide the start of menstruation because she knows that means she will have to go the breeder’s shed.

Cari: I agree with you

Holly: Um I thought the name was fitting for having a period – the troubles was fitting. Yeah because it did cause troubles.

Cari: The troubles cause all kinds of problems. Talk about consent and not to mention mothers and fathers had no guarantee they could stay with their child or raise them. Sarny herself doesn’t remember her birth mom or know her father and Mammy is her primary care giver. As a mother and as a human being . . .  I say that is just wrong.

Holly: Paulsen dedicates this book to Sally Hemmings a slave of Thomas Jefferson. Do you know anything about that?

Cari: The research I’ve done indicates that likely somebody in the Jefferson family did father some of  Sally’s children. It’s possible Thomas Jefferson did, but it is possible it could be another male relative of his. It’s a hot topic that scholars and descendants debate. Thomas Jefferson was very contradictory. He wrote the Declaration of Independence and did not believe in slavery, but held slaves. The only slaves he freed were related to Sally and she was not freed upon his death. No one, I think, can say for certain what Jefferson’s relationship was with Sally Hemmings.

Holly: Would a male plantation owner with slaves admit to fathering children?

Cari: I don’t know some might have others did not. It would probably depend on the situation and how much they stood to lose. People accused Jefferson of fathering slaves during his life time so this issue has been around for a long time.

Holly: It’s possible that someone was trying to slander Jefferson in public. He wasn’t always honest  himself though. . . you know he hired someone to spread rumors about John Adams when they were contending with one another for president. . .  definitely he was a politician.

Cari: I find him a fascinating historical figure. He is human and therefore subject to all the greatness and weakness that comes with being human.

Back to the book:

Cari: When Nightjohn is a new slave to the plantation he has horrible scars on his back which indicated he has run away or was difficult to deal with. He offers to teach Sarny to read in exchange for tobacco. Reading is important, but I love that Nightjohn also teaches her to write. Mammy questions Nightjohn about the value of teaching Sarny to read:

“Why does it matter?” Mammy leaned against the wall. She had one hand on the logs, one on her cheek. Tired. “Why do that to these young ones? To Sarny here. If they learn to read – “

“And write” “And write, it’s just grief for them. Longtime grief. They find what they don’t have, can’t have. It ain’t good to know that. It eats at you then – to know it and not have it.”

“They have to be able to write,” John said. Voice pushing. . . . “They have to read and write so we can write about this – what they doing to us. It has to be written.”

Holly: A lot of the world can be changed with writing. Reading is great, but without writing it is not as useful. Unfortunately Sarny slips up and Waller catches her writing a word. So the plantation owner basically uses tortures  to get Mammy to tell who has been teaching reading. In order to save Mammy from more whippings Nightjohn confesses to teaching Sarny how to read and write.

Cari: At this point in the book I was really nervous for Nightjohn, I wondered if they would kill him, instead they dismember part of his body.

Holly: It hadn’t really sunk in what dismemberment would mean until I read about Nightjohn losing his toes. Very graphic and painful. It also marks him, anyone can tell that he has been caught trying to teach people to read so they can give out a harsher punishment if he is caught again. I really like the character of Nightjohn. He escaped slavery and came back to teach reading and writing. I would really like to know the character he is based on.

Cari: Me too! If I were using this in a classroom I would lament the fact that there is no bibliography and tell my students that if they ever become authors put a bibliography in the book. People are amazing they will give up a lot to learn to read and write. It reminds me of the women in Afghanistan under the Taliban who taught reading or wanted to learn to read.

Holly: Disney made this book into a movie and I found it interesting to read about the teacher who was called in to coach the child actress who played Sarny. He talked about how every day there was a new realization for her of what slavery was like. I’ve never seen the movie, just read about it.

Cari: This book is not long, but it is  considered young adult because of the brutality of the theme. The movie is PG-13 by the way.

Holly: We can learn from Nightjohn and other great books like it, that change is possible, progress can be made. Just think of Great Grandma Whitman, who remembered a time when servants were called darkies and who left the South to teach in the West. In just a few generations you go from slavery to integration to a wonderful mixed-big happy family (at least in our immediate family anyway).

Cari: I think that literacy will do a great deal to help people who are trapped by modern slavery. But that’s really a topic for another time. As we all know, slavery does not equal Black or vice versa and this is Black History Month so I think we should note that there is under construction a National Museum of African American History and Culture – the first of its kind in our nation.

Holly: I think that it’s about time! I’d love to go someday. I remember winning the 2nd Grade “I Have a Dream” contest. Mostly I remember writing about how we should all be good friends to one another and we would all be happy. I think that Dr. Martin Luther King would have liked that.

Why this Doublescoop was so hard.

Cari: So we almost didn’t go through with this post. This one was the hardest one we have done so far.

Holly: Yeah, we seriously considered giving up and had several conversations about doing something else, but then we started talking about why we were struggling. It comes down to this one word – race.

Cari: That one word is a bundle of emotions and history. You fill it out on lots of forms from job applications to school forms and it is a big part of No Child Left Behind legislation.

Holly: When I think about Dr. Martin Luther King and his dream, it would be so nice to live in a colorblind society. My middle son started the year as the only white child in his kindergarten class (now there’s two). The kids don’t seem to notice a whole lot, but race still seems to matter in certain places. I know junior high can be particularly rough as I’ve seen many kids line-up along racial groups and really give each other a hard time. So somewhere in the scheme of things race seems to matter.

Cari: Which reminds me of a book by Beverly Tatum called Why are all the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? This book talks about the phenoman which you describe. While it would be nice if we lived in a colorblind society . . . we don’t and there is definitely anxiety about race on many sides of the color line.

Holly: I think a lot of anxiety came from doing this review right. Racial relations can be really touchy and I think we are worried about messing this up . . . you know we don’t want to be accused of being racist.

Cari: That last word racist, is like a loaded gun. Tatum talks about that in her book about when people, particularly white people are accused of being racist. It gets them at their core, their gut. We all know it’s bad to be racist and most of us don’t want to be. We know it’s wrong . . . and yet most of us probably have some sort of false premises about race and may have some racist thoughts or behaviors we are not aware of.  Like the most common one I can think of is how people react if they see a black teen walking down the street. Do you cross the street, lock your car door? Or that there is more than one race when really there is one- the human race.  We still deal with race because of our past  that has been passed down to us and it matters. I guess that’s why I love history so much because it explains so much of the present.

Holly: Race issues are tough and we hope that someday in another 100 years people will look back and see the progress made and maybe society will be beyond race. The only way to accomplish that is through education. People need to be able to read and write. So just like in Nightjohn, everyone needs to read and write, so they can have a voice. That, I think, will help to go a long way towards fulfilling Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream.

Posted in Double Scoops, Young Adult, Young Adult Fiction | Tagged: , | 12 Comments »

La Mariposa by Francisco Jimenez Illustrated by Simon Silva

Posted by hollybookscoops on October 30, 2008

I first heard of this book when our local library advertised a presentation by Book-It Repertory Theatre. We love library activities, so we made sure to note the date and make plans to attend. The day of the presentation we arrived to find that the library wasn’t big enough to hold all the people who wanted to participate, so they had arranged to move it next door to the City Hall. My children were excited- how can you blame them after a summer of no story times? They did participate in summer reading which was rewarding in its own way, but due to numerous out-of-town adventures and swimming lessons, we missed story time and my kids love story time.

The three actors introduced themselves and explained that the presentation would be presented bilingually- which didn’t phase any of the children present la mariposa(our schools are upwards of 90% migrant/immigrant Latino children and everyone is used to hearing both languages). The curtains were pulled aside and we were transported to a Mexican migrant camp in California where Francisco is preparing for his first day of school. So many of the ‘1st day of school’ concerns that were mentioned transcend all boundaries as well as the excitement of riding the bus to school for the very first time! We were all empathetic when the actors portrayed the very real and disconcerting experience it was for Francisco to enter a world where the only word he understood was his own name. The actors communicated this superbly when slipping easily from ‘Fransisco’ into Charlie Brown phone speak (blah, blah, blah) to ‘Francisco’ and back again. I was especially pleased to have my children get a glimpse into what it is like for many of their class-mates who start sometimes in the middle of the year, having just arrived or returned from Mexico (or somewhere else south of the border) and who know very little, if any, English.

La Mariposa will give anyone who is open to learning, a glance into a common American immersion experience that teaches children to transcend the boundaries of race and status and find a common beauty that pulls us all together. In this case, the beauty that pulls Francisco’s class together is a butterfly- a thread that is woven throughout the book and play. My highest praise goes to the wonderful actors who piqued my interest in this autobiographical children’s story. The book, wonderful on its own merits, became even better when transferred to the stage.

As a side note, my middle child came home from school today having colored pictures of friends in school. To my surprise, all the children in the picture were brown- including mine! As one of only two or three non-latino anglo children in that class, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that there is no perceived difference- children really are immune to prejudice until they are taught!

If you want to help promote literacy, please consider making a donation to the Quincy Public Library new building fund. For more information, call 509-787-2359 or email Schiree Ybarra, the librarian supervisor, at

Posted in Picture Books | Tagged: , | 6 Comments »


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