We Are Still Here!

April 18th, 2021 · Books

This non-fiction picture book, WE ARE STILL HERE!, is subtitled Native American Truths Everyone Should Know, and the book makes sure the reader knows them by the end. Written by Traci Sorell in the structure of elementary student presentations, the book educates us on topics often glossed over in elementary school and beyond. Each section concludes with the refrain, “We Are Still Here!” reminding us that this history is still very much alive and unfolding.

From the first page, unfair policies and broken treaties are introduced and discussed. Each topic is written clearly and with the late elementary reader in mind. Policies like Assimilation, Allotment, Relocation precede the later sections of Tribal Activism, Self-Determination, and the fight for Religious Freedom. The end result ensures that children will feel hopeful and empowered to share what they have learned.

The illustrations by Frané Lessac compliment the text by adding not just visualization but meaning. The facing pages focused on Termination, for example, include text that discuss betrayal of treaties by the US Government, and the illustration contrasts Menominee Nation land for sale, and presumed purchasers fishing from a rowboat, as members of the Menominee hold signs demanding justice. The page about Language Revival shows a classroom of children learning their native languages, and the Cherokee Syllabary, along with Sequoyah, its inventor, on the board.

The details within the pages are supplemented by additional information on the 12 topics, including a timeline and glossary. A caregiver unfamiliar with the topics will appreciate reading the end pages in the book prior to sharing it with a child; there are sure to be questions.

We Are Still Here! is highly recommended.

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We Laugh Alike, Juntos Nos Reímos

April 12th, 2021 · Books

WE LAUGH ALIKE JUNTOS NOS REÍMOS by Carmen T. Bernier-Grand is a joyful, bilingual romp in a playground with two trios of kids who speak different languages: English and Spanish. The cheerful picture book reminds us that children (and their caregivers!) are more similar to their peers than not. A good lesson for us all.

Playground activities like jumping rope and playing on a merry-go-round help bring the two groups together to play and learn each others’ languages. The pages are set-up to be read as responses and reflections in English and Spanish. In most cases, the lines are repeated in translation so families and classes can learn some new words, as the children in the story do. Once the playtime ice has broken, the language barrier dissolves as well.

Every color possible seems to be used within the pages of this book. The vibrant illustrations by Alyssa Bermudez depict a range of character backgrounds and personalities, and the faces of the children portray clear and varied emotions throughout.  Curiosity and wonder, playfulness, and an openness to differences are conveyed in the bright, expectant characters.

We Laugh Alike Juntos Nos Reímos will both entertain, inspire, and instruct its early elementary readers.

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The Little Butterfly That COULD

April 4th, 2021 · Books

THE LITTLE BUTTERFLY THAT COULD by Ross Burach is just as energetic and entertaining as the prequel, The VERY Impatient Caterpillar. The migrating butterfly we meet is unsure he’ll make the 200 mile journey over the ocean to join his companions and feast on a field of flowers. The whale he encounters along the way is eternally patient and encouraging and kind. At its essence, this picture book is a lesson in perseverance and encouragement that young readers will appreciate. Butterfly and Whale are endearing and funny, and the same readers will laugh with them as they follow along their adventures. 

Butterfly starts out the book nervous, and he continues to build up his anxiety for most of the book. Will he find the flowers? Can he fly 200 miles? What if he gets lost? Or eaten? He copes by longing for simpler times, avoiding the situation, and trying to talk himself out of continuing on. None of that works, and Butterfly eventually takes charge of himself and perseveres. 

Butterfly’s success is bolstered by his new friend, a whale. Whale boosts Butterfly’s confidence with “one-liners” of encouragement like, “You’ll get there. One mile at a time.” When Butterfly shares how afraid he feels, Whale admits that sometimes he feels afraid too, despite his size. He also shows infinite patience when Butterfly tries to settle in Whale’s stomach. However, in the end, it is Whale’s ability to stay firm and calm in the face of Butterfly’s desperate pleas that help his friend find the self-confidence to try, try again. 

Burach’s vivid illustrations mirror his whimsical and poignant text. The bright colors and expressive faces are both funny and endearing. Whale’s kindness and bemusement comes through in his eyes, and Butterfly’s frenzied energy is a whole body experience, from antennae to wing-tips. 

Even though THE LITTLE BUTTERFLY THAT COULD is promoted as a companion to Burach’s earlier The VERY Impatient Caterpillar, it’s not necessary to have read it to enjoy this book. It’s both fun and instructive, silly and comforting. Highly recommended. 

And as an aside: Whale is deeply likable, and really Burach could write a follow-up that shares what his own journeys are like. (hint. hint.) 

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Bracelets for Bina’s Brothers

March 29th, 2021 · Books

BRACELETS FOR BINA’S BROTHERS by Rajani LaRocca is a delight. The picture book is centered on preparing for the Hindu celebration of Raksha Bandhan, a celebration of brothers and sisters. This year Bina feels she is old enough to make bracelets for her brothers on her own, although she enlists the “help” from her dog Tara. Readers follow Bina as she sneaks around on a reconnaissance mission to discover each brother’s favorite and least favorite color. What results is a seamless example of “storytelling math” that combines cultural awareness, sweet family interactions, and lessons in noticing and creating patterns aimed at preschool aged children. 

Bina’s adventures in bracelet-making involves choosing colors, finding special beads, stringing beads in colorful patterns, and solving the problem of when to start over and when to adjust her plans. It’s charming, and the math lesson of patterns doesn’t take over the storytelling, but it remains a pivotal part of Bina’s task. The simple pattern activities at the end of the book are the perfect way to continue on from the sweet introductory pattern lesson in the story. There is also a description of Raksha Bandhan and its meaning. 

Chaaya Prabhat’s joyful illustrations are colorful and expressive. There are myriad details throughout for children to notice, count, and identify. The family dog, Tara, is depicted as beloved and mischievous. And each character exudes personality and various styles of hair and clothing. 

Bracelets for Bina’s Brothers is part of the storytelling math series from Charlesbridge Publishers developed with TERC, a non-profit focused on improving mathematics and science education. 

Highly recommended. 

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