Elizabeth, Queen of the Seas

January 30th, 2021 · Books

ELIZABETH, QUEEN OF THE SEAS by Lynne Cox is a sweet fictionalized picture book retelling of the true story of an elephant seal who seemed to prefer freshwater and city surroundings to the ocean despite the community attempting to help her back to the wild. The author’s note at the beginning of the story explains how Cox learned about Elizabeth and her adventures. For families concerned about how humans impact and respond to wild animals, this book will provide opportunities for discussions and different perspectives.

Cox presents a little boy, Michael, as a focus of the story after Elizabeth the sea lion has been introduced. His devotion to Elizabeth and his joy when he interacts with her is reflected by the community of Christchurch, New Zealand. Despite a beginning that depicts an idyllic existence in freshwater and parks surrounded by humans, the perils of city life for a wild animal are shown when Elizabeth chooses to warm herself in the road. After three attempts to bring Elizabeth to other sea lion colonies, which were followed by Elizabeth returning three times to Christchurch, the residents adapt by erecting a sign warning drivers of an Elephant Seal Crossing. Brian Flora’s illustrations personify Elizabeth without making her cartoonish, and the drawings help widen the meaning of the text with a variety of scenes and personalities detailed.

While the book is heartwarming and gives what is meant to be a happy ending with Elizabeth ending up “exactly where she belonged,” it lightens some of the true-to-life events for a younger audience. Families who focus on animal welfare will have opportunities to discuss how humans attempted to assist Elizabeth and they can also compare the elephant seals in the wild versus Elizabeth’s life in the city. The end of the book also has a page of facts about elephant seals to further discussion and research.

Overall, ELIZABETH, QUEEN OF THE SEAS is a delight to read with children.

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A Prayer for World Peace

January 15th, 2021 · Books

Jane Goodall’s A PRAYER FOR WORLD PEACE is a wide-open call for awareness and understanding of how we are all — people, animals, the environment — connected in our world. The prayer includes whoever wants to join in by reaching our to the “Great Spiritual Power,” and it continues with calls for open mindedness, generosity, and compassion. Soon, however, it leads into more specific and urgent calls that we heal the harm we’ve inflicted on the environment, pray for starving children, those forced into slave labor and prostitution, and child soldiers. Refugees of war and environmental destruction are highlighted, as are myriad forms of animal abuse and exploitation. Goodall writes, “We pray for an end to cruelty whether to humans or other animals…and torture in all its forms.” The book ends with a return to more general prayers for strength through love, understanding, humility, and learning not to take anything for granted.

While some of the sections of this prayer may feel shocking to younger readers, the various sections open up direct and malleable opportunities for families to discuss the impacts and effects, both positive and negative, that each individual can have. Caregivers will want to read through the book prior to sharing it with more sensitive children as the sections that mention abuse to children and animals are detailed enough to beg for elaboration.

Feeroozeh Golmohammadi’s rich and expressive artwork on each page reflects the hopeful sections as effectively as the harsh and painful section. Moving between cool blues and greens to reds, purples, and toxic oranges and browns, the artist evokes reactions and an urge to action together with the words. The abstraction of the images include details that will draw the reader’s eye to the page again and again.

The book includes a message from Jane Goodall at the end, as well as information about the Jane Goodall Institute and Roots & Shoots.

 

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Fry Bread

November 23rd, 2020 · Books

Author Kevin Noble Maillard approaches this celebration of FRY BREAD with a focus on the senses and the history behind the favorite staple. Born of necessity when native tribes were forcibly moved, able to take little with them, fry bread was created with the items given by the U.S. government: flour, yeast, sugar, salt, and sometimes cornmeal. This picture book, however, celebrates the process and family-tradition of making and eating fry bread. The joyful and stunningly detailed illustrations Caldecott Honor winner Juana Martinez-Neal has created ensure that all readers come away from the book knowing that Fry Bread is most definitely US.

The picture book is divided into sections headed with a simple statement about fry bread: Fry Bread is Food, Fry Bread is Sound, Fry Bread is Shape, Fry Bread is Time, and so on. Each section details ingredients and techniques and family time spent making and eating fry bread. The descriptions are vibrant and sensory, and the vocabulary is appropriate without being too simple. Each page is a nugget of information about fry bread that ties together culture and history and family traditions for many Native Americans.

The illustrations connect beautifully with the text, and Martinez-Neal drew inspiration from Maillard’s personal photos and multicultural history. Centered on a Native American grandmother, the picture book shows her leading a group of children through mini and molding and frying the bread. The images of celebrating the making and eating of the bread moves into learning about history and culture and values, all connected to the tradition of process of the fry bread. The multicultural depiction of the children and adults celebrates a rich heritage and the vast connections across nations.

The book ends with a recipe for fry bread and an expanded explanation of each earlier page in Fry Bread. The sections are fabulously informative, and while they are aimed at caregivers, not the preschool readers, they can definitely be shared with all ages. Mentions of particular details in the illustrations will also have readers going back to search for names and items discussed throughout the book.

 

Reprinted with permission.

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All Because You Matter

November 19th, 2020 · Books

“They say that matter is all things that make up the universe: energy, stars, space…If that’s the case, then you, dear child, matter.”

I’m not embarrassed to admit that the first line of ALL BECAUSE YOU MATTER by Tami Charles brought tears to my eyes. It’s beautiful. Together with the accompanying illustration, of a pregnant Black couple cradling the mother-to-be’s belly, the words hold all the love and hope and expectation we give to our children. This powerful children’s book holds up children, especially Black and marginalized children, and assured them that their lives matter to the world.

From the personal and private opening image, the story travels to ancestors’ accomplishments and experiences. The child reading or listening to the book is reminded that their ancestors had hopes and dreams and always knew that “you matter.” Always.

Alternating between personal joys and painful moments, and then opening up to wider, monumental details, works beautifully in this picture book. Readers will both relate to and feel empathy for the examples given: having your name giggled at in class, receiving “big, bold, red” marks on your school work, watching tragic abuses on the news. And like a comforting pep talk after a bad day, the book bolsters the reader as “dreamed of, carried like a knapsack full of wishes” since the day the universe was created. It’s a beautiful, powerful, and loving quilt of assurances to wrap around children who may sometimes feel uncertain about their place in the world.

The stunning and colorful illustrations by Bryan Collier convey deep and profound emotion on every page. In an array of quilted collage (his grandmother was a quilter) and expressive illustration, the young boy at the center of the book is surrounded by colors and faces and patterns that celebrate his joys and comfort him in tougher times. The folk art style of the collage serves as a vibrant background for the detailed and realistic portraits of the characters throughout the book. The emotions in the illustrations that depict school incidents and response to Black Lives Matter are particularly powerful.

 

Tami Charles shares in the Author’s Note that she wrote ALL BECAUSE YOU MATTER to help families with young children begin conversations about the racial climate in the USA. The examples of the hurtful experiences children have, and more widely, the mention of taking a knee, and the listed first names of murdered Black boys and men are age-appropriate and allow families to choose whether to discuss the issues directly or more gently. Charles also shares that she wrote the book to remind children, “especially those from marginalized backgrounds,” that they all have generations of ancestors and accomplishments holding them up because they matter. Even in moments where they are made to feel small, they can be proud of who they are and where they came from because the matter.

Very highly recommended.

 

Review by Kristin Wald

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