Separate is Never Equal by Duncan Tonatiuh

Separate is Never 61QJH+UcmDLSeparate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation

Duncan Tonatiuh, Author and Illustrator

Abrams Books for Young Readers, Biography, May 6, 2014

Awards: 2015 Pura Belpré Illustrator Honor Book; 2015 Robert F. Sibert Honor Book

Suitable for Ages: 6-9

Themes: Mexican-Americans, Sylvia Mendez, Segregation in Education, Racial persecution, Mendez vs. Westminster School District, Multicultural

Opening: Sylvia had on her black shoes. They were shiny-new. Her hair was perfectly parted in two long trenzas. It was her first day at the Westminster school. The halls were crowded with students. She was looking for her locker when a young white boy pointed at her and yelled, “Go back to the Mexican school. You don’t belong here!”

Synopsis: Sylvia and her two brothers moved with their family to a farm near Westminster, California. Her father, a field-worker, finally got a lucky break to lease a farm and be his own boss. Sylvia was excited about starting a new beautiful school as a third grader. When they went to enroll at the school, her parents were told their children couldn’t attend the white school. They had to enroll in the Mexican school.  Sylvia was confused because she wasn’t Mexican. She was an American citizen and spoke perfect English. Was she banned because she was brown, had dark hair and her last name was Mendez? That fall Sylvia and her brothers attended the small run-down, inferior Mexican school where the teachers didn’t care about teaching.  The school was surrounded by a cow pasture. There was no beautiful playground, just dirt. And, there was no place for the children to eat their lunch.

After approaching the school board with no success, Sylvia’s father, Gonzalo Mendez, began to organize an association of Mexican parents. They filed a lawsuit against the school district to integrate the schools. Sylvia Mendez  and her family helped bring an end to segregation in California, which led to the 1947 Supreme Court ruling for equality for all children in America.

Why I like this book:

Duncan Tonatiuh’s compelling book brings Sylvia’s important story to life in a manner children will easily understand. He cleverly weaves Sylvia’s inspiring story with factual information. The text also includes Spanish words and phrases. I especially like how Sylvia’s story shows children that they can make a difference in their communities, country and world.

Tonatiuh’s bold and unique illustrations are done in muted tones with a Latino flare. They significantly contribute to Sylvia’s story and emphasize the theme of separatism and inequality. The cover is magnificent!

I was surprised to discover that the movement to desegregate schools for children of all ethnicities and races began with Latino children in the 1940s with Mendez vs. Westminster School District. There would be no “Brown vs. Board of Education” Supreme Court ruling without  Sylvia’s original lawsuit. This book belongs in every school library.  Children read a lot of books about the civil rights era, so it is important to introduce this important piece of Latino history into Black History month.

Resources: The author includes detailed information at the end of the book from court files, newspaper accounts and update information and photos of the real Sylvia Mendez, who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in 2011.

For tweens, parents may want to check out a middle grade novel, Sylvia and Aki, which is a more in-depth story about Sylvia and her relationship with Japanese-American girl, who has been sent to an internment camp.

If You Plant a Seed by Kadir Nelson

If You Plant a Seed 511V106f+0L__SY498_BO1,204,203,200_If You Plant a Seed

Kadir Nelson, Author and Illustrator

Balzer + Bray/Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, Fiction, Mar. 3, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Animals, Nature, Planting and Growing, Sharing,  Seeds of kindness, Generosity, Friendship

Opening: “If you plant a tomato seed, a carrot seed, and a cabbage seed, / in time, / with love and care, /  tomato, carrot and cabbage plants will grow.”

Synopsis: Rabbit and mouse, plant seeds in their garden. They patiently tend to their garden and watch the rain and sun do their magic. As the fruits of their labor begin to pay off they do their happy dance and marvel at the sweetness of their bounty. When five birds appear from the sky, rabbit and mouse try to protect their vegetables from their winged friends.  The birds stare them down (illustrations are priceless) and pandemonium breaks out, until mouse gives the birds a peace-offering. Because of mouse’s act of generosity, the birds return with seeds of kindness and friendship reigns.

Why I like If You Plant a Seed:

Kadir Nelson’s If You Plant a Seed is a timeless story for the entire family that will charm you from the first double-spread to the last. His spare and clever text makes this story an easy book for kids to read alone or to a sibling. It shows children what happens when you are selfish and hoard your bounty. And it teaches them what happens when they are kind and share with others — friendships form. These are values they will easily understand. The cover is gorgeous. Nelson’s beautiful, oversized oil paintings are breathtaking! Facial expressions are dramatic, expressive and humorous. The vegetables look so real, that you want to reach out and take a bite of a carrot or tomato. If You Plant a Seed has heart, humor, connection and friendship. It  is a treasure! Visit Kadir Nelson online at his website.

Kadir Nelson won the 2012 Coretta Scott King Author Award and Illustrator Honor for Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans. He received Caldecott Honors for Henry’s Freedom Box by Ellen Levine and Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford, for which he also garnered a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award and won an NAACP Image Award. Ellington Was Not a Street by Ntozake Shange won a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award. Nelson’s authorial debut, We Are the Ship, was a New York Times bestseller, a Coretta Scott King Author Award winner, and a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor book. He is also the author and illustrator of the acclaimed Baby Bear.

A Morning with Grandpa by Sylvia Liu

Morning with Grandpa 51r2LRx0zTL__SX395_BO1,204,203,200_A Morning with Grandpa

Sylvia Liu, Author

Christina Forshay, Illustrations

Lee & Low Books, Fiction, Apr. 1, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Themes: Intergenerational relationships, Tai Chi, Yoga, Grandfathers, Multicultural

Opening: “Mei Mei watched Grandpa dance slowly among the flowers in the garden. He moved like a giant bird stalking through a marsh. His arms swayed like reeds in the wind.”

Book Jacket Synopsis: Mei Mei’s grandpa is practicing tai chi in the garden, and Mei Mei is eager to join in. As Gong Gong tries to teach her the slow, graceful movements, Mei Mei enthusiastically does them with her own flair. Then Mei Mei takes a turn, trying to teach Gong Gong the yoga she learned in school. Will Gong Gong be able to master the stretchy, bendy poses?

Why I like this book:

Sylvia Liu has written a story that celebrates the special relationship between a granddaughter and her grandfather as they learn tai chi and yoga together. Mei Mei watches her grandfather practice tai chi, wants to know more, and adds a lively spin to his methodical movements.  Grandfather shows patience with Mei Mei’s  enthusiastic and energetic interpretation of tai chi and praises her movements as “perfect.” He’s a good sport when Mei Mei in turn shows him yoga movements, despite his creaky knees.  Liu’s book is a beautiful intergenerational story about a grandfather and grandchild teaching each other something new. Christina Forshay’s colorful illustrations are warm, expressive and capture the lovely memories of a morning spent together.

Resources: The book includes instructions for the tai chi and yoga exercises described in the text in the back matter of the book — a fun activity for children, parents and grandparents. Visit Sylvia Liu at her website.

1-2-3 A Calmer Me

1-2-3 Calmer Me 51hB9ta-cnL__SX397_BO1,204,203,200_1-2-3 A Calmer Me: Helping Children Cope When Emotions Get out of Control

Colleen A. Patterson and Brenda S. Miles, Authors

Claire Keay, Illustrator

Magination Press, Fiction, Sep. 22, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Themes: Anger, Emotions, Calmness

Opening: I am happy, but sometimes I feel mad and VERY frustrated! Like the other day when I let go of my balloon. I felt s-o-o-o mad!

Synopsis: A girl becomes angry when she lets go of her balloon. Her friend tells her it’s okay to feel mad, but there is something she can do to feel better. He shares with her a rhyme he uses to calm his body and mind. “1-2-3 a calmer me. 1-2-3 I hug me. 1-2-3 relax and b-r-e-a-t-h-e…1-2-3 a calmer me.” When she discovers it melts her angry feelings, she begins to use the technique when someone takes away her favorite crayon, when she has to stop playing and eat dinner, and when she loses a race.

Why I like this book:

I was delighted to discover Colleen A. Patterson and Brenda S. Miles’ book which helps children with relaxation and mindfulness when their emotions spin out of control. We need more books like this to use at home and at school to help upset kids regain control so that they don’t act out in a harmful way. Claire Keay’s illustrations are rendered in warm and comforting pastels and capture the emotion of the story.

1-2-3 A Calmer Me introduces readers to a very simple rhyming mantra to help them stop their negative reaction, calm their anger, frustration or disappointment and replace it with a very easy technique.  In the first action of the mantra the girl wraps her arms around herself and gives herself a big, tight hug. Then she counts again and slowly breathes in and out and relaxes her body. In the last action she slowly releases her hug and lets her arms dangle by her side. She feels the relaxation.

Resources: The book includes a “Note to Parents, Teachers and Other Grown-Ups” with more information about the steps of the “1-2-3” rhyme, and advice for working through the steps with your child.

Betsy’s Day at the Game by Greg Bancroft

Betsy's Day 51PPSIp5vML__SY398_BO1,204,203,200_Betsy’s Day at the Game

Greg Bancroft, Author

Katherine Blackmore, Illustrator

Mighty Media Press, Fiction, 2013

Mom’s Choice Awards, 2013 Winner

Suitable for Ages: 6-10

Themes: Baseball, Keeping score, Intergenerational relationships, Family traditions

Opening:  “Elisabeth, Grandpa’s here,” Betsy’s mom called out.  A car pulled in to the driveway. Betsy came running with her Boo Bag.”

Synopsis: Betsy is going to a baseball game with her grandfather. She packs her baseball glove, score book, pencil and hat in her special bag.  Betsy puts on her cap and they head toward the city ballpark. They sit just behind home plate. Betsy is eager to work on her score keeping with her grandpa, who drills her and offers advice.  As the action begins, Betsy keeps track of the players, the foul balls, the strikes and the home runs.  When a batter hits a ball into the stands, Betsy grabs her glove and catches the grand slam home run ball.  She has a lot to share with her mother. But, her mother has a surprise to share with Betsy.

Why I like this book:

This is a heartwarming intergenerational story about a girl and her grandpa spending the day together at the ballpark.  What a perfect way to share family traditions about America’s favorite pastime — baseball.

Bancroft’s story celebrates everything there is to love about a baseball game — the sights, the smells, the sounds and the thrill of catching a ball in the stands.  Katherine Blackmore’s illustrations are warm, inviting, colorful and support the story. There are maps of the field with scorecard codes and separate squares detailing scoring information on the players.

The story focuses on teaching children how to keep score at a baseball game through the happy chitchat between Betsy and Grandpa.  The author provides fully illustrated scorecards at the end, which can be copied and used when a child watches a baseball game.

Resources:  Learning how to keep score is a great way for parents, grandparent and children to interact and have fun. The story itself will teach parents (if you don’t know) and children about keeping score.  Take your child to a local baseball game for a fun family outing and work together to fill out the scorecards. This is a great way to make family memories.  Click here for a free downloadable Educator’s Activity Guide.

Ouch! Moments: When Words Are Used in Hurtful Ways

Ouch! Moments51oze-lcWOL__SX399_BO1,204,203,200_Ouch! Moments: When Words Are Used in Hurtful Ways

Michael Genhart, Author

Viviana Garofoli, Illustrator

Magination Press, Fiction, Sep. 22, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Themes: Hurtful words, Microaggressions, Insults, Conduct, Caring, Empowerment

Opening: “When a bee stings, Ouch! That hurts! Catching a finger in a closing door hurts a lot. Ouch! Hearing a mean thing or ugly word hurts too. That is definitely an Ouch moment!”

Synopsis:  Sometimes kids use hurtful words to put down another child. They can be said by a child when they are trying to be funny, “oink goes the pig” or “he throws like a girl.” They can be used by kids to have power over other kids to make them feel small. Ouch moments happen quickly and other kids don’t know what to do. When these moments occur, the perpetrator, the victim and the bystanders need help. Readers will be encouraged to be caring and take a stand.

Why I like this book:

Michael Genhart introduces readers to “ouch moments” that are usually directed towards a child that is different. His thoughtful book will help parents, teachers and children recognize mean, ugly, and hurtful words.  The language is simple, hopeful and ideal for kids. The characters are believable. Children will learn strategies that will empower them to stand up to insults and hurtful language. This is a book that all children can identify with because they have been on both sides, as the perpetrator and receiver. Genhart also helps kids to recognize their own hurtful language in a way that doesn’t shame. Many times they repeat something they’ve heard from someone else. Viviana Garofoli’s illustrations are colorful, expressive and compliment the story.

Resources:  This book is a resource for home and in the classroom. It is great resource for school teachers at the beginning of the school year to talk with kids about hurtful language and share their  “ouch moments.” There is a Note to Parents and Caregivers about microaggressions, and strategies for talking to children about hurtful language, discrimination and bias.

Tortuga Squad: Kids Saving Sea Turtles in Costa Rica

World Turtle Day, June 16, 2016

Tortuga Squad 61KgIBV6yyL__SY427_BO1,204,203,200_Tortuga Squad: Kids Saving Sea Turtles in Costa Rica

Cathleen Burnham, Author and Photographer

Crickhollow Books, Photodocumentary, Jan. 3, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 7-10

Themes: Sea Turtles,  Environmental rescue, protection and rescue, Youth activism, Costa Rica, Global kids, Diversity

Synopsis: It is May and a group of children in Costa Rica are tirelessly working to protect and save the lives of sea turtles on Parismina Island. They call themselves the Tortuga Squad, which means “turtle” in Spanish.  They are on the outlook for poachers who are watching the beaches for sea turtles that come ashore to dig deep holes and lay their eggs. They steal the eggs and kill the mama turtles and eat their meat for dinner.

Meet 6-year-old Bianca, who is patrolling the beach from a hidden bush. She recognizes the poacher, waits until the coast is clear, and races to her friend Christian’s house to get help for the trapped turtle. Melanie, Dylan and other children hear the cry for help and rush with Bianca and Christian to help flip the turtle back over and watch her escape into the sea.

The Tortuga Squad patrols the beaches every evening and works hard to protect turtles and their eggs. Humans are their greatest threat. The children build a hatchery to safeguard the eggs until they hatch. Once the turtles are ready for release, the Tortuga Squad clears the beach of crabs, birds, dogs and other potential threats. They want to make sure that every little leatherback baby turtle make it to the water on its first journey over the shallow reef and to the ocean.

Tortuga kid-releasing-turtleCompliments of Crickhollow Books

Why I love the Tortuga Squad:

  • Cathleen Burnham is on a mission to find, highlight and photograph children who are united in a cause to rescue and save endangered marine and animal life around the globe. Her true and inspiring story is a call to children worldwide that they don’t have to be adults to make a difference. The kids of Parismina Island are passionate young activists who care and want to be involved in protecting the turtles.
  • The Tortuga Squad is an engaging story for readers and is perfectly paced. Keeping turtle nests safe is a busy job for the squad and readers will enjoy the important mission. There is factual information about the variety of sea turtles that visit Parismina Island to lay their eggs on the dangerous beach: leatherback, hawksbill, loggerhead and green turtles. There is also a map of Costa Rica and Central America. The Tortuga Squad is a winner and an excellent discussion book for children, parents and teachers.
  • Every page of the book is filled with rich, beautiful and moving photographs that show the young  Tortuga Squad  activists in action. Burnham also captures every aspect of life in Costa Rica including family life, the market place, and travel by boat. Burnham devotes many double-page spreads to the delicate ecosystem and the gorgeous endangered species living there, including howler monkeys, sloths, pelicans, crocodiles and beautiful birds.

Resources: To learn more about the amazing things children are doing to protect wildlife around the globe, visit the World Association of Kids and Animals (WAKA) and get involved. There is a special teacher’s guide available for classroom use. Make sure you read the Author’s Note about sea turtles and the kids of Costa Rica. Check out the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries  website. They will observe Sea Turtle Week, June 13-17.

Cathleen Burnham is a journalist, writer and photographer. In addition to the Tortuga Squad, Burnham is the author of Doyli to the Rescue, the first “photodocumentary” book in a series of six forthcoming books for young readers that profile wildlife preservation efforts being undertaken by kids around the globe.