Posted in Preschool, Storytime, Toddler

Storytimes for Social Justice in 2017

Happy New Year to all! I hope your holidays were amazing and that you said goodbye to 2016 in the best way possible. I had a stomach bug go through the entire household in a matter of days, so I rang in the new year taking baby sips of Gatorade, but it gave me some time to think, reflect, and plan for the new year.

This new year is heading into scary territory for many folks. As children’s librarians, we have a chance to help make those times a little less scary for parents and kids alike. We can point parents to resources they need to make sure they stay informed, aware, and can find help and information where they need it. We can help kids by introducing them to books, songs, and fingerplays that cheer them up, sure but also teach them about other kids that may experience similar circumstances, so they don’t feel alone, and we can engender empathy by exploring other families’ dilemmas through story. Storytime Underground has issued a challenge this year, and it’s one I’m excited to accept.


I attended a great Storytime Manifesto program while I was at PLA last year. We talked about how storytime does make a difference in helping children become ready for kindergarten, we talked statistics about family literacy, phonological awareness, print motivation, oral communication and socialization between children, and development of fine motor skills by introducing and crafts during your storytime. I’ve kept a lot of that in mind as I’ve developed my storytimes, and now I’m taking things one step further by accepting this blog challenge. I’ll be continuing to read diverse titles by diverse authors, and I’ll be looking to my other librarians and bloggers for ideas to expand my mind and skills, so I can help families expand theirs. I’d love for you to join me as I start this journey. If you’re interested in your own Social Justice Storytime – anyone, teacher, educator, parent, aunt, uncle, next door neighbor who babysits their friends’ kids every now and then – Storytime Underground has a great starter kit with ideas that you can download for free. There are also fantastic lists you can discover through Pinterest to build on, including Picture Books About Immigration, Picture Books about Social Justice, Children’s Books about Refugees, and Books About Being Kind.

I’m off to start planning and working on my new flannels. Reviews to come, too! Let’s be kind to one another this year, we’re all a bit bruised from 2016.

Posted in History, Non-Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads, Women's History

Women in the Old West: Frontier Grit

frontier-gritFrontier Grit, by Marianne Monson, (Sept. 2016, Shadow Mountain), $19.99, ISBN: 9781629722276

Recommended for ages 12+

Monson profiles 12 pioneer women who lived life on the frontier as America expanded into the West. From a freed slave who watched her husband and children sold in front of her to a woman who rescued Chinese girls from human trafficking, every woman profiled in this book withstood hardships, overcame obstacles, and thumbed their noses at nay-sayers to change the world. There are entrepreneurs, doctors, politicans, and activists, all here to inform and inspire a new generation.

Frontier Grit gives us a new batch of women in history that many of us would otherwise never have heard of; while the research is well done and comprehensive, the writing is simplified, more for a middle school audience than the 18+ age group suggested by the publisher. An author summary at end of each profile relates what each woman personally means to the author, detracting from the scholarship of the overall book and relegating it to the territory of history report. Each woman’s impact could more effectively be communicated by making it less personal, more definitive; the lasting impact of each woman on all women.

Each profile includes photos (or drawings, where applicable), notes and sources. A reasonable purchase if you need additional women’s biographies, particularly as they relate to the American frontier or women’s suffrage.

Posted in Early Reader, Fiction, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Intermediate, Realistic Fiction

Mother Jones is on her way to Oyster Bay – join the march!

on our wayOn Our Way to Oyster Bay: Mother Jones and Her March for Children’s Rights, by Monica Kulling/Illustrated by Felicita Sata (Sept. 2015, Kids Can Press), $17.95, ISBN: 9781771383257

Recommended for ages 7-11

Eight year old Aidan and his friend, Gussie, want to go to school, but they have to work instead, to help their families. When the millworkers go on strike, Aidan and Gussie join the picket line; that’s when they meet Mother Jones, a feisty activist who wants to take action against child labor. She organizes a children’s march that will take them all the way to President Theodore Roosevelt’s summer home in Oyster Bay, New York!

In 1903, child labor was a harsh reality for many children like Aidan and Gussie. Instead of going to school, children toiled for up to 12 hours a day, six days a week, in factories; they experienced unsafe conditions and many were injured, disfigured, or even died doing their work. On Our Way to Oyster Bay is a fictionalized account of the very real story of activist Mother Jones’ March of the Mill Children, beginning in Pennsylvania and going all the way through the streets of Manhattan, ending up on President Roosevelt’s Oyster Bay lawn. While the President refused to meet with Mother Jones and her brigade, the march raised awareness of child labor, leading to the 1904 formation of the National Child Labor Committee.

On Our Way to Oyster Bay is a great story for younger kids about a period in history that doesn’t get as much love as it should. If you ask any given kid you encounter whether or not they know Mother Jones, you’re likely to get a blank stare, and that needs to be remedied. We still work in a world where child labor is a reality for many – I constantly remind kids that kids have fought and died for the right to go to school and do the same things they complain about every day – and a book like this lends itself to some important discussions about our own history of child labor and unsafe conditions, as well as the chance to brainstorm some ideas about what kids can do to help other kids around the world. Being a CitizenKid book – an imprint I love – there’s loads of information about child labor, suggestions for getting involved, and discussion points. Kids Can Press has a winner with this imprint; the books bearing the CitizenKid stamp empower kids to learn about the world around them and to take action, just like the kids in their books do. These books give them the information and the tools to take action, putting the power in their hands.

The artwork is vibrant, with movement coursing through the illustrations. The march through Manhattan thrums with activity, and I found myself bouncing up and down on my seat as Mother Jones made things happen! This is great for a read-aloud or a read-alone, but it needs to be read. Add this to your collections, read it to your kids, and make things happen. Talk about social justice, everyday activism, and being a good citizen, globally and locally.


Posted in Fiction, Historical Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Ruby Lee and Me looks at friendship and social change

ruby leeRuby Lee and Me, by Shannon Hitchcock (Jan. 2016, Scholastic), $16.99, ISBN: 9780545782302

Recommended for ages 8-12

In 1969, a segregated North Carolina town is facing integration, and not everyone is happy about it. Set against this backdrop is the story of 12 year-old Sarah Beth, who is plagued with guilt when her younger sister is hit by a car while under her watch. Sarah’s family moves to a house on her grandparents’ property to save money, which means a new school – one that’s about to undergo integration. On the plus side, that means that Sarah will be able to go to school with her friend, Ruby Lee, an African-American who will be a student at the integrated school. Enthusiastically, the girls decide that they will be best friends in public – something not very common in the area – just like the Freedom Riders; but the girls have a falling out, leaving Sarah feeling more alone than ever. She’s lost her best friend, she’s facing a new school alone, and she’s certain her sister’s accident is her fault.

A work of both historical and realistic fiction, Ruby Lee & Me is a good coming-of-age story set against a time of huge social change.While this is Sarah’s story, first and foremost, friendship and integration amidst the upheaval of segregation and prejudice is a strong subplot. An upsetting incident involving the school’s first African-American teacher is a powerful moment in the story.

The history of race relations speaks volumes in the relationship between Sarah’s and Ruby’s grandmothers: they “gossip like best friends” when they’re together on the farm, but merely nod politely to one another in town; Sarah’s grandmother says, “The creek don’t care what color feet wade in it, but the town pool surely does. It’s easier to be friends away from wagging tongues”. Sarah’s ambitious daydream of she and Ruby being public friends sends both grandmothers into a tizzy; they discourage the girls from inviting trouble into their lives. Ruby Lee is annoyed when she sees her grandmother “trying too hard” around whites; Sarah sees Ruby as trying to be “the boss of her” in their interactions, yet always seeks her out when she needs someone to talk through a problem with.

A note from the author on historical accuracy briefly explains her connection to events in the story and points out little bits of tweaking made for creative license.

Ruby Lee and Me received a starred review from Booklist. The author’s website offers discussion questions for educators.

Posted in Early Reader, Fiction, Preschool Reads

Monster Needs to Go to School!

monster needs to go to schoolMonster Needs to Go to School, by Paul Czajak/Illustrated by Wendy Grieb (May 2016, Mighty Media Press), $16.95, ISBN: 978-1-938063-74-9

Recommended for ages 3-6

Our big, blue Monster and his best buddy, Boy, are back – and this time, they’re taking on going to school! Monster needs to go to school, but he’s really nervous. He didn’t really have anything to worry about, though – he has a great first day and makes lots of new friends – and even stops bullying when he sees it on the playground.

This latest entry into the Monster & Me series takes a fun look at starting school, giving little ones who may be getting ready for Pre-K or Kindergarten an idea of what to expect (and reinforcing these ideas for kids already in daycare and pre-k programs): learning the ABCs, raising your hand when you want to speak, and inviting others to play at recess. Monster also has an important lesson: when he sees bullying on the playground, he stops it right in its tracks. The fact that the would-be bullies are Monster’s friends drives home an even more important point about standing up for others, even if you have to call your friends out on their behavior. It’s not an easy lesson to teach, but Czajak and Monster do it in the best way; having Monster say, “I know we’re friends, but teasing’s wrong. It’s something I despise. No one should be ridiculed. There is no compromise.”

Wendy Grieb’s artwork is inclusive, featuring multiethnic classmates and teachers. Monster is big, blue, and lovable, with a toothy smile and a bushy tail. If this is a child’s first introduction to Monster and friends, they’ll jump right in and enjoy the bright colors, lovable monster, and the rhyming text that invites kids to sit back and enjoy a story about how exciting school is.

This is a great addition to collections, especially for little ones getting ready to move up to Pre-K and Kindergarten. My little guy is starting Pre-K in the Fall (how did that happen so fast?), so I’ll be reading this to him all summer to get him ready for the new routine he’ll discover. Schools and libraries should add this to collections to ease new students into the coming school year. I’ll be booktalking this to my parents at storytimes all summer, myself.

The Monster & Me series includes Monster Needs His Sleep, Monster Needs a Costume, Monster Needs a Christmas Tree, Monster Needs a Party, and Monster Needs Your Vote. Each book has new ideas to teach Monster and the readers who come along for the ride. The series is a 2015 Silver Moonbeam Children’s Book Award winner for Best Picture Book series. Mighty Media has a Monster & Me webpage where you can learn more about the books and download event kits loaded with resources for parents and educators!