Sunday, April 15, 2018

Mommy's Khimar, by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow and Ebony Glenn -- full of love, sunshine and imagination (ages 4-8)

Mommy's Khimar is a delightful new picture book that is full of love, sunshine and imagination. A young Muslim girl plays dress up with her mother's khimar, or Islamic headscarf. When she wraps it around herself, she feels her mother's love surrounding her and she imagines all of the things she can be. The bright, warm illustrations convey all of this love and draw young readers to this story.
Mommy's Khimar
by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow and Ebony Glenn
Salaam Reads / Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2018
Amazon / your local library
ages 4-8
*best new book*
I especially appreciate how this picture book is both specific to this young girl's African American Muslim culture and universal. Many of my students will recognize themselves in this story. Some wear a headscarf every day and will see their family's love and heritage in this story. Others will recognize the joy in playing with their mother's clothes.
Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow
I am honored to have Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow as my guest here today. My questions are in red below, followed by her answers.

What planted the seeds for writing Mommy's Khimar?
Wearing a khimar or an Islamic headscarf is part of my everyday life but I wasn’t really sure that I wanted to focus on that in writing kidlit with Muslim characters. I remember thinking people always make this piece of cloth so serious but as a kid I didn’t really see it that way. Khimars were soft, silky scarves I borrowed from my mother when it was time to pray or wrapped around myself to create pretend dresses and gowns. So, I guess I ended up telling a story about how four-year-old me saw the khimar.
"A khimar is a flowing scarf that my mommy wears."
What ran through your head the first time you saw the delightful illustrations by Ebony Glenn?
I was just so giddy! I loved the main character’s facial expressions. She’s very adorable. The scene when she is playing in the closet with all of the khimars is magical every time I look at it. And--this may sound strange--but I loved that the characters have dark skin. In the rare stories about Muslims, I rarely if ever see Black Muslims depicted. It was nice to have more diversity.
"Some have tassels. Some have beads.
Some have sparkly things all over."
I'd love to learn more about why you wear a khimar. Can you tell me a little about this tradition and what it means to you?
I was 14 years old when I decided to wear full hijab. Full hijab is the khimar/head covering and clothing that covers everything except the face and hands. I started exploring my faith more around that time and I saw this as a way to demonstrate my faith in God. I also liked and continue to like the way it identifies me as Muslim. Although I am a religious minority, I get to feel connected to other Muslims who are also identifiably Muslim--even strangers on the street. This wasn’t actually a tradition of my family though. My father is a convert to Islam and although my mother grew up in a Muslim culture, she didn’t regularly wear a khimar when I was growing up unless she was going to the mosque.
"When I wear Mommy's khimar, I am a mama bird.
I spread my golden wings and shield my baby
brother as he sleeps in his nest."
I'm curious about your family heritage. I love the diverse families included in your story. Can you tell us a little about your family?
My family is bicultural. My mother is from Guinea, which is in West Africa and she is from the Mandinka ethnic group which has been predominantly Muslim for centuries. My father is a Black American, descended from the Africans who were brought here through the transatlantic slave trade. He was raised as a Christian but became Muslim as a young man. On his side of the family there are Christians, atheists, and Buddhists. My husband is also a Black American convert to Islam, and so my kids have Christian and Muslim grandparents. My oldest immediately recognized Mom-mom in Mommy’s Khimar as being just like his own Mom-mom or grandmother who often exclaims, “Sweet Jesus!”

I see you're a program director for Mighty Writers--I love the sound of this! Can you tell us a little about your work there?
The mission of Mighty Writers is to teach kids to think and write with clarity. We are a Philadelphia-based nonprofit that provides writing instruction in after school, evening, weekend, summer, and mentorship programs to youth ages 2 to 18 and we provide all of that instruction for free. My work is to create writing programs, teach writing programs, and engage volunteers in doing that work too.

What are some other favorite picture books you like to read with your students at Mighty Writers?
There are so many! In recent months, I have enjoyed reading It’s Okay to be Different by Todd Parr, The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi, and Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena. I think the kids and I have had the most fun reading Say Hello! by Rachel Isadora.

Thank you so much, Jamilah. Your book has already brought my students and me so much happiness. Much luck to your continued writing.

Illustrations copyright ©2017 Ebony Glenn, shared by permission of the publisher. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Simon Schuster. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Sports books for young players! (ages 4-8)

Whether you play sports with your kids or love watching games together, sports books can be a great hook for young kids. They enjoy seeing their favorite games as part of their stories, and they're fascinated by real-life stories in picture book biographies. Here are some of my favorites to share with kids ages 4 to 8 years old.
(click to enlarge)
The Banana-Leaf Ball: How Play Can Change the World, by Katie Smith Milway, illustrated by Shane W. Evans. A powerful, hopeful picture book for older readers inspired by real events. Fleeing war in Burundi, young Deo ends up at a refugee camp, without his family and surrounded by bullies. He finally finds friendship when he shares his homemade soccer ball, discovering trust and community.

Baseball: Then to Wow!, by the editors of Sports Illustrated Kids. Whether it’s looking at changes in equipment or comparing playing styles then and now, this high-interest book provides opportunities for fans to analyze different aspects of the game. Great layout, photographs and illustrations engage kids and help them see the progression of the game over the past 150 years.

Don't Throw It to Mo!, by David Adler. As the youngest and smallest kid on his team, Mo has to work extra hard. He gets teased by the opponents, but his coach has a plan to turn Mo's small size into a big advantage. A great short book for beginning readers.

Between the Lines: How Ernie Barnes Went from the Football Field to the Art Gallery, by Sandra Neil Wallace, illustrated by Bryan Collier. Although his athletic skills brought Ernie Barnes success as a professional football player, his true passion was art. He would quickly sketch scenes as he sat on the bench between plays. Barnes pursued his dreams, eventually becoming the official artist for the American Football League.

The Field, by Baptiste Paul, illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara. "Vini! Come! The field calls!" cries a girl as she races to play soccer with her brother and friends. Basing this joyful story on his Caribbean childhood, Paul mingles Creole alongside English. Vibrant, dynamic illustrations capture the enthusiasm and infectious joy of the game, rain or shine.

Girl Running: Bobbi Gibb and the Boston Marathon, by Annette Bay Pimentel, illustrated by Micha Archer. In 1966, Bobbi Gibb became the first woman to run the Boston Marathon, even though the authorities would not recognize her efforts. Despite the authorities’ rejection, she decides to run alongside the registered racers, determined to prove that the rules were wrong. An inspiring picture book biography of defying the odds.

H.O.R.S.E.: A Game of Basketball and Imagination, by Christopher Myer. Two kids start playing a game of H.O.R.S.E., matching each other's basketball shots and trash-talking all the way. The first to miss five is "giddy-up, you're out." I love the way these two friends keep one-upping each other, and the humor that Myers brings. on a city basketball court start a game of matching each other’s shots. Don't miss this!

Pedro's Big Goal, by Fran Manushkin, illustrated by Tammie Lyon. First grader Pedro LOVES playing soccer with his friends and dreams of playing goalie. Will he make it as his team’s goalie, or is he too small? Beginning readers will enjoy this fun, accessible series -- perfect for 1st and 2nd graders.

If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, April 8, 2018

I'm Just No Good at Rhyming, by Chris Harris & Lane Smith (ages 7-12)

April showers and spring flowers always remind me that I love celebrating National Poetry Month. My students' favorite new collection of poems is definitely I'm Just No Good At Rhyming, by Chris Harris and Lane Smith. Full of short, funny wordplay in the tradition of Shel Silverstein and Dr. Seuss, this collection has kids laughing out loud and passing it from friend to friend.
I'm Just No Good At Rhyming
And Other Nonsense for Mischievous Kids and Immature Grown-ups
by Chris Harris, illustrated by Lane Smith
Little, Brown, 2017
Amazon / local library / Google Books preview
ages 7-12
Right from the get-go, Harris hooks his readers and lets them know that they're in for unexpected twists and turns. Just look at the opening poem:
I'm just no good at rhyming.
It makes me feel so bad.
I'm just no good at rhyming,
And that's why I am blue ...

My teacher asked if I could find a word that rhymes with "hat."
"It's something that a dog might chase."
                                              "Aha!" I said. "A car!"
In the space of one line, Harris sets up what you'd expect and then flips it on its head. He gets kids eager to participate and shout out the rhyme, then slaps them with something totally different. Best of all, he never condescends to kids. This is smart, funny writing.
"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I..."
Some poems are short and punchy, while others give you even more to chew on. Harris uses layout and design to get kids thinking about double messages, like in his poem “How the Fourth Grader Communicates.” And there's great back-and-forth between author and illustrator. At one point Harris writes a poem, “I Don’t Like My Illustrator,” and Lane Smith delights in his revenge portrait.
"I Don't Like My Illustrator"
I especially appreciate the irreverent tone and entertaining wordplay. I find myself relating to many different poems, both serious and absurd. And I discover more hidden nonsensical gems on each reading.

I purchased a review copy for my school library, and it's been constantly checked out ever since! Illustrations copyright ©2017 Lane Smith. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Rebound, by Kwame Alexander--the power of story, the power of poetry, the power of the rebound (ages 9-14)

Kwame Alexander knows how to harness the power of story, the power of poetry to touch readers' hearts, to make us laugh and sigh, to make us feel. If your kids like realistic stories that are funny, fast and heartfelt, get your hands on his newest book, Rebound, which hit shelves this week.
Rebound, by Kwame Alexander
HMH, 2018
Amazon / local library / Google Books preview
ages 9-14
*best new book*
Like many twelve year olds, Charlie Bell just wants to hang with his friends and read comics. He's angry at his mom, yet we realize that his bitterness runs far deeper than your typical preteen moods. Charlie's dad died suddenly and he's left alone, angry and alienated---struggling to survive in a black hole, after his "star exploded / and everything / froze."

By using metaphors, Kwame helps readers connect with Charlie's intense grief while giving space for Charlie to sidestep around soft feelings. Kids might not want to talk about their feelings, but they certainly know what it means to wrestle with them. He also paces this story so well, weaving together humor and action with heavier moments.

Charlie begins the summer under the weight of his emotions. Having hit an impasse with his mother, she sends him to live with his grandparents for the summer. Grandfather calls him Chuck, brings him to the Boys and Girls Club with him, and is full of corny refrains ("Champions train, chumps complain, Chuck. Love. Work. Eat. In that order. Time to get in the game, Chuck!").

This is by no means a sports story, but basketball is key. Even better, Kwame has created a new genre-bending blend: slam poetry comics! Just love the illustrations by artist Dawud Anyabwile.
"They had the ball, talking trash.
Zipper said my game was broke
and his was all cash."
Kwame creates a great cast of supporting characters in Rebound, with Charlie's family and close friends. I especially love that two of his close friends are girls. CJ is brainy, sassy and sweet. Roxie can play ball better than most of the boys. She has a "crown of braids" and is "tall as a sequoia, and she walks like there's music in her roots." Oh my, isn't that how you want your daughters to think of themselves?!

Readers will discover many layers within Rebound. They'll go back and realize the connections between Chuck Bell, the dad in The Crossover, and why he never wanted to go to the hospital for checkups. They might see Grandpa's sayings in the rules for life in The Playbook. Or they might think about how they face hard times themselves.

Kwame himself knows how to push through difficulties. He discovered after Rebound went to press that there are some problems with the timeline. Rebound is set in the summer of 1988, but he originally wrote it set in the mid-90s. A few of the cultural references (songs, basketball players) didn't shift when he revised it to the late-80s. These details might be important to us old folks who remember back-in-the-day, but I truly don't think they'll matter to the core audience. The power of the rebound shows how you can overcome setbacks.

Rebound is way more than a prequel to The Crossover. It's a powerful story in its own right, one that will resonate with many young readers. I look forward to sharing it with as many kids, families and teachers as I can.

Illustrations copyright ©2017 Dawud Anyabwile. I purchased the review copy, the first of many copies I hope to read and give to students. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Black Girl Magic, by Mahogany Browne -- power in poetry (ages 12-16)

Poetry can cut to the core message, conveying truth in a sparse, direct way. When I shared Mahogany Browne's illustrated poem Black Girl Magic with two students at Berkeley High, they simply said, "Well, it's the truth. That's how it is for black girls." 
"You ain't 'posed to wear red lipstick.
You ain't 'posed to wear high heels."
Browne directly fights back against racism and misogyny, naming the stereotypes and injustices black girls face, and she ends with a resounding celebration of black girlhood and a rejection of society's limitations. 
Black Girl Magic: A Poem
by Mahogany L. Browne
illustrated by Jess X. Snow
Roaring Brook Press / Macmillan, 2018
Amazon / local library / Google Books preview
ages 12 and up
Much of modern society sends negative messages to black girls: Don't wear this; don't smile at that. Don't have an opinion; don't dream big. And most of all, don't love yourself. Poet Mahogany Browne challenges these stereotypes by naming them and crafting a message of strength.
"You black girl magic!
You black girl flyy..."
Mahogany Browne first shared this as a spoken word poem for all beautiful black girls. She created this picture book with artist Jess X. Snow, crafting a powerful visual form for her message. For maximum power, encourage students to listen and see both versions:

Share this powerful poem with all students in middle and high school. Encourage them to explore the messages that society sends and how naming these helps create change. There's power in being seen, in being heard, in claiming space.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher Macmillan. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books