Book review: Can I Touch Your Hair?: Poems of Race, Mistakes, and Friendship, by Irene Latham and Charles Waters, illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko

Latham, Irene, and Charles Waters. Can I Touch Your Hair?: Poems of Race, Mistakes, and Friendship. Illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko. Carolrhoda Books, 2018. 39 pgs. $17.99. ISBN 978-1-5124-0442-5. Ages 8 -12. P7 Q8

This collection of poems encapsulates the interactions that happen between a pair of middle schoolers – a white girl and a black boy. The freestyle poems capture a variety of moments from each child’s point of view, from attending church, to dealing with other students on the bus, to incidents on the news, and dinner with the family. The poems capture the complex feelings of the children, from wanting to fit in, to different ways our parents try to protect us, and forgiving our friends for their misunderstandings as we learn to navigate the issue of race.

This collection reads more as a series of single-page journal entries than as poetry, but the dichotomies that are introduced are important. The POV approach to discussing different experiences around similar topics works well to highlight how different people have different understandings around similar topics. The illustrations are simple and the text is the central focus on each page.

VERDICT: A strong choice for discussions about race in a way that allows for personal interpretation.

May 2018 review by Sudi Stodola.

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Book review: The 11:11 Wish, by Kim Tomsic

Tomsic, Kim. The 11:11 Wish. Katherine Tegen Books, 2018. $16.99. ISBN 9780062654946. 361 pages. Ages 8-12. P7 Q8

Megan moves from Colorado, where she was a nerd at school, to Arizona. She hopes to start over at her new school and to be fun and make friends. On her first day of school, Megan is given a dare, unbeknownst to her, she is placed in the middle of the two school captains, who are rivals. Wanting to be successful at completing the dare, Megan notices a cat clock in a classroom, that reminds her of the magic clock her grandmother had. She makes a wish and also wishes for some magic. The wish starts a series of events that don’t end as she expects them to. The wishes have side effects and rules, which Megan discovers as she uses the magic. When Megan calls her grandmother for advice, she advises her to be careful with magic, but Megan feels she needs the magic to be fun and to make friends. When Megan gets tangled up in magic, her grandmother encourages her to be true to herself. I appreciate the grandmother not fixing it for her. Through it all, Megan finds a way to voice her opinions and to stand up for her friends, all without magic.  A fun engaging story with likable characters, teaching creativity, friendship, loyalty, voicing one’s opinion and honesty. With short chapters and a good pace, it kept my interest and made me wonder what was going to happen next.

Verdict: Easy read, engaging, while teaching a powerful lesson on voicing your opinion and being true to yourself. Recommended for elementary school and middle school libraries.

March 2019 review by Tami Harris.

Book review: Lucy Castor Finds Her Sparkle, by Natasha Lowe

Lowe, Natasha. Lucy Castor Finds Her Sparkle. Simon & Schuster, 2018. $16.99. ISBN 9781534401969. 231 pages. Ages 8-12. P7 Q8

Lucy likes magic, nests, and her best friend Ella. When she comes home from summer vacation, life has changed. Her friend Ella has joined a dance troupe and no longer cares about magic. Lucy wants life to remain the same is not happy to find that her mother is expecting a baby. As Lucy adjusts to life in the fourth grade, with the help of her teenage neighbor, Chloe, she makes new friends and realizes change is not always a bad thing. Lowe’s use of descriptive words enhance the story. Describing the magic wands, she writes, “It was as if the magic had leaked out, and all Lucy could see now were two old sticks covered in glitter and bits of moss. Like a little kid’s art project.” This easy to read, engaging story will hold the interest of readers. There are a few twists and turns that keep the reader wondering how things will turn out. The relationships between the characters form and grow as the story develops. Friendships are found in unexpected places and it teaches one to not look at a person’s outward appearance, but to take the time to get to know people. This book is very well written.

Verdict: It is a fact that life changes and does not stay the same. This book explores the value of change and how it can add to one’s life, encouraging the reader to embrace life as it comes and find the good in situations they encounter. While this book is a good read for all children, it is especially helpful for children who do not like change or children who are an only child with a sibling on the way. I highly recommend it for elementary school, public, and home libraries.

March 2019 review by Tami Harris.

Book review: My Teacher’s Not Here!, by Lana Button, Christine Battuz, illustrations

Button, Lana. My Teacher’s Not Here! Christine Battuz, illustrations. Kids Can Press, 2017. $16.99. ISBN 9781771383561. Unpaged. Ages 5-7. P7 Q7

When Kitty’s teacher is not at school to greet her, she thinks about all her teacher helps her with and wonders how she will make it through the day. The substitute teacher is a ginormously tall giraffe with a deep voice. Her teacher, Miss Seabrooke, leaves the class a note, which helps Kitty feel her teacher’s wonderful smile. Kitty helps the substitute and discovers that sometimes change can be good. The examples in the story are realistic to what children go through on a normal school day with a substitute. The rhyming text picture book prepares a class for a substitute while teaching kindness, empathy and perseverance.

Verdict: Teachers and parents can use this book to prepare children for their teacher’s absence. Children will be able to relate to Kitty and realize that even though their teacher is not there, they can rely on others and they may even end up having fun.

March 2018 review by Tami Harris.

Book review: Bundle of Nerves: A Story of Courage, by Mari Schuh, illustrated by Natalia Moore

Schuh, Mari. Bundle of Nerves: A Story of Courage. Illustrated by Natalia Moore. Millbrook Press, 2018. $25.32. ISBN 9781512486452. 24 pages. Ages 4-8. P6 Q8

There are many events children can worry about in a day. How can you help children have courage? With three short chapters, “So Very Nervous,” “Being Brave,”, and “Facing my Fear,” Luis discovers that he can have courage by riding a bus, asking for help and making new friends. Not only does he realize he is courageous, he ends up having fun along the way. Illustrations of children showing racial diversity add to the depth of the book. Narrative boxes containing explanations, such as “It takes courage to ask for help” emphasize the courage aspect that is being shown on the page. Some phrases are highlighted in red for emphasis. This book is in the Cloverleaf books: Stories with Character series. There is a courage activity at the back of the book along with a glossary, index, and book titles and websites about courage.

Verdict: The situations portrayed in this book are similar to what most children in school experience. Both relevant and relatable to children, I recommend this book for elementary school libraries. I will be using this book in my Character Ed class to teach courage. From a teacher’s perspective, this book is valuable in a classroom setting, once read to children, they will be more apt to pick it up and read it themselves.

March 2018 review by Tami Harris.

Book review: We All Have Value: A Story of Respect, by Mari Schuh, illustrated by Mike Byrne

Schuh, Mari. We All Have Value: A Story of Respect. Illustrated by Mike Byrne. Stories with Character series. Millbrook Press, 2018.  $25.32. ISBN 9781512486506. 24 pages. Ages 5-8. P6 Q8

Respect is something we wish to instill in children, but how can we help them understand the importance of treating others with respect? With three short chapters, “Waiting our Turn,” “Thinking of Others,” and “Showing Respect,” Idil and her friends discover what it means to be respectful. The illustrations of racial and ethnically diverse children are large and take up a large portion of the page, which shows the importance of the children and their relationship with each other. The facial expressions on the children shows how they are feeling. Narrative boxes containing explanations, such as “letting everyone join in is respectful” emphasize the respect aspect that is being played out on the page. Some phrases are highlighted in red for emphasis. This book is in the Cloverleaf books: Stories with Character series. There is a respect activity at the back of the book along with a glossary, index, and book titles and websites about respect.

Verdict: The situations portrayed in this book are similar to what most children in school experience. It is relevant and relatable for children. I will be using this book in my Character Ed class to teach respect. In addition to respect, it also encourages children to show empathy. From a teacher’s perspective, this book is valuable in a classroom setting, once read to children, they will be more apt to pick it up and read it themselves.

March 2018 review by Tami Harris.

Book review: Click’d, by Tamara Ireland Stone

Stone, Tamara Ireland. Click’d. Disney Hyperion, 2017. ISBN 978-148478497-6. $16.99. 288 pages.  Ages 8-12. Q8P8

A modern day junior high school student in a competition to make a smart phone application!

I really liked this book because the main character, Allie, is a female computer geek!    I also like that the application Allie is creating, with the help of an all-girls team, is a social application designed for people to meet other people they wouldn’t have met otherwise.  She does this by matching their likes/dislikes and personality quirks, thereby filling a social media niche that hasn’t been.  I thought the author realistically captured the capabilities of a 7th grader and had great detail around the process of developing an application.  You can tell she’s worked in the industry.  With that said, I wonder if some of the practices and terms used are understood by the target audience.  Probably??  I understood them, but I have a, admittedly archaic, degree in Information Technology.  I also appreciated Ms. Stone’s depiction of the every-day trials of middle school.

Verdict:  I love the message of Girls in Technology and the idea behind the application.  I do wonder if the vocabulary and programming process description will decrease the potential audience due to its technical and sometimes boring, arduous nature.

March 2018 review by Terri Lippert.