Parker Looks Up by Parker Curry and Jessica Curry

by Parker Curry and Jessica Curry
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

This book made me teary-eyed! 4-year-old Parker goes to the museum with her mom, little sister, and friend. While running amok, she sees one portrait that stops her in her tracks. It turns out the museum is the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC, and the portrait is of Michelle Obama. Parker, a little Black girl, is mesmerized, and “in that moment, Parker saw more than just a portrait – she saw a road before her with endless possibilities.” That page is filled with pictures of Parker painting, dancing, playing basketball, being a scientist and chef, playing the violin.

Based on a true story; the moment was captured by a passerby and went viral. Parker and her family got to meet the First Lady and go on the Ellen DeGeneres show.


If I Ran For President by Catherine Stier

If I Ran For President by Catherine Stier
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

This gentle first-person subjunctive shows six different kids of varying races and genders running presidential campaigns. Stier doesn’t shy away from using the real terms for things, like “declare my candidacy” and “electoral college.” Overall, a nice, broad strokes overview of how running for president of the United States *should* work. She doesn’t get into how it takes a lot of money to run and campaign finance rules; she also doesn’t discuss racism, sexism, etc. With a publication date of 2007, there’s no specific reference to the fact that all presidents were white Christian men. Only the pictures of the six kids were an implicit message that anyone can be president (plus one line in the introduction). This seems to be a companion book to Stier’s “If I Were the President” from 1999.

Black Lives Matter books for First Graders

A teacher friend recently asked me for books for (her colleague’s) first grade class to read aloud. The class was pretty vocal in their rejection of the picture books she’d tried being too babyish, and she wanted something a bit more concrete about the unrest happening around the country. Here were my suggestions – by far not a complete list:

Can I Touch Your Hair?: Poems of Race, Mistakes, and Friendship by Irene Latham and Charles Waters – better for slightly older kids (School Library Journal lists it for grades 4-7) but I really like it – the poems tell a story of a black boy and a white girl, especially with microaggressions that younger kids may be able to understand as a way to ease into the more blatant examples of racism, for starting a conversation.

The Breaking News by Sarah Lynne Reul. This is my favorite for littler kids who don’t know the exact issue (and adults may not want to get into details for a variety of reasons) but are picking up on the adults’ anxiety.

Something Happened In Our Town by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins, and Ann Hazzard. Shows how a white girl and a black boy talk about the same police murder of a black man with their families in slightly different ways.

Not My Idea by Anastasia Higgenbotham. This is less of a story and more of a nonfiction read. I don’t love the illustrations, especially as a read-aloud for a class, I think collage illustrations are hard to see, though a virtual read-aloud could be different since each child could conceivably be close enough to see. I read this one a while ago and remember not loving the text either, but that it could be a good jumping-off place for a conversation about recognizing white privilege.

The Wall In the Middle of the Book by Jon Agee and The Sad Little Fact (click link for my review) by Jonah Winter are a bit off-topic but excellent political satire for this moment in history.

Hooray for Lolo by Niki Daly

9781946395382by Niki Daly
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Lolo is a young South African girl with relatable adventures. Her mother and grandmother, Gogo, help her navigate a best friend who embellishes,  getting her first library card (and promptly losing track of her first library book), having surgery (appendicitis), and babysitting. There is a second book of her adventures, Here Comes Lolo, both published in 2020. This book is an early transitional chapter book and Lolo reminds me of Anna Hibiscus. At the beginning is a two-word glossary for words in Xhosa, one of which doesn’t appear in the book at all. More helpful words would have been Gogo or Tata, though the reader eventually figures them out from the story.

Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds

look-both-ways-9781481438285_hrby Jason Reynolds
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Ten 6th-graders walk home from the same middle school and share the stories of their journeys. There’s a girl whose parents are over-protective and have finally let her walk home by herself. Another girl who keeps her mouth shut most of the day, but when it’s over she talks and talks and talks. The crossing-guard’s son, who is worried about his mom ever since she got hurt saving a child from harm. There are neighbors and strangers, classmates both friendly and not. We see kids through other kids’ eyes, and then through their own, especially the bullies, who everyone knows. Through it all there is a running reference to a school bus falling from the sky. All are well-developed characters and a joy to read.

Two by Lois Lowry: On the Horizon and Looking Back

books_looking1_m  9780358129400by Lois Lowry
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

I am a big Lois Lowry fan and always pleased to dive into a previously unknown (to me) book by her. I know there are a few lesser-known works (ones that are among her favorites, as it happens) and I confess I’m sort of saving them, because I know one day she’ll stop writing (she’s 83 now!).

I was excited to see that she had a new book out, On the Horizon, about her childhood in Hawaii and Japan in the 1930s/40s. It’s a memoir in verse, beautifully illustrated by Kenard Pak. The black and white illustrations, done in pencil, are surprisingly complex in shading. Two in particular were back to back, of Lowry as a girl meeting illustrator Allen Say as a boy, a moment they both recalled when they met for real years later (which I just learned and can’t get over!). In one picture, Lowry is foregrounded and Say is behind a fence, far away with friends. In the other, Say is foregrounded and blond Lowry and her memorable green bike are behind the fence and far away. The different perspectives really help drive home her text which attempts to show both sides, a tension she must have been aware of as an American living in the post-war years in Japan. (If you can, I recommend looking at this in a physical book rather than e-book as I did; some of the formatting was a bit wonky and I’m betting that the layout helps with the impact of the illustrations as well as the flow.)

Lowry did a lot of research into the details of the historic events that she lived through as a child, especially the lives of the American sailors who died in the Pearl Harbor attack and the Japanese civilians who died in the atomic bomb attack on Hiroshima. The verse is sometimes rhyming and sometimes not, even within the same poem, which is jarring and maybe partly the point – sometimes we can see the rhyme and reason in why things happen, and a lot of times, especially in troubling times, we can’t. I did learn a new style of poetry called a triolet, which Lowry does three times well and is moving in its repetition (and reminds me of a pantoum, but I digress).

Lowry had such a unique childhood experience and I’m glad she finally delved into it. While looking for On the Horizon I also found her 1998 memoir, Looking Back, which helped give more context to On the HorizonLooking Back got a much-needed update in 2016. I loved the way she connected in each chapter a book she wrote to an event from her life that helped inspire it, even the ones I haven’t read yet.

1-2-3 Magic by Thomas Phelan

9781492629887by Thomas Phelan
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

This parenting book shows a discipline strategy of counting a child’s misbehaviors (Stop Behaviors, or things you want them to stop doing, such as hitting their sibling or throwing a tantrum) until you get to three and then giving the child a break (or timeout, if you prefer). You count without emotion, and without extra talking or explanations of why you’re counting or what the kid did wrong. The break time is supposed to get them to calm down, not be a punishment, per se, which is how they tend to get misused, he explains. The flip side to this is Start Behaviors, or times when you want the kid to start doing something (putting on their shoes, doing their homework), and he offers some tactics for that, but specifically you are NOT supposed to do the counting for Start behaviors.

I read this for a (short-lived) childcare job at the suggestion of the parents who were already using it, so some of the information on how to introduce it to your child didn’t apply, but it was still well laid out and well explained. I also appreciated that they didn’t just go through the best case scenario but also potential unexpected responses from the child. He also shows three different ways to handle the same situation (one bad, one better, and one best), which was helpful for clarifying. One situation he didn’t go much into, but which would have been helpful in my situation, was actually how to handle more than one child at once, especially more than one behavioral situation at once.

A few caveats: I came into a pandemic confinement situation, which exacerbated all of the behavior issues, plus this family of 3 kids was on the verge of adding #4, among other challenges, so there was a lottttt going on. I also think I overdid it on the discipline side and did not have enough positive experiences with the kids to balance it out (Phelan does talk about the importance of creating bonding times with your kids, which I didn’t really get to do).

I will say that once or twice, when I was able to count without emotion and just walk away (which is SO HARD!), it worked exactly like the book said (“Whyyyyy?…. Aw, man” and stopped). I have a feeling that with enough repetition and in a different situation, this might have worked really well. It requires a LOT of work and self-control on the adults’ part, depending on how short a fuse you have (mine is pretty short, apparently!).

Yes No Maybe So by Becky Albertalli and Aisha Saeed

9780062937049by Becky Albertalli and Aisha Saeed
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Rising seniors Jamie Goldberg and Maya Rehrman were once childhood friends who reconnect when Maya’s mother signs her up to canvass for a political candidate, Jordan Rossum. Jamie’s cousin Gabe is a muckety muck in the Atlanta campaign, and his little sister Sophie is preparing for her Bat Mitzvah. Maya’s parents are getting divorced and her best friend is mentally already at college (and finally moves there and officially leaves her behind). As she and Jamie grow closer, her mother’s bribe of a car in exchange for volunteering falls to the side.

It’s not surprising that Jamie and Maya fall for each other, though it takes Maya longer to realize it. I loved the subplot with Sophie’s sexuality, and how Jamie handles it. I loved everything about Jamie, except that he seemed a little *too* perfect. Albertalli, I assume, wrote the Jamie chapters, and Saeed wrote the Maya chapters. One thing that bothered me about Maya is that she was not up front with Jamie about her not being able to date. Though on balance maybe it was more of a reflection of how deeply in denial she was about her feelings for him. In the Jamie chapters, it is clear how much she is flirting with him, even if she thought of him just as a friend. It reminded me of Does My Head Look Big in This? in which the main character sticks to her convictions to wear hijab and not to date. But then, those are her convictions, whereas in Maya’s case it’s her mother’s conviction that she’s trying to follow. Maya also doesn’t wear hijab, but her mother does, and the proposed passage of a bill to ban head coverings while driving really ramps up both her and Jamie.

Social media and white supremacy both play big roles in this story. Rossum’s opponent is the one sponsoring the bill, and his supporters vandalize cars with Rossum bumper stickers by putting their own over them, which are impossible to remove or cover up. But Jamie and Maya figure out a clever way to deal with them. Jamie’s grandma, inexplicably some sort of Instagram celebrity, uses her platform to promote Rossum. At one point, someone posts a photo of Maya and Jamie, and there’s also a campaign video of them, that garners a lot of comments, both negative and positive. Teens today have quite a lot to deal with in terms of internet harassment, it’s really very troubling to me. But Jamie and Maya manage to get through it and the ending is sweet and hopeful, but also realistic. Jamie even overcomes his immense self-consciousness and makes a sweet speech at his sister’s bat mitzvah party. Another interesting note is that their father is largely absent from their lives, and they are largely okay with it.


The Cool Bean by Jory John

thecoolbeanby Jory John
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Our hero once had a tight group of friends, but something happens and the other three somehow become “cool.” Our hero (who is unnamed but who I will call Garbanzo) isn’t sure what happened or how to also be “cool.” Garbanzo becomes so self-conscious and distracted that they do embarrassing things. Finally the other beans step in to help Garbanzo, and Garbanzo realizes that helping others is what really makes you cool – not sunglasses or swagger – and gets their friends back.

Sweet message, and way better than The Bad Seed, but still a bit didactic and not quite as good as The Good Egg. I was wondering who the target audience for this picture book would be. It talks about being “cool” which I don’t think the typical picture book audience would be quite tuned into. But you could probably use it with kids as young as third grade, and as old as fifth grade, depending on the class dynamics. It might even make a good all-school read to kick off the year, though again, I’m not sure the younger kids would fully grasp it, and the older kids might be too deep into the throes of coolness to listen.

My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George

9780141312422by Jean Craighead George
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

A good lean-in read right now for those in survivalist mode. My partner and I read this aloud to each other. He had read it so many times as a kid that he could often tell me what was about to happen next or even quote me the line verbatim! I also read it as a kid but didn’t remember it well at all.

12-year-old Sam Gribley is tired of life in his cramped New York apartment with 7 siblings. Like many kids, he dreams of running away and roughing it on his own. Unlike most kids, though, he makes it past the afternoon – and in fact stays out in the Catskills for over a year. He strikes out for Delhi, New York, and the old Gribley farmstead, so he has some claim to the land, though he also lives in fear of being discovered and sent back to the city. He has learned a lot about living off the land from his father and grandfather and has a relatively easy time of it. The one thing that helps a lot is that he is able to capture and train a baby falcon, whom he names Frightful and who ends up being his closest companion and fellow provider as she hunts food for them both. Sam describes making his home in a hollowed out tree, learning to make campfires, befriending his local animal neighbors, and hunting and gathering.

At times Sam’s descriptions sound more didactic and adult, and that is likely George’s own experience showing through, as well as the aesthetics of children’s literature in 1959, when the book was written. Sam share his thoughts through both narration and in readings from his diary entries, which were written on tree bark (though not sure what writing implement he used). I enjoyed learning vicariously through Sam about how to live off the land and I especially appreciated George’s introduction where she spoke of the inspiration for the story (her own failed attempt at running away) as well as where her own expertise came from. I also liked Sam’s visitors, the librarian in town, his description of how busy and not at all boring winter is, and how he came around to returning to the city. My partner and I discussed our own theories of social and political events that would have shaped George’s world, such as McCarthyism and the Cold War, and made an escape from humanity desirable. Sam also gets into trouble for domesticating an endangered species (and therefore removing her from the breeding pool), in addition to being hounded by people and reporters chasing rumors of the “wild boy.”