Category Archives: multicultural

The Butter Man

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This book is titled The Butter Man by Elizabeth and Ali Alalou, illustrated by Julie Klear Essakalli. I discovered this book when preparing to teach a lesson about different aspects of African countries and culture. The book begins with a little girl named Nora in America being told a story by her father (Ali) about his youth in Morocco. The story describes how when he was little his family was very poor and did not have much to eat due to drought. They had a cow and were able to make butter to make their plain hard bread delicious, however, when his father left to make money for his family he took the cow with him and Ali no longer had butter. Ali then waited outside down by the road that ran near his home and waited for the butter man, a man that would travel through town selling his butter. Ali waited day after day in hopeful anticipation, but the butter man never showed. Each day he waited, his serving of bread grew smaller and smaller as he grew hungrier and hungrier. One day when waiting for the butter man, he saw his father in the distance arriving with an abundance of food! The family had a celebration of love and food and as the town was graced with rain and crops, the family had full stomachs once again and were even able to buy another cow who produced butter. The story then reverts to Ali and his daughter Nora in the kitchen eating traditional Moroccan couscous and rejoicing in their ability to share the time together and also never have to worry about hunger.

I love this book for many reasons. The story contained a moral of rewards for patience and the keeping of hope. Additionally, the story offered a window into a culture that many American students are not familiar with. This culture was introduced with descriptions of customs, traditional foods, and images that showed the land and people. Also, the book contained several words in a Moroccan language of the Berber people. I thought this was very interesting because the book did not define these words within the text, rather the reader had to use context clues to determine the meaning of the words or refer to the glossary at the back of the book. All of these descriptions and aspects of the culture would be wonderful ways to spark conversations in classrooms and discuss different ways of life. Additionally, the book revolved around the character Ali who was speaking to his daughter Nora who both now lived in the US. In this way, the book can also be used to discuss immigrants, the infusions of multiple cultures, and the value of stories to share culture and life experiences to those who may not fully understand them.

Carly Hess

Free Friday: My Pen

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Free Friday: My Pen

My Pen is an incredibly creative picture book by Christopher Myers, a Coretta Scott King Honor author and Caldecott Honor illustrator. Through the pages, readers glance into the mind of a young boy who finds solace in drawing pictures with his pen. He describes his joy in drawing with an almost poetic flair. The boy’s narration throughout the story makes his adventure more inclusive for the readers, as if they were stepping into his shoes and picking up his pen. It is an excellent tale that promotes children’s imagination in an age where many kids would rather pick up a tablet or cell phone than a book or a pencil; Myers suggests that these “old-fashioned” tools are essential for the complete creative development of a child.

My Pen immediately stands out due to its incredibly detailed illustrations. Myers cleverly drew each picture with pen and ink. One would think that a picture book containing only illustrations drawn with a simple black pen would be boring, but this book is anything but. Myers creates more lifelike scenes with a pen than some artists do with watercolor or oil paint. Each drawing includes so much depth; Myers details every wrinkle and shadow with subtlety and finesse. Just as impressive, each of the protagonist’s drawings look authentic, as if a child actually drew them. The contrast between these drawings and Myers’ actual illustrations is astounding–they couldn’t possibly have been drawn by the same hand, could they? The detail Myers brings to each of his illustrations is what makes them truly outstanding.

Myers’ subtlety in My Pen continues beyond the illustration quality. In my favorite spread, one in which the author draws a collage of children, he includes many children of color. Because the illustrations are black and white, and because it is not mentioned in the text, this is not something that a reader would notice upon first glance, but when I looked closer I saw shading, hair textures, and facial features that indicated that many of these children were black. Myers also included some white and Asian children, but the overlying majority is black. This is a perfect example of a multicultural book that doesn’t rely on its multiculturalism to tell the story; rather, it includes multicultural characters to provide readers of color with representation in literature and show the world that each ethnicity has diversity within itself. When I first read this book, I didn’t even ponder the race of the narrator or the author until I reached this page, but after backtracking and examining the pictures closely, I realized that they both were black as well. It is such an achievement to find a book that authentically represents our diverse population, and this book does that perfectly. I would recommend this for any teacher’s bookshelf and for any reader from kindergarten to fifth grade because the lessons it teaches are ones that anyone learn and appreciate.

By: Lexi Anderson

Winners Wednesdays: Art and Flying

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A book about a boy who tries to understand the hardships of life through art….

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Bird by Zetta Elliott, illustrated by Shadra Strickland (2008)

How does this book qualify for Winner Wednesday, you ask?  Well, it won the…

  • Lee & Low New Voices Honor Award
  • Best of 2008, Kirkus Reviews (& starred review)
  • 2009 ALA Notable Children’s Book
  • Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent & Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator Award (won by Shadra Strickland)
  • Bank Street College Best Children’s Book 2009
  • 2009 Paterson Prize for Books for Young Readers
  • 2011 West Virginia Children’s Choice Book Award

Zetta Elliott tells the difficult story of a boy named Mehkai (nicknamed Bird), who is trying to understand the conflicts occurring between his older brother, Marcus, and his family.  Marcus is a victim of drug addiction; he constantly fights with the family, vandalizes public spaces with graffiti, and hangs out with the wrong crowd.  Even though Marcus couldn’t beat his drug addiction, it is obvious that he still deeply loved and cared for his family, especially for Bird. ‘“Do what I say, not what I do,” he would snarl like a fierce pit bull.  Marcus could be scary sometimes.  But then he’d smile a little so I’d know we were cool.’    

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Bird really loves to draw.  He does it to pass the time and to help him think through all the things happening around him.  Drawing helps him to cope with his brother’s drug addiction and Granddad’s death.  Readers look up to how Bird deals with his family’s problems by using pencil and paper: a positive outlet for his confusion and mix emotions.    b_ze_3

This picture book is beautiful in many ways.  The illustrations are thoughtful and they blend the world of reality with the world of imagination.  It is also written in free verse, which reminds me of a street-style, loose rap.  

This book addresses hard topics: deaths of loved ones and drug addiction.  It may be difficult to use in a classroom; however, depending on where you are teaching, maybe most of the kids in your classroom are dealing with these things in real life.  That said, if Mekhai is a child they can relate to, then this book could be even more valuable to them and is worth bringing into the learning space.

~Posted by: Cynthia Vu  

 

Smooooooooth Jazz

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new-doc-2_3Take a trip back in time with Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph. Using a collection of original poems, writer Roxanne Orgill tells the stories of jazz musicians like Thelonious Monk, Rex Stewart, and Maxine Sullivan who all gathered one day on  126th Street.

This story started with an idea—all the good ones do—and this idea was a spectacular one in its own right. As told in the book’s introduction, Art Kane, in 1958, decided to take a picture. But not just any picture mind you, but rather a picture containing as many American jazz musicians as possible. Not even owning a camera, Art Kane partnered with Esquire magazine to help make this photograph a good one.

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Armed with the Francis Vallejo’s tantalizing artwork, Orgill tosses us lightly onto those sun-bathed sidewalks, surrounded by laughter, chatter, and smiles. We are no longer viewing the book from 2016, because we are standing next to Rex Stewart as he passes a small cornet to a little boy named Leroy. We are standing next to a group of men wondering where Duke Ellington is at the moment. We are comforting a frantic photographer who is attempting, without prevail, to get everyone’s attention.

This is a great book to remind kids that history isn’t dead. Instead history is in the poetry found between the covers of a book, or in Vallejo’s exquisite illustrations, or in the smooth jazz that they might hear in an elevator, or even in a single photograph.

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Post by: Stephanie Thompson

All Hail The Water Princess!

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new doc 1_1Based on a true story comes the picture book The Water Princess by Susan Verde and illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds. Taking place in an African village, Reynolds’ illustrations cause us to feel the sand underneath our bare feet and the approaching sunrise whispering over the horizon. However, it is Verde who turns us into a Princess, or more specifically into Princess Gie Gie, a young girl who despite her wonderful array of powers—which includes taming wild dogs, dancing in the grass and playing hide-and-seek with the wind—cannot bring the murky, and faraway, water any closer to her village.

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And it is this combination of delicate prose and stunning artwork that we begin to feel Princess Gie Gie’s thirst. However, while I, the reader, can easily get up and grab some Dasani from my fridge, Princess Gie Gie and her Maman must wake up before sunrise to go and get water from a well.

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However, even after the journey to get the water ends, the relief is only short-lived as Princess Gie Gie is reminded that she must once again make the trip to the well in the morning. The heartfelt ending reminds me of how fortunate I am to live in a place where not only is most of my water clean but rather easily assessable as well. With the promise of “Someday . . .” Princess Gie Gie reinstates within us a fiery burning dedication to our homes, one so strong that no amount of my crystal clear Dasani will quench.   the water princess_4

Note: This book will be released September 13, 2016. We hope you read and enjoy it!

Post by: Stephanie Thompson

Trendy Tuesdays: Searching for the Spirit of Spring

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Trendy Tuesdays: Searching for the Spirit of Spring

The need for multicultural books and books with female protagonists is rising exponentially as more minority and female children enter the educational system around the world. The book Searching for the Spirit of Spring, written by Mosa Mahlaba, illustrated by Selina Morulane, and designed by Sibusiso Mkhwanazi, is a story of a brave young girl named Nkanyezi who journeys to bring the spirit of spring back to her village in Swaziland. Nkanyezi’s favorite day of the year is the day that her entire village gathers together to celebrate the spring festival. The festival, which is meant to welcome in the spring season and to unite the community is filled with joy, laughter, music, and dance. When Nkanyezi overhears some of the village elders gossiping about how the villagers are not excited for the spring festival this year, she decides that she must act. “The people of Ndlovu have lost their spirit of celebration. How can we have a Spring festival in a village that has forgotten how to celebrate?” With the well wishes of her elders, she adventures off to search for items that can help replenish the spirit of celebration for her village and family. Nkanyezi crosses rivers, climbs mountains, and treks through forests as she journeys across Swaziland in search of this spirit.

 

While on her quest, Nkanyezi encounters people from other villages who offer her special items that will help her find the missing spirit. Through these encounters, she learns about happiness, generosity, and community, and how the three intertwine. Screen Shot 2016-01-31 at 11.03.21 PM.png

One of the most fascinating elements of this book is how it was created. It was written and illustrated in June of 2015 in only twelve hours! The creators of this book are part of an organization called Book Dash (an organization that creates and gifts books to children). In June, Book Dash hosted an event with another organization called African Storybook (an organization that promotes multilingual literacy expansion) in Johannesburg, South Africa. Together, they arranged teams of forty volunteer writers, illustrators, and designers, to create African story books that are then printed and distributed to children in need for free! This book is also unique in that it is posted for free public use and print . The wonderful people in this organization host book dashes every few months, with their ultimate goal being that “every child should own a hundred books by the age of five.”

This is a fabulous book about a courageous, motivated, and strong young girl who goes on an adventure to bring happiness to people that she loves. It’s a great story for children ages three to six, although children older can still benefit from its beautiful portrayal of selflessness and generosity. The illustrations are beautiful and accurately depict the village of Ndlovu (which is a real village in Swaziland).

If you’re interested in more African story books written by South African authors to introduce in your classroom or to read to your children, they are periodically posted here as they are written. Some of my personal favorites are: Londi: The Dreaming Girl (a girl with a huge imagination), Why is Nita Upside Down? (a girl learning to love herself), and Sizwe’s Smile (the tale of a contagious smile).

-Devyn O’Malley

Free Fridays: Dear Malala, We Stand With You

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In light of recent events around the world, the nation, and Vanderbilt campus, I would like to share a book that I feel promotes love, understanding, peace, and strength in the context of people from different cultures coming together for a common purpose. Dear Malala, We Stand With You holds a special place in my heart. In 2012, when a then 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai was shot in response to her activism for girls’ rights, I held my breath awaiting news on her status. Her courage, her desire to speak out, and her passion for education throughout her recovery and continuing through the years are just a sample of why she is my personal hero. I loved her autobiography, I Am Malala, and was so impressed by how genuinely compassionate and open-minded this young girl was. What impresses me even more, though, is the number of girls around the world who have supported Malala in her fight for equality for girls and who have taken her words to heart. This is shown beautifully in this children’s book, which features pictures of girls around the world who have decided to stand with Malala in her fight.

malalaThe text of this book is written by Rosemary McCarney, the leader of Plan International Canada, with the help of the Plan International team. Presented as a letter, parts of which are taken from the Dear Malala video campaign made by Plan International, the text takes the perspective of the girls of the world, assuring Malala and the world that they are ready to fight for equality, opportunities, and empowerment for themselves and their global sisters. It is a compelling demonstration of solidarity and understanding. It does refer to some heavier topics, including violence, discrimination, early marriage, and poverty, but not in a way that is inappropriate for children. Rather, by leaving the references as just that and not defining or delving into these topics, McCarney and Plan International allow for teachers, parents, guardians, or other older readers to engage with younger readers, answer their questions, and help them understand parts of the world of which they might not be aware.

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The pictures in this book are all striking portraits of girls from around the world. Each line or phrase from the letter is paired with a photograph from a different photographer, and the subjects range from a single hand holding a pen to a crowd of children letting go of balloons. The pairings of the text and the photographs is done quite intentionally, using symbolic representations of what the text is saying and specific facial expressions and body language of different girls to convey the message of the text. Most of the photographs incorporate bright, pleasant colors, and the decorative aspects of the cover and informational pages are done in bright orange and hot pink, which work well to show the energy the girls have. It seems as though it could help readers get excited about the work Malala has done and in learning more about other cultures and the issues that girls face.Screenshot 2015-11-19 23.47.56

As if this book wasn’t wonderful enough, it also provides a brief introduction to Malala, essential for readers who are not familiar with who she is. Following the text of the book are selections fro the speech that she gave to the UN on her 16th birthday (fun fact: July 12, 2013 was the first official Malala Day!), and a list of associated organizations and movements that encourage donating to or participating in their causes. Overall, this book does a wonderful job of incorporating multiple dimensions of the huge issues that face girls worldwide, and it manages to do so in a way that appeals to readers of all ages due to its bold and powerful text photography and text. This is such an important book for bringing up world issues and the idea of cultural differences and similarities and issues of gender with children. Children of all ages should be able to see themselves somewhere in this book, as it is so widely encompassing. Young children, not just girls, need to be exposed to the challenges that girls face where they live and elsewhere so that they can learn to appreciate what they have, understand how to advocate for what they don’t, and develop empathy for those who don’t have what they have and use that as fuel for change.

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For educators or others interested in discussion questions or activities related to this book, check out the Random House Educator’s Guide for Dear Malala, We Stand With You.

Additionally, be sure to check out the Dear Malala campaign video.

~ Reviewed by Katie Goetz