Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge

Alyson Beecher over at Kid Lit Frenzy hosts a Non-fiction Picture Book Challenge and has a roundup every Wednesday. This week I was working on my Latin@s in Kid Lit reading challenge so all of these books are written by a Latin@ author and/or have a Latin@ focus. All images and summaries are via IndieBound.

Author: George Ancona

Summary: Want to grow what you eat and eat what you grow? Visit this lively, flourishing school-andcommunity garden and be inspired to cultivate your own. At an elementary school in Santa Fe, the bell rings for recess and kids fly out the door to check what’s happening in their garden. As the seasons turn, everyone has a part to play in making the garden flourish. From choosing and planting seeds in the spring to releasing butterflies in the summer to harvesting in the fall to protecting the beds for the winter. Even the wiggling worms have a job to do in the compost pile! On special afternoons and weekends, neighborhood folks gather to help out and savor the bounty (fresh toppings for homemade pizza, anyone?). Part celebration, part simple how-to, this close-up look at a vibrant garden and its enthusiastic gardeners is blooming with photos that will have readers ready to roll up their sleeves and dig in.

My Thoughts: Last year I read this review on the blog The Nonfiction Detectives. From their review I believed that this would be an excellent book for our school since we have a school garden also. I immediately purchased it, but didn't get around to reading it until this week. It's Our Garden combines simple yet informative text with fantastic photos and crayon illustrations created by the students. It is a gorgeous book that demonstrates the work, benefits and excitement of having a school garden. I can see this being a great introduction for our younger students before they begin working in the garden. It would pair well with Farmer Will Allen and the Growing Table.

Title: Frida
Author: Jonah Winter
Illustrator: Ana Juan

Summary: This long-awaited companion to Jonah Winter's acclaimed DIEGO features the paintings of young Spanish artist, Ana Juan. This stunning picture book is the perfect gift for art enthusiasts of all ages. When her mother was worn out from caring for her five sisters, her father gave her lessons in brushwork and color. When polio kept her bedridden for nine months, drawing saved her from boredom. When a bus accident left her in unimaginable agony, her paintings expressed her pain and depression - and eventually, her joys and her loves. Over and over again, Frida Kahlo turned the challenges of her life into art. Now Jonah Winter and Ana Juan have drawn on both the art and the life to create a playful, insightful tribute to one of the twentieth century's most influential artists. Viva Frida! 

My Thoughts: I loved the fancifulness in the illustrations. The illustrator explained that she used elements from Mexican folk art that Frida would have seen in her childhood. It gave the story an added bit of creativity that seemed in keeping with Frida's own imagination. For me the illustrations take this book to a higher level. They really are unique and surreal. 

The author did an excellent job of explaining her very complex life in a way that young children can understand. He also kept it rated G. He described a woman who flourished despite the hardships she endured. The author's note included this line, "She has specifically been an inspiration to women artists, who have found in Kahlo's strength, courage, and pizzazz an example of how to thrive as a woman in an art world dominated by men." I ran across an interview with the author. The focus isn't this book, but definitely delves into why he chooses to focus on famous people of color in his books. It was a fascinating read.

Illustrator: John Parra

Summary: In this lively picture book, children discover a world of shapes all around them: rectangles are ice-cream carts and stone metates, triangles are slices of watermelon and quesadillas. Many of the featured objects are Latino in origin, and all are universal in appeal. With rich, boisterous illustrations, a fun-to-read rhyming text, and an informative glossary, this playful concept book will reinforce the shapes found in every child's day!

My Thoughts: This is a bouncy rhyming book that offers examples of many different shapes. The examples are often part of Latin@ culture and are usually fun. It does include a glossary of the Spanish words used in the text in case a reader is not certain about the meaning though usually the illustrations assist with that. This will be a concept book that will be great to use in the primary grades. I can't wait to share it.

Author/Illustrator: Duncan Tonatiuh

Summary: Almost 10 years before "Brown vs. Board of Education," Sylvia Mendez and her parents helped end school segregation in California. An American citizen of Mexican and Puerto Rican heritage who spoke and wrote perfect English, Mendez was denied enrollment to a "Whites only" school. Her parents took action by organizing the Hispanic community and filing a lawsuit in federal district court. Their success eventually brought an end to the era of segregated education in California.

My Thoughts: This is a very important part of our history that is not often discussed. Students may hear of Brown vs. Board of Education, but this happened earlier and in some ways paved the way for that ruling. I knew of this case before, but I taught in California or I probably wouldn't have. The story is well told and includes many details that add a lot. To find out that there were signs in business that said, "No Dogs or Mexicans Allowed" could be eye-opening for many readers. 

Tonatiuh explains that many people pulled together from all around the country to help desegregate the schools in California. These people included the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Japanese American Citizens League, and the American Jewish Congress among others. I love the quote attributed to Felícitas, Sylvia's mother, "Cuando la causa es justa, los demás te siguen. When you fight for justice, others will follow" (p 33).

As I was reading though, I was thinking about the project that Michelle Norris has been tweeting about, Segregation Now, that has investigated the resurgence of segregated schools. I wondered if this book would have students thinking that segregation happened a long time ago and then it was stopped forever. That might be true if readers stop with the story, but in his author's note, Tonatiuh addresses the fact that unfortunately this fight is still relevant. That note and the other materials at the end are very helpful. They include photographs of the family and schools involved. He also included a glossary that includes many of the legal terms among other things. The Bibliography is very thorough and he also included an index.  

I will be recommending this book to my teachers, students and many others. I think it is a part of our country's history that everyone should know about. I also believe that it is all too relevant right now. It will be helpful for civil rights studies and would pair up well with Through My Eyes or The Story of Ruby Bridges

One final note, if you have read the middle grade book Sylvia & Aki, this Sylvia is the same Sylvia that story is based on.

If you are interested in the illustrations, Tonatiuh explains his digital collage process in the following video.

Julie Danielson (from the blog 7 Impossible Things Before Breakfast) had a chance to interview the author for Kirkus here. She followed up after the interview over at her blog and that includes images of some of his preliminary sketches. Both posts are quite interesting.

What nonfiction has caught your attention lately?


  1. I still want to read Separate is Not Equal. I need to request that the library order this one, as well as my local indie. Thanks for combining two great things - nonfiction and Latino authors.

  2. These are some great titles, and all are new to me! We just started a garden this spring, I should probably check out It's Our Garden and get some tips :)

  3. You have some seriously awesome titles here Crystal. I am most intrigued by Separate is Never Equal, but they all look great!

    1. Thanks Gigi. I hope you are able to read Separate is Never Equal sometime.

  4. LOVE this post Crystal. I pinned it to come back and explore these titles and your descriptions in more detail later. Thanks for sharing all of these! I am very interested in Separate is Never Equal

  5. There is a theatre play that is being staged in the Philippines about the plight of Filipino-Americans during this time as well, and the sign that says "No dogs or Filipinos allowed" is likewise redolent yet deemed acceptable during this period. I will definitely be on the lookout for "Separate is Never Equal."

    1. Thanks for letting me know about that. I didn't realize there was blatant racism towards Filipinos also.

  6. Great books! Love the look at so many different cultures!