Book Review: Don’t Touch My Hair!

Hair

As part of my Post-K Summer Reading Boot Camp:
https://sarahleastories.com/2019/06/08/post-k-summer-reading-boot-camp-2019/

This book struck just the right chord with its timely message. When I was carrying my child, I had strangers who felt like they could just touch my stomach without permission, only to be affronted when I politely told them no. However, I do think this story went a bit far with the woman in the park yelling for people to chase Aria—just to feel her hair. Pure hyperbole.

Don’t Touch My Hair! opens with a close-up of Aria’s face and her magnificent mane. In this age where many black girls seem to want straight hair, I’m glad she is happy with her curly locks; she is comfortable in her own skin and with her natural hair (body-positivity isn’t just about size, btw). Little girls of all ethnic backgrounds will enjoy looking at the different styles in which Aria wears her hair.

The narrative about having to row out to a deserted island, go underwater or outer space, or to fantasyland was also hyperbolic, though kids are often over-dramatic (i.e. something is never just far but a million miles away); however, this portion would’ve been better had Aria been shown dealing with handsy people at the grocery store, library, school, etc..

I generally hate speech bubbles (I’m not a comic book fan, as this requires your child to have to look at the pictures; I like for them to have the option to close their eyes and just listen) and might have put the book down had part of the story not been told in narrative first-person through Aria.

The art works. As the author noted in the back, I love that she made Aria’s hair the star, using a different process to give it texture, which really made it pop. The bright illustrations matched Aria’s bold personality. A lot of children in children’s books don’t have much of one, but Aria owns this!

One of my favorite pages was the spread with all the houses lined up and the people going about their daily tasks, showing that Aria isn’t an island but part of a community; these illustrations reminded me of Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever.

The cover was perfect with the border of hands (belonging to people in different shades of the DNA spectrum) reaching for Aria, which would make anyone claustrophobic.

It’s interesting that the story doesn’t show Aria’s parents (or teacher, etc.) giving her guidance on how to handle a hairy situation (pun intended) but rather shows her figuring it out by doing some reflecting (on a mythical island, red planet, swimming with the mermaids, etc.) where she comes to the conclusion that she is the one who gives the yay or nay on whether someone can touch her hair and that it’s okay to say no to some people and yes to others. That it’s her choice.

In this age of redefining consent–which is not the absence of a no but the presence of a yes.

This book shows that no doesn’t have to be confrontational. Girls need to grow up feeling comfortable to say no–to men and women.

Another point is that some people will still try to touch something, even if it’s just covered up. What’s more, not everything we show is for touch–just for looks. Modesty is another issue, but you shouldn’t have to cover up to keep from being unmolested.

This book would make a great teaching tool—for girls and boys—in this new age of a heightened awareness of consent.

Suggested activity: Teach your child to respect the boundaries of others (and to not be afraid to ask that their boundaries be respected). Teach them that it’s okay if someone says no, that they shouldn’t be afraid of saying no, and that a please will not always get you a yes. This book can also be used to talk about touching things in general, such as art in a museum, other people’s property, and even dangerous things. You could even discuss the power of touch and how King Midas used that power that brought about both desirous and disastrous consequences.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/38929947-don-t-touch-my-hair

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Book Review: See Pip Flap

Pip

As part of my Post-K Summer Reading Boot Camp:
https://sarahleastories.com/2019/06/08/post-k-summer-reading-boot-camp-2019/

The purpose of See Pip Flap is to introduce reading to children just learning how.  In that respect, it works beautifully. What’s more, there is actually a story here where the words and pictures are equally important.  That said, a little repetition is fine, but we don’t need the word flap fifteen times in a row. At least reduce the flaps to three, following it with something else between flaps.

Basically, a mouse named Pip wants to fly with his bird friend, Tweet.  So, Otto the Robot seeks to equalize things for his friend by building a remote-controlled drone for Pip to be able to see what Tweet sees.  (Just remind your child that mice can do things birds can’t do, like burrow under tiny spaces.) Pip’s persistence, combined with Otto’s know-how, made Pip’s dream flight happen.

See Pip Flap was awarded the Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor, and it does remind me of Dr. Seuss’s early learning books.  It takes some talent to make a simple book like this enjoyable for the parent. The illustrations aren’t as good as Seuss’s, but they’re just as cute.  Page numbers would’ve been a nice addition, as I’ve taught my child her double digits that way; when children see numbers used in practical applications (e.g. digital clocks) rather than just flash cards which are only used for the purpose of memorization, they see the why, not just the what.   

Of course, my daughter being a lover of robots was a sell for me.  Anything that introduces children to technology (and how it can help overcome challenges) is a plus.  

Suggested activity:  Just as animals have their ways of communication, they also have their ways of moving.  Fish swim, snakes slither, turtles crawl, etc. Teach your child about these modes of transportation–even how humans get from one place to another (e.g. horse and buggy, bicycles, cars, trains, planes, etc).  Such is a good way to teach your child about the sixth sense: kinesthetics (the sense of movement): https://www.painscience.com/articles/sixth-sense.php.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/38533032-see-pip-flap

Book Review: Saturday is Swimming Day

Saturday

As part of my Post-K Summer Reading Boot Camp:
https://sarahleastories.com/2019/06/08/post-k-summer-reading-boot-camp-2019 

Saturday is Swimming Day is a textbook example of “Give it a try.  You might like it.” Green Eggs and Ham did it much better, though a child being afraid of swimming is more grounded in the real world than eating green eggs and ham (unless you live in the tundra and happen to be served 20-minute eggs and chimichurri pork).

Unfortunately, the story was boring and generic.  

This book is more of what I call a process book–a recipe for how to overcome a fear (in this case, swimming).  

There was nothing special or interesting about the little girl, who remained unnamed; the only person named is the adult.  

What I did like about the story is that it showed the need for teachers–moms can’t do everything, but they can help their child find the help they need when books aren’t enough.  However, the mom didn’t seem very intuitive as she didn’t make an effort to talk to her child about why she got a stomachache every Saturday before class.  

The purpose of the other children served to show that the girl, without class participation, wouldn’t likely make any friends.  Friendship, in this case, was the participation trophy; the joy of swimming was the win. 

Saturday is Swimming Day showed that if you expose your kids to something long enough, they just might try it.  

One thing I did find odd was the little girl calling an adult by their first name; as a child, I never call adults by their first name, unless it was preceded by a title, like Aunt or Uncle.  

Because my daughter loves going to the pool–she even practices “swimming” in the bathtub to get used to the water like the little girl in the book–she liked looking at the pictures (which were dull and flat), but it definitely didn’t make for interesting reading.  

Suggested activity:  If you can give your child swimming lessons, do it.  Uncontrolled water, such as bays, rivers, and oceans, are no places for learning  how to swim; pools (controlled water) are far better. In such an environment, you don’t have to worry about being eaten by varmints or contracting flesh-eating bacteria; you can also add toys without worrying about them getting carried away by the current.  What’s more, you don’t have to worry about getting heat stroke or sunburn. Swimming is great resistance training that is low-impact, and it works out the entire body.  

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36739469-saturday-is-swimming-day

Book Review: Thank You, Omu!

Omu

As part of my Post-K Summer Reading Boot Camp:
https://sarahleastories.com/2019/06/08/post-k-summer-reading-boot-camp-2019 

Thank you, Omu, is a story about a single, grandmotherly lady with a giving heart, though I’m afraid this book might teach my child that it is acceptable for random strangers (after all, Omu refers to her visitors as Ms. Police Officer, Mr. Hot Dog Vendor, etc.) to just show up at one’s door, unannounced and asking for free food.  Lucky for Omu that in a Capra-esque way, they return her generosity tenfold.  

However, the story would’ve been more believable had it centered on Omu’s apartment neighbors rather than nameless strangers.  

The illustrations aren’t that great, yet I liked them.  The inside of the book is printed with a birds-eye view of the city; the collaging medium using newspapers (in part) fit the big city vibe, though some of the cutouts (like the faceless people in the bus) seemed thrown in to fill space.  Some finer detail work would’ve added depth and interest–like a title on the book Omu was reading. The colors are muted and the paper almost has a recycled feel, the look making me think of brown paper bags–as humble and heartwarming as Omu’s stew.  

I didn’t like the font changing back and forth; font should always be kept plain when it’s part of the text.  (However, when it’s part of the art, anything goes.) Furthermore, I didn’t care for the giant “Knock” words as they came across as loud banging rather than polite knocking.

I’m glad the author included a policewoman but not a woman construction worker in the attempt to be politically correct at the expense of believability.  

What I got from this story is that food, made with love–including self-love–brings people together.  It was almost a Biblical allegory in that there was no way Omu made that much stew for herself yet had enough to feed everyone who came.

This was a nice effort, and one I will read to my daughter again.  Also check out the author’s website–very sleek and comprehensive.  

The little thank you card at the end was perfect–it brought me back to the days when my parents and I would invite the Mormon missionaries over for dinner, and they’d always leave one as a surprise.

Don’t let thank you cards become a thing of the past.

My note to the author:  “A thick red stew” was repeated so much, I wish the recipe had been included.  Little extras like that are like a lagniappe, and such would be a great addition to your site.

Suggested activity:  Go over the list of vocations mentioned in the book.  Ask what a cop does, a baker, a mayor, etc. Convey to your child that by working, we make the world work.  As a child, I loved dreaming about what I wanted to be when I grew up, which was everything from a “beauty shopper” (i.e. beautician) to a chocolate cake baker.  Let your child dream and imagine, showing them that working with your hands as well as your mind can help solve at least one of the world’s problems somewhere, and that a trade school certification is just as honorable as a college degree.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/34642482-thank-you-omu

Book Review: A Parade of Elephants

Elephants

As part of my Post-K Summer Reading Boot Camp:
https://sarahleastories.com/2019/06/08/post-k-summer-reading-boot-camp-2019/

There is something sweet about the simplicity of this book.  It’s not great literature–it’s an early learning book–and would make a perfect shower gift.

In A Parade of Elephants, kids learn not so much about elephants but about counting, verbs, and opposites using elephants.  A book like this requires a bit of ad-libbing, but with a few words on the page and a little imagination, it can be done.  There is nothing more I hate than opening a book to find there are absolutely no words in it.  

The words are large and bold enough to point to as you read; the thick lines and  charming pastels are easy on the eyes. The layout was clean, the limited color palette kept it simple, and the words did not bleed onto the pictures or background.  What’s more, the story was punctuated properly (no violation of Fanboy rules). If you’re trying to teach your child to at least recognize certain punctuation symbols, this book has an ellipsis and an em dash.  For early reading purposes, words like “scattered” are a bit much, but there are plenty of sight words.  

My daughter enjoyed this one.  

Sure, some of the language could’ve been more interesting (they need to do more than march throughout the day, like playing, eating, etc.) and phrases like “Big and round and round they are.  Big and round and round they go” could’ve used some work. The second sentence makes a nice turn, but the first does not.  

However, at the end, when the elephants are shooting stars through their trumpets (i.e. trunks), “scattering stars across the sky,” it was like the grand finale of a fireworks show.  Just lovely.

A Parade of Elephants is as soporific as a lullaby, with lavender as a calming dominant color.  It’s a book I would’ve bought for my child if she was still a baby, maybe even a toddler.  

For something a little more fun and less babyish, I highly recommend Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/759611.Brown_Bear_Brown_Bear_What_Do_You_See), We Are Best Friends (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/23604997-best-friends)–a perfect book to teach opposites and things that complement one another (even if the stanzas are quite silly), as well as the rest of the series, and Little Owl’s Day https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/20307476-little-owl-s-day), as well as the night version.  Get them in the board book form; they will last longer, and you child will enjoy turning the page without worry that they’re going to rip it.

Suggested activity:  Before this book, I didn’t know that a group of elephants can also be called a parade.  I had only ever heard of herd. There are scores of books on animal groups, but in a pinch, you and your child can check out:  https://www.dictionary.com/e/strange-animal-groups-listicle/.  This is a great introduction–not only to other animals but to other words.  

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/37811051-a-parade-of-elephants

Book Review: Sometimes I Lie

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Ever since the popularity of Gone Girl, books like this–unreliable women narrators–have been on the scene.  I’m just surprised this book didn’t have the word girl in it. I love unreliable narrators, but don’t have your character tell me that “sometimes I lie.”  

Let me figure that out.  

Sometimes I Lie promised to deliver, and it did, right up till the end.  The writing wasn’t stellar (e.g. using that ridiculous quote about being a human being, not a human doing), but the story compensated for the most part.  

Part of the problem with many of these books is that all or most of the women are either evil or dumb.  One is an emotionally-abusive alcoholic, another is a total psycho, and yet another is a fake (but real) bitch; to be fair, the men aren’t much better.  Everyone is shitty in this.

It takes a talented author to strategically place clues in such a way that we don’t notice them until the end–when everything crystallizes.  The clue that solves the case should be like a microscopic piece of DNA that blows it all wide open, giving us that “aha” moment. However, the author having a character go by more than one name (unless both names are connected in some way) is lazy and downright misleading.  

The Wife Between Us (which I didn’t bother reviewing as it was written by two authors) did the same thing.  

This book was separated into three separate time frames:  The diary of a 10-year-old, “walking Amber,” and “comatose Amber.”  There were plenty of dream sequences (i.e. filler) that we’re led to believe are real, only to be told, “Just kidding, never mind.”  It pisses you off.  

I was also led to believe that Amber and her husband, Paul, didn’t even like each other anymore, but then all of a sudden, they’re in love again–from cold to hot in 180 seconds.  

Furthermore, Madeline’s reveal didn’t pack a punch (who cares about this lady anyway?), and the old boyfriend didn’t add anything to the story.  I found it hard to believe that the ex would stay out of Amber’s life for twenty years only to start stalking her again. Reminded me of an episode of “Law & Order:  SVU,” so it must happen, right? Jo’s origin, however, surprised me, though she wasn’t a strong enough character for it to be intriguing.

A lot of women don’t like rape as a plot device; I just don’t like graphic scenes (leave it to the imagination, please) because then they comes acoss as trying to be titillating which is reprehensible.   

I did not care for the little lists (I found them quite silly); I love nursery rhymes as much as anyone else, but just state that a character is singing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”–don’t spell it out, for I just end up skipping over those stanzas.  At least put a new spin on an old rhyme or better yet, create a new one (but keep them divided into couplets–most people don’t want to read poetry in a novel; it can stagnate a story, though it was done beautifully in The Wife Between Us).

Sometimes I Lie would’ve been better had been written in the third-person; with first-person, the character has to be incredibly compelling–either relatable or interesting.  Amber is neither until the end, when she seemingly snaps out of whatever funk she’s been in for years to suddenly become this commanding presence–almost as if killing something (or someone–don’t want to spoil it) brings something inside her back to life.  

There were a few loose threads:  I never figured out why she didn’t like her mother–the woman Amber was describing as an adult did not sound at all like the woman described in the diaries.  Did Taylor really tell her to do it?  And who sent the bracelet at the end?  This is where you absolutely do not leave the rest of the reader’s imagination.  You’re the writer–wrap it up!

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/32326398-sometimes-i-lie

Book Review: Dreamers

Dreamers

As part of my Post-K Summer Reading Boot Camp:
https://sarahleastories.com/2019/06/08/post-k-summer-reading-boot-camp-2019 

This is a case where the author’s personal story was more compelling than the one she wrote.  As for the illustrations, there is something very spiritual and surreal about them–the kinaesthetics reminded me of the frescoes of Michelangelo, the angles and bold color scheme, of Picasso.  However, I didn’t understand the significance of the skirt made of colorful feathers that seemed to defy gravity, the meaning of the people with the protests signs, or the symbolism of the eyeball in the strawberry.  It is a rare talent to be able to tell stories with words and pictures, but Morales should just stick with drawing because this was a poem trying to be a story.

The author’s love of libraries was evident–including the names/book covers of her favorite books was a stroke was perfect.  The magic of libraries seemed to be the major theme of the story rather than the angst of resettling in a foreign country in which there is a language barrier. 

There was no juxtaposition between the author’s birth country and her adopted one; a little compare and contrast (like she did in the back of the book), as well as a more narrative storytelling style, would’ve added much more context to the pictures. 

In short, the story did not do the pictures justice. 

Morales was spot-on in making the point that when you are able to communicate in the primary language of the country you are living in, you can make your voice heard.  People just won’t listen (they won’t take the time to) if they don’t understand you. That is why literacy–not just in speaking but in reading and writing–is so important.  As for the Spanish words scattered in random places, I wish the definitions had been included. Having to look them up separately (or on my phone while reading) would’ve disrupted the flow of the story.

I’m glad the author made a distinction about what the word “dreamer” meant to her, though because of how the word is used today, I would’ve probably used another title. 

The “extras” were better than the story, such as the list of other books the author found inspiring, as well as how she did the art (sometimes, the process is more interesting than the product).  However, her immigration story was the only part of this book that I found interesting; I thought it wonderful that she included actual names. What a delight that would be to be one of the people mentioned as having made such a difference in someone’s life.  I can only imagine how hard it is coming to a country where you don’t know the language (the language you are working hard to learn) and how relieving it would be to know that you had a friend you could trust–a friend who knew that language who could not only help you learn it but a friend who would watch out for you.

Ultimately, this story did not hold my daughter’s attention; so many children’s books are written only for the adults who choose to read to their children.  This, to me, was one of them.

Btw, I think if you’re going to give a book less than three stars, it would be nice if you would at least tell the author why in a civil way.  Otherwise, it comes across as mean-spirited.

Suggested activity:  Find a wall-sized world map, and, using pins (or tiny stickers), start pinning locations where the books you’re reading are published.  (The Fox on the Swing– earlier in this summer reading challenge–was published in Lithuania.)  Let your child pick a place; just fill your map with pins.  

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/39651067-dreamers