Worm Loves Worm – Perfect Picture Book Friday and Diversity Day

wormTitle: Poet: Worm loves Worm

Written by: J. J. Austrian

illustrated by: Miike Curato

Published by: Balzer & Bray, Jan 5th, 2016

Themes: celebration of love, marriage, wedding, worms, equality

Ages: 3-7

Opening:

Worm loves Worm.
“Let’s be married.”
says Worm to Worm.

Synopsis:

A worm meets another worm and falls in love. One proposes; the other accepts and the worms want to get married straight away. Their insect friends though, insist that things be done properly, as they have always been done, with: best beetles and bride’s bees, cake  and of course a white dress and tuxedo. But who will wear what. Despite their friends insistence on tradition, Worm and Worm decided they can both be bride AND groom because it doesn’t matter.

The last lines are sublime.

Why I like this book:

I LOVE this book. This is the perfect picture book, truly. The message is simple, profound, unusual, relevant for kids and adults. Funny and adorable. Everyone should read this Austrian explains through simple dialogue between Worm, Worm and their entourage, how  sometimes we just must change “how it’s always been done,” and it is not difficult. Why? The age old message, because love matters more than traditions. Congratulations, John and Mike, on Worms’ love story and wedding. Yes, buy this for Valentine’s day, but buy it anyway for your kids and classrooms!

Mike Curato’s illustrations bring each character to life, especially the worms. I love how the rings can be worn as belts above their bumps. It made me think of the wonderful story of Edie and Thea, who wore rings as broaches because of the non-accepting prevailing attitudes in the 60’s towards lesbian couples. The choice of leaving lots of white space hones the readers’ focus on the protagonists and their willingness to work with their friends’ wedding proposals yet their uncompromising stance of love is what matters.

Mike Curato dedicated the book to his husband Dan, whom he married in 2013 right after same-sex marriage became legal in Washington State. He finished illustrating the book in February of 2015, four months before the Supreme Court declared that same-sex marriage was legal for all citizens. Maybe I am reading in too much, but I sense this personal appreciation of the message of equality in all these brushstrokes!

Activities/resources:

Certainly on one level the story can be read as tackling the subject of same sex marriage, or asexual marriage, with fun and a feather-light touch. This will go over many kids heads and I would only address it if young readers bring the subject up. Children are naturally tolerant and will accept this message without questioning.

I shall definitely be recommending it to our elementary school library. Great debut from Austrian.

Check out my interview with Mike Curato here. 

Each week a group of bloggers reviews picture books we feel would make great educational reads. To help teachers, caregivers and parents, we have included resources and/or activities with each of our reviews. A complete list of the thousands of books we have reviewed can be found sorted alphabetically and by topics, here on Susanna Leonard Hill’s website. 

The Green Bicycle – Diversity Reading, 2016

greenTitle: The Green Bicycle

Author: Haifia Al Mansour

Publisher: Dial Books for young Readers, 2015

Age: 9-13

Themes: family, dreams, life in Saudi Arabia as a girl, coming of age, role of women/girls

Opening:

Wadjda wasn’t thinking about her ticket to heaven. You could see it on her face.

Synopsis:

Spunky eleven-year-old Wadjda lives in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia with her parents. She desperately wants a bicycle so that she can race her friend Abdullah, even though it is considered improper for girls to ride bikes (and hang with boys). Her parents will never buy her one because of these religious principles. So Wadjda sets about earning money for her dream bike so she can win races against her friend and enjoy the rebelliousness, by selling homemade bracelets and mix-tapes of banned music to her classmates. But after she’s caught, she’s forced to at least pretend to mend her ways, or risk expulsion from her all-girls school. She commits to go to an extra Koranic class for a competition. In reality, this is part of her constant scheming to get what she wants.

Why I like this book:

Set in Saudi Arabia against shifting social and political attitudes, The Green Bicycle is an exploration of gender roles and family dynamics for tweens and adults in this Middle Eastern nation. It addresses conformity, and the importance of family solidarity. Wadjda is funny, cheeky, courageous, and full of heart. She can’t help but question and challenge the status quo, which puts so many restrictions on her, her girlfriends, her mother and all women. She stands up to her best friend, who unusually is a boy her age, though the attraction is also beautifully obvious to the reader. She is ready to go to great lengths to grasp her dream, which is not just a mode of transportation but a symbol of emancipation!

The discussion of gender roles in a strict Muslim nation is approached with maturity and yet the authentic eyes of a somewhat feministic eleven year-old. Wadjda secretly loves Western music and wears scuffed sneakers under her school uniform. The daily life in Riyad is brought to life by much sensorial imagery and details: the spices in the morning tea, Wadjda’s mother forced to teach at a school two hours away from home because teaching in an all-girls school is one of the only acceptable professions for a woman. She and other completely-covered female teachers endure a dangerous drive to work in a van with no A/C, driven by a surly, uneducated Pakistani man who feels he can berate the women based on their gender. The mother is a wonderful mix of modern and traditional views, secretly smoking on the roof, plotting to prevent her husband taking another wife and citing the superstition that Wadjda can’t ride a bike because she might damage her reproductive parts doing this.

This novel while challenging the role of women does not explicitly attack the authority of the Koran’s teaching. The author manages to honor the holy tenets of Islam while exposing the out-datedness of many of the religious attitudes. The bond between the mother, who secretly wants herself to break free of some of the restrictions, and the cheekily rebellious daughter is developed through the chapters, and really is the heart of the story. This is a great middle grade coming of age story, and an introduction to life in the conservative yet changing religious milieu of Riyad; it offers deep insights into Saudi life beyond the oil sheiks and Islamic extremists that tend to be the stereotypes promoted in western media.

source world atlas.com

source world atlas.com

Resources:

This book is also a movie, under the name WAD JDA

Also, if you missed my January post on the We Need Diverse Books site in the Looking Back series I am curating, you can find it here!

Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton – PPBF, Diversity Day, 2016

 

Celebrating Black History Month!

georgeTitle: Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses HortonPoet:

Author and illustrator: Don Tate

Publisher: Peachtree Books, 2015

Themes: slavery, illiteracy, poetry, African American, perseverance,

Genre: biography

Ages: 6-9

Opening:

GEORGE LOVED WORDS. He wanted to learn how to read, but George was enslaved. He and his family lived on a farm in Chatham County, North Carolina, where they were forced to work long hours. There wasn’t time for much else. Besides, George knew his master would not approve                                                                                                               But that did not stop George form admiring the language that was all around him: Inspirational words read from the Bible. Hopeful words delivered in a sermon. Lively words sung in songs.

Synopsis:

George Moses Horton was born in 1798, in a tabacco plantation in Northampton County, North Carolina. He was a slave. Like his parents, brothers and sisters. But he was determined to learn how to read. It seemed impossible, but this did not deter his love of language. He listened to the white children when they practiced their school lessons, and then he found an old, ripped apart spelling book and taught himself how to read by staying up late and studying it by firelight. As a teenager he sold fruit and vegetables grown on his farm to the students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He also recited poetry he had composed. Soon students were paying him to compose love poems to their girlfriends. Then the wife of a professor, a poet herself, arranged for his poems to be published. George was soon making enough money to negotiate with his master to pay him for his time away from the farm so he could write full-time. As George created the best life he could while still living a slave, the country was changing and a war for freedom began. Though George fell back on hard times during the war because of continued discrimination and had to return temporarily to farm work, this war would eventually win George his freedom. In 1863 when President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation George was finally free. He was then 66 years old. (Goodreads)

geor

Why I like this book:

Tate captures the life and times of this remarkable poet with wonder and passion rather than pity. It is a beautiful text and ode to the love of words and what Horton managed to do in his lifetime under slavery. As readers watch Horton grow up and then fight for his freedom in his own way, with words, they will be devastated when he continues to be a slave despite his best efforts. Even the work of others on his behalf could not get him free. This reality needs to be shared in elementary classrooms looking at this period of American history.

Tate’s illustrations are warm and wonderful. One can see the yearning for education on Horton’s face as he watches the white children learn to read. Tate also makes sure that Horton’s image shines on the page. He is regularly lit from outside lights of candles and the sun, creating a light around him. The historical details of North Carolina in the mid-1800s and Chapel Hill in particular, bear witness to extensive research. Tate also incorporates some of Horton’s poems into the illustrations.

This biographical picture book that shows the strength of one man under adversity, his intelligence and the power of literacy and poetry. It is an exceptional addition to African American literature for children.

Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton

Activities/resources:

I would read some of Horton’s poems with older elementary children.

There is a helpful biography at the back of the book and an author’s note well worth reading with children.

Don Tate’s website contains a POET activity guide and a POETRY AS FREEDOM workshop guide.

Each week a group of bloggers reviews picture books we feel would make great educational reads. To help teachers, caregivers and parents, we have included resources and/or activities with each of our reviews. A complete list of the thousands of books we have reviewed can be found sorted alphabetically and by topics, here on Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.