Treasures from Barefoot Books

Barefoot Books, a publisher and bookseller dedicated to producing inclusive and diverse books, sent me a selection of lovely books that I can’t wait to write about. Their website says, “At Barefoot Books, our mission is to share stories, connect families and inspire children.” I’m impressed with the quality and diversity of the books I have been able to review from Barefoot Books.

My Big Barefoot Book of Spanish & English Words by Sophie Fatus. This picture dictionary includes words paired with pictures, but also a simple narrative that takes readers through the day with a family in Spanish. Each vocabulary word and each narrative sentence is accompanied by English translation. Beginners aren’t going to learn much grammar or sentence structure from a book like this one, but it’s a great format for vocabulary building. The illustrations are bright and colorful, acrylic painting and colored pencil, and the book itself is large enough for two people to share comfortably. No pronunciation guide, but again it looks like a great vocabulary builder.

The Wise Fool: Fables from the Islamic World by Shahrukh Husain and Michael Archer. Mulla Nasruddin, “a legendary character whose adventures and misadventures are enjoyed across the Islamic world,” is the subject of these tales from the Middle East and Northern Africa. He’s a “wise fool”, the kind of guy who is often the butt of the joke but who gets the last word anyway in his disingenuous and sometimes innocent, sometimes shrewd, wisdom. Mullah Nasruddin is not above a little white lie or a trick now and then if he thinks it might serve a higher purpose, but he’s generally a harmless and benign presence in these tales. These stories would make a good comparison/contrast to Aesop’s fables, or one could try to pair each story with one of Solomon’s proverbs in the Bible. Just reading the stories and enjoying their sly wisdom could spark discussion and give a good introduction to Islamic and Middle Eastern culture. The illustrations are beautiful collage-type spreads in an Islamic mosaic style, but the many pages where the print is imposed on a deep colored background were hard on my (elderly) eyes.

Mama Panya’s Pancakes by Mary and Rich Chamberlin, illustrated by Julia Cairns. This picture book is a backlist title, originally published in 2005. However, it’s a worthy multicultural story, set in Kenya, about a boy and his mama who are planning a pancake supper. Mama rather mysteriously tells Adika that she will make ” a little bit and a little bit more” pancakes when he ask how many pancakes she plans to cook. So, Adika feels free to invite the entire community, all of their friends and acquaintances, to join them for the pancake supper. Will there be enough? The story ends like the old European tale Stone Soup and shows how a village can come together in generosity and community.

My Granny Went to Market: A Round-the-World Counting Rhyme by Stella Blackstone and Christopher Corr. Another backlist title from 2005, this counting book has Granny visiting ten different countries on a magic carpet purchased in Istanbul, Turkey at the beginning of the book. She ends up in Peru where Granny gives the magic carpet away to another adventurer. The rhymes are adequate, both rhythm and rhyme a little off, but the colorful pictures and the journey itself all around the world are worth a look. It’s short and sweet, for beginning world travelers.

The Beeman by Laurie Krebs and Valeria Cis. Yet another backlist title (2008), this one begins with a poem about our dependence on bees by classic children’s poet Aileen Fisher. Then, Ms. Krebs writes her own poem in the style of This Is the House That Jack Built and tells about a boy’s admiration for his grandpa “who’s know in our town as the Beeman.” All the many aspects and stages of beekeeping and honey extraction are examined in rollicking rhyme as the boy and his grandfather care for the bees together. Then, there’s more information bout bees an beekeeping in the back of the book as well as a recipe for Grandma’s Apple and Honey Muffins. This story in rhyme is definitely a “keeper”.

Never Trust a Tiger: A story from Korea, retold by Lari Don, illustrated by Melanie Williamson. Based on the traditional Korean tale “The Tiger in the Trap”, this easy-to-read folktale plays out in six brief chapters. A merchant rescues a tiger from a pit where the tiger is trapped, but the tiger immediately proceeds to repay the merchant’s good deed with a very bad deed: the tiger is determined to eat the merchant. “You can’t follow a good deed wth a bad deed,” says the merchant. And the two of them decide to find a judge who can tell them whether or not bad deeds can follow good ones. The moral of the story: never trust a tiger, or be careful whom you help.

Lola’s Fandango by Anna Witte, illustrated by Micha Archer, narrated by The Amador Family. This picture book, set in Spain, is accompanied by a audio CD narration with flamenco music as a background. Lola wants to distinguish herself from big sister Clementina by learning to dance the flamenco, but to do so Lola must practice hard. And she must find her duende (spirit, attitude, courage). Fandango, as well as I can ascertain, is a particular style of flamenco. This book would be hard to read aloud for those of us who are unfamiliar with flamenco and its rhythms. Lola practices the rhythm over and over, “Toca, toca, TICA! Toca, toca, TICA! Toca, TICA! Toca, TICA! Toca, TICA!” I would have no idea how to read this properly, so I’m glad the CD narration is included. There’s also a Spanish version of this title in the Barefoot Books online catalog.

There you have it. I’m sold on all of these books—and on books from Barefoot Books, generally. And I got to take a trip around the world while reading these delightful titles. What a bargain!

Baker’s Dozen: Books to Read for my Around the World Project

I’m planning a new project for 2016, an expansion of my Africa Project. This one is an around the world project in which I hope to read at least one children’s book from or related to each nation of the world. Some countries are easier than others to find books, available in English and written by a citizen of that country. I may have to settle for folktales retold by American or Births authors from some countries or even for books that are simply set in the target country, preferably written by someone who has at least visited the particular setting in the book.

So, here is the page for my Around the World Reading Project. Do you have any suggestions to add to my project list, especially for those countries for which I have no books listed? The books must be for children, available in English (translation or original) in the United States, and preferably written in and popular in the country of origin.

Here are thirteen of the books I already chose that I am planning to read this year:

Blinky Bill by Dorothy Wall. (Australia)

The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch. (Canada)

Comet in Moominland by Tove Jansson. (Finland)

The Horse Without a Head by Paul Berna. (France)

The Adventures of Maya the Bee by Waldemar Bonsels, 1912. (Germany)

Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie. (India)

The Shadow of Ghadames by Joelle Stolz. (Libya)

A Girl Named Disaster by Nancy Farmer. (American author) (Mozambique)

The Letter for the King by Tonke Dragt. (Netherlands)

Platero y yo by Juan Jimenez. (Spain)

The Brothers Lionheart by Astrid Lindgren. (Sweden)

Go Ahead, Secret Seven by Enid Blyton. (England)

Jamela’s Dress by Niki Daly. (South Africa)

I chose these particular books from the list mostly because I have them or have access to them. Have you read any of them? Any recommended or not?

Infinity Ring: A Mutiny in Time by James Dashner

Dak Smythe and Sera Froste are geniuses and friends who live in an alternate version of our own time. Unfortunately, their world is falling apart: high crime, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, forest fires, blizzards, storms, a dictatorship police government, and general unrest and confusion. It’s all because of disruptions in time, perpetrated long ago at several key points in history by the SQ, a group of Time Thugs who have altered the course of history.

The series looks to be a LOT like Margaret Peterson Haddix’s The Missing series, except with more bells and whistles. The Infinity Ring series was developed by Scholastic, and Mr. Dashner (The Maze Runner) was recruited to write the first and last book in the seven book series. The other books are to be written (or have been written) by Carrie Ryan (The Forest of Hands and Teeth), Lisa McMann (The Unwanteds), Matt de la Pena (Mexican Whiteboy), Matthew J. Kirby (The Clockwork Three), and Jennifer A. Nielsen (The False Prince). Book 2 in the series is available in bookstores and libraries now, and Book 3 comes out in February 2013. There are games and online clues and apps and videos–all sorts of extra stuff to enrich (subvert?) your reading experience.

How Infinity Ring parallels The Missing:

1. Time itself has been disrupted and needs to be “fixed.” In the Infinity Ring books, specific events in history have been changed leading to changes in the course of history that are damaging to the planet. In Missing, key children have been kidnapped, causing the course of human events to be disrupted.

2. The good guys are fighting against the bad guys against the backdrop of history. In Infinity Ring, it’s the SQ against the Hystorians. In Missing, it’s the kidnappers against the Time agents.

3. Kids have to visit specific times and places to fix Time and put things right. Dak and Sera and another young man they befriend, Riq, are the heroes of Infinity Ring. Jonah and his sister Katherine are the main time-rescuers in The Missing books. In both series there are adults who are there to help the kids on their way, but it’s the young people who have to do the heavy lifting and time-traveling.

4. The kids in Infinity Ring have an infinity ring to transport them through time and some kind of implant in their teeth (?) to translate the new languages they encounter. Jonah and Katherine have an Elucidator that translates for them and enables them to be invisible when they need to be unseen.

5. Jonah and Katherine see tracers, ghostly bodies that show them how time would have progressed if it hadn’t been changed. The Infinity Ring time travelers have Remnants, deja-vu-like experiences in which they feel and even envision how history is supposed to be without the changes.

6. There’s lots of history and historical fiction mixed up in both of these series. Between the two series, a reader could learn about Richard III and the Battle of Bosworth, Christopher Columbus, the Viking invasion of Paris, the Underground Railroad, Henry Hudson’s explorations, the Lost Colony of Roanoke, the French Revolution, and the early career of Albert Einstein. That’s not a bad start on world history, especially since I think learning about historical events is more fun and memorable in a fictional, story format.

So which series would I recommend if you could only read one? Haddix’s books are far more interesting, suspenseful, and better written, but if you want the extras, games and online stuff, then you’ll probably like the Infinity Ring books better. The Infinity Ring books are also shorter and perhaps meant for a little bit younger audience.

Happy Birthday: Celebrating Elizabeth Borton de Trevino

Elizabeth Borton de Trevino, whose historical fiction book I, Juan de Pareja, won the Newbery Medal in 1966, was born on this date in 1904 in Bakersfield, California. She died at the age of 97 on December 2, 2001.

Ms. Borton de Trevino was not Hispanic, but she married a Mexican man and moved with him to his home, Monterrey, Mexico, then to Mexico City, and finally to Cuernavaca. The couple had two sons, and one of the sons, Luis, inspired his mother to write I, Juan de Pareja by telling her the story of the slave of a seventeenth century Spanish artist.

I, Juan de Pareja tells the fictionalized story of Spanish painter Diego Velasquez and his slave and protege, Juanico. Juan posed for one of Velasquez’s most famous paintings, and Velasquez taught Juan to paint even though it was against the law for a slave to learn a profession in seventeenth century Spain. The story itself moves rather slowly and covers a great many years in the life of Velasquez and Juan de Pareja. As the relationship between the two men grows, Velasquez comes to see Juan de Pareja as a friend and an equal instead of a lowly and inferior slave.

Review clips:
Shelley at Book Clutter: “While this was an interesting and somewhat educational children’s novel, I certainly didn’t find it to be a page-turner. I had a hard time imagining a child finding it at all engaging, and thought it was peculiar that the main character is an adult for a very large portion of the book.”

One Librarian’s Book Reviews: “I thought this story was beautiful and terrible. It showed the kinds of extremes slaves felt (at least in Spain) experiencing sometimes the good and sometimes the horrible.”

Sandy at The Newbery Project: “Although I like historical fiction, I’m afraid I was often bored by Juan de Pareja’s narrative, and I frequently wondered just how probable the story was.”

Linda at The Newbery Project: “The writing in this book flowed flawlessly so it was pleasant to read, and it took me only a few days to get through it. That’s fast, as I’m normally a slow reader who gets through one chapter per night if I’m lucky. But I, Juan de Pareja fascinated me and at times I couldn’t put it down despite being tired.”

There you have it–a fine example of mixed reviews. This book might very well be a hard sell for the TV generation, but for that very reason, I considered it a valuable part of our curriculum last year when we were studying Renaissance history. However, I read the book aloud to my children because I knew that they would complain about the slow pace if I required them to read it to themselves. Juanico is a sympathetic character, and the story of how he became a painter and a friend and encourager to the great Velasquez is worth the time and effort, especially for those interested in art and the history of art. Of course, when reading the book it is recommended that you look online to find and view some of the paintings mentioned in the story.

Elizabeth Borton de Trevino wrote three volumes of autobiographical memoir: My Heart Lies South: The Story of my Mexican Marriage, Where the Heart Is, and The Hearthstone of My Heart. I’d like to add at least the first of these to my TBR list. It seems an especially appropriate selection for September, Hispanic Heritage Month.

Elizabeth Borton de Trevino on her family’s reading of Kristin Lavransdattir by Sigrid Undset (good book, by the way):

I got hold of the book first. I sat in a corner with that novel and could not do anything but wash and dress mechnically, eat what was put in my hand, sleep reluctantly, and read, for two weeks. Next, my sister seized the book and she was tended, as I had been, and relieved of every household task and duty until, sighing, she turned the last page. Then my mother said, “All right, girls, take over. It’s my turn.” And she never moved or spoke to a soul until she had finished it. My father did not care. He was rereading, for the tenth enchanted time, the African journals of Frederick Courteney Selous, the great English hunter, and while we were in medieval Norway, he had been far away in darkest Africa, with all the wild forest around him. That is the kind of family we were.

Thanks to Peter Sieruta at Collecting Children’s Books for the quotation.