Brothers in Hope

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Author: Mary Williams

Illustrator: R. Gregory Christie

Publishing Information: Lee & Low Books Inc., 2005

Number of Pages: 36

Genre: Historical Fiction, Picture book

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Garang and his family live a happy life before the war comes. He goes on a journey first to Ethiopia and then to Kenya with other boys who are lost. Finally, they are rescued and provided a home in the United States.

The book shows a historical fact by demonstrating a tough journey Garang and his friend have. The text functions as both a window and a mirror for children to look back at history and reflect many kinds of harm done by wars. During the journey, friendship, brotherhood and tenacity are presented.

I found some of the illustrations problematic. I do agree that the rescuer Tom and the teacher in the school are positive characters. However, the illustrator keeps depicting white people much taller and bigger that the Sudan boys. Besides, white characters are put in a higher space of the images. That may give children an impression that white people are supreme and stronger than black people.

Perceptually, the text in this book is relatively dense. The lost boys are moving to the right which demonstrates that they are moving forward but not secure. The book uses dark color to depict a depressing atmosphere. When people thought there were soldiers, the horizon on the image suddenly disappeared which signifies that people are nervous. Structurally, text and images overlap. The images are not framed which helps reader to actually participate in the story. Ideologically, the author and the illustrator hit on the following four aspects. Firstly, the book stresses on family bond. Garang’s father used to encourage him to be brave and not afraid of cattle. Garang always remembers his father’s words, “Garang, be brave. Your heart and mind are strong. There is nothing you cannot do” (P. 2). Secondly, the book promotes individuality. We can see distinguished characteristics of leadership on Garang through the journey. He makes decision for the group, allocates the work and encourages them to go to school. Thirdly, while talking about individuality, the book also helps children realize the importance of teamwork. The value of a group is presented when the boys help each other to go across the river. They never leave anyone behind. Fourthly, the book teaches children to cherish the peace we have today.

Amanda Bean’s Amazing Dream

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Author: Cindy Neuschwander/ Marilyn Burns

Illustrator: Liza Woodruff

Publishing Information: Marilyn Burns Education Associates, 1998

Number of Pages: 30

Genre: Picture book

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Amanda Bean is a little girl who loves counting. Her teacher tries to convince her to learn multiplication but Amanda refuses until she has an amazing dream about counting a huge number of things. She realizes that multiplication is very helpful.

This book serves a purpose of giving children basic mathematical common sense about numbers and operations. It functions as a door for children to be interested in math by introducing Amanda Bean who “counts anything and everything” (P. 10).

I found the book problematic in the following two ways. Firstly, Amanda Bean seems to lose control of counting and I do not think it is a healthful habit. For example, “I am Amanda Bean and I count anything and everything” (P. 10) and “Now I must count the yarn, too!” (P. 21), such verses show a couple of times. It might mislead children to think that to love math is to count all the time. Psychologically, it is not proper to encourage children to “count anything and everything” (P. 10). Secondly, one of the ideologies the author conveys is that everything is quantifiable since Amanda Bean is able to “count anything and everything” (P. 10). However, in the real world, a lot of important things are not quantifiable such as love and friendship. It is also important for children to know that life is not all about counting.

Perceptually, the book use bright colors a lot which demonstrate Amanda Bean’s enthusiasm towards math. The images are not framed. Therefore, children can easily participate in the counting process. In her dream that she needs to count many things, the illustrations become chaotic and repetitive which means that the character is gradually losing control. Structurally, there is not any obvious separation between the text and images. Ideologically, this book promotes academic interest and conveys the idea that math is everywhere. Absorbing knowledge and being innovative can help people do better in academia. Besides, this book stresses individuality by mentioning the word “I” all the time. However, the book also points out that “I” is not necessarily correct all the time. “I” need help and accepting help could help “I” do things quicker and better.

Freedom Summer

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Author: Deborah Wiles

Illustrator: Jerome Lagarrigue

Publishing Information: Aladdin Paperbacks, 2001

Number of Pages: 27

Genre: Historical Fiction, Picture book

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A white boy Joe makes friends with John Henry, the son of the maid of his family. They play together all the time. But there were a lot of laws and rules against black people back then. John Henry cannot get into the store from the front door or swim in the town pool even if he is the finest swimmer. Finally, John Henry decides to use the front door and Joe is right there with him.

The story is based on historical facts. The author grew up in Mobile, Alabama and usually spent her summer with her relatives in Mississippi as she mentioned in the book before she told the story (P. 1). The town pool there was not open to black people. However, when the Civil Rights Act was passed, she witnessed that the town pool was closed. The book serves as a window for children to look back at history and also as a mirror for readers to reflect what is right and what is wrong.

Both of the two characters of this book have strong personalities. John Henry is a nice boy and he would help his mother with her work. In the first half of the book, John Henry does not seem to care whether he could use the front door to the store or whether he could swim in the town pool. He grew up happily playing with Joe and having fun swimming in the creek. But once he realized the difference between rights of white people and rights of himself, he was sad and angry. “John Henry’s eyes fill up with angry tears” (P. 23). The purpose of this book is to expose children to racism. The author tries to convey her point of view that racism is wrong and it can truly hurt feelings of somebody who is so nice. In the book, the author depicts Joe as a sensitive and warmhearted little boy. He would give up going swimming in the town pool just to keep company with John Henry. At the end of the book, Joe and John Henry walked through the front door together. Joe did not ignore the importance of civil rights although he was not directly harmed. He would fight for his friend. He would fight for what is right.

Perceptually, the book uses narrative sentences to tell an engaging story. The whole book uses dark color a lot which conveys a depressing atmosphere. I can find a few bright colors in some of the happy scenes. I found it smart that the illustrator tried to narrow down the difference of Joe and John Henry’s skin colors. Structurally, the text and images are completely separated which helps children to get the story as a whole. Ideologically, this book stresses friendship based on diversity backgrounds. Also, it encourages minorities to stand up for their rights and reminds readers that Civil Rights are universal. It is crucial for everybody to be concerned with it and get involved.

Off to First Grade

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Author: Louise Borden

Illustrator: Joan Rankin

Publishing Information: Margaret K. McElderry, 2008

Number of Pages: 36

Genre: Realistic Fiction, Picture book

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The book illustrates twenty-three students’ morning of getting ready for their first day of school. They are nervous but excited. Each student has his or her own anticipation of school.

Off to First Grade serves the purpose of preparing children to get ready for their first day of school. From knowledge to habit cultivating, from having lunch to making friends, this book functions as a window for children to form an idea of what a school is actually like. The author and the illustrator have done an excellent job expressing diversity. It is possible for children with different backgrounds to find one or two characters who have similar family structure, hobby, or even favorite food with themselves. Once the connections are built, children may start to like school.

However, I found the illustration problematic for the following reasons. We can conclude from the book that students have different backgrounds and there are different races in this class. At the first glance, it seems clever for the illustrator to illustrate all students as animals. It is a smart analogy to make different kinds of animals stand for different people. However, it seems to me that the illustrator is trying to avoid diversity issues such as race and gender. Children might still get confused when they arrive at school and notice that people are different, not the way animals are. Therefore, I think it is proper to illustrate people of different races directly and show children what the real world is like.

Perceptually, the text uses short lines to depict every situation. It is like a poem to some degree which makes it easier for children to read. The whole book uses bright colors which give children an impression of school that is full of hope and energy. The pictures are not framed which help children to put themselves in the story. Structurally, text and images do not overlap. Ideologically, the book helps children to have a good attitude towards school. It also encourages children to communicate with teachers. For example, Polly wants to show Mrs. Miller her penny and Quinn wants to ask Mrs. Miller if she likes jazz (P. 18). Besides, family bond is stressed a lot in the book.

The Herd Boy

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Author/ Illustrator: Niki Daly

Publishing Information: Frances Lincoln Limited, 2012

Number of Pages: 30

Genre: Non-fiction, Picture book


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Malusi is a South African herd boy. The job is very hard but he does it very well. He and his friend both have their own dreams. While his friend Lungisa wants to be a soccer player, Malusi wants to be president when he grows up.

This book demonstrates multiculturalism through a typical day of a South African herb boy Malusi. The text functions as a window for children to notice and explore the differences in the world. On the other side of the earth, there are different types of food, different clothes, and people with different skin color speaking different language. The kids there do not live in fancy houses. They get up early to work instead of rushing to catch the school bus in order not to be late. They take care of animals not for fun but for a living. This book was published just a few years ago. However, I can hardly find any modern elements from both texts and illustrations. It shows children that people elsewhere are living a very different life. People can be different in various ways but dreams are universal.

I found one of the plots in this story problematic. Children might be confused when they saw Nelson Mandela in “a shiny new car” with a man in suit driving for him (p. 21). On one hand, the strong contrast between the car and “the dirt road” reveal the gap between different classes. On the other hand, it is a symbol for a hope of development country, both in wealth and in technology. I think a better way to express this plot is to talk more about how Nelson Mandela gets to his place and further specify the necessary characteristics of leadership.

Perceptually, the book uses narrative sentences to tell a relatively complete story. Almost all of the colors in the book are dark which reflects the relatively poor living condition. The pictures in the book are not framed but the text and images are completely separated which construct the feeling of looking into another world and another culture. The horizon exists all the time except for the last picture which depicted Malusi’s dream. Structurally, the text and images do not overlap. Ideologically, the story encourages children to be brave. When facing difficulties, keep calm and find the best solution. At the same time, it is okay to have dreams and fight for them — even if they seem to be unreachable right now.