Rummanah Aasi
 Every year I try to read some of the books that are listed on the Monarch Book Award, a reader choice award for picture books in Illinois. I always discover great reads from these lists. I am happy to see a lot more diverse titles this year.

Description: A girl of the Sahara who wants to wear a malafa, the veiled dress worn by her mother and older sister, learns that the garment represents beauty, mystery, tradition, belonging, and faith.

Review: Deep in the Sahara is a treat for readers who want to know more about the culture of Mauritania as well as the Islamic faith without being heavy handed. Lalla lives in Mauritania where the sun burns, the sands shift, and all answer the call to prayer. She wants to wear a malafa, an airy, colorful cloth worn over clothes and covers her head like her mother and other women around her. At first Lalla is consumed with the superficial beauty of the malafa, but doesn't quite understand its significance. Throughout the story, she learns more and transitions from a girl to a woman. She will certainly make readers think about their preconceived notions about the malafa and the Mauritanian culture thanks to the thoughtful and delightful text. The illustrations are also appeal with a whimsical quality. The artwork looks as if it was made from paper collages. Also included is the author's note which indicates her inspiration for the story. Overall, a really good multicultural picture book.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 2 and up.

If you like this book try: King for a Day by Rukhsana Khan, Gold Domes and Silver Lanterns by Hena Khan, Same, Same but Different by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw,

Description: Imagine that when you hear a bell you see silver or when a dog barks you see red. That’s what it’s like for Jillian—when she hears sounds she sees colors. At first the kids at school make fun of Jillian. Jillian worries about being different until her music teacher shows her that having synesthesia is an amazing thing. This lively, informative picture book makes synesthesia easy to understand and celebrates each person’s unique way of experiencing the world.

Review: The Girl Who Heard Colors is about a little girl with synesthesia, a neurological condition in which two or more senses are attached. Jillian is thoroughly in touch with all of her senses. She can enjoy the exquisite taste of maple syrup on waffles and the smell of wet grass, but what she loves most are the colors that all the sounds she hears make. To Jillian the bark of a dog is red, the tinkle of her bicycle bell is silver, and at school her teacher's voice is green. Jillian feels all of these things are normal, but when a lunchbox crashes to the floor at school and she calls it yellow, all the children begin to laugh at her, making a sad, black sound.
  When Music Day rolls around and all the children play, Jillian is overwhelmed by all the colors she hears. Fortunately the visiting musician is also a synesthete, so he understands exactly what she means and explains it to everybody. While the resolution in the book is a bit unrealistic, I did like exploring Jillian's unusual perception. I have not read too many books with people who have synesthesia. The illustrations are nicely done giving Jillian a spunky attitude and making the text manipulate according to Jillian's perception. A brief author's note gives a little bit more information about synesthesia, grounding it in the experiences of children the author has encountered on school visits. I learned a lot from this book and I think younger readers will too.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 2 and up.

If you like this book try: Hello Ocean by Pam Munoz Ryan

Description: Two bears awaken from hibernation and go to town—literally. During their visit, they eat at a diner, dress up at a department store, and stop a couple of bank robbers, all the while mistaking the townspeople’s terror for friendliness.

Review: Breaking News: Bear Alert is a delightful, humorous picture book that made me laugh at multiple times. The text is minimal, only appearing as the recognizable ticker that runs at the bottom of the television screen during cable news programming or in speech balloons over the heads of citizens being interviewed by reporters. The real story, however, is occurring in the background illustration as a robbery is taking place. The once "dangerous" bears actually become heroes for their actions that only coincidentally save the day. Kids will love the silly adults, round-bellied cute bears, and the sprinkle of bear jokes in the story such as a diner sign advertising porridge "too hot, too cold, or just right"-embedded in the artwork. Breaking  News Bears could be used as a readaloud, however, I think it would be more fun for the younger readers to read this one on their own and enjoy putting together all the laugh out loud pieces of the story on their own. I know I did. The illustrations are great and really mind me of a Pixar movie.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades K-2.

If you like this book try: Children Make Terrible Pets by Peter Brown, Night Animals by Gianna Mariano
3 Responses
  1. I am headed to the library today with my kids, I am going to see if I can pick up these books. The bear book looks so cute, and I have never read or even heard of synthesia. Interesting.

  2. I think all of these are so cute and great for pressies! I love that the first one brings in another culture and I feel that education and knowledge is so important right now. Brilly recommendations!

  3. Kindlemom Says:

    These all sounds like such cute great reads!

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