Multicultural Children’s Book Day Review: Joelito’s Big Decision

Joelito Cover Two Boys Lo Rez

Joelito’s Big Decision
Ann Berlak, ill. Daniel Camacho
Hard Ball Press
August 2015
Copy of the book was provided free by the author for Multicultural Children’s Book Day

Joelito’s family has a tradition of going out for hamburgers at Sam MacMann’s every Friday, but this week their plans fall apart when the fast food workers are on strike, demanding a raise in their wages as part of the Fight for 15 movement. Joelito recognizes his best friend, Brandon, and Brandon’s family among the picketers. Brandon’s parents work at the restaurant and don’t make enough money to support their family. At first Joelito is torn between supporting his friend and carrying on his family’s weekly burger tradition. Ultimately Joelito learns a lesson about the economics of big business and the importance of supporting your friends and community in challenging times, leading him to make his “big decision.”

While Joelito’s Big Decision is a story about friendship and community, it is also a story about the economy and its effect on families. Brandon’s family’s story is one that became all too common after the Great Recession in 2008 – parents lose good factory jobs and are forced to take minimum-wage, low skill jobs; the family has to leave their house and move into an apartment; they don’t have money to take care of the family, all culminating in their participation in the strike. Many kids will be able to relate to Brandon’s family as the effects of the recession continue to be felt today across the country.

The book also includes what we can assume is an immigrant story. Joelito’s mother talks about her family’s humble beginnings picking fruit in horrible conditions, but today, because of demonstrations by the farm workers, they have worked their way up to have a fairly comfortable life. Joelito’s family honors that family history by joining in the demonstration against Sam MacMann’s and eating at a locally owned restaurant instead.

While the book could use one more proofreading and some illustrations’ relationship to the text isn’t always immediately clear, Joelito’s Big Decision addresses important issues and the bilingual English and Spanish text will make the book more accessible for Spanish-speaking children and families.

For teachers and parents, Joelito’s Big Decision provides a good jumping off point for discussion about issues of workers’ rights, the right to assemble, wealth distribution, and the power of the consumer to choose what businesses they support. As always, more information can be found at your local library on all of these topics.

Suggested reading

Side by Side/Lado a Lado: The Story of Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez (bilingual English-Spanish) by Monica Brown, illustrated by Joe Cepeda

Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909 by Michelle Martel, illustrated by Melissa Sweet

Companion activity

In the illustrations of the Sam MacMann’s strike, many people hold up signs with slogans or demands or the reason they are striking. Look at these illustration and think about a cause you are passionate about – for example, animal rights, a better environment, a safer neighborhood, to keep a school or library or park open, etc. If you had a sign at a strike or rally for your cause, what would you write on it? Would it be one word or many? In English or another language? Would it rhyme? Maybe you would include pictures or use a lot of different colors. Practice making your sign on a small sheet of paper. Use crayons or colored pencils or markers. Think about the sign you’ve made. Does your sign get your message across? Does is represent you and your cause?

About Multicultural Children’s Book Day

Multicultural Children’s Book Day is on January 27, 2016.

The MCCBD team’s mission to spread the word and raise awareness about the importance of diversity in children’s literature. Our young readers need to see themselves within the pages of a book and experience other cultures, languages, traditions and religions within the pages of a book. We encourage readers, parents, teachers, caregivers and librarians to follow along the fun book reviews, author visits, event details, a multicultural children’s book linky and via our hashtag (#ReadYourWorld) on Twitter and other social media.

Multicultural Children’s Book day 2016 Medallion Level Sponsors

Platinum: Wisdom Tales Press * StoryQuest Books*Lil Libros
Gold: Author Tori Nighthawk*Candlewick Press
Silver: Lee and Low Books*Chronicle Books*Capstone Young Readers
Bronze: Pomelo Books* Author Jacqueline Woodson*Papa Lemon Books* Goosebottom Books*Author Gleeson Rebello*ShoutMouse Press*Author Mahvash Shahegh* China*

Multicultural Children’s Book Day has 12 amazing Co-Host and you can view them here.


Reading about 9/11 in the library

Man Who Walked Between the Towers

Back when I was a branch youth services librarian, I did weekly storytimes for 1st grade classes from the local elementary school. They were such a fun age to work with because they are young enough to still be into picturebooks and old enough to discuss them. I was constantly looking for the next engaging picturebook to read to them. By far the most successfully engaging of all the books I ever read to them was Mordicai Gerstein’s The Man Who Walked Between the Towers.

This Caldecott-winning picturebook, published in 2003, is about French street performer and tightrope walker Philippe Petit and his brazen and illegal tightrope walk between the towers of the World Trade Center in New York City in 1974. The book is wonderfully written and amazingly illustrated (as you can see from the cover, his choice of views and use of perspective are impeccable), but more importantly it has intrigue and daring and action, and, unbelievably to my 1st grade audience, it is a true story. The kids would literally hold their breath waiting for what happens on the next page.

two towers

At the end of the book, there is an illustration of the two towers as a sort of mirage and the text says “the towers are gone now…” As you can imagine, for a group of children who weren’t even alive on September 11, 2001, this ending was not what they expected. “What happened to the towers?” someone would inevitably ask. I could see the look of horror on their teachers’ faces as they waited to see how I answered the question. In one instance, a fellow classmate piped up and told the version of the 9/11 story that he had been told by his parents (he did a great job, by the way), but in the other instances, it fell on me to explain. I kept it simple and brief: “In 2001 some very bad people who wanted to hurt our country caused an explosion and a fire that brought the towers down for good and scared a lot of people. It was a terrible tragedy but it also brought a lot of people together to help each other.” Short on time and not wanting to scare anyone (including the teachers!) or step on parents’ toes, I offered another picturebook – Fireboat by Maira Kalman – to anyone who wanted to read more and told them to ask their parents to tell them the story. After all, everyone remembers where they were when the towers fell down.

Gratitude Storytime

Back when I was a children’s librarian doing storytimes every week, holidays were such a nice reprieve from having to decide on an arbitrary topic for the week. My first year when I went to plan a Thanksgiving storytime, I found there weren’t really any Thanksgiving-specific books that I liked or that were of any quality, so instead I put together a storytime about being grateful, which I liked a whole lot more anyway because being grateful is really the point of the holiday, right?

Here are a few of my favs to pull out for storytime leading up to Thanksgiving:

Bear says thankstodd parr thankful book old woman vinegar bottle

Bear Says Thanks
Karma Wilson

This one comes the closest to being a Thanksgiving book. Bear throws a dinner party and each of his woodland friends brings a different dish to share, earning Bear’s gratitude and adding up to quite the feast. The charming illustrations with lots of fun animals and details to point out and the rhyming and repetitive text that is the hallmark of Karma Wilson’s Bear books make this a great one to share around the holiday.

The Thankful Book
Todd Parr

Oh, how I love reading Todd Parr books to toddlers and preschoolers. There is absolutely no plot, just a bunch of statements and colorful drawings that can lead to great comments and conversations. “I am thankful for my hair because it makes me unique” gives everyone a chance to look around at each other’s hair and think about your own hair. “I am thankful for bubble baths because they keep me squeaky clean” – I think we can all agree that bubble baths are awesome! And so on. Todd Parr celebrates the little things that sometimes feel like big things to kids.

The Old Woman Who Lived in a Vinegar Bottle
Margaret Read MacDonald; Nancy Dunaway Fowlkes (illustrator)

This book is too long for preschooler and toddler storytime, but my visiting elementary school classes loved it. It’s about a woman who lives in a vinegar bottle, which she complains about all the time (and honestly, who can blame her?), until a fairy comes to visit. The woman wishes she could live in a cottage, and when her wish is granted, what does she turn around and do? Start complaining again and wishing for an even bigger home! The fairy grants her wishes for far too long and then teaches her a lesson in the end about being grateful for what you have. There’s a great refrain that the old woman repeats: “oh what a pity, what a pity, pity, pity!” that I encourage the kids to do with me in their most dramatic voices and gestures. They would get quite good by the end.

I wish you a very happy Thanksgiving with lots of time off for reading!

This old house: a review of House Held Up By Trees


House Held Up By Trees
by Ted Kooser, illustrated by Jon Klassen
Candlewick, 2012

In Ted Kooser’s House Held Up By Trees, a man fights against nature to keep his perfectly manicured lawn, armed only with a push mower and some diligent plucking to keep the surrounding trees from creeping in.  Nature, as it has a tendency to do, outlasts the man who grows older, along with his children, and eventually abandons the house and lawn, allowing the trees to grow, elevate and protect the house in their branches.

Jon Klassen’s illustrations in muted browns, greens, yellows, and reds convey the stark contrast between the natural wild tangle of the woods and the orderly expanse of the artificially bare yard.  Working with Ted Kooser’s beautiful text – full of repetition and rhythm – the illustrations also draw a similar line between childhood and adulthood; the two children are fully depicted and always near the forest, while the father and the children as adults are often headless, torso-less, or facing away into the flat horizon rather than toward the woods.

I found myself surprised by how much I felt for the house in this book and was satisfied with its rise to glory in the end.  It went from perfectly kept and protected from nature to abandoned, dilapidated and vandalized to finally ascending on the shoulders of the very thing the owner tried to protect it from in the first place.  While initially the old man seems to be the protagonist, as the narrative goes on, the house takes on the roll of the main character and I would argue even the woods is a main character of sorts.  The two rise above adversity, quite literally, in the end.