Tearing down walls – one book and one tweet at a time

I have the feeling I spend the last two weeks on Twitter. Not for The Reading Castle or literature though, but for diversity and about the craziness of the current political situation. Everything else seems unimportant when you read about a purge of the white house’s senior staff, right wing politicians taking their place, the travel ban for citizens of certain countries and countless other unbelievable biases. And, everything seems to be reasonable when you accept an “alternative truth”. Science Fiction, anyone?


Even more interesting is how the world reacts to it. While supporters of our new president seemed to see it justified to burn mosques and take pride in their racism and religious prejudice, the better part of Americans stood up for moral, their neighbors of every color, heritage and believe and the truth. With the day of the women’s marches my believe in this world, this country and the American people started to mend.

I want to stand against this madness. Not because I’m an immigrant myself, but because I believe in a diverse world. We teach our daughter acceptance and tolerance, kindness and thoughtfulness. Our children are watching. They might not understand yet, but they see what the political leadership is doing, that people are suffering while wrongs are justified with “alternative truths”. And they see how we are reacting. It’s more important them ever to teach them about other cultures and diversity. To stand for human rights, for refugees, women, scientists, our neighbors, kids and everyone else. I’m proud that the Reading Castle works with publishers that understand and support diverse children books. I’m sure these books will be an important part of making our children “worldcitizen”, who stand up for injustice and tear down walls.

Why I’m writing this? As an explanation. For me it’s not an alternative to keep this blog free of political opinions. What’s happening right now is just too important. But I’m spending too much time on Twitter and Facebook already, so I chose to just keep my Twitter account @readingcastle for literature only with the occasional side blow. If you are curious about my political opinion you can always follow me @lenalandwerth. If we are friends on Facebook you’ll see that it’s just not possible to stay out of the discussion right now 🙂

Thanks for your understanding!


“Melena’s Jubilee“ by Zetta Elliott

Do you know the concept of „Jubilee“? I didn’t until I first held Zetta Elliot’s “Melena’s Jubilee” in my hands. The Jubilee year is mentioned in the Biblical Book of Leviticus. It should occur every fiftieth year, “in which slaves and prisoners would be freed, debts would be forgiven and the mercies of God would be particularly manifest.” The concept was especially embraced by the African American slave community who longed for freedom. When President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 they declared it the “Day of Jubilee”, believing that the end of slavery was to come. But we don’t have to wait 50 years to wait for things to turn around… In her book “Melena’s Jubilee”, Zetta Elliot embraces the concept of every day as a new start do so something good and change our life.


Melena, the heroine of this book, wakes up with a wonderful, positive song in her head – just to remember that yesterday wasn’t a good day. She forgot to put her toys away, which lead to a series to unfortunate events… Luckily both her grandma and mom forgive her, declare this morning as a fresh start. Melena carries this idea with her all day, forgiving her brother for a smack on the head, picking vegetables in grandma’s garden and sharing a desired hot fudge sundae with her friends instead of calling in a dept. Every act of kindness brings great joy, because “it’s about waking up to a blue sky and finding out you have been forgiven. It’s about free sunshine, and the tasty things that grow in my grandmother’s garden. But mostly it’s about the chance to start all over again, every single day!”

Melena’s Jubilee“ is a wonderful book to talk about empathy and the power of compassion – both hard to grasp concepts for preschoolers! Per her own words, Zetta Elliot writes about black children because “I grew up believing I was invisible in the real world, and it hurt just as much to discover that I was also invisible in the realm of the imaginary. I write the books I wish I had had as a child.” Children’s’ literature should embrace all children so children can find themselves in these books – no matter the skin color, religion and potential handicaps. Diverse children’s literature was always an important, but often overlooked matter. Recent political events are a humanitarian and political disaster, but at least they underlined the importance of inclusive, diverse books to broaden our childrens’ view of the world.


Zetta Elliots book is accomplished by wonderful artwork by Aaron Boyd. He incorporates almost photo-like pictures of Melena and her friend in an artistic, abstract background. Like the book itself the illustrations can be a great discussion starter. Furthermore, the author’s note and a list of seven potentials ways for a “fresh start day” offer multiple activities for schools and families.

A wonderful book to brighten a hard day, to learn about African-American culture or just to enjoy a thoroughly positive book! “Milena’s Jubilee” was published by Tilbury House, a multi-award winning independent publishing company. The goal of Tilbury House is to publish picture books that nourish a child’s imagination. “Picture books must be beautiful, of course, or they will not be opened. They must entertain or they will not be read. And they must be accurate, even when exploring a concept as complex as the Big Bang or as fraught as race, family, or death. But sparking the imagination is the most important thing, and the hardest.”

About the author:
Zetta Elliott is an advocate for greater diversity and equity in publishing. She is the author of more than twenty books for young readers, including the award-winning picture book Bird and an urban fantasy novel. Three books published under her own imprint, Rosetta Press, have been named Best Children’s Books of the Year by the Bank Street Center for Children’s Literature.

About the illustrator:
Aaron Boyd is the illustrator of 25 children’s books. His pop-up Storybook Year won a Clio Top 4 award and was inducted into the Smithsonian Rare Books collection. He has also received Children’s Africana Book, Choices Sports, Notable Children’s Book, and Hermes Creative awards, and his advertising graphics have received Addy Gold and Graphis awards.

More information:
“Melena’s Jubilee“
written by Zetta Elliott
illustrated by Aaron Boyd
Hardcover: 32 pages
Publisher: Tilbury House Publishers
ISBN-13: 978-0884484431

„The messy book“ by Maudie Powell-Tuck

Some books are just like out of a parent’s life! “The messy book” by Maudie Powell-Tuck, published by Tiger Tales, is one of these – just like the title promises!


The jacketed hardcover book draws interest from the first page on: A painting cat, a cartoon dog full of expression and a big mess. There probably is not one toddler in the world who wouldn’t love this! Turning the first pages it soon becomes clear that “The messy book” is an unusual book: Speech bubbles and the expressive illustrations by Richard Smythe make it into a comic for kids. There is something to discover on any page and kids will love to observe how the mess takes its course…

The story: Cat made a mess and is oblivious to dog’s attempts to clean up. She rather shoves the mountain of scraps into one corner of the room, hides it under the bed, bounces on it… She even tries to push everything into the jungle and the ocean. Even the vacuum can’t hold the extend of cat’s mess. When cat is finally convinced that cleanup is the only way, her animal friends help and soon discover that the paper scraps are colorful pieces of a party scene. Unfortunately, the soon to begin party leaves another mess to clean up… Cat’s tries to get rid of her garbage in the ocean and the jungle may be tries to sensibilize children for environmental topics.

I should be honest: Reading comic-style books out loud felt weird to me at first. But it’s a fun way to read, especially when you are willing to use different voices! The simple texts make books like “The messy book” easier to read for beginning readers, too! Maudie Powell-Tuck found an unusual way to address a topic from every kid’s life: Cleaning up doesn’t seem like fun, but can be an adventure!

“The messy book” is a fun book that every parent can relate to and that children will love.

More information:

„The messy book“
written by Maudie Powell-Tuck
illustrated by Richard Smythe
Publisher: Tiger Tales Books
ISBN-13: 978-1-68010-037-2

Multicultural Children’s Book Day – or: Chicken Soup, Chicken Soup!

January 27 2017 will be the fourth Multicultural Children’s Book Day! Multicultural Children’s Book Day was founded by Valarie Budayr from Jump Into A Book and Mia Wenjen from PragmaticMomThis year we wanted to be part of the Book Day – because multicultural children’s books, that’s just us 🙂


After being paired up with Kar-Ben Publishing, a publisher with the mission to promote Jewish children’s books, we received our review copy: “Chicken Soup, Chicken Soup” by Pamela Meyer  is the story of a granddaughter caught between her Jewish and Chinese roots.

When you read my reviews you know that we are not a religious family. So I was a little careful about a “religious” title. Having grown up in Germany I never learned much about Jewish culture – inexcusable, I know. That made me curious, partly because we are teaching our daughter about religion, even if we are not religious ourselves…

And, can you believe it?”Chicken Soup, Chicken Soup” is a multicultural children’s book just how I like it. Without any religious undertone, but providing information about different cultures and promoting diversity.


The story: Sophie is a girl with Jewish and Chinese heritage. Usually this is not a problem for her – until she gets caught in the middle of her Grandma’s chicken soup recipes. Grandma Ellie’s Jewish chicken soup is made with kreplach, small dumplings filled with ground meat, mashed potatoes or veggies. Grandma Nancy’s Chinese chicken soup calls for Wontons. While Grandma Ellie prefers carrots in her soup, Grandma Nancy likes bamboo shots. Sophie loves both kinds of chicken soup – and she knows just the way to show her Grandmas that the best of both worlds sometimes is the best.

We loved that “Chicken Soup, Chicken Soup” includes a recipe of chicken soup, kreplach and Wontons. A great idea for everyone who wants to pair an activity with this diverse book or is just craving a nice hot bowl of soup!

The illustrations by Deborah Melmon are full of expression with love to detail. Sophie as a Chinese-Jewish girl is a perfect fit, just like the chicken soup from both worlds!

All in all, “Chicken Soup, Chicken Soup” is a must-read for everyone interested in diverse literacy. It’s great for storytime at home and perfect for schools or preschools who want to teach their pupils about different culture and that there isn’t a “one and only” way to see or do things.

More information:
“Chicken Soup, Chicken Soup”
written by: Pamela Mayer
illustrated by: Deborah Melmon
Publisher: Kar-Ben
Ages: 4-9
Grades: PreK-3
ISBN: 9781467789349


About Multicultural Children’s Book Day:


Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2017 (1/27/17) is its fourth year and was founded by Valarie Budayr from Jump Into A Book and Mia Wenjen from PragmaticMom. Our mission is to raise awareness on the ongoing need to include kid’s books that celebrate diversity in home and school bookshelves while also working diligently to get more of these types of books into the hands of young readers, parents and educators.

Despite census data that shows 37% of the US population consists of people of color, only 10% of children’s books published have diversity content. Using the Multicultural Children’s Book Day holiday, the MCBD Team are on a mission to change all of that.

Current Sponsors:  MCBD 2017 is honored to have some amazing Sponsors on board. Platinum Sponsors include ScholasticBarefoot Books and Broccoli. Other Medallion Level Sponsors include heavy-hitters like Author Carole P. RomanAudrey Press, Candlewick Press,  Fathers Incorporated, KidLitTVCapstone Young Readers, ChildsPlayUsa, Author Gayle SwiftWisdom Tales PressLee& Low BooksThe Pack-n-Go GirlsLive Oak MediaAuthor Charlotte Riggle, Chronicle Books and Pomelo Books

Author Sponsor include: Karen Leggett AbourayaVeronica AppletonSusan Bernardo, Kathleen BurkinshawMaria DismondyD.G. DriverGeoff Griffin Savannah HendricksStephen HodgesCarmen Bernier-Grand,Vahid ImaniGwen Jackson,  Hena, Kahn, David Kelly, Mariana LlanosNatasha Moulton-LevyTeddy O’MalleyStacy McAnulty,  Cerece MurphyMiranda PaulAnnette PimentelGreg RansomSandra Richards, Elsa TakaokaGraciela Tiscareño-Sato,  Sarah Stevenson, Monica Mathis-Stowe SmartChoiceNation, Andrea Y. Wang

We’d like to also give a shout-out to MCBD’s impressive CoHost Team who not only hosts the book review link-up on celebration day, but who also work tirelessly to spread the word of this event. View our CoHosts HERE.

„I want to be a witch“ by Ian Cunliffe

Are you prone to stereotyped thinking? We probably all are. Not falling into stereotypes is especially important when it comes to talk to your kids about their future. Do you have to be especially smart and a little boring to be a teacher? Can girls have interest in science without being dull? Can boys really become a male nurse? Should women stay home with kids or can this be the father’s part, too?

For toddlers and preschool aged children, a future job or family is far away. So why not start a discussion about stereotypes and making one’s own rules differently, with an approach younger kids can understand?

“I want to be a witch” by Ian Cunliffe

The young protagonist of “I want to be a witch” by Ian Cunliffe wants to be a witch when she grows up – but she already knows which characteristics of a typical witch she wants to embrace. Stubborn green hair and a warty nose? Please not. Horrid potions in a smelly old cauldron? Who needs that? She likes cats though, loves to bake sweet things and can’t wait to fly around on a broomstick. She’s even willing to take care of her teeth to not end up with rotten, crooked teeth like the ones of typical Hollywood witches… She wants to be a nice witch – just like her mom!

I want to be a witch” by Ian Cuncliffe would be a fun read for the Halloween season, but it will be tempting to kids every age who know what they want – and what not. The book doesn’t shutter gender stereotypes like “Clive and his hats” by Jessica Spanyol, it’s a gentler approach to knowing what you like your future self to be like.

"I want to be a witch", published by Tiger Tales

The colorful illustrations by the author are an important part of the story. There is much going on on each page, what makes “I want to be a witch” perfect for little ones to discover by themselves. Do you like spiders? Why not? Did you see the witch-fish? And can you imagine that the little girls brother probably wants to be a pirate when he grows up? “I want to be a witch” is much more than a thin paperback board book. The book can be a conversation starter to talk about stereotypes, personal aversions or an alternative story: What do you want to be – and what do you like about it? Are you ready to make your own rules?

More information:
„I want to be a witch“
written and illustrated by Ian Cunliffe
Age Range: 3 – 6 years
Publisher: Tiger Tales
ISBN-13: 978-1589254954