Monday, February 6, 2017

Nonfiction Monday: Ellis Island; Meals in Vietnam by R. J. Bailey

I've liked most of the books I've seen from Jump/Bullfrog so far and I appreciate getting samples from new series so I can assess them for my library's use. I was interested in these, since I'm going to be updating my 900s this year.

"Hello, America!" covers different American landmarks and the title I was sent for review is Ellis Island. I'm going to say up front that I don't care for it and won't be purchasing this series. I think there are some subjects that can work for younger kids and some that need to be introduced when they're older and can appreciate the complexities and this is one of them.

The opening title page has a picture of the signboard of the Ellis Island Immigration Museum. This is the only mention of the fact that Ellis Island if now a museum. Black and white photos show European immigrants arriving at Ellis Island, being checked for health, showing their papers, and then a picture of contemporary kids at the end accompanied by the text "America is our home!". There are four pictures of sites at the museum and a brief picture glossary.

There are some major issues with this book. Contemporary photos of museum visitors are mixed with old black and white photos. Adults will understand the difference, but many kids will not. The contemporary kids are diverse, which is extremely misleading - no mention is made of Angel Island (where most Asian immigrants entered the United States), slavery, or the border between the US and Mexico and yet kids whose ancestors may well have experienced all of these are pictured. The book doesn't have scope to mention the complexities of the USA's history of immigration. The upbeat text, paired with the pictures of clearly frightened and miserable immigrants is disconcerting to say the least and no mention is made of negative experiences, prejudice against European immigrants, or what happens to the people without papers or who were unhealthy. This topic is simply too complex to be introduced to young kids in this simplistic format. If the book had focused solely on the museum and left out the pictures of contemporary kids and black and white photos it might have been better.

The second series I'm looking at, "Meals around the world", is a little better but still not something I would recommend. I was sent Meals in Vietnam for review. There are several pages under the "Street Food" section including pictures of a street market, "Kim" eating pho, a boy named "Duc" eating rice noodles and an unpictured person named "Hue" eating summer rolls. An unpictured girl named "Mai" eats rice and vegetables. A woman named "Cai" sells banh mi. A spread showing a family at home? In a restaurant? pictures them eating rice, meat, fish sauce, and chuoi chien. It says they bought the meal, the implication being they purchased it in the previously shown street market. However, the background of where they are eating and their clothes seems to be a suburban American home. The back matter includes a recipe for Chuoi Chien, a picture glossary of the foods mentioned, and a brief index. There is no pronunciation guide for the food names and there are no sources. I am most concerned that random people and names were matched up in the photographs. There's nothing to say the people pictured actually answer to the names given them. Again, this topic needs more scope than can be provided in a brief, easy reader.

Verdict: While I appreciate Jump's effort at adding diversity and covering many different topics, I think these series are not suitable for the limited scope of their Bullfrog imprint. Not recommended.

Ellis Island
ISBN: 9781620313480

Meals in Vietnam
ISBN: 9781620313787

Published 2016 by Bullfrog/Jump; Review copies provided by publisher

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