Posted in picture books

My Day with the Panye: a love letter to Haitian women’s strength

My Day with the Panye, by Tami Charles/Illustrated by Sara Palacios, (March 2021, Candlewick Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9780763697495

Ages 5-9

In the hills above the Haitian city of Port-au-Prince, a young girl and her mother head to the market together. Fallon, the girl, wants more than anything to wear the large woven basket, called the panye, balanced on her head like her mother does. She watches her mother twist the mouchwa wrap around her head and balance the panye on top, and, walking next to her, begs to try it. Finally, when Maman allows Fallon to try, she realizes that it’s harder than it looks, but it’s worth the feeling of accomplishment! A gorgeous, lyrical story about the poise and tremendous strength of Haitian women, My Day with the Panye is simply wonderful reading. Gouache and digital artwork bring textures and color alive on the pages, with beautiful landscapes and lively street and market scenes. While not in verse, the story reads like a beautiful ode to Haiti and its people, and wearing the panye comes across as a rite of passage: Fallon says that her mother is “tall like an arrow pointing to the clouds” as she walks with her panye, and that other women “…walk like they have gold in their shoes”. To wear the panye is to move gracefully and to be strong, even under its weight: Maman compares this strength to the strength of the Haitian walls, still standing after the 2010 earthquake. An author’s note gives a brief history of the panye and its place in Haitian culture.

Tami Charles is the bestselling author of 2018’s Freedom Soup and All Because You Matter. Sara Palacios is the illustrator of Between Us and Abuela: A Family Story from the Border, by Mitali Perkins. My Day with the Panye has a starred review from School Library Journal.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Watch Me is a powerful immigration story

Watch Me: A Story of Immigration and Inspiration, by Doyin Richards/Illustrated by Joe Cepeda (Jan. 2021, Feiwel & Friends), $18.99, ISBN: 9781250266514

Ages 3-5

Author and advocacy powerhouse Doyin Richards brings his father’s story to children with Watch Me.  As a child in Sierra Leone, Joe dreamed of going to America. People told him America wouldn’t accept him with his accent and his dark skin. Joe smiled and said, “Watch me”. It was a phrase he repeated often as he arrived in America and experienced racism and people questioned his intelligence. And Joe succeeded. More of a conversation than a one-sided narrative, Doyin Richards asks readers to think about times they were told they were different, or came up against things they couldn’t control. He asks them to think about times they may have seen kids at school be treated differently, or walk by themselves in the hall at school. He encourages readers to put themselves in Joe’s position – in the position of that classmate, eating lunch in the library alone – and to maybe consider a kind word, a smile, a simple act of kindness. As Richards says, “This land is your land. This land is my land. There is enough for everyone”. There’s no place for racism here. There is enough of everything for everyone; all we need to do is share. Beautiful oil and acrylic artwork makes each spread look like a portrait-worthy painting. A perfect readaloud for children.

Watch Me has a starred review from Publishers Weekly. Doyin Richards is a TEDx speaker who has spoken on anti-racism, and his book and blog, Daddy Doin’ Work, became a book that encouraged women to help dads become more engaged, hands-on fathers.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Stella’s Stellar Hair is out of this world!

Stella’s Stellar Hair, by Yesenia Moises, (Jan. 2021, Imprint), $18.99, ISBN: 9781250261779

Ages 4-8

Stella is a little girl with a fabulous head of hair! She wakes up on the morning of the Big Star Little Gala, though, and her hair is just not doing what she wants it to – so her mother sends her off across the solar system to get some hair advice from her aunties on all the different planets, and the sun! Every auntie has their own gorgeous style: twists, braids, buns, all beautiful, but not quite what Stella has in mind. Sun-dwelling Auntie Solana has the best advice of all: “there’s really no such thing as hair not acting right – your hair just wants to be a little more fun today. / And that’s okay. / You don’t have to change a thing. / Just be yourself”. A wonderful celebration of loving oneself, Stella’s Stellar Hair is the definition of Black Joy and Black Girl Magic. The story celebrates the different styles of Black hair, using the back matter to describe the type of atmosphere on each planet and how each hairstyle would be best adapted to it.

Can I have a moment to gush about the vibrant colors? The cartoon artwork is adorable, and the deep colors are just a wonder to look at. The blues and purples that run through most of the book are incredible, and then bright yellows come in to add a glow to the pages, and come together to create a reading experience that kids will return to often. I love this book.

Stella’s Stellar Hair has a starred review from Kirkus.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Middle Grade, Middle School, Realistic Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

Amazing Middle Grade!

In the interest of holiday season posting: need gifts for the kid who has every video game, or a bookworm who has read everything, and needs something new? Allow me to be your guide through a few fantastic middle grade reads I’ve just finished.

Malcolm and Me, by Robin Farmer, (Nov. 2020, SparkPress), $16.95, ISBN: 9781684630837

Ages 10-14

Where do I even start with Malcolm and Me? This book blew my mind in the best way possible. It’s 1973, and 13-year-old Roberta has a lot of feelings. She’s reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X and discussing Black history and Black Power with her father at home, and clashing with a racist nun at her Philadelphia Catholic school. When she’s sent home after a blowup with Sister Elizabeth, she deep dives into the Autobiography, examining her own feelings and frustrations through Malcolm X’s lenses. Already a writer, she begins journaling her verse and diary entries, guided by Malcolm, and it gives her the strength she needs as her home life and school life begin unraveling.

There is such power in this book and in the characters. Roberta emerges as an incredible heroine; a self-aware 13-year-old coming of age in the aftermath of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, during Watergate, she questions her own faith in God and in organized religion, in family, and in color. Inspired by an event in the author’s life, Malcolm and Me is essential reading that hits that often hard-to-reach middle school/high school age group. Please put this on school (and adult) reading lists, and talk about this book with your tweens and your teens. Talk this up to your Angie Thomas fans, Nic Stone fans, and – naturally! – Ilyasah Shabazz, Malcolm X’s daughter. Author Robin Farmer’s author website has more information on the author’s articles, her books, and a link to her blog.

 

The Clockwork Crow, by Catherine Fisher, (Sept. 2020, Walker Books US), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536214918

Ages 9-13

Orphan Seren Rhys thinks she’s being rescued from the orphanage when her mysterious godfather, Captain Jones, sends for her. His country mansion, Plas-y Fran, is just going to be wonderful, Seren knows it! She’ll be the apple of Captain Jones and his wife, Lady Mair’s eyes, have wonderful parties, and play with the couple’s young son, Tomos. She realizes things are very different when she’s picked up at the train station and arrives, late at night, at Plas-y Fran, which looks rundown and all but abandoned; Mrs. Villiers, the cold housekeeper, tells her that the family is in London for the foreseeable future. Seren turns to the mysterious package entrusted to her at the train station and discovers a mechanical crow. Upon assembly, the crow can talk, fly, and complain. A lot. But when Seren learns that Tomos has been taken by fairies, she decides to rescue him and restore life to Plas-y Fran: and the crow will help her do it.

A fun fantasy with a bit of steampunk, which I always enjoy, this is a quick read with adventure and a warm family story at its heart. Seren is the hopeful orphan, and the cantankerous Crow is a great foil, making this a fine buddy comedy. Fairie lore amps up the action and the tension, and adds some dark fantasy and magic to the plot. A good choice for readers who loved the Nevermoor/Morrigan Crow series by Jessica Townsend.

 

The Sisters of Straygarden Place, by Hayley Chewins, (Oct. 2020, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536212273

Ages 10-14

Hayley Chewins is back! Her 2018 novel, The Turnaway Girls, was one of the best books I’d read that year, so I was excited to read her newest, The Sisters of Straygarden Place. The Ballastian Sisters – Winnow, Mayhap, and Pavonine – have lived in the house by themselves after their parents left seven years before, only a note telling them to “sleep darkly” left behind. The house takes care of their basic needs – food, clothing, shelter – but they cannot leave the house, lest the tall silver grass take them. Winnow grows tired of waiting and ventures outside, leaving 12-year-old Mayhap to take care of their youngest sister, Pavonine, and figure out how to heal 14-year-old Winnow. As Mayhap discovers more about the house and the history of the magic within it, the mystery deepens. Readers will love this gorgeous, dark fantasy written with prose that’s almost lyrical, magical. Hayley Chewins writes like Neil Gaiman, where the words just caress you, wrap themselves around you, and when you’re fully under their spell, tell you stories that will leave you wondering. In a world where dogs crawl into your mind to help you sleep and the grass tempts you to come outside so it can take you away, The Sisters of Straygarden Place is truly magical reading.

The Sisters of Straygarden Place is is one of Kirkus’s Best MG Fantasy & SF Books of 2020.

 

Posted in Historical Fiction, Realistic Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

Zora and Me: The Summoner brings a brilliant trilogy to a close

Zora and Me: The Summoner, by Victoria Bond, (Oct. 2020, Candlewick Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9780763642990

Ages 10-14

The third book in the outstanding Zora and Me trilogy sees young Zora Neale Hurston and her best friend, Carrie, facing quickly changing times in Eatonville: grief, loss, and racism are closing in on Eatonville and will change Zora’s life forever. A fugitive is hunted down and lynched in Eatonville – America’s first incorporated Black township – and the mob gleefully terrorizes the citizens of Eatonville; a longtime resident’s death and grave desecration sparks fear into the town and Zora and Carrie worry that voodoo and zombies are somehow involved. Zora’s mother, meanwhile, is in failing health and her father decides to run for town mayor; a decision Zora knows will make her egotistical, grandstanding father even more difficult to live with. Carrie, meanwhile, worries about her own future with her beau, Teddy, when he falls mysteriously ill. Paralleling major events in Zora Neale Hurston’s life, Victoria Bond brings this early part of the author to a bittersweet close. The characters are so fully created, so real, that it’s sad to leave them, especially knowing what awaits Zora in the years ahead. Back matter includes a brief biography, a time line of Hurston’s life, and an annotated bibliography. Powerful, loaded with emotion, this is a necessity for your historical fiction shelves. Handsell this to your middle schoolers; you’ll be giving them her work, Their Eyes Were Watching God, for Banned Books Week when they’re in high school. Publisher Candlewick has a chapter excerpt and discussion guide available on their website.

Zora and Me: The Summoner has starred reviews from School Library Journal and Kirkus.

Posted in Intermediate, Non-Fiction, picture books

Black Lives, Black History

The Big Day, by Terry Lee Caruthers/Illustrated by Robert Casilla, (Oct. 2020, Star Bright Books), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1-59572-913-2

Ages 5-8

This celebration of suffrage and Black women voters is a fictionalized story of Agnes Sadler, the first Black woman to legally vote in Knoxville, Tennessee, in 1919. Agnes, called Big Mama here, wakes her daughter Tansy up and urges her to get moving; today is a “big day”, after all. Tansy and Big Mama dress in their finest, get on the bus, and head to the polls; it’s voting day and women have the vote! A lovely tribute to Black women’s suffrage, Agnes and the other women voters proudly wear sashes; the Black women belong to the “Colored Women’s Political League”, and the white women wear “Votes for Women” sashes. The artwork is colorful, soft, and carries a beautiful, historic feel to it. Endpapers are made up of newspaper articles about women’s suffrage, and back matter provides more information about Agnes Sadler, women’s suffrage and Black women’s role in suffrage, and sources for further reading. A great introduction to Black women’s history, and a good picture book biography on a little-known figure in Black suffrage.

For more information about African American Women and the suffrage movement, visit the Suffragist Memorial, the Black Women’s Suffrage Digital Collection, and National Geographic.

A Voice Named Aretha, by Katheryn Russell-Brown/Illustrated by Laura Freeman, (Jan. 2020, Bloomsbury Kids USA), $17.99, ISBN: 9781681198507

Ages 5-8

All hail the Queen of Soul! This picture book biography on Aretha Franklin starts from her beginnings, singing in her father’s church choir through her singing for President Barack Obama (and bringing him to tears). Covering Aretha’s social justice work, Katheryn Russell-Brown notes that Aretha refused to perform for “whites only” audiences and her work with civil rights groups and philanthropy. Laura Freeman’s artwork brings Aretha Franklin to life with rich colors and passionate renderings; Aretha’s head thrown back as she sings and plays the piano at 12; clasping her hands to her chest as she belts out a song in the choir, and Barack Obama wiping a tear away as he listens to a lushly garbed Franklin sing onstage. Endpapers are a feast of vinyl and gold records on a deep purple background. Back matter provides more information about Aretha Franklin’s life and music and some of her hit songs. A must-have in your picture book biography section, this is an excellent introduction to a music and civil rights icon.

A Voice Named Aretha has starred reviews from Kirkus and School Library Journal.

 

William Still and His Freedom Stories: The Father of the Underground Railroad, by Don Tate, $18.99, ISBN: 978-1-56145-935-3

Ages 5-8

Written in free verse, Don Tate’s biography of William Still, abolitionist, member of the Underground Railroad, and archivist of stories that reunited families, is simply incredible. Born to former slaves living in New Jersey, William Still grew up with a desire to learn and a desire for justice. He moved to Philadelphia and worked with the Anti-Slavery Society, where he took on greater roles, ultimately becoming part of the Underground Railroad. When he reunited his long-lost brother with his family, Still began keeping extensive notes on the people he spoke with, leading to more reunions. The verse is concise but packs emotional punches, like this moment where he meets his brother, Peter: “The man was middle-aged. / Stooped back. Furrowed brow. / Threadbare clothes. / His name was Peter. / He was looking for his mother, his family.” Endpapers include excerpts from Still’s observations. Digital illustrations are emotional and expressive. Another must-have picture book biography. Publisher Peachtree has an excerpt, teacher’s guide, and poster on their website.

William Still and His Freedom Stories: The Father of the Underground Railroad has starred reviews from School Library Journal, Booklist, and Publisher’s Weekly.

 

 

Mary Seacole: Bound for the Battlefield, by Susan Goldman Rubin/Illustrated by Richie Pope, (Oct. 2020, Candlewick Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9780763679941

Ages 8-11

This intermediate picture book biography on Crimean War figure Mary Seacole, born in Kingston, Jamaica, begins with her childhood in Kingston, watching her healer mother care for soldiers with herbal remedies and hoping to be like her one day, through her own healing work with soldiers during the Crimean War and cholera patients in Panama. The book deep dives into the racism she encountered as a biracial woman, including a run-in with Florence Nightingale, who scoffed at her remedies and cures and refused her services. Drawn from Mary Seacole’s own writing, this biography is comprehensive for younger readers, with richly colorful and evocative illustrations. Back matter includes sources notes and a bibliography. An important biography for younger readers.

 

Northbound: A Train Ride Out of Segregation, by Michael S. Bandy & Eric Stein/Illustrated by James E. Ransome, (Oct. 2020, Candlewick Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9780763696504

Ages 6-8

Inspired by author Michael S. Bandy’s memories of taking the train as a child of color during segregation, Northbound tells the story of a boy of color and a white boy becoming friends on a train ride from Alabama to Cincinnati, amid the shifting segregation seating on the train. Young Michael boards the train and goes to the “colored only” section, but when the train leaves Atlanta, the signs come down and he’s free to roam the train. He meets Bobby Ray, a boy his own age and from his own town, and the two become instant friends. Once the train approaches Chattanooga, though, the signs go back up and the new friends are separated. A heart-rending story of separation and segregation, Northbound ends with a spark of hope. The story explains segregation in its most basic terms to children, and encourages discussion about how the story – and our past – parallels with our present. James A. Ransome’s watercolor and collage artwork creates splendid scenery as the train speeds along and the two boys become friends over the course of a train ride; moments of racism, as when the conductor leads Michael out of the “whites only” car when the train approaches Chattanooga, are emotional; the “whites only” harsh white sign stands out like an ugly scar across a lovely painting. An author’s note explains the Interstate Commerce Act and how segregation played into it.

Northbound: A Train Ride Out of Segregation has starred reviews from Kirkus and Publishers Weekly.

Posted in Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Non-fiction, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

Graphic Novels check-in: CYBILS and some new books!

The TBR catch-up continues. Wow, did I overextend myself over the quarantine, but who can blame me? The books have been AMAZING. I know I’ve been light on the middle grade novels, but I promise you, they are coming, too. For now, here are a couple of CYBILS nominees, and some new books for you to investigate.

 

Black Heroes of the Wild West: Featuring Stagecoach Mary, Bass Reeves, and Bob Lemmons : A TOON Graphic Novel, by James Otis Smith/Introduction by Kadir Nelson, (Sept. 2020, TOON Graphics), $16.95, ISBN: 9781943145515
Ages 8-12
This is a MUST buy for your nonfiction and graphic novel shelves. The New York Times calls Black Heroes of the Wild West “Comics That Dismantle the Cowboy Myth”, and I couldn’t put it any better. Three profiles: Stagecoach Mary Fields, a woman who ran her own business, was a stagecoach driver, and played cards and chomped cigars with the best of the boys; Deputy US Marshal Bass Reeves, the first black deputy US marshal west of the Mississippi, who was charming and caught the bad guys with style; and Bob Lemmon, a Texas horseman who calmed wild mustangs by making them believe he was one of their own. Incredible lives, told in small moments in this book that will whet kids’ (and adults!) interests with stories of life in the Wild West. I loved the stories, the artwork, and the incredible history lesson that unfolds in the back matter. It’s time to recognize the diversity of the Old West, and it’s time to celebrate the Black Lives that helped build the U.S. TOON has free, downloadable lesson plans, videos, and teachers guides for Black Heroes of the Wild West, and the book received a starred review from Booklist. One can only hope there’s a second volume in the works. Black Heroes is a CYBILS graphic novels nominee.
Manga Classics: Anne of Green Gables, by L.M Montgomery/Adapted by Crystal Chan/Illustrated by Kuma Chan, (Nov. 2020, Manga Classics), $19.99, ISBN: 9781947808188
Ages 12+
I’ve been happy to have Manga Classics available for my tweens and teens who struggle with reading the classics, but devour manga. This latest one gave me the chance to sit down again with Anne of Green Gables, the classic story of the orphan reluctantly adopted by older siblings Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert, taking place on Canada’s Prince Edward Island. The artwork will immediately draw in manga readers, and the story is faithfully adapted here. Anne’s melodrama is wonderfully translated from words to pictures, and Marilla’s ice queen exterior is softened considerably by the artwork, which shows the struggle to keep herself at a distance as this quirky red-headed girl wins her heart. Manga Classics has been doing justice by my library kids for a few years now; I’ll make sure to keep this one handy, too. If you have readers who are interested in diving deeper, display and booktalk author LM Montgomery’s illustrated biography, House of Dreams; Anne’s life is heavily influenced by the author and will make for a wonderful author study for middle and high school students. Anne of Green Gables is a CYBILS graphic novels nominee.
Last Pick: Rise Up, by Jason Walz, (Oct. 2020, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781626728950
Ages 12+
The third book in the Last Pick series is finally here! Last Pick is a sci fi trilogy where Earth has been taken over by a cruel alien race; they’ve taken countless humans as slave labor across the universe, but the disabled; the elderly; the too young are left behind. These “last picked” have banded together to fight the alien menace, and Wyatt – a teen boy with autism – is at the head of the revolution. His sister, Sam, has been sent off into the stars, but she’s been fomenting revolution, too, with her new girlfriend, Mia; an underground freedom radio broadcaster. In this final chapter of the trilogy, everything that’s been put into motion over the last two books is coming together, and the aliens won’t know what hit them. The artwork ad action explode off the page while the very human story of resistance, family, and burgeoning romance keep the reader turning pages. This is one of the best sci-fi series in recent years, with intense, smart portrayals of characters who are left behind and how take charge to save a planet. I recently took part in a graphic novels panel, Librarians Love Comics!, and one of my colleagues mentioned how much he liked this series, so don’t just take my word for it. Last Pick is librarian-approved.
The Challenger Disaster: Tragedy in the Skies (History Comics), by Pranas T. Naujokaitis, (Oct. 2020, First Second), $19.99, ISBN: 9781250174291
Ages 8-12
It’s the year 2386, and the students on Space Station Sagan are celebrating Challenger Day. The students begin their presentations, and through the magic of AI and holograms, meet the seven members of the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger crew, hear about their selection and training for the Challenger mission, and what went so horribly wrong that day in January 1986. Written as nonfiction within a fictional setting, The Challenger Disaster creates fun, engaging characters and lets them interact with actual people from US history to deliver a narrative that is great for history and STEM readers, and graphic novel readers alike. Each member of the 1986 Challenger crew is developed and invites readers to meet the people behind the legend, behind the headlines. Back matter includes an afterword from the author about growing up in a post-Challenger world and additional Challenger facts. The artwork introduces a fun science fiction feel while solidly addressing the nonfiction portion of the book. Sketches and diagrams throughout will help readers gain an understanding of the many moving parts it takes for a space shuttle to come together, and the discussion on the story behind the disaster is sobering and, quite frankly, chilling. It’s a mistake that should never have been made, and it brings home the risk of stepping outside our front doors.
Fangirl: The Manga (Volume 1), by Rainbow Rowell/Adapted by Sam Maggs, Illustrated by Gabi Nam (Oct. 2020, Viz Media). $16.99, ISBN: 9781974715879
Ages 12+
The manga adaptation of one of Rainbow Rowell’s most beloved novels is here, and written by a force in fandom, no less. Sam Maggs has written comic book storylines for Star Wars, Star Trek, Captain Marvel, and more; she’s written Geek Girls Guides to the Galaxy and the Universe; she’s even written an original middle grade novel, Con Quest, which takes place at a thinly veiled facsimile of San Diego Comic Con. So of course she’d be the person to adapt a love letter to fan fic, fandom, and finding your own way. Cath and Wren are twin sisters heading to college. Wren is ready to make changes and become her own person, but Cath is more of an introvert, holding onto her fanfiction and her fandom for Simon Snow, a Harry Potter-esque type of story about magic and vampires. As Wren branches out and gains new (and sometimes dubious) experiences, Cath finds herself inching out of her own comfort zone thanks to her roommate and her boyfriendish friend and a classmate who’s a little too stuck on himself but so good-looking. At the same time, Cath worries about their dad, who’s alone for the first time in years, and frustrated with her professor, who doesn’t see fanfiction as a legitmate form of writing. This is only Volume 1, but its so well-adapted that the Rowell fans are going to be howling for more. The subtle shifts from “real” life to Cath’s magnum Simon Snow opus, Carry On, are wonderfully placed throughout the book, and seriously – were two characters ever better suited for a manga interpretation than Simon and Baz? The artwork is perfect; readers will love seeing their favorite characters with life breathed into them. A manga interpretation of Fangirl is going to bring new fans to Rainbow Rowell’s fanbase as the manga readers discover this series – I hope there are plans for a Carry On manga next.
Posted in Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

YA/Adult Crossover: RING SHOUT is a must-read!

Ring Shout, by P. Djèlí Clark, (Oct. 2020, Tor Books), $19.99, ISBN: 9781250767028

Ages 16+

Nebula Award Winner P. Djèlí Clark (The Black God’s Drums) creates an incredible alternate America, where the Ku Klux Klan are actual monsters, in his latest book, Ring Shout. It’s 1922, DW Griffith is a sorcerer whipping legions of demons into a frenzy with his film The Birth of a Nation, and a trio of young Black women are all that stands in their way. Maryse Boudreaux is a woman with a gift for seeing the real faces of the Ku Kluxes – the demons who feed on the Klans, who are the racist humans whose black hate leaves them open to possession. Teaming up with a gloriously profane sharpshooter named Sadie and a WWI vet, Cordelia, who goes by the nickname Chef, the three have a gift for taking down the Kluxes, until Butcher Clyde, a Klan leader, makes it personal with Maryse. The Ku Kluxes have plans for Maryse, but so do the mysterious Aunties that appear to her. Ring Shout is incredible dark fantasy, loaded with Gullah tradition and African-American folklore and main characters that readers will immediately take to. The storytelling is rich and haunting, filled with humor, action, and body horror. The characters are so vivid, so strong, they could be sitting next to you, whispering their tale. If you loved Justina Ireland’s Dread Nation and The Deathless Divide, make sure to get Ring Shout on your reading list, STAT.

Want more Black Girl Magic suggestions? Epic Reads has a good list; consider navigating over to Black Girls With Magic & Books Club.

Ring Shout has a starred review from Publishers Weekly.

 

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

A Place Inside of Me is necessary reading

A Place Inside of Me: A Poem to Heal the Heart, by Zetta Elliott/Illustrated by Noa Denmon, (July 2020, Farrar Straus Giroux), $17.99, ISBN: 978-0-374-30741-7

Ages 4+

This has been an ugly year; there’s no better way to put it. Let this Black Lives Matter poem by award-winning author, poet, and playwright Zetta Elliott and illustrated by the fantastic Noa Denmon, be the must-read book that will start important conversations and inspire hope and joy. A young Black child works through his shifting emotions over the course of a year in A Place Inside of Me: summertime brings joy, and hoops with friends at the basketball court; the joy turns to sorrow as the news covers a story about a child being shot, and sorrow becomes fear, which festers into anger. Anger isn’t enough to satisfy the hunger for justice and freedom, and with the end of Fall and Winter, comes Spring, bringing pride, peace, compassion, hope, and love; a wish for brighter futures and better days, and a reminder that Black Lives Matter.

Zetta Elliott’s verse is powerful, loaded with emotion like pain, anger, and hope; Noa Denmon’s artwork is colorful and vibrant, with an expressive child who invites us to follow through their dialogue. Color sets the child apart in the foreground, as washed backgrounds show them skateboarding against a neighborhood, playing basketball against a mural-painted wall in the court, and the neighborhood barber shop, where a look at photos on the wall lets you rest your eyes on a rendering of a slave ship’s blueprints. It’s a reminder of a history where Black lives most certainly did not matter. There’s a poster of Malcolm X in the child’s room, and a collection of Black faces like Beyonce’s, Mae Jemison’s, Martin Luther King’s, and Jackie Robinson’s form a stunning display as the child raises his arms in a gesture of pride. See more of Noa Denmon’s artwork at her Instagram, @noadenmon.

If you can’t understand why Black Lives Matter, rather than “all lives mattering”, I beg you, please read this book.

Posted in picture books

Are you Fast Enough to keep up with Bessie Stringfield?

Fast Enough: Bessie Stringfield’s First Ride, by Joel Christian Gill, (Feb. 2019, Lion Forge), $17.99, ISBN: 978-1-5493-0314-2

Ages 5-9

Young Bessie just wants to ride her bike with the kids after school, but they’re awful to her. They tell her she’s not good enough, not fast enough, not pretty enough, not tough enough. Determined not to listen to them, she asks her mother for advice and is told to “ask the Man upstairs”; she does, and she has a dream where she rides all over the world: she rides over water, between buildings, and even up into the sky. Bessie wakes up with a new determination, and starts riding that bike. Mistress of her own destiny, she beats the boys who scoffed at her, and goes on to become Bessie Stringfield, groundbreaking pioneer motorcyclist and traveler.

Bessie’s story is told here by Joel Christian Gill, award-winning graphic novelist and historian behind Strange Fruit, Books One and Two. Mr. Gill creates an inspiring story with a young child of color at the forefront. Bessie Stringfield was othered from a young age, and used that to fuel her resolve. In the book’s back matter, we learn that Bessie traveled the United States using Victor Hugo Green’s “Green Book”: The Negro Motorist Green Book, further illustrating Bessie Stringfield’s determination to succeed in the face of those who would other her. Joel Christian Gill’s artwork is filled with deep, vibrant color and is a joy to read. Endpapers show Bessie happily riding her bike as depicted in her dreams: throughout the world and beyond. The book is playful, with a spine of steel delivering its message. Read this often.

Fast Enough: Bessie Stringfield’s First Ride has a starred review from Kirkus.