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

Graphic Novels for Tweens and Teens

I’m back with more graphic novels! It’s an all-consuming joy of mine; I love them all. I’ve got some newer and up-and-coming books, and some backlist that shouldn’t be missed. I’ve got books for middle grade/middle school, and I’ve got teen/YA, so let’s see what’s good!

Sylvie, by Sylvie Kantorovitz, (Jan. 2021, Walker Books US), $24.99, ISBN: 9781536207620

Ages 9-13

An autobiographical graphic novel that really hits the sweet spot for middle schoolers but will also appeal to upper elementary and high schoolers, Sylvie is the story of the author and illustrator’s life, quirks and all. She grows up in a school where her father was principal. She loves art from an early age, but her mother is focused on her pursuing a career in math or science. The book follows her family as they add more children to the family and Sylvie’s mother doggedly pushes her academically. As she grows in confidence, and seeks her father’s council, Sylvie takes control of her own future. Artwork is cartoony and friendly, and easy-to-read, first-person narration makes Sylvie readers feel like they’re talking with a friend. Discussions about racism and anti-Semitism in ’60s and ’70s France sets the stage for discussion.

Candlewick/Walker Books US has a sample chapter available for a preview.

 

Tell No Tales: Pirates of the Southern Seas, by Sam Maggs/Illustrated by Kendra Wells, (Feb. 2021, Amulet), $21.99, ISBN: 9781419739668

Ages 10-14

Another middle school-geared book, Tell No Tales is a fictionalized account of pirate Anne Bonny, pirate Mary Read, and their female and non-binary pirate crew. They have a growing reputation, but a privateer is on their heels: Woodes Rogers, a failed pirate turned pirate hunter for the Crown, has sworn to wipe the stain of piracy from the seas. There are strong positive female and non-binary characters, based on characters from history, but the overall story falters, leaving readers to look for the thread in between the individual stories of Bonny’s crew, all of which are fascinating. The artwork is colorful, manga-inspired, and will grab viewers. Back matter includes a word on the real-life exploits of Anne Bonny and Mary Read, notes, and a bibliography.

Publishers Weekly has an interview with Sam Magga and Kendra Wells. 

Fantastic Tales of Nothing, by Alejandra Green & Fanny Rodriguez, (Nov. 2020, Katherine Tegen Books), $12.99, ISBN: 9780062839473

Ages 8-13

One of the most beautifully illustrated graphic novels I’ve ever seen, Fantastic Tales of Nothing is one of heck an epic fantasy for middle graders and tweens, and early teens. Nathan is a human living what he considers a pretty ordinary life until that fateful day when he wakes up in the middle of nowhere and meets a being named Haven and a race of shape shifters called the Volken. As the unlikely group find themselves on a quest, Nathan also learns that he isn’t that ordinary – he has mysterious power in side of him, and the fate of Nothing lies in his hands. Vivid color, breathtaking fantasy spreads, and solidly constructed worldbuilding lays the foundation for what could be a groundbreaking new fantasy series for middle graders, with nonbinary and Latinx representation to boot. Where are the starred reviews for this book?

Tales of Nothing received IndieNext Honors. The website has more information about the characters, authors, and upcoming projects.

 

Poems to See By: A Comic Artist Interprets Great Poetry, by Julian Peters, (March 2020, Plough Publishing House), $24, ISBN: 9780874863185

Ages 12+

Illustrator Julian Peters has taken 24 poems by some of the most recognizable names in the art form, and brought them to life using different art forms, from manga to watercolor to stark expressionist black and white.  Organized into six areas of introspection: Seeing Yourself; Seeing Others; Seeing Art; Seeing Nature; Seeing Time, and Seeing Death, Peters illustrates such master works as “Caged Bird” by Maya Angelou, “Annabel Lee”, by Edgar Allan Poe, and “Juke Box Love Song” by Langston Hughes. It’s a great way to invite middle school, high school, and college students to deep dive into some of the greatest works of poetry.

Marvin: Based on The Way I Was, by Marvin Hamlisch with Gerald Gardner/Adapted and Illustrated by Ian David Marsden, (Feb. 2020, Schiffer Kids), $12.99, ISBN: 9780764359040

Ages 9-13

This graphic adaptation of PEGOT (Pulitzer, Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony) winner Marvin Hamlisch’s biography is one I did not see coming! The legendary musician, composer, and conductor discusses his family’s flight from Hitler’s Austria and settling in America, Hamlisch’s admittance to Julliard at the age of 6, and the intense anxiety that plagued him before every performance. He tells readers about attending high school with Christopher Walken and Liza Minelli, and playing the piano for Judy Garland as a teen; about composing pop radio hits and learning to compose music for a motion picture as he went along. By the time he was 30, he’d won his first major award. Hamlisch’s voice is funny, warm, and conversational throughot, and Marsden’s realistic art has touching moments, particularly between Hamlisch and his father. A great read for theatre and music fans – this one is going to be my not-so-secret weapon.

Posted in Non-Fiction, picture books

Award winner: All the Way to the Top!

All the Way to the Top: How One Girl’s Fight for American with Disabilities Changed Everything, by Annette Bay Pimentel/Illustrated by Nabi H. Ali, (March 2020, Sourcebooks Explore), $17.99, ISBN: 9781492688976

Ages 4-8

A Schneider Family Book Award Honoree, All the Way to the Top is activist Jennifer Keelan’s story. Diagnosed with cerebral palsy as a child, Jennifer used a wheelchair to get around, but found that “buses, museums, libraries, and even schools that were accessible to my able-bodied peers were not accessible to me because there were no wheelchair ramps”. Becoming an activist at age 6, Jennifer found her voice when her family brought her to strategy meetings and protests for the right to access and to push for the Americans for Disabilities Act (ADA). Most of All the Way to the Top takes place in Jennifer’s early childhood, leading up to her history-making moment in 1990, when, at the age of 9, she took part in the Capitol Crawl, where protestors left their wheelchairs and mobility aids aside and crawled up the Capitol steps to demonstrate the need for accessible architecture. All the Way to the Top is a powerful story about a major moment in history, and illustrates how important it is that children are invited to discussions about policies that affect them. Back matter includes information about activism, the access, the life before and after the ADA, timeline for both the Disability Rights Movement and Jennifer Keelan-Chaffin’s life, and a bibliography. Nabi Ali’s illustrations show expressive, diverse groups of people assembling to discuss and advocate for themselves and others. Jennifer and her younger sister, who attended protests with her, stand out in crowd scenes, with the sisters rendered in full color and the crowd in various monochromatic shades.

Britannica Kids has an entry on the ADA for students, and readers can learn more about Jennifer Keelan-Chaffins at her website. Publisher Sourcebooks has a free, downloadable Educator’s Guide available, and the book detail page has an interview with author Annette Bay Pimentel and more.

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 Graphic Novels, Non-Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Graphic Novels, Life Stories

I’ve been really loving the graphic novels coming out this year. Lots of life stories have found their voices in the pages of graphic novels; it’s a trend I’m enjoying, because the artwork really helps bring a person’s story to full, visual life, with little nuances and nods to things not always easily described with just words. Shades of grey; pops of color; a flash of a poster in a teen’s room: these are all things that a graphic novel can illustrated and communicate much more easily and quickly, reaching visual readers who may otherwise not experience the full breadth of a story. Here are some great lives I’ve read about recently.

Frankie, by Rachel Dukes, (Oct. 2020, Oni Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781549306884

Ages 12+

This is the sweetest book! Cartoonist Rachel Dukes is the Lucy Knisley of pet parenthood, as she chronicles life with her cat, Frankie. Rachel and their spouse, Mike, find the cutest black and white kitten outside their door, and Rachel is in love. Inspired by Rachel’s webcomic, Frankie is a series of vignettes in pet parenting, with comics taken from their webcomic and with some new material. Cat-lovers and pet-lovers will all recognize moments like Frankie choosing Rachel’s backpack over a snuggly new bed; the conversations we have with our furry friends; the nicknames we give them, and many, many, bedtime moments (what is it about sneezing in our faces as they settle in on our chests?). Frankie is adorable and full of personality that comes shining through the page. Rachel’s artwork is fun and expressive, silly and upbeat: it’s just what so many of us need to read these days! Each vignette has a name that pet parents will relate to, including moments like “Language Barriers”, “The Box”, “Night Song”, and “Cuddles”. Rachel includes a section on Quick Tips for Aspiring Cat Parents. Talk up to your readers who love Chi’s Sweet Home and Pusheen, and visit Rachel’s Frankie website for adorable downloadables! See more of their artwork on Rachel’s Instagram, and read more of their comics and buy some swag by clicking here, at MixTape Comics.

Little Josephine: A Memory in Pieces, by Valérie Villieu/Illustrated by Raphaël Sarfati, (Apr. 2020, Humanoids Inc.), $17.99, ISBN: 9781643375342

Ages 12+

Visiting nurse Valérie Villieu tells the story of Josephine, a patient that touched her heart, in this aching and quietly lovely story that examines the bonds between patient and nurse while it gives readers a look at the unsettling treatment of the elderly by overwhelmed social workers and home health aides. Josephine, an Alzheimer’s patient, lives alone in a Paris apartment when Valérie is assigned to her. While Josephine is at first resistant to Valérie’s help, the two eventually find common ground in humor. As Valérie strives to learn more about her charge, she discovers that Josephine is a playful, charming woman who enjoys conversation. Valérie expresses her frustration at an overloaded health care system, which leaves an elderly woman in the care of a conservator who just isn’t able to keep up with their caseload – a relatable, upsetting issue. Josephine’s lapses are creatively envisioned in fractured panels, where she’s swept away on her bed, or thrust into the middle of a chaotic panel. The colors are muted shades, giving the story a quiet dignity, even as we ache, seeing Josephine increasingly lost in her own world. A beautiful story of connection and a painful memoir of Alzheimer’s from a caregiver’s point of view, Little Josephine is gorgeous storytelling. Back matter includes an author’s note on Alzheimer’s Disease.

Gender Queer, by Maia Kobabe, (May 2019, Oni Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781549304002

Ages 14+

Gender Queer is illustrator Maia Kobabe (pronouns: e/em/eir)’s autobiography. Assigned female at birth but never quite feeling that designation fit, Kobabe journals em’s journey through fandom, identity, and sexuality; finally coming to the discovery that nonbinary and asexual are the best descriptors. From a rustic childhood, through puberty, high school, college, and grad school, we walk with Maia through years of introspection and self-discovery. Written as a journal, readers will hopefully see themselves, or gain an understanding of others as Kobabe describes the trauma of body dysmorphia and gynecological exams; appreciate em’s supportive family, and come away with sensitivity and compassion. Have this available for readers who identify as nonbinary or asexual. There are some strong resources to keep available for asexual and nonbinary readers, including Queer Books for Teens, and booklists from YALSA, Book Riot, GoodReads, and Tor. Author Jeanne G’Fellers has an excellent author webpage, including The Enby Booklist, containing fiction, nonfiction, and poetry with a non-binary focus. There is a lesson plan available for Gender Queer through Diamond Bookshelf.

Gender Queer has a starred review from School Library Journal, is a 2020 ALA Alex Award Winner and a 2020 Stonewall — Israel Fishman Non-fiction Award Honor Book.

Invisible Differences: A Story of Asperger’s, Adulting, and Living a Life in Full Color, by Julie Dachez, (Oct. 2020, Oni Press), $19.99, ISBN: 9781620107669

Ages 12+

From her opening dedication: “This comic is dedicated to you. You, the deviants. People who are ‘too much like this’ or ‘not enough like that’, Julie Dachez creates a safe, welcoming space for readers delving into her graphic novel, revealing what life is like for a person living with Asperger’s Syndrome. Twenty-seven-year-old Marguerite loves staying home with her books, her little dog, her purring cats, and her soft pajamas. Within her silent apartment, they form her “cocoon”. She’s stressed by commuting to her job, but relies on routines to usher her through her day. Coworkers don’t seem to understand her. Her boyfriend is frustrated because she doesn’t want to go to parties and socialize as he does. As she searches for answers to her anxiety, she discovers that she is not alone: there is a community of people with Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism, and their experiences are there, online for Marguerite to read. No longer in the dark and alone, she begins a search for the right therapist, and the resources she needs to advocate for herself.

Julie Dachez’s black and white artwork skillfully uses reds and yellows to communicate Marguerite’s stressors and anxiety: loud conversations and everyday noise; panels are bathed in red to denote stressful moments in Marguerite’s day, when her defenses are running low, gradually fading back to black and white as she separates herself from social situations to recharge. Her red sneakers are the sole point of red that provide a reassuring, routine constant. Back matter includes a history of autism, information on Asperger’s Syndrome, and a list of resources for further reading (incuding children’s books!). A good book to have in your collection; consider also purchasing Camouflage: The Hidden Lives of Autistic Women, a nonfiction graphic novel by Dr. Sarah Bargeila and illustrated by Sophie Standing.

Posted in Middle Grade, Non-fiction, picture books

Two picture book biographies: Charlie Chaplin and Gloria Steinem

Smile: How Young Charlie Chaplin Taught the World to Laugh (and Cry), by Gary Golio/Illustrated by Ed Young, (March 2019, Candlewick Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9780763697617

Ages 8-12

This picture book bio on silent screen giant Charlie Chaplin starts with Chaplin’s early life in London and his life in a poorhouse; covers his early performing years in London and his discovery by American filmmaker Mack Sennett, and Chaplin’s success in creating his classic Little Tramp. Using verse with occasional moments of rhyme, this is a fantastic way to bring Charlie Chaplin’s movies and life to an audience that, as Kirkus notes, “grow ever more distant”. I remember watching Chaplin’s movies on TV when I was growing up, and later on, as a cinema student in college; I loved his humor, and I loved his social commentary that came across loud and clear. Smile touches on these concepts and Chaplin’s talent to make viewers laugh and cry, sometimes at the time.

Ed Young’s collage and ink artwork is incredible. The collage endpapers are populated with silhouette cutouts; spreads are created using torn paper, fabrics, newsprint, and murky colors. Little Tramp silhouettes show up on almost every spread. The story ends with a photo of Chaplin as Little Tramp, and the beginning and end of the book appear as a silent film title cards.

Back matter includes quotes from Chaplin’s writing, an afterword from the author, facts about Charlie Chaplin, and a list of resources. The author includes a suggested Chaplin viewing list that I’d love to run here at my library. I’ll have to see if I can generate some interest. In the meantime, here’s a clip from The Kid (1921).

Smile has starred reviews from Kirkus and Publishers Weekly. Gary Golio is an award-winning author of children’s nonfiction; Ed Young is a Caldecott-winning artist.

Gloria Takes a Stand: How Gloria Steinem Listened, Wrote, and Changed the World, by Jessica M. Rinker/Illustrated by Daria Peoples-Riley, (March 2019, Bloomsbury), $17.99, ISBN: 9781681196763

Ages 8-12

Feminist activist and icon Gloria Steinem’s story is told in narrative text and mixed media art, beginning with her early years as she traveling with her parents and learned in the back of their car. She goes to college, shakes off the “when are you going to get married?” expectations, opting to travel to India. Inspired by the the 1963 March on Washington, she decided to join fight for equality, eventually co-founding Ms. magazine in 1971.

The text is a bit dense, making it a better choice for middle grade readers; short sentences summarize every few spreads to reinforce Steinem’s actions throughout her life: “Gloria watched. She learned. And helped”; “Gloria thought. She questioned. And learned”. The mixed media artwork shows Steinem’s intersectionality, standing alongside people of color at marches and protests. There’s a nice tribute to Steinem’s influence on later generations of young women, with a diverse group holding signs including “Black Lives Matter”, “Where are you going to college?”, and “Resist! Persist!” An author’s note and illustrator’s note each touch on Steinem’s personal influence, and additional back matter includes a timeline of important events in U.S. women’s history, and a bibliography of further resources. The endpapers are renderings of Ms. magazine covers.

A nice addition for Women’s History Month collections and research.

Posted in Intermediate, Middle Grade, Non-fiction, Non-Fiction

Malala Yousafzai: Warrior with Words

Malala Yousafzai: Warrior with Words, by Karen Leggett Abouraya/Illustrated by Susan L. Roth, (Jan. 2019, Lee and Low), $19.95, ISBN: 9781620148389

Ages 6-10

This latest biography of activist and Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai speaks to younger, intermediate readers on their level: she grew up in Pakistan’s Swat Valley, lovingly referred to by Malala as “my Swat”. Her father was the principal of a school for girls, and she grew up loving books and learning. In 2007, when the Taliban came to power and tried to ban education for girls and women, Malala began blogging, under a pen name; her blog was picked up by the BBC’s website in 2009. Her family fled the Swat Valley when Pakistan’s army fought the Taliban, but they returned when the fighting was over, finding much of their home destroyed. In 2012, Malala and two friends   were shot by Taliban soldiers who boarded their school bus. She was taken to a hospital in England, and her activism became a worldwide phenomenon, speaking at the United Nations and receiving a Nobel Prize for her work.

The text is straightforward, describing the Taliban’s policies and even Malala’s shooting in plain language. The Taliban doesn’t get to take Malala’s story away from her: she shines here, with her accomplishments and her dedication to education for all being the main focus of the book. Her awards and her studies are lauded, as is her love of the color pink and her love for her family and her home. Back matter includes information on Pakistan, the Taliban, The Malala Fund, and a spotlight on youth activism and organizations.

The collage art is outstanding. Most of the artwork is soft, using felts and fabrics with warm and soft colors to create Malala, her family, her world, and the diversity of the United Nations and our world; even when women must don black clothing to avoid notice by the Taliban, the crisp blacks and whites of the characters clothing are felt: soft, warm. That all changes for the two pages introducing the Taliban, which depicts them using photo art with crudely drawn, mask-like faces. It made me sit up the first time I read the book, and on subsequent readings, I realized how brilliant illustrator Susan L. Roth is. It’s a subtle, but jarring change that lets readers experience just a fraction of the discomfort, the fear, that these figures brought with them. Incredible artwork by an award-winning illustrator, and it supports and gives life to Karen Leggett Abouraya’s informative reporting. Add this to your picture book biographies.

Posted in Intermediate, Non-Fiction, picture books, Preschool Reads

Nonfiction rundown: October and November

Picture book nonfiction just gets better and better. In October and November, we get two more biographies on people of color that have, until now, been largely overlooked by history. It’s disheartening on one hand, but I choose to be glad that books are coming forward now to liven up our nonfiction shelves and give readers even more role models across all walks of life to learn about and be inspired by. I’ve also got some fun alphabet books and some nature and science. Pull up a chair, brew a warm beverage of your choice, and enjoy!

 

Someday is Now: Clara Luper and the 1958 Oklahoma City Sit-Ins, by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich/Illustrated by Jade Johnson, (Aug. 2018, Seagrass Press), $17.95, ISBN: 9781633224988

Ages 6-9

I missed this one the first time around, but I’m glad I caught it when I went back through my Edelweiss account to check up on my TBR. This picture book biography of civil rights activist Clara Luper (nee Clara Mae Shepard) is a great addition to your picture book biographies. Growing up in segregated Oklahoma, Clara saw her World War I veteran father diminished by the very country he fought for: her brother turned away from a local hospital because it was a whites-only facility; she was educated in a run-down classroom with torn books and a teacher who also served as the principal and janitor; restaurants dictated where Blacks could eat. Everywhere she looked, Clara saw things were “separate and unequal”, a phrase repeated throughout the book in bold, large font to drive home the message. Ms. Luper became a teacher who pushed for change, working with the NAACP Youth Council and participating in lunch counter protests with her students after a trip to non-segregated New York. Back matter includes an encapsulated biography of Ms. Luper.

This is the first picture book biography on Clara Luper: everything else I found online is decades old. Let’s get more civil activist bios into the hands of our kids, so they can see for themselves how many voices led to change. Someday is Now has a starred review from Kirkus.

Author Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich is the co-author of the NAACP Image Award nominated Two Naomis and the forthcoming Naomis Too and is the editor of The Hero Next Door, an anthology from We Need Diverse Books. You can see more of Jade Johnson’s illustration work, including downloadable coloring pages, on her website.

 

Who Will Roar If I Go? (If We’re Gone, Book 1), by Paige Jaeger/Illustrated by Carol Hill Quirk, (June 2018, Boutique of Quality Books), $18.95, ISBN: 9781945448157

Ages 5-7

This rhyming story, the first in a planned series, is a plea to readers from endangered animals suffering from a multitude of human-based maladies, most commonly, the disappearance of their habitats and hunting, be it for trophies or luxury dining. Thirteen animals ask humans for help in their quest for survival; each rhyme provides readers with a little background on the animal and why it needs help. The elephant’s page reads: “I sure am an enormous creature; With ivory tusks my most attractive feature; For these long, tapered tusks that I hold dear; Thousands of friends were lost last year; No one needs my tusks but me; Go make some in a factory”.

Back matter includes a glossary of terms and an animal footprint guessing game. Each animal gets its own spread, including its geographic location and footprint, related to a game in the back matter. The watercolor artwork is realistic and showcases each animal in its natural environment. Who Will Roar If I Go? is a good introduction to endangered animals and the need for conservation and preservation; it’s a good additional add to your picture book nonfiction.

The Who Will Roar webpage offers free, downloadable educator resources.

 

 

P is for Paris, by Paul Thurlby, (Oct. 2018, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky), $19.99, ISBN: 9781492668152

Ages 5-8

The latest book in Paul Thurlby’s ABC Cities series brings readers on an alphabetical tour of the City of Lights: Paris. Beautiful, bright artwork brings to mind vintage travel posters, and little bites of Parisian history on each page make this a fun addition to your picture books and world sections. Adults will enjoy this one as much as the kids will; references are equally accessible to kids and grownups. From the Abbesses to the Zoo De Vincennes, this is a nice addition to Thurlby’s Cities set. Endpapers provide a map to Paris, with attractions throughout the book numbered for reference. The author provides a concise explanation of the city’s organization into arrondissments. This easily works for both concept sections and geography sections, but don’t mistake this for a beginner’s abecedary; it’s a little more complex and better for Kindergarteners and up.

Check out Paul Thurlby’s webpage for more artwork and information on his other books. Take your armchair travelers on a picture book trip around the world with Thurlby’s books and Miroslav Sasek’s books.

 

Flow, Spin, Grow: Looking for Patterns in Nature, by Patchen Barss/Illustrated by Todd Stewart, (Oct. 2018, OwlKids), $18.95, ISBN: 9781771472876

Ages 5-7

Readers are encouraged to explore patterns in nature in this mindful rhyming book. A diverse group of children play and relax in an open park area in the opening spread. The text playfully crawls around the scene, encouraging kids to “Look, climb, dig, flow. Breathe in deep, around you go. Twirl, whirl, swirl, grow. Explore, find more, join the show.” The text inspires readers to look for patterns everywhere: observe, dig, explore, climb; a tree trunk splits, branches split, and below the ground, roots split and grow; water branches off into smaller bodies of water, and our own lungs have little branches like mini-trees, reaching for air. Nature twirls and whirls, like the galaxies in space or two friends at play; pine cones, storm clouds, and snail shells all swirl. It’s an interesting way to introduce scientific inquiry to burgeoning scientists. An author’s note goes further into the “secret code” hidden in the shapes of things, and suggests additional resources for more reading.

The artwork is the star in this book. Multilayered screen prints and muted colors create a setting where patterns gently emerge, waiting for readers to spot them: triangles on a tree or bush; cracks in the dirt and roots underground reach out. Flow Spin Grow is a good purchase for primary science collections; I also love Joyce Sidman and Beth Krommes’ award-winning Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature, and Jane Brocket’s Spotty, Stripy, Swirly: What Are Patterns?

The Vast Wonder of the World: Biologist Ernest Everett Just, by Mélina Mangal/Illustrated by Luisa Uribe, (Nov. 2018, Lerner Publishing Group), $19.99, ISBN: 9781512483758

Ages 7-9

This bio on biologist Ernest Everett Just is just what your picture book biography section needs. He came of age in the Jim Crow South, paying his way through Dartmouth College while supporting his siblings after his mother’s passing. He “unlocked the mysteries of how the different parts of the cell worked together as new life developed”, and found success as a Howard University professor, embryologist, and cytologist, working in both Europe and the States. The Vast Wonder of the World tells his story, introducing him to a new generation of budding scientists who will be inspired by his determination and success in the face of racism and adversity. The muted pencil and digital artwork, in shades of blue, creates a sense of wonder and beauty, giving readers a real appreciation for Just and his place in science history. An author’s note, a timeline, and source notes complete this solid addition to science biography sections. Display and booktalk – PLEASE – with Gwendolyn Hudson Hooks and Colin Bootman’s Tiny Stitches: The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas, and – if you can find it (can we please get this book back in print?) – May Chinn: The Best Medicine, by Ellen Butts and Joyce R. Schwartz, illustrated by Janet Hamlin.

The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB) has a good feature story on Dr. Just, with references to further reading, by W. Malcolm Byrnes.

P is for Pterodactyl, by Raj Haldar & Chris Carpenter/Illustrated by Maria Beddia, (Nov. 2018, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky), $17.99, ISBN: 9781492674313

Ages 6-10

Calling itself “The Worst Alphabet Book Ever”, P is for Pterodactyl is a smirk, wink, and nudge at rebel words in the English language: words that don’t follow the rules. The book uses humor, alliteration, and amusing artwork to get its point across, as with E is for Ewe, which depicts sheep at a wake: “Eileen the ewe was so euphoric with wolves were eaten, she even gave the eulogy” (keep reading the book for more on Eileen); or L is not for Elle, which shows an elevated subway car transporting some elephants across the city of El Paso: “An elephant named Elle rode the el train halfway to El Paso and dined on hearts of palm with her folks”. It’s not a basic concept book for new learners, but it’s sure fun to read it out loud and watch kids laugh and play with language. My 6-year-old cracks up at this one, and it helps when he tries to figure out new words.

P is for Pterodactyl has a starred review from Foreword Reviews.

 

Posted in Intermediate, Non-Fiction, picture books

Happy Pride! Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag

Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag, by Rob Sanders/Illustrated by Steven Salerno, (Apr. 2018, Random House), $17.99, ISBN: 9780399555312

Recommended for readers 5-8

The story of Harvey Milk, gay rights activist and the man behind the rainbow flag, gets to shine in this picture book biography. Written in short, readable sentences with quotes from Harvey Milk throughout, this is an inspirational story about a movement propelled by love. That’s it. Love, and the right to love, is at the heart of the gay rights movement, and while Harvey Milk dreamed of a world where we could all love whoever we choose, he also put that dream into action by speaking out, becoming involved in politics to help change laws, and finally, to rally the world behind a flag that is beautiful and bright and sends a message that reverberates to this day.

Pride is about the creation of the rainbow flag, and how the movement is still strong, even after Harvey Milk’s assassination. He shared his pride with the world, and gave us an icon.  In 2015, the day that the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of gay marraige, the White House was awash in the colors of the flag, and you can find that flag in cities and countries all over the world: New York; Chicago; London; Singapore; Turkey; Russia. Biographical notes on Harvey Milk and Gilbert Baker, who actually designed the flag, timelines for both Harvey Milk’s life and the rainbow flag, and further research resources are available at the end of the book, as are photos of Harvey Milk, the Rainbow White House, and gay pride parades.

This is a strong picture book biography that speaks respectfully to readers and provides solid information on the gay rights movement, Harvey Milk’s role in it, and the origin of the iconic rainbow flag. It’s a must-have for picture book biography collections. Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag has a starred review from Shelf Awareness and rave reviews from School Library Journal, Out.com, Kirkus, and Gay Times magazine, among others.

Posted in Intermediate, Non-Fiction, picture books

Black History Month: Trailblazer – The Story of Ballerina Raven Wilkinson

Trailblazer – The Story of Ballerina Raven Wilkinson, by Leda Schubert/Illustrated by Theodore Taylor III, (Jan. 2018, little bee books), $17.99, ISBN: 9781499805925

Recommended for ages 6-9

Born in New York City in 1935, Raven Wilkinson was a little girl who fell in love with ballet and grew up to become the first African American ballerina to tour with a major American touring troupe. She faced racism at every turn; she auditioned three times for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo before they finally accepted her into the touring company. When they toured the American South in the 1950s, she faced adversity from hotels who wouldn’t allow her to stay, fearing repercussions from the Ku Klux Klan; ignorance in the form of racists running onto the stage to protest the “nigra in the company”; and dining in hotels where families left their Klan sheets in a pile in the back while they ate dinner together. She persisted, even when she was passed over time and again for the starring role in Swan Lake, finally achieving the spot in 1967 with the Dutch National Ballet of Holland. She later joined the New York City Opera, dancing until she was 50. She’s inspired countless dancers, including Misty Copeland, who became the first African American principal dancer with the American Ballet Theater in 2015 AND danced in Swan Lake. Copeland has said of Raven Wilkinson, “She was a mentor in my life before I met her.”

This is a lovely look at Raven Wilkinson’s life and career, especially relevant in our racially charged society – the more things change, the more things stay the same, it would sadly seem. When Raven eats dinner in a hotel surrounded by families who leave their Klan sheets strewn across seats while they eat, it’s horrifying because it normalizes hate. The indignity of Raven Wilkinson having to endure this indignity is like a gut punch to an older reader, and we need to use that nausea, that anger, that outright disgust, as a teaching opportunity to de-normalize this for younger readers. The illustrations are soft, almost comic book-like, while retaining a realistic quality, that will appeal to younger readers.

This is a beautifully illustrated picture book biography of an African American pioneer few people may be familiar with. Let’s change that. If you ask kids to name African American role models, you’ll likely hear the big names, but let’s make MORE big names. Let’s put books like Trailblazer in our displays, showing kids that there are pioneers everywhere. Neil Degrasse Tyson, Mae Jemison, and Katherine Johnson? Heck yes, get them in front of kids. STEM and the sciences are important. And let’s show them Trailblazer and Firebird; Radiant Child and When Marian Sang, DJ Kool Herc and the Creation of Hip Hop and Muddy to remind readers everywhere that there are pioneers in the arts, too. Children need to see inspiration everywhere, and that there are advocates in every walk of life.

This 2015 video features Raven Wilkinson and Misty Copeland when Dance/USA, the national association for professional dance, recognized Raven Wilkinson, the 2015 Dance/USA Trustees Awardee, at the Dance/USA Annual Conference in Miami on June 17, 2015.

Leda Schubert’s most recent picture book biography, Listen, was about singer and activist Pete Seeger. Her website offers more information about her books, including downloadable activity guides and discussion questions. Illustrator Theodore Taylor III is a Coretta Scott King John Steptoe New Talent Award Winner. See more of his artwork and learn about his other books at his website.

Posted in Non-Fiction

Write to Me: Letters from Japanese American Children to the Librarian They left Behind

Write to Me: Letters from Japanese American Children to the Librarian They left Behind, by Cynthia Grady/Illustrated by Amiko Hirao, (Jan. 2018, Charlesbridge), $16.99, ISBN: 9781580896887

Recommended for readers 5-10

Inspired by a true story, Write to Me tells the story of Clara Breed, a children’s librarian who corresponded with her Japanese American patrons when they were sent to internment camps during World War II. She gave them postcards to let her know where they were; she visited them, wrote to them, and sent them books and crafts to help ease their minds during their confinement. She advocated for those children by writing articles and attending rallies, advocating for her kids. When the kids came home, she was waiting for them – and they came to her. She was comfort in a cruel time. Write to me tells the story of Clara Breed through conversations with her library kids; muted pencil art illustrates life in the prison camps, with excerpts from actual letters on each page to show the passage of time. Endpapers display photos from the period, including family arrivals at the camps and evacuation notices for Japanese Americans. An author’s note features a photo of Clara Breed and two of her patrons, taken at a reunion in 1991. There’s a timeline of Clara Breed’s life, including links to her articles on the war, relocation, civil liberties, and human rights, and a selected history of the Japanese People in the United States. Source notes, bibliography, and further reading are available. A touching book about a woman who touched lives, and a nice addition to biography collections.