Posted in Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

Board books introduce MLK Jr and Rosa Parks to young readers

The Story of Martin Luther King Jr., by Johnny Ray Moore,
(Jan. 2021, Worthy Kids), $7.99, ISBN: 9781546034421
Ages 0-3

Simple text and artwork bring this biography of Martin Luther King Jr. to life for the youngest learners while addressing issues of inequity and racism that laid the groundwork for his activism – and that some adults may recognize today. The story tells readers, in brief, easy-to-understand sentences and companion illustrations, how Dr. King grew up, became a minister, and was motivated by all he saw and endured to work toward equality and ending segregation in America.

The Story of Rosa Parks, by Patricia A. Pingry/Illustrated by Steven Walker,
(Jan. 2021, Worthy Kids), $7.99, ISBN: 9781546034438
Ages 0-3
The Story of Rosa Parks introduces young learners to the civil rights icon’s childhood, leading to the moment that she made her historic stand on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. The book shines a light on how that act, and the events that followed were a defining moment in the civil rights moment. Display and booktalk with books like A is for Activist, Antiracist Baby, and books featured on both the Social Justice Books and Act for Social Justice websites.
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 Non-Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

Power to the People: We Are Power elevates nonviolent activism

We Are Power: How Nonviolent Activism Changes the World, by Todd Hasak-Lowy, (April 2020, Abrams Kids), $18.99, ISBN: 9781419741111

Ages 12+

A thought-provoking treatise on nonviolent activism, We Are Power presents six case studies throughout recent history: Gandhi, Alice Paul, Martin Luther King, Cesar Chavez, Václav Havel, and Greta Thunberg. Each section explores nonviolent resistance, the roots behind each advocate’s activism, and how the power of one person, exhorting nonviolence, can motivate thousands and create change. In an increasingly contentious world, the power of nonviolent activism, and placing this information in the hands of a generation of activists, is not only smart, it’s crucial.

Beginning with Gandhi and his theory of “soul force”, or satyagraha, each consecutive profile touches on how previous movements inspired one another. Martin Luther King in particular was influenced by Gandhi, while Alice Paul’s suffrage activism was a response to the more extreme suffagists in the UK, and her desire to be seen as calm, unflappable, and strong. Cesar Chavez understood that increasing awareness of migrant worker conditions was the best way to bring social justice to migrant workers and received a letter of encouragement from Martin Luther King, himself leading nonviolent resistance movements to bring civil rights to the country. Playwright-turned-Czech president Vaclav Havel used his art to protest; later, letters from prison, where he wrote about truth and opened people’s eyes by telling them that they were complicit in allowing their restrictive government’s rule by following the rules. Teenager Greta Thunberg began her climate change protest by being the sole student striking for climate change, and motivated a planet to take action.

A solid beginning for a discussion on social justice, activism, and civil disobedience, this is a must-have volume for middle school and high school collections. I can’t wait to put this in my order cart when my library, opens again. This would be a great Summer Reading choice, for educators who haven’t finished their lists yet. Photographs of protests and tense moments, like seeing schoolchildren attacked by dogs and being doused with hoses, make for great discussions on the use of violence against nonviolence – what stands to be gained? Comprehensive endnotes, bibliography, and index complete the book. Author Todd Hasak-Lowy’s author webpage has videos and resources for parents and educators.

We Are Power has starred reviews from School Library Journal, School Library Connection, and Kirkus.

 

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade

American Girl Trio: Melody, Nanea, and Julie

Everyone is pretty aware of American Girl, the toy and book phenomenon that sent kids running to the stores for an experience – tea party, clothing selection, matching outfits – before Build-a-Bear got involved. The American Girl novels have big fans in every library where I’ve worked, but I never thought to pick up and read any of them for myself. But I received three from the publisher, so I figured, what the heck? Let’s see what these are about. I have to say, I’m pretty happy with them.

The three books that I received seem to be a repackaging of American Girl’s BeForever line of historical novels. The original books look to have been published in 2016-2017; these new releases have updated cover art and the interiors are very emerging reader friendly, with both color photos and artwork throughout, making it even more appealing and reader-friendly to emerging chapter book readers.

Melody: No Ordinary Sound (American Girl: Melody), by Denise Lewis Patrick, (Aug. 2019, American Girl), $7.99, ISBN: 9781683371403

Ages 8-12

It’s 1963 in Detroit, Michigan, and 9-year-old Melody just found out that she’s going to be singing her first church solo for the Youth Day celebration. Her older brother wants to be a Motown star, while their dad wants him to go to college and pick a more stable career; her older sister comes home from college with stories of protests, marches, and registering Black voters, and her cousin’s family arrives in Detroit, because racial tension in the American South has made it almost impossible to earn a living. As Melody and her family awaken to activism, a horrific church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama takes the lives of four children and leaves Melody speechless. She has to find her voice and sing for those who can’t.

No Ordinary Sound is such powerful historical fiction for intermediate and middle grade readers. I’ve enjoyed Denise Lewis Patrick’s books in the past, so I read this American Girl book first, and am so glad I did. Her characters experience three pivotal events in civil rights history – the Detroit Walk to Freedom; the March on Washington, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech, and the church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama – and encourage readers to see these events from a personal point of view, developing a deeper understanding of more than just the facts. Denise Lewis Patrick provides a slice of life story, where readers experience the everyday racism Melody and her family and friends experience; from being banned from buying a soda at a soda machine to being shadowed by store security at stores where they’ve been longtime customers.

No Ordinary Sound was a great introduction to the American Girl historical fiction series of books, and I’ll be sure to include this series in booklists and booktalks about civil rights and historical fiction. Melody’s books have their own page on the American Girl website, where you can read first chapter excerpts.

Civil Rights Teaching has lesson plans and resources about teaching the Civil Rights Movement, as does Facing History and Ourselves. The Grammy Museum has a lesson plan on teaching the impact of Motown. Education.com has a free, downloadable worksheet on the History of Motown, and TeachRock.org has a lesson Assembling Hits at Motown. PBS Learning Media has a teaching guide and primary source materials on The Great Migration, and National Geographic has an educator’s guide.

 

Nanea: The Spirit of Aloha (American Girl: Nanea), by Kirby Larson, (Aug. 2019, American Girl), $7.99, ISBN: 9781683371380

Ages 8-12

Nanea is a 9-year-old Hawaiian girl; she’s the youngest in her family, and feels frustrated that she can’t do grown-up things, like help in her family’s store. When Pearl Harbor is attacked by Japanese aircraft on December 7, 1941, Nanea discovers that she has to grow up quickly. Her father is a mechanic at Pearl Harbor, and rushes to help out; her older brother is an Eagle Scout, and heads to the site to hand out food and provide aid. Nanea’s Uncle Fudge is taken into custody because he’s Japanese, and Nanea is thrust into a different world with blackouts, curfews, and fear. She and her two best friends work to make themselves useful, especially when “nonessential personnel” must leave the island, which puts her friend at risk. With the spirit of aloha – love, understanding, and compassion – Nanea focuses on kokua – good deeds – to help everyone around her.

The Spirit of Aloha was another strong historical fiction piece. Kirby Larson has written likable, relatable female protagonists, and she’s done historical fiction before, so I was confident I was going to read a good story. Here, we have the main event, the bombing of Pearl Harbor, as a means to show how war makes children grow up overnight. Nanea sees her life change in moments: the bombing itself; the rounding up of Japanese people and the detention center; her fears for her father and brother as they head into the middle of the disaster to help; curfews and blackouts curtains, and the overall loss of a relatively peaceful, carefree existence. At the same time, she focuses on her culture’s principles of love, compassion, and good deeds. Kirby Larson adds touches of Hawaiian culture here, like the meaning of hula and tossing leis into the water to assure a return to Hawaii, and there’s a glossary of terms at the end. Nanea is biracial, with a Hawaiian mother and a Caucasian father, and this adds an additional facet to Nanea’s story, as she communicates with her mainland grandparents to let them know what’s going on in Hawaii.

The Spirit of Aloha is a good introduction to World War 2 historical fiction for younger readers. You can find excerpts and more about Nanea on the American Girl website.

Scholastic has a teaching guide on the attack on Pearl Harbor; Teachers Pay Teachers has some free, downloadable resources developed by fellow educators; the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum has a lesson plan on developing visual literacy by analyzing photos from December 7, 1941. The New York Times has a lesson plan on using primary sources to teach the Japanese Internment, as does the Library of Congress.

 

Julie: The Big Break (American Girl: Julie), by Megan McDonald, (Aug. 2019, American Girl), $7.99, ISBN: 9781683371328

Ages 8-12

Nine-year-old Julie has just moved to a new neighborhood and started at a new school after her parent’s divorce; she, her mother, and older sister live in an apartment above her mother’s new store. She starts at a new school and hears they have a basketball team, which is great! She loves basketball! The coach, however, makes no bones about it: the team is boys only, and he’s never going to let a girl play on his team. Julie, empowered by her tennis-playing older sister who tells her about tennis star Billie Jean King and Title IX, the law prohibiting gender discrimination in any educational programs receiving Federal financial assistance (read: public schools can’t refuse any boy or girl from playing on an athletic team). Julie embraces her newfound activism and takes to the streets, getting people to sign a petition to let her play.

The Big Break is a snapshot of the 1970s, when the second wave feminist movement was still pushing for equal rights in the workplace and in our schools. An interesting subplot with a Vietnam vet, who helps focus Julie’s activism by petitioning against the closing of a veteran’s hall, reminds readers that the ’70s were also about coping with the fallout from the Vietnam War and the vets who returned to homelessness, and a lack of necessary mental and physical health services. Julie’s sister is a burgeoning feminist who follows the Bobby Riggs-Billie Jean King Battle of the Sexes and tells Julie about Title IX, which opened the doors to school athletics for girls. At the same time, Julie is coping with her parent’s divorce – much more scandalous in the 1970s than it is today – and her feelings of grief and frustration with both her parents. Her mom appears to be a free spirit, with a ’60s-early ’70s flower child aesthetic; she’s a divorced woman entering the workplace and starting her own business venture: a store dedicated to handcrafted clothing and items, often repurposed. Julie’s pilot father often misses school events because he’s called to fill in for another pilot, and doesn’t initially support her bid to play on the boys’ basketball team.

The Big Break is by Megan McDonald, who everyone also knows as the author of the Judy Moody and Stink series! Here, she gives readers a glimpse into the 1970s, where things are so different, and yet, still the same. Girls still get grief from boys in the athletic sphere. Homeless veterans are still not getting the services they need. People now use Title IX to protect transgender and nonbinary students. And girls are still discovering and embracing their voices in activism. You can read more about Julie on her American Girl page, including first chapter excerpts.

TedEd has a lesson plan on Title IX that’s friendly to younger students. NEA Today has a good article on ways Title IX has helped women and girls; PBS has a video on Title IX; Scholastic Kids Press has an article on how Title IX changed girls’ sports. Teaching History has resources on teaching the Vietnam War.

 

Each book comes with a peek into each girls’ life: maps of their neighborhood, pictures of their families, a glimpse at someone’s room. Back matter includes overall information about each American Girls’ moment in history. American Girl makes teachers guides, readers guides, and printable activities available.

 

 

Posted in picture books

Black History, Baseball, and Boston: Waiting for Pumpsie

Waiting for Pumpsie, by Barry Wittenstein/Illustrated by London Ladd, (Feb. 2017, Charlesbridge), $16.99, ISBN: 9781580895453

Ages 5-9

It’s 1959, and Bernard is a kid living in Boston who is crazy for the Red Sox. As much as he loves the Sox, though, he doesn’t understand why the Giants have Willie Mays, and the Dodgers had Jackie Robinson, but the Sox don’t have a black player. His dad agrees that it’s an excellent question, but seemingly one with no answer. Bernard and his baseball-loving family head to to Fenway Park for a Red Sox vs. New York Yankees game, but when the family cheers for Yankee Elston Howard – Mama encourages Bernard and his family to cheer for every African-American player, regardless of their team – they’re shouted down by a white fan, who tosses in a slur or two; a police officer tells Bernard and his family that “you people need to learn how to behave”, without a word to the instigator. Mama says change is coming soon, but Bernard has a hard time believing it when things like this happen, and when the Sox won’t even sign a black player. That changes when Pumpsie Green, a black player in the minor leagues, starts making the news. The Red Sox management seem to be dragging their feet on Pumpsie, and the fans – black AND white alike – start putting public pressure on the team to give Pumpsie a chance. It works, and Bernard and his family gather around the radio to listen to Pumpsie’s first game, an away game in Chicago. The Red Sox lose, but Pumpsie’s arrival is selling tickets and making news. Bernard and his family make sure to be at the next home game, to cheer on Pumpsie, and Bernard gets to see him play and see the Sox win! As Bernard heads home, he sees fans waving Pumpsie flags and holding up a picture of Ted Williams and Pumpsie, together in the dugout. Bernard has hope for the future. Looks like Mama was right after all.

Based on the story of baseball player Pumpsie Green’s 1959 arrival in Major League Baseball, Waiting for Pumpsie is powerful because it’s shown through a child’s eyes. Told in the first person by Bernard, we see how important representation is. Bernard says, after seeing Pumpsie play, that “one day, I’ll tell my kids how long we waited for Pumpsie Green. I’ll tell them how he dug his heels into the batter’s box. I’ll tell them how I pretended it was me, Bernard, sliding into third”. He and his family cheer for every African-American player, regardless of team affiliation, because they support civil rights and integration. It was time. It was long past time. An author’s note offers a little background on Pumpsie Green and the Red Sox’s long refusal to sign players of color, and the role of civil rights and fan pressure in their decision. There are some good sources for further reading. There’s a free, downloadable curriculum guide available.

The acrylic paint artwork uses warm colors and gives a vintage feel to the book, with baseball cards and tickets lending a scrapbook feel within the larger story.  If you don’t already have this in your collection, get it in there. Waiting for Pumpsie has a starred review from Kirkus.

Barry Wittenstein has tended bar, driven a taxi, worked at CBS Records and CBS News back in the day, spent a decade writing music and lyrics, toiled six years as a web editor and writer for Major League Baseball, and three years as a substitute elementary school teacher.  He could be Walter Mitty’s brother.
Barry loves to write narrative nonfiction picture books. He is the author of Waiting for Pumpsie and The Boo-Boos That Changed the World. In 2019, he will publish two more nonfiction picture books—Sonny’s Bridge, about the legendary jazz saxophonist Sonny Rollins; and A Place to Land (with illustrations by Caldecott Medalist Jerry Pinkney) about how Martin Luther King Jr. wrote his “I Have a Dream” speech. He is currently working on a YA novel. He lives in New York City with his wife. To learn more, and to download free curriculum guides, visit his website: https://onedogwoof.com/ or follow him on Twitter: @bwittbooks
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 Fiction, Historical Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

My Year in the Middle: Relevant then, relevant now

My Year in the Middle, by Lila Quintero Weaver, (July 2018, Candlewick), $15.99, ISBN: 9780763692315

Ages 8-11

Sixth-grader Lu Olivera and her Latin American family find themselves in the middle of a civil rights struggle in their Red Grove, Alabama neighborhood one hot summer in 1970. The tensions run high in her integrated school: black kids sit on one side of the room, white kids on the other; she sits in the middle row. She’s in the the middle child, smack dab between her older, activist sister and younger twin siblings; she’s in the middle when it comes to local politics: many of the white families want to re-elect segregationist governor George Wallace, while Lu and her family support incumbent Albert Brewer. Many of her classmates are leaving their school to go to a private, white school. When Lu befriends fellow track runner Belinda Gresham, an African-American girl, and her classmates turn on her, she decides it’s time to take a stand.

Inspired by the author’s Alabama childhood, My Year in the Middle is a story of civil rights and finding one’s voice. Lu puts up with the passive racism in her community, with remarks like, “she’s from South America, she doesn’t mind going to school with Negroes”. But seeing how her African-American friends are treated by her fellow classmates, and by the general public in her town, pushes her buttons. Lu is a character who stands out: she’s a character of color stuck in the middle of the Civil Rights Movement, but because she’s not African-American, she’s tolerated: until she digs in her heels and says, “No more”. She gives and receives support from her black classmates and from Sam, her classmate and crush, a white preacher’s son who is bullied for his civil rights stance.

Lu is at once relatable and a mirror for our society today. We’re still divided, and more and more people are forced from the middle to take a stand. Readers may recognize recent political speeches and attitudes in George Wallace’s condescending stumping and the racial tension that permeates Lu’s classroom. My Year in the Middle is a solid work of historical fiction that provides excellent discussion topics for readers on civil rights, social justice, and where we’ve gone versus where we are.

Posted in Non-Fiction, picture books

Activists, Musicians: Biographies

If you’re looking for some biographies on musicians who worked to change the world, here’s a starter list.

 

Muddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters, by Michael Mahin/Illustrated by Evan Turk, (Sept. 2017, Athenum), $17.99, ISNB:  978-1481443494  It’s a good thing Muddy Waters wasn’t good at doing what he was told. Everyone from his grandma to record producers said no one wanted to hear the blues, but Muddy just kept playing, from family picnics to smoky juke joints, until he finally got to Chicago, and recorded his music.

Mahalia Jackson: Walking With Kings and Queens, by Nina Nolan/Illustrated by John Holyfield, (2015, Amistad/HarperCollins),$17.99, ISBN: 978-0-06-087944-0  Mahalia Jackson had a voice that could make you stop whatever you were doing in listen. Walking with Kings and Queens tells her story, from her New Orleans childhood to her performance at the March on Washington.

When the Beat Was Born: DJ Kool Herc and the Creation of Hip Hop, by Laban Carrick Hill/Illustrated by Theodore Taylor III, (Aug. 2013, Roaring Brook Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781596435407  In 1973, music changed forever when Clive Campbell – you may know him as DJ Kook Herc – created a new way of playing music to make the beats last longer, letting you dance longer. It caught on. Kids started breakdancing rather than fighting; a culture arose that influences music, style, and language to this day.

 

Nina: Jazz Legend and Civil-Rights Activist Nina Simone, by Alice Brière-Haquet/Illustrated by Bruno Liance, (Dec. 2017, Charlesbridge), $16.99, ISBN: 9781580898270  Singer and activist Nina Simone grew up listening to music made by “important men in powdered wigs from past centuries” and faced down systemic racism to shine as a classical, jazz, blues, folk, R&B, gospel, and pop vocalist and activist.

Listen – How Pete Seeger Got America Singing, by Leda Schubert/Illustrated by Raúl Colón, (June 2017, Roaring Brook Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781626722507  Folk artist Pete Seeger led by example, be it through song or through activism. He said that participation would save the human race, and encouraged it through actions: he supported unions, protested war, and marched for civil rights, and he was vocal about environmentalism.

When Paul Met Artie: The Story of Simon & Garfunkel, by G. Neri/Illustrated by David Litchfield,
(March 2018, Candlewick), $17.99, ISBN: 9780763681746  The story of music duo Simon & Garfunkel, told in verse, takes the artists from their childhood in Queens, New York, through their mutual love of music and discovery of ’60s social change, and through their early musical career.

 

Posted in Middle Grade, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Tween Reads

Black History Month: Heroes of Black History – Spotlight on Barack Obama

Heroes of Black History: Biographies of Four Great Americans, (Dec. 2017, Time for Kids), $9.99, ISBN: 978-1-68330-776-1

Recommended for readers 8-12

This Time for Kids collection highlights the life stories of four great African-Americans: Harriet Tubman, who led slaves to freedom; Jackie Robinson, the groundbreaking athlete and first African-American baseball player to play for the major leagues; Rosa Parks, the civil rights pioneer who refused to give up her seat on the bus; and Barack Obama, the first African-American President of the United States.

With photos and artwork, fast facts and timelines throughout the book, this is a great book to have on hand in homes, classrooms and libraries for help with homework and reports and is essential reading for everyone. Civil Rights activist and NPR correspondent Charlayne Hunter-Gault’s introduction discusses how Black history provided her with the “invisible armor”  she needed to meet life’s challenges.

Spotlight On: Barack Obama

As part of the Heroes of Black History Book Tour, I’m spotlighting Barack Obama’s biography. The 40-page spotlight on our 44th President’s life is loaded with photos and a timeline, and covers his life from his birth in Hawaii to his 2017 farewell speech as he left office. The profile covers his relationship with his mother and grandmother; his mother’s remarriage and their subsequent move to Jakarta, Indonesia, and his return to Hawaii to live with his parents at the age of 10. We read about his marriage to Michelle Obama and births of his daughters, Malia and Sasha, and the story of his political rise from Senator to the White House. I was happy to read about the 2004 Democratic National Convention; the convention where Obama’s moving speech made Americans sit up and take notice – I still remember a coworker at the time coming to work the next day and telling me, “That man is going to be our next President.”

An appendix includes 19 additional Heroes profiles, from W.E.B. DuBois to John Lewis, a glossary and full index to round out this great reference. You can find a free curriculum guide and downloadable Fast Facts sheets on each icon.

 

Posted in Fiction, Intermediate, picture books, Realistic Fiction

Black History Month: As Fast as Words Could Fly

As Fast As Words Could Fly, by Pamela M. Tuck/Illustrated by Eric Velasquez, (Apr. 2013, Lee and Low), $18.95, ISBN: 9781600603488

Recommended for readers 6-10

I had to start my Black History Month reviews off with this gorgeous book by Pamela M. Tuck. As Fast As Words Could Fly is inspired by Ms. Tuck’s father, who – along with his brothers – integrated a North Carolina school, and by her grandfather, who was active in the Civil Rights movement. Mason Steele is a 14 year-old who helps his father’s civil rights group by writing letters for them, shining light on injustices. Mason’s father brings home a manual typewriter, transforming Mason’s life and letting his words fly across the pages. At the same time as Mason receives his typewriter, his father tells him and his brothers that they will integrate the local high school rather than continue busing to one twelve miles away. Integration is tough on Mason and his brothers: buses drive right by them and teachers and students alike make it known that the boys aren’t welcome there, but Mason endures and uses his typewriter to increase his skill and earn some money. He also uses his typewriter to make a change: he defies racism to keep his job at the local library and to represent his school in a typing contest. For Mason, the words on the paper speak loud and clear.

This was Pam Tuck’s first published story, which won the Lee & Low New Voices Winner. I was lucky enough to see her speak about her experience, and her family’s experience, at KidLitCon back in November, and I got my own copy of As Fast As Words Could Fly signed for my kiddo. Pam’s voice comes through so clearly in her story; I can hear her, even now, telling me about her grandfather and father’s story. I mentioned that I was a fan of her illustrator, Eric Velasquez, and she sat with me; as we went through the book together, she pointed out her favorite pieces of artwork. I mentioned that I loved Mr. Velasquez’s books, Grandma’s Records and Grandma’s Gift, and his talent for creating warm, loving family artwork, and she told me that the spread where Mason’s father tells his boys that they are going to a new school was perfectly recreated: she pointed out areas of her grandparents’ kitchen that she remembered, and said that Pa’s posture and hands were spot-on; the artist had given life to her grandfather.

As Fast As Words Could Fly is a strong story about a family during the Civil Rights movement, and it’s the story of a young man who was determined to make a change on his own terms. I love this story, and would love to see it on more bookshelves. Find a teacher’s guide and interviews on the Lee & Low website, and learn more about Pamela Tuck here. See more of award-winning illustrator Eric Velasquez’s artwork at his website.