Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Spotlight on Women’s History: Alma Thomas, Artist

Ablaze with Color: A Story of Painter Alma Thomas, by Jeanne Walker Harvey/Illustrated by Loveis Wise. (Feb. 2022, HarperCollins), $18.99, ISBN: 9780063021891

Ages 4-8

Growing up in the Jim Crow-era Southern U.S., young Alma Thomas and her siblings weren’t allowed to go to the “white school” nearby; they couldn’t visit the museums or library, but they surrounded themselves with joy, art, and culture. Alma Thomas’s mother designed dresses; her aunts painted; Alma used the red clay near a stream to create bowls and cups. Her parents created a salon in their home, inviting teachers to talk about “people and places around the world, famous stories, and ways of thinking”. And when Alma and her family joined The Great Migration and left Georgia for Washington, DC, Alma was finally able to attend school, graduating from college where she studied art. While DC was still segregated, Alma was determined to bring art to the people in her neighborhood; she taught art at her local school; taught children to make marionettes and perform their own plays at her home; set up an art gallery: the city’s first gallery in a school. When she retired, she went on to create her own art, becoming the first solo show by a Black woman on display at The Whitney Museum in New York City and, posthumously, the first Black woman to have artwork on display in the White House. Ablaze with Color is a gorgeous, vibrant picture book biography of a teacher, an artist, an activist that worked to bring art to everyone. Loveis Wise’s illustrations are stunning, alive with color and movement, inspired by Alma Thomas’s bright palette. Jeanne Walker Harvey brings Alma Thomas’s story to life, describing the natural world that influenced Thomas’s work and using straightforward storytelling to educate her readers. Back matter includes a timeline of Alma Thomas’s life, sources, notes, and references.

There are a wealth of online resources for those who want to learn more about Alma Thomas. Visit The Smithsonian American Art Museum’s page on the artist; The Phillips Collection’s page on their Alma Thomas exhibit, Everything is Beautiful; and ArtNews’s article on Alma Thomas’s importance in art. TeachersPayTeachers has several good activities on the artist, including a coloring sheet from Artful Ideas; a presentation from The Creative Crayon, and an abstract mosaic activity from LessonZest. Finally, don’t forget to visit Jeanne Walker Harvey’s website for more resources!

Ablaze with Color has starred reviews from Booklist, School Library Journal, and The Horn Book.

 

Jeanne Walker Harvey has had many jobs, ranging from working as a roller coaster ride operator to an attorney for high-tech companies to a writer of magazine articles to a teacher of Language Arts and writing workshops at a public middle school. She has also been a longtime docent at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Just like Alma Thomas, Jeanne believes that art brings us joy. Her other picture books include Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines and My Hands Sing the BluesRomare Bearden’s Childhood Journey. Jeanne studied literature and psychology at Stanford University. She lives in Northern California. Visit her online at www.jeanneharvey.com.

Twitter: @JeanneWHarvey

Pinterest: @JeanneWalkerHarvey

 

Loveis Wise is a nonbinary illustrator and designer from Washington, DC, now based in Los Angeles. They have collaborated and imagined with clients such as the New Yorkerthe New York Times, HarperCollins, Google, Disney Hyperion, and Adobe, to name a few. Their work often speaks to themes of joy, mindfulness, and liberation. For more information visit: loveiswise.com.

Instagram: @loveiswiseillu

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

Spotlight on Women’s History: Kip Tiernan and Rosie’s Place

Sanctuary: Kip Tiernan and Rosie’s Place, the Nation’s First Shelter for Women, by Christine McDonnell/Illustrated by Victoria Tentler-Krylov, (March 2022, Candlewick Press), $18.99, ISBN: 9781536211290

Ages 7-10

Inspired by her grandmother, who fed hungry men from her door during the Great Depression, Kip Tiernan went on to work with and feed the homeless as an adult. She noticed women dressing as men to get on the food lines, and began noticing more and more homeless women on the street; when she worked to bring public notice and aid, however, she was initially told that homelessness was not a “women’s problem”. Determined to make a safe place for women, she pushed until the city of Boston rented her an empty supermarket for $1 a year: Rosen’s Market because Rosie’s Place, opening in 1974; they served hot meals and provided free clothes, beds, and a safe place for women to come together. Sanctuary is Kip Tiernan’s story, told in straighforward prose and accompanied by evocative watercolor and digital illustration set against a white page, giving readers the feel of peeking into moments from Kip Tiernan’s life. The focus is on community, with multicultural women coming together to talk and support one another; there are embraces, hand-holding, and active listening, all there to emphasize the importance of connection and compassion. Display and booktalk with Dangerous Jane, the picture book biography of Jane Addams, founder of Chicago’s Hull House.

Sanctuary: Kip Tiernan and Rosie’s Place, the Nation’s First Shelter for Women, has starred reviews from The Horn Book and Book PageVisit the Rosie’s Place webpage to learn more about the sanctuary. The Harvard Radcliffe Institute houses Kip Tiernan’s papers.

Posted in Intermediate, Non-Fiction, picture books

Breaking Through the Clouds celebrates STEM Women!

We often hear the word “meteorologist” and think of those nice weatherfolx on TV, right? How often do we think of meteorology as the actual science of studying the weather, though?

Breaking Through the Clouds: The Sometimes Turbulent Life of Meteorologist Joanne Simpson, by Sandra Nickel/Illustrated by Helena Perez Garcia,
(March 2022, Abrams Books for Young Readers),
$19.99, ISBN: 9781419749568

Ages 6-9

Breaking Through the Clouds is the picture book biography of Joanne Simpson, the first woman in the United States to earn her Ph.D. in meteorology, who went on to research clouds and weather. Touching on what seems to be a difficult childhood, through her work with World War II planes and her education and work with clouds and wind, Breaking Through the Clouds is an inspirational STEM story and a brilliant International Women’s Month profile. Helena Perez Garcia’s gorgeous illustrations blend realism with surrealism to show how Joanne Simpson was discounted by the men around her; the men who told her “no woman ever got a doctorate in meteorology. And no woman ever will”, and the Air Force clout that put her on a plane going through clouds to research them.

 

Factual and straightforward storytelling, using uplifting language like, “As Joanne walked through the university, the halls were filled with jarring comments and bumpy silences. She flew her last flight and sold her boat – because Joanne was stubborn” remind readers to persevere in the face of challenges. Back matter includes a timeline of Joanne Simpson’s life and notes on her weather work. Another must-add to your biography sections and your Women’s History and STEM/STEAM collections.

Joanne Simpson has an entry on NASA’s webpage with a link to a more in-depth article about her career. For more meteorology resources, visit the National Weather Service, Easy Science for Kids, and PBS Kids.

 

Sandra Nickel says that story ideas are everywhere; you just have to reach out and grab them.  She holds an MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her first book, Nacho’s Nachos: The Story Behind the World’s Favorite Snack, was awarded a Christopher Award and was a Golden Kite Award finalist. Sandra lives in Chexbres, Switzerland, where she blogs about children’s book writers and illustrators at whatwason.com. To learn more, visit https://sandranickel.com/.

Twitter:  @senickel

Facebook: @sandranickelbooks

Instagram: @sandranickelbooks

Check out the trailer and other cool resources here!

Posted in Intermediate, Non-Fiction, picture books

The Faith of Elijah Cummings pays tribute to a giant

The Faith of Eljah Cummings: The North Star of Equal Justice, by Carole Boston Weatherford/Illustrated by Laura Freeman, (Jan. 2022, Random House Studio), $17.99, ISBN: 9780593306505

Ages 6-10

Congressman and civil rights advocate Elijah Cummings left an extraordinary legacy when he passed in 2019. Carole Boston Weatherford, whose numerous awards include a Newbery Medal and two NAACP Image Awards, along with NAACP Image Award winning illustrator Laura Freeman, to create a picture book biography that makes this giant of a man accessible to all ages. Beginning with the Congressman’s impoverished childhood and moving through his civil rights journey, focus on inner-city youth, and government work, we also see how Elijah Cummings’s faith and family was his anchor. Photorealistic illustrations are bold and eye-catching, and quotes from Elijah Cummings inspire readers as Carole Boston Weatherford’s narration concentrates on his humanity, choosing moments in his life like being tutored by librarians when his teachers said he would never be able to read or write well; his mother’s preaching, which inspired him to care for others in need, and the civil rights lawyer from his youth that inspired him to defend kids who needed defending. As a “Washington power broker”, he continued living in his Baltimore inner-city neighborhood and hung a campaign sign in his window so others could find him. Back matter includes an excerpt from the statement from the Congressional Black Caucus made upon the Congressman’s passing; a timeline of Elijah Cummings’s life; a bibliography, and the quote sources. Endpapers show Elijah Cummings, in profile, set against the American flag.

An incredible book for an incredible figure, and a must-add to your picture book biographies. The Faith of Elijah Cummings: The North Star of Equal Justice has starred reviews from Kirkus, School Library Journal, and Publishers Weekly.

Carole Boston Weatherford’s author webpage is a treasure trove of information, with resources and links to media related to her books. See more of Laura Freeman’s illustration work at her website. Find a biography, bibliography, and committee assignments for Elijah Cummings at the House of Representative’s website; visit Congress’s website to learn more about the legislation sponsored or co-sponsored by him, along with his remarks in the Congressional Record.

Posted in picture books

The Girl Who Could Fix Anything – Great STEM Bio!

The Girl Who Could Fix Anything: Beatrice Shilling, World War II Engineer, by Mara Rockliff/Illustrated by Daniel Duncan, (Sept. 2021, Candlewick Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781536212525

Ages 5-9

Beatrice Shilling, a British World War II engineer, gets her time in the spotlight in this picture book biography. As a child, she “wasn’t quite like other children”, preferring tools and tinkering to usual childhood pursuits. After working for another female engineer as an apprentice, she went to school for engineering and eventually landed a position at the Royal Aircraft Establishment… to write handbooks about plane engines, not to work on them. Eventually, she did get to work on engines, and when World War II broke out, Beatrice was put in charge of a team that traveled to airfields and demonstrated winterizing planes to fighter pilots. She went on, with her team, to figure out an engine problem that fighter planes encountered during a dive, saving countless lives. Another great story about a female figure in STEM, The Girl Who Could Fix Anything tells Beatrice Shilling’s story; Daniel Duncan adds humorous reactions to Beatrice’s being “othered” as a woman in a traditionally “man’s field” and brings thrilling air fight moments to life to add some excitement. Beatrice is drawn as a determined, thoughtful woman, while men around her don’t always quite seem to know what to make of her. Endpapers show a variety of airplane parts, blueprint style. An author’s note and additional resources make up the back matter.

 

Posted in picture books

The Clothesline Code: A true Civil War spy story!

The Clothesline Code: The Story of Civil War Spies Lucy Ann and Dabney Walker, by Janet Halfmann/lllustrated by Trisha Mason, (Feb. 2021, Brandylane Publishers), $12.95, ISBN: 978-1-951565-58-9

Ages 7-10

Author Janet Halfmann gives us another story about two historic figures that haven’t gotten their full due. The Clothesline Code is about escaped slaves-turned-Union spies, Lucy Ann Walker and her husband, Dabney Walker. At age 52, Dabney was spying for the Union and learned the army’s flag codes, used to communicate across the battlefield. His wife was a laundress in the Union camp, but Dabney approached her with a different idea: how could they adapt the flag codes to help them spy on the Confederate army? The two devised a method using laundry on a clothesline, and Lucy went across lines to blend in with the other washerwomen at a nearby Confederate camp. She went on to create different laundry codes for each Confederate unit, and help keep General Hooker and his troops informed of the enemy’s plans.

Janet Halfmann has a gift for finding little-discussed people in history, primarily enslaved or escaped slaves who contributed to the fight for freedom and education of other Black families. She invests the reader with her storytelling, full of suspense and nail-biting moments: there is a lot on the line here, and Ms. Halfmann makes sure readers understand that. An author’s note at the end includes what little information exists on the Walker family after the War, and some selected references for more research.

Trisha Mason’s colorful artwork throughout brings the Walker family to life for readers. The photorealistic artwork is expressive, with warm closeness between Lucy Ann and Dabney Walker and emotional moments when they are apart.

Solid additions to your picture book biographies and Black History collections. Don’t miss.

Janet Halfmann’s Clothesline Code page on her author website includes links to discussion questions and interviews.

Posted in Non-Fiction, picture books

Simone Biles’ lyrical picture book biography: Flying High

Flying High: The Story of Gymnastics Champion Simone Biles, by Michelle Meadows/Illustrated by Ebony Glenn, (Dec. 2020, Henry Holt & Co), $18.99, ISBN: 9781250205667

Ages 4-7

A lot of ink has been spilled and a lot of newstime has been spent on Simone Biles, whose withdrawal from several Olympic events this summer has reopened important conversations about mental health. Simone Biles has started a worldwide conversation on performance pressure and anxiety, and, more importantly, the ability to speak up and own that anxiety.

Michelle Meadows and Ebony Glenn’s late 2020 picture book biography, Flying High: The Story of Gymnastics Champion Simone Biles, touches on some of those moments within the greater story of the champion’s life so far. Told in rhyming verse, the story begins with Ms. Biles and her siblings being adopted by family members, and the moment a rainy day decided her future as a gymnast. It details the rise to her fame, but it also looks at moments like a disappointing defeat when she tried out for the national team: “Crushed by defeat, / she loses her spark. / What will it take / to rise from the dark?” The story doesn’t shy away from her sacrifices, like choosing homeschool over conventional, in-person learning, to make more time for gymnastics, and it returns, time and again, to her incredible drive to succeed. Written before Simone Biles’s Olympics withdrawal, Michelle Meadows had the understanding and the foresight to see and include moments like this in Biles’s story. Ebony Glenn’s digital artwork gives us expressive, photorealistic illustrations of Simone Biles, her family, and her teammates. She beautifully recreates the gymnast’s incredible skill, with Biles twisting, flipping, and landing with grace and style. Her facial expressions communicate volumes, whether it’s her focus, disappointment, worry, or sheer joy. Back matter elaborates on Simone Biles’s early childhood, includes fast facts about the gymnast, and sources for more reading.

Flying High: The Story of Gymnastics Champion Simone Biles has starred reviews from School Library Journal and Shelf Awareness. Visit Simone Biles’s webpage for more information about the champion, and links to her social media. Her page on the US Gymnastics website lists career highlights, and her page on the Team USA website offers more about her Olympics experience.

Posted in Non-Fiction, picture books

Niki Nakayama’s blends cultures in her chef story

Niki Nakayama: A Chef’s Tale in 13 Bites, by Jamie Michalak & Debbi Michiko Florence/Illustrated by Yuko Jones, (Sept. 2021, Farrar, Straus & Giroux), $18.99, ISBN: 9780374313876

Ages 4-8

Niki Nakayama, the master chef behind the California restaurant n/Naka, shares her story in this lovely picture book biography from children’s book authors Jamie Michalak, Debbi Michiko Florence, and illustrator Yuko Jones. Beginning with Ms. Nakayama’s childhood in California, the story gives us 13 “bites”: 13 defining moments in the chef’s life, to parallel her 13 course menus at n/naka. The Japanese-American chef developed a love of global cuisine as a child; her mother blended Japanese and American foods and flavors together to make meals like meatloaf with soy sauce, or teriyaki turkey for Thanksgiving dinner. Ms. Nakayama began creating her own recipes as a child, eventually traveling the world to sample cuisines from different cultures. When she returned to the United States, she apprenticed as a sushi chef, ultimately opening her own restaurant, n/naka, where she now creates 13-course tasting “storytelling” menus. Back matter includes a timeline of Niki Nakayama’s life, an explanation of terms used in the story, and the chef’s own childhood wonton pizza recipe. The story flows from moment to moment in the chef’s life, touching on frustrations like having her family dote on her brother, and having her family agree to finance her first restaurant, but agree to give up her dream if it was not successful. Spreads show Nakayama and her family gathering at their own table, and families gathering to eat at n/naka, illustrating the power of community that eating together brings. Spreads show colorful foods from all over the world sprawl across pages, and diners speaking different languages as they enjoy a creative master chef’s food.

You can visit n/naka’s website and see Chef Nakayama’s profile; you can see a promo for her Chef’s Table episode on Netflix below.

 

 

Posted in picture books

Women to Know: Sarah Gerhardt, Surfer

Sarah and the Big Wave, by Bonnie Tsui/Illustrated by Sophie Diao, (May 2021, Henry Holt & Co), $18.99, ISBN: 9781250239488

Ages 4-8

Sarah Gerhardt, one of the first female big-wave surfers and the first female to surf Mavericks, an infamous big-wave surf break in California, has her moment in this picture book biography. Sarah’s story begins in Hawaii, where she began surfing small waves as a young girl, working her way up to larger waves and finessing her technique. The story touches on the sexism she encountered, and the joy of finding a group of friends to surf with. Working her way from Hawaii to California, Sarah is ready for the next challenge: The Mavericks, also called “Mount Everest meets Niagara Falls”. An inspiring story for young women about meeting challenges, readers will enjoy meeting Sarah Gerhardt. Talk about mindful practices she uses, like breathing and counting, to help readers understand the need to put oneself in a calm frame of mind when up against hurdles in life. Back matter includes a timeline in the history of women and surfing, going back to the 17th century and famed Hawaiian princess Kaneamuna! Illustrations are simply beautiful, with deep blues and greens inviting readers to embrace the ocean, and action shots of Sarah Gerhardt are dynamic.

There are some good resources on Sarah Gerhardt for more discussion. Keep some of these articles handy for anyone interested in learning more: “Sarah Gerhardt on Big-Wave Surfing in a Man’s World” (Outside magazine, 2018);  “Women in the Wild: Sarah Gerhardt” (The Outdoor Project, 2019); “Titans of Mavericks: Sarah Gerhardt” (Titans of Mavericks), and “Sarah Gerhardt: Girl Meets Mavericks (Visit California, 2021).

Posted in Intermediate, Non-Fiction, picture books

Codebreaker Elizebeth Friedman gets a book and a giveaway for Women’s History Month!

Code Breaker, Spy Hunter: How Elizebeth Friedman Changed the Course of Two World Wars, by Laurie Wallmark/Illustrated by Brooke Smart, (March 2021, Abrams), $18.99, ISBN: 9781419739637

Ages 7-9

This picture book biography on code breaker Elizebeth Friedman is a great way to kick off Women’s History Month!  Beginning with her early years as a Shakespeare-loving student and working for an eccentric millionaire, she meets fellow code aficionado and scientist, William Friedman. The two marry, and their expertise in codes and ciphers led to their groundbreaking work in cryptology during World War I. Friedman traveled two worlds, raising her family away from the city and answering the government’s call for help, whether it was to break smuggler’s codes during Prohibition or ferreting out Nazi spies and Japanese spies during World War II. The FBI took credit for the work she and her team did, and she was sworn to secrecy. Her secrets were declassified 35 years after her death in 2015. Laurie Wallmark, a STEM/STEAM biographer for women in STEM, has written several books I’ve brought to my Girls Who Code sessions, including Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code (2017) and Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine (2015). She has a great way of factual storytelling that show each of her heroines breaking barriers while juggling the weight of societal expectations. Ms. Wallmark does Elizebeth Friedman a great justice and brings her story to a new generation of girls.

Brooke Smart’s watercolor and gouache paintings sprinkle Friedman quotes throughout and have humorous moments, including a page where a line of coded language wraps itself around an angry group of Nazis as Friedman gazes off sagely on the companion page; one spread has Friedman leading a team of young men through ticker tapes, curling all over the page, likely pointing out how to break codes. She combines the realistic with the imaginative, encouraging readers to let their minds go where coding takes them. Back matter includes an explanation on codes and ciphers, cryptography, and a crack the code exercise, along with a bibliography and timeline of Friedman’s life. An excellent biography on a ’til-now virtually unknown figure in history.

Check out the Code Breaker, Spy Hunter book page on author Laurie Wallmark’s webpage where you’ll find a trailer, cool activity sheets, and more!

 

Award-winning author Laurie Wallmark has written picture-book biographies of women in STEM fields ranging from computer science to mathematics, astronomy to code breaking. Her books have earned multiple starred reviews, been chosen as Junior Library Guild Selections, and received awards such as Outstanding Science Trade Book, Cook Prize Honor, and Parents’; Choice Gold Medal. She is a former software engineer and computer science professor. She lives in Ringoes, New Jersey. You can find her at lauriewallmark.com.

On Twitter: @lauriewallmark

Facebook: @lauriewallmarkauthor

Instagram: @lauriewallmark

 

Brooke Smart loves telling stories through her illustrations, especially stories about brave women from history. She has always loved to read, and growing up she could be found nightly falling asleep with a book on her chest. Illustrating books as a professional artist is a lifelong dream come true. She is living the busy, tired, happy, wonderful dream in Salt Lake City, Utah, with her husband, their three kids, and their naughty cat named Sunshine. Learn more about her at brooke-smart.com.

Instagram: @bookesmartillustration

 

 

One lucky winner will receive a copy of Code Breaker, Spy Hunter courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers (U.S. addresses). Enter this Rafflecopter giveaway!