Posted in Middle Grade, Non-fiction, Tween Reads

Pauli Murray: An activist’s life in verse

Pauli Murray: The Life of a Pioneering Feminist & Civil Rights Activist, by Rosita Stevens-Holsey & Terry Catasús Jennings, (Feb. 2022, little bee books), $18.99, ISBN: 9781499812510

Ages 8-12

Haven’t heard of Pauli Murray before? Remedy that and pick up this biography in verse, written by one of the civil rights activist’s nieces and Terry Catasús Jennings, author of the Definitely Dominguita chapter book series. Born in 1910, Pauli Murray chafed under the Jim Crow South and what she called “Jane Crow”: further prejudice against women. She would become a friend to Eleanor Roosevelt and a voice for the oppressed; she created arguments that would eventually form the Brown vs. Board of Education Topeka backbone (with no credit) and the 1964 decision that won workplace equality for women (credited, thanks to Ruth Bader Ginsburg).

Pauli Murray is told in verse, giving poetic gravitas to her life from her early childhood; the early death of her mother and separation of the siblings, which saw Pauli Murray  move to Baltimore to live with her aunt, who eventually adopted her; her life in the Jim Crow South, which awakened the activist in her, and her work to dismantle the white male patriarchy that sought to “other” her and hold her, and other women and people of color, down. Queer and Black, she was a force for positive change. She went to jail for refusing to sit in a broken seat in the back of a bus long before Rosa Parks, and, like Martin Luther King Jr., was inspired by Ghandhi’s promotion of protest through nonviolence.

Back matter includes author’s notes, a timeline of Murray’s life, endnotes, and a bibliography. An eloquent, powerful biography for upper middle graders and middle schoolers.

Read more about Pauli Murray at the Pauli Murray Center for History and Social Justice’s website and the National Women’s History Museum. VideoNotes and More has a free mini doc on Pauli Murray at TeachersPayTeachers.

Posted in Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Graphic Novel Bonanza: Swim Team

Swim Team, by Johnnie Christmas, (May 2022, HarperAlley), $12.99, ISBN: 9780063056763

Ages 8-12

Bree is starting her new middle school and can’t wait to select her electives. She’s got her eye on Math Club, but it’s closed out. In fact, everything is closed out of her time slot, except for Swim 101. Bree, afraid to swim, reluctantly takes the class, but tries to dodge it until she realizes that it will affect her grade point average. A mishap at her apartment complex leads her to Etta, an older woman who lives in the building, who also happens to be a former swim team captain from Bree’s school. As Etta trains Bree, she becomes a confident swimmer who gives the school team a chance at victory over rival Holyoke Prep. A strong subplot about Etta’s time in middle school delves into the history of segregation and public pools, and busts the “Black people don’t swim” myth wide open. Solidly constructed storytelling keeps readers invested and engaged; they’ll be white-knuckling the book and cheering Bree’s team, the Manatees, at every meet. A strong theme of social justice and change provides historical background and back matter includes resources for more reading. Talk this up with realistic fiction graphic novels like Jerry Craft’s New Kid and Class Act; Alyssa Bermudez’s Big Apple Diaries, and Gillian Goerz’s Shirley and Jamila Save Their Summer. Put this book on your shelves!

Swim Team has starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, Kirkus, and BookPage; it’s also been selected for the Kids’ Indie Next List.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Blog Tour: Pruett and Soo!

A robot and alien make friendship and life colorful in this adorable story by Nancy Viau.

Pruett & Soo, by Nancy Viau/Illustrated by Jorge Lacera,
(March 2022, Two Lions), $17.99, ISBN: 9781542043427
Ages 4-7

Pruett is an adorable little robot with a computer monitor for a head, living on Planet Monochrome, where everything is… well, monochrome. Signs all over the place remind citizens to “Blend In. Wear Only Black, Gray, or White. Be Calm”, and encourage them to never ask questions, never play, and never use colorful crayons. That all changes when Soo, a colorful alien from Planet Prismatic, shows up in class one day! She’s a friendly extrovert who wants to share crayons and talk to her new classmates, and is stymied by the distanced reaction she gets. Pruett, who desperately wants to break out of his black, white, and grey world, sees Soo being rebuffed and becoming progressively sadder and lonelier, takes the chance: a colorful exclamation point lights up above his head, and he invites Soo to play tag. The two friends have so much fun together, that they spread a little of their joy – and their color – through the classroom. A colorful, playful story about taking the first step and affecting positive change, Pruett and Soo combines picture book narration with comic book word balloons to denote conversations between characters. The story begins in monochromatic black, white, and gray, and uses color to show the infectious fun Soo and Pruett bring to Planet Monochrome; a change reflected in the characters’ mannerisms and fonts, which become as colorful as Soo’s with time. The digital illustrations will delight young video gamers familiar with 8-bit games like Minecraft and Roblox.

Bottom line: Don’t let anyone dull your color. Change the world by adding some color! Pair this with F. Isabel Campoy, Theresa Howell, and Rafael López’s book, Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood, to illustrate how bringing color to a landscape brings positive change.

“The unlikely friendship at the heart of this allegorical picture book is touching. Viau’s writing is engaging.” Kirkus Reviews

“Highlighting the value of asserting one’s individuality in the face of pressures to conform, this vivid episode can stand alone or fit neatly into a storytime. – Booklist

Nancy Viau is the author of a number of books for children including Storm Song, illustrated by Gynux; Today Is a Beach Day!, illustrated by Charlie Alder; First Snow, illustrated by Talitha Shipman; and the Samantha Hansen series. A former teacher, she currently lives in New Jersey and travels around the solar system in her imagination. Learn more at nancyviau.com.

Twitter: @NancyViau1

Instagram: @nancyviau1

Facebook: Nancy Viau

 

Jorge Lacera was born in Colombia and grew up in Florida. He attended Ringling College of Art and Design and has worked as an artist or art director at major gaming studios and entertainment companies. He is the illustrator of Zombies Don’t Eat Veggies by Megan Lacera and XO, Exoplanet by Deborah Underwood. He lives in Canada with his family. Learn more at studiolacera.com.

Twitter: jlacera

Instagram: jlacera

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

Celebrate Poetry Month with Imagine!

Imagine! Rhymes of Hope to Shout Together, by Bruno Tognolini/Illustrated by Giulia Orecchia, Translated by Denise Muir, (March 2022, Red Comet Press), $18.99, ISBN: 9781636550145

Ages 5-8

One of Italy’s most beloved children’s poets, Bruno Tognolini, brings a collection of “rhymes of hope to shout together” to U.S. shores. Originally published in Italy in 2021, Imagine! can be read as a series of short poems or as one continuous story. The rhythmic verse covers a wide range of imagination and wish, from wishing that one could share a meal with fictional characters to heartbreaking thoughts about war and the hope for peace and compassion, to the desire to draw a parent out of a depression caused by unemployment. The collage artwork instantly evokes Eric Carle’s colorful illustration play, and each brief poems ends in a colorful cry, “Imagine!”, which you can encourage your readers to join in and invoke with each reading. It’s poetry with a desire for social change and a cry for understanding and empathy.

You can stream the song and the instrumental for Imagine! on Red Comet Press’s SoundCloud site. Red Comet’s website also offers a downloadable educator’s and discussion guide to use when working with kids and reading the book.

Posted in Middle School, Non-Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

Threads of Peace and how two nonviolent activists changed the world

Threads of Peace: How Mohandas Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Changed the World, by Uma Krishnaswami, (Aug. 2021, Atheneum/Caitylyn Dlouhy Books), $19.99, ISBN: 9781481416788

Ages 9-14

Two activists who chose peace and nonviolence; two activists whose lives were cut short by violence. As we forge ahead in this time of social unrest and protest, Threads of Peace: How Mohandas Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Changed the World emerges as a book for tweens and young teens to turn to as they try to make sense of what they see on the news. Award-winning author Uma Krishnaswami profiles Gandhi and Dr. King, their paths to resistance and social justice, and their continuing influence on the world stage and nonviolence movements. Uma Krishnaswami writes about the threads that join Gandhi and Dr. King – and through them, all of us – together in a desire for social justice and freedom for all, even as their experiences – like ours – may travel different paths. Ms. Krishnaswami’s writing infuses her factual writing with emotion and empathy, investing readers in her subjects and in their mission. Black and white and color photos and colorful callout quotes and fact boxes throughout reach all interest levels. Back matter includes an author’s note, timeline of events in both Gandhi’s and Dr. King’s lives, and a glossary of terms. A bibliography, sources, and index make this an excellent research resource.

Threads of Peace: How Mohandas Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Changed the World has starred reviews from Kirkus and Booklist. Display and booktalk to your middle school/early high schoolers along with Todd Hasak-Lowy’s We Are Power: How Nonviolent Activism Changes the World and Protest! : How People Have Come Together to Change the World by Emily Haworth-Booth and Alice Haworth-Booth. Unleashing Readers has some suggested questions for discussion.

Posted in Uncategorized

For activists in training: Protest! How People Have Come Together to Change the World

Protest! : How People Have Come Together to Change the World, by Emily Haworth-Booth & Alice Haworth-Booth, (Nov. 2021, Pavilion), $22.50, ISBN: 9781843655121

Ages 9+

A primer for burgeoning middle-grade activists, Protest! offers a glimpse into the history of protest activism, from the ancient world, through the suffrage and Civil Rights movements, through to today’s global social change revolutions, like the Black Lives Matter and the Toys Protest movements. Twelve chapters detail 38 uprisings, but the focus is on how people come together to stand up against injustice. Each chapter includes Tactics sections that provide more insight into approaches protestors have used, including gardening (like Wangari Maathai’s Green Belt Movement in Kenya); sports (the Black Power salute at the 1968 Olympics); and transportation (the Civil Rights Freedom Riders). Comic book illustrations have big kid appeal and put both a humorous and readable spin on the nonfiction text. Artwork is done in shades of gray and red-orange, popping off the page, demanding to be seen. A final section discusses young people fighting for environmental justice – some as young as nine years old – that will empower kids to take action on their own. Protest! offers ways for kids to recognize and grow into their own power as activists for causes they’re passionate about.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Blog Tour: You Are Revolutionary

Every child has the power to change the world! You Are Revolutionary is all about encouraging kids to use that power.

You Are Revolutionary, by Cindy Wang Brandt/Illustrated by Lynnor Bontigao,
(Oct. 2021, Beaming Books), $17.99, ISBN: 9781506478302
Ages 4-7

Podcaster and author Cindy Wang Brandt wants every child to know they are revolutionary: their very existence has changed the world in some way! This rhyming story lays out all the ways children can have a voice in the world, and it’s stuff kids are already really good at: speaking up, being a good listener, being a dreamer, and making art are just some of the ways kids can take a stand. Vibrant, colorful artwork with a diverse cast of children and adults assures that kids will see themselves in this empowering book.

In a Q&A with author Cindy Wang Brandt, she talks about causes important to her: “I served on the board of One Day’s Wages, a grassroots organization that fights global poverty. Economic inequity across the world is the root of many social problems so ODW is a good fit to address a wide range of issues by niching down on global poverty. But I care about inequality of any kind, when people of power wield that power unjustly over marginalized people, it fuels my anger and stirs me to action.”

When asked about who should read You Are Revolutionary, Ms. Brandt writes, “I work with parents and I want parents to know that their responsibility isn’t just to raise happy and healthy children, but that we have an awesome responsibility to raise conscious citizens that together create a better world for all. The best way to love our kids is to create a world that is kind to all kids. Parenting is a revolution in itself, an act of changing the world. I hope parents who feel this responsibility deeply will pick up my book and read it for their inner child as well as their own kids.”

Learn more about You Are Revolutionary at Beaming Books’ website and visit Cindy Wang Brandt’s author page here, where you can also tune into her Parenting Forward podcast. Download free activity sheets here: Speech Bubble; You Are Revolutionary Maze; and Make Your Revolutionary Sign.

 

Visit all the stops on the You Are Revolutionary Virtual Book Tour!

Find You Are Revolutionary on GOODREADS!

Follow on Instagram:

Author: @cindybrandt

Illustrator: @lbontigao

Publisher: @beamingbooksmn

Literary Publicity Team: @prbythebook

 

Follow on Facebook:

Author: https://www.facebook.com/cindywangbrandt

Illustrator: https://www.facebook.com/lynnorbontigaoillustrator

Publisher: https://www.facebook.com/BeamingBooksPublishing

Posted in picture books

Louder, for the people in the back: When We Say Black Lives Matter

When We Say Black Lives Matter, by Maxine Beneba Clarke, (Sept. 2021, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536222388

Ages 5-9

There’s been a lot of histrionics over the Black Lives Matter movement and meaning. Some folx will counter with the dreaded “all lives matter” response, and some will panic and try to accuse BLM of being terrorists. Certain school districts have gone so far as to attempting banning books that show positive portrayals of people of color. Award-winning writer and slam poet champion Maxine Beneba Clarke takes up the charge with her picture book in verse, When We Say Black Lives Matter; it’s a quiet, inspirational, powerful talk between caregiver and child, explaining the need for understanding and recognition. Loving words, like “little one”, “little love”, and “darling” lead into the many ways we can share the message: calling out Black Lives Matter; singing, screaming, sobbing, even laughing the words, and what they communicate: “When we whisper / Black Lives Matter, / we’re remembering the past. / All the terrible things / that were said and done, / we’re saying they trouble our hearts”. Each verse examines the Black Lives Matter message and what it means, throughout history, to this moment. Watercolor pencil and collage artwork inspires introspection and joy; colorful endpapers show demonstrators holding signs calling for “Love” and “Black Lives Matter”. The book celebrates Black Lives and encourages you to celebrate them, too. An essential book for all library shelves, whether they’re in your library, your classroom, or your home.

When We Say Black Lives Matter has starred reviews from Kirkus and School Library Journal.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Magic for All! The Gilded Girl fights for magical equality

The Gilded Girl, by Alyssa Colman, (Apr. 2021, Farrar Straus Giroux), $16.99, ISBN: 9780374313937

Ages 8-12

This middle grade book about magic feels like it’s set in JK Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them-era New York, and has such a strong social class storyline that makes it so relevant today. Magic exists in the world, but it’s been co-opted by the wealthy. When magical winds blow, you either “kindle” – take on the magic that manifests itself with the winds, or “snuff” – have your magic snuffed out, leaving you with no gifts. The wealthy have warped the entire idea that magic must run free, and the process has become more and more precarious as magic is limited, cornered, controlled. Izzy is a 12-year-old girl working as a maid in a prestigious school for magic run by the awful social climber Miss Posterity. She has plans to kindle on her own and leave Miss Posterity, to seek her younger sister who was taken from her when her parents died. Emma is a 12-year-old girl with a wealthy father who enrolls as a student with Miss Posterity. The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake upends Emma’s life, but bonds her with Izzy as the two plan to free themselves from Miss Posterity’s crushing yoke. With the help of a house dragon (in the form of a cat) and some friends on the inside and outside of Miss Posterity’s, the two may just start a revolution. The story is a journey for both Emma and Izzy; Emma begins as a child of privilege who learns big lessons when the tables turn. Izzy learns how to let her guard down and rely on people other than herself. It’s a study in friendship, in social class, and social change; having the recent immigrants living in New York City tenements in an area called “The Tarnish” is like reading a fantasy version of Jacob Riis’s How the Other Half Lives. The house dragon, in the form of a cat, is a wonderful addition to the story and injects some levity and cuteness into the storyline. (My own house dragon, Tiger, was not amused at being found out.)

Great fantasy for middle graders; if you’re a New York history fan like I am, you can talk for days about the implications of magic being kept out of the literal hands of immigrants and the poor and how the wealthy warped the natural flow of magic by making it unattainable except to the privileged. Must-read! Enjoy a discussion guide (spoilers in some of the questions, look at your own risk) courtesy of the publisher.

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Historical Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Graphic novels: real-life stories

More graphic novels to talk about, this time, real-life stories. Some are realistic fiction, some are inspired by moments in the author’s life. All are great reading!

My Own World, by Mike Holmes, (June 2021, First Second), $12.99, ISBN: 9781250208286
Ages 8-13
Inspired by events in his childhood, Wings of Fire and Secret Coders illustrator Mike Holmes delivers a graphic memoir with a splash of fantasy. Nathan is alone, but for his older brother, Ben. His other siblings and the neighborhood bullies torment him, but he always looks to Ben to spend time with; Ben is the one person who gets him. Unfortunately, there are things coming up that take Ben farther and farther away from Nathan, leaving him to create a fantasy world to escape to when the real world intrudes too much. A study in grief, loss, and healing, My Own World is a better reading choice for middle schoolers than younger readers; there’s trauma contained within these pages. It’s an excellent starting point for discussions on the lingering damage done by bullying, loneliness, and coping with loss. The real world is depicted in flat colors, but Nathan’s fantasy world is alive with color, vibrancy, and engaging characters that Nathan creates to spend time with.
My Own World has a starred review from Booklist.
Jukebox, by Nidhi Chanani, (June 2021, First Second), $14.99, ISBN: 9781250156372
Ages 10 to 14
Nidhi Chanani is amazing in her ability to create magical travels using everyday objects. She infused a shawl with the power to fantastical India in her 2017 award-winner, Pashmina; now, she weaves a story about a jukebox that can transport listeners to a moment in time, inspired by the albums they play, in Jukebox. Shaheen is a girl who feels like she and her mom come in second to her father’s love of – obsession with? – music, particularly with albums. He never seems to be present to hear her when she’s talking; he just wants to talk about the newest album he’s on the hunt for, and he spends hours searching record bins for new additions to his collection. When he doesn’t return home one night, Shaheen and her cousin, Tannaz, start a search, only to discover a glowing jukebox at the local record store where Dad spent so much of his time. A Bessie Smith record spins on the turntable, and the girls find themselves transported to Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom in 1929! The song ends, returning them to their present time and place, and the chase through musical history is on. The girls spin different records, visiting key moments in time. from political marches to landmark concerts, while searching for Shaheen’s father. Will they be able to find him before morning? Jukebox is an incredible journey through our history using music as the vehicle. Sections are organized by album cover, with Shaheen’s father’s notes on the albums and social climate, giving readers more context as they prepare to jump into a new decade: Bessie Smith’s section includes notes on the album’s 1929 release, the oncoming Depression, and a 1929 Oscar awards program; Nina Simone’s Black Gold includes a Golden State Comic Con program and a newspaper with an Earth Day headline, all of which happened in 1970. Notes from Shaheen’s father mention her career and marriage eroding in the 1960s, and the music industry’s punishment for her political music.
Brilliant storytelling and an essential look at the ties between music and social change. Visit Nidhi Chanani’s website for printables and more about her books, and get multiple copies of this book ready – your readers deserve them! If you’re doing a travel themed Summer Reading program this year, you couldn’t ask for a better concept: pick songs, get some facts, and create slideshows; invite readers to offer their own insight. What song was popular the year they graduated from kindergarten? What song makes them think of family? A favorite friend? Invite readers to talk about music from their culture that others may not know. There’s so much you can do here!
Turtle in Paradise, by Jennifer L. Holm/Illustrated by Savanna Ganucheau, (June 2021, Random House Graphic), $12.99, ISBN: 9780593126301
Ages 8-12
This graphic novel adaptation of Jennifer Holm’s 2010 Newbery Honor-winning novel is simply gorgeous. Set in 1935, eleven-year-old Turtle is a girl who’s had some tough times. She’s more level-headed than her mother, loves the movies, and really doesn’t like Shirley Temple. While figuring out where life will take her next, her mother sends Turtle to Key West, Florida, to live with her aunt when she takes a job housekeeping for a woman who doesn’t like children, and Turtle has never met her aunt or the many cousins she’s now living with. She starts getting into the swing of things, following the “Diaper Gang”: neighborhood boys with a babysitting club and a secret diaper rash formula that puts them in high demand. As she gets into a day-to-day groove, she learns some family secrets that leave her wanting more: more of her mother’s past, more of her family history, just… more. A family study, a piece of historical fiction that examines life in Depression-Era Florida, and a strong, smart female protagonist make this a great enough story, and then you Savanna Ganucheau’s artwork: filled with lush and humid outdoor spreads, we get a picture of 1930s life in Key West. Turtle’s cousins run barefoot through their day, while Turtle insists on her shoes. Babysitting moments are laugh-out loud funny, and Turtle interactions with a cantankerous senior citizen will make readers chuckle and admire the girl’s tenacity. Inspired by Jennifer Holm’s great-grandmother’s life in Key West, this is an adaptation that your readers will love and will absolutely gain the story some new fans.
Chunky, by Yehudi Mercado, (June 2021, Katherine Tegen Books), $12.99, ISBN: 9780062972781
Ages 8-12
A memoir of Yehudi Mercado’s Mexican-Jewish upbringing, Chunky is more incredible storytelling. Set in the 1980s, Hudi has one lung after a childhood battle with lung disease, he’s overweight, and he loves video games, science fiction and fantasy, and being the funny kid. His parents want him to lose weight and be healthier, and try to push him toward different sports to get him more active. Hudi, not particularly in love with the idea, goes along with his parents to make them happy, but creates an imaginary friend: a pink-furred   cheerleader/mascot called Chunky, to cheer him on as he tries – and flops – at baseball, swimming, and tennis. Chunky is there to tell Yehudi he’s better at comedy and drawing; he’s Hudi’s inner compass, telling him to stay true to himself. When Hudi’s father loses his job and has to move to another state to find work, he finds himself faced with a crossroads and joins the football team in a last bid to fit the image his parents want to have of him. Chunky is more than a memoir; it’s a story of trying to please others before yourself; it’s a story of using humor as deflection; it’s a story of listening to your true self. Hudi is funny – he can’t help but crack up people he comes into contact with, especially medical professionals – and he’s pretty game to try anything his parents want, even if his heart may not be 100% committed. He’s good-natured and kind, which makes his break with Chunky painful when he attempts one more sport to satisfy his parents. We want funny Hudi back! We want to go get ice cream with him and feel like everything will work out! The artwork is bright, colorful, upbeat, and loaded with great details, like Hudi’s t-shirts (console video games! Chewbacca!) and his room, which his father constantly redecorates to affirm his dedication to the latest sport Hudi’s involved with – and that Chunky and Hudi take great pleasure in defacing time and time again. I can gush about Chunky all day, so let me just say that this is another must-add to your shelves.
Learn more about Yehudi Mercado and get a look at Chunky at his website. Chunky has a starred review from School Library Journal.