Posted in picture books

Sarah Rising is a child’s-eye view of protest and social activism

Sarah Rising, by Ty Chapman/Illustrated by Deann Wiley, (May 2022, Beaming Books), $18.99, ISBN: 9781506478357

Ages 5-8

Sarah is a young girl about to start her day as usual: breakfast, then caring for her pet bugs. But her father tells her they’re going to a protest, because police “had killed another Black person”. While at the protest, Sarah tries to save a butterfly when an officer swipes at it, and ends up separated from her father. The crowd protects Sarah, eventually helping reunite her and her father. The butterfly emerges as a symbol of hope, damaged but resilient – the butterfly, like Sarah, like her community, rises. The relationship between Sarah and her father is a positive one: he is a man teaching his daughter to call out injustice where she sees it and to take action. A strong theme of community runs through the book, illustrating the importance of relying on one another for support and protection. Inspired by the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, Sarah Rising is an important book when talking to children about social justice and change.

Back matter includes an author’s note from Ty Chapman on growing up in Minnesota, where George Floyd was murdered, and the problematic history between police and the Black community. There are also tips for children and families on creating change, and a discussion guide for parents and educators.

Posted in Librarianing

Pride Displays and the Children’s Room

By now, many of you may know that earlier this week, a library in Smithtown, New York pulled a Pride Display in the children’s room. For a library to be the point of removing a children’s book display – a violation of the American Library Association’s policy on intellectual freedom – is a travesty. The Board of Trustees was also out of line when involving themselves in displays and collections. The library board should be concerned with financial budget and policy; let us trained professionals do our work when it comes to collections.

Last night, the Smithtown Board of Trustees held an emergency public meeting to discuss the backlash. The Zoom meeting room capped out at about 1000 attendees; luckily, a colleague was able to get in and let my colleagues here at Corona listen in via a Facebook call. As expected, there was a lot of “I have LGBTQ friends in my personal life, I have no prejudices against LGBTQ or – to quote one trustee – “a transgender” – people, BUT…” mealymouthed foolishness that we’ve come to expect when these kinds of people are exposed to the light. Marie Gergenti, the trustee who was behind the move to remove the display, said this was not a politically motivated decision but done out of a need to “protect the children” and that the material was “over the top”. Ms. Gergenti is also a parent who has attempted to have the learning tool BrainPop, feeling it was “biased against conservative viewpoints”.

The decision was ultimately overturned, and the Pride displays will be restored to the libraries. One member of the board reversed his decision; one abstained; two firmly stuck to their “I’m not a bigot, but…” defenses. My friends, we have so much work to do.

I’ll say it again: if you do not like books you see at your library, you are free to walk by them. You are free to counsel your young children that you do not like those books. You do NOT have license to tell other parents and other children, not yours, what they can read. Objectionable? Inappropriate for children? These are children’s books written by children’s authors for children. Your children aren’t the only children using the library. What may not apply to you may apply to many, many other children and families using the library. Why would you deny other families the chance to see themselves in books and materials? Why would you believe yours is the only point of view that matters?

A few months ago, a tween approached me and asked for any “LGBTQAI books I can read”. She took such time and care to make sure she communicated this; it clearly meant a lot to her. I told her I would go through some of our collection with her and talk to her about books I was familiar with, and walked through the middle grade collection, booktalking and pointing out authors as I went. She took a few books and went over to a table to look them over, absolutely delighted. Two weeks later, she returned and asked, “Do you have any more books like the ones you showed me?” Did I! We discussed the books that she liked, what else she was interested in reading, and we walked through the fiction section again, finding more to read.
Yesterday, a middle schooler admired the Pride display that our general librarian created, comprised of YA fiction and nonfiction, adult fiction and nonfiction, movies and documentaries, and asked if she could borrow a book on the display. How wonderful is it that our display spoke to a middle schooler and that they felt comfortable enough to talk to us about our collection.

THAT is the importance of Pride Month. THAT is the importance of libraries. THAT is the importance of Pride displays.

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 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 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

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 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 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 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 picture books, Preschool Reads

V is for Voting… important ALL YEAR LONG

V is for Voting, by Kate Farrell/Illustrated by Caitlin Kuhwald, (July 2020, Henry Holt & Co), $18.99, ISBN: 9781250231253

Ages 3-6

You may be looking at this title and thinking I’m really late on this one, and I am. But I also see this as a book we need to talk about NOW, because it isn’t just about voting. This ABC-edary is an introduction (or a reminder, for some… giving the eyeglasses librarian look now) to civics and what it takes to be a good citizen. V is just one letter in the alphabet, just like voting is just one part of being a good citizen. Farrell has points to make that everyone should understand and take to heart: “A is for active participation. / B is for building a more equal nation.”; “E for engagement. We all need to care. / F for a free press to find facts and share”. Digital illustrations bring vibrant, diverse communities to the pages of the book, showing communities uniting to march for justice, contributing to local communities, and yes, voting. Back matter includes a voting rights timeline and more information about people featured in the book’s illustrations, like Shirley Chisholm, Malcolm X, Takemoto Mink, and Cesar Chavez.

Essential reading. Go to your library and get a copy now, because we all need to read and discuss this book, whether it’s with our kids or among ourselves.