Celebrating Books about Black Leaders in the Arts, Science, Music, Sports, Politics & More

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About Today’s Post

Following the recent events that have unfolded this past week, I feel it is important to celebrate Black leaders today, rather than another holiday. The biographies included in this list will educate and inspire readers with the stories of prominent Black leaders within the arts and sciences, as well as music, sports, politics, civil rights, and across society.

With their combination of compelling storytelling and powerful imagery, picture books provide a unique vehicle to invite discussion between adults and children about the inequity and injustices faced by many in this country and around the world. This list reflects books I have reviewed over the years. Please look it over and spend time reading these books with your children. Each title provides a link to the full review.

If you are in the position to buy any of the books on this list or other reviews that you may see, please consider supporting black-owned bookstores and/or your local booksellers. You can also support Black authors and illustrators as well as these books and others by asking your local library to carry them.

After today’s post, this list will appear in my sidebar. I’ll continue to add to it as I review more books.

Every day I am reading, listening, watching, and learning. I know I can never understand, but I stand with you.

Artists and Writers

 

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Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks

Written by Suzanne Slade | Illustrated by Cozbi A. Cobrera

In her outstanding biography, Suzanne Slade highlights the prodigious talent of Gwendolyn Brooks, illuminating the influences, continual study, and inborn voice that informed and created her poetry. Gwendolyn’s self-confidence, unique perspective, and the support she received throughout her youth and career are strong themes that will inspire readers. Slade focuses on the awe Brooks found in her subjects, demonstrating her singular vision and how poetry is found in the everyday aspects of life. Beginning with Gwendolyn’s childhood, Slade links the events of Brooks’ life with beautiful imagery of the clouds she once likened to her exquisite future. Quotes are sprinkled throughout Slade’s lyrical text, allowing children to hear Brooks’ own voice and the dreams and pride had for her work.

Cozbi A. Cabrera’s acrylic paintings are stunning representations of Gwendolyn’s life. Her family life with her well-read and supportive family comes alive with images of their home, where the large glass bookcase has pride of place, portraits hang on the walls, Gwendolyn practices the piano while her mother exclaims over her poetry, and the family gathers for a meager dinner during hard times. For young readers, Cabrera visualizes the parts of Gwendolyn’s life that fed her imagination and work and the copious amounts of poetry that she created—even as a child. Images of Gwendolyn’s early publishing successes give way to the changes brought by the Depression, school, marriage, and motherhood, but a pen, paper, and books are still her constant companions. Scenes from Chicago give children a look at the city that inspired Gwendolyn’s poetry, and intermittent views of the pastel clouds let readers dream along with her.

A stirring biography to inspire the dreams of any child, Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks is a story that children will want to hear again and again. On its own or paired with Gwendolyn Brooks’ poetry, the book also makes an impactful lesson for homeschooling. The book is highly recommended for home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 6 – 9

Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2020 | ISBN 978-1419734113

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Fancy Party Gowns: The Story of Fashion Designer Ann Cole Lowe

Written by Deborah Blumenthal | Illustrated by Laura Freeman

With straightforward storytelling adorned with lyrical passages, Deborah Blumenthal reveals Ann Cole Lowe’s lifelong love of fashion design, her struggles, and her ultimate acclaim. Lowe’s natural talent, single focus, self-confidence, courage, and persistence come through as she overcomes obstacles and prejudice to become the first African American couture designer. Children interested in fashion and history will find much to spark their curiosity and desire to know more about the woman and her times. Blumenthal’s repetition of Lowe’s philosophy to think about what she could do instead of what she couldn’t change will inspire readers to push past difficulties and find solutions.

Laura Freeman’s full-bleed illustrations are as bold and vivacious as Ann Cole Lowe herself. Beginning with the endpapers, which are scattered with drawings of Lowe’s one-of-a-kind gowns, Freeman takes readers on a tour of the workrooms and salons stocked with the fabrics that gave form to Lowe’s creativity. While the backgrounds are typically brilliantly colored and patterned, twice Freeman places Lowe on a completely white page—after her mother has recently died and she is left alone to finish dresses and when she is segregated from the other students in design school. These pages make a moving and effective statement. Children fascinated by fashion will love seeing the beautifully depicted gowns, and may be stirred to create styles of their own.

Ages 4 – 8

little bee books, 2017 | ISBN 978-1499802399

Gordon Parks: How the Photographer Captured Black and White America Picture Book Review

Carole Boston Weatherford’s portrayal of Gordon Parks’ life is as starkly revealing as her subject’s photographs. With her writer’s skills, however, she deftly contrasts the facts of his life and turns his story into a universal metaphor for freedom and the struggle to attain it: “When young Gordon crosses the prairie on horseback, nothing seems beyond reach. But his white teacher tells her all-black class, you’ll all wind up porters and waiters. What did she know?” Weatherford’s pacing also adds to the story’s power. Although Parks attained wide acclaim, this biography ends with one of his earlier photographs—a picture of Ella Watson, a cleaning lady, who inspired Parks and came to symbolize the hopes of her generation and beyond. This is not only Parks’ story, but the story of millions of others.

Jamey Christoph continues and strengthens the metaphorical force of this biography in his illustrations. Readers first see Gordon Parks as a much-loved, smiling infant. He goes to school and grows up, his expression changing, slightly but importantly. He acquires his camera, and the pages are filled with drawn representations of his black-and-white photographs. Alternating dark and light pages further emphasize Parks’ world. The darkroom contrasts with Parks’ new bright office and prospects; the shadowed back alleys of Washington DC contrast with the city’s gleaming white marble monuments. Later photographs are also depicted, and “American Gothic” is represented on two pages. Christoph provides readers with much to see and ponder.

Ages 5 – 8

Albert Whitman & Company, 2015 | ISBN 978-0807530177

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Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph

Written by Roxane Orgill | Illustrated by Francis Vallejo

Roxane Orgill recreates the syncopation of jazz and the exhilaration of the photo shoot in twenty poems that capture the sights, sounds, conversations, horseplay, and vibe of that special day that forever commemorated the Golden Age of Jazz. The smooth, cool lines of Orgill’s free verse poetry are a joy to read aloud. Full of personality, captivating details, history, and nostalgia, the poems reawaken the past for a new generation.

Working from the actual black-and-white photograph, Francis Vallejo vividly reimagines the scene on 126th Street as well-known and lesser-known jazz musicians came together to represent themselves and their art for Esquire magazine. Vallejo’s acrylic and pastel illustrations bring to life the surprise, camaraderie, and expressions of the men, women, and boys as they mingle, rest, and pass the time until the pose and lighting is right for the shot. As the book opens, readers get a bird’s-eye view of the street and quiet neighborhood, but as the musicians begin arriving the illustrations move in, allowing readers to rub shoulders with the greats of jazz.

For children (and adults) who love photography, jazz, biographies, history, and/or poetry, Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph is a marvelous choice for home libraries and is highly recommended for school and public libraries.

Ages 8 – 12 and up

Candlewick, 2016 | ISBN 978-0763669546

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Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat

By Javaka Steptoe

Javaka Steptoe’s compelling biography of this complex, brilliant artist who people called “radiant, wild, a genius child” beautifully brings to life the inspirations and motivations that fueled his unique and intense talent. Steptoe delivers the story in staccato and flowing sentences, using consonance, assonance, and repetition—the rhythms of a poet. He shows how Basquiat maintained his focused determination, self-confidence, and persistence from childhood into adulthood. This perseverance reveals to readers that success is not a matter of luck, but of belief in oneself despite obstacles. Steptoe sensitively addresses the serious injury Basquiat suffered, his mother’s mental illness and Basquiat’s continued love for her, and his unsettled teenage years to complete this far-reaching life story.

Steptoe’s mixed-media paintings were created on found wood from neighborhoods across New York City. While Steptoe does not reproduce any of Basquiat’s work, he states that readers will find “original pieces that were inspired by him and my interpretations of his paintings and designs.” As befitting his subject, Steptoe offers pages that burst with vibrant color and intricate details and beat with the pulse of the city, the people, the dreams, and the imagination that Basquiat transcribed onto paper, walls, and canvas. Part collage, part fine art, Steptoe’s illustrations will fascinate children and entice them to linger and take in the emotion and meaning in each. The final spread, a crowd scene made up of photographs, sets Basquiat in the midst of people whom he and his art continue to inspire.

Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat offers children an inspirational model of creativity, compassion, and confidence no matter where their talents lie. The book is an excellent choice for school, public, and home libraries.

Ages 6 – 10

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2016 | ISBN 978-0316213882

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A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks

Written by Alice Fay Duncan | Illustrated by Xia Gordon

With her own sterling verses, Alice Faye Duncan celebrates the life of Gwendolyn Brooks—the first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize for Literature—taking readers to the Chicago neighborhoods that informed and inspired Brooks’ ideas and the words and rhythms with which she defined them. Along an arc that takes Gwendolyn from a child contemplating the potential of a flower to becoming that blossom herself, Duncan pays tribute to those who recognized Gwen’s genius and helped her fulfill her talent. For readers who themselves may be poets, writers, or other types of artists, Duncan’s beautifully crafted phrases about the artistic process of revision are inspirational and welcome. Standing side-by-side with Duncan’s storytelling are four of Brooks’ poems—The Busy Clock, Forgive and Forget, Ambition, and the children of the poor—Sonnet #2. From cover to cover, Duncan’s book sings with Gwendolyn Brooks’ positivity, confidence, uniqueness, and love for life that made her a unique voice for her time and always.

From the portrait of Gwendolyn Brooks that graces the title page and throughout the book, Xia Gordon’s distinctive artwork creates a masterpiece of motion and stillness that mirrors Brooks’ penchant for watching and listening to the sounds and sights that filled her mind and ultimately her notebooks. Downy swoops of violets, pinks, browns, and grays provide backdrops to images of Gwendolyn as a young girl and an adult rendered in lines that show her as down to earth but soaring in her thoughts. Her intelligence and spark shine through on every page. Gwendolyn’s parents appear often, always watchful and supportive. Her friends, her husband, her son, and her readers also populate the pages, giving the book an embracing warmth.

A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks is a must for school, classroom, and public library collections, and for children who are discovering their talents and the parents who nurture them, the book would be an inspirational and invaluable addition to home bookshelves.

Ages 4 and up

Sterling Children’s Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1454930884

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Stichin’ and Pullin’: A Gee’s Bend Quilt

Written by Patricia McKessack | Illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera

Patricia McKessack’s free verse poems capture the close relationships and camaraderie of the generations of women who join around the quilting frame to share and pass down their art and their heart. McKessack’s conversational verses, connected page after page like the patches of a quilt, reveal the complexity of this handmade art form in the way intimate talks between friends unveil a life. Readers learn not only about the little girl and her own thoughts, but the history and influence of her immediate family, world events, inspirational figures, and deeply held beliefs that make her who she is and ties her to the other Gee’s Bend women.

Cozbi A. Cabrera’s stunning acrylic paintings take readers inside the heart of the Gee’s Bend women, depicting the girl’s home, the table-sized quilting frame where the women collectively work, the plantations, the protests, and the changes that came but did not unravel the convictions, values, and love of the little girl’s family. Readers can almost hear the talking and singing of the Gee’s Bend women as they stitch their quilts, and the comforting, embracing environment is evident on every page. Cabrera’s portraits of the little girl, her mama, and her grandma are particularly moving. For What Changed, Cabrera depicts a yellow school bus appearing on the dirt road from the right hand corner of the page. In the  driver’s side mirror, a dot of a house is reflected, reminding readers that no matter how far these women are from home, Gee’s Bend is always with them.

Children—and adults—will find Stitchin’ and Pullin’: A Gee’s Bend Quilt inspirational and uplifting. This volume of poetry can be read at one sitting or delved into again and again, making it a wonderful choice for home libraries and a must for school and public libraries.

Ages 5 – 12

Dragonfly Books, Random House, 2016 (paperback edition) | ISBN 978-0399549502

Culinary Arts

 

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Grandpa Cacao: A Tale of Chocolate from Farm to Family

By Elizabeth Zunon

Elizabeth Zunon’s celebration of family and pride in one’s heritage is a compelling read that shines with a strong father – daughter relationship, shared memories, and the joys of working together. The warmth shared by the girl and her daddy is evident as she revels in hearing the story of Grandpa Cacao and identifying with him even though he lives far away. Zunon’s smooth delivery of Grandpa Cacao and Daddy’s story imparts fascinating details of how cacao is grown, harvested, and prepared for sale. While the little girl may wish for a new dress or a puppy, she is happier with the surprise of meeting her grandfather at last.

Zunon’s mixed-media, collage style illustrations beautifully meld the world inside the family kitchen with the girl’s imagining of life in Africa on Grandpa Cacao’s farm. The opaque screen-printed images of Grandpa Cacao, the girl’s father as a child and young man, and the other villagers, are powerful reminders to readers that their family and family history is always with them and supporting them.

A unique book to share during family story time, in the classroom, or during a library program, Grandpa Cacao: A Tale of Chocolate, from Farm to Family would be a much-loved addition to home, school, and public library collections. And don’t forget to include cake!

Ages 3 – 8

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1681196404

Music

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Birth of the Cool: How Jazz Great Miles Davis Found His Sound

Written by Kathleen Cornell Berman | Illustrated by Keith Henry Brown

Kathleen Cornell Berman’s lyrical passages reveal a boy, a teenager, and a man who embodied music, listening to and absorbing the various sounds around him and incorporating them into his own, unique sound. Her evocative vocabulary (swirl, rollicking, croon, rumbling, far-out, rippling, blizzard of notes, itching to play) and phrasing that blends short staccato lines with longer sentences echoes the rhythm of jazz and will keep readers riveted to the story. Berman emphasizes the listening, practice, and experimentation that informed Miles Davis’s original sound, showing children that innovation is built on hard work, dedication, and even history. Her inclusion of Davis’s setbacks also demonstrates that perseverance is part of the success of any endeavor.

Keith Henry Brown’s gorgeous, detailed pen-and-ink and watercolor illustrations take readers from Miles Davis’s living room, where he listens to the radio as images of Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington swirl through his imagination, to an overlook on the Mississippi River and its paddlewheel steam ships to the clubs and jam sessions of New York and finally, to the Newport Jazz Festival. Brown’s color palette of cool blues, greens, purples, and browns, punctuated with Davis’s ever-present gleaming brass trumpet, brings Davis’s country and city experiences to life while mirroring the tone and feel of his unique sound. Quotes from Miles Davis are sprinkled throughout the story and set apart with type that looks handwritten, giving his words a personal touch.

Sure to inspire readers to learn more about Miles Davis and listen to his music, Birth of the Cool: How Jazz Great Miles Davis Found His Sound would be an excellent accompaniment to school music programs, an inspiring book for biography lovers and young musicians of all types, and a beautiful addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 8 – 12

Page Street Kids, 2019 | ISBN 978-1624146909

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Hey, Charleston! The True Story of the Jenkins Orphanage Band

Written by Anne Rockwell | Illustrated by Colin Bootman

Anne Rockwell succinctly and clearly relays the story of the Jenkins Orphanage Band while also retaining all the heart and soul of this fascinating group of children and their dedicated caregiver. The true-life tale is mesmerizing, not only for the historical details of the growth of ragtime music and the Charleston dance but for the accomplishments of the orphans once given love, acceptance, and education. Rockwell’s conversational tone contributes to the story’s smooth, flowing pace, which will keep listeners or readers rapt from beginning to end.

Colin Bootman’s bold two-page spreads illuminate the sights and sounds of the early 1900s for readers. Emphasizing the personal connections between Reverend Jenkins and the orphans as well as the band and their audiences, Bootman’s vibrant paintings are full of people watching, dancing, marching, and celebrating these boys’ awesome gifts.

Ages 6 – 10

Carolrhoda Books, 2013 | ISBN 978-0761355656

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Lift Every Voice and Sing: A Celebration of the African American National Anthem

Written by James Weldon Johnson | Illustrated by Elizabeth Catlett

It has been more than 120 years since James Weldon Johnson, a principal at Stanton Elementary School in Jacksonville, Florida, wrote a poem to be used in the school’s commemoration ceremony of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. His brother, composer John Rosamond Johnson, set the poem to music. On February 12, 1900, five hundred students performed the song. From that celebration, the song spread, gaining in popularity throughout the South and then throughout the country.

In 1949 the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People adopted Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing as the official African American anthem. The song continues to inspire as it is sung and heard in churches and schools and during times of celebration and protest. This new edition of Lift Every Voice and Sing brings together Johnson’s stirring poem with stunning black-and-white linocuts by Harlem Renaissance artist Elizabeth Catlett, who created them in the 1940s as part of a series of artworks focusing on black women.

An emotionally moving presentation of James Weldon Johnson and John Rosamond Johnson’s poem and song, Lift Every Voice and Sing: A Celebration of the African American National Anthem would make a beautiful thought-provoking and inspirational addition to school, home, and public library collections.

Ages 6 – 12 and up

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1681199559

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When the Beat Was Born: DJ Kool Herc & the Creations of Hip Hop

Written by Laben Carrick Hill |Illustrated by Theodore Tayler III

Laben Carrick Hill’s biography of a Hip Hop pioneer invites young readers to discover the early years of and influences on the music they love today. Hill superbly structures his story so through the formative details of DJ Kool Herc’s life from childhood into adulthood, readers understand that they too can follow their hearts to achieve their dreams. When the Beat Was Born is inspirational in its depiction of an “ordinary kid” with ingenuity and self-confidence who changed the face of music by combining his multicultural experiences, being open to experimentation, including his friends, and sharing his vision. Straightforward storytelling is punctuated with verses of rap that make reading aloud fun and will engage listeners.

In his bold, vibrant illustrations, Theodore Tayler III lets kids in on the not-so-distant past that saw the rise of Hip Hop music, celebrity DJs, and new dance styles. Keeping the focus on DJ Kool Herc—just as Clive kept his eye on his future goals—Taylor reinforces the theme of the book. Scenes of kids lining up to attend DJ Kool Herc’s parties and dancing in the street give the book an inclusive feel. Images of skyscraper-tall stacks of records mirrors Kool Herc’s ambitions, and depictions of breakdancing moves will get kids wanting to try them for themselves.

When the Beat Was Born is a terrific biography for all children, whether they like music and dancing or quieter pursuits. In the classroom, the book would be a great addition to music, history, or biography units.

Ages 6 – 10

Roaring Brook Press, 2013 | ISBN 978-1596435407

Civil Rights and Politics

 

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Become a Leader Like Michelle Obama

Written by Caroline Moss | Illustrated by Sinem Erkas

Encouraging, supportive, and always smiling, Michelle Obama inspired millions of kids across the country during her eight years as First Lady and continues to motivate children to be and become the best version of themselves. Through her fast-paced, engrossing biography, Caroline Moss creates a reading experience that gives children the opportunity to get to know their idol the way friends do: by talking together. In ten short, but information-packed chapters, Moss captures Michelle’s voice and spirit through snapshots of formative events that influenced and changed her life, all told in a conversational style with plenty of dialogue and fascinating details.

Sprinkled throughout the text are inspirational quotes from Michelle Obama that are called out in eye-catching blocks and soaring illustrations. Back matter includes ten key lessons from Michelle Obama’s life on how to become a leader, questions to prompt kids to think about what is important to them, and resources for further reading and exploration.

Accompanying this personal narrative are Sinem Erkas’s stunning 3-D cut paper artwork. Bold colors, stirring imagery, and portraits that follow Michelle through times of happiness, sadness, and change reveal to readers Michelle’s intelligence, spark, hard work, and enthusiasm for life that fuels her vision and success.

Emphasizing family, community, self-confidence, and the importance of seizing opportunities to make a difference, Become a Leader Like Michelle Obama is highly recommended for home, school, and public libraries to hearten and embolden young readers to listen to their inner voices and take action for what they believe in.

Ages 8 – 12 and up

Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-0711245181

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Pies from Nowhere: How Georgia Gilmore Sustained the Montgomery Bus Boycott

Written by Dee Romito | Illustrated by Laura Freeman

Dee Romito’s inspiring biography delves into the crucial role individuals can make in supporting people and causes they believe in. By focusing on unsung historical hero Georgia Gilmore and using her own words and thoughts, Romito reveals how those with strong beliefs can use their talents and courage to fight for change behind the scenes and still make an important difference. Her conversational storytelling brings a personal touch to this biography, drawing young readers in to learn the details of this early battle in the Civil Rights movement—also begun by an act of a solitary person. Bookended by the radio reports that Georgia hears, the story is well-paced to show how Georgia’s contribution grows over nearly a year. This timely biography is made even more resonant perhaps in that Georgia’s cooking and selling of meals and baked goods is an activity that many children will recognized from their own involvement in bake sales and other food-related fund raisers. The open ending invites readers to learn more about the Civil Rights movement and Georgia Gilmore.

Laura Freeman’s boldly colored, realistic artwork allows children to embrace the historical context of Romito’s biography through her expressive portraiture that introduces Georgia Gilmore, Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the members of Georgia’s Nowhere Club. A double-spread of the National Lunch Company’s segregated counter is visually striking as the divide comes at the book’s gutter, creating the side for white customers on the left and the side for black customers on the right. The injustice of this separation is expressed in the similar red clothing and dark hair of the woman on the right and the man on the left. Illustrations of crowds walking as buses go empty, attending the boycott strategy meetings, secretly buying pies, and filling Georgia’s home place readers at these scenes of the resistance movement. Freeman uses action, media coverage, and Georgia’s courtroom appearance to great effect. Knowledgeable readers will understand that making a positive difference continues across all generations.

Pies from Nowhere is a stunning book of empowerment for children and adults. The theme of using ones talents to make a difference is a timely lesson that kids will respond to. The book belongs in all classroom, school, and public libraries and is a top choice for home bookshelves as well.

Ages 6 – 9

little bee books, 2018 | ISBN 978-1499807202

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What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? The Story of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan

Written by Chris Barton |Illustrated by Ekua Holmes

Chris Barton’s stirring biography of Barbara Jordan introduces children to a woman whose voice is just as relevant today as it was when she was a state senator, US representative, and professor. Barton clearly and lyrically depicts Jordan’s trajectory while showing readers what it takes to succeed: practice, perseverance, learning, and wisdom. For young readers Barton briefly but cogently outlines the core of the case against Richard Nixon then allows readers to hear, in her own words, Jordan’s rousing defense of the Constitution. His inclusion of Jordan’s seventeen years of teaching after her diagnosis of MS is a poignant reminder that her influence is still heard through her students and admirers, and Barton’s final exhortation to readers to speak out honors Barbara Jordan’s life and will impel both children and adults to follow her lead.

Ekua Holmes stunning mixed-media illustrations will set readers’ hearts soaring in this over-sized picture book that beautifully reflects Barbara Jordan’s influence in politics and beyond. Holmes’ collages, rendered in lush colors and textured with intricate patterns and images from nature, take children on Jordan’s journey from sun-drenched Texas to law school to Washington DC, giving them a glimpse of her childhood and her growing stature as a stateswoman. Today’s savvy readers will be interested in the examples of campaign materials and images of Jordan’s building relationships with diverse voters and her fellow senators and representatives. Several photographs of Jordan from her graduation, campaigns, and televised appearances during the Watergate hearings join Holmes’ realistic portraits and will inspire readers to learn more about this influential and unforgettable woman.

What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? is a stirring and empowering biography that belongs in every home, school, and public library collection.

Ages 4 – 8 and up

Beach Lane Books, 2018 | ISBN 978-1481465618

Science

 

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-blast-off-into-space-like-mae-jemison-coverBlast Off into Space Like Mae Jemison

Written by Caroline Moss | Illustrated by Sinem Erkas

Focused, intelligent, courageous, and giving, astronaut Mae Jemison is an inspiration to millions of kids and adults around the world. Through her captivating biography, Caroline Moss introduces readers to this accomplished woman in ten engrossing chapters that, through pivotal events, dialogue, and thoughts, reveal Mae’s dreams, motivations, and triumphs. Paced in short, impactful chapters, this biography reads like a novel yet imparts factual information that will entice readers to learn more about Mae Jemison and careers in science.

Sinem Erkas punctuates this personal narrative with her stirring 3-D cut paper artwork. Vivid colors and  action-packed imagery, take readers along on Mae’s journey from childhood dreams of “sailing off into space on a rocket ship” to the day she fulfills that dream and beyond. Images of Mae completing experiments in college and medical school as well as detailed depictions of Mae inside the space shuttle working and interacting with other astronauts will have children lingering over the pages.

Compelling and personal, Blast off into Space Like Mae Jemison is a biography young readers won’t be able to put down. The book is highly recommended for homeschooling and home libraries as well as for school and public library collections.

Ages 8 – 12

Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-0711245150

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-counting-on-katherine-coverCounting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13

Written by Helaine Becker | Illustrated by Dow Phumiruk

Helaine Becker’s captivating storytelling captures Katherine Johnson’s genius for math and talent for applying it to even the most complex problems in a ground-breaking field. Her self-confidence, curiosity, and love of learning as well as her trajectory at NASA will impress readers, many of whom may also be dreaming of making a mark in new ways. A highlight of Becker’s text is her clear explanations of how Katherine’s calculations for NASA were used and what was at stake when her help was needed most. Becker’s repeated phrase “You can count on me” and her stirring ending weave together the numerical and lyrical aspects of Katherine’s life to inspire a new generation of thinkers.

From the first page, readers can see Katherine’s intelligence and inquisitiveness that shined whether she was walking to school, doing chores, or, later, making sure our astronauts made it to the moon and back safely. Dow Phumiruk’s artwork is always thrilling, and here blackboards covered in formulas as Katherine stands on tiptoe as a child and on a ladder as an adult to complete them will leave readers awestruck with her understanding of and abilities with numbers. Illustrations of school rooms and offices give children a realistic view of the times, and her imagery pairs perfectly with Becker’s text in demonstrating the concepts of sending a rocket ship into space and bringing it home again. Phumiruk’s lovely images of space are uplifting reminders that dreams do come true.

A stellar biography that will enthrall children and inspire them to keep their eyes on their goals and achieve their dreams, Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13 is highly recommended for home bookshelves and is a must for school and public library collections.

Ages 5 – 9

Henry Holt and Company, 2018 | ISBN 978-1250137524

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Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race

Written by Margot Lee Shetterly | Illustrated by Laura Freeman

Margot Lee Shetterly brings her compelling story Hidden Figures to children in this exceptional picture book that skillfully reveals the talents and dreams of Dorothy, Mary, Katherine, Christine as well as the work atmosphere and social injustices of the time period. While acknowledging the struggles and obstacles the four women faced, Shetterly keeps her focus on the incredible achievements of these brilliant women and the positive changes and opportunities for others they created. Brief-yet-detailed descriptions and explanations of math, science, and computer terms flow smoothly in the text, allowing all readers to understand and appreciate the women’s work.

As Dorothy, Mary, Katherine, Christine each begin their work at Langley as young women, Laura Freeman establishes their dreams and their particular field of expertise through richly colorful illustrations that highlight the schematics, tools, equipment, and models they used. In one particularly affecting spread, Dorothy, Mary, Katherine, and Christine go off to their offices on the left-hand side, and their white counterparts head out to theirs on the right-hand side while the blueprint of their building lies under their feet. Dorothy, Mary, Katherine, and Christine’s clothing is also mirrored in color by the women on the other side of the fold. Period dress and electronics show progression through the years, and kids may marvel at the size of early computers. The final image of Dorothy, Mary, Katherine, and Christine as older women is moving and inspirational.

Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race is an outstanding biography of four women who contributed their gifts for math as well as their self-confidence not only to science but to dreamers in their own and future generations. The book would be a stirring choice for classroom and home libraries.

Ages 4 – 8

HarperCollins, 2018 | ISBN 978-0062742469

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Ticktock Banneker’s Clock

Written by Shana Keller | Illustrated by David C. Gardner

With lyrical language that glides as smoothly as a well-oiled timepiece, Shana Keller reveals the remarkable story of Benjamin Banneker, born free during the time of slavery, who possessed exceptional math and scientific skills and used them to help his friends and neighbors and to make real his vision of a striking clock. Keller’s detailed and descriptive storytelling animates this life story, allowing readers to take the journey with Banneker as he experiences excitement, setbacks, and ultimately success. Banneker, embodying determination, persistence, and creativity, is an excellent role model for kids with big dreams of their own.

David C. Gardner’s lovely full-page and two-page-spread illustrations gloriously portray Benjamin Banneker’s farm and home as well as his dedicated commitment to building a striking clock despite—or perhaps spurred on by—the challenges he faced. Gardner’s detailed images set the biography firmly in its time period, letting children experience farm and home life in the 1750s. Banneker carries wooden buckets to feed the animals, tobacco leaves hang in a dry shed, a fire blazes in a large, open fireplace, and a candle flickers as Banneker whittles wheels and gears with his pocket knife. The realistic paintings that depict Banneker’s emotions as he imagines creating a large clock, overcomes obstacles, and studiously works on his drawings and carvings will inspire readers to attempt their own inventions—whatever they may be.

For any would-be inventors, history lovers, tinkerers, and science buffs, Ticktock Banneker’s Clock is a stirring biography that would make an inspirational addition to home, school and public libraries.

Ages 6 – 10

Sleeping Bear Press, 2016 | ISBN 978-1585369560

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Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions

Written by Chris Barton | Illustrated by Don Tate

Chris Barton’s biography of Lonnie Johnson is a fascinating look at a man who succeeds in turning “No” into “Yes” by the power of his intelligence, ideas, and determination. Kids will love hearing about how one of their favorite toys came to be and will be inspired to chase their own dreams despite challenges and setbacks. Barton’s detailed narration provides a full picture of Lonnie Johnson and his times, specifics that attract and inform like-minded kids. Including the results of Lonnie’s exam should encourage kids who think differently. The story is enhanced by the conversational tone that makes it accessible to kids of all ages.

Don Tate illuminates Lonnie Johnson’s life story with his bold, full-bleed paintings that follow Lonnie from his being a child with big ideas to becoming a man who has seen these ideas through to success. With an eyebrow raised in concentration, young Lonnie demonstrates confidence and skill as he works on an invention, and kids will love seeing the tools of his trade laid out on the kitchen table. As Lonnie grows older and designs systems for NASA, the illustrations depict the schematics of the Galileo power package and Lonnie’s surprise at the strength of the water stream in his prototype cooling design. As all kids know, the spurt of a Super Soaker is awesome, and this fact is demonstrated in a “Wowing” fold-out page.

WHOOSH! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions is a superb biography of the man who designs systems for the greater world but has never lost his youthful enthusiasm to invent. The book would be an inspirational addition to home, school, and public libraries.

Ages 5 – 10

Charlesbridge, 2016 | ISBN 978-1580892971

Slavery

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Freedom in Congo Square

Written by Carole Boston Weatherford | Illustrated by Gregory Christie

Through powerful rhythmic couplets, as spare and austere as the work they describe yet ending in a focal point of hope, Carole Boston Weatherford recreates the steady thrum that resonated in the hearts of slave and free men and women as they anticipated each afternoon in Congo Square.  As the days remaining until Congo Square are counted off, Weatherford’s predominantly one-syllable words form a staccato beat, the pounding of hard, physical work. When Sunday comes and people find joy in their shared music and dance, Weatherford’s phrasing within the same structured couplets rises, employing multi-syllable words that give the verses a pulsing flow that echoes the freedom they find in Congo Square.

Gregory Christie’s vivid folk-art illustrations are a perfect complement to Weatherford’s verses. The elongated figures stand tall and proud amidst the fields and workrooms of the plantation. In some scenes the slaves’ angled bodies, leaning over to pick cotton, wash floors, or lift baskets may be bent, but they are not broken, and while two men work on building a wall, they seem to kneel prayerfully as they add another brick. In a moving two-page spread set at night, brown wood-grain houses superimposed with rows of sleeping slaves float on a blue-toned ground below a red sky, reminiscent of ships laden with Africans sailing the Middle Passage of the Atlantic slave trade. As the men and women congregate in Congo Square, Christie’s lithe figures raise their arms and kick their legs in dance. The fiery backgrounds swirl with color as the celebrants jump, stretch, play instruments and move with exultation.

Freedom in Congo Square is both a heartrending and jubilant book that would make a wonderful and meaningful addition to any home, school, and public library.

Ages 4 – 8

little bee books, 2016 | ISBN 978-1499801033

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Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad

Written by Ellen Levine | Illustrated by Kadir Nelson

Based on an actual story of The Underground Railway, Henry’s Freedom Box is written and illustrated to stunning effect. Ellen Levine’s lyrical and metaphorical language combines with the excellent pacing of the pages to enhance the emotional impact of this powerful and original true story. Children will be inspired by this man who suffered devastating loss, but persevered and through cunning, bravery, and the help of friends, obtained freedom.

Kadir Nelson took inspiration for his illustrations from an antique lithograph of Henry Brown, created by Samuel Rowse in 1850. Through a combination of watercolor and oils crosshatched with pencil lines, Nelson’s richly hued paintings capture the poignancy of Henry’s struggles and ultimate freedom. His characters’ facial expressions are particularly moving.

Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad is a riveting story of slavery and one man’s fight for freedom that would make an excellent addition to children’s libraries.

Ages 4 – 8

Scholastic Press, 2007 | ISBN 978-043977733

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Words Set Me Free: The Story of Young Frederick Douglass

Written by Lesa Cline-Ransome | Illustrated by James Ransome

Lesa Cline-Ransome has written a compelling biography of Frederick Douglass for children in Words Set Me Free. In straightforward language and through first-person point of view, Cline-Ransome reveals the brutal truth of Douglass’s life as a slave and his fight against injustice. As the title suggests, the book focuses on Frederick’s desire to become educated and the obstacles he overcame to succeed. This universally important message continues the work Douglass engaged in long ago.

James Ransome’s stirring paintings realistically highlight pivotal scenes of Frederick’s life, beginning with the tender moments he spends with his mother as a very young child. With an unstinting eye Ransome reveals the hardship and cruelty Frederick endured as a slave. His moving illustrations also demonstrate hope as Frederick, with blossoming intellect, resolves to educate himself and find a means of escape.

Ages 5 and up                                                                                                            

Simon & Schuster, New York, 2012 | ISBN 978-1416959038

Sports

 

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Fast Enough: Bessie Stringfield’s First Ride

By Joel Christian Gill

Joel Christian Gill introduces children to Bessie, a determined, brave, and pioneering woman at a formative time in her life. Told that girls don’t ride bikes and that she wasn’t good enough or fast enough anyway, Bessie Stringfield wrestled with self-doubt, but she took control of what she wanted and ultimately proved to herself and others that she was more than capable. Gill’s first pages set the stage for readers to contemplate ways in which they may doubt themselves, before encouraging them to find inspiration and confidence in Bessie’s story.

Gill’s vivid illustrations clearly show Bessie’s sadness as she internalizes the boy’s taunts, her tenacity, and finally her jubilation is besting them and achieving her goal. Images of Bessie’s dream and its resulting reality creatively play on the dual meaning of the word dream while a change in Bessie’s room décor while she sleeps is a clever touch.

A singular story about a trailblazing black woman, Fast Enough: Bessie Stringfield’s First Ride encourages children to embrace their own identity instead of letting others define them. The book would be a welcome addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 5 – 9

Oni Press, 2019 | ISBN 978-1549303142

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Queen of the Track: Alice Coachman, Olympic High Jump Champion

Written by Heather Lang | Illustrated by Floyd Cooper

Heather Lang brings an athlete’s appreciation for the in-born talent and hard practicing that creates a world-class Olympian. Her story reveals not only the details of Alice’s physical training but also the social and economic hurdles she overcame in her quest to compete in the Olympics. Lang’s graceful and evocative prose carries readers down dirt roads and over obstacles, to the halls of the Tuskegee Institute, and into Wembley Stadium as they learn about the singular focus Alice Coachman dedicated to her sport. Children will feel as if they are sitting in the stands watching with suspense as the bar is raised again and again, pushing Coachman to a world record.

Floyd Cooper sets readers in the hot, dusty, sun-burned South, where Alice Coachman—as a little girl and then a teenager—runs barefoot on dirt roads, jumps over homemade bars, leaps to tip the basketball from her brothers’ hands, and delivers food to tornado victims. The golden-brown-hued illustrations catch Dorothy Taylor and Alice Coachman as they soar over the high bar in their fierce competition and capture Coachman’s hopes, dreams, and anticipation as she waits—hands clasped—to hear the judges’ final decision in the 1948 Olympic Games. Readers will cheer to see Coachman standing on the first-place podium, ready to receive her well-deserved gold medal.

A compelling and inspiring biography for children pursuing any talent, Queen of the Track: Alice Coachman, Olympic High Jump Champion would be a welcome addition to home, school, and public libraries.

Ages 5 and up

Boyds Mills Press, 2012 | ISBN 978-1590788509

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Serena: The Littlest Sister

Written by Karlin Gray | Illustrated by Monica Ahanonu

Karlin Gray’s masterful biography of Serena Williams shows young readers the determination, confidence, and strong familial bond that followed Serena through her life and made her one of tennis’s most influential women players. The family’s remarkable life and focus on what one can achieve will inspire all kids, no matter what their dream is. Choosing seminal events in Serena’s and Venus’s life, Gray follows Serena’s reputation on the court as she loses and wins matches, building suspense until that day when she accomplishes her goal and wins the US Open. Her inclusion of articles and comments that cast doubt on Serena’s future success, demonstrates that even the greats face opposition and naysaying, and Serena’s sister’s advice to ignore it is sound.

Monica Ahanonu’s textured, collage-style illustrations leap off the page with vibrant images full of action and the girls’ personalities. As the girls race onto a court for practice, their eager expressions show their love of the game and being together. Even as a four-year-old Serena has the steely eyed gaze of a champion as she watches the bouncing ball and lines up for her swing. Ahanonu’s use of various perspectives and shadowing create dynamic scenes on the court, and tennis lovers will be thrilled at the many illustrations of Venus and Serena playing their sport. The bond between the sisters is evident in images of Serena interacting with one or more of her sisters. Those who remember Serena’s win at the 1999 US Open will recognize her joyous win.

Perfectly aimed at young readers who are the same age as Serena and Venus when they began developing their skills and sport, Serena: The Littlest Sister is an inspirational biography of a present-day role model that is sure to spark an “I can” attitude. Adults who have followed the Williams sisters’ rise to tennis stardom will be equally enthralled with this beautiful biography. The book would make a stirring addition to home, classroom, and library collections.

Ages 8 – 11

Page Street Kids, 2019 | ISBN 978-1624146947

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To order books from black-owned bookstores, you’ll find a list in this article by the African American Literature Book Club.

To support your local independent bookstore, order from: Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

June 3 – Love Conquers All Day

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About the Holiday

The phrase “love conquers all” is attributed to the ancient Roman poet Virgil, but it’s veracity is still timely today. As the world is rocked by agonizing and heartbreaking events, children watch, worry, and wonder. Sharing today’s book can help adults and kids talk about their emotions and come up with ways they can show the love they feel for family, friends, and their community.

The Breaking News

By Sarah Lynne Reul

 

A little girl remembers “when we heard the bad news.” She was sitting at the kitchen table repotting plants with her mom, dad, and little brother. They were happy, her dad sipping coffee and her mom smiling. The TV was on in the background. And that’s how they heard the breaking news. Her mom’s head whipped around to see; coffee splashed out of her dad’s cup. And the plant tipped over spilling all of its new soil.

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Copyright Sarah Lynne Reul, 2018, courtesy of Roaring Brook Press.

After that, her parents can’t stop watching the news on the television and their phones. When they talk about it, they whisper, and the little girl pretends “not to hear. It is more than a little scary.” The regular routine no longer exists; happiness seems to be gone too. At school, the “teacher says to look for the helpers,” those “good people trying to make things better in big and small ways.”

The girl wants to help. At home she tries to make her mom and dad laugh, she invents magical ways to keep her family safe, and she even helps out with the chores, but nothing seems to help. The failure of her plans to do something big, just makes her “feel small.” Then she sees her brother giving their dog a hug. It cheers her and she begins to think “maybe…I can try to do…just one…small thing?” So she does. And then again…and again.

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Copyright Sarah Lynne Reul, 2018, courtesy of Roaring Brook Press.

She starts by watering that newly potted plant, which has become droopy with neglect. She spends time with her brother and the dog, and she puts the now-perky plant in a sunny window. Outside, the bad news still lurks, but inside the girl’s parents notice this small change. She takes them by the hand and asks for the extra seeds, pots, and soil.

When the flowers sprout, the girl and her family take them outside. The bad news still exists, but as the girl gives the flowerpots away to their neighbors, they stop and smile. they sit on the stoop and in their front courtyards and talk. Here and there along the block of apartments, flower pots appear on the windowsills, and hope begins to dispel the gloom.

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Copyright Sarah Lynne Reul, 2018, courtesy of Roaring Brook Press.

As children hear, see, and are directly affected by recent events—this week, over the past months, and in the future—feelings of fear, worry, anger, and helplessness impact their daily lives. Sarah Lynne Reul’s honest depiction of a time of upheaval reflects a child’s experience and offers them an opportunity to express their emotions. She also shows concrete ways that kids can channel their desire to help—ways that may seem small to them but that create much-needed connections among family members and the community they love.

Reul’s emotion-packed illustrations work hand-in-hand with her potent text to examine that moment when everything changed and its aftermath. The family’s happy, enthusiastic expressions are replaced with sadness and a world-weary stoop; a gray fog and somber hues predominate. An image of the little girl filled to the brim with everything that is happening around her will squeeze your heart and give kids a chance to say, “that’s how I feel.” The girl’s realization that small actions of kindness and love can help restore at least some of the lost light in their lives can be a revelation not only for children but for adults too who may be wondering how to process and respond to overwhelming circumstances and events. Reul’s two scenes of the neighborhood—one cast in shadow and the next washed in light (with an extra glow around the people and plants)—provide a strong visual of the results of positive action.

The Breaking News presents many openings for family discussion and shared comfort. The book a must-have for home, school, and public libraries.

Ages 4 – 8

Roaring Brook Press, 2018 | ISBN 978-1250153562

To learn more about Sarah Lynne Reul, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Love Conquers All Day Activity

CPB - Heart Jar

Jar Full of Hearts

 

If your kids ever feel the need for more love or reassurance in their life, this jar full of hearts can be a visual reminder of the love that surrounds them, can be used to encourage discussions about feelings, or can provides little gifts kids can give to family and friends––old and new.

Supplies

  • A clear jar with a lid—you can use a recycled jar, a mason jar or a decorative jar found at craft stores
  • Red felt
  • Scissors

Directions

1. Cut red hearts from the felt

2. Add hearts to the jar. The jar can start out full or hearts can be added over time. Here are some ideas for giving jars to family members or friends:

  • Add one heart for each thing you love about your child or that a child loves about their sibling or friend.
  • Give a new heart whenever the recipient of your jar does something nice for someone.
  • If talking about feelings is difficult for your child, encourage them to bring you a heart from the jar to start a conversation.
  • Encourage the recipient of your jar to pass the love along! Tell them they can give a heart from the jar to someone else.

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You can find The Breaking News at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

June 2 – It’s National Family Month and Interview with Illustrator Petra Brown

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About the Holiday

The weeks between Mother’s Day in May and Father’s Day in June have been designated as National Family Month. This time gives us the opportunity to honor everything that makes a group of people a family. Shared experiences and memories—and especially love—create that unique feeling in the heart that defines family. This spring’s stay-at-home orders have given most people an opportunity to get to know their family members in a whole new way. To celebrate today’s holiday, share a word, a hug, or even a special note to let your kids know how much you love them.

I received a copy of Daddy Loves You from Sleeping Bear Press for review consideration. All opinions of the book are my own. 

Daddy Loves You

Written by Helen Foster James | Illustrated by Petra Brown

 

A daddy rabbit, cradling his bunny in his paws, gazes lovingly into his little one’s eyes and says, “You are your daddy’s sunshine. / I’ll love you every day.” He promises that he will always be by his bunny’s side, teaching, protecting, and playing with them. They take a walk, and as the curious bunny points out things along the way, Daddy names them all.

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Image copyright Petra Brown, 2020, text copyright Helen Foster James. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Daddy and his little one spin and twirl, hold hopping contests, and fall in a heap giggling and laughing. Next it’s on to a special swing-making project where they “build and fix together” then have fun as Daddy pushes his “lovey-bug” on the ivy-covered swing. Daddy makes his child a cape of leaves and flies his eager bunny through the air as he reveals some advice—and an admission felt by all parents: “Do your best. Be bold and kind. / Be all you want to be. / You’ll be a superhero / …especially to me.”

Night falls and the two snuggle up as Daddy tells a story to his adoring child. Then nestling his baby into a soft, straw bed, he gives a kiss and says goodnight with the assurance that “you are my little angel, / and, moonbeam…I love you.”

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Image copyright Petra Brown, 2020, text copyright Helen Foster James. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

The unique relationship that fathers have with their children is tenderly shared in the newest addition to this lovely and loving series of family member relationship books. Helen Foster James’ lyrical language—sprinkled with endearments—is part lullaby, part hug, and completely charming as a father takes his little one by the paw and reveals the depth of his feelings. Little ones will love snuggling up with their dad to spend some one-on-one time reveling in memories and promises of fun spent together.

A highlight of this series is Petra Brown’s glowing illustrations of the natural world this family of rabbits calls home. Here, the rabbits wake to a pastel dawn shining on a springtime green and yellow field, where butterflies flit among tall grasses and puffs of dandelions. The adoring looks shared by Daddy and his bunny portray a love as new and glorious as the day itself. Adorable images of this proud father teaching, protecting, and exploring with his child, are enchanting and give adults and kids an opportunity to share more than a few “remember when we did…?” or “remember when we went…?” moments of their own. The sweet ending is one that little ones will want to hear—and do—again and again.

A perfect pick for Father’s Day or as a new dad gift, Daddy Loves You will be a heartwarming favorite for any child.

Ages 3 – 5

Sleeping Bear Press, 2020 | ISBN 978-1534110595

To learn more about Petra Brown, her books, and her art, visit her website

Meet Petra Brown

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Petra Brown has been a children’s book illustrator since 2006 when her first picture bookIf Big Can…I Can, was shortlisted for the Booktrust Early Years Awards for Best Emerging Illustrator. Since then she has been illustrating for a range of publishers in the United Kingdom and abroad. Petra comments, “I love drawing animals with human expressions. I find it such fun creating, for example, a thoughtful fox, a happy hippo, a shy sheep, or a caring bear! The other thing I like is creating landscapes, places where my characters can run about and have adventures. Living in a magnificent place like Snowdonia helps a great deal.” Petra lives with her partner in Wales.

I’m so thrilled to have the opportunity to talk with Petra Brown today about her early love of children’s illustration, her photography in and around her hometown of Snowdonia, Wales, and a ghost-filled house…. Jakki’s boys, Steve and Jack, also had a couple of questions for Petra.

Steve would like to know: Do you have a pet rabbit? 

Hi Steve! I don’t have a rabbit. I once lived with seven cats, but that’s another story. I always say hello to the rabbits that live in the wild near our house, but they never stop for a chat. I think they’re a little shy.

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Jack was wondering: We like to work outside with our dad. What do you like to do with your dad?

Hello Jack! My dad is very, very old and he likes to sit in his chair and read and doze.  But when I was very young my dad made a model railway in our garden and he let me help sometimes… that was fun.

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Illustration from The Hyde Park Squirrels series written by Nick Croydon.

Daddy Loves You is part of a series of sweet books about family love. I love reviewing these books. Can you talk a little about how these books came to be and how you approach the illustrations?

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The first book in the ‘Loves You!’ series was ‘Grandma Loves You!’ written by Helen Foster James. Sleeping Bear Press offered me the illustration project back in 2013… and so it began!  Five love-packed books were born! The cast list so far: Grandma, Grandpa, Mommy, Daddy and Auntie. Rabbits galore! I’m not sure who came up with the bunny idea, but it worked. There’s another book starring two members of the same rabbit family: Grandma’s Christmas Wish.

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The Rabbit family is semi-wild… no clothes, they live in burrows without furniture, but they can make things. Grandpa made Little Bunny a kite using leaves, twigs and grasses. Daddy made a swing, using ivy vines. Auntie makes herself a daisy-chain crown and collects seashells to decorate Little Bunny’s bed. And in ‘Grandma’s Christmas Wish’ Granny has a Christmas tree, complete with decorations in her burrow. I like the idea that they use the natural things around them to have fun.

There are lots of side characters in the books too. A jolly mole pops up in a few of the books and smiles avuncularly at the rabbits’ antics. There’s also a recurring hedgehog.

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There are never any rabbits in the title pages, instead there’s always an assortment of other little wild critters, all eagerly checking out the name of the book to see who’s up next.

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The endpapers are always decorated with things from the rabbits’ world. My favourite endpaper is the one in Auntie’s book. She’s a lop-eared rabbit who lives near the sea and so the endpapers in her book show a rock pool and rabbit footprints in the shell-littered sand.

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The ‘Love You Series’ are all ‘Keepsake Editions’—each book has a frontispiece designed for a gift inscription and date, and at the back there is a space for a personalised “Special Letter to My Favorite Bunny” and a space for a photograph. These pages are decorated with little creatures, flowers, leaves, berries, and various pretty things from the rabbits’ environment. I always have huge fun creating the rabbits’ environment with all its little details.

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You say that even as a child you were fascinated by the illustrations in books and copied them. Who were your favorite illustrators and how did they influence you?

The first book I actually chose to read for myself was Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. There was something about Tenniel’s illustrations that really intrigued me. I tried to copy them over and over. I guess the idea of my illustrating books was born from this. One of my favourite books was The Children’s Treasury of Literature in Colour published by Hamlyn in 1966. It was jam-packed full with the work of fabulous illustrators! Favourites were Robert J Lee, Gordon Laite, Richard Scarry, J P Miller, William Dugan, Adrienne Segur, Lilian Obligado, Grace Dalles Clarke, Hilary Knight, W T Mars, and The Provensens.

My other favourite book to lose myself in was The Illustrated Treasury of Children’s Literature published by Grosset and Dunlap 1955. That was also crammed full of tasty illustrations! There were many books filled with inspiring illustrations that I studied again and again. The list of illustrators that inspire me is very, very long. I feel both excited and frustrated by their brilliance.

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Did you always want to work as an illustrator for children’s books? Would you talk a bit about your journey to publication?

From quite an early age there was never any doubt in my mind that illustrating was what I wanted to do. At school the careers advisor advised me to think about an alternative career, just in case the whole artsy thing crashed and burned. But I folded my arms and told him, “There is no plan B!” Looking back, that guy was right, really. It took me a long time to fulfill my dreams. I had to work in a shop for years, whilst attempting to lure a publisher to take interest in my work.

In 2005 I had almost given up hope of ever being published. Sick of sending off portfolios and collecting rejection letters, I took courage and joined the internet, (ah, the days of dial-up!). I made myself a website showcasing my art and I sent out an introduction/invitation to view my work in the form of an email to absolutely every children’s book publisher on the planet… hundreds! I say hundreds, I’m not sure how many, but it was a very long list. Out of all those emails sent, I received back just two interested publishers, one was Gomer, a welsh publisher, and the other was Meadowside. At that time Meadowside’s art director was the wonderful Mark Mills, who went on to found his agency ‘Plum Pudding’ and I’m really proud to say that I was among the first plums in that fabulous punnet! At the grand age of 40, my life as an illustrator began!

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Illustration from If Big Can, I Can, written by Beth Shoshan, published by Meadowside Children’s Books June, 2006. Shortlisted for The Book Trust Early Years Award for Best Emerging Illustrator.

I added up how many books I’ve done since then and it shocked me! It’s fifty two! Amongst all those books there is a very special one for me… the one that I wrote myself: When the Wind Blew published by Sleeping Bear Press in 2017. It’s always been my deepest wish to actually write and illustrate a book. Thank you, Sleeping Bear Press!

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Illustration from When the Wind Blew.

Your portfolio is full of adorable animals and scenes that can’t help but make a person smile. Two of my favorites are an illustration of a pig getting a shave and one of a crocodile getting his teeth brushed. Your style is very distinctive, with gorgeous colors, lush, detailed backgrounds, and characters who are so expressive. How did you develop your style? What mediums do you work in?

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Barber, barber, shave a pig! Artwork for a greeting card made conventionally.

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Illustration from Bwch. Drawing made on the iPad in Procreate and colouring in Photoshop on my PC.

All my work up until the end of 2013 was done conventionally, usually colour pencils, watercolour paints on thick watercolour paper. But after that date everything I did was made solely in Photoshop. But on my latest project I’m working slightly differently. I’m drawing in detail onto paper, scanning that image, keeping it on a separate layer set to ‘multiply’ and working the colour underneath, with a few tweaks on a top layer.

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Piece from my latest project.

I use Derwent studio pencils when drawing conventionally. I start off with a ‘French Grey 70’ to work out the rough shape, and then work over the top with the darker ‘Chocolate 66’. Just lately I’ve been working on Daler – Rowney Smooth-Heavyweight paper, it has just enough tooth for happy pencil-work, but smooth enough to scan cleanly. Once I’ve finished the sketch I scan it into the computer to work the colour up in Photoshop. I absolutely love making Photoshop brushes, and often I spend hours fiddling about making the perfect brush for the finish that I want.

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Drawing made with a Derwent studio pencil.

You live in Snowdonia, Wales which, with its mountains and beaches, is as pretty and magical as its name. Can you describe one or two of your favorite places and why you love them?

My partner Iain and I love to explore the hidden places in our area, the quiet mysterious places where most people never go. Landscapes woven with tales from the Mabinogion. The lonely hills marked with abandoned quarries, dripping damp mines; remote ruined homesteads… cold hearths, empty barns, and rusted relics. ​Haunted, lichen coated, and weather worn. They are the places I love. I always take my camera with me and try to capture that special atmosphere that fills my cup.

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The picture above shows Llwyn-y-betws. The sort of house you might find in a welsh village, or perhaps at the end of a bumpy farm track. A house of fair proportions, a two up, two down. But Llwyn-y-betws sits in the middle of a moorland hill, with no road running to it or near it. It’s as if one night it had decided it’d had enough of man and his noisy roads and had, like Baba Yaga’s house, stood  up on two strong legs and marched itself up into the hills to sit quietly amongst the reeds and the sheep and slowly rot away.

Perhaps the fabulous view of the Nantlle ridge reflected in it’s windows gave the house a sense of deep satisfaction. It could settle here. It had brought Hawthorn Tree with it, they had been friends forever, and they would murmur to each other in low voices of their past life in the village and how this was what they had always dreamed of for their retirement together and wasn’t it fine!

You can see some of my photos on my photography website ‘Hinterlands’.

I can’t let you get away without asking about the house you moved into when you were ten. I’m sure most kids would be envious that you got to live with “ghosts and draughts” as you say in your bio.

Ooo, that house! Never before or since have I felt so spooked! It was a large, granite block-built hospital for the local quarry. It had a mouldy, damp, creepy morgue, where you could still make out the marks on the wall from the old slate shelves where they stored the bodies. There was the grey ghost of an old man who used to care for the hospital grounds. You could hear his wheelbarrow squeak on cold, dark early mornings. The ghostly nurse who would stand over you, should you fall asleep in the east wing. And the ghostly footsteps echoing across the wooden floorboards in the abandoned cottage in the hospital grounds. Bumps and knocks and shivery feelings… it was thrilling but… I’m so glad we moved!

What’s up next for you?

I’m currently working on a picture book written by the ‘Loves You’ series author, Helen Foster James, to be published by Sleeping Bear Press. No rabbits, this time it’s squirrels.

Also, I’ve recently signed a contract with Sleeping Bear Press to work on another book that I’ve written myself, and I’m so excited for that!

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Illustration from my latest project.

You can connect with Petra Brown on

Her website | PinterestTumblr | YouTube

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You can find Daddy Loves You at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore

Bookshop | IndieBound

 

June 1 – National Olive Day

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About the Holiday

Established in 2015 by Divina Foods to celebrate the culinary history and traditions of this ancient fruit, National Olive Day gives us the opportunity to try new and favorite recipes where this versatile food takes center stage. A staple of the meze/tapas tradition as well as a main ingredient or flavorful addition to countless dishes from bread to tacos, olives also contribute to a healthy diet through olive oil, which many people use for frying, sautéing, and grilling. The olive branch is recognized as a symbol of peace, love, and friendship – which makes it a perfect name for the sweet older dog in today’s book.

Olive & Pekoe in Four Short Walks

Written by Jacky Davis | Giselle Potter

 

For young adults and adults, reading a collection of short stories presents an experience like no other. Exploring similar themes in various ways or following characters through ups and downs, extraordinary events, and changes big and small over the course of different stories provides a unique depth of ideas and perspective. So why should youngest readers miss out? They don’t have to with Olive & Pekoe in Four Short Walks, which presents the best qualities of a short story collection for the picture book audience.

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Image copyright Giselle Potter, 2019, text copyright Jacky Davis, 2019. Courtesy of Greenwillow Books.

In Walk One children are introduced to Pekoe, a “bouncy puppy who loves to run” and Olive, “an old dog with very short legs,” who wishes that her friend Pekoe would “slow down and wait for her.” As these two friends explore the woods, they each experience it in ways that suit their age and personality. Pekoe loves playing with the sticks he finds, while Olive prefers enjoying the cool shade. While they may spend time separately, however, they are still mindful and appreciative of each other—and, of course, they agree on snack time!

In Walk Two Pekoe and Olive shelter together under a bush during a thunderstorm. Pekoe is “stunned at this terrible turn of events” yet still “aims one brave bark at the noisy sky.” All Olive wants is “to go home to her cozy pillow.” When their owners come to rescue them, they say goodbye with good wishes for each other.

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Image copyright Giselle Potter, 2019, text copyright Jacky Davis, 2019. Courtesy of Greenwillow Books.

Walk Three takes Olive and Pekoe back into the woods on an autumn day. Much to Pekoe’s astonishment and delight, he sees a chipmunk “darting through the leaves.” He barks!…he runs!…he chases! For Olive, this is just one more chipmunk, and she’s happy to sit and watch. When the chipmunk disappears, Pekoe wonders: will he ever see another one? Olive knows the answer.

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Image copyright Giselle Potter, 2019, text copyright Jacky Davis, 2019. Courtesy of Greenwillow Books.

In Walk Four Pekoe and Olive are at a dog park. Olive finds a shady place to sit and watch. Pekoe runs and plays but doesn’t like the “rough behavior” of some of the other dogs. Olive understands that most of them are just having a good time, but when a mean dog challenges Pekoe, Olive appears by his side to “show her friend that she is there for him.” When the bully backs off, Olive leads Pekoe back to her shady spot and together they spend the day happily, “as good friends do.”

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Image copyright Giselle Potter, 2019, text copyright Jacky Davis, 2019. Courtesy of Greenwillow Books.

Jacky Davis’s endearing stories about Olive and Pekoe will enchant both children and adults. With gentle humor and poignant observations, Davis sketches the distinct personalities of these two dogs—one a puppy just learning about the world, and the other older and wiser. Threaded throughout the stories is the heartwarming friendship between the two based on mutual respect, appreciation, and devotion. While each of the dogs may be at a different point in their life, Davis’s inclusion of the thunderstorm allows readers to see that certain events, such as ones that can be scary or sad, often elicit the same emotions from all involved and are made easier when shared with friends—or a loving parent, caregiver, or other adult.

Giselle Potter’s charming illustrations will delight kids as bigger and more active Pekoe dashes here and there while little Olive prefers to find a shady place from which to observe the action. Images of the two bonding over an offered stick, a shared shelter, and a united stand against a bully depict demonstrations of true friendship. Story-specific frames set off the text in creative and whimsical ways. The final image, in which Pekoe and Olive touch their paws together, tenderly reflects the friendship these two dogs share.

Children will take Pekoe and Olive into their hearts and want to hear about their adventures again and again. With engaging stories that offer opportunities for discussions about friendship, Olive & Pekoe in Four Short Walks would be a sweet addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Greenwillow Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-0062573100

To learn more about Giselle Potter, her books, and her art, visit her website.

National Olive Day Activity

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Find the Pet Maze

 

Can you help the girl and her dog find their way through this printable maze so they can play with their friend? 

Find the Pet Maze Puzzle | Find the Pet Maze Solution

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You can find Olive & Pekoe in Four Short Walks at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million 

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

 

May 29 – It’s Gifts from the Garden Month

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About the Holiday

Many of us – and perhaps even more this year – spend the summer digging, planting, and tending our garden and yard. We look forward to all of the delicious vegetables and fruit our gardens provide and the hours of fun we have playing or lounging in the yard. But if you look closely, these areas offer up other gifts too. That profusion of dandelions may seem like bothersome weeds, but their sunny flowers and puffball seeds also create beauty and unforgettable childhood moments. Watching industrious insects reminds us of the wonder of nature below our feet or pollinating our crops. And – as today’s book shows – with some imagination and creativity that garden or yard can be transformed into a work of art. So, get outside and see what your gifts are sprouting in your backyard.

I received a copy of Leafy Critters from Blue Dot Press for review consideration. All opinions are my own. 

By Jakki Licare

Leafy Critters

By Yvonne Lacet

This creative and imaginative earth art book by Yvonne Lacet an artist and photographer, whose work incorporates urban environments, landscapes, and nature play, will inspire children to look at nature in a whole new light. Yvonne Lacet uses petals, twigs, stems, and leaves to create “Leafy Critters.” Simple items from nature are arranged together to become different animals: foxes, polar bears, butterflies, mice, and more.

Not only is the artwork stunning but on many pages Lacet shows readers the before and after photos which makes it simple for kids to duplicate her animals. My kids enjoyed pointing out the different items in the before photos and discovering how Lacet used them in her completed artwork. A leaf, for example, transforms into a head or a wing.

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Copyright Yvonne Lacet, 2020, courtesy of Blue Dot Kids Press.

One of the extraordinary things about this book is not only that any child can find the natural materials needed in their backyard or local park, but the artistic eye Lacet uses to create the eighteen creatures presented. The piglet (pictured on the front cover) is simply six pink petals arranged together. Yvonne takes it a step further, though, and uses the portions of the petals that are near the pistil and have a darker pigment to add shading and detail that  transform into the pig’s hooves and snout.

The image of the polar bear also shows how contrasting colors can create a whole new scene. With the black paper background and white petals sprinkled over the page, we are suddenly transported into an arctic snowstorm at night! The great thing about Leafy Critters is that it makes young readers think outside the box. If you don’t have white petals on hand, then rice could make a great substitution. 

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Copyright Yvonne Lacet, 2020, courtesy of Blue Dot Kids Press.

My boys are often frustrated with art projects because they cannot create “realistic art.” Earth art, however, is an easy way for kids to explore colors and composition without the frustration of being limited by their skills. It only requires a little nature and a creative eye. So take Leafy Critters outside! You’ll be surprised to discover what creatures creep, crawl, swim, and lurk in your own backyard. 

A DIY page at the back gives kids tips on how to search for materials, gather them, and look at the colors, shapes, and sizes of leaves, petals, seeds, and more to spark their imaginations. Younger children will enjoy the creativity in each design on the pages while older children and even teens and adults will be inspired to create their own works of art.

Whether you are looking for a fun home art project or inspiration for your elementary art students, Leafy Critters will make a creative addition to your library.

Ages 3 and up

Blue Dot Kids Press, 2020 | ISBN 978-1733121224

Discover more about Yvonne Lacet and her work on her website.

Gifts from the Garden Month Activity

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Natural Art Note Card

Send a special note to a loved one with your own leafy critter. This idea could be a great card for Father’s Day too! Just write in Dad after otter!

Supplies

  • Natural Materials (I used brown leaves, bark, clover flowers, and stems)
  • Scissors
  • Glue
  • Marker
  • Paper

Directions

  1. Gather your natural materials outside

  2. Arrange your pieces together to make an otter shape

  3. Cut any pieces that need to be shaped or trimmed

  4. Glue your otter down

  5. Write “There’s no OTTER like you!”

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You can find Leafy Critters at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million 

To support your local independent bookstore, order from 

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

 

May 28 – It’s Dental Care Awareness Month

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About the Holiday

The benefits of good dental hygiene have been recognized since the early 1900s, when Thaddeus P. Hyatt encouraged people to take preventative measures to clean and protect their teeth. The month-long holiday we’re celebrating today was established by Dr. Tim Stirneman and Jim Wojdyla from Compassionate Dentalcare to raise awareness about regular brushing, flossing, and check-ups to keep cavities from forming. Good dental care begins even before babies develop their first tooth and is an important habit to instill in children. After all, the tooth fairy is looking for those shiniest of treasures.

Tallulah the Tooth Fairy CEO

Written by Dr. Tamara Pizzoli | Illustrated by Federico Fabiani

 

Tallulah the tooth fairy loves her work so much that she was inspired to start her own company—Teeth Titans Incorporated, which is “the largest tooth-collection organization on the planet.” As the company’s CEO, Tallulah feels many demands on her time, but she handles them by reminding herself of what she calls “the three Ps: her passion, her purpose, and what pays.” Her week is divided into time for herself (coffee or tea and a workout on Mondays, therapy on Wednesdays, “yoga, Pilates, and errands” on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and museum visits on Fridays) and work-related tasks like training new tooth fairies for all of those world-wide collection duties.

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Image copyright Federico Fabiano, 2019, text copyright Dr. Tamara Pizzoli, 2019. Courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

She tells her story on late-night talk shows and scouts for talent at glitzy recruitment events. In addition to all of this, she completes her nightly rounds. “Sure, she could afford to sit around counting teeth and money, but nothing gives Tallulah quite the same thrill as sliding a shiny tooth out from under a child’s pillow and inserting something gleaming and jingly or crisp and easily folded in exchange.”

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Image copyright Federico Fabiano, 2019, text copyright Dr. Tamara Pizzoli, 2019. Courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

Usually, things go as planned, but one night, at Tallulah’s last stop, instead of a tooth under young Ballard Burchell’s pillow, she pulled out a note. She was a bit disappointed to find the typical picture of a tooth fairy drawn at the bottom, but she continued reading and learned that Ballard had well and truly lost his tooth and had nothing to give her. He hoped she would understand.

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Image copyright Federico Fabiano, 2019, text copyright Dr. Tamara Pizzoli, 2019. Courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

This conundrum was a first for Tallulah. She consulted “her Teeth Titans Incorporated Employee Manual for reference,” but found no help there. “Though she’d written the manual herself, Tallulah hadn’t made provisions for such a rare occurrence.” There was only one thing to do. Tallulah quickly met with the seven members of her board of directors and asked for advice. Two members thought Ballard should learn a lesson in responsibility and get nothing. One thought partial payment was in order. Two more thought it was polite of Ballard to leave a note and to give the kid a break since everyone loses things now and again. And Tom, as the only male board member, wanted to talk about diversity on the board.

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Image copyright Federico Fabiano, 2019, text copyright Dr. Tamara Pizzoli, 2019. Courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

Later that night, with her decision made, Tallulah returned to Ballard’s room “to leave him a note of her own—and a little something extra.” In the morning Ballard discovered the note letting him off the hook this time for misplacing his tooth plus a “patented Teeth Titans Incorporated tooth compartment lanyard,” which usually “retails for $9.95” and is available on the company website, but is his as a gift. The note is even signed by The Tooth Fairy herself.

Ballard couldn’t believe it. He ran to show his mom, and then when he opened the little tooth box on the end of the lanyard, he discovered “one more surprise from Tallulah the Tooth Fairy CEO: the shiniest gold coin you ever did see.”

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Image copyright Federico Fabiano, 2019, text copyright Dr. Tamara Pizzoli, 2019. Courtesy of us.macmillan,com.

Dr. Tamara Pizzoli gives the tooth fairy a fresh, funny, and sophisticated update for today’s savvy kids. With wry, snappy descriptions of Tallulah’s life in and out of the office, Pizzoli riffs on the topics of self-care, home décor, the media, corporate culture, product placement, and even Mrs. Santa Clause (who finally gets a name—Charlene). Along the way, she shines a spotlight on stereotypes, celebrity, diversity, and kindness. Kids will love this take-charge tooth fairy who’s also not adverse to asking for help and taking advice. And who needs wings when there is rappelling gear and night goggles?

Federico Fabiani’s Tallulah, with her stunning purple-tinged afro, round glasses, and tooth-inspired fashions, is a confident, trend-setting leader with a single focus on excellence. Fabiani’s jazzy color palette lends eye-popping excitement to the illustrations that are stylishly modern with a retro feel. Kids will love finding all the clever references to teeth in Tallulah’s clothing, jewelry, and office and household items. Adults will appreciate with a laugh the nods to today’s culture from veganism to consumerism to media and social media.

A smart, funny book that goes far beyond its tooth fairy roots to offer opportunities to discuss diversity, social movements, and even empathy, Tallulah the Tooth Fairy CEO would be a favorite addition to home, classroom, and public libraries to share when teeth wiggle out or anytime. 

Ages 4 – 8 

Farrar, Straus, and Giroux Books for Young Readers, 2019 | ISBN 978-0374309190

You can discover more about Dr. Tamara Pizzoli, her books, and her publishing house on The English Schoolhouse website.

To learn more about Federico Fabiani and see a portfolio of his art, visit his website.

National Tooth Fairy Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Smile-for-the-tooth-fairy-mazeSmile for the Tooth Fairy! Maze

 

The Tooth Fairy is trying to collect a lost tooth! Can you help her find her way in this printable maze?

Smile for the Tooth Fairy! Maze | Smile for the Tooth Fairy! Maze Solution

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You can find Tallulah the Tooth Fairy CEO at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

May 27 – It’s National Pet Month

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About the Holiday

Pets give us unconditional love, provide companionship, and add entertainment and fun to our lives. This month is set aside to focus on our pets. To celebrate spend extra time with your furry friend, make sure they have everything they need to stay healthy, and give them a little extra treat. If you don’t have a pet, consider adopting a dog, cat, bird, or small animal from your local animal shelter. You’ll both benefit!

The Summer Nick Taught His Cats to Read

Written by Curtis Manley | Illustrated by Kate Berube

 

One summer Nick, Verne, and Stevenson did everything together. Nick is a little boy and Verne and Stevenson are two very different cats. Nick and Verne loved to spend time near the water—Stevenson tolerated it. Nick and Verne slept happily in a tent under the stars—Stevenson barely shut his eyes. While Nick rode his bike Verne eagerly sat in the front basket—Stevenson hunkered down in a box on the back. But when Nick sat down to read, both cats had similar ideas of fun—like lying on top of the book—and Nick could hardly read a sentence.

“So Nick decided to teach them how to read. He made flash cards and started with easy words” like “ball,” but Verne and Stevenson just wanted to play with the ball. While the three had a picnic on the lawn, Nick brought out his flashcards and “pointed to the word food. The cats ignored him.” When the cats snoozed Nick woke them with a sign. “‘This is no time for an N-A-P!’” he said. Neither cat responded well, so Nick tried a new tactic. He made word-shaped flash cards. Verne took a nibble of “F-I-S-H,” but Stevenson hid under the bed.

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Image copyright Kate Berube, 2016, text copyright Curtis Manley, 2016. Courtesy of Simon & Schuster.

Nick began to see that Verne liked stories about cats and fish. “Verne loved fish. He followed along as Nick read, learning the sounds of the letters.” He even read by himself, discovering new stories, especially 2,000 Leagues Under the Sea. But Stevenson? When Nick spelled words for him, he merely ran under the porch, hissing. By this time Verne was reading so many books that he got his own library card and Nick needed help carrying all of his books home. Nick and Verne had fun acting out their favorite stories, but they missed Stevenson.

One day “Verne discovered a treasure under the bed—a great stack of Stevenson’s pirate drawings. “‘Wow!’” Nick whispered. “‘Stevenson drew a story.’” Nick and Verne put the pages together and began to write words to go with them. When the story was finished, Nick, Verne, and Stevenson “squeezed under the porch, gave Stevenson an eye patch, and read The Tale of One-Eyed Stevenson and the Pirate Gold. Stevenson listened and followed along. He didn’t run away. Or hiss. Not even once.”

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Image copyright Kate Berube, 2016, text copyright Curtis Manley, 2016. Courtesy of Simon & Schuster.

Suddenly, Stevenson couldn’t get enough of books.  Even before Nick woke up, Stevenson could be found with his nose in Treasure Island or another adventure book, and whenever Nick and Verne played pirates, Stevenson joined in. He helped bring down “scurvy mutineers” and found buried treasure. Now the three readers do everything together. They “hunt for dinosaurs in the lost world behind the garden…race around the yard in eighty seconds…and journey to the center of the basement.” And while they all like to read on their own, they also like it when someone reads to them. “Hmmm…,” Nick thinks, maybe next he could teach his cats to talk. “‘Meow,’ says Stevenson.”

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Image copyright Kate Berube, 2016, text copyright Curtis Manley, 2016. Courtesy of Simon & Schuster.

Curtis Manley’s adorable tribute to reading and learning to read, using cats with very different personalities, is inspired. Just as some people respond more to the words while others are attracted by the pictures, Verne and Stevenson have their own relationships with books. The names of the cats and their preferred reading material are also reminders that books are personal, and disinterest in one type of story does not reflect disinterest in all stories. Manley’s text makes for a joyful read-aloud as his language and phrasing is evocative, lyrical, and imaginative.

In perfect accompaniment, Kate Berube brings this creative story to life, illustrating the tender relationship between Nick and his pets as well as emphasizing the humor and distinct personalities inherent in orange-striped Verne and smoky-gray Stevenson that influence their journeys to literacy. Depictions of the various books Verne and Stevenson are drawn to highlight the literary references in the trio’s further play. Readers will want to stop and peruse the page of library shelves, where such books as “Harry Picaroon and the Swashbuckler’s Stone”, “Harold and the Purple Canon”, “Millions of Rats”, and “Where the Wild Pirates Are” wait to be checked out in the Pirates section.

Kids will eagerly want to adopt The Summer Nick Taught His Cats to Read, and it will snuggle in nicely on children’s bookshelves.

Ages 4 – 8

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2016 | ISBN 978-1481435697

Discover “the facts, fictions, poems, and numbers” of Curtis Manley on his website!

View a gallery of Kate Berube‘s art on her website!

National Pet Month Activity

A Little Ball of Kitten

 

This sweet little kitten is easy to make and can keep you company on your desk or shelf! Since every kitten is different, you can make yours to look just the way you want. Here’s how I made mine:

Supplies

  • Wooden ball with a flat bottom, available in craft stores and in different sizes
  • Craft paint in any color kitten you’d like (I used red and yellow and mixed it to make a mottled orange)
  • Craft paint in pink or white for the inner ear
  • Scrap of fleece for the ears. Fleece is easily shaped to the rounded ball and when painted is stiff enough to stand up on its own.
  • Thin, colored wire in several colors for the tail (string or twine, wrapped wire, fleece, stiff paper, and other materials could also be used)
  • Paint brush
  • Permanent marker for making the face
  • Hot glue gun or strong glue

Directions

  1. Paint the wooden ball and let dry
  2. Paint the scrap of fleece to match the wooden ball, let dry
  3. Cut out small triangular shapes for the ears. Round the bottom of the ears slightly so they fit the shape of the ball
  4. If making a tail from several colors of thin wire, twist them together, leaving one end untwisted
  5. With the glue gun or strong glue attach the ears to the top of the head
  6. With the glue gun attach the tail to the back of the wooden ball in the center near the base
  7. With the marker, draw eyes, nose, and mouth for the face and semicircles near the bottom for the paws

You can find The Summer Nick Taught His Cats to Read at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound