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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Hector: A Boy a Protest and the Photograph that Changed Apartheid

By Adrienne Wright

Adrienne Wright’s gripping storytelling and evocative illustrations go hand-in-hand to present a full portrait of young Hector, his life, his sweet nature, and the dreams he had before he was killed in a protest against Apartheid. His family’s close bonds and their concern for each other is evident in the dialogue that accompanies images of Hector playing, helping Mma and Granny Mma, running errands, and interacting with his sisters. As June 16 dawns, Wright sketches a normal day, with Hector joking with his mother at home and his friend on the way to school.

As it did for Hector, the protest comes as a surprise for readers, sweeping them up into the action just as Hector was. Hector’s sister, Antoinette’s chapter is the shortest but gripping in its pacing that mirrors the turmoil of the day and her tragedy. As readers enter Sam’s viewpoint, they see, blocked off in vertical and horizontal frames, the pictures of celebrating and happy, yet serious students marching to make a difference. The moment of the shot is seen through Sam’s lens and clouded in smoke.

Wright’s use of overlapping storylines as she transitions from Hector’s account to Antoinette’s and then to Sam’s adds to the tension, drawing readers in and reinforcing their understanding of the atmosphere and what the students were protesting. The final, nearly full-page reproduction of the actual photograph is an unflinching look at the reality of that day, what it stands for, and its personal cost.

A profound narrative for teaching children about South African history, the costs of discrimination, and the personal stories involved in any conflict, Hector is an important book to add to school and public library collections.

Ages: The book is targeted for children from eight to twelve, but adults should be mindful of the maturity and sensitivity of readers. Hector would also be a compelling inclusion in middle school and even early high school social studies and history classes.

Page Street Kids, 2019 | ISBN 978-1624146916

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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

January 31 – Inspire Your Heart with Art Day

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About the Holiday

Today we celebrate the feeling you get inside when you create or experience art. Art can inspire, gladden, sadden, anger, teach, and compel action. It can also provide joy and inspiration when you need it most. Celebrate today’s holiday by visiting a museum, bookstore, library, concert, or gallery.

Nature’s Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story

Written by Lindsey McDivitt | Illustrated by Eileen Ryan Ewen

 

“Gwen followed her brothers and sisters everywhere, like a small fawn follows its herd.” Even though an illness in babyhood had left her hands and one foot weak and her speech slurred, Gwen grew up confident that she could do anything. Born in 1906, Gwen, as a child with disabilities, would normally have stayed home instead of attending school. But her mother had been a teacher, so she sent her to school and “pushed her to learn.”

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Image copyright Eileen Ryan Ewen, 2018, text copyright Lindsey McDivitt, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

The other kids giggled and whispered behind her back, and while she wanted to hide, she instead “gathered up knowledge like a bird builds a nest.” Her teachers thought she would never be able to write. To strengthen her hands, her mother encouraged her to draw, keeping a drawer full of supplies within reach. As Gwen sketched, her grip grew firmer.”

While making friends was difficult, Gwen found companionship in nature. She loved to spend time outdoors watching the unfurling ferns and frogs that “lapped up bugs with long, quick tongues.” From nature, Gwen learned, “‘all things are vital to the universe…all are equal…and at one…different.’”

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Image copyright Eileen Ryan Ewen, 2018, text copyright Lindsey McDivitt, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

A move to Detroit when she was twelve introduced Gwen to the buildings and people of a big city. In high school, Gwen, now stronger, took mechanical drawing and shop class. Later, in art school, Gwen was introduced to linoleum, in which she carved intricate images for printmaking. Gwen’s dream was to be an artist, but she also knew she needed to earn money to pay expenses.

She started a business making objects from hammered metal. Word of her art spread quickly. It was bought by leading Detroit families, and Gwen was invited to exhibit her art at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York. When World War II broke out, Gwen went to work building bombers. She even designed tools for building the planes. Contributing to the war effort was important, but Gwen still “longed to create art.” She bought a printing press and opened “Presscraft Papers stationery company.”

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Image copyright Eileen Ryan Ewen, 2018, text copyright Lindsey McDivitt, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Gwen began to miss the nature she loved so much, so she packed up and moved back to Michigan. There, “she walked deep into the wetlands” and began carving linoleum blocks, recreating nature as she saw it. “She wanted others to see nature as she did, to recognize the value of plants, trees, and animals.” She made prints from her linoleum blocks and created greeting cards on her press. Her beautiful artwork reminded people of nature’s bounty at a time when the environment was threatened with pollution. People came from all over to her shop in the Michigan woods to buy her art that spoke to them: “‘Love this earth, / Love it’s waters… / Care enough to keep it clear.’”

An Author’s Note reveals more about Gwen Frostic’s life and provides a sketching craft for readers.

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Image copyright Eileen Ryan Ewen, 2018, text copyright Lindsey McDivitt, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Lindsey McDivitt’s superb biography of Gwen Frostic—an artist, inspiration, and pioneer for career women and the disabled—introduces children to a woman who, through persistence and confidence, lived life on her own terms. McDivitt’s lyrical prose infuses the story with the poetry of nature that Gwen internalized and translated into the art that people continue to admire and seek out. McDivitt’s thorough storytelling and excellent pacing allow for a full understanding of Gwen Frostic’s achievements. Young readers will be fascinated by the life work of this talented and determined artist.

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Eileen Ryan Ewen captures Gwen Frostic’s strength of character, can-do attitude, and love of nature in her stunning artwork. Full-page illustrations follow Gwen from her beloved Michigan woodlands to Detroit to art school and through her life as an artist and business woman. Images of Gwen carving a linoleum block, sketching designs for new tools as she sits next to a fighter plane and the woman installing rivets, working an old printing press, and greeting visitors at her shop broaden readers’ understanding of the times and Gwen’s work.

An exceptional picture book that provides encouragement and inspiration, Nature’s Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story is a must for classroom libraries and would make a positive impact on young readers as part of their home library.

Ages 6 – 10

Sleeping Bear Press, 2018 | ISBN 978-1585364053

Discover more about Lindsey McDivitt and her books on her website.

To learn more about Eileen Ryan Ewen, her art, and her books, visit her website.

American Artist Appreciation Month

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Nature Coloring Pages

 

If you love nature like Gwen Frostic did, you’ll enjoy these printable Nature Coloring Pages.

Meadow Coloring PageOcean Coloring Page

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You can find Nature’s Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

May 29 – It’s National Inventor’s Month

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About the Holiday

Established in 1998 by the United Inventors Association of the USA, the Academy of Applied Science, and Inventors’ Digest magazine, this month-long holiday celebrates the imagination and talent of individuals who dare to think differently and create new products, services, and ways of doing things that make a positive contribution to the world. To join in, enjoy your favorite new inventions, and if you harbor dreams of being an inventor—on a large or small scale—look for opportunities to share your ideas.

Just Like Rube Goldberg: The Incredible True Story of the Man Behind the Machines

Written by Sarah Aronson | Illustrated by Robert Neubecker

 

Famous inventors usually get that way by creating something new—something that people can’t live without, right? Well, it kind of was and wasn’t this way for Rube Goldberg—as you’ll see. Even as a very young boy, Rube Goldberg loved to draw. As a four-year-old he traced the cartoons in the newspaper and when he got older, he took art lessons. His dream was to be a cartoonist for a major newspaper.

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Image copyright Robert Neubecker, 2019, text Sarah Aronson, 2019. Courtesy of Beach Lane Books.

Rube’s family was not so supportive, though. His father—who had moved to America from Germany so that his family could have a better life—believed his son would end up as a beggar if he pursued his art. So, Rube went to college and became an engineer for the Department of Water and Sewers in San Francisco—for six months. He gave up his good-paying job for a job as an errand boy at the San Francisco Chronicle at eight dollars a week. In between cleaning, emptying trash cans, and filing photographs, “Rube drew. And drew. And drew.”

Rube submitted his cartoons to the editor and most of the time they were rejected. When the editor “said yes, Rube sometimes got paid, but other times he just got out of the office tasks he didn’t like to do.” A year went by, and finally Rube was hired by the San Francisco Bulletin sports department, where he drew cartoons and wrote a column too. Then in 1906, the great earthquake hit San Francisco. Homes were lost, as were jobs. In the broken city, people couldn’t focus on their future or even feel hopeful. Rube “did the only thing he could do: He drew comics to cheer people up.”

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Image copyright Robert Neubecker, 2019, text Sarah Aronson, 2019. Courtesy of Beach Lane Books.

Rube also decided to move to New York—the place he considered the “‘front row,’ the cartoon capital of the country.” For twelve days he showed his art to newspaper after newspaper and was finally hired by the New York Evening Mail as a cartoonist. “Right off the bat, Rube became a celebrity. People couldn’t wait to see what he had to say about all kinds of things.” He drew comics about sports, politics, and “the silliness of everyday life,” but the comics people loved the best were drawn by his alter ego, Professor Lucifer Gorgonzola Butts. The professor was known for his intricately complex inventions that made even the simplest action a “surreal and ridiculous” multi-step wonder that often defied physics.

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Image copyright Robert Neubecker, 2019, text Sarah Aronson, 2019. Courtesy of Beach Lane Books.

He invented a machine that employed a carrot-eating goat, a ghost, an egg-laying chicken, an archer, a target with a mechanical hand, an upright-shooting canon, and dough that cooked in the smoke of the cannon as a cannonball shot through the middle of it. Turning off the light, might just require the pull of a cord, but in Professor Butts’ world, it also required a banana-laden fishing pole, a monkey bouncing on a balloon, a fan that turned a bicycle wheel, a jack-in-the-box, a bucket, a bowling ball, and seesaw. Perhaps one of the silliest was a contraption for cutting your own hair.

Of course, these gizmos weren’t designed to really work—only to make people “look closer. And question logic. And tickle the imagination.” At a time when new discoveries were being made all around, Rube Goldberg’s cartoons “challenged people to use the most amazing machine in the universe: the brain!” Do you have aspirations, thoughts, and dreams that seem out of the mainstream and wonder if this same kind of success is still possible? The answer is: “You bet it is.” So “figure out what you want” then work hard and “have a great time getting there…. Just like Rube Goldberg!”

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Image copyright Robert Neubecker, 2019, text Sarah Aronson, 2019. Courtesy of Beach Lane Books.

The book’s endpapers depict eight of Rube Goldberg’s original invention cartoons, and an Author’s Note following the text reveals more about Goldberg’s amazing life as a cartoonist, artist, and political observer. The awards he won and the children’s game inspired by his contraptions are also mentioned.

For Rube Goldberg fans, young inventors and artists, and anyone with a dream, Sarah Aronson’s story of this beloved cartoonist’s life is a fast-paced trip into the past and the fine tradition of lampoonery. Goldberg’s one-of-a-kind imagination and unstoppable confidence in his dream are on full display as he quits a lucrative job for the uncertainty of an artist’s life. His success and long career is a tribute not only to Goldberg himself, but to all the employers and consumers who recognize innovation and embrace it.

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Image copyright Robert Neubecker, 2019, text Sarah Aronson, 2019. Courtesy of Beach Lane Books.

Robert Neubecker’s stylized and entertaining illustrations take inspiration from and honor Rube Goldberg while also transporting readers to the early 1900s. Kids will particularly enjoy the clever design that takes text through underground maze of the San Francisco Department of Water and Sewers and the busy newsroom—complete with carrier pigeon—where Goldberg found a home as a cartoonist. In two-page spreads, three of Goldberg’s cartoons are rendered in color, giving readers plenty to linger over and giggle at, and the final images are sure to spark a new appreciation for the imagination and its power.

Sure to create new fans of Rube Goldberg’s work, Just Like Rube Goldberg would be an exciting addition to home, school, and public libraries for all of those unique thinkers out there.

Ages 3 – 8

Beach Lane Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1481476683

Discover more about Sarah Aronson and her books on her website.

To learn more about Robert Neubecker, his books, and his art on his website.

National Inventor’s Month Activity

CPB - Inventor's Tool Kit II (2)

Inventor’s Tool Kit

 

Every idea begins as a jumble of seemingly unrelated parts. Gathering whatever types of material inspires you and keeping it in a box ready to go when inspiration hits is a great way to support innovation and spark experimentation.

Supplies

  • Small parts organizer with drawers or compartments, available at hardware stores and craft stores
  • A variety of parts or craft materials that can be combined, built with, or built on
  • Some hardware ideas—pulleys, wheels, small to medium pieces of wood, wire, nuts, bolts, screws, hooks, knobs, hinges, recyclable materials
  • Some craft ideas—clay, beads, wooden pieces, sticks, paints, pipe cleaners, string, spools, buttons, glitter, scraps of material, recyclable materials

Directions

  1. Fill the organizer with the materials of your choice
  2. Let your imagination go to work! Build something cool, crazy, silly, useful—Amazing!

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You can find Just Like Rube Goldberg at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

January 31 – Inspire Your Heart with Art Day

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About the Holiday

Celebrating art is always a great thing! Today we champion that feeling you get inside when you create or experience art—no matter what kind is your favorite. Paintings, books, music, sculpture, quilts, photography, and other arts show you a bit of the world in a new way—a way, perhaps, you’ve never thought of before. Art can inspire, gladden, sadden, anger, teach, and compel action. It can also provide joy and inspiration when you need it most—as you’ll see in today’s book. Celebrate today’s holiday by visiting a museum, bookstore, library, concert, or gallery.

The Hiding Game

Written by Gwen Strauss | Illustrated by Herb Leonhard

 

It was October of 1940, and after moving from place to place to stay “one step ahead of the German soldiers,” Aube and her family had found a home where they could “live together until it was their turn to flee to safety. The Villa Air-Bel was rented by Varian Fry—a magician—and his assistant Danny Bénédite and served as a place to hide those looking to escape the war-torn country. On Sundays, the house was full of “thinkers, artists and writers who had to hide from the German soldiers because of their ideas of freedom and liberty” like Aube’s parents.

On those days, everyone played games, danced and made collages. One of Aube’s favorite games was Cadavre Exquis, in which a piece of paper was folded and each participant drew a design on one fold. When the whole paper was unfolded, amazing, artistic pictures emerged. These games and entertainment, Aube’s father told her, were their ways of fighting against fear. Because of the danger, many things had to be hidden at the Villa, including the radio and the cow that provided milk. Many ingredients for cooking were scarce. But even then Aube’s father used art to lighten the mood, leaving a drawing of a roast beef in the pantry where a real roast should have been.

Because the authorities were reading Varian and Danny’s mail and were listening to their phone calls, they had devised a way of hiding messages in toothpaste tubes that escaped the guard’s searches. The messages went to other people helping along the escape route to tell them who to expect next. Everyone in the house also had to have a special hiding place in case the police came. Aube chose the an old cabinet in the kitchen.

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Image copyright Herb Leonhard, 2017, text copyright Gwen Strauss, 2017. Courtesy of Pelican Publishing Company.

Whenever a new group of people were scheduled to “make the dangerous journey to a new country, they held a Sunday party and art sale to raise money.” Canvases painted by famous artists were hung among the branches of a large tree on the Villa grounds. When winter came, the Villa was so cold everyone had to wear all of their clothes to stay warm. They kept their spirits warm, too, by singing their favorite songs.

During the winter Danny visited camps where people were being held under terrible conditions. “Aube understood now that the danger was that they would be sent to the camps,” where people were dying of starvation and disease. They had little clothes and no blankets even though it was snowing. The people, Danny said, were going to freeze. Aube thought of the game freeze tag and worried about all of those “people freezing, waiting for someone to set them free.”

One day in December, the police raided the Villa. They took away all the men, including Danny, Varian, and Aube’s papa. Aube cowered in the kitchen cabinet with their dog in fear. The next week, the men were released, but they knew that the police would be back. Danny and Varian began to plan their escape. Before they all left, Aube’s father devised one more game. Each artist would paint their own version of a playing card to create a collective work of art. “The cards would remind them that they had laughed together and stayed free in their hearts even during the darkest times.”

Aube’s family were placed on a ship sailing to South America, and on February 18, 1941 they left the Villa and Danny and Varian behind and made the one-month-long journey to freedom. Several months later, Varian was “forced to leave France and return to America.” Danny went underground and “helped another 300 people escape France.” In 1943, however, Danny was “arrested by the Nazis and sentenced to death.” Just as he was facing the firing squad, soldiers fighting the Nazis burst through the gates of the camp and freed him and the other inmates.

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Image copyright Herb Leonhard, 2017, courtesy of Pelican Publishing Company.

Gwen Strauss includes extensive backmatter on this true-life story about her great-uncle Danny Bénédite. A detailed account of the work by Varian Fry, Danny Bénédite, and the American Rescue Committee, complete with photographs, as well as short biographies of some of the artists who visited the Villa (and a compelling list of others) plus resources for further study round out this compelling book.

Clearly written and with details from a child’s point of view that will resonate with readers, The Hiding Game is an absorbing tribute not only to two men involved in the Nazi resistance movement but to the resilience that uplifts people during the darkest times. This fascinating true story also offers a glimpse into the important role that artists and writers play in shining a light on history, interpreting it, and fighting against forces that destroy. Rich with the atmosphere of intrigue, suspense, and simple pleasures enjoyed, Strauss’s dynamic storytelling will thrill children. The Hiding Game will prompt them to learn more about this time period and will inspire in them their own acts of heroism.

Herb Leonhard’s realistic drawings of the Villa Air-Bel, the families who stopped there on their way to freedom, the moments of joy that sustained them, and the secret measures necessary for people’s safety take readers into the heart of the story and allow them to witness the danger and the creativity that swirled side-by-side within the Villa and the people living there. Largely depicted in somber tones of gray and green, the pages brighten with glowing yellows during times of laughter, games, and creativity. An illustration of the mammoth tree hung with canvases by famous artists will impress children, and the final image will leave an indelible and thought-provoking impression on young readers and adults.

An excellent book for facilitating discussions about World War II and the Holocaust with children at home and in the classroom as well as offering opportunities for cross-curricular learning in history, art, reading, and more, The Hiding Game is a superb choice to add to home, school, and public libraries.

Ages 7 – 12

Pelican Publishing Company, 2017 | ISBN 978-1455622658

Discover more about Gwen Strauss and her books on her website.

To learn more about Herb Leonhard, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Inspire Your Heart with Art Day Activity

I Love Art! Word Search Puzzle

 

Art has a language all its own! Have fun finding the twenty-five art-related words in this printable puzzle.

I Love Art! Word Search Puzzle and I Love Art! Word Search Solution

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You can find The Hiding Game at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

 

 

 

August 22 – It’s American Artist Appreciation Month

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About the Holiday

From the earliest days of the exploration and settlement of America, artists have been creating works that reveal the beauty, complexity, and meaning of this country and her people. Over the years American artists have developed innovative styles and delved into universal subjects in new ways. This month we celebrate these artists of the past and present who, through their work, make us see the world in fresh ways.

Nature’s Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story

Written by Lindsey McDivitt | Illustrated by Eileen Ryan Ewen

 

“Gwen followed her brothers and sisters everywhere, like a small fawn follows its herd.” Even though an illness in babyhood had left her hands and one foot weak and her speech slurred, Gwen grew up confident that she could do anything. Born in 1906, Gwen, as a child with disabilities, would normally have stayed home instead of attending school. But her mother had been a teacher, so she sent her to school and “pushed her to learn.”

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Image copyright Eileen Ryan Ewen, 2018, text copyright Lindsey McDivitt, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

The other kids giggled and whispered behind her back, and while she wanted to hide, she instead “gathered up knowledge like a bird builds a nest.” Her teachers thought she would never be able to write. To strengthen her hands, her mother encouraged her to draw, keeping a drawer full of supplies within reach. As Gwen sketched, her grip grew firmer.”

While making friends was difficult, Gwen found companionship in nature. She loved to spend time outdoors watching the unfurling ferns and frogs that “lapped up bugs with long, quick tongues.” From nature, Gwen learned, “‘all things are vital to the universe…all are equal…and at one…different.’”

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Image copyright Eileen Ryan Ewen, 2018, text copyright Lindsey McDivitt, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

A move to Detroit when she was twelve introduced Gwen to the buildings and people of a big city. In high school, Gwen, now stronger, took mechanical drawing and shop class. Later, in art school, Gwen was introduced to linoleum, in which she carved intricate images for printmaking. Gwen’s dream was to be an artist, but she also knew she needed to earn money to pay expenses.

She started a business making objects from hammered metal. Word of her art spread quickly. It was bought by leading Detroit families, and Gwen was invited to exhibit her art at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York. When World War II broke out, Gwen went to work building bombers. She even designed tools for building the planes. Contributing to the war effort was important, but Gwen still “longed to create art.” She bought a printing press and opened “Presscraft Papers stationery company.”

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Image copyright Eileen Ryan Ewen, 2018, text copyright Lindsey McDivitt, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Gwen began to miss the nature she loved so much, so she packed up and moved back to Michigan. There, “she walked deep into the wetlands” and began carving linoleum blocks, recreating nature as she saw it. “She wanted others to see nature as she did, to recognize the value of plants, trees, and animals.” She made prints from her linoleum blocks and created greeting cards on her press. Her beautiful artwork reminded people of nature’s bounty at a time when the environment was threatened with pollution. People came from all over to her shop in the Michigan woods to buy her art that spoke to them: “‘Love this earth, / Love it’s waters… / Care enough to keep it clear.’”

An Author’s Note reveals more about Gwen Frostic’s life and provides a sketching craft for readers.

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Image copyright Eileen Ryan Ewen, 2018, text copyright Lindsey McDivitt, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Lindsey McDivitt’s superb biography of Gwen Frostic—an artist, inspiration, and pioneer for career women and the disabled—introduces children to a woman who, through persistence and confidence, lived life on her own terms. McDivitt’s lyrical prose infuses the story with the poetry of nature that Gwen internalized and translated into the art that people continue to admire and seek out. McDivitt’s thorough storytelling and excellent pacing allow for a full understanding of Gwen Frostic’s achievements. Young readers will be fascinated by the life work of this talented and determined artist.

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Eileen Ryan Ewen captures Gwen Frostic’s strength of character, can-do attitude, and love of nature in her stunning artwork. Full-page illustrations follow Gwen from her beloved Michigan woodlands to Detroit to art school and through her life as an artist and business woman. Images of Gwen carving a linoleum block, sketching designs for new tools as she sits next to a fighter plane and the woman installing rivets, working an old printing press, and greeting visitors at her shop broaden readers’ understanding of the times and Gwen’s work.

An exceptional picture book that provides encouragement and inspiration, Nature’s Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story is a must for classroom libraries and would make a positive impact on young readers as part of their home library.

Ages 6 – 10

Sleeping Bear Press, 2018 | ISBN 978-1585364053

Discover more about Lindsey McDivitt and her books on her website.

To learn more about Eileen Ryan Ewen, her art, and her books, visit her website.

American Artist Appreciation Month

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Nature Coloring Pages

 

If you love nature like Gwen Frostic did, you’ll enjoy these printable Nature Coloring Pages.

Meadow Coloring PageOcean Coloring Page

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You can find Nature’s Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

March 10 – It’s National Women’s History Month

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 About the Holiday

This month we celebrate the accomplishments of women in the past who have broken barriers and forged paths for today’s women and who still inspire the leaders of tomorrow. To honor women this month, learn more about the influential woman in your own field or in areas you enjoy as hobbies and teach your children about the women who made incredible contributions to the world long ago and those who are changing the way we live today.

Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines

Written by Jeanne Walker Harvey | Illustrated by Dow Phumiruk

 

As a child, Maya Lin loved playing and interacting with nature near her home. She and her brother liked to run over what Maya had named “the Lizard’s Back”—a hill behind her house—and into the woods. Sometimes Maya went into the woods alone and “sat as still as a statue, hoping to tame rabbits, raccoons, chipmunks, and squirrels.” She liked to play chess with her brother and build towns from scraps of paper, boxes, books, and other things she found around the house.

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Image copyright Dow Phumiruk, 2017, text copyright Jeanne Walker Harvey, 2017. Courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

Maya’s “parents had fled China at a time when people were told what to be and how to think.” They did not want the same for their children and always encouraged Maya to be and think what she wanted. Maya grew up surrounded by art. Her father worked with clay, and her mother was a poet. Maya also liked to make things with her hands. The beautiful library where she went to college inspired Maya to become an architect.

To learn about different buildings, Maya traveled all over the world. When she was only a senior in college, “Maya entered a contest to design a memorial to honor soldiers who died during the Vietnam War.” The contest stated two rules: the memorial had to fit in with a park-like setting, and it had to include the 58,000 names of the soldiers who had died in the war. These rules resonated with Maya. She “believed that a name brings back all the memories of a person, more than a photo of a moment in time.”

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Image copyright Dow Phumiruk, 2017, text copyright Jeanne Walker Harvey, 2017. Courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

Maya visited the site where the memorial would be built. As she looked at the gently rolling hill, she envisioned a simple cut in the earth that would support a polished wall covered in names. Not only would the wall reflect those who died, but also those who came to visit and the surrounding nature. At school, Maya worked with mashed potatoes and then with clay to help her create the perfect monument. When she had finished her drawings and plans, she wrote an essay to accompany them. She wrote that her monument would be “a place to be experienced by walking down, then up past names that seemed to go on forever.”

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Image copyright Dow Phumiruk, 2017, text copyright Jeanne Walker Harvey, 2017. Courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

More than 1,400 artists and architects—many of them famous—entered the contest. The designs were hung in an airplane hangar anonymously for judging. Finally, the day came for the announcement of the winner. When the judges called out Maya Lin’s name and she came forward, they were surprised to find that she was so young. Maya was excited to have won, but then some people began to object to her design. Some said her “design looked like a bat, a boomerang, a black gash of shame.”

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Image copyright Dow Phumiruk, 2017, text copyright Jeanne Walker Harvey, 2017. Courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

Maya was hurt by these comments, but she defended her design and, finally, it was approved. Maya worked with the architects and engineers who excavated the land and built the wall. As each granite panel was polished, engraved with the soldiers’ names, and set in place, Maya looked on. The memorial opened on Veterans Day in 1982. Thousands of people came to see it and to find the names of loved ones they had lost. As Maya approached the wall, “she searched for the name of the father of a friend. When she touched the name, she cried, just as she knew others would.” Every day since then visitors come to the wall to remember.

Maya Lin has gone on to design many more works of art and architecture that can be seen inside and outside. Each piece has a name and a particular vision. Maya wants people to interact with her art—to touch it; read, walk, or sit near it; or think about it. After each piece is finished, Maya thinks about her next work and how she can inspire the people who will see it.

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Image copyright Dow Phumiruk, 2017, text copyright Jeanne Walker Harvey, 2017. Courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

An Author’s Note about Maya Lin and the Vietnam War Memorial follows the text.

Jeanne Walker Harvey has written an inspiring biography of Maya Lin that reveals not only her creativity but the importance of creative freedom for children. Lin’s confidence that led her to enter the contest and then defend her winning design will encourage readers to pursue their dreams. Harvey’s lyrical storytelling reflects Maya Lin’s quiet, introspective nature, the influences that nurtured her creative spirit, and her dedication to inviting others to be part of her art.

Dow Phumiruk’s graceful, soft-hued illustrations allow children to follow Maya Lin as she grows from a girl discovering nature, constructing cardboard cities, and learning the arts from her parents to a young woman who draws inspiration from the world’s buildings and relies on her own sensitivity to guide her. Back-to-back pages of the landscape of Vietnam and the site of the memorial connect the two places for children’s better understanding. Phumiruk’s depictions of the Vietnam War Memorial also give children an excellent view of this moving monument. Her images of Lin’s other architectural work will entice young readers to learn more about her and to explore where each of these pieces can be found.

Ages 4 – 8

Henry Holt & Company Books for Young Readers, 2017 | ISBN 978-1250112491

Discover more about Jeanne Walker Harvey and her books on her website!

Learn more about Dow Phumiruk, her art, and her books on her website!

National Women’s History Month Activity

 celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-maya-lin-coloring-page

Maya Lin Coloring Page

Maya Lin’s accomplishments are inspirational for all children! Here’s a printable coloring page that you can personalize and hang in your room or locker to remind you that you can reach your goals too!

Maya Lin Coloring Page

Picture Book Review

September 15 – International Dot Day

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About the Holiday

Usually, I match books to existing holidays. Today, though, I have the pleasure of posting a review of a book that established a holiday. On September 15, 2009 teacher Terry Shay introduced his class to Peter H. Reynold’s The Dot. From that one event grew a national and then an international celebration of creativity and the freedom to make art with your heart. All around the world, school children and adults are inspired on this day to make their mark and celebrate creativity, courage, and collaboration.

The Dot

By Peter H. Reynolds

 

At the end of art class, Vashti looked at her paper. It was still as blank as it was at the beginning of art class. Her teacher came over and took a peek. She saw right away that Vashti had drawn “‘a polar bear in a snowstorm.’” Vashti wasn’t fooled by the joke. “‘I just CAN’T draw,’” she said. But her teacher had a suggestion. “‘Just make a mark and see where it takes you.’”

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Copyright Peter H. Reynolds, 2003, courtesy of Candlewick Press.

Vashti jabbed at the paper with a marker, making a dot right in the center. Her teacher studied her drawing carefully then told Vashti to sign it. That, at least, was something Vashti could do. She signed her name and gave the paper to her teacher. At the next week’s art class, Vashti was stunned to see her dot framed and hanging above the teacher’s desk. She looked at the tiny mark and decided that she could do better than that.

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Copyright Peter H. Reynolds, 2003, courtesy of Candlewick Press.

Vashti opened her watercolor set and began. She “painted and painted. A red dot. A purple dot. A yellow dot. A blue dot.” Then she discovered that blue mixed with yellow made a green dot. Vashti went to the easel and began painting lots of little dots in all sorts of colors. She realized if she could make little dots, she could make big dots. She knelt down on the floor with a big piece of paper and a big brush and created a huge dot.

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Copyright Peter H. Reynolds, 2003, courtesy of Candlewick Press.

Then on an enormous canvas Vashti “made a dot by not making a dot.” At the school art show, Vashti’s dot paintings covered two walls and were quite a hit. Coming around the corner a little boy spied Vashti. He came close and told her, “‘You’re a really great artist. I wish I could draw.’” Vashti was encouraging, but the little boy said he couldn’t even “‘draw a straight line with a ruler.’”

Vashti wanted to see. She handed the boy a blank sheet of paper. With a quivering pencil, he drew a line and handed the paper back to her. Vashti studied the wavy line for a minute, and then gave the paper back. “‘Please…sign it,’” she said.

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Copyright Peter H. Reynolds, 2003, courtesy of Candlewick Press.

Peter H. Reynold’s classic story of a little girl who believes she can’t draw is inspirational for anyone at any age who listens too closely to that voice in their head that stops them from letting go and doing. Whether it’s painting, writing, changing the décor of one’s house, updating a wardrobe, getting healthy, or even taking a class, the project often seems insurmountable. But what if you could start with a YouTube video, one step, a pair of earrings, a pillow, a word, or…a dot? Reynolds says you can! With his straightforward storytelling, Reynolds gives readers permission to play, experiment, and feel free.

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Copyright Peter H. Reynolds, 2003, courtesy of Candlewick Press.

Reynold’s familiar line drawings that sketch out adorable Vashti and her wise teacher are punctuated by the colorful dots that Vashti draws in profusion. Even Vashti, herself, is surrounded by circular auras of color throughout the story, reflecting her talent and creative spirit. The final scene of the art show gallery is a revelation, showing readers that one’s work or life work adds up to an impressive display of the self.

Through and through The Dot is charming, moving, and encouraging. It is a must addition to home libraries, public libraries, and classrooms.

Ages 5 and up

Candlewick Press, 2003 | 978-0763619619

Discover more about International Dot Day, download an Educator’s Guide, and see a gallery of projects on thedotclub.org.

You’ll learn more about Peter H, Reynolds, his books, and his art as well as find lots of inspiration and creative tips on his website!

International Dot Day Activity

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Decorate the Dots Coloring Page

 

How would you color these dots? Grab your favorite paints, markers, or crayons and let your imagination fly with this printable Decorate the Dots Coloring Page.

Picture Book Review