June 23 – Olympic Day and Q & A with Author Heather Lang

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About the Holiday

Olympic Day is celebrated by millions of people in more than 160 countries to commemorate the birth of the modern Olympic Games in 1894. The mission of Olympic Day is to promote fitness, well-being, culture and education, while promoting the Olympic values of excellence, friendship and respect.  The Olympic Day pillars – move, learn and discover – are promoted in every corner of the globe. To have Olympic-size fun today, why not get together with friends or family and host your own mini-Olympic games? For more ideas and to learn more about today’s observance visit teamusa.org!

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

Written by Heather Lang | Illustrated by Floyd Cooper

 

Alice Coachman was a born runner and jumper—skipping, hopping, and vaulting over every obstacle that came her way. As Alice grew older, however, the joy of running and jumping had to come a distant second to chores like cooking, laundry, picking cotton and peaches, and taking care of her younger siblings. Besides, her papa told her, “running and jumping weren’t considered ladylike.” Still, that was all Alice could think about, so after her chores were finished, she went out to play sports with the boys.

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Image copyright Floyd Cooper, text copyright Heather Lang. Courtesy of Boyds Mills Press, 2012.

Living in the segregated South, Alice didn’t have the same rights as white people. She had nowhere to practice, but that didn’t stop her. Alice “ran barefoot on dirt roads. She collected sticks and tied rags together to make her own high jumps. Alice jumped so high, she soared like a bird above the cotton fields.” In seventh grade, Alice caught the attention of the high-school track coach. He arranged for her to join the track team at the Tuskegee Relays in Alabama, where the best black athletes from around the country competed. Alice had never worn track shoes or jumped over a real high-jump bar, she “won first place anyway, beating high-school and college girls.

Alice’s speed did more than win races. Once when a tornado ripped through Albany, she volunteered to deliver food to those in need. She ran so fast that the food stayed hot! Her talent won her a scholarship to finish high school at the Tuskegee Institute. Alice missed her family, and they didn’t have the money to really stay in touch. “One time she went home for a surprise visit, and her family had moved to a different house.”

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Image copyright Floyd Cooper, courtesy of Boyds Mills Press, 2012

Alice competed on both the track-and-field and basketball teams. She won every event— the high jump, the 50-meter, the 100-meter, and the 400-meter relay—and led the basketball team to three straight championships. Alice was ready to compete in the Olympics. It was 1944, however, and the Olympic Games were canceled as the world was at war.

After graduating college from the Tuskegee Institute, Alice went home to continue practicing. Here, she trained alone on dirt roads. In 1948 with the war at an end, Alice qualified to compete in the London Olympics high jump. Even though years of hard training had weakened her back and made jumping painful, Alice pursued her dream. In London, the ravages of war were still visible, and “England faced serious food shortages. Alice and the other athletes were often hungry and thirsty.” The cold weather “pricked her like pins,” but here Alice and the other athletes—black and white—lived together, and Alice could sit anywhere she wanted on the buses as she toured the city.

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Image copyright Floyd Cooper, text copyright Heather Lang. Courtesy of Boyds Mills Press, 2012.

As the Olympic Games opened with spectacular ceremonies, Alice marched into “Wembley Stadium to the applause of eighty-five thousand spectators.” Alice watched for eight days as her teammates lost event after event. Finally, it was Alice’s turn to compete. Her toughest opponent was Dorothy Tyler of Great Britain. “Inch by inch they battled it out—5 feet 3 2/5 inches, 5 feet 4 ½ inches. The sand in the landing pit was thinning out and the landings were tough on Alice’s back. 5 feet 5 1/3 inches.” The day was waning, and even though all of the other events were over, “the king and queen of England and thousands of spectators stayed to watch.”

The bar was placed at 5 feet 6 1/8 inches—as tall as Alice herself. She had never jumped so high before. “She sprinted, pumping her arms. She pushed off and flew…up…soaring…over the bar. Her leap set a new Olympic record!” But it was short lived. Dorothy also cleared the bar on her second attempt. The bar was placed at 5 feet 7 inches. Alice and Dorothy both jumped and missed. What would the judges decide? There are no ties allowed in the high jump.

Suddenly, Alice saw her name appear on the board! The judges awarded the medal to her because she “had made the record-breaking jump on her first try.” On that day—August 7, 1948—Alice Coachman stepped to the top of the podium and “became the first African American woman to win an Olympic gold medal.”

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Image copyright Floyd Cooper, courtesy of Boyds Mills Press, 2012

Author’s Notes containing more information about Alice Coachman and the 1948 Olympics as well as lists of resources follow the text.

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.

Ages 5 and up

Boyds Mills Press, 2012 | ISBN 978-1590788509

Discover more about Heather Lang and her books plus videos, pictures, and fun activities that accompany each book on her website!

Learn more about Floyd Cooper, his books, and his artwork on his website!

Enjoy this Queen of the Track book trailer!

Olympic Day Activity

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Go for the Gold! Word Search

 

Have fun as you look for the names of twenty summer Olympics events in this printable Go for the Gold! Word Search Puzzle! Here’s the Solution!

Q & A with Author Heather Lang

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Today, I’m excited to talk with Heather Lang about her inspirations, her books, brave women, and writing and research lets her be a little like childhood heroine Nancy Drew!

How did you become a children’s writer?

As a child, I loved books and stories and creating things, but I struggled with writing. I was much better at math. I never thought I could become an author, because I wasn’t naturally good at writing. As an adult, with kids of my own, I rediscovered my love for picture books, and I kept thinking how fun it would be to create a picture book! By then I’d realized that the seemingly impossible could be possible with hard work and dedication. So I began writing. It took many years and many rejections, but with support from other writers and my critique group I’ve learned to embrace the process.

Why do you like to write books about brave women?

The women I write about inspire me every day to be brave and step outside of my comfort zone. It’s amazing the things you discover about life and yourself when you dream big, keep an open mind, and push yourself. My hope is that my books will do the same for kids.

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Heather meets Alice Coachman, the first African-American woman to win a gold medal at the Olympic Games.

What inspired you to write Queen of the Track?

After seven years of rejections on my fiction, I needed a little spark in my writing life to keep me going, so I decided to research and write a true story about an inspiring woman. Since I love sports, I looked for an athlete, and who better than the first black woman to win an Olympic gold medal? If Alice Coachman could overcome poverty and segregation and discrimination, surely I could overcome a few rejections. I kept one of Alice’s quotes on my desk: “When the going gets tough and you feel like throwing your hands in the air, listen to that voice that tells you, ‘Keep going. Hang in there.’ Guts and determination will pull you through.”

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You seem to dig very deep when researching a book. What would you say is the biggest surprise you’ve discovered during your research? 

Every book is a treasure hunt, full of surprises and discoveries! My biggest surprise probably came with my most recent book Swimming with Sharks: The Daring Discoveries of Eugenie Clark. When I began my research journey, I was afraid of sharks and swimming in the ocean—terrified actually. As a child, I watched the movie Jaws and believed that sharks were swimming around looking for people to eat. That fear is what drew me to Eugenie Clark, an open-minded young scientist who never judged sharks based on rumors or appearance. I discovered that sharks are intelligent and important and that humans are NOT on the shark menu! I learned to scuba and snorkel, so I could experience Genie’s underwater world and swim with sharks myself. Writing that book transformed my fear of sharks into a passion for them!

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Heather learned to scuba dive while writing Swimming With Sharks: The Daring Discoveries of Eugenie Clark.

With the titles “Diving into Nonfiction and the World of Sharks,” “Got Grit?” and “Girls with Grit: Researching and Writing about Brave Girls,” your interactive presentations sound fascinating. Do you have any anecdotes from your speaking engagements you’d like to share?

I have so much fun visiting with kids and am always amazed at some of their questions. “How big are great white sharks?” “How big are their teeth?” “How big are their pups?” “How do they have pups?” I LOVE their raw curiosity! It inspires me and helps me develop my school visit programs. In reaction to the endless questions kids were asking me about sharks, I designed a program that includes hands-on activities that teach kids about shark anatomy and behavior, as well as the food chain and why sharks are important for a healthy ocean. And in the process, I’ve learned even more cool facts about sharks!

You’ve mentioned that you were inspired by Nancy Drew and once wanted to become a spy, which you compare to researching and writing children’s books. What was your favorite Nancy Drew book and why?

I remember two favorites that I owned: The Mystery at Lilac Inn and The Hidden Staircase. For several summers it was my mission to read every Nancy Drew book in the library. If I couldn’t get there, I’d reread the two that I owned. I never tired of them. I worshipped Nancy’s courage, resourcefulness, and willingness to push boundaries. More than anything I wanted to be a spy, just like her. And in a way, that dream has come true. I do lots of spy work for my books. Ideas and stories are all around us if we look, listen, and investigate. I think solid sleuthing is the backbone of an authentic story.

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Heather researches Ruth Law’s Scrapbook while writing Fearless Flyer: Ruth Law and Her Flying Machine

If you have a particular place that you write, would you mind describing it a little?

I enjoy mixing it up, depending on what I am working on. When I was writing The Original Cowgirl: The Wild Adventures of Lucille Mulhall, I enjoyed writing on a picnic table at a local barn, surrounded by fields and horses. Sometimes I write in my office, but if the weather’s nice I head out to the screened porch. In the winter, my favorite place to write is by a roaring fire with my dog curled up next to me. And often ideas come to me when I’m in the car or on a walk or out to dinner—not the most convenient places to write. But when an idea strikes, I write it down and do a quick free write if possible, or poof the idea can vanish!

What’s the best thing about being a children’s writer?

My favorite part of being a writer is opening kids’ minds and hearts! I grow tremendously with every book I write, and nothing makes me happier than when my books do the same for kids. Whether a book inspires a child to dream big and be brave or it sparks a new interest in sharks or aviation, those moments are powerful.

What’s up next for you?

My next picture book biography, Anybody’s Game: The Story of the First Girl to Play Little League Baseball, comes out in March 2018. I am also working on a new book about sharks. And I’m so excited for an upcoming research trip to the Amazon for a book I’m writing about the rain forest! 

What is your favorite holiday and why?

Christmas in our house is a creative holiday. My daughters and I try to make most of our gifts—anything from soap and candles to knitted hats, woven coasters, and jewelry. And we love to make handmade notecards and ornaments, especially when they involve GLITTER!

Do you have an anecdote from any holiday that you’d like to share?

Every year on Mother’s Day I get to choose exactly what I want to do! No—It’s not going to a spa or a fancy lunch. I choose to get my hands dirty with my husband and kids. It’s the day when we plan our garden, make a trip to the garden center, and plant our seeds and seedlings. 

Thanks so much for chatting with me today, Heather! I wish you the best with all of your books!

You can find Queen of the Track and Heather’s other Books at these booksellers:

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

You can connect with Heather Lang on:

heatherlangbooks.com | Facebook | Twitter

Picture Book Review

May 21 – “I Need A Patch for That” Day

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About the Holiday

Celebrated annually on May 21, “I Need a Patch for That” Day gives a little love to patches of all kinds. Have you been out working in your garden patch? Fabulous! Did you just finish all the requirements for a scouting patch? Good job! Waiting on a fix for the latest software kerfuffle? Who isn’t? Are you a pirate keeping one eye ready for the dark? Argghh! Do you need to patch up a misunderstanding? Good luck! Or maybe you’re a quilter like the amazing women in today’s book who create a patch to remember each of life’s important, inspirational, and formative events. 

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

Written by Patricia C. McKissack | Illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera

 

In this story told through poems, a little girl begins telling readers about her life, starting with a recitation on Gee’s Bend Women: “Gee’s Bend women are / Mothers and Grandmothers / Wives / Sisters and Daughters / Widows.” They are every kind of woman you know, doing every type of work and activity. “Gee’s Bend women are / Talented and Creative / Capable / Makers of artful quilts / Unmatched. / Gee’s Bend women are / Relatives / Neighbors / Friends— / Same as me.”

In Who Would Have Thought, the girl muses on how perceptions change. “For as long as anyone can remember,” she says, the women of Gee’s Bend, Alabama have created quilts that were slept under, sat on, and wrapped around the sick or cold. But now those same quilts are “…hanging on museum walls, / their makers famous….”

When she was just a tot “Baby Girl” reveals in Beneath the Quilting Frame, she played under the quilting frame, listening to her “mama, grandma, and great-gran / as they sewed, talked, sang, and laughed / above my tented playground.” She remembers the “steady fingers  /[that] pieced together colorful scraps of familiar cloth / into something / more lovely / than anything they had been before” as her mother sang her a lullaby.

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Image copyright Cozbi A. Cabrera, courtesy of Random House Books for Young Readers

In Something Else, “Baby Girl” is growing too big to play underneath the frame. Her legs are becoming longer and her mind is full of “recipes for eleven kinds of jelly…how to get rid of mold…and the words to a hundred hymns and gospel songs” while she waits for her turn at the frame. At last, her time does come, and in Where to Start?, the girl asks her mama how to begin. Her mother answers, “‘Look for the heart. / When you find the heart, / your work will leap to life… / strong, beautiful, and… / independent.’”

In Remembering, the girl thinks about how her mama has told her that “cloth has a memory.” As she chooses the cloth that will become her quilt she recounts the life and the history in each. 

Nothing Wasted sees Grandma pulling apart a red-and-white gingham dress stitch by stitch. Suddenly, the girl knows that this cloth will become the patch that “will be the heart of my quilt.” In Puzzling the Pieces the girl and her grandma stand over the quilting frame fitting the squares together in the perfect way to tell the girl’s story. Her quilt comes together piece by piece to tell the history of Gee’s Bend in The River Island. The brown strips along three sides mirror the muddy waters surrounding her town. The fourth side is a green strip—“a symbol of the fields where my ancestors / worked cotton from can to can’t— / can see in the morning until / can’t see at night.” Lined up next to the green strip are six squares representing the small communities “where families with / the same name / are not kin by blood / but by plantation.”

Being Discovered is portrayed with “a large smoke-gray square”—the color of the Great Depression and the 15 minutes of fame Gee’s Bend garnered when discovered “by sociologists, historians, / educators, and journalists” who came and went, leaving Gee’s Bend “the way it had been / before being discovered.”

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Image copyright Cozbi A. Cabrera, courtesy of Random House Books for Young Readers

In Colors, the girl’s grandma explains the meanings and feelings behind each colored cloth. “Blue cools. / Red is loud and hard to control, / like fire and a gossiping tongue.” Green, orange, yellow, white, pink, and all the others have their own personalities. “Grandma says, / ‘Colors show how you / feel deep down inside.’”

In Dr. King Brings Hope, the little girl adds “a spotless white patch for the hope Dr. Martin Luther King / brought to the Bend” and goes on to tell how her grandma saw Dr. King at Pleasant Grove Baptist Church and what it meant to her. By and By follows the girl as she adds “golden thank-yous, for James Reeb,” a “bright blue piece of velvet for Viola Liuzzo,” and a “big plaid people circle of white, black, brown, yellow, and red for Reverend Dr. King, all “killed for believing in justice.”

In the 1960s, The Sewing Bee tells, Gee’s Bend quilters were once again discovered. Joining the Bee provided buyers for the handmade quilts, but there were stipulations on the types of quilts that could be made and sold. The girl asks her grandma if she was part of the Bee, to which she replies, “‘more money. Less freedom. I chose to stay free.’”

At last all of the patches are laid out and the time comes to stitch the girl’s quilt. Five women stand at the frame “all stitchin’ and pullin.’” They work “in a slow and steady rhythm” relaxing and enjoying being together until the quilt is finished. In Finished, the last stitch is sewn, and the thread bitten and knotted. The girl has hundreds of ideas for future quilts. “Quilts that are about me, / the place where I live, / and the people / who have been here for generations.”

Further poems unite the history of “Baby Girl,” her family, and neighbors, and an Author’s Note about quilting and the women of Gee’s Bend follow the text.

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

View a gallery  of fashion designs, dolls, and other handmade art work by Cozbi A. Cabrera on her website!

“I Need a Patch for That” Day Activity

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Design a Quilt Coloring Pages

 

Quilts are so much more than pieces of material sewn together—they’re life stories! Here are two quilt coloring pages for you to design and color. What does each piece mean to you? As you color each section, write a sentence about an event or thought that is important to you.

Quilt Template 1 | Quilt Template 2

Picture Book Review

February 16 – International Month of Black Women in the Arts

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About the Holiday

During this month we recognize the contributions of black women across the fields of literature, fine, performing, culinary, and healing arts. To celebrate, research black women artists and attend exhibits, readings, or other events that showcase these talented women.

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

Written by Deborah Blumenthal | Illustrated by Laura Freeman

 

From the time that Ann Cole Lowe was old enough to thread a needle, she loved to sew. While her momma and grandma worked at their sewing machines, making dresses for the socialites of Alabama, Ann sat nearby turning “the wisps of cloth” that fell to the floor into “flowers as bright as roses in the garden.” Even at a young age Ann understood that “doing what you love could set your spirit soaring.”

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Image copyright Laura Freeman, text copyright Deborah Blumenthal, courtesy of simonandschuster.com

When Ann was only sixteen years old, her momma died. Not only did her mother’s death leave Ann bereft, it left her in charge of the business, and many women were waiting for gowns, most importantly the Alabama governor’s wife. “Ann thought about what she could do, not what she couldn’t change.” She sat down and finished the dresses. “Then she stood up and ran the business.”

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Image copyright Laura Freeman, text copyright Deborah Blumenthal, courtesy of simonandschuster.com

In 1916 a woman in Florida hired her to sew dresses. She also sent Ann to design school in New York. Because she was African American, however, Ann was required to study in a separate classroom by herself. Ann was not deterred. She continued to make unique gowns and dresses, and her client list grew. Finally, Ann had saved enough money to open a salon of her own in Manhattan. Sometimes she didn’t have enough money to pay all the bills, but she persisted. Her life was about “what she could do, not what she couldn’t change.”

One day Ann received an order for a wedding dress from a woman who was marrying a United States senator. The woman’s name was Jacqueline Bouvier and the man was John F. Kennedy, a future president of the U.S. Ann bought 50 yards of ivory silk taffeta and designed a beautiful dress with a bouffant skirt and pleated bands decorated with tiny wax flowers. She also made the dresses for Jacqueline’s attendants.

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Image copyright Laura Freeman, text copyright Deborah Blumenthal, courtesy of simonandschuster.com

Then ten days before the wedding, Ann walked into her workroom and discovered that a water pipe had burst, flooding the dresses, material, everything. Ten of the sixteen gowns Ann had sewn were destroyed. “Ann though about what she could do, not what she couldn’t change.” She ordered new fabric, hired more seamstresses, and went to work. On this job she lost money instead of making it, but none of that mattered. In eight days all of the dresses were ready.

When Ann delivered the gowns to the mansion in Newport, Rhode Island, the butler who answered the door told her workers needed to use the back entrance. Ann replied that “if she had to enter through the back door, the bride and bridesmaids wouldn’t be wearing her dresses for the wedding.” The front door swung open. On the day of the wedding—September 12, 1953—the whole world oohed and aahed over Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy’s gorgeous gown and her bridesmaids’ dresses, but not many people thought about or knew the name of the woman who had created them. “Why? Because Ann Cole Lowe was African American. And life wasn’t fair.”

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Image copyright Laura Freeman, text copyright Deborah Blumenthal, courtesy of simonandschuster.com

Ann continued to design and sew party dresses and evening gowns for the women of high society. She “didn’t make fine clothes to get rich or famous,” however, but, as she once said, “‘To prove that a Negro can become a major dress designer.’” In 1961 Ann finally gained public recognition for her work when she was named “Official Couturiere” in honor of the 33 ball gowns she created for an elegant ball in Omaha, Nebraska. She proudly accepted her award as the fashion world applauded.

An Author’s Note explaining more about Ann Cole Lowe’s life and work follows the text.

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Image copyright Laura Freeman, text copyright Deborah Blumenthal, courtesy of simonandschuster.com

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

To learn more about Deborah Blumenthal and her books for children, young adults, and adults, visit her website!

Discover a gallery of illustration work by Laura Freeman on her website!

International Month of Black Women in the Arts Activity

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Create Your Own Party Dress 

 

With this easy craft you can make a  fun sheath dress for playing dress-up. It’s also a great party activity! All you need is a plastic or paper party table cloth, Sharpies, and your imagination!

Supplies

  • 1 plastic party tablecloth (1 cloth will most likely make 4 dresses)
  • Sharpies or other permanent markers
  • Ribbon, scarf, crepe paper garland, or other material for a belt
  • Scissor
  • Newspaper, old sheeting or other material to protect the floor

Directions

  1. With the table cloth folded along one edge, cut a rectangle the appropriate size for the child
  2. In the middle of the folded edge cut a V-shaped or rounded opening for the child’s head. Begin with a small opening and enlarge it as needed
  3. Lay the dress on newspaper or other material to protect the floor
  4. Draw and color shapes, lines, figures, or other designs on the dress
  5. Slip on over a shirt and pants or leggings
  6.  Add a belt with a ribbon, scarf, piece of crepe paper garland, or other material

Picture Book Review

February 12 – It’s Black History Month

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About the Holiday

Black History Month, also known as National African American History Month celebrates the achievements and contributions of African Americans in United States History. Originally a week-long observance commemorating the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln on February 12 and Frederick Douglass on February 14,  Black History Month was officially established in 1976 by then president Gerald Ford.

Words Set Me Free

Written by Lesa Cline-Ransome | Illustrated by James E. Ransome

 

Born into slavery and separated from his mother in infancy, Frederick Bailey is raised by his Grandmama while his mother works on a separate plantation. When she is able Harriet Bailey walks the 12 miles between plantations to spend a few short hours with her son, watching him sleep before making the long journey back. While Frederick is still a very young child, his mother falls ill and dies. Douglass recalls never seeing his mother’s face in daylight.

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Image copyright James E. Ransome, text copyright Carole Boston Weatherford. Courtesy of Simon & Schuster.

At the age of six, Frederick is moved from his Grandmama’s cabin to the plantation house. At eight, he is sent to the master’s brother in Baltimore, Maryland. Here, the master’s wife, Sophia Auld, treats Frederick more like a paid servant then as a slave. When Frederick says he wants to learn how to read and write, she immediately begins teaching him the alphabet. Frederick is always mindful, however, that he may be punished for these lessons, and he has only memorized the letters and a few words before his master puts an end to his education. Angrily, the master explains to his wife, “If you teach him how to read…it would forever unfit him to be a slave.”

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These words are perhaps Frederick’s greatest lesson. He never forgets them, and they fuel his resolve to pursue an education. He makes clever use of the few resources he has and slowly learns to read and write. From the newspapers he discovers that the North offers freedom, and Frederick decides to escape. It’s many long years, however, before he can fulfill his dreams. At last, he sees an opportunity to leave the South behind, and using his talent for writing makes his escape a reality.

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Image copyright James E. Ransome, courtesy of Simon & Schuster.

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

Learn more about Lesa Cline-Ransome and her books on her website!

Find a gallery of illustration, paintings, drawings, videos, and more on James E. Ransome‘s website!

Black History Month Activity

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Frederick Douglass Word Search

 

Words were so important to Frederick Douglass that he risked everything to learn how to read and write. In this printable Frederick Douglass Word Search Puzzle you will find words about the subject of today’s book. Here’s the Solution

February 1 – National Freedom Day

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About the Holiday

National Freedom Day commemorates the February 1, 1865 signing by President Abraham Lincoln of a joint United States House of Representatives and Senate resolution that outlawed slavery and later became the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. Major Richard Robert Wright Sr., a former slave, called on local and national leaders to meet in Philadelphia and formalize a national day of remembrance. In 1947, a year after Wright’s death, the U.S. Congress passed a bill marking February 1 as National Freedom Day. The proclamation was signed into law on June 30, 1948 by President Harry S Truman. The holiday led to Black History Day, which was later expanded to Black History Month.

Freedom in Congo Square

Written by Carole Boston Weatherford | Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie

 

From sunup to sundown slaves brought to the state of Louisiana from their homelands in Africa and the West Indies toiled on plantations six days a week. The seventh day, Sunday, was set aside as a day of rest and worship, and in the afternoon people of African descent gathered in Congo Square in the heart of New Orleans to dance, play instruments, and talk. On Monday morning the long week began anew, but the rhythms of Congo Square sustained the men, women, and children through “hogs to slop, / mules to train, and logs to chop. / Slavery was no ways fair. / Six more days to Congo Square.

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Image copyright R. Gregory Christie, text Carole Boston Weatherford. Courtesy simonandschuster.com

On Tuesdays, with “cows to feed, / fields to plow, and rows to seed,” five more days stretched out in endless labor. “Wednesdays, there were beds to make, / silver to shine, and bread to bake. / The dreaded lash, too much to bear. / Four more days to Congo Square.” Thursdays came with wash tubs and drying lines, scrub brushes, and brooms. “Spirituals rose from the despair. / Three more days to Congo Square.”

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Image copyright R. Gregory Christie, text Carole Boston Weatherford. Courtesy simonandschuster.com

Fridays were spent in back-breaking work and though some brave souls dared to run, most were counting “Two more days to Congo Square.” Saturdays brought no more relief, but the days had whittled down to hours and “Freedom was slaves’ ardent prayer. / One more day to Congo Square.” At last came Sunday afternoon, and slaves and free rushed to Congo Square—“…a market and a gathering ground / where African music could resound.”

They met their kinsmen by nation, tribe, or language and revived their own stories and music played on drums, fiddles, shells, flutes, gourds, and bells that led to chants and dancing. “This piece of earth was a world apart. / Congo Square was freedom’s heart.”

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Image copyright R. Gregory Christie, text Carole Boston Weatherford. Courtesy simonandschuster.com

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.

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Image copyright R. Gregory Christie, text Carole Boston Weatherford. Courtesy simonandschuster.com

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.

A detailed Forward by historian and Congo Square scholar, Freddi Williams Evans and an Author’s Note following the text reveal more information on the history of Congo Square and its significance to Jazz music.

Freedom in Congo Square is both a heartrending and jubilant book that would make a wonderful and meaningful addition to any child’s home library.

Ages 4 – 8

little bee books, 2016 | ISBN 978-1499801033

Learn more about Carole Boston Weatherford and her books and discover book-related resources on her website!

If you’re lucky enough to live in Decatur, Illinois, you can visit R. Gregory Christie’s unique art studio, art school, and bookstore Gas-Art Gifts Autographed Children’s Bookstore. If you don’t live near Decatur, you can check out all the books, art, and items for sale on the website!

National Freedom Day Activity

Freedom Stone

 

Freedom is a precious right—one that can be represented in different ways by each person. For today’s activity use a brick, paving stone, large stone, or molded plaster of Paris and decorate it with a picture or design that means freedom to you. Then put it in a special place—in a garden, near your front or back door, in your room, or in another spot—where it will remind you of freedom’s gifts.

Supplies

  • Brick, paving stone, large stone, plaster of Paris
  • Paint
  • Plastic gems, bead, or other small objects
  • Strong glue or other adhesive
  • Paint brush

Directions

  1. Create a design that shows what freedom means to you or an object that represents freedom to you
  2. Paint your stone with the design, let dry
  3. Add gems, beads, or other objects
  4. Display your Freedom Stone

Picture Book Review

January 27 – It’s Creativity Month

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About the Holiday

January is a time for reflection and new beginnings. What better time to start thinking creatively and finding your inner artist, scientist, inventor, thinker? Go ahead and do the thing you’ve always wanted to do!

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

Written by Patricia C. McKissack | Illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera

In this story told through poems, a little girl begins telling of her life, starting with a recitation on Gee’s Bend Women: “Gee’s Bend women are / Mothers and Grandmothers / Wives / Sisters and Daughters / Widows.” They are every kind of woman you know, doing every type of work and activity. “Gee’s Bend women are / Talented and Creative / Capable / Makers of artful quilts / Unmatched. / Gee’s Bend women are / Relatives / Neighbors / Friends— / Same as me.”

In Who Would Have Thought, the girl muses on how perceptions change. “For as long as anyone can remember,” she says, the women of Gee’s Bend, Alabama have created quilts that were slept under, sat on, and wrapped around the sick or cold. But now those same quilts are “…hanging on museum walls, / their makers famous….”

When she was just a tot “Baby Girl” reveals in Beneath the Quilting Frame, she played under the quilting frame, listening to her “mama, grandma, and great-gran / as they sewed, talked, sang, and laughed / above my tented playground.” She remembers the “steady fingers  /[that] pieced together colorful scraps of familiar cloth / into something / more lovely / than anything they had been before” as her mother sang her a lullaby.

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Image copyright Cozbi A. Cabrera, courtesy of Random House Books for Young Readers

In Something Else, “Baby Girl” is growing too big to play beneath the frame. Her legs becoming longer and her mind full of “recipes for eleven kinds of jelly…how to get rid of mold…and the words to a hundred hymns and gospel songs” while she waits her turn at the frame. Finally, in Where to Start? her time comes. The girl asks her mama how to begin and she answers, “‘Look for the heart. / When you find the heart, / your work will leap to life… / strong, beautiful, and… / independent.’”

In Remembering, the girl thinks about how her mama has told her that “cloth has a memory.” As she chooses the cloth that will become her quilt she sees the life and the history in each. 

Nothing Wasted sees Grandma pulling apart a red-and-white gingham dress stitch by stitch to become a quilting square that the girl suddenly knows “will be the heart of my quilt.” In Puzzling the Pieces the girl and her grandma stand over the quilting frame fitting the squares together in the perfect way to tell the girl’s story. Her quilt comes together piece by piece to tell the history of Gee’s Bend in The River Island. The brown strips along three sides mirror the muddy waters surrounding her town. The fourth side is a green strip—“a symbol of the fields where my ancestors / worked cotton from can to can’t— / can see in the morning until / can’t see at night.” Lined up next to the green strip are six squares representing the small communities “where families with / the same name / are not kin by blood / but by plantation.”

Being Discovered is portrayed with “a large smoke-gray square”—the color of the Great Depression and the 15 minutes of fame Gee’s Bend garnered when discovered “by sociologists, historians, / educators, and journalists” who came and went, leaving Gee’s Bend “the way it had been / before being discovered.”

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Image copyright Cozbi A. Cabrera, courtesy of Random House Books for Young Readers

In Colors, the girl’s grandma explains the meanings and feelings behind each colored cloth. “Blue cools. / Red is loud and hard to control, / like fire and a gossiping tongue.” Green, orange, yellow, white, pink, and all the others have their own personalities. “Grandma says, / ‘Colors show how you / feel deep down inside.’”

In Pinky, the harrowing facts of the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama frame the story of one marcher, Mr. Willie Quill who broke horses for the Alabama State Mounted Patrol and was saved from the Police attacks when one of the horses he’d trained knew his voice. In Dr. King Brings Hope, the little girl adds a “Patch of bright pink / to remember Pinky’s story. / Next to it I sew / a spotless white patch for the hope Dr. Martin Luther King / brought to the Bend” and goes on to tell how her grandma saw Dr. King at Pleasant Grove Baptist Church and what it meant to her.

By and By follows the girl as she adds “golden thank-yous, for James Reeb,” a “bright blue piece of velvet for Viola Liuzzo,” and a “big plaid people circle of white, black, brown, yellow, and red for Reverend Dr. King, all “killed for believing in justice.”

In the 1960s, The Sewing Bee tells, Gee’s Bend quilters were once again discovered. There were buyers for the handmade quilts, but stipulations. The girl asks her grandma if she was part of the Bee, to which she replies, “‘Yes, / more money. Less freedom. I chose to stay free.’”

At last all of the patches are laid out and the time comes to stitch the girl’s quilt. Five women stand at the frame “all stitchin’ and pullin.’” They work “in a slow and steady rhythm” relaxing and enjoying being together until the quilt is finished. In Finished, the last stitch is sewn, and the thread bitten and knotted. The girl has hundreds of ideas for future quilts. “Quilts that are about me, / the place where I live, / and the people / who have been here for generations.”

Further poems unite the history of “Baby Girl,” her family, and neighbors, and an Author’s Note about quilting and the women of Gee’s Bend follow the text.

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, on 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 side mirror a dot of a house comes into view, 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 and delved into again and again, making it a wonderful choice for home libraries and a must for school, public, and other libraries.

Ages 5 – 12

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

View a gallery  of fashion designs, dolls, and other handmade art work by Cozbi A. Cabrera on her website!

Creativity Month Activity

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Design a Quilt Coloring Pages

Quilts are so much more than pieces of material sewn together—they’re life stories! Here are two quilt coloring pages for you to design and color. What does each piece mean to you? As you color each section, write a sentence about an event or thought that is important to you.

Quilt Template 1 | Quilt Template 2

Picture Book Review

January 16 – Martin Luther King Jr. Day

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About the Holiday

Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrates the life and legacy of the man who dedicated his life and work to teaching—as Coretta Scott King stated—“the values of courage, truth, justice, compassion, dignity, humility and service” and led a non-violent Civil Rights movement to enact racial equality and justice throughout state and federal law. President Ronald Reagan signed the holiday into law in 1983, setting it on the third Monday of January to coincide with Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday on January 15. The holiday was officially observed in all 50 states in 2000. Today, learn more about the life and work of Martin Luther King and how you can help promote justice and equality for all. Consider volunteering in your community where help is needed.

I am Martin Luther King, Jr.

Written by Brad Meltzer | Illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos

 

Standing inside a church, Martin Luther King, Jr. introduces himself with two anecdotes from his childhood that demonstrate his world outlook. “When I was little,” he says, “I used to get into a lot of accidents.” He was hit in the head by a baseball bat, knocked down by cars and once even “tumbled over our banister, then bounced through an open door into the basement.” While these incidents could have made him cautious, Martin instead was determined to keep “getting back up.” His second influence were the books in which he could find “big words.” Even as a child Martin recognized that “there is power in words.”

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Image copyright Christopher Eliopoulos, text copyright Brad Meltzer. Courtesty of Dial Books for Young Readers

Before he went to school, Martin relates, his best friend was a white boy whose father owned a nearby store. They did everything together until school started. Then Martin went to a school with only black students while his friend went to a white-students-only school. Soon, Martin’s friend told him his father didn’t want them to play together anymore. Martin was confused. When his parents told him the reason was that they had different colored skin, Martin felt angry. He wanted to hate his friend and his father, but Martin’s parents taught him to love his friend, and his mother told him, “you must never feel that you are less than anyone else.”

It was a difficult lesson when all around him he saw inequality. White schools had better equipment, there were different elevators, bathrooms, water fountains, and other facilities for black people and white people, on buses black riders had to give up their seats to white riders. Everywhere black people and white people were segregated.

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Image copyright Christopher Eliopoulos, text copyright Brad Meltzer. Courtesty of Dial Books for Young Readers

When Martin was only 15 he was admitted to college. At 19 he entered the seminary where he learned about civil disobedience and nonviolent resistance—ways to use “love and peaceful methods to change unfair things in society.” These were lessons Martin wanted to share with others. His chance to put his thoughts into action came when Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to relinquish her seat to a white man. Martin advocated a peaceful protest—a boycott of public buses. He reasoned that without the money from black riders, the bus companies would change their policies.

As the boycott began working, Martin gave a speech in Montgomery, Alabama, motivating people to continue their peaceful protest. Martin was put in jail and his house was bombed, but the boycott continued for more than a year. Eventually, the bus companies changed their rules. Other peaceful protests began to take place in restaurants and other public places.

One protest took place in Birmingham, Alabama.  Martin was again put in prison, where he wrote one of his most famous speeches. Children also took part in the Birmingham protest. The Children’s Crusade attracted more than 1,000 kids. On the first day 900 of them were arrested, but that only inspired the children more. On the second day 2,500 children showed up. They stood firm while they were sprayed with water hoses and attacked by police dogs. People—both black and white—watching the news reports were aghast. Three months later the rules began to change.

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Image copyright Christopher Eliopoulos, text copyright Brad Meltzer. Courtesty of Dial Books for Young Readers

“By the summer of 1963, an estimated one million Americans held their own protests in cities across the country.” Then A. Philip Randolph suggested a single huge march to convince “Congress and the president to pass laws so that no one in America can treat people differently based on skin color.” On August 28, 1963 the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom took place. Martin gave what may now be considered his most famous speech in which he talked about his dreams for the country, for the people, and for their children.

Although Congress began passing new laws, the ability and right to vote in elections still eluded black people. To change the voting rules another march was organized to walk 54 miles from Selma to Montgomery Alabama. The 600 walkers were met by police who stopped them. Two days later 2,500 activists tried again but could not get through. On the third try 8,000 marchers showed up. This time, with the world watching on television, the activists made it to Montgomery, protected by troops sent by President Johnson.

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Martin continued to speak out, relating his philosophy and dreams for the nation. “To reach our goals, we must walk the path of peace,” he said. “We must lock arms with our brothers and sisters. We must march together. When we do…Our voices will be heard, and freedom will ring.” The lessons Martin Luther King taught still resonate today. He stands “as proof that no matter how hard the struggle, we must fight for what is right and work to change what is wrong.…if we stand together, if we remain united, nothing can stop our dream.”

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Brad Meltzer’s Ordinary People Change the World: I am… series of biographies are well-known for showing young readers that they can achieve their dreams and make a difference no matter what those hopes may be. In his biography of Martin Luther King, Jr., Meltzer depicts several incidents from King’s childhood and early adulthood that influenced his future work. These help readers understand not only the types of prejudice King and other African Americans experienced, but also the people who inspired his philosophy of peace.

Meltzer’s inclusion of King’s imprisonments and the violence that met the peaceful protesters deepens the understanding of the dangers King and other protesters faced, and provides an opportunity to open a discussion between adults and children about those times and what they now see in the news. Meltzer’s description of the Children’s Crusade will inspire readers, making them proud of children in the past and stirring them to actions of their own. Sections from King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail and his most famous speeches are presented in speech bubbles. The text is followed by photographs of Martin Luther King, Jr. with his family and at the March on Washington as well as a timeline of his life. Sources and resources for further reading are also included.

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In keeping with the style of all of Meltzer’s and Christopher Eliopoulos’s Ordinary People Change the World: I am… biographies, the illustrations are vibrant and cartoon-inspired. Martin Luther King, Jr. is depicted with the size of a child but the features of an adult, reinforcing the idea contained in the text of the dual nature of the future adult residing in the child and the ideals of the child remaining in the adult that appeals to ambitious young readers. Speech bubbles highlight text that carry emotional dialogue. Settings, including churches, Birmingham jail, Washington DC, the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Alabama, and the Martin Luther King, Jr. monument give children a look at the cities and places described in the text.

For young readers, I am Martin Luther King, Jr. offers a comprehensive biography of the man who was a national and world leader in the fight for equal rights for all people and makes an excellent starting place for classroom lessons and personal discussions.

Ages 5 – 8

Dial Books for Young Readers, 2016 | ISBN 978-0525428527

Discover more about Brad Meltzer and his books for adults and children as well as other goodies on his website!

Learn more about Christopher Eliopoulos, his books, and his comics on his website!

Martin Luther King Jr. Day Activity

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Martin Luther King, Jr. Portrait

 

Color this printable Martin Luther King, Jr. Portrait and then hang it in your room or locker to inspire you!

Picture Book Review