April 7 – It’s National Poetry Month

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About the Holiday

This month we celebrate poets and the poetry they create to illuminate our lives in new and often surprising ways. National Poetry Month is a world-wide event, bringing together tens of millions of poets, readers, teachers, librarians, booksellers, publishers, and other poetry lovers in readings, school visits, and special events. To celebrate, check out some events in your area and enjoy reading the work of your favorite—or a new—poet. You might even try writing your own poetry! Get inspired with today’s book!

I received a copy of Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks from Abrams Books for Young Readers for review consideration. All opinions about the book are my own.

Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks

Written by Suzanne Slade | Illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera

 

Growing up in Chicago, Gwendolyn Brooks’ family didn’t have a lot of money but they did own “great treasure—a bookcase filled with precious poems.” Every night Gwendolyn’s father read aloud from those books, and, mesmerized, Gwendolyn memorized poems to recite for her visiting aunts. “When she was seven, Gwendolyn began arranging words into poems of her own.” One day, her mother read her poems and declared that one day she would be as great as Paul Laurence Dunbar—Gwendolyn’s favorite poet.

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Image copyright Cozbi A. Cabrera, 2020, text copyright Suzanne Slade, 2020. Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

Gwendolyn loved to sit on her porch and watch the clouds float by. She filled notebooks about them and about her “paper dolls, ticktock clocks, raindrops, sunsets, and climbing rocks.” When Gwendolyn was eleven, she sent four of her poems to a newspaper, and, much to her delight, they were printed. A poem she sent to a national magazine also appeared in print.

Gwendolyn was looking forward to a bright future when the Great Depression hit. But Gwendolyn kept writing. In high school she was an outsider, never seeming to fit in despite trying several schools. “Gwendolyn felt invisible. But when words flowed from her pen, she became invincible.” After college she took whatever jobs she could find and continued writing. She got married and had a baby boy. Even though she was busy, she took poetry classes about modern poems and wrote in a new style herself.

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Image copyright Cozbi A. Cabrera, 2020, text copyright Suzanne Slade, 2020. Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

She wrote about what and who she saw in her South Side Chicago neighborhood, Bronzeville. She began to win poetry contests and had some poems published in a well-known poetry journal. She and her family were still poor, but that didn’t stop her from writing “‘what she saw and heard in the street’” even when there was no electricity. Just as when she was a little girl, Gwendolyn “kept dreaming about a future that was going to be exquisite.”

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Image copyright Cozbi A. Cabrera, 2020, text copyright Suzanne Slade, 2020. Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

One day, she gathered her best poems and submitted them to a book publisher in New York. Soon after, they wrote asking for more. She wrote and wrote until she had enough to send. With the next letter from the publisher, she learned that they “loved her poems!” They were published with the title A Street in Bronzeville. After that book, came a second, Annie Allen. Her poems were now read all over the world. They “helped people better understand others” and “changed the way some people thought and acted.”

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Image copyright Cozbi A. Cabrera, 2020, text copyright Suzanne Slade, 2020. Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

Even with two books published, money was scarce. And yet she kept writing because “everywhere she looked, Gwendolyn saw more stories that needed to be told.” One day two things happened in Gwendolyn’s apartment: the electricity was turned off—again. And the phone rang. The reporter on the phone had one question for her: “‘Do you know that you have won the Pulitzer Prize?’” She and her young son danced around the apartment as “outside, exquisite clouds exploded in the sunset sky, because Gwendolyn had won the greatest prize in poetry!”

“Clouds,” a poem written by Gwendolyn Brooks when she was fifteen, follows the story. An Author’s Note giving more information about Brooks’ work, a timeline of her life, and resources are also included.

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Image copyright Cozbi A. Cabrera, 2020, text copyright Suzanne Slade, 2020. Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

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.

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Image copyright Cozbi A. Cabrera, 2020, text copyright Suzanne Slade, 2020. Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

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

Discover more about Suzanne Slade and her books on her website.

To learn more about Cozbi A. Cabrera, her books, and her art on her website.

Watch the Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks book trailer

National Poetry Month Activity

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You’re a Poet, Don’t You Know It! Word Search Puzzle

Find the twenty poetry-related words in this printable puzzle then write a poem of your own!

You’re a Poet, Don’t You Know It! Puzzle | You’re a Poet, Don’t You Know It! Solution

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You can find Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks at these booksellers

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

March 30 – National Women’s History Month

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About the Holiday

Women have been inventing, discovering, questioning, challenging, and changing the world in the same ways and for just as long as men have—but often without recognition, the ability to take jobs in their fields of expertise, or equal (or even any) pay. This month’s observance serves to educate people on the amazing women who have blazed trails in the past and those who are continuing that tradition today. As we close out National Women’s History Month, we take a look at a book about one woman who has broken many barriers throughout her life and continues to inspire children and adults.

Blast off into Space Like Mae Jemison (Work It, Girl! series)

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.

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Image copyright Sinem Erkes, 2020, text copyright Caroline Moss, 2020. Courtesy of Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

In the first chapter, children meet Mae as a young girl and her parents who took her dreams seriously, instilled in her a strong work ethic, and guided her on her way to the stars. Is a splinter science? In Chapter 2, readers learn how an infected injury led Mae and her mom to “do a science experiment with the infection” that taught her “so much about doctors and science and health…. Mae was also excited to realize this was something that truly interested her.” Excited to share her research and discovery at school, Mae instead felt those first feelings of doubt when her teacher discouraged her goal of becoming a scientist.

In Chapter 3, children sit in on this class, but also follow 9-year-old Mae home, where her mom tells her “‘It does not matter what anyone thinks…. What matters is that you work hard, set goals, and do your best to achieve them. What matters is that you believe in yourself.” It’s also at this time that Mae watched the Apollo moon landing and thought that maybe someday she go into space too.

When she was 11, Mae discovered dance. She not only discovered it, she discovered she loved it and was good at it. Would Mae decide to become a dancer instead of a scientist? Or, Mae wondered, could she do both? Her mom gave her a bit of perspective that made sense to Mae and “helped her to prioritize her goals and dreams.” What was that advice? You can read about it in Chapter 4.

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Image copyright Sinem Erkes, 2020, text copyright Caroline Moss, 2020. Courtesy of Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

In Chapters 5 and 6, Mae is getting closer to her goal as she goes off to Stanford University at age 16 and then on to medical school at Cornell University, from which she graduated as a Doctor of Medicine in 1981. After grad school, Mae spent a few years in the Peace Corps overseas. When she came back, she learned that “NASA was accepting applications for astronauts. She thought of Sally Ride, a trailblazer; the first American woman in space. She was inspired.” The application was long, and so was the wait to hear back. When she finally got the letter and tore it open, she learned that “out of 2,000 people, she had been accepted to the NASA astronaut program!” She also “realized quickly that out of the fifteen people selected for the 1987 NASA program, she was both the only Black person and the only Black woman.” After her training, she was given a job in the Cape Canaveral, Florida, Kennedy Space Center, “using her math and science knowledge to work with software for shuttles.”

You know that Mae Jemison did go into space, so when does she blast off? In Chapter 7! Young future astronauts will discover what she did before that momentous trip, and in Chapter 8, they’ll read about microgravity, what experiments Mae worked on, how she slept strapped to the wall, what she ate, and other details of her eight days in space.

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Image copyright Sinem Erkes, 2020, text copyright Caroline Moss, 2020. Courtesy of Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

Chapter 9 relates what Mae has done after leaving NASA. Her teaching career and the Dorothy Jemison Foundation she began were fostered by “a pull inside her to get in front of young people to impart this wisdom. She wanted to create a better world than the one she lived in as a little girl. She wanted kids, especially girls, to know that the world needed them, and the world of science definitely needed them.” As the leader of NASA’s 100 Year Starship Program, Mae’s doing just that. Read about it and be inspired to shoot for your own stars in Chapter 10.

Quotes by Mae Jemison and motivational snapshots are highlighted throughout the text. Back matter includes ten key lessons from Mae Jemison’s life on becoming a leader, questions to prompt kids to think about science, their passions, staying motivated, making a difference, and what they want their legacy to be. There is also a list of books, websites, and organizations for further reading and exploration.

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Image copyright Sinem Erkes, 2020, text copyright Caroline Moss, 2020. Courtesy of Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

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

Discover more abouCaroline Moss and her books on her website.

To learn more about Sinem Erkas, her books, and her art, visit her website.

National Women’s History Month Activity

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Out-of-this-World Tic-Tac-Toe Game

 

You can launch your own Tic-Tac-Toe Game with this set you make yourself! With just a couple of egg cartons, some crayons, and a printable game board, you’ll be off to the moon for some fun! Opposing players can be designated by rockets and capsules. Each player will need 5 playing pieces. 

SUPPLIES

  • Printable Moon Tic-Tac-Toe Game Board
  • 2 cardboard egg cartons
  • Heavy stock paper or regular printer paper
  • Crayons
  • Black or gray fine-tip marker

DIRECTIONS

To Make the Rockets

  1. Cut the tall center cones from the egg carton
  2. Trim the bottoms of each form so they stand steadily, leaving the arched corners intact
  3. Pencil in a circular window on one side near the top of the cone
  4. Color the rocket body any colors you like, going around the window and stopping where the arched corners begin
  5. With the marker color the arched corners of the form to make legs
  6. On the cardboard between the legs, color flames for blast off

To Make the Capsule

  1. Cut the egg cups from an egg carton
  2. Color the sides silver, leaving the curved section uncolored. (If your egg cup has no pre-pressed curve on the sides of the cup, draw one on each side.)
  3. Color the curved section yellow to make windows
  4. With the marker, dot “rivets” across the capsule

Print the Moon Game Board and play!

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You can find Blast off into Space Like Mae Jemison at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

February 26 – It’s Black History Month

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About the Holiday

Black History Month is a celebration of the achievements of African Americans and the contributions they have made to the United States History. Appropriately for this election year, the theme for 2020 is “African Americans and the Vote,” which recognizes the struggle for both black men as well as women throughout American history. This year marks the 150th anniversary of the Fifteenth Amendment, which was ratified in 1870 and gave black men the right to vote after the Civil War. It has also been one hundred years since women gained the right to vote. For more information about Black History Month, visit the ASALH website and africanamericanhistorymonth.gov.

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

Written by Chris Barton | Illustrated by Ekua Holmes

 

As a child growing up in the Fifth Ward of Houston, Texas, Barbara Jordan was known for her distinctive voice. “That voice. That big, bold, booming, crisp, clear, confident voice. It caused folks to sit right up, stand up straight, and take notice. What do you do with a voice like that?” Barbara recited poetry, gave speeches, and in 1952 won an oratory contest with a trip to Chicago as the prize. She was proud of herself and where her voice was leading her. But where would that be?

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Image copyright Ekua Holmes, 2018, text copyright Chris Barton, 2018. Courtesy of Beach Lane Books.

She considered becoming a preacher, a teacher, and a lawyer. When a black woman lawyer gave a speech at Barbara’s high school, Barbara thought she had found her calling. She attended college where she “learned how to find facts for herself, debate important issues, defend good ideas, and dismantle bad ones.” She graduated with a law degree, but practicing law became boring. She wrote more than she spoke, and the work was not demanding enough.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-what-do-you-do-with-a-voice-like-that-studying

Image copyright Ekua Holmes, 2018, text copyright Chris Barton, 2018. Courtesy of Beach Lane Books.

It was 1960, and Barbara decided to lend her voice to causes she believed in. She became involved in politics, and on one pivotal night, she filled in for a speaker who was absent. “The audience loved her. They trusted her. Most important they were inspired to do something—to get out and vote” and to persuade others to vote. Barbara decided to run for office. She lost her first two elections, but the third one she won.

Barbara Jordan was now a Texas state senator, representing the people she grew up with. She believed in making changes from within the political system through debating issues on the Senate floor. She also got to know her colleagues outside of work, and they got to know her. They listened to each other, and positive changes were the result. In 1972, Barbara ran for Congress and won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington DC.

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Image copyright Ekua Holmes, 2018, text copyright Chris Barton, 2018. Courtesy of Beach Lane Books.

In 1973, the Watergate scandal broke. “President Nixon, it seemed, had broken the law, and Congress had to decide what to do about it.” Once again, as a member of the House Judiciary Committee, Barbara used her voice to remind Congress and the American people that “the Constitution is the document governing all the laws in the United States and applies to all of its people.” Then “in her big, bold, booming, crisp, clear, confident tone” she said, “‘My faith in the Constitution is whole…. And I am not going to sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the destruction of the Constitution.’” Barbara said that the president must go. President Nixon resigned in 1974.

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Image copyright Ekua Holmes, 2018, text copyright Chris Barton, 2018. Courtesy of Beach Lane Books.

Barbara became a star, shining “like a bright light in a dark place.” She became the voice for those battling discrimination, for those “who had less power…who possessed quieter strengths than her own…who did not want to be limited by their weaknesses.” People talked about Barbara becoming a Senator, a Supreme Court Justice, or possibly Vice President.

But Barbara, unknown even to herself, had been struggling with multiple sclerosis, and now her inner voice told her that the place she belonged was home. Back in Texas, she became a college professor, where she taught her students not only to “do something, but to do the right thing.” Her students are still working today, striving to make the world a better place and to inspire everyone to make their voices heard.

An Author’s Note, a detailed timeline of Barbara Jordan’s life, and other recommended resources follows the text.

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Image copyright Ekua Holmes, 2018, text copyright Chris Barton, 2018. Courtesy of Beach Lane Books.

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.

Ages 4 – 8 and up

Beach Lane Books, 2018 | ISBN 978-1481465618

Discover more about Chris Barton and his books on his website.

To learn more about Ekua Holmes, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Black History Month Activity

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Barbara Jordan Inspirational Poster

 

If you have ideas about how to make the world better, print this poster of Barbara Jordan and write how you would like to use your voice on the back. This can be through speech, writing, art, community involvement, or any way that uses your talents.

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You can find What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

February 25 – Honoring Katherine Johnson

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About Katherine Johnson

Katherine Johnson passed away yesterday at the age of 101. Recognized from an early age for her brilliance, Katherine went on to become a pivotal mathematician for NASA as the space race led to the first manned missions and lunar landings. She continued working for NASA on the space shuttle and other technological advancements. Fearless in asking the kinds of probing questions that fueled her imagination and precise calculations and in standing up for her rights, Katherine was a trail-blazer for women and people of color. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015. Her influence and inspiration continue to shine, especially for children, through books like Counting on Katherine.

Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13

Written by Helaine Becker | Illustrated by Dow Phumiruk

 

Katherine may have been born counting. She counted every step she took and every step she climbed. She counted the dishes and silverware as she washed them, and although she may have wanted to count all the stars in the sky, she knew that was beyond anyone’s ability. “Even so, the stars sparked her imagination…. Katherine yearned to know as much as she could about numbers, about the universe—about everything!”

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Image copyright Dow Phumiruk, 2018, text copyright Helaine Becker, 2018. Courtesy of Henry Holt and Company.

Katherine was so smart that she skipped three grades, even passing up her older brother. Katherine graduated from elementary school when she was 10 and was ready for high school, but “her town’s high school didn’t admit black students—of any age. Her father, though, said, “‘Count on me.’” He worked until the family could afford to move to another town where she could attend a black high school.

In high school, Katherine loved all of her classes, but her favorite subject was math. She wanted to become a research mathematician, “making discoveries about the number patterns that are the foundations of our universe.” But there were no jobs like that for women, so Katherine taught elementary school.

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Image copyright Dow Phumiruk, 2018, text copyright Helaine Becker, 2018. Courtesy of Henry Holt and Company.

Then in the 1950s, the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics began hiring new employees. When Katherine applied all the positions had been filled, but the next year she got a job. A few years later when NASA was formed, Katherine became what was known as a human “‘computer.’” She and the other computers––all of whom were women––calculated long series of numbers, contributing to the “space race.”

Katherine asked lots of questions about how high the rocket ship would go and how fast it would travel before beginning her calculations. Her job was to make sure that the earth and the rocket were in the same place when the rocket needed to land. Katherine’s calculations were so precise and her leadership so inspiring that she was promoted to Project Mercury, “a new program designed to send the first American astronauts into space.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-counting-on-katherine-trajectory

Image copyright Dow Phumiruk, 2018, text copyright Helaine Becker, 2018. Courtesy of Henry Holt and Company.

The engineers and astronauts knew that the missions were going to be dangerous, and John Glenn, distrusting the computer-generated numbers, refused to fly until Katherine approved the numbers. “‘You can count on me,’” she told him. Glenn’s mission was successful and Katherine earned another promotion. Her new job was to “calculate the flight paths for Project Apollo—the first flight to the moon.” She calculated the trajectories that took Apollo 11 and Apollo 12 to the moon and back in 1969. But as Apollo 13 soared through space on its way to the moon, there was an explosion. There were questions about whether the spaceship could reach the moon or make it back to Earth.

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Image copyright Dow Phumiruk, 2018, text copyright Helaine Becker, 2018. Courtesy of Henry Holt and Company.

Katherine was again called to make new calculations. In only a few hours, Katherine had a new flight plan that “would take the ship around the far side of the moon. From there, the moon’s gravity would act like a slingshot to zing the ship back to Earth.” But for the plan to work, the astronauts had to follow it exactly. There was no room for a mistake. Katherine and all of the NASA engineers waited nervously to find out if the plan would succeed. Finally, the astronauts reported that they were back on track. “Katherine Johnson had done it…. She was no longer the kid who dreamed of what lay beyond the stars. She was now a star herself.”

An Author’s Note following the text tells more about Katherine Johnson’s life and work, which went on to impact the space shuttle program and satellite projects.

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Image copyright Dow Phumiruk, 2018, text copyright Helaine Becker, 2018. Courtesy of Henry Holt and Company.

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.

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Image copyright Dow Phumiruk, 2018, text copyright Helaine Becker, 2018. Courtesy of Henry Holt and Company.

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

Discover more about Helaine Becker and her books on her website.

To learn more about Dow Phumiruk, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Watch the Counting on Katherine book trailer!

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You can find Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13 at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

February 18 – It’s Black History Month

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About the Holiday

Black History Month celebrates the achievements and contributions of African Americans in United States History. Originally a week-long observance initiated by writer and educator Dr. Carter G. Woodson and occurring during the second week in February to commemorate the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, Black History Month was officially established in 1976 by then president Gerald Ford. The holiday is now celebrated across the country with special events in schools, churches, and community centers.

The theme for 2020 is “African Americans and the Vote,” which recognizes the struggle for both black men as well as women throughout American history. This year marks the 150th anniversary of the Fifteenth Amendment, ratified in 1870, which gave black men the right to vote after the Civil War. It has also been one hundred years since women gained the right to vote. For more information about Black History Month, visit the ASALH website and africanamericanhistorymonth.gov.

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

Written by Dee Romito | Illustrated by Laura Freeman

 

As a young girl living on a farm in Alabama, Georgia Freeman learned from her mother a lesson she took to heart: “Think twice before doing anything you might regret, and never, ever hate anyone.” When Georgia grew up and had children of her own, she was known for her delicious cooking. She even worked as a cook at the National Lunch Company, a restaurant in Montgomery, Alabama. At the time, segregation laws dictated that white customers sit on one side of the counter and black customers on the other.

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Image copyright Laura Freeman, 2018, text copyright Dee Romito, 2018. Courtesy of little bee books.

On December 1, 1955, Georgia heard a radio report that “an African American woman named Rosa Parks had been arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white passenger.” The next day, the Black community in Montgomery was asked to boycott the buses in support of Rosa Parks and because of the poor treatment African Americans were forced to endure by the bus drivers. Georgia wanted to do even more to support the movement.

Soon after the boycott began, Georgia went to hear Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speak at the Holt Street Baptist Church. “He talked about freedom. Unity. Equality.” And Justice. “Those were things Georgia believed in, and she was willing to fight for them.” Georgia decided to use her talent for cooking to help. She and a group of women got together and cooked. They made sandwiches and dinners and sold them at the boycott meetings and in their neighborhood, including to those walking to and from work instead of taking the bus.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-pies-from-nowhere-lunch-counter

Image copyright Laura Freeman, 2018, text copyright Dee Romito, 2018. Courtesy of little bee books.

The money that Georgia made went to the “Montgomery Improvement Association, which helped fund the boycott.” This work by Georgia and the other women was dangerous. If anyone learned that they were involved in the boycott, they would lose their jobs, so all cooking and selling was done in secret. Georgia’s customers at local shops and businesses paid for her scrumptious pies in cash so that only Georgia knew who they were. Over time, Georgia’s group donated enough money  to pay for “gas for the carpool system that had been set up for the boycott” and even to buy station wagons to transport people around town. Whenever Georgia was asked where she got this money, she answered, “‘it came from nowhere.’”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-pies-from-nowhere-rosa-parks

Image copyright Laura Freeman, 2018, text copyright Dee Romito, 2018. Courtesy of little bee books.

The bus system was losing money because of the boycott, “so the city did what it could to stop the protesters and their efforts.” Ninety people, including Dr. King, were arrested. Georgia was called to testify in court. She told of her experience in which after paying her fare, she was told to get off the bus and go to the back door to get on. Before she could reenter the bus, the driver shut the door on her and drove off. After that, she said, she no longer rode the bus.

Georgia knew supporting the boycott was the right thing to do, but when the National Lunch Company found out, they fired her. With six children to raise on her own, Georgia worried about what she would do. Dr. King encouraged her to open her own business. He helped her improve her kitchen, and soon Georgia’s house had long lines of people waiting to eat her meals and more waiting for deliveries. Georgia made hundreds of lunches every day. While she was feeding her community, Georgia “was also bringing the people of Montgomery together—black and white.” Georgia’s house was also used for secret meetings among civil rights leaders.

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Image copyright Laura Freeman, 2018, text copyright Dee Romito, 2018. Courtesy of little bee books.

On November 13, 1956—nearly a year after the boycott had begun, Georgia heard another radio report saying that the United States “Supreme Court had declared that segregation on buses was illegal! The boycotters had won.” This meant that people could sit anywhere they wanted. The Montgomery Bus Boycott was just a beginning. “There would be more battles to fight . . . so Georgia Gilmore kept right on cooking.”

An Author’s Note revealing more about the Montgomery Bus Boycott and Georgia Gilmore follows the text. Kids are also invited to make Georgia’s Homemade Pound Cake using the recipe on the back cover.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-pies-from-nowhere-meeting

Image copyright Laura Freeman, 2018, text copyright Dee Romito, 2018. Courtesy of little bee books.

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.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-pies-from-nowhere-cooking

Image copyright Laura Freeman, 2018, text copyright Dee Romito, 2018. Courtesy of little bee books.

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

Discover more about Dee Romito and her books on her website.

To learn more about Laura Freeman, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Black History Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-barack-obama-coloring-page

Role Model Coloring Pages

 

Whether you’re interested in law and politics, science, sports, or the arts, you can find a role model in the people in the printable coloring pages below. 

Barack H. Obama | Dr. Mae Jemison | Jackie Robinson | Maya Angelou  

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-pies-from-nowhere-cover

You can find Pies from Nowhere: How Georgia Gilmore Sustained the Montgomery Bus Boycott at these booksellers

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

August 19 – World Photography Day

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About the Holiday

Photography is all about providing information through images. A picture really can be worth a thousand words in capturing a moment of surprise, joy, danger, or sadness. Well-placed photographers, videographers, and cinematographers have given voice to some of society’s pivotal moments, allowing the whole world to witness change, sometimes as it happens. Today we celebrate the “art, craft, science, and history of photography,” as well as those photographers who often put themselves in danger to get the story as well as those who bring us much-needed lighter moments. To learn more visit the World Photography Day website.

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

By Adrienne Wright

This powerfully emotional book opens with a recollection by Sam Nzima, the photojournalist who captured this pivotal event and a brief history of South Africa and the segregation and governmental restrictions that led up to the protest in 1976 which resulted in Hector Zolile Pieterson’s death. The compelling story, illustrated in graphic novel style, is broken up into three “chapters.”

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Copyright Adrienne Wright, 2019, courtesy of Page Street Kids.

The first introduces Hector, a twelve-year-old boy who loved playing soccer, watching movies, and visiting family. After his normal weekend chores, Hector would run errands for his neighbors to make a little money. Hector was happy, but things were changing at his school. The government had passed a law that instead of the international language English, black students must be taught half of their subjects in Afrikaans, a language derived from Dutch and spoken by descendants of the early Dutch settlers. This “added hardship to students and teachers in an already oppressive education system.” As he counted the money he’d made, his mother reminds him to count in Afrikaans, since that is what will be required in school.

On June 14, 1976 Hector visited his granny Mma. When he left, she gave him some money for his mother. On the way home, he was waylaid by men trying to steal the money. Hector was able to escape with the money and decides not to worry his Mma by telling her. On June 16, Hector heads off to school, but when he gets there, he sees the students “chanting and singing” as they all march toward Orlando Stadium to protest the new Afrikaans law. “More students join in, and soon hundreds, then thousands of people are marching. Hector is swept up in the excited activity of the growing crowd.”

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Copyright Adrienne Wright, 2019, courtesy of Page Street Kids.

Ahead on the road the protesters see the police and a blockade. The students begin marching down another street. They wave signs and sing the “government-banned anthem, ‘Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrica’—’God Bless Africa.’” The police confront the students, blowing their whistles, shouting, and throwing tear gas. Suddenly, Hector hears his sister, Antoinette’s voice warning him to run home. Shots ring out.

The second chapter introduces Antoinette, who on June 16 is leaving for school from Granny Mma’s house. She knows about the planned protest but says nothing to Granny Mma. She joins the crowd waving signs and chanting. Then “POW! Tear gas explodes in the air. Students scatter in all directions,” and Antoinette sees Hector. As they run for cover, they become separated. Shots ring out all around them. When the smoke dissipates, Antoinette sees a teenager running towards a car with a boy in his arms. “She can’t see the child’s face, but when she sees his shoe…”

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Copyright Adrienne Wright, 2019, courtesy of Page Street Kids.

Chapter three takes readers behind the lens of Sam Nzima’s camera. On assignment for The World newspaper, Sam is documenting the protest through his photographs. “The protest begins. / The students march. / Sam snaps photos…. / The police barricades go up. / The children sing. / Sam snaps photos. / The police shoot! / Sam snaps.”

The police see Sam taking pictures and confiscate his film. But Sam has hidden the most important roll in his sock. “His picture of Hector, Antoinette, and another student runs on the front page of the newspaper.” At Granny Mma’s house, Hector’s family grieves his loss; around the world “Hector lives on as a compelling symbol of the cost of apartheid and the change sparked by students that day.”

The final spread shows the black-and-white photograph of Mbuyisa Makhubu carrying Hector with Antoinette running alongside. Back matter includes a short discussion that expands on the events of June 16, 1976 and the years that followed in the fight against Apartheid. An Author’s Note; short biographies of Hector, Antoinette, Sam Nzima, and Mbuyisa Makhubu; and a glossary also follow the story.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Hector-help

Copyright Adrienne Wright, 2019, courtesy of Page Street Kids.

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 his dreams. His family’s close bonds and their concern for each other is evident in the dialog 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. 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

To learn more about Adrienne Wright and her work, visit her website.

World Photography Day Activity

CPB - New Professionals Picture

News Professionals Clothespin Figures

 

Photojournalists and journalists cover the news and sometimes put themselves in danger to bring readers true stories of events happening around the world. With this craft, you can make these clothespin figures that honor the men and women who work to keep us all informed.

Supplies

Directions

  1. Draw a face and hair on the clothespin
  2. Cut out the clothes you want your journalist or photographer to wear
  3. Wrap the clothes around the clothespin. The slit in the clothespin should be on the side.
  4. Tape the clothes together
  5. Cut out the camera
  6. Tape one end of a short length of thread to the right top corner of the camera and the other end of the thread to the left corner. Now you can hang the camera around the figure’s neck.

Idea for displaying the figures

  • Attach a wire or string to the wall and pin the figure to it
  • Pin it to your bulletin board or on the rim of a desk organizer

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You can find Hector: A Boy, a Protest, and the Photograph that Changed Apartheid at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

June 20 – International Tennis Day

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About the Holiday

Established in 2014 and sponsored by the U.S. Court Tennis Preservation Foundation with support from world-wide national tennis governing bodies and associations, today’s holiday aims at raising interest in the game of tennis. One goal of the day’s celebrations is to have simultaneous matches, tournaments, and exhibitions at tennis clubs, schools, universities around the world. Those who participate are encouraged to upload images to social media with the hashtag #itennisday. Why was June 20 chosen for this holiday? It commemorates the Tennis Court Oath of June 20, 1789, on which date nearly 600 people packed a tennis court near the Palace of Versailles during the French Revolution in a show of hope and solidarity. A painting of the event by Jacques-Louis David honors this pivotal protest. To celebrate, grab a racquet and head to a court near you. You’ll also want to gear up for the summer’s tennis tournament season.

Serena: The Littlest Sister

Written by Karlin Gray | Illustrated by Monica Ahanonu

 

On that day when “Serena stood in Arthur Ashe Stadium and kissed the trophy,” her fans, sisters, and parents cheered. How had that day come about? It started thirteen years earlier when Serena, then four years old, joined her older sisters on the tennis court where their dad coached them. As he showed Serena how to swing, her sisters celebrated when she hit one and ran after the ones she didn’t. Mostly, the equipment they used was old and donated. Sometimes the balls had even lost their bounce, but “their father explained that it was good practice for Wimbledon—a Grand Slam tournament where the balls bounced lower because the tennis court was made of grass.”

When they weren’t on a real tennis court, the girls played a pretend game of tennis on the sidewalk. Serena loved when she won these games “because, well, Serena loved being the star.” As they grew, their father never allowed them “to use the word can’t.” Their mom told them, “‘Whatever you become, you become in your head first.’ So the girls dreamed of what they could become.” While the other sisters became a nurse, a lawyer, and a singer, Venus and Serena became top tennis players.

Venus was taking the tennis world by storm with her hard hitting, speed, and 100-miles-per-hour serve. Serena wanted to play in tournaments too, but her father said she wasn’t ready. But one day, Serena noticed an application for a tournament Venus was playing in. Serena filled it out and sent it in. At the tournament, Serena snuck off to play on one court while her parents watched Venus on another. Serena ran her opponent ragged and won the match.

Serena thought her father might be angry, but instead he was proud and began teaching her how to play against her next opponent. “Serena won all her matches, moving up and up until…she faced her big sister in the final match.” During the match, Serena asked Venus to let her win one game, but Venus ignored her plea. Later at home, though, Venus traded her gold trophy for Serena’s silver one. “Serena cherished that trophy.” Serena idolized Venus and did everything she did until her father reminded her that she was her own person. Some people didn’t think Serena would have the success Venus did, but her oldest sister told her, “‘You’ll have your day. And it’s gonna be even bigger.’”

After several years of winning, Serena, Venus, and her family moved to Florida for training. On those courts the girls stood out for their skin color, their beaded braids—and “their powerful strokes.” When Venus was fourteen, she was allowed to enter professional tournaments. She won her first match. When Serena turned pro, she didn’t win. The two teamed up as doubles partners, and by the time she was sixteen, Serena had grown in both height and confidence. She had her own style of play too.

The sisters continued to play as a doubles team, and in 1999 they won the French Open Doubles competition. Venus was eighteen and Serena was seventeen. That same year, the sisters entered the US Open, the tournament Serena had long dreamed of winning. Surprisingly, Venus was knocked out early, but Serena kept winning her matches. In the finals she met the player who had beaten Venus. Serena served eight aces and “her fierce forehand earned her point after point.” Serena won the match and became “the first black woman to win a Grand Slam singles tournament in more than forty years.” At the awards ceremony, Serena thanked her dad, her mom, and her sisters for all of their support. The crowd cheered as cameras flashed. “And one of the many headlines of the day read, Little Sister, BIG HIT!”

An Afterword highlights other victories Serena and Venus have enjoyed during their careers, follow-ups on their sisters, and quotations from each of the five sisters.

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

Discover more about Karlin Gray and her books on her website.

To learn more about Monica Ahanonu and her work, visit her website.

International Tennis Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-tennis-word-search-puzzle

Tennis Love Word Search Puzzle

 

If you’re a tennis ace, you’ll enjoy finding the tennis-related words in this printable word search puzzle.

Tennis Love Word Search Puzzle | Tennis Love Word Search Solution

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-serena-the-littlest-sister-cover

You can find Serena: The Littlest Sister at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review