February 18 – It’s Black History Month

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About the Holiday

Black History Month was instituted by Dr. Carter G. Woodson in 1926 to celebrate the achievements and contributions of African Americans in United States History. The holiday began as a week-long observance taking place during the second week of February to commemorate the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. In 1976 President Gerald Ford officially established Black History Month. The holiday is now celebrated across the country with special events in schools, churches, and community centers. The theme for 2021 is “Black Family: Representation, Identity and Diversity.” Online events will explore the African diaspora and the spread of Black families across the United States through multiple perspectives. For more information about Black History Month, visit the ASALH website and africanamericanhistorymonth.gov.

The Teachers March! How Selma’s Teachers Changed History

Written by Sandra Neil Wallace and Rich Wallace | Illustrated by Charly Palmer

 

Reverend F. D. Reese taught science at R. B. Hudson High School, but his favorite subject was freedom…. To be treated as less than equal, that just wasn’t right.” Reverend Reese led marches to register Black voters. The police called them “troublemakers” and used billy clubs to stop them from voting. If the people did make it inside the courthouse to register, they faced a test they had to pass—a test with impossible questions, such as “How many drops of water are in the Alabama River?” Reverend Reese decided he needed a “‘triumphant idea’” to change things.

It came to him that the teachers—leaders and respected in the community—should march for freedom. But a judge had made it illegal to march and even talk about voting rights. Most people were too afraid to march, so Reverend Reese looked for a “‘glorious opportunity’” to come his way. It came when he watched Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speak on television and wrote him a letter inviting him to come to Selma to “help convince the teachers to march.”

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Image copyright Charly Palmer, 2020, text copyright Sandra Neil Wallace and Rich Wallace, 2020. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

Dr. King agreed and spoke to a crowd of 700 people at Brown Chapel. He told the group that everyone should march and “go to jail by the thousands to defend the right to vote.” Two of the people listening to Dr. King were fifteen-year-old Joyce Parrish and her mother, “Two Sweet.” When Reverend Reese asked for teachers to sign up to march, he said that if both parents in a family were teachers, only one should march so that the other could take care of the children if the first went to jail. For Two Sweet it was a difficult decision. She was a teacher and also a single parent. More than 100 teacher signed up, including “Two Sweet.”

On January 22, the day of the march, Two Sweet packed a toothbrush and a sandwich—things she’d need in jail—and hugged Joyce goodbye. That afternoon as Reverend Reese waited alone outside the school alone, he wondered if the teachers would show up. Then one-by-one the teachers emerged from the building, holding their toothbrushes aloft. Reverend Reese called Coach Huggins to the front of the line and they started walking to the courthouse. People gathered along the street to watch, and Joyce paced nervously, wondering what would happen to her mother.

As the teachers crossed into the white section of town, the dirt roads became paved and people swarmed from shops to glare at the marchers, hoping to intimidate them. When they reached the courthouse, the sheriff and his deputies stood atop the steps. Reverend Reese announced that they were there to register to vote, but the sheriff said, “‘You can’t make a plaything out of the corridors of this courthouse.’” He gave the teachers one minute to disperse or face arrest. The teachers stayed put.

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Image copyright Charly Palmer, 2020, text copyright Sandra Neil Wallace and Rich Wallace, 2020. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

When the time was up, the police grabbed their billy clubs. They pushed Coach Huggins and Reverend Reese, causing the teachers to fall backward. When they got up, the police pushed them harder. Then the school superintendent came out of the courthouse. He had the power to fire every teacher. But Reverend Reese and the teachers stood firm for the right the Constitution guaranteed. The superintendent looked out over the crowd. He knew that if he fired them all, there would be no one to teach at the schools and he would lose his job.

The teachers had won the day. They went back to Brown Chapel, where young people were singing freedom songs. The kids were proud of their teachers, and Joyce hugged her mother. That night, Dr. King preached at Brown Chapel. “He praised Reverend Reese and the teachers for making civil rights history” by being the first leaders to risk their jobs by marching. Now other shop keepers and business people were emboldened to march for the right to vote. Kids and young people marched too. These Selma marchers were arrested by the thousands. Across America people took notice. Why, they wondered, were “respectable citizens in suits and dresses, and school kids carrying books” put in jail.

The president of the United States also noticed. In the summer of 1965, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act, ensuring that no test was required to register to vote. In August, Reverend Reese, Two Sweet, and other teachers walked to the federal building and registered to vote. With their first ballot, they voted the sheriff out of office.

Following the text are an extensive Author’s Note about the Teachers’ March and its leaders, with photographs as well as an Illustrator’s Note explains how the illustrations were created. A Timeline follows the 1965 Voting Rights Movement in Selma, Alabama from 1936 to 2018. A photograph of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Coretta Scott King, and Reverend Reese leading the 1965 voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery is also included. A selected bibliography of resources used in writing the book, as well as websites where readers can learn more, close out the excellent backmatter.

celebrate-picture-month-picture-month-review-the-teachers-march-ballot

Image copyright Charly Palmer, 2020, text copyright Sandra Neil Wallace and Rich Wallace, 2020. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

Compelling and comprehensive, Sandra Neil Wallace and Rich Wallace’s story about the teachers march of 1964 is exhilarating reading. Powerful for its personal focus on Reverend Reese, Joyce, and Two Sweet and their fears, doubts, and courage, the story includes vital details that reveal inequalities of the time beyond the issue of voting rights and which will resonate with children aware of continuing inequalities, protests, gerrymandering, and other current issues in the news. Sandra and Rich Wallace build suspense through evocative descriptions to draw children in and immerse them in a reading experience that will have emotional impact.

Charly Palmer’s acrylic on board illustrations capture the motion and emotion of the teachers’ march and the events leading up to that day. All the more moving for their abstract quality, the images portray telling glances (on the first page a student looks out at the reader as Reverend Reese lectures about equal rights at the chalkboard); seminal moments, such as when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. strides into Brown Chapel and Coach Huggins signs his name, promising to march; and the moments when the sheriff and his deputies confront the teachers with billy clubs raised. The reunion between a worried Joyce and her mother is poignant, and the final illustration of Reverend Reese putting his ballot into the box, reminds all readers of the successes of the past, but also that vigilance and action continues to be needed.

Superb for social studies, American history, homeschooling, and civics lessons, The Teachers March! How Selma’s Teachers Changed History  is highly recommended for home bookshelves and a must for school and public library collections.

Ages 7– 10 and up

Calkins Creek, 2020 | ISBN 978-1629794525

Discover more about Sandra Neil Wallace, and her books on her website. You can also find a downloadable Educator’s Guide for The Teachers March! and other books by Sandra.

You can learn more about Rich Wallace and his books on his website.

To learn more about Charly Palmer and view a portfolio of his art, visit his website.

Watch the trailer for The Teachers March!

 

Black History Month Activity

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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. 

Dr. Mae Jemison | Jackie Robinson | Maya Angelou  | Louis Armstrong | Garrett Morgan | Rosa Parks

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You can find The Teachers March! at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

February 12 – 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 in1926 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 2021 is “Black Family: Representation, Identity and Diversity.” It explores the African diaspora and the spread of Black families across the United States through multiple perspectives. For more information about Black History Month, visit the ASALH website and africanamericanhistorymonth.gov.

Opening the Road: Victor Hugo Green and His Green Book

Written by Keila V. Dawson | Illustrated by Alleanna Harris

 

When Black travelers drove the highways of the United States in the 1920s and 30s and tried to stop at restaurants or motels, they “were told: No food… No vacancy… No bathroom… for Black people.” Instead, Black American motorists had to pack their own food, sleep in their car, and bring their own toilet. “Victor Hugo Green was tired of hearing no…. When he and his wife Alma traveled from New York to Virginia to visit family, they risked getting turned away, yelled at, even hurt.”

At the time, Jim Crow laws in the same segregated Black and White Americans throughout society. Because Blacks had nowhere to stay, they often drove through the night. If Black motorists had an accident, there were no ambulances or hospitals that would help them. In northern and western “sunset towns,” Blacks were alerted to leave town before darkness fell by a siren or a White man waving them out.

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Image copyright Alleanna Harris, 2021, text copyright Keila V. Dawson. Courtesy of Beaming Books.

One day Victor discovered a Jewish newspaper that published a guide about places that welcomed Jewish people and sold kosher food. “In the 1930s Jewish Americans couldn’t go everywhere they wanted to either.” Reading this guide, Victor had an idea to write a book of his own for New York. As he walked his route as a mail carrier, he began to ask Black friends and neighbors where they ate, shopped, and played safely. He worked on his book at night after work and finished his ten-page guide, The Negro Motorist Green Book in 1936; he updated it in 1937.

Victor began selling his book at Black churches and social clubs. Readers asked Victor to include more states in his book, so he wrote to other mail carriers all over the country asking for information. Mail carriers responded overwhelmingly. Over the next two years, Victor and Alma worked to expand the Green Book. With the Green Book in hand, “Black travelers knew where to go and who to trust.” As the popularity of the Green Book rose, Victor collected information from readers and agents Victor hired to add to revisions of his book.

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Image copyright Alleanna Harris, 2021, text copyright Keila V. Dawson. Courtesy of Beaming Books.

In 1940 the United States government named the Green Book an “‘official Negro travel guide.’” Then Esso gas stations of the Standard Oil Company began selling the book. The Green Book became a best seller. The Green Book spurred new businesses as Black women opened their homes as bed and breakfasts for travelers; it also informed readers about Black accomplishments, history, colleges that accepted Black students, and more.

With two million copies sold, the Green Book “made it possible for Black families to enjoy vacations.” Through the 1950s and 1960s as the fight against segregation and the civil rights movement took hold, the Green Book continued to keep Blacks safe. Victor dreamed of the day when, as he said, “‘we as a race will have equal opportunities and privileges in the United States.’” That day came when, in 1964, segregation was ended by law and the Green Book became less necessary. The Green Book ceased publication after the 1966-67 issue, just as Victor had hoped.

An illustrated timeline takes children along a winding highway from 1892, when Victor Hugo Green was born, to 1967 when the Green Book ceased publication, quotations by Victor Green, and a selected bibliography follow the text.

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Image copyright Alleanna Harris, 2021, text copyright Keila V. Dawson. Courtesy of Beaming Books.

Keila V. Dawson’s compelling book about Victor Hugo Green’s guide for Black travelers is a powerful tool for teaching children about the history of racial inequality and segregation as well as an expanded understanding of their effects on the lives of Black Americans. While children may be familiar with separate facilities for Blacks and Whites, separate seating on transportation, and school inequality, many will be shocked by travel conditions, the idea that hospitals would not help Blacks, and sunset towns where Blacks were ordered out as the sun went down. While Dawson’s unstinting text will move readers, her storytelling also reveals the resilience of the human spirit and how one man rose above the dangers and prejudice of the time to make traveling and living in America safer for Blacks. The fact that the fight for racial equality continues today makes Dawson’s book an important resource for children to learn not only the exclusion Blacks once legally faced but to make them think about incidents of discrimination that still exist and how they might help bring about a more equitable society.

Alleanna Harris faithfully depicts the times with realistic illustrations that show children how sparsely populated the highway system was, making it even more difficult for Blacks to find welcoming businesses and services. Her image of a Black man driving past a sign that reads “Whites only after dark” as a White man leans against it pointing the way out of town should affect every reader. Children are able to follow Victor Hugo Green and Alma as Victor conceives the idea of the Green Book, and they gather information, and sell the book. They’ll also see the types of businesses mentioned in the Green Book, from gas stations to general stores to movie theaters and private homes where rooms were available for travelers. Interspersed with images of Victor and his work Harris includes illustrations of other familiar ways Blacks were discriminated against.

An important resource for teachers, parents, and other adults engaged in teaching children about American history, the history of civil rights, and the experience of Blacks in America, Opening the Road: Victor Hugo Green and His Green Book is highly recommended for home, school, and public libraries.

Ages 4 – 8

Beaming Books, 2021 | ISBN 978-1506467917

You can find an Opening the Road Educators Guide to download on the Beaming Books website.

Discover more about Keila V. Dawson and her books on her website.

To learn more about Alleanna Harris, her books, and her art, visit her website.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-opening-the-road-cover

You can find Opening the Road: Victor Hugo Green and His Green Book at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

January 20 – Celebrating Inauguration Day 2021

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About the Holiday

Today we celebrate the inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th President of the United States. The ceremony begins around 11:30 a.m. with the national anthem and invocation. In a historic moment, Kamala Harris will then be sworn in by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor shortly before noon. At noon, Joe Biden will be sworn in by Chief Justice John Roberts on the Capitol’s West Front, as is tradition. The day also includes a visit to Arlington National Cemetery by Biden, Harris and former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton as well as their spouses before traveling from 15th Street to the White House with a military escort. You can introduce your children to our country’s new President and Vice President, who offer hope and a new beginning, through these two excellent biographies. 

Joey: The Story of Joe Biden

Written by Dr. Jill Biden with Kathleen Krull | Illustrated by Amy June Bates

 

With a gift for storytelling and an ear for the kinds of details that will draw kids in, Jill Biden introduces young readers to her husband and soon-to-be President of the United States, Joe Biden, at the age of eight. Even at this young age, Joe—or Joey as he was then called—demonstrated a fun-loving competitive spirit, maturity, daring, and sense of responsibility that would take him far in life. How competitive? Despite being the smallest boy on any of his teams, “he was always ready for the ball.” How daring? Take your pick: the time he and his friends hopped “from rooftop to rooftop of the garages” in his neighborhood after seeing a Tarzan movie; the time he swung on a rope “over a construction site without a net;” or when he shimmied to the top of the slippery, swaying flag pole at the football field.”

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Image copyright Amy June Bates, 2020, text copyright Jill Biden with Kathleen Krull, 2020. Courtesy of Simon & Schuster.

Where did he learn these qualities? From his mom who always said, “‘Bravery resides in every heart, and yours is fierce and clear.’” And from his dad who encouraged Joey to “‘Get up! Get up!’” whenever he stumbled. To find work, Joey’s family moved, but Joey always had friends in his siblings, especially his younger sister, Valerie.

As he grew older Joey learned about world news and the rudiments of politics at the family dinner table, adding his opinions to those of the adults. At school, though bullies made fun of Joey’s stutter, that sometimes made talking difficult. Instead of taking it, Joey defended himself and others who were being bullied. He also devised ways to practice talking more smoothly. 

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Image copyright Amy June Bates, 2020, text copyright Jill Biden with Kathleen Krull, 2020. Courtesy of Simon & Schuster.

When his dreams of attending the Catholic high school seemed out of reach financially, Joey applied for a work-study program that allowed him to attend in exchange for duties such as painting the fence, pulling weeds, and washing windows. High school was also where he grew a foot taller and became the star of the basketball and football teams. Here he exchanged Joey for Joe. His sense of fairness and equality led him to stand up for his African American football teammate when the owner of the local diner would not serve him, and in a nod to his future profession, he was elected class president “during his junior and senior years.”

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Image copyright Amy June Bates, 2020, text copyright Jill Biden with Kathleen Krull, 2020. Courtesy of Simon & Schuster.

As the first in his family to go to college, Joe was “promptly elected president of his freshman class.” He learned about the struggles of blacks in America while working “as the only white lifeguard at a pool in an all-black neighborhood” during “the time of segregation and the struggle for civil rights.” Joe graduated with a law degree, and at the age of twenty-nine he “launched an unlikely quest to become a senator from Delaware”—even though the required age was thirty. “Against all the odds, Joe became one of the youngest people ever elected to the United States Senate.” Reelected five times, “he was powerful and respected.”

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Image copyright Amy June Bates, 2020, text copyright Jill Biden with Kathleen Krull, 2020. Courtesy of Simon & Schuster.

Then “after more than three decades of serving his country in the Senate, he was chosen by Barak Obama to run as his vice president. They won, energizing the nation,” and after eight years of serving together, President Obama called Joe, “‘the best vice president America’s ever had.’” In 2019, Joe announced his candidacy for president of the United States, calling the election a “‘battle for the soul of America.’—and Joe Biden was ready to fight it.”

Back matter includes family photographs, an extensive timeline of Joe Biden’s life and government service, inspirational “Bidenisms, sources for the quotations used in the text, and a bibliography.

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Image copyright Amy June Bates, 2020, text copyright Jill Biden with Kathleen Krull, 2020. Courtesy of Simon & Schuster.

For parents, teachers, and other adults looking to introduce children to the next president of the United States with an in-depth look at his life, his influences, and his vast experience, Dr. Jill Biden’s Joey: The Story of Joe Biden shines with an intimate portrait of his astonishing life. With specific examples that will resonate with children, Biden portrays the qualities and experience that make him the right person to lead our country during these times and demonstrates his long history of concern for all Americans. Conversational and folksy, Biden’s storytelling makes this an uplifting read aloud that will captivate listeners. The book provides an excellent opportunity to spark further research into Joe Biden’ life and government service as well a conversation-starter for adults to discuss the importance of family, character, hard work, perseverance, and community.

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Image copyright Amy June Bates, 2020, text copyright Jill Biden with Kathleen Krull, 2020. Courtesy of Simon & Schuster.

Amy June Bates’ watercolor, gouache, and pencil illustrations are stunning, taking readers from Joey’s neighborhood in Scranton, Pennsylvania—where they can see some of the feats of daring Joey was famous for and how he interacted with friends and siblings—to Delaware, the state that informed his interest in politics and sense of community service. Through Bates’ realistic images, children swing on the rope over the construction site, sit among his siblings as they watch TV, and join in at the dinner table for influential family discussions. Bates also depicts Biden’s struggles with bullies and his stutter. Kids follow him up a ladder to wash windows and to the high school gridiron to watch Joe pull away from the opposing team to score the winning touchdown. As Biden runs for and takes on responsibilities in the Senate, readers are there too. In Biden’s face and stance, Bates clearly portrays his confidence, optimism, intelligence, and pride in a lifetime of serving the American people.

A superb biography of our next president and one that will inspire a new generation of activists and public servants, Joey: The Story of Joe Biden is a must for home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Simon & Schuster, Paula Wiseman Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-1534480537

You can connect with Dr. Jill Biden on Twitter.

Discover more about Kathleen Krull and her books on her website.

To learn more about Amy June Bates, her books, and her art, visit her website.

You can find Joey: The Story of Joe Biden at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from 

Bookshop | IndieBound

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-kamala-harris-rooted-in-justice-cover

Kamala Harris: Rooted in Justice

Written by Nikki Grimes | Illustrated by Laura Freeman

 

Eve, a black girl, comes home from school in Oakland, California upset because Calvin, a boy in her class, said that girls can’t be President. Her mother tells her that Calvin is wrong and shows her a newspaper article about Kamala Harris, who “lives right here in Oakland and hopes to be President one day.” Eve’s mom begins to tell her daughter Kamala’s story, which began with “a strong black-and-brown braid coiling from India, where her mother, Shyamala, was born; to Jamaica, where her father, Donald, was born;” to Berkely, California and finally to Oakland.

She goes on to reveal that even as a baby “Kamala was like clay her parents molded for action,” as they took her along on marches for civil rights and to speeches given by Martin Luther King Jr. Kamala listened and learned words like peace, justice, freedom. On a trip to Zambia to visit her grandparents, Kamala learned that “fighting for justice ran in the family.”

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Image copyright Laura Freeman, 2020, text copyright Nikki Grimes, 2020. Courtesy of Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

Then when Kamala was seven her parents divorced, and Kamala, her younger sister Maya, and their mother moved to “‘the flatlands,’ the black working-class area in Berkeley.” From here, Kamala was bussed to Thousand Oaks Elementary in the “wealthy white part of town….,” where, she met “kids who were rich and poor, black and white; kids who celebrated holidays she’d never even heard of,” and learned to “count to ten in many different languages.” Here, Eve interrupts to excitedly tell her mother that their next door neighbor Guadalupe has taught her how to count in Spanish.

Kamala also learned from Mrs. Regina Shelton, a neighbor whom Kamala stayed with after school. Mrs. Shelton introduced her to Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, and Harriet Tubman. She encouraged her pursuits and instilled confidence in her. Just as influential on young Kamala were the family’s weekly visits to the “Rainbow Sign, a cultural center celebrating black art, music, books, and film. James Baldwin spoke there, Maya Angelou read there, and Nina Simone sang there.” Nina’s song “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” particularly resonated with Kamala.

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Image copyright Laura Freeman, 2020, text copyright Nikki Grimes, 2020. Courtesy of Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

On Sundays Kamala and Maya visited their father and went to the 23rd Avenue Church of God, where, along with singing in the children’s choir, Kamala learned from the Bible “that God asks us to speak up for those who can’t, to defend the rights of the poor and needy, like some lawyers do.” Maybe, Kamala thought, she would follow in her uncle Sherman’s footsteps and be that kind of lawyer too. Eve wonders if when she makes sandwiches for the homeless she’s helping out too. Her mom tells her yes.

When Kamala’s mother accepted a job in Montréal, Canada, Kamala’s life changed again. One thing that stayed the same, however, was Kamala’s sense of justice. For example when the apartment building manager wouldn’t allow the kids to play soccer on the lawn, she and Maya picketed until he changed his mind. 

Although Kamala adjusted to life in Canada, when it came time to go to college, she returned to the United States to attend Howard University like one of her heroes, Thurgood Marshall. Kamala felt at home at Howard. She won a seat in the student government, competed on the debate team, interned at the Federal Trade Commission, did research at the National Archives, and on weekends joined protests against apartheid in South Africa.

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Image copyright Laura Freeman, 2020, text copyright Nikki Grimes, 2020. Courtesy of Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

As a sophomore, Kamala spent her summer as an intern for Senator Alan Cranston “learning from someone whose footsteps echoed in the halls of power every day.” She went on to study law at Hastings College of the Law, leading the Black Law Students Association as president and working to improve the chances that black graduates would be hired by the best companies in the country.

In order to practice law, Kamala had one more hurdle to overcome: the California Bar exam. Kamala failed in her first attempt, but it taught her an important lesson about digging deep and trying harder – a lesson that Eve understands. On her second try, she passed. Since then Kamala’s trajectory has been steadily upward. “First, Deputy District Attorney. Next, the first female District Attorney of San Francisco. Then, the first black woman Attorney General of California” and eventually the “second black woman voted into the US Senate.”

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Image copyright Laura Freeman, 2020, text copyright Nikki Grimes, 2020. Courtesy of Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

As Senator, Kamala has fought for workers, women’s rights, and immigrant children. Then in 2019, she announced her candidacy for President of the United States. But running a presidential campaign takes a lot of money. When she and her team realized that they would not be able to sustain a campaign, she decided to give up her quest for the 2020 presidential nomination while still looking “forward to all the good work she could still do as Senator Harris.”

While the biography ends before the election and with the question, “Will she ever get to call the White House home?” the next sentence: “Kamala Harris is still writing her American story” looks forward to a future we will all be following. And what about Eve? She knows the message of Kamala’s life and dreams: “‘If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.’” That lesson and that Calvin is wrong about a girl’s ability to become the President.

A detailed timeline of Kamala Harris’s life and a list of resources follow the text.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-kamala-harris-rooted-in-justice-senator

Image copyright Laura Freeman, 2020, text copyright Nikki Grimes, 2020. Courtesy of Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

Nikki Grimes’ compelling biography of Kamala Harris lyrically outlines the importance that ideas of justice, freedom, and inclusion play in both her personal and professional life. Children will be especially captivated by Grimes’ comprehensive and intimate look at Kamala’s childhood and the people, experiences, and places that influenced her education, character, long commitment to equality, and steady focus on achieving her dreams. Specific examples of the large and smaller issues Kamala has fought for throughout her life instill in young readers the knowledge that they too can make a difference. Framed by Eve’s disagreement with Calvin and her interjections about certain aspects of Kamala’s life, the story speaks directly to the reader, creating in them the kind of confidence and reassurance that has served Kamala well. The final lines offer encouragement and inspiration to tomorrow’s leaders.

Laura Freeman’s textured, realistic illustrations introduce Kamala Harris in the context of her family, the causes they put their hearts and voices into, and the communities that nurtured her. As a child, Kamala’s confidence and intelligence are evident as she learns about her family’s activism in Zambia, rides to school on the bus, listens to Mrs. Shelton and Nina Simone, and gets involved in activities at church, in college, and in law school. Images of Kamala as an adult depict her familiar smile, thoughtfulness, poise, and self-confidence. Freeman’s collage-style imagery of the people who have influenced Kamala are particularly powerful reminders of the legacy that parents, grandparents, teachers, mentors, and leaders in society imprint on people from childhood and throughout life.

A beautiful and inspiring biography, Kamala Harris: Rooted in Justice is an exciting introduction to our next Vice President and is sure to encourage discussion, stir dreams of greatness, and motivate girls and children of color to follow in her footsteps. The book is a must for home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Simon & Schuster, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2020 | ISBN 978-1534462670

Discover more about Nikki Grimes, her books, and her poetry on her website.

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

You can find Kamala Harris: Rooted in Justice at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support our local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

 Picture Book Reviewcelebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-joey-cover

January 18 – 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 once 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 Jr. We still have a long way to go before there is justice and equality for all, but this year – even this week – gives us a new start. Look for ways you can offer help and hope.

Martin Luther King Jr. (Little People BIG DREAMS)

Written by Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara | Illustrated by Mai Ly Degnan

 

“Martin Luther was a spiritual boy from Atlanta who came from a long line of preachers.” It was thought that he might grow up to be one too. One day, a White friend invited him to his house to play, but when his mother wouldn’t let him in, Martin “realized something terrible was going on.” He discovered that Blacks weren’t welcome in the same places as Whites. Businesses, transportation, and other public places were segregated, which meant there were separate areas for Black and White people. Martin and his friend even had to go to different schools.

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Image copyright Mai Ly Degnan, 2020, text copyright Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara. Courtesy of Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

Martin believed people should speak up when something is wrong. He decided that he would “fight injustice with the most power weapon of all: words.” As he grew up and went to college, he learned about ways people could peacefully protest things they felt were wrong. After he graduated, Martin did become a preacher in Alabama. On Sundays, he encouraged his congregation to make their voices heard.

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Image copyright Mai Ly Degnan, 2020, text copyright Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara. Courtesy of Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

When Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white man on a city bus, Martin asked people to avoid taking the bus until the law was changed, and they responded. For nearly a year people walked and the buses were empty. Finally, segregation of buses ended. This was only the beginning of peaceful protests aimed at overturning the country’s segregation laws. Despite being attacked and arrested, Martin and his followers remained peaceful. Martin “knew that hate can’t drive out hate; only love can.”

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Image copyright Mai Ly Degnan, 2020, text copyright Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara. Courtesy of Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

In a huge protest march on Washington DC, thousands of people assembled to hear Martin speak. His speech began with “four simple yet powerful words: ‘I have a dream.’” The next year, Martin was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Little Martin’s words and dream still ring in your heart, and if you listen you can help make that dream “of a world where we are judged by our character, not by the color of our skin.”

A timeline of Martin Luther King Jr.’s life, accompanied with photographs, follows the text.

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Image copyright Mai Ly Degnan, 2020, text copyright Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara. Courtesy of Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara’s series of biographies for youngest readers are little gems that create a personal connection between the reader and the subject while presenting a clear overview of the person’s life and work. A highlight of the series is Vegara’s early focus on events in the subject’s childhood that changed their perspective and informed their later profession or influence and which will resonate with kids. Here, these include his family’s legacy, a forbidden friendship, and his discovery of the philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi.

Vegara’s storytelling is simple and straightforward, presenting the facts of formative events in language that young children will understand but which never talks down to them. She highlights times when community members were instrumental in changing the laws of segregation, showing children that they too can affect change through their actions, words, and the way they treat others. She then leaves children with words of hope and encouragement on how they can carry on Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream.

Mai Ly Degnan’s stylized and sophisticated illustrations invite children to learn about Martin Luther King Jr.’s life through images they will connect with intellectually and emotionally. Kids will enjoy seeing Martin dressed up in his father’s robe that pools around his feet as he preaches to his friends and will not need words to understand the angry face and outstretched pointing arm of his friend’s mother.

Other events, such as Rosa Park’s arrest and the bus boycott are depicted from the community’s viewpoint, allowing children to be part of the audience or crowd. Other images, such as Martin’s arrest, a peaceful protest, and the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize, give children and adults opportunities to discuss and expand on the text. Degnan’s final spread echoes back to the day when Martin was sent away from his friend’s house – but this time with acceptance – as a Black boy stands with his arm slung over the shoulder of his White friend as they stand in a diverse crowd of people.

Empowering and informative, Martin Luther King Jr.: Little People BIG DREAMS is highly recommended for home bookshelves and is a must for school and public library collections.

The book can also be found as part of a boxed set Little People BIG DREAMS Black Voices, which includes biographies of Maya Angelou, Martin Luther King Jr., and Rosa Parks. 

Ages 4 – 7

Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-0711245679 | Little People BIG DREAMS Black Voices, 2020 | ISBN 978-0711262539

You can connect with Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara on Twitter.

To learn more about Mai Ly Degnan, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-martin-luther-king-jr-coloring-page

Martin Luther King Jr. Portrait

 

To inspire your dreams of a better future for all, c olor this printable coloring page and hang it in your room!

Martin Luther King Jr. Portrait 

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You can find Martin Luther King Jr. (Little People BIG DREAMS) at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review Picture Book Review 

January 15 – Celebrating the Book Birthday of Stompin’ at the Savoy

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About the Holiday

I was thrilled to host the cover reveal of Stompin’ at the Savoy and am now excited to be celebrating the book birthday of this extraordinary biography of one of the greats of Jazz with a review, an interview with Moira and Laura, and a giveaway of the book. Enjoy!

Thanks goes to Sleeping Bear Press for sending me a copy of Stompin’ at the Savoy for review consideration. all opinions of the book are my own. I’m happy to be teaming with them in a giveaway of the book. See details and two ways to enter below.

Stompin’ at the Savoy: How Chick Webb Became the King of Drums

Written by Moira Rose Donohue | Illustrated by Laura Freeman

 

As a child William Henry “Chick” Webb turned everything into a drum. “He tapped rhythms on iron railings. Tinkety-tink! He slapped rhythms on marble steps. Thwapety-thwap!” Years later he would be competing in the “biggest band battle of the century” at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem. But before that he had to overcome many obstacles. Throughout his life, William suffered with a spinal illness that stunted his growth. After an operation after a fall, the doctor recommended getting him a drum set to strengthen his arms. But drums—even drumsticks—were too expensive, so William used wooden spoons and pots and pans to make music.

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Image copyright Laura Freeman, 2021, text copyright Moira Rose Donohue, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

William’s illness left him with a hunchback and the “kids called him ‘Chicken’—shortened to “Chick”— because of the way he walked. To make money, Chick began selling newspapers when he was nine or ten. Soon he had bought real drumsticks and finally a drum set. Even though Chick only grew to be four feet, one inch that “didn’t stop him from making a giant sound. He just needed a taller chair and a higher bass pedal to do it.”

As a teenager, Chick was hired to play in local bands. He met Duke Ellington. He thought Chick was ready to lead his own band, but Chick waited. In the late 1920s a new kind of music—swing, with its dance-driving beat—came on the scene. “This new music was just right for Chick” and after choosing the best musicians he could find, he began touring the country. On one of these trips he hired Ella Fitzgerald to be the band’s lead singer. By 1937, Chick and his band was playing at the famous Savoy Ballroom. Some even called him the “‘Savoy King.’”

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The Savoy Ballroom was different from most clubs. Here, both Black and White people were welcome to dance. “Working-class people and movie stars danced alongside one another. People jumped and jived to new dances all night long.” At the time, bands competed in live “battles,” which Chick usually won. But then in February 1937, his band lost to Duke Ellington.

Chick didn’t let that get him down. Instead he challenged Benny Goodman—who led the number one big band in the country—to a battle of the bands. Benny laid down some rules: his and Chick’s band would play the same songs, his band would play first, and he would play on the biggest stage at the Savoy. Chick agreed. “That night, four thousand people crowded together on the dance floor” and another five thousand gathered outside in the street. In the crowd were also reporters from music magazines. Before his band went on, Chick laid down just one rule as he talked to his bandmates: “‘I don’t want nobody to miss.’”

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Benny Goodman and his band started off with his smooth, sweet clarinet that set the crowd swaying. But when Chick’s band took the stage, they gave the song a “hotter and faster… Swingier” beat, and the audience bounced along. The music swelled as “back and forth the bands played.” But it may have been “Jam Session” that decided it. As Chick “pounded louder and faster than a speeding train… Benny’s band just shook their heads in disbelief.” Everyone agreed that Chick had won. From that night on, Chick had a new nickname—“the ‘King of Drums.’”

An Authors note telling more about the life of Chick Webb follows the text.

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Thrilling for music-lovers, readers, and dreamers alike, Moira Rose Donohue’s biography of Chick Webb will inspire children to look not at the obstacles they may face but at ways to rise above them to achieve their goals. Donohue’s early focus on Chick’s determination to make music—whether he was using wooden spoons and pots or, much later, real drumsticks and drums—will impress on kids that practice, confidence, and an unfailing vision for the future can move mountains.

An important underlying lesson in Chick’s story is his self-awareness and willingness to wait until he felt ready to find his own niche and create his own band. This example, highlighted in Donohue’s compelling storytelling, will reassure readers who are meticulous, careful, and chafe under a “hurry, hurry” atmosphere. Through Donohue’s lyricism, pacing, and riveting vocabulary, readers can almost hear Chick at his drums as his drumsticks sizzle, whether at home, at venues across the country, or at the Savoy.

Laura Freeman’s rich colors and realistic depictions of Chick Webb—nearly always with drumsticks in his hands—will captivate readers as they watch a little boy with a big talent become the King of Drums. From his childhood kitchen to the school hallway to his natural entertaining spirit while selling newspapers, Freeman shows Chick’s singular focus and the times in which he grew up. Swirled musical bars, floating notes, and shadowed drumsticks give her illustrations movement. The look of rapture on Chick’s face as he plays and images of couples dancing to swing depict how the music transported people from the normal rhythms of life. The final spreads of Chick and Benny Goodman’s battle of the bands are raucous and enthralling and will have kids wanting to hear Chick’s music for themselves.

An absorbing biography of Chick Webb and the era of the big bands as well as a shining example of how one’s belief in oneself can conquer hurdles, Stompin’ at the Savoy: How Chick Webb Became the King of Drums is highly recommended for home bookshelves and a must for school and library collections.

Stompin’ at the Savoy Book Birthday Activity

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Stompin’ at the Savoy Activity Kit

 

You can enjoy coloring a picture of Chick Webb at his drums and challenging yourself with the word search puzzle found in this printable Activity Guide found on the Sleeping Bear Website.

Stompin’ at the Savoy Activity Kit

Meet Moira Rose Donohue

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Moira Rose Donohue has written over 35 books for children, most of them nonfiction, including National Geographic’s Little Kids First Big Book of the Rain Forest and two Junior Library Guild selections: Great White Sharks (Scholastic/Children’s Press) and The Invasion of Normandy (North Star Editions). She loves tap dancing, opera, hockey, and animals. Moira lives in St. Petersburg, Florida, with her dog, Petunia.

Among the many titles you’ve published are books on nature, history, and many, many biographies of figures from explorers to sports stars to civil rights leaders. What is your favorite thing about writing biographies? What was the initial spark that prompted you to choose Chick Webb as the subject of your newest book?

The thing I like most about writing biographies is that through the extensive research you have to do, you eventually discover the “essence” of the person—that unique quality that guided him/her/them to act in a way that made a difference in the world.

My initial interest in Chick was sparked when I was watching a re-airing of the Ken Burns documentary on jazz music. When the movie reached the evolution of swing and big bands, Chick Webb was mentioned. I have always loved Big Band music, even though it was not the music of my era. I was familiar with all the big band musicians discussed except Chick Webb. So, of course I had to research him. When I saw his life-loving grin and learned that he had to face the challenges of an affliction that left him no taller than an average eight-year-old boy, I was hooked.

Can you talk a little about the story readers will discover in Stompin’ at the Savoy and take readers on the book’s journey from idea to published book?

This book is not a chronicle of Chick’s life. It focuses on his resilient and competitive spirit because that’s what struck a chord with me. I love contests, and so, apparently, did Chick. To showcase his competitiveness, the climax of the book is his legendary band battle with 6-foot tall Benny Goodman, the King of Swing—a contest so exciting that almost 10,000 people showed up, inside the Savoy and outside on Lenox Avenue. You’ll have to read the book to find out who won!

What was one of the most surprising things you learned about Chick Webb during your research?

As a drummer and a band leader, Chick was precise and demanding. He told his musicians to practice and to be perfect. This didn’t surprise me because my daughter is a percussionist and I know that to be successful, practice and discipline are essential. What did surprise me is that, on occasion, Chick was known to give in to his wilder side and ride around town on the back of a motorcycle, standing up.

Researching Chick Webb was tricky because not much has been written about him. I had to call upon librarians, my superheroes, to watch a documentary at the Library of Congress and to find out what his childhood home looked like (thanks to the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore).

For an author it must be thrilling to see your story come to life visually. When did you see the cover and illustrations for your story? What was your first reaction?

I have been a big fan of Laura’s work for some time, so I knew when I got the sketches in May, 2020 that they would be wonderful. But the best part was that she completely understood the Big Band era and captured the ethos of the Savoy perfectly. It turns out that she had a connection to it—her father danced at the Savoy Ballroom.

As for the cover, which I didn’t see until early October, 2020, well…it brought tears to my eyes. The purple background is such a perfect choice for the King of Drums. And Laura even managed to put his signature green chicks on his drum set!

What would you like young readers to take away from the story of Chick Webb?

Although I cannot fully understand the magnitude and complexities of Chick’s struggle, as someone who is only 4 feet 11 inches tall and always trying to figure out how to reach things in high places, I relate to the challenges of being a short person. I completely understood his need to make his bass drum pedal higher so he could reach it! And I admired his perseverance. I hope the young readers will see Chick’s story as an inspiration—a story of someone who believed in himself and his music. Chick was a person with short stature who created a giant sound.  

When will readers be able to find Stompin’ at the Savoy on bookstore shelves? Do you have any special events to planned that readers can look forward to?

Stompin’ at the Savoy will be available for purchase on January 15, 2021. We are holding a virtual book release celebration this Monday, January 18 at 3:30 EST with Tombolo Books bookstore. You can register for the event as well as buy signed copies of the book there. You’ll find more information and the link to register on my website, moirarosedonohue.net. And I am hoping to have an in-person event in Baltimore, Chick’s (and my son’s) home, when it’s safe to do so. 

You can connect with Moira Rose Donohue on

Her website | Twitter

Meet Laura Freeman

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Laura Freeman has illustrated many fine children’s books over the years, including Fancy Party Gowns: The Story of Fashion Designer Ann Cole Lowe, written by Deborah Blumenthal, and the Coretta Scott King Honor book Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race, by Margot Lee Shetterly and Winifred Conkling. Laura now lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with her husband and their two children. 

I think readers are fascinated by an artist’s process in translating a manuscript to images that explain, highlight, and enhance the text. Can you talk a little about how you approached the manuscript for Stompin’ at the Savoy and then developed your illustrations.

I always spend a lot of time looking at photos and researching the character and time period before starting. For Stompin’ I wanted to get in the mood, and so I searched for his music online and was surprised to find that I recognized the title song (which was written in 1933!). Maybe I watch too many old movies, but it really is great! I found great old photos of him at his drum kit and photos of the Savoy nightclub as well as people dancing and swinging to the orchestra. Since it was the ’30’s, all the photos I found were in black and white so I dug into the internet to find out what color his drum kit was… and I found conflicting information. One article stated that the kit was pearlized cream decorated with sparkly green chicks but the accompanying photo showed the chicks as being red. I ended up trusting the words since the photo was obviously hand tinted. I hope I got it right but guess it’s not the end of the world if I’m wrong! 

What were your thoughts as you began to design the interior images for Stompin’ at the Savoy?

I wanted to give the illustrations a sense of movement to mimic the way Chick’s music makes me feel. There are a lot of colorful musical notes dancing throughout almost all of the pages. There is one spread in particular where if you look closely you can find them in a pattern in the ironwork of the staircase that Chick falls down as a child. Even though he’s not playing music on this page I wanted the notes to foreshadow his future.

What aspects of Chick Webb’s story did you most want to express in your illustrations? Is there a spread in the book that you particularly enjoyed creating?

Even though he had a tragic accident when he was a child that affected him for the rest of his life, his music is so full of joy – I wanted the book to feel joyful! I wanted it to be bright and colorful. There’s one spread in the book that depicts a battle of the bands. The one where Chick’s band goes up against Benny Goodman’s band. It was one of the last images I tackled because I have to admit, I had no idea how I was going to pull it off. There was just so much going on. I wanted to show the excitement and electricity of the moment – both bands playing their instruments, Chick’s band in white tuxedos, Benny Goodman’s band in black, Chick at his drum kit, Gene Krupka breaking his drum head. All this, but I didn’t want it to look busy and confusing. It ended up being one of my favorite images in the book!

I’ve been fortunate to review several of your picture books. In each one the illustrations are uniquely suited for the subject and yet instantly recognizable as your work. What would you say is your signature style? How did you develop it?

Thank you for saying so! I guess I’d say my illustrations are somewhat realistic in that I do try to capture a likeness. But still not so much so that I can’t deviate from reality to make a point. I guess you could say my work has a collage feel to it since I love to play around with patterns and textures too. I think that the amount of research I do shows up in the illustrations. I try to immerse myself in the time period of the book. I love finding the right clothing and hairstyles. What did the streets look like? The cars? What kind of technology was available? What about the furniture? I collect 100’s of photos of all these things. Very few end up in the books, but the essence of what I’ve seen does… I hope!

What do you hope children will take away from your illustrations for Stompin’ at the Savoy?

I hope that they can see themselves in his story. I love that he didn’t let his physical limitations stop him from doing what he wanted to do. He had to sit on a high stool to reach the drums. He couldn’t reach the bass drum pedal on the stool, so he had a special one made. He even embraced what surely started out as a derogatory nickname and called himself Chick.

Like Moira, many of your books for children are biographies. What draws you to those projects? What are the challenges and the rewards of working on biographies?

I especially like learning about people I may never have heard of and learning new things about people I have heard of. If I don’t know the information, chances are that most kids don’t either. With a biography there’s the challenge of capturing a likeness. Sometimes there are lots of photos and videos of the person I’m depicting to reference. Other times, not so much. I may need to distill the person’s facial features and try to figure out what they might look like from a different angle or as a child when there really aren’t any reference photos to go by. I want to do them justice because I feel honored to be involved in uncovering their stories.

You can connect with Laura Freeman on

Her website | Instagram | Twitter

Thanks so much Moira and Laura for these insightful answers! I’m sure readers are as excited to read Stompin’ at the Savoy: How Chick Webb Became the King of Drums as I am! While we have to wait a little longer to find the book in bookstores, everyone’s invited to enter my giveaway for a chance to win a copy!

Stompin’ at the Savoy: How Chick Webb Became the King of Drums Giveaway

 

I’m excited to partner with Sleeping Bear Press in Twitter giveaway of:

  • One (1) copy of Stompin’ at the Savoy, written by Moira Rose Donohue| illustrated by Laura Freeman 

Here’s how to enter:

  • Follow Celebrate Picture Books 
  • Retweet a giveaway tweet OR leave a comment below
  • Bonus: Reply with your favorite kind of music for an extra entry (each reply gives you one more entry).

This giveaway is open from January 15 through January 21 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner will be chosen on January 22. 

Giveaway open to U.S. addresses only. | Prizing provided by Sleeping Bear Press.

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You can preorder Stompin’ at the Savoy: How Chick Webb Became the King of Drums at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

December 29 – National Tick Tock Day

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About the Holiday

As the year winds down Tick Tock Day reminds us of the passage of time and encourages us to examine our life and find opportunities to accomplish the things we really want to. While a day only has 24 hours, a little creative scheduling, letting go of those tasks that aren’t so important, and even saying “no,” can help us achieve the things that matter.

Ticktock Banneker’s Clock

Written by Shana Keller | Illustrated by David C. Gardner

 

With winter approaching Benjamin Banneker has finished up his autumn chores and is looking forward to time to indulge his creative dreams. He finds his favorite spot under the chestnut tree—the place where during the summer he plays his violin and flute, “blending his soft music with the bird’s songs”—and pulls out a pocket watch he has borrowed from a gentleman. Benjamin is fascinated by the ticking and the movement of the small hands. He carefully opens the back of the watch and discovers “a world of wonderful whirls. There were gears of all shapes and sizes. Such a tiny maze!”

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Image copyright David C. Gardner, courtesy of flyingdogstudio.com

The miniature timepiece is mesmerizing, but Benjamin’s mind holds a challenge—a big challenge. He envisions a large clock, one that chimes to tell the time. Remembering his math skills, Benjamin mulls over the scale needed to turn “something small into something big.” As the snow falls, Benjamin goes to work. First, he dismantles the pocket watch and draws careful diagrams of the gears and workings. Then he begins transposing these into larger drawings.

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Image copyright David C. Gardner, courtesy of flyingdogstudio.com

With the coming of spring and his drawings finished, Benjamin plans how he will build his clock. While the little pocket watch is made of metal, that material is much too expensive for a large version. As he ponders the problem under his favorite tree, Benjamin looks around him. Suddenly he knows! The answer is “right in front of him, even in his hands! The very instrument he played was made of wood!” There is a forest of trees on his farm, and this material is free.

During the summer between farm chores, Benjamin uses “every spare moment he had to find the perfect pieces of wood.” Once he has enough he begins to convert his drawings into carvings, whittling the gears and other pieces he will need. Soon, however, he becomes discouraged. The wood begins to split and come apart. Benjamin thinks about how his family cures tobacco leaves—drying them out until all the moisture evaporates. Perhaps, he thinks, he can do the same with wood to make it stronger. The process would take months, but Benjamin is patient.

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Image copyright David C. Gardner, courtesy of flyingdogstudio.com

Winter has come around again, and the wood is finally ready. In his warm house Benjamin sets about carving again. During the day he carves near the sunny window, and at night he works by candlelight. At last he has all the parts he needs to build his clock. Gears, wheels, tiny pins, and the boards that will become the case are scattered across Benjamin’s work table. There is only one piece missing. A piece that cannot be made of wood—the bell!

Benjamin buys a bell from a metalsmith, and back home begins to build his clock. With his drawings to guide him, he fits the gears together and then sets the hands to “match up perfectly with the second, minute, and hour of each day. It took more than one try, but Benjamin had learned to be patient.” Using the sun to determine the correct time, Benjamin positions the hands and steps back. His clock works! “The little iron bell chimed every hour, on the dot, for the next forty years.” Benjamin becomes famous, and neighbors from near and far come “to see his amazing invention.”  

An Author’s Note expanding on Benjamin Banneker’s life and work follows the text.

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Image copyright David C. Gardner, courtesy of flyingdogstudio.com

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

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Image copyright David C. Gardner, courtesy of flyingdogstudio.com

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

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

Ages 6 – 10

Sleeping Bear Press, 2016 | ISBN 978-1585369560

Learn more about Shana Keller and her work on her website!

Discover a portfolio of picture book art, fine art, animation, and videos by David C. Gardner on his website!

Tick Tock Day Activity

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Cuckoo Clock Coloring Page

 

The chirp of a cuckoo clock keeps you on time—or at least aware of the passing of time! If you like coloring, you’ll enjoy spending time with this printable Cuckoo Clock Coloring Page!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-ticktock-banneker's-clock-cover

You can find Ticktock Banneker’s Clock at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

October 17 – National Black Poetry Day

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About the Holiday

Black Poetry Day was established in 1985 and commemorates the birth of Jupiter Hammon, the first published African American poet in the United States. Hammon was born into slavery on Long Island, New York, on October 17th, 1711. His poem “An Evening Thought” was first published on Christmas Day when he was 49 years old. Hammon is considered one of the founders of African-American literature. Today’s holiday honors all black poets, past and present. To celebrate today, enjoy poetry from some of our greatest poets, including Maya Angelou, Rita Dove, Langston Hughes, Nikki Giovani, Derek Walcott, and, of course, Gwendolyn Brooks – the subject of today’s book.

I received a copy of A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks from Sterling Children’s Books for review consideration. All opinions are my own.

A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks

Written by Alice Faye Duncan | Illustrated by Xia Gordon

 

“SING a song for Gwendolyn Brooks. / Sing it loud—a Chicago blues.” This remarkable biography of the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet opens with these soaring lines which introduce eight-year-old Gwendolyn who, seeing a flower in the midst of the city, wonders how it will grow. Already she was observing the world with insight and originality.  “Her head is filled with snappy rhymes. / She writes her poems in dime store journals.” Even something as “simple” as a clock does not escape Gwendolyn’s consideration. In The Busy Clock she writes, in part: “Clock, clock tell the time, / Tell the time to me. / Magic, patient instrument, / That is never free.”

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Image copyright Xia Gordon, 2019, text copyright Alice Faye Duncan, 2019. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Out in the neighborhood, she stands quietly and watches the other kids laughing and playing—girls jumping rope and boys playing basketball. Gwendolyn’s father is a janitor and her mother stays at home with her and her brother, who is also her best friend. Gwen spends her time sitting on her porch, looking and listening to the sounds and the conversations of the neighborhood women and men. The “children call Gwen—‘ol’ stuck-up heifer!’”

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Image copyright Xia Gordon, 2019, text copyright Alice Faye Duncan, 2019. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

“SING a song for Gwendolyn Brooks. / Her mother believes. / Her father believes. / But sometimes—Gwendolyn doubts her radiance, / When jarring, crashing, discordant words, / Splotch and splatter her notebook paper.” And what does Gwen do with these poems that just don’t work? She buries them under the snowball bush in the backyard. Once, unbelieving, a teacher accuses Gwendolyn of plagiarism. Her mother takes her daughter back to school, and there on the spot, she composes a poetic answer to the charges: Forgive and Forget. It makes Gwen feel proud, she believes in herself and feels the sun shining on her.

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Image copyright Xia Gordon, 2019, text copyright Alice Faye Duncan, 2019. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

During the Great Depression, when jobs and money are scarce, Gwendolyn’s “parents are wise and see her light.” They give her time to write and she hones her words and her craft through draft after draft. With each completed poem, Gwen’s confidence grows. The Chicago Defender publishes some of Gwendolyn’s poems, and now she has an audience. Her parents believe that one day their daughter will be a famous poet.

Soon, Gwendolyn finds her way to a group of poets who meet in a South Side community center. She studies under Inez Stark and meets Henry Blakely, who will become her husband. She enters her poems in contests and wins first place over and over. When she and Henry move into their own two-room apartment, Henry goes to work, leaving Gwendolyn to translate the neighborhood into poetry that she types “in a crowded corner.”

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Image copyright Xia Gordon, 2019, text copyright Alice Faye Duncan, 2019. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Readers swarm to buy her books. “Gwen paints poems with paintbrush words, / And Gwen takes home a Pulitzer Prize.” Henry and their son celebrate, and Gwen’s parents “…cry tears of joy. / They praise her shine.” For they had always known and had “…Planted love and watered it. / Gwendolyn believed. / She found her light. / And— / A furious flower / GREW!”

An extensive Author’s Note detailing more about the life of Gwendolyn Brooks and her work as well as a timeline and suggested readings follow the text.

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Image copyright Xia Gordon, 2019, text copyright Alice Faye Duncan, 2019. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

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

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

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

Ages 4 and up

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

Discover more about Alice Faye Duncan and her books on her website.

To learn more about Xia Gordon, her books, and her art, visit her website.

National Black Poetry 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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