May 18 – International Museum Day

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About the Holiday

International Museum day was created in 1977 by the International Council of Museums to raise awareness that “museums are an important means of cultural exchange, enrichment of cultures and development of mutual understanding, cooperation and peace among peoples.” The theme for this year is “The Power of Museums.” Museums are not just repositories of the past. They are vital and active members of the communities they serve and as such can be leaders in tackling some of society’s biggest issues. This year the International Council of Museums aimsto “explore the potential of museums to bring about positive change in their communities through three lenses: the power of achieving sustainability, the power of innovating digitalization and accessibility, and the power of community building through education. To learn more about these initiatives, visit the ICOM website. Celebrate International Museum Day by visiting a museum near you – or visit many world-famous museums through today’s book.

The Ultimate Art Museum

By Ferren Gipson

A blurb on the cover of this astounding book sums up the lofty goals it achieves: “40,000 years of the world’s most amazing art in one dream museum!” Indeed, once readers open the cover and accept the “ticket” offered, they can peruse the museum map that lays out the three wings, 18 galleries, and 128 rooms, plus a cafe and garden, that await them. An note from author Ferren Gipson introduces readers to the range of ways art can influence and reflect their times and the people who lived during different eras.

Gipson’s conversational style follows visitors to this unique museum from page to page, prompting them to look, consider, understand, and make connections. On some pages, a question or comment marked by an eye sends readers to another gallery or room to compare artworks, subjects, or themes across time and cultures. Some of these give a page number to consult, while others allow readers to study a room or gallery to find the artwork referred to.

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Copyright Ferren Gipson, 2021, courtesy of Phaidon.

Wing 1, appropriately, presents “treasures from the world’s earliest civilizations and the earliest art ever made.” Here, children and adults will find cave art; figurines carved from ivory, bone, and stone; treasures from ancient empires, carved reliefs, the painted, sculpted, and gilded wonders of ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome. The intricate art of the Byzantine, early Islamic, and Medieval worlds demonstrate important aspects of these cultures as do works from ancient East Asia well as South and Southeast Asia. Readers then cross the Atlantic Ocean to discover the pottery, sculptures, and fabrics created by Native societies of North and South America. Each artwork is accompanied by a paragraph that will draw children in with clear, concise, and fascinating descriptions of the artwork, what it means, and, sometimes, even secrets that it holds.

Time for a break? Turn the page and enter the Café, where the “menu,” consisting of “Snacks, Mains, and Dessert” offers delectable choices depicted in paintings and sculpture. Refreshed, readers can step into Wing 2, where the galleries hold treasures from the 1200s to the 1800s created in Asia, including book illustrations, a palepai cloth, a puppet, scholar paintings, porceline, folding screens, carpets, and even the Taj Mahal.

The Renaissance comes to Europe with an impressive display of curiosity and learning that resulted in many changes to society and art. “Artists came up with better ways to mix oil paints and began to paint on canvas for the first time. And what scientists learned about the human body helped them paint and sculpt people who looked very real.” The subjects of artworks expanded too to include “portraits, mythology, and everyday life.” Dragon lovers can take up the challenge to compare two dragons – one created by an Italian master and the other found on a Chinese vase from the Yuan Dynasty.

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Copyright Ferren Gipson, 2021, courtesy of Phaidon.

From 1600 – 1850, dramatic and lifelike paintings became popular. Dark shadows and highlighted areas gave paintings an atmospheric feel that invited viewers to look closely. In one of Diego Velázquez’s famous Las Meninas painting, all of the people portrayed seem to be looking out from the canvas at you. But who are they really looking at? The answer can be found reflected in a mirror on the back wall. In addition to realistic family and town life, landscapes also became popular during this time.

Moving to another room, readers will find that the art of the Pacific Islands is distinctively different in its depictions of “images of gods, spirits, and ancestors of the people who lived there.” Those works created from stone and wood have survived through the ages while “others, such as objects made from delicate spider webs or flowers, have disappeared.” Art from the continent of Africa is up next. With its many unique kingdoms and communities, Africa has produced unique artworks that “celebrate leaders and tell the stories of Africa’s great empires and civilizations.” Clay, wood, metal, ivory, and cloth have been used to “create art with spiritual and practical purposes.”

Ah! Time for a walk through the garden. Which path will you take? The one past Georgia O’Keefe’s “Red Poppy” or one where you can see a moth and a caterpillar on the branch of a citrus tree? Perhaps you’d like to stroll through a hurricane with a tiger on your trail with Henri Rousseau’s “Tiger in a Tropical Storm (Surprised)” or maybe you’d like a fragrant walk through Gustav Klimt’s “Flower Garden.”

 
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Copyright Ferren Gipson, 2021, courtesy of Phaidon.

Wing 3 takes readers to modern times, when “almost anything is possible in art!” In this wing, visitors will see “art that does not have a set purpose.” Instead, the artists represented here “created works that were experimental and personal. They used unusual materials and tried exciting techniques.” In these rooms, readers will encounter the Impressionists, who were interested in capturing a moment in time,  and Post-Impressionists, who experimented with color, techniques, and subject matter. Readers will no doubt recognize paintings by Mary Cassatt, Vincent Van Gogh, and Georges Seurat.

American realist painters took city scenes, sports events, tender moments between family members, and many other topics. The Cubist period began when some artists experimented in showing their subject from a variety of angles at one time. Paul Cézanne, Pablo Picasso, and Georges Braque are just a few of the famous artists who “chopped up and rearranged images” to make a new style of art.

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Copyright Ferren Gipson, 2021, courtesy of Phaidon.

Visitors will also learn about the Dada movement, Expressionism, and American Regionalism. Photography took center stage as cameras became lighter and easier to use. The art of the Harlem Renaissance by Black Americans is reflected in a painting of Harriet Tubman by William H. Johnson, a bronze bust of a boy by Augusta Savage, and a quilt by Harriet Powers – one of only two that still exist.

After visiting a room of modern works from India and Mexico, readers enter the dizzying world of the Surrealists. Surrealism “shows real objects but in a completely fantastical way. It explores how dreams, imaginations, and the inner workings of the mind can be shown in art.” A train emerging from the “tunnel” of a fireplace, a fur teacup, saucer, and spoon, and Salvador Dali’s “drooping” clocks are a few of the works you’ll find here.

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Copyright Ferren Gipson, 2021, courtesy of Phaidon.

In Wing 3, readers will also learn about Collages, Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism, Conceptual art, and Op art that boggle the eyes and mind with their optical illusions. Pop art, Installations, contemporary sculptures large and small as well as Alexander Calder’s mobiles and artwork created from light stand side-by-side with Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s outdoor wrapping installations, Aboriginal Australian art, Feminist art, Chicanx art, performance art, video art, contemporary art, and so much more. If you’re a fan of selfies, you’ll want to stop at the Hall of Selfies and see how four artists anticipated and/or reflect this very modern art form.

Helpful maps accompany each wing and gallery change to show readers where the art in that gallery comes from or its influence. A smaller map inset often orients readers to where the region represented is situated in the world at large.

Back matter includes an Author’s Note, a map of 54 major museums around the world, a glossary of terms found in the text, and an index.

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Copyright Ferren Gipson, 2021, courtesy of Phaidon.

Ferren Gipson is the “cool” docent every visitor wants as their tour leader on a trip to a museum. Full of enthusiasm for art and its impact, gifted with a wealth of knowledge, and quick with a fun fact, a humorous aside, or an intriguing nugget of perspective, Gipson will wow kids and adults alike with her love of all kinds of art. Open The Ultimate Art Museum to any page and readers will immediately be absorbed by whatever style of art or time in history they’ve hit upon and will eagerly wander from gallery to gallery, room to room, page to page to learn more.

The Ultimate Art Museum has applications for strong cross-curricular study for teachers and homeschoolers, expertly connecting history, art, changing societies, and more visually and textually. Gipson’s entertaining and thorough treatment of her topic will get kids excited about visiting museums of all kinds, and arm-chair travelers will wile away many happy hours wandering its pages. 

The Ultimate Art Museum is a must for classrooms and school and public libraries and would be a much-loved addition to home bookshelves or coffee tables.  

Ages 8 and up

Phaidon, 2021 | ISBN 978-1838663780

Discover more about Ferren Gipson, her books, work, and podcast “Art Matters” on her website.

International Museum Day Activity

CPB - Cookie Jar Museum (2)

Create a Museum Exhibit

Every item has a story. Maybe there’s a funny anecdote behind that knick-knack on your shelf. Perhaps your favorite serving dish holds sentimental value. How about your child’s best-loved toy or a drawing or craft they’ve made? A fun and educational way for kids to learn family stories and interact with their own history is to create a museum exhibit of objects in your home.

For teachers this can be a fun classroom activity that incorporates writing, art, and speaking as well as categorizing skills. Students can use objects in the classroom or bring items from home to set up museum exhibits. This activity can be done as a whole-class project or by smaller groups, who then present their exhibit to the rest of the class.

Supplies

  • A number of household or classroom items
  • Paper or index cards
  • Markers
  • A table, shelf, or other area for display

Directions

  1. To get started help children gather a number of items from around the house to be the subjects of their exhibit. An exhibit can have a theme, such as Grandma’s China or Travel Souvenirs, or it can contain random items of your child’s choice, such as toys, plants, tools, even the furniture they see and use every day.
  2. Using the paper or cards and markers, children can create labels for their exhibit items. Older children will be able to write the labels themselves; younger children may need adult help.
  3. Spend a little time relating the story behind each object: where it came from, how long you’ve had it, when and how it was used in the past, and include any funny or touching memories attached to the item. Or let your child’s imagination run free, and let them create histories for the objects.
  4. When the labels are finished, arrange the items on a table, shelf, or in a room, and let your child lead family members or classmates on a tour. You can even share the exhibit with family and friends on social media.
  5. If extended family members live in your area, this is a wonderful way for your child to interact with them and learn about their heritage.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-ultimate-art-museum-cover

You can find The Ultimate Art Museum at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

February 17 – 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 2022 is “Black Health and Wellness” and focuses on the legacy of not only Black scholars and medical practitioners in Western medicine, but also on alternate ways of practicing medicine throughout the African Diaspora. The 2022 theme considers activities, rituals, and initiatives that Black communities engage in to live healthy lives.

To learn more about Black History Month, find information on this year’s events, access resources for more research, and find content for teachers, visit the BlackHistoryMonth.gov

The Faith of Elijah Cummings: The North Star of Equal Justice

Written by Carole Boston Weatherford | Illustrated by Laura Freeman

During the summer of 1962, when Elijah Cummings was eleven years old, he and other African American children marched for the integration of a Baltimore city pool. They were met with a white mob who shouted at them to “‘Go back where you came from!'” and threw rocks and bottles at them. This protest, organized by civil rights lawyer Juanita Jackson Mitchell, inspired Elijah to consider becoming a lawyer also.

Elijah’s parents had moved to Maryland from South Carolina in the 1940s, where they had worked the land where their parents had once been enslaved and where “Blacks were beaten for seeking voting rights. Elijah, his parents, and his six siblings lived in a four-room row house, where his mother and father – having only a fourth-grade education – stressed the importance of schooling. But for inquisitive Elijah, the nuts and bolts of reading and writing were elusive. Because of the cramped conditions at home, Elijah took to studying at the library, where the librarians tutored him after their shifts and made it possible for Elijah to succeed.

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Image copyright Laura Freeman, 2022, text copyright Carole Boston Weatherford, 2022. Courtesy of Random House Studio.

Through hard work, scrimping, and saving, Elijah’s parents were able to buy a house with more room and a yard. Here, Elijah’s mother became a preacher and grew her small group of women who met in their home’s basement into a small church, the Victory Prayer Chapel. In addition to leading services, Elijah’s mother lived what she believed by helping those in need. Elijah’s father inspired him to become all that he could be. 

Even as a young boy, Elijah worked hard and, on Sundays after church, he listened to Rev. Martin Luther King’s speeches by transistor radio. He watched as African American boys were put into reform school, and he vowed to become a lawyer, but his high school guidance counselor tried to dissuade him. With the help of his parents and the pharmacist at the drug store where he worked, Elijah attended Howard University, where he was a standout student and leader. He became a lawyer and in 1983 was elected to the Maryland House of Delegates.

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Image copyright Laura Freeman, 2022, text copyright Carole Boston Weatherford, 2022. Courtesy of Random House Studio.

“In 1996, Elijah Cummings was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives,” and later became the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. “He spoke out to ensure that everyone was treated fairly and equally.” Even though he was a leader in Washington DC, Elijah continued to live in his inner-city Baltimore neighborhood, and during the protests against police brutality in 2015, he appealed for calm as he walked “with residents singing an African American spiritual: ‘This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.'” Before his death in 2019, Elijah Cummings was named chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, where, as he had for his entire career, he advocated for change now and for the future our children will inherit.

Quotes by Elijah Cummings on his inspirations, work, and beliefs included throughout the story allow readers to hear in Cummings’ own words his passion and dedication to creating a more equitable and caring America for all. 

A Foreword reprints remarks given by Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi at Elijah Cummings’ funeral on October 25, 2019. Back matter includes an excerpt of the statement from the Congressional Black Caucus upon Cummings’ death on October 17, a Timeline of his life and work, a Bibliography, and Source Notes for the Cummings’ quotes found throughout the story.

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Image copyright Laura Freeman, 2022, text copyright Carole Boston Weatherford, 2022. Courtesy of Random House Studio.

Carole Boston Weatherford’s moving biography of Elijah Cummings highlights the strong and supportive family unit that inspired and sustained Elijah as he grew from a thoughtful and hardworking boy into an empathetic and influential leader. Her focus on formative events in Cummings’ life depict how early experiences often shape the person children become while continuing to inform their opinions, beliefs, and occupations. Through his own words, Weatherford reveals Cummings’ commitment to the children who will read this biography as well as to all young people who will benefit from and carry on his work.

In her rich and expressive illustrations, Laura Freeman recreates pivotal events, touching examples of the Cummings’ family solidarity, and community-based actions inspired by the family’s religious faith to paint a portrait of Elijah’s youth and young adulthood. As he rises to the highest levels within the US Congress, while never losing touch with the neighborhood and people he loved, Freeman’s striking images will entice readers to learn more about Elijah Cummings’ legislative legacy and the workings of Congress and to, perhaps, become involved in their own community.

A masterful biography of Elijah Cummings that deftly interweaves the internal and external influences of his youth with their lifelong effects on his principles, his work, and his lasting influence, The Faith of Elijah Cummings is highly recommended for home bookshelves and a must for school and public library collections.

Ages 6 – 9 

Random House Studio, 2022 | ISBN 978-0593306505

Discover more about Carole Boston Weatherford and her books on her website.

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

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You can find The Faith of Elijah Cummings at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from 

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

January 17 – Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

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About the Holiday

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

I’d like to sincerely thank Alice Faye Duncan for sharing a digital copy of Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop: The Sanitation Strike of 1968

Written by Alice Faye Duncan | Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie

 

Informed by the memories of Dr. Almella Starks-Umoja, a teacher who as a child participated in the sanitation strike and told through the eyes of fictional nine-year-old Lorraine, Alice Faye Duncan relates the story of the 1968 sanitation strike in Memphis, Tennessee and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King just a day after giving his final sermon “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” at Mason Temple Church in support of the strike.

Through thirteen titled vignettes composed of lyrical and powerful language, Duncan reveals the detailed facts and emotions of those days that changed lives, altered the Civil Rights movement, and still resonate today. Duncan begins with “Memphis—1968” in which Lorraine describes a Memphis roiled by “the stinking sanitation strike” when “Black men marched for honor” and she also marched “with red ribbon in [her] hair.” She entreats the reader: “You must tell the story—so that no one will forget it.”

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Image copyright R. Gregory Christie, 2018, text copyright Alice Faye Duncan, 2018. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

“Mud Puddles” tells of the moment in January when Lorraine’s father comes home so “distressed and out of breath” that Lorraine’s muddy shoeprints are forgotten by her mama as he tells them about his two fellow sanitation workers and friends—Echol Cole and Robert Walker—who were killed when a truck’s packer blade malfunctioned. “Daddy told Mama, ‘It ain’t right to die like that.’ / Mama shook her head, and I saw a new storm rising up. / I saw it in their eyes.”

In “Marching Orders” Lorraine lays out the ugly conditions sanitation workers like her father toiled under and introduces readers to Mayor Loeb, who refused to increase their wages from $1.70 an hour. She states, “When they could take the abuse no more, 1,300 men deserted their garbage barrels. They organized a labor strike on February 12, 1968. In the morning and afternoon, for sixty-five days, sanitation workers marched fourteen blocks through the streets of downtown Memphis.”

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Image copyright R. Gregory Christie, 2018, text copyright Alice Faye Duncan, 2018. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

As the strike continued through the winter, “[crippling] garbage collection with terrific success,” “Winter Blues” depicts the sacrifices Lorraine’s family made, from going without electricity to missing bill payments to skipping treats or getting anything new. But Lorraine also “learned what the grown folks knew. Trouble visits every life. But as strikers marched through sun and rain, help came in many forms.” Two of these were a group of Memphis preachers who helped strikers pay bills and the NAACP.

Winter turns to spring with no concessions from Mayor Loeb and no end to the strike in sight. But then in “Martin” Lorraine learns in the newspapers her mama’s boss gave her that Martin Luther King Jr. would be coming to support the striking workers. “Silver Rights” recounts Lorraine’s memories of listening to Dr. King, his voice “loud and stirring” when he said, “‘All labor has dignity.’” He set the date of March 22nd when he would march with the striking workers. Lorraine’s daddy and mama vowed to be there. And as she recalled, “then Mama patted my hand and said, ‘We will take Lorraine. She can march with us.’” A haiku “Omen” reveals the cancellation of the march.

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Image copyright R. Gregory Christie, 2018, text copyright Alice Faye Duncan, 2018. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

In “Beale Street,” Lorraine explains more about Dr. King’s dreams and work and his crusade he named “the ‘Poor People’s Campaign.’” The march was rescheduled for March 28, and on that day “Six thousand people—blacks, whites, men, women, and children—gathered in downtown Memphis. / Police stood guard with tear gas, billy clubs, and guns.” When looters shattered storefront windows, the police moved in, spraying tear gas and beating people.” Lorraine became separated from her mother but was swept to safety by her father. Following the riot, the National Guard was called in and a curfew put in place.

In the aftermath of the riot, Dr. King left Memphis, Lorraine tells readers in “Dreamers.” But he had promised to return despite death threats, and on April 3 he flew from his home in Atlanta to Memphis. It was a stormy night, but Lorraine and her family along with many others packed Mason Temple Church to hear Dr. King preach. But when they got there, Dr. King’s friend Ralph Abernathy told the crowd that Dr. King was too sick to appear.

Other people gave speeches about the strike, and Lorraine had fallen asleep in her mother’s arms when “KABOOM! A voice like the evening thunder shook me from my sleep.” In his booming voice, Dr. King “charged men, women, and children to make the world a promised land flowing with freedom and justice” and “encouraged Memphis strikers and strike supporters to march, boycott, and raise their voices for worker rights until victory was won.”

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Image copyright R. Gregory Christie, 2018, text copyright Alice Faye Duncan, 2018. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

In “Lorraine” the narrator reveals that her name is the same as the Memphis motel where Dr. King lost his life. She recounts his last hour spent with friends and the moment when he steps out onto the balcony and James Earl Ray shot him from a boarding house nearby. In other cities across the country grief-fueled protests broke out, but Memphis was relatively quiet. As Lorraine listened to the radio that night, she wrote a poem “The King is Dead” that her mama hung on the wall of their rented house.

“Black Widow” relates the events of April 8, when Coretta Scott King fulfilled her husband’s promise to march for the Memphis sanitation workers. Along with 40,000 other people—“ministers, labor leaders, political figures, entertainers, and everyday people”—from Memphis and around the country, Lorraine and her parents marched. In “Victory on a Blue Note,” the Memphis Sanitation Strike comes to an end when president Lyndon B. Johnson sent a labor official to negotiate a settlement. The men received a pay increase and promotions based on merit, not race. As Lorraine’s daddy and mama celebrate, Lorraine reveals what she has learned: “So much was won. / So much was lost. / Freedom is never free.”

An inspirational poem for all readers, “Mountaintop” closes the book. Back matter includes an extensive and detailed timeline as well as information on the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel and a list of sources.

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Image copyright R. Gregory Christie, 2018, text copyright Alice Faye Duncan, 2018. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

In Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop, Alice Faye Duncan’s use of a nine-year-old narrator makes her book even more powerful for today’s children in telling the story of the Memphis sanitation strike and the world-changing events surrounding it. Duncan intertwines conviction, pride, activism, and heartbreak together in her compelling and lyrical snapshots that reveal the facts and emotions behind this pivotal Civil Rights and economic rights protest for a living wage for all Americans. Children’s hearts will be filled with empathy for Lorraine as she supports her father, accepts the sacrifices her family must make during the strike, joins her mother in marches, and fears for the safety of the strikers and Martin Luther King Jr.

The life and work of Dr. King, his influence, and the hope he embodied as well as his shocking assassination are all encapsulated in Duncan’s concise paragraphs, allowing readers to understand his enduring inspiration to all who fight injustice. By overlaying the text with descriptions of the volatile weather experienced during the winter and spring of 1968, Duncan amplifies the fearful atmosphere of the times in a metaphorical way that will resonate with readers. Lorraine’s growth and insight gleaned from her experiences will stay with readers long after they read the story.

R. Gregory Christie’s dramatic collage-style gouache paintings set off Duncan’s vignettes with bold blocks of color while inviting readers to experience the determination, community, and dignity of the workers fighting for the universal desire for and right to recognition, safety, and a living wage. Christie’s illustrations are all the more evocative for their varied use of perspective, subtle glimpses of hope and support, and moving portraits of Lorraine’s father, strikers, Martin Luther King Jr., and Lorraine herself. The death of Dr. King is depicted in a tiny image of the Lorraine motel balcony on which three men pointing upward, a kneeling figure, and the fallen Dr. King are all portrayed in silhouette. The intense focus the reader puts on this image increases its effect on the heart and mind.

Compelling, moving, and inspirational, Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop: The Sanitation Strike of 1968 is a must-read for all children. The book is a first-rate choice for home libraries and belongs in every school and public library.

Ages 7 and up

Calkins Creek, 2018 | ISBN 978-1629797182

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

To learn more about R. Gregory Christie, his books, and his art, visit his 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, color this printable page and hang it in your room!

Martin Luther King Jr. Portrait 

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You can find Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop: The Sanitation Strike of 1968 at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

November 1 – National Author’s Day

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About the Holiday

There may be no better month to celebrate Author’s Day than in November. Not only is it Picture Book Month, but thousands of people set aside their usual routine to take part in NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month, when writers try to complete at least a first draft of a novel in one month. The holiday was instituted in 1928 by Nellie Verne Burt McPherson, president of the Bement, Illinois Women’s Club. An avid reader, she established Author’s Day to thank writer Irving Bacheller who sent her an autographed story in response to her fan letter. The day was officially recognized in 1949 by the United States Department of Commerce. McPherson’s granddaughter, Sue Cole, promoted the holiday after Nellie’s death in 1968. To celebrate, people are encouraged to write a note of appreciation to their favorite author.

Thanks go to Workman Publishing and Big Honcho Media for sharing a copy of The ABCs of Black History with me for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

The ABCs of Black History

Written by Rio Cortez | Illustrated by Lauren Semmer

 

This stunning compendium of lyrical verses defies easy categorization as it bridges the genres of alphabet books, encyclopedias, history books, biographies, and more for young readers. The book opens with words from James Baldwin, in which he says “History is not the past. It is the present. We carry our history with us. We are our history,” and within its pages children discover not only specific events and well-known people, but the emotions, philosophies, and traits that have carried and sustained African Americans.

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Image copyright Lauren Semmer, 2020, text copyright Rio Cortez, 2020. Courtesy of Workman Publishing Company.

This inspiring alphabetic journey begins with “A is for anthem, a banner of song / that wraps us in hope, lets us know we belong. / We lift up our voices, lift them and sing. / From stages and street corners, let freedom ring.” From there kids come to B, which is for “beautiful…brave…bright…and bold.” It also describes “brotherhood” and “believing in grace.” At E children meet Explorers Matthew Henson and Mae Jemison as well as some of those who fought to make Education open to all, such as Ruby Bridges, Linda Brown, and the Little Rock Nine.

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Image copyright Lauren Semmer, 2020, text copyright Rio Cortez, 2020. Courtesy of Workman Publishing Company.

G and the Great Migration follow Black Americans from farmland to cities to “Harlem – those big city streets! / We walked and we danced to our own jazzy beat.” “Imagine, invent, innovative” define letter I, where readers find Alvin Ailey, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Gwendolyn Brooks, Madam C. J. Walker, George Washington Carver, and DJ Kool Herc.

The drive to move forward, to aspire, and succeed is eloquently traced from the past: “M is for march, for lifting our feet, / taking the movement, the cause to the street” to today: “Black lives matter. Every breath, every dream – / Every thought, each idea, each impossible scheme.” From sit-ins to their organizers, from African queens to today’s women leaders, from award-winning athletes to scientists to singers of soul, Black achievement is highlighted across the alphabet.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-The-ABCs-of-Black-History-Harlem

Image copyright Lauren Semmer, 2020, text copyright Rio Cortez, 2020. Courtesy of Workman Publishing Company.

At U children and adults arrive at poignant verses that should prompt deeper discussions: “U is for United States – this story is tough. / The birth of a nation was deadly for us. / We the people? In the land of the free? / No one who was enslaved would agree.” A second and third verse take in the Civil War and the “unbroken, unshaken, unbound, / like Harriet Tubman, who went underground,” and the battle for freedom and rights that continued after the war’s end. But the pages end on a note of hope, revealing that U is also “for unfinished, this American tale. / With courage and strength, we will prevail!” 

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Image copyright Lauren Semmer, 2020, text copyright Rio Cortez, 2020. Courtesy of Workman Publishing Company.

As this is National Author’s Day, I must mention that “W is for writers whose wisdom and words / bring to life worlds where our voices are heard. / Rappers adn poets and songwriters, too, / all those who spin from our point of view.” And how does this collection of events, holidays, personalities, hopes, and dreams end? At Z for zenith – “The top of that mountain King said we would reach” to which “we march on, / rising, rising, like the sun with the dawn.”

Back matter includes further elucidation of each letter of the alphabet and it’s accompanying concept. These are detailed entries that also lend themselves to further study. Resources also include websites to organizations and museums and suggestions for books and poetry to read.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-The-ABCs-of-Black-History-queens

Image copyright Lauren Semmer, 2020, text copyright Rio Cortez, 2020. Courtesy of Workman Publishing Company.

Rio Cortez’s poetry soars on optimism, achievement, hope, and a palpable pride in Black history and the future. Musical and conversational, the verses flow off the tongue, creating an exciting and meaningful read-aloud experience for adults and children. The breadth of information that Cortez imparts is stirring, adding up to an impactful look at history and a rousing celebration of Black culture. Every page offers many, many opportunities for further learning, listening, viewing, and research.

Lauren Semmer’s vivid illustrations – opening with an uplifting group shot of young, happy, and hopeful black and brown faces that welcome their young peers – will enthrall readers with their action, energy, and colors. Portraits of famous figures and unsung heroes will inspire children to get involved in their communities and causes they believe in, while reaching for their dreams.

The ABCs of Black History is an exhilarating picture book for family reading times, a superb cross-curricular resource for homeschoolers and classrooms from elementary school to high school, and a must for all school and public library collections.

Ages 5 and up

Workman Publishing Company, 2020 | ISBN 978-1523507498

Discover more about Rio Cortez and her books on her website.

To learn more about Lauren Semmer, her books, and her art, visit her website.

National Author’s Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Black-History-Month-Coloring-Pages-Maya-Angelou

Black Leaders 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. You’ll find more coloring pages of Black leaders to print at Scribble Fun.

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

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-The-ABCs-of-Black-History-cover

You can find The ABCs of Black History at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

April 28 – Great Poetry Reading Day and Workers Memorial Day

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About the Holiday

This month we honor the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. as we commemorate his assassination on April 4, 1968. Today’s book, told in lyrical language along with interwoven poems, relates the events of the Memphis Sanitation Strike of 1968 as well as the day of Dr. King’s death and touches on two holidays held today: Great Poetry Reading Day and National Workers Memorial Day. 

Great Poetry Reading Day

As National Poetry Month comes to a close, people are encouraged to engage in one more special celebration of poets and their work by reading and sharing poems by their favorite writers as well as discovering new writers whose work they can enjoy today and in the future. To get started why not visit your local library or bookstore and take home a book or two of poetry for you and your kids today as well as today’s superb book. 

Workers Memorial Day

Some jobs are so dangerous that workers get hurt or even die doing them. Around the world organizations have been established to help industries provide safer working environments for their employees by establishing standard rules and regulations for buildings, machinery, working hours, and more. Unions and other groups have also been founded that represent workers to ensure their rights are upheld and their needs are met. Today we honor the sacrifices of workers in dangerous professions and raise awareness for safe working conditions.

I’d like to sincerely thank Alice Faye Duncan for sharing a digital copy of Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop: The Sanitation Strike of 1968

Written by Alice Faye Duncan | Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie

 

Informed by the memories of Dr. Almella Starks-Umoja, a teacher who as a child participated in the sanitation strike and told through the eyes of fictional nine-year-old Lorraine, Alice Faye Duncan relates the story of the 1968 sanitation strike in Memphis, Tennessee and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King just a day after giving his final sermon “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” at Mason Temple Church in support of the strike.

Through thirteen titled vignettes composed of lyrical and powerful language, Duncan reveals the detailed facts and emotions of those days that changed lives, altered the Civil Rights movement, and still resonate today. Duncan begins with “Memphis—1968” in which Lorraine describes a Memphis roiled by “the stinking sanitation strike” when “Black men marched for honor” and she also marched “with red ribbon in [her] hair.” She entreats the reader: “You must tell the story—so that no one will forget it.”

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Image copyright R. Gregory Christie, 2018, text copyright Alice Faye Duncan, 2018. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

“Mud Puddles” tells of the moment in January when Lorraine’s father comes home so “distressed and out of breath” that Lorraine’s muddy shoeprints are forgotten by her mama as he tells them about his two fellow sanitation workers and friends—Echol Cole and Robert Walker—who were killed when a truck’s packer blade malfunctioned. “Daddy told Mama, ‘It ain’t right to die like that.’ / Mama shook her head, and I saw a new storm rising up. / I saw it in their eyes.”

In “Marching Orders” Lorraine lays out the ugly conditions sanitation workers like her father toiled under and introduces readers to Mayor Loeb, who refused to increase their wages from $1.70 an hour. She states, “When they could take the abuse no more, 1,300 men deserted their garbage barrels. They organized a labor strike on February 12, 1968. In the morning and afternoon, for sixty-five days, sanitation workers marched fourteen blocks through the streets of downtown Memphis.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-memphis-martin-and-the-mountaintop-memphis-1968

Image copyright R. Gregory Christie, 2018, text copyright Alice Faye Duncan, 2018. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

As the strike continued through the winter, “[crippling] garbage collection with terrific success,” “Winter Blues” depicts the sacrifices Lorraine’s family made, from going without electricity to missing bill payments to skipping treats or getting anything new. But Lorraine also “learned what the grown folks knew. Trouble visits every life. But as strikers marched through sun and rain, help came in many forms.” Two of these were a group of Memphis preachers who helped strikers pay bills and the NAACP.

Winter turns to spring with no concessions from Mayor Loeb and no end to the strike in sight. But then in “Martin” Lorraine learns in the newspapers her mama’s boss gave her that Martin Luther King Jr. would be coming to support the striking workers. “Silver Rights” recounts Lorraine’s memories of listening to Dr. King, his voice “loud and stirring” when he said, “‘All labor has dignity.’” He set the date of March 22nd when he would march with the striking workers. Lorraine’s daddy and mama vowed to be there. And as she recalled, “then Mama patted my hand and said, ‘We will take Lorraine. She can march with us.’” A haiku “Omen” reveals the cancellation of the march.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-memphis-martin-and-the-mountaintop-mud-puddles

Image copyright R. Gregory Christie, 2018, text copyright Alice Faye Duncan, 2018. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

In “Beale Street,” Lorraine explains more about Dr. King’s dreams and work and his crusade he named “the ‘Poor People’s Campaign.’” The march was rescheduled for March 28, and on that day “Six thousand people—blacks, whites, men, women, and children—gathered in downtown Memphis. / Police stood guard with tear gas, billy clubs, and guns.” When looters shattered storefront windows, the police moved in, spraying tear gas and beating people.” Lorraine became separated from her mother but was swept to safety by her father. Following the riot, the National Guard was called in and a curfew put in place.

In the aftermath of the riot, Dr. King left Memphis, Lorraine tells readers in “Dreamers.” But he had promised to return despite death threats, and on April 3 he flew from his home in Atlanta to Memphis. It was a stormy night, but Lorraine and her family along with many others packed Mason Temple Church to hear Dr. King preach. But when they got there, Dr. King’s friend Ralph Abernathy told the crowd that Dr. King was too sick to appear.

Other people gave speeches about the strike, and Lorraine had fallen asleep in her mother’s arms when “KABOOM! A voice like the evening thunder shook me from my sleep.” In his booming voice, Dr. King “charged men, women, and children to make the world a promised land flowing with freedom and justice” and “encouraged Memphis strikers and strike supporters to march, boycott, and raise their voices for worker rights until victory was won.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-memphis-martin-and-the-mountaintop-marching-orders

Image copyright R. Gregory Christie, 2018, text copyright Alice Faye Duncan, 2018. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

In “Lorraine” the narrator reveals that her name is the same as the Memphis motel where Dr. King lost his life. She recounts his last hour spent with friends and the moment when he steps out onto the balcony and James Earl Ray shot him from a boarding house nearby. In other cities across the country grief-fueled protests broke out, but Memphis was relatively quiet. As Lorraine listened to the radio that night, she wrote a poem “The King is Dead” that her mama hung on the wall of their rented house.

“Black Widow” relates the events of April 8, when Coretta Scott King fulfilled her husband’s promise to march for the Memphis sanitation workers. Along with 40,000 other people—“ministers, labor leaders, political figures, entertainers, and everyday people”—from Memphis and around the country, Lorraine and her parents marched. In “Victory on a Blue Note,” the Memphis Sanitation Strike comes to an end when president Lyndon B. Johnson sent a labor official to negotiate a settlement. The men received a pay increase and promotions based on merit, not race. As Lorraine’s daddy and mama celebrate, Lorraine reveals what she has learned: “So much was won. / So much was lost. / Freedom is never free.”

An inspirational poem for all readers, “Mountaintop” closes the book. Back matter includes an extensive and detailed timeline as well as information on the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel and a list of sources.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-memphis-martin-and-the-mountaintop-martin-luther-king-jr

Image copyright R. Gregory Christie, 2018, text copyright Alice Faye Duncan, 2018. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

In Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop, Alice Faye Duncan’s use of a nine-year-old narrator makes her book even more powerful for today’s children in telling the story of the Memphis sanitation strike and the world-changing events surrounding it. Duncan intertwines conviction, pride, activism, and heartbreak together in her compelling and lyrical snapshots that reveal the facts and emotions behind this pivotal Civil Rights and economic rights protest for a living wage for all Americans. Children’s hearts will be filled with empathy for Lorraine as she supports her father, accepts the sacrifices her family must make during the strike, joins her mother in marches, and fears for the safety of the strikers and Martin Luther King Jr.

The life and work of Dr. King, his influence, and the hope he embodied as well as his shocking assassination are all encapsulated in Duncan’s concise paragraphs, allowing readers to understand his enduring inspiration to all who fight injustice. By overlaying the text with descriptions of the volatile weather experienced during the winter and spring of 1968, Duncan amplifies the fearful atmosphere of the times in a metaphorical way that will resonate with readers. Lorraine’s growth and insight gleaned from her experiences will stay with readers long after they read the story.

R. Gregory Christie’s dramatic collage-style gouache paintings set off Duncan’s vignettes with bold blocks of color while inviting readers to experience the determination, community, and dignity of the workers fighting for the universal desire for and right to recognition, safety, and a living wage. Christie’s illustrations are all the more evocative for their varied use of perspective, subtle glimpses of hope and support, and moving portraits of Lorraine’s father, strikers, Martin Luther King Jr., and Lorraine herself. The death of Dr. King is depicted in a tiny image of the Lorraine motel balcony on which three men pointing upward, a kneeling figure, and the fallen Dr. King are all portrayed in silhouette. The intense focus the reader puts on this image increases its effect on the heart and mind.

Compelling, moving, and inspirational, Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop: The Sanitation Strike of 1968 is a must-read for all children. The book is a first-rate choice for home libraries and belongs in every school and public library.

Ages 7 and up

Calkins Creek, 2018 | ISBN 978-1629797182

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

To learn more about R. Gregory Christie, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Great Poetry Reading Day and Workers’ Memorial 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, color this printable page and hang it in your room!

Martin Luther King Jr. Portrait 

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-memphis-martin-and-the-mountaintop-cover

You can find Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop: The Sanitation Strike of 1968 at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

February 18 – It’s Black History Month

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

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.”

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

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.

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

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

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Black-History-Month-Coloring-Pages-Martin-Luther-King-Jr

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

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

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.

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

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