June 14 – National Children’s Day

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About the Holiday

On National Children’s Day, parents, grandparents, and other family members and caregivers are encouraged to spend the day with their children, celebrating each child’s unique qualities, listening to them, and recommitting the family to core values of love and acceptance. To celebrate today, talk to your children about their dreams and how the family as a whole can help them achieve their goals. Then have some fun with an activity that’s meaningful to all. 

Happy Dreamer

By Peter H. Reynolds

 

A child floats on a golden, sparkling swirl of their own creation. “I am a happy dreamer,” they say. “I’m really good at dreaming. Daydreams, big dreams, little dreams, creative dreams.” In fact, this child is a “dreamer maximus!” There are times when they’re told to ignore that voice inside…to “sit still” and pay attention. But the music inside is persistent and persuasive, inviting the child to move, to play along and let it out.

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Copyright Peter H. Reynolds, 2017, courtesy of Orchard Books.

Sometimes dreams require quiet. Then the child says, “I make time to stay still and hear myself think—to let go and see what takes shape.” Can you see it too? There are dreams so big, the child reveals, that sometimes “I’m a shout-at-the-top-of-my-lungs dreamer (even if I’m just a loud-inside-my-head dreamer!)”

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Copyright Peter H. Reynolds, 2017, courtesy of Orchard Books.

There are times when dreams come in colors that paint a surprising path, and sometimes there are so many dreams firing at once that they cause “creative chaos.” When you ask make me clean up, the child says, I will, but “cleaning up hides my treasures” and “there is less of ME to show.” When that happens, the child explains, “…I feel alone. BOXED IN.” But there is always an escape, a way to recover the “happy dreams.”

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Copyright Peter H. Reynolds, 2017, courtesy of Orchard Books.

You know what? the child says, “I’m really good at being me. A dreamer—surprising, caring, funny, gentle, smart.” Falling or failing don’t hurt because dreamers always bounce back and keep going. Do you know what kind of dreamer you are? There are so many kinds! What makes you happy? Exploring, working hard, being with family or friends, being alone? Maybe laughing, acting, being wild, being strong. Are you civic-minded, peaceful, thoughtful?

What’s “the best way to be a happy dreamer? Just be YOU.”

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Copyright Peter H. Reynolds, 2017, courtesy of Orchard Books.

Peter H. Reynolds is always inspirational, finding just the right words to include all readers while speaking directly and intimately to each reader individually. In Happy Dreamer, Reynolds taps into the ways ideas and talents come knocking, whispering, or shouting to be heard and set free. His lyrical language is engaging for even the youngest readers and meaningful for adults as well—on both a personal level and for those who are parents, caregivers, or teachers.

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Copyright Peter H. Reynolds, 2017, courtesy of Orchard Books.

From the first image in which the child floats on the glowing swirl of dreams, readers will follow the child as they play music, discover shapes in the clouds, swing to lofty heights, shout to the world, paint a rainbow path, create fireworks and treasures, and break free from the restraints of the world that sometimes tamp down dreams. A double gate-fold filled with dreamers will delight readers as they search for just the type of dreamer they are. Written in the first-person and with gender neutral clothing and hairstyle, Happy Dreamer is a universal story.

Empowering, encouraging, and accepting, Happy Dreamer is a superb choice for home and classroom libraries.

Ages 4 – 8 and up

Orchard Books, an imprint of Scholastic, 2017 | ISBN 978-0545865012

Discover more about Peter Reynolds, his books, and his art on his website.

National Children’s Day Activity

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Imagine you are applying for your dream job. What would it be? Why are you the right candidate? Have fun with this portfolio or briefcase craft and printable Dream Job Application and start on the road to your happy future!

Supplies

Directions

To Make the Body of the Briefcase

  1. Cut a rectangle of poster board in proportion to child’s size. Leave ½ inch on either side of the shorter cut to glue the briefcase together. The longer side should be double the height you’d like the finished briefcase to be. (My example was made from a 12-inch by 20-inch strip.)
  2. Fold the poster board in half
  3. Glue the side edges together

To Make the Handle

  1. Cut a narrow strip of poster board
  2. Fold the right side of the strip toward you and down, pinching it tight; repeat on the left side

Print out the Dream Job Application and fill it in!

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You can find Happy Dreamer at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble| Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

June 13 – National Get Outdoors Day

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About the Holiday

Established in 2008, National Get Outdoors Day was instituted to inspire people – and especially young people – to enjoy healthy, active outdoor fun and exploration. Celebrated in conjunction with national parks, people are encouraged to hike, explore, and enjoy the natural wonders near them. You can also head out into your yard to play games or into your neighborhood with bikes, scooters, skates or just for a walk. There’s so much for kids to see and discover – even concepts that may seem simple are beautiful and complex in the eyes of a child, as you’ll see in today’s book. 

Round

Written by Joyce Sidman | Illustrated by Taeeun Yoo

 

A little girl spies an orange on the ground and bends to pick it up. She sees more—many more—of the brightly colored orbs hanging from a tree and reaches up to touch them. “I love round things,” she says. “I like to feel their smoothness. My hands want to reach around their curves.” The girl continues on her singular scavenger hunt for round things that grow.

She scatters some seeds in a hole and parts tall grasses to peek in on a turtle waiting for her eggs to hatch. On a hillside, a little patch of mushrooms “swell into roundness,” while tiny, plump blueberries beckon on a nearby bush and fill the family’s baskets. On the bike ride home, the girl and her crew pass fields of sunflowers with their dark, mysterious round centers.

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Image copyright Taeeun Yoo, 2017, courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

At the beach the little girl finds seashells in the sand near the tall craggy rocks which some day, whittled by water and wind, will become round when “all the edges wear off.” Back on dry land, the girl watches a dung beetle transport a ball, persistently moving it with its legs, and body motions. The girl stands by, fascinated. She loves “to watch round things move. They are so good at it! Rolling, spinning, bouncing.” She always wonders “where they’re headed.”

An old, old tree, chopped down now, reveals its secret age as the little girl counts the rings in the trunk. She’s excited to discover hidden round things—like the tiny ladybugs and snails concealed beneath green leaves. As the rain splatters a pond, the little girl, safe in her yellow slicker, reveals, “I love how water can be round, gathered in beads of silver…or falling in wet splats leaving circles of ripples behind.”

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Image copyright Taeeun Yoo, 2017, text copyright Joyce Sidman, 2017. Courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

The sun sets, turning the sky yellow and orange, while the girl blows transparent bubbles and watches them float toward the clouds. When the sun is gone and the sky is dark, she gazes through a telescope at the twinkling dots of light that “spin together slowly…and last billions of years” while she waits for that one constant celestial body that grows “rounder and rounder, until the whole sky holds its breath.”

The girl shares the beauty of roundness with her friends as they hold hands in a never-ending circle of friendship, and when she is alone she curls up into a cozy ball to read or feels arms around her in a loving hug.

An explanation of why so many things in nature are round—including the shape’s sturdiness, balance, and ability to spread and roll—follows the text.

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Image copyright Taeeun Yoo, 2017, courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Joyce Sidman’s lyrical story of discovery is a perfect introduction for little ones to the wonders of nature. Focusing on a shape that is familiar to children, Sidman takes them on a walk from grove to field to beach where they can find circles in common and surprising places. After coming home, kids discover an even more poignant idea—the circular beauty of love and friendship.

Taeeun Yoo’s delicate illustrations gorgeously depict examples of circles in nature. Bold sunflowers, tiny insects, snowball-white eggs, expanding ripples, and smooth boulders invite readers to notice the shapes and colors of the wild world around them. Children will be enticed to hunt for all the circles on each page as lily pads, fireflies, polka dots, balloons, the sun, and other objects create an exciting journey of exploration. The little girl’s pets—a dog (appropriately spotted) and a duck—add humor and companionship along the way.

Round would be an excellent take-along book for nature hikes, waiting times, or other outdoor activities and could spur at-home scavenger hunts for circles and other shapes. This original concept book is a wonderful introduction to shapes and nature for little ones.

Ages 3 – 7

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017 | ISBN 978-0544387614

Learn more about Joyce Sidman and her books on her website! 

View a gallery of artwork by Taeeun Yoo on her website!

Get Outdoors Day Activity

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Personalized Painted Pail

 

A trip to the beach isn’t complete without a pail to make a sandcastle with or to collect shells, seaweed, sea glass, or other things in. But why should all the cool stuff be on the inside? With this craft you can decorate your pail to show your unique personality!

Supplies

  • Plastic or metal pail
  • Craft paint in various colors
  • Crystal Clear Acrylic Coating, for multi-surface use
  • Paint brush

Directions

  1. Paint designs on the pail
  2. When paint is dry spray with acrylic coating to set paint
  3. Let dry

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You can find Round at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

June 11 – Making Life Beautiful Day

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday was established to celebrate all of those people who make life more fun, meaningful, joyful—more beautiful—for someone else. This can be done in so many ways, from spending more time talking with someone to using your talents to make something you know a friend, family member, or coworker would love, to just giving a smile to those you meet during the day. Making someone else feel good will make life more beautiful for you too!

Ray

By Marianna Coppo

 

At the bottom of the staircase there’s a closet. This is where Ray lives. Ray is a lightbulb. Before taking up residence in the closet, Ray lived in the family room (which was fun) and in the bathroom (which was not so much). Now, though he hung above a collection of stuff—like winter hats and scarves, books, cleaning supplies, an elephant-shaped watering can, some old toys, and a spider—that gave him something to count when he was bored. Sometimes, the child made a fort in the closet and hid out reading books.

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Copyright Marianna Coppo, 2020, courtesy of Tundra Books.

But there’s a downside: “The closet, the thing, and even Tom the spider often disappear. Ray does not like this.” These times were even more boring; even Ray’s sleep was “dreamless.” Then one day, Ray felt a twist. Then he was moving and seeing the world pass upside down. When the car stops, he finds himself outside in a place he’s never seen before. “Ray can’t tell where it begins or where it ends,” and there are way too many things to count.

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Copyright Marianna Coppo, 2020, courtesy of Tundra Books.

When the man and the child go to sleep now, Ray stays awake. He makes a wish on a shooting star just before he falls asleep, just before dawn. “When he wakes up, right there in front of him, shines the biggest light bulb in the world.” Seeing the sun gives Ray a whole new perspective on the world. Soon, the man and the boy and Ray are heading back home. The same closet awaits. But for Ray, it will never be dark or boring again.

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Copyright Marianna Coppo, 2020, courtesy of Tundra Books.

To read Marianna Coppo’s Ray for the first time is to feel all the wonder of new discovery, imagination, and creativity. When reading Ray for the second time (which kids will beg to do after Ray’s new perspective is revealed), the story unfolds with new enlightenment that invites readers to linger on each page. Ray, with his bright eyes, rosy cheeks, little smile, and filament that creates a tuft of hair is an endearing character that kids will love.

Coppo’s story is a sweet metaphor for discovering the wonders of the wider world and the value of engaging kids in stimulating experiences. It also reminds us that too often we can be “in the dark” and that looking at things differently results in new perspectives and more appreciation. Coppo’s clever illustrations invite interaction and close observation as the items in the closet transform into so much more after Ray’s return from the camping trip. Ray’s vision of himself has also changed: in his dreams he is now the sun shining on his little world.

A unique story that encourages the exploration and introspection that sparks imagination and self-esteem, Ray would be a favorite for home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 3 – 7

Tundra Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-0735265776

Discover more about Marianna Coppo, her books, and her art on her website.

Making Life Beautiful Day Activity

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Share Your Bright Idea! Page

 

Do you sometimes have a lightbulb moment when an idea seems just right? Use this printable Share Your Bright Idea! Page to write about or draw your idea!

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You can find Ray at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop| IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

 

 

Celebrating Books about Black Leaders in the Arts, Science, Music, Sports, Politics & More

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About Today’s Post

Following the recent events that have unfolded this past week, I feel it is important to celebrate Black leaders today, rather than another holiday. The biographies included in this list will educate and inspire readers with the stories of prominent Black leaders within the arts and sciences, as well as music, sports, politics, civil rights, and across society.

With their combination of compelling storytelling and powerful imagery, picture books provide a unique vehicle to invite discussion between adults and children about the inequity and injustices faced by many in this country and around the world. This list reflects books I have reviewed over the years. Please look it over and spend time reading these books with your children. Each title provides a link to the full review.

If you are in the position to buy any of the books on this list or other reviews that you may see, please consider supporting black-owned bookstores and/or your local booksellers. You can also support Black authors and illustrators as well as these books and others by asking your local library to carry them.

After today’s post, this list will appear in my sidebar. I’ll continue to add to it as I review more books.

Every day I am reading, listening, watching, and learning. I know I can never understand, but I stand with you.

Artists and Writers

 

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Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks

Written by Suzanne Slade | Illustrated by Cozbi A. Cobrera

In her outstanding biography, Suzanne Slade highlights the prodigious talent of Gwendolyn Brooks, illuminating the influences, continual study, and inborn voice that informed and created her poetry. Gwendolyn’s self-confidence, unique perspective, and the support she received throughout her youth and career are strong themes that will inspire readers. Slade focuses on the awe Brooks found in her subjects, demonstrating her singular vision and how poetry is found in the everyday aspects of life. Beginning with Gwendolyn’s childhood, Slade links the events of Brooks’ life with beautiful imagery of the clouds she once likened to her exquisite future. Quotes are sprinkled throughout Slade’s lyrical text, allowing children to hear Brooks’ own voice and the dreams and pride had for her work.

Cozbi A. Cabrera’s acrylic paintings are stunning representations of Gwendolyn’s life. Her family life with her well-read and supportive family comes alive with images of their home, where the large glass bookcase has pride of place, portraits hang on the walls, Gwendolyn practices the piano while her mother exclaims over her poetry, and the family gathers for a meager dinner during hard times. For young readers, Cabrera visualizes the parts of Gwendolyn’s life that fed her imagination and work and the copious amounts of poetry that she created—even as a child. Images of Gwendolyn’s early publishing successes give way to the changes brought by the Depression, school, marriage, and motherhood, but a pen, paper, and books are still her constant companions. Scenes from Chicago give children a look at the city that inspired Gwendolyn’s poetry, and intermittent views of the pastel clouds let readers dream along with her.

A stirring biography to inspire the dreams of any child, Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks is a story that children will want to hear again and again. On its own or paired with Gwendolyn Brooks’ poetry, the book also makes an impactful lesson for homeschooling. The book is highly recommended for home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 6 – 9

Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2020 | ISBN 978-1419734113

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

Written by Deborah Blumenthal | Illustrated by Laura Freeman

With straightforward storytelling adorned with lyrical passages, Deborah Blumenthal reveals Ann Cole Lowe’s lifelong love of fashion design, her struggles, and her ultimate acclaim. Lowe’s natural talent, single focus, self-confidence, courage, and persistence come through as she overcomes obstacles and prejudice to become the first African American couture designer. Children interested in fashion and history will find much to spark their curiosity and desire to know more about the woman and her times. Blumenthal’s repetition of Lowe’s philosophy to think about what she could do instead of what she couldn’t change will inspire readers to push past difficulties and find solutions.

Laura Freeman’s full-bleed illustrations are as bold and vivacious as Ann Cole Lowe herself. Beginning with the endpapers, which are scattered with drawings of Lowe’s one-of-a-kind gowns, Freeman takes readers on a tour of the workrooms and salons stocked with the fabrics that gave form to Lowe’s creativity. While the backgrounds are typically brilliantly colored and patterned, twice Freeman places Lowe on a completely white page—after her mother has recently died and she is left alone to finish dresses and when she is segregated from the other students in design school. These pages make a moving and effective statement. Children fascinated by fashion will love seeing the beautifully depicted gowns, and may be stirred to create styles of their own.

Ages 4 – 8

little bee books, 2017 | ISBN 978-1499802399

Gordon Parks: How the Photographer Captured Black and White America Picture Book Review

Carole Boston Weatherford’s portrayal of Gordon Parks’ life is as starkly revealing as her subject’s photographs. With her writer’s skills, however, she deftly contrasts the facts of his life and turns his story into a universal metaphor for freedom and the struggle to attain it: “When young Gordon crosses the prairie on horseback, nothing seems beyond reach. But his white teacher tells her all-black class, you’ll all wind up porters and waiters. What did she know?” Weatherford’s pacing also adds to the story’s power. Although Parks attained wide acclaim, this biography ends with one of his earlier photographs—a picture of Ella Watson, a cleaning lady, who inspired Parks and came to symbolize the hopes of her generation and beyond. This is not only Parks’ story, but the story of millions of others.

Jamey Christoph continues and strengthens the metaphorical force of this biography in his illustrations. Readers first see Gordon Parks as a much-loved, smiling infant. He goes to school and grows up, his expression changing, slightly but importantly. He acquires his camera, and the pages are filled with drawn representations of his black-and-white photographs. Alternating dark and light pages further emphasize Parks’ world. The darkroom contrasts with Parks’ new bright office and prospects; the shadowed back alleys of Washington DC contrast with the city’s gleaming white marble monuments. Later photographs are also depicted, and “American Gothic” is represented on two pages. Christoph provides readers with much to see and ponder.

Ages 5 – 8

Albert Whitman & Company, 2015 | ISBN 978-0807530177

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Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph

Written by Roxane Orgill | Illustrated by Francis Vallejo

Roxane Orgill recreates the syncopation of jazz and the exhilaration of the photo shoot in twenty poems that capture the sights, sounds, conversations, horseplay, and vibe of that special day that forever commemorated the Golden Age of Jazz. The smooth, cool lines of Orgill’s free verse poetry are a joy to read aloud. Full of personality, captivating details, history, and nostalgia, the poems reawaken the past for a new generation.

Working from the actual black-and-white photograph, Francis Vallejo vividly reimagines the scene on 126th Street as well-known and lesser-known jazz musicians came together to represent themselves and their art for Esquire magazine. Vallejo’s acrylic and pastel illustrations bring to life the surprise, camaraderie, and expressions of the men, women, and boys as they mingle, rest, and pass the time until the pose and lighting is right for the shot. As the book opens, readers get a bird’s-eye view of the street and quiet neighborhood, but as the musicians begin arriving the illustrations move in, allowing readers to rub shoulders with the greats of jazz.

For children (and adults) who love photography, jazz, biographies, history, and/or poetry, Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph is a marvelous choice for home libraries and is highly recommended for school and public libraries.

Ages 8 – 12 and up

Candlewick, 2016 | ISBN 978-0763669546

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Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat

By Javaka Steptoe

Javaka Steptoe’s compelling biography of this complex, brilliant artist who people called “radiant, wild, a genius child” beautifully brings to life the inspirations and motivations that fueled his unique and intense talent. Steptoe delivers the story in staccato and flowing sentences, using consonance, assonance, and repetition—the rhythms of a poet. He shows how Basquiat maintained his focused determination, self-confidence, and persistence from childhood into adulthood. This perseverance reveals to readers that success is not a matter of luck, but of belief in oneself despite obstacles. Steptoe sensitively addresses the serious injury Basquiat suffered, his mother’s mental illness and Basquiat’s continued love for her, and his unsettled teenage years to complete this far-reaching life story.

Steptoe’s mixed-media paintings were created on found wood from neighborhoods across New York City. While Steptoe does not reproduce any of Basquiat’s work, he states that readers will find “original pieces that were inspired by him and my interpretations of his paintings and designs.” As befitting his subject, Steptoe offers pages that burst with vibrant color and intricate details and beat with the pulse of the city, the people, the dreams, and the imagination that Basquiat transcribed onto paper, walls, and canvas. Part collage, part fine art, Steptoe’s illustrations will fascinate children and entice them to linger and take in the emotion and meaning in each. The final spread, a crowd scene made up of photographs, sets Basquiat in the midst of people whom he and his art continue to inspire.

Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat offers children an inspirational model of creativity, compassion, and confidence no matter where their talents lie. The book is an excellent choice for school, public, and home libraries.

Ages 6 – 10

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2016 | ISBN 978-0316213882

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A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks

Written by Alice Fay Duncan | Illustrated by Xia Gordon

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

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

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

Ages 4 and up

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

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

Written by Patricia McKessack | Illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera

Patricia McKessack’s free verse poems capture the close relationships and camaraderie of the generations of women who join around the quilting frame to share and pass down their art and their heart. McKessack’s conversational verses, connected page after page like the patches of a quilt, reveal the complexity of this handmade art form in the way intimate talks between friends unveil a life. Readers learn not only about the little girl and her own thoughts, but the history and influence of her immediate family, world events, inspirational figures, and deeply held beliefs that make her who she is and ties her to the other Gee’s Bend women.

Cozbi A. Cabrera’s stunning acrylic paintings take readers inside the heart of the Gee’s Bend women, depicting the girl’s home, the table-sized quilting frame where the women collectively work, the plantations, the protests, and the changes that came but did not unravel the convictions, values, and love of the little girl’s family. Readers can almost hear the talking and singing of the Gee’s Bend women as they stitch their quilts, and the comforting, embracing environment is evident on every page. Cabrera’s portraits of the little girl, her mama, and her grandma are particularly moving. For What Changed, Cabrera depicts a yellow school bus appearing on the dirt road from the right hand corner of the page. In the  driver’s side mirror, a dot of a house is reflected, reminding readers that no matter how far these women are from home, Gee’s Bend is always with them.

Children—and adults—will find Stitchin’ and Pullin’: A Gee’s Bend Quilt inspirational and uplifting. This volume of poetry can be read at one sitting or delved into again and again, making it a wonderful choice for home libraries and a must for school and public libraries.

Ages 5 – 12

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

Culinary Arts

 

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Grandpa Cacao: A Tale of Chocolate from Farm to Family

By Elizabeth Zunon

Elizabeth Zunon’s celebration of family and pride in one’s heritage is a compelling read that shines with a strong father – daughter relationship, shared memories, and the joys of working together. The warmth shared by the girl and her daddy is evident as she revels in hearing the story of Grandpa Cacao and identifying with him even though he lives far away. Zunon’s smooth delivery of Grandpa Cacao and Daddy’s story imparts fascinating details of how cacao is grown, harvested, and prepared for sale. While the little girl may wish for a new dress or a puppy, she is happier with the surprise of meeting her grandfather at last.

Zunon’s mixed-media, collage style illustrations beautifully meld the world inside the family kitchen with the girl’s imagining of life in Africa on Grandpa Cacao’s farm. The opaque screen-printed images of Grandpa Cacao, the girl’s father as a child and young man, and the other villagers, are powerful reminders to readers that their family and family history is always with them and supporting them.

A unique book to share during family story time, in the classroom, or during a library program, Grandpa Cacao: A Tale of Chocolate, from Farm to Family would be a much-loved addition to home, school, and public library collections. And don’t forget to include cake!

Ages 3 – 8

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1681196404

Music

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Birth of the Cool: How Jazz Great Miles Davis Found His Sound

Written by Kathleen Cornell Berman | Illustrated by Keith Henry Brown

Kathleen Cornell Berman’s lyrical passages reveal a boy, a teenager, and a man who embodied music, listening to and absorbing the various sounds around him and incorporating them into his own, unique sound. Her evocative vocabulary (swirl, rollicking, croon, rumbling, far-out, rippling, blizzard of notes, itching to play) and phrasing that blends short staccato lines with longer sentences echoes the rhythm of jazz and will keep readers riveted to the story. Berman emphasizes the listening, practice, and experimentation that informed Miles Davis’s original sound, showing children that innovation is built on hard work, dedication, and even history. Her inclusion of Davis’s setbacks also demonstrates that perseverance is part of the success of any endeavor.

Keith Henry Brown’s gorgeous, detailed pen-and-ink and watercolor illustrations take readers from Miles Davis’s living room, where he listens to the radio as images of Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington swirl through his imagination, to an overlook on the Mississippi River and its paddlewheel steam ships to the clubs and jam sessions of New York and finally, to the Newport Jazz Festival. Brown’s color palette of cool blues, greens, purples, and browns, punctuated with Davis’s ever-present gleaming brass trumpet, brings Davis’s country and city experiences to life while mirroring the tone and feel of his unique sound. Quotes from Miles Davis are sprinkled throughout the story and set apart with type that looks handwritten, giving his words a personal touch.

Sure to inspire readers to learn more about Miles Davis and listen to his music, Birth of the Cool: How Jazz Great Miles Davis Found His Sound would be an excellent accompaniment to school music programs, an inspiring book for biography lovers and young musicians of all types, and a beautiful addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 8 – 12

Page Street Kids, 2019 | ISBN 978-1624146909

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Hey, Charleston! The True Story of the Jenkins Orphanage Band

Written by Anne Rockwell | Illustrated by Colin Bootman

Anne Rockwell succinctly and clearly relays the story of the Jenkins Orphanage Band while also retaining all the heart and soul of this fascinating group of children and their dedicated caregiver. The true-life tale is mesmerizing, not only for the historical details of the growth of ragtime music and the Charleston dance but for the accomplishments of the orphans once given love, acceptance, and education. Rockwell’s conversational tone contributes to the story’s smooth, flowing pace, which will keep listeners or readers rapt from beginning to end.

Colin Bootman’s bold two-page spreads illuminate the sights and sounds of the early 1900s for readers. Emphasizing the personal connections between Reverend Jenkins and the orphans as well as the band and their audiences, Bootman’s vibrant paintings are full of people watching, dancing, marching, and celebrating these boys’ awesome gifts.

Ages 6 – 10

Carolrhoda Books, 2013 | ISBN 978-0761355656

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Lift Every Voice and Sing: A Celebration of the African American National Anthem

Written by James Weldon Johnson | Illustrated by Elizabeth Catlett

It has been more than 120 years since James Weldon Johnson, a principal at Stanton Elementary School in Jacksonville, Florida, wrote a poem to be used in the school’s commemoration ceremony of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. His brother, composer John Rosamond Johnson, set the poem to music. On February 12, 1900, five hundred students performed the song. From that celebration, the song spread, gaining in popularity throughout the South and then throughout the country.

In 1949 the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People adopted Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing as the official African American anthem. The song continues to inspire as it is sung and heard in churches and schools and during times of celebration and protest. This new edition of Lift Every Voice and Sing brings together Johnson’s stirring poem with stunning black-and-white linocuts by Harlem Renaissance artist Elizabeth Catlett, who created them in the 1940s as part of a series of artworks focusing on black women.

An emotionally moving presentation of James Weldon Johnson and John Rosamond Johnson’s poem and song, Lift Every Voice and Sing: A Celebration of the African American National Anthem would make a beautiful thought-provoking and inspirational addition to school, home, and public library collections.

Ages 6 – 12 and up

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1681199559

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When the Beat Was Born: DJ Kool Herc & the Creations of Hip Hop

Written by Laben Carrick Hill |Illustrated by Theodore Tayler III

Laben Carrick Hill’s biography of a Hip Hop pioneer invites young readers to discover the early years of and influences on the music they love today. Hill superbly structures his story so through the formative details of DJ Kool Herc’s life from childhood into adulthood, readers understand that they too can follow their hearts to achieve their dreams. When the Beat Was Born is inspirational in its depiction of an “ordinary kid” with ingenuity and self-confidence who changed the face of music by combining his multicultural experiences, being open to experimentation, including his friends, and sharing his vision. Straightforward storytelling is punctuated with verses of rap that make reading aloud fun and will engage listeners.

In his bold, vibrant illustrations, Theodore Tayler III lets kids in on the not-so-distant past that saw the rise of Hip Hop music, celebrity DJs, and new dance styles. Keeping the focus on DJ Kool Herc—just as Clive kept his eye on his future goals—Taylor reinforces the theme of the book. Scenes of kids lining up to attend DJ Kool Herc’s parties and dancing in the street give the book an inclusive feel. Images of skyscraper-tall stacks of records mirrors Kool Herc’s ambitions, and depictions of breakdancing moves will get kids wanting to try them for themselves.

When the Beat Was Born is a terrific biography for all children, whether they like music and dancing or quieter pursuits. In the classroom, the book would be a great addition to music, history, or biography units.

Ages 6 – 10

Roaring Brook Press, 2013 | ISBN 978-1596435407

Civil Rights and Politics

 

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Become a Leader Like Michelle Obama

Written by Caroline Moss | Illustrated by Sinem Erkas

Encouraging, supportive, and always smiling, Michelle Obama inspired millions of kids across the country during her eight years as First Lady and continues to motivate children to be and become the best version of themselves. Through her fast-paced, engrossing biography, Caroline Moss creates a reading experience that gives children the opportunity to get to know their idol the way friends do: by talking together. In ten short, but information-packed chapters, Moss captures Michelle’s voice and spirit through snapshots of formative events that influenced and changed her life, all told in a conversational style with plenty of dialogue and fascinating details.

Sprinkled throughout the text are inspirational quotes from Michelle Obama that are called out in eye-catching blocks and soaring illustrations. Back matter includes ten key lessons from Michelle Obama’s life on how to become a leader, questions to prompt kids to think about what is important to them, and resources for further reading and exploration.

Accompanying this personal narrative are Sinem Erkas’s stunning 3-D cut paper artwork. Bold colors, stirring imagery, and portraits that follow Michelle through times of happiness, sadness, and change reveal to readers Michelle’s intelligence, spark, hard work, and enthusiasm for life that fuels her vision and success.

Emphasizing family, community, self-confidence, and the importance of seizing opportunities to make a difference, Become a Leader Like Michelle Obama is highly recommended for home, school, and public libraries to hearten and embolden young readers to listen to their inner voices and take action for what they believe in.

Ages 8 – 12 and up

Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-0711245181

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

By Adrienne Wright

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

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

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

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

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

Page Street Kids, 2019 | ISBN 978-1624146916

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

Written by Dee Romito | Illustrated by Laura Freeman

Dee Romito’s inspiring biography delves into the crucial role individuals can make in supporting people and causes they believe in. By focusing on unsung historical hero Georgia Gilmore and using her own words and thoughts, Romito reveals how those with strong beliefs can use their talents and courage to fight for change behind the scenes and still make an important difference. Her conversational storytelling brings a personal touch to this biography, drawing young readers in to learn the details of this early battle in the Civil Rights movement—also begun by an act of a solitary person. Bookended by the radio reports that Georgia hears, the story is well-paced to show how Georgia’s contribution grows over nearly a year. This timely biography is made even more resonant perhaps in that Georgia’s cooking and selling of meals and baked goods is an activity that many children will recognized from their own involvement in bake sales and other food-related fund raisers. The open ending invites readers to learn more about the Civil Rights movement and Georgia Gilmore.

Laura Freeman’s boldly colored, realistic artwork allows children to embrace the historical context of Romito’s biography through her expressive portraiture that introduces Georgia Gilmore, Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the members of Georgia’s Nowhere Club. A double-spread of the National Lunch Company’s segregated counter is visually striking as the divide comes at the book’s gutter, creating the side for white customers on the left and the side for black customers on the right. The injustice of this separation is expressed in the similar red clothing and dark hair of the woman on the right and the man on the left. Illustrations of crowds walking as buses go empty, attending the boycott strategy meetings, secretly buying pies, and filling Georgia’s home place readers at these scenes of the resistance movement. Freeman uses action, media coverage, and Georgia’s courtroom appearance to great effect. Knowledgeable readers will understand that making a positive difference continues across all generations.

Pies from Nowhere is a stunning book of empowerment for children and adults. The theme of using ones talents to make a difference is a timely lesson that kids will respond to. The book belongs in all classroom, school, and public libraries and is a top choice for home bookshelves as well.

Ages 6 – 9

little bee books, 2018 | ISBN 978-1499807202

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

Written by Chris Barton |Illustrated by Ekua Holmes

Chris Barton’s stirring biography of Barbara Jordan introduces children to a woman whose voice is just as relevant today as it was when she was a state senator, US representative, and professor. Barton clearly and lyrically depicts Jordan’s trajectory while showing readers what it takes to succeed: practice, perseverance, learning, and wisdom. For young readers Barton briefly but cogently outlines the core of the case against Richard Nixon then allows readers to hear, in her own words, Jordan’s rousing defense of the Constitution. His inclusion of Jordan’s seventeen years of teaching after her diagnosis of MS is a poignant reminder that her influence is still heard through her students and admirers, and Barton’s final exhortation to readers to speak out honors Barbara Jordan’s life and will impel both children and adults to follow her lead.

Ekua Holmes stunning mixed-media illustrations will set readers’ hearts soaring in this over-sized picture book that beautifully reflects Barbara Jordan’s influence in politics and beyond. Holmes’ collages, rendered in lush colors and textured with intricate patterns and images from nature, take children on Jordan’s journey from sun-drenched Texas to law school to Washington DC, giving them a glimpse of her childhood and her growing stature as a stateswoman. Today’s savvy readers will be interested in the examples of campaign materials and images of Jordan’s building relationships with diverse voters and her fellow senators and representatives. Several photographs of Jordan from her graduation, campaigns, and televised appearances during the Watergate hearings join Holmes’ realistic portraits and will inspire readers to learn more about this influential and unforgettable woman.

What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? is a stirring and empowering biography that belongs in every home, school, and public library collection.

Ages 4 – 8 and up

Beach Lane Books, 2018 | ISBN 978-1481465618

Science

 

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-blast-off-into-space-like-mae-jemison-coverBlast Off into Space Like Mae Jemison

Written by Caroline Moss | Illustrated by Sinem Erkas

Focused, intelligent, courageous, and giving, astronaut Mae Jemison is an inspiration to millions of kids and adults around the world. Through her captivating biography, Caroline Moss introduces readers to this accomplished woman in ten engrossing chapters that, through pivotal events, dialogue, and thoughts, reveal Mae’s dreams, motivations, and triumphs. Paced in short, impactful chapters, this biography reads like a novel yet imparts factual information that will entice readers to learn more about Mae Jemison and careers in science.

Sinem Erkas punctuates this personal narrative with her stirring 3-D cut paper artwork. Vivid colors and  action-packed imagery, take readers along on Mae’s journey from childhood dreams of “sailing off into space on a rocket ship” to the day she fulfills that dream and beyond. Images of Mae completing experiments in college and medical school as well as detailed depictions of Mae inside the space shuttle working and interacting with other astronauts will have children lingering over the pages.

Compelling and personal, Blast off into Space Like Mae Jemison is a biography young readers won’t be able to put down. The book is highly recommended for homeschooling and home libraries as well as for school and public library collections.

Ages 8 – 12

Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-0711245150

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-counting-on-katherine-coverCounting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13

Written by Helaine Becker | Illustrated by Dow Phumiruk

Helaine Becker’s captivating storytelling captures Katherine Johnson’s genius for math and talent for applying it to even the most complex problems in a ground-breaking field. Her self-confidence, curiosity, and love of learning as well as her trajectory at NASA will impress readers, many of whom may also be dreaming of making a mark in new ways. A highlight of Becker’s text is her clear explanations of how Katherine’s calculations for NASA were used and what was at stake when her help was needed most. Becker’s repeated phrase “You can count on me” and her stirring ending weave together the numerical and lyrical aspects of Katherine’s life to inspire a new generation of thinkers.

From the first page, readers can see Katherine’s intelligence and inquisitiveness that shined whether she was walking to school, doing chores, or, later, making sure our astronauts made it to the moon and back safely. Dow Phumiruk’s artwork is always thrilling, and here blackboards covered in formulas as Katherine stands on tiptoe as a child and on a ladder as an adult to complete them will leave readers awestruck with her understanding of and abilities with numbers. Illustrations of school rooms and offices give children a realistic view of the times, and her imagery pairs perfectly with Becker’s text in demonstrating the concepts of sending a rocket ship into space and bringing it home again. Phumiruk’s lovely images of space are uplifting reminders that dreams do come true.

A stellar biography that will enthrall children and inspire them to keep their eyes on their goals and achieve their dreams, Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13 is highly recommended for home bookshelves and is a must for school and public library collections.

Ages 5 – 9

Henry Holt and Company, 2018 | ISBN 978-1250137524

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Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race

Written by Margot Lee Shetterly | Illustrated by Laura Freeman

Margot Lee Shetterly brings her compelling story Hidden Figures to children in this exceptional picture book that skillfully reveals the talents and dreams of Dorothy, Mary, Katherine, Christine as well as the work atmosphere and social injustices of the time period. While acknowledging the struggles and obstacles the four women faced, Shetterly keeps her focus on the incredible achievements of these brilliant women and the positive changes and opportunities for others they created. Brief-yet-detailed descriptions and explanations of math, science, and computer terms flow smoothly in the text, allowing all readers to understand and appreciate the women’s work.

As Dorothy, Mary, Katherine, Christine each begin their work at Langley as young women, Laura Freeman establishes their dreams and their particular field of expertise through richly colorful illustrations that highlight the schematics, tools, equipment, and models they used. In one particularly affecting spread, Dorothy, Mary, Katherine, and Christine go off to their offices on the left-hand side, and their white counterparts head out to theirs on the right-hand side while the blueprint of their building lies under their feet. Dorothy, Mary, Katherine, and Christine’s clothing is also mirrored in color by the women on the other side of the fold. Period dress and electronics show progression through the years, and kids may marvel at the size of early computers. The final image of Dorothy, Mary, Katherine, and Christine as older women is moving and inspirational.

Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race is an outstanding biography of four women who contributed their gifts for math as well as their self-confidence not only to science but to dreamers in their own and future generations. The book would be a stirring choice for classroom and home libraries.

Ages 4 – 8

HarperCollins, 2018 | ISBN 978-0062742469

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Ticktock Banneker’s Clock

Written by Shana Keller | Illustrated by David C. Gardner

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

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

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

Ages 6 – 10

Sleeping Bear Press, 2016 | ISBN 978-1585369560

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Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions

Written by Chris Barton | Illustrated by Don Tate

Chris Barton’s biography of Lonnie Johnson is a fascinating look at a man who succeeds in turning “No” into “Yes” by the power of his intelligence, ideas, and determination. Kids will love hearing about how one of their favorite toys came to be and will be inspired to chase their own dreams despite challenges and setbacks. Barton’s detailed narration provides a full picture of Lonnie Johnson and his times, specifics that attract and inform like-minded kids. Including the results of Lonnie’s exam should encourage kids who think differently. The story is enhanced by the conversational tone that makes it accessible to kids of all ages.

Don Tate illuminates Lonnie Johnson’s life story with his bold, full-bleed paintings that follow Lonnie from his being a child with big ideas to becoming a man who has seen these ideas through to success. With an eyebrow raised in concentration, young Lonnie demonstrates confidence and skill as he works on an invention, and kids will love seeing the tools of his trade laid out on the kitchen table. As Lonnie grows older and designs systems for NASA, the illustrations depict the schematics of the Galileo power package and Lonnie’s surprise at the strength of the water stream in his prototype cooling design. As all kids know, the spurt of a Super Soaker is awesome, and this fact is demonstrated in a “Wowing” fold-out page.

WHOOSH! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions is a superb biography of the man who designs systems for the greater world but has never lost his youthful enthusiasm to invent. The book would be an inspirational addition to home, school, and public libraries.

Ages 5 – 10

Charlesbridge, 2016 | ISBN 978-1580892971

Slavery

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Freedom in Congo Square

Written by Carole Boston Weatherford | Illustrated by Gregory Christie

Through powerful rhythmic couplets, as spare and austere as the work they describe yet ending in a focal point of hope, Carole Boston Weatherford recreates the steady thrum that resonated in the hearts of slave and free men and women as they anticipated each afternoon in Congo Square.  As the days remaining until Congo Square are counted off, Weatherford’s predominantly one-syllable words form a staccato beat, the pounding of hard, physical work. When Sunday comes and people find joy in their shared music and dance, Weatherford’s phrasing within the same structured couplets rises, employing multi-syllable words that give the verses a pulsing flow that echoes the freedom they find in Congo Square.

Gregory Christie’s vivid folk-art illustrations are a perfect complement to Weatherford’s verses. The elongated figures stand tall and proud amidst the fields and workrooms of the plantation. In some scenes the slaves’ angled bodies, leaning over to pick cotton, wash floors, or lift baskets may be bent, but they are not broken, and while two men work on building a wall, they seem to kneel prayerfully as they add another brick. In a moving two-page spread set at night, brown wood-grain houses superimposed with rows of sleeping slaves float on a blue-toned ground below a red sky, reminiscent of ships laden with Africans sailing the Middle Passage of the Atlantic slave trade. As the men and women congregate in Congo Square, Christie’s lithe figures raise their arms and kick their legs in dance. The fiery backgrounds swirl with color as the celebrants jump, stretch, play instruments and move with exultation.

Freedom in Congo Square is both a heartrending and jubilant book that would make a wonderful and meaningful addition to any home, school, and public library.

Ages 4 – 8

little bee books, 2016 | ISBN 978-1499801033

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Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad

Written by Ellen Levine | Illustrated by Kadir Nelson

Based on an actual story of The Underground Railway, Henry’s Freedom Box is written and illustrated to stunning effect. Ellen Levine’s lyrical and metaphorical language combines with the excellent pacing of the pages to enhance the emotional impact of this powerful and original true story. Children will be inspired by this man who suffered devastating loss, but persevered and through cunning, bravery, and the help of friends, obtained freedom.

Kadir Nelson took inspiration for his illustrations from an antique lithograph of Henry Brown, created by Samuel Rowse in 1850. Through a combination of watercolor and oils crosshatched with pencil lines, Nelson’s richly hued paintings capture the poignancy of Henry’s struggles and ultimate freedom. His characters’ facial expressions are particularly moving.

Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad is a riveting story of slavery and one man’s fight for freedom that would make an excellent addition to children’s libraries.

Ages 4 – 8

Scholastic Press, 2007 | ISBN 978-043977733

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Words Set Me Free: The Story of Young Frederick Douglass

Written by Lesa Cline-Ransome | Illustrated by James Ransome

Lesa Cline-Ransome has written a compelling biography of Frederick Douglass for children in Words Set Me Free. In straightforward language and through first-person point of view, Cline-Ransome reveals the brutal truth of Douglass’s life as a slave and his fight against injustice. As the title suggests, the book focuses on Frederick’s desire to become educated and the obstacles he overcame to succeed. This universally important message continues the work Douglass engaged in long ago.

James Ransome’s stirring paintings realistically highlight pivotal scenes of Frederick’s life, beginning with the tender moments he spends with his mother as a very young child. With an unstinting eye Ransome reveals the hardship and cruelty Frederick endured as a slave. His moving illustrations also demonstrate hope as Frederick, with blossoming intellect, resolves to educate himself and find a means of escape.

Ages 5 and up                                                                                                            

Simon & Schuster, New York, 2012 | ISBN 978-1416959038

Sports

 

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Fast Enough: Bessie Stringfield’s First Ride

By Joel Christian Gill

Joel Christian Gill introduces children to Bessie, a determined, brave, and pioneering woman at a formative time in her life. Told that girls don’t ride bikes and that she wasn’t good enough or fast enough anyway, Bessie Stringfield wrestled with self-doubt, but she took control of what she wanted and ultimately proved to herself and others that she was more than capable. Gill’s first pages set the stage for readers to contemplate ways in which they may doubt themselves, before encouraging them to find inspiration and confidence in Bessie’s story.

Gill’s vivid illustrations clearly show Bessie’s sadness as she internalizes the boy’s taunts, her tenacity, and finally her jubilation is besting them and achieving her goal. Images of Bessie’s dream and its resulting reality creatively play on the dual meaning of the word dream while a change in Bessie’s room décor while she sleeps is a clever touch.

A singular story about a trailblazing black woman, Fast Enough: Bessie Stringfield’s First Ride encourages children to embrace their own identity instead of letting others define them. The book would be a welcome addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 5 – 9

Oni Press, 2019 | ISBN 978-1549303142

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

Written by Heather Lang | Illustrated by Floyd Cooper

Heather Lang brings an athlete’s appreciation for the in-born talent and hard practicing that creates a world-class Olympian. Her story reveals not only the details of Alice’s physical training but also the social and economic hurdles she overcame in her quest to compete in the Olympics. Lang’s graceful and evocative prose carries readers down dirt roads and over obstacles, to the halls of the Tuskegee Institute, and into Wembley Stadium as they learn about the singular focus Alice Coachman dedicated to her sport. Children will feel as if they are sitting in the stands watching with suspense as the bar is raised again and again, pushing Coachman to a world record.

Floyd Cooper sets readers in the hot, dusty, sun-burned South, where Alice Coachman—as a little girl and then a teenager—runs barefoot on dirt roads, jumps over homemade bars, leaps to tip the basketball from her brothers’ hands, and delivers food to tornado victims. The golden-brown-hued illustrations catch Dorothy Taylor and Alice Coachman as they soar over the high bar in their fierce competition and capture Coachman’s hopes, dreams, and anticipation as she waits—hands clasped—to hear the judges’ final decision in the 1948 Olympic Games. Readers will cheer to see Coachman standing on the first-place podium, ready to receive her well-deserved gold medal.

A compelling and inspiring biography for children pursuing any talent, Queen of the Track: Alice Coachman, Olympic High Jump Champion would be a welcome addition to home, school, and public libraries.

Ages 5 and up

Boyds Mills Press, 2012 | ISBN 978-1590788509

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Serena: The Littlest Sister

Written by Karlin Gray | Illustrated by Monica Ahanonu

Karlin Gray’s masterful biography of Serena Williams shows young readers the determination, confidence, and strong familial bond that followed Serena through her life and made her one of tennis’s most influential women players. The family’s remarkable life and focus on what one can achieve will inspire all kids, no matter what their dream is. Choosing seminal events in Serena’s and Venus’s life, Gray follows Serena’s reputation on the court as she loses and wins matches, building suspense until that day when she accomplishes her goal and wins the US Open. Her inclusion of articles and comments that cast doubt on Serena’s future success, demonstrates that even the greats face opposition and naysaying, and Serena’s sister’s advice to ignore it is sound.

Monica Ahanonu’s textured, collage-style illustrations leap off the page with vibrant images full of action and the girls’ personalities. As the girls race onto a court for practice, their eager expressions show their love of the game and being together. Even as a four-year-old Serena has the steely eyed gaze of a champion as she watches the bouncing ball and lines up for her swing. Ahanonu’s use of various perspectives and shadowing create dynamic scenes on the court, and tennis lovers will be thrilled at the many illustrations of Venus and Serena playing their sport. The bond between the sisters is evident in images of Serena interacting with one or more of her sisters. Those who remember Serena’s win at the 1999 US Open will recognize her joyous win.

Perfectly aimed at young readers who are the same age as Serena and Venus when they began developing their skills and sport, Serena: The Littlest Sister is an inspirational biography of a present-day role model that is sure to spark an “I can” attitude. Adults who have followed the Williams sisters’ rise to tennis stardom will be equally enthralled with this beautiful biography. The book would make a stirring addition to home, classroom, and library collections.

Ages 8 – 11

Page Street Kids, 2019 | ISBN 978-1624146947

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To order books from black-owned bookstores, you’ll find a list in this article by the African American Literature Book Club.

To support your local independent bookstore, order from: Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

May 29 – It’s Gifts from the Garden Month

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About the Holiday

Many of us – and perhaps even more this year – spend the summer digging, planting, and tending our garden and yard. We look forward to all of the delicious vegetables and fruit our gardens provide and the hours of fun we have playing or lounging in the yard. But if you look closely, these areas offer up other gifts too. That profusion of dandelions may seem like bothersome weeds, but their sunny flowers and puffball seeds also create beauty and unforgettable childhood moments. Watching industrious insects reminds us of the wonder of nature below our feet or pollinating our crops. And – as today’s book shows – with some imagination and creativity that garden or yard can be transformed into a work of art. So, get outside and see what your gifts are sprouting in your backyard.

I received a copy of Leafy Critters from Blue Dot Press for review consideration. All opinions are my own. 

By Jakki Licare

Leafy Critters

By Yvonne Lacet

This creative and imaginative earth art book by Yvonne Lacet an artist and photographer, whose work incorporates urban environments, landscapes, and nature play, will inspire children to look at nature in a whole new light. Yvonne Lacet uses petals, twigs, stems, and leaves to create “Leafy Critters.” Simple items from nature are arranged together to become different animals: foxes, polar bears, butterflies, mice, and more.

Not only is the artwork stunning but on many pages Lacet shows readers the before and after photos which makes it simple for kids to duplicate her animals. My kids enjoyed pointing out the different items in the before photos and discovering how Lacet used them in her completed artwork. A leaf, for example, transforms into a head or a wing.

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Copyright Yvonne Lacet, 2020, courtesy of Blue Dot Kids Press.

One of the extraordinary things about this book is not only that any child can find the natural materials needed in their backyard or local park, but the artistic eye Lacet uses to create the eighteen creatures presented. The piglet (pictured on the front cover) is simply six pink petals arranged together. Yvonne takes it a step further, though, and uses the portions of the petals that are near the pistil and have a darker pigment to add shading and detail that  transform into the pig’s hooves and snout.

The image of the polar bear also shows how contrasting colors can create a whole new scene. With the black paper background and white petals sprinkled over the page, we are suddenly transported into an arctic snowstorm at night! The great thing about Leafy Critters is that it makes young readers think outside the box. If you don’t have white petals on hand, then rice could make a great substitution. 

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Copyright Yvonne Lacet, 2020, courtesy of Blue Dot Kids Press.

My boys are often frustrated with art projects because they cannot create “realistic art.” Earth art, however, is an easy way for kids to explore colors and composition without the frustration of being limited by their skills. It only requires a little nature and a creative eye. So take Leafy Critters outside! You’ll be surprised to discover what creatures creep, crawl, swim, and lurk in your own backyard. 

A DIY page at the back gives kids tips on how to search for materials, gather them, and look at the colors, shapes, and sizes of leaves, petals, seeds, and more to spark their imaginations. Younger children will enjoy the creativity in each design on the pages while older children and even teens and adults will be inspired to create their own works of art.

Whether you are looking for a fun home art project or inspiration for your elementary art students, Leafy Critters will make a creative addition to your library.

Ages 3 and up

Blue Dot Kids Press, 2020 | ISBN 978-1733121224

Discover more about Yvonne Lacet and her work on her website.

Gifts from the Garden Month Activity

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Natural Art Note Card

Send a special note to a loved one with your own leafy critter. This idea could be a great card for Father’s Day too! Just write in Dad after otter!

Supplies

  • Natural Materials (I used brown leaves, bark, clover flowers, and stems)
  • Scissors
  • Glue
  • Marker
  • Paper

Directions

  1. Gather your natural materials outside

  2. Arrange your pieces together to make an otter shape

  3. Cut any pieces that need to be shaped or trimmed

  4. Glue your otter down

  5. Write “There’s no OTTER like you!”

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You can find Leafy Critters at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million 

To support your local independent bookstore, order from 

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

 

May 12 – It’s Gifts from the Garden Month

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About the Holiday

If you’re into gardening then you know what a joy it is to harvest your vegetables and fruit or cut a beautiful bouquet of flowers. But gardens provide so many more gifts than these. Digging the dirt, planting the seeds, and even keeping the weeds at bay can be a mindful, relaxing experience as well as good exercise. Watching plants sprout and grow gives an appreciation for the wonder of nature. And a garden beautifies the view whether it’s a large plot or a window box. So, celebrate this month by enjoying all the gifts of your garden.

I received a copy of Badger’s Perfect Garden from Sleeping Bear Press for review consideration. All opinions are my own. 

Badger’s Perfect Garden

Written by Marsha Diane Arnold | Illustrated by Ramona Kaulitzki

 

On a spring morning, Red Squirrel watched as Badger brought out all of his jars of the seeds he had collected and kept safe all winter. He was planning on planting a perfect garden. Red Squirrel noticed that all the seeds looked different. Badger explained that they were “‘all kinds. Green and brown. Flat and round, Bumpy and smooth. Whirly-curly and straight as my whiskers.’”

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Image copyright Ramona Kaulitzki, 2019, text copyright Marsha Diane Arnold, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Red Squirrel wanted to help plant them. As Badger carefully studied his garden plan, Weasel showed up with his rake and Dormouse gathered string. Everyone helped Badger weed and rake his garden plot until it was smooth. Then they set up stakes on each side and ran string between them to make perfect rows. After that Weasel poked holes in the dirt for the seeds. Badger directed where each seed should go so that each type stayed together. That evening the friends had a party with muffins and mulberry juice, and Badger “imagined the plants that would grow in perfect rows in his perfect garden.”

The next morning, just in time, it began to rain. But the next day the rain turned heavy, and the day after that it became a deluge. Badger ran out into the storm to try to save his garden, but the strings collapsed and the soil washed away. Badger sniffled as he thought of his ruined garden. His friends tried to cheer him up by telling him they’d help gather new seeds in the summer, but Badger despaired of not having his perfect garden this year.

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Image copyright Ramona Kaulitzki, 2019, text copyright Marsha Diane Arnold, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

To ward off the sadness, Badger kept busy reading, cleaning, exercising, and sleeping. One summer day, he heard a knock on his door. It was Red Squirrel, Weasel, and Dormouse. They grabbed Badger’s hand and pulled him outside to a glorious field of wildflowers. Badger gazed at it in wonder. “‘Those can’t be my seeds,’ said Badger, rubbing his eyes. They’re all mixed up.’” But they were! The wild garden  was a “jumble-tumble of shapes and sizes. They made him feel jumbly and tumbly, too.” Badger thought it was “the most perfect garden of all,” and the friends raced into it for a perfect summer celebration.

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Image copyright Ramona Kaulitzki, 2019, text copyright Marsha Diane Arnold, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Marsha Diane Arnold fills Badger’s Perfect Garden with sprightly, lyrical language that makes the story a delight to read. Little gardeners will relish the descriptions of Badger’s seeds and enjoy the precision of planting day. As the rains come, kids will empathize with Badger’s disappointment, knowing how it feels when plans don’t work out quite right. But the riotous results will spark their own happy, “jumbly-tumbly” excitement for Badger, his friends, and even their own endeavors. in the beauty of the wild, carefree, mixed-up garden can see the joy that can be found in new experiences outside one’s comfort zone.

Ramona Kaulitzki’s charming illustrations are a perfect mix of the whimsical and the realistic and will captivate readers. With soft colors and flowing textures, Kaulitzki depicts early spring with its light green grasses and mellow, cloud-filled skies. When stormy days come, the sky turns purple and rain whips through Badger’s garden, leaving things topsy-turvy and Badger’s plans uprooted. Late summer brings a series of show-stopping two-page spreads, where flowers of all kinds and colors mix with vegetable plants to attract bees and butterflies and, of course, provide the perfect spot for a summer party.

Beautiful through and through, Badger’s Perfect Garden plants the seeds of gentle encouragement, heartening friendship, and cheerful celebration. The book would be a favorite addition to home, classroom, and public library collections.

Ages 5 – 8

Sleeping Bear Press, 2019 | ISBN 978-1534110007

Discover more about Marsha Diane Arnold and her books on her website.

To learn more about Ramona Kaulitzki, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Q & A with Marsha Diane Arnold

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Called a “born storyteller” by the media, Marsha Diane Arnold’s award-winning picture books have sold over one million copies and been called, “whimsical,” “inspiring,” and “uplifting.” Marsha was raised on a Kansas farm, lived most of her life in Sonoma County, California, a place Luther Burbank called “the chosen spot of all this earth as far as Nature is concerned,” and now lives with her husband, near her family, in Alva, Florida. Nothing makes her happier than standing in her backyard in the midst of dragonflies, listening to cardinals sing.

I’m so glad to be chatting with you, Marsha, about her newest book, Badger’s Perfect Garden! This story seems to have a close personal connection for you. Can you talk a little bit about what inspired you to write this book?

Having a father who was a farmer and gardener and a mother who was a perfectionist, must have had something to do with it! I grew up surrounded by nature, animals, and gardens. Growing up with so many animals around me, I talked with them all the time and I felt they talked back, so anthropomorphism comes easily to me. Illustrations of animal characters are so often enchanting, drawing young children into a book. They can create a strong emotional connection for children to learn from and remember.

Can you tell me more about what it was like growing up on a farm? What kind of farming did your family do?

My father was most proud of being a dairy farmer, but he, his father before him, and his five brothers also grew wheat and corn. I often stayed with my grandmother during the day; I loved being on the farm. Grandmother had to feed 8 children, Grandpa Henry, and herself, so she had a huge vegetable garden and did home canning. But her heart was with her flower gardens. There was spirea, yards and yards of bearded iris, a line of lilacs from the house to the outhouse, petunias, Bachelor buttons, hollyhocks, and more. Badger and Grandmother would have been fast friends.

As a child, what was your favorite part of farming or the farm? What do you appreciate more now as an adult?

I most loved being around the farm animals, although I was a bit frightened of those protective hens when I had to collect the eggs, and I enjoyed helping my father with the calves. One of our neighbors had a pet raccoon that I have fond memories of “hanging out” with, often in my friend’s tree house. (Remember, it was a long time ago and there were no wild animal rehabilitation centers near us.)

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Marsha having fun with her dog.

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Marsha hanging out with a calf on her family’s farm.

I think I always appreciated the freedom of big spaces and gardens to play in and trees and barns (don’t tell) to climb on, but now I realize even more how very lucky I was.

Have you continued the family farming tradition?

I had a spectacular garden in Sonoma County, California. Mostly I grew flowers and a small plot of fruit trees. My favorite part of creating the gardens was designing them, using the land as my canvas. I collected over 50 heirloom roses, selecting plants for their fragrance and color. I loved the stories that came with them, like, “This one was collected from an old farm house in Windsor.” I had over 30 sweet pea varieties. There’s nothing better than a home filled with the fragrance of sweet peas. Most of my fruits were “antique” varieties. There was a Spitzenburg, reputed to have been Thomas Jefferson’s favorite apple, and a Calville Blanc, traced back to 1598 France. The fruit from my trees was unique and absolutely delicious. The stories behind them were delicious too.

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Roses from Marsha’s flower garden.

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A beautiful bouquet of sweet peas.

How have your experiences with nature influenced your writing for children?

When a child grows up surrounded by nature, he or she grows to understand it and respect it. I learned to see the small things in nature, like my father before me. His neighbors said he knew the name of every wildflower or “weed” in the county. When you pay attention to something in that way, you come to love it and it becomes part of you. So, nature is what I write about, from my first book Heart of a Tiger, about a small kitten who had a dream to give himself a name like that of the Magnificent Bengal Tiger, to Galápagos Girl, about the unique animals of the Galápagos Islands, to the jumble tumble beauty of Badger’s Perfect Garden.

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Image copyright Ramona Kaulitzki, 2019, text copyright Marsha Diane Arnold, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

What is your favorite wildflower and why?

Wild rose! At our California home, there was a wild rose growing in our gully. Every spring I would walk down the hill to see if it was still blooming. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I looked carefully for it each year, telling myself that if it was still in bloom, in the shade of our oak forest, alone and straggly, I would still be well. I’m sure it’s blooming still.

Thank you for sharing so much about your passion for nature and what joy living fully within it can bring. I wish you all the best with Badger’s Perfect Garden and all of your wonderful books!

You can connect with Marsha Diane Arnold on

Her website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Spring Equinox Activity

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Plant a Flower Garden Game

 

With this fun game you and your family and friends can grow gardens inside! Roll the dice to see whose garden will fully blossom first!

Supplies

Directions

Object: The object of the game is for each player to fill their garden or garden rows with flowers. Depending on the ages of the players, the game can be adjusted to fill all of the rows, some or all rows, or just one.           

  1. Print one Game Board for each player
  2. Print one or more sets of Flower Playing Cards for each player, depending on how  (for sturdier playing items, print on card stock)
  3. Cut the flowers into their individual playing cards
  4. Print one Flower Playing Die and assemble it (for a sturdier die, print on card stock)
  5. Color the “dirt” on the Garden Plot with the crayon (optional)
  6. Choose a player to go first
  7. The player rolls the die and then “plants” the flower rolled in a row on the game board
  8. Play moves to the person on the right
  9. Players continue rolling the die and “planting” flowers until each of the number of determined rows have been filled with flowers or one row has been filled with all six flowers.
  10. The first person to “grow” all of their flowers wins!

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You can find Badger’s Perfect Garden at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | Sleeping Bear Press

Support your local independent bookstore with these book sellers

Bookshop | IndieBound 

Picture Book Review

 

April 25 – National Zucchini Bread Day

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday seems to anticipate the prolific zucchini and yellow squash yields of summer gardens. Of course, they’re delicious too—giving a snap of flavor to side dishes, salads, pastas, and even breads—but, really, how do you keep up with the harvest? Today’s holiday offers a suggestion. And today’s book offers a humorous and creative way to share the bounty. Even if we can’t get together in person right now, we can always enjoy a great book and the scrumptious recipe at the end of this post!

Zora’s Zucchini

Written by Katherine Pryor | Illustrated by Anna Raff

 

Summer vacation was only three days old, but already Zora was bored. She was tired of riding her bike aimlessly around the neighborhood. But this time when she rode through town, she noticed a Free Zucchini sign in the window of the hardware store. She liked that the plant’s name began with a Z like her name, so she loaded up her basket and went home.

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Copyright Anna Raff, 2015, courtesy of annaraff.com and Readers to Eaters.

Zora showed her dad her new plants. As she carefully dug in the garden and settled them in, her dad said “‘That’s going to be a lot of zucchini.’” “‘We’ll eat it!’ Zora promised.” All June and July, Zora tended her garden, cheering “every time she saw a yellow-orange zucchini blossom.” When Zora saw her first zucchini, she picked it and ran inside to show her family. Soon, they were enjoying zucchini for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There was zucchini bread, zucchini soup, and grilled zucchini. “By the first day of August, Zora’s garden was a jungle of prickly, tickly, bushy, blossomy plants,” and each one “was covered in zucchini. There was no way her family could eat it all.”

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Copyright Anna Raff, 2015, courtesy of annaraff.com and Readers to Eaters.

When Zora peeked into her neighbor’s yard, she noticed there was no zucchini in her garden—but plenty of tomatoes. She asked Mrs. Thompson if she’d like to trade. Mrs. Thompson was delighted to swap a bushel of tomatoes for a bushel of zucchini. But Zora’s zucchini kept on coming. “‘This is crazy,’ Zora said.” She filled her bicycle basket and rode through the neighborhood, giving them all away. But the day after that, more zucchini was ripe for picking. Then Zora had an idea and got her family involved. “Her brother painted the signs. Her parents printed the fliers. Zora and her sister posted them all over the neighborhood.”

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Copyright Anna Raff, 2015, courtesy of annaraff.com and Readers to Eaters.

On Saturday, Zora stood next to her homemade stand that sported a sign that read: “Take a Veggie, Leave a Veggie” with an added entreaty that said “Or at least please take some zucchini.” As sun rose in the sky, though, no one had visited her stand. But then Mrs. Rivera came by with a bowl of raspberries, Mr. Peterson brought potatoes, and others traded carrots, green beans, and peppers as well as apricots, plums, and cherries. “Zora traded and traded until all her zucchini was gone.”

But Zora’s Garden Swap stand had done much more than share fruits and vegetables. As she looked around at all of the people laughing, talking, and nibbling, she realized that “her zucchini garden had brought so many people together.” She couldn’t wait for next year’s garden!

Back matter includes a note about gardening and the amount of food from a prolific garden that can go to waste. It also includes ideas for donating, preserving, and sharing excess harvests.

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Copyright Anna Raff, 2015, courtesy of annaraff.com and Readers to Eaters.

Katherine Pryor’s easy-going storytelling and gentle humor will charm kids with its realistic portrayals of the excitement that every growth spurt, bud, and blossom in a garden creates. As the zucchini keeps coming, Zora’s family’s willingness to keep trying new recipes is heartening, and their help in making her Garden Swap Stand a success shows welcome family unity and support. Zora’s outreach, first to one neighbor, then to individuals throughout her neighborhood, and finally through her stand, encourages creative problem-solving. As Zora realizes that her garden has brought many people together, readers will also embrace the ideas of camaraderie and sharing and see that they too can foster such friendship in their school and community. For today’s food-savvy and socially conscious kids, Pryor’s addressing the issue of food waste and ways to share our bounty with others will appeal to and resonate with children.

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Copyright Anna Raff, 2015, courtesy of annaraff.com and Readers to Eaters.

Anna Raff’s cheery illustrations sparkle with the enthusiasm of children who go all in on a new interest. Kids will love seeing the zucchini plants grow from tiny seedlings to leafy giants that produce a flood of zucchini. Raff clearly shows Zora’s disbelief in her inexhaustible supply of squash and puzzlement as to what to do with it all, letting readers join in on her ever-growing problem. As Zora tries one solution after another and then hits on an idea, suspense grows, helped along with Raff’s visual clues in the signs and fliers her family makes. When the neighbors come together, smiling and chatting, at Zora’s stand, readers can see what a close-knit community can accomplish.

Sure to inspire a child’s interest in gardening and community sharing, Zora’s Zucchini, an award-winning book, is a fantastic addition to home, classroom, and public library shelves. The book also makes a fun pairing with picnics and visits to farmers markets and food festivals.

Ages 4 – 10

Eaters to Readers, 2015 | ISBN 978-0983661573 (Hardcover) | ISBN 978-0998436616 (Paperback, 2017)

Discover more about Katherine Pryor and her books on her website.

To learn more about Anna Raff, her books, and her art, visit her website.

National Zucchini Bread Day Activity

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Cinnamon Swirl Zucchini Bread from Creme de la Crumb

 

If you have zucchini to spare, you’ll love this delicious zucchini bread from Creme de la Crumb that’s sweet and moist and flavored with the homey taste of cinnamon! To find this scrumptious recipe and lots more, visit Creme de la Crumb!

Creme de la Crumb’s Cinnamon Swirl Zucchini Bread

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You can find Zora’s Zucchini at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review