December 25 – Christmas Day

CPB - I Got the Christmas Spirit Cover

About the Holiday

Christmas is anticipated all year round for the joy of giving, the fun of receiving, and the message of hope the holiday gives. There are as many ways to celebrate as there are families, but today’s book shows that the inspiration of the season can live in every person all year round.

Thanks to Bloomsbury Children’s Books for sending me a copy of I Got the Christmas Spirit for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

I Got the Christmas Spirit

Written by Connie Schofield-Morrison | Illustrated by Frank Morrison

 

A little girl wakes up with a smile on her face and “the spirit of the season” in her heart. As she and her mother head out into the snowy city, she hears “the spirit in the air” as carolers sing and a corner Santa rings a bell. She’s been saving her money to add to the familiar red pot and happily drops it in the slot. The choir is now singing “Deck the Halls,” and the little girl sings along with all her heart.

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Image copyright Frank Morrison, 2018, text copyright Connie Schofield-Morrison, 2018. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Then it’s time for a yummy roasted treat to warm her up in the shivery air. On the ice-skating rink, the girl and her mom “swirled and twirled around the spirit” with other kids and adults enjoying some frozen fun. Afterward, a tour of the store windows decorated with lights and glitter makes her feel sparkly inside. But when they come upon a mother and her two children huddled against the wind with a “Help Please” sign, the girl says, “I felt the spirit deep down in my soul.”

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Image copyright Frank Morrison, 2018, text copyright Connie Schofield-Morrison, 2018. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

In a crowded store nearby, the little girl looks wide-eyed at all the toys then whispers to a tired Santa her wish “for the spirit everywhere.” As she, her mom, Santa, and a host of other people leave the store carrying wrapped packages, they feel the spirit spread by the girl’s smile. Outside, the little girl and the other shoppers give the presents to the needy family. The little boy grins from ear to ear as his mom stands by happily and the baby rests in Santa’s arms.

The Christmas spirit is not just a thing or a place or a person, the girl understands, “The spirit is you!” Then the girl gets her own surprise when she spies her dad coming home. She runs to him and he lifts her into a hug. Here is what she wants for Christmas—“Peace for all, good tidings, and cheer—let’s live the spirit every day of the year.”

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Image copyright Frank Morrison, 2018, text copyright Connie Schofield-Morrison, 2018. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

As the sights and sounds of Christmas begin to light up towns, stores, and homes, Connie Schofield-Morrison’s story fills young readers with the joy and deeper meaning of the holiday. Little ones wanting to share their bubbly excitement for Christmas as well as their innate empathy will fall in love with the little girl who eagerly joins in on all of the city’s festivities while also embracing those in need. Her big heart and buoyant spirit will inspire kids to find the spirit of the holiday in everything they do too. Kids are invited to join in reading with exuberant alliterative words like “Ding Dong Ding, that call out to the little girl

Readers can almost hear the bells and singers, feel the soft snow, and smell the roasting nuts as he takes readers on a tour of the city decked out for the holidays. In his gorgeous, realistic paintings, the emotions and actions of the little girl cheer young readers as they see her belting out a Christmas carol, gliding on ice rink, and walking side-by-side with Santa to deliver her surprise gifts to the needy family. Images of the girl dropping money that she has saved into the Salvation Army pot and frowning sadly as she comes upon the destitute woman and her family mirror the compassion many children feel for those less fortunate.

Like its predecessor I Got the Rhythm, I Got the Christmas Spirit is an uplifting and beautiful book to add to any child’s collection—not only at Christmas, but any time of the year. A top choice for public libraries too.

Ages 3 – 7

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2018 | ISBN 978-1681195285

To learn more about Frank Morrison and view a gallery of his art, visit his website.

Christmas Day Activity

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Santa’s Sack Maze

 

Santa has one more present to put into his sack. Can you help him take the gift through the maze in this printable puzzle?

Santa’s Sack Full of Presents Puzzle | Santa’s Sack Full of Presents Solution

CPB - I Got the Christmas Spirit Cover

You can find I Got the Christmas Spirit at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

December 8 – Comet the Unstoppable Reindeer Book Tour Stop

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About the Holiday

I was honored to host the cover reveal of Comet the Unstoppable Reindeer on March 11 and am thrilled to be part of Jim Benton’s book tour as this story about the beloved Comet is launched around the world, just in time for Christmas. This funny and poignant book will light up Christmas-season story times with joy and themes that will be remembered all year round.

Thanks goes to Two Lions and Blue Slip Media for sharing Comet the Unstoppable Reindeer with me for review consideration. All opinions about the book are my own. I’m also thrilled to be teaming up with them in a giveaway of the book. You can find details below.

Comet the Unstoppable Reindeer

By Jim Benton

 

“’Twas the Night Before Christmas….” We know how this one goes, right? Or do we? Let’s see…

“’Twas the Night Before Christmas,” (so far, so good) / “a tense situation.” / “The elves had worked the whole year / without a vacation.” (Oh, rein-deer!)

It seems all this work, work, work, had left the elves in bad moods, especially Stinky and Stanky who got into it over wrapping a present. Seeing that their argument might escalate, Comet hoofed in to break it up, only to be knocked out colder than a North Pole winter. While Comet’s intervention worked as he’d hoped, when he woke up, his arm didn’t. The doctor set Comet’s broken arm in a cast. When Comet jumped up to get back to work, though, the doc gave him the bad news: “‘No dashing, no dancing, / your arm, it needs fixin’. / It will be a long time / before you’re prancing with Vixen.’” Comet was sad to miss out on the big night, but he went down to the launch anyway,  only to see that his replacement was a “rookie named Freddy.” Although the other reindeer were skeptical about Freddie’s flying prowess, they took off into the sky as usual.

Finished for the night, the elves headed to their homes, leaving Comet in the workshop all alone. But what was THIS? There in the corner and reaching up to the ceiling was Santa’s bag of toys! Comet did what any conscientious reindeer would do: “he called Santa’s cell.” Getting no response, Comet knew Christmas was all up to him.

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Copyright Jim Benton, 2020, courtesy of Two Lions.

Try as he might, though, Comet couldn’t lift that bag of toys. He was about to give up when he noticed a letter lying on the floor. He sat down with a mug of hot chocolate and a few plates of cookies and began to read. He was expecting the usual, but this letter was from a little boy asking for something for his sister. It said: “‘She’s too small to write, / but I know what she’d like: / a little green pig / on a little pink bike.’”

But the letter writer didn’t stop there. He added that he knew there were a lot of deserving kids in the world and told Santa it would be all right if he couldn’t bring his sister the pig, ending with “‘She won’t cry a bit. / She won’t even pout. / Just don’t wear yourself / or your poor reindeer out.’” By the time he’d finished reading, Comet had tears in his eyes. No one had ever considered the reindeer before. Comet looked up, up, up at that heavy, heavy bag and saw at the top… “that little green pig.” Comet thought about that bag and his broken arm, and then, with only one reservation, “he hefted that bag / like a brave little fighter. / ‘Would it kill kids to ask / for some toys that are lighter?’”

So Comet took to the sky, carrying that sackful of toys, and touched down in countries from East going West. His travels were fraught with mishaps aplenty. After losing a tooth and getting nearly run over, he flew “on to Egypt and Sweden, / Italy and France, / where he scraped up his butt / (‘cause he didn’t wear pants).” Trips to every city in the world, along with a few more painful encounters, brought Comet no closer to finding the yellow house with a blue roof where the boy and his sister lived.

Comet consulted his map once more and a single tear dropped onto a place he realized he’d missed. He reached the yellow house just as the sun was rising over the horizon and slipped down the chimney. There he was met by the little boy and his sister. Just as he was handing them their gifts, the “phone gave a jingle. / ‘I’ll get it,’ said Comet. / ‘I’ll bet it’s Kris Kringle.’” And it was with many thank-yous and “‘a vacation,’ said Santa. / ‘Can the elves have one too?’ / asked Comet, who knew that’s / the right thing to do.’”

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Copyright Jim Benton, 2020, courtesy of Two Lions.

Laugh-out-loud funny and with a message about going above and beyond for family and friends, Comet the Unstoppable Reindeer will become a kid-favorite in any house for Christmas and throughout the year. Comet’s misadventures on his travels around the globe are slapstick gems kids will want to hear over and over. Adults will also find themselves “Ho-ho-hoing” at Jim Benton’s bouncy rhymes and funny wordplay as well as Comet’s hilarious thoughts that echo ones we’ve all had at one time or another. Amidst all the fun, too, is a heartfelt story about thinking of others, kindness, and the true meaning of giving that will impress and cheer kids.

Benton’s expressive, madcap cartoon illustrations will have kids giggling at the overworked elves wrapping presents with fatigued, bored expressions, the goofy reindeer (especially Freddy), and Comet’s valiant efforts to lift the enormous bag. Images of Comet’s accidents and near misses will be met with guffaws. Benton’s illustrations also show many examples of empathetic kindness, deep appreciation, and unstoppable perseverance that will resonate with kids beyond the holiday season.

Sure to be asked for again and again on its way to becoming a Christmas tradition, Comet the Unstoppable Reindeer would make a perfect pre-holiday gift for your own family or any child. The book will be a favorite addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 3 – 8

Two Lions, 2020 | ISBN 978-1542043472

Jim Benton Photo

Jim Benton is the award-winning creator of the New York Times bestselling series Dear Dumb Diary and Franny K. Stein as well as the popular It’s Happy Bunny brand. His books have sold more than fifteen million copies in twenty-five countries and have garnered numerous honors. Like Comet, Jim knows what it’s like to hobble around in a cast; however, he is still learning to fly. Find out more about him at www.jimbenton.com.

You can connect with Jim Benton on Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

Comet the Unstoppable Reindeer Giveaway

I’m pleased as Christmas punch to be teaming with Two Lions and Blue Slip Press in a giveaway of:

  • One (1) copy of Comet the Unstoppable Reindeer by Jim Benton

To enter:

  • Follow Celebrate Picture Books
  • Retweet a giveaway tweet
  • Bonus: Reply with your favorite reindeer for extra entry. Each reply earns you one extra entry

This giveaway is open from December 8 to December 13 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner will be chosen on December 14. 

Prizing provided by Two Lions and Blue Slip Media

Giveaway open to U.S. addresses only. | No Giveaway Accounts 

Comet the Unstoppable Reindeer Book Tour Activity

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Reindeer Teams Match-Up Puzzle

 

Match the two-member reindeer teams so they can help Santa in this printable puzzle!

Reindeer Teams Match-Up Puzzle

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You can find Comet the Unstoppable Reindeer at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

December 1 – National Day of Giving

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About the Holiday

Established in 2012, the National Day of Giving – also known as Giving Tuesday – is held on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving to celebrate generosity and giving to others. Commemorated around the world, the movement “unleashes the power of people and organizations to transform their communities and their world.” There are many ways to lend a hand and give back from donating money or goods to lending your voice in advocating for those in need to using your talents to make a difference. It’s hoped that this one day sparks a continued outpouring of giving throughout the year. the spirit of today’s holiday continues throughout the year. To learn more about how individuals or organizations can get involved in the US or globally, visit the Giving Tuesday website.

Little Mole’s Christmas Gift

Written by Glenys Nellist | Illustrated by Sally Garland

 

Little Mole was looking forward to Christmas like never before. Out in the woods he’d found “the biggest, the best, the most beautiful mushroom he had ever seen,” and he couldn’t wait to give it to Mama. He put on his warm clothes and boots and headed into the forest to pick it. As he pulled it along behind him, he imagined Mama’s surprise and delight when she saw it.

But as he was dragging it home, he heard someone crying. Curled up in the brambles was Little Squirrel. When Little Mole asked what was wrong, Little Squirrel said she hadn’t eaten all day. Little Mole thought that breaking a piece off the stem would still leave a nice gift for Mama while satisfying his friend. Little Squirrel was so thankful as she nibbled on her meal.

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Image copyright Sally Garland, 2020, text copyright Glenys Nellist, 2020. Courtesy of Beaming Books.

Little Mole hoisted the mushroom onto his shoulder and went on his way. Soon he heard whimpering, and as he came closer he saw Little Mouse in distress. Little Weasel had taken his pillow and Little Mouse couldn’t get to sleep. There was still plenty of stem left, Little Mole decided, so he cut off a piece. Little Mouse laid down and under a blanket of leaves Little Mole pulled up, he fell asleep.

Little Mole was just about home when he ran into Little Chipmunk who was worried about getting caught in the coming winter storm without an umbrella. Little Mole knew his mushroom “would make a perfect umbrella. But if he gave it away, he wouldn’t have a big gift for Mama anymore.” He couldn’t decide what to do. Just then it started sleeting. Little Mole wasted no time. He snapped off the stem and gave the top to Little Chipmunk. “‘Thanks, Little Mole. You are so kind!’ Little Chipmunk said as she took shelter under the mushroom.”

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Image copyright Sally Garland, 2020, text copyright Glenys Nellist, 2020. Courtesy of Beaming Books.

Little Mole wrapped up his gift for Mama. It was just a bit of stem, not the big gift he had envisioned. But when Mama opened it, she was delighted. It was just the thing to make a delicious soup for their Christmas dinner. Little Mole didn’t seem convinced, though. He told Mama that the mushroom used to be much larger, but that he had given “most of it away to friends who needed it.”

When she heard that, Mama gave her son a big hug and told him that his “‘kindness [was] the biggest, most perfect Christmas gift I have ever received.’” Little Mole smiled. Christmas had turned out just as he had hoped.

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Image copyright Sally Garland, 2020, text copyright Glenys Nellist, 2020. Courtesy of Beaming Books.

With an endearing protagonist, Glenys Nellist’s story about the true meaning of giving from the heart will appeal to little ones’ natural sense of generosity while strengthening the joy they feel in helping out at home or helping those in need. The three friends Little Mole encounters give children an opportunity to talk about what they would do in each situation and for adults to discuss ideas of kindness as well as gratitude as this one gift becomes many. Mama’s reaction to Little Mole’s gift will show kids that it’s not the size of a present that counts but the love and thought that goes into it. They’ll also see that a person’s actions, compassion, and consideration for others are gifts that cannot be matched.

Sally Garland’s textured illustrations focus on adorable Little Mole and his dreams of the perfect Christmas, allowing the youngest readers to fully appreciate Little Mole’s decisions to give up parts of the present for Mama that means so much to him. As Little Mole encounters Little Squirrel, Little Mouse, and Little Chipmunk, readers can clearly see the sadness and need of each of these friends as well as the positive difference Little Mole’s kindness makes in their day. Garland’s lovely aqua sky swirled with white snow and gauzy wind makes for a shivery winter scene, while Little Mole’s home is cozy and warm with a glittering Christmas tree and homemade treats and decorations.

A charming companion to Little Mole Finds Hope, Little Mole’s Christmas Gift makes for cozy story times that will inspire love, compassion, and kindness at Christmas and throughout the year. The book would be a favorite addition to home, school, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 3 – 6

Beaming Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-1506448756

Discover more about Glenys Nellist and her books on her website.

You can connect with Sally Garland on Instagram.

National Day of Giving Activity

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Little Mole’s Christmas Gift Activity Kit

 

Have fun with Little Mole and the six pages of puzzles and coloring pages in this Activity Kit available for download and printing from Beaming Books. 

Little Mole’s Christmas Gift Activity Kit

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You can find Little Mole’s Christmas Gift at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

October 29 – It’s National Book Month

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About the Holiday

For readers every month is National Book Month, but October is especially set aside to highlight books and the love of reading. Fall is a book bonanza as publishers release new books in all categories and the holiday gift-giving season beckons. Books, of course, make superb gifts for all ages! So whether you’re looking for a new or new-to-you book to read right now, or new titles to give to all the family and friends who will be on your list, this month is a perfect time to check out your local bookstore to see what wonderful books are on the shelves! This month is also a perfect time to discover books that get kids excited about math and science in a whole new way – like today’s book!

Thank you to Charlesbridge for sending me a copy of  The Animals Would Not Sleep! for review consideration. All opinions about the books are my own.

The Animals Would Not Sleep!

Written by Sara Levine | Illustrated by Marta Álvarez Miguéns

 

All of Marco’s stuffed “animals were making a ruckus” when his mom told him it was time to get cleaned up and ready for bed. She wanted to see all the toys put away, so Marco, who thought like a scientist, got to work. He wanted to sort his animals like a scientist would, so he got out three baskets and made signs for Flying Animals, Swimming Animals, and Animals That Move on Land. Then he picked up his dancing flamingo, bird, bat, and ladybug and put them in the first basket. He placed his octopus, stingray, frog, fish, whale, and seal in the second basket, and his dinosaur, giraffe, bears, snake, pangolin, gecko, mice, and zebra in the third basket.

But the animals were still wide awake, and “they egged one another on until not one remained in its container.” Marco thought they would settle down, but when his mom called the second time, he reconsidered his strategy. This time he made signs that sorted the animals by color, but zebra started to cry. He was afraid being in such close quarters with snake and stingray, plus he missed his friend giraffe.

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Image copyright Marta Álvarez Miguéns, 2020, text copyright Sara Levine, 2020. Courtesy of Charlesbridge.

Marco decided to try again. He took all of his animals out and made signs that read Small, Medium, and Large. Things seemed quiet and Marco began to put on his pajamas. But then he heard some kind of moaning or groaning coming from the Large basket. When he went to check, Dinosaur and Dancing Flamingo complained about being too cramped. Plus, Dancing Flamingo missed Rainbow Bear. Then he heard noises from the Small basket. Those animals weren’t happy either.

Marco’s mom gave him two minutes to get it all sorted out. Fortunately for Marco, “being a scientist, he was used to coming up with ideas and thinking outside the box.” The animals were getting tired and Yellow Bear had just burst into tears for no apparent reason. Like a good scientist, Marco cared about his animals and wanted them to be happy. He had one more sorting idea. With the large animals, medium-sized animals, and small animals all tucked in with plenty of room, friends nearby, and cozy warmth on Marco’s bed, Marco got under the covers and got a goodnight kiss from Mom. Then they all fell happily to sleep.

Back matter includes an illustrated Author’s Note about the way scientists sort, or classify, animals by characteristics and a discussion that explores the math in the story as well as Try This! tips for adults to engage children in sorting by Karen Economopoulos, co-director of the Investigations Center for Curriculum and Professional Development at TERC.

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Image copyright Marta Álvarez Miguéns, 2020, text copyright Sara Levine, 2020. Courtesy of Charlesbridge.

Perfectly capturing the way young children interact with their toys, Sara Levine combines imagination and scientific thinking in her inventive story, part of the Storytelling Math series from Charlesbridge. In Marco, who’s proud of his scientific thinking, Levine shows readers that they too already have this ability. Marco’s empathy for his animals’ when they are unhappy will engage children in thinking, along with Marco, about classification and the various ways the animals can be sorted, getting them excited about how math is used every day. Levine’s use of realistic dialogue that echoes bedtime routines in many homes and gives each character—human and animal—distinct personalities will draw kids in to this charming story that is organically infused with strong math lessons. Levine gives Marco a sweet final solution to his problem that will please kids and have them wanting to think like a scientist too.

Marta Álvarez Miguéns opens the story with an enchantingly wild two-page spread of Marco standing in the middle of his room as his toys bounce on the bed, climb blocks, juggle, fly, and cause a ruckus. Turn the page and, as Mom peeks into the room, these animals now lie motionless around the room. When Marco sorts his animals into the baskets, readers can clearly see which animals go where and why. Kids will knowingly giggle when the just-sorted animals spring from their resting places to prolong bedtime. Miguéns also plainly depicts Marco’s and the animals’ facial expressions from happy and playful to sad and crying to peaceful and satisfied. These images give adults and children an opportunity to discuss emotions and how to recognize various clues in faces, a skill important for social-emotional learning. Vivid colors, adorable animals, details such as alphabet blocks that stack or are turned to spell words, and kid-appealing décor will have kids wanting to come back again and again.

A book that’s sure to become a favorite at bedtime or to enhance classroom or homeschooling curriculum, The Animals Would Not Sleep! will spark mathematical and scientific thinking and recognition in all young learners. The book offers an irresistible invitation to experiment and interact with math and science and is a must for home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 3 – 6

Charlesbridge, 2020 | ISBN 978-1623541286 (Hardcover) | ISBN 978-1623541972 (Paperback) 

Discover more about Sara Levine and her books on her website.

To learn more about Marta Álvarez Miguéns, her books, and her art, visit her website.

About Storytelling Math

Storytelling Math offers books that celebrate children using math in their daily lives as they play, build, collaborate, compromise, and discover the world around them. Each story features characters of color who are empowered to solve problems, enjoy activities, and help out using their knowledge of and experimenting with math. Free downloadable hands-on activity kits are available for each book on the Charlesbridge website. Sharing these joyful stories with your littlest ones and older kids will make them eager to explore, use, and learn more about math every day. You can learn more about Storytelling Math on the Charlesbridge website

Storytelling Math: Math, Diversity, and the Power of Story was developed with Marlene Kliman at TERC—a nonprofit dedicated to STEM education—under a grant from the Heising-Simons Foundation.

Enjoy this The Animals Would Not Sleep! trailer with Author Sara Levine!

National Book Month Activity

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The Animals Would Not Sleep! Activity Kit

 

You can have fun sorting and exploring math with your class or family with the Activity Kit for The Animals Would Not Sleep on the Charlesbridge website. Download it here!

The Animals Would Not Sleep Activity Kit

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-animals-would-not-sleep-cover

You can find The Animals Would Not Sleep! at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

August 13 – Happiness Happens Month

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About the Holiday

It’s all up to you to make his month-long holiday happen. It offers an opportunity for each person to ask: What makes me happy? During these last weeks of summer, be sure to include those things that truly bring you and your children joy. While many of the usual activities may not be available, finding new ways to use your talents or to help others can bring a new kind of happiness, as you’ll see in today’s book.

Dewdrop

by Katie O’Neill

Little Dewdrop, an adorable axototl, runs to join the line to sign up for the Sports Fair. He asks his friends if they’re going to go too. Mia, a turtle, says she’s entering the “pebble-throwing contest,” Newman the Newt tells Dewdrop that he’s going to be writing “a song to cheer everyone on, and three minnows are using their cooking talents to make the food. Dewdrop says he’s working on a cheerleading routine, but he wants to help everyone else too.

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Copyright Katie O’Neill, 2020, courtesy of Oni Press.

When Mia wears herself out training, Dewdrop brings her healthy snacks. Then he joins in on the recorder while Newman composes his song, but he falls asleep before they finish. Next, Dewdrop is happy to supply ingredients for the minnows’ concoction. Everyone is busy building the tents and stands for the fair, while the participants train. Mia sweats it out lifting rocks, but then she sees Bear lifting a heavy barbell with one arm. She feels dejected and wonders if there’s even a point in competing.

Writing a song seemed easy to Newton, but now none of his tunes are coming out just right. The ground around him is littered with balled-up paper. The minnows are worried that the food they’re making is too boring and think maybe a new recipe would be better. Dewdrop, on the other hand, is leaping and dancing and shaking his pompoms. “WOW! I am so good at cheerleading!” he says to himself.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-dewdrop-pebble-throwing

Copyright Katie O’Neill, 2020, courtesy of Oni Press.

The next day Dewdrop goes off to see if his friends need any help. He finds Mia struggling to lift a barbell as big as Bear’s. She manages to raise it over her head as Dewdrop applauds. Then he asks her to lift him the way she used to when they were younger. She does it easily, and Dewdrop is impressed by how much stronger she’s gotten. As Dewdrop runs off to find another friend, Mia realizes that Dewdrop is right and that she doesn’t need to compete against anyone but herself and should just “try to do better than [she] did yesterday.”

Dewdrop finds Newton down in the dumps. He still hasn’t written a song he likes. Dewdrop encourages him to relax and listen quietly to his inner voice. When he does, a beautiful tune bursts out. Next, Dewdrop follows his nose to where the minnows are trying yet another recipe, worried that no one will like what they make. Dewdrop has a solution to that. “I will bravely volunteer to lay my life on the line…and taste test for you,” he says. He dips his spoon into what one minnow calls “a boring old stew” and declares it…”probably the best thing I have ever tasted!” Cheered by this news, the minnows realize they can’t please everyone and go to work creating dishes that would make them happy.

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Copyright Katie O’Neill, 2020, courtesy of Oni Press.

At last the day of the sports fair comes. The stage and playing fields are ready; the stands are packed, and the food court is open. Newton steps up to sing his song that he says expresses his feelings about the sports fair. The audience smiles and claps along. First up, it’s time for Mia to show her stuff at the pebble pitch. When she steps up to the line, Dewdrop performs his special cheerleading routine just for her. She throws…. The rock sails over the-much-bigger Bear, Tortoise, and Lobster’s heads. At the end of the competition, the judge presents her with a medal for “New Personal Best.”

At lunchtime everyone rushed to get in line at the minnows’ booth. When Dewdrop finally gets to the front, one minnow tells him that they made something special for him and that Mia and Newman are waiting for him to join their picnic. Dewdrop finds them in a field, and they present him with a basket to thank him for everything he’d done to remind them about “what’s important.” Dewdrop lifted the cover and discovered… a Worm Pie! Which made this “the best day ever.”

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Copyright Katie O’Neill, 2020, courtesy of Oni Press.

Everyone needs a little encouragement now and then and Katie O’Neill’s endearing axototl, Dewdrop, is just the one to deliver it. A natural cheerleader, he helps his friends and readers learn a simple, but most-important lesson about growing up and growing into your individual talents. As Dewdrop enthusiastically gives his friends a hand when they worry, strain, and struggle to become the very best at the fair, kids will see that comparing oneself to others and trying to please everyone is a losing proposition and actually stifles ones creativity and ability. When Mia, Newton, and the minnows succeed at the fair by being themselves, kids will understand that it’s only when they are true to themselves that they are really winners. O’Neill adds humorous touches throughout the story that will charm kids and fleshes out the characters’ personalities. Comics’ and graphic-novel-loving kids will be drawn to O’Neill’s candy-colored illustrations that prompt them to examine and empathize with the actions and emotions of excitement, disappointment, pride, and friendship depicted.

Fun and confidence-boosting, Dewdrop would make a thought-provoking addition to home, school, and public library collections. 

Ages 6 – 9

Oni Press, 2020 | ISBN 978-1620106891

Discover more about Katie O’Neill and her books on her website.

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You can find Dewdrop 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

June 3 – Love Conquers All Day

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About the Holiday

The phrase “love conquers all” is attributed to the ancient Roman poet Virgil, but it’s veracity is still timely today. As the world is rocked by agonizing and heartbreaking events, children watch, worry, and wonder. Sharing today’s book can help adults and kids talk about their emotions and come up with ways they can show the love they feel for family, friends, and their community.

The Breaking News

By Sarah Lynne Reul

 

A little girl remembers “when we heard the bad news.” She was sitting at the kitchen table repotting plants with her mom, dad, and little brother. They were happy, her dad sipping coffee and her mom smiling. The TV was on in the background. And that’s how they heard the breaking news. Her mom’s head whipped around to see; coffee splashed out of her dad’s cup. And the plant tipped over spilling all of its new soil.

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Copyright Sarah Lynne Reul, 2018, courtesy of Roaring Brook Press.

After that, her parents can’t stop watching the news on the television and their phones. When they talk about it, they whisper, and the little girl pretends “not to hear. It is more than a little scary.” The regular routine no longer exists; happiness seems to be gone too. At school, the “teacher says to look for the helpers,” those “good people trying to make things better in big and small ways.”

The girl wants to help. At home she tries to make her mom and dad laugh, she invents magical ways to keep her family safe, and she even helps out with the chores, but nothing seems to help. The failure of her plans to do something big, just makes her “feel small.” Then she sees her brother giving their dog a hug. It cheers her and she begins to think “maybe…I can try to do…just one…small thing?” So she does. And then again…and again.

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Copyright Sarah Lynne Reul, 2018, courtesy of Roaring Brook Press.

She starts by watering that newly potted plant, which has become droopy with neglect. She spends time with her brother and the dog, and she puts the now-perky plant in a sunny window. Outside, the bad news still lurks, but inside the girl’s parents notice this small change. She takes them by the hand and asks for the extra seeds, pots, and soil.

When the flowers sprout, the girl and her family take them outside. The bad news still exists, but as the girl gives the flowerpots away to their neighbors, they stop and smile. they sit on the stoop and in their front courtyards and talk. Here and there along the block of apartments, flower pots appear on the windowsills, and hope begins to dispel the gloom.

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Copyright Sarah Lynne Reul, 2018, courtesy of Roaring Brook Press.

As children hear, see, and are directly affected by recent events—this week, over the past months, and in the future—feelings of fear, worry, anger, and helplessness impact their daily lives. Sarah Lynne Reul’s honest depiction of a time of upheaval reflects a child’s experience and offers them an opportunity to express their emotions. She also shows concrete ways that kids can channel their desire to help—ways that may seem small to them but that create much-needed connections among family members and the community they love.

Reul’s emotion-packed illustrations work hand-in-hand with her potent text to examine that moment when everything changed and its aftermath. The family’s happy, enthusiastic expressions are replaced with sadness and a world-weary stoop; a gray fog and somber hues predominate. An image of the little girl filled to the brim with everything that is happening around her will squeeze your heart and give kids a chance to say, “that’s how I feel.” The girl’s realization that small actions of kindness and love can help restore at least some of the lost light in their lives can be a revelation not only for children but for adults too who may be wondering how to process and respond to overwhelming circumstances and events. Reul’s two scenes of the neighborhood—one cast in shadow and the next washed in light (with an extra glow around the people and plants)—provide a strong visual of the results of positive action.

The Breaking News presents many openings for family discussion and shared comfort. The book a must-have for home, school, and public libraries.

Ages 4 – 8

Roaring Brook Press, 2018 | ISBN 978-1250153562

To learn more about Sarah Lynne Reul, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Love Conquers All Day Activity

CPB - Heart Jar

Jar Full of Hearts

 

If your kids ever feel the need for more love or reassurance in their life, this jar full of hearts can be a visual reminder of the love that surrounds them, can be used to encourage discussions about feelings, or can provides little gifts kids can give to family and friends––old and new.

Supplies

  • A clear jar with a lid—you can use a recycled jar, a mason jar or a decorative jar found at craft stores
  • Red felt
  • Scissors

Directions

1. Cut red hearts from the felt

2. Add hearts to the jar. The jar can start out full or hearts can be added over time. Here are some ideas for giving jars to family members or friends:

  • Add one heart for each thing you love about your child or that a child loves about their sibling or friend.
  • Give a new heart whenever the recipient of your jar does something nice for someone.
  • If talking about feelings is difficult for your child, encourage them to bring you a heart from the jar to start a conversation.
  • Encourage the recipient of your jar to pass the love along! Tell them they can give a heart from the jar to someone else.

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You can find The Breaking News at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review