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

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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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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

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

July 2 – I Forgot Day

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About the Holiday

Does summer make you feel forgetful? The hot, hazy weather and more relaxed schedule can loosen up that school-time vigilance and well… make you forget things. But that’s okay! I Forgot Day was established to give people an opportunity to make up for lapses in memory. If you’ve forgotten a special event, birthday, or anniversary, it’s not too late to apologize and let the person know you haven’t forgotten them—just that particular date. Of course, there are also things that may have slipped your mind that bear remembering or lessons from the past that should not entirely be forgotten. Today’s holiday is a good time to embrace those memories—just like today’s book shows!

You Forgot Your Skirt, Amelia Bloomer!

Written by Shana Corey | Illustrated by Chesley McLaren

 

“Amelia Bloomer was not a proper lady.” But that was all right with her because she “thought proper ladies were silly.” Amelia found it silly that proper ladies couldn’t vote and were not supposed to work. In response, she protested as a suffragette and began her own newspaper called The Lily which only published news about women. Amelia hired other women to work there.

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Image copyright Chesley McLaren, 2000, text copyright Shana Corey, 2000. Courtesy of Scholastic.

But to Amelia, the silliest thing of all was women’s long dresses. They “were so heavy, wearing them was like carting around a dozen bricks.” She thought women looked like “walking broomsticks. They acted like broomsticks too because their skirts swept up all the mud and trash from the street.” And the corsets they wore choked off their breathing and made them faint. To keep those long skirts standing out, they also wore wire frames that got squashed and squeezed in doorway after doorway. “Even little girls had to wear proper dresses. So they couldn’t run and jump and play.”

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Image copyright Chesley McLaren, 2000, text copyright Shana Corey, 2000. Courtesy of Scholastic.

Amelia Bloomer was determined to do something about it. Then one day, Amelia’s friend Elizabeth Cady Stanton came to visit and brought her cousin Libby. “Libby looked remarkable” because “she was not wearing a dress!” Libby thought proper dresses were silly too. Libby’s dress was shorter and not so poofy, and underneath Libby was wearing a kind of pants. Amelia immediately sewed herself such an outfit.

When people saw Amelia in her new outfit, they gasped. “‘You forgot your skirt, Amelia Bloomer!’ called a little boy.” But Amelia didn’t listen to them. She felt so free that she “ran and jumped and twirled.” She wanted all women to know about these wonderful clothes, so she wrote about them in The Lily. Women all over the country loved them and wanted to know where they could get them.

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Image copyright Chesley McLaren, 2000, text copyright Shana Corey, 2000. Courtesy of Scholastic.

Amelia was flooded with letters from women asking for the pattern so they could make an outfit for themselves and for advice on how to accessorize. “Some people called the new style of clothes the American Costume. Most people just called them Bloomers.” Of course, there were many proper gentlemen who disliked the bloomers. Some thought they would just “lead to more rights for women.”

After some time, bloomers went out of style. “Proper ladies and gentlemen everywhere breathed a sigh of relief.” They were sure women’s clothing would go back to “normal,” and that everyone would forget about Amelia Bloomer and her improper ideas. “Well… what do you think?”

An Authors Note filling in details of Amelia Bloomer’s life, the restrictive clothing women wore, and the early women’s rights movement follows the text.

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Image copyright Chesley McLaren, 2000, text copyright Shana Corey, 2000. Courtesy of Scholastic.

These days it does seem ridiculous that women once had to live in such restrictive, and even dangerous, clothing. Although children may see pictures of Victorian dress, they might not be able to fully appreciate all that was going on under those voluminous skirts. It’s with a sly wink to those times and people’s attitudes that Shana Corey presents her biography of Amelia Bloomer. Through her light touch, Corey highlights not only the early women’s rights movement but nudges children to keep vigilant to see that freedom and rights continue to come to all.

Chesley McLaren’s bright, delicate illustrations bring a Victorian vibe while reveling in fresh colors and offbeat perspectives. Kids may grow wide-eyed to see a woman holding onto a bedpost as her corset is drawn tight and other women fainting as a result of this necessary item. McLaren also exposes the “dirty” truth as a woman’s hem sweeps along apple cores, bones, bottles, and paper as she walks. An image of a hoop framework festooned with bricks, gives kids an idea of how much these dresses weighed. Proper ladies and gentlemen in their stuffy clothes may point, stare, and harrumph at Amelia in her comfortable bloomers, but Amelia gets the last laugh as she floats, twirls, and moves freely in her trendsetting pants. The influence Amelia Bloomer had on future fashions and the rights of women is delightfully shown in postcard-type snapshots of styles from the 1920s,1960s, 1980s, and in a two-page spread of a park today.

Awarded many accolades as one of the best books of 2000, You Forgot Your Skirt, Amelia Bloomer! can be found at public libraries and from used booksellers. The book makes for an entertaining yet educational way for kids to learn about history.

Ages 4 – 8

Scholastic, Inc, 2000 | ISBN 978-0439078191

Discover more about Shana Corey and her books on her website

To learn more about Chesley McLaren, her books, and her art, visit her website.

I Forgot Day Activity

CPB - Sunglasses Matching Puzzle

Whose Sunglasses? Matching Puzzle

 

Four kids have forgotten their sunglasses! Can you follow the paths to match each child with the right pair in this printable puzzle?

Whose Sunglasses? Matching Puzzle

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You can find You Forgot Your Skirt, Amelia Bloomer! at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

 

 

March 6 – National Dress Day

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About the Holiday

Instituted by Ashley Lauren in 2016, the day encourages people to relive and celebrate their best dress memories. It’s also a day to honor those designers who design the styles that create a splash, feel comfortable, and make a statement. To celebrate today, get together with friends and talk about your favorite dress memories then go shopping and get ready to make some more!

Abrams sent me a copy of Along Came Coco to check out. All opinions are my own. I’m happy to be partnering with Abrams in a giveaway of the book. Details are below.

Along Came Coco: A Story about Coco Chanel

By Eva Byrne

 

Coco Chanel, born in 1883, grew up in an orphanage, “a strict convent tucked away in the French countryside.” While the girls wore identical uniforms and followed the nuns’ rules, Coco always found a way to be herself: when she learned how to sew, she used her creativity to make dolls for her friends, and each night as she brushed her curly hair the required one-hundred times, she vowed that when she grew up she’d cut her hair short.

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Copyright Eva Byrne, 2019, courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

Sometimes Coco was allowed to visit her grandparents in Moulins and her Aunt Louise in Varennes. During these trips she saw fashionable ladies strolling through the city and watched her aunt transform simple hats into fabulous creations. Coco wanted to make hats too. As soon as she was grown, she said au revoir to the convent and opened a hat shop. Then she began making clothing inspired by the sights all around her. She especially liked the “stripy tops of the local fisherman” and “sewed her own version.”

In 1914, Coco opened in the beachside town of Deauville. The summer was hot, and Coco created a stylish and cooler bathing suit so women could enjoy the shore. “She was one of the first designers who knew exactly what women wanted.”

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Copyright Eva Byrne, 2019, courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

Soon she had a waiting list of women who wanted to wear her designs. She converted men’s fashions into stylish clothes for women and was the first to add pockets to women’s outfits. Her clothing was so popular that she was able to buy an entire building in Paris to sell her dresses, hats, and jewelry. She enjoyed the theater and opera, and one night as she was getting ready to go out, a gas lamp exploded. Her dress was ruined and her hair was burned. Coco was not about to miss the opera, so she cut her long hair short and discovered that it framed her face in a most delightful way.

But what would she wear? She cut and sewed a new evening gown that broke all the rules—it had no corset. “And with every stitch, Coco changed the way women dressed forever.” Her dress was black, simple, and elegant, without all the frills and poofs of the dresses of the time. “Coco dreamed that all women should have a black dress.” And thus the “little black dress was born” and women’s fashions and lifestyle changed forever.

An Author’s Note and more information on Coco Chanel, her life, and work follow the text.

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Copyright Eva Byrne, 2019, courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

Eva Byrne weaves a fascinating biography of Coco Chanel that reveals the early influences and experiences that informed her creativity. Byrne infuses her text with Coco’s precocious spirit through examples of her dreams of the future, good-natured “rule breaking,” and fashion innovations. Coco’s natural talent, modern vision, and confidence to buck the system are all evident in Byrne’s engaging storytelling that will have kids marveling over women’s fashions of the time and appreciating Coco’s contributions not only to women’s clothing choices but to the way they lived. The story of how the first little black dress came to be will amaze both children and adults.

From the beginning of the book, where a pair of hands stitch the name Coco onto the title page, to the end, where Coco, needle and thread in hand, winks at the reader, Byrne treats kids to beautiful illustrations of Coco, her surroundings, and her fashions. Her fresh, vivid watercolors are light and airy as they take readers down French boulevards and to the beach. Readers will love lingering over the pages to study the styles of the time and how Coco’s designs stood out as revolutionary. Removing the gilded casewrap reveals a stunning canal-side landscape and the inspiration for Chanel’s famous striped look.

A superb book for kids who love fashion and fashion students as well as readers interested in history, the arts, biographies, and a well-told story, Along Came Coco makes an excellent gift and exciting addition to home, classroom, and public libraries.

Ages 4 – 8

Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2019 | ISBN 978-1419734250

To learn more about Eva Byrne and see a gallery of her artwork, visit her website.

Along Came Coco Giveaway

I’m excited to partner with Abrams Books for Young Readers in giveaway of:

  • One (1) copy of Along Came Coco: A Story about Coco Chanel, by Eva Byrne

To enter Follow me @CelebratePicBks on Twitter and Retweet a giveaway tweet.

This giveaway is open from March 6 through March 12 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner will be chosen on March 13.

Prizing provided by Abrams.

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

National Dress Day Activity

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Hanging on Fashion Word Search Puzzle

 

Fashion design has its own special vocabulary. Can you find the twenty fashion-related words in this printable puzzle?

Hanging on Fashion Word Search Puzzle | Hanging on Fashion Word Search Solution

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You can find Along Came Coco at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

 

September 10 – It’s New York Fashion Week

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About the Holiday

A full month of attention to new fashions worldwide begins this week in New York with the 2019 Spring/Summer fashion collections shown to buyers, the press, and the public. Created in 1943 as Press Week, the New York show aimed at diverting attention away from the Paris event during World War II, when “fashion industry insiders were unable to travel to Paris,” and hoped to highlight American designers, whose innovations had largely been ignored. Showcasing the world’s most highly skilled and creative designers, famous models, and plenty of eye-catching styles, Fashion Week is a favorite event for celebrities and fashion lovers alike. As the show in New York winds down on September 14 , eyes will turn to London from September 14 to 18, Milan from September 19 to 25, and, finally, Paris from September 25 to October 3.

little bee books sent me a copy of Polka Dot Parade: A Book about Bill Cunningham to check out. All opinions are my own. I’m also excited to be partnering with little bee in a giveaway of the book. See details below.

Polka Dot Parade: A Book about Bill Cunningham

Written by Deborah Blumenthal | Illustrated by Masha D’yans

 

As Bill Cunningham bicycled through New York City in his trademark blue jacket, tan pants, and black shoes with his ever-present camera, he was forever searching for beauty. And he found it wherever he went. He saw “‘sheer poetry’ in the drape of an evening dress” and “delight in the swoosh of a knife-pleated skirt.” He clicked away as Hermès bags, plaids, stripes, polka dots, and even fanny packs and “fancy-pants dog clothes” paraded by. And the people wearing all of this? “‘I don’t really see people, I see clothes,’ Bill said.”

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Image copyright Masha D’yans, 2018, text copyright Deborah Blumenthal, 2018. Courtesy of simonandschuster.com.

For Bill, all of these colorful clothes and creative styles told stories about the people who wore them—people daring enough to be creative whether they were rich or poor. “People who looked like leopards in their leopard prints, cool cats in their hats, dudes in dots and spots.” The New York Times newspaper published Bill’s photographs, letting the world see these stories too.

Before Bill taught himself the art of photography, he worked as a hat maker and then as a fashion writer. He believed that an individual’s sense of fashion was a kind of freedom. Bill found subjects to photograph at “posh parties,” Paris Fashion Week, and even on the streets of New York. His favorite New York corner was Fifth Avenue and Fifty-Seventh Street. He blended in to the hustle and bustle to snap pictures of passersby in all weather and seasons.

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Image copyright Masha D’yans, 2018, text copyright Deborah Blumenthal, 2018. Courtesy of simonandschuster.com.

The people he photographed and those he worked for all loved Bill and his singular vision. In 2008, he was awarded the French Legion of Honor, and Bergdorf Goodman department store celebrated his work with a “lavish display in their Fifth Avenue window.” But Bill shunned the spotlight, preferring that others be recognized. When Bill died in 2016 at the age of 87, the fashion world mourned. But his life and his work live on in his “glorious pictures of clothes and the power they lend us…as we dress each day for the runway called life.”

An Authors Note giving more details about Bill Cunningham’s life follows the text,

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Image copyright Masha D’yans, 2018, text copyright Deborah Blumenthal, 2018. Courtesy of simonandschuster.com.

With lyrical storytelling and staccato phrasing like the beat of a camera’s shutter, Deborah Blumenthal frames Bill Cunningham’s life in snapshots of the color, patterns, people, and philosophy that fueled his talent and his passion. Cunningham’s appreciation for the unique, quirky, and original is celebrated throughout and will inspire young readers to embrace their own identity and display it in their own, particular way.

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Image copyright Masha D’yans, 2018, text copyright Deborah Blumenthal, 2018. Courtesy of simonandschuster.com.

Visually stunning, Masha D’yans’ vibrant watercolor and mixed-media illustrations float across the pages with the beauty and flow of the runway as well as the hustle, bustle, and stories of the street. Just as in real life, Cunningham fades into the background, but his camera is always focused on the fashion and what it tells him. Images of Cunningham’s photographs scattered across the newspaper page, strings of negatives hanging like party streamers in his darkroom, and the gray treasure boxes in his stark apartment, provide readers with a deeper understanding of his work and world.

For children fascinated by fashion or who follow their own muse—or want to, Polka Dot Parade is an inspirational book to add to any home or classroom library.

Ages 4 – 8

little bee books, 2018 | ISBN 978-1499806649

Discover more about Deborah Blumenthal and her books on her website.

To learn more about Masah D’yans, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Polka Dot Parade: A Book about Bill Cunningham Giveaway

I’m excited to partner with little bee books in this giveaway of:

  • One (1) copy of Polka Dot Parade: A Book about Bill Cunningham written by Deborah Blumenthal | illustrated by Masha D’yans

To be entered to win, just Follow me on Twitter @CelebratePicBks and Retweet a giveaway tweet during this week, September 10 – September 16. Already a follower? Thanks! Just retweet for a chance to win.

A winner will be chosen on September 17.

Giveaway open to US addresses only. | Prizing provided by little bee books.

New York Fashion Week Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-hanger-photo-hanger-craft

Decorative Hanger Photo Hanger

 

A colorful plastic hanger, some washi tape, a few clothespins, and your own photos or pictures can make a one-of-a-kind way to display your art and personality!

Supplies

  • Plastic Hanger
  • Washi tape – 2 patterns (optional)
  • 3 to 4 clothespins
  • Craft paint
  • Paint brush
  • Photos or pictures

Directions

  1. Wrap the washi tape around the hanger. If using two patterns of tape, wrap the hook and neck of the hanger with one pattern and the body of the hanger in the other
  2. Paint the three or four clothes pins with one or more colors, let dry.
  3. Clip the clothespins to the hanger
  4. Insert photos into the clothespins

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-polka-dot-parade-cover

You can find Polka Dot Parade at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

July 3 – Compliment Your Mirror Day

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About the Holiday

Take a peek in the mirror and who do you see? That’s right—a fantastic person with inner and outer beauty! Today is dedicated to recognizing and appreciating that person in the mirror! 

Why’d They Wear That? Fashion as the Mirror of History

By Sarah Albee

 

Whether you’re a fashionista or an “any ol’ thing will do” kind of person, there’s no denying that clothes make a statement. Sarah Albee’s fascinating look at human wraps spans history from 10,000 BC to the modern era. Along the way she exposes both historical facts as well as the often repugnant, laughable, and can’t-look-away fashion fads and disasters that have brought us to “wear” we are today.

In Chapter 1: That’s a Wrap, Albee reveals facts about the first needles and thread, silk production, the Mayan tradition of forced elongation of skulls (this was considered attractive, denoted social status, and was intimidating), the first pants, warrior wear, and much more.

Chapter 2: Keeping the Faith exposes the influence religion had on clothing in the Middle Ages. White or russet colored robes were worn by men traveling on pilgrimages while penitents could wear a hair shirt made of itchy, bristly horsehair as punishment. Medieval armor, Samurai dress, why modern men’s loafers are decorated with little holes, and more are also discussed here as is the job of Wool Fuller – in which the Fuller soaked wool in urine to degrease it and improve its texture.

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Image courtesy of National Geographic, 2015

Chapter 3: Going Global covers the Age of Exploration, which changed fashion as explorers from Europe came in contact with Native peoples in the New World. Red dye, rubber shoes, and the leather Moccasins were all adopted by Europeans. And if you think the search for remedies for wrinkles and other vestiges of older age is a modern pursuit, you’ll learn about Ponce de Leon and his quest for the fountain of youth.

Chapter 4: Ruff & Ready takes a look at the Renaissance. You may have seen fur stoles with the head of the animal still attached and wondered, Why? This fashion statement goes back to “Flea Furs” which were dead, stuffed animals that people draped over their shoulders in the belief that the fleas that were munching on their skin would transfer to the animal instead. Unfortunately, people discovered that fleas prefer warm bodies. Another curious fad was the ruff collar. While people may have thought they looked swell, these collars hindered physical movement and even led to the invention of the long-handled spoon because people could not get food to their mouths any other way. One “benefit” perhaps: when the first American settlers ran out of all other food options, they ate their collars, which were stiffened with wheat paste. And there’s so much more!

In Chapter 5: Lighten Up! readers will discover facts about the dour dress of the Puritans and the ostentatious dress of the French court. The tradition of men’s wigs is explained, and today’s face-painting has nothing on the unusual solution for facial blemishes—black velvet, leather, or silk patches in various shapes.

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Image courtesy of National Geographic, 2015

Revolutionary Times take center stage in Chapter 6: Hats (and Heads) Off. During this time clothes began to fit the task. There were clothing items to protect (walking canes became popular as a way to ward off marauding wild dogs), uniforms to highlight the good looks of running footmen, elaborate costumes for Venetian parties, and homespun clothes that became a sign of protest from the American colonists. And if you think “bumpits” and hair extensions are new, women trying to keep up with Marie-Antoinette wore their hair (real and artificial) “cemented upward over wire armatures into two-foot (0.6-m)-high coiffures that made the wearer stand 7 ½ feet tall!”

Chapters 7 through 9 bring readers into the modern age, taking them from a time when children were dressed as young adults and boys wore elaborate gowns until the age of 7 to the textile innovations of the Industrial Revolution and the popularity of bustles that put fanny packs to shame to the fads of the 1960s and today.

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Image courtesy of National Geographic, 2015

Albee’s Why’d They Wear That? is much more than a book about fashion. It’s a humorous, fabulously entertaining way to learn about so many aspects of history, from social revolution to inventions to cultural differences. Enlightening side bars, especially the fascinating “Tough Job” entries, and full-color illustrations, paintings, and photographs depicting every concept make Why’d They Wear That? an essential book for school libraries as well as for home bookshelves. Readers of all ages will want to dip into it again and again…and will “Oh!” “Ah!” and “Ewww!” over every page.

Ages 7 and up (children on the younger end of the range will enjoy the facts and pictures during a read-along session)

National Geographic Children’s Books, 2015 | ISBN 978-1426319198

Learn more about Sarah Albee and her books on her website!

Watch the trailer for Why’d They Wear That? Fashion never looked so…good? unsettling? hilarious? You decide!

Compliment Your Mirror Day Activity

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Mirror, Mirror, What Shall I Wear?

 

In this magic mirror word search are 20 fashion-related terms from history. Find them all! Here’s the printable Mirror, Mirror, What Shall I Wear puzzle and the Solution.

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Why’d They Wear That? Fashion as the Mirror of History can be found at these booksellers

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

February 5 – National Weddings Month

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About the Holiday

With Valentine’s Day on the 14th, February is known as a month of love. Add to that its designation as National Weddings Month, and you might say February is the most romantic month of the year. While more people get married during the summer months, February has a few distinctions that set it apart. As you might imagine, Valentine’s Day is one of the most popular days to get married, but did you know that many people with a hearty sense of humor choose February 29th —in those leap years when it occurs! Couples planning a wedding often start during February. It takes time to make all the arrangements, find a venue, and pick out just the right clothes to wear—as you’ll see in today’s book!

Green Pants

By Kenneth Kraegal

 

Jameson loved green pants—in fact, they were the only kinds of pants he wore. “When he wore green pants, he could do anything.” He flew to the basketball hoop for spectacular dunks; made Olympic gold-medal-deserving dives; and he could dance.” Sometimes Jameson’s mom and dad gave him different colored pants to wear, but somehow they ended up hanging from trees or flying from flagpoles, or even clothing neighborhood dogs.

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Copyright Kenneth Kraegel, 2017, courtesy of kennethkraegel.com

One day Jameson’s cousin Armando and his fiancée Jo dropped by with a very important question. Jameson loved Jo. She “had the nicest smile Jameson had ever seen, and her eyes seemed to sparkle like the autumn sun shining upon a running river.” And when she asked if Jameson would like to be in their wedding, Jameson said, “‘Absolutely.’” Later, Jameson’s mom sat him down and explained the requirements: lots of standing, smiling nicely for photographs, using his best manners. “‘No problem,’” Jameson replied. “‘And one more thing,’ his mother said slowly. ‘You will have to wear a tuxedo.’” That sounded okay to Jameson too, until he learned the pants would be black. Jameson gasped.

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Copyright Kenneth Kraegel, 2017, courtesy of candlewick.com

At the tuxedo fitting, Jameson tried on pair after pair of black pants, but none were as handsome as his own green pants. His mother put down her foot, though. If he wanted to be in the wedding, he had to wear black pants. On the day of the wedding, Jameson still didn’t know what to do. Even moments before the ceremony was to begin, Jameson had not made up his mind. His mother kissed him on the forehead and left him to figure it out.

“Jameson sank in despair. ‘But how? HOW? How do I make such a decision? AAAAAAAAAAARGH!!!’” At that moment Jo poked her head out the door. “Her hair played happily in the sunny breeze, her eyes shone like the summer stars, and her smile warmed his very soul. ‘Hey,, Jameson! I’m so glad you’re here! I’ll see you inside!’” she said and then she was gone. Suddenly, Jameson’s decision was made.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-green-pants-wedding-picture

Copyright Kenneth Kraegel, 2017, courtesy of kennethkraegel.com

Following the bridesmaids down the aisle, Jameson looked “quite dashing in his tuxedo!” He remembered all of his mother’s words, too. He stood still, smiled for the camera, and used his best manners. But then the music began. With a leap, a flip, and a whoosh, Jameson’s black pants came off to reveal his green pants underneath, “and Jameson danced like no one has ever danced before.”

Kenneth Kraegel’s at-once funny and sweet story of obsessive love will resonate with young readers and adults as well. Kids often go through stages where one outfit, food, drink, or activity becomes synonymous with their identity and only that thing will fit the bill. Kraegel’s straightforward and tender storytelling wonderfully portrays opportunities for Jameson’s independent thought while showing how love overcame and became personal preference when it mattered. The dialogue among the characters rings true and is inspirational modeling. Jameson’s ultimate solution to his dilemma is all-kid and will make his reading peers nod in appreciation.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-green-pants-dancing

Copyright Kenneth Kraegel, 2017, courtesy of kennethkraegel.com

Jameson, with a shock of curly hair and his ever-present green pants, is an adorable protagonist. Ready with a smile for Jo or when accomplishing daring feats, he also registers amusing alarm at the idea of wearing black pants. Children will laugh to see where Jamison’s non-green pants end up and will empathize with his agonizing indecision—and they may just want to try some of his pretty sweet dance moves too!

Ages 3 – 8 (great as a read-aloud for younger kids and also as an independent book for early and transitional readers)

Candlewick, 2017 | ISBN 978-0763688400

You’ll find books, art, coloring pages, and more by Kenneth Kraegel on his website!

Dance with Green Pants in this toe-tapping book trailer!

National Weddings Month Activity

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Love,,,and Cake!

 

Weddings are all about love…and then comes the cake! So get your pencil and do this printable LOVE maze, then grab your crayons or markers and decorate the layers of this wedding cake just the way you’d like it.

LOVE Maze | Wedding Cake Coloring Page

 

 

 

Picture Book Review

November 25 – Shopping Reminder Day

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About the Holiday

Of course there are reminders everywhere we look that it’s time to do that kind of shopping. But today’s holiday encourages people to count the days until their gift-giving day or days and plan accordingly. Today is also Small Business Saturday, so if you’re out there doing some shopping, consider spending some of that holiday budget at your local shops. Festive events and parties are also often on the calendar during this month and are just perfect for the beautiful creations found in today’s book!

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

Written by Deborah Blumenthal | Illustrated by Laura Freeman

 

From the time that Ann Cole Lowe was old enough to thread a needle, she loved to sew. While her momma and grandma worked at their sewing machines, making dresses for the socialites of Alabama, Ann sat nearby turning “the wisps of cloth” that fell to the floor into “flowers as bright as roses in the garden.” Even at a young age Ann understood that “doing what you love could set your spirit soaring.”

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Image copyright Laura Freeman, text copyright Deborah Blumenthal, courtesy of simonandschuster.com

When Ann was only sixteen years old, her momma died. Not only did her mother’s death leave Ann bereft, it left her in charge of the business, and many women were waiting for gowns, most importantly the Alabama governor’s wife. “Ann thought about what she could do, not what she couldn’t change.” She sat down and finished the dresses. “Then she stood up and ran the business.”

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Image copyright Laura Freeman, text copyright Deborah Blumenthal, courtesy of simonandschuster.com

In 1916 a woman in Florida hired her to sew dresses. She also sent Ann to design school in New York. Because she was African American, however, Ann was required to study in a separate classroom by herself. Ann was not deterred. She continued to make unique gowns and dresses, and her client list grew. Finally, Ann had saved enough money to open a salon of her own in Manhattan. Sometimes she didn’t have enough money to pay all the bills, but she persisted. Her life was about “what she could do, not what she couldn’t change.”

One day Ann received an order for a wedding dress from a woman who was marrying a United States senator. The woman’s name was Jacqueline Bouvier and the man was John F. Kennedy, a future president of the U.S. Ann bought 50 yards of ivory silk taffeta and designed a beautiful dress with a bouffant skirt and pleated bands decorated with tiny wax flowers. She also made the dresses for Jacqueline’s attendants.

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Image copyright Laura Freeman, text copyright Deborah Blumenthal, courtesy of simonandschuster.com

Then ten days before the wedding, Ann walked into her workroom and discovered that a water pipe had burst, flooding the dresses, material, everything. Ten of the sixteen gowns Ann had sewn were destroyed. “Ann though about what she could do, not what she couldn’t change.” She ordered new fabric, hired more seamstresses, and went to work. On this job she lost money instead of making it, but none of that mattered. In eight days all of the dresses were ready.

When Ann delivered the gowns to the mansion in Newport, Rhode Island, the butler who answered the door told her workers needed to use the back entrance. Ann replied that “if she had to enter through the back door, the bride and bridesmaids wouldn’t be wearing her dresses for the wedding.” The front door swung open. On the day of the wedding—September 12, 1953—the whole world “Oohed” and “Aahed” over Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy’s gorgeous gown and her bridesmaids’ dresses, but not many people thought about or knew the name of the woman who had created them. “Why? Because Ann Cole Lowe was African American. And life wasn’t fair.”

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Image copyright Laura Freeman, text copyright Deborah Blumenthal, courtesy of simonandschuster.com

Ann continued to design and sew party dresses and evening gowns for the women of high society. She “didn’t make fine clothes to get rich or famous,” however, but, as she once said, “‘To prove that a Negro can become a major dress designer.’” In 1961 Ann finally gained public recognition for her work when she was named “Official Couturiere” in honor of the 33 ball gowns she created for an elegant ball in Omaha, Nebraska. She proudly accepted her award as the fashion world applauded.

An Author’s Note explaining more about Ann Cole Lowe’s life and work follows the text.

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Image copyright Laura Freeman, text copyright Deborah Blumenthal, courtesy of simonandschuster.com

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

To learn more about Deborah Blumenthal and her books for children, young adults, and adults, visit her website!

Discover a gallery of illustration work by Laura Freeman on her website!

Shopping Reminder Day Activity

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Create Your Own Party Dress 

 

With this easy craft you can make a  fun sheath dress for playing dress-up. It’s also a great party activity! All you need is a plastic or paper party table cloth, Sharpies, and your imagination!

Supplies

  • 1 plastic party tablecloth (1 cloth will most likely make 4 dresses)
  • Sharpies or other permanent markers
  • Ribbon, scarf, crepe paper garland, or other material for a belt
  • Scissor
  • Newspaper, old sheeting or other material to protect the floor

Directions

  1. With the table cloth folded along one edge, cut a rectangle the appropriate size for the child
  2. In the middle of the folded edge cut a V-shaped or rounded opening for the child’s head. Begin with a small opening and enlarge it as needed
  3. Lay the dress on newspaper or other material to protect the floor
  4. Draw and color shapes, lines, figures, or other designs on the dress
  5. Slip on over a shirt and pants or leggings
  6.  Add a belt with a ribbon, scarf, piece of crepe paper garland, or other material

Picture Book Review