February 1 – National Freedom Day

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About the Holiday

National Freedom Day commemorates February 1, 1865, the day President Abraham Lincoln signed a joint U.S. House of Representatives and Senate resolution that outlawed slavery. This resolution became the 13th Amendment to the Constitution on December 6, 1865. Major Richard Robert Wright Sr., a former slave, founded the National Freedom Day Association and was instrumental in creating a formal national day of remembrance. The first celebration of National Freedom Day took place in 1942, and in 1947, a year after Wright’s death, the U.S. Congress passed a bill marking February 1 as National Freedom Day. The proclamation was signed into law on June 30, 1948 by President Harry S Truman. The holiday led to Black History Day, which was later expanded to Black History Month.

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 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.

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Image copyright Elizabeth Catlett, 1993, text by John Weldon Johnson. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

The book opens with these joyful lines punctuated with powerful images. On the first page a woman strums a guitar while beside her there is the image—perhaps it’s a memory or the subject of her song—of a black man being attacked by a klansman while a cross burns nearby. On the second page is a picture of Sojourner Truth with her left hand on a lectern that holds a Bible and her right, index finger extended, pointing skyward. In her eyes there is sadness and confidence and knowledge. “Lift ev’ry voice and sing / Till earth and heaven ring, / Ring with the harmonies of Liberty; // Let our rejoicing rise / High as the listening skies, / Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.”

The poem continues with the exhortation to sing with the faith and hope learned from the past and present. A linocut of black women sitting on a bus behind the “colored only” sign, created by Catlett in 1946, is compelling for its truth and foresight, especially when paired with these lines. But knowing there was still much to do, Johnson encouraged his listeners: “Facing the rising sun of our new day begun / Let us march on till victory is won.” On the left-hand page Harriett Tubman points the way to freedom for escaping slaves—one couple carrying their belongings and their baby—along the Underground Railroad.

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Image copyright Elizabeth Catlett, 1993, text by John Weldon Johnson. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

The song remembers the “stony road” and the “chastening rod” and also the “steady beat…” of “weary feet” that have brought them to a place for which their forefathers died. Johnson sees a brighter future, and Catlett’s linocut of Phyllis Wheatley, a child when she became a slave, writing one of her poems while three women chained together step into the light her example showed. Catlett’s original caption for this piece read: “I’m Phyllis Wheatley. I proved intellectual equality in the midst of slavery.”

The poem then goes on to appeal to God, “who has brought us thus far on the way” to keep them in the right path and in His hand so that “…may we forever stand. True to our GOD, True to our native land.”

Author/illustrator Ashley Bryan—a Newbery Honor and Coretta Scott King Award winner for Freedom Over Me—provides a poignant Foreword. A short description of the project Elizabeth Catlett undertook after winning a Julius Rosenwald Foundation grant and her original captions for each linocut included in the book as well as the music for Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing follow the text.

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

You can learn more about James Weldon Johnson and read several of his poems on the Poetry Foundation website.

To learn more about Elizabeth Catlett and view some of her artwork, visit the Artnet website.

Discover more about Ashley Bryan, his art, and his writing, visit the Ashley Bryan Center website.

National Freedom Day Activity

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Freedom Stone

 

Freedom is a precious right—one that can be represented in different ways by each person. For today’s activity use a brick, paving stone, large stone, or molded plaster of Paris and decorate it with a picture or design that means freedom to you. Then put it in a special place—in a garden, near your front or back door, in your room, or in another spot—where it will remind you of freedom’s gifts.

Supplies

  • Brick, paving stone, large stone, plaster of Paris
  • Paint
  • Plastic gems, bead, or other small objects
  • Strong glue or other adhesive
  • Paint brush

Directions

  1. Create a design that shows what freedom means to you or an object that represents freedom to you
  2. Paint your stone with the design, let dry
  3. Add gems, beads, or other objects
  4. Display your Freedom Stone

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You can find Lift Every Voice and Sing at these booksellers

Amazon | Bloomsbury | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

April 23 – National Take a Chance Day

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About the Holiday

Sometimes it takes a special nudge to get us to leave our comfort zone and try something new—even if it’s something we’ve been wanting to do for a long time. Today’s holiday provides that push by encouraging people to let go of the fears and doubts that hold them back. Whether you prefer to try new things a little at a time or decide to dive right in, you’ll feel happier and more excited by life if you reach for that gold ring when it comes around.

What Do You Do with a Chance?

Written by Kobi Yamada | Illustrated by Mae Besom

 

One day, a child says, they got a chance. The chance seemed to know them, but the child wasn’t sure why it was there or what to do with it. The chance was persistent, but unsure, the child “pulled back. And so it flew away.” Later the child thought about that chance and realized they “had wanted it,” but even now they didn’t know if they had the courage to take one.

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Image copyright Mae Besom, 2017, text copyright Kobi Yamada, 2017. Courtesy of Compendium.

The next time a chance came by, the child tried to grab it, but they “missed and fell.” They felt embarrassed, and “it seemed like everyone was looking at [them].” That was a feeling they never wanted again. Now whenever they saw a chance, “[they] ignored it.” They let so many pass them by that chances stopped coming. Then the child worried that they would never get another one.

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Image copyright Mae Besom, 2017, text copyright Kobi Yamada, 2017. Courtesy of Compendium.

Although the child acted as if they didn’t care, they really did. They just didn’t know if they “would ever be brave enough” to take a chance. But then the child had a new idea and thought that maybe being brave “for a little while at the right time” was what it too. The child decided that the next time a chance came around, they were going to grab it. The child even went out to search for it, and then on a regular day, a glow appeared in the distance. Could this be it?

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Image copyright Mae Besom, 2017, text copyright Kobi Yamada, 2017. Courtesy of Compendium.

The child was ready. Racing toward the light, they didn’t feel afraid; instead, they were excited. As the child got near, they saw that it was an enormous chance. As soon as they could reach it, they climbed aboard and soared wherever it took them. Now the child understands that when they ignore chances, they miss out on all the wonderful things they wants to learn and do and be.

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Image copyright Mae Besom, 2017, text copyright Kobi Yamada, 2017. Courtesy of Compendium.

Whether the reader is a natural risk taker or on the more hesitant side, a child or an adult, Kobi Yamada offers encouragement and inspiration for those times when doubt or fear interferes with taking an opportunities when they come along. Kobi’s use of a first person narrator provides a level of comfort as the focus isn’t on the reader, but on feelings shared with a kindred spirit.

Quiet children or those with anxiety will see that there are others for whom leaving their comfort zone is difficult. Kobi’s concrete language echoes the inner monologue of questioning, hope, embarrassment, and regret that can hinder people from trying something new or big. He also presents gentle, solid advice and reveals that small voice of determination and courage that does lie within most hearts. When the child finally grabs onto the greatest chance, readers will also feel emboldened and will be ready to soar too.

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Image copyright Mae Besom, 2017, text copyright Kobi Yamada, 2017. Courtesy of Compendium.

Mae Besom brilliantly depicts the child’s contrasting feelings to be free, spontaneous, and courageous on one hand and secure and protected on the other through her use of space and color. The mystical, medieval-type town the child lives in is crowded, with homes wall-to-wall and stacked one on top of the other. The friends or family the boy follows walk together tightly grouped, and these are all rendered in charcoal, white and dusty yellow. In contrast, the chances—origami butterflies with long tails—are golden yellow and fly away from the town, touching down on the child’s reflecting pool, over fields, and into the vast sky.

The child’s clothes are earthy brown, and the grass underfoot always green. As the child embraces bravery, animal companions also gain color, and as they all race toward the huge chance, they appear closer to the reader, filling the page. At last as the child soars on the wings of the chance, the town appears in the distance but is now also a place of color, light, and opportunity.

Without gender pronouns and a child with neutral clothing and hairstyle, What Do You Do with a Chance? is universal for all children.

The final book in the series, which includes What Do You Do with an Idea? and What Do You Do with a Problem?, What Do You Do with a Chance? is a must-own for home and classroom libraries to inspire discussions about overcoming fear, taking chances, and being yourself. The book will be an often-read addition to any bookshelf.

Ages 5 – 10 and up

Compendium, 2017 | ISBN 978-1943200733

National Take a Chance Day Activity

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Colorful Clothespin Butterfly Craft

 

Butterflies are a lot like chances. They don’t start right off fully formed, but go through different stages, waiting times, and some amazing changes on their metamorphosis from caterpillar to butterfly. Chances also take time, practice, and spreading your wings to be fulfilled.

With this easy Colorful Clothespin Butterfly Craft, you can make your own butterfly that will always remind you to take a chance when it flies your way.

Supplies

  • Wooden pin clothespin
  • Tissue paper in a choice of colors
  • Craft paint in a choice of colors
  • Black craft paint
  • Paintbrush
  • Toothpick
  • Scissors
  • Fishing line, thread, or string for hanging (optional)
  • Adhesive magnet for hanging (optional)

Directions

To Make the Body

  1. Paint the clothespin, let dry
  2. When dry add accent dots or lines and eyes. I used a toothpick with the point cut off to make the dots on the purple butterfly. I used the pointy end of a toothpick to make the eyes and the lines on the pink butterfly.

To Make the Wings

  1. For the top wings, cut a 6 ½ -inch circle from tissue paper
  2. For the bottom wings, cut a 5 ¼ – inch circle from tissue paper
  3. With the head of the clothespin facing down, insert the larger circle into the split in the clothespin so that half of the circle shows on either side.
  4. Gently pull the circle down tightly into the split, pulling it as far in as possible—about half way
  5. Next insert the smaller circle into the split and repeat the above step.
  6. Gently fan out the wings if necessary

If hanging the butterfly, attach fishing line, threat, or string

If making a magnet, attach the adhesive magnet to the back of the butterfly.

Picture Book Review

August 26 – Women’s Equality Day

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday commemorates the date in 1920 when the 19th Amendment to the Constitution granted women the right to vote. The observance of Women’s Equality Day also calls attention to women’s continuing efforts toward full equality, including equal pay, equal opportunities for education and employment, freedom from discrimination and violence, and equal standing in all communities and situations. Workplaces, libraries, organizations, and public facilities now participate with Women’s Equality Day programs, displays, video showings, or other activities.

I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark

Written by Debbie Levy | Illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley

 

Ruth Bader grew up during the 1940s in Brooklyn, New York’s multicultural neighborhood. It was a time when boys were educated for jobs and bright futures while girls were expected to marry and raise children. Ruth’s mother, Celia Amster Bader, however, “thought girls should also have the chance to make their mark on the world.” She introduced Ruth to books in which she discovered women who used their strength, courage, and intelligence to do big things.

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Image copyright Elizabeth Baddeley, text copyright Debbie Levy. Courtesy of simonandschuster.com.

Ruth also saw and felt the sting of prejudice while growing up. Her family was Jewish, and at the time “hotels, restaurants, even entire neighborhoods” denied access to Jews, African Americans, Mexicans, and others. Ruth disagreed and never forgot. She was even discriminated against for being left-handed. In school she was instructed to write with her right hand, but her awkward penmanship earned a D. First, she cried; then she protested by only writing with her left hand—“it turned out she had quite nice handwriting!”

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Image copyright Elizabeth Baddeley, text copyright Debbie Levy. Courtesy of simonandschuster.com.

During elementary school, Ruth was outstanding in some classes, such as history and English, and did not do so well in others, such as sewing and cooking. Music, especially opera, was another favorite subject—even though she did not have the voice to match her dreams. She excelled in high school and was even chosen as a graduation speaker. But Ruth had been hiding the fact that her mother was very ill. The day before graduation, her mother died. Ruth did not go to her graduation, but she did fulfill her mother’s wish and entered college.

In college Ruth met Marty Ginsberg, and the two fell in love. They both decided to become lawyers to fight prejudice and unfairness in court. People thought this was a great idea for Marty, but disapproved of it for Ruth. “Ruth disapproved right back. So did Marty.” After college they got married, went to law school, and had a baby girl.

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Image copyright Elizabeth Baddeley, text copyright Debbie Levy. Courtesy of simonandschuster.com.

In law school Ruth was one of nine women in a class of 500. She worked hard and tied with another student as first in the class, but after graduation she couldn’t find a job. Employers objected because she was a woman, a mother, and Jewish. Finally, she found work with a judge. Her excellent work for him translated into jobs at one law school after another, and she became “one of the few female law professors in the whole country.”

All around her Ruth saw other women who were denied jobs or paid less than men. Women also had very little voice in courtrooms or in government. Rulings by the Supreme Court, the highest court in America, had helped maintain this inequality. The Court had stated that women were unfit for many jobs because of their “natural and proper timidity and delicacy.” Besides, the Supreme Court also said, “Woman has always been dependent upon man.”

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Image copyright Elizabeth Baddeley, text copyright Debbie Levy. Courtesy of simonandschuster.com.

“Ruth really, really disagreed with this!” So she began fighting in court for equal rights for women. But equal rights for women also meant equal rights for men: Ruth believed men should be able to stay home with children if they wanted to while women worked. “These were fresh ideas in the 1970s. Ruth did not win every case, but she won enough. With each victory, women and men and girls and boys enjoyed a little more equality.”

At home, Ruth’s own family agreed with her. Marty was a successful lawyer and also an accomplished chef who cooked the family’s meals. Ruth went on to become a well-known and well-respected lawyer. President Jimmy Carter asked her to be a judge in Washington DC. Then President Bill Clinton chose her to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court. “Ruth agreed.”

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Image copyright Elizabeth Baddeley, text copyright Debbie Levy. Courtesy of simonandschuster.com.

“In 1993, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg became the first Jewish woman on the nation’s highest court.” When the nine justices decide a case, they listen to both sides and then vote. The winning side then writes an opinion explaining their ruling. When Justice Ginsburg votes with the winning side, she wears a special lace collar over her robe. When she does not agree with the ruling, she says, “I dissent” and writes an opinion explaining why. She has a special collar for dissenting too.

Some of her dissensions were influenced by her early experiences. She dissented when “the court wouldn’t help women or African Americans or immigrants who had been treated unfairly at work. She dissented when the court did not protect voting rights for all citizens. She dissented when the court disagreed with schools that offered African Americans a better chance to go to college.” And once when she dissented, Congress and the president agreed with her and overturned the Supreme Court’s ruling.

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Image copyright Elizabeth Baddeley, text copyright Debbie Levy. Courtesy of simonandschuster.com.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is now the oldest member of the Supreme Court. Some people think she should retire, but she disagrees. She still has work to do. Over the years, she has “cleared a path for people to follow in her footsteps—girls in college, women in law school, and everyone who wants to be treated without prejudice….Step by step, she has made a difference…one disagreement after another.”

An extensive Author’s Note about Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s life, notes on Supreme Court Cases, and a selected bibliography follow the text.

Debbie Levy’s outstanding biography allows readers to journey with Ruth Bader Ginsburg as her experiences and beliefs lay the foundation for her life’s work. Well-chosen anecdotes from Ginsburg’s childhood make her accessible to kids and may even inspire them to look toward their own futures. Ginsburg’s trajectory from college student to lawyer to judge and finally to the Supreme Court is balanced and uplifting, emphasizing the positive impact of persistence and self-confidence.

Elizabeth Baddeley’s illustrations go hand-in-hand with Levy’s text to fully illuminate the life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg for children. Ginsburg’s intelligence, sense of humor, courage, and principles are evident as she matures from school girl to Supreme Court Justice. Dynamic typography highlights the theme of dissent and disagreement as a force for positive change. The color, expression, and spirit imbued in each page make I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark an exciting and eye-catching read for all children.

I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark is a superb and recommended book for girls and boys. The book’s focus on a woman who continues to make a difference will inspire children and even adult readers to speak up and act on their convictions.

Ages 5 – 9

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2016

To learn more about Debbie Levy and her books for children and young adults, visit her website!

Discover a gallery of illustration by Elizabeth Baddeley on her website!

Women’s Equality Day Activity

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Rosie the Riveter Coloring Page

 

Rosie the Riveter became a symbol of strong women during World War II and continues to be an iconic figure today. Print and color this Rosie the Riveter Page then display it to always remember that women can do anything!

Picture Book Review

February 8 – Kite Flying Day

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About the Holiday

If you live in a cold climate and cabin fever has set in or if you live in a warm climate and want to get out and enjoy the day, why not take the opportunity of today’s holiday and go fly a kite? Whether you’re steering a simple diamond or a fancy dragon, watching a kite dip and soar through the sky is an exhilarating experience!

Red Kite, Blue Kite

Written by Ji-li Jiang | Illustrated by Greg Ruth

 

“I love to fly kites,” young Tai Shan relates, but not he’s while standing on the ground. Instead, because his city is so crowded, his Baba and he climb to the peak of their triangular roof where they are “above but still under, neither here nor there. We are free, like the kites.” While they fly their kites—red for Tai Shan and blue for Baba—Baba tells stories, and Tai Shan feels as if he is soaring through the clouds, “looking down at the dotted houses” and wanting to stay up there forever.

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copyright Greg Ruth, courtesy of Disney-Hyperion

But one day dark times descend. Tai Shan’s school and many others are shuttered. Baba is taken away by men in red arm bands and sent to work in a labor camp. Tai Shan is sent to live with Granny Wang, a farmer who lives in a village next to the labor camp. A thick forest separates Tai Shan and Baba. During the day Granny Wang teaches Tai Shan how to make straw grasshoppers and spin cotton and lets him ride her buffalo. At night Tai Shan dreams of flying kites from the rooftop with his father.

On Sundays Baba walks for hours to visit Tai Shan. He spends time telling stories and playing with his son and his friends. Then they climb the hill and fly kites, Tai Shan’s red one following Baba’s blue. “The kites hop and giggle as they rise and dive, soaring and lunging together.” At the end of the day, Baba returns to the labor camp for another week. In the autumn Baba tells Tai Shan that he won’t be able to visit for a long time. But he has a clever plan—a way that he and Tai Shan can see each other.

Baba gives his son a new red kite and tells him to fly it from the hill each morning. He will see it from his camp. In the evening Baba will fly his blue kite so that Tai Shan can see it. Tai Shan likes the idea of this “secret signal.” The next morning Tai Shan runs to the hill and launches his kite, knowing that “Baba is smiling as he watches the red kite dancing.” In the evening he returns to the hill, and after a long wait “Baba’s blue kite sways into the white clouds.”

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copyright Greg Ruth, courtesy of Disney-Hyperion

Every day Tai Shan sends his father a silent message—“‘How are you, Baba? I miss you.’” and “Baba’s blue kite swirls and circles, replying, ‘I miss you, too, little Tai Shan.’” Autumn is coming to a close, but still Baba does not visit. One day no blue kite appears in the sky. The next day and the next no kite appears either. Tai Shan asks Granny Wang to take him to the camp to see Baba. If there is no kite on the fourth day they will go, Granny Wang promises.

That night Tai Shan dreams about the thick forest and hears Baba whisper, “‘Tai Shan, I saw your red kite fly so high.’” But these words are not in a dream, Baba is there. But Baba is not home to stay. Hurriedly, he gives Tai Shan his blue kite, telling him that he will not be able to fly it for a while. He asks Tai Shan to fly both kites and know that he is looking up and thinking about his son. Suddenly, men with red armbands rush in and take Baba away. Tai Shan tries to run after him, but Granny Wang holds him back.

Tai Shan cries and does not understand. Granny Wang explains that Baba is being sent to another labor camp far away because the authorities don’t agree with his ideas. During the three days when he didn’t fly his blue kite, Granny Wang says, Baba had been imprisoned. He had escaped and run all the way to see Tai Shan before he was taken away. Now Tai Shan flies the two kites every day and thinks of being together with Baba.

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copyright Greg Ruth, courtesy of Disney-Hyperion

One summer afternoon, Tai Shan dozes while he allows his red kite to dip and soar in the clouds. When he opens his eyes, he sees dozens of red and blue kites in the sky. Tai Shan jumps up. He sees Baba smiling at him and “holding the string of a huge blue kite dancing in the sky.” Tai Shan’s friends are also smiling and flying their new kites. Tai Shan runs to Baba, and Baba runs toward Tai Shan. The sky “is filled with kites—red and blue. They hop and giggle and cheer as they rise and dive, soaring and lunging together. They are free, flying everywhere.”

An Author’s Note about the Chinese Cultural Revolution follows the text.

Inspired by the story of a family friend whose father was sent to a labor camp during the Chinese Cultural Revolution between 1966 and 1976, Ji-li Jiang wrote Red Kite, Blue Kite “for the many fathers and sons who suffered during that turmoil.” Jiang’s story is a universal and relevant reminder of the precious freedoms of thought and speech that need constant and vigilant protection. Through her sensitive storytelling and lyrical language, Jiang offers a story of understanding, hope, and infinite love that will fill readers’ hearts.

Greg Ruth’s stunning paintings show all the emotion of Jiang’s story through exquisite, realistic portraits of Tai Shan, Baba, and Granny Wang. The distinctive landscapes of China are rendered in colorful foregrounds set on gauzy backgrounds of rising hills. Smoky images of the followers of the Cultural Revolution mirrors the darkness and destruction of the time in a way that is understandable for the young audience. The final two-page spread of Tai Shan and Baba’s reunion amid dozens of red and blue kites is inspiring and full of the strength of the human spirit.

Red Kite, Blue Kite is a must for school and public libraries and makes an excellent addition to home libraries as well.

Ages 5 – 9

Disney-Hyperion, 2013 | ISBN 978-1423127536

For a downloadable Educator’s Guide click here.

Learn more about Ji-li Jiang and her books on her website!

Find galleries of books and illustration for children and adults plus lots more on Greg Ruth’s website!

Kite Flying Day Activity

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Soaring Kite Maze

 

The dips and rises your pencil takes through this maze is a little like the way a kite flies through the sky! Print your Soaring Kite Maze and enjoy!

Picture Book Review

February 1 – National Freedom Day

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About the Holiday

National Freedom Day commemorates the February 1, 1865 signing by President Abraham Lincoln of a joint United States House of Representatives and Senate resolution that outlawed slavery and later became the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. Major Richard Robert Wright Sr., a former slave, called on local and national leaders to meet in Philadelphia and formalize a national day of remembrance. In 1947, a year after Wright’s death, the U.S. Congress passed a bill marking February 1 as National Freedom Day. The proclamation was signed into law on June 30, 1948 by President Harry S Truman. The holiday led to Black History Day, which was later expanded to Black History Month.

Freedom in Congo Square

Written by Carole Boston Weatherford | Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie

 

From sunup to sundown slaves brought to the state of Louisiana from their homelands in Africa and the West Indies toiled on plantations six days a week. The seventh day, Sunday, was set aside as a day of rest and worship, and in the afternoon people of African descent gathered in Congo Square in the heart of New Orleans to dance, play instruments, and talk. On Monday morning the long week began anew, but the rhythms of Congo Square sustained the men, women, and children through “hogs to slop, / mules to train, and logs to chop. / Slavery was no ways fair. / Six more days to Congo Square.

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Image copyright R. Gregory Christie, text Carole Boston Weatherford. Courtesy simonandschuster.com

On Tuesdays, with “cows to feed, / fields to plow, and rows to seed,” five more days stretched out in endless labor. “Wednesdays, there were beds to make, / silver to shine, and bread to bake. / The dreaded lash, too much to bear. / Four more days to Congo Square.” Thursdays came with wash tubs and drying lines, scrub brushes, and brooms. “Spirituals rose from the despair. / Three more days to Congo Square.”

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Image copyright R. Gregory Christie, text Carole Boston Weatherford. Courtesy simonandschuster.com

Fridays were spent in back-breaking work and though some brave souls dared to run, most were counting “Two more days to Congo Square.” Saturdays brought no more relief, but the days had whittled down to hours and “Freedom was slaves’ ardent prayer. / One more day to Congo Square.” At last came Sunday afternoon, and slaves and free rushed to Congo Square—“…a market and a gathering ground / where African music could resound.”

They met their kinsmen by nation, tribe, or language and revived their own stories and music played on drums, fiddles, shells, flutes, gourds, and bells that led to chants and dancing. “This piece of earth was a world apart. / Congo Square was freedom’s heart.”

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Image copyright R. Gregory Christie, text Carole Boston Weatherford. Courtesy simonandschuster.com

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.

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Image copyright R. Gregory Christie, text Carole Boston Weatherford. Courtesy simonandschuster.com

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.

A detailed Forward by historian and Congo Square scholar, Freddi Williams Evans and an Author’s Note following the text reveal more information on the history of Congo Square and its significance to Jazz music.

Freedom in Congo Square is both a heartrending and jubilant book that would make a wonderful and meaningful addition to any child’s home library.

Ages 4 – 8

little bee books, 2016 | ISBN 978-1499801033

Learn more about Carole Boston Weatherford and her books and discover book-related resources on her website!

If you’re lucky enough to live in Decatur, Illinois, you can visit R. Gregory Christie’s unique art studio, art school, and bookstore Gas-Art Gifts Autographed Children’s Bookstore. If you don’t live near Decatur, you can check out all the books, art, and items for sale on the website!

National Freedom Day Activity

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Freedom Stone

 

Freedom is a precious right—one that can be represented in different ways by each person. For today’s activity use a brick, paving stone, large stone, or molded plaster of Paris and decorate it with a picture or design that means freedom to you. Then put it in a special place—in a garden, near your front or back door, in your room, or in another spot—where it will remind you of freedom’s gifts.

Supplies

  • Brick, paving stone, large stone, plaster of Paris
  • Paint
  • Plastic gems, bead, or other small objects
  • Strong glue or other adhesive
  • Paint brush

Directions

  1. Create a design that shows what freedom means to you or an object that represents freedom to you
  2. Paint your stone with the design, let dry
  3. Add gems, beads, or other objects
  4. Display your Freedom Stone

Picture Book Review

January 16 – Martin Luther King Jr. Day

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About the Holiday

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

I am Martin Luther King, Jr.

Written by Brad Meltzer | Illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos

 

Standing inside a church, Martin Luther King, Jr. introduces himself with two anecdotes from his childhood that demonstrate his world outlook. “When I was little,” he says, “I used to get into a lot of accidents.” He was hit in the head by a baseball bat, knocked down by cars and once even “tumbled over our banister, then bounced through an open door into the basement.” While these incidents could have made him cautious, Martin instead was determined to keep “getting back up.” His second influence were the books in which he could find “big words.” Even as a child Martin recognized that “there is power in words.”

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Image copyright Christopher Eliopoulos, text copyright Brad Meltzer. Courtesty of Dial Books for Young Readers

Before he went to school, Martin relates, his best friend was a white boy whose father owned a nearby store. They did everything together until school started. Then Martin went to a school with only black students while his friend went to a white-students-only school. Soon, Martin’s friend told him his father didn’t want them to play together anymore. Martin was confused. When his parents told him the reason was that they had different colored skin, Martin felt angry. He wanted to hate his friend and his father, but Martin’s parents taught him to love his friend, and his mother told him, “you must never feel that you are less than anyone else.”

It was a difficult lesson when all around him he saw inequality. White schools had better equipment, there were different elevators, bathrooms, water fountains, and other facilities for black people and white people, on buses black riders had to give up their seats to white riders. Everywhere black people and white people were segregated.

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Image copyright Christopher Eliopoulos, text copyright Brad Meltzer. Courtesty of Dial Books for Young Readers

When Martin was only 15 he was admitted to college. At 19 he entered the seminary where he learned about civil disobedience and nonviolent resistance—ways to use “love and peaceful methods to change unfair things in society.” These were lessons Martin wanted to share with others. His chance to put his thoughts into action came when Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to relinquish her seat to a white man. Martin advocated a peaceful protest—a boycott of public buses. He reasoned that without the money from black riders, the bus companies would change their policies.

As the boycott began working, Martin gave a speech in Montgomery, Alabama, motivating people to continue their peaceful protest. Martin was put in jail and his house was bombed, but the boycott continued for more than a year. Eventually, the bus companies changed their rules. Other peaceful protests began to take place in restaurants and other public places.

One protest took place in Birmingham, Alabama.  Martin was again put in prison, where he wrote one of his most famous speeches. Children also took part in the Birmingham protest. The Children’s Crusade attracted more than 1,000 kids. On the first day 900 of them were arrested, but that only inspired the children more. On the second day 2,500 children showed up. They stood firm while they were sprayed with water hoses and attacked by police dogs. People—both black and white—watching the news reports were aghast. Three months later the rules began to change.

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Image copyright Christopher Eliopoulos, text copyright Brad Meltzer. Courtesty of Dial Books for Young Readers

“By the summer of 1963, an estimated one million Americans held their own protests in cities across the country.” Then A. Philip Randolph suggested a single huge march to convince “Congress and the president to pass laws so that no one in America can treat people differently based on skin color.” On August 28, 1963 the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom took place. Martin gave what may now be considered his most famous speech in which he talked about his dreams for the country, for the people, and for their children.

Although Congress began passing new laws, the ability and right to vote in elections still eluded black people. To change the voting rules another march was organized to walk 54 miles from Selma to Montgomery Alabama. The 600 walkers were met by police who stopped them. Two days later 2,500 activists tried again but could not get through. On the third try 8,000 marchers showed up. This time, with the world watching on television, the activists made it to Montgomery, protected by troops sent by President Johnson.

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Martin continued to speak out, relating his philosophy and dreams for the nation. “To reach our goals, we must walk the path of peace,” he said. “We must lock arms with our brothers and sisters. We must march together. When we do…Our voices will be heard, and freedom will ring.” The lessons Martin Luther King taught still resonate today. He stands “as proof that no matter how hard the struggle, we must fight for what is right and work to change what is wrong.…if we stand together, if we remain united, nothing can stop our dream.”

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Brad Meltzer’s Ordinary People Change the World: I am… series of biographies are well-known for showing young readers that they can achieve their dreams and make a difference no matter what those hopes may be. In his biography of Martin Luther King, Jr., Meltzer depicts several incidents from King’s childhood and early adulthood that influenced his future work. These help readers understand not only the types of prejudice King and other African Americans experienced, but also the people who inspired his philosophy of peace.

Meltzer’s inclusion of King’s imprisonments and the violence that met the peaceful protesters deepens the understanding of the dangers King and other protesters faced, and provides an opportunity to open a discussion between adults and children about those times and what they now see in the news. Meltzer’s description of the Children’s Crusade will inspire readers, making them proud of children in the past and stirring them to actions of their own. Sections from King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail and his most famous speeches are presented in speech bubbles. The text is followed by photographs of Martin Luther King, Jr. with his family and at the March on Washington as well as a timeline of his life. Sources and resources for further reading are also included.

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In keeping with the style of all of Meltzer’s and Christopher Eliopoulos’s Ordinary People Change the World: I am… biographies, the illustrations are vibrant and cartoon-inspired. Martin Luther King, Jr. is depicted with the size of a child but the features of an adult, reinforcing the idea contained in the text of the dual nature of the future adult residing in the child and the ideals of the child remaining in the adult that appeals to ambitious young readers. Speech bubbles highlight text that carry emotional dialogue. Settings, including churches, Birmingham jail, Washington DC, the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Alabama, and the Martin Luther King, Jr. monument give children a look at the cities and places described in the text.

For young readers, I am Martin Luther King, Jr. offers a comprehensive biography of the man who was a national and world leader in the fight for equal rights for all people and makes an excellent starting place for classroom lessons and personal discussions.

Ages 5 – 8

Dial Books for Young Readers, 2016 | ISBN 978-0525428527

Discover more about Brad Meltzer and his books for adults and children as well as other goodies on his website!

Learn more about Christopher Eliopoulos, his books, and his comics on his website!

Martin Luther King Jr. Day Activity

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Martin Luther King, Jr. Portrait

 

Color this printable Martin Luther King, Jr. Portrait and then hang it in your room or locker to inspire you!

Picture Book Review

December 14 – It’s Human Rights Month

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About the Holiday

December is Human Rights Month, an observance established by the United Nations in order to raise awareness of, promote, and protect the equality of the world’s citizens. It takes vigilence, compassion, dedication, and determination, but achieving the goal of equal human rights is a responsibility we all share.

Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah

Written by Laurie Ann Thompson | Illustrated by Sean Qualls

 

A baby is born in Ghana, West Africa with bright eyes, healthy lungs, and tiny, clasping fingers—but with only one strong leg. Most people think the baby will grow up to be a burden or worse—a curse. His father leaves the family, but his mother keeps the faith. Her name is Comfort and she names her child Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.”

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Image copyright Sean Qualls, text copyright Laurie Ann Thompson. Courtesy of Schwartz & Wade

As Emmanuel grows, his mother encourages his independence. He learns how to crawl and hop to complete his daily work all with one leg. Most kids with disabilities don’t go to school, but Comfort carries her son back and forth until he becomes too heavy. From then on Emmanuel hops the two miles each way all by himself. At first the other kids won’t play with him, but Emmanuel is clever. He buys a soccer ball with the money he earns shining shoes and when he offers to share it, the kids include him. On crutches he is a fierce competitor and earns his classmates’ respect. Riding bikes is another favorite activity. Can Emmanuel pump those pedals with only one leg? He practices and falls, practices and falls some more until he masters the technique.

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Image copyright Sean Qualls, text copyright Laurie Ann Thompson. Courtesy of Schwartz & Wade

When Emmanuel is 13 years old, his mother becomes ill. As the only family member capable of working, Emmanuel takes a train to a city 150 miles away to find a job. He doesn’t see his family again for two years. Because of his disability it is hard for him to find work. Finally, a food stand owner hires him and gives him a place to live. Over time Comfort grows sicker. When Emmanuel goes to be with her, she tells him to never beg and never give up. He takes these words to heart.

Emmanuel has an idea to show the world that “disabled does not mean unable”—all he needs is a bike. When the Challenged Athletes Foundation learns of his plan to bike around Ghana, they give him a bike, a helmet, and clothing. He trains and receives a blessing from the king of his region. Then accompanied by people who will document his trip, he takes off. “He pedaled through rain forests, over rolling hills, and across wide, muddy rivers….He pedaled as trucks roared past on the narrow highways and wild animals stalked his thoughts….He rode up, down, across, and around his country, proudly wearing the colors of its flag on a shirt printed with the words “The Pozo” or “the disabled person.”

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Image copyright Sean Qualls, text copyright Laurie Ann Thompson. Courtesy of Schwartz & Wade

Emmanuel talks to others with physical challenges and to those without. He meets farmers, landowners, government officials, and reporters. He wants everyone to learn of his message. People begin to pay attention—they ride and run alongside him; people with disabilities come out of their houses to see him (some leaving home for the first time ever). Emmanuel is becoming a national hero! Emmanuel completes his journey—nearly 400 miles—in only 10 days. In that short amount of time he proves that anyone can do great things and that one person is enough to change the world.

An Author’s Note expanding on Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah’s life since his bike ride follows the text.

Laurie Ann Thompson tells this story of courage and achievement in straightforward language that highlights the difficulties and prejudices Emmanuel overcame to live the full life his mother envisioned for him. The details Thompson reveals—both within the school setting and in the world beyond—will inspire anyone who reads this special and moving true story.

Sean Qualls renders the story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah in the vibrant colors and patterns of his native West Africa, giving energy and spirit to the fire that burned inside the young boy who rose above his disability and the expectations of his community. His relationship with his strong, supportive mother is drawn with obvious love and compassion. The use of a folk-art style combined with scenes of African markets, landscapes, and traditional tableaus, effectively sets the story for children. One particularly touching illustration shows a tiny Emmanuel hopping off to school as his mother, shown larger in the foreground, watches.

Ages 4 – 9

Schwartz & Wade, Random House, 2015 | ISBN 978-0449817445

Discover more about Laurie Ann Thompson and her books on her website!

To view a gallery of picture book illustration by Sean Qualls, visit his website!

Human Rights Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-change-your-world-coloring-page

Change Your World Coloring Page

 

You can make a difference in your school, your town, and the world around you. Here’s a printable Change Your World message that you can color and hang in your room or locker to remember how much power you have.

Picture Book Review