March 29 – It’s International Ideas Month

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About the Holiday

The onset of spring with its  wide-open sunny days seems to beckon to us to open our minds to all sorts of new possibilities. International Ideas Month also invites would-be inventors and clever folk alike to think differently and pay attention to your brainstorms. You never know – there may be a book, a work of art, a new invention, or a solution to a need inside you just waiting to be let out! 

“Smelly” Kelly and His Super Senses: How James Kelly’s Nose Saved the New York City Subway

Written by Beth Anderson | Illustrated by Jenn Harney

 

James Kelly had a super sensitive nose. It seemed that there was nothing he couldn’t smell: “rats in the shed. Circus elephants a mile away. Tomorrow’s rain.” While this was interesting, James wished he had a different “super power,” one that would get him noticed. When James was older, he moved to New York and set out to find a job. But lots of jobs—like working at the fish market, the butcher shop, or the sanitation department—were just too stinky.

Then James “heard a rumble below the sidewalk and peered through the grate. The damp air bristled with mystery.” James descended below the street and discovered the subway. Here “a nick, a crack, a break, a spark could wreak havoc.” Down here, James Kelly sniffed out water and gas leaks and other problems then led repair crews to the spots. People were so impressed that soon he had “a new name: Smelly Kelly. James began studying about new equipment that could help him.

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Image copyright Jenn Harney, 2020, text copyright Beth Anderson, 2020. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

The subway wasn’t the only place having trouble with bad odors. At the Hotel New Yorker, a mysterious leak was causing guests to flee and the staff to hold their noses. Everyone blamed the subway, so the hotel manager called for Smelly Kelly. James could smell the leak, but he couldn’t pinpoint where it was coming from. Using a bit of his new equipment, though, the break in the pipes exposed itself. James had found his calling.

Next, people began complaining about “toilets flushing steam” at the 42nd Street men’s room. He followed the pipes and finally found the cause, but Smelly Kelly realized that “sniffing wasn’t enough.” He needed to be able to hear problems too. But that would require a different kind of equipment—something “like a telephone or stethoscope.” James Kelly tinkered and experimented until he had created just what he needed. Every day, Smelly Kelly rid the city of leaks, toxic spills, and clogs—most unassociated with the subway at all. But one danger did lurk among the tracks: the electricity of the third rail.

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Image copyright Jenn Harney, 2020, text copyright Beth Anderson, 2020. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

One night his phone rang. It was an emergency—a “tar-like smell” was coming from underground. Smelly Kelly took one whiff and proclaimed, “‘Gasoline. One spark from the third rail and we’re all history,’” he warned. The station was evacuated and the trains slowed. Then Kelly went to work until he found the leaking storage tank. It took ten hours to make the city safe, and when it was Smelly Kelly was hailed as a “superhero.”

Smelly Kelly’s days were always different and often surprising. Once, he unearthed long-buried elephant manure, but his most dramatic save happened the day a man fell from the platform onto the tracks just as a train rolled into the station. That time Kelly’s sense of smell couldn’t help him, but his courage could. James Kelly crawled under the train car and pinned the unconscious man down and away from the electrified rail. Slowly, the train backed up over them, and when it was clear, James and the man got up. Everyone cheered. That day James Kelly discovered his real superpower: “the force that pushed him…to study, invent, and risk his life. His special power was inside.”

Backmatter includes two Author’s Notes, one revealing more about James Kelly, and the second explaining more about the research that went into writing the story. There is also a section on the tools Kelly used and some fascinating facts about what lies beneath New York City’s streets. Children will also find books and websites for further reading and a bibliography.

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Image copyright Jenn Harney, 2020, text copyright Beth Anderson, 2020. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

Kids will marvel at Beth Anderson’s biography of James Kelly, his super-sensitive nose, and the New York City subway. As readers learn about James Kelly’s unique abilities, they also discover facts about the ever-growing city of the early to mid-1900s. Anderson’s suspense-filled storytelling will keep kids riveted to the action and keep them guessing at where the smells come from. Kelly’s ingenious inventions and uses of new equipment will impress future engineers and other creative kids. Anderson’s unifying theme reminds readers that everyone has the power to use their particular talents to make a difference.

Jenn Harney’s engaging illustrations capture the details and personalities of this quirky biography while also giving kids an underground tour of New York City. Kids will be fascinated to see the dark tunnels of the subway system, crowded with a maze of pipes and wiring over which James Kelly kept constant vigil. The foul aromas that lead Kelly to leaks, dangerous conditions, and other problems waft through the tunnels in ghostly green swirls. With his prominent nose, black jacket, and fedora perched on his red shock of hair, James Kelly looks like the detective he was, and his facial expressions reveal not only the strength of the odors he discovered but also the pride he took in his work.

A unique and intriguing addition to history, science, and STEM lessons for classrooms and homeschoolers as well as a captivating read for home story times, “Smelly” Kelly and his Super Senses is highly recommended for home, school, and pubic library bookshelves

Ages 7 – 10

Calkins Creek, 2020 | ISBN 978-1684373994

International Ideas Month Activity

CPB - Nose Smelling Clipart

 

It makes sense to learn about your senses! Follow your nose to fun and discovery with these two activities!

  1. Can you guess each smell in this scent-sational experiment from KidsHealth?
  2. Paint your next picture with kool-smelling watercolors with this Scratch-and-Sniff activity from Learn Create Love!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-smelly-kelly-cover

You can find “Smelly” Kelly and His Super Senses at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

March 24 – It’s Women’s History Month

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About the Holiday

From its beginning as a single-day observance in 1911 in Sonoma, California, the celebration of women’s achievements and contributions throughout history grew to a week-long event in 1980 and finally to encompass the entire month of March in 1987. During this month we remember the trail-blazing women of yesteryear who used their creativity, intelligence, and perseverance to promote rights for women while contributing their own innovations to science, art, social reform, medicine, and other disciplines as well as today’s pioneers who carry on their legacy and make our world a better place. Today, we feature a book about a woman who revolutionized virology and medical research, connecting the past and the present. To learn more about the holiday, visit the National Women’s History Museum website and check out their resource toolkit.

June Almeida, Virus Detective! The Woman Who Discovered the First Human Coronavirus

Written by Suzanne Slade | Illustrated by Elisa Paganelli

Growing up in Glasgow, Scotland, June Almeida loved school. After class she couldn’t wait to share what she’d learned—especially science subjects—with her mother, father, and little brother, Henry. When June was ten, however, her life changed when Henry became sick and passed away. Throughout elementary school and into high school, June loved studying science, especially biology in which she learned about the cells in the body and their functions. “June was so enthusiastic about science, she won the top science prize at school.”

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Image copyright Elisa Paganelli, 2021, text copyright Suzanne Slade, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

But science wasn’t the only thing June loved. She had lots of friends, was an avid reader, and became an excellent photographer. Whenever she was out with her camera, “she noticed small details, and her keen eye helped her create stunning photos.” June dreamed of attending college, but the jobs her father and mother held did not pay enough, and when June was sixteen, she dropped out of school to get a job to help pay the bills. June wanted to make a difference, “so she applied to work at the nearby hospital” and was hired as a lab worker. Here she learned how to examine cells with a microscope. “Her findings helped doctors treat patients.”

When June was twenty-two, she and her family moved to London. She got a job in a hospital lab and also met and married an artist named Henry. June and Henry moved to Canada, where she quickly found a job at a “new research lab in Toronto.” In this lab, June worked with an electron microscope that could magnify things 25,000 times and produced detailed pictures of the samples being studied. These photos “were helpful. But it was hard to tell which tiny blobs were viruses and which were cells.” June thought she could improve on the photos.

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Image copyright Elisa Paganelli, 2021, text copyright Suzanne Slade, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

June knew that in the body antibodies would surround viruses as they worked to fight it. June wondered if by introducing antibodies to her samples, scientists would be able to determine the virus from the cells. June’s idea worked. The scientists were astonished. Because of June’s innovation, they now had clear pictures that would help them study and combat viruses.

After June took time away from work to have a baby in 1960, she returned to her research and often lectured about her work. She was recruited to work at a hospital lab in London, so she and her family moved once again. At the time, a researcher named David Tyrrell had been trying to identify a virus that had affected a young boy. Could it be a new virus? He was hoping that June could help.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-june-almeida-virus-detective-hospital

Image copyright Elisa Paganelli, 2021, text copyright Suzanne Slade, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

When June received the sample, she knew that “since it was an unknown virus, there were no antibodies to help find it.” But she was an expert at using another method that might work. Carefully, June implemented the intricate steps. Then she put the sample under the microscope and scanned the picture. “June was stunned.” Each virus blob was encircled by tiny dots “like a crown. ” She had seen this twice before when looking at viruses from sick animals. She had written a paper on it, but it had been rejected by other researchers because they thought her pictures were just blurry and not those of a new virus.

June presented her findings to doctors who agreed with her discovery. They decided to name the new virus coronavirus, after the Latin word for crown, corona. June and David then published a paper telling other doctors and researchers about the new virus. Following this discovery, June continued to study viruses, such as hepatitis B and HIV. Her pictures of these viruses helped researchers develop medications that could “block them from making people sick.” Even after she retired, June never lost her love of learning, teaching herself to play the flute, about antiques, and how to use a digital camera to continue creating incredible photos.

Backmatter includes more about June Almeida and her life’s work, an illustrated timeline of her life, and a selected bibliography.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-june-almeida-virus-detective-London

Image copyright Elisa Paganelli, 2021, text copyright Suzanne Slade, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Suzanne Slade’s compelling biography of June Almeida gives context for and insight into the research and discovery of the coronavirus and informs present-day events and breakthroughs. Slade’s fluid storytelling clearly reveals Almeida’s intelligence and passion for science as well as her determination to use her skills to the betterment of society. Kids will be astounded that June was able to begin her career at the age of sixteen, and that her beloved hobby of photography became a career that changed medical research. Slade’s sprinkling of personal details about Almeida’s life creates a well-rounded understanding of this influential woman.

Through Elisa Paganelli’s realistic and detailed illustrations, children have the opportunity to see a researcher at work in world-class laboratories. Readers will be especially impressed by images of the electron microscope and how Almeida improved the photographs these powerful machines produced. Children familiar with the shape of the coronavirus will be interested in seeing the faithfully reproduced photographs and how the virus got its name. Kids will also enjoy seeing illustrations of Almeida’s family life, including her daughter Joyce, who is herself a doctor.

An inspirational and fascinating biography of a woman with a very innovative mind, June Almeida, Virus Detective! will thrill children interested in science, medicine, and the arts. The book would be an impactful addition to STEM and STEAM lessons. It is highly recommended for home libraries and is a must for school and public library collections.

Ages 6 – 9 

Sleeping Bear Press, 2021 | ISBN 978-1534111325

Discover more about Suzanne Slade and her books on her website.

To learn more about Elisa Paganelli, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Women’s History Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-microscope-coloring-page          celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-microscope-wordsearch-puzzle

Take a Closer Look Coloring Page and Word Search 

You can examine the parts of a microscope with this printable word search puzzle and coloring page.

Take a Closer Look Word Search Puzzle | Take a Closer Look Word Search Solution | Coloring Page

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-june-almeida-virus-detective-cover

You can find June Almeida, Virus Detective! at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

February 16 – Innovation Day

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About the Holiday

Today we celebrate all those people who look at a problem and design a solution, or who just ask, “What if…?” and search for answers. The holiday was established by the Science History Institute in conjunction with the Society of Chemical Industry to help bring attention to those people who were not only producing technology, but were also pushing the envelope on what was possible. Each year, these two organizations coordinate to host Innovation Day. This year, restrictions and life-changing alterations needed to combat COVID-19, have sparked innovations both large and small at home, for business, at schools, and for medical researchers. Creative individuals have kept us entertained, given us hope, and kept things going even in the most difficult of times. To celebrate today, put on your thinking cap, look around you, and do something new, novel, and completely unexpected. Who knows…you may be the next great inventor!

Maxine and the Greatest Garden Ever!

Written by Ruth Spiro | Illustrated by Holly Hatam

 

Maxine and her goldfish, Milton, were best friends, and Maxine loved thinking up creative scientific or technical ways to keep him fed, safe, and happy. “Maxine liked making things, and she especially liked making things for Milton. ‘If I can dream it, I can build it!’ she said.” Maxine’s other friend Leo also liked making things, but his creations were more arty.

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Image copyright Holly Hatam, 2021, text copyright Ruth Spiro, 2021. Courtesy of Dial Books.

One day when Leo was visiting Maxine, they found packets of seeds and decided to build “‘The Greatest Garden Ever!’” Milton hoped the garden would have a pond just for him. Leo and Maxine drew up their plans. “Leo’s was pretty. Maxine’s was practical.” When they planted the seeds, Leo planted them far apart in large beds of soil. Maxine’s seeds were packed close together in pots made from old tires, barrels, toys, and even a chandelier. They both looked askance at the other’s seeds. They did, however, agree on Milton’s pond.

Every day they watered, weeded, and waited. At last, they truly did have “The Greatest Garden Ever!” There were vegetables and flowers, birdfeeders and a gazebo. The wild animals thought the garden was great too. One day, Maxine and Leo came to the garden to find nibbled carrots, radishes, and eggplants; pots were knocked over and little footprints were everywhere. Maxine wanted to make something to keep the animals away. “‘Something that looks nice?’ asked Leo. ‘Something that works.,’” said Maxine.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-maxine-and-the-greatest-garden-ever-pond

Image copyright Holly Hatam, 2021, text copyright Ruth Spiro, 2021. Courtesy of Dial Books.

They decided to make a scarecrow. While Leo stuffed overalls and made a shirt, Maxine built a mechanical body for the big teddy bear that would wear them. But the animals didn’t think the scarecrow was very scary. While Leo thought the bear had done nothing, Maxine said that it had helped them know what didn’t work. They gathered new supplies and “then while Leo sewed, Maxine wrote some code.” This time the bear had laser eyes, moving parts, loud sounds, a shiny helmet, and a scary black dress. That night, though, the scarecrow was so scary that it made babies cry, dogs howl, and kept neighbors awake.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-maxine-and-the-greatest-garden-ever-scarecrow

Image copyright Holly Hatam, 2021, text copyright Ruth Spiro, 2021. Courtesy of Dial Books.

Leo blamed Maxine, and Maxine blamed Leo. At home, Maxine and Leo thought about the garden and what they’d said. Maxine wanted “to make things better, and she wanted to start with Leo. Because it takes a long time to grow a garden… but even longer to grow a friend.” When they met the next day, they both apologized. As they cleaned up the garden and shared the last of the lettuce, Maxine had an idea. She and Leo repaired, repainted, and replanted, and when they were finished, they invited their new animals friends to enjoy the garden with them.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-maxine-and-the-greatest-garden-ever-apology

Image copyright Holly Hatam, 2021, text copyright Ruth Spiro, 2021. Courtesy of Dial Books.

Ruth Spiro’s celebration of creativity, gardening, and friendship will enchant kids and show them that sometimes projects lead to try and try again cooperation before the original vision or a new idea is perfected. Through Maxine’s talent for engineering, coding, and inventing and Leo’s artistic abilities, Spiro shows readers that whatever their skills are, they can contribute to the success of any endeavor. When Maxine and Leo’s frustrations over the garden spill out into their relationship and an argument ensues, Spiro reminds kids that people and enduring friendships are more important than plans, projects, or events and that apologies and understanding keep relationships strong. Her charming narration, realistic dialogue, and periodic rhymes create a story that’s a joy to read aloud.

Holly Hatam’s vivid illustrations will keep kids lingering over the pages to catch all of her puns, Maxine’s inventions, and Leo’s crafts—many of which enterprising kids may want to try to replicate. Cheery Maxine with her red-and-blue streaked hair, bright eyes, and quick imagination is enthusiastic and confident, and Leo, wearing a dragon shirt any kid would love, is equally as confident and passionate about his talents. The garden is a visual treat, from its first planting to its early stages to its full-grown glory. Hatam’s vision for both of Maxine and Leo’s scarecrows is original and gleefully kid-centric. The final image of the shared garden at night is a spectacular celebration for all.

Both fans of Maxine and Milton’s first adventure in Made by Maxine and new readers of this little series will ask to hear Maxine and the Greatest Garden Ever! again and again. A rousing friendship story to engage kids in STEAM-related activities or to jumpstart ideas for those times when they’re are looking for something to do at home, Maxine and the Greatest Garden Ever! Is highly recommended for home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Dial Books, 2021 | ISBN 978-0399186301

Discover more about Ruth Spiro and her books on her website.

To learn more about Holly Hatam, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Innovation Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-spoon-flowers

Spoon Flowers Craft

 

It may not be time for gardening, but that doesn’t mean you can’t “grow” some flowers. With a little innovation, you can give anyone a bouquet with this easy craft!

Supplies

  • Colorful plastic spoons
  • Heavy stock paper or construction paper in various colors, including green for leaves
  • Multi-surface glue or hot glue gun

Directions

  1. Cut petals from the heavy stock paper or construction paper
  2. Glue the petals to the bowl of the spoon
  3. Cut leaves from the green paper (optional)
  4. Glue leaves to the handle of the spoon (optional)

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-maxine-and-the-greatest-garden-ever-cover

You can find Maxine and the Greatest Garden Ever! at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

September 15 – International Dot Day

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About the Holiday

On September 15, 2009 teacher Terry Shay introduced his class to Peter H. Reynold’s The Dot. From that one event grew a national and then an international celebration of creativity and the freedom to make art with your heart. All around the world, school children and adults are inspired on this day to make their mark and celebrate creativity, courage, and collaboration. Internationally renowned artist Yayoi Kusama, who became famous for her dot paintings and is the subject of today’s book – continues to live this philosophy every day.

Yayoi Kusama Covered Everything in Dots and Wasn’t Sorry

By Fausto Gilberti

 

Yayoi Kusama, with her big, round curious eyes and dotted top gazes out at the reader as she introduces herself. She’d like to tell them her story, she says. She begins with her birth in “Matsumoto, a historic city in Japan with a beautiful castle.” Even as a child, she reveals, she loved to draw and would escape into the meadow to capture in her sketchbook the things she saw around her, the things “that other people didn’t.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-yayoi-kusama-covered-everything-mirrored-rooms

Copyright Fausto Gilberti, 2020, courtesy of Phaidon.

When she grew up, she moved to New York with dreams of becoming a famous artist. When her money ran out, she gathered scraps of food that had been thrown away at the market and used them to make soup. At home in her apartment, Yayoi painted “hundreds and hundreds of dots onto large canvases.” Often the canvases couldn’t contain all the dots and they ran onto her walls and even her clothes. “But I wasn’t sorry,” she explains. “Each dot was part of thousands of others—they made me feel like I was a single dot that was part of our infinite universe.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-yayoi-kusama-covered-everything-clothes

Copyright Fausto Gilberti, 2020, courtesy of Phaidon.

Even though, Yayoi created lots of paintings, she was still poor. One day Georgia O’Keefe, answering a letter from Yayoi asking for help in selling her paintings, came to visit. She introduced Yayoi “to her art dealer, who immediately bought one of my paintings.” After that, Yayoi painted more pictures and had a successful solo exhibition in New York. More exhibitions followed, and Yayoi’s work expanded. She began making soft cushioned shapes that she used to cover…well…almost everything.

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Copyright Fausto Gilberti, 2020, courtesy of Phaidon.

Yayoi even experimented with pasta, lighted balls, and mirrored rooms. And then she did something daring: She held “‘happenings,’” where she turned people’s bodies into canvases for her art. This brought her more recognition, and she decided that she wanted to “change the world for the better.” With her unique vision, she protested against the Vietnam war and was arrested. Following her release, she began experimenting even more, with clothing styles that brought people together—one dress fit twenty-five people at once!

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Copyright Fausto Gilberti, 2020, courtesy of Phaidon.

Then Yayoi became sick. She stopped creating and moved back to Japan to recover. But much had changed in the years she had been away. Development and pollution had destroyed the nature she once loved. A snowy day, however, restored her desire to do art, and she began writing. When she was better, Yayoi decided to stay in Japan. “I still work nonstop, making paintings, writing books, and designing clothes and other objects” like pumpkins covered in dots, she says. Her artwork can be found in galleries and museums around the world—her dream from so long ago came true.

More about Yayoi Kusama’s life as well as a stirring photograph of one of her art installations—All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins—follows the text.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-yayoi-kusama-covered-everything-pumpkins

Copyright Fausto Gilberti, 2020, courtesy of Phaidon.

Fausto Gilbert’s captivating biography of contemporary artist Yayoi Kusama will enchant young readers and creators of all kinds. Writing from Yayoi’s perspective, Gilberti hits a perfect tone, allowing children to hear Yayoi’s confidence in herself and her work while also discovering the lean times she experienced and how she reached out for help. Gilberti illuminates the timelessness of Yayoi’s singular creative vision, and its meaning will be embraced by today’s aware and activist children. Her final whimsical revelation about her pumpkin artwork will resonate with imaginative kids, exciting them to believe their own dreams of success are within reach.

Gilberti’s quirky black and white illustrations, later punctuated with Yayoi’s signature red hair, will charm kids and are particularly affective in drawing a portrait of this unique artist. Readers will marvel anew with every page and will especially love the twenty-five-person dress and the idea of Yayoi’s “happenings,” which could prompt a fun bath-time art activity for at-home learning. The book will also motivate kids to learn more about Yayoi Kusama’s work online and to create their own art with abandon.

Inspiring and liberating, Yayoi Kusama Covered Everything in Dots and Wasn’t Sorry is a must for creative kids at home, in the classroom, and at public libraries.

Ages 4 – 7 

Phaidon, 2020 | ISBN 978-1838660802

To learn more about Fausto Gilberti, his books, and his art.

International Dot Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-dots-coloring-page

Decorate the Dots Coloring Page

 

How would you color these dots? Grab your favorite paints, markers, or crayons and let your imagination fly with this printable Decorate the Dots Coloring Page.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-yayoi-kusama-covered-everything-cover

You can find Yayoi Kusama Covered Everything in Dots and Wasn’t Sorry at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

August 14 – It’s National Crayon Collection Month

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About the Holiday

Kids love going to restaurants that provide a fun placemat and crayons to color with while they wait. But what happens to those crayons when the meal is over? Most times they’re thrown in the trash with the napkins and straws and other items left behind. Wouldn’t it be great if those gently used crayons could go on to be used by other kids at schools that can’t afford such supplies? They can! Begun by Crayon Collection, National Crayon Collection Month encourages restaurants, hotels, and other organizations that provide free crayons to collect the ones left behind and donate them to under-serviced schools. As school arts programs are threatened with budget cuts, these important supplies can make a big difference in the lives of students. The ability of children to express their creativity is a crucial part of their education and growth.  You can get involved too! To learn how you can make an impact, visit CrayonCollection.org. Or look into donating crayons (and other supplies) to a school in your area.

The Crayon Man: The True Story of the Invention of Crayola Crayons

Written by Natascha Biebow | Illustrated by Steven Salerno

Edwin Binney was an inventor who truly appreciated all the colors around him. In fact, “color made him really, really HAPPY!” Perhaps he loved color so much because all day long in the mill where he worked he was surrounded by nothing but black: “black dust, black tar, black smoke, black ink, black dye, black shoe polish. His company sold carbon black, a new kind of pigment, or colored substance, make from the soot of burning oil and natural gas.” Edwin worked with his cousin C. Harold Smith, and their company was called Binney and Smith.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-crayon-man-cardinal
Image copyright Steven Salerno, 2019, text copyright Natascha Biebow, 2019. Courtesy of HMH Books for Young Readers.

While Harold was the salesman, Edwin was the tinkerer who had made better pencils for writing on slate and a wax crayon that wrote on both paper and wood. His wife, Alice, thought he was just the person to create better crayons for kids. The existing crayons were too big and clunky, and artists’ crayons were too expensive.

Edwin gave it some thought and started experimenting with wax for substance and rocks and minerals for color. Then he and his workers fine-tuned their batches, adding only “a pinch of this pigment, a sploosh of that one, a little hotter, a little cooler…and voilà, LOTS of different shades!” Now, instead of being covered in black dust at the end of the day, “Edwin came home covered in color.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-crayon-man-tea
Image copyright Steven Salerno, 2019, text copyright Natascha Biebow, 2019. Courtesy of HMH Books for Young Readers.

At the factory, Edwin’s team worked on their top-secret formula and finally poured the mixtures into “thin, crayon-shaped molds” to make crayons that were just the right size for children. Finally, in 1903, Edwin had the product he wanted. “He’d invented a new kind of colored crayon” and wanted a new name to go with it. Alice had just the right suggestion, and Crayola crayons were born.

The first boxes contained eight colors and sold for a nickel. As they shipped out to stores, Edwin wondered if the kids would like them. Children loved their fine points, clear lines, and long-lasting color. By this time, inexpensive paper was also available, so kids didn’t have to draw or write on slate tablets anymore.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-crayon-man-hopper
Image copyright Steven Salerno, 2019, text copyright Natascha Biebow, 2019. Courtesy of HMH Books for Young Readers.

At the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904, Edwin’s Crayola crayons won a gold medal. As time went on, Edwin and his team made even more colors, many inspired by nature and even the flowers in Edwin’s own garden. Some of the colors you’ll find in a box today were given their names by children, including “macaroni and cheese” and “robin’s egg blue.” Now, kids all around the world can create just the picture they want, with lots and lots of color.

Back matter includes an illustrated description of the process of making Crayola crayons, an extended biography of Edwin Binney, and a bibliography of resources.

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Image copyright Steven Salerno, 2019, text copyright Natascha Biebow, 2019. Courtesy of HMH Books for Young Readers.

Natascha Biebow’s quickly paced biography of Edwin Binney and the invention of Crayola crayons is a deft portrait of the man and his times that were on the cusp of and central to so many innovations that created the modern world. Biebow’s emphasis on Binney’s willingness to listen and match his inventions to people’s needs is a lesson on collaboration and the true spirit of invention for today’s future pioneers. In her fascinating and accessible text, Biebow relates the problems with late 1800s writing and drawing mediums while also building suspense on how Binney and his team created the new crayons. Children will be awed to discover the thought, experiments, and materials that went into those first thin sticks of color. Short paragraphs that explain more factual information about topics in the story, including carbon black, the availability of paper, European crayons, and pigments are sprinkled throughout the pages.

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Image copyright Steven Salerno, 2019, text copyright Natascha Biebow, 2019. Courtesy of HMH Books for Young Readers.

Steven Salerno’s color-drenched pages are beautiful tributes to the man who brought a new age of color into children’s lives. In a clever page turn, Edwin Binney stands in his garden with his arms outstretched appreciating the rainbow of flowers, the deep-blue sea, the light-blue sky, and a fiery red cardinal flying by. The next page takes kids into Binney’s mill, where he stands in the same position, but now seeming to bemoan the sooty environment. Salerno brings the time period alive for kids through hair and clothing styles and school and home furnishings. Several pages give readers a field trip into Binney’s secret lab to see the mechanics of making crayons at work. The front and end papers invite kids to give the wrapper-less crayons pictured a name based on their colors and then to make a drawing of their own.

A high-interest biography of the man who changed the way kids could interpret their world, The Crayon Man is a must for young inventors, artists, and thinkers as well as for classroom story times, social studies lessons, and art classes. The book would be a welcome addition to home, school, and public libraries.

Ages 6 – 9

HMH Books for Young Readers, 2019 | ISBN 978-1328866844

Discover more about Natascha Biebow and her books on her website.

To learn more about Steven Salerno, his books, and his art, visit his website.

National Coloring Book Day Activity

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Cool Coloring Pages

You know what to do during Crayon Collection Month! Collect some crayons and enjoy these printable coloring pages for you to print and enjoy!

Cave kid Coloring Page | Dragon Coloring Page | Mermaid Coloring Page

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You can find The Crayon Man: The True Story of the Invention of Crayola Crayons at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

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

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About Today’s Post

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

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

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

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

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

Artists and Writers

 

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Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks

Written by Suzanne Slade | Illustrated by Cozbi A. Cobrera

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

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

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

Ages 6 – 9

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

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

Written by Deborah Blumenthal | Illustrated by Laura Freeman

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

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

Ages 4 – 8

little bee books, 2017 | ISBN 978-1499802399

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

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

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

Ages 5 – 8

Albert Whitman & Company, 2015 | ISBN 978-0807530177

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Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph

Written by Roxane Orgill | Illustrated by Francis Vallejo

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

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

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

Ages 8 – 12 and up

Candlewick, 2016 | ISBN 978-0763669546

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

By Javaka Steptoe

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

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

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

Ages 6 – 10

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

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A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks

Written by Alice Fay Duncan | Illustrated by Xia Gordon

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

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

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

Ages 4 and up

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

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

Written by Patricia McKessack | Illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera

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

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

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

Ages 5 – 12

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

Culinary Arts

 

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Grandpa Cacao: A Tale of Chocolate from Farm to Family

By Elizabeth Zunon

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

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

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

Ages 3 – 8

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

Music

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

Written by Kathleen Cornell Berman | Illustrated by Keith Henry Brown

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

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

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

Ages 8 – 12

Page Street Kids, 2019 | ISBN 978-1624146909

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

Written by Anne Rockwell | Illustrated by Colin Bootman

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

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

Ages 6 – 10

Carolrhoda Books, 2013 | ISBN 978-0761355656

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

Written by James Weldon Johnson | Illustrated by Elizabeth Catlett

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

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

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

Ages 6 – 12 and up

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

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

Written by Laben Carrick Hill |Illustrated by Theodore Tayler III

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

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

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

Ages 6 – 10

Roaring Brook Press, 2013 | ISBN 978-1596435407

Civil Rights and Politics

 

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Become a Leader Like Michelle Obama

Written by Caroline Moss | Illustrated by Sinem Erkas

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

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

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

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

Ages 8 – 12 and up

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

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

By Adrienne Wright

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

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

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

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

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

Page Street Kids, 2019 | ISBN 978-1624146916

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

Written by Dee Romito | Illustrated by Laura Freeman

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

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

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

Ages 6 – 9

little bee books, 2018 | ISBN 978-1499807202

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

Written by Chris Barton |Illustrated by Ekua Holmes

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

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

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

Ages 4 – 8 and up

Beach Lane Books, 2018 | ISBN 978-1481465618

Science

 

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

Written by Caroline Moss | Illustrated by Sinem Erkas

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

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

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

Ages 8 – 12

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

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

Written by Helaine Becker | Illustrated by Dow Phumiruk

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

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

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

Ages 5 – 9

Henry Holt and Company, 2018 | ISBN 978-1250137524

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

Written by Margot Lee Shetterly | Illustrated by Laura Freeman

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

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

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

Ages 4 – 8

HarperCollins, 2018 | ISBN 978-0062742469

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Ticktock Banneker’s Clock

Written by Shana Keller | Illustrated by David C. Gardner

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

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

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

Ages 6 – 10

Sleeping Bear Press, 2016 | ISBN 978-1585369560

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

Written by Chris Barton | Illustrated by Don Tate

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

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

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

Ages 5 – 10

Charlesbridge, 2016 | ISBN 978-1580892971

Slavery

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Freedom in Congo Square

Written by Carole Boston Weatherford | Illustrated by Gregory Christie

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

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

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

Ages 4 – 8

little bee books, 2016 | ISBN 978-1499801033

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

Written by Ellen Levine | Illustrated by Kadir Nelson

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

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

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

Ages 4 – 8

Scholastic Press, 2007 | ISBN 978-043977733

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Words Set Me Free: The Story of Young Frederick Douglass

Written by Lesa Cline-Ransome | Illustrated by James Ransome

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

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

Ages 5 and up                                                                                                            

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

Sports

 

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Fast Enough: Bessie Stringfield’s First Ride

By Joel Christian Gill

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

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

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

Ages 5 – 9

Oni Press, 2019 | ISBN 978-1549303142

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

Written by Heather Lang | Illustrated by Floyd Cooper

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

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

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

Ages 5 and up

Boyds Mills Press, 2012 | ISBN 978-1590788509

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Serena: The Littlest Sister

Written by Karlin Gray | Illustrated by Monica Ahanonu

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

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

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

Ages 8 – 11

Page Street Kids, 2019 | ISBN 978-1624146947

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

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

Picture Book Review

March 5 – It’s International Ideas Month

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About the Holiday

The onset of spring with its  wide-open sunny days seems to beckon to us to open our minds to all sorts of new possibilities. Perhaps that’s why International Ideas Month is celebrated in March. This creative holiday invites would-be inventors and clever folk of all stripes to think differently and pay attention to your brainstorms. You never know––there may be a book, a work of art, a new invention, or a solution to a need inside you just waiting to be let out!

I received a copy of The Story of Inventions from Frances Lincoln Books for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

The Story of Inventions: A First Book about World-Changing Discoveries

Written by Catherine Barr and Steve Williams | Illustrated by Amy Husband

 

It might be said that inventions have been around as long as there was a need. But which invention really got things rolling? That would be the wheel, and that’s where The Story of Inventions begins. The wheel dates back to the Bronze Age––3500 BCE. Laid flat, stone wheels helped potters make pots faster and in different shapes. Wheels for vehicles took longer to be developed.

Once horse-drawn chariots came into being, though, what was one of the first things they were used for? “They bumped across Asia to Egypt, where they carried Egyptian archers into war.” The Romans built roads and suspension and smoothed out the ride. Eventually, rubber tires were invented, highways were built, and tires thick, thin, threaded, large, and small “roll around Earth and rove off-road on Mars.”

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Image copyright Amy Husband, 2020, text copyright Catherine Barr and Steve Williams, 2020. Courtesy of Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

Today’s GPS can be traced back to 270 BCE with the invention of the lodestone compass in China. China was also the place where paper had its beginning under a mulberry tree. This first paper, invented in 105 AD, was a messy concoction of mulberry bark mashed up and combined with rags and water. Pressed flat and dried, this early paper was used for wrapping and for writing. Today, of course, paper is used for our newspapers, artwork, and even this book.

Telling time by sundial used to rely on the weather, but as bigger and better clocks were invented—beginning in 725 CE and using some pretty amazing technology—it became easier and easier to make it to school, to the office, to meet friends…. Now there are atomic clocks that, in space, are so accurate they lose “only a second every 15 billion years.” In 850 CE, gunpowder was invented by mistake, but it changed the face of war forever.

Jumping ahead to 1712, “water, wind, and horse power” were replaced when the invention of the coal-powered steam engine revolutionized transportation and how and where people worked. “Today coal and oil still power most electricity on Earth. But these fossil fuels are polluting our skies, so sun, water, and wind are once again being used to help us survive this threatening climate change.”

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Image copyright Amy Husband, 2020, text copyright Catherine Barr and Steve Williams, 2020. Courtesy of Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

The invention of vaccinations in 1798, computers in the 1830s, electricity in 1832, the telephone in 1876, the automobile in 1886, and the airplane in 1903, bring us to 1907 and the invention of plastic. With its many traits and uses, plastic “quickly became one of the most useful materials people had ever seen.” But now plastic is “piling up, polluting and poisoning the planet. By recycling and other measures, “we can help wildlife and protect the environment too.”

As World War II raged in 1945, scientists discovered how to split the atom, leading to the development of the nuclear bomb. “Just two nuclear bombs killed hundreds of thousands of people in Japan at the end of World War II. These explosions shocked the world and people everywhere marched for peace to ban the bomb.” Today efforts to keep the world safe from nuclear weapons continues. The relatively recent invention of the internet and today’s focus on nanotechnology are changing the world every day. How will we use them “to care for each other and the planet Earth? One day you may decide.”

A glossary of words used throughout the book follows the text.

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Image copyright Amy Husband, 2020, text copyright Catherine Barr and Steve Williams, 2020. Courtesy of Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

Focusing on revolutionary inventions, how they work, and what effect they have had on the earth instead of particular inventors, Catherine Barr and Steve Williams weave together a fast-paced survey of life-changing technologies throughout history. Brief descriptions of each invention follow its trajectory from its development date through improvements over time to today’s version. Fascinating nuggets of information are found within each account and will entice readers to learn more. But this book contains more than just a list of inventions. The thread of a cautionary tale also runs through the text, engaging readers to think not only about how inventions can positively change the world but also to consider their deleterious effects. Highlighting new innovation, Barr and Williams offer the promise of new innovation and invite readers to lend their creativity and voice to finding solutions. 

Through her charming cartoon illustrations Amy Husband takes readers from Bronze Age brick buildings to the surface of Mars, with tours past the Roman Colosseum, down dusty hoof-trodden lanes, along four-lane highways, and even with a pitstop at an electric car charging station. Her ship captains from various eras navigate by the stars, a lodestone, a compass, and GPS. Husband’s detailed images help readers envision early versions of inventions and how they have changed over time as well as the problems that precipitated some inventions. In the case of pollution, plastics, war, and climate change, Husband depicts examples of both the causes and how people are trying to make things better.

Offering a dual way for readers at home and in the classroom to learn about and from inventions of the past and today, The Story of Inventions will spark discussions on and further research into the innovations that have influenced and made modern times.

Ages 5 – 8

Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-0711245365

Discover more about Catherine Barr and her books on her website.

To learn more about Amy Husband, her books, and her art, visit her website.

International Ideas Month Activity

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Share Your Bright Idea! Page

 

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

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You can find The Story of Inventions at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review