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

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About Today’s Post

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

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

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

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

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

Artists and Writers

 

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Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks

Written by Suzanne Slade | Illustrated by Cozbi A. Cobrera

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

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

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

Ages 6 – 9

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

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

Written by Deborah Blumenthal | Illustrated by Laura Freeman

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

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

Ages 4 – 8

little bee books, 2017 | ISBN 978-1499802399

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

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

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

Ages 5 – 8

Albert Whitman & Company, 2015 | ISBN 978-0807530177

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Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph

Written by Roxane Orgill | Illustrated by Francis Vallejo

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

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

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

Ages 8 – 12 and up

Candlewick, 2016 | ISBN 978-0763669546

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

By Javaka Steptoe

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

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

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

Ages 6 – 10

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

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A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks

Written by Alice Fay Duncan | Illustrated by Xia Gordon

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

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

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

Ages 4 and up

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

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

Written by Patricia McKessack | Illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera

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

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

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

Ages 5 – 12

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

Culinary Arts

 

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Grandpa Cacao: A Tale of Chocolate from Farm to Family

By Elizabeth Zunon

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

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

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

Ages 3 – 8

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

Music

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

Written by Kathleen Cornell Berman | Illustrated by Keith Henry Brown

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

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

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

Ages 8 – 12

Page Street Kids, 2019 | ISBN 978-1624146909

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

Written by Anne Rockwell | Illustrated by Colin Bootman

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

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

Ages 6 – 10

Carolrhoda Books, 2013 | ISBN 978-0761355656

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

Written by James Weldon Johnson | Illustrated by Elizabeth Catlett

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

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

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

Ages 6 – 12 and up

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

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

Written by Laben Carrick Hill |Illustrated by Theodore Tayler III

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

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

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

Ages 6 – 10

Roaring Brook Press, 2013 | ISBN 978-1596435407

Civil Rights and Politics

 

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Become a Leader Like Michelle Obama

Written by Caroline Moss | Illustrated by Sinem Erkas

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

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

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

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

Ages 8 – 12 and up

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

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

By Adrienne Wright

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

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

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

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

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

Page Street Kids, 2019 | ISBN 978-1624146916

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

Written by Dee Romito | Illustrated by Laura Freeman

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

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

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

Ages 6 – 9

little bee books, 2018 | ISBN 978-1499807202

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

Written by Chris Barton |Illustrated by Ekua Holmes

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

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

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

Ages 4 – 8 and up

Beach Lane Books, 2018 | ISBN 978-1481465618

Science

 

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

Written by Caroline Moss | Illustrated by Sinem Erkas

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

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

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

Ages 8 – 12

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

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

Written by Helaine Becker | Illustrated by Dow Phumiruk

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

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

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

Ages 5 – 9

Henry Holt and Company, 2018 | ISBN 978-1250137524

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

Written by Margot Lee Shetterly | Illustrated by Laura Freeman

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

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

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

Ages 4 – 8

HarperCollins, 2018 | ISBN 978-0062742469

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Ticktock Banneker’s Clock

Written by Shana Keller | Illustrated by David C. Gardner

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

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

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

Ages 6 – 10

Sleeping Bear Press, 2016 | ISBN 978-1585369560

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

Written by Chris Barton | Illustrated by Don Tate

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

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

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

Ages 5 – 10

Charlesbridge, 2016 | ISBN 978-1580892971

Slavery

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Freedom in Congo Square

Written by Carole Boston Weatherford | Illustrated by Gregory Christie

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

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

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

Ages 4 – 8

little bee books, 2016 | ISBN 978-1499801033

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

Written by Ellen Levine | Illustrated by Kadir Nelson

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

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

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

Ages 4 – 8

Scholastic Press, 2007 | ISBN 978-043977733

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Words Set Me Free: The Story of Young Frederick Douglass

Written by Lesa Cline-Ransome | Illustrated by James Ransome

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

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

Ages 5 and up                                                                                                            

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

Sports

 

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Fast Enough: Bessie Stringfield’s First Ride

By Joel Christian Gill

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

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

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

Ages 5 – 9

Oni Press, 2019 | ISBN 978-1549303142

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

Written by Heather Lang | Illustrated by Floyd Cooper

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

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

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

Ages 5 and up

Boyds Mills Press, 2012 | ISBN 978-1590788509

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Serena: The Littlest Sister

Written by Karlin Gray | Illustrated by Monica Ahanonu

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

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

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

Ages 8 – 11

Page Street Kids, 2019 | ISBN 978-1624146947

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

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

Picture Book Review

May 7 – National Tourism Day

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About the Holiday

With warmer weather and schools letting out, this is usually a time when people and families plan summer trips to places nearby and far away. While this year we may be taking staycations instead, we can still discover the wonders of other cities and countries through books for all ages. Even the youngest would-be tourists can learn about the world through today’s books. These are just two of the exciting Tiny Travelers series.

Tiny Travelers: Puerto Rico Treasure Quest

By Steven Wolfe Pereira and Susie Jaramillo

 

¡Hola! Welcome to Puerto Rico, a US territory in the Atlantic Ocean with a population of 3 million and where Spanish and English are the main languages. Are you ready to discover this incredible island? Let’s go! Join in the parade and kick up your heels. “In San Juan there’s always a reason to dance. / People come out to celebrate at every chance.” If you’re feeling like a snack, look for the piragua stand, where you can buy this favorite shaved treat.

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Copyright Steven Wolfe Pereira and Susie Jaramillo, 2020. Courtesy of Encantos.

For sand and sun, head to Playa Flamenco on the island of Culebra. You can “go swimming or snorkeling—there’s so much to do. / And be on the lookout for a crab or two.” For more ocean fun and a brilliant sight, take a nighttime canoe adventure in Vieques, where bioluminescent jellyfish and other sea life lights up the water with “tiny points of light” like the stars in the sky. Do you see a leatherback turtle swimming by?

If you prefer exploring on land, visit the El Yunque rainforest, where lush flowers invite butterflies to land and unique animals, such as the Puerto Rican tody bird and loud coqui frogs, who fill “up the air with their whistling sound.” Wondering what sports kids like you enjoy in Puerto Rico? Well, “boxing is king. / Entire families gather round to see who’s in the ring.” Baseball is another favorite, and Puerto Rican Roberto Clemente is a beloved star.

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Copyright Steven Wolfe Pereira and Susie Jaramillo, 2020. Courtesy of Encantos.

Other fun places to explore are the Arecibo observatory, where you’ll find the “largest radio telescope ever made,” and the Castillo San Felipe Del Morro, a castle where families come to fly kites (chiringas), have picnics, and enjoy the view. Feeling hungry after all that sightseeing? Come on, the table is loaded with good things to eat: pernil, arroz con gandules, bacalaítos, pasteles, and more!

While the quest may come to an end, readers can engage in two search-and-find games within the story and they are invited to visit the Tiny Travelers website, where they can order free stickers to commemorate their trip. Adults will also find a treasure trove of lessons with downloadable content for studying the continents, countries, creatures of the world and so much more.

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Copyright Steven Wolfe Pereira and Susie Jaramillo, 2020. Courtesy of Encantos.

A captivating book for sparking a love of learning about countries and cultures around the world, the Tiny Travelers series is a terrific accompaniment to online learning and would be a beneficial addition to home, school, and public libraries. Puerto Rico Treasure Quest is a great place to start your journey.

Ages 4 – 7

Encantos, 2020 | ISBN 978-1945635304

To learn more about the Tiny Travelers series and the resources available, visit the Tiny Travelers website.

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You can find Tiny Travelers: Puerto Rico Treasure Quest at these booksellers

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

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Tiny Travelers: India Treasure Quest

By Steven Wolfe Pereira and Susie Jaramillo

 

Namaste! Welcome to India! First stop is a monumental landmark. “The Red Fort in Delhi is a site of great pride, / built for the royals to reside inside.” If you like movies, you’ve come to the right place. “India produces the most movies in the world!” In Mumbai you can watch as a Bollywood movie, that combines dancing, singing, and costumes is filmed. The excitement doesn’t end there! Next, take a safari through the Ranthambore National Park in Rajasthan. “Drive through the ruins but riders beware; / tigers are on the prowl everywhere!” You’ll also want to keep your eyes—and camera—out for monkeys, elephants, and peacocks.

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Copyright Steven Wolfe Pereira and Susie Jaramillo, 2020. Courtesy of Encantos.

If you’re in Rajasthan during at the beginning of spring, take part in the Holi festival. Accompanied by the sound of Dhol drums, “powder is thrown in the air with great joy, / as bright colors cover every girl and boy.” People traditionally wear white so that the colors show up more vibrantly. Now it’s time to take in some cricket. Watch the batters hit and run between wickets. Traveling on to Rishikesh, Uttarakhand, the mountains rise high above you. “From the Himalayan mountains the Ganges river rolls. / It’s special and sacred to so many souls.” Along the shore of the river, people perform yoga to bring peace of mind.

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Copyright Steven Wolfe Pereira and Susie Jaramillo, 2020. Courtesy of Encantos.

One of the most beautiful holidays, “Diwali is the start of the Indian New Year. / The festival of lights fills locals with cheer.” Candlelit Rangoli decorations on the ground inspire “strength, generosity, and luck all around.” Of course, no trip to India would be complete without seeing the Taj Mahal, which was designed by an emperor to remember his wife. “It took approximately 20 years and nearly 20,000 workers to complete the Taj Mahal.” It was finished in 1653.

Before this trip is completely over, readers are reminded to make sure they played the two search-and-find games within the story. They’re then invited to visit the Tiny Travelers website, where they can order free stickers to remember their trip by. Adults will also find a treasure trove of lessons with downloadable content for studying the continents, countries, creatures of the world and so much more for children within the age range for the books and beyond.

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Copyright Steven Wolfe Pereira and Susie Jaramillo, 2020. Courtesy of Encantos.

In each book of the Tiny Travelers series, the informative rhyming text, enriched with native vocabulary, engages kids in learning facts about cities, towns, landmarks, sports, food, and other aspects of each country. A highlighted “did you know?” ticket on each page adds to the discovery. Lush, vibrant illustrations take kids to natural wonders, lively festivals, homes, castles, feasts, and more. Accompanied with a map on which readers can pinpoint each locale, Puerto Rico Treasure Quest and India Treasure Quest, gives kids an exciting way to explore our world while developing empathy, understanding, and an appreciation for its diversity. 

A captivating book for sparking a love of learning about countries and cultures around the world, the Tiny Travelers series is a terrific accompaniment to online learning and would be a beneficial addition to home, school, and public libraries. India Treasure Quest will be a favorite destination to explore.

Ages 4 – 7

Encantos, 2020 | ISBN 978-1945635236

To learn more about the Tiny Travelers series and the resources available, visit the Tiny Travelers website.

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You can find Tiny Travelers: India at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

February 26 – It’s Black History Month

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About the Holiday

Black History Month is a celebration of the achievements of African Americans and the contributions they have made to the United States History. Appropriately for this election year, the theme for 2020 is “African Americans and the Vote,” which recognizes the struggle for both black men as well as women throughout American history. This year marks the 150th anniversary of the Fifteenth Amendment, which was ratified in 1870 and gave black men the right to vote after the Civil War. It has also been one hundred years since women gained the right to vote. For more information about Black History Month, visit the ASALH website and africanamericanhistorymonth.gov.

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

Written by Chris Barton | Illustrated by Ekua Holmes

 

As a child growing up in the Fifth Ward of Houston, Texas, Barbara Jordan was known for her distinctive voice. “That voice. That big, bold, booming, crisp, clear, confident voice. It caused folks to sit right up, stand up straight, and take notice. What do you do with a voice like that?” Barbara recited poetry, gave speeches, and in 1952 won an oratory contest with a trip to Chicago as the prize. She was proud of herself and where her voice was leading her. But where would that be?

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Image copyright Ekua Holmes, 2018, text copyright Chris Barton, 2018. Courtesy of Beach Lane Books.

She considered becoming a preacher, a teacher, and a lawyer. When a black woman lawyer gave a speech at Barbara’s high school, Barbara thought she had found her calling. She attended college where she “learned how to find facts for herself, debate important issues, defend good ideas, and dismantle bad ones.” She graduated with a law degree, but practicing law became boring. She wrote more than she spoke, and the work was not demanding enough.

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Image copyright Ekua Holmes, 2018, text copyright Chris Barton, 2018. Courtesy of Beach Lane Books.

It was 1960, and Barbara decided to lend her voice to causes she believed in. She became involved in politics, and on one pivotal night, she filled in for a speaker who was absent. “The audience loved her. They trusted her. Most important they were inspired to do something—to get out and vote” and to persuade others to vote. Barbara decided to run for office. She lost her first two elections, but the third one she won.

Barbara Jordan was now a Texas state senator, representing the people she grew up with. She believed in making changes from within the political system through debating issues on the Senate floor. She also got to know her colleagues outside of work, and they got to know her. They listened to each other, and positive changes were the result. In 1972, Barbara ran for Congress and won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington DC.

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Image copyright Ekua Holmes, 2018, text copyright Chris Barton, 2018. Courtesy of Beach Lane Books.

In 1973, the Watergate scandal broke. “President Nixon, it seemed, had broken the law, and Congress had to decide what to do about it.” Once again, as a member of the House Judiciary Committee, Barbara used her voice to remind Congress and the American people that “the Constitution is the document governing all the laws in the United States and applies to all of its people.” Then “in her big, bold, booming, crisp, clear, confident tone” she said, “‘My faith in the Constitution is whole…. And I am not going to sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the destruction of the Constitution.’” Barbara said that the president must go. President Nixon resigned in 1974.

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Image copyright Ekua Holmes, 2018, text copyright Chris Barton, 2018. Courtesy of Beach Lane Books.

Barbara became a star, shining “like a bright light in a dark place.” She became the voice for those battling discrimination, for those “who had less power…who possessed quieter strengths than her own…who did not want to be limited by their weaknesses.” People talked about Barbara becoming a Senator, a Supreme Court Justice, or possibly Vice President.

But Barbara, unknown even to herself, had been struggling with multiple sclerosis, and now her inner voice told her that the place she belonged was home. Back in Texas, she became a college professor, where she taught her students not only to “do something, but to do the right thing.” Her students are still working today, striving to make the world a better place and to inspire everyone to make their voices heard.

An Author’s Note, a detailed timeline of Barbara Jordan’s life, and other recommended resources follows the text.

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Image copyright Ekua Holmes, 2018, text copyright Chris Barton, 2018. Courtesy of Beach Lane Books.

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

Discover more about Chris Barton and his books on his website.

To learn more about Ekua Holmes, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Black History Month Activity

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Barbara Jordan Inspirational Poster

 

If you have ideas about how to make the world better, print this poster of Barbara Jordan and write how you would like to use your voice on the back. This can be through speech, writing, art, community involvement, or any way that uses your talents.

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You can find What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

February 21 – It’s Hot Breakfast Month

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About the Holiday

Hot Breakfast Month was established to encourage people to have a hot, healthy breakfast before they go off to work or school. A good breakfast can keep your brain and your body working longer and better, which will result in a good day and more happiness in your life! And during this cold month, it feels good to get the day started off with a warm, satisfying meal. So scramble up a few eggs, make a bowl of yummy oatmeal, or whip up a batch of pancakes or waffles. And if you’re following a more plant-based diet, there are lots of grains and greens that will give you a nourishing sendoff.

Let’s Eat! Mealtime Around the World

Written by Lynne Marie | Illustrated by Parwinder Singh

 

If you’re raising a culinary conscious and curious kid satisfies that gnawing hunger for more information on world cuisine. Visiting families around the globe at breakfast, lunch, and dinner time, Lynne Marie offers up tidbits about what kids eat plus other interesting food facts. The first stop is China, where Yu Yan is enjoying a bowl of congee—or rice porridge—before heading out to school. This morning, the congee includes squid that her father has caught. Yu Yan “slurps loudly to show how much she likes it.”

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Image copyright Parwinder Singh, 2019, text copyright Lynne Marie, 2019. Courtesy of Beaming Books.

High in the mountains of Peru, Luz is bundled up in the early morning air as she gets ready to help out with her grandfather’s llamas. First, she warms up with chuño cola—a soup made from freeze-dried potatoes. For Luz, breakfast usually consists of leftovers from dinner the night before. Hospitality is so important to people in the Philippines that one of the most common greetings is “‘Kumain ka na?’ meaning ‘Have you eaten yet?’” If not, you may be invited to join in a breakfast of spamsilog—a dish of fried SPAM, fried eggs, and garlic rice.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-let's-eat-mealtime-around-the-world-philippines

Image copyright Parwinder Singh, 2019, text copyright Lynne Marie, 2019. Courtesy of Beaming Books.

In Jamaica, Zhade and her mother make savory pastries filled with spicy ground beef. These can be eaten on their own or wrapped in coco bread—a soft, sweet bread—to make sandwiches. For Camille, living in France, lunch is a four-course meal served at school. Today, Camille and her friends are having “a cucumber and tomato salad, then a main course of roast beef with cooked broccoli. Next, a small plate of cheese, finished with apple tart for dessert.” It must not be Wednesday, though. In France, there’s no school on Wednesday afternoons. “Instead, many attend on Saturday mornings.”

It’s dinnertime for Priya, who lives in India. She and her family are at their favorite restaurant, where Priya has ordered Tandoori chicken. “Tandoori chicken is marinated in yogurt and spices then roasted in a tandoor, a round clay oven.” After dinner, she and her family go home to watch cricket on TV.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-let's-eat-mealtime-around-the-world-jamaica

Image copyright Parwinder Singh, 2019, text copyright Lynne Marie, 2019. Courtesy of Beaming Books.

For many families in Sweden, Thursday dinners follow a tradition that goes back to the fifteenth century. Tonight, Hugo is having “pea soup and pancakes with lingonberry jam. Perfect for keeping warm on a cold winter night.” Lingonberry jam isn’t just for pancakes. It can be used in a variety of sweet and savory dishes.

Finally! It’s time for dessert! In Egypt, Mandisa and her brother are enjoying basbousa—a coconut cake. They especially like it with a topping of rose-blossom or orange-blossom syrup that makes it taste extra sweet. In Nigeria, Chetachi can’t wait to dig into the bowl of tropical fruit sprinkled with coconut. It looks like his sister would like some too! All over the world, people sit down to meals with foods they love. Learning more about these dishes and trying them is a great way to feel a sense of community with other kids.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-let's-eat-mealtime-around-the-world-egypt

Image copyright Parwinder Singh, 2019, text copyright Lynne Marie, 2019. Courtesy of Beaming Books.

In her conversational tour around the world, Lynne Marie invites readers to sit down with their peers and enjoy a variety of meals and snacks while also learning a little about the history, culture, environment, and animals of each area. A question prompting readers to think about their own connection to food accompanies each two-page spread and offers an opportunity for classroom or home discussion and exploration.

Parwinder Singh populates his illustrations with enthusiastic kids dipping into soups, dishing up a plateful around the family dining table, helping out in the kitchen, and licking their fingers to enjoy every drop of a delicious treat. Singh’s colorful backdrops give kids a glimpse into the homes that nourish each child and the landscape that often influences the ingredients that make up their favorite foods.

Sure to spark children’s interest in tasting foods from around the world and learning more about the cultures of the thirteen countries represented here, Let’s Eat! Mealtime around the World makes for a deletable lead-in for social studies and geography lessons, events highlighting international foods, and multicultural explorations at home.

Ages 4 – 8

Beaming Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1506451947

Discover more about Lynne Marie and her books on her website.

Hot Breakfast Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-pancake-game

Pancake Flip-Out Game

 

Pancakes are served in a stack because they’re so delicious that each one doesn’t last long! In this game see how many pancakes you can flip onto the plate!

Supplies

  • Printable Pancakes Template
  • Printable Breakfast Plate Template (optional – you can use your own paper plate or other dish)
  • Heavy stock paper, poster board, cardboard, or foam sheet
  • Glue
  • Scissors
  • Spatula (optional)

You can play this game several ways:

  1. Print and cut out the pancakes and plate (or use your own paper plate or other dish) and glue them to the heavy paper, poster board, or foam sheet
  2. Place the plate on the floor
  3. Draw 3 concentric circles around the plate about 12 inches apart.  For younger children make the circles closer together.
  4. Give each player the same number of pancakes and choose someone to go first
  5. Each player takes turns tossing or flipping their pancakes, trying to get them onto the plate
  6. When a player has used all of their pancakes add up their score:
  • Hitting the target can earn you 20 points
  • Getting your pancake in the first circle around the plate earns you 15 point
  • Hitting the second circle is worth 10 points
  • Pancakes landing in the third circle are worth 5 points

Rotate through the players as many times as you like and add up the points at the end. The player with the most points wins!

Try this Option:

Instead of tossing the pancakes with your hands, try flipping them with a spatula!

Or: Make up your own rules—and have fun!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-let's-eat-mealtime-around-the-world-cover

You can find Let’s Eat! Mealtime Around the World at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

January 16 – Appreciate a Dragon Day

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About the Holiday

Appreciate a Dragon Day was established in 2004 by author Danita K. Paul to celebrate the publication of her novel DragonSpell. The holiday now encourages all readers to get involved with reading through fun activities—dragon-themed, of course! Teachers, librarians, and all those who love reading can find lots of suggestions for creative ideas that encompass art, crafts, displays, drama, and many other mediums on Danita K. Paul’s website. So, round up your favorite dragon books and breathe some fire into your reading today!

Nian, The Chinese New Year Dragon: A Beastly Tale

Written by Virginia Loh-Hagan | Illustrated by Timothy Banks

 

Mei dreaded springtime when Nian, “the fierce dragon that used to rule the land” until a magical warrior sent him underground with a spell. Once a year though, Nian came out of hiding to quell his hunger. His favorite treat was little boys and girls. Even now, Mei could hear the “rumbling of Nian’s stomach” that told them springtime was near.

On the eve of the first day of spring, the magical warrior visited Mei in a dream. He told her that Nian’s strength was growing while his power was waning. It was up to Mei to keep the town safe. She had fifteen days in which to defeat the dragon, he told her as he gave her is magic cane. When she woke the next day, Mei heard her mother warning her that Nian was on his way and they must escape.

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Image copyright Timothy Banks, 2019, text copyright Virginia Loh-Hagan, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Knowing that Nian would eat anything in his path, Mei ran to shut their livestock in the barn and helped MaMa hide. She ran to get the warrior’s cane, but before she could hide Nian blocked her way. She grabbed a pot and banged on it with the cane and yelled at the dragon. Nian covered his ears. Then Mei got the other villagers to make noise. “They hollered. They hooted. They threw firecrackers at Nian,” and he slithered back to his den.

The villagers celebrated for five days and gave Mei a red silk robe in gratitude. But on the sixth day, Nian was back with cotton in his ears to muffle the noise. Mei, wearing her new robe, threw her lantern at him. The light and fiery robe frightened Nian. Mei gathered the villagers once more and told them to wear red and shine lights. Confronted with all of the red clothing and banners and the brilliant lights, Nian ran away again. The villagers celebrated for five more days, dyeing their clothes red and burning fires.

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Image copyright Timothy Banks, 2019, text copyright Virginia Loh-Hagan, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

On the tenth night the magical warrior came again to talk to Mei. He reminded her that she only had five more days to defeat Nian, who was now bent on revenge. Mei knew she couldn’t rely on getting lucky. She needed a plan. By morning, she had one. She and the villagers filled red bags with food and stuffed them into scarecrows dressed in their clothes. But Mei hid the warrior’s cane in her scarecrow.

When Nian returned again on the fifteenth day, he gobbled up the scarecrows. But when he got to Mei’s, the cane magically allowed the warrior to ensnare Nian. Then, as destiny foretold, the warrior and Nian “turned into a stone statue in the middle of the village.” The villagers cheered Mei’s success and threw a party complete with food offerings, lanterns, firecrackers, and lots of red. Now, every year at the beginning of spring, the village celebrates this way and Mei always presents “an offering to the statue of Nian and the magical warrior.”

An Author’s Note about the Chinese New Year, the holiday’s traditions, and the Legend of Nian follows the story.

celebrate-picture-book-review-nian-the-chinese-new-year-dragon-party

Image copyright Timothy Banks, 2019, text copyright Virginia Loh-Hagan, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Virginia Loh-Hagan presents an enchanting retelling of the Legend of Nian, filled with kid-centric cleverness and, especially, girl power. Suspense builds as Nian returns on three five-day cycles to terrorize the villagers, and children will eagerly await and cheer Mei’s actions. Along the way, readers learn the origins of beloved Chinese New Year traditions. Loh-Hagan’s fast-paced storytelling shines with evocative language and personal, action-packed motivations. Nian is truly a fiercesome beast and Mei, born in the year of the dragon, is just the person to defeat him, providing readers with a charming role model in vanquishing the “beasts” in their own lives.

Timothy Banks’ illustrations employ the beauty and delicacy of Chinese brush painting while adding stylized line drawings and textured backgrounds to depict eye-catching scenes on every page. Nian is first introduced coiled in his underwater cave, the entrance to which mimic the monster’s enormous mouth. The urgency of Nian’s threat is evident as the frightened animals run for the barn, while the villagers’ delight in helping to scare away the dragon demonstrates the bravery that Mei inspires in them. Banks plays with darkness and light, and especially with the vibrant red associated with the holiday, emphasizing Mei’s accomplishment while creating meaningful imagery throughout the story.

Beautiful and compelling, Nian, The Chinese New Year Dragon is an excellent story to share during Chinese New Year celebrations and all through the year. The book will excite children to learn more about the holiday and offers many opportunities for home or curricular extensions. It would make a welcome addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 6 – 8

Sleeping Bear Press, 2019 | ISBN 978-1585364138

Appreciate a Dragon Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-chinese-new-year-word-search

Chinese New Year Word Search Puzzle

 

Can you find the twenty Chinese New Year-related words in this printable puzzle?

Chinese New Year Word Search Puzzle | Chinese New Year Word Search Solution

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-nian-the-chinese-new-year-dragon-cover

You can find Nian, The Chinese New Year Dragon: A Beastly Tale at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

January 7 – Old Rock Day

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About the Holiday

Do you love rocks—the history they tell, their versatility, their intricate patterns? Today’s holiday celebrates these wonders of nature and encourages geologists—both professionals and amateurs—to indulge their passion. To celebrate today, take a walk in your area or even in your own backyard, pick up a few rocks, and research a little more about them. Then build a rock cairn or have fun with today’s craft.

Lubna and Pebble

Written by Wendy Meddour | Illustrated by Daniel Egnéus

 

As Lubna and her father disembarked from the boat onto a new shore, Lubna bent down and picked up a pebble. “It was shiny and smooth and gray” and it became her best friend. She fell asleep in her father’s arms and when she woke up in the morning, she was in “a World of Tents.” With one hand, she held onto Daddy’s fingers and with the other she “gripped her pebble. Somehow, she knew they’d keep her safe.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-lubna-and-pebble-best-friend

Image copyright Daniel Egnéus, 2019, text copyright Wendy Meddour, 2019. Courtesy of Dial Books for Young Readers.

With a marker that she found in one of the tents, Lubna drew a smiley face on her pebble. Lubna told Pebble all of her stories about home, about her brothers, and about the war. Pebble was a good listener and made her feel better when she was frightened. “‘I love you, Pebble,’ Lubna said with a sigh.” Winter came with snow and bitter winds, but Daddy kept Lubna warm. Lubna worried about Pebble: how would it stay warm? What if it caught a cold? Daddy gave her a shoebox and a tea towel, and Lubna settled Pebble in and gave it a kiss before going to sleep.

Not long after, a little boy named Amir arrived. He and Lubna played together, but every night Lubna reassured Pebble that it was still her best friend. One day Daddy brought happy news. He had found them a new home; they were leaving the World of Tents. Lubna was happy too. “Then sad. Amir cried.” That night Lubna lay in bed wide awake. “She asked Pebble what to do,” but Pebble remained silent.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-lubna-and-pebble-asleep

Image copyright Daniel Egnéus, 2019, text copyright Wendy Meddour, 2019. Courtesy of Dial Books for Young Readers.

In the morning, though, Lubna had her answer. She found Amir and gave him “the shoe box with Pebble and the pen.” Amir wanted to know what to do if Pebble missed Lubna, and she told him to “‘draw the smile back on.’” And when Amir asked what he should do if he missed Lubna, she told him to talk to Pebble. Amir and Pebble watched as Lubna sailed away on the sea. “‘Good-bye, Pebble, Lubna whispered,’” while Amir greeted his new best friend.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-lubna-and-pebble-tent-world

Image copyright Daniel Egnéus, 2019, text copyright Wendy Meddour, 2019. Courtesy of Dial Books for Young Readers.

At once heartrending and uplifting, Wendy Meddour’s story about the resilience of children will resonate not only with children who have experienced major life changes but also with those sensitive to the ups and downs of growing up. Meddour captures the beauty of children’s ability to find strength and comfort in inanimate objects, creating in Pebble a fourth main character that readers will care about. Lubna’s selfless act in giving Pebble to Amir will ring true with young readers, whose hearts are generous and kind. Meddour’s straightforward storytelling is more powerful for its brevity and inclusion of well-chosen details that kids will recognize and empathize with. Lubna’s new home and Amir’s adoption of Pebble end this story on the note of hope and optimism embodied naturally in our children.

In his gorgeous collage-style illustrations, Daniel Egnéus uses the power of shadow and light, of darkness and color to create the real and imaginative worlds that Lubna and Amir traverse. The play with imagery begins on the title page, where the ship carrying Lubna, her father, and other refugees seems to be poised for flight as vibrant flowers are projected on its dark hull. Readers first meet Lubna eye-to-eye in a two-page spread as she gazes upon Pebble, while the next page zooms out to show her crouched on the beach beneath two hulking ships and a golden sliver of moon. The “World of Tents” is represented with laundry lines filled with towels and clothes that present both a barrier and a welcome to Lubna and her daddy. As Lubna tells Pebble about her old life, her memories take her back to a day when her brothers’ kites shared the sky with three fighter jets, the kites’ strings mirrored in the planes’ contrails. Alert readers will notice that Egnéus often depicts Lubna’s daddy with his arms cradling his daughter, creating the same rounded profile of comfort as Pebble. Ingenious touches of floral motifs add to the meaning and impact of this beautiful story.

A stirring story with many applications for discussing kindness, courage, and friendship, Lubna and Pebble is highly recommended for home, classroom, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Dial Books for Young Readers, 2019 | ISBN 978-0525554165

Discover more about Wendy Meddour and her books on her website.

To learn more about Daniel Egnéus, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Old Rock Day Activity

CPB - Nasty Bugs magnet II (2)

Rock This Craft!

 

Smooth stones can give you a natural canvas for your creativity! With a little bit of paint, pins or magnets, and some imagination, you can make refrigerator magnets, jewelry, paper weights, and more!

Supplies

  • Smooth stones in various sizes
  • Paint or markers
  • Small magnets, available at craft stores
  • Jewelry pins, available at craft stores
  • Paint brush
  • Strong glue

Directions

To make magnets

  1. Design and paint an image on the stone
  2. Attach a magnet to the back with strong glue, let dry
  3. Use to hang pictures, notes, or other bits of important stuff on your refrigerator or magnetic board

To make jewelry

  1. Using a smaller, flatter stone, design and paint an image on the stone
  2. Attach a jewelry pin to the back with the strong glue, let dry
  3. Wear your pin proudly

To make a paper weight

  1. Using a large stone, design and paint an image on the stone
  2. Let dry
  3. Display and use on your desk to keep those papers in place

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-lubna-and-pebble-cover

You can find Lubna and Pebble at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

November 15 – It’s Geography Awareness Week

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-manhattan-mapping-the-story-of-an-island-cover

About the Holiday

Today’s holiday was instituted in 1994 by National Geographic to get people excited about geography and its importance to education and everyday life. As defined by National Geographic, geography is “the study of places and the relationships between people and their environments.” This discipline includes how humans interact with the environment and the impact of location on people. These important questions affect a wide range of issues. More than 100,000 people across the country participate in Geography Awareness Week through special events, focused lessons and activities in classrooms, and attention by government and business policy-makers. To learn more about the week and discover resources for further education, visit the National Geographic website.

Manhattan: Mapping the Story of an Island

By Jennifer Thermes

 

Jennifer Thermes’ phenomenal work of history and geography begins on the front and back endpapers, where a detailed and tagged map of Manhattan, with its gridded streets and unique landmarks awaits investigation. But how did it become this bustling world leader? Thermes reveals that even from its formation millions of years ago as a sheltered bit of land, fed by both fresh and salt water, the island “bubbled with life.” Continuing on from this lyrical beginning, Thermes’ love for New York shines on every exquisite page.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-manhattan-mapping-the-story-of-an-island-beginning

Copyright Jennifer Thermes, 2019. Courtesy of Harry N. Abrams.

Alternating between sweeping vistas of the island, immersive images of major events, and meticulous maps—complete with tiny homes and buildings, people at work and play, and hand-lettered street names—that show the growth of the city, Thermes presents a feast for the eyes. Her full-bleed, oversized illustrations, rendered in a gorgeous color palette, create in themselves a comprehensive overview of history seen through changing clothing, transportation, and home styles to name just a few telling elements. Studying the maps, a reader can’t be faulted for feeling as if they might come to life at any moment.

She introduces readers to the Lenape, who for thousands of years called the island home. They named it “Mannahatta, which means ‘island of many hills.’” As the seasons changed, the people moved from one part of the island to another, establishing villages “with names like Sapokanikan and Shroakapok and fishing, farming, and foraging for “what they needed and nothing more.”

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Copyright Jennifer Thermes, 2019. Courtesy of Harry N. Abrams.

Thermes then follows explorer Henry Hudson, whose reports back home about the island’s riches would change the island forever. She marks historical periods from 1625 to today with elegant banners that give the dates and changing names for this coveted landmass. Thermes’ storytelling eloquently reveals the complexity of the island’s development from canals dug and filled in, expansion of its width with landfill that included “rocks and earth, broken crockery, oyster shells, wood from old shipwrecks, rotting garbage, and even dead animals” to the adoption of the grid system.

The impact of slavery, the divides between rich and poor, the influence of business and industry, and the continual effects of modernization are woven throughout Thermes’ pages, sometimes coalescing as in the story of Collect Pond, once “the island’s best source of fresh water,” which became, in turn, the site of a cemetery for free Africans, polluted by “breweries, tanneries, and slaughterhouses,” a neighborhood for the wealthy, an area plagued by gangs and violence, and finally, in 2006, a national monument commemorating the old African Burial Ground. Each clearly articulated description gives readers a robust and eye-opening history of this city that is in many ways a microcosm of America.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-manhattan-mapping-the-story-of-an-island-british-new-york

Copyright Jennifer Thermes, 2019. Courtesy of Harry N. Abrams.

With the Revolutionary War behind them and a new nation in front, people thronged to what was now New York, New York, U.S.A. With much rebuilding needed, “Shipbuilders, sailmakers, carpenters, blacksmiths, and all kinds of artisans crowded the city again…. The city on the island was branching out in all directions. It needed a plan.” The plan came in the form of a grid system. The execution of the plan saw the island’s hills leveled, new roads built and old roads straightened, houses in the way torn down, and people relocated. When the dust settled, “the city commissioners had thought it would take centuries to fill the grid with buildings. It only took sixty years.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-manhattan-mapping-the-story-of-an-island-british-central-park

Copyright Jennifer Thermes, 2019. Courtesy of Harry N. Abrams.

The Great Fire of 1835, the building of Central Park, the history of immigration, the gilded age of the late 1800s, and the Great Blizzard of 1888, which spurred the building of the subway, are a few more of the events readers will learn about. As an island, Manhattan’s story is also written its bridges, and everyone knows the names of the famous skyscrapers that make the city’s skyline unique. Stirring images of these landmarks are here too.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-manhattan-mapping-the-story-of-an-island-immigration

Copyright Jennifer Thermes, 2019. Courtesy of Harry N. Abrams.

The city continues to be changed by environmental events, such as Hurricane Sandy of 2012, and buoyed by improvements like the cleaning of the Bronx River that has prompted beavers to return “for the first time in more than two hundred years.” As Thermes says in conclusion: “Reminders are everywhere that through centuries of constant change humans and nature will always exist together. And beneath the city’s concrete crust, the island endures.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-manhattan-mapping-the-story-of-an-island-skyscrapers

Copyright Jennifer Thermes, 2019. Courtesy of Harry N. Abrams.

A stunning achievement, Manhattan: Mapping the Story of an Island is a must addition to home, school, and classroom collections. This is a book that readers will want to dip into again and again to discover all it has to offer. Opportunities for cross-curricular lessons abound from history to geography, language arts to math, art and architecture to environmental science, and beyond. Manhattan makes a wonderful gift for children and teachers and, of course, for any New York lover of any age.

Ages 8 – 12 and up

Harry N. Abrams, 2019 | ISBN 978-1419736551

To learn more about Jennifer Thermes, her books, and her art, visit her website.

National Geography Day Activity

CPB - Map Day II

Map Jigsaw Puzzle

 

Sometimes reading a map is like putting together a puzzle—so why not make a puzzle out of a map? It can be fun to use a map of your town or state or to use a map of a state or country you’d like to visit!

Supplies

  • Small to medium size map (maps are often offered free at tourist stops, town halls, or other tourist information offices or racks)
  • Poster board
  • Glue
  • Scissors

CPB - Map Day

Directions

  1. Use the entire map or cut a desired-sized section from a map
  2. Glue the map to the poster board, let dry
  3. Cut the map from the poster board
  4. Cut the map into puzzle sections, these can be straight-sided sections or ones with interconnecting parts.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-manhattan-mapping-the-story-of-an-island-cover

You can find Manhattan: Mapping the Story of an Island at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review