January 15 – Celebrating the Book Birthday of Stompin’ at the Savoy

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-stompin-at-the-savoy-cover

About the Holiday

I was thrilled to host the cover reveal of Stompin’ at the Savoy and am now excited to be celebrating the book birthday of this extraordinary biography of one of the greats of Jazz with a review, an interview with Moira and Laura, and a giveaway of the book. Enjoy!

Thanks goes to Sleeping Bear Press for sending me a copy of Stompin’ at the Savoy for review consideration. all opinions of the book are my own. I’m happy to be teaming with them in a giveaway of the book. See details and two ways to enter below.

Stompin’ at the Savoy: How Chick Webb Became the King of Drums

Written by Moira Rose Donohue | Illustrated by Laura Freeman

 

As a child William Henry “Chick” Webb turned everything into a drum. “He tapped rhythms on iron railings. Tinkety-tink! He slapped rhythms on marble steps. Thwapety-thwap!” Years later he would be competing in the “biggest band battle of the century” at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem. But before that he had to overcome many obstacles. Throughout his life, William suffered with a spinal illness that stunted his growth. After an operation after a fall, the doctor recommended getting him a drum set to strengthen his arms. But drums—even drumsticks—were too expensive, so William used wooden spoons and pots and pans to make music.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-stompin-at-the-savoy-pots-and-pans

Image copyright Laura Freeman, 2021, text copyright Moira Rose Donohue, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

William’s illness left him with a hunchback and the “kids called him ‘Chicken’—shortened to “Chick”— because of the way he walked. To make money, Chick began selling newspapers when he was nine or ten. Soon he had bought real drumsticks and finally a drum set. Even though Chick only grew to be four feet, one inch that “didn’t stop him from making a giant sound. He just needed a taller chair and a higher bass pedal to do it.”

As a teenager, Chick was hired to play in local bands. He met Duke Ellington. He thought Chick was ready to lead his own band, but Chick waited. In the late 1920s a new kind of music—swing, with its dance-driving beat—came on the scene. “This new music was just right for Chick” and after choosing the best musicians he could find, he began touring the country. On one of these trips he hired Ella Fitzgerald to be the band’s lead singer. By 1937, Chick and his band was playing at the famous Savoy Ballroom. Some even called him the “‘Savoy King.’”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-stompin-at-the-savoy-newspapers

The Savoy Ballroom was different from most clubs. Here, both Black and White people were welcome to dance. “Working-class people and movie stars danced alongside one another. People jumped and jived to new dances all night long.” At the time, bands competed in live “battles,” which Chick usually won. But then in February 1937, his band lost to Duke Ellington.

Chick didn’t let that get him down. Instead he challenged Benny Goodman—who led the number one big band in the country—to a battle of the bands. Benny laid down some rules: his and Chick’s band would play the same songs, his band would play first, and he would play on the biggest stage at the Savoy. Chick agreed. “That night, four thousand people crowded together on the dance floor” and another five thousand gathered outside in the street. In the crowd were also reporters from music magazines. Before his band went on, Chick laid down just one rule as he talked to his bandmates: “‘I don’t want nobody to miss.’”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-stompin-at-the-savoy-drums

Benny Goodman and his band started off with his smooth, sweet clarinet that set the crowd swaying. But when Chick’s band took the stage, they gave the song a “hotter and faster… Swingier” beat, and the audience bounced along. The music swelled as “back and forth the bands played.” But it may have been “Jam Session” that decided it. As Chick “pounded louder and faster than a speeding train… Benny’s band just shook their heads in disbelief.” Everyone agreed that Chick had won. From that night on, Chick had a new nickname—“the ‘King of Drums.’”

An Authors note telling more about the life of Chick Webb follows the text.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-stompin-at-the-savoy-dancing

Thrilling for music-lovers, readers, and dreamers alike, Moira Rose Donohue’s biography of Chick Webb will inspire children to look not at the obstacles they may face but at ways to rise above them to achieve their goals. Donohue’s early focus on Chick’s determination to make music—whether he was using wooden spoons and pots or, much later, real drumsticks and drums—will impress on kids that practice, confidence, and an unfailing vision for the future can move mountains.

An important underlying lesson in Chick’s story is his self-awareness and willingness to wait until he felt ready to find his own niche and create his own band. This example, highlighted in Donohue’s compelling storytelling, will reassure readers who are meticulous, careful, and chafe under a “hurry, hurry” atmosphere. Through Donohue’s lyricism, pacing, and riveting vocabulary, readers can almost hear Chick at his drums as his drumsticks sizzle, whether at home, at venues across the country, or at the Savoy.

Laura Freeman’s rich colors and realistic depictions of Chick Webb—nearly always with drumsticks in his hands—will captivate readers as they watch a little boy with a big talent become the King of Drums. From his childhood kitchen to the school hallway to his natural entertaining spirit while selling newspapers, Freeman shows Chick’s singular focus and the times in which he grew up. Swirled musical bars, floating notes, and shadowed drumsticks give her illustrations movement. The look of rapture on Chick’s face as he plays and images of couples dancing to swing depict how the music transported people from the normal rhythms of life. The final spreads of Chick and Benny Goodman’s battle of the bands are raucous and enthralling and will have kids wanting to hear Chick’s music for themselves.

An absorbing biography of Chick Webb and the era of the big bands as well as a shining example of how one’s belief in oneself can conquer hurdles, Stompin’ at the Savoy: How Chick Webb Became the King of Drums is highly recommended for home bookshelves and a must for school and library collections.

Stompin’ at the Savoy Book Birthday Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-stompin-at-the-savoy-coloring-page

Stompin’ at the Savoy Activity Kit

 

You can enjoy coloring a picture of Chick Webb at his drums and challenging yourself with the word search puzzle found in this printable Activity Guide found on the Sleeping Bear Website.

Stompin’ at the Savoy Activity Kit

Meet Moira Rose Donohue

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-moira-rose-donohue-headshot

Moira Rose Donohue has written over 35 books for children, most of them nonfiction, including National Geographic’s Little Kids First Big Book of the Rain Forest and two Junior Library Guild selections: Great White Sharks (Scholastic/Children’s Press) and The Invasion of Normandy (North Star Editions). She loves tap dancing, opera, hockey, and animals. Moira lives in St. Petersburg, Florida, with her dog, Petunia.

Among the many titles you’ve published are books on nature, history, and many, many biographies of figures from explorers to sports stars to civil rights leaders. What is your favorite thing about writing biographies? What was the initial spark that prompted you to choose Chick Webb as the subject of your newest book?

The thing I like most about writing biographies is that through the extensive research you have to do, you eventually discover the “essence” of the person—that unique quality that guided him/her/them to act in a way that made a difference in the world.

My initial interest in Chick was sparked when I was watching a re-airing of the Ken Burns documentary on jazz music. When the movie reached the evolution of swing and big bands, Chick Webb was mentioned. I have always loved Big Band music, even though it was not the music of my era. I was familiar with all the big band musicians discussed except Chick Webb. So, of course I had to research him. When I saw his life-loving grin and learned that he had to face the challenges of an affliction that left him no taller than an average eight-year-old boy, I was hooked.

Can you talk a little about the story readers will discover in Stompin’ at the Savoy and take readers on the book’s journey from idea to published book?

This book is not a chronicle of Chick’s life. It focuses on his resilient and competitive spirit because that’s what struck a chord with me. I love contests, and so, apparently, did Chick. To showcase his competitiveness, the climax of the book is his legendary band battle with 6-foot tall Benny Goodman, the King of Swing—a contest so exciting that almost 10,000 people showed up, inside the Savoy and outside on Lenox Avenue. You’ll have to read the book to find out who won!

What was one of the most surprising things you learned about Chick Webb during your research?

As a drummer and a band leader, Chick was precise and demanding. He told his musicians to practice and to be perfect. This didn’t surprise me because my daughter is a percussionist and I know that to be successful, practice and discipline are essential. What did surprise me is that, on occasion, Chick was known to give in to his wilder side and ride around town on the back of a motorcycle, standing up.

Researching Chick Webb was tricky because not much has been written about him. I had to call upon librarians, my superheroes, to watch a documentary at the Library of Congress and to find out what his childhood home looked like (thanks to the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore).

For an author it must be thrilling to see your story come to life visually. When did you see the cover and illustrations for your story? What was your first reaction?

I have been a big fan of Laura’s work for some time, so I knew when I got the sketches in May, 2020 that they would be wonderful. But the best part was that she completely understood the Big Band era and captured the ethos of the Savoy perfectly. It turns out that she had a connection to it—her father danced at the Savoy Ballroom.

As for the cover, which I didn’t see until early October, 2020, well…it brought tears to my eyes. The purple background is such a perfect choice for the King of Drums. And Laura even managed to put his signature green chicks on his drum set!

What would you like young readers to take away from the story of Chick Webb?

Although I cannot fully understand the magnitude and complexities of Chick’s struggle, as someone who is only 4 feet 11 inches tall and always trying to figure out how to reach things in high places, I relate to the challenges of being a short person. I completely understood his need to make his bass drum pedal higher so he could reach it! And I admired his perseverance. I hope the young readers will see Chick’s story as an inspiration—a story of someone who believed in himself and his music. Chick was a person with short stature who created a giant sound.  

When will readers be able to find Stompin’ at the Savoy on bookstore shelves? Do you have any special events to planned that readers can look forward to?

Stompin’ at the Savoy will be available for purchase on January 15, 2021. We are holding a virtual book release celebration this Monday, January 18 at 3:30 EST with Tombolo Books bookstore. You can register for the event as well as buy signed copies of the book there. You’ll find more information and the link to register on my website, moirarosedonohue.net. And I am hoping to have an in-person event in Baltimore, Chick’s (and my son’s) home, when it’s safe to do so. 

You can connect with Moira Rose Donohue on

Her website | Twitter

Meet Laura Freeman

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Laura-Freeman-headshot

Laura Freeman has illustrated many fine children’s books over the years, including Fancy Party Gowns: The Story of Fashion Designer Ann Cole Lowe, written by Deborah Blumenthal, and the Coretta Scott King Honor book Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race, by Margot Lee Shetterly and Winifred Conkling. Laura now lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with her husband and their two children. 

I think readers are fascinated by an artist’s process in translating a manuscript to images that explain, highlight, and enhance the text. Can you talk a little about how you approached the manuscript for Stompin’ at the Savoy and then developed your illustrations.

I always spend a lot of time looking at photos and researching the character and time period before starting. For Stompin’ I wanted to get in the mood, and so I searched for his music online and was surprised to find that I recognized the title song (which was written in 1933!). Maybe I watch too many old movies, but it really is great! I found great old photos of him at his drum kit and photos of the Savoy nightclub as well as people dancing and swinging to the orchestra. Since it was the ’30’s, all the photos I found were in black and white so I dug into the internet to find out what color his drum kit was… and I found conflicting information. One article stated that the kit was pearlized cream decorated with sparkly green chicks but the accompanying photo showed the chicks as being red. I ended up trusting the words since the photo was obviously hand tinted. I hope I got it right but guess it’s not the end of the world if I’m wrong! 

What were your thoughts as you began to design the interior images for Stompin’ at the Savoy?

I wanted to give the illustrations a sense of movement to mimic the way Chick’s music makes me feel. There are a lot of colorful musical notes dancing throughout almost all of the pages. There is one spread in particular where if you look closely you can find them in a pattern in the ironwork of the staircase that Chick falls down as a child. Even though he’s not playing music on this page I wanted the notes to foreshadow his future.

What aspects of Chick Webb’s story did you most want to express in your illustrations? Is there a spread in the book that you particularly enjoyed creating?

Even though he had a tragic accident when he was a child that affected him for the rest of his life, his music is so full of joy – I wanted the book to feel joyful! I wanted it to be bright and colorful. There’s one spread in the book that depicts a battle of the bands. The one where Chick’s band goes up against Benny Goodman’s band. It was one of the last images I tackled because I have to admit, I had no idea how I was going to pull it off. There was just so much going on. I wanted to show the excitement and electricity of the moment – both bands playing their instruments, Chick’s band in white tuxedos, Benny Goodman’s band in black, Chick at his drum kit, Gene Krupka breaking his drum head. All this, but I didn’t want it to look busy and confusing. It ended up being one of my favorite images in the book!

I’ve been fortunate to review several of your picture books. In each one the illustrations are uniquely suited for the subject and yet instantly recognizable as your work. What would you say is your signature style? How did you develop it?

Thank you for saying so! I guess I’d say my illustrations are somewhat realistic in that I do try to capture a likeness. But still not so much so that I can’t deviate from reality to make a point. I guess you could say my work has a collage feel to it since I love to play around with patterns and textures too. I think that the amount of research I do shows up in the illustrations. I try to immerse myself in the time period of the book. I love finding the right clothing and hairstyles. What did the streets look like? The cars? What kind of technology was available? What about the furniture? I collect 100’s of photos of all these things. Very few end up in the books, but the essence of what I’ve seen does… I hope!

What do you hope children will take away from your illustrations for Stompin’ at the Savoy?

I hope that they can see themselves in his story. I love that he didn’t let his physical limitations stop him from doing what he wanted to do. He had to sit on a high stool to reach the drums. He couldn’t reach the bass drum pedal on the stool, so he had a special one made. He even embraced what surely started out as a derogatory nickname and called himself Chick.

Like Moira, many of your books for children are biographies. What draws you to those projects? What are the challenges and the rewards of working on biographies?

I especially like learning about people I may never have heard of and learning new things about people I have heard of. If I don’t know the information, chances are that most kids don’t either. With a biography there’s the challenge of capturing a likeness. Sometimes there are lots of photos and videos of the person I’m depicting to reference. Other times, not so much. I may need to distill the person’s facial features and try to figure out what they might look like from a different angle or as a child when there really aren’t any reference photos to go by. I want to do them justice because I feel honored to be involved in uncovering their stories.

You can connect with Laura Freeman on

Her website | Instagram | Twitter

Thanks so much Moira and Laura for these insightful answers! I’m sure readers are as excited to read Stompin’ at the Savoy: How Chick Webb Became the King of Drums as I am! While we have to wait a little longer to find the book in bookstores, everyone’s invited to enter my giveaway for a chance to win a copy!

Stompin’ at the Savoy: How Chick Webb Became the King of Drums Giveaway

 

I’m excited to partner with Sleeping Bear Press in Twitter giveaway of:

  • One (1) copy of Stompin’ at the Savoy, written by Moira Rose Donohue| illustrated by Laura Freeman 

Here’s how to enter:

  • Follow Celebrate Picture Books 
  • Retweet a giveaway tweet OR leave a comment below
  • Bonus: Reply with your favorite kind of music for an extra entry (each reply gives you one more entry).

This giveaway is open from January 15 through January 21 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner will be chosen on January 22. 

Giveaway open to U.S. addresses only. | Prizing provided by Sleeping Bear Press.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-stompin-at-the-savoy-cover

You can preorder Stompin’ at the Savoy: How Chick Webb Became the King of Drums at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

December 3 – Cover Reveal of Stompin’ at the Savoy: How Chick Webb Became the King of Drums

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-stompin-at-the-savoy-cover

Stompin’ at the Savoy: How Chick Webb Became the King of Drums

Written by Moira Rose Donohue | Illustrated by Laura Freeman

 

Although a disability stunted his growth and left him with a hunched back, William Henry “Chick” Webb didn’t let that get in the way of pursuing his dreams of being a musician. Even as a young child, Chick saw the world as one big drum. He pounded out rhythms on everything from stair railings to pots and pans with a wooden spoon until he earned enough money selling newspapers to buy himself a real set.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-stompin'-at-the-savoy-band-battle

Image copyright Laura Freeman, 2021, text copyright Moira Rose Donohue, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

He saved more money and was at last able to buy a drum set where he could “bang on the bass drum, crash the cymbals, and rattle the snare.” When he was still a teenager, he played drums in several bands. His talent and love for music eventually brought him to the big time as an influential big band leader. But Chick wanted to be at the top. Would he get his chance? This picture-book biography bops with the sounds and dance moves of the Swing era and one of the most famous clubs in America as it relates the life of Black American jazz drummer Chick Webb, who in the 1930s earned the nickname the “King of the Savoy.”

With Moira Rose Donohue’s scintillating storytelling about a time in musical history that still resonates today and Laura Freeman’s vibrant illustrations that ring with bright horns, soar on a sublime voice, and pulsate with the beat of a master drummer, Stompin’ at the Savoy – which Kirkus calls “an effervescent celebration”is a book that will inspire children.

I’m thrilled to be talking today with Moira Rose Donohue and Laura Freeman to learn more about how they brought the extraordinary story of Chick Webb to life for young readers. 

Meet Moira Rose Donohue

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-moira-rose-donohue-headshot

Moira Rose Donohue has written over 35 books for children, most of them nonfiction, including National Geographic’s Little Kids First Big Book of the Rain Forest and two Junior Library Guild selections: Great White Sharks (Scholastic/Children’s Press) and The Invasion of Normandy (North Star Editions). She loves tap dancing, opera, hockey, and animals. Moira lives in St. Petersburg, Florida, with her dog, Petunia.

Among the many titles you’ve published are books on nature, history, and many, many biographies of figures from explorers to sports stars to civil rights leaders. What is your favorite thing about writing biographies? What was the initial spark that prompted you to choose Chick Webb as the subject of your newest book?

The thing I like most about writing biographies is that through the extensive research you have to do, you eventually discover the “essence” of the person—that unique quality that guided him/her/them to act in a way that made a difference in the world.

My initial interest in Chick was sparked when I was watching a re-airing of the Ken Burns documentary on jazz music. When the movie reached the evolution of swing and big bands, Chick Webb was mentioned. I have always loved Big Band music, even though it was not the music of my era. I was familiar with all the big band musicians discussed except Chick Webb. So, of course I had to research him. When I saw his life-loving grin and learned that he had to face the challenges of an affliction that left him no taller than an average eight-year-old boy, I was hooked.

Can you talk a little about the story readers will discover in Stompin’ at the Savoy and take readers on the book’s journey from idea to published book?

This book is not a chronicle of Chick’s life. It focuses on his resilient and competitive spirit because that’s what struck a chord with me. I love contests, and so, apparently, did Chick. To showcase his competitiveness, the climax of the book is his legendary band battle with 6-foot tall Benny Goodman, the King of Swing—a contest so exciting that almost 10,000 people showed up, inside the Savoy and outside on Lenox Avenue. You’ll have to read the book to find out who won!

What was one of the most surprising things you learned about Chick Webb during your research?

As a drummer and a band leader, Chick was precise and demanding. He told his musicians to practice and to be perfect. This didn’t surprise me because my daughter is a percussionist and I know that to be successful, practice and discipline are essential. What did surprise me is that, on occasion, Chick was known to give in to his wilder side and ride around town on the back of a motorcycle, standing up.

Researching Chick Webb was tricky because not much has been written about him. I had to call upon librarians, my superheroes, to watch a documentary at the Library of Congress and to find out what his childhood home looked like (thanks to the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore).

For an author it must be thrilling to see your story come to life visually. When did you see the cover and illustrations for your story? What was your first reaction?

I have been a big fan of Laura’s work for some time, so I knew when I got the sketches in May, 2020 that they would be wonderful. But the best part was that she completely understood the Big Band era and captured the ethos of the Savoy perfectly. It turns out that she had a connection to it—her father danced at the Savoy Ballroom.

As for the cover, which I didn’t see until early October, 2020, well…it brought tears to my eyes. The purple background is such a perfect choice for the King of Drums. And Laura even managed to put his signature green chicks on his drum set!

What would you like young readers to take away from the story of Chick Webb?

Although I cannot fully understand the magnitude and complexities of Chick’s struggle, as someone who is only 4 feet 11 inches tall and always trying to figure out how to reach things in high places, I relate to the challenges of being a short person. I completely understood his need to make his bass drum pedal higher so he could reach it! And I admired his perseverance. I hope the young readers will see Chick’s story as an inspiration—a story of someone who believed in himself and his music. Chick was a person with short stature who created a giant sound.  

When will readers be able to find Stompin’ at the Savoy on bookstore shelves? Do you have any special events planned that readers can look forward to?

Stompin’ at the Savoy will be available for purchase on January 15, 2021. We are planning on setting up a virtual book release celebration with Tombolo Books. For more information and updates, please check my website, moirarosedonohue.net. And I am hoping to have an in-person event in Baltimore, Chick’s (and my son’s) home, when it’s safe to do so. 

You can connect with Moira Rose Donohue on

Her website | Twitter

Meet Laura Freeman

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Laura-Freeman-headshot

Laura Freeman has illustrated many fine children’s books over the years, including Fancy Party Gowns: The Story of Fashion Designer Ann Cole Lowe, written by Deborah Blumenthal, and the Coretta Scott King Honor book Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race, by Margot Lee Shetterly and Winifred Conkling. Laura now lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with her husband and their two children. 

I think readers are fascinated by an artist’s process in translating a manuscript to images that explain, highlight, and enhance the text. Can you talk a little about how you approached the manuscript for Stompin’ at the Savoy and then developed your illustrations – especially this stunning cover.

I always spend a lot of time looking at photos and researching the character and time period before starting. For Stompin’ I wanted to get in the mood, and so I searched for his music online and was surprised to find that I recognized the title song (which was written in 1933!). Maybe I watch too many old movies, but it really is great! I found great old photos of him at his drum kit and photos of the Savoy nightclub as well as people dancing and swinging to the orchestra. Since it was the ’30’s, all the photos I found were in black and white so I dug into the internet to find out what color his drum kit was… and I found conflicting information. One article stated that the kit was pearlized cream decorated with sparkly green chicks but the accompanying photo showed the chicks as being red. I ended up trusting the words since the photo was obviously hand tinted. I hope I got it right but guess it’s not the end of the world if I’m wrong! 

The cover is just a peek at what readers have to look forward to in the book. Can you give them a little taste of what’s in store inside?

I tried to give the illustrations a sense of movement to mimic the way Chick’s music makes me feel. There are a lot of colorful musical notes dancing throughout almost all of the pages. There is one spread in particular where if you look closely you can find them in a pattern in the ironwork of the staircase that Chick falls down as a child. Even though he’s not playing music on this page I wanted the notes to foreshadow his future.

What aspects of Chick Webb’s story did you most want to express in your illustrations? Is there a spread in the book that you particularly enjoyed creating?

Even though he had a tragic accident when he was a child that affected him for the rest of his life, his music is so full of joy – I wanted the book to feel joyful! I wanted it to be bright and colorful. There’s one spread in the book that depicts a battle of the bands. The one where Chick’s band goes up against Benny Goodman’s band. It was one of the last images I tackled because I have to admit, I had no idea how I was going to pull it off. There was just so much going on. I wanted to show the excitement and electricity of the moment – both bands playing their instruments, Chick’s band in white tuxedos, Benny Goodman’s band in black, Chick at his drum kit, Gene Krupka breaking his drum head. All this, but I didn’t want it to look busy and confusing. It ended up being one of my favorite images in the book!

I’ve been fortunate to review several of your picture books. In each one the illustrations are uniquely suited for the subject and yet instantly recognizable as your work. What would you say is your signature style? How did you develop it?

Thank you for saying so! I guess I’d say my illustrations are somewhat realistic in that I do try to capture a likeness. But still not so much so that I can’t deviate from reality to make a point. I guess you could say my work has a collage feel to it since I love to play around with patterns and textures too. I think that the amount of research I do shows up in the illustrations. I try to immerse myself in the time period of the book. I love finding the right clothing and hairstyles. What did the streets look like? The cars? What kind of technology was available? What about the furniture? I collect 100’s of photos of all these things. Very few end up in the books, but the essence of what I’ve seen does… I hope!

What do you hope children will take away from your illustrations for Stompin’ at the Savoy?

I hope that they can see themselves in his story. I love that he didn’t let his physical limitations stop him from doing what he wanted to do. He had to sit on a high stool to reach the drums. He couldn’t reach the bass drum pedal on the stool, so he had a special one made. He even embraced what surely started out as a derogatory nickname and called himself Chick.

Like Moira, many of your books for children are biographies. What draws you to those projects? What are the challenges and the rewards of working on biographies?

I especially like learning about people I may never have heard of and learning new things about people I have heard of. If I don’t know the information, chances are that most kids don’t either. With a biography there’s the challenge of capturing a likeness. Sometimes there are lots of photos and videos of the person I’m depicting to reference. Other times, not so much. I may need to distill the person’s facial features and try to figure out what they might look like from a different angle or as a child when there really aren’t any reference photos to go by. I want to do them justice because I feel honored to be involved in uncovering their stories.

You can connect with Laura Freeman on

Her website | Instagram | Twitter

Thanks so much Moira and Laura for these insightful answers! I’m sure readers are as excited to read Stompin’ at the Savoy: How Chick Webb Became the King of Drums as I am! While we have to wait a little longer to find the book in bookstores, everyone’s invited to enter my giveaway for a chance to win a copy!

Stompin’ at the Savoy: How Chick Webb Became the King of Drums Giveaway

 

I’m excited to partner with Sleeping Bear Press in Twitter giveaway of:

  • One (1) copy of Stompin’ at the Savoy, written by Moira Rose Donohue| illustrated by Laura Freeman 

Here’s how to enter:

  • Follow Sleeping Bear Press 
  • Retweet a giveaway tweet
  • Bonus: Reply with your favorite kind of music for an extra entry (each reply gives you one more entry).

This giveaway is open from December 3 through December 9 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner will be chosen on December 10. The prize book will be sent from Sleeping Bear Press in January.

Giveaway open to U.S. addresses only. | Prizing provided by Sleeping Bear Press.

To learn more about Stompin’ at the Savoy: How Chick Webb Became the King of Drums and other marvelous books from Sleeping Bear Press, visit their website.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-stompin-at-the-savoy-cover

You can preorder Stompin’ at the Savoy: How Chick Webb Became the King of Drums at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

November 2 – It’s Picture Book Month

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-song-for-everyone-cover

About the Holiday

November is all about picture books thanks to Picture Book Month founder author and storyteller Dianne de Las Casas and co-founders author/illustrators Katie Davis, Elizabeth O. Dulemba, Wendy Martin, and author Tara Lazar. This month-long international literacy initiative celebrates print picture books and all that they offer to young (and even older) readers. With gorgeous artwork and compelling stories, picture books open the world to children in surprising ways. They entertain, explain, excite, and help children learn empathy and understanding. If you want to learn more about the holiday and read engaging daily posts about why picture books are important by your favorite authors, illustrators, and others in the children’s publishing industry, visit picturebookmonth.com

The Song for Everyone

By Lucy Morris

 

There was a tiny window “too high in the eaves to be noticed from below and too small to let in much daylight.” But one day a “delicate tune” wafted from it’s open panes and floated along the street. A boy trudging to school alone heard it and stopped to listen. As the music swirled around him, he felt happy and he skipped along on his way. Soon an old woman, slow and bent with age, walked by on her way to the market. As she passed under the window, “the sound flowed down and wrapped itself around her weary body.” Suddenly, she felt strong and joyful. A homeless cat followed stray notes from this tantalizing music and was led to two children “who longed for a cat of their own.”

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Copyright Lucy Morris, 2020, courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

The music continued to float from the open window, always seeming to know who needed to hear it and making the townspeople begin to care for and connect with each other in new ways. The town grew content and peaceful. But then one morning, the music stopped. The town seemed gray and lifeless, and the people felt sad, lonely, and weary. The people held a meeting and decided to see what was behind the open window. The little boy who’d first heard the music climbed up the ladder of townspeople and clambered inside.

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Copyright Lucy Morris, 2020, courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

There he found a little wren. She was tired and hungry and her song had left her. The boy promised to help her and he yelled down to the people gathered below. They gathered food and provisions and sent them up to the window in a basket. Two days passed, but the wren stayed silent. But then early one morning…! “A melody, a song. A sound so sweet” once again floated into the air and through the streets. Everyone rushed from their homes and crowded together under the window. There they saw “the boy and the wren making music together. Singing the song for everyone.” A they listened, the central square came alive with dancing, twirling, and playing.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-song-for-everyone-meeting

Copyright Lucy Morris, 2020, courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Lucy Morris’s lovely story—in both words and pictures—reveals the power of one person’s voice and/or actions to transform lives. The wren, singing from a darkened window offers her song, a melody that brings happiness and makes passersby realize they are not alone. Readers can imagine the cheered schoolboy, old woman, and new cat owners sharing their new-found joy with classmates, store clerks, other shoppers, parents, and friends, who also pass their sudden optimism to others until this small community embraces each other as never before. But one wren (or person) cannot sustain it alone. As the townspeople in Morris’s story discovers, it takes a group effort, and it is that coming together that truly creates change.

Morris’s beautiful, lyrical language is as light and buoyant as the wren’s song. Her word choices evocatively describe both the angst, weariness, and world view of the townspeople before the wren’s appearance and the joy, peace, and hopefulness they acquire after accepting her song.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-song-for-everyone-dancing

Copyright Lucy Morris, 2020, courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Morris’s charming illustrations, rendered in a serene color palette portrays a town where, despite the close proximity of the homes and buildings, the people are apparently distanced from each other. The wren’s music is depicted as a garland of flowers that once released into the air do not scatter, but remain strongly together to fill the streets, wrap around the needy, lead the lost, shelter the cold, and lift up those who need a boost.

While the loss of the wren’s song brings sadness, readers will also see that the wren has already accomplished much. Instead of returning to their solitary lives, the townspeople now gather together to discuss a solution. As a little girl addresses the group, kids will understand that their voice is important too. Images of the townspeople each contributing to the wellbeing of the wren and then celebrating her recovery reinforces Morris’ message of community.

A moving and triumphant story that will touch all readers and encourage them to use their individual talents to benefit others, The Song for Everyone will become a thoughtful favorite and is highly recommended for home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 3 – 8

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-1547602865

To learn more about Lucy Morris, her books, and her art, visit her website

Picture Book Month Activity

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Books to Love, Books to Read Book Bag

 

True book lovers can’t go anywhere without a book (or two or three) to read along the way. With this easy craft you can turn a cloth bag into a kid-size book bag!

 

Supplies

  • Printable Templates: Books to Read Template | Books to Love Template
  • Small cloth bag, available from craft or sewing stores—Recyclable Idea: I used the bag that sheet sets now come in
  • Cloth trim or strong ribbon, available from craft or sewing stores—Recyclable Idea: I used the cloth handles from shopping bags provided from some clothing stores
  • Scraps of different colored and patterned cloth. Or use quilting squares, available at craft and sewing stores
  • Pen or pencil for tracing letters onto cloth
  • Scissors
  • Small sharp scissors (or cuticle scissors) for cutting out the center of the letters
  • Fabric glue
  • Thread (optional)
  • Needle (optional)

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Directions

  1. Print the sayings and cut out the letters
  2. Trace letters onto different kinds of cloth
  3. Cut out cloth letters
  4. Iron cloth bag if necessary
  5. Attach words “Books to Read” to one side of bag with fabric glue
  6. Attach words “Books to Love” to other side of bag with fabric glue
  7. Cut cloth trim or ribbon to desired length to create handles
  8. Glue (or sew) handles onto the inside edge of bag

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You can find The Song for Everyone at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

October 1 – International Music Day and Interview with Author Gary Golio

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About the Holiday

International Music Day was established in 1975 by Lord Yehudi Menuhin, an American-born violinist and conductor  – widely considered to be one of the great violinists of the 20th century – to promote the art of music across all segments of society and to apply the UNESCO ideals of peace and friendship among all people, with an exchange of experiences and mutual appreciation of all cultures and their aesthetic values. To celebrate today’s holiday, listen to your favorite music and take some time to discover a new style – it might just become a favorite too!

Dark Was the Night: Blind Willie Johnson’s Journey to the Stars

Written by Gary Golio | Illustrated by E.B. Lewis

 

As readers open the cover to Dark Was the Night, they discover a date: 1977. In this year Voyager I was shot into space carrying “a precious Golden Record, a message to the Universe from Planet Earth.” The record contained pictures of the people and things that make up our life, sounds we hear every day, music from Navajo chants and West African drumming to Beethoven and Chuck Berry. There was also one “ghostly song, about loneliness and the night….a tune of light and hope” from a blind man named Willie Johnson.

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Image copyright E.B. Lewis, 2020, text copyright Gary Golio, 2020. Courtesy of Nancy Paulsen Books.

Who was Willie Johnson? In 1897, he was a newborn baby in a small Texas town wrapped in his mother’s love. narrator picks up the thread of Willie’s story when he’s become a small boy who “loved to sing” and play the cigar box guitar his father made him. But that joy was interrupted when “your mama died, and some light went out of your life.” Then at seven or eight, Willie became blind, “and that’s when things got darker still.” But Willie rose above these hurdles. His blindness didn’t keep him “from singing in church, or on street corners.” Using his voice to uplift people brought him “back in the light.”

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Image copyright E.B. Lewis, 2020, text copyright Gary Golio, 2020. Courtesy of Nancy Paulsen Books.

He sang blues and learned how to play a slide by running the edge of a pocketknife along the steel strings of his guitar. “This made a sound like someone laughing or crying, as if the guitar had a voice of its own.” He traveled from town to town in Texas, wherever farmers came to socialize and shop, setting up on street corners and collecting the coins people tossed into his tin cup. Little by little, people grew to know his name. “Then a man from a music company heard you sing. You were given the chance to make a record….”

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Image copyright E.B. Lewis, 2020, text copyright Gary Golio, 2020. Courtesy of Nancy Paulsen Books.

On that record listeners heard “the sound of one human being reaching out to all the others, telling them not to be afraid of the dark.” That first record was a hit, lauded for its unique sound. One song in particular, “Dark Was the Night,” “touched people deep in their souls” and made Willie “a shining star.” The light Willie brought to people has never dimmed; in fact it continues to shine through the darkness on Earth and through Space.

Back matter includes a discussion on what is known about Blind Willie Johnson and what still remains a mystery as well more information about Voyager I and why Johnson’s song Dark Was the Night was chosen for inclusion on the Golden Record. A link to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory website, where readers can access Voyager I—The Golden Record is also included.

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Image copyright E.B. Lewis, 2020, text copyright Gary Golio, 2020. Courtesy of Nancy Paulsen Books.

Gary Golio’s ethereal tale of the life of Blind Willie Johnson and his song, which has touched and continues to move so many people, is a stirring tribute to a unique artist and the power of music to change lives. Golio’s use of the second person creates a poignant personal bond between the story and reader, which allows children to put themselves in Willie’s shoes and believe that they, too, can inspire others with their talent and life. Golio’s lyrical storytelling flows with the cadence of the blues, and his evocative vocabulary brings Willie Johnson’s voice and times fully to life for young readers.

E.B. Lewis transports readers to early 1900s Texas in his stunning watercolor paintings rendered in soft washes of grays, blues, and greens punctuated with yellows that reflect the hope and light that spurred Willie on and flowed from his music. As his mother holds him in her arms as a baby, the landscape outside the window blazes with gold that reflects on Willie’s and his mother’s face. As children learn about Willie’s blindness, the page turns dark, except for a swatch of light across Willie’s eyes, representational, perhaps, of his inner sight that sustained him.

Among the realistic depictions of his farm home, the outskirts of a Texas town seen from a train, and a bustling city, where Johnson plays on a street corner to an appreciative audience, his tin cup hanging from a tuner on his guitar, are transcendent images of Willie performing, his face always lifted to the light. As people gather around a radio listening to Blind Willie Johnson, light once again streams into the shop, and as Golio describes how “Dark Was the Night” becomes a hit, Willie is bathed in a golden glow, his face euphoric with the joy of singing.

At once sensitive, rousing, and inspirational, Dark Was the Night is a beautiful book about one man’s talent and dream that will resonate with all readers. The book is highly recommended for home libraries and is a must for school and public library collections.

Ages 5 – 8

Nancy Paulsen Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-1524738884

Discover more about Gary Golio and his books on his website.

To learn more about E.B. Lewis, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Listen to Blind Willie Johnson’s “Dark Was the Night.”

Meet Gary Golio

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Gary Golio is the author of the New York Times bestseller JIMI: Sounds Like a Rainbow – A Story of the Young Jimi Hendrixwinner of a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award; Bird & Diz and Strange Fruit – Billie Holiday and the Power of a Protest Song, both ALA Notables; and other books about legendary artists. A writer and musician, Golio has been featured on NPR’s “Weekend Edition”, CBS-TV’s “Sunday Morning News,” and on radio stations nationwide. He lives in the Hudson Valley with his wife, children’s book author Susanna Reich.

Today, I’m thrilled to talk with the multi-talented Gary Golio about Dark Was the Night, his love for writing and art, his father’s influence in his life, and the power of music.

Welcome, Gary! To start off, can you tell readers about your journey with this Dark Was the Night from idea to publication?

A few years back I was listening to some early blues songs, and came upon Willie Johnson’s “Dark Was the Night.” The song stunned me—and gave me the chills. I knew of Willie’s connection with the Voyager I space probe, but had no idea that blues aficionados and amateur music sleuths were devotedly digging for details of his life through the decades. So much mystery surrounded this man—revered by Jimmy Paige, Eric Clapton, and Lucinda Williams—but what intrigued me the most was that, after dying in poverty and being forgotten, Willie and his work enjoyed a revival of interest during the 1960s Folk Movement. Then, in 1978, “Dark Was the Night” ended up on Voyager‘s Golden Record, hurtling through space. And what that said to me is, you never know how a life, and its effect on others, will play out. It’s a hopeful message that inspired me to write the book.

Your father was an artist and you have worked as a fine-artist since you were a teenager. Can you talk about what inspired you to begin writing picture books? Did you always like to write?

My father is an ongoing inspiration in my life. He was a talented amateur artist who provided me with a real-life example of the Art Spirit by how he thought and created. Most importantly, he was a skilled improviser, and didn’t allow himself to be limited by what he didn’t have, something that’s always meant a lot to me. As for writing picture books, I mostly read comics as a boy, and I think it was that combination of pictures and text that really struck a chord. For me, the picture book is a modern descendant of cave painting, Egyptian wall art (images + hieoroglyphs), and Etruscan/Pompeian murals: using words and pictures to tell a story.

In your Author’s Note you talk about the dearth of knowledge about Willie Johnson’s life. Can you share one thing you learned about Willie that didn’t make it into the book?

Willie has a unique voice that somehow manages to balance the rough and the tender. There’s raw power there, but also delicacy, which is very rare. So Willie was in New Orleans at one point—during a recording session there in 1928—and the story goes that he began singing “If I Had My Way I’d Tear this Building Down” in front of the Customs House. A crowd had gathered, listening to him, and a police officer reportedly became so worried—thinking Willie was instigating a riot—that he considered arresting the man. That’s the power of music—to rouse, protest, and stir up human souls—and it’s easy to see why it threatens authority and institutions.

Dark Was the Night is your eighth biography of a musician or entertainer for children. Could you discuss what drew you to write about these musicians?

While there are no actual musicians in my family-of-origin, my parents, grandmother, and maternal aunt all had strong musical interests. Each exposed me to very specific genres and musical tastes—from Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby to Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole (whom I adore), Willie Nelson, and Elvis Presley. Many of these people were Black, and many were strongly influenced by blues and jazz, and I have vivid memories of watching them on TV with my beloved grandmother, even at five and six years old. That openness to all kinds of music really shaped me, and growing up I looked for clues, in the lives of artists, that would help me find my own path and direction. So my books often focus on the early years of an artist’s/musician’s life, highlighting the roots of their artistry—what inspired and shaped them—to provide young readers with roadmaps, of sorts, to a life in the arts.

In addition to being an artist and writer, you also admit to being “a pretty good musician” – something you share with kids on school visits that sound awesome. Which instruments do you play and how do you incorporate music into your book events?

I play acoustic and electric guitar, mandolin, banjo, and very simple piano, but love above all to improvise. Since my first book on Jimi Hendrix came out, I’ve used the guitar (both electric and acoustic) to demonstrate a wide range of effects and possibilities (Hendrix and Santana), but also to accompany singalongs I did for my Bob Dylan/Woody Guthrie book. At one school visit, the entire fifth grade and I sang “This Land is Your Land” in Spanish, which was both meaningful and fun.

Each of your books has such distinctive illustrations from incredible illustrators. Can you talk a little about E.B. Lewis’s gorgeous illustrations in Dark Was the Night and how he captured your story and Willie’s personality?

E.B. is truly a master of illustration, and specifically of the watercolor medium. His real superpower, however, lies in his ability to convey human feeling, to mysteriously imbue a person or setting with mood and life. That’s remarkable—reminiscent of watching my father draw an American Indian on horseback, straight out of his head—and it’s what lends E.B.’s work both its power and subtlety. Not surprisingly, he has a real love for human beings, a quality fed by his passion for traveling and teaching all over the world. Though we only met at a bookstore panel five years ago, Earl and I have become close friends, and spend a lot of time on the phone collaborating about the joining of text and image. He’s a pleasure to work with, and his art for Dark Was the Night is truly sublime. This book also gave him the chance to bring his use of color (in his own words) to another level, something that will be obvious to anyone who knows his artwork and sees the new images.

From your bio on your website, you sound as if you were a pretty inventive kid – creating all sorts of cool electronic devices. And I love your story about being “shocked” to find books with Van Gogh’s paintings in them as a child and how formative that was. Could you discuss the importance of nonfiction, and biographies in particular, to children?

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My father could fix most anything, and it was that spirit of improvisation and inventiveness that led me to create little electronic gadgets a la James Bond and The Man from Uncle. For a time, I wanted to be an inventor or electrical engineer, but Art won out. As for van Gogh, watching Lust for Life with my dad had a HUGE impact on me, and seeing a book in the middle school library with all those paintings reproduced made it clear to me—even at 10 years old—that there was gold in reading about the lives of artists.

While I love fantasy, myth, and good stories, the thing about nonfiction is that you’re reading about real people—with all their talents and troubles—and so it’s easier to believe that if someone else muddled through to achieve something, you can also. That’s why I don’t shy away from talking about a person’s “faults” and failures (particularly in my books about John Coltrane and Billie Holiday), because I want kids to see that great people and artists are just as human as everyone else.

What’s up next for you?

Author-wise, I’ve a book coming out next year on the revered jazz saxophonist Sonny Rollins (based on many phone conversations we’ve shared), to be illustrated by the great James Ransome. I’ve also sold, just this year, two new picture book texts: one on Roy DeCarava—a gifted artist who photographed the people of Harlem in all their humanity—and another on Walt Whitman, focused on his remarkable and moving nursing experience during the Civil War. After that, who knows where Destiny will lead me?

International Music Day Activity

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I Love Music! Word Search Puzzle

 

International Music Day celebrates all types of music and instruments. Can you find the eighteen different instruments in this printable word search puzzle?

I Love Music! Word Search Puzzle | I Love Music! Word Search Solution!

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You can find Dark Was the Night: Blind Willie Johnson’s Journey to the Stars at these booksellers

The Village Bookstore, Pleasantville, NY | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

September 18 – National Respect Day

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday was established to help people focus on how they can be more respectful of others—family, friends, and strangers. It’s also a day to think about yourself. Do you respect yourself and your abilities? Self-respect is crucial for achieving your goals, both personal and professional. There are many ways to show respect. Good manners, listening to others, acknowledging others with a “thank you” or “great job,” and inclusion are only a few of the ways that people can start building the kinds of respectful relationships that lead to success.

Aretha Franklin (Little People, Big Dreams)

Written by Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara | Illustrated by Amy Blackwell

 

With a mother who was a gospel singer and a father who was a preacher and “believed that music could move not just people’s hearts, but the world,” Aretha Franklin was born to sing. Even though her mother left the family while Aretha was still young, Aretha found friendship and inspiration from the many musicians who often came to visit.

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Image copyright Amy Blackwell, 2020, text copyright Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara, 2020. Courtesy of Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

When she was a bit older, Aretha began singing in the gospel choir at her father’s church. Her voice was “powerful and as smooth as silk” and made “the whole congregation [feel] that tomorrow would be a brighter day.” recognizing her talent, Aretha’s father took her on tour from church to church. Her poise and voice moved people wherever she went.

As much as she loved singing in church, though, Aretha dreamed of making records. It was a dream that came true, and soon Aretha’s songs were topping the charts. Her most popular song “was called ‘Respect.’” It had been written by Otis Redding, but “suddenly, the words of a tired working man became an anthem for African American women demanding equal respect.” She also lent her voice to the fight against racism, standing alongside her friend Martin Luther King Jr.

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Image copyright Amy Blackwell, 2020, text copyright Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara, 2020. Courtesy of Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

Aretha didn’t just sing, she wrote and produced her own songs too in nearly every genre from “jazz, doo-wop and pop, to rhythm and blues.” While she wrote and sang many different types of songs, they all had one thing in common: “They had to talk about everyday ups and downs.” Aretha Franklin was in many ways a pioneer in music. She was the first woman to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and she influenced many female artists. But she considered her greatest honor to sing at the inauguration of Barak Obama—the first African American president of the United States. Aretha was unique in so many ways. That little girl with the big voice who “won the R-E-S-P-E-C-T of millions.”

A timeline and more information about Aretha Franklin’s life follows the text.

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Image copyright Amy Blackwell, 2020, text copyright Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara, 2020. Courtesy of Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara’s biography of Aretha Franklin will inspire all young singers—or artists of any kind—who dream of sharing their gift with the world. Her engaging storytelling will captivate little readers with descriptions of Aretha’s uplifting voice who could move people to cry, dance, and feel that positive change would come. This heartfelt depiction of Aretha Franklin’s amazing life will entice young children to discover or rediscover her music and follow her example.

Amy Blackwell’s bright and energetic illustrations are full of the joy that Aretha found in music and singing. Her interactions with choir congregation members show an early maturity and assurance that will inspire little readers. Images of a dance club and a performance of her signature song give kids portray the flair of the times, while pictures of her writing and a few of her many albums will impress children with her prolific talent. A later image of Aretha singing at President Barak Obama’s inauguration can inspire readers to watch this historic event once more.

Inspiring and uplifting, Aretha Franklin (Little People, Big Dreams) would be a welcome addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 7

Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-0711246867

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

National Respect Day Activity

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Kindness Cards

 

One way to show someone respect is to tell them how much they mean to you. These printable cards, make it easy for kids to tell a friend or family member how special they are.

Kindness Cards

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You can find Aretha Franklin (Little People, Big Dreams) at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

August 12 – National Vinyl Record Day

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About the Holiday

Gary Freiberg chose the day in 1877 that Thomas Edison invented the phonograph to encourage people to enjoy music on vinyl records. Whether you grew up listening to records or are a recent convert to this art form that has had lasting appeal even in this technological age, today’s holiday gives music lovers an excuse to enjoy their favorite artists – and, of course, the subject of today’s book should be among them! 

Elvis Is King

Written by Jonah Winter | Illustrated by Red Nose Studio 

 

Elvis is King by Jonah Winter and Chris Sickels’ Red Nose Studio is an eye-popping wonder for fans of The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll wanting to share their love for Elvis with their kids. In short, lyrical chapters with dramatic titles that are cleverly reminiscent of the sensational headlines Elvis generated throughout his life (and even after), Winter peels back Elvis’s rags-to-riches story, encapsulating the depth of poverty, talent, and ambition that fueled his life. It’s all here—his birth “in a humble shack / on the wrong side of the railroad tracks, / the side where the poorest of the poor people live…;” his reason for being: singing; and the county fair talent show, where ten-year-old Elvis got his first taste of adoration and a “Fifth Prize!” award.

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Image copyright Red Nose Studio, 2019, text copyright Jonah Winter, 2019. Courtesy of Schwartz & Wade.

Kids walk into the hardware store with Elvis’s barefoot mama, who “with pennies she saved…/ buys her eleven-year-old birthday boy / the most important gift he will ever receive. / It will be the key to his salvation.” Elvis plays that guitar everywhere, “All. The. Time.” There’s the moment Elvis overheard gospel singing coming from the African American Church and “The First Cheeseburger Ever Eaten by Elvis.” And that question: Why peanut butter and banana sandwiches? The answer’s here too.

When the family moves to Memphis, it’s up to teenage Elvis to make the money by “working nights as a ticket taker at a movie theater.” Then, suddenly during those years, Elvis finds the “Weird Teenage Elvis” inside him. He dyes his blond hair black and waxes it into a wave. At a thrift shop he buys green pants, a pink shirt, and a checkered jacket. Then at the high school talent show, he “KNOCKS ‘EM DEAD with his song.” And not only that “something happens, something big, when he’s up there: / He is no longer shy! / He can be whatever he wants to be—let loose, go crazy!”

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Image copyright Red Nose Studio, 2019, text copyright Jonah Winter, 2019. Courtesy of Schwartz & Wade.

Along the way he falls in love, graduates from high school, and soaks up the sounds of the blues on Beale Street. For his mama’s birthday, he goes to Sun Studios, where anyone can record themselves singing. “(It also makes *real* records of big-time singers— / and Sly Elvis knows this.)” Elvis has his first recorded song for just $3.98. A bit later he gets the call he’s been hoping for from Sun Studios and discovers his signature sound and moves. The song—”That’s All Right”—plays on the radio, and where’s Elvis? Hiding out. Will people like it? Five thousand requests and fifteen replays in one night say Yes!

And when Elvis walks on stage for the first time to sing his song, he’s met with an “AVALANCHE of screaming—in a good way!” Goggle-eyed girls just want to be near him, and it’s the same no matter where he travels. This “Good-Lookin’ Heartthrob Elvis” is soon to lose his “One True Love, / his little darlin’, Dixie Locke. He uses that feeling, though, in a song—”Heartbreak Hotel” that “rises to number 1 on the pop charts.” So “What Is This Crazy Music, Anyway?” It’s not exactly country and it’s not exactly rhythm and blues. “It’s… / ROCK ‘N’ ROLL, baby. / And Elvis is its KING…!”

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Image copyright Red Nose Studio, 2019, text copyright Jonah Winter, 2019. Courtesy of Schwartz & Wade.

Jonah Winter’s biography is in every way a loving tribute to Elvis Presley that also winks at his larger-than-life persona and the world’s obsession with him. Well-chosen adjectives presented in initial caps and attached to Elvis’s name, give titles to the phases of Elvis’s life and present an evocative way to show what and where he grew from and left behind on his rise to fame. Sprinkled with southern vernacular and touched with the cadence of a slow, considered southern drawl, Winter’s ingenious verses mirror song lyrics and echo themes that not only make up the country and blues standards that influenced Elvis’s music but that applied to his life. 

As always Chris Sickels’ Red Nose Studio artwork is nothing short of astounding. Each illustration is composed as a 3-D set handcrafted from polymer clay, wood, wire, fabric, and found objects. The intricate details and moving emotions, demonstrated in a look, by a gesture, and through perspective, give the illustrations a realism that goes beyond a photographic depiction to illuminate the heart of Elvis Presley’s story. Readers will want to linger over every page to absorb the cultural landscape and life-affirming moments that created The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll.

A joy to read aloud, Elvis Is King is an inspirational story for anyone with a dream, big or small. The personal, yet universal, story and phenomenal art make the book a stirring addition for home, school, and public libraries. 

Ages 4 – 8

Schwartz & Wade, 2019 | ISBN 978-0399554704

Discover more about Jonah Winter and his books on his website.

To learn more about the work of Chris Sickels and Red Nose Studio, visit his website.

National Vinyl Record Day Activity 

CPB - Record Bulletin Board

Make a Record Chalkboard Bulletin Board

 

Would you love to make a record some day? Why wait? In this fun craft you can create your own record bulletin board—and even create your own label art! While this record may not spin on turntables around the world, it will drop in a more important place—your very own room!

Supplies

  • Printable Record Label for you to design
  • Foam board, or a cork board at least 12-inches x 12-inches square
  • Adhesive cork
  • A 12-inch round plate, record, or other round object to trace OR a compass
  • Chalkboard paint, black
  • X-acto knife
  • Paint brush or foam paint brush
  • Mounting squares

Directions

  1. Cut a section from the adhesive cork a little larger than 12 inches by 12 inches
  2. Affix the cork to the foam board
  3. Trace the 12-inch round object onto the cork/foam board OR use the compass to make a 12-inch circle
  4. With the x-acto knife, carefully cut out the circle (adult help needed for children)
  5. Cut out a ¼ -inch circle in the center of the record bulletin board
  6. Paint the cork, sides and inside the spindle hole with the black chalkboard paint. Let dry
  7. Print the label template and design your own record label
  8. When the paint is dry, glue your label to the center of the bulletin board
  9. Hang your bulletin board with the mounting squares
  10. Decorate!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-elvis-is-king-cover

You can find Elvis Is King at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

June 24 – Bubble Kisses Book Tour Stop

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-bubble-kisses-cover

About the Holiday

Bubble Kisses

Presented by Vanessa Williams | Illustrated by Tara Nicole Whitaker

 

A little girl is playing pirates in her room with her special pet goldfish, Sal. As she holds up Sal’s bowl during the classroom pet show, the little girl admits that Sal can’t “bark like a dog, scratch like a cat, or jump like a frog” the way the other kids’ pets can. And Sal can’t do things that wild animals can do either. But Sal does have one amazing talent that makes the girl love her so much. She explains that Sal “gives me bubble kisses, bubble kisses as she swims by in the water. She never misses with her bubble kisses. And I’m so glad I got her.”

What’s so special about these bubble kisses? They’re more than a little magical! In fact, they transform the little girl into a mermaid and her bedroom into an underwater world where other mermaids, fish, sea turtles, porpoises and other sea creatures greet her with excitement. Watching the mermaids swim and play together, the girl is so happy that she’s included because “from people’s lives such things are missing as bub-bub-bub-bub-bubble-kisses.”

A sign points the way to a concert, and the five mermaids lead the little girl and Sal to a pirate ship sitting atop a blue whale. Music floats on the waves, and as they grow closer they see mermaid couples and even some merkids dancing. The little girl holds Sal’s fins as they twirl around too before entering the pirate ship, where the concert is taking place. A beautiful mermaid is singing, backed up by two of the five mermaids as well as porpoises and sea turtles on saxophone, a seal on the drums, two angelfish on trumpets, and one cool porpoise playing the bass.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-bubble-kisses-kisses

Image copyright Tara Nicole Whitaker, 2020, text copyright Vanessa Williams, 2020. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

As the band plays on, the star, her backup singers, and the other mermaids hold the little girl’s hands and Sal’s fins and swim in a circle of friendship. But the little girl and Sal are growing tired. They drift off to sleep in a big bubble as the singer sits nearby watching over them. Then they’re back home. Sal snoozes in her pirate ship-decorated bowl, and the little girl takes one more peek at her friend before dozing off in her cozy bed, reminded once again how lucky she is because “from people’s lives such things are missing as bub-bub-bub-bubble-kisses. With the funny, lovely Sal.”

Bubble Kisses is both a story and a jazzy, toe-tapping song that will have little ones singing and dancing along with every reading. Included with the book is a CD of Vanessa Williams singing Bubble Kisses plus a link to a digital download of the song.

Vanessa Williams’ delightful story is full of enchantment, imagination, and the love children have for their pets. Little readers will be charmed as one bubble kiss magically transforms the little girl into a mermaid and she and Sal begin an adventure together. Repeated phrases make it easy for kids to join in during story times or while singing, and the effervescent “Bub-bub-bub-bub-bubble kisses” will have kids giggling and asking for more.

Tara Nicole Whitaker’s violet-and-blue-hued digital illustrations are as sweet as cotton candy and transport readers into a world of imagination based on the little girl’s favorite activity: playing pirates in her sea-themed bedroom. Kids will have fun matching the décor and toys in the girl’s room to her underwater escapade. The diverse group of mermaids who invite the little girl to the concert are enthusiastic and welcoming. Whitaker’s pirate ship makes a fun venue for the fanciful concert, and the singer’s tender attention as the little girl and Sal drift off to sleep will remind readers that they too are watched over with love.

Ages 3 – 8

Sterling Children’s Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-1454938347

Discover more about Vanessa Williams and her multifaceted career, visit her website.

To learn more about Tara Nicole Whitaker, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Dive into this Bubble Kisses book trailer!

Vanessa Willams presents Bubble Kisses (40 second trailer) from Sterling Publishing on Vimeo.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-bubble-kisses-cover

You can find Bubble Kisses at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

 

Picture Book Review