February 17 – It’s Black History Month

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About the Holiday

Black History Month celebrates the achievements and contributions of African Americans in United States History. Originally a week-long observance initiated by writer and educator Dr. Carter G. Woodson in1926 and occurring during the second week in February to commemorate the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, Black History Month was officially established in 1976 by then president Gerald Ford. The holiday is now celebrated across the country with special events in schools, churches, and community centers.

The theme for 2022 is “Black Health and Wellness” and focuses on the legacy of not only Black scholars and medical practitioners in Western medicine, but also on alternate ways of practicing medicine throughout the African Diaspora. The 2022 theme considers activities, rituals, and initiatives that Black communities engage in to live healthy lives.

To learn more about Black History Month, find information on this year’s events, access resources for more research, and find content for teachers, visit the BlackHistoryMonth.gov

The Faith of Elijah Cummings: The North Star of Equal Justice

Written by Carole Boston Weatherford | Illustrated by Laura Freeman

During the summer of 1962, when Elijah Cummings was eleven years old, he and other African American children marched for the integration of a Baltimore city pool. They were met with a white mob who shouted at them to “‘Go back where you came from!'” and threw rocks and bottles at them. This protest, organized by civil rights lawyer Juanita Jackson Mitchell, inspired Elijah to consider becoming a lawyer also.

Elijah’s parents had moved to Maryland from South Carolina in the 1940s, where they had worked the land where their parents had once been enslaved and where “Blacks were beaten for seeking voting rights. Elijah, his parents, and his six siblings lived in a four-room row house, where his mother and father – having only a fourth-grade education – stressed the importance of schooling. But for inquisitive Elijah, the nuts and bolts of reading and writing were elusive. Because of the cramped conditions at home, Elijah took to studying at the library, where the librarians tutored him after their shifts and made it possible for Elijah to succeed.

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Image copyright Laura Freeman, 2022, text copyright Carole Boston Weatherford, 2022. Courtesy of Random House Studio.

Through hard work, scrimping, and saving, Elijah’s parents were able to buy a house with more room and a yard. Here, Elijah’s mother became a preacher and grew her small group of women who met in their home’s basement into a small church, the Victory Prayer Chapel. In addition to leading services, Elijah’s mother lived what she believed by helping those in need. Elijah’s father inspired him to become all that he could be. 

Even as a young boy, Elijah worked hard and, on Sundays after church, he listened to Rev. Martin Luther King’s speeches by transistor radio. He watched as African American boys were put into reform school, and he vowed to become a lawyer, but his high school guidance counselor tried to dissuade him. With the help of his parents and the pharmacist at the drug store where he worked, Elijah attended Howard University, where he was a standout student and leader. He became a lawyer and in 1983 was elected to the Maryland House of Delegates.

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Image copyright Laura Freeman, 2022, text copyright Carole Boston Weatherford, 2022. Courtesy of Random House Studio.

“In 1996, Elijah Cummings was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives,” and later became the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. “He spoke out to ensure that everyone was treated fairly and equally.” Even though he was a leader in Washington DC, Elijah continued to live in his inner-city Baltimore neighborhood, and during the protests against police brutality in 2015, he appealed for calm as he walked “with residents singing an African American spiritual: ‘This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.'” Before his death in 2019, Elijah Cummings was named chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, where, as he had for his entire career, he advocated for change now and for the future our children will inherit.

Quotes by Elijah Cummings on his inspirations, work, and beliefs included throughout the story allow readers to hear in Cummings’ own words his passion and dedication to creating a more equitable and caring America for all. 

A Foreword reprints remarks given by Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi at Elijah Cummings’ funeral on October 25, 2019. Back matter includes an excerpt of the statement from the Congressional Black Caucus upon Cummings’ death on October 17, a Timeline of his life and work, a Bibliography, and Source Notes for the Cummings’ quotes found throughout the story.

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Image copyright Laura Freeman, 2022, text copyright Carole Boston Weatherford, 2022. Courtesy of Random House Studio.

Carole Boston Weatherford’s moving biography of Elijah Cummings highlights the strong and supportive family unit that inspired and sustained Elijah as he grew from a thoughtful and hardworking boy into an empathetic and influential leader. Her focus on formative events in Cummings’ life depict how early experiences often shape the person children become while continuing to inform their opinions, beliefs, and occupations. Through his own words, Weatherford reveals Cummings’ commitment to the children who will read this biography as well as to all young people who will benefit from and carry on his work.

In her rich and expressive illustrations, Laura Freeman recreates pivotal events, touching examples of the Cummings’ family solidarity, and community-based actions inspired by the family’s religious faith to paint a portrait of Elijah’s youth and young adulthood. As he rises to the highest levels within the US Congress, while never losing touch with the neighborhood and people he loved, Freeman’s striking images will entice readers to learn more about Elijah Cummings’ legislative legacy and the workings of Congress and to, perhaps, become involved in their own community.

A masterful biography of Elijah Cummings that deftly interweaves the internal and external influences of his youth with their lifelong effects on his principles, his work, and his lasting influence, The Faith of Elijah Cummings is highly recommended for home bookshelves and a must for school and public library collections.

Ages 6 – 9 

Random House Studio, 2022 | ISBN 978-0593306505

Discover more about Carole Boston Weatherford and her books on her website.

To learn more about Laura Freeman, her books, and her art, visit her website.

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You can find The Faith of Elijah Cummings at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from 

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

January 17 – Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

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About the Holiday

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

I’d like to sincerely thank Alice Faye Duncan for sharing a digital copy of Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop: The Sanitation Strike of 1968

Written by Alice Faye Duncan | Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie

 

Informed by the memories of Dr. Almella Starks-Umoja, a teacher who as a child participated in the sanitation strike and told through the eyes of fictional nine-year-old Lorraine, Alice Faye Duncan relates the story of the 1968 sanitation strike in Memphis, Tennessee and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King just a day after giving his final sermon “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” at Mason Temple Church in support of the strike.

Through thirteen titled vignettes composed of lyrical and powerful language, Duncan reveals the detailed facts and emotions of those days that changed lives, altered the Civil Rights movement, and still resonate today. Duncan begins with “Memphis—1968” in which Lorraine describes a Memphis roiled by “the stinking sanitation strike” when “Black men marched for honor” and she also marched “with red ribbon in [her] hair.” She entreats the reader: “You must tell the story—so that no one will forget it.”

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Image copyright R. Gregory Christie, 2018, text copyright Alice Faye Duncan, 2018. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

“Mud Puddles” tells of the moment in January when Lorraine’s father comes home so “distressed and out of breath” that Lorraine’s muddy shoeprints are forgotten by her mama as he tells them about his two fellow sanitation workers and friends—Echol Cole and Robert Walker—who were killed when a truck’s packer blade malfunctioned. “Daddy told Mama, ‘It ain’t right to die like that.’ / Mama shook her head, and I saw a new storm rising up. / I saw it in their eyes.”

In “Marching Orders” Lorraine lays out the ugly conditions sanitation workers like her father toiled under and introduces readers to Mayor Loeb, who refused to increase their wages from $1.70 an hour. She states, “When they could take the abuse no more, 1,300 men deserted their garbage barrels. They organized a labor strike on February 12, 1968. In the morning and afternoon, for sixty-five days, sanitation workers marched fourteen blocks through the streets of downtown Memphis.”

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Image copyright R. Gregory Christie, 2018, text copyright Alice Faye Duncan, 2018. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

As the strike continued through the winter, “[crippling] garbage collection with terrific success,” “Winter Blues” depicts the sacrifices Lorraine’s family made, from going without electricity to missing bill payments to skipping treats or getting anything new. But Lorraine also “learned what the grown folks knew. Trouble visits every life. But as strikers marched through sun and rain, help came in many forms.” Two of these were a group of Memphis preachers who helped strikers pay bills and the NAACP.

Winter turns to spring with no concessions from Mayor Loeb and no end to the strike in sight. But then in “Martin” Lorraine learns in the newspapers her mama’s boss gave her that Martin Luther King Jr. would be coming to support the striking workers. “Silver Rights” recounts Lorraine’s memories of listening to Dr. King, his voice “loud and stirring” when he said, “‘All labor has dignity.’” He set the date of March 22nd when he would march with the striking workers. Lorraine’s daddy and mama vowed to be there. And as she recalled, “then Mama patted my hand and said, ‘We will take Lorraine. She can march with us.’” A haiku “Omen” reveals the cancellation of the march.

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Image copyright R. Gregory Christie, 2018, text copyright Alice Faye Duncan, 2018. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

In “Beale Street,” Lorraine explains more about Dr. King’s dreams and work and his crusade he named “the ‘Poor People’s Campaign.’” The march was rescheduled for March 28, and on that day “Six thousand people—blacks, whites, men, women, and children—gathered in downtown Memphis. / Police stood guard with tear gas, billy clubs, and guns.” When looters shattered storefront windows, the police moved in, spraying tear gas and beating people.” Lorraine became separated from her mother but was swept to safety by her father. Following the riot, the National Guard was called in and a curfew put in place.

In the aftermath of the riot, Dr. King left Memphis, Lorraine tells readers in “Dreamers.” But he had promised to return despite death threats, and on April 3 he flew from his home in Atlanta to Memphis. It was a stormy night, but Lorraine and her family along with many others packed Mason Temple Church to hear Dr. King preach. But when they got there, Dr. King’s friend Ralph Abernathy told the crowd that Dr. King was too sick to appear.

Other people gave speeches about the strike, and Lorraine had fallen asleep in her mother’s arms when “KABOOM! A voice like the evening thunder shook me from my sleep.” In his booming voice, Dr. King “charged men, women, and children to make the world a promised land flowing with freedom and justice” and “encouraged Memphis strikers and strike supporters to march, boycott, and raise their voices for worker rights until victory was won.”

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Image copyright R. Gregory Christie, 2018, text copyright Alice Faye Duncan, 2018. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

In “Lorraine” the narrator reveals that her name is the same as the Memphis motel where Dr. King lost his life. She recounts his last hour spent with friends and the moment when he steps out onto the balcony and James Earl Ray shot him from a boarding house nearby. In other cities across the country grief-fueled protests broke out, but Memphis was relatively quiet. As Lorraine listened to the radio that night, she wrote a poem “The King is Dead” that her mama hung on the wall of their rented house.

“Black Widow” relates the events of April 8, when Coretta Scott King fulfilled her husband’s promise to march for the Memphis sanitation workers. Along with 40,000 other people—“ministers, labor leaders, political figures, entertainers, and everyday people”—from Memphis and around the country, Lorraine and her parents marched. In “Victory on a Blue Note,” the Memphis Sanitation Strike comes to an end when president Lyndon B. Johnson sent a labor official to negotiate a settlement. The men received a pay increase and promotions based on merit, not race. As Lorraine’s daddy and mama celebrate, Lorraine reveals what she has learned: “So much was won. / So much was lost. / Freedom is never free.”

An inspirational poem for all readers, “Mountaintop” closes the book. Back matter includes an extensive and detailed timeline as well as information on the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel and a list of sources.

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Image copyright R. Gregory Christie, 2018, text copyright Alice Faye Duncan, 2018. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

In Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop, Alice Faye Duncan’s use of a nine-year-old narrator makes her book even more powerful for today’s children in telling the story of the Memphis sanitation strike and the world-changing events surrounding it. Duncan intertwines conviction, pride, activism, and heartbreak together in her compelling and lyrical snapshots that reveal the facts and emotions behind this pivotal Civil Rights and economic rights protest for a living wage for all Americans. Children’s hearts will be filled with empathy for Lorraine as she supports her father, accepts the sacrifices her family must make during the strike, joins her mother in marches, and fears for the safety of the strikers and Martin Luther King Jr.

The life and work of Dr. King, his influence, and the hope he embodied as well as his shocking assassination are all encapsulated in Duncan’s concise paragraphs, allowing readers to understand his enduring inspiration to all who fight injustice. By overlaying the text with descriptions of the volatile weather experienced during the winter and spring of 1968, Duncan amplifies the fearful atmosphere of the times in a metaphorical way that will resonate with readers. Lorraine’s growth and insight gleaned from her experiences will stay with readers long after they read the story.

R. Gregory Christie’s dramatic collage-style gouache paintings set off Duncan’s vignettes with bold blocks of color while inviting readers to experience the determination, community, and dignity of the workers fighting for the universal desire for and right to recognition, safety, and a living wage. Christie’s illustrations are all the more evocative for their varied use of perspective, subtle glimpses of hope and support, and moving portraits of Lorraine’s father, strikers, Martin Luther King Jr., and Lorraine herself. The death of Dr. King is depicted in a tiny image of the Lorraine motel balcony on which three men pointing upward, a kneeling figure, and the fallen Dr. King are all portrayed in silhouette. The intense focus the reader puts on this image increases its effect on the heart and mind.

Compelling, moving, and inspirational, Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop: The Sanitation Strike of 1968 is a must-read for all children. The book is a first-rate choice for home libraries and belongs in every school and public library.

Ages 7 and up

Calkins Creek, 2018 | ISBN 978-1629797182

Discover more about Alice Faye Duncan and her books on her website.

To learn more about R. Gregory Christie, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-martin-luther-king-jr-coloring-page

Martin Luther King Jr. Portrait

 

To inspire your dreams of a better future for all, color this printable page and hang it in your room!

Martin Luther King Jr. Portrait 

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You can find Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop: The Sanitation Strike of 1968 at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

January 20 – Celebrating Inauguration Day 2021

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About the Holiday

Today we celebrate the inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th President of the United States. The ceremony begins around 11:30 a.m. with the national anthem and invocation. In a historic moment, Kamala Harris will then be sworn in by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor shortly before noon. At noon, Joe Biden will be sworn in by Chief Justice John Roberts on the Capitol’s West Front, as is tradition. The day also includes a visit to Arlington National Cemetery by Biden, Harris and former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton as well as their spouses before traveling from 15th Street to the White House with a military escort. You can introduce your children to our country’s new President and Vice President, who offer hope and a new beginning, through these two excellent biographies. 

Joey: The Story of Joe Biden

Written by Dr. Jill Biden with Kathleen Krull | Illustrated by Amy June Bates

 

With a gift for storytelling and an ear for the kinds of details that will draw kids in, Jill Biden introduces young readers to her husband and soon-to-be President of the United States, Joe Biden, at the age of eight. Even at this young age, Joe—or Joey as he was then called—demonstrated a fun-loving competitive spirit, maturity, daring, and sense of responsibility that would take him far in life. How competitive? Despite being the smallest boy on any of his teams, “he was always ready for the ball.” How daring? Take your pick: the time he and his friends hopped “from rooftop to rooftop of the garages” in his neighborhood after seeing a Tarzan movie; the time he swung on a rope “over a construction site without a net;” or when he shimmied to the top of the slippery, swaying flag pole at the football field.”

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Image copyright Amy June Bates, 2020, text copyright Jill Biden with Kathleen Krull, 2020. Courtesy of Simon & Schuster.

Where did he learn these qualities? From his mom who always said, “‘Bravery resides in every heart, and yours is fierce and clear.’” And from his dad who encouraged Joey to “‘Get up! Get up!’” whenever he stumbled. To find work, Joey’s family moved, but Joey always had friends in his siblings, especially his younger sister, Valerie.

As he grew older Joey learned about world news and the rudiments of politics at the family dinner table, adding his opinions to those of the adults. At school, though bullies made fun of Joey’s stutter, that sometimes made talking difficult. Instead of taking it, Joey defended himself and others who were being bullied. He also devised ways to practice talking more smoothly. 

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Image copyright Amy June Bates, 2020, text copyright Jill Biden with Kathleen Krull, 2020. Courtesy of Simon & Schuster.

When his dreams of attending the Catholic high school seemed out of reach financially, Joey applied for a work-study program that allowed him to attend in exchange for duties such as painting the fence, pulling weeds, and washing windows. High school was also where he grew a foot taller and became the star of the basketball and football teams. Here he exchanged Joey for Joe. His sense of fairness and equality led him to stand up for his African American football teammate when the owner of the local diner would not serve him, and in a nod to his future profession, he was elected class president “during his junior and senior years.”

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Image copyright Amy June Bates, 2020, text copyright Jill Biden with Kathleen Krull, 2020. Courtesy of Simon & Schuster.

As the first in his family to go to college, Joe was “promptly elected president of his freshman class.” He learned about the struggles of blacks in America while working “as the only white lifeguard at a pool in an all-black neighborhood” during “the time of segregation and the struggle for civil rights.” Joe graduated with a law degree, and at the age of twenty-nine he “launched an unlikely quest to become a senator from Delaware”—even though the required age was thirty. “Against all the odds, Joe became one of the youngest people ever elected to the United States Senate.” Reelected five times, “he was powerful and respected.”

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Image copyright Amy June Bates, 2020, text copyright Jill Biden with Kathleen Krull, 2020. Courtesy of Simon & Schuster.

Then “after more than three decades of serving his country in the Senate, he was chosen by Barak Obama to run as his vice president. They won, energizing the nation,” and after eight years of serving together, President Obama called Joe, “‘the best vice president America’s ever had.’” In 2019, Joe announced his candidacy for president of the United States, calling the election a “‘battle for the soul of America.’—and Joe Biden was ready to fight it.”

Back matter includes family photographs, an extensive timeline of Joe Biden’s life and government service, inspirational “Bidenisms, sources for the quotations used in the text, and a bibliography.

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Image copyright Amy June Bates, 2020, text copyright Jill Biden with Kathleen Krull, 2020. Courtesy of Simon & Schuster.

For parents, teachers, and other adults looking to introduce children to the next president of the United States with an in-depth look at his life, his influences, and his vast experience, Dr. Jill Biden’s Joey: The Story of Joe Biden shines with an intimate portrait of his astonishing life. With specific examples that will resonate with children, Biden portrays the qualities and experience that make him the right person to lead our country during these times and demonstrates his long history of concern for all Americans. Conversational and folksy, Biden’s storytelling makes this an uplifting read aloud that will captivate listeners. The book provides an excellent opportunity to spark further research into Joe Biden’ life and government service as well a conversation-starter for adults to discuss the importance of family, character, hard work, perseverance, and community.

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Image copyright Amy June Bates, 2020, text copyright Jill Biden with Kathleen Krull, 2020. Courtesy of Simon & Schuster.

Amy June Bates’ watercolor, gouache, and pencil illustrations are stunning, taking readers from Joey’s neighborhood in Scranton, Pennsylvania—where they can see some of the feats of daring Joey was famous for and how he interacted with friends and siblings—to Delaware, the state that informed his interest in politics and sense of community service. Through Bates’ realistic images, children swing on the rope over the construction site, sit among his siblings as they watch TV, and join in at the dinner table for influential family discussions. Bates also depicts Biden’s struggles with bullies and his stutter. Kids follow him up a ladder to wash windows and to the high school gridiron to watch Joe pull away from the opposing team to score the winning touchdown. As Biden runs for and takes on responsibilities in the Senate, readers are there too. In Biden’s face and stance, Bates clearly portrays his confidence, optimism, intelligence, and pride in a lifetime of serving the American people.

A superb biography of our next president and one that will inspire a new generation of activists and public servants, Joey: The Story of Joe Biden is a must for home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Simon & Schuster, Paula Wiseman Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-1534480537

You can connect with Dr. Jill Biden on Twitter.

Discover more about Kathleen Krull and her books on her website.

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

You can find Joey: The Story of Joe Biden at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from 

Bookshop | IndieBound

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-kamala-harris-rooted-in-justice-cover

Kamala Harris: Rooted in Justice

Written by Nikki Grimes | Illustrated by Laura Freeman

 

Eve, a black girl, comes home from school in Oakland, California upset because Calvin, a boy in her class, said that girls can’t be President. Her mother tells her that Calvin is wrong and shows her a newspaper article about Kamala Harris, who “lives right here in Oakland and hopes to be President one day.” Eve’s mom begins to tell her daughter Kamala’s story, which began with “a strong black-and-brown braid coiling from India, where her mother, Shyamala, was born; to Jamaica, where her father, Donald, was born;” to Berkely, California and finally to Oakland.

She goes on to reveal that even as a baby “Kamala was like clay her parents molded for action,” as they took her along on marches for civil rights and to speeches given by Martin Luther King Jr. Kamala listened and learned words like peace, justice, freedom. On a trip to Zambia to visit her grandparents, Kamala learned that “fighting for justice ran in the family.”

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Image copyright Laura Freeman, 2020, text copyright Nikki Grimes, 2020. Courtesy of Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

Then when Kamala was seven her parents divorced, and Kamala, her younger sister Maya, and their mother moved to “‘the flatlands,’ the black working-class area in Berkeley.” From here, Kamala was bussed to Thousand Oaks Elementary in the “wealthy white part of town….,” where, she met “kids who were rich and poor, black and white; kids who celebrated holidays she’d never even heard of,” and learned to “count to ten in many different languages.” Here, Eve interrupts to excitedly tell her mother that their next door neighbor Guadalupe has taught her how to count in Spanish.

Kamala also learned from Mrs. Regina Shelton, a neighbor whom Kamala stayed with after school. Mrs. Shelton introduced her to Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, and Harriet Tubman. She encouraged her pursuits and instilled confidence in her. Just as influential on young Kamala were the family’s weekly visits to the “Rainbow Sign, a cultural center celebrating black art, music, books, and film. James Baldwin spoke there, Maya Angelou read there, and Nina Simone sang there.” Nina’s song “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” particularly resonated with Kamala.

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Image copyright Laura Freeman, 2020, text copyright Nikki Grimes, 2020. Courtesy of Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

On Sundays Kamala and Maya visited their father and went to the 23rd Avenue Church of God, where, along with singing in the children’s choir, Kamala learned from the Bible “that God asks us to speak up for those who can’t, to defend the rights of the poor and needy, like some lawyers do.” Maybe, Kamala thought, she would follow in her uncle Sherman’s footsteps and be that kind of lawyer too. Eve wonders if when she makes sandwiches for the homeless she’s helping out too. Her mom tells her yes.

When Kamala’s mother accepted a job in Montréal, Canada, Kamala’s life changed again. One thing that stayed the same, however, was Kamala’s sense of justice. For example when the apartment building manager wouldn’t allow the kids to play soccer on the lawn, she and Maya picketed until he changed his mind. 

Although Kamala adjusted to life in Canada, when it came time to go to college, she returned to the United States to attend Howard University like one of her heroes, Thurgood Marshall. Kamala felt at home at Howard. She won a seat in the student government, competed on the debate team, interned at the Federal Trade Commission, did research at the National Archives, and on weekends joined protests against apartheid in South Africa.

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Image copyright Laura Freeman, 2020, text copyright Nikki Grimes, 2020. Courtesy of Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

As a sophomore, Kamala spent her summer as an intern for Senator Alan Cranston “learning from someone whose footsteps echoed in the halls of power every day.” She went on to study law at Hastings College of the Law, leading the Black Law Students Association as president and working to improve the chances that black graduates would be hired by the best companies in the country.

In order to practice law, Kamala had one more hurdle to overcome: the California Bar exam. Kamala failed in her first attempt, but it taught her an important lesson about digging deep and trying harder – a lesson that Eve understands. On her second try, she passed. Since then Kamala’s trajectory has been steadily upward. “First, Deputy District Attorney. Next, the first female District Attorney of San Francisco. Then, the first black woman Attorney General of California” and eventually the “second black woman voted into the US Senate.”

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Image copyright Laura Freeman, 2020, text copyright Nikki Grimes, 2020. Courtesy of Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

As Senator, Kamala has fought for workers, women’s rights, and immigrant children. Then in 2019, she announced her candidacy for President of the United States. But running a presidential campaign takes a lot of money. When she and her team realized that they would not be able to sustain a campaign, she decided to give up her quest for the 2020 presidential nomination while still looking “forward to all the good work she could still do as Senator Harris.”

While the biography ends before the election and with the question, “Will she ever get to call the White House home?” the next sentence: “Kamala Harris is still writing her American story” looks forward to a future we will all be following. And what about Eve? She knows the message of Kamala’s life and dreams: “‘If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.’” That lesson and that Calvin is wrong about a girl’s ability to become the President.

A detailed timeline of Kamala Harris’s life and a list of resources follow the text.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-kamala-harris-rooted-in-justice-senator

Image copyright Laura Freeman, 2020, text copyright Nikki Grimes, 2020. Courtesy of Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

Nikki Grimes’ compelling biography of Kamala Harris lyrically outlines the importance that ideas of justice, freedom, and inclusion play in both her personal and professional life. Children will be especially captivated by Grimes’ comprehensive and intimate look at Kamala’s childhood and the people, experiences, and places that influenced her education, character, long commitment to equality, and steady focus on achieving her dreams. Specific examples of the large and smaller issues Kamala has fought for throughout her life instill in young readers the knowledge that they too can make a difference. Framed by Eve’s disagreement with Calvin and her interjections about certain aspects of Kamala’s life, the story speaks directly to the reader, creating in them the kind of confidence and reassurance that has served Kamala well. The final lines offer encouragement and inspiration to tomorrow’s leaders.

Laura Freeman’s textured, realistic illustrations introduce Kamala Harris in the context of her family, the causes they put their hearts and voices into, and the communities that nurtured her. As a child, Kamala’s confidence and intelligence are evident as she learns about her family’s activism in Zambia, rides to school on the bus, listens to Mrs. Shelton and Nina Simone, and gets involved in activities at church, in college, and in law school. Images of Kamala as an adult depict her familiar smile, thoughtfulness, poise, and self-confidence. Freeman’s collage-style imagery of the people who have influenced Kamala are particularly powerful reminders of the legacy that parents, grandparents, teachers, mentors, and leaders in society imprint on people from childhood and throughout life.

A beautiful and inspiring biography, Kamala Harris: Rooted in Justice is an exciting introduction to our next Vice President and is sure to encourage discussion, stir dreams of greatness, and motivate girls and children of color to follow in her footsteps. The book is a must for home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Simon & Schuster, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2020 | ISBN 978-1534462670

Discover more about Nikki Grimes, her books, and her poetry on her website.

To learn more about Laura Freeman, her books, and her art, visit her website.

You can find Kamala Harris: Rooted in Justice at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support our local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

 Picture Book Reviewcelebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-joey-cover

November 24 – Celebrate Your Unique Talent Day

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About the Holiday

We all have unique talents and abilities. Today’s holiday was established for us to define our abilities and think about how we would like to use them for ourselves and others. Whether your talents lie in the arts; science, math, and technology; the humanities; teaching and leadership; or kindness, with courage, confidence, and practice you can accomplish amazing things. Today’s books feature two very different talents and are accompanied by videos that can teach you how to use your creativity to achieve success.

You Can Draw Comic Book Characters

By Spencer Brinkerhoff III

 

Do you have a comic book creator inside yearning to blast free? In this step-by-step guide, Spencer Brinkerhoff III shows you how to draw more than 25 original -comic book characters, draw with perspective and from different angles, and how to use simple shapes to create all of the characters running around in your imagination. To get started, Brinkerhoff introduces readers to the tools of the trade, especially one type of template that ensures that your characters are always in proportion whether they’re standing still, flying, climbing, running, or engaged in battle.

Whether you’re drawing a hero or a villain, Brinkerhoff presents illustrated steps for creating the head, complete with guidelines that tell you where to put the eyes, hair, and other facial features; how to add the body and sketch in arms and legs in active poses. Brinkerhoff then invites artists to make these prototype characters their own by showing how through hairstyles, clothing, and facial features you can add personality and individuality to your characters.

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Copyright Spencer Brinkerhoff III, 2020, courtesy of Walter Foster, Jr.

But characters aren’t just created through their physical appearance—readers also want to know what makes them tick. Brinkerhoff adds specific and enlightening guidance on how to design a well-rounded character that readers will care about. He discusses general ideas on how heroes and villains come to be then gives specific examples of backstories, motivations, powers, and limitations for heroes, villains, and all the minions and sidekicks in between.

Once you’ve practiced drawing your character, it’s time to add some color, and Brinkerhoff has you covered there too with tips on choosing colors to make an effect, how to make it look as if a character is wearing a helmet with a face shield, and how to make Zaps and Zings really shine.

So, you have characters with histories—now what? They need a story to live in! Brinkerhoff reveals how to develop a strong story from beginning to end and create a script. Then he shows artists how to plan and draw panels that help tell the story, create good story flow, establish mood and location, include dialogue and sounds, and add the kind of suspense that keeps readers turning the pages. Finally, Brinkerhoff shows readers how to put it all together to make a complete comic book. He follows this up with larger templates for characters who are standing, flying, and fighting as well as a few in various action poses.

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Copyright Spencer Brinkerhoff III, 2020, courtesy of Walter Foster, Jr.

Spencer Brinkerhoff presents an excellent guide for artists and would-be artists of all ages with specific help and plenty of opportunities to practice a variety of body styles, facial expressions, poses, and all accompanying accents. The diversity of examples and the emphasis on other aspects to creating successful characters and complete comics will spark children’s imagination and help them develop their talent for both drawing and writing, which are equally important in creating the kinds of comics that readers fall in love with and want to read again and again.

A superb drawing book for children, You Can Draw Comic Book Characters would make a much-appreciated gift for young artists and an often-used, go-to book as children or adults work on improving their drawing and visual storytelling abilities. The book is a must for home bookshelves for aspiring artists as well as for school and public library collections.

Ages 6 – 10 and up

Quarto Knows, Walter Foster Jr., 2020 | ISBN 978-1633228665

About Spencer Brinkerhoff

Spencer Brinkerhoff III started drawing and making art at an early age and has never stopped. Spencer’s professional work has included creating Star Wars art for Lucasfilm Ltd, animating an educational game for the World Health Organization, creating and starring in a video that won him Burt Reynolds’ Trans Am, and creating some of the horse sculptures for the PF Chang’s restaurants. In addition to working on these licensed projects, he has also created a glasses-less 3-D image platform called ShadowBox Comics, an in-camera special effect keychain called LightStickFX, and a drawing system called DrawingIsSimple. You can discover more about Spencer Brinkerhoff III, his art, and his work on his website.

Drawing Captain Jinx Tagget and Savage with Spencer Brinkerhoff III

In this video and two more videos from Quarto Classroom, children and adults can learn from Spencer Brinkerhoff III how to create two original characters from You Can Draw Comic Book Characters: Captain Jinx Tagget and Savage. In the first video Spencer Brinkerhoff demonstrates each step in drawing his hero Jinx, talking viewers through an easy method for creating the head and body, the whys and hows of facial-feature placement, and how to add accents to make each character distinctive. In his second video, Brinkerhoff uses a prop that gives new artists clear visual help in understanding how a face can be drawn when tilted and turned. He also demonstrates how to draw Jinx when flying.

In his third video Brinkerhoff shows kids how to draw the imposing Savage, a character that uses different proportions yet is still derived from basic shapes beginning with a circle. At the end of each twenty-five-minute session, he gives a lesson on adding color to the character. Brinkerhoff’s easy-going and encouraging delivery will instill confidence in artists and get them excited about designing their own characters.

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You can find You Can Draw Comic Book Characters at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-corazon-aquino-little-people-big-dreams-cover

Corazon Aquino: Little People, BIG DREAMS

Written by Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara | Illustrated by Ginnie Hsu

 

Maria Corazon—better known as Cory—was a little girl growing up in the Philippines, a country made up of thousands of islands. At school, she learned lessons on reading and writing and math and also “how to take a step forward.” For example, when one of her classmates was not able to make a speech in front of the school, Cory volunteered to give it.

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

When Cory was still a child, her parents send her to America to study. When she returned home after graduating from college, she was determined to become a lawyer. While in law school, “she became close with a student as honest and as bold as her.” His name was Benigno, but those who loved him called him Ninoy. Ninoy went on to become a politician. He wanted to help his fellow Filipinos and became an ardent critic of the country’s dishonest president. Because of his opposition to the president, he was arrested. Then Cory wrote speeches and became her husband’s voice for nearly eight years while he was in prison.

Declaring more and more unfair laws, the president became a dictator and forced Ninoy, Cory, and their family to leave the country. They moved to Boston, Massachusetts and were happy there, but after three years “Cory knew that Ninoy had to go home and try to restore democracy, giving power back to the people.” They returned to the Philippines, but the president’s men were waiting for them and Ninoy was killed.

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

Cory felt alone, but at Ninoy’s funeral millions of people showed that they were with her, giving “her their love and support.” Cory decided it was up to her to continue Ninoy’s work. She ran for president and won, but the defeated president “faked the results of the election” and sparked a revolution. For four days “millions of people armed with courage took to the streets and proclaimed Cory president of the Philippines. The dictatorship crumbled and Cory became the first female President of the Philippines. Through her lifelong courage and honesty, little Cory grew up to save democracy for her people and change their lives forever.

A timeline of Corazon Aquino’s life follows the text.

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

Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara’s excellent biography of Corazon Aquino for young readers introduces them to this amazing woman with well-chosen details about her life and the personality traits that made her singularly suited for her role in leading the Philippines out of the darkness of dictatorship. Vegara’s straightforward storytelling reveals her respect for the intelligence and social conscience of her readers as she relates hard facts about life in the Philippines at the time and its personal consequences for her family. Examples of Corazon’s courage, from giving a speech at school to giving voice to millions of people, will inspire readers to show bravery in their own pursuits, both big and small, and prompt them to look for ways that they can make a difference.

Through Ginnie Hsu’s captivating illustrations, readers are introduced to a brief view of the diversity of communities among the islands of the Philippines and the cities and schools that nurtured her while growing up. Children see the enthusiasm with which crowds met Cory and Ninoy on his political rise. In a clever two-page spread, a speech that Ninoy is writing spills from his typewriter, across the two pages and into Cory’s hands as she reads her husband’s words after his arrest. Images of people lining up to vote will be familiar from our own recent election and offer opportunities for adults to discuss the importance of voting. Adults may remember Corazon Aquino’s signature yellow outfits, which Hsu recreates here. Hsu’s vibrant illustrations, packed with the people that supported the Aquinos, demonstrate the change that, together, people of courage can affect.

An inspirational biography of an influential leader, Corazon Aquino is an excellent addition to the Little People, BIG DREAMS series and offers a meaningful way for adults to introduce young readers to political and social leaders and the ideas of responsibility and leadership. The book is highly recommended for home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 7

Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-0711246843

About Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara

Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara, born in Barcelona, Spain, is a writer and creative director in constant search of new concepts for children’s books and the author of the multimillion-copy best-selling Little People, BIG DREAMS series of picture books that explore the lives of outstanding people. Working for more than fifteen years for clients in top advertising agencies, her books combine creativity with learning, aiming to establish a new and fresh relationship between children and pop culture. You can connect with Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara on Instagram.

About Ginnie Hsu

Ginnie Hsu is an illustrator, designer, and educator living in upstate New York. Her work is often inspired by everyday life, nature, human living, and well-being. Ginnie also enjoys foraging, yoga, and herbalism. To learn more about Ginnie Hsu, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Corazon Aquino: Little People, BIG DREAMS video with Ginnie Hsu

In this video from Quarto Classroom you can listen to Ginnie Hsu read Corazon Aquino: Little People, BIG DREAMS and learn about the importance of the color yellow throughout the story as well as how color has become associated with other revolutions around the world. Hsu also introduces viewers to the meanings behind eight colors and how using these colors adds depth and meaning to a picture book and other illustrations. For example, yellow carries with it the ideas of positivity and happiness. After learning about colors and their meanings, Hsu invites kids to gather supplies in a color of their choice and to create a project meaningful to them. In keeping with the yellow in her book, Hsu chooses to make a sunflower from felt and a digital sunflower collage. She demonstrates how she puts together her felt sunflower and then shows children the variety of ways a sunflower can be drawn.

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You can find Corazon Aquino: Little People, BIG DREAMS at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Celebrate Your Unique Talent Day Activity

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Draw Captain Jinx Tagget

 

With this printable guide from Spencer Brinkerhoff III, you can learn to draw Captain Jinx Tagget standing and in action with detailed and specific steps from making your first circle for the head to completing her superhero suit. You’ll find another guide on how to draw Savage at Quarto Classroom

Captain Jinx Tagget Drawing Guide | Savage Drawing Guide

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November 9 – Celebrating the Election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris

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About the Holiday

This week the people of the United States elected a new President and Vice President who will lead our nation for the next four years. In many ways this election was historic, from the most votes ever cast for a presidential candidate to its taking place during a pandemic that required extraordinary measures to ensure everyone could participate and commitment on the part of voters. Most significant, however, was the election of Kamala Harris, the first woman, the first Black, and the first South Asian to hold the office of Vice President. To celebrate the 2020 election, I’ve reviewed two outstanding biographies, one about Joseph R. Biden Jr. and the other about Kamala Harris.

Joey: The Story of Joe Biden

Written by Dr. Jill Biden with Kathleen Krull | Illustrated by Amy June Bates

 

With a gift for storytelling and an ear for the kinds of details that will draw kids in, Jill Biden introduces young readers to her husband and soon-to-be President of the United States, Joe Biden, at the age of eight. Even at this young age, Joe—or Joey as he was then called—demonstrated a fun-loving competitive spirit, maturity, daring, and sense of responsibility that would take him far in life. How competitive? Despite being the smallest boy on any of his teams, “he was always ready for the ball.” How daring? Take your pick: the time he and his friends hopped “from rooftop to rooftop of the garages” in his neighborhood after seeing a Tarzan movie; the time he swung on a rope “over a construction site without a net;” or when he shimmied to the top of the slippery, swaying flag pole at the football field.”

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Image copyright Amy June Bates, 2020, text copyright Jill Biden with Kathleen Krull, 2020. Courtesy of Simon & Schuster.

Where did he learn these qualities? From his mom who always said, “‘Bravery resides in every heart, and yours is fierce and clear.’” And from his dad who encouraged Joey to “‘Get up! Get up!’” whenever he stumbled. To find work, Joey’s family moved, but Joey always had friends in his siblings, especially his younger sister, Valerie.

As he grew older Joey learned about world news and the rudiments of politics at the family dinner table, adding his opinions to those of the adults. At school, though bullies made fun of Joey’s stutter, that sometimes made talking difficult. Instead of taking it, Joey defended himself and others who were being bullied. He also devised ways to practice talking more smoothly. 

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Image copyright Amy June Bates, 2020, text copyright Jill Biden with Kathleen Krull, 2020. Courtesy of Simon & Schuster.

When his dreams of attending the Catholic high school seemed out of reach financially, Joey applied for a work-study program that allowed him to attend in exchange for duties such as painting the fence, pulling weeds, and washing windows. High school was also where he grew a foot taller and became the star of the basketball and football teams. Here he exchanged Joey for Joe. His sense of fairness and equality led him to stand up for his African American football teammate when the owner of the local diner would not serve him, and in a nod to his future profession, he was elected class president “during his junior and senior years.”

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Image copyright Amy June Bates, 2020, text copyright Jill Biden with Kathleen Krull, 2020. Courtesy of Simon & Schuster.

As the first in his family to go to college, Joe was “promptly elected president of his freshman class.” He learned about the struggles of blacks in America while working “as the only white lifeguard at a pool in an all-black neighborhood” during “the time of segregation and the struggle for civil rights.” Joe graduated with a law degree, and at the age of twenty-nine he “launched an unlikely quest to become a senator from Delaware”—even though the required age was thirty. “Against all the odds, Joe became one of the youngest people ever elected to the United States Senate.” Reelected five times, “he was powerful and respected.”

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Image copyright Amy June Bates, 2020, text copyright Jill Biden with Kathleen Krull, 2020. Courtesy of Simon & Schuster.

Then “after more than three decades of serving his country in the Senate, he was chosen by Barak Obama to run as his vice president. They won, energizing the nation,” and after eight years of serving together, President Obama called Joe, “‘the best vice president America’s ever had.’” In 2019, Joe announced his candidacy for president of the United States, calling the election a “‘battle for the soul of America.’—and Joe Biden was ready to fight it.”

Back matter includes family photographs, an extensive timeline of Joe Biden’s life and government service, inspirational “Bidenisms, sources for the quotations used in the text, and a bibliography.

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Image copyright Amy June Bates, 2020, text copyright Jill Biden with Kathleen Krull, 2020. Courtesy of Simon & Schuster.

For parents, teachers, and other adults looking to introduce children to the next president of the United States with an in-depth look at his life, his influences, and his vast experience, Dr. Jill Biden’s Joey: The Story of Joe Biden shines with an intimate portrait of his astonishing life. With specific examples that will resonate with children, Biden portrays the qualities and experience that make him the right person to lead our country during these times and demonstrates his long history of concern for all Americans. Conversational and folksy, Biden’s storytelling makes this an uplifting read aloud that will captivate listeners. The book provides an excellent opportunity to spark further research into Joe Biden’ life and government service as well a conversation-starter for adults to discuss the importance of family, character, hard work, perseverance, and community.

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Image copyright Amy June Bates, 2020, text copyright Jill Biden with Kathleen Krull, 2020. Courtesy of Simon & Schuster.

Amy June Bates’ watercolor, gouache, and pencil illustrations are stunning, taking readers from Joey’s neighborhood in Scranton, Pennsylvania—where they can see some of the feats of daring Joey was famous for and how he interacted with friends and siblings—to Delaware, the state that informed his interest in politics and sense of community service. Through Bates’ realistic images, children swing on the rope over the construction site, sit among his siblings as they watch TV, and join in at the dinner table for influential family discussions. Bates also depicts Biden’s struggles with bullies and his stutter. Kids follow him up a ladder to wash windows and to the high school gridiron to watch Joe pull away from the opposing team to score the winning touchdown. As Biden runs for and takes on responsibilities in the Senate, readers are there too. In Biden’s face and stance, Bates clearly portrays his confidence, optimism, intelligence, and pride in a lifetime of serving the American people.

A superb biography of our next president and one that will inspire a new generation of activists and public servants, Joey: The Story of Joe Biden is a must for home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Simon & Schuster, Paula Wiseman Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-1534480537

You can connect with Dr. Jill Biden on Twitter.

Discover more about Kathleen Krull and her books on her website.

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

You can find Joey: The Story of Joe Biden at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from 

Bookshop | IndieBound

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-kamala-harris-rooted-in-justice-cover

Kamala Harris: Rooted in Justice

Written by Nikki Grimes | Illustrated by Laura Freeman

 

Eve, a black girl, comes home from school in Oakland, California upset because Calvin, a boy in her class, said that girls can’t be President. Her mother tells her that Calvin is wrong and shows her a newspaper article about Kamala Harris, who “lives right here in Oakland and hopes to be President one day.” Eve’s mom begins to tell her daughter Kamala’s story, which began with “a strong black-and-brown braid coiling from India, where her mother, Shyamala, was born; to Jamaica, where her father, Donald, was born;” to Berkely, California and finally to Oakland.

She goes on to reveal that even as a baby “Kamala was like clay her parents molded for action,” as they took her along on marches for civil rights and to speeches given by Martin Luther King Jr. Kamala listened and learned words like peace, justice, freedom. On a trip to Zambia to visit her grandparents, Kamala learned that “fighting for justice ran in the family.”

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Image copyright Laura Freeman, 2020, text copyright Nikki Grimes, 2020. Courtesy of Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

Then when Kamala was seven her parents divorced, and Kamala, her younger sister Maya, and their mother moved to “‘the flatlands,’ the black working-class area in Berkeley.” From here, Kamala was bussed to Thousand Oaks Elementary in the “wealthy white part of town….,” where, she met “kids who were rich and poor, black and white; kids who celebrated holidays she’d never even heard of,” and learned to “count to ten in many different languages.” Here, Eve interrupts to excitedly tell her mother that their next door neighbor Guadalupe has taught her how to count in Spanish.

Kamala also learned from Mrs. Regina Shelton, a neighbor whom Kamala stayed with after school. Mrs. Shelton introduced her to Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, and Harriet Tubman. She encouraged her pursuits and instilled confidence in her. Just as influential on young Kamala were the family’s weekly visits to the “Rainbow Sign, a cultural center celebrating black art, music, books, and film. James Baldwin spoke there, Maya Angelou read there, and Nina Simone sang there.” Nina’s song “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” particularly resonated with Kamala.

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Image copyright Laura Freeman, 2020, text copyright Nikki Grimes, 2020. Courtesy of Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

On Sundays Kamala and Maya visited their father and went to the 23rd Avenue Church of God, where, along with singing in the children’s choir, Kamala learned from the Bible “that God asks us to speak up for those who can’t, to defend the rights of the poor and needy, like some lawyers do.” Maybe, Kamala thought, she would follow in her uncle Sherman’s footsteps and be that kind of lawyer too. Eve wonders if when she makes sandwiches for the homeless she’s helping out too. Her mom tells her yes.

When Kamala’s mother accepted a job in Montréal, Canada, Kamala’s life changed again. One thing that stayed the same, however, was Kamala’s sense of justice. For example when the apartment building manager wouldn’t allow the kids to play soccer on the lawn, she and Maya picketed until he changed his mind. 

Although Kamala adjusted to life in Canada, when it came time to go to college, she returned to the United States to attend Howard University like one of her heroes, Thurgood Marshall. Kamala felt at home at Howard. She won a seat in the student government, competed on the debate team, interned at the Federal Trade Commission, did research at the National Archives, and on weekends joined protests against apartheid in South Africa.

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Image copyright Laura Freeman, 2020, text copyright Nikki Grimes, 2020. Courtesy of Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

As a sophomore, Kamala spent her summer as an intern for Senator Alan Cranston “learning from someone whose footsteps echoed in the halls of power every day.” She went on to study law at Hastings College of the Law, leading the Black Law Students Association as president and working to improve the chances that black graduates would be hired by the best companies in the country.

In order to practice law, Kamala had one more hurdle to overcome: the California Bar exam. Kamala failed in her first attempt, but it taught her an important lesson about digging deep and trying harder – a lesson that Eve understands. On her second try, she passed. Since then Kamala’s trajectory has been steadily upward. “First, Deputy District Attorney. Next, the first female District Attorney of San Francisco. Then, the first black woman Attorney General of California” and eventually the “second black woman voted into the US Senate.”

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Image copyright Laura Freeman, 2020, text copyright Nikki Grimes, 2020. Courtesy of Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

As Senator, Kamala has fought for workers, women’s rights, and immigrant children. Then in 2019, she announced her candidacy for President of the United States. But running a presidential campaign takes a lot of money. When she and her team realized that they would not be able to sustain a campaign, she decided to give up her quest for the 2020 presidential nomination while still looking “forward to all the good work she could still do as Senator Harris.”

While the biography ends before the election and with the question, “Will she ever get to call the White House home?” the next sentence: “Kamala Harris is still writing her American story” looks forward to a future we will all be following. And what about Eve? She knows the message of Kamala’s life and dreams: “‘If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.’” That lesson and that Calvin is wrong about a girl’s ability to become the President.

A detailed timeline of Kamala Harris’s life and a list of resources follow the text.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-kamala-harris-rooted-in-justice-senator

Image copyright Laura Freeman, 2020, text copyright Nikki Grimes, 2020. Courtesy of Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

Nikki Grimes’ compelling biography of Kamala Harris lyrically outlines the importance that ideas of justice, freedom, and inclusion play in both her personal and professional life. Children will be especially captivated by Grimes’ comprehensive and intimate look at Kamala’s childhood and the people, experiences, and places that influenced her education, character, long commitment to equality, and steady focus on achieving her dreams. Specific examples of the large and smaller issues Kamala has fought for throughout her life instill in young readers the knowledge that they too can make a difference. Framed by Eve’s disagreement with Calvin and her interjections about certain aspects of Kamala’s life, the story speaks directly to the reader, creating in them the kind of confidence and reassurance that has served Kamala well. The final lines offer encouragement and inspiration to tomorrow’s leaders.

Laura Freeman’s textured, realistic illustrations introduce Kamala Harris in the context of her family, the causes they put their hearts and voices into, and the communities that nurtured her. As a child, Kamala’s confidence and intelligence are evident as she learns about her family’s activism in Zambia, rides to school on the bus, listens to Mrs. Shelton and Nina Simone, and gets involved in activities at church, in college, and in law school. Images of Kamala as an adult depict her familiar smile, thoughtfulness, poise, and self-confidence. Freeman’s collage-style imagery of the people who have influenced Kamala are particularly powerful reminders of the legacy that parents, grandparents, teachers, mentors, and leaders in society imprint on people from childhood and throughout life.

A beautiful and inspiring biography, Kamala Harris: Rooted in Justice is an exciting introduction to our next Vice President and is sure to encourage discussion, stir dreams of greatness, and motivate girls and children of color to follow in her footsteps. The book is a must for home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Simon & Schuster, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2020 | ISBN 978-1534462670

Discover more about Nikki Grimes, her books, and her poetry on her website.

To learn more about Laura Freeman, her books, and her art, visit her website.

You can find Kamala Harris: Rooted in Justice at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support our local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

 Picture Book Review

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April 6 – 19th Amendment Centennial Interview with Author Elisa Boxer & “The Voice that Won the Vote” Review

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Elisa Boxer is an Emmy-winning journalist and columnist whose work has appeared in publications including The New York Times, Inc., and Fast Company. She has always been passionate about children’s literature, and finds herself especially drawn to stories of unsung heroes like Febb and Harry Burn. The Voice That Won the Vote is her first book, and she hopes it inspires children to give voice to what matters to them. Elisa lives in Maine with her family.

Today, I’m excited to chat with Elisa Boxer about her timely The Voice Who Won the Vote, her work as a journalist, and the themes woven through all of her stories. Elisa also gives kids an intriguing writing prompt. And my blogging partner Jakki’s sons, Steve and Jack, are back with their questions too!

 Steve asked: How did you find the letter Febb Burn wrote to her son?

Hi Steve! So glad you liked the book. The story of how I found the letter goes back to a couple of years ago when my agent, Steven Chudney, let me know that 2020 would be the 100th Anniversary of women getting the right to vote. He asked if I could come up with a picture book about it. I’ve always been drawn to stories of unsung heroes, so I scoured the internet for little-known figures in the suffrage movement. When I stumbled across the story of Febb Burn and learned that she was the mom who saved suffrage, I knew this was a story I wanted to tell! More digging led me to the online archives at the Knox County Library in Tennessee. These archives included the letter.

By the way, in case you haven’t seen it, here’s a photo of the actual letter: http://cmdc.knoxlib.org/cdm/ref/collection/p265301coll8/id/699

I think it’s so cool to see the original papers that Harry received and read that day in the legislature back in 1920.  And to see Febb’s actual handwriting! Aaah! I tend to geek out over historical documents like this.

Jack wondered: How much research did you have to do?

Hi Jack! The short answer is: Lots. After I found Febb’s story on the internet, I read as many articles online as I could find. I also read several books about the women’s suffrage movement. I wanted more background information to put the story in context, and I also wanted to know more about the legislative session in Tennessee that led to Harry Burn tipping the scales and giving women the right to vote. I also enlisted the help of the Special Collections department at the University of Tennessee Libraries. One of the most exciting things they shared with me was a scanned version of Harry Burn’s personal scrapbook from 1920, containing newspaper clippings and headlines from his historic vote!

Jack and Steve would like to know: Is voting important to you?

Definitely. I started the book with the line: “A vote is a voice,” because I believe that voting is one of the most powerful ways we can have our say in society.

Hi Elisa! I read in your bio that even as a child you loved to write. In fact, if readers look on your website they’ll see a picture of quite a large group of books with covers written in crayon. I’m sure kids would love to know what some of those stories were about. Can you share a few of the ideas you wrote about as a child?

Sure! It’s fun to look back on those and see some common themes, like defying authority (You Can’t Catch Me, for example, about a girl outrunning her parents) and grief (I wrote The Kitten and the Puppy after losing my beloved dog). And then, there was a book about a dinosaur making friends with a little girl and moving into her house, which I think I wrote because I had just learned how to draw dinosaurs ;).

With your early interest in writing books, did you ever consider becoming a children’s writer or novelist before going into journalism? What was it about journalism that attracted you?

Even though I’ve loved reading and writing children’s books for as long as I can remember, I never really considered making a career of it. I wish I had followed that passion earlier. I’m 49 and my first book was just published. So if you have any interest in creating children’s books, don’t wait as long as I did! Although, having said that, I really do love print and broadcast journalism. My specialty has always been long-form journalism, which involves in-depth research, multiple interviews, and spending time crafting a story. A lot like writing nonfiction picture books, actually. A couple of years ago, I got sidelined with a severe case of Lyme disease. It hurt to move and breathe and I was basically housebound. So that’s when I decided to re-visit my childhood passion. I began dusting off old picture book manuscripts, revising them, and querying agents.

Your stories in print for newspapers and for television news have garnered many awards. What aspects of story do you infuse into each of your pieces? What do you like best about each medium?

(Blushing). I am always looking for the soul of the story. Even with straight news pieces, I want to find people and circumstances to bring those stories to life in a way that readers or viewers can relate to. The thing I like best is the same for each medium, and that is finding the point of emotional resonance, the subtext, the theme that will stick with the audience long after they put down the paper or the magazine or turn off the TV. In fact, that’s one of the reasons I love books so much: people pick them up again and again. Sure, you can save a newspaper or magazine article that resonates with you. But it’s not the same as that feeling of finishing a book, internalizing its message, holding it in your hands and knowing it’s yours to return to whenever you want.

It seems very fitting that your first published book is a picture book. What is it about Febb Burn’s story that you think is most important for kids to know?

I really want kids to know how much their voices matter. It’s so easy to feel powerless, especially given the state of the world right now. But I hope kids come away from the book realizing that one small act of courage, in the form of giving voice to what matters to them, really can change the world.

Vivien Mildenberger’s illustrations are so evocative of 1920. What was your first reaction to seeing your story illustrated? Do you have a favorite spread?

Aren’t Vivien’s illustrations amazing? I’m still blown away by them every time I see the book. When I first saw her work on her website, even before I saw her illustrations for the book, I knew that her old-world style would be a perfect fit for this story. And then when I first saw her preliminary sketches, I thought, WHOA, this is going to be even better than I could have imagined. Hmmm, it’s tough to pick a favorite spread. But I’d have to say the one where Harry Burn is looking out the window of the state capitol, watching the throngs of people arrive to witness history. She really captures the mood here. “America was on the verge of change,” the text reads. You can’t even see Harry’s face, but Vivien somehow managed to convey so much tension and anticipation in this spread. You can feel his inner struggle to do what’s right and follow his heart in the face of opposition.

What’s up next for you?

I’m super excited to say that I have several more picture books on the way during the next couple of years, all nonfiction. I’m also working on a chapter book and two middle grade books, one nonfiction and the other historical fiction.

As kids stay home and are schooled at home, it’s wonderful to see them interacting with the kidlit community. Would you like to give readers a writing prompt?

It really is so wonderful to be interacting with kids, their parents and their teachers. As for a prompt, I’d ask kids: With the world the way it is, what are the words, the scenes, the images, and the messages that would touch your heart? In other words, what is the book you need right now? Take one small step to start creating it. And then another…

Thanks, Elisa! It’s been wonderful talking with you! I wish you all the best with The Voice Who Won the Vote, and I can’t wait to read your upcoming books. I hope we’ll have a chance to chat again!

You can connect with Elisa on

Her website | Facebook | Twitter 

To order a signed, personalized copy of The Voice that Won the Vote, visit Print: A Bookstore.

19th Amendment Centennial Review

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About the Holiday

This year we celebrate the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which guaranteed a woman’s right to vote. The victory was long fought and hard won and still informs issues of democracy and equal rights today. For more information on the history of suffrage and to learn more about the brave women on the front lines of progress, visit the 2020 Women’s Vote Centennial Initiative website and Women’s Vote Centennial. You’ll find extensive resources, curriculum for middle school and high school students, as well as online exhibits, videos, and so much more.

The Voice that Won the Vote: How One Woman’s Words Made History

Written by Elisa Boxer | Illustrated by Vivien Mildenberger

The year was 1920 and women were demanding the right to vote, just as they had been for the last seventy-five years. But all of their meetings, shouting, and signs were silenced. Men called the women “troublemakers” and “uncivilized.” Some men said it would “cause chaos” if women could vote, and others said “‘the only vote a woman needs is the vote to choose her husband.” There were even other women who thought women shouldn’t vote.

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Image copyright Vivien Mildenberger, 2020, text copyright Elisa Boxer, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

But then there was Febb Burn from East Tennessee who had gone to college, become a teacher, and loved to keep learning. She was especially interested in laws and how they were made, and every year as she watched her farmhands head off to vote on election day, she wanted to be able to go too. Finally, she grew so tired of being “shut out of the process” that she wrote a letter to her son.

Who was her son? His name was Harry Burn, and he was the “youngest lawmaker in Tennessee.” As he read his mother’s letter, he watched out his window as people from across the country gathered to decide the fate of women’s suffrage. One round of voting had already taken place, and it had resulted in a tie. Thirty-five states had voted yes on the issue, but thirty-six were needed to make it a law. Harry Burn for Tennessee had been one of the “no” votes in the first round. Now in the second round, Harry Burn would be the deciding vote. A “no” would deny women the vote, while a “yes” would change elections forever.

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Image copyright Vivien Mildenberger, 2020, text copyright Elisa Boxer, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

“He knew that most of the people who had elected him hated the idea of women voting.” Many of them were even in the audience and were counting on him. He was, after all, wearing a red rose—”the symbol of keeping women in the home, and out of the voting booth”—in his pocket. When it came time for Harry to vote, all eyes were on him as he said “‘Yes.’” The officials thought he’d “made a mistake” or “gotten confused,” but he hadn’t. The suffragettes cheered and hugged.

Everyone wanted to know why Harry Burn had changed his mind. In answer, he pulled from his pocket the letter his mother had written urging him to vote for suffrage. Harry constituents were shocked and angry. They vowed to vote against him in the next election. The headlines in the newspapers said that Harry had ruined his career. But Harry already knew that. He knew that his vote would mean “giving up his seat in the Tennessee House of Representatives.”

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Image copyright Vivien Mildenberger, 2020, text copyright Elisa Boxer, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

When interviewed for newspaper articles, Harry said that he had followed his conscience that all people should have the right to vote. At last the election was held, and Harry awaited his fate as all the votes were counted. Who would be the next Tennessee Representative? Harry Burn! “And no one was prouder than the woman who, without speaking a word, gave all women a vote.”

In an Author’s Note, Elisa Boxer talks more about the women’s suffrage movement, the courage to stand up for what you believe in, and the power of using the vote to voice your opinion. A timeline of significant events in the women’s suffrage movement is also included.

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Image copyright Vivien Mildenberger, 2020, text copyright Elisa Boxer, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

For anyone wondering about the power of one vote, Elisa Boxer puts all doubts to rest with her engaging recounting of this little-known true story. While Harry Burn’s vote took place 100 years ago, the courage he showed in standing up for his own conscience and in opposition to what was expected of him reverberates today. Boxer opens the story with a clear and meaningful definition of how a vote equals one’s voice, instilling in children who are learning to speak up for themselves in classrooms, on social media, and elsewhere the importance of voting when they come of age.

Her inclusion of quotes revealing the reasons behind opposition to women’s suffrage will be eye-opening. Her well-paced building of suspense going into the second vote and the aftermath will have kids on the edge of their seat and offers many opportunities to discuss the mechanisms of politics, expectations, and courage. Through her straightforward yet multilayered storytelling, Boxer presents two heroes for children to look up to: Harry, who put the good of the country and women ahead of his own career and Febb, who used her voice to make lasting change.

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Image copyright Vivien Mildenberger, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Vivien Mildenberger’s lovely, textured illustrations take readers back to the pivotal year of 1920, when vocal suffragettes faced their equally vocal opposition and Febb Burn, sitting on her front porch decided to write her life-changing letter. Images of politicians sporting yellow and red roses reveal the long tradition of color as an identifying symbol. An especially powerful spread comes after Harry’s vote as he walks among his angry constituents, all of whom shun him behind newspapers full of articles about the historic vote. The inclusion of the actual Febb Burn’s letter to Harry and a photograph of Febb give readers see and hear from this influential woman.

A stirring true story about the power of one person to make a difference, The Voice that Won the Vote is highly recommended for home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 7 – 10

Sleeping Bear Press, 2020 | ISBN 978-1534110496

You can download a The Voice that Won the Vote Teaching Guide from Sleeping Bear Press here.

Discover more about Elisa Boxer, her book, journalism, and other work on her website.

To learn more about Vivien Mildenberger, her books, and her art on her website.

Women’s History Month Activity

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Get Out and Vote! Maze

Help the girl find her way through the maze to the ballot box so she can cast her vote in this printable maze.

Get Out and Vote! Maze | Get Out and Vote! Maze Solution

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You can find The Voice the Won the Vote at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound | Print: A Bookstore

Picture Book Review

March 10 – International Day of Awesomeness

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About the Holiday

Today we celebrate awesomeness, and in particular the fact that you are awesome! Begun as an inside joke among coworkers, International Day of Awesomeness continues to grow, attracting more and more awesome individuals around the world. To celebrate get creative and perform feats of awesomeness—whatever that might mean to you. You can also read about awesome people and their accomplishments to get you fired up to do awesome things of your own all through the year. Why not start with today’s book?!

Become a Leader Like Michelle Obama (Work It, Girl Series)

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.

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.

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Image copyright Sinem Erkas, 2020, text copyright Caroline Moss, 2020. Courtesy of Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

In Chapter 1, readers are invited in to Michelle’s home on her 8th birthday. They learn about her family, the house they share with relatives, including her favorite aunt, Aunt Robbie, and the loving atmosphere that formed her values and sense of community that “would inspire her to go on and change communities across the US – and beyond.”

Chapter 2 takes readers into Michelle’s second-grade classroom, where “she loved reading, making up stories in her head and on the page, and creating art” and was frustrated by the inattention of the other kids who always seemed to be “bouncing off the walls.” Here they also discover certain events on her road from that classroom to high school graduation that helped Michelle develop her strength and self-confidence.

In Chapter 3 Michelle enters Princeton University, the college of her dreams. She makes friends, gets a job that “helped her think about a world outside her own,” and had a small, but life-changing experience that made her realize that “she did not have to blend into the background” or always “take the easy route. She started to imagine herself as a helper and an influential voice in her community, as a smart mind with ideas to share with the world.”

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Image copyright Sinem Erkas, 2020, text copyright Caroline Moss, 2020. Courtesy of Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

By Chapter 5 Michelle has graduated from Harvard Law School and taken a job at a Chicago law firm. But while she loved her job, she was struggling with medical challenges faced by her father and her best friend. “Michelle had a lot to juggle, but she was becoming pretty awesome at taking on lots of different tasks with a smile.” When does Michelle meet Barak? That comes in Chapter 6, when he got a job at the same law firm Michelle worked for. Readers get to hear about his first day on the job and the impression he made on her, how she came to think of him as her best friend at work, and about their first date.

Chapter 7 begins as Michelle is thinking about the course she wants her life to take. She realizes that she didn’t want to be a lawyer. “But what did she want to be; who did she want to be? Michelle had no idea, but she knew she wanted to change the world around her and leave it better than she found it.” She soon found herself working at Chicago City Hall. Her enthusiasm and success there led her to be hired by an organization that “found inspiring young people who showed promise in making a difference” and who would go on to “take leadership jobs in their communities.” It was also during this time that Barak proposed and took a new job helping to register first-time voters.

In Chapter 8, the Obamas’ lives take a big leap toward their future as Michelle gets a new job with the University of Chicago, where she was to “create a sustainable program that would help connect the university with its community.” During these years Malia and Sasha are born and Barack runs for and wins a seat in the US Senate, going on to become President. What did Michelle think about all of these changes? Young readers will discover her conflicting feelings: wariness, excitement, pride, and the belief that “one person could make a difference.”

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Image copyright Sinem Erkas, 2020, text copyright Caroline Moss, 2020. Courtesy of Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

As Chapter 9 opens, Michelle and Barack and their family have moved into the White House. For Michelle that meant developing an “‘official initiative’ for her time in the White House.” Readers learn how she designed her ‘Let’s Move!’ program, aimed at keeping “kids healthy through education and learning good habits.” In Chapter 10, the Obamas leave the White House, “but Michelle knew her story had just begun.” She wrote a book sharing her stories and her life. Now new adventures await her and it will “only be a matter of time before she [sets] out to change the world once more.”

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.

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

Discover more about Caroline Moss and her books on her website.

To learn more about Sinem Erkas, her books, and her art, visit her website.

International Day of Awesomeness Activity

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Awesomeness Cards

 

Do you have some awesome people in your life? Give them one of these printable Awesomeness Cards and watch them smile!

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You can find Become a Leader Like Michelle Obama at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review