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

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About Today’s Post

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

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

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

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

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

Artists and Writers

 

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Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks

Written by Suzanne Slade | Illustrated by Cozbi A. Cobrera

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

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

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

Ages 6 – 9

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

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

Written by Deborah Blumenthal | Illustrated by Laura Freeman

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

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

Ages 4 – 8

little bee books, 2017 | ISBN 978-1499802399

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

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

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

Ages 5 – 8

Albert Whitman & Company, 2015 | ISBN 978-0807530177

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Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph

Written by Roxane Orgill | Illustrated by Francis Vallejo

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

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

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

Ages 8 – 12 and up

Candlewick, 2016 | ISBN 978-0763669546

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

By Javaka Steptoe

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

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

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

Ages 6 – 10

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

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A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks

Written by Alice Fay Duncan | Illustrated by Xia Gordon

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

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

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

Ages 4 and up

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

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

Written by Patricia McKessack | Illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera

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

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

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

Ages 5 – 12

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

Culinary Arts

 

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Grandpa Cacao: A Tale of Chocolate from Farm to Family

By Elizabeth Zunon

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

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

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

Ages 3 – 8

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

Music

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

Written by Kathleen Cornell Berman | Illustrated by Keith Henry Brown

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

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

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

Ages 8 – 12

Page Street Kids, 2019 | ISBN 978-1624146909

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

Written by Anne Rockwell | Illustrated by Colin Bootman

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

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

Ages 6 – 10

Carolrhoda Books, 2013 | ISBN 978-0761355656

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

Written by James Weldon Johnson | Illustrated by Elizabeth Catlett

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

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

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

Ages 6 – 12 and up

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

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

Written by Laben Carrick Hill |Illustrated by Theodore Tayler III

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

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

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

Ages 6 – 10

Roaring Brook Press, 2013 | ISBN 978-1596435407

Civil Rights and Politics

 

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Become a Leader Like Michelle Obama

Written by Caroline Moss | Illustrated by Sinem Erkas

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

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

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

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

Ages 8 – 12 and up

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

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

By Adrienne Wright

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

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

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

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

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

Page Street Kids, 2019 | ISBN 978-1624146916

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

Written by Dee Romito | Illustrated by Laura Freeman

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

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

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

Ages 6 – 9

little bee books, 2018 | ISBN 978-1499807202

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

Written by Chris Barton |Illustrated by Ekua Holmes

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

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

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

Ages 4 – 8 and up

Beach Lane Books, 2018 | ISBN 978-1481465618

Science

 

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

Written by Caroline Moss | Illustrated by Sinem Erkas

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

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

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

Ages 8 – 12

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

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

Written by Helaine Becker | Illustrated by Dow Phumiruk

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

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

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

Ages 5 – 9

Henry Holt and Company, 2018 | ISBN 978-1250137524

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

Written by Margot Lee Shetterly | Illustrated by Laura Freeman

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

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

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

Ages 4 – 8

HarperCollins, 2018 | ISBN 978-0062742469

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Ticktock Banneker’s Clock

Written by Shana Keller | Illustrated by David C. Gardner

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

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

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

Ages 6 – 10

Sleeping Bear Press, 2016 | ISBN 978-1585369560

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

Written by Chris Barton | Illustrated by Don Tate

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

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

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

Ages 5 – 10

Charlesbridge, 2016 | ISBN 978-1580892971

Slavery

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Freedom in Congo Square

Written by Carole Boston Weatherford | Illustrated by Gregory Christie

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

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

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

Ages 4 – 8

little bee books, 2016 | ISBN 978-1499801033

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

Written by Ellen Levine | Illustrated by Kadir Nelson

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

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

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

Ages 4 – 8

Scholastic Press, 2007 | ISBN 978-043977733

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Words Set Me Free: The Story of Young Frederick Douglass

Written by Lesa Cline-Ransome | Illustrated by James Ransome

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

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

Ages 5 and up                                                                                                            

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

Sports

 

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Fast Enough: Bessie Stringfield’s First Ride

By Joel Christian Gill

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

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

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

Ages 5 – 9

Oni Press, 2019 | ISBN 978-1549303142

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

Written by Heather Lang | Illustrated by Floyd Cooper

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

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

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

Ages 5 and up

Boyds Mills Press, 2012 | ISBN 978-1590788509

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Serena: The Littlest Sister

Written by Karlin Gray | Illustrated by Monica Ahanonu

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

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

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

Ages 8 – 11

Page Street Kids, 2019 | ISBN 978-1624146947

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

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

Picture Book Review

May 7 – National Tourism Day

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About the Holiday

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

Tiny Travelers: Puerto Rico Treasure Quest

By Steven Wolfe Pereira and Susie Jaramillo

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ages 4 – 7

Encantos, 2020 | ISBN 978-1945635304

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

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

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

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Tiny Travelers: India Treasure Quest

By Steven Wolfe Pereira and Susie Jaramillo

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ages 4 – 7

Encantos, 2020 | ISBN 978-1945635236

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

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You can find Tiny Travelers: India at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

March 27 – National Reading Month: Rosie: Stronger than Steel Book Tour Stop

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About the Holiday

The month of March is dedicated to reading—an initiative that’s taken on new importance as parents and caregivers search for resources for homeschooling and to share family time. Authors, illustrators, teachers, librarians, publishers, and others in the publishing and education fields are finding new ways to connect with readers and bring them the books they love. Today, I’m happy to be taking part in a book tour for Rosie: Stronger than Steel, an original look at another momentous time in history that brought people together to work for the good of all.

I received a copy of Rosie: Stronger than Steel from Two Lions for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

Rosie: Stronger than Steel

By Lindsay Ward

 

Rosie, a tractor built during World War II, reveals what she’s made of as her story begins: “Refrigerators, fences, old cars, and a toaster… all melted down to build me up strong.” In the factory four women weld and rivet Rosie together. As they work on her they sing…”This is our Rosie, / stronger than steel. / She’ll plow all the land / with a turn of her wheel.” A finishing touch—a single red rose—is painted on, and Rosie offers a promise: “I’ll plow and I’ll dig. / I’ll dig and I’ll plow. / No matter the job, / this is my vow.”

Then Rosie is sent out, traveling by air, ship, truck, and train to a farm far away. The fields are overgrown—in need of Rosie’s expertise. Rosie is happy to get to work, churning the ground so that the Land Girls can plant seeds to grow crops—“wheat and barley. Oats and potatoes. Sugar beets, currants, apples, tomatoes.”—to support the war effort.

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Copyright Lindsay Ward, 2020, courtesy of Two Lions.

Some days Rosie toiled in the shadow of a war plane, her green body hiding among the green crops. But she never faltered, always singing to herself promise she made to the women who built her. Year after year “more crops were needed! Load after load, sent out to the troops. To feed them. To help them. To win the war!”

Rosie did more than plow. She was hitched to wagons that carried milk and wool and hauled bushels and bushels of apples. She trudged uphill with logs to be converted into supplies. And then one day Rosie heard cheers ringing out across the farm. “The celebration spread throughout the world. The war was over!”

As time passed, new-model tractors joined Rosie on the farm. And then came the day when Rosie sputtered to a halt. She was taken to the barn, where the farmers tinkered and brought her back to life. Now Rosie had rubber tires and new paint, and the little rose had blossomed to fill her hood. Rosie was back, working the farm but never forgetting her promise to the women who built her and her fight for freedom.

In an extensive Author’s Note and accompanying timeline, Lindsay Ward talks about the inspiration behind her story, the work of women in factories during World War II in the US, and the Women’s Land Army in England. She also reveals fascinating facts about tractors built by Ford Motor Company and sent to England. Ward also includes a list of resources for those interested in learning more.

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Copyright Lindsay Ward, 2020, courtesy of Two Lions.

Lindsay Ward introduces children to the heroism and sacrifice displayed during World War II through her unique story. Told from the perspective of a tractor built by women factory workers in the United States and shipped to a British farm supplying food for the troops, Ward’s story reveals details of the time period that children may not know but that will make an impact: In the first page spread, children see women lined up with donations for the scrap metal collection—not only cans and unneeded items, but toasters and bed frames too. The reason for Rosie’s green paint—a familiar color for tractors—also becomes apparent later in the story.

With the war’s end and the passage of time, Ward demonstrates the return to normalcy and progress again through tractors—Rosie, who acquires rubber tires, and new, sleeker models. Straightforward storytelling describing Rosie’s origins and her hard work on the farm intermittently shares the page with Rosie’s inspiring rhymed promise to do any job necessary.

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Copyright Lindsay Ward, 2020, courtesy of Two Lions.

Ward’s colored pencil and cut paper illustrations evoke the 1940s and give Rosie a determined personality while maintaining a realistic view of the important work of these valuable machines. Green predominates, highlighting Rosie, reminding readers of the camouflaged troops she served, and spotlighting the crops she fostered while adding a touch of metaphorical depth in the idea of renewal. Images created from lined notebook paper hint at the importance of remembering history through stories, and other choices of paper add texture and interest.

An excellent story to add to lessons on World War II, women’s history, American history, farming, and industry as well as for children interested in vehicles and machinery, Rosie: Stronger than Steel would be an inspirational addition to home, school, and public library collections.

To learn more about Lindsay Ward, her books, and her art, visit her website.

For a Learn to Draw Rosie Activity Sheet, visit Lindsay’s Rosie: Stronger than Steel page.

Ages 4 – 8 

Two Lions, 2020 | ISBN 978-1542017947

National Reading Month Activity

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Build a Tractor Jigsaw Puzzle

 

With this printable jigsaw puzzle, you can color and build a tractor of your own! Just print the Tractor Template, color, cut, and have fun putting it together!

Supplies

  • Printable Tractor Template
  • Card stock paper, poster board, or cardboard (optional)
  • Colored pencils or crayons
  • Scissors
  • Glue (optional)
  • Tape (optional)

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Directions

  1. Print the Tractor Template. For a sturdier puzzle, print on card stock or glue the pieces to poster board or cardboard before cutting.
  2. Color and cut out the pieces
  3. Put the tractor together

Optional Game

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If you’d like to play with your tractor, you can print this Vegetable Garden Game.

  1. To use your tractor to play with the game, tape the pieces together.
  2. Then pretend to plow and plant your garden then play the game with the directions provided.

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You can find Rosie: Stronger than Steel at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

 

March 16 – It’s Women’s History Month

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About the Holiday

This year we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment which gave women the right to vote. The theme of this year’s Women’s History Month celebration is “Valiant Women of the Vote” and commemorates not only the women who fought for voting equality in the past but also those who, during the 20th century and through today, fight against other forms of voter suppression. Today’s book honors one of those women. For more information and vast resources especially under Suffrage Centennial, visit the National Women’s History Alliance website.

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.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-vote-that-won-the-vote-Harry-Burn

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

Picture Book Review

 

February 12 – Abraham Lincoln’s Birthday

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About the Holiday

Today, we celebrate the birthday of Abraham Lincoln, who was born February 12, 1809. He was elected president in 1861, shortly before the beginning of the Civil War, and went on to become one of the most beloved presidents in the nation’s history. In 1863, Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed all slaves in rebel states and led to the abolition of slavery across the country. Lincoln’s birthday is celebrated in various ways throughout the United States. Organizations and institutions dedicated to teaching and preserving Lincoln’s legacy often hold large-scale events. A wreath-laying ceremony and reading of the Gettysburg Address is traditionally held at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC. Take some time today and on Presidents Day, which is observed on February 17 and commemorates the birthdays of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, while remembering all those who have served as president.

I received a copy of Honey, the Dog Who Saved Abe Lincoln from Katherine Tegan Books for review consideration. All opinions are my own. I’m happy to be partnering with HarperCollins. 

Honey, the Dog Who Saved Abe Lincoln

Written by Shari Swanson | Illustrated by Chuck Groenink

 

Young Abe Lincoln was deep in the forest when he heard the whistle that told him the corn he’d brought to the mill was ready. He knew he’d be late, but it was worth it to have saved a frog from the jaws of a snake. When Abe got back to the mill, John Hodgen, the miller, wondered what it had been this time that had kept Abe so long. “‘I just can’t move along fast like some boys, Mr. John, because I see so many little foolish things that make me stop. I can’t help it to save my life,“‘ Abe answered.

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Image copyright Chuck Groenink, 2020, text copyright Shari Swanson, 2020. Courtesy of Kathrerine Tegen Books.

On his way home, he heard rustling in the bushes. At the bottom of a cliff, Abe found a dog with a broken leg. Although he “was only seven years old, Abe had spent his whole life on a Kentucky farm and knew how to tend to animals.” He cut a small branch to make a splint and peeled bark from a pawpaw bush to use as a bandage. He tied it all together with rawhide from his belt. It was already dark when Abe and the dog reached home.

Even though his mother knew he was prone to lateness, she’d been worried, but Abe told her about the “‘honey of a dog’” he’d found and begged her to let him keep it. “‘He’ll do lots of good things for me,’ he told her. ‘You just watch and see.’” Abe’s mother relented and soon Honey was on the mend. Even though, once healed, Honey’s foot was curved, he was able to keep up with Abe on his adventures.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-honey-the-dog-who-saved-lincoln-cave

Image copyright Chuck Groenink, 2020, text copyright Shari Swanson, 2020. Courtesy of Kathrerine Tegen Books.

On another day, after Abe had dropped off his grain at the mill, he grew tired of waiting and wandered into the woods, where they found the mouth of a cave. “Deep, twisting caverns traveled for hundreds of miles under Kentucky. A boy and his dog could get lost in caverns like these.” Abe and Honey made their way down into the rocky darkness. Abe was too busy looking around at the stalactites, bats, and other creatures who lurked in the shadows to notice the gap between two boulders. In a moment he was stuck tight. “Honey normally never left Abe, but this time he headed alone back into the darkening woods” to get help.

Meanwhile, everyone in town had gathered to look for Abe. Abe’s mother was at least relieved to know that Honey was with her son to protect him. As the search party began to look, Abe’s mother heard a noise in the bushes. Then she saw Honey dashing toward her. He barked and whined, but when he saw Mr. John, Honey “jumped up…and barked in his face.” Mr. John called for everyone to follow Honey.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-honey-the-dog-who-saved-lincoln-rescue

Image copyright Chuck Groenink, 2020, text copyright Shari Swanson, 2020. Courtesy of Kathrerine Tegen Books.

Honey led them through the forest to the cave’s entrance. Mr. John blew on his whistle, and Abe answered. Mr. John crept in and found Abe. There was no room for him to swing a sledge hammer to break the rock, so he pulled him out “even though it meant leaving some of the boy’s hide behind.” Once outside, Abe’s mother rushed to hug him and Honey. Abe had been right about Honey doing great things. And for many more years, Honey and Abe enjoyed adventures together.

Back matter includes a timeline recounting Abraham Lincoln’s major life events as well as his adventures with animals throughout his life.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-honey-the-dog-who-saved-lincoln-more-adventures

Image copyright Chuck Groenink, 2020, text copyright Shari Swanson, 2020. Courtesy of Kathrerine Tegen Books.

In her enchanting story, Shari Swanson introduces young readers to the boy who would grow up to be the 16th president of the United States. Children meet this beloved man as a peer, discovering that his kindness, self-deprecation, sense of humor, and big heart were always part of his personality and guided him throughout his life, during good times and times of turmoil. Abraham Lincoln’s voice drives Swanson’s storytelling, which is charming and uplifting and gives a feel for the community that raised a president. Children may be awed by the responsibility Abe took on as a mere seven-year-old but will also recognize and appreciate his knowledge, competence, and confidence. Abe’s relationship with Honey is heartwarming, demonstrating that love and loyalty are repaid in many ways.

Chuck Groenink’s digital illustrations shine with sun-dappled Kentucky forest scenes and raise the stakes with foreboding and atmospheric images of the darkened cavern. His double-page spreads give readers close-up views of the action in the story as well as places they may not be familiar with, such as the mill and the Lincoln family’s log cabin. Images of Abe setting Honey’s broken paw, sneaking table scraps to Honey, and rescuing a variety of animals will delight kids. Torchlit scenes of the nighttime search party and dramatic rescue will have readers on the edge of their seats but knowing that Honey is watching out for Abe, they will be as certain of the triumphant ending.

A charming and compelling story for teaching young children about Abraham Lincoln and the lessons his life exhibits, Honey, the Dog Who Saved Abe Lincoln would be a first-rate addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollins, 2020 | ISBN 978-0062699008

Discover more about Shari Swanson and her books on her website. You’ll also find an educators’ curriculum guide and a child’s activity kit to download on her website. or here:

Educators’ Curriculum Guide | Activity Kit for Kids

To learn more about Chuck Groenink, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Abraham Lincoln’s Birthday Activity

CPB - Abe Lincoln's Top Hat chalkboard (2)

Abe Lincoln’s Top Hat Chalkboard

 

Abraham Lincoln was known for the black top hat he wore – and for his inspiring words In this activity you can learn how to make a top hat chalkboard to use for your own drawings or inspiring words!

Supplies

  • Cereal Box (I used a large sized cereal box), cardboard or poster board
  • Chalkboard Paint (black)
  • Paint brush
  • Hot Glue Gun or extra-strength glue
  • Removable mounting squares
  • Chalk

Directions

  1. If you are using cardboard or poster board: cut a rectangle at least 8 inches wide by 12 inches long for the hat and 12 inches long by 2 inches wide for the brim (but your top hat can be any size you’d like!)
  2. If you are using a Cereal Box: open the seams of the Cereal Box
  3. Cut the panels of the cereal box apart
  4. Take one face panel and one side panel
  5. With the chalkboard paint, paint both panels
  6. Let the panels dry
  7. Attach the side panel to the bottom of the face panel to create the shape of Lincoln’s top hat
  8. Hang Abe Lincoln’s Top Hat Chalkboard 

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-honey-the-dog-who-saved-lincoln-cover

You can find Honey, the Dog Who Saved Abe Lincoln at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

November 14 – Anniversary of The Race Around the World

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About the Holiday

On this date 130 years ago, an incredible race began between investigative reporter Nellie Bly and Cosmopolitan magazine writer Elizabeth Bisland to beat the fictional voyage of Phileas Fogg, a character in Jules Verne’s novel Around the World in Eighty Days. I’m excited to be reviewing Caroline Starr Rose and Alexandra Bye’s book on the anniversary of this historic feat.

A Race Around the World: The True Story of Nellie Bly & Elizabeth Bisland

Written by Caroline Starr Rose | Illustrated by Alexandra Bye

 

In 1889 the world was changing in incredible ways through inventions such as the telegraph, electricity, the telephone, and express trains and fast steamships. People thrilled to the idea of circumnavigating the globe faster and faster. Previous attempts had seen a voyage by a travel writer that took a year and a half and a trip by a baseball team that took six months. But the goal that was so enticing came in Jules Verne’s novel Around the World in Eighty Days. “A reporter named Nellie Bly believed she could be even faster.”

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Image copyright Alexandra Bye, 2019, text copyright Caroline Starr Rose, 2019. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Nellie Bly studied steamer and train schedules and thought she could make the trip in seventy-five days. “Her boss at the New York World said only a man could manage such a trip.” With only three days to prepare, Nellie boarded the Augusta Victoria in New Jersey on November 14, 1889. Meanwhile, in New York, Elizabeth Bisland was called to her office at Cosmopolitan magazine. Her publisher wanted her to leave immediately to begin her own journey around the world to beat Nellie Bly. In five hours she was boarding a train. As Elizabeth made her way across country, Nellie was on a steamer, fighting seasickness, unaware “that her one-woman dash was now a contest of two.”

When Nellie docked in England, she learned that Jules Verne wanted to meet her. Their meeting meant a mad dash to France and back before she boarded a ship for the next leg of her trip. In San Francisco Elizabeth was excited to be leaving the United States for the first time. Nellie arrived in Ceylon two days ahead of schedule, but her advantage faded as her ship was delayed. While Nellie stewed, in Japan Elizabeth “marveled at sloping hills and mist-filled valleys. She wandered temples and tombs as elegant as poetry.”

Nellie stopped in Singapore, while Elizabeth laid over in Hong Kong; Nellie’s ship was rocked by a monsoon, while Elizabeth’s ship suffered a broken propeller. “During the third week of December, in the South China Sea, two steamers passed. One carried Nellie. One Elizabeth. Who was winning the race? No one knew.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-race-around-the-world-elizabeth-bisland

Image copyright Alexandra Bye, 2019, text copyright Caroline Starr Rose, 2019. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

When Nellie arrived in Hong Kong, she learned that she was in a race that the whole world was watching—and that she was probably losing. Nellie and Elizabeth made their way on the last legs of their respective trips in fits and starts; weather and timing slowing them down, beautiful scenery and their own strength keeping them going. As Nellie skirted blizzard conditions affecting the Central Pacific Railroad by taking a southern train, Elizabeth was crossing the Atlantic on “one of the slowest ships in the fleet.”

When Nellie stepped from the train car onto the platform on January 25, 1890, she was met with three official timekeepers, a ten-cannon salute, and adoring crowds. What’s more, she had bested herself by nearly three days. A disappointed Elizabeth sailed into New York Harbor on January 30 and was met by a small gathering. As the winner of the race, Nellie Bly was famous, her name known around the world. For Elizabeth the experience was just the beginning of a lifetime of travel and writing. But “both took on the world and triumphed, each on her own terms.”

An Author’s Note relating more about Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland and how their story affected the author follows the text. The endpapers contain a map with Nellie’s and Elizabeth’s routes depicted.

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Image copyright Alexandra Bye, 2019, text copyright Caroline Starr Rose, 2019. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

In her compelling and lyrical recounting of this historic contest, Caroline Starr Rose brings to life the magnitude of two women’s achievement in conquering the elements, technical setbacks, and the prevailing misconceptions about women’s abilities. Like any great travelogue, Rose’s story is peppered with scintillating details of narrow escapes, late and missed connections, and the sights, sounds, and tastes of the countries Nellie and Elizabeth traversed. Used to information that is relayed around the world in the blink of an eye and transportation that takes mere hours to travel across the globe, Children will be awed by this competition set in motion by the forerunners of these technologies and the precociousness of a fictional character. In Rose’s final pages, readers will find universal truths about the personal dynamics of winning and losing, the benefits of leaving their comfort zone, and meeting challenges on their own terms.

Alexandra Bye’s rich illustrations take readers from Nellie Bly’s newsroom and Elizabeth’s apartment to ship staterooms, luxury train compartments, and exotic locales. Along the way they see sweeping vistas, experience roiling storms, and even meet a monkey that Nellie bought. Bye’s intricate images depict the time period with a fresh sensibility that conveys the universality of the emotions and drive involved in daring adventures of all kinds and for all times.

An excellent book for children interested in history and travel as well as an inspiring spark for cross-curricular lessons, A Race Around the World: The True Story of Nellie Bly & Elizabeth Bisland would make a stirring addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 5 – 9

Albert Whitman & Company, 2019 | ISBN 978-0807500101

Discover more about Caroline Starr Rose and her books on her website.

To learn more about Alexandra Bye, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Anniversary of the Race Around the World Activity

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Nellie Bly Coloring Page

 

Nellie Bly was an amazing woman! Not only did she set a record for fastest trip around the world but she was one of the first women journalists in the country and pioneered investigative reporting. She was also an inventor and industrialist.

Nellie Bly Coloring Page

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You can find A Race Around the World: The True Story of Nellie Bly & Elizabeth Bisland at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

November 11 – Veterans Day

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About the Holiday

Veterans Day is observed each year on this date to honor and thank all members of the military who are currently serving or have served in the United States Armed Forces. The official ceremony begins at 11:00 a.m. with a wreath laying at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington Cemetery and then continues inside the Memorial Amphitheater with a parade of colors by veterans’ organizations and comments by dignitaries. While an official government holiday, some schools remain in session, holding special ceremonies of their own and inviting veterans to relate their experiences.

Sergeant Billy: The True Story of the Goat Who Went to War

Written by Mireille Messier | Illustrated by Kass Reich

 

When a train full of soldiers stopped in a small town, they met a girl named Daisy and her goat, Billy. “The soldiers were going to war and they thought Billy would bring them luck.” Although Daisy loved her pet, she said they could take Billy with them if they promised to bring him back. During the bus ride to training camp for the Fifth Battalion, Billy endeared himself to the men with his antics, and they began calling him Private Billy. “And that’s how Billy joined the army.”

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Image copyright Kass Reich, 2019, text copyright Mireille Messier, 2019. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

Billy trained with the soldiers and encouraged them with a push when they fell behind. When the soldiers were sent to England, they snuck Billy on board the ship. “And that’s how Private Billy crossed the ocean.” As time went on, the Fifth Battalion was sent to France. “Mascots were strictly forbidden at the front,” but the men hid Billy in an empty orange crate and “that’s how Private Billy went to the front lines.” Billy seemed to be the perfect solider. He didn’t mind the adverse conditions, the “foul food” or “even the rats.”

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Image copyright Kass Reich, 2019, text copyright Mireille Messier, 2019. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

Billy celebrated victories and comforted soldiers during defeats and loneliness. The soldiers even wrote home about their beloved mascot. Even though food rations were short, Billy was happy with socks, napkins, or once even secret documents. For that misdeed, the colonel “placed the goat under arrest. And that’s how Private Billy went to jail for being a spy.” While Billy was locked up, the soldiers became bored, discontented, argumentative, and unhappy. So Billy received a pardon and was returned to the troops.

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Image copyright Kass Reich, 2019, text copyright Mireille Messier, 2019. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

After many brave deeds, such as capturing an enemy guardsman and saving some “soldiers’ lives by head-butting them into a trench seconds before a shell exploded right where they had been standing,” private Billy was promoted to Sergeant Billy. Billy knew he could always count on the soldiers, and the soldiers knew they could always count on Billy. For his “exceptional bravery,” Billy was awarded the Mons Star. The war raged for years, but, finally, peace was declared. The soldiers—and Billy—were ready to return home. They traveled over land and across the ocean and brought Billy back to Daisy, just as they had promised.

An Author’s Note explains more about animal mascots and the way animals were used during WWI. Readers can see photographs of Billy, Daisy, and the soldiers he served with as well.

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Image copyright Kass Reich, 2019, text copyright Mireille Messier, 2019. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

Mireille Messier’s charming storytelling brings to life the extraordinary World War I experience of a goat and the soldiers who loved him. Her easy-to-follow timeline, containing humorous incidents, clever ploys to move Billy from place to place, and harrowing exploits, will capture readers’ attention and hearts. Along the way, children learn about conditions and events of war. Messier’s repeated phrasing “And that’s how Billy…” moves the story forward while contributing to the cumulative effect of Billy’s positive influence on the troops and his role in battle.

Kass Reich’s captivating illustrations immerse readers in the wartime atmosphere while focusing on Billy and his endearing personality. Seeing Billy giving a tired soldier a nudge with his horns, being smuggled from place to place, comforting a soldier, and nibbling on secret documents allows children not only to visualize these events but to understand how important Billy was to the morale of the men, whose emotions are honestly depicted. Images of Billy happily wallowing in mud, playing with rats, and gobbling down anything he finds will have kids giggling while those of Billy saving lives and getting medals will wow them. His safe passage back home to Daisy is a delightful and satisfying ending.

A superbly told story, Sergeant Billy: The True Story of the Goat Who Went to War, is highly recommended. The book would make an excellent addition to home, classroom, and public library collections for general story times and especially those around Veteran’s Day, Memorial Day, and other patriotic holidays.

Ages 4 – 8

Tundra Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-0735264427

Discover more about Mireille Messier and her books on her website.

To learn more about Kass Reich, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Watch the Sergeant Billy book trailer!

Veterans Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-veterans-day-word-search-puzzle

Happy Veterans Day! Word Search Puzzle

 

Can you find the twenty-one Veterans Day related words in this printable puzzle?

Happy Veterans Day! Word Search Puzzle | Happy Veterans Day! Word Search Solution

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-sergeant-billy-cover

You can find Sergeant Billy: The True Story of the Goat Who Went to War at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review