November 5 – It’s Family Stories Month

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About the Holiday

Children benefit in many ways from close relationships to grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and other extended family members. This month and next, as family gathers together for special holiday events, it’s a terrific time for adults to share family history and their own stories of growing up with the younger generation. Letting kids know how much they’re loved by everyone in the family helps them develop a sense of belonging, a good self-image, and confidence. Reading together is a perfect way to spend time together and get conversations started. 

Niki Nakayama: A Chef’s Tale in 13 Bites

Written by Jamie Michalak and Debbi Michiko Florence | Illustrated by Yuko Jones

 

This true story opens with an invitation to listen as Niki Nakayama talks about her journey to becoming a chef in thirteen bites. “Come. Sit. Taste…” Bite 1: Niki was born in California but her parents were born in Japan. “Outside of Niki’s house was Los Angeles. Inside of her house was Japan.” While the two cultures often felt disparate, in Niki’s family’s kitchen “they became one.” Niki’s mother always put a Japanese twist on American dishes, with soy sauce or rice or teriyaki.

Bite 2: Close to New Year’s Eve, Niki’s grandmother took her to the grocery store to shop for the holiday dinner. Niki was excited. She loved buying all the ingredients for the feast to come: an opportunity to share “a table of love and laughter” in addition to the food. As Niki grew older, she created her own recipes and determined that she would get away from her family’s seafood-selling business and do her own thing.

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Image copyright Yuko Jones, 2021, text copyright Jamie Michalak and Debbi Michiko Florence, 2021. Courtesy of Farrar Straus Giroux.

Niki’s dreams seemed to get little attention from her parents, who doted on their son and encouraged his success. But Niki new she could be successful too. “Kuyashii! Niki thought. ‘I’ll show them!’” After high school, Niki traveled to Tokyo, Japan, tasting all the delicious food on offer. Later she took the train to where her cousins owned an inn. There she was served a meal comprised of many dishes, each “a work of art” and each with a delicious memory attached or story to tell. “Niki learned this storytelling feast had a name: kaiseki.”

When Niki returned home, she told her mother she wanted to go to school to become a chef. Her mother discouraged her, but Niki went anyway. “She began to see food as art—a carrot as a mountain.” And while her family thought her cooking was just a hobby, Niki thought “Kuyashii! ‘I’ll show them!’” Niki got a job at a sushi restaurant. “Female sushi chefs were rare,” and the head chef didn’t think she could handle the work. “‘You’re just playing chef,’ he joked.” But Niki told him she wasn’t playing.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-niki-nakayama-a-chef's-tale-in-13-bites-fish-market

Image copyright Yuko Jones, 2021, text copyright Jamie Michalak and Debbi Michiko Florence, 2021. Courtesy of Farrar Straus Giroux.

After working there and learning all she could, Niki decided to travel back to her cousins’ inn to study kaiseki. But there was a big obstacle. “As far as she knew, female kaiseki chefs didn’t exist. In Japan recipes and training was only handed down to males. People told Niki her dream was impossible, but she thought she could do it. Niki studied for three years and then returned to Los Angeles to open a sushi restaurant of her own.

Instead of being happy for her, her family was dismissive. At last she convinced them to give her a loan—but it came with the stipulation that “if the restaurant failed, she would have to close it and say goodbye to her dream forever.” Instead of the kaiseki dishes she wanted to serve, her mother thought sushi would be a better choice. Against her own wishes, she agreed. In a year, customers were lining up for her food. But making sushi was not what she really wanted to do.

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Image copyright Yuko Jones, 2021, text copyright Jamie Michalak and Debbi Michiko Florence, 2021. Courtesy of Farrar Straus Giroux.

She closed her restaurant and wondered what to do next. Then, after much thought and exploration, she had her answer. She wanted to serve kaiseki that told her story—both Japanese and Californian. “Niki called her new restaurant n/naka. Naka means ‘inside’ in Japanese. Finally, Niki was inside her dream.” Through thirteen courses she told her stories—never serving customers the same meal twice. Now, every night tables are full of love and laughter, and Niki showed everyone that she could be a master chef.

Back matter includes a timeline of Niki Nakayama’s life from her birth in Los Angeles in 1974 to the awarding of two Michelin stars for her restaurant n/naka in 2019; a discussion of the words kuyashii and kaiseki; and a recipe for wonton pizza.

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Image copyright Yuko Jones, 2021, text copyright Jamie Michalak and Debbi Michiko Florence, 2021. Courtesy of Farrar Straus Giroux.

Jamie Michalak and Debbi Michiko Florence’s biography of Niki Nakayama is an enthralling story of self-confidence, obstacles overcome, and success that will inspire readers to stay true to the voice inside themselves. Telling Nakayama’s story through thirteen bite-sized vignettes that reveal formative moments in her life that informed her journey is a captivating and effective way to show Niki’s growth as a chef as well as to explain the meaning and experience of kaiseki.

Readers will respond to Michalak’s and Florence’s straightforward text and the details of the hurdles placed in her way. One take-away for adult readers is the importance of recognizing, encouraging, and supporting their children’s dreams and talents—an awareness that can lead to ongoing discussions with kids as they grow, learn, and get involved in activities.

Yuko Jones’ lovely illustrations take readers into Niki Nakayama’s home to see her interacting with her family and the foods that so inspired her life’s work. Jones’ images of Japanese delicacies are particularly beautiful, giving kids a strong understanding of the courses served during a kaiseki meal. Niki’s self-assurance in the face of her family’s protests and her male-dominated culinary school class as well as the rarity of female sushi chefs is stirring for all readers. Jones’ final page spreads reveal the gorgeous dishes Niki serves and the inviting atmosphere at her restaurant n/naka.

A captivating and impactful biography of a contemporary chef and role model, Niki Nakayama: A Chef’s Tale in 13 Bites is a must for home, classroom, school, and public library collections to inspire all kids who are contemplating their place in the world now and in the future.

Ages 4 – 10

Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2021 | ISBN 978-0374313876

Discover more about Jamie Michalak and her books on her website.

You can learn more about Debbi Michiko Florence and her books on her website.

To learn more about Yuko Jones and see a portfolio of her work, visit her website.

You can learn more about n/naka and view a gallery of Niki Nakayama’s spectacular dishes on the n/naka website.

Family Stories Month Activity

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Niki Nakayama: A Chef’s Tale in 13 Bites Activity Kit

 

Educators and families can find an extensive Activity Kit and coloring pages to accompany classroom or homeschool lessons or just for fun on Jamie Michalak’s website and Debbi Michiko Florence’s website.

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You can find Niki Nakayama: A Chef’s Tale in 13 Bites at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

September 29 – It’s Intergeneration Month

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About the Holiday

Cuddle ‘round for two loving holidays—Intergeneration Month and National Attend Your Grandchild’s Birth Day—which each encourage grandparents to be present figures in their grandchildren’s lives starting from birth! Already, many grandparents across the globe play active roles in caring for children. In the US alone, 4.8 million preschoolers were under the care of grandparents in 2011. Whether you are a grandchild, parent, or grandparent, it is important to support family and spread some love. Hug someone special today to celebrate this holiday. In honor of this day, we present a story about artist Maria Povika Martinez, co-written by her great-granddaughter. Her historical account teaches the importance of love, family, and the passing down of knowledge through generations.

Thanks to Albert Whitman & Company for sharing a copy of Shaped By Her Hands with me for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

Review by Dorothy Levine

Shaped By Her Hands: Potter Maria Martinez (Part of the She Made History Series)

Written by Anna Harber Freeman and Barbara Gonzales | Illustrated by Aphelandra

As a child growing up in the pueblo of San Ildefonso, New Mexico in the 1890s, Maria always loved clay. While her siblings played with straw dolls and her parents planted crops, Maria spent her time making clay pots. But, to her frustration, her pots would always crack when she set them out to dry in the sun. Maria’s aunt, or ko-ōo, Nicolasa offered to help and showed Maria “the centuries-old tradition of san-away.” Nicolasa still made clay pots using these traditional methods, even though more and more people were buying tin pots from stores. 

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Image copyright Aphelandra, 2021, text copyright Anna Harber Freeman and Barbara Gonzales, 2021. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Nicolasa taught Maria how to coil the clay in circles and then lay the pots together on a fire to make them dry, solid, and strong. “As Maria watched Nicolasa work the clay, she thought of the many generations of potters who had come before. She wanted to make bowls as strong and beautiful as her ko-ōo’s.” Nicolasa and Maria thanked Mother Earth for the clay she shared with them. 

When Maria grew older, she continued to make pots and gained a reputation for her skilled work. One day in 1908, an archeologist named Edgar Lee Hewett came to visit Maria. He had discovered an old shard of black pottery in a dig nearby. Mr. Hewett wanted to know if Maria could recreate a pot in the similar style. She decided to take on the challenge.

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Image copyright Aphelandra, 2021, text copyright Anna Harber Freeman and Barbara Gonzales, 2021. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

After much experimentation, Maria and her husband, Julian Martinez, discovered a technique: “One afternoon, they tried smothering the fire to keep the smoke in. When they pulled out the pot, it was shiny, and black as a raven.” With this new method, Maria combined her own style with old traditions to create a new style of pottery that was marvelous. Mr. Hewitt took some of these pots Maria made. “He put one of the pots in the Museum of New Mexico, where he worked.” The others he took to shops in Santa Fe. To Maria’s surprise, they sold like crazy! Julian began to paint designs on the black shiny pots—decorations of serpents, feathers, and water—using a yucca-blade brush. 

As more and more pots sold, Maria and Julian taught the rest of her family and some friends to make the pots with them. They became so famous that many people across the country invited them to demonstrate their skills to others. When Maria’s husband died, she continued to make pots with her family. “First, her children came to paint the designs. Later, her grandchildren came to help with the painting and polishing. They made pots as a family, remembering to thank Mother Earth, and teaching new hands to form, polish, and design.” 

The story is followed by back matter that provides more information about Maria, the Tewa people, and the San Ildefonso Pueblo for readers. Both authors include a note about how they were influenced by Maria and why they believe it is important to share her story with young people today. 

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Image copyright Aphelandra, 2021, text copyright Anna Harber Freeman and Barbara Gonzales, 2021. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

The story is co-written by Barbara Gonzales, the great-grandchild of Maria, and Anna Harber Freeman, whose grandmother was a member of the Osage Nation and who is a lifelong fan of Maria’s work with degrees in multicultural education and art. Their biography of Maria Martinez shines with its lyrical, straightforward telling that reveals the deep history of the Tewa people as well as the meaning and uses of the pottery that Maria and her ko-ōo Nicolasa created by hand. The importance of passing down knowledge and traditions from one generation to another is organically woven throughout the story. Many readers will recognize Maria and Julian’s distinctive pottery and be inspired by the history behind it.

Aphelandra is a descendant of the Oneida Nation, and the daughter of a crafts artist and landscaper. She writes that she grew up surrounded by natural beauty and creativity, which can be seen in her illustrations. The illustrations in Shaped by Her Hands consist largely of soft yellow, green, and red hues. In the part of the story in which Maria is sent off to boarding school, the colorful tones found throughout the book are confined to a single window, depicting the feeling of entrapment and homesickness Maria felt. Aphelandra vividly weaves in the storytelling of past generations through her use of color, shadow and circular imagery. Her painted landscapes gorgeously depict the natural San Ildefonso scenery. 

This beautifully crafted tale shares the history of Maria Povika Martinez while introducing readers to Tewa people’s values of kindness, passing on of knowledge, and respect for elders and Mother Earth. An inspiring read for all children, especially those interested in artistic and creative endeavors, Shaped By Her Hands: Potter Maria Martinez is highly recommended for home bookshelves and a must for school and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 9 

Albert Whitman & Company, 2021 | ISBN 978-0807575994

Discover more about Anna Harber Freeman and her books on her website.

To learn more about Barbara Gonzales and her pottery and to view a video with Barbara and other artists discussing an exhibition of San Ildefonso Pueblo potters at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, visit the adobe gallery website.

You can learn more about Aphelandra, her books, and her artwork on her website.

Intergeneration Month Activity

Highlights Kids Homemade Clay figures

Photo and craft sample by Madison McClain, courtesy of Highlights Kids (highlightskids.com)

This craft comes from Highlights Homemade Clay, by Marie E. Cecchini posted on April 12, 2016. You can find the post on the Highlights kids website.

Make your own homemade clay in honor of Maria’s art form then make your own pot or creation!

What you’ll need

  • 2 cups baking soda
  • 1 cup cornstarch
  • 1 ¼ cups water
  • Cooking pot
  • Food coloring (optional)
  • Wiggly eyes, chenille sticks, pompoms, feathers, etc. (optional)

What to do

Note: Food coloring can be added to the water before mixing in the other ingredients or can be added to the clay after it has cooled. Adding coloring later may be a little messier, but you can divide the clay and create different batches of various colors.

  1. Combine ingredients in the pot and cook mixture over medium heat, stirring until it thickens to a consistency like mashed potatoes.
  2. Let the clay cool
  3. Knead the clay until smooth.
  4. Make creations!
  5. Leave clay pieces in the sun to dry.

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You can find Shaped By Her Hands: Potter Maria Martinez at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

August 19 – World Photography Day

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About the Holiday

Photography is all about providing information and emotion through images. A picture really can be worth a thousand words in capturing a moment of surprise, joy, danger, or sadness. Well-placed photographers, videographers, and cinematographers have given voice to some of society’s pivotal moments, allowing the whole world to witness change, often as it is happening. Today we celebrate the “art, craft, science, and history of photography,” as well as those photographers who often put themselves in danger to get the story and those who bring us much-needed lighter moments. To learn more visit the World Photography Day website.

Dorothea’s Eyes: Dorothea Lange Photographs the Truth

Written by Barb Rosenstock | Illustrated by Gérard DuBois

 

When Dorothea Lange opens her green eyes, she sees things others miss. In the shadows, in patterns within the grain of wooden tables, in the repeated shapes of windows on a wall, and most especially in people’s faces. “Dorothea loves faces! When Dorothea looks at faces, it’s like she’s hugging the world.”

At seven years old Dorothea contracts polio, which withered her right leg and left her with a permanent limp. Other kids tease her and make her want to hide, and although her mother encourages her Dorothea pretends to be invisible. When her father leaves his family, her mother gets a job in New York and Dorothea goes to a new school. Because she is different, she feels lonely.

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Image copyright Gérard DuBois, 2016, text copyright Barb Rosenstock, 2016. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

As Dorothea waits for her mother to finish work, she looks around her, spying “into crowded tenements where fathers, home from peddling, read newspapers, and mothers wash dishes, clothes, and babies in rusty sinks—happy and sad mixed together.” She begins to skip school to wander the city, gazing at it with her curious eyes and heart.

When Dorothea grows up she decides to become a photographer. Her family is surprised because it’s not a ladylike profession. She’s determined, thought, and works any job she can find in the photography industry, learning about cameras, darkrooms, negatives, and the printing process. “Alone in the darkroom’s amber glow, she studies the wet printing paper while faces appear in black and white. Dorothea loves faces!”

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Image copyright Gérard DuBois, 2016, text copyright Barb Rosenstock, 2016. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

As a young woman Dorothea travels west to San Francisco. There, her money is stolen, so she stays, gets a job, and starts her own portrait studio. Her work makes her famous and the richest families in California seek her out to take their photos. She makes money, gains friends, gets married, and starts a family of her own. But she always wonders, “Am I using my eyes and my heart?”

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Image copyright Gérard DuBois, 2016, text copyright Barb Rosenstock, 2016. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

When the stock market crashes and the Great Depression sweeps the country, Dorothea focuses her camera on the desperate and the downtrodden. Her friends don’t understand, but Dorothea sees into these poor people’s hearts. She “knows all about people the world ignores.” For five years she goes out into the fields, peers into tents, documents families living in their cars, crouches in the dirt to reveal the stories of the people struggling with the devastation wrought by the Dust Bowl.

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Image copyright Gérard DuBois, 2016, text copyright Barb Rosenstock, 2016. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

Newspapers and magazines publish her pictures. “Her photographs help convince the government to provide parents with work, children with food, and families with safe, clean homes. “The truth, seen with love, becomes Dorothea’s art.” Dorothea’s photographs are still known today. Their subjects continue to help us see others with our hearts.

Backmatter includes six of Dorothea Lange’s most famous and recognizable photographs—ones that are still as riveting today as they were in the 1930s. Further information on her life and work is provided as well as sources where her photographs can be viewed, resources for further study, and a timeline of her life.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-dorothea's-eyes-san-francisco

Image copyright Gérard DuBois, 2016, text copyright Barb Rosenstock, 2016. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

Barb Rosenstock brings Dorothea Lange’s vision to the page with love, honesty, and understanding in this excellent biography of a woman whose photographs defined the Great Depression and Dust Bowl era. Lange’s life-long connection to the poor and often overlooked people of the world is beautifully described and explained in a gentle, compassionate way that will resonate with children. Rosenstock’s language is lyrical with staccato sentences that echo the clicks of Lange’s shutter capturing life’s reality with her eyes and her heart.

Gérard DuBois’s illustrations are arresting and set Dorothea Lange’s story firmly in its historical and emotional landscape. Rendered in acrylic and digital imagery, they feature the muted colors and style of book illustrations from long ago. By placing the images of Dorothea, her family, and her photography subjects against white backgrounds, DuBois emphasizes Lange’s focus on the people she met and faces that inspired her. Distressed textures accentuate the troubled times and the anguish of both Dorothea and her subjects.

Ages 7 – 12

Calkins Creek, 2016 | ISBN 978-1629792088 (Hardcover, 2018) | ISBN 978-1635925630 (Paperback, 2022)

Paperback edition will be released on February 1, 2022. The book is available for preorder now.

Discover all the amazing books by Barb Rosenstock on her website!

View a portfolio of art and book illustration by Gérard DuBois on his website!

Enjoy a snapshot of Dorothea’s Eyes!

World Photography Day Activity

CPB - New Professionals Picture

News Professionals Clothespin Figures

 

Make one of these clothespin figures that honors the men and women photographers and writers who work to keep the world informed.

Supplies

Directions

  1. Draw a face and hair on the clothespin
  2. Cut out the clothes you want your journalist or photographer to wear
  3. Wrap the clothes around the clothespin. The slit in the clothespin should be on the side.
  4. Tape the clothes together
  5. Cut out the camera
  6. Tape one end of a short length of thread to the right top corner of the camera and the other end of the thread to the left corner. Now you can hang the camera around the figure’s neck.

Idea for displaying the figures

  • Attach a wire or string to the wall and pin the figure to it
  • Pin it to your bulletin board or on the rim of a desk organizer

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-dorothea's-eyes-cover

You can find Dorothea’s Eyes: Dorothea Lange Photographs the Truth at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

March 30 – It’s Women’s History Month

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About the Holiday

National Women’s History Month is all about celebrating women who broke barriers with their intelligence, creativity, courage, persistence, and unwavering confidence in their abilities. In every discipline, women have brought and continue to bring new perspectives, experiences, and talents to make contributions toward a better world. Today’s book celebrates a writer who broadened readers’ understanding of women and their lives through her complex and compelling novels. 

A Most Clever Girl: How Jane Austen Discovered Her Voice

Written by Jasmine A. Stirling | Illustrated by Vesper Stamper

 

While Jane loved stories, there were some she couldn’t abide. These were stories about women who fainted at the slightest thing, stories about orphans with dark secrets, and stories about couples who fell in love at first sight. To Jane these books were boring, unbelievable, and predictable. But they were all the rage. Instead, Jane like the ridiculous, and she made up her own stories that “poked fun” at the popular literature of the day. When she read her “stories to her family,… they couldn’t stop laughing.”

Jane lived in a large house in the English countryside. It was always full of people, fun, and learning. Jane’s father was the village rector of Steventon in Hampshire, England, and her mother wrote poetry. Sometimes Jane’s family (mother, father, six sons, and two daughters) staged plays in the barn. They made their own sets and costumes and played all the roles. When there was quiet time, Jane wrote and wrote in the study her father had created just for her and her sister.

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Image copyright Vesper Stamper, 2021, text copyright Jasmine A. Stirling, 2021. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Jane loved the satires she wrote, but “she stared to dream about writing stories that mattered to her. They would come from her own voice—a style that was uniquely hers.” She began to pay attention to tiny personal details, particular conversations, and the way her family, friends, and neighbors interacted. She found it all fascinating. Jane’s father encouraged her writing, saving up to buy her the best pens, blank books, and even a “portable mahogany writing desk.”

Jane had an idea about a story involving “three or four families in a country village,” and soon the characters came to life in her imagination, even when she wasn’t writing. She “wrote three novels before she turned twenty-four. Jane’s voice was clever and real… But something was still missing.”

Over the years as Jane’s brothers left home, the big house grew quiet. When her father stopped teaching, money grew short and Jane’s parents decided to move to a small house in another town, Bath. They sold their possessions, even the books in her father’s library, and left the neighbors and friends they’d known so well. Jane wondered if she would feel at home anywhere else. When they moved into their new home, Jane put away her writing things. Time passed, but “Jane persisted in a very determined, though very silent, disinclination for Bath.” Years passed and Jane spent her time in “busy nothings.”

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Image copyright Vesper Stamper, 2021, text copyright Jasmine A. Stirling, 2021. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

When her father died, Jane, her sister, and their mother had to move into a cheap apartment, and then when they could no longer afford that, they moved in with her brother Frank in a rough-and-tumble town. “The weight of Jane’s losses threatened to drown her,” and she still couldn’t write. Four years later, her brother Edward gave her, her sister, and their mother a small cottage near their childhood home. Here she found her way to happiness.

At last she brought out her pens, paper, and writing desk and began to write. Her voice was still clever and “filled with real people, but grief and loss had added something new. Jane’s voice was wise.” Her characters were even more realistic and complicated. She wrote about happiness and wealth, but also about heartbreak and sadness “mixed together in a way that was completely new.”

Jane’s novels were a hit—even with the future king of England. George IV loved them so much that his librarian wrote to Jane and asked her to write one of those “love-at-first-sight” stories she hated. Jane wrote back and told him that she could not unless her life depended on it, that she must remain true to her own style. At long last, “Jane had found her voice.”

Extensive backmatter includes a list of quotes from Jane Austen’s novels that are used in the story, more about Jane Austen’s life, Notes from the Author and Illustrator, a list of Austen’s novels, further resources for young readers, and a bibliography.

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Image copyright Vesper Stamper, 2021, text copyright Jasmine A. Stirling, 2021. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Jasmine A. Stirling’s in-depth biography of Jane Austen shines with specific details about her and her family’s life, their happy times and tribulations that informed her writing and made it so distinctive for its time and beloved even now. Stirling’s engaging and lively storytelling invites children to share the joys and heartaches that molded Jane Austen’s personality and writing. Quotations from Austen’s novels sprinkled throughout the story give young readers a taste of Jane’s writing and the truths and understanding her novels embody.

Dazzlingly lovely, Vesper Stamper’s expressive illustrations draw readers into Jane Austen’s world and give them a glimpse into her childhood and adult experiences as well as the society of the time. Cleverly designed images allow kids to understand how much Jane loved to read, to laugh along with her as she reads the sentimental and gothic stories she satirized, and to see at a glance all the shenanigans, work, and entertaining that went on in her beloved home. The elegance of these surroundings and the dinner parties that enlightened Jane’s writing are realistically reproduced and her characters come to life on the page. A moving metaphorical image shows Jane riding away from the home she loved while pages of her novels fly out of the writing desk strapped to the back of the carriage. Jane’s sadness is depicted on pages sketched in gray, but her vibrancy returns with her brother’s generosity and the novels that finally take wing.

A superb biography of a beloved and influential writer that will spark enthusiasm for Jane Austen’s novels as well as literature and writing in general, A Most Clever Girl: How Jane Austen Discovered Her Voice is a must for students of all ages as well as for those who simply love reading and writing stories. The book would make an exceptional addition to lesson plans for readers from elementary school to high school and is highly recommended for home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 5 – 12 and up

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2021 | ISBN 978-1547601103

Discover more about Jasmine A. Stirling and her books on her website.

To learn more about Vesper Stamper, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Women’s History Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-jane-austen-coloring-page

Jane Austen Coloring Page

 

Enjoy this printable coloring page of Jane Austen as you learn more about this clever writer.

Jane Austen Coloring Page

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-most-clever-girl-cover

You can find A Most Clever Girl: How Jane Austen Discovered Her Voice at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

March 13 – It’s Women’s History Month

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About the Holiday

National Woman’s History Month was established by the United States Congress in 1987 to recognize and celebrate the achievements of American women in the past and today. This year’s theme is “Nevertheless She Persisted: Honoring Women Who Fight All Forms of Discrimination against Women” which provides an opportunity to recognize the tireless efforts of women in all walks of life who fight against discrimination to be heard and to achieve their goals. There’s no better time than now to get involved to ensure that all women have equal rights and standing in all areas of their lives.

Shaking Things Up: 14 Young Women Who Changed the World

Written by Susan Hood 

 

Illustrated by Shadra Strickland, Hadley Hooper, Lisa Brown, Emily Winfield Martin, Sara Palacios, Erin K. Robinson, Sophie Blackall, Melissa Sweet, Oge Mora, Isabel Roxas, Julie Morstad, LeUyen Pham, and Selina Alko

 

This superb collection of biographies in verse highlights not only well-known pioneers but some delightfully fresh names and a few who are influencing the arts, science, and cause of human rights today. Each of the women profiled show the qualities of  bravery, persistence, intelligence, and ability over a vast spectrum of fields. Their success led the way for today’s women and will inspire tomorrow’s.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-shaking-things-up-Molly-Williams

Image copyright Shadra Strickland, 2018, text copyright Susan Hood, 2018. Courtesy of HarperCollins.

Organized on a timeline from the early 1780s to 2014, Shaking Things Up begins with Taking the Heat and Molly Williams, who was the first known female firefighter in America. When the flu knocked out all the members of the Oceanus Fire Department and a fire raged, Molly, the servant of James Aymar, a volunteer fireman, “… knew the drill; / she’d seen what must be done. / she hauled the pumper truck by hand, / adept as anyone.” For her work she was named Volunteer 11 and made part of the crew. It took about two-hundred years before another woman—Brenda Berkman—was added to the New York Fire Department.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-shaking-things-up-Mary-Anning

Copyright Hadley Hooper, 2018, courtesy of HarperCollins.

Young paleontologists-in-the-making will be amazed by the story of Mary Anning, who, while searching the British coast for fossils to sell to support her family, uncovered the skeleton of an ichthyosaur in 1812. In Buried Treasure, children learn how she went on to discover “the first two complete plesiosaurs and a pterosaur, laying the foundation for Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.”

Children who love spies, news reporting, and uncovering the truth will want to know about Nellie Bly, who as an investigative journalist took on disguises to infiltrate institutions and write about “corruption and cruelty.” She was also widely admired for her around-the-world trip that beat Jules Verne’s “80 days” by eight days. As told in Woman of the World: “Bly hopped a ship and told her tale / of all she saw on Earth. / She wrote of camels, temples, jewels / with gutsy wit and mirth.” Nellie was only twenty-five when she undertook her travels in “a record-breaking race. / No soul on Earth had ever sped / the globe at such a pace!”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-shaking-things-up-Mary-Anning-poem

Image copyright Hadley Hooper, 2018, text copyright Susan Hood, 2018. Courtesy of HarperCollins.

If it weren’t for Annette Kellerman, women may never have made such a splash in swimming. Kellerman was a champion swimmer who began the sport to strengthen her legs after having rickets. Turning the Tide reveals that when she took to the water “without pantaloons—her swimsuit was deemed obscene!” After she was arrested she calmly stated, “who can swim fifty laps / wearing corsets and caps? / Her statement could not be contested,” and she went on to create the modern one-piece swimsuit, changing swimming for women forever.

In The Storyteller, a full alphabet of attributes describes Pura Belpré, a children’s librarian and the New York Public Library’s first Latina librarian. By offering—and often writing—Spanish books and creating programs for the Spanish-speaking community, Belpré revolutionized her library and touched many lives. 

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-shaking-things-up-nellie-bly

Copyright Lisa Brown, 2018, courtesy of HarperCollins.

Children who reach for the stars will be transported by Lift-Off and the inspiration of Mae Jemison, the first female African-American astronaut. When young Mae gazes into the dark night sky, the “glittering stars, swirling galaxies / fill her, thrill her.” It doesn’t matter if she is afraid of the dark and afraid of heights, Mae looks and goes where she wants, where she needs to to learn and understand. And when she’s ready? “Ignition. / All systems are go. / Three / Two / One / Blast off!”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-shaking-things-up-secret-agents

Image copyright Sophie Blackall, 2018, text copyright Susan Hood, 2018. Courtesy of HarperCollins.

Break It Down reveals the way Angela Zhang attacks the questions she has about the way the world works, questions that lead her to answers and incredible achievements. From creating magic solutions with a Harry Potter potion kit at five years old to discovering answers to questions like why rainbows follow storms at seven years old to using a Stanford University lab at fifteen, Zhang has chipped away “at the ‘black boxes of life,’” including the “biggest black box of all– / a cure for cancer.” For Zhang science is “… both stone and chisel, / and I, your willing apprentice, / yearn to care away life’s mysteries / as a sculptor chisels marble / to find beauty inside.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-shaking-things-up-Malala-Yousefzai

Image copyright Selina Alko, 2018, text copyright Susan Hood, 2018. Courtesy of HarperCollins.

Also included are poems about artist Frida Kahlo, World War II secret agents Jacqueline and Eileen Nearne, anti-hunger activist Frances Moore Lappé, civil rights pioneer Ruby Bridges, architect Maya Lin, and Noble Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai.

An illustrated timeline precedes the text, and suggested resources for further study on each woman follows the text.

Susan Hood has created fourteen poems that are as unique as the woman they describe. Some rhyming and some free verse, the poems include facts, quotes, intriguing details and the rhythms, sounds, and dreams of these young women. A paragraph following each poem reveals more about the woman and her work. Readers will be awe-struck by the enticing stories that inform each lyrical biography and will long to learn more about the women and their lives.

The theme of individuality is carried through in the illustrations, which are each created by a different illustrator. Colorful, whimsical, and realistic, the illustrations let children see the faces of the women presented, surrounded by their work and set within their time period. Readers will want to linger over the images and discuss the details included. A quotation from each woman accompanies her illustration.

Shaking Things Up offers an inviting way to introduce children to these amazing women and is an excellent reminder that they too can dream of what could be and make it happen. A must for classroom and school libraries, the book would be an inspirational addition to home bookshelves as well.

Ages 4 – 10

HarperCollins, 2018 | ISBN 978-0062699459

Discover more about Susan Hood and her books on her website.

You can learn more about these illustrators on their websites:

Shadra Strickland | Hadley Hooper | Lisa Brown | Emily Winfield Martin | Sara Palacios | Erin K. Robinson | Sophie Blackall | Melissa Sweet | Oge Mora | Isabel Roxas | Julie Morstad | LeUyen Pham | Selina Alko

Check out the Shaking Things Up book trailer!

Women’s History Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-freda-kahlo-coloring-page

Amazing Women Coloring Pages

 

There are so many incredible women to learn about during this month. Today, enjoy these coloring pages of inspiring women.

Mary Anning | Mae Jemison | Freda Kahlo 

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You can find Shaking Things Up: 15 Young Women Who Changed the World at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

October 17 – National Black Poetry Day

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About the Holiday

Black Poetry Day was established in 1985 and commemorates the birth of Jupiter Hammon, the first published African American poet in the United States. Hammon was born into slavery on Long Island, New York, on October 17th, 1711. His poem “An Evening Thought” was first published on Christmas Day when he was 49 years old. Hammon is considered one of the founders of African-American literature. Today’s holiday honors all black poets, past and present. To celebrate today, enjoy poetry from some of our greatest poets, including Maya Angelou, Rita Dove, Langston Hughes, Nikki Giovani, Derek Walcott, and, of course, Gwendolyn Brooks – the subject of today’s book.

I received a copy of A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks from Sterling Children’s Books for review consideration. All opinions are my own.

A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks

Written by Alice Faye Duncan | Illustrated by Xia Gordon

 

“SING a song for Gwendolyn Brooks. / Sing it loud—a Chicago blues.” This remarkable biography of the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet opens with these soaring lines which introduce eight-year-old Gwendolyn who, seeing a flower in the midst of the city, wonders how it will grow. Already she was observing the world with insight and originality.  “Her head is filled with snappy rhymes. / She writes her poems in dime store journals.” Even something as “simple” as a clock does not escape Gwendolyn’s consideration. In The Busy Clock she writes, in part: “Clock, clock tell the time, / Tell the time to me. / Magic, patient instrument, / That is never free.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-song-for-gwendolyn-brooks-flower

Image copyright Xia Gordon, 2019, text copyright Alice Faye Duncan, 2019. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Out in the neighborhood, she stands quietly and watches the other kids laughing and playing—girls jumping rope and boys playing basketball. Gwendolyn’s father is a janitor and her mother stays at home with her and her brother, who is also her best friend. Gwen spends her time sitting on her porch, looking and listening to the sounds and the conversations of the neighborhood women and men. The “children call Gwen—‘ol’ stuck-up heifer!’”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-song-for-gwendolyn-brooks-jump-rope

Image copyright Xia Gordon, 2019, text copyright Alice Faye Duncan, 2019. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

“SING a song for Gwendolyn Brooks. / Her mother believes. / Her father believes. / But sometimes—Gwendolyn doubts her radiance, / When jarring, crashing, discordant words, / Splotch and splatter her notebook paper.” And what does Gwen do with these poems that just don’t work? She buries them under the snowball bush in the backyard. Once, unbelieving, a teacher accuses Gwendolyn of plagiarism. Her mother takes her daughter back to school, and there on the spot, she composes a poetic answer to the charges: Forgive and Forget. It makes Gwen feel proud, she believes in herself and feels the sun shining on her.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-song-for-gwendolyn-brooks-parents

Image copyright Xia Gordon, 2019, text copyright Alice Faye Duncan, 2019. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

During the Great Depression, when jobs and money are scarce, Gwendolyn’s “parents are wise and see her light.” They give her time to write and she hones her words and her craft through draft after draft. With each completed poem, Gwen’s confidence grows. The Chicago Defender publishes some of Gwendolyn’s poems, and now she has an audience. Her parents believe that one day their daughter will be a famous poet.

Soon, Gwendolyn finds her way to a group of poets who meet in a South Side community center. She studies under Inez Stark and meets Henry Blakely, who will become her husband. She enters her poems in contests and wins first place over and over. When she and Henry move into their own two-room apartment, Henry goes to work, leaving Gwendolyn to translate the neighborhood into poetry that she types “in a crowded corner.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-song-for-gwendolyn-brooks-typing

Image copyright Xia Gordon, 2019, text copyright Alice Faye Duncan, 2019. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Readers swarm to buy her books. “Gwen paints poems with paintbrush words, / And Gwen takes home a Pulitzer Prize.” Henry and their son celebrate, and Gwen’s parents “…cry tears of joy. / They praise her shine.” For they had always known and had “…Planted love and watered it. / Gwendolyn believed. / She found her light. / And— / A furious flower / GREW!”

An extensive Author’s Note detailing more about the life of Gwendolyn Brooks and her work as well as a timeline and suggested readings follow the text.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-song-for-gwendolyn-brooks-pulitzer

Image copyright Xia Gordon, 2019, text copyright Alice Faye Duncan, 2019. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

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, individuality, and love for life that made her a unique voice for her time and always.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-song-for-gwendolyn-brooks-portrait

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

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

To learn more about Xia Gordon, her books, and her art, visit her website.

National Black Poetry Activity

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You’re a Poet, Don’t You Know It! Word Search Puzzle

 

Find the twenty poetry-related words in this printable puzzle then write a poem of your own!

You’re a Poet, Don’t You Know It! Puzzle | You’re a Poet, Don’t You Know It! Solution

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You can find A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from 

Bookshop | Indiebound

 

September 18 – National Respect Day

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-aretha-franklin-little-people-big-dreams-cover

About the Holiday

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

Aretha Franklin (Little People, Big Dreams)

Written by Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara | Illustrated by Amy Blackwell

 

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

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-aretha-franklin-little-people-big-dreams-bath

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

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

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

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-aretha-franklin-little-people-big-dreams-respect

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

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

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

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-aretha-franklin-little-people-big-dreams-fireworks

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

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

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

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

Ages 4 – 7

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

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

National Respect Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-kindness-cards

Kindness Cards

 

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

Kindness Cards

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-aretha-franklin-little-people-big-dreams-cover

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

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review