September 10 – It’s Read a New Book Month

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About the Holiday

There are so many perfect times to read a book and so many new books to fill those hours. Kids love reading or being read to in school or before going to sleep. And adults they try to snatch a few minutes here and there during lunch or a break or before turning out the light. Whether you read a newly published book, a book that’s new at your local library or bookstore, or a book that’s just new to you, grab your favorite kind of book and start reading!  

Miep and the Most Famous Diary: The Woman Who Rescued Anne Frank’s Diary

Written by Meeg Pincus | Illustrated by Jordi Solano

 

On August 4, 1944, Miep Gies hears the worst sound she’s ever heard: “footsteps on the secret back stairs.” The sound is “worse than the World War II bomber planes…. Worse than the queen’s quivering voice on the radio announcing the invading Nazi army.” The sound means that Nazi officers have come to arrest the Frank family who Miep has been hiding for two years. Miep hears the van carrying her friends roar away. She knows that soon Nazi movers will return to take away all of the Frank’s possessions. She knows too that she could be arrested for keeping anything belonging to her friends, but there is one item she must rescue. “It calls silently from the musty rooms above.”

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Image copyright Jordi Solano, 2019, text copyright Meeg Pincus, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

It takes many hours before Miep can bring herself to enter the secret annex. With her husband, Henk, and a coworker, Elli, they enter the rooms. In the bedroom, Miep finds what she is looking for: a red checkered diary that holds the thoughts and hopes of the Franks’ young daughter Anne. Miep “knows Anne dreams of publishing it as a book after the war.” Elli gathers up more of Anne’s writing that lies strewn across the floor, and Miep “grabs…Anne’s delicate combing shawl, strands of her dark hair clinging to its fabric like silky noodles.”

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Image copyright Jordi Solano, 2019, text copyright Meeg Pincus, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Miep hides Anne’s diary and combing shawl in the drawer of her desk, never reading it. Nine months go by then one day Henk rushes into their apartment with news that the war is over and that the Nazis have surrendered. Miep and Hank wait for their “friends and neighbors to return from the camps,” wondering if the Franks will be among them. One day, Miep sees a familiar figure approaching her door. It’s Mr. Frank. He is alone, his wife having died in the camp. He has no knowledge about Anne and her sister as they were sent to another camp. While Mr. Frank regains his strength with the help of Miep, he sends letter after letter trying to locate his daughters.

At last a letter arrives, but it “contains the worst possible news: Anne and her sister did not survive the war. The air in the office hangs as still and shattered as the day of the capture.” With a broken heart, Miep opens her desk drawer and retrieves “Anne’s diary, papers, and shawl.” As she hands them to Mr. Frank, he gasps. He takes them to his office and reads Anne’s diary. “He savors her tales of growing up in hiding, her bright calls for hope when all seems lost.” He urges Miep to read it too, but she feels that she “will drown in sorrow” if she does.

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Image copyright Jordi Solano, 2019, text copyright Meeg Pincus, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

With the help of a war historian, Mr. Frank has Anne’s diary published. But, still, Miep cannot read it. Years go by before Miep opens the cover of Anne’s book. As she reads Anne’s words, she feels “as if Anne is standing right beside her, chattering away. Within the pages of her diary, Anne expressed her gratitude for the “gift…of writing, of expressing all that is in me” and her desire to “go on living even after my death!” After reading Anne’s words, Miep’s sadness lessens and she realizes that by saving her diary, “her beloved Anne will live on and on.”

An Author’s Note about how this book came to be written as well as more about the life of Miep Gies follows the text.

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Image copyright Jordi Solano, 2019, text copyright Meeg Pincus, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Reading Meeg Pincus’s compelling first page, readers can almost hear the stomp of Nazi footsteps on the stairs leading to the secret annex and feel the constriction of Miep Gies’s heart as the Franks are arrested and taken away. Miep’s courage amid her sadness reverberates throughout this true story, tinted with the secrecy of grocery runs, the hurried collection of Anne’s most precious possession, and her ongoing mission to protect her friends. Pincus’s excellent pacing and evocative storytelling, which includes actual quotes from Miep’s writings and is punctuated with emotion will have children holding their breath as they listen or read on their own. Heartbreaking facts are portrayed candidly and with respect for the target age, allowing Anne’s boundless hope to shine through.

Seeming to take inspiration in color and tone from photographs on the front endpaper of Anne and her father flanked by Miep Gies and other helpers, Jordi Solano washes his illustrations in somber grays and greens, preserving bright spots for Anne’s red diary and her grass-green skirt that connects her to the colorfully clothed children who, on the final page, have come to visit the Anne Frank Museum. Miep’s grief at the arrest of her friends is palpable, and the Nazi officer who threatens her with arrest is depicted with sharp angles and an unrelenting stare. Children see Miep hide Anne’s diary in the back of a drawer and the approaching figure of Mr. Frank coming home from the detention camp. Solano portrays the moment when Mr. Frank, reunited with Anne’s diary and papers, clasps his daughter’s things to his heart. It is a poignant glimpse into this most private experience. As Miep finally reads Anne’s diary, Anne, herself, appears as she was, full of curiosity, joy, and love.

A must to be included in lessons about World War II, the Holocaust, and Anne Frank, Miep and the Most Famous Diary is also a poignant reminder of the crucial role of personal courage as well as the everlasting endurance of hope. The book should be included in all school and public libraries and would make a powerful addition to home libraries as well.

Ages 6 – 9

Sleeping Bear Press, 2019 | ISBN 978-1534110250

Discover more about Meeg Pincus and her books on her website.

To learn more about Jordi Solano, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Read a New Book Month Activity

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Initials Bookends

 

You can display your personality along with your favorite books with this easy craft! This makes a great gift too!

Supplies

  • Sturdy wooden letter blocks in the child’s first and last initials. Or, if the child would like to try on a new name or nickname, the first letter of their new name.
  • Chalkboard or acrylic paint
  • Colored chalk
  • Paint brush

Directions

  1. Paint the letters, let dry
  2. With the chalk write words that describe you or names of your heroines and/or heroes
  3. Display your bookends

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You can find Miep and the Most Famous Diary at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

March 14 – It’s National 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 “Balance for Better,” which encourages true gender equity in the workplace, in government, and at home. Only when all people are heard and treated equally will communities thrive. There’s no better time than now to get involved to ensure that all have the same rights and standing in all areas of their lives.

I received a copy of Hedy Lamarr’s Double Life for review consideration. All opinions are my own. I’m excited to be partnering with Sterling in a giveaway of the book. See details below.

Hedy Lamarr’s Double Life: Hollywood Legend and Brilliant Inventor

Written by Laurie Wallmark | Illustrated by Katy Wu

 

In 1938 people were lining up to see Hedy Lamarr in her first English-language movie Algiers. Hedy was the talk of Hollywood, and journalists and photographers captured her every move—almost. What movie-goers and the press didn’t know was that Hedy Lamarr was also a brilliant inventor. Instead of attending fancy celebrity parties, after a long day on the set, “Hedy hurried home to work on her latest invention. Her brain overflowed with idea after idea for useful inventions.” While she never tried to sell her ideas—like the collar to help find lost pets or the “flavor cube that changed plain water into soda”—she designed and redesigned them to perfection.

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Image copyright Katy Wu, 2019, text copyright Laurie Wallmark, 2019. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

But how did Hedy get her start? She was born in Austria and as a child took apart mechanical objects just to see how they worked. Hedy’s father also loved science, and he encouraged his daughter to hold onto her dreams. In addition to science, Hedy loved movies and would use her dolls to reenact the scenes she saw.

When she got older, Hedy got a job as a script girl and then worked as an extra in a movie. She loved acting and once said, “‘I acted all the time…. I was a little living copybook. I wrote people down on me.’” While playing the lead in a stage play, the Hollywood producer Louis B. Mayer saw her and offered her movie contract. Hedy moved to America. It only took her six months to land a starring role in Algiers. After that she starred in many movies with some of the most famous actors and actresses. 

By now, the world was at war. One day, Hedy met George Antheil, a former weapons inspector who now composed music. Hedy remembered a “discussion she had overheard back in Europe about a problem with the guidance system for torpedoes. The guidance system couldn’t prevent the enemy from jamming the weapon’s radio signals” and sending it off course. She learned from George Antheil that the US Navy had the same problem.

They decided to team up to see if they could figure out a solution. Hedy was also an accomplished pianist, and she and George often played musical games on the piano. Once, while they played the same song in different octaves, Hedy had a brainstorm for building “a secure torpedo guidance system.” At the time, torpedo guidance systems only worked if the ship launching a torpedo and the torpedo were on the same frequency.

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Image copyright Katy Wu, 2019, text copyright Laurie Wallmark, 2019. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Hedy thought that if the ship and the torpedo could switch between a series of different frequencies, the enemy would be foiled. “Hedy called her discovery ‘the hopping of frequencies.” Working together, she and George devised a way to implement Hedy’s idea. When they presented their idea to the National Inventors Council, they were told the “idea had ‘great potential value.’”

There were still some issues to overcome to make the system automated, but Hedy and George answered those too. They applied for a patent, and a year later on August 11, 1942 it was granted. When they gave the idea to the United States Navy, “Hedy was proud her frequency-hopping idea might help America win the war.” But embroiled in the middle of the conflict, the Navy didn’t have “the time or money to implement a new system….”

Hedy, who still wanted to help America defeat the Nazis, was undaunted. She helped raise 25 million dollars by selling war bonds and volunteered at the Hollywood Canteen, where servicemen soon to be deployed gathered. Hedy went on to make more than twenty movies and continued to work on her inventions.

In the 1980s, the US Navy declassified Hedy’s frequency-hopping technology, meaning anyone could use it. Because the patent had long-ago expired, no one needed to give Hedy and George credit for the idea. “Companies raced to include frequency hopping in their own devices.” In 1997, Hedy and George were finally recognized when they “received the Pioneer Award from the Electronic Frontier Foundation for their significant contribution to computers.”

A timeline of Hedy Lamarr’s life, a description of how Hedy and George’s frequency-hopping technology worked, additional resources for further reading, and a list of Hedy’s movies follow the text.

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Image copyright Katy Wu, 2019, text copyright Laurie Wallmark, 2019. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Laurie Wallmark knows how to weave a riveting tale that draws readers in to the lives of fascinating and scientifically minded women throughout history. Her detailed biography of Hedy Lamarr will wow kids with the twists and turns of how a vital feature of the electronics they use every day came to be. A history not only of this famous woman but of the times and policies that denied Hedy Lamarr the recognition and profits she deserved, the story is sure to spark plenty of discussion. The inclusion of a few of Hedy’s ingenious ideas as well as quotes on acting, inventing, and her views on life give children a glimpse into the mind of this unique woman.

Katy Wu takes readers back to the 1940s with her stylish illustrations reminiscent of magazine images of the time that depict both Hedy’s glamourous and inventive sides. Even as Hedy steps out of a limo to the glare of flashbulbs, acts under stage lights, and watches movies thrown by a projector’s beam, she’s dreaming of going home to work on her inventions in the light of a desk lamp. When the story turns to Hedy’s frequency-hopping idea, Wu clearly portrays the problems with the torpedo guidance system and the way single-frequency and multiple-frequency communications work. The way player pianos were controlled and how Hedy and George Antheil used this idea is also well portrayed. The final images of people using Hedy’s technology today lets kids fully understand the impact that Hedy Lamarr has had on their lives.

An important story about an extraordinary woman, Hedy Lamarr’s Double Life: Hollywood Legend and Brilliant Inventor will inspire children to follow and accomplish all of their dreams. The book will spur creative thought across subject matter and would be a motivational addition to home, classroom, and public libraries.

Ages 5 and up

Sterling Children’s Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1454926917

Discover more about Laurie Wallmark and her books on her website.

To learn more about Katy Wu, and view a gallery of her book and art, visit her tumblr.

Hedy Lamarr’s Double Life Giveaway

I’m excited to partner with Sterling Children’s Books in a Twitter giveaway of:

  • One (1) copy of Hedy Lamarr’s Double Life: Hollywood Legend and Brilliant Inventor written by Laurie Wallmark | illustrated by Katy Wu

This giveaway is open from March 14 through March 20 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner will be chosen on March 21.

Prizing provided by Sterling Children’s Books

Giveaway open to U.S. addresses only. | No Giveaway Accounts 

National Women’s History Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-women-in-stem-coloring-book

Women in STEM Coloring Book

 

Discover five women who broke barriers  and made important contributions to the science, technology, engineering, and math fields in this printable  Women in STEM Coloring Book created by the United States Department of Energy.

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You can find Hedy Lamarr’s Double Life: Hollywood Legend and Brilliant Inventor at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

January 31 – Inspire Your Heart with Art Day

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About the Holiday

Celebrating art is always a great thing! Today we champion that feeling you get inside when you create or experience art—no matter what kind is your favorite. Paintings, books, music, sculpture, quilts, photography, and other arts show you a bit of the world in a new way—a way, perhaps, you’ve never thought of before. Art can inspire, gladden, sadden, anger, teach, and compel action. It can also provide joy and inspiration when you need it most—as you’ll see in today’s book. Celebrate today’s holiday by visiting a museum, bookstore, library, concert, or gallery.

The Hiding Game

Written by Gwen Strauss | Illustrated by Herb Leonhard

 

It was October of 1940, and after moving from place to place to stay “one step ahead of the German soldiers,” Aube and her family had found a home where they could “live together until it was their turn to flee to safety. The Villa Air-Bel was rented by Varian Fry—a magician—and his assistant Danny Bénédite and served as a place to hide those looking to escape the war-torn country. On Sundays, the house was full of “thinkers, artists and writers who had to hide from the German soldiers because of their ideas of freedom and liberty” like Aube’s parents.

On those days, everyone played games, danced and made collages. One of Aube’s favorite games was Cadavre Exquis, in which a piece of paper was folded and each participant drew a design on one fold. When the whole paper was unfolded, amazing, artistic pictures emerged. These games and entertainment, Aube’s father told her, were their ways of fighting against fear. Because of the danger, many things had to be hidden at the Villa, including the radio and the cow that provided milk. Many ingredients for cooking were scarce. But even then Aube’s father used art to lighten the mood, leaving a drawing of a roast beef in the pantry where a real roast should have been.

Because the authorities were reading Varian and Danny’s mail and were listening to their phone calls, they had devised a way of hiding messages in toothpaste tubes that escaped the guard’s searches. The messages went to other people helping along the escape route to tell them who to expect next. Everyone in the house also had to have a special hiding place in case the police came. Aube chose the an old cabinet in the kitchen.

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Image copyright Herb Leonhard, 2017, text copyright Gwen Strauss, 2017. Courtesy of Pelican Publishing Company.

Whenever a new group of people were scheduled to “make the dangerous journey to a new country, they held a Sunday party and art sale to raise money.” Canvases painted by famous artists were hung among the branches of a large tree on the Villa grounds. When winter came, the Villa was so cold everyone had to wear all of their clothes to stay warm. They kept their spirits warm, too, by singing their favorite songs.

During the winter Danny visited camps where people were being held under terrible conditions. “Aube understood now that the danger was that they would be sent to the camps,” where people were dying of starvation and disease. They had little clothes and no blankets even though it was snowing. The people, Danny said, were going to freeze. Aube thought of the game freeze tag and worried about all of those “people freezing, waiting for someone to set them free.”

One day in December, the police raided the Villa. They took away all the men, including Danny, Varian, and Aube’s papa. Aube cowered in the kitchen cabinet with their dog in fear. The next week, the men were released, but they knew that the police would be back. Danny and Varian began to plan their escape. Before they all left, Aube’s father devised one more game. Each artist would paint their own version of a playing card to create a collective work of art. “The cards would remind them that they had laughed together and stayed free in their hearts even during the darkest times.”

Aube’s family were placed on a ship sailing to South America, and on February 18, 1941 they left the Villa and Danny and Varian behind and made the one-month-long journey to freedom. Several months later, Varian was “forced to leave France and return to America.” Danny went underground and “helped another 300 people escape France.” In 1943, however, Danny was “arrested by the Nazis and sentenced to death.” Just as he was facing the firing squad, soldiers fighting the Nazis burst through the gates of the camp and freed him and the other inmates.

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Image copyright Herb Leonhard, 2017, courtesy of Pelican Publishing Company.

Gwen Strauss includes extensive backmatter on this true-life story about her great-uncle Danny Bénédite. A detailed account of the work by Varian Fry, Danny Bénédite, and the American Rescue Committee, complete with photographs, as well as short biographies of some of the artists who visited the Villa (and a compelling list of others) plus resources for further study round out this compelling book.

Clearly written and with details from a child’s point of view that will resonate with readers, The Hiding Game is an absorbing tribute not only to two men involved in the Nazi resistance movement but to the resilience that uplifts people during the darkest times. This fascinating true story also offers a glimpse into the important role that artists and writers play in shining a light on history, interpreting it, and fighting against forces that destroy. Rich with the atmosphere of intrigue, suspense, and simple pleasures enjoyed, Strauss’s dynamic storytelling will thrill children. The Hiding Game will prompt them to learn more about this time period and will inspire in them their own acts of heroism.

Herb Leonhard’s realistic drawings of the Villa Air-Bel, the families who stopped there on their way to freedom, the moments of joy that sustained them, and the secret measures necessary for people’s safety take readers into the heart of the story and allow them to witness the danger and the creativity that swirled side-by-side within the Villa and the people living there. Largely depicted in somber tones of gray and green, the pages brighten with glowing yellows during times of laughter, games, and creativity. An illustration of the mammoth tree hung with canvases by famous artists will impress children, and the final image will leave an indelible and thought-provoking impression on young readers and adults.

An excellent book for facilitating discussions about World War II and the Holocaust with children at home and in the classroom as well as offering opportunities for cross-curricular learning in history, art, reading, and more, The Hiding Game is a superb choice to add to home, school, and public libraries.

Ages 7 – 12

Pelican Publishing Company, 2017 | ISBN 978-1455622658

Discover more about Gwen Strauss and her books on her website.

To learn more about Herb Leonhard, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Inspire Your Heart with Art Day Activity

I Love Art! Word Search Puzzle

 

Art has a language all its own! Have fun finding the twenty-five art-related words in this printable puzzle.

I Love Art! Word Search Puzzle and I Love Art! Word Search Solution

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You can find The Hiding Game at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

 

 

 

March 8 – International Women’s Day

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday is celebrated around the world and focuses on the social, economic, cultural, and political accomplishments of women. Spurred on by recent events and increased activism, this year’s theme is “Press for Progress: a Push for Gender Parity worldwide.” Rallies, performances, and discussions as well as special events and lessons in schools are just some of the ways that International Women’s Day is commemorated.

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

Written by Margot Lee Shetterly | Illustrated by Laura Freeman

 

“Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden were good at math…really good.” The United States was involved in World War II, and Dorothy wanted to help the war effort by working for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics to make planes faster, stronger, and safer. Developing new airplanes required lots of tests at the Langley Laboratory in Virginia. Today, we use computers to do the kinds of math needed, “but in the 1940s computers were actual people like Dorothy, Mary, Katherine, and Christine.”

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Copyright Laura Freeman, 2018, courtesy of lfreemanart.com.

Even though Dorothy was a woman and an African-American in the segregated South, Dorothy did not think her dream of getting a job was impossible. After all, she was really good at math. She applied and was hired as a computer. At Langley, whites and blacks worked in different buildings and had separate facilities. After the United States won the war, Dorothy stayed on to create better aircraft.

Now America and Russia were in competition to build the best airplanes. This required more math, more tests, and more computers. Mary Jackson was hired at Langley to test model airplanes in wind tunnels. Mary had her sights set on becoming an engineer, but most of the engineers were men. To prepare, Mary needed to take advanced math classes, “but she was not allowed into the white high school where the classes were taught.” Mary didn’t take no for an answer. She got special permission to take classes, got good grades, and “became the first African-American female engineer at the laboratory.”

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Copyright Laura Freeman, 2018, courtesy of HarperCollins.

In 1953 Katherine Jackson was hired for a team who tested airplanes while they were in the air. Her work was to analyze turbulence to make planes safer in dangerous gusts of wind. She wanted to go to her team’s meetings, but she was told by her boss again and again that it was impossible; women were not allowed to attend meetings. At last her persistence paid off, and she became the first woman to sign one of the group’s reports.

When machine computers were installed at Langley in the 1950s, they were faster than the human computers but made many mistakes. “Dorothy learned how to program the computers so they got the right answers and taught the other women in her group how to program too.”

In 1957 Russia launched a satellite into space, ramping up the competition with the United States. Now “the United States started building satellites to explore space too,” and the name of the agency was changed to the National Aeronautics and Space Agency or NASA. Then President John F, Kennedy set a goal of sending a man to the moon. First, however, there would need to be many experiments, new space craft, and tests to send astronauts into orbit. This meant more people who were good at math would be needed.

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Copyright Laura Freeman, 2018, courtesy of lfreemanart.com.

When the first manned space flight was planned, Katherine calculated the trajectory that would take John Glenn into space and bring him home again. In 1967 Dorothy Darden came to work at Langley. She loved electronic computers and wanted to become an engineer. “Her first job was to help with NASA’s mission to the moon.”

When Neal Armstrong stepped onto the moon’s surface for the first time on July 20, 1969, he said it was a giant leap for mankind. “It was also a giant leap for Dorothy, Mary, Katherine, Christine, and all of the other computers and engineers who had worked at the lab over the years.” The moon landing was just the beginning. NASA engineers were already dreaming of trips to other planets and super-fast spacecraft. And although it would be hard and require a lot of numbers, “Dorothy, Mary, Katherine, Christine knew one thing: with hard work, perseverance, and a love of math, anything was possible.”

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Copyright Laura Freeman, 2018, courtesy of HarperCollins.

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

Discover more about Margot Lee Shetterly and her books on her website.

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

International Women’s Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-women-in-stem-coloring-book

Women in STEM Coloring Book

 

Discover five women who broke barriers  and made important contributions to the science, technology, engineering, and math fields in this printable  Women in STEM Coloring Book created by the United States Department of Energy.

 

Picture Book Review

November 9 – National Aviation History Month

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About the Holiday

If you look back in history you see that people have always been fascinated with flight. The first kite was invented in 1000 BCE in China; around 400 BCE Archytas of Tarentum developed a steam-powered pigeon; and most people are familiar with the designs of flying machines that Leonardo de Vinci created in the late 1400s. An important discovery that led inventors in the right direction came in 1680 when an Italian mathematician determined that human muscles were incompatible with flight.

Zip ahead about 100 years and the first hot-air balloon flight was undertaken, which led to more and more complex technology, resulting in Wilbur and Orville Wright’s flight in 1903. From there, it seemed, the sky was the limit. Amelia Earhart became the first woman to complete a trans-Atlantic Ocean solo flight in 1932, and in 1947 Charles Yeager broke the sound barrier. But it’s astounding to think that from that modest 12-second first flight by the Wright Brothers to the first man in space—Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin—it took only 58 years! Today astronauts from countries around the world live and work in the International Space Station, and spacecraft are traversing deep space.

Wind Flyers

Written by Angela Johnson | Illustrated by Loren Long

 

With pride a young African-American boy tells the story of his great-great-uncle who was a Tuskegee Airman in World War II. His uncle was “a smooth wind flyer. A Tuskegee wind flyer…,” the boy says. He knows well his uncle’s history—how like a bird, his uncle believed he was born to fly. “With his arms flapping, he jumped off a chicken coop at the age of five,” and when he was only seven he soared from a lofty barn into a pile of hay. His first real flight came at the age of eleven, when he paid 75 cents to be a passenger with a barnstormer.

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Image copyright Loren Long, courtesy of Simon & Schuster

Flying over lakes and fields, his uncle felt as if he were in Heaven, among clouds “like soft blankets, saying, ‘Come on in, get warm. Stay awhile and be a wind flyer too.’” The experience changed him forever. In fact he “cried when they landed because then he knew what it was like to go into the wind, against the wind, beyond the wind.” As a young adult his uncle contributed his dream and his skills to the World War II effort, becoming a Tuskegee Airman, one of the first black pilots in the United States military.

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Image copyright Loren Long, courtesy of Simon & Schuster

As the pair sit in the uncle’s barn, surrounded by his military uniform, leather jacket, and other memories of his flying career—after the war to continue flying he became a crop duster—the pair look through old photographs, seeing once more those young and brave pilots—the Tuskegee wind flyers. Planes are different now, Uncle says, but the clouds remain the same. The boy and his uncle climb to the highest point of the uncle’s barn to watch the jets—and in those moments they once more become the smooth wind flyers, flying into the wind and beyond.

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Image copyright Loren Long, courtesy of Simon & Schuster

In her soaring, rhythmic language, Angela Johnson captures the dreams and yearning of a young boy whose greatest desire is to fly among the clouds. Her combination of straight narration with lyrical lines as he joins the Tuskegee Airman in World War II enhances the sense of achievement and pride the young pilots felt. The structure of the story is well chosen, as relating the uncle’s life from childhood through old age through the eyes of his nephew strengthens the themes of strong familial relationships as well as shared dreams across generations.

Loren Long gives Wind Flyers additional power with his strong, vibrant paintings. Two-page spreads provide a sense of the vastness of the skies that so enticed the young would-be pilot. Even the clouds echo the emotion of the page—fluffy, floating, and alive in the flight scenes while linear, flat, and stationary when the plane and the uncle are earthbound. Realistic portrayals of the boy, his uncle, and the other Tuskegee Airmen are reminiscent of the WPA murals of the 1940s while still setting this book firmly in today for a new generation.

Wind Flyers is a wonderful book to share with aviation buffsm budding historians, and dreamers of all types and would make a welcome thoughtful book for quiet story times.

Ages 4 – 9

Simon & Schuster Books for Young People, 2007 | ISBN 978-0689848797

To learn more about Angela Johnson‘s books for all ages, visit her website!

View a gallery of artwork for picture books and other media by Loren Long, visit his website!

National Aviation History Month Activity

CPB - Biplane side

Head in the Clouds Box Biplane

 

If you love airplanes and flying, you’ll have fun making your own plane from recycled materials! Use your creativity to decorate your plane while you imagine yourself flying through the clouds on a beautiful day. Younger children will have fun sharing this activity with an adult or older sibling too!

Supplies

  • Travel-size toothpaste box
  • 3 6-inch x 1/2-inch craft sticks
  • 2  2 1/2-inch x 7/8-inch mini craft sticks
  • 5 Round toothpicks, with points cut off
  • Paint in whatever colors you like for your design
  • 4 small buttons 
  • 2 mini buttons
  • Paint brushes
  • Strong glue or glue gun

CPB - Biplane front

Directions

  1. Empty toothpaste box
  2. Paint toothpaste box and decorate it
  3. Paint the craft sticks and 5 toothpicks
  4. Paint one small craft stick to be the propeller
  5. Let all objects dry

To assemble the biplane

  1. For the Bottom Wing – Glue one 6-inch-long craft stick to the bottom of the plane about 1 inch from the end of the box that is the front of the plane
  2. For the Top Wing – Glue the other 6-inch-long craft stick to the top of the plane about 1 inch from the front of the plane
  3. For the Tail – Glue one mini craft stick to the bottom of the box about ¾ inches from the end that is the back of the plane
  4. For the Vertical Rudder – Cut the end from one of the painted 6-inch-long craft sticks, glue this to the back of the box, placing it perpendicular against the edge and half-way between each side

CPB - Biplane bottom

To assemble the front wheels

  1. Cut 4 painted toothpicks to a length of ¾-inches long
  2. Cut one painted toothpick to a length of 1-inch long
  3. Glue 2 of the 3/4-inch toothpicks to the back of 1 button, the ends of the toothpicks on the button should be touching and the other end apart so the toothpicks form a V
  4. Repeat the above step for the other wheel
  5. Let the glue dry
  6. Glue the 1-inch long toothpick between the wheels at the center of each wheel to keep them together and give them stability. Let dry

To make the back wheel

  1. Cut two ¼-inch lengths of painted toothpick and glue them together. Let dry
  2. Glue two mini buttons together to form the back wheel. Let dry
  3. Glue the ¼-inch toothpicks to the mini buttons. Let dry
  4. Glue these to the bottom of the plane in the center of the box directly in front of and touching the tail

Display your biplane!

Picture Book Review

Picture Book Review