October 14 – It’s Hispanic Heritage Month

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About the Holiday

From September 15th through October 15th National Hispanic Heritage Month celebrates the contributions of those who come from or whose ancestors immigrated from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, and South America. Each year the holiday adopts a particular theme. This year’s theme is “Esperanza: A Celebration of Hispanic Heritage and Hope.” From business and industry to culture, sports, and entertainment, Hispanic and Latinx Americans have made an important and indelible imprint on our country. You can learn more about the holiday and find cross-curricular resources for classrooms and homeschooling, videos, exhibitions, and much more from the Smithsonian, the Library of Congress, the National Park Service, the National Gallery of Art, the Nationla Archives and more to use not only this month but throughout the year on the official Hispanic Heritage Month website.

Without Separation: Prejudice, Segregation, and the Case of Roberto Alvarez

Written by Larry Dane Brimmer | Illustrated by Maya Gonzalez

On January 5, 1931 twelve-year-old Roberto Alvarez was happy to be going back to Lemon Grove Grammar School after the Christmas vacation. But when he got there “the principal told Roberto and the other Mexican and Mexican American children that they did not belong there.” He told them to go to the new Mexican school on Olive Street, and when they arrived, their teachers and desks were already waiting for them.

This had all come about stealthily after the school district’s board of trustees received a letter from the parent-teacher association complaining that “the Mexican children didn’t understand English,” which “held back the white students.” The letter also said that the “Mexican children were unclean and endangered the health of every other student in the school.” The board decided to construct a separate school—but without telling the Mexican parents, fearing “trouble.”

But as the Olive Street school was being built, Mexican parents understood it true purpose of segregation and instructed their children not to attend, but to come home. Most of the kids, including Roberto did as their parents told them. “That January morning the Olive Street School stood almost empty, except for two teachers, three students, and many unoccupied desks.” Roberto believed he didn’t need a different school. While his parents had come from Mexico, he had been born in California and spoke English as well as any of the white students.

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Image copyright Maya Gonzalez, 2021, text copyright Larry Dane Brimmer, 2021. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

The Mexican parents formed the “Comité de Vecinos de Lemon Grove—the Lemon Grove Neighbors Committee”—to talk about the situation. They knew the new school had not been built to “help their students learn the English language and American customs, as the school board and newspapers claimed.” The only deciding factor of which school a child attended was the color of their skin.

The Comité de Vecinos acquired two lawyers, and on February 13, 1931 “Roberto brought the situation in Lemon Grove to the attention of the California Superior Court in San Diego” by filing a law suit against the Lemon Grove School board of trustees. His lawsuit asked that the school district stop discriminating against the Mexican students and allow them to return to the Lemon Grove School. The school board falsely stated that the students’ strike was “organized by Mexico or by groups in Mexico,” and the president told a reporter he knew that the district attorney of San Diego was on the school’s side.

In fact the San Diego district attorney represented the school board in its dealings with the court, saying that the Olive Street School was for “‘better instruction,’” a claim that was different from the minutes from the school board’s summer meetings. He then went on to say that having a school in their own neighborhood was safer since they didn’t have to cross the railroad tracks. But Roberto wanted to go to school with all of his friends—”brown and white.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-without-separation-roberto

Image copyright Maya Gonzalez, 2021, text copyright Larry Dane Brimmer, 2021. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

The trial began on March 10, 1931 in San Diego. The lawyers for the school board insisted that the new school was to “benefit the Mexican pupils…not to separate” them. Roberto’s lawyers countered this with the minutes from the board’s summer meetings.

The trial ended the next day, and the decision was handed over to the judge. Two days later, the judge handed down his ruling. He stated that “in the eyes of the law the Lemon Grove School District had no power to set up a separate school for Mexican children.” On April 16, 1931, the judge’s ruling became official and the school board was ordered to immediately admit Roberto Alvarez and all of the other Mexican students “‘without separation or segregation.’” Roberto knew he had to stand up for what was right, and as he and the other Mexican students returned to school, “this time all were welcomed.”

An extensive Author’s Note, complete with photographs of Roberto Alvarez, his third- and fourth-grade classmates in 1928, Roberto’s mother, Lemon Grove Grammar School and its principal, and Roberto in 1999, reveals more about this historical event, the people involved, and the political and social atmosphere in the US at the time. Larry Dane Brimmer also discusses other cases of school segregation and follows up with the consequences for Lemon Grove principal Jerome Green and the successful career enjoyed by Roberto Alvarez as an entrepreneur. Resources used in researching the book are also included.

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Image copyright Maya Gonzalez, 2021, text copyright Larry Dane Brimmer, 2021. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

Larry Dane Brimmer’s compelling history of this landmark case and biography of Roberto Alvarez and all of the students and their parents who stood up for equal access to schooling is instructive and empowering. The fact that this issue and similar others continue to roil schools, workplaces, and communities, makes Without Separation a vital resource to educate children and adults on system racism and how it spreads.

Brimmer highlights the courage, intelligence, and acceptance that children display and inspires them to lend their voices to change injustice wherever they find it. Brimmer’s clear and precise storytelling allows children to understand the actions and discussions involved in the school board meetings, neighborhood committee meetings, and the trial without losing any of the story’s emotional impact.

Maya Gonzalez’s lovely folk-art illustrations present stylized-yet-realistic depictions of the citrus groves, the school, and the courtroom. Fashions and décor set the time period while also appearing appropriate today. Another portrayal of universality is accomplished in Gonzalez’s two-page spread of the board of trustees’ meeting, in which she pictures the members sitting at a table with only their feet and upper body showing. Not only is this group representative of the 1930 school board, but of the “faceless” masses and committees that often drive policy today. Many images of the Mexican community supporting each other shows readers what can be accomplished when people work together.

An important book that will resonate with its target audience, Without Separation: Prejudice, Segregation, and the Case of Roberto Alvarez is a must-addition to any home, classroom, school, and public library.

Ages 7 – 10 and up

Calkins Creek, 2021 | ISBN 978-1684371952

Discover more about Larry Dane Brimmer and his books on his website.

To learn more about Maya Gonzalez, her books, and her art, visit her website.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-without-separation-cover

You can find Without Separation: Prejudice, Segregation, and the Case of Roberto Alvarez 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.

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

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.

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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 29 – It’s International Ideas Month

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About the Holiday

The onset of spring with its  wide-open sunny days seems to beckon to us to open our minds to all sorts of new possibilities. International Ideas Month also invites would-be inventors and clever folk alike to think differently and pay attention to your brainstorms. You never know – there may be a book, a work of art, a new invention, or a solution to a need inside you just waiting to be let out! 

“Smelly” Kelly and His Super Senses: How James Kelly’s Nose Saved the New York City Subway

Written by Beth Anderson | Illustrated by Jenn Harney

 

James Kelly had a super sensitive nose. It seemed that there was nothing he couldn’t smell: “rats in the shed. Circus elephants a mile away. Tomorrow’s rain.” While this was interesting, James wished he had a different “super power,” one that would get him noticed. When James was older, he moved to New York and set out to find a job. But lots of jobs—like working at the fish market, the butcher shop, or the sanitation department—were just too stinky.

Then James “heard a rumble below the sidewalk and peered through the grate. The damp air bristled with mystery.” James descended below the street and discovered the subway. Here “a nick, a crack, a break, a spark could wreak havoc.” Down here, James Kelly sniffed out water and gas leaks and other problems then led repair crews to the spots. People were so impressed that soon he had “a new name: Smelly Kelly. James began studying about new equipment that could help him.

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Image copyright Jenn Harney, 2020, text copyright Beth Anderson, 2020. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

The subway wasn’t the only place having trouble with bad odors. At the Hotel New Yorker, a mysterious leak was causing guests to flee and the staff to hold their noses. Everyone blamed the subway, so the hotel manager called for Smelly Kelly. James could smell the leak, but he couldn’t pinpoint where it was coming from. Using a bit of his new equipment, though, the break in the pipes exposed itself. James had found his calling.

Next, people began complaining about “toilets flushing steam” at the 42nd Street men’s room. He followed the pipes and finally found the cause, but Smelly Kelly realized that “sniffing wasn’t enough.” He needed to be able to hear problems too. But that would require a different kind of equipment—something “like a telephone or stethoscope.” James Kelly tinkered and experimented until he had created just what he needed. Every day, Smelly Kelly rid the city of leaks, toxic spills, and clogs—most unassociated with the subway at all. But one danger did lurk among the tracks: the electricity of the third rail.

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Image copyright Jenn Harney, 2020, text copyright Beth Anderson, 2020. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

One night his phone rang. It was an emergency—a “tar-like smell” was coming from underground. Smelly Kelly took one whiff and proclaimed, “‘Gasoline. One spark from the third rail and we’re all history,’” he warned. The station was evacuated and the trains slowed. Then Kelly went to work until he found the leaking storage tank. It took ten hours to make the city safe, and when it was Smelly Kelly was hailed as a “superhero.”

Smelly Kelly’s days were always different and often surprising. Once, he unearthed long-buried elephant manure, but his most dramatic save happened the day a man fell from the platform onto the tracks just as a train rolled into the station. That time Kelly’s sense of smell couldn’t help him, but his courage could. James Kelly crawled under the train car and pinned the unconscious man down and away from the electrified rail. Slowly, the train backed up over them, and when it was clear, James and the man got up. Everyone cheered. That day James Kelly discovered his real superpower: “the force that pushed him…to study, invent, and risk his life. His special power was inside.”

Backmatter includes two Author’s Notes, one revealing more about James Kelly, and the second explaining more about the research that went into writing the story. There is also a section on the tools Kelly used and some fascinating facts about what lies beneath New York City’s streets. Children will also find books and websites for further reading and a bibliography.

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Image copyright Jenn Harney, 2020, text copyright Beth Anderson, 2020. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

Kids will marvel at Beth Anderson’s biography of James Kelly, his super-sensitive nose, and the New York City subway. As readers learn about James Kelly’s unique abilities, they also discover facts about the ever-growing city of the early to mid-1900s. Anderson’s suspense-filled storytelling will keep kids riveted to the action and keep them guessing at where the smells come from. Kelly’s ingenious inventions and uses of new equipment will impress future engineers and other creative kids. Anderson’s unifying theme reminds readers that everyone has the power to use their particular talents to make a difference.

Jenn Harney’s engaging illustrations capture the details and personalities of this quirky biography while also giving kids an underground tour of New York City. Kids will be fascinated to see the dark tunnels of the subway system, crowded with a maze of pipes and wiring over which James Kelly kept constant vigil. The foul aromas that lead Kelly to leaks, dangerous conditions, and other problems waft through the tunnels in ghostly green swirls. With his prominent nose, black jacket, and fedora perched on his red shock of hair, James Kelly looks like the detective he was, and his facial expressions reveal not only the strength of the odors he discovered but also the pride he took in his work.

A unique and intriguing addition to history, science, and STEM lessons for classrooms and homeschoolers as well as a captivating read for home story times, “Smelly” Kelly and his Super Senses is highly recommended for home, school, and pubic library bookshelves

Ages 7 – 10

Calkins Creek, 2020 | ISBN 978-1684373994

International Ideas Month Activity

CPB - Nose Smelling Clipart

 

It makes sense to learn about your senses! Follow your nose to fun and discovery with these two activities!

  1. Can you guess each smell in this scent-sational experiment from KidsHealth?
  2. Paint your next picture with kool-smelling watercolors with this Scratch-and-Sniff activity from Learn Create Love!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-smelly-kelly-cover

You can find “Smelly” Kelly and His Super Senses at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

March 3 – World Wildlife Day and Interview with Author Heather Lang

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About the Holiday

A vast number of plant and animal species are facing endangerment or extinction due to human caused climate change. World Wildlife Day was created in 1973 as an effort to protect the many endangered species of the world. It is an international holiday with a new theme each year to celebrate the biodiversity of our earth while also promoting awareness and advocacy. The theme for this year’s observance is “Forests and Livelihoods: Sustaining People and Planet.” There are many wonderful ways to celebrate this holiday; spend some time in nature, pick up litter around your block, find out about activities going on in your hometown, and read books to educate yourself and others on the livelihood of forests, wildlife and the environment.  To learn more about World Wildlife Day, and the virtual events happening today, visit this webpage: https://www.wildlifeday.org/. If you are searching for books to celebrate, The Leaf Detective is a perfect fit!

Thanks to Boyds Mills for providing a digital copy of The Leaf Detective for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

Reviewed by Dorothy Levine

The Leaf Detective: How Margaret Lowman Uncovered the Secrets of the Rainforest

Written by Heather Lang | Illustrated by Jana Christy

 

As a child, Meg was quite shy to make friends. She spent lots of time studying and playing with wildlife: “Meg wrapped herself in nature, like a soft blanket.” As she continued to grow, so did her passion for leaves, trees, and nature. Meg attended Sydney University in Australia. In 1979, she became the first person at her graduate school to study the rainforest. Through her studies Meg learned that people had been all the way to outer space to study, but nobody had ever ventured to the tippity top of a canopy tree. Instead, they studied trees from far away through binoculars. Oftentimes scientists would spray trees with chemicals so that the harmed leaves and animals would drop to the forest floor where people could study them up close. Meg sought to change this.

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Image copyright Jana Christy, 2021, text copyright Heather Lang, 2021. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

“In the dark, damp forest the trees rose up to distant rustling, squawks and screeches, shadows in the treetops. How could she get up there?” Meg Lowman created her own slingshot and harness and inched up a coachwood tree. When she reached the canopy, she knew she’d found the perfect place to study and explore. Meg is quoted saying, “From then on, I never looked back…or down!”

Meg continued to create new strategies to study the canopy, as a scientist does. And in doing so she made so many discoveries, such as: “We now believe the canopy is home to approximately half the plant and animal species on land.” Many people tried to stop Meg along her journey. They told her she couldn’t take science classes, climb trees, or make inventions because she was a woman. But Meg ignored them. She continued to investigate.

She knew that rainforests were (and are) in danger, and that so many creatures rely on the rainforest ecosystem. People all over the world were cutting down large parts of the rainforests for wood, rubber, paper, and farmland. This worried Meg; she wanted to find a way to protect rainforests before they all disappeared. “She wondered, How can one leaf detective make a difference? How can I save the trees?…Then an idea crawled into Meg’s thoughts—a way to speak for the trees.”

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Image copyright Jana Christy, 2021, text copyright Heather Lang, 2021. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

Meg traveled around the world. She spoke to people across many different countries; taught them how to climb trees, build canopy walkways—she showed people the many gifts rainforests have to offer. Meg educated communities on how they could share their rainforest with outsiders, showcase its beauty to create revenue rather than chopping them down for resources. By using her voice and creative mind, Meg helped implement systems that have saved many trees and creatures across the world.

Meg Lowman continues to study trees, save rainforests, and teach people how to shift their economies to center around ecotourism and sustainable crops rather than resource extraction. She has used her voice to save rainforests across the world, and yet she still says, “If only I could have achieved as much as the tree!… But I have not. I have whittled away at relatively small goals in comparison to the grander accomplishments of a tree.”

Backmatter includes an author’s note detailing Heather Lang’s visit to meet Margaret Lowman in the Amazon rainforest in Perú. The note includes more information on Dr. Lowman’s advocacy work and is followed by an illustrated educational spread on the layers of canopies, and species featured throughout the story are labeled in the final spread, for readers to learn more about specific animals that make their homes in the rainforest.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-leaf-detective-trampoline

Image copyright Jana Christy, 2021, text copyright Heather Lang, 2021. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

Heather Lang’s lyrical writing matches the carefulness with which Meg studies leaves, trees, and the rainforest canopy. Her compelling storytelling is rich with facts and sensory imagery that immerse readers in the environment and Meg’s determination to understand and, later, save it. Scattered images of leaves drop fun facts and definitions for readers about the rainforest, canopies, transpiration, herbivores, and more. Quotes from Dr. Lowman are thoughtfully placed throughout the story in a manner that neatly flows. The Leaf Detective urges readers to understand that “a tree is not just a tree” but rather “a shelter for animals and people, / a recycler and provider of water, / a creator of food and oxygen, / an inventor of medicine/ a soldier against climate change.”

Jana Christy’s digital drawings contain stunning detail and show an accurate scale of one small person in comparison to the vastness of the rainforest. Her mesmerizing wildlife creatures and immersive watercolor blues and greens transport readers right into the rainforest with “Canopy Meg.” The lush greens of the rainforests contrast strikingly with the spread on deforestation, in which fallen trees lay scattered on the bare, brown ground. Readers will also be interested to see the innovations that have made the trees more accessible to people. One can read the book over and over and notice new details every time. It is a book to treasure, to study, to read and re-read again. 

Come unearth the secrets of the rainforest with Margaret Lowman in this book that’s budding with knowledge, empathy, and magic, and is a tale of how one person can make a difference. The intriguing facts, poignant quotes from Dr. Lowman herself, and beautiful poetic writing will leave readers of this book inspired with wonder and with a hunger for advocacy. The Leaf Detective: How Margaret Lowman Uncovered the Secrets of the Rainforest is an urgent must-read for all ages.

A portion of Heather Lang’s royalties for this book go to TREE Foundation—an organization that funds field trips for children to get into nature, canopy projects, and science book distribution for children with limited access to STEAM, girls especially. 

Ages 6 – 10

Calkins Creek, 2021 | ISBN 978-1684371778

Discover more about Heather Lang and her books on her website.

To learn more about Jana Christy, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Meet Heather Lang

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Heather Lang loves to write about real women who overcame extraordinary obstacles and never gave up on their dreams. Her research has taken her to the skies, the treetops of the Amazon, and the depths of the ocean. Her award-winning picture book biographies include, QUEEN OF THE TRACK: Alice Coachman, Olympic High-Jump Champion, THE ORIGINAL COWGIRL: The Wild Adventures of Lucille Mulhall, FEARLESS FLYER: Ruth Law and Her Flying Machine, SWIMMING WITH SHARKS: The Daring Discoveries of Eugenie Clark, and ANYBODY’S GAME: Kathryn Johnston, The First Girl to Play Little League Baseball. When she is not writing, she enjoys going on adventures with her husband and four children. Visit Heather at www.heatherlangbooks.com.

Today I am thrilled to be interviewing author Heather Lang about her new biographical picture book The Leaf Detective: How Margaret Lowman Uncovered the Secrets of the Rainforest. Heather provides some thoughtful notes for shy readers, riveting stories from the rainforest and insight into the importance of exploring and caring for nature.

Can you tell us a little bit about what made you decide to write The Leaf Detective?  

We’ve caused enormous harm to our planet over the last few centuries, and I’m especially concerned about our rainforests. I knew I wanted to write a biography that was also a science book about the rainforest. When I read about Meg’s pioneering work and deep passion for trees, I was hooked! I couldn’t wait to find out how this quiet, nature-loving child, who didn’t know women could be scientists, became a world-class scientist and conservationist.

In the story you talk about how Meg was shy to make playmates with other kids. Were you also a shy kid growing up? Do you have any advice for readers who may relate to this aspect of Meg’s childhood? 

Like Meg, I was very shy as a child and remember wishing I were more outgoing. But as I grew older, I began to recognize the many advantages to being shy! My shy nature led me to sit back and observe. And that led to deeper thinking and understanding, a strong imagination, and creativity. Shy people often think more before they speak. They make their words count, which coincidentally is an important part of writing picture books. This also makes shy people good listeners and thoughtful friends. 

I’m still shy in many ways, and my recommendation to readers who might identify with this is to embrace your shyness! At the same time, don’t let it stop you from doing things you want to do. Meg Lowman told me she used to get so nervous before presenting in graduate school that she’d get physically sick. But with practice, practice, practice, she’s become a captivating presenter and educator. If you watch a few of her FUN FACTS FROM THE FIELD videos on my website, you’ll see what I mean! 

How would you describe your connection to nature? Would you consider yourself a “detective” in any ways? 

I’m constantly in awe of nature and its countless gifts and surprises. Nothing sparks my curiosity more than our natural world, and my curiosity is probably my most important tool as a writer. Being open-minded and asking questions not only generates ideas, but also leads me to think more deeply about a topic and examine it closely from lots of different angles. And of course that generates more detective work and more learning about my topic and myself. Being a detective is one of my favorite parts of writing books.

Do you have a favorite rainforest tree or creature? If so, tell me about it a bit!

When I arrived in the Amazon rainforest, I couldn’t wait to see a sloth! But during my time there I became fascinated with ants. They are everywhere in the rainforest, even in the canopy. I think it’s amazing how such tiny creatures can be so hardworking and organized. Their teamwork is unbelievable. And they are invaluable to the health of our rainforests. Among other things, they’re in charge of waste management on the rainforest floor, and they disperse seeds and aerate the soil!

What was the most rewarding part of writing The Leaf Detective?

This writing project was filled with rewards every step of the way! I learned so much about our rainforests and trees and gained a true understanding of how interconnected we all are—plants, animals, and humans. Getting to really know Meg Lowman and learning from her firsthand was thrilling and strengthened my writing in many important ways. It was also really rewarding to stretch myself as a writer and find a way to effectively write a book that seemed ambitious at first—a biography and conservation book that wove in quotes and science facts. 

Are there any stories from your trip to meet Meg that you did not get the chance to include in your author’s note that you’d like to share?

While I was on my Amazon adventure with Meg, I had many exciting moments. I loved learning from the Indigenous people how to use a blow gun, make clay, and braid palm leaves to make thatched roofs. The local shaman taught me how he uses different plants in the rainforest to treat and prevent injuries and illnesses—from bronchitis to poisonous snake bites. He also helped me confront my fear of snakes by bringing one over for me to touch. I even let it gently coil around my neck! But my favorite moments were exploring with Meg, especially at night and early in the morning when there’s so much activity in the rainforest.

What are you working on next?

I’m having a blast working on a new informational picture book series about extraordinary animals for Candlewick Press with my co-author/illustrator and close friend Jamie Harper. The first book, Supermoms!, features cool nonfiction facts about 18 amazing animal moms in a graphic format with humorous callouts. 

I’m also working on a collective biography for readers in grades 3 – 7. More to come on that soon!

Thanks so much for chatting with me Heather! I had a lovely time hearing about your inspiration, stories, writing process and tips for shy readers. Looking forward to learning and reading more from you in the months and years to come.

World Wildlife Day Activity

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You can create your own rainforest with this coloring page. Use the blank space around the picture to label the layers as shown on the last page of The Leaf Detective!

Rainforest Coloring Page

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Three different beautiful World Wildlife Day 2021 posters in six languages are available for download here.

You can find The Leaf Detective at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

February 18 – It’s Black History Month

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About the Holiday

Black History Month was instituted by Dr. Carter G. Woodson in 1926 to celebrate the achievements and contributions of African Americans in United States History. The holiday began as a week-long observance taking place during the second week of February to commemorate the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. In 1976 President Gerald Ford officially established Black History Month. The holiday is now celebrated across the country with special events in schools, churches, and community centers. The theme for 2021 is “Black Family: Representation, Identity and Diversity.” Online events will explore the African diaspora and the spread of Black families across the United States through multiple perspectives. For more information about Black History Month, visit the ASALH website and africanamericanhistorymonth.gov.

The Teachers March! How Selma’s Teachers Changed History

Written by Sandra Neil Wallace and Rich Wallace | Illustrated by Charly Palmer

 

Reverend F. D. Reese taught science at R. B. Hudson High School, but his favorite subject was freedom…. To be treated as less than equal, that just wasn’t right.” Reverend Reese led marches to register Black voters. The police called them “troublemakers” and used billy clubs to stop them from voting. If the people did make it inside the courthouse to register, they faced a test they had to pass—a test with impossible questions, such as “How many drops of water are in the Alabama River?” Reverend Reese decided he needed a “‘triumphant idea’” to change things.

It came to him that the teachers—leaders and respected in the community—should march for freedom. But a judge had made it illegal to march and even talk about voting rights. Most people were too afraid to march, so Reverend Reese looked for a “‘glorious opportunity’” to come his way. It came when he watched Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speak on television and wrote him a letter inviting him to come to Selma to “help convince the teachers to march.”

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Image copyright Charly Palmer, 2020, text copyright Sandra Neil Wallace and Rich Wallace, 2020. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

Dr. King agreed and spoke to a crowd of 700 people at Brown Chapel. He told the group that everyone should march and “go to jail by the thousands to defend the right to vote.” Two of the people listening to Dr. King were fifteen-year-old Joyce Parrish and her mother, “Two Sweet.” When Reverend Reese asked for teachers to sign up to march, he said that if both parents in a family were teachers, only one should march so that the other could take care of the children if the first went to jail. For Two Sweet it was a difficult decision. She was a teacher and also a single parent. More than 100 teacher signed up, including “Two Sweet.”

On January 22, the day of the march, Two Sweet packed a toothbrush and a sandwich—things she’d need in jail—and hugged Joyce goodbye. That afternoon as Reverend Reese waited alone outside the school alone, he wondered if the teachers would show up. Then one-by-one the teachers emerged from the building, holding their toothbrushes aloft. Reverend Reese called Coach Huggins to the front of the line and they started walking to the courthouse. People gathered along the street to watch, and Joyce paced nervously, wondering what would happen to her mother.

As the teachers crossed into the white section of town, the dirt roads became paved and people swarmed from shops to glare at the marchers, hoping to intimidate them. When they reached the courthouse, the sheriff and his deputies stood atop the steps. Reverend Reese announced that they were there to register to vote, but the sheriff said, “‘You can’t make a plaything out of the corridors of this courthouse.’” He gave the teachers one minute to disperse or face arrest. The teachers stayed put.

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Image copyright Charly Palmer, 2020, text copyright Sandra Neil Wallace and Rich Wallace, 2020. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

When the time was up, the police grabbed their billy clubs. They pushed Coach Huggins and Reverend Reese, causing the teachers to fall backward. When they got up, the police pushed them harder. Then the school superintendent came out of the courthouse. He had the power to fire every teacher. But Reverend Reese and the teachers stood firm for the right the Constitution guaranteed. The superintendent looked out over the crowd. He knew that if he fired them all, there would be no one to teach at the schools and he would lose his job.

The teachers had won the day. They went back to Brown Chapel, where young people were singing freedom songs. The kids were proud of their teachers, and Joyce hugged her mother. That night, Dr. King preached at Brown Chapel. “He praised Reverend Reese and the teachers for making civil rights history” by being the first leaders to risk their jobs by marching. Now other shop keepers and business people were emboldened to march for the right to vote. Kids and young people marched too. These Selma marchers were arrested by the thousands. Across America people took notice. Why, they wondered, were “respectable citizens in suits and dresses, and school kids carrying books” put in jail.

The president of the United States also noticed. In the summer of 1965, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act, ensuring that no test was required to register to vote. In August, Reverend Reese, Two Sweet, and other teachers walked to the federal building and registered to vote. With their first ballot, they voted the sheriff out of office.

Following the text are an extensive Author’s Note about the Teachers’ March and its leaders, with photographs as well as an Illustrator’s Note explains how the illustrations were created. A Timeline follows the 1965 Voting Rights Movement in Selma, Alabama from 1936 to 2018. A photograph of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Coretta Scott King, and Reverend Reese leading the 1965 voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery is also included. A selected bibliography of resources used in writing the book, as well as websites where readers can learn more, close out the excellent backmatter.

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Image copyright Charly Palmer, 2020, text copyright Sandra Neil Wallace and Rich Wallace, 2020. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

Compelling and comprehensive, Sandra Neil Wallace and Rich Wallace’s story about the teachers march of 1964 is exhilarating reading. Powerful for its personal focus on Reverend Reese, Joyce, and Two Sweet and their fears, doubts, and courage, the story includes vital details that reveal inequalities of the time beyond the issue of voting rights and which will resonate with children aware of continuing inequalities, protests, gerrymandering, and other current issues in the news. Sandra and Rich Wallace build suspense through evocative descriptions to draw children in and immerse them in a reading experience that will have emotional impact.

Charly Palmer’s acrylic on board illustrations capture the motion and emotion of the teachers’ march and the events leading up to that day. All the more moving for their abstract quality, the images portray telling glances (on the first page a student looks out at the reader as Reverend Reese lectures about equal rights at the chalkboard); seminal moments, such as when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. strides into Brown Chapel and Coach Huggins signs his name, promising to march; and the moments when the sheriff and his deputies confront the teachers with billy clubs raised. The reunion between a worried Joyce and her mother is poignant, and the final illustration of Reverend Reese putting his ballot into the box, reminds all readers of the successes of the past, but also that vigilance and action continues to be needed.

Superb for social studies, American history, homeschooling, and civics lessons, The Teachers March! How Selma’s Teachers Changed History  is highly recommended for home bookshelves and a must for school and public library collections.

Ages 7– 10 and up

Calkins Creek, 2020 | ISBN 978-1629794525

Discover more about Sandra Neil Wallace, and her books on her website. You can also find a downloadable Educator’s Guide for The Teachers March! and other books by Sandra.

You can learn more about Rich Wallace and his books on his website.

To learn more about Charly Palmer and view a portfolio of his art, visit his website.

Watch the trailer for The Teachers March!

 

Black History Month Activity

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Role Model Coloring Pages

 

Whether you’re interested in law and politics, science, sports, or the arts, you can find a role model in the people in the printable coloring pages below. 

Dr. Mae Jemison | Jackie Robinson | Maya Angelou  | Louis Armstrong | Garrett Morgan | Rosa Parks

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You can find The Teachers March! at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

December 10 – National Dewey Decimal System Day

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About the Holiday

Today, library lovers and readers of all kinds honor Melvil Dewey who was born on this date in 1851 and at the age of twenty-one revolutionized the way libraries organized their collections with an elegant numerical system that gave each book their own place on the shelf. Dewey went on to make more changes within libraries from whom they served to who ran them even to the amount of noise that was allowed inside—Shhh! To celebrate today, show your local librarians and library staff how much you appreciate them by sending them a thank you email or leaving an encouraging comment on their social media. To learn more about Melvil Dewey, kids will also want to check out today’s book.

The Efficient, Inventive (Often Annoying) Melvil Dewey

Written by Alexis O’Neill | Illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham

 

Melvil Dewey is one organized kid! He spends his free time labeling his mother’s pantry and then the basement. He records all of his pertinent personal information and balances his finances in a ledger. And when he has enough money he heads to the bookstore—on foot—ten miles away. “Melvil loves books.” What do you imagine he buys there? If you guessed Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language—unabridged version—you’re right!

At night before going to sleep, Melvil wonders what he’ll do with his life. He wants to do something valuable, something meaningful. But what? A fire at Hungerford Collegiate Institute in Adams, New York, where Melvil goes to school, gives him a new perspective. While rescuing books, smoke inhalation causes damage to his lungs. The doctors say he won’t live a year, but he proves them wrong. Now, however, he wants to word “efficiently. He wants to make the biggest difference in the world in the least amount of time.”

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Image copyright Edwin Fotheringham, 2020, text copyright Alexis O’Neill, 2020. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

Noticing the large number of immigrants entering the country, Melvil decides he want to help them learn English and get an education as quickly as possible. Books would do that. After all, Melvil believes that steam power and electricity pale in importance to reading. First, though, Melvil needs to go to college. He chooses Amherst College and spends copious amounts of time at the library. “He even gets a job there.” But he notices that the library is woefully underused. Melvil can understand it. Instead of grouped by subject, the books—all 30,000 of them—are organized by shelf number, which requires frequent rearranging as new books are added.

Melvil loved libraries, but only rich institutions and wealthy people could afford to have them. Melvile believes in free public libraries for everyone. But as Melvil studies the problems of libraries, he discovers that no two libraries organize their books the same way. And some don’t even seem to bother with orgnainzation—they just stack the “books from floor to ceiling.” In addition to books and libraries, Melvil loves decimals. He ponders and muses, and then, suddenly, he has it! “He gets the idea of using numbers and decimals to organize library books.”

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Image copyright Edwin Fotheringham, 2020, text copyright Alexis O’Neill, 2020. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

After extensive research, “Melvil assigns numbers to ten broad classes of knowledge. He divides these into divisions and the divisions into sections and subclasses. When displayed on the spine of the books and the books neatly tucked away on shelves, finding what you want becomes “totally efficient!” The trustees at Columbia College in New York invite Melvil to become their head librarian. Once installed, Melvil begins to think bigger. He wants to open a whole school dedicated to training librarians, and… he thinks women would be perfect for this profession. Their qualifications in his eyes? “…clear heads, strong hands, and great hearts. (Also, they will work for less money than men.)” But Columbia College’s trustees are aghast. Women are not welcome on their campus. Melvil is not to be dissuaded.

He secretly opens his school in a storeroom across the street from Columbia with twenty students, seventeen of which are women. He rushes through his lessons for best efficiency, then back at his job tinkers with the rules of the library. He instates a strict quiet policy—even going to far as to put rubber tips on chair and table legs and rubber wheels on book carts. Librarians and staff are given slippers to wear. And, of course, there is NO talking.

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Image copyright Edwin Fotheringham, 2020, text copyright Alexis O’Neill, 2020. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

Melvil’s flood of ideas, constant changes, and insistent personality upsets people, but he barrels on. He becomes the State Librarian for New York, “organizes the New York State Library Association… provides books for the blind…and launches a traveling library system.” He even helps establish the Children’s Library Association, among other work. People were still divided in their opinions of Melvil, but one thing they all could agree on was that he fulfilled the wishes he had as a boy to “make a difference in the world.”

Extensive back matter includes an Author’s Note with an honest assessment of his successes and faults that in itself can prompt discussions of the legacy people leave behind, a timeline of his life, a discussion on other reforms he championed, a quick overview of how Dewey’s classification system works, and a list of selected sources.

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Image copyright Edwin Fotheringham, 2020, text copyright Alexis O’Neill, 2020. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

No fusty, dusty story of the Dewey Decimal System this! Alexis O’Neill’s present-tense storytelling sweeps readers up in a whirlwind of the ideas, dreams, quirks, and persuasive, even steamrolling personality of Melvil Dewey. (And if you wonder about that unusual spelling, the answer is here too.)  Her wry delivery masterfully straddles the divide between the numerous contributions he made to the library system and the anger his convictions and obsessions often caused. She invites kids into Dewey’s mind and actions as ideas spark, flame, and fuel innovation. The details O’Neill includes about the times, the pre-Dewey system of library organization, and Dewey’s hand in expanding the reach of libraries as well as his often abrasive personality gives adults and children plenty to unpack, discuss, and research.

Edwin Fotheringham matches O’Neill’s robust storytelling with action-packed illustrations that seem to sprint across the pages as quickly as notions raced through Melvil Dewey’s mind. Striking images—such as a speeding train hurtling into a tunnel made from an overturned book and later smashing through a mountain of books; the moment when Dewey is struck with the decimal-system answer to his problem; and a class lecture given at 180 words per minute—reveal the whirlwind pace of Dewey’s life. A two-page spread in which two profiles of Dewey—one smiling and one scowling—meet in the middle demonstrate the dual nature of this complex man and the contrasting reactions to his beliefs. Fotheringham brings the shotgun quality of Dewey’s thoughts to life with bold, emphatic typography that highlights concepts important to him while hinting at the conviction he had in his own ideas and solutions. 

The Efficient, Inventive (Often Annoying) Melvil Dewey is a compelling biography which can be read to inform children of all ages about a man who wished to make an impact on the world and succeeded in ways that nearly all people recognize. The book can also be used to stimulate important discussions about difficult and current issues with older children when used with the back matter and further research. The book will be fascinating and eye-opening for library lovers unfamiliar with the early history of libraries. It well deserves a place on school and public library shelves.

Ages 7 – 10 and up

Calkins Creek, 2020 | ISBN 978-1684371983

Discover more about Alexis O’Neill and her books on her website.

To learn more about Edwin Fotheringham, his books, and his art, visit his website.

National Dewey Decimal System Day Activity

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Book Love! Word Search

 

There are all kinds of books for every reader. Find your favorite along with twenty favorite genres in this printable puzzle.

Book Love! Word Search Puzzle | Book Love! Word Search Solution

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You can find he Efficient, Inventive (Often Annoying) Melvil Dewey at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

May 25 – Memorial Day

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About the Holiday

Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day to commemorate the laying of wreaths and flowers on soldiers’ gravesites, was first celebrated on May 30, 1868. In 1971 Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act and established the last Monday in May as Memorial Day. The day is honored with parades and special commemorative events. At Arlington National Cemetery in Washington DC, the President or Vice President lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

The Poppy Lady: Moina Belle Michael and Her Tribute to Veterans

Written by Barbara Elizabeth Walsh | Illustrated by Layne Johnson

 

In April of 1917 President Woodrow Wilson declared that America was going to war in Europe. As a teacher and foster mother to girls at the University of Georgia’s Normal School, Moina Belle Michael wanted to do something to honor the boys going off to fight—boys who were the brothers, sweethearts, even fathers of her students. Moina did what the other women were doing to help—knitting socks and sweaters and rolling bandages—but she wanted to do more. She went to the soldiers’ camps nearby to deliver books, magazines, and candy, and she waved goodbye to them at the train station. But she still wanted to do more.

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Image copyright Layne Johnson, 2012, text copyright Barbara Elizabeth Walsh, 2012. Courtesy of Boyds Mills Press.

Moina wanted to go overseas to help the young men with the Y.M.C.A, but after she finished her training at New York’s Columbia University, she was told she was too old to go. She then set up a desk in the basement of Hamilton Hall on the Columbia University campus where she assisted soldiers before they deployed, but the room was dark and dreary. Moina wanted them to have a more cheerful meeting place.

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Image copyright Layne Johnson, 2012, text copyright Barbara Elizabeth Walsh, 2012. Courtesy of Boyds Mills Press.

Moina brightened the room with fresh flowers she bought with her small salary. More soldiers came to spend time with her, to share their pictures, letters, and hometown news. But Moina wanted to do even more. One day she rediscovered a poem she had read many times. Titled We Shall Not Sleep, it was written by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae and was a tribute to soldiers who had died on the battlefields of Flanders. The poem was illustrated with a field of nameless crosses and bright red poppies. The last verse of the poem urged others to take up the torch of the noble fight. Suddenly, Moina knew what she had to do.

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Image copyright Layne Johnson, 2012, text copyright Barbara Elizabeth Walsh, 2012. Courtesy of Boyds Mills Press.

She wrote a poem of her own, giving poppies a special meaning: “And now the Torch and Poppy red / We wear in honor of our dead. / Fear not that ye have died for naught; / We’ll teach the lesson that ye wrought / In Flanders Field.” Moina shared her poem with soldiers at the Y. Many wanted to wear red poppies on their uniforms to honor their fallen friends. With a ten dollar donation, Moina went shopping to find artificial red poppies that she and the soldiers could wear.

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Image copyright Layne Johnson, 2012, text copyright Barbara Elizabeth Walsh, 2012. Courtesy of Boyds Mills Press.

But finding these flowers was difficult. She finally found one large poppy and 24 smaller ones. She pinned the large one to her coat and with the others wrapped, hurried back to the Y. There she gave the small flowers to some of the men and women leaving for the war in France. But there were so few flowers to share. Moina wanted every American to wear a poppy to remember the soldiers. Always.

The epilogue goes on to reveal that two days after Moina bought those 24 poppies, World War I ended.  While everyone was happy to see the soldiers coming home, people wanted to move on, to forget the horrors of the war. But for veterans it wasn’t easy. Jobs were scarce, some veterans were disabled or suffered lingering effects of war.

Moina wanted to help. She wondered if the poppy could benefit returning veterans. After much work she convinced local and international veterans’ groups to adopt the poppy as their memorial flower. People began donating to veterans’ causes, and in return they received a red poppy. Millions of dollars were raised to help the soldiers. Even today, Moina’s red poppies benefit veterans and remind us of their sacrifices and service.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-poppy-lady-moina

Image copyright Layne Johnson, 2012, text copyright Barbara Elizabeth Walsh, 2012. Courtesy of Boyds Mills Press.

Through her detailed telling of how Moina Belle Michael discovered her life’s work, Barbara Elizabeth Walsh provides a realistic view of the World War I era and the desire of most citizens to do something to help the soldiers fighting the war. The sense of suspense, camaraderie, fear, and disappointment that fueled Moina Michael’s heart and actions are beautifully and straightforwardly presented and give children true knowledge of this time period.

Accompanying the text to maximum effect are Layne Johnson’s inspiring, realistic paintings of the scars of war on both the landscape and the human heart. In close-up portraits, Johnson captures the emotions of the women learning that their brothers, boyfriends, and fathers will be joining the war effort as well as scenes of soldiers training, deploying, and returning to tell their stories. Turning the pages is like stepping onto the university campus, visiting the basement gathering space, and walking the city streets. Especially evocative are the two battle scenes and the view of the Flanders Fields with their endless carpet of poppies and straight rows of white cross markers.

For anyone wanting to teach or learn about the origins and meaning of Memorial Day and the significance of the red poppy, The Poppy Lady: Moina Belle Michael and Her Tribute to Veterans is a must read.

Ages 7 – 12 and up

Calkins Creek, Boyds Mills Press, 2012 | ISBN 978-1590787540

Discover more about Barbara Elizabeth Walsh and her books on her website.

To learn more about Layne Johnson and his art, visit his website.

Memorial Day Activity

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Memorial Day Word Scramble

 

Unscramble the words associated with today’s holiday and discover a secret message! Print your Memorial Day Word Scramble here!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-poppy-lady

You can find The Poppy Lady at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop| IndieBound

Picture Book Review