October 17 – National Black Poetry Day

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About the Holiday

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

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

A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks

Written by Alice Faye Duncan | Illustrated by Xia Gordon

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ages 4 and up

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

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

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

National Black Poetry Activity

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

 

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

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

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You can find A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from 

Bookshop | Indiebound

 

October 14 – National Fossil Day

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About the Holiday

Welcome to the 11th anniversary of National Fossil Day! Today’s holiday puts a spotlight on paleontology and its value in the scientific community and for education. The day raises awareness of the importance of preserving fossils for future generations. To celebrate today and Earth Science Week all this week, learn more about the prehistory of your area, or read up on fossils and prehistoric creatures. Visit the National Park Service Website to learn more about today’s holiday and find many resources for classrooms, homeschooling, and family fun. There you’ll find to download a Junior Paleontology Activity Book that can help kids explore the ways paleontologists work and learn about Earth’s history, ancient plants and animals as well as changes to past climate and environments. You’ll also find 20 ideas for digging into paleontology with links to museums and national parks, a site where you can view fossils in 3D, coloring pages, and even learn your state’s fossil.

Thanks to Abrams Books for Young Readers for sending me a copy of When Sue Found Sue for review consideration. All opinions about the book are my own.

When Sue Found Sue: Sue Hendrickson Discovers Her T. Rex

Written by Toni Buzzeo | Illustrated by Diana Sudyka

 

Sue Hendrickson was an expert at finding things. The lure of buried or lost treasures kept her busy in her hometown of Munster, Indiana. “Born shy and incredibly smart,” Sue devoured books, discovering everything she could about the things that interested her. One of her favorite places was the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. There, she reveled in the treasures others had found and dreamed of the day when she could “search the wide world for hidden treasure on her own.”

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Image copyright Diana Sudyka, 2019, text copyright Toni Buzzeo, 2019. Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

When she was seventeen, Sue began her life of treasure hunting, joining teams that searched for sunken boats, airplanes, and even cars. She went to Dominican amber mines looking for prehistoric butterflies and deserts of Peru searching for whale fossils. Finally, she headed to South Dakota to dig for dinosaurs.

She spent four summers unearthing duck-billed dinosaurs, using more and more delicate tools to expose the bones. But near the end of her fourth summer, “Sue Hendrickson felt pulled to a sandstone cliff far off in the distance.” When she had the opportunity, she took her golden retriever and hiked the seven miles to the rock.

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Image copyright Diana Sudyka, 2019, text copyright Toni Buzzeo, 2019. Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

Walking around the perimeter, she noticed what looked like bones lying on the ground. When she looked up, she was astonished to see “three enormous backbones protruding from the cliff.” The size told her they must be from a Tyrannosaurus rex. Sue hurried back to her campsite and told her team the exciting news. They “immediately named the dinosaur Sue the T. rex.”

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Image copyright Diana Sudyka, 2019, text copyright Toni Buzzeo, 2019. Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

It took five full days for the team to expose the skeleton. Then they mapped the location of each bone, photographing and drawing them. At last they began removing them, and after three weeks the bones were trucked to the Black Hills Institute. Eventually, Sue the T. rex was moved to the Field Museum in Chicago. If you visit the museum today, you will see Sue towering over you. “She is the world’s largest, most complete, best-preserved Tyrannosaurus rex fossil discovered so far”—discovered by a woman who was born to find things.

An Author’s Note about Sue Hendrickson and the battle over the T. rex skeleton as well as resources for further study and a photograph of Sue the T. rex follow the text.

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Image copyright Diana Sudyka, 2019, text copyright Toni Buzzeo, 2019. Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

Toni Buzzeo’s inspiring story of how Sue Hendrickson discovered the most complete and best-preserved T. rex fossil delves into more than the finding and excavating of the skeleton. Buzzeo also emphasizes Hendrickson’s personality and long-held love of treasure hunting, qualities that informed and aided her career choice. Readers who also harbor dreams outside the mainstream and have a steady focus will find much to admire in Buzzeo’s storytelling and Sue’s example. Kids will be awed by Sue’s early treasure-hunting exploits and fascinated by the painstaking process of unearthing fossils. When Sue follows her intuition to the cliff—without explanation or facts—readers will be reminded that they can rely on their own curiosity, experience, and ideas to carry them forward. With nods toward the value of teamwork and sprinkled with Sue’s own words about her moment of discovery, the story exposes the bones of a life well-lived and points children in the right direction.

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Diana Sudyka opens the story of Sue Hendrickson with a lovely collage of the treasures she found and studied as a child and that led to her life-long love of discovery. As Sue grows, she visits the Field Museum, with its exhibits of a Triceratops and Hadrosaurus. Fast-forward several years and she’s swimming in a sea dotted with colorful coral toward an old sunken ship. But the centerpiece of the story takes place in the South Dakota hills, the layers of rock painted in stripes of earthy brown, rust, rose, and ivory. As the team works late nights to excavate the bones, a T. rex constellation appears above the team in the starry sky, urging them on. A two-page spread of how Sue the T. rex fossil appeared in its entirety in the ground is sure to elicit plenty of “Wows!,” and a rendition of Sue on exhibit in the Field Museum will no doubt inspire some travel wishes.

A book about a modern-day scientist that will engage and inspire children with scientific aspirations of their own as well as a celebration of individuality and big dreams and a must for dinosaur lovers, When Sue Found Sue would be a T. riffic addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2019 | ISBN 978-1419731631

Discover more about Toni Buzzeo and her books on her website.

To learn more about Diana Sudyka, her books, and her art, visit her website.

National Dinosaur Day Activity

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Hatch Your Own Dinosaur Eggs

 

Think there are no more dinosaur eggs to be found? Think again! You can make your own with this easy craft that will have you hatching some T.-rex-size fun! All you need are a few simple ingredients!

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Supplies

  • Old clothes or apron
  • Large box of baking soda (makes between 6 and 8 eggs)
  • Food coloring
  • Water
  • Plastic dinosaur toys
  • Bowl
  • Fork
  • Spoon
  • Wax paper
  • Baking sheet
  • Foil
  • Vinegar
  • Spray bottle (optional)
  • Plastic or metal spoon, stick, popsicle stick, or other implement to chisel with
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Spray the egg with vinegar to hatch your dinosaur

Directions

  1. Wear old clothes or an apron
  2. Cover work surface with wax paper, parchment paper, newspaper, or other protection. Food coloring can stain some surfaces
  3. Pour baking soda into the bowl
  4. Add drops of food coloring in whatever color you’d like your eggs to be. The eggs will darken when baked.
  5. Mix in the food coloring with the fork. You may want to use your hands, too
  6. When the baking soda is the color you want it, begin adding water a little at a time
  7. Add water until the baking soda holds together when you squeeze it in your hand
  8. When the baking soda is the right consistency, spoon some out into your hand or onto wax paper
  9. Push one plastic dinosaur into the middle
  10. Cover the dinosaur with more of the baking soda mixture
  11. Carefully form it into an egg shape
  12. Repeat with other dinosaurs
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Chisel the egg open to hatch your dinosaur

To Bake the Eggs

  1. Set the oven or toaster oven to 200 to 225 degrees
  2. Set the eggs on a baking sheet lined with foil
  3. Bake the eggs for 15 minutes, check
  4. Turn the eggs over and bake for 10 to 15 more minutes
  5. Remove from oven and let cool

To Hatch the Eggs

  1. Eggs can be hatched by chiseling them with a spoon, stick, or other implement
  2. Eggs can also be hatched by spraying or sprinkling them with vinegar

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You can find When Sue Found Sue: Sue Hendrickson Discovers Her T. Rex at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Revie

October 1 – International Music Day and Interview with Author Gary Golio

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About the Holiday

International Music Day was established in 1975 by Lord Yehudi Menuhin, an American-born violinist and conductor  – widely considered to be one of the great violinists of the 20th century – to promote the art of music across all segments of society and to apply the UNESCO ideals of peace and friendship among all people, with an exchange of experiences and mutual appreciation of all cultures and their aesthetic values. To celebrate today’s holiday, listen to your favorite music and take some time to discover a new style – it might just become a favorite too!

Dark Was the Night: Blind Willie Johnson’s Journey to the Stars

Written by Gary Golio | Illustrated by E.B. Lewis

 

As readers open the cover to Dark Was the Night, they discover a date: 1977. In this year Voyager I was shot into space carrying “a precious Golden Record, a message to the Universe from Planet Earth.” The record contained pictures of the people and things that make up our life, sounds we hear every day, music from Navajo chants and West African drumming to Beethoven and Chuck Berry. There was also one “ghostly song, about loneliness and the night….a tune of light and hope” from a blind man named Willie Johnson.

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Image copyright E.B. Lewis, 2020, text copyright Gary Golio, 2020. Courtesy of Nancy Paulsen Books.

Who was Willie Johnson? In 1897, he was a newborn baby in a small Texas town wrapped in his mother’s love. narrator picks up the thread of Willie’s story when he’s become a small boy who “loved to sing” and play the cigar box guitar his father made him. But that joy was interrupted when “your mama died, and some light went out of your life.” Then at seven or eight, Willie became blind, “and that’s when things got darker still.” But Willie rose above these hurdles. His blindness didn’t keep him “from singing in church, or on street corners.” Using his voice to uplift people brought him “back in the light.”

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Image copyright E.B. Lewis, 2020, text copyright Gary Golio, 2020. Courtesy of Nancy Paulsen Books.

He sang blues and learned how to play a slide by running the edge of a pocketknife along the steel strings of his guitar. “This made a sound like someone laughing or crying, as if the guitar had a voice of its own.” He traveled from town to town in Texas, wherever farmers came to socialize and shop, setting up on street corners and collecting the coins people tossed into his tin cup. Little by little, people grew to know his name. “Then a man from a music company heard you sing. You were given the chance to make a record….”

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Image copyright E.B. Lewis, 2020, text copyright Gary Golio, 2020. Courtesy of Nancy Paulsen Books.

On that record listeners heard “the sound of one human being reaching out to all the others, telling them not to be afraid of the dark.” That first record was a hit, lauded for its unique sound. One song in particular, “Dark Was the Night,” “touched people deep in their souls” and made Willie “a shining star.” The light Willie brought to people has never dimmed; in fact it continues to shine through the darkness on Earth and through Space.

Back matter includes a discussion on what is known about Blind Willie Johnson and what still remains a mystery as well more information about Voyager I and why Johnson’s song Dark Was the Night was chosen for inclusion on the Golden Record. A link to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory website, where readers can access Voyager I—The Golden Record is also included.

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Image copyright E.B. Lewis, 2020, text copyright Gary Golio, 2020. Courtesy of Nancy Paulsen Books.

Gary Golio’s ethereal tale of the life of Blind Willie Johnson and his song, which has touched and continues to move so many people, is a stirring tribute to a unique artist and the power of music to change lives. Golio’s use of the second person creates a poignant personal bond between the story and reader, which allows children to put themselves in Willie’s shoes and believe that they, too, can inspire others with their talent and life. Golio’s lyrical storytelling flows with the cadence of the blues, and his evocative vocabulary brings Willie Johnson’s voice and times fully to life for young readers.

E.B. Lewis transports readers to early 1900s Texas in his stunning watercolor paintings rendered in soft washes of grays, blues, and greens punctuated with yellows that reflect the hope and light that spurred Willie on and flowed from his music. As his mother holds him in her arms as a baby, the landscape outside the window blazes with gold that reflects on Willie’s and his mother’s face. As children learn about Willie’s blindness, the page turns dark, except for a swatch of light across Willie’s eyes, representational, perhaps, of his inner sight that sustained him.

Among the realistic depictions of his farm home, the outskirts of a Texas town seen from a train, and a bustling city, where Johnson plays on a street corner to an appreciative audience, his tin cup hanging from a tuner on his guitar, are transcendent images of Willie performing, his face always lifted to the light. As people gather around a radio listening to Blind Willie Johnson, light once again streams into the shop, and as Golio describes how “Dark Was the Night” becomes a hit, Willie is bathed in a golden glow, his face euphoric with the joy of singing.

At once sensitive, rousing, and inspirational, Dark Was the Night is a beautiful book about one man’s talent and dream that will resonate with all readers. The book is highly recommended for home libraries and is a must for school and public library collections.

Ages 5 – 8

Nancy Paulsen Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-1524738884

Discover more about Gary Golio and his books on his website.

To learn more about E.B. Lewis, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Listen to Blind Willie Johnson’s “Dark Was the Night.”

Meet Gary Golio

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Gary Golio is the author of the New York Times bestseller JIMI: Sounds Like a Rainbow – A Story of the Young Jimi Hendrixwinner of a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award; Bird & Diz and Strange Fruit – Billie Holiday and the Power of a Protest Song, both ALA Notables; and other books about legendary artists. A writer and musician, Golio has been featured on NPR’s “Weekend Edition”, CBS-TV’s “Sunday Morning News,” and on radio stations nationwide. He lives in the Hudson Valley with his wife, children’s book author Susanna Reich.

Today, I’m thrilled to talk with the multi-talented Gary Golio about Dark Was the Night, his love for writing and art, his father’s influence in his life, and the power of music.

Welcome, Gary! To start off, can you tell readers about your journey with this Dark Was the Night from idea to publication?

A few years back I was listening to some early blues songs, and came upon Willie Johnson’s “Dark Was the Night.” The song stunned me—and gave me the chills. I knew of Willie’s connection with the Voyager I space probe, but had no idea that blues aficionados and amateur music sleuths were devotedly digging for details of his life through the decades. So much mystery surrounded this man—revered by Jimmy Paige, Eric Clapton, and Lucinda Williams—but what intrigued me the most was that, after dying in poverty and being forgotten, Willie and his work enjoyed a revival of interest during the 1960s Folk Movement. Then, in 1978, “Dark Was the Night” ended up on Voyager‘s Golden Record, hurtling through space. And what that said to me is, you never know how a life, and its effect on others, will play out. It’s a hopeful message that inspired me to write the book.

Your father was an artist and you have worked as a fine-artist since you were a teenager. Can you talk about what inspired you to begin writing picture books? Did you always like to write?

My father is an ongoing inspiration in my life. He was a talented amateur artist who provided me with a real-life example of the Art Spirit by how he thought and created. Most importantly, he was a skilled improviser, and didn’t allow himself to be limited by what he didn’t have, something that’s always meant a lot to me. As for writing picture books, I mostly read comics as a boy, and I think it was that combination of pictures and text that really struck a chord. For me, the picture book is a modern descendant of cave painting, Egyptian wall art (images + hieoroglyphs), and Etruscan/Pompeian murals: using words and pictures to tell a story.

In your Author’s Note you talk about the dearth of knowledge about Willie Johnson’s life. Can you share one thing you learned about Willie that didn’t make it into the book?

Willie has a unique voice that somehow manages to balance the rough and the tender. There’s raw power there, but also delicacy, which is very rare. So Willie was in New Orleans at one point—during a recording session there in 1928—and the story goes that he began singing “If I Had My Way I’d Tear this Building Down” in front of the Customs House. A crowd had gathered, listening to him, and a police officer reportedly became so worried—thinking Willie was instigating a riot—that he considered arresting the man. That’s the power of music—to rouse, protest, and stir up human souls—and it’s easy to see why it threatens authority and institutions.

Dark Was the Night is your eighth biography of a musician or entertainer for children. Could you discuss what drew you to write about these musicians?

While there are no actual musicians in my family-of-origin, my parents, grandmother, and maternal aunt all had strong musical interests. Each exposed me to very specific genres and musical tastes—from Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby to Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole (whom I adore), Willie Nelson, and Elvis Presley. Many of these people were Black, and many were strongly influenced by blues and jazz, and I have vivid memories of watching them on TV with my beloved grandmother, even at five and six years old. That openness to all kinds of music really shaped me, and growing up I looked for clues, in the lives of artists, that would help me find my own path and direction. So my books often focus on the early years of an artist’s/musician’s life, highlighting the roots of their artistry—what inspired and shaped them—to provide young readers with roadmaps, of sorts, to a life in the arts.

In addition to being an artist and writer, you also admit to being “a pretty good musician” – something you share with kids on school visits that sound awesome. Which instruments do you play and how do you incorporate music into your book events?

I play acoustic and electric guitar, mandolin, banjo, and very simple piano, but love above all to improvise. Since my first book on Jimi Hendrix came out, I’ve used the guitar (both electric and acoustic) to demonstrate a wide range of effects and possibilities (Hendrix and Santana), but also to accompany singalongs I did for my Bob Dylan/Woody Guthrie book. At one school visit, the entire fifth grade and I sang “This Land is Your Land” in Spanish, which was both meaningful and fun.

Each of your books has such distinctive illustrations from incredible illustrators. Can you talk a little about E.B. Lewis’s gorgeous illustrations in Dark Was the Night and how he captured your story and Willie’s personality?

E.B. is truly a master of illustration, and specifically of the watercolor medium. His real superpower, however, lies in his ability to convey human feeling, to mysteriously imbue a person or setting with mood and life. That’s remarkable—reminiscent of watching my father draw an American Indian on horseback, straight out of his head—and it’s what lends E.B.’s work both its power and subtlety. Not surprisingly, he has a real love for human beings, a quality fed by his passion for traveling and teaching all over the world. Though we only met at a bookstore panel five years ago, Earl and I have become close friends, and spend a lot of time on the phone collaborating about the joining of text and image. He’s a pleasure to work with, and his art for Dark Was the Night is truly sublime. This book also gave him the chance to bring his use of color (in his own words) to another level, something that will be obvious to anyone who knows his artwork and sees the new images.

From your bio on your website, you sound as if you were a pretty inventive kid – creating all sorts of cool electronic devices. And I love your story about being “shocked” to find books with Van Gogh’s paintings in them as a child and how formative that was. Could you discuss the importance of nonfiction, and biographies in particular, to children?

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My father could fix most anything, and it was that spirit of improvisation and inventiveness that led me to create little electronic gadgets a la James Bond and The Man from Uncle. For a time, I wanted to be an inventor or electrical engineer, but Art won out. As for van Gogh, watching Lust for Life with my dad had a HUGE impact on me, and seeing a book in the middle school library with all those paintings reproduced made it clear to me—even at 10 years old—that there was gold in reading about the lives of artists.

While I love fantasy, myth, and good stories, the thing about nonfiction is that you’re reading about real people—with all their talents and troubles—and so it’s easier to believe that if someone else muddled through to achieve something, you can also. That’s why I don’t shy away from talking about a person’s “faults” and failures (particularly in my books about John Coltrane and Billie Holiday), because I want kids to see that great people and artists are just as human as everyone else.

What’s up next for you?

Author-wise, I’ve a book coming out next year on the revered jazz saxophonist Sonny Rollins (based on many phone conversations we’ve shared), to be illustrated by the great James Ransome. I’ve also sold, just this year, two new picture book texts: one on Roy DeCarava—a gifted artist who photographed the people of Harlem in all their humanity—and another on Walt Whitman, focused on his remarkable and moving nursing experience during the Civil War. After that, who knows where Destiny will lead me?

International Music Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-musical-instruments-word-search

I Love Music! Word Search Puzzle

 

International Music Day celebrates all types of music and instruments. Can you find the eighteen different instruments in this printable word search puzzle?

I Love Music! Word Search Puzzle | I Love Music! Word Search Solution!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-dark-was-the-night-cover

You can find Dark Was the Night: Blind Willie Johnson’s Journey to the Stars at these booksellers

The Village Bookstore, Pleasantville, NY | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

September 22 – National Dear Diary Day

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Image copyright Aura Lewis, 2020, text copyright Linda Elovitz Marshall, 2020. Courtesy of Orchard Books.

About the Holiday

Today we celebrate those journals that allow us to express our thoughts and feelings, record events both mundane and life-changing, and give us license to explore our creativity. If you’re a regular diary writer, honor the day with a new entry. If you’ve always considered keeping a diary, today’s a perfect day to start!

Anne Frank: The Girl Heard Around the World

Written by Linda Elovitz Marshall | Illustrated by Aura Lewis

 

“All her life, Anne Frank wanted to be heard. Really, truly heard.” But sometimes no matter how loudly or entertainingly she talked, no one listened or seemed to understand. Anne’s family, “like many other Jewish families, had lived in Germany for centuries,” but when Adolf Hitler began to govern the country, Jewish families were in danger. When Anne was four years old, her family, hoping to find safety, moved to Amsterdam in the Netherlands. Here, Anne lived happily, “making mischief with her friends, telling jokes, and having fun. “In school, she talked and talked.”

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Image copyright Aura Lewis, 2020, text copyright Linda Elovitz Marshall, 2020. Courtesy of Orchard Books.

But in 1940, Hitler and his Nazi’s took over the Netherlands too, and life for Jewish people living there was no longer safe. Anyone who talked against the Nazis could be arrested, but Anne needed to express her opinions. On her 13th birthday Anne received a red plaid diary; she named it “Kitty.” In Kitty, Anne could share all of her thoughts and feelings about what was happening in her country. She wrote about the rules that restricted Jews from normal life, that made all Jews wear a yellow star that distinguished them from others. But Anne also wrote about school and other subjects. “Anne realized that by writing, she could speak her mind in a new way. She could really, truly be heard.”

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Image copyright Aura Lewis, 2020, text copyright Linda Elovitz Marshall, 2020. Courtesy of Orchard Books.

Then on a morning in 1942, Anne’s mother woke her, telling her that they needed to leave quickly and hide. Anne “packed her most treasured things.” Her diary was the first thing she packed. She and her family as well as four other people hid in a secret room in the warehouse where Anne’s father worked. Non-Jewish friends who also worked in the warehouse brought them food and supplies. While Anne tried to make the best of her life in hiding, she was lonely and always careful to whisper and tiptoe so the other workers in the factory did not discover them.

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Image copyright Aura Lewis, 2020, text copyright Linda Elovitz Marshall, 2020. Courtesy of Orchard Books.

Now, Anne’s diary was even more important to her. In Kitty she wrote about her fears and feelings, her days and the things she missed. “She wrote about wishing people could live together, in peace,” and Kitty “was always there to listen, always there to understand.” Anne also wrote stories about a teddy bear, a fairy, and a caring grandmother. Once water seeped in and soaked her diary. Anne rushed to hang the pages to dry. Anne wrote and wrote for two years. She hoped to publish a book about her experience.

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Image copyright Aura Lewis, 2020, text copyright Linda Elovitz Marshall, 2020. Courtesy of Orchard Books.

“But on August 4, 1944, Nazi police discovered the secret hiding place.” Anne, her family, and all of the people living in the warehouse room were taken away. “One of their non-Jewish friends found Anne’s diary and writings and kept them safe,” hoping to return them to her. But just weeks before the war ended in 1945, Anne died. Anne’s father was the only one to survive. After the war ended, Anne’s father fulfilled her dream and published Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl. Anne’s book has been read by people around the world and continues to speak for her in the hearts of readers everywhere.

Back matter includes more about Anne, her family, the Nazis and how Anne’s diary was saved; a timeline of Anne’s family, the rise of Hitler, and the war years; an Author’s Note; and lists of sources, suggested further reading, and websites.

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Image copyright Aura Lewis, 2020, text copyright Linda Elovitz Marshall, 2020. Courtesy of Orchard Books.

Linda Elovitz Marshall’s moving telling of Anne Frank’s life and dreams, focusing on her beloved diary will resonate with children, who, like Anne, want to be heard. In her evocative storytelling, Marshall creates a rich portrait of Anne as a vivacious child who was also smart and thoughtful. Mirroring the devastating disruptions in Anne’s and her family’s life, Marshall intersperses pages of straightforward text which describes the rise of Hitler and the Nazis and emphasizes ways in which they restricted and silenced the Jewish population, reinforcing her book’s theme. The examples Marshall gives—riding bikes, going to the movies, having to wear an identification star—will impress upon children the changes in Anne’s life.

When Anne and her family move to the Secret Annex, Marshall superbly reveals the conditions of their confinement through Anne’s writing and how her diary was her lifeline and her confidant. The family’s eventual discovery is written factually but with sensitivity, fitting for picture book readers. The final spread honors the influence Anne Frank has had on the world with her diary—her voice that could not be silenced.

In Aura Lewis’s emotionally resonant illustrations, readers first meet Anne Frank in a snapshot that shows her as kind, thoughtful, and seemingly wise beyond her years. Vibrant scenes of Anne with her family in Germany and later with family and friends in Amsterdam give way to somber, gray-toned images that reflect Hitler’s takeover and the dangers Anne, her family, and all Jewish people faced. Lewis clearly sketches Anne’s childhood enthusiasms and hope and, especially, her pleasure at receiving her diary. Also, readily recognizable are Anne’s feelings of fear, frustration, and sadness. Lewis portrays Anne in signature orange and plaid, reflecting the deep interconnection between Anne and her diary. This visual metaphor is then carried onto the final spread, where a variety of people of all ages read Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl.

An excellent book to introduce young children to Anne Frank, a most influential and inspiring young girl, Anne Frank: The Girl Heard Around the World would be a meaningful addition to home bookshelves and is a must for school and public library collections.

Ages 6 – 8

Orchard Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-1338312294

Discover more about Linda Elovitz Marshall and her books, visit her website.

To learn more about Aura Lewis, her books, and her art, visit her website.

National Dear Diary Day Activity

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Anne Frank and Her Diary Word Search

 

Find the twenty words associated with Anne Frank, her life, and her diary in this printable puzzle

Anne Frank and Her Diary Word Search Puzzle | Anne Frank and Her Diary Word Search Solution

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You can find Anne Frank: The Girl Heard Around the World at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

 

September 19 – National Gymnastics Day

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About the Holiday

Initiated in the late 1990s, National Gymnastics Day encourages kids to explore this exciting sport. As part of this year’s National Gymnastics Day, gymnasts, families, friends, and enthusiasts from gymnastics clubs globally will participate in a variety of activities, including open houses, hand stand contests, carnivals, and fitness activities to build awareness of gymnastics and its benefits. Many clubs will use this as a way to provide opportunities for underprivileged children to participate in the sport. Why not find and attend a special event at a gym or gymnastics club today to celebrate!

Nadia: The Girl Who Couldn’t Sit Still

Written by Karlin Gray | Illustrated by Christine Davenier

 

“In the village of Oneşti, Romania, a country rich with forests and mountains” Nadia Comaneci could often be seen swinging from tree branch to tree branch. She was a little girl who loved to play. She was “feisty and fearless,” attempting new things on a whim and always with a sense of adventure. Once while trying on a pair of roller skates, she skated right out of the store! Another time she was so impatient to ride her new bike that she pedaled off before her father could even tighten the screws. The bike “fell apart as she rode away.” And one year her love of climbing trees extended to the family Christmas tree, which toppled over on her, pinning her to the ground.

To channel all that energy, Nadia’s mother enrolled her in gymnastics lessons. Nadia’s eyes lit up when she saw the room full of ropes, ladders, bars, mats, and trampolines to discover, but she didn’t leave her new skills at the gym. Nadia and a friend cartwheeled around the school playground, capturing the attention of Bela and Marta Karolyi, who owned a gymnastics school. They invited the girls to join.

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Image copyright Christine Davenier, courtesy of karlingray.com

Nadia was only 6 when she began studying with Bela and Marta. Immediately, she discovered that she liked gymnastics better than her school subjects. She progressed quickly from performing “a straight cartwheel on a line painted on the floor” to doing it on a low balance beam and finally to perfecting it on the high balance beam. She began learning harder and harder moves, “flying from bar to bar, from floor to vault, and high above the beam.”

At 9 years old, Nadia competed in her first National Junior Championship. Despite her skill and hard work, she fell from the high beam during a leap not once but three times. Nadia finished the competition in 13th place. Her disappointment only strengthened her resolve. She went back to the gym and continued to practice many hours every day. Her determination paid off, “and at the next National Junior Championship games, she won first place.”

The ultimate recognition of her skill came when she was chosen to be part of the 1976 Romanian Olympic team. The games were held in Montreal, Canada, and all eyes were on the returning gold medalists from Russia, Olga Korbut and Lyudmila Turischeva. But excitement soon filled the venue as Nadia performed on the beam, the floor, and the vault where she scored 9.9, 9.75, and 9.7 on a scale of 1 (the lowest score) to 10 (a perfect score). The next event was the uneven parallel bars on which Olga Korbut had just scored a 9.9. “Nadia mounted the bars. Now fourteen years old, she was a long way from the forests in Romania. But she swung around as easily as she had jumped from branch to branch as a little girl. The audience gasped as she twirled and whipped and flipped.”

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Image copyright Christine Davenier, courtesy of karlingray.com

Nadia dismounted and landed perfectly on the mat below as the audience “exploded with applause.” Nadia returned to her team to wait for her score. And wait…and wait. Finally, the score appeared on the board—1.00. The worst score. How could that be? “‘What is Nadia’s score?’” Bela asked the judges. “One of the officials held up ten fingers as a voice announced over the loudspeaker: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, for the very first time in Olympic history, Nadia Comaneci has received the score of a perfect ten!’”

Because no one had ever achieved a 10 before, the scoreboards were programmed only for a high of 9.9. Nadia couldn’t bask in her accomplishment for long, however. She moved on to her next event—and her next perfect 10! “When the competition ended, she had earned seven perfect 10s.” At the medal ceremony both Olga and Lyudmila congratulated their competitor as the new Olympic champion. In all Nadia won five medals and became the youngest ever Olympic gold medalist in gymnastics.

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Image copyright Christine Davenier, courtesy of karlingray.com

Nadia became a darling of the press. They surrounded her, asking “how it felt to have the world’s attention, if she had been confident she would win, and when she would retire.” She answered each reporter with enthusiasm and confidence, and promising that she was a long way from retiring. When she returned home, it seemed that all of Romania had come out to welcome her and her teammates—even the country’s president.

Now Nadia was famous all over the world. She returned to practicing and inventing new routines, preparing for other competitions and the 1980 Olympic Games. She had come far from swinging branch to branch in the trees of Oneşti, but she would always be that little girl who couldn’t sit still.

Karlin Gray’s compelling biography captures all the spunk and spirit of Nadia Comaneci that made the world fall in love with her at the 1976 Olympic Games. Adults of a certain age well remember watching her in astonishment as she seemed to effortlessly swirl, twirl, and flip through her routines, flashing her sweet smile as she waved to fans. In the first pages Gray reveals anecdotes of Nadia’s adventurous nature that will captivate readers even as they giggle at her predicaments.

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Image copyright Christine Davenier, courtesy of karlingray.com

The straightforward narration of Nadia’s trajectory from playground cartwheeler to Olympic champion enhances both the gritty determination of her studies with her coaches as well as the suspense of her competitions. All children—no matter what their talent—will draw inspiration from Nadia’s story, which includes disappointments as well as unbounded accomplishments. Gray’s lyrical language flows as smoothly as Nadia flew through the air and will land in readers’ hearts as a perfect 10.

From the cover, which sports Nadia in her iconic floor exercise pose, to the last page, Christine Davenier depicts the world of gymnastics with beauty and the kind of realistic details that create a classic. The two-page spread of the gym where 6-year-old Nadia learns to love gymnastics portrays the enormity of the space and the equipment for a small girl—as well as the enormity of her achievement.

Kids will love the almost “play-by-play” illustrations of how Nadia learned to perform her feats, from starting with a line on the floor to perfecting the high beam and more. Nadia is shown leaping, somersaulting, doing handstands, and even wavering and falling as she practices and competes. The thrill of the Olympic Games, from the opening ceremonies to the rapt and cheering audiences to the awards ceremony are drawn with stirring action, color, and attention to the specifics of that very special 1976 summer in Montreal.

An Afterword expands on Nadia Comaneci’s courageous life choices and career post-gymnastics and includes a timeline, notes, a selected bibliography, and websites for further study.

Nadia: The Girl Who Couldn’t Sit Still will fascinate kids and would be a very welcome addition to school classroom—as well as home—libraries.

Ages 5 – 10

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016 | ISBN 978-0544319608

Visit Karlin Gray‘s website to learn more about her and to download fun activities!

View a gallery of artwork by Christine Davenier on her website!

Discover more about Nadia: The Girl Who Couldn’t Sit Still on the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt website!

National Gymnastics Day Activity

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Rhythmic Gymnastics Ribbon

 

You can recreate the grace of rhythmic gymnastics with this easy craft! The swirling beauty of the ribbon makes any movement fun!

Supplies

  • 12-inch dowel
  • 6-foot length of ribbon
  • Paint the same color as the ribbon
  • Hot glue gun or strong glue
  • Paint brush

Directions

  1. Paint the dowel and let dry
  2. Glue the edge of the ribbon to one end of the dowel. Wrap the ribbon about ½ inch around the dowel and secure with glue. Let glue dry.

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You can find Nadia, the Girl Who Couldn’t Sit Still at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

September 18 – National Respect Day

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About the Holiday

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

Aretha Franklin (Little People, Big Dreams)

Written by Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara | Illustrated by Amy Blackwell

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ages 4 – 7

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

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

National Respect Day Activity

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Kindness Cards

 

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

Kindness Cards

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

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

September 15 – International Dot Day

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About the Holiday

On September 15, 2009 teacher Terry Shay introduced his class to Peter H. Reynold’s The Dot. From that one event grew a national and then an international celebration of creativity and the freedom to make art with your heart. All around the world, school children and adults are inspired on this day to make their mark and celebrate creativity, courage, and collaboration. Internationally renowned artist Yayoi Kusama, who became famous for her dot paintings and is the subject of today’s book – continues to live this philosophy every day.

Yayoi Kusama Covered Everything in Dots and Wasn’t Sorry

By Fausto Gilberti

 

Yayoi Kusama, with her big, round curious eyes and dotted top gazes out at the reader as she introduces herself. She’d like to tell them her story, she says. She begins with her birth in “Matsumoto, a historic city in Japan with a beautiful castle.” Even as a child, she reveals, she loved to draw and would escape into the meadow to capture in her sketchbook the things she saw around her, the things “that other people didn’t.”

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Copyright Fausto Gilberti, 2020, courtesy of Phaidon.

When she grew up, she moved to New York with dreams of becoming a famous artist. When her money ran out, she gathered scraps of food that had been thrown away at the market and used them to make soup. At home in her apartment, Yayoi painted “hundreds and hundreds of dots onto large canvases.” Often the canvases couldn’t contain all the dots and they ran onto her walls and even her clothes. “But I wasn’t sorry,” she explains. “Each dot was part of thousands of others—they made me feel like I was a single dot that was part of our infinite universe.”

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Copyright Fausto Gilberti, 2020, courtesy of Phaidon.

Even though, Yayoi created lots of paintings, she was still poor. One day Georgia O’Keefe, answering a letter from Yayoi asking for help in selling her paintings, came to visit. She introduced Yayoi “to her art dealer, who immediately bought one of my paintings.” After that, Yayoi painted more pictures and had a successful solo exhibition in New York. More exhibitions followed, and Yayoi’s work expanded. She began making soft cushioned shapes that she used to cover…well…almost everything.

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Copyright Fausto Gilberti, 2020, courtesy of Phaidon.

Yayoi even experimented with pasta, lighted balls, and mirrored rooms. And then she did something daring: She held “‘happenings,’” where she turned people’s bodies into canvases for her art. This brought her more recognition, and she decided that she wanted to “change the world for the better.” With her unique vision, she protested against the Vietnam war and was arrested. Following her release, she began experimenting even more, with clothing styles that brought people together—one dress fit twenty-five people at once!

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Copyright Fausto Gilberti, 2020, courtesy of Phaidon.

Then Yayoi became sick. She stopped creating and moved back to Japan to recover. But much had changed in the years she had been away. Development and pollution had destroyed the nature she once loved. A snowy day, however, restored her desire to do art, and she began writing. When she was better, Yayoi decided to stay in Japan. “I still work nonstop, making paintings, writing books, and designing clothes and other objects” like pumpkins covered in dots, she says. Her artwork can be found in galleries and museums around the world—her dream from so long ago came true.

More about Yayoi Kusama’s life as well as a stirring photograph of one of her art installations—All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins—follows the text.

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Copyright Fausto Gilberti, 2020, courtesy of Phaidon.

Fausto Gilbert’s captivating biography of contemporary artist Yayoi Kusama will enchant young readers and creators of all kinds. Writing from Yayoi’s perspective, Gilberti hits a perfect tone, allowing children to hear Yayoi’s confidence in herself and her work while also discovering the lean times she experienced and how she reached out for help. Gilberti illuminates the timelessness of Yayoi’s singular creative vision, and its meaning will be embraced by today’s aware and activist children. Her final whimsical revelation about her pumpkin artwork will resonate with imaginative kids, exciting them to believe their own dreams of success are within reach.

Gilberti’s quirky black and white illustrations, later punctuated with Yayoi’s signature red hair, will charm kids and are particularly affective in drawing a portrait of this unique artist. Readers will marvel anew with every page and will especially love the twenty-five-person dress and the idea of Yayoi’s “happenings,” which could prompt a fun bath-time art activity for at-home learning. The book will also motivate kids to learn more about Yayoi Kusama’s work online and to create their own art with abandon.

Inspiring and liberating, Yayoi Kusama Covered Everything in Dots and Wasn’t Sorry is a must for creative kids at home, in the classroom, and at public libraries.

Ages 4 – 7 

Phaidon, 2020 | ISBN 978-1838660802

To learn more about Fausto Gilberti, his books, and his art.

International Dot Day Activity

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Decorate the Dots Coloring Page

 

How would you color these dots? Grab your favorite paints, markers, or crayons and let your imagination fly with this printable Decorate the Dots Coloring Page.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-yayoi-kusama-covered-everything-cover

You can find Yayoi Kusama Covered Everything in Dots and Wasn’t Sorry at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review