January 20 – Celebrating Inauguration Day 2021

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About the Holiday

Today we celebrate the inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th President of the United States. The ceremony begins around 11:30 a.m. with the national anthem and invocation. In a historic moment, Kamala Harris will then be sworn in by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor shortly before noon. At noon, Joe Biden will be sworn in by Chief Justice John Roberts on the Capitol’s West Front, as is tradition. The day also includes a visit to Arlington National Cemetery by Biden, Harris and former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton as well as their spouses before traveling from 15th Street to the White House with a military escort. You can introduce your children to our country’s new President and Vice President, who offer hope and a new beginning, through these two excellent biographies. 

Joey: The Story of Joe Biden

Written by Dr. Jill Biden with Kathleen Krull | Illustrated by Amy June Bates

 

With a gift for storytelling and an ear for the kinds of details that will draw kids in, Jill Biden introduces young readers to her husband and soon-to-be President of the United States, Joe Biden, at the age of eight. Even at this young age, Joe—or Joey as he was then called—demonstrated a fun-loving competitive spirit, maturity, daring, and sense of responsibility that would take him far in life. How competitive? Despite being the smallest boy on any of his teams, “he was always ready for the ball.” How daring? Take your pick: the time he and his friends hopped “from rooftop to rooftop of the garages” in his neighborhood after seeing a Tarzan movie; the time he swung on a rope “over a construction site without a net;” or when he shimmied to the top of the slippery, swaying flag pole at the football field.”

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Image copyright Amy June Bates, 2020, text copyright Jill Biden with Kathleen Krull, 2020. Courtesy of Simon & Schuster.

Where did he learn these qualities? From his mom who always said, “‘Bravery resides in every heart, and yours is fierce and clear.’” And from his dad who encouraged Joey to “‘Get up! Get up!’” whenever he stumbled. To find work, Joey’s family moved, but Joey always had friends in his siblings, especially his younger sister, Valerie.

As he grew older Joey learned about world news and the rudiments of politics at the family dinner table, adding his opinions to those of the adults. At school, though bullies made fun of Joey’s stutter, that sometimes made talking difficult. Instead of taking it, Joey defended himself and others who were being bullied. He also devised ways to practice talking more smoothly. 

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Image copyright Amy June Bates, 2020, text copyright Jill Biden with Kathleen Krull, 2020. Courtesy of Simon & Schuster.

When his dreams of attending the Catholic high school seemed out of reach financially, Joey applied for a work-study program that allowed him to attend in exchange for duties such as painting the fence, pulling weeds, and washing windows. High school was also where he grew a foot taller and became the star of the basketball and football teams. Here he exchanged Joey for Joe. His sense of fairness and equality led him to stand up for his African American football teammate when the owner of the local diner would not serve him, and in a nod to his future profession, he was elected class president “during his junior and senior years.”

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Image copyright Amy June Bates, 2020, text copyright Jill Biden with Kathleen Krull, 2020. Courtesy of Simon & Schuster.

As the first in his family to go to college, Joe was “promptly elected president of his freshman class.” He learned about the struggles of blacks in America while working “as the only white lifeguard at a pool in an all-black neighborhood” during “the time of segregation and the struggle for civil rights.” Joe graduated with a law degree, and at the age of twenty-nine he “launched an unlikely quest to become a senator from Delaware”—even though the required age was thirty. “Against all the odds, Joe became one of the youngest people ever elected to the United States Senate.” Reelected five times, “he was powerful and respected.”

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Image copyright Amy June Bates, 2020, text copyright Jill Biden with Kathleen Krull, 2020. Courtesy of Simon & Schuster.

Then “after more than three decades of serving his country in the Senate, he was chosen by Barak Obama to run as his vice president. They won, energizing the nation,” and after eight years of serving together, President Obama called Joe, “‘the best vice president America’s ever had.’” In 2019, Joe announced his candidacy for president of the United States, calling the election a “‘battle for the soul of America.’—and Joe Biden was ready to fight it.”

Back matter includes family photographs, an extensive timeline of Joe Biden’s life and government service, inspirational “Bidenisms, sources for the quotations used in the text, and a bibliography.

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Image copyright Amy June Bates, 2020, text copyright Jill Biden with Kathleen Krull, 2020. Courtesy of Simon & Schuster.

For parents, teachers, and other adults looking to introduce children to the next president of the United States with an in-depth look at his life, his influences, and his vast experience, Dr. Jill Biden’s Joey: The Story of Joe Biden shines with an intimate portrait of his astonishing life. With specific examples that will resonate with children, Biden portrays the qualities and experience that make him the right person to lead our country during these times and demonstrates his long history of concern for all Americans. Conversational and folksy, Biden’s storytelling makes this an uplifting read aloud that will captivate listeners. The book provides an excellent opportunity to spark further research into Joe Biden’ life and government service as well a conversation-starter for adults to discuss the importance of family, character, hard work, perseverance, and community.

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Image copyright Amy June Bates, 2020, text copyright Jill Biden with Kathleen Krull, 2020. Courtesy of Simon & Schuster.

Amy June Bates’ watercolor, gouache, and pencil illustrations are stunning, taking readers from Joey’s neighborhood in Scranton, Pennsylvania—where they can see some of the feats of daring Joey was famous for and how he interacted with friends and siblings—to Delaware, the state that informed his interest in politics and sense of community service. Through Bates’ realistic images, children swing on the rope over the construction site, sit among his siblings as they watch TV, and join in at the dinner table for influential family discussions. Bates also depicts Biden’s struggles with bullies and his stutter. Kids follow him up a ladder to wash windows and to the high school gridiron to watch Joe pull away from the opposing team to score the winning touchdown. As Biden runs for and takes on responsibilities in the Senate, readers are there too. In Biden’s face and stance, Bates clearly portrays his confidence, optimism, intelligence, and pride in a lifetime of serving the American people.

A superb biography of our next president and one that will inspire a new generation of activists and public servants, Joey: The Story of Joe Biden is a must for home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Simon & Schuster, Paula Wiseman Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-1534480537

You can connect with Dr. Jill Biden on Twitter.

Discover more about Kathleen Krull and her books on her website.

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

You can find Joey: The Story of Joe Biden at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from 

Bookshop | IndieBound

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Kamala Harris: Rooted in Justice

Written by Nikki Grimes | Illustrated by Laura Freeman

 

Eve, a black girl, comes home from school in Oakland, California upset because Calvin, a boy in her class, said that girls can’t be President. Her mother tells her that Calvin is wrong and shows her a newspaper article about Kamala Harris, who “lives right here in Oakland and hopes to be President one day.” Eve’s mom begins to tell her daughter Kamala’s story, which began with “a strong black-and-brown braid coiling from India, where her mother, Shyamala, was born; to Jamaica, where her father, Donald, was born;” to Berkely, California and finally to Oakland.

She goes on to reveal that even as a baby “Kamala was like clay her parents molded for action,” as they took her along on marches for civil rights and to speeches given by Martin Luther King Jr. Kamala listened and learned words like peace, justice, freedom. On a trip to Zambia to visit her grandparents, Kamala learned that “fighting for justice ran in the family.”

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Image copyright Laura Freeman, 2020, text copyright Nikki Grimes, 2020. Courtesy of Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

Then when Kamala was seven her parents divorced, and Kamala, her younger sister Maya, and their mother moved to “‘the flatlands,’ the black working-class area in Berkeley.” From here, Kamala was bussed to Thousand Oaks Elementary in the “wealthy white part of town….,” where, she met “kids who were rich and poor, black and white; kids who celebrated holidays she’d never even heard of,” and learned to “count to ten in many different languages.” Here, Eve interrupts to excitedly tell her mother that their next door neighbor Guadalupe has taught her how to count in Spanish.

Kamala also learned from Mrs. Regina Shelton, a neighbor whom Kamala stayed with after school. Mrs. Shelton introduced her to Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, and Harriet Tubman. She encouraged her pursuits and instilled confidence in her. Just as influential on young Kamala were the family’s weekly visits to the “Rainbow Sign, a cultural center celebrating black art, music, books, and film. James Baldwin spoke there, Maya Angelou read there, and Nina Simone sang there.” Nina’s song “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” particularly resonated with Kamala.

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Image copyright Laura Freeman, 2020, text copyright Nikki Grimes, 2020. Courtesy of Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

On Sundays Kamala and Maya visited their father and went to the 23rd Avenue Church of God, where, along with singing in the children’s choir, Kamala learned from the Bible “that God asks us to speak up for those who can’t, to defend the rights of the poor and needy, like some lawyers do.” Maybe, Kamala thought, she would follow in her uncle Sherman’s footsteps and be that kind of lawyer too. Eve wonders if when she makes sandwiches for the homeless she’s helping out too. Her mom tells her yes.

When Kamala’s mother accepted a job in Montréal, Canada, Kamala’s life changed again. One thing that stayed the same, however, was Kamala’s sense of justice. For example when the apartment building manager wouldn’t allow the kids to play soccer on the lawn, she and Maya picketed until he changed his mind. 

Although Kamala adjusted to life in Canada, when it came time to go to college, she returned to the United States to attend Howard University like one of her heroes, Thurgood Marshall. Kamala felt at home at Howard. She won a seat in the student government, competed on the debate team, interned at the Federal Trade Commission, did research at the National Archives, and on weekends joined protests against apartheid in South Africa.

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Image copyright Laura Freeman, 2020, text copyright Nikki Grimes, 2020. Courtesy of Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

As a sophomore, Kamala spent her summer as an intern for Senator Alan Cranston “learning from someone whose footsteps echoed in the halls of power every day.” She went on to study law at Hastings College of the Law, leading the Black Law Students Association as president and working to improve the chances that black graduates would be hired by the best companies in the country.

In order to practice law, Kamala had one more hurdle to overcome: the California Bar exam. Kamala failed in her first attempt, but it taught her an important lesson about digging deep and trying harder – a lesson that Eve understands. On her second try, she passed. Since then Kamala’s trajectory has been steadily upward. “First, Deputy District Attorney. Next, the first female District Attorney of San Francisco. Then, the first black woman Attorney General of California” and eventually the “second black woman voted into the US Senate.”

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Image copyright Laura Freeman, 2020, text copyright Nikki Grimes, 2020. Courtesy of Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

As Senator, Kamala has fought for workers, women’s rights, and immigrant children. Then in 2019, she announced her candidacy for President of the United States. But running a presidential campaign takes a lot of money. When she and her team realized that they would not be able to sustain a campaign, she decided to give up her quest for the 2020 presidential nomination while still looking “forward to all the good work she could still do as Senator Harris.”

While the biography ends before the election and with the question, “Will she ever get to call the White House home?” the next sentence: “Kamala Harris is still writing her American story” looks forward to a future we will all be following. And what about Eve? She knows the message of Kamala’s life and dreams: “‘If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.’” That lesson and that Calvin is wrong about a girl’s ability to become the President.

A detailed timeline of Kamala Harris’s life and a list of resources follow the text.

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Image copyright Laura Freeman, 2020, text copyright Nikki Grimes, 2020. Courtesy of Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

Nikki Grimes’ compelling biography of Kamala Harris lyrically outlines the importance that ideas of justice, freedom, and inclusion play in both her personal and professional life. Children will be especially captivated by Grimes’ comprehensive and intimate look at Kamala’s childhood and the people, experiences, and places that influenced her education, character, long commitment to equality, and steady focus on achieving her dreams. Specific examples of the large and smaller issues Kamala has fought for throughout her life instill in young readers the knowledge that they too can make a difference. Framed by Eve’s disagreement with Calvin and her interjections about certain aspects of Kamala’s life, the story speaks directly to the reader, creating in them the kind of confidence and reassurance that has served Kamala well. The final lines offer encouragement and inspiration to tomorrow’s leaders.

Laura Freeman’s textured, realistic illustrations introduce Kamala Harris in the context of her family, the causes they put their hearts and voices into, and the communities that nurtured her. As a child, Kamala’s confidence and intelligence are evident as she learns about her family’s activism in Zambia, rides to school on the bus, listens to Mrs. Shelton and Nina Simone, and gets involved in activities at church, in college, and in law school. Images of Kamala as an adult depict her familiar smile, thoughtfulness, poise, and self-confidence. Freeman’s collage-style imagery of the people who have influenced Kamala are particularly powerful reminders of the legacy that parents, grandparents, teachers, mentors, and leaders in society imprint on people from childhood and throughout life.

A beautiful and inspiring biography, Kamala Harris: Rooted in Justice is an exciting introduction to our next Vice President and is sure to encourage discussion, stir dreams of greatness, and motivate girls and children of color to follow in her footsteps. The book is a must for home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Simon & Schuster, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2020 | ISBN 978-1534462670

Discover more about Nikki Grimes, her books, and her poetry on her website.

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

You can find Kamala Harris: Rooted in Justice at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support our local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

 Picture Book Reviewcelebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-joey-cover

January 18 – Martin Luther King Jr. Day

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About the Holiday

Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrates the life and legacy of the man who dedicated his life and work to teaching—as Coretta Scott King once stated—“the values of courage, truth, justice, compassion, dignity, humility and service” and led a non-violent Civil Rights movement to enact racial equality and justice throughout state and federal law. President Ronald Reagan signed the holiday into law in 1983, setting it on the third Monday of January to coincide with Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday on January 15. The holiday was officially observed in all 50 states in 2000. Today, learn more about the life and work of Martin Luther King Jr. We still have a long way to go before there is justice and equality for all, but this year – even this week – gives us a new start. Look for ways you can offer help and hope.

Martin Luther King Jr. (Little People BIG DREAMS)

Written by Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara | Illustrated by Mai Ly Degnan

 

“Martin Luther was a spiritual boy from Atlanta who came from a long line of preachers.” It was thought that he might grow up to be one too. One day, a White friend invited him to his house to play, but when his mother wouldn’t let him in, Martin “realized something terrible was going on.” He discovered that Blacks weren’t welcome in the same places as Whites. Businesses, transportation, and other public places were segregated, which meant there were separate areas for Black and White people. Martin and his friend even had to go to different schools.

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Image copyright Mai Ly Degnan, 2020, text copyright Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara. Courtesy of Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

Martin believed people should speak up when something is wrong. He decided that he would “fight injustice with the most power weapon of all: words.” As he grew up and went to college, he learned about ways people could peacefully protest things they felt were wrong. After he graduated, Martin did become a preacher in Alabama. On Sundays, he encouraged his congregation to make their voices heard.

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Image copyright Mai Ly Degnan, 2020, text copyright Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara. Courtesy of Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

When Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white man on a city bus, Martin asked people to avoid taking the bus until the law was changed, and they responded. For nearly a year people walked and the buses were empty. Finally, segregation of buses ended. This was only the beginning of peaceful protests aimed at overturning the country’s segregation laws. Despite being attacked and arrested, Martin and his followers remained peaceful. Martin “knew that hate can’t drive out hate; only love can.”

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Image copyright Mai Ly Degnan, 2020, text copyright Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara. Courtesy of Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

In a huge protest march on Washington DC, thousands of people assembled to hear Martin speak. His speech began with “four simple yet powerful words: ‘I have a dream.’” The next year, Martin was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Little Martin’s words and dream still ring in your heart, and if you listen you can help make that dream “of a world where we are judged by our character, not by the color of our skin.”

A timeline of Martin Luther King Jr.’s life, accompanied with photographs, follows the text.

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Image copyright Mai Ly Degnan, 2020, text copyright Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara. Courtesy of Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara’s series of biographies for youngest readers are little gems that create a personal connection between the reader and the subject while presenting a clear overview of the person’s life and work. A highlight of the series is Vegara’s early focus on events in the subject’s childhood that changed their perspective and informed their later profession or influence and which will resonate with kids. Here, these include his family’s legacy, a forbidden friendship, and his discovery of the philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi.

Vegara’s storytelling is simple and straightforward, presenting the facts of formative events in language that young children will understand but which never talks down to them. She highlights times when community members were instrumental in changing the laws of segregation, showing children that they too can affect change through their actions, words, and the way they treat others. She then leaves children with words of hope and encouragement on how they can carry on Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream.

Mai Ly Degnan’s stylized and sophisticated illustrations invite children to learn about Martin Luther King Jr.’s life through images they will connect with intellectually and emotionally. Kids will enjoy seeing Martin dressed up in his father’s robe that pools around his feet as he preaches to his friends and will not need words to understand the angry face and outstretched pointing arm of his friend’s mother.

Other events, such as Rosa Park’s arrest and the bus boycott are depicted from the community’s viewpoint, allowing children to be part of the audience or crowd. Other images, such as Martin’s arrest, a peaceful protest, and the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize, give children and adults opportunities to discuss and expand on the text. Degnan’s final spread echoes back to the day when Martin was sent away from his friend’s house – but this time with acceptance – as a Black boy stands with his arm slung over the shoulder of his White friend as they stand in a diverse crowd of people.

Empowering and informative, Martin Luther King Jr.: Little People BIG DREAMS is highly recommended for home bookshelves and is a must for school and public library collections.

The book can also be found as part of a boxed set Little People BIG DREAMS Black Voices, which includes biographies of Maya Angelou, Martin Luther King Jr., and Rosa Parks. 

Ages 4 – 7

Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-0711245679 | Little People BIG DREAMS Black Voices, 2020 | ISBN 978-0711262539

You can connect with Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara on Twitter.

To learn more about Mai Ly Degnan, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day Activity

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Martin Luther King Jr. Portrait

 

To inspire your dreams of a better future for all, c olor this printable coloring page and hang it in your room!

Martin Luther King Jr. Portrait 

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You can find Martin Luther King Jr. (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 Picture Book Review 

January 15 – Celebrating the Book Birthday of Stompin’ at the Savoy

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About the Holiday

I was thrilled to host the cover reveal of Stompin’ at the Savoy and am now excited to be celebrating the book birthday of this extraordinary biography of one of the greats of Jazz with a review, an interview with Moira and Laura, and a giveaway of the book. Enjoy!

Thanks goes to Sleeping Bear Press for sending me a copy of Stompin’ at the Savoy for review consideration. all opinions of the book are my own. I’m happy to be teaming with them in a giveaway of the book. See details and two ways to enter below.

Stompin’ at the Savoy: How Chick Webb Became the King of Drums

Written by Moira Rose Donohue | Illustrated by Laura Freeman

 

As a child William Henry “Chick” Webb turned everything into a drum. “He tapped rhythms on iron railings. Tinkety-tink! He slapped rhythms on marble steps. Thwapety-thwap!” Years later he would be competing in the “biggest band battle of the century” at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem. But before that he had to overcome many obstacles. Throughout his life, William suffered with a spinal illness that stunted his growth. After an operation after a fall, the doctor recommended getting him a drum set to strengthen his arms. But drums—even drumsticks—were too expensive, so William used wooden spoons and pots and pans to make music.

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Image copyright Laura Freeman, 2021, text copyright Moira Rose Donohue, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

William’s illness left him with a hunchback and the “kids called him ‘Chicken’—shortened to “Chick”— because of the way he walked. To make money, Chick began selling newspapers when he was nine or ten. Soon he had bought real drumsticks and finally a drum set. Even though Chick only grew to be four feet, one inch that “didn’t stop him from making a giant sound. He just needed a taller chair and a higher bass pedal to do it.”

As a teenager, Chick was hired to play in local bands. He met Duke Ellington. He thought Chick was ready to lead his own band, but Chick waited. In the late 1920s a new kind of music—swing, with its dance-driving beat—came on the scene. “This new music was just right for Chick” and after choosing the best musicians he could find, he began touring the country. On one of these trips he hired Ella Fitzgerald to be the band’s lead singer. By 1937, Chick and his band was playing at the famous Savoy Ballroom. Some even called him the “‘Savoy King.’”

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The Savoy Ballroom was different from most clubs. Here, both Black and White people were welcome to dance. “Working-class people and movie stars danced alongside one another. People jumped and jived to new dances all night long.” At the time, bands competed in live “battles,” which Chick usually won. But then in February 1937, his band lost to Duke Ellington.

Chick didn’t let that get him down. Instead he challenged Benny Goodman—who led the number one big band in the country—to a battle of the bands. Benny laid down some rules: his and Chick’s band would play the same songs, his band would play first, and he would play on the biggest stage at the Savoy. Chick agreed. “That night, four thousand people crowded together on the dance floor” and another five thousand gathered outside in the street. In the crowd were also reporters from music magazines. Before his band went on, Chick laid down just one rule as he talked to his bandmates: “‘I don’t want nobody to miss.’”

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Benny Goodman and his band started off with his smooth, sweet clarinet that set the crowd swaying. But when Chick’s band took the stage, they gave the song a “hotter and faster… Swingier” beat, and the audience bounced along. The music swelled as “back and forth the bands played.” But it may have been “Jam Session” that decided it. As Chick “pounded louder and faster than a speeding train… Benny’s band just shook their heads in disbelief.” Everyone agreed that Chick had won. From that night on, Chick had a new nickname—“the ‘King of Drums.’”

An Authors note telling more about the life of Chick Webb follows the text.

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Thrilling for music-lovers, readers, and dreamers alike, Moira Rose Donohue’s biography of Chick Webb will inspire children to look not at the obstacles they may face but at ways to rise above them to achieve their goals. Donohue’s early focus on Chick’s determination to make music—whether he was using wooden spoons and pots or, much later, real drumsticks and drums—will impress on kids that practice, confidence, and an unfailing vision for the future can move mountains.

An important underlying lesson in Chick’s story is his self-awareness and willingness to wait until he felt ready to find his own niche and create his own band. This example, highlighted in Donohue’s compelling storytelling, will reassure readers who are meticulous, careful, and chafe under a “hurry, hurry” atmosphere. Through Donohue’s lyricism, pacing, and riveting vocabulary, readers can almost hear Chick at his drums as his drumsticks sizzle, whether at home, at venues across the country, or at the Savoy.

Laura Freeman’s rich colors and realistic depictions of Chick Webb—nearly always with drumsticks in his hands—will captivate readers as they watch a little boy with a big talent become the King of Drums. From his childhood kitchen to the school hallway to his natural entertaining spirit while selling newspapers, Freeman shows Chick’s singular focus and the times in which he grew up. Swirled musical bars, floating notes, and shadowed drumsticks give her illustrations movement. The look of rapture on Chick’s face as he plays and images of couples dancing to swing depict how the music transported people from the normal rhythms of life. The final spreads of Chick and Benny Goodman’s battle of the bands are raucous and enthralling and will have kids wanting to hear Chick’s music for themselves.

An absorbing biography of Chick Webb and the era of the big bands as well as a shining example of how one’s belief in oneself can conquer hurdles, Stompin’ at the Savoy: How Chick Webb Became the King of Drums is highly recommended for home bookshelves and a must for school and library collections.

Stompin’ at the Savoy Book Birthday Activity

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Stompin’ at the Savoy Activity Kit

 

You can enjoy coloring a picture of Chick Webb at his drums and challenging yourself with the word search puzzle found in this printable Activity Guide found on the Sleeping Bear Website.

Stompin’ at the Savoy Activity Kit

Meet Moira Rose Donohue

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Moira Rose Donohue has written over 35 books for children, most of them nonfiction, including National Geographic’s Little Kids First Big Book of the Rain Forest and two Junior Library Guild selections: Great White Sharks (Scholastic/Children’s Press) and The Invasion of Normandy (North Star Editions). She loves tap dancing, opera, hockey, and animals. Moira lives in St. Petersburg, Florida, with her dog, Petunia.

Among the many titles you’ve published are books on nature, history, and many, many biographies of figures from explorers to sports stars to civil rights leaders. What is your favorite thing about writing biographies? What was the initial spark that prompted you to choose Chick Webb as the subject of your newest book?

The thing I like most about writing biographies is that through the extensive research you have to do, you eventually discover the “essence” of the person—that unique quality that guided him/her/them to act in a way that made a difference in the world.

My initial interest in Chick was sparked when I was watching a re-airing of the Ken Burns documentary on jazz music. When the movie reached the evolution of swing and big bands, Chick Webb was mentioned. I have always loved Big Band music, even though it was not the music of my era. I was familiar with all the big band musicians discussed except Chick Webb. So, of course I had to research him. When I saw his life-loving grin and learned that he had to face the challenges of an affliction that left him no taller than an average eight-year-old boy, I was hooked.

Can you talk a little about the story readers will discover in Stompin’ at the Savoy and take readers on the book’s journey from idea to published book?

This book is not a chronicle of Chick’s life. It focuses on his resilient and competitive spirit because that’s what struck a chord with me. I love contests, and so, apparently, did Chick. To showcase his competitiveness, the climax of the book is his legendary band battle with 6-foot tall Benny Goodman, the King of Swing—a contest so exciting that almost 10,000 people showed up, inside the Savoy and outside on Lenox Avenue. You’ll have to read the book to find out who won!

What was one of the most surprising things you learned about Chick Webb during your research?

As a drummer and a band leader, Chick was precise and demanding. He told his musicians to practice and to be perfect. This didn’t surprise me because my daughter is a percussionist and I know that to be successful, practice and discipline are essential. What did surprise me is that, on occasion, Chick was known to give in to his wilder side and ride around town on the back of a motorcycle, standing up.

Researching Chick Webb was tricky because not much has been written about him. I had to call upon librarians, my superheroes, to watch a documentary at the Library of Congress and to find out what his childhood home looked like (thanks to the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore).

For an author it must be thrilling to see your story come to life visually. When did you see the cover and illustrations for your story? What was your first reaction?

I have been a big fan of Laura’s work for some time, so I knew when I got the sketches in May, 2020 that they would be wonderful. But the best part was that she completely understood the Big Band era and captured the ethos of the Savoy perfectly. It turns out that she had a connection to it—her father danced at the Savoy Ballroom.

As for the cover, which I didn’t see until early October, 2020, well…it brought tears to my eyes. The purple background is such a perfect choice for the King of Drums. And Laura even managed to put his signature green chicks on his drum set!

What would you like young readers to take away from the story of Chick Webb?

Although I cannot fully understand the magnitude and complexities of Chick’s struggle, as someone who is only 4 feet 11 inches tall and always trying to figure out how to reach things in high places, I relate to the challenges of being a short person. I completely understood his need to make his bass drum pedal higher so he could reach it! And I admired his perseverance. I hope the young readers will see Chick’s story as an inspiration—a story of someone who believed in himself and his music. Chick was a person with short stature who created a giant sound.  

When will readers be able to find Stompin’ at the Savoy on bookstore shelves? Do you have any special events to planned that readers can look forward to?

Stompin’ at the Savoy will be available for purchase on January 15, 2021. We are holding a virtual book release celebration this Monday, January 18 at 3:30 EST with Tombolo Books bookstore. You can register for the event as well as buy signed copies of the book there. You’ll find more information and the link to register on my website, moirarosedonohue.net. And I am hoping to have an in-person event in Baltimore, Chick’s (and my son’s) home, when it’s safe to do so. 

You can connect with Moira Rose Donohue on

Her website | Twitter

Meet Laura Freeman

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Laura Freeman has illustrated many fine children’s books over the years, including Fancy Party Gowns: The Story of Fashion Designer Ann Cole Lowe, written by Deborah Blumenthal, and the Coretta Scott King Honor book Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race, by Margot Lee Shetterly and Winifred Conkling. Laura now lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with her husband and their two children. 

I think readers are fascinated by an artist’s process in translating a manuscript to images that explain, highlight, and enhance the text. Can you talk a little about how you approached the manuscript for Stompin’ at the Savoy and then developed your illustrations.

I always spend a lot of time looking at photos and researching the character and time period before starting. For Stompin’ I wanted to get in the mood, and so I searched for his music online and was surprised to find that I recognized the title song (which was written in 1933!). Maybe I watch too many old movies, but it really is great! I found great old photos of him at his drum kit and photos of the Savoy nightclub as well as people dancing and swinging to the orchestra. Since it was the ’30’s, all the photos I found were in black and white so I dug into the internet to find out what color his drum kit was… and I found conflicting information. One article stated that the kit was pearlized cream decorated with sparkly green chicks but the accompanying photo showed the chicks as being red. I ended up trusting the words since the photo was obviously hand tinted. I hope I got it right but guess it’s not the end of the world if I’m wrong! 

What were your thoughts as you began to design the interior images for Stompin’ at the Savoy?

I wanted to give the illustrations a sense of movement to mimic the way Chick’s music makes me feel. There are a lot of colorful musical notes dancing throughout almost all of the pages. There is one spread in particular where if you look closely you can find them in a pattern in the ironwork of the staircase that Chick falls down as a child. Even though he’s not playing music on this page I wanted the notes to foreshadow his future.

What aspects of Chick Webb’s story did you most want to express in your illustrations? Is there a spread in the book that you particularly enjoyed creating?

Even though he had a tragic accident when he was a child that affected him for the rest of his life, his music is so full of joy – I wanted the book to feel joyful! I wanted it to be bright and colorful. There’s one spread in the book that depicts a battle of the bands. The one where Chick’s band goes up against Benny Goodman’s band. It was one of the last images I tackled because I have to admit, I had no idea how I was going to pull it off. There was just so much going on. I wanted to show the excitement and electricity of the moment – both bands playing their instruments, Chick’s band in white tuxedos, Benny Goodman’s band in black, Chick at his drum kit, Gene Krupka breaking his drum head. All this, but I didn’t want it to look busy and confusing. It ended up being one of my favorite images in the book!

I’ve been fortunate to review several of your picture books. In each one the illustrations are uniquely suited for the subject and yet instantly recognizable as your work. What would you say is your signature style? How did you develop it?

Thank you for saying so! I guess I’d say my illustrations are somewhat realistic in that I do try to capture a likeness. But still not so much so that I can’t deviate from reality to make a point. I guess you could say my work has a collage feel to it since I love to play around with patterns and textures too. I think that the amount of research I do shows up in the illustrations. I try to immerse myself in the time period of the book. I love finding the right clothing and hairstyles. What did the streets look like? The cars? What kind of technology was available? What about the furniture? I collect 100’s of photos of all these things. Very few end up in the books, but the essence of what I’ve seen does… I hope!

What do you hope children will take away from your illustrations for Stompin’ at the Savoy?

I hope that they can see themselves in his story. I love that he didn’t let his physical limitations stop him from doing what he wanted to do. He had to sit on a high stool to reach the drums. He couldn’t reach the bass drum pedal on the stool, so he had a special one made. He even embraced what surely started out as a derogatory nickname and called himself Chick.

Like Moira, many of your books for children are biographies. What draws you to those projects? What are the challenges and the rewards of working on biographies?

I especially like learning about people I may never have heard of and learning new things about people I have heard of. If I don’t know the information, chances are that most kids don’t either. With a biography there’s the challenge of capturing a likeness. Sometimes there are lots of photos and videos of the person I’m depicting to reference. Other times, not so much. I may need to distill the person’s facial features and try to figure out what they might look like from a different angle or as a child when there really aren’t any reference photos to go by. I want to do them justice because I feel honored to be involved in uncovering their stories.

You can connect with Laura Freeman on

Her website | Instagram | Twitter

Thanks so much Moira and Laura for these insightful answers! I’m sure readers are as excited to read Stompin’ at the Savoy: How Chick Webb Became the King of Drums as I am! While we have to wait a little longer to find the book in bookstores, everyone’s invited to enter my giveaway for a chance to win a copy!

Stompin’ at the Savoy: How Chick Webb Became the King of Drums Giveaway

 

I’m excited to partner with Sleeping Bear Press in Twitter giveaway of:

  • One (1) copy of Stompin’ at the Savoy, written by Moira Rose Donohue| illustrated by Laura Freeman 

Here’s how to enter:

  • Follow Celebrate Picture Books 
  • Retweet a giveaway tweet OR leave a comment below
  • Bonus: Reply with your favorite kind of music for an extra entry (each reply gives you one more entry).

This giveaway is open from January 15 through January 21 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner will be chosen on January 22. 

Giveaway open to U.S. addresses only. | Prizing provided by Sleeping Bear Press.

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You can preorder Stompin’ at the Savoy: How Chick Webb Became the King of Drums at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

December 29 – National Tick Tock Day

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About the Holiday

As the year winds down Tick Tock Day reminds us of the passage of time and encourages us to examine our life and find opportunities to accomplish the things we really want to. While a day only has 24 hours, a little creative scheduling, letting go of those tasks that aren’t so important, and even saying “no,” can help us achieve the things that matter.

Ticktock Banneker’s Clock

Written by Shana Keller | Illustrated by David C. Gardner

 

With winter approaching Benjamin Banneker has finished up his autumn chores and is looking forward to time to indulge his creative dreams. He finds his favorite spot under the chestnut tree—the place where during the summer he plays his violin and flute, “blending his soft music with the bird’s songs”—and pulls out a pocket watch he has borrowed from a gentleman. Benjamin is fascinated by the ticking and the movement of the small hands. He carefully opens the back of the watch and discovers “a world of wonderful whirls. There were gears of all shapes and sizes. Such a tiny maze!”

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Image copyright David C. Gardner, courtesy of flyingdogstudio.com

The miniature timepiece is mesmerizing, but Benjamin’s mind holds a challenge—a big challenge. He envisions a large clock, one that chimes to tell the time. Remembering his math skills, Benjamin mulls over the scale needed to turn “something small into something big.” As the snow falls, Benjamin goes to work. First, he dismantles the pocket watch and draws careful diagrams of the gears and workings. Then he begins transposing these into larger drawings.

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Image copyright David C. Gardner, courtesy of flyingdogstudio.com

With the coming of spring and his drawings finished, Benjamin plans how he will build his clock. While the little pocket watch is made of metal, that material is much too expensive for a large version. As he ponders the problem under his favorite tree, Benjamin looks around him. Suddenly he knows! The answer is “right in front of him, even in his hands! The very instrument he played was made of wood!” There is a forest of trees on his farm, and this material is free.

During the summer between farm chores, Benjamin uses “every spare moment he had to find the perfect pieces of wood.” Once he has enough he begins to convert his drawings into carvings, whittling the gears and other pieces he will need. Soon, however, he becomes discouraged. The wood begins to split and come apart. Benjamin thinks about how his family cures tobacco leaves—drying them out until all the moisture evaporates. Perhaps, he thinks, he can do the same with wood to make it stronger. The process would take months, but Benjamin is patient.

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Image copyright David C. Gardner, courtesy of flyingdogstudio.com

Winter has come around again, and the wood is finally ready. In his warm house Benjamin sets about carving again. During the day he carves near the sunny window, and at night he works by candlelight. At last he has all the parts he needs to build his clock. Gears, wheels, tiny pins, and the boards that will become the case are scattered across Benjamin’s work table. There is only one piece missing. A piece that cannot be made of wood—the bell!

Benjamin buys a bell from a metalsmith, and back home begins to build his clock. With his drawings to guide him, he fits the gears together and then sets the hands to “match up perfectly with the second, minute, and hour of each day. It took more than one try, but Benjamin had learned to be patient.” Using the sun to determine the correct time, Benjamin positions the hands and steps back. His clock works! “The little iron bell chimed every hour, on the dot, for the next forty years.” Benjamin becomes famous, and neighbors from near and far come “to see his amazing invention.”  

An Author’s Note expanding on Benjamin Banneker’s life and work follows the text.

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Image copyright David C. Gardner, courtesy of flyingdogstudio.com

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

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Image copyright David C. Gardner, courtesy of flyingdogstudio.com

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

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

Ages 6 – 10

Sleeping Bear Press, 2016 | ISBN 978-1585369560

Learn more about Shana Keller and her work on her website!

Discover a portfolio of picture book art, fine art, animation, and videos by David C. Gardner on his website!

Tick Tock Day Activity

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Cuckoo Clock Coloring Page

 

The chirp of a cuckoo clock keeps you on time—or at least aware of the passing of time! If you like coloring, you’ll enjoy spending time with this printable Cuckoo Clock Coloring Page!

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You can find Ticktock Banneker’s Clock at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

November 9 – Celebrating the Election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris

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About the Holiday

This week the people of the United States elected a new President and Vice President who will lead our nation for the next four years. In many ways this election was historic, from the most votes ever cast for a presidential candidate to its taking place during a pandemic that required extraordinary measures to ensure everyone could participate and commitment on the part of voters. Most significant, however, was the election of Kamala Harris, the first woman, the first Black, and the first South Asian to hold the office of Vice President. To celebrate the 2020 election, I’ve reviewed two outstanding biographies, one about Joseph R. Biden Jr. and the other about Kamala Harris.

Joey: The Story of Joe Biden

Written by Dr. Jill Biden with Kathleen Krull | Illustrated by Amy June Bates

 

With a gift for storytelling and an ear for the kinds of details that will draw kids in, Jill Biden introduces young readers to her husband and soon-to-be President of the United States, Joe Biden, at the age of eight. Even at this young age, Joe—or Joey as he was then called—demonstrated a fun-loving competitive spirit, maturity, daring, and sense of responsibility that would take him far in life. How competitive? Despite being the smallest boy on any of his teams, “he was always ready for the ball.” How daring? Take your pick: the time he and his friends hopped “from rooftop to rooftop of the garages” in his neighborhood after seeing a Tarzan movie; the time he swung on a rope “over a construction site without a net;” or when he shimmied to the top of the slippery, swaying flag pole at the football field.”

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Image copyright Amy June Bates, 2020, text copyright Jill Biden with Kathleen Krull, 2020. Courtesy of Simon & Schuster.

Where did he learn these qualities? From his mom who always said, “‘Bravery resides in every heart, and yours is fierce and clear.’” And from his dad who encouraged Joey to “‘Get up! Get up!’” whenever he stumbled. To find work, Joey’s family moved, but Joey always had friends in his siblings, especially his younger sister, Valerie.

As he grew older Joey learned about world news and the rudiments of politics at the family dinner table, adding his opinions to those of the adults. At school, though bullies made fun of Joey’s stutter, that sometimes made talking difficult. Instead of taking it, Joey defended himself and others who were being bullied. He also devised ways to practice talking more smoothly. 

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Image copyright Amy June Bates, 2020, text copyright Jill Biden with Kathleen Krull, 2020. Courtesy of Simon & Schuster.

When his dreams of attending the Catholic high school seemed out of reach financially, Joey applied for a work-study program that allowed him to attend in exchange for duties such as painting the fence, pulling weeds, and washing windows. High school was also where he grew a foot taller and became the star of the basketball and football teams. Here he exchanged Joey for Joe. His sense of fairness and equality led him to stand up for his African American football teammate when the owner of the local diner would not serve him, and in a nod to his future profession, he was elected class president “during his junior and senior years.”

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Image copyright Amy June Bates, 2020, text copyright Jill Biden with Kathleen Krull, 2020. Courtesy of Simon & Schuster.

As the first in his family to go to college, Joe was “promptly elected president of his freshman class.” He learned about the struggles of blacks in America while working “as the only white lifeguard at a pool in an all-black neighborhood” during “the time of segregation and the struggle for civil rights.” Joe graduated with a law degree, and at the age of twenty-nine he “launched an unlikely quest to become a senator from Delaware”—even though the required age was thirty. “Against all the odds, Joe became one of the youngest people ever elected to the United States Senate.” Reelected five times, “he was powerful and respected.”

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Image copyright Amy June Bates, 2020, text copyright Jill Biden with Kathleen Krull, 2020. Courtesy of Simon & Schuster.

Then “after more than three decades of serving his country in the Senate, he was chosen by Barak Obama to run as his vice president. They won, energizing the nation,” and after eight years of serving together, President Obama called Joe, “‘the best vice president America’s ever had.’” In 2019, Joe announced his candidacy for president of the United States, calling the election a “‘battle for the soul of America.’—and Joe Biden was ready to fight it.”

Back matter includes family photographs, an extensive timeline of Joe Biden’s life and government service, inspirational “Bidenisms, sources for the quotations used in the text, and a bibliography.

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Image copyright Amy June Bates, 2020, text copyright Jill Biden with Kathleen Krull, 2020. Courtesy of Simon & Schuster.

For parents, teachers, and other adults looking to introduce children to the next president of the United States with an in-depth look at his life, his influences, and his vast experience, Dr. Jill Biden’s Joey: The Story of Joe Biden shines with an intimate portrait of his astonishing life. With specific examples that will resonate with children, Biden portrays the qualities and experience that make him the right person to lead our country during these times and demonstrates his long history of concern for all Americans. Conversational and folksy, Biden’s storytelling makes this an uplifting read aloud that will captivate listeners. The book provides an excellent opportunity to spark further research into Joe Biden’ life and government service as well a conversation-starter for adults to discuss the importance of family, character, hard work, perseverance, and community.

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Image copyright Amy June Bates, 2020, text copyright Jill Biden with Kathleen Krull, 2020. Courtesy of Simon & Schuster.

Amy June Bates’ watercolor, gouache, and pencil illustrations are stunning, taking readers from Joey’s neighborhood in Scranton, Pennsylvania—where they can see some of the feats of daring Joey was famous for and how he interacted with friends and siblings—to Delaware, the state that informed his interest in politics and sense of community service. Through Bates’ realistic images, children swing on the rope over the construction site, sit among his siblings as they watch TV, and join in at the dinner table for influential family discussions. Bates also depicts Biden’s struggles with bullies and his stutter. Kids follow him up a ladder to wash windows and to the high school gridiron to watch Joe pull away from the opposing team to score the winning touchdown. As Biden runs for and takes on responsibilities in the Senate, readers are there too. In Biden’s face and stance, Bates clearly portrays his confidence, optimism, intelligence, and pride in a lifetime of serving the American people.

A superb biography of our next president and one that will inspire a new generation of activists and public servants, Joey: The Story of Joe Biden is a must for home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Simon & Schuster, Paula Wiseman Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-1534480537

You can connect with Dr. Jill Biden on Twitter.

Discover more about Kathleen Krull and her books on her website.

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

You can find Joey: The Story of Joe Biden at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from 

Bookshop | IndieBound

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-kamala-harris-rooted-in-justice-cover

Kamala Harris: Rooted in Justice

Written by Nikki Grimes | Illustrated by Laura Freeman

 

Eve, a black girl, comes home from school in Oakland, California upset because Calvin, a boy in her class, said that girls can’t be President. Her mother tells her that Calvin is wrong and shows her a newspaper article about Kamala Harris, who “lives right here in Oakland and hopes to be President one day.” Eve’s mom begins to tell her daughter Kamala’s story, which began with “a strong black-and-brown braid coiling from India, where her mother, Shyamala, was born; to Jamaica, where her father, Donald, was born;” to Berkely, California and finally to Oakland.

She goes on to reveal that even as a baby “Kamala was like clay her parents molded for action,” as they took her along on marches for civil rights and to speeches given by Martin Luther King Jr. Kamala listened and learned words like peace, justice, freedom. On a trip to Zambia to visit her grandparents, Kamala learned that “fighting for justice ran in the family.”

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Image copyright Laura Freeman, 2020, text copyright Nikki Grimes, 2020. Courtesy of Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

Then when Kamala was seven her parents divorced, and Kamala, her younger sister Maya, and their mother moved to “‘the flatlands,’ the black working-class area in Berkeley.” From here, Kamala was bussed to Thousand Oaks Elementary in the “wealthy white part of town….,” where, she met “kids who were rich and poor, black and white; kids who celebrated holidays she’d never even heard of,” and learned to “count to ten in many different languages.” Here, Eve interrupts to excitedly tell her mother that their next door neighbor Guadalupe has taught her how to count in Spanish.

Kamala also learned from Mrs. Regina Shelton, a neighbor whom Kamala stayed with after school. Mrs. Shelton introduced her to Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, and Harriet Tubman. She encouraged her pursuits and instilled confidence in her. Just as influential on young Kamala were the family’s weekly visits to the “Rainbow Sign, a cultural center celebrating black art, music, books, and film. James Baldwin spoke there, Maya Angelou read there, and Nina Simone sang there.” Nina’s song “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” particularly resonated with Kamala.

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Image copyright Laura Freeman, 2020, text copyright Nikki Grimes, 2020. Courtesy of Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

On Sundays Kamala and Maya visited their father and went to the 23rd Avenue Church of God, where, along with singing in the children’s choir, Kamala learned from the Bible “that God asks us to speak up for those who can’t, to defend the rights of the poor and needy, like some lawyers do.” Maybe, Kamala thought, she would follow in her uncle Sherman’s footsteps and be that kind of lawyer too. Eve wonders if when she makes sandwiches for the homeless she’s helping out too. Her mom tells her yes.

When Kamala’s mother accepted a job in Montréal, Canada, Kamala’s life changed again. One thing that stayed the same, however, was Kamala’s sense of justice. For example when the apartment building manager wouldn’t allow the kids to play soccer on the lawn, she and Maya picketed until he changed his mind. 

Although Kamala adjusted to life in Canada, when it came time to go to college, she returned to the United States to attend Howard University like one of her heroes, Thurgood Marshall. Kamala felt at home at Howard. She won a seat in the student government, competed on the debate team, interned at the Federal Trade Commission, did research at the National Archives, and on weekends joined protests against apartheid in South Africa.

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Image copyright Laura Freeman, 2020, text copyright Nikki Grimes, 2020. Courtesy of Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

As a sophomore, Kamala spent her summer as an intern for Senator Alan Cranston “learning from someone whose footsteps echoed in the halls of power every day.” She went on to study law at Hastings College of the Law, leading the Black Law Students Association as president and working to improve the chances that black graduates would be hired by the best companies in the country.

In order to practice law, Kamala had one more hurdle to overcome: the California Bar exam. Kamala failed in her first attempt, but it taught her an important lesson about digging deep and trying harder – a lesson that Eve understands. On her second try, she passed. Since then Kamala’s trajectory has been steadily upward. “First, Deputy District Attorney. Next, the first female District Attorney of San Francisco. Then, the first black woman Attorney General of California” and eventually the “second black woman voted into the US Senate.”

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Image copyright Laura Freeman, 2020, text copyright Nikki Grimes, 2020. Courtesy of Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

As Senator, Kamala has fought for workers, women’s rights, and immigrant children. Then in 2019, she announced her candidacy for President of the United States. But running a presidential campaign takes a lot of money. When she and her team realized that they would not be able to sustain a campaign, she decided to give up her quest for the 2020 presidential nomination while still looking “forward to all the good work she could still do as Senator Harris.”

While the biography ends before the election and with the question, “Will she ever get to call the White House home?” the next sentence: “Kamala Harris is still writing her American story” looks forward to a future we will all be following. And what about Eve? She knows the message of Kamala’s life and dreams: “‘If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.’” That lesson and that Calvin is wrong about a girl’s ability to become the President.

A detailed timeline of Kamala Harris’s life and a list of resources follow the text.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-kamala-harris-rooted-in-justice-senator

Image copyright Laura Freeman, 2020, text copyright Nikki Grimes, 2020. Courtesy of Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

Nikki Grimes’ compelling biography of Kamala Harris lyrically outlines the importance that ideas of justice, freedom, and inclusion play in both her personal and professional life. Children will be especially captivated by Grimes’ comprehensive and intimate look at Kamala’s childhood and the people, experiences, and places that influenced her education, character, long commitment to equality, and steady focus on achieving her dreams. Specific examples of the large and smaller issues Kamala has fought for throughout her life instill in young readers the knowledge that they too can make a difference. Framed by Eve’s disagreement with Calvin and her interjections about certain aspects of Kamala’s life, the story speaks directly to the reader, creating in them the kind of confidence and reassurance that has served Kamala well. The final lines offer encouragement and inspiration to tomorrow’s leaders.

Laura Freeman’s textured, realistic illustrations introduce Kamala Harris in the context of her family, the causes they put their hearts and voices into, and the communities that nurtured her. As a child, Kamala’s confidence and intelligence are evident as she learns about her family’s activism in Zambia, rides to school on the bus, listens to Mrs. Shelton and Nina Simone, and gets involved in activities at church, in college, and in law school. Images of Kamala as an adult depict her familiar smile, thoughtfulness, poise, and self-confidence. Freeman’s collage-style imagery of the people who have influenced Kamala are particularly powerful reminders of the legacy that parents, grandparents, teachers, mentors, and leaders in society imprint on people from childhood and throughout life.

A beautiful and inspiring biography, Kamala Harris: Rooted in Justice is an exciting introduction to our next Vice President and is sure to encourage discussion, stir dreams of greatness, and motivate girls and children of color to follow in her footsteps. The book is a must for home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Simon & Schuster, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2020 | ISBN 978-1534462670

Discover more about Nikki Grimes, her books, and her poetry on her website.

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

You can find Kamala Harris: Rooted in Justice at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support our local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

 Picture Book Review

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September 8 – International Literacy Day

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About the Holiday

In 1966 UNESCO (United Nations Organization for Education, Science and Culture) established International Literacy Day on this date to “actively mobilize the international community to promote literacy as an instrument to empower individuals, communities, and societies.” This year, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected education and educational resources around the world. In response, this year’s initiative focuses on “‘literacy teaching and learning in the COVID-19 crisis and beyond,’ and especially on the role of educators and changing pedagogies.” 2020 also ushers in a new five-year program: UNESCO Strategy for Youth and Adult Literacy to develop policies and strategies to address the learning needs of disadvantaged groups, especially women and girls; to leverage digital technologies to expand access and improve outcomes; and to monitor and assess literacy programs. To learn more about today’s holiday and UNESCO’s global literacy programs, visit the United Nations International Literacy Day webpage.

The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read

Written by Rita Lorraine Hubbard | Illustrated by Oge Mora

 

As a child slave on an Alabama plantation, Mary Walker knew the rules: Keep working and no learning to read or write. But when she stopped for a moment to rest while “picking cotton, toting water to Papa and the other slaves who chopped wood for the train tracks, or helping Mama clean the Big House,” she watched the birds and dreamed of being free. In bed at night, she would think “When I’m free, I’ll go where I want and rest when I want. And I’ll learn to read too.”

When Mary was fifteen, the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. While many freed slaves moved north, Mary and her family, like others, chose to stay in the South. With the help of the Freedmen’s Bureau, they moved into a one-room cabin. To raise money, Mary worked long hours every day of the week without a break to eat, drink, or even use the outhouse. “At week’s end, she would offer Mama the one lonely quarter she had earned.” One day, Mary met an evangelist who gave her a Bible, telling her “Your civil rights are in these pages.”

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Image copyright Oge Mora, 2020, text copyright Rita Lorraine Hubbard, 2020. Courtesy of Schwartz & Wade.

Mary didn’t know what that meant. “She only knew that top to bottom, front to back, that book was filled with words”—words she vowed to learn…someday. But first came marriage, sharecropping, and a son. When a friend wrote his birth date in the Bible, all Mary could do was make a mark beside the words.

When Mary’s first husband died, she married again and had two more sons. To bring them up, Mary spent the next forty years sharecropping and doing odd jobs to help support her family. Eventually, the family moved to Chattanooga, Tennessee. Mary was sixty-eight and too old to farm, but she still cooked, cleaned, and cared for other people’s children to make money. She also cooked and sold food to support her church. On Sunday’s she listened to the preacher while clutching “her family Bible—the Bible she still couldn’t read.”

“When Mary was well past ninety,” her sons read to her and her husband. As time passed, her younger sons died and then her husband. Her oldest son died at the age of ninety-four, leaving Mary alone and living in a retirement home. As she looked out the window at the signs and billboards, “she sighed. All this time, she thought, and they still look like squiggles.”

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Image copyright Oge Mora, 2020, text copyright Rita Lorraine Hubbard, 2020. Courtesy of Schwartz & Wade.

When her retirement home offered a reading class, Mary joined in. At 114, “she was the oldest student in the class—and probably in the entire country.” For the next year and longer, she studied and wrote and memorized. She began recognizing sight words and putting them together into short sentences. All of Mary’s hard work came together, and at last at the age of 116, she could read! Mary’s story traveled across the country, and journalists came to interview her. A representative from the US Department of Education pronounced her “‘the world’s oldest student.’”

“Mary felt complete.” When she felt lonely, she read her Bible or the signs she could see from her window. In Chattanooga, Mary’s accomplishment was celebrated with annual birthday parties. President Lyndon B. Johnson sent her a letter when she turned 118 in 1969, and President Richard Nixon sent a card when she turned 121. Among all the gifts she received over those years, her favorite was a ride in small airplane that dipped and soared like the birds she had watched as a child. As she looked at the landscape below, “Mary decided that flying was a lot like reading: they both made a body feel as free as a bird.” Each year, to start her birthday celebration, Mary read to the people gathered and as she closed the book, she always said, “You’re never too old to learn.”

An Author’s Note that reveals more about Mary Walker’s life follows the text.

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Image copyright Oge Mora, 2020, text copyright Rita Lorraine Hubbard, 2020. Courtesy of Schwartz & Wade.

Rita Lorraine Hubbard’s moving portrait of Mary Walker and her resolve to learn to read even at an advanced age is inspirational for all. Hubbard’s straightforward storytelling focuses on Mary’s grueling work and the obstacles and responsibilities that delayed her education while also revealing her resilience, her generosity, and the strong bonds she shared with her family. Mary’s equating reading and education with freedom even as a child will resonate with today’s students and offers encouragement when lessons are difficult. With excellent pacing and a depth of details that will keep children riveted to this true story, Hubbard tells not only Mary’s history but that of many African-American families, making The Oldest Student a poignant book to share for reading, history, and social studies in classrooms as well as for home story times.

Oge Mora’s collage-style illustrations, incorporating strips of written text and musical scores, enrich Hubbard’s story with images of Mary working as a slave and later at various jobs always surrounded by words she cannot read. Later, as Mary gazes out of the window of her retirement home and passes fliers on the bulletin board there, the signs and papers are covered in squiggles, giving young readers an idea of how Mary sees the written world. After Mary learns to read, Mora replaces these with the actual signs, a clear example of the difference the ability to read makes. Mora’s early depictions of Mary, her head and back bowed by arduous, exhausting labor, are heartbreaking, making later images of her, head held high with pride and accomplishment, all the more emotional.

An uplifting and powerful lesson on perseverance and never giving up on a dream, The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read is highly recommended for home bookshelves and a must for school and library collections.

Ages 4 – 8 

Schwartz & Wade, 2020 | ISBN 978-1524768287

Discover more about Rita Lorraine Hubbard and her books, visit her website.

To learn more about Oge Mora, her books, and her art, visit her website.

International Literacy Day Activity

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Book Love! Word Search

 

There are all kinds of books for every reader. Find your favorite genre along with nineteen others in this printable puzzle.

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

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You can find The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

August 25 – National Park Service Founders Day

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About the Holidays

On August 25, 1916, President Woodrow Willson signed what is now called the Organic Act, establishing the National Park Service. In the 104 years since that historic signing, 400 areas in each of the 50 states, U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia, totaling 84 million acres, have been designated as national parks. Today we honor the park rangers who conserve and preserve these natural wonders and educate visitors. To discover national parks near you and their stories as well as to learn more about the week and how to help out all year round, visit the National Park Foundation website and the National Park Service website.

Thanks to Albert Whitman for sending me a copy of If I Were a Park Ranger for review consideration. All opinions about the book are my own. 

If I Were a Park Ranger

Written by Catherine Stier | Illustrated by Patrick Corrigan

If you love trees, animals, and all the beauty of nature, you may think about being a park ranger in one of the United States national parks. How would you get there? By studying “wildlife biology, conservation, or education” in college. Historian William Stegner called national parks “America’s ‘best idea.’” Being a park ranger means you’d be part of a proud history of people who have cared for the “country’s most beautiful, historic, and unique areas.”

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Image copyright Patrick Corrigan, 2019, text copyright Catherine Stier, 2019. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Who are some of these people? Stephen Mather and Horace Albright were the first directors of the National Park Service, Captain Charles Young was “the first African American superintendent of a national park,” and Gerard Baker “brought Native American heritage and perspectives to the parks.” There are also writers, like Marjory Stoneman Douglas ,and artists, like John Muir and Ansel Adams, who shared the grandeur of the parks.

Park rangers work in some of the most exciting places in the country—in caves, deserts, and mountains and near volcanos or the sea shore. And that’s just the beginning! Ships, homes, battlefields, and monuments are also part of the National Park System. As a park ranger, you would protect the animals, plants, and buildings, you might work with scientists, or archaeologists, and you would help visitors gain new perspectives. How would you do that?

You’d “be a great storyteller.” As part of your job, you’d “learn about the natural history, the human history, and the legends” of you park so you “could share those tales…” and maybe “a few spooky campfire stories too.” You’d also learn all about the animals and landmarks of your park so you could provide interesting tours.

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Image copyright Patrick Corrigan, 2019, text copyright Catherine Stier, 2019. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Rangers are always on the lookout for fires, bad weather, or visitors who require help and alert emergency services when they’re needed. But rangers don’t spend all of their time outdoors. Sometimes they spend time inside using “computers to design exhibits, make maps, write articles, and keep track of endangered animal populations” or keep the park’s website updated. Park rangers are also invited to talk to students in schools and for organizations.

If you were a park ranger, you would make a big impact. Your park would be “cleaner and safer,” the “animals living there would be stronger and healthier,” and visitors might “experience something astonishing…a moment that could happen nowhere else in the world. A moment they’d remember forever” all because of you!

An Author’s Note reveals other riches of the National Park System, including STEM research, creative programs, artifacts and primary source materials, and more as well as a discussion on the education and various roles of rangers and a link where kids can find out about becoming a junior ranger at many parks.

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Image copyright Patrick Corrigan, 2019, text copyright Catherine Stier, 2019. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Catherine Stier’s inspiring look at the role of a ranger in the National Park Service takes readers from shore to shore and shows them the exciting and diverse jobs that are part of a ranger’s day. Stier’s use of the first-person point of view empowers readers to see themselves as a ranger protecting the treasures of the park and sharing them with visitors. Her straightforward storytelling is full of details readers will love about the duties of a park ranger and the parks themselves. Her stirring ending swells the heart. It’s certain to plant the seed of interest in jobs within the National Park Service as well as in planning a vacation trip to one of these beautiful areas.

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Image copyright Patrick Corrigan, 2019, text copyright Catherine Stier, 2019. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Through vibrant snapshots and two-page spreads, Patrick Corrigan transports readers to twenty-five national parks, including Redwood National Park, California; Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park; Petroglyph National Monument, New Mexico; Acadia National Park, Maine; and Great Smoky Mountains National Park. To immerse young readers in the story, the rangers are depicted as diverse children helping visitors, giving talks, protecting animals, translating petroglyphs, giving tours, calling firefighters, and even brushing dirt from an unearthed animal skull. In one image a ranger gives a flashlight tour of Mammoth Cave National Park to a girl who uses a wheelchair, and in another a ranger uses sign language to describe the beauty of her park. Children will want to linger over the pages to take in all the details and will be moved to learn more about each park.

Sure to spark expressions of “ooh,” “ahh,” and “I’d like to do that!,” If I Were a Park Ranger makes an inspiring addition to classroom geography and nature lessons and would be a terrific addition to home libraries for kids who love nature and travel and would like to explore future possibilities.

Ages 5 – 9

Albert Whitman and Company, 2019 | ISBN 978-0807535455

Discover more about Catherine Stier and her books on her website.

To learn more about Patrick Corrigan, his books, and his art, visit his website.

National Park Week Activity

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Majestic Parks Coloring Pages

You may not be able to visit all of these parks, but you can still enjoy their beauty with these printable coloring pages!

Mesa Verde National Park | Gates of the Arctic National Park | Hawaii Volcanoes National Park | Biscayne National Park

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You can find If I Were a Park Ranger at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound