February 17 – It’s Black History Month

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About the Holiday

Black History Month celebrates the achievements and contributions of African Americans in United States History. Originally a week-long observance initiated by writer and educator Dr. Carter G. Woodson in1926 and occurring during the second week in February to commemorate the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, Black History Month was officially established in 1976 by then president Gerald Ford. The holiday is now celebrated across the country with special events in schools, churches, and community centers.

The theme for 2022 is “Black Health and Wellness” and focuses on the legacy of not only Black scholars and medical practitioners in Western medicine, but also on alternate ways of practicing medicine throughout the African Diaspora. The 2022 theme considers activities, rituals, and initiatives that Black communities engage in to live healthy lives.

To learn more about Black History Month, find information on this year’s events, access resources for more research, and find content for teachers, visit the BlackHistoryMonth.gov

The Faith of Elijah Cummings: The North Star of Equal Justice

Written by Carole Boston Weatherford | Illustrated by Laura Freeman

During the summer of 1962, when Elijah Cummings was eleven years old, he and other African American children marched for the integration of a Baltimore city pool. They were met with a white mob who shouted at them to “‘Go back where you came from!'” and threw rocks and bottles at them. This protest, organized by civil rights lawyer Juanita Jackson Mitchell, inspired Elijah to consider becoming a lawyer also.

Elijah’s parents had moved to Maryland from South Carolina in the 1940s, where they had worked the land where their parents had once been enslaved and where “Blacks were beaten for seeking voting rights. Elijah, his parents, and his six siblings lived in a four-room row house, where his mother and father – having only a fourth-grade education – stressed the importance of schooling. But for inquisitive Elijah, the nuts and bolts of reading and writing were elusive. Because of the cramped conditions at home, Elijah took to studying at the library, where the librarians tutored him after their shifts and made it possible for Elijah to succeed.

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Image copyright Laura Freeman, 2022, text copyright Carole Boston Weatherford, 2022. Courtesy of Random House Studio.

Through hard work, scrimping, and saving, Elijah’s parents were able to buy a house with more room and a yard. Here, Elijah’s mother became a preacher and grew her small group of women who met in their home’s basement into a small church, the Victory Prayer Chapel. In addition to leading services, Elijah’s mother lived what she believed by helping those in need. Elijah’s father inspired him to become all that he could be. 

Even as a young boy, Elijah worked hard and, on Sundays after church, he listened to Rev. Martin Luther King’s speeches by transistor radio. He watched as African American boys were put into reform school, and he vowed to become a lawyer, but his high school guidance counselor tried to dissuade him. With the help of his parents and the pharmacist at the drug store where he worked, Elijah attended Howard University, where he was a standout student and leader. He became a lawyer and in 1983 was elected to the Maryland House of Delegates.

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Image copyright Laura Freeman, 2022, text copyright Carole Boston Weatherford, 2022. Courtesy of Random House Studio.

“In 1996, Elijah Cummings was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives,” and later became the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. “He spoke out to ensure that everyone was treated fairly and equally.” Even though he was a leader in Washington DC, Elijah continued to live in his inner-city Baltimore neighborhood, and during the protests against police brutality in 2015, he appealed for calm as he walked “with residents singing an African American spiritual: ‘This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.'” Before his death in 2019, Elijah Cummings was named chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, where, as he had for his entire career, he advocated for change now and for the future our children will inherit.

Quotes by Elijah Cummings on his inspirations, work, and beliefs included throughout the story allow readers to hear in Cummings’ own words his passion and dedication to creating a more equitable and caring America for all. 

A Foreword reprints remarks given by Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi at Elijah Cummings’ funeral on October 25, 2019. Back matter includes an excerpt of the statement from the Congressional Black Caucus upon Cummings’ death on October 17, a Timeline of his life and work, a Bibliography, and Source Notes for the Cummings’ quotes found throughout the story.

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Image copyright Laura Freeman, 2022, text copyright Carole Boston Weatherford, 2022. Courtesy of Random House Studio.

Carole Boston Weatherford’s moving biography of Elijah Cummings highlights the strong and supportive family unit that inspired and sustained Elijah as he grew from a thoughtful and hardworking boy into an empathetic and influential leader. Her focus on formative events in Cummings’ life depict how early experiences often shape the person children become while continuing to inform their opinions, beliefs, and occupations. Through his own words, Weatherford reveals Cummings’ commitment to the children who will read this biography as well as to all young people who will benefit from and carry on his work.

In her rich and expressive illustrations, Laura Freeman recreates pivotal events, touching examples of the Cummings’ family solidarity, and community-based actions inspired by the family’s religious faith to paint a portrait of Elijah’s youth and young adulthood. As he rises to the highest levels within the US Congress, while never losing touch with the neighborhood and people he loved, Freeman’s striking images will entice readers to learn more about Elijah Cummings’ legislative legacy and the workings of Congress and to, perhaps, become involved in their own community.

A masterful biography of Elijah Cummings that deftly interweaves the internal and external influences of his youth with their lifelong effects on his principles, his work, and his lasting influence, The Faith of Elijah Cummings is highly recommended for home bookshelves and a must for school and public library collections.

Ages 6 – 9 

Random House Studio, 2022 | ISBN 978-0593306505

Discover more about Carole Boston Weatherford and her books on her website.

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

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You can find The Faith of Elijah Cummings at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from 

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

February 11 – International Women and Girls in Science Day

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About the Holiday

Gender equality around the world has always been a core issue for the United Nations. As such, on December 22, 2015 the United Nations General Assembly established an International Day to recognize the critical role women and girls play in science and technology. This year’s theme is “Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion: Water Unites Us.” As described in UN reports, by 2030 “billions of people around the world will be unable to access safely managed household drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene services unless access progress rates quadruple. Rising demand, poor management, and failure to conserve water resources, compounded by climate change, represent key challenges, urgently requiring a new sustainable holistic approach to support aligning strategies on water.”

Today’s celebration will bring together women in science and experts from around the world and government officials as well as representatives of international organizations and the private sector to discuss the importance of water in achieving the three pillars of sustainable development – economic prosperity, social justice, and environmental integrity. The program will also feature, for the first time, a unique Ebru Water Art Performance to celebrate the 7th Anniversary of the #February11 Global Movement. To access the virtual assembly, visit womeninscienceday.org. To learn more about today’s initiative as well as videos about past observances, visit the UN website

Thanks to Abrams Books for Young Readers and Blue Slip Media for sending me a copy of Code Breaker, Spy Hunter for review consideration. All opinions of the book are my own. I’m excited to be teaming with them for a giveaway of the book. See details below.

Code Breaker, Spy Hunter: How Elizebeth Friedman Changed the Course of Two World Wars

Written by Laurie Wallmark | Illustrated by Brooke Smart

 

In Code Breaker, Spy Hunter, readers open the cover to an intriguing question: “Could it be? Had enemy spies sneaked into the United States?” World War II was raging, but the United States had not yet joined the effort. And yet the “FBI had intercepted hundreds of coded messages from a secret base in New York.” The problem was no one could read them. Who did the FBI turn to? Elizebeth Smith Friedman, who broke the codes, discovered a cadre of Nazi spies, and provided the evidence “to send thirty-three German spies to prison.” Who was Elizebeth Friedman? Children are about to find out!

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Image copyright Brooke Smart, 2021, text copyright Laurie Wallmark, 2021. Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

As a child, Elizebeth loved poetry and especially the work of William Shakespeare, with its structure and patterns. In college, she studied English literature, Latin, Greek, and German. While looking for a job in Chicago in 1916, she met the eccentric George Fabyan, who was trying to prove that Francis Bacon was the true writer of Shakespeare’s plays. He hired Elizebeth to “find secret messages Bacon had supposedly hidden in the plays. But the more she explored the plays, the more convinced she became that there were no hidden messages.”

Elizebeth shared her thoughts with a friend, William Friedman, who also loved puzzles and secret codes. Over a year’s time, their discussions resulted in a stronger friendship and finally marriage. In 1917, the US entered World War I and Fabyan asked Elizebeth and William to establish “the country’s first code-breaking unit, the Riverbank Department of Cyphers…. Their methods are now considered the basis for the modern science of cryptology, the study of secret codes.”

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Image copyright Brooke Smart, 2021, text copyright Laurie Wallmark, 2021. Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

In 1921, Elizebeth and William moved to Washington D.C., where they worked as code breakers for the Army. At the time, the Army used a large, cumbersome machine to convert messages into code, which precluded soldiers in the field from sending intelligence back. Elizebeth and William invented a complex code that used “only pencil and paper.” After the war, Elizebeth settled down to write books and raise a family, but still the entreaties came to decode messages for court cases sometimes thousands of miles away.

In 1925 with Prohibition the law of the land, smugglers were running rampant. The Coast Guard summoned her, and within three months Elizebeth had cracked “two years of backlogged messages.” Her work and court testimony that helped to convict smugglers made Elizebeth a recognized expert in the new field of cryptology, and when the work became overwhelming for just two people, she created the Coast Guard’s first code-breaking unit.

With the entry of the US in World War II, Elizebeth’s expertise was once again needed. Again, she needed to create a code-breaking unit, and in 1942 she hired and taught “mathematicians, physicists, and chemists” the skills of cryptology. Now, Elizebeth’s team was learning important war information about the Nazi’s movements and plans. When the FBI director wanted to nab the spies, Elizebeth recommended waiting “until the military could learn more of the enemy’s secrets.” But he disagreed and raided their hiding place. The spies that escaped quickly changed their codes, making their communications harder to decipher. The FBI director took all the credit for breaking the codes and catching the spies.

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Image copyright Brooke Smart, 2021, text copyright Laurie Wallmark, 2021. Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

As the war progressed, Elizebeth helped capture an American spy working for the Japanese, and when the Germans developed Enigma, a powerful code-making machine that could “create billions of different cipher alphabets, it was Elizebeth’s team that broke the code for the United States. In Allied countries around the world, other cryptologists were also decrypting Enigma messages. The Nazis were now at a disadvantage, their planned attacks thwarted. Historians believe the work of these code breakers “saved thousands of lives and shortened the war by many years.”

Throughout her life Elizebeth could not speak a word about her work, even to her family. It was classified as Top Secret Ultra by the government and kept locked in the National Archives. At last, in 2015, Elizebeth’s work was declassified. “She is now considered one of the most gifted and influential code breakers of all time.”

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Image copyright Brooke Smart, 2021, text copyright Laurie Wallmark, 2021. Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

Compelling and wonderfully detailed, Laurie Wallmark’s biography of Elizebeth Friedman immerses children in the world of war-time spies, where cracking codes equaled saved lives and battles won. Wallmark’s storytelling of Elizabeth’s trajectory from Shakespeare scholar to ultra-secret code cracker reads like a thriller and is sprinkled throughout with quotes from Elizebeth that give kids a sense of her personality and the demands of her career. By including several cases Elizebeth was instrumental in solving, Wallmark provides readers with historical context on the broad range of nefarious activity that relied on secret codes to inform their knowledge of today’s uses of encryption as well as international spy networks. Each page is a celebration of Elizebeth’s talent, intelligence, and accomplishments, and her incredible story will enthrall readers.

Brooke Smart’s watercolor and gouache illustrations offer enticing glimpses into the past while following Elizebeth as she meets George Fabyon who shows her around his museum-like house while carrying a small monkey on his shoulder, establishes the United States’ first code-breaking unit, testifies in court, and thwarts the Nazis’ war plans. Interspersed with Smart’s realistic depictions of Elizebeth’s life are images in which lines of coded messages snake across the page, giving readers a look at the kinds of unreadable text Elizebeth and her teams cracked. In addition to presenting a visual representation of the tangled communications that eventually nabbed our enemies, two of these clever illustrations contain messages of their own.

A superlative biography that would enhance any history, social studies, language arts, or STEM curriculum as well as captivate kids who love spy, military, and detective stories, Code Breaker, Spy Hunter: How Elizebeth Friedman Changed the Course of Two World Wars is highly recommended for home bookshelves and is a must for school and library collections.

Ages 7 – 11

Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2021 | ISBN 978-1419739637

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

To learn more about Brooke Smart, her books, and her art, visit her website.

International Women and Girls in Science Day Activity

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Send a Secret Message

 

Would you like to be a code breaker – or a spy? Get started with this Pigpen Cipher that makes sending secret messages to friends, siblings, and other family easy and fun. This ancient code is called the Pigpen Cipher because each letter is in its own “pen.” Use it as originally developed then try mixing the letters and pens to create new codes. 

Pigpen Cipher Key

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You can find Code Breaker, Spy Hunter at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from 

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

November 1 – National Author’s Day

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About the Holiday

There may be no better month to celebrate Author’s Day than in November. Not only is it Picture Book Month, but thousands of people set aside their usual routine to take part in NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month, when writers try to complete at least a first draft of a novel in one month. The holiday was instituted in 1928 by Nellie Verne Burt McPherson, president of the Bement, Illinois Women’s Club. An avid reader, she established Author’s Day to thank writer Irving Bacheller who sent her an autographed story in response to her fan letter. The day was officially recognized in 1949 by the United States Department of Commerce. McPherson’s granddaughter, Sue Cole, promoted the holiday after Nellie’s death in 1968. To celebrate, people are encouraged to write a note of appreciation to their favorite author.

Thanks go to Workman Publishing and Big Honcho Media for sharing a copy of The ABCs of Black History with me for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

The ABCs of Black History

Written by Rio Cortez | Illustrated by Lauren Semmer

 

This stunning compendium of lyrical verses defies easy categorization as it bridges the genres of alphabet books, encyclopedias, history books, biographies, and more for young readers. The book opens with words from James Baldwin, in which he says “History is not the past. It is the present. We carry our history with us. We are our history,” and within its pages children discover not only specific events and well-known people, but the emotions, philosophies, and traits that have carried and sustained African Americans.

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Image copyright Lauren Semmer, 2020, text copyright Rio Cortez, 2020. Courtesy of Workman Publishing Company.

This inspiring alphabetic journey begins with “A is for anthem, a banner of song / that wraps us in hope, lets us know we belong. / We lift up our voices, lift them and sing. / From stages and street corners, let freedom ring.” From there kids come to B, which is for “beautiful…brave…bright…and bold.” It also describes “brotherhood” and “believing in grace.” At E children meet Explorers Matthew Henson and Mae Jemison as well as some of those who fought to make Education open to all, such as Ruby Bridges, Linda Brown, and the Little Rock Nine.

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Image copyright Lauren Semmer, 2020, text copyright Rio Cortez, 2020. Courtesy of Workman Publishing Company.

G and the Great Migration follow Black Americans from farmland to cities to “Harlem – those big city streets! / We walked and we danced to our own jazzy beat.” “Imagine, invent, innovative” define letter I, where readers find Alvin Ailey, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Gwendolyn Brooks, Madam C. J. Walker, George Washington Carver, and DJ Kool Herc.

The drive to move forward, to aspire, and succeed is eloquently traced from the past: “M is for march, for lifting our feet, / taking the movement, the cause to the street” to today: “Black lives matter. Every breath, every dream – / Every thought, each idea, each impossible scheme.” From sit-ins to their organizers, from African queens to today’s women leaders, from award-winning athletes to scientists to singers of soul, Black achievement is highlighted across the alphabet.

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Image copyright Lauren Semmer, 2020, text copyright Rio Cortez, 2020. Courtesy of Workman Publishing Company.

At U children and adults arrive at poignant verses that should prompt deeper discussions: “U is for United States – this story is tough. / The birth of a nation was deadly for us. / We the people? In the land of the free? / No one who was enslaved would agree.” A second and third verse take in the Civil War and the “unbroken, unshaken, unbound, / like Harriet Tubman, who went underground,” and the battle for freedom and rights that continued after the war’s end. But the pages end on a note of hope, revealing that U is also “for unfinished, this American tale. / With courage and strength, we will prevail!” 

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Image copyright Lauren Semmer, 2020, text copyright Rio Cortez, 2020. Courtesy of Workman Publishing Company.

As this is National Author’s Day, I must mention that “W is for writers whose wisdom and words / bring to life worlds where our voices are heard. / Rappers adn poets and songwriters, too, / all those who spin from our point of view.” And how does this collection of events, holidays, personalities, hopes, and dreams end? At Z for zenith – “The top of that mountain King said we would reach” to which “we march on, / rising, rising, like the sun with the dawn.”

Back matter includes further elucidation of each letter of the alphabet and it’s accompanying concept. These are detailed entries that also lend themselves to further study. Resources also include websites to organizations and museums and suggestions for books and poetry to read.

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Image copyright Lauren Semmer, 2020, text copyright Rio Cortez, 2020. Courtesy of Workman Publishing Company.

Rio Cortez’s poetry soars on optimism, achievement, hope, and a palpable pride in Black history and the future. Musical and conversational, the verses flow off the tongue, creating an exciting and meaningful read-aloud experience for adults and children. The breadth of information that Cortez imparts is stirring, adding up to an impactful look at history and a rousing celebration of Black culture. Every page offers many, many opportunities for further learning, listening, viewing, and research.

Lauren Semmer’s vivid illustrations – opening with an uplifting group shot of young, happy, and hopeful black and brown faces that welcome their young peers – will enthrall readers with their action, energy, and colors. Portraits of famous figures and unsung heroes will inspire children to get involved in their communities and causes they believe in, while reaching for their dreams.

The ABCs of Black History is an exhilarating picture book for family reading times, a superb cross-curricular resource for homeschoolers and classrooms from elementary school to high school, and a must for all school and public library collections.

Ages 5 and up

Workman Publishing Company, 2020 | ISBN 978-1523507498

Discover more about Rio Cortez and her books on her website.

To learn more about Lauren Semmer, her books, and her art, visit her website.

National Author’s Day Activity

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Black Leaders Coloring Pages

 

Whether you’re interested in law and politics, science, sports, or the arts, you can find a role model in the people in the printable coloring pages below. You’ll find more coloring pages of Black leaders to print at Scribble Fun.

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

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You can find The ABCs of Black History at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

August 19 – World Photography Day

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About the Holiday

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

Dorothea’s Eyes: Dorothea Lange Photographs the Truth

Written by Barb Rosenstock | Illustrated by Gérard DuBois

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ages 7 – 12

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

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

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

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

Enjoy a snapshot of Dorothea’s Eyes!

World Photography Day Activity

CPB - New Professionals Picture

News Professionals Clothespin Figures

 

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

Supplies

Directions

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

Idea for displaying the figures

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

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

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

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

July 20 – Celebrating Park and Recreation Month with Chana Stiefel

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Chana Stiefel is the author of more than 25 books for children, both fiction and nonfiction. Her most recent picture book is LET LIBERTY RISE (illustrated by Chuck Groenink, Scholastic, 2021), the true story of how children helped build the Statue of Liberty. Her next nonfiction picture book, THE TOWER OF LIFE, is the biography of Yaffa Eliach, a Jewish historian and survivor of the Holocaust who rebuilt her village in stories and photos to create the Tower of Faces in the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC (illustrations by Susan Gal, Scholastic, 2022). Other picture books by Chana include MY NAME IS WAKAWAKALOCH!, illustrated by Mary Sullivan (HMH, 2019) and DADDY DEPOT, illustrated by Andy Snair (Feiwel & Friends, 2017).

You can connect with Chana Stiefel on Her website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

Welcome, Chana! I’m really glad to have you joining me for a one-question interview this summer! As the Statue of Liberty National Monument is part of the National Park System, Let Liberty Rise! is a perfect book for celebrating Park and Recreation month, which encourages people to get out and enjoy America’s beautiful national parks and all they have to offer. 

I know how much you love to connect with your readers. Can you talk about a poignant thing that happened during one of your visits this year?

My newest picture book Let Liberty Rise! How America’s Schoolchildren Helped Save the Statue of Liberty (illustrated by Chuck Groenink) launched from Scholastic on March 2nd. Soon afterward, I received a phone call from the youth director at a local synagogue asking if I’d be interested in doing an in-person reading to children on a Circle Line Cruise to the Statue of Liberty.

I nearly dropped the phone. 

“It will be socially distanced and everyone will be masked,” she said. “The event will be on Passover [the holiday of freedom]. Maybe you can talk to the kids about the meaning of liberty?”

“So let me get this straight,” I replied. “You’re asking if I would like to read my book about the history of the Statue of Liberty to children in front of the statue herself?” Having received my second vaccine, my answer was an emphatic, “YES! OMG, YES!” 

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On April 1st, anchors away! My family and I joined over 100 people on the Circle Line’s maiden cruise in the wake of the Coronavirus, including Jim Morgan, owner of the Curious Reader bookshop, who helped me with a book signing. For the first time since the pandemic began, I shared with children (real, live children!) the story of how, in 1885, school children contributed their hard-earned pennies to build the pedestal of America’s most beloved statue. 

And then, there we were! Floating on a boat at the base of the Statue of Liberty. It was magical.

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On our return to dock, I shared with the children the story of my late mother-in-law, Hannelore Guthof Stiefel, who escaped Nazi Germany as a young child. She arrived with her parents in New York City in 1941. One of our family’s most cherished possessions is a full page of the Journal American newspaper from October 24, 1943. It shows 11-year-old Hannelore in a red and white striped dress as a new immigrant standing with her classmates in front of the Statue of Liberty! Hannelore grew up and married my father-in-law Arnold Stiefel, also a German Jewish immigrant, who then returned to Germany as an American soldier. They moved to Bergenfield, NJ, where they became the 18th family to join Congregation Bnai Yeshurun (CBY)—the very same synagogue that invited me on the boat cruise. CBY, by the way, now has over 600 families! 

So there you have it: At the tail end of this terrible pandemic, a live reading to children at the base of the Statue of Liberty with my family’s immigration story.

Talk about liberty!

What a fabulous, unforgettable experience – for you and the kids! Thanks so much for sharing it and your wonderful pictures! 

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Let Liberty Rise! How America’s Schoolchildren Helped Save the Statue of Liberty

Written by Chana Stiefel | Illustrated by Chuck Groenink

 

When Lady Liberty arrived in New York after a long voyage from France, her unassembled parts sat in crates instead of standing tall over the harbor. Why? No one wanted to pay for the pedestal needed to give her a strong foundation. Upset about people’s disinterest, Joseph Pulitzer announced that he would publish the names of every person who donated to the cause – no matter how much or how little they gave. Children answered the call, and their pennies, nickels, and dimes rolled in, eventually adding up to the $100,000 needed to build the pedestal.

Now everyone could see America’s monument to “freedom and hope,” and the Statue of Liberty welcomed the immigrants who sailed to our shores in steamships from around the world. Today, Lady Liberty still stands “thanks to the contributions of people all across America — and children just like you.” 

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Image copyright Chuck Groenink, 2021, text copyright Chana Stiefel, 2021. Courtesy of Scholastic.

Chana Stiefel raises children’s empowerment, excitement, and pride in what they can achieve in her uplifting true story of how children were instrumental in building the foundation for the Statue of Liberty. Her straightforward, conversational storytelling shines and the inclusion of quotes from children’s letters at the time will impress and charm today’s kids. 

Chuck Groenink’s delightful mixed-media illustrations inform readers on every page about the time period surrounding, the personalities involved in, and the scale of the project to build the pedestal for the Statue of Liberty. Images of kids donating their hard-earned change, knitting socks to sell, sacrificing candy and trips to the circus, and creating special clubs to raise money will remind today’s charitable readers that they are carrying on a proud tradition to make a difference to their community and their country. 

Ages 6 – 9

Scholastic Press, 2021 | ISBN 978-1338225884

Discover more about Chana Steifel and her books on her website.

You can learn more about Chuck Groenink, his books, and his art on his website.

Check out these other picture books and middle grade books by Chana!

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You can find Let Liberty Rise! at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

June 19 – Juneteenth

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About the Holiday

This week Juneteenth became America’s eleventh federal holiday when President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law on June 17. Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery and celebrates the historical date of June 19, 1865, when Union army general Gordon Granger came to Galveston, Texas to read “General Order #3,” which proclaimed the emancipation of all those held as slaves in Texas. On the one-year anniversary of the proclamation, freedmen in Texas organized the first Jubilee Day, which became an annual event. Celebrations later spread across the south and then nationwide. The day includes parades, festivals, music, readings by prominent African-American writers, educational events and barbecues, complete with refreshing strawberry soda. You can learn more about Juneteenth and the symbolism of the flag on Oprah Daily.

Juneteenth for Mazie

By Floyd Cooper

 

As nighttime falls, Mazie would like to go outside to play, but she’s told it’s too late. Later, she’d like a cookie, but when she asks the answer is “‘Not now, little one. It’s too close to bedtime.’” And when she wants to stay up late, she’s reminded of the bedtime rule. Mazie’s dad notices that she’s feeling a little grumpy and asks why. “‘I can’t go where I want, have what I want, or do what I want,’” Mazie says. To cheer her up, Mazie’s dad tells her that tomorrow she can celebrate.

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Copyright Floyd Cooper, 2016, courtesy of Picture Window Books.

Mazie’s dad lifts her into a big hug and tells her that tomorrow they will celebrate the day when her “great-great-great grandpa Mose crossed into liberty.’” He tells Mazie about Grandpa Mose’s life as a slave working in the cotton fields from sunup to sundown, all the while thinking about freedom. Before they slept, they prayed and planned for a better future. And, finally, it came.

On June 19, 1865 in Galveston, Texas, Grandpa Mose heard President Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation that the Civil War was over and that slavery was abolished. Cheers rang out from the crowd gathered there. Then “‘the cheers became dancing. The dancing became celebrating. It went on and on into the night.’”

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Copyright Floyd Cooper, 2016, courtesy of Picture Window Books.

Now when Grandpa Mose worked, he was paid for his labor. He saved and made that better future he had long prayed and prepared for. Life for Black people continued to be hard as they struggled for equality, lobbying for jobs, schools, voting rights, opportunity. “‘But they never gave up.’” Mazie’s Dad tells his daughter, “‘and every year on Juneteenth, they celebrated and remembered.’”

Black people moved forward, with higher education, talent, and perseverance woven with forgiveness. They became heroes and leaders—even the President of the United States. Now, Mazie’s dad says, it’s her time to celebrate where she’s come from and where she’s going.

A short note about the history of Juneteenth follows the story.

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Copyright Floyd Cooper, 2016, courtesy of Picture Window Books.

Floyd Cooper’s beautiful and soft-hued paintings accompany his straightforward storytelling with emotional resonance as Mazie snuggles close to her father in a big chair and listens as he tells her about her great-great-great grandpa Mose, who was among the first slaves to be emancipated on June 19th in 1865. Cooper focuses on the perseverance, faith, and optimism that filled the hearts of Mazie’s ancestors and the generations of Black families who followed. His paintings span the more-than-150 years since Lincoln’s proclamation, with powerful depictions of newly freed men and women standing proudly in their best clothes as if posing for a photograph; the types of jobs Black men were able to get in the mid 1900s; a freedom march of the 1960s; and another grandfather passing down the stories to a younger generation gathered at his feet.

Cooper’s image of a Black woman raising her hand in university classroom of all-white students and his simple mention of those who have become leaders—with an illustration of Barack Obama taking the presidential oath of office, provide opportunities for further discussion and research. Mazie’s father’s exhortation for his daughter to celebrate now is paired with images of today’s kids laughing and smiling while they enjoy a cookout, cheer, dance, and parade, while always holding their past close to their hearts.

A gorgeous book to celebrate not only Juneteenth but the accomplishments and history of Black Americans, Juneteenth for Mazie is highly recommended for all readers and should be included in school and public library collections.

Ages 6 – 9

Picture Window Books, 2016 | ISBN 978-1479558209

To learn more about Floyd Cooper, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Enjoy this Juneteenth for Mazie book trailer!

Juneteenth Activity

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Celebrate Juneteenth Coloring Pages

 

You can celebrate our newest federal holiday with these two printable Juneteenth coloring pages!

Juneteenth Coloring Pages

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You can find Juneteenth for Mazie at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & NobleBooks-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, visit

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

May 31 – Memorial Day

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Memorial Day is observed each year on the last Monday of May to honor all members of the military who lost their lives in the service of their country, especially in battle. Begun after the Civil War, the holiday expanded after World War II to remember those who died in all American wars. Memorial Day was made a national holiday by an act of Congress in 1971. 

Anna & Natalie

Written by Barbara H. Cole | Illustrated by Ronald Himler

Every year Mrs. Randall’s third-grade class attends the Wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. What’s more every year four students are chosen from her class to carry the wreath. This year everyone wonders who those lucky four will be. Students who want to be in the running to be selected, Mrs. Randall, says, must write a letter telling her why they should be chosen. Hearing that, Freddie and Tommy drop out immediately while Nancy says her letter will be the best.

Anna dreams of being chosen too, but experience tells her she will not. She’s never chosen for the basketball or softball team, the cheerleading squad, or the lines of Red Rover. “Sure, someone always chose her for the spelling team, but the others—the fun ones—never.” But this time seems different. All day—even though Mrs. Randall’s eagle eyes catch it—Anna daydreams and makes plans. When the bus drops her and her sister off, they hurry home to start work.

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Image copyright Ronald Himler, text copyright Barbara H. Cole. Courtesy of Star Bright Books

There Anna makes a secret call to her grandpa and then she and Natalie go to the front porch, and while Nat naps on the swing Anna pulls out her computer and begins writing her letter to Mrs. Randall. The next day Mrs. Randall collects the letters with the promise to choose the team by tomorrow and a reminder for those who will not be picked: “‘Remember,’” she says, “‘it certainly is an honor to be on the team, but it is also an honor to visit the Tomb.’” Then “they talked about Washington and the monuments and the Capitol and the White House, but especially they talked about the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Changing of the Guard.”

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Image copyright Ronald Himler, text copyright Barbara H. Cole. Courtesy of Star Bright Books

At school the next day, Mrs. Randall says that while she received four excellent letters, one stood out. She begins to read it to the class: “‘I want to be on the team, not for myself, but for many others who have not been honored or remembered….They worked long and hard and saved many lives….And sometimes they were heroes bigger than the strongest men around. Sometimes they carried medicine and food to dangerous places to save the wounded soldiers. My own great-great-grandfather was in this special service and saved lives. I would like to be on the team to say thank you to those forgotten heroes of World War II. Yours truly…’ Mrs. Randall’s voice cracked and choked, and then she read, ‘From Natalie (with help from Anna)’”

The class starts whooping and cheering, but Mrs. Randall interrupts their celebration to read one more line: “P.S.—Would you please let Anna walk with me so I will not be alone and she won’t be either?” The class begins chanting “Yeah, Anna! Yeah, Anna!,” and Anna can’t believe that her dream of being on the team has come true. When Anna gets home from school and tells her family, they proudly make plans to travel with their “two girls” to the ceremony.

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Image copyright Ronald Himler, text copyright Barbara H. Cole. Courtesy of Star Bright Books

Finally, the day of the Wreath-Laying Ceremony arrives. The students are dressed in their best clothes, and as the four team members prepare to accept the wreath, “Natalie led the procession down the long marble steps, her black coat glistening and her brass buttons shining like the sun. Anna walked beside her.” As the soldier hands the children the wreath fashioned from “dogwood flowers, magnolias, and decorative red birds,” he loudly announces, “The students of Willow Run School and Natalie, a seeing-eye dog, will lay this wreath to honor the men who served in World War II and the dogs who helped them. ATTENTION!”

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Image copyright Ronald Himler, text copyright Barbara H. Cole. Courtesy of Star Bright Books

The clear notes of Taps rang across Arlington National Cemetery as Anna and the three other children lay the wreath in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Afterward, Anna’s grandfather and parents took pictures of Anna and Natalie to remember “this shining moment of Anna, and of Natalie, who saw the world that Anna could not see.”

An Author’s Note revealing the use of dogs during wartime—from ancient history to today—follows the text.

Barbara H. Cole’s story of Anna and Natalie is compelling in many ways. First, it presents a look at what Memorial Day means to children from their point of view. Second, the story honors not only the brave soldiers who protect our country but also the canine corps which has served our military from our country’s earliest history. Third, in Anna, Cole has created a character who is part of a military family through her grandfather and also has a personal connection to service dogs through Natalie, her seeing-eye dog, whose great-great-grandfather served in the canine corps. The portrayal of Anna as a child with a disability who is an excellent writer, enthusiastic about her dreams, and a good friend is poignant and inclusive. Cole’s straightforward narration of a school day and the announcement of a special assignment—complete with asides from students—as well as Anna’s family life depicts an environment that will be familiar to readers and carries the story in a natural arc.

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Image copyright Ronald Himler, text copyright Barbara H. Cole. Courtesy of Star Bright Books

Ronald Himler’s realistic illustrations of Anna’s Willow Run School, her home, and Arlington Cemetery beautifully represent this moving story. His pages are full of diverse, real kids, smiling, laughing, getting off the school bus, enjoying a family dinner, and solemnly performing their job at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. A hint to Natalie’s true identity is subtly inserted into various scenes, making the final reveal a satisfying moment.

Anna & Natalie is a wonderful choice for all kids observing Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and other patriotic holidays.

Ages 5 – 10

Star Bright Books, 2010 | ISBN 978-1595722119

To learn more about Anna & Natalie and download a Curriculum Guide, visit Star Bright Books!

Discover more about about Ronald Himler and view a gallery of his work, visit his website!

Memorial Day Activity

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Memorial Day Word Scramble

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

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You can find Anna & Natalie at these booksellers

Amazon | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review