February 1 – National Freedom Day

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About the Holiday

National Freedom Day commemorates February 1, 1865, the day President Abraham Lincoln signed a joint U.S. House of Representatives and Senate resolution that outlawed slavery. This resolution became the 13th Amendment to the Constitution on December 6, 1865. Major Richard Robert Wright Sr., a former slave, founded the National Freedom Day Association and was instrumental in creating a formal national day of remembrance. The first celebration of National Freedom Day took place in 1942, and in 1947, a year after Wright’s death, the U.S. Congress passed a bill marking February 1 as National Freedom Day. The proclamation was signed into law on June 30, 1948 by President Harry S Truman. The holiday led to Black History Day, which was later expanded to Black History Month.

Lift Every Voice and Sing: A Celebration of the African American National Anthem

Written by James Weldon Johnson | Illustrated by Elizabeth Catlett

 

It has been 120 years since James Weldon Johnson, a principal at Stanton Elementary School in Jacksonville, Florida, wrote a poem to be used in the school’s commemoration ceremony of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. His brother, composer John Rosamond Johnson, set the poem to music. On February 12, 1900, five hundred students performed the song. From that celebration, the song spread, gaining in popularity throughout the South and then throughout the country.

In 1949 the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People adopted Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing as the official African American anthem. The song continues to inspire as it is sung and heard in churches and schools and during times of celebration and protest.

This new edition of Lift Every Voice and Sing brings together Johnson’s stirring poem with stunning black-and-white linocuts by Harlem Renaissance artist Elizabeth Catlett, who created them in the 1940s as part of a series of artworks focusing on black women.

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Image copyright Elizabeth Catlett, 1993, text by John Weldon Johnson. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

The book opens with these joyful lines punctuated with powerful images. On the first page a woman strums a guitar while beside her there is the image—perhaps it’s a memory or the subject of her song—of a black man being attacked by a klansman while a cross burns nearby. On the second page is a picture of Sojourner Truth with her left hand on a lectern that holds a Bible and her right, index finger extended, pointing skyward. In her eyes there is sadness and confidence and knowledge. “Lift ev’ry voice and sing / Till earth and heaven ring, / Ring with the harmonies of Liberty; // Let our rejoicing rise / High as the listening skies, / Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.”

The poem continues with the exhortation to sing with the faith and hope learned from the past and present. A linocut of black women sitting on a bus behind the “colored only” sign, created by Catlett in 1946, is compelling for its truth and foresight, especially when paired with these lines. But knowing there was still much to do, Johnson encouraged his listeners: “Facing the rising sun of our new day begun / Let us march on till victory is won.” On the left-hand page Harriett Tubman points the way to freedom for escaping slaves—one couple carrying their belongings and their baby—along the Underground Railroad.

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Image copyright Elizabeth Catlett, 1993, text by John Weldon Johnson. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

The song remembers the “stony road” and the “chastening rod” and also the “steady beat…” of “weary feet” that have brought them to a place for which their forefathers died. Johnson sees a brighter future, and Catlett’s linocut of Phyllis Wheatley, a child when she became a slave, writing one of her poems while three women chained together step into the light her example showed. Catlett’s original caption for this piece read: “I’m Phyllis Wheatley. I proved intellectual equality in the midst of slavery.”

The poem then goes on to appeal to God, “who has brought us thus far on the way” to keep them in the right path and in His hand so that “…may we forever stand. True to our GOD, True to our native land.”

Author/illustrator Ashley Bryan—a Newbery Honor and Coretta Scott King Award winner for Freedom Over Me—provides a poignant Foreword. A short description of the project Elizabeth Catlett undertook after winning a Julius Rosenwald Foundation grant and her original captions for each linocut included in the book as well as the music for Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing follow the text.

An emotionally moving presentation of James Weldon Johnson and John Rosamond Johnson’s poem and song, Lift Every Voice and Sing: A Celebration of the African American National Anthem would make a beautiful thought-provoking and inspirational addition to school, home, and public library collections.

Ages 6 – 12 and up

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1681199559

You can learn more about James Weldon Johnson and read several of his poems on the Poetry Foundation website.

To learn more about Elizabeth Catlett and view some of her artwork, visit the Artnet website.

Discover more about Ashley Bryan, his art, and his writing, visit the Ashley Bryan Center website.

National Freedom Day Activity

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Freedom Stone

 

Freedom is a precious right—one that can be represented in different ways by each person. For today’s activity use a brick, paving stone, large stone, or molded plaster of Paris and decorate it with a picture or design that means freedom to you. Then put it in a special place—in a garden, near your front or back door, in your room, or in another spot—where it will remind you of freedom’s gifts.

Supplies

  • Brick, paving stone, large stone, plaster of Paris
  • Paint
  • Plastic gems, bead, or other small objects
  • Strong glue or other adhesive
  • Paint brush

Directions

  1. Create a design that shows what freedom means to you or an object that represents freedom to you
  2. Paint your stone with the design, let dry
  3. Add gems, beads, or other objects
  4. Display your Freedom Stone

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You can find Lift Every Voice and Sing at these booksellers

Amazon | Bloomsbury | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

November 7 – It’s Picture Book Month

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About the Holiday

Today’s picture books are amazing! Offering glimpses into history, revelations in science, introductions to incredible people, fabulous reasons to laugh out loud, poignant moments for reflection, and much of the best art currently being produced anywhere, picture books defy their slim appearance with content that inspires and changes young lives. Reading a wide variety of books to children from birth on up is one of the most rewarding activities you can do. Make choosing the books to read a family affair! Kids love picking out their own books and sharing cozy and fun story times with you!

Pies from Nowhere: How Georgia Gilmore Sustained the Montgomery Bus Boycott

Written by Dee Romito | Illustrated by Laura Freeman

 

As a young girl living on a farm in Alabama, Georgia Freeman learned from her mother a lesson she took to heart: “Think twice before doing anything you might regret, and never, ever hate anyone.” When Georgia grew up and had children of her own, she was known for her delicious cooking. She even worked as a cook at the National Lunch Company, a restaurant in Montgomery, Alabama. At the time, segregation laws dictated that white customers sit on one side of the counter and black customers on the other.

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Image copyright Laura Freeman, 2018, text copyright Dee Romito, 2018. Courtesy of little bee books.

On December 1, 1955, Georgia heard a radio report that “an African American woman named Rosa Parks had been arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white passenger.” The next day, the Black community in Montgomery was asked to boycott the buses in support of Rosa Parks and because of the poor treatment African Americans were forced to endure by the bus drivers. Georgia wanted to do even more to support the movement.

Soon after the boycott began, Georgia went to hear Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speak at the Holt Street Baptist Church. “He talked about freedom. Unity. Equality.” And Justice. “Those were things Georgia believed in, and she was willing to fight for them.” Georgia decided to use her talent for cooking to help. She and a group of women got together and cooked. They made sandwiches and dinners and sold them at the boycott meetings and in their neighborhood, including to those walking to and from work instead of taking the bus.

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Image copyright Laura Freeman, 2018, text copyright Dee Romito, 2018. Courtesy of little bee books.

The money that Georgia made went to the “Montgomery Improvement Association, which helped fund the boycott.” This work by Georgia and the other women was dangerous. If anyone learned that they were involved in the boycott, they would lose their jobs, so all cooking and selling was done in secret. Georgia’s customers at local shops and businesses paid for her scrumptious pies in cash so that only Georgia knew who they were. Over time, Georgia’s group donated enough money  to pay for “gas for the carpool system that had been set up for the boycott” and even to buy station wagons to transport people around town. Whenever Georgia was asked where she got this money, she answered, “‘it came from nowhere.’”

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Image copyright Laura Freeman, 2018, text copyright Dee Romito, 2018. Courtesy of little bee books.

The bus system was losing money because of the boycott, “so the city did what it could to stop the protesters and their efforts.” Ninety people, including Dr. King, were arrested. Georgia was called to testify in court. She told of her experience in which after paying her fare, she was told to get off the bus and go to the back door to get on. Before she could reenter the bus, the driver shut the door on her and drove off. After that, she said, she no longer rode the bus.

Georgia knew supporting the boycott was the right thing to do, but when the National Lunch Company found out, they fired her. With six children to raise on her own, Georgia worried about what she would do. Dr. King encouraged her to open her own business. He helped her improve her kitchen, and soon Georgia’s house had long lines of people waiting to eat her meals and more waiting for deliveries. Georgia made hundreds of lunches every day. While she was feeding her community, Georgia “was also bringing the people of Montgomery together—black and white.” Georgia’s house was also used for secret meetings among civil rights leaders.

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Image copyright Laura Freeman, 2018, text copyright Dee Romito, 2018. Courtesy of little bee books.

On November 13, 1956—nearly a year after the boycott had begun, Georgia heard another radio report saying that the United States “Supreme Court had declared that segregation on buses was illegal! The boycotters had won.” This meant that people could sit anywhere they wanted. The Montgomery Bus Boycott was just a beginning. “There would be more battles to fight . . . so Georgia Gilmore kept right on cooking.”

An Author’s Note revealing more about the Montgomery Bus Boycott and Georgia Gilmore follows the text. Kids are also invited to make Georgia’s Homemade Pound Cake using the recipe on the back cover.

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Image copyright Laura Freeman, 2018, text copyright Dee Romito, 2018. Courtesy of little bee books.

Dee Romito’s inspiring biography delves into the crucial role individuals can make in supporting people and causes they believe in. By focusing on unsung historical hero Georgia Gilmore and using her own words and thoughts, Romito reveals how those with strong beliefs can use their talents and courage to fight for change behind the scenes and still make an important difference. Her conversational storytelling brings a personal touch to this biography, drawing young readers in to learn the details of this early battle in the Civil Rights movement—also begun by an act of a solitary person. Bookended by the radio reports that Georgia hears, the story is well-paced to show how Georgia’s contribution grows over nearly a year. This timely biography is made even more resonant perhaps in that Georgia’s cooking and selling of meals and baked goods is an activity that many children will recognized from their own involvement in bake sales and other food-related fund raisers. The open ending invites readers to learn more about the Civil Rights movement and Georgia Gilmore.

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Image copyright Laura Freeman, 2018, text copyright Dee Romito, 2018. Courtesy of little bee books.

Laura Freeman’s boldly colored, realistic artwork allows children to embrace the historical context of Romito’s biography through her expressive portraiture that introduces Georgia Gilmore, Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the members of Georgia’s Nowhere Club. A double-spread of the National Lunch Company’s segregated counter is visually striking as the divide comes at the book’s gutter, creating the side for white customers on the left and the side for black customers on the right. The injustice of this separation is expressed in the similar red clothing and dark hair of the woman on the right and the man on the left. Illustrations of crowds walking as buses go empty, attending the boycott strategy meetings, secretly buying pies, and filling Georgia’s home place readers at these scenes of the resistance movement. Freeman uses action, media coverage, and Georgia’s courtroom appearance to great effect. Knowledgeable readers will understand that making a positive difference continues across all generations.

Pies from Nowhere is a stunning book of empowerment for children and adults. The theme of using ones talents to make a difference is a timely lesson that kids will respond to. The book belongs in all classroom, school, and public libraries and is a top choice for home bookshelves as well.

Ages 6 – 9

little bee books, 2018 | ISBN 978-1499807202

Discover more about Dee Romito and her books on her website.

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

Picture Book Month Activity

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Books to Love, Books to Read Book Bag

 

True book lovers can’t go anywhere without a book (or two or three) to read along the way. As Picture Book Month begins, make this easy craft to turn a cloth bag into a kid-size book bag!

 

Supplies

  • Printable Templates: Books to Read Template | Books to Love Template
  • Small cloth bag, available from craft or sewing stores—Recyclable Idea: I used the bag that sheet sets now come in
  • Cloth trim or strong ribbon, available from craft or sewing stores—Recyclable Idea: I used the cloth handles from shopping bags provided from some clothing stores
  • Scraps of different colored and patterned cloth. Or use quilting squares, available at craft and sewing stores
  • Pen or pencil for tracing letters onto cloth
  • Scissors
  • Small sharp scissors (or cuticle scissors) for cutting out the center of the letters
  • Fabric glue
  • Thread (optional)
  • Needle (optional)

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Directions

  1. Print the sayings and cut out the letters
  2. Trace letters onto different kinds of cloth
  3. Cut out cloth letters
  4. Iron cloth bag if necessary
  5. Attach words “Books to Read” to one side of bag with fabric glue
  6. Attach words “Books to Love” to other side of bag with fabric glue
  7. Cut cloth trim or ribbon to desired length to create handles
  8. Glue (or sew) handles onto the inside edge of bag

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You can find Pies from Nowhere: How Georgia Gilmore Sustained the Montgomery Bus Boycott at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

Picture Book Review