Showing posts from February, 2018

Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly, illustrated by Laura Freeman

Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space RaceMargot Lee Shetterly is the picture book version of her book for adults (which was also adapted for young readers and you can read my review here) with illustrations by Laura Freeman. I'm grateful for this adaptation, as I am constantly trying to hook students on the young readers' edition and find it challenging to encompass the many layers of segregation and discrimination these remarkable mathematicians faced and the invaluable contributions they made to the space race. Hidden Figures sets the stage, letting readers know that having the best airplanes would help the United States win World War II and also that, at the time, computers weren't machines, but actual people like Dorothy Vaughn, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson and Christine Darden. Shetterly then details the segregation laws that existed in Virginia at the time, the home of NASA's Langley Laboratory, writing, "Even though they worked…

Streetcar to Justice: How Elizabeth Jennings Won the Right to Ride in New York City by Amy Hill Hearth, 144 pp, RL 4

Streetcar to Justice: How Elizabeth Jennings Won the Right to Ride in New York by Amy Hill Hearth is a compact, richly researched account of Elizabeth Jennings, the woman who refused to give up her seat on a streetcar in 1854, one hundred years ahead of Rosa Parks.
There are so many fascinating facets to the story of Elizabeth Jennings, but Hearth must set the scene for readers first, detailing the differences and similarities to  circumstances and events from the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. In fact, Hearth begins Streetcar to Justice with, "Three Notes about Language," informing readers that, while the word colored, "is not accepted today because it has evolved into a loaded word meant to be racist and hurtful," it was commonly used to refer to African Americans in Elizabeth Jennings's era. Hearth also lets readers know that the term civil rights is used mainly to describe the movement of the 1950s and 1960s, and she replaced it with equal rig…

Florette by Anna Walker

With Florette, author and illustrator Anna Walker turns the phrase, "Bloom where you are planted," into a marvelous story accompanied by unforgettable illustrations. When Mae's family moves to the city, she wants to bring her garden with her, but her mother tells her she can make a new garden. The tall buildings and pavement everywhere are a challenge for Mae, but she perseveres, like nature itself. She uses sidewalk chalk to decorate the courtyard out her window with flora and fauna, but the rain soon washes it away. Mae sets up a picnic inside her room, drawing apple trees, dandelions, birds and bugs and grass and flowers all over the moving boxes that fill her room. Then dad comes and moves the boxes. Finally, exploring their new neighborhood with her mother and baby brother, Mae stumbles upon Florette.
This plant shop, bursting with green, growing life, (and a bird flying in through the transom window) inspires Mae. Soon, the courtyard outside her window is filled with…

The United States v. Jackie Robinson by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie

Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen begins The United States v. Jackie Robinson, "Long before anyone heard of Rosa Parks, a guy named Jack refused to move to the back of the bus. And like Rosa, jack made history, too." Adding yet another superlative picture book biography to the shelves, Bardhan-Quallen and illustrator R. Gregory Christie share the story of Jack Robinson and his fight against segregation and discrimination before he became the national hero, American icon and baseball star, Jackie Robinson. The United States v. Jackie Robinson begins with Jack's childhood in Pasadena, CA, where the Robinsons were the only black family on their street. White neighbors even started a petition to get the Robinsons to leave, but Jack's mother, Mallie refused to leave, teaching her children to stand up for what was right, even when it was difficult to do.

A natural athlete, Jack was recruited by UCLA, becoming the first person in the history of the college to earn varsity letters in fo…

Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison

Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison is a phenomenal book. Beautifully designed and charmingly illustrated, Harrison's book features the biographies of 40 amazing women. In her introduction, Harrison writes that Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History began as a challenge to herself to illsutrate one African American women from history every day during Black History Month. Deeply moved by the stories she uncovered in her research for this project, Harrison brought the stories of all these women together in a book, celebrating, "not only their collective contribution to history, but also their diversity." She also created it with her younger self in mind, writing, 
I think about what kinds of dreams I might have had if I had known about all these women when I was growing up, if I'd known that so many people who looked like me had done such incredible things. To be able to see yourself in someone else's story can be life changing. To kn…

My Toothbrush is Missing AND My Friends Make Me Happy by Jan Thomas

Now that I am an elementary school librarian, I find myself back where I was when my three kids were learning to read - on the hunt for easy readers that are not as dull as dirt. There are only 25 Elephant& Piggie books, so finding funny, well illustrated easy readers that my students will gravitate to is an ongoing quest. Happily, Jan Thomas and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt have caught on to this captive audience and, very smartly, created a series of books that are formatted and designed (trim size, end papers with hidden surprises) like the Elephant& Piggie books, just as funny and, happily, just as engaging to new readers. I hope that what is now a quartet of books featuring these four goofy animal friends multiplies! Dog, Duck, Sheep and Donkey are the four goofy animal friends in My Toothbrush is Missing, My Friends Make Me Happy, and the two previous books, There's a Pest in the Garden and What Is Chasing Duck? In My Toothbrush is Missing, Dog's toothbrush has disap…

Some Bunny Loves Me: Sharing Kindness with Our Animal Friends by Parry Gripp

Some Bunny Loves Me: Sharing Kindness with Our Animal Friends by Parry Gripp (It's a National Geographic Kid's book and a song! Are you ready? Sing along! The video is at the end of this review) is a sweet shout out to our amazing pets. I am that mom who never said "no" to the pet requests of my children. Dogs, cats, rats, guinea pigs, rabbits, tortoises, a cockatiel and puffer fish have all shared our home at one time or another. And, while I don't miss the clean up involved (I was also the mom who didn't make her kids take care of "their" pets because they were secretly "my" pets...) I do miss our pets who have passed, especially our rabbits. Some Bunny Loves Me is a playfully beautiful tribute to the many joys of being a pet owner, as well as a gentle tutorial for children on the needs of pets.   Playing with the title, the refrain changes with each pet - somedoggy, somekitty, somechickies and more. Gripp's rhymes are easy to sing al…

Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed, illustrated by Stasia Burrington

Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed, illustrated by Stasia Burrington is a stellar picture book biography that reminds me, once again, why it is vitally important to give even the youngest readers access to stories about about the lives, the childhoods especially, of people who have made great contributions to our world. To put it simply, you can't be what you can't see. When I was a kid, I can't remember a single biography for kids that I read. Although I'm sure they existed, they were likely so unappealing that I passed them over without a thought. When my oldest children were in elementary school, the only biographies on the shelves that featured the young lives of the famous were the Childhood of Famous Americans 70 book series, which can be a bit dry. In the last 10 years, the breadth and diversity - both in format, style, content and subject matter - of biographies for children has expanded spectacularly, giving young readers of all ages and abilities the opportuni…

This Is Not a Valentine by Carter Higgins, illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins

There are a few different ways you can read This Is Not a Valentine by Carter Higgins, illustrated by Lucy Cummins . Before the text begins, a boy and a girl are waiting for the school bus when she hands him a red envelope. A page turn shows the children on the bus, in different rows, the boy opening the envelope, and exclamation point above his head. The story begins as the children are getting off the bus at school, the boy approaching the giver of the card, explaining, "This is not a Valentine," as he hands her a small bouquet of dandelions. What follows is text that reads like a poem as he continues to give the girl gifts throughout the school day. My favorite is when he presents her with a ring from a vending machine saying,
This is not a valentine, since jewels and gems belong in treasure chests or museums or on ladies who sing at the opera. And the fanciest ones don't don't come out of some machine at the grocery store anyway. But this one matches your best shoel…

Heartwood Hotel: Better Together by Kallie George, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin,

Last year I reviewed A True Home by Kallie George, charmingly illustrated by Stephanie Graegin, the first book in the Heartwood Hotel series featuring the forest adventures of a crew of creatures running a bustling hotel. As I said at the start of that review, having been enamored of The Wind in the Willows and the works of Beatrix Potter as a child, I still absolutely love a good forest story. And, having worked with kid's books for 25 years now, I can tell you that series like this are rare. The Heartwood Hotel books bring to life the the charming creativity of an anthropomorphized community of woodland creatures, balancing it with the unpredictable dangers of life in the natural world.  
In the first book in what will be a four book series, one book for each season, Mona is a mouse who has lost her family and her home. Wandering through Fernwood Forest, she discovers a new one when she stumbles upon the secret entrance to the Heartwood Hotel. Run by Mr. Heartwood, a kindhearted,…

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds, 320 pp, RL: Middle Grade

Last year I heard an interview with Jason Reynolds on NPR talking about his most recent book, Long Way Down. And, while there are many compelling, stunning, unforgettable aspects to this book, Reynolds's reason for writing it, and writing it as a verse novel are what made me certain this was a book I would buy, read and review. When asked why he wrote Long Way Down in the form of poetry, Reynolds answered:
I need my young brothers who are living in these environments, I need the kids who are not living in these environments, to have no excuses not to read the book. The truth of the matter is that I recognize that I write prose and I love prose and I want everybody to read prose, but I'm also not - I would never sort of deny the fact that, like, literacy in America is not the highest, especially among young men, especially amongst young men of color. It's something that we've all been working very hard on. And my job is not to sort of critique or judge that. My job is to…