Posted in picture books

Black History, Baseball, and Boston: Waiting for Pumpsie

Waiting for Pumpsie, by Barry Wittenstein/Illustrated by London Ladd, (Feb. 2017, Charlesbridge), $16.99, ISBN: 9781580895453

Ages 5-9

It’s 1959, and Bernard is a kid living in Boston who is crazy for the Red Sox. As much as he loves the Sox, though, he doesn’t understand why the Giants have Willie Mays, and the Dodgers had Jackie Robinson, but the Sox don’t have a black player. His dad agrees that it’s an excellent question, but seemingly one with no answer. Bernard and his baseball-loving family head to to Fenway Park for a Red Sox vs. New York Yankees game, but when the family cheers for Yankee Elston Howard – Mama encourages Bernard and his family to cheer for every African-American player, regardless of their team – they’re shouted down by a white fan, who tosses in a slur or two; a police officer tells Bernard and his family that “you people need to learn how to behave”, without a word to the instigator. Mama says change is coming soon, but Bernard has a hard time believing it when things like this happen, and when the Sox won’t even sign a black player. That changes when Pumpsie Green, a black player in the minor leagues, starts making the news. The Red Sox management seem to be dragging their feet on Pumpsie, and the fans – black AND white alike – start putting public pressure on the team to give Pumpsie a chance. It works, and Bernard and his family gather around the radio to listen to Pumpsie’s first game, an away game in Chicago. The Red Sox lose, but Pumpsie’s arrival is selling tickets and making news. Bernard and his family make sure to be at the next home game, to cheer on Pumpsie, and Bernard gets to see him play and see the Sox win! As Bernard heads home, he sees fans waving Pumpsie flags and holding up a picture of Ted Williams and Pumpsie, together in the dugout. Bernard has hope for the future. Looks like Mama was right after all.

Based on the story of baseball player Pumpsie Green’s 1959 arrival in Major League Baseball, Waiting for Pumpsie is powerful because it’s shown through a child’s eyes. Told in the first person by Bernard, we see how important representation is. Bernard says, after seeing Pumpsie play, that “one day, I’ll tell my kids how long we waited for Pumpsie Green. I’ll tell them how he dug his heels into the batter’s box. I’ll tell them how I pretended it was me, Bernard, sliding into third”. He and his family cheer for every African-American player, regardless of team affiliation, because they support civil rights and integration. It was time. It was long past time. An author’s note offers a little background on Pumpsie Green and the Red Sox’s long refusal to sign players of color, and the role of civil rights and fan pressure in their decision. There are some good sources for further reading. There’s a free, downloadable curriculum guide available.

The acrylic paint artwork uses warm colors and gives a vintage feel to the book, with baseball cards and tickets lending a scrapbook feel within the larger story.  If you don’t already have this in your collection, get it in there. Waiting for Pumpsie has a starred review from Kirkus.

Barry Wittenstein has tended bar, driven a taxi, worked at CBS Records and CBS News back in the day, spent a decade writing music and lyrics, toiled six years as a web editor and writer for Major League Baseball, and three years as a substitute elementary school teacher.  He could be Walter Mitty’s brother.
Barry loves to write narrative nonfiction picture books. He is the author of Waiting for Pumpsie and The Boo-Boos That Changed the World. In 2019, he will publish two more nonfiction picture books—Sonny’s Bridge, about the legendary jazz saxophonist Sonny Rollins; and A Place to Land (with illustrations by Caldecott Medalist Jerry Pinkney) about how Martin Luther King Jr. wrote his “I Have a Dream” speech. He is currently working on a YA novel. He lives in New York City with his wife. To learn more, and to download free curriculum guides, visit his website: https://onedogwoof.com/ or follow him on Twitter: @bwittbooks
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Posted in Graphic Novels, Realistic Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

February Graphic Novels bring big feelings

PTSD, by Guillaume Singelin, (Feb. 2019, First Second), $24.99, ISBN: 9781626723184

Ages 16+

A veteran home from an unpopular war, Jun is an outsider whose fate is similar to many of our own vets in the here and now. She’s mentally and physically broken, finding relief in the drugs she’s addicted to. When she connects with a single mom running a food booth, and a fellow vet and his dog, Red, Jun begins to heal and works toward helping her fellow vets heal.

Set in a fictional, Hong Kong-inspired city, PTSD chooses a gritty, urban futuristic landscape to tell the story of a veteran who went off to fight a war, and came home to indifference. Jun gives us a chance to glimpse into a vet’s psyche: beaten down, haunted by her memories, and physically broken, she’s been left behind by the people she thought she went off to defend. She’s angry, she’s in pain, and the only thing that seems to take the edge off is drugs. Basic human kindness angers her – she initially rebuffs the woman who runs a food stand, because she’s so unused to humane gestures. Readers will see our vets reflected in Jun and her fellow homeless vets.

The story is strong, although I struggled with the artwork. The manga-inspired artwork is dark and often muddy. It’s atmospheric, but often left me struggling to figure out what was going on and where. Manga fans will snap this up, and booktalk this with books like Elizabeth Partridge’s National Book Award nominee, Boots on the Ground. This is a young adult and up-level graphic novel with language and content that may be too rough for middle grade readers.

Bloom, by Kevin Panetta/Illustrated by Savanna Ganucheau, (Feb. 2019, First Second), $24.99, ISBN: 9781250196910
Ages 13+

This YA/New Adult graphic novel is a gentle love story. High school is over, and Ari can’t wait to move out of his hometown. He and his bandmates are planning on a big move to the city, where they can get more gigs and make their names – now, all Ari needs to do, is convince his dad to let him quit his job at the family bakery. At the same time, Hector comes to town to wrap up his deceased grandmother’s affairs and sell her house. He loves to bake as much as Ari is sick of it, and he ends up being the perfect replacement for the struggling bakery: even Ari’s dad loves Hector! But as Ari works side by side with Hector, getting him up to speed on the bakery, the two fall in love… until disaster hits, in more ways than one. Can Ari’s family recover when their business and home burns to the ground, and can Hector and Ari ever work out their relationship?

Created with soft blue and white artwork, Bloom is a sweet story of first love, identity, and independence. Ari can come off as pretty whiny, but his friends are even worse. Hector is the strong, silent type that pulls Ari out of himself and helps him discover who he is – and that he doesn’t need his friends in order to give him an identity. Bloom also explores consequences: Ari has to make big choices in this book, and not every choice is going to be the best one for him. It’s part of growing up, and growing up can be painful. It’s how you work through it that matters. Bloom is a good add to your YA/New Adult graphic novel collections and a love story that will give readers the warm fuzzies.
Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Concept Books for little learners

Hello Lilac Good Morning, Yellow: Colors and First Words, by Judith Drews, (Oct. 2018, Prestel), $14.95, ISBN: 9783791373515

Ages 3-6

This cute book features eleven colors; one per each spread. There’s a warm greeting on one side, and objects showcasing the color on the other: “Good morning, Yellow! You glow so warm and bright”, with hand-drawn pictures of a lion, a construction helmet, lemon, and crown. It’s a lovely way to introduce colors; letting kids greet them and name a property of the color that makes them enjoyable: “Ahoy, Blue! I want to splash about in you”; “Hi, White! Where is your color?” Some object choices may leave readers scratching their heads; a syringe is included for White, and blood for Red; a screw falls under Black, which I tend to associate with Silver. I’m also not sure on how words like “trousers”, “domino tile”, and “fly agaric mushroom” are considered first words.

Overall, it’s a cute enough concept book for an additional add to collections, but there are other books that are better.

 

A is for Australian Mammals, by Frané Lessac, (Aug. 2018, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9780763694845

Ages 7-9

This book combines an abcedary for early readers with a geographic tour of Australia. There are 38 animals to be found here: tried and true favorites like the kangaroo, platypus, and koala are here, but there are other fantastic animals to be discovered, including the flying fox (it’s actually a huge bat); the red crab and robber crab (keep an eye on your valuables), a crayfish called the yabby, and the x-shaped crusader bug.  Loaded with facts about these Australian creatures, and featuring colorful gouache illustration, this one is a hit. Pull out some cool facts to share during a science storytime or Discovery Club program. Here’s one that will go over big with the kids in my library: “In a Tasmanian devil’s poop, a wildlife biologist discovered: the head of a tiger snake, an owl’s foot, a sock, aluminum foil, half a pencil, and the knee of a pair of jeans”. Also, a koala’s fingerprints are almost identical to human’s fingerprints. Back matter includes maps of animal distribution, highlighting areas where each animal can be found on the continent. There are free, downloadable teacher’s notes available through author Frané Lessac’s website. The Educate Empower blog has some great ways to use this book across subjects, too.

This is a fun add to your natural history books, and it doubles as a concept book for learning readers who can benefit from learning about exciting new animals and their names.

 

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Bear parents: Just like us! Hush up and Hibernate

Hush Up and Hibernate, by Sandra Markle/Illustrated by Howard McWilliam, (Aug. 2018, Persnickety Press), $16.95, ISBN: 9781943978366

Ages 3-7

Parents and caregivers will love this one as much as their kids. Mama Bear knows that winter’s coming, and it’s time to hibernate, but Baby Bear is just not ready to go to sleep yet, and can’t understand why he can’t stay up all winter. So he asks for something to eat. And then he has to have something to drink. And then the bed is too hard. And he hasn’t said goodbye to all the other animals in the forest! Mama Bear has finally had E-NOUGH, and tells him, in no uncertain terms, that it is time for hibernating. While Baby Bear finally beds down for the winter, he manages to have the hilarious, adorable, last word.

Sandra Markle is a nonfiction maven, and Hush Up and Hibernate shows that she’s got fiction chops, too. She creates a situation that every parent and child will recognize – that bedtime back-and-forth – and makes it sweet, funny, and absolutely relatable to nature, both wild and human. What parent hasn’t said, “Okay, I’m going, bye now…” to their child, who refuses to leave with them? (My mom did it to me, and I see parents saying it to their kids at the library. We wink at each other and smile.) What parent hasn’t heard “One more hug”, “I need a glass of water”, “I need to go to the bathroom”, and “I need to say goodnight to my 100 stuffed animals/everyone in the house/the moon and each planet”?

The artwork is bold and warm, with Mama and Baby Bear’s black fur standing out against the changing seasonal colors. Expressive, big eyes let readers know what’s on each bear’s mind, and Mama Bear’s expression at the end is utterly relatable. Absolute fun for bedtime and anytime. Add this one to your collections.

 

Posted in Animal Fiction, picture books, Preschool Reads

Get down with Bear Moves!

Bear Moves, by Ben Bailey Smith/Illustrated by Sav Akyüz, (Oct. 2018, Candlewick), $15.99, ISBN: 9780763698317

Ages 3-7

This companion to I Am Bear (2016) gets kids up and dancing along with our favorite big, purple bear. Bear has some moves to tell you about, and this rhyming story has a beat that invites you to slip right into a rap/read. Bear – at first appearing in a white skinny tank and tidy whities – is here to dance. His squirrel and bunny assistants don’t seem too excited about the situation, but Bear won’t be denied. Hit the music and watch him bust a move; whether he’s Furry Breaking, holding a stance, doing the Running Bear, or the Robot. He finds a lady partner to tear up the floor with, but before too long, Bear is tuckered out, to the chagrin of his lady.

Big, bold colors and thick black lines make this an instant eye catcher, and the infectious rhyme makes this a storytime must. I just read this at a Saturday storytime, and the kids shrieked and giggled. You can’t sit still reading this book! Get the kiddos up and dancing; show them how to do a robot, and get them to pose in their best stance. Hilarious moments abound, including a quick snack break that takes Squirrel by surprise, and a trio of shaking booties twisting to the beat. This book is a workout and a storytime hit in one volume. An irresistible add to storytime and picture book collections.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Support Noodle Equality with Noodlephant!

Noodlephant, by Jacob Kramer/Illustrated by K-Fai Steele, (Jan. 2019, Enchanted Lion), $18.95, ISBN: 9781592702664

Ages 4-7

Noodlephant is an elephant who loves noodles – and she believes in sharing! Her noodle parties are all the rage, until the bossy kangaroos decide that only kangaroos get to eat noodles. Breaking the law will land offenders in “the zoo”: which isn’t a very fun place to be! Sticks and twigs don’t cut it for Noodelphant and her friends, so they invent the Phantastic Noodler, a machine that makes pasta out of anything put into it: pens turn into penne, cans into cannelloni, pillows into ravioli! The kangaroos are ready to make a bust – will kindness save the day?

Noodlephant is a fun, wacky look at creative civil disobedience and injustice. The kangaroos are oppressive and mean, forbidding other animals from enjoying anything the kangaroos deem exclusive to their little group. The pushback is creative and silly enough to get a laugh out of readers while encouraging them to think about bullying and exclusion. Occasional verse lends a subversive air that kids will understand and appreciate: “When the laws are so unjust, misbehavior is a must!” Sometimes, you just have to break the rules. K-Fai Steele’s cartoony art is bold, bright, and loaded with noodley fun.

Pair this one with Miranda Paul’s The Great Pasta Escape for a pasta-riffic storytime. A nice add to your picture book collections and a fun, discussion-provoking add to social justice storytime.

 

 

Posted in Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

Maker Comics: DIY your life!

First Second has a new line of nonfiction graphic novels debuting in February: Maker Comics is a perfect DIY companion to their Science Comics series, adding a more hands-on component to the science behind everyday things. The first two titles to hit shelves are Bake Like a Pro! and Fix a Car! With the tag line, “Who Can? You Can!”, these books are ready to take readers step-by-step into the world of making and hands-on STEAM.

Maker Comics: Bake Like a Pro!, by Falynn Koch, (Feb. 2019, First Second), $12.99, ISBN: 9781250150066

Ages 10-14

Written and illustrated by Science Comics alum Falynn Koch, Bake Like a Pro! follows a young wizard in training, Sage, as she’s apprenticed to baking master mage Korian. Sage is not thrilled with this turn of events, because she thinks baking is boring. Where’s the pyromancy? Where’s the transfiguration? But what Sage doesn’t realize yet is that baking is a magic and science all its own: it’s a delicious form of alchemy! Korian and a group of enchanted ingredients teach Sage all about the science behind baking: how to combine different proteins, fats, and liquids to craft incredible pies, cookies, breads, cookies, dough, and more.

At once a science lesson, a fantasy tale, and a recipe book for new bakers, Bake Like a Pro! is perfect for middle schoolers and upper elementary readers who are ready to take on some next-level making. There are step-by-step explanations of how ingredients come together – and what happens when ingredients go wrong (always sift the flour!), plus an illustrated walk-through for 8 different recipes, including chocolate chip cookies, cheesy biscuits, pizza dough, and sponge cake with buttercream frosting. At the end of the story, Sage proudly serves up her delicious treats to her fellow novice mages, proudly proclaiming, “Every step in baking is magic!”

Like Science Comics, there’s a quick reference at the end that puts all the major info in one place. Here, we get some helpful reminders on the six baking methods, effects of ingredients and conversion tables, bread techniques, and continued reading (including one of my favorites, I’m Just Here for the Food, by Alton Brown).

Maker Comics: Fix a Car!, by Chris Schweizer, (Feb. 2019, First Second), $12.99, ISBN: 9781250150042

Ages 10-14

Next up is Fix a Car! by Crogan’s Adventures and The Creeps author and illustrator Chris Schweizer. A group of tweens and teens meet up when they join Car Club, overseen by auto whiz Ms. Gritt. Lena, Mason, and Abner are teens with their own wheels, and twin siblings Rocky and Esther are seventh graders who  love cards and want to learn all they need to know so they can be ready when they are old enough to drive. They’re different kids with different lives and circumstances, but the one thing they have in common is a love for automobiles, and Ms. Gritt is happy to show them all they need to know.

The story smoothly moves between each character’s life outside of car club, building a relationship between characters and readers and giving kids background that they can relate to, from a stressed out teen determined to excel in all the things, to the kids working through grief over a parent. Car Club gives them all a landing place, a place to belong, and place to come together and get their hands dirty.

Fix a Car! is incredible in its detail: Ms. Gritt teaches her group how to check the oil and how often to check it; how to check the pressure in their tires, and how to change a tire; how to investigate a squeaky noise. Full-color diagrams introduce readers to the complex systems and inner workings of autos, and safety is paramount, with Ms. Gritt providing smart advice on how to be safe while changing a tire including how to locate a spare tire in your car and the difference between spare tires and donuts (not of the Dunkin’ variety). There are instructions on 10 different parts of auto care, including creating a portable tool kit, changing the oil, replacing a drive belt or pulley, and washing and detailing a car (bonus: adding a racing stripe). There’s a wealth of resources at the end of the book, including an author’s note on how Chris Schweizer learned to take care of his car and some further reading.

Because of the hands-on subject matter, I’d definitely include Maker Comics in my middle school collections, but the reading level works for middle grade as well. With adult supervision, I’m all for teaching younger kids to bake and learn their way around a car, so I’d consider it for either collection in a public library – many of the middle schoolers in my library go between Juvenile and YA collections – and a solid choice for middle school libraries. Create a solid graphic novel nonfiction section, and the kids will love you for it.