Posted in Intermediate, Non-Fiction, picture books

Black History Month: Trailblazer – The Story of Ballerina Raven Wilkinson

Trailblazer – The Story of Ballerina Raven Wilkinson, by Leda Schubert/Illustrated by Theodore Taylor III, (Jan. 2018, little bee books), $17.99, ISBN: 9781499805925

Recommended for ages 6-9

Born in New York City in 1935, Raven Wilkinson was a little girl who fell in love with ballet and grew up to become the first African American ballerina to tour with a major American touring troupe. She faced racism at every turn; she auditioned three times for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo before they finally accepted her into the touring company. When they toured the American South in the 1950s, she faced adversity from hotels who wouldn’t allow her to stay, fearing repercussions from the Ku Klux Klan; ignorance in the form of racists running onto the stage to protest the “nigra in the company”; and dining in hotels where families left their Klan sheets in a pile in the back while they ate dinner together. She persisted, even when she was passed over time and again for the starring role in Swan Lake, finally achieving the spot in 1967 with the Dutch National Ballet of Holland. She later joined the New York City Opera, dancing until she was 50. She’s inspired countless dancers, including Misty Copeland, who became the first African American principal dancer with the American Ballet Theater in 2015 AND danced in Swan Lake. Copeland has said of Raven Wilkinson, “She was a mentor in my life before I met her.”

This is a lovely look at Raven Wilkinson’s life and career, especially relevant in our racially charged society – the more things change, the more things stay the same, it would sadly seem. When Raven eats dinner in a hotel surrounded by families who leave their Klan sheets strewn across seats while they eat, it’s horrifying because it normalizes hate. The indignity of Raven Wilkinson having to endure this indignity is like a gut punch to an older reader, and we need to use that nausea, that anger, that outright disgust, as a teaching opportunity to de-normalize this for younger readers. The illustrations are soft, almost comic book-like, while retaining a realistic quality, that will appeal to younger readers.

This is a beautifully illustrated picture book biography of an African American pioneer few people may be familiar with. Let’s change that. If you ask kids to name African American role models, you’ll likely hear the big names, but let’s make MORE big names. Let’s put books like Trailblazer in our displays, showing kids that there are pioneers everywhere. Neil Degrasse Tyson, Mae Jemison, and Katherine Johnson? Heck yes, get them in front of kids. STEM and the sciences are important. And let’s show them Trailblazer and Firebird; Radiant Child and When Marian Sang, DJ Kool Herc and the Creation of Hip Hop and Muddy to remind readers everywhere that there are pioneers in the arts, too. Children need to see inspiration everywhere, and that there are advocates in every walk of life.

This 2015 video features Raven Wilkinson and Misty Copeland when Dance/USA, the national association for professional dance, recognized Raven Wilkinson, the 2015 Dance/USA Trustees Awardee, at the Dance/USA Annual Conference in Miami on June 17, 2015.

Leda Schubert’s most recent picture book biography, Listen, was about singer and activist Pete Seeger. Her website offers more information about her books, including downloadable activity guides and discussion questions. Illustrator Theodore Taylor III is a Coretta Scott King John Steptoe New Talent Award Winner. See more of his artwork and learn about his other books at his website.

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Posted in Animal Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Intermediate, Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

Books for your Spring radar!

Spring always brings some good books to read. In April and May, there’s a little something for everyone – come and see!

April Books

Dr. Coo and the Pigeon Protest, by Sarah Hampson/Illustrated by Kass Reich,
(Apr. 2018, Kids Can Press), $18.99, ISBN: 9781771383615
Recommended for readers 4-8
Dr. Archibald Coo is a sophisticated pigeon who’s tired of the way he and his fellow pigeons are treated by humans. They’re shooed at, swatted, and treated like a general menace. Dr. Coo remembers when pigeons enjoyed a higher profile in history: in ancient Greece, they delivered news about the Olympic Games; during World War I, they carried messages across battlefields. Now? pfft. So Dr. Coo and his pigeon friends organize and decide to strike: they disappear from every public space, leaving a confused public wondering what happened. Dr. Coo heads over to the mayor’s office a history of the pigeon and a note, asking for tolerance, opening the door to a new era of pigeon-human relations. It’s a cute urban story with a wink to New York and other urban spaces, and has a nice thread about inclusivity and diversity running through the book. Gouache paint and colored pencil art makes for a soft illustration, with attention to the different types of pigeons – there are! – in the cityscape. This would be cute to booktalk with James Sage’s Stop Feedin’ Da Boids!

My Teacher’s Not Here!, by Lana Button/Illustrated by Christine Battuz,
(Apr. 2018, Kids Can Press), $18.99, ISBN: 9781771383561
Recommended for readers 4-6
Kitty gets to school and knows something’s up when her teacher, Miss Seabrooke, isn’t there to meet her. What’s going on? There’s another teacher there today! How does school even work when your teacher is absent? This sweet rhyming tale about a student’s first substitute teacher is great for younger kids who are just getting into the swing of school routines and provides some fun advice for coping with and adjusting to unexpected change. Kitty teaches readers some coping strategies, including helping out her friends and the teacher by contributing to class and modeling good behavior using cues she learned from her teacher, that the substitute may not be aware of. This is an animal story, so kids will enjoy seeing the “ginormously tall” teacher, a giraffe named Mr. Omar; pigs, elephants, bears, a whole menagerie of students. Hand-drawn artwork and digital collage come together to create colorful, textured, cartoony fun. This one’s a good addition to preschool and primary collections.

Tinkle, Tinkle Little Star, by Chris Tougas,
(Apr. 2018, Kids Can Press), $9.99, ISBN: 9781771388399
Recommended for readers 1-3
One of my favorite books coming out this season is this adorable board book! Set to the tune of everybody’s favorite classic song, this sweet and funny version is all about where not to go: not in a plane, not on Grandpa’s knee, not at a puppet show. Luckily, the poor Little Star gets relief by the story’s end, and sits on a potty to… “Tinkle, Tinkle, Little Star”. It’s adorable with the cutest digital art. Little Star is beyond cute, and gender neutral! Sing along at storytime – I know I’ll be throwing plenty of voice inflection (“Did you just pee on this page?”) and leg-crossing as I read this one. Absolutely adorable, must-add, must-give for collections and toddlers everywhere.

May Books

Polly Diamond and the Magic Book, by Alice Kuipers/Illustrated by Diana Toledano,
(May 2018, Chronicle), $16.99, ISBN: 9781452152325
Recommended for readers 7-9
Polly Diamond is an aspiring, biracial young writer who discovers a magic book on her doorstep one day. Not only does the book write back to her when she writes in it, Everything she writes in the book happens in real life! At first, Polly is psyched: who wouldn’t be, right? But you know how it goes… for every magic journal action, there’s a pretty wild reaction! Written in the first person, with excerpts from Polly’s book, including a pretty great intermediate-level book list for awesome display purposes (“Read Polly Diamond’s favorite books HERE!”). Chapter book readers who love books like Juana and Lucas (on Polly’s favorites list), Jasmine Toguchi, and Katie Woo will thoroughly enjoy Polly’s adventures. There are short, descriptive sentences and a nice amount of new words – Polly is an aspiring writer, after all! Lots of fun for chapter book readers; I’d have kids create their own aquariums as a related craft.

Old Misery, by James Sage/Illustrated by Russell Ayto,
(May 2018, Kids Can Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781771388238
Recommended for readers 5-10
Readers with a darker sense of humor (and parents who are Gorey fans) will get a chuckle out of Old Misery, the story of a cranky old woman named – you got it – Old Misery, and her old cat, Rutterkin. She’s broke, and the apples keep disappearing from her apple tree! Lucky for Old Misery, she’s not completely heartless and feeds a wandering visitor, who grants her one wish: she wants all the apple thieves to be caught in the tree until she lets them go! Old Misery decides to play a little risky game when Death himself shows up at her door – and she sends him to the apple tree. Be careful what you wish for! The black and white, pen and ink artwork has a creepy, quirky feel to it, which will appeal to kids who like Lemony Snicket’s work, but may go over some kids’ heads. Old Misery narrates the story, offering an opportunity for a fun read-aloud.

Binky fans, Gordon’s got his own adventure! For readers who love Ashley Spires’ Binky the Space Cat graphic novels will love Gordon, fellow member of PURST (Pets of the Universe Ready for Space Travel) and Binky’s house-mate, as he finds himself traveling through time to stop an alien invasion. But Gordon travels back too far – before PURST even exists! He’s got to get back to his normal time and set things right! This is fun reading for graphic novel fans, and a nice addition to a popular series. There’s time-travel, problem-solving, aliens, and humor, along with fun art.

See How We Move!: A First Book of Health and Well-Being, by Scot Ritchie,
(May 2018, Kids Can Press), $15.99, ISBN: 9781771389679

Recommended for readers 5-8
Author Scot Ritchie’s multicultural group of friends are back together again. Last time we save them, they visited a farm to learn how to grow grains and vegetables in See How We Eat!; this time, Pedro, Yulee, Nick, Sally, and Martin are training as their swim team, The Flying Sharks, prepares to compete. They learn about using proper equipment for different activities, warming up before beginning your activity, teamwork and encouragement, goal-setting, nutrition, the mind-body connection, and more. There are suggestions for fun activities and words to know, all coming together to give kids a fun story about a group of friends staying strong and having fun together while encouraging kids to create lifelong habits of health, nutrition, and physical fitness. I like this See How! series; it offers a wealth of information on healthy living, made accessible to younger readers. I can easily read this in a storytime and get the kids talking about the different ways they play, how they eat, and good habits to get into.

The Bagel King, by Andrew Larsen/Illustrated by Sandy Nichols,
(May 2018, Kids Can Press), $16.99, ISBN; 978-1-77138-574-9
Recommended for readers 4-8

Zaida, Eli’s grandfather, gets bagels from Merv’s Bakery every Sunday morning. One morning, when no bagels show up, Eli gets a phone call: Zaida’s fallen on his tuchus and can’t get the bagels! Eli and his family aren’t the only ones waiting on bagels, either – Eli visits Zaida, only to discover that Zaida’s friends are verklempt, too. No bagels! What a shanda, as my stepdad would say! Eli helps care for his zaida and keep him company, but he knows the best way to cheer Zaida up, and heads to the bagel store on his own the very next Sunday. This story is the most charming book about grandparents and grandchildren, loaded with compassion, a wink and nudge type of humor, and loads of fun, new Yiddish terminology. If you’re an urban dweller, like me, these words are kind of a second language: Zaida is grandfather, and tuchus is your bottom; there’s a little glossary of other Yiddish words that show up in the story, too. (Verklempt is overwhelmed with emotion, and shanda is a shame – you won’t find them in the story, but all I could hear was my stepdad when I read this, so there you go.) I loved the sweet storytelling, the compassion and the decision to act on Eli’s part, and Zaida and his group of friends were wonderful. It’s got an urban flavor that everyone will enjoy, and is good storytelling. Use this story as an opportunity to get your kids talking about relationships with their grandparents: what do you call your grandparents? Do they cook, bake, or shop for food? Do you go with them? (I’d love to get some bagels to hand out with my group… hmmm…) The acrylic artwork has a soft, almost retro feel, but really emphasizes the relationship story with colors, gentle expressions, and soft lines.

The Golden Glow, by Benjamin Flouw,
(May 2018, Tundra/Penguin Random House), $17.99, ISBN: 9780735264120

Recommended for readers 4-8
A fox who loves nature and botany goes on a quest for a rare plant to add to his collection. The Golden Glow is a plant from the Wellhidden family, and only grows high in the mountains. There’s not even a picture of it; it’s never been described. Fox packs his supplies and heads off to the mountains, meeting different animals and noting different plants and trees along the way. When Fox finally reaches the mountaintop, he waits… and discovers the Golden Glow! It’s stunning! It’s breathtaking! And Fox realizes that “the golden glow is more beautiful here on the mountaintop than it ever would be in a vase in his living room”. Part story and part nature journal, The Golden Glow is just gorgeous and teaches a respect for nature. The angular art draws the eye in; there’s so much to see on every page, every spread. Flouw creates detailed lists of Fox’s hiking pack, plus trees and flowers that he encounters on his way, and a map of different zones on the way up to the mountain, from the foothill to snow zones, all in beautiful detail for younger readers to enjoy. Fox’s decision to leave the flower where it is presents a love of and respect for nature that can lead to a great discussion on conservation. Bright red endpapers with angular design could be a topographic map of the area – talk about how different areas look from above! I know it’s way early, but I’ll quietly whisper this one now: Caldecott contender.
Posted in Fiction, Intermediate, picture books, Realistic Fiction

Black History Month: As Fast as Words Could Fly

As Fast As Words Could Fly, by Pamela M. Tuck/Illustrated by Eric Velasquez, (Apr. 2013, Lee and Low), $18.95, ISBN: 9781600603488

Recommended for readers 6-10

I had to start my Black History Month reviews off with this gorgeous book by Pamela M. Tuck. As Fast As Words Could Fly is inspired by Ms. Tuck’s father, who – along with his brothers – integrated a North Carolina school, and by her grandfather, who was active in the Civil Rights movement. Mason Steele is a 14 year-old who helps his father’s civil rights group by writing letters for them, shining light on injustices. Mason’s father brings home a manual typewriter, transforming Mason’s life and letting his words fly across the pages. At the same time as Mason receives his typewriter, his father tells him and his brothers that they will integrate the local high school rather than continue busing to one twelve miles away. Integration is tough on Mason and his brothers: buses drive right by them and teachers and students alike make it known that the boys aren’t welcome there, but Mason endures and uses his typewriter to increase his skill and earn some money. He also uses his typewriter to make a change: he defies racism to keep his job at the local library and to represent his school in a typing contest. For Mason, the words on the paper speak loud and clear.

This was Pam Tuck’s first published story, which won the Lee & Low New Voices Winner. I was lucky enough to see her speak about her experience, and her family’s experience, at KidLitCon back in November, and I got my own copy of As Fast As Words Could Fly signed for my kiddo. Pam’s voice comes through so clearly in her story; I can hear her, even now, telling me about her grandfather and father’s story. I mentioned that I was a fan of her illustrator, Eric Velasquez, and she sat with me; as we went through the book together, she pointed out her favorite pieces of artwork. I mentioned that I loved Mr. Velasquez’s books, Grandma’s Records and Grandma’s Gift, and his talent for creating warm, loving family artwork, and she told me that the spread where Mason’s father tells his boys that they are going to a new school was perfectly recreated: she pointed out areas of her grandparents’ kitchen that she remembered, and said that Pa’s posture and hands were spot-on; the artist had given life to her grandfather.

As Fast As Words Could Fly is a strong story about a family during the Civil Rights movement, and it’s the story of a young man who was determined to make a change on his own terms. I love this story, and would love to see it on more bookshelves. Find a teacher’s guide and interviews on the Lee & Low website, and learn more about Pamela Tuck here. See more of award-winning illustrator Eric Velasquez’s artwork at his website.

Posted in Animal Fiction, Early Reader, Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate

Ginger Green, Playdate Queen, meets The Crazy Friend!

The Crazy Friend (Ginger Green), by Kim Kane/Illustrated by Jon Davis, (Apr. 2018, Capstone), $5.95, ISBN: 9781515819479

Recommended for readers 6-8

Ginger Green is the 7 year-old playdate queen! But when she invites Maisy over to play, she may have taken on more than she (or her mother) have bargained for. Maisy is out of control, and she takes Ginger’s little sister, Penny, with her! Maisy needs to figure out how to turn this playdate around, super-fast!

Every caregiver has had at least one playdate like this. Maybe it’s even your little one that strips down to his or her underwear and takes off through a friend’s house. Parents – and kids! – will sympathize with Ginger and her mom, who are taken by surprise by a playdate that is anything but expected. For parents and caregivers, The Crazy Friend provides an interesting look at kids’ behavior without knowing what’s behind it: is Maisy just a badly behaving child, or is there something more to the situation that neither Ginger nor her mom are aware of? There are some cues in the text that could lead readers to believe Maisy has some impulse control/ADHD-type behaviors. Ginger and her mom are frustrated (and I’m a little mortified that Maisy’s mom was all too quick to leave her daughter for someone else to contend with), but each decides to embrace the situation and work toward a solution that will save the playdate for everyone.

The Crazy Friend provides teachable moments and the chance for discussion. There are three short chapters, illustrated in two-color purple and white, and can easily fit in either an Easy Reader or intermediate section. There are currently four Ginger Green books available through Capstone in the US; in the author’s native Australia, there are 11.

Posted in Intermediate, Middle Grade

Fish-Boy spins an Inuit tale

Fish-Boy, by Vanita Oelschlager/Illustrated by Mike Blanc, (May 2018, Vanita Books), $15.95, ISBN: 9781938164200

Recommended for readers 7-10

A wise old Inuit relates the tale of Fish-Boy, a magical folk tale that explains why so many sea parrots (also known as puffins) nest on Ignaluk, a great rock in the Arctic region of North America. When the hunter Kitmesuk went out to fish one day, he discovered Fish-Boy instead: an armless boy with a fish body, lonely, and looking for a father. When the two travel to another village on a chief’s invitation, the villagers’ behavior toward them is awful – rude and combative. Fish-Boy uses magic to turn men that would harm them into sea-parrots, thus providing a strong message about being a good host.

The art allows for readers to interact with the story; the narration, plus point of view artwork, makes the reader feel like he or she is sitting around the fire, listening to the wise man tell his tale. There are bright colors, strong faces, and images that blend together, almost dreamlike, lending an imaginative feel to the story. There is a section with new words for readers, teaching points, and biographies on the author and illustrator. The endpapers provide maps of the Arctic region, helping place readers in the course of events.

I love a good folktale, and I want to get more First Nations books in my collection. This one is a definite add to my shelves. It’s good for an older reader storytime, and it’s great to display and booktalk when kids have to do projects on Native Americans – show the diversity of stories within the Nations, and introduce them to fiction as well as non-fiction so we foster discovery.

Posted in Animal Fiction, Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Intermediate, Middle Grade

Frog and Toad fans, meet Peter & Ernesto!

Peter & Ernesto: A Tale of Two Sloths, by Graham Annable, (Apr. 2018, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781626725614

Recommended for readers 7-10

Peter and Ernesto are best friends. They’re sloths, who live in a tree and spend their days munching hibiscus and watching the clouds, naming the shapes they see in them as they go by. But Ernesto isn’t satisfied. He loves the sky, but their tree only offers one piece of it. There’s so much more sky to see! Peter is content to stay in his tree, but Ernesto needs to take a trip and see the sky from all over. Ernesto revels in his adventure, making new friends and having exciting new experiences, while Peter stays at home, worried sick over Ernesto. Despite his fear, Peter sets off in search of Ernesto, making some new friends of his own. The two friends reunite, having both learned valuable lessons: Ernesto, the value of home; Peter, the importance of expanding one’s horizons.

The friendship between Peter and Ernesto is the sweetest part of this book. Graham Annable’s one-two punch of adorable, cartoony artwork with giant, expressive eyes, and fun dialogue will be a winner with intermediate and middle grade readers. The characters’ friendship is reminiscent of Frog and Toad; two characters, each a foil for the other, and their unabashed friendship. Their reunion will make you sigh and smile; it’s that sweet. The art is adorable, and at times – like a panel where Ernesto gazes at The Northern Lights, and we see how small he is in relation to the sky – is breathtaking.

Thank goodness, Peter and Ernesto will return. I can’t wait.

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction

Ellie, Engineer: a little MacGyver, a little Rosie Revere, for intermediate/middle graders

Ellie, Engineer, by Jackson Pearce, (Jan. 2018, Bloomsbury USA), $15.99, ISBN: 9781681195193

Recommended for readers 7-10

Ellie is a 9 year-old engineer: she can take darn near anything apart and make it something even cooler. Most of the time. When she sets out to make an amazing birthday gift for her best friend, Kit, she finds herself in the middle of a friendship mess: the girls normally don’t like the “jerk boys”, but Ellie’s discovered that they’re not so bad after all. So she works with each group in secret, hoping to avoid drama. Oops. Ellie has to get both groups talking to her again, and to each other, to finish Kit’s birthday¬†present on time!

This is such a fun story about a positive female character who wears what she wants and does what she wants: she rocks a tool belt over her skirts and matches outfits with her best friend. She draws up her own blueprints and can make anything, from a water balloon launcher to a security system that will keep annoying little brother’s out of her friend’s room. Her best friend, Kit, is a pageant girl and ballet dancer who works right alongside Ellie, and the boys in the neighborhood enjoy a good tea party as much as they do a soccer game. Get it? They’re kids. They like to play. This whole story is about bringing boys and girls together under common interests, and it does so nicely. Girls will see themselves in Ellie, especially those who find themselves confused about whether or not girls *can* be friends with boys, or wonder if it’s okay to still like pretty dresses if they can rock a screwdriver. There are some laughs: Ellie’s got a few backfires, and a few successes that will make kids laugh, and the heart of the story –¬†cooperation and friendship – is a gratifying message. Black and white illustrations showcase Ellie’s sketches for different projects, and a section at the end provides illustrations and a guide to basic tools for burgeoning builders and engineers. Give this to the kids who have grown out of Andrea Beaty’s Rosie Revere, Engineer; Iggy Peck, Architect; and Ada Twist, Scientist. Display and booktalk with the Girls Who Code and the Lucy’s Lab chapter books. Put out paper and ask kids to come up with their own plans – what do they want to make? Leave straws, pipe cleaners, cardboard, toothpicks, glue, marshmallows – anything the kids can build with – out and let the room have at it.