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 Non-Fiction

Write to Me: Letters from Japanese American Children to the Librarian They left Behind

Write to Me: Letters from Japanese American Children to the Librarian They left Behind, by Cynthia Grady/Illustrated by Amiko Hirao, (Jan. 2018, Charlesbridge), $16.99, ISBN: 9781580896887

Recommended for readers 5-10

Inspired by a true story, Write to Me tells the story of Clara Breed, a children’s librarian who corresponded with her Japanese American patrons when they were sent to internment camps during World War II. She gave them postcards to let her know where they were; she visited them, wrote to them, and sent them books and crafts to help ease their minds during their confinement. She advocated for those children by writing articles and attending rallies, advocating for her kids. When the kids came home, she was waiting for them – and they came to her. She was comfort in a cruel time. Write to me tells the story of Clara Breed through conversations with her library kids; muted pencil art illustrates life in the prison camps, with excerpts from actual letters on each page to show the passage of time. Endpapers display photos from the period, including family arrivals at the camps and evacuation notices for Japanese Americans. An author’s note features a photo of Clara Breed and two of her patrons, taken at a reunion in 1991. There’s a timeline of Clara Breed’s life, including links to her articles on the war, relocation, civil liberties, and human rights, and a selected history of the Japanese People in the United States. Source notes, bibliography, and further reading are available. A touching book about a woman who touched lives, and a nice addition to biography collections.

 

 

Posted in Graphic Novels, Non-Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Is This Guy for Real? Brian Brown introduces a new generation to Andy Kaufman

Is This Guy for Real? The Unbelievable Andy Kaufman, by Box Brown, (Feb. 2018, First Second), $19.99, ISBN: 9781626723160

Recommended for readers 14+

Box Brown, the award-winning creator of Andre the Giant: His Life and Legend and Tetris: The Games People Play returns to introduce readers to one of the most controversial comedians of the ’70s and early ’80s, Andy Kaufman. The biography covers Andy’s younger years; how his persona was largely formed by television, particularly Elvis, professional wrestling and cartoons, all of which would figure into his act years later. Much of Is This Guy for Real? details his “feud” with wrestler Jerry the King Lawler; one of the greatest “are they or aren’t they?” rivalries of all time. The book also covers his death at age 35 from lung cancer, and the fact that many people – including his co-stars on the television show Taxi – swore it was a hoax.

I grew up watching Andy Kaufman as Latka Gravis on Taxi, and his stand-up performances on Saturday Night Live. I can’t hear the Mighty Mouse theme song without seeing him lip sync and gesture along. I remember watching he and Jerry Lawler go at each other, and never being quite sure whether or not it was real (you’ll find the answer in the book). Is This Guy for Real is an eye-opening look at an artist who was ahead of his time – warts and all – and gone too quickly. I’m hoping this profile introduces new audiences to Andy Kaufman and his stand-up; I know I’ll talk it up to our teens once I get our library’s copy.

Posted in Graphic Novels, Non-Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

The King of Soccer: Pelè

Pelè: The King of Soccer, by Eddy Simon/Illustrated by Vincent Brascaglia, (Oct. 2017, :01FirstSecond), $15.99, ISBN: 9781626727557

Recommended for ages 10+

The latest graphic novel biography from FirstSecond is Eddy Simon and Vincent Brascaglia’s Pelè: The King of Soccer. From his beginnings as a child growing up in poverty in Sao Paulo, Brazil, readers see Pelè – born Edison Arantes do Nascimento, son of a football player whose career ended with an injury – rise from a child using a ball made from rags, to his dominance in youth leagues, and to his first professional soccer contract at the age of 15. He became a sensation at 17, when he led Brazil to victory at the World Cup, and went on to become “O Rei” – The King – a household name, a worldwide sensation. More than just a soccer player, Pelè traveled the world as a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF. An athlete worth more than face value, the Brazilian government and the military tried to force him to continue playing when he wanted to play for the U.S., and the United States thought that acquiring Pelè would make soccer the next great American sport. He partied with the likes of Mick Jagger and Andy Warhol, and had a turbulent personal life that includes multiple affairs and illegitimate children. Full-color photos of Pelè complete this solid graphic biography of a sports icon.

Great for middle school and up, display and booktalk with other graphic novel biographies, including Box Brown’s biography on Andre the Giant, and 21: The Story of Robert Clemente, by Wilfred Santiago.

Posted in Intermediate, Non-Fiction, Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

Feed your brain with picture book nonfiction!

There is so much good nonfiction out for younger readers this Fall!

Refugees & Migrants (Children in Our World), by Ceri Roberts/Illustrated by Hanane Kai
(August 2017, Barron’s Educational Series), $9.99, ISBN: 9781438050201
Recommended for readers 6-10

A hot-button topic today, Refugees & Migrants answers the tough questions that children ask: “Why would people leave their homes?” “What is a migrant – or a refugee?” Illustrations and concise text offer explanations that seek to foster empathy and empower kids to make a difference in the world around them. Barron’s Children in Our World series addresses difficulties that too many children in our world face today, and sensitively explain these issues to readers while giving them the power to make changes. Additional titles look at Poverty & Hunger, Racism & Intolerance (2018), and Global Conflict (2018). These books are a strong addition to elementary nonfiction shelves and provide a great opportunity to talk to your kids about what they see on the news, how they feel about it, and what we can all do, together, to make the world a better place.

 

Where’s Your Hat, Abe Lincoln? (Young Historians), by Misti Kenison,
(Sept. 2017, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky), $9.99, ISBN: 9781492652502
Recommended for readers 2-5

Poor Abe Lincoln can’t find his hat, and he needs it in time to read the Gettysburg Address! Harriet Tubman is leading slaves to freedom, and Frederick Douglass is writing a book. Can any of his friends help him? This is the second in Misti Kenison’s Young Historians board book series (the first, being Cheer Up, Ben Franklin!). Each book features historical figures from periods in American History, with cartoony expressions and simple, one-sentence character actions that lay the groundwork for future learning. Everything ends on a happy note, and the end of the book includes historical figure profiles and a timeline. Fun for every historian’s library, no matter what your age.

 

Dangerous Jane, by Suzanne Slade/Illustrated by Alice Ratterree,
(Sept. 2017, Peachtree Publishers), $17.95, ISBN: 978-1-56145-913-1
Recommended for readers 4-8

Jane Addams was an activist for the poor and for peace. She founded Hull House, a settlement house in Chicago, where she took care of her neighbors by providing food, childcare, English lessons – anything anyone needed to live their lives with dignity. When World War I broke out in Europe, Jane organized the Women’s Peace Party, and led the International Congress of Women, to talk about ways to bring the war and suffering to an end. She endured angry press from those who would call her a traitor; that she cared more for people overseas than in her own home – she was even named The Most Dangerous Woman in America by the FBI! Ultimately, Dangerous Jane was the first American woman to receive the Nobel peace prize. Through all the press, good and bad, Jane maintained her dignity and continued caring for others until the end of her life. Dangerous Jane is an inspiring story rendered in washed-out watercolors that communicate quiet strength, like the book’s subject. Jane stands out in her green dresses and skirts, against the bleak landscape of war and poverty. A biography, timeline, and selected bibliography completes this book.

 

Baby Animals Playing, by Suzi Eszterhas
(Oct. 2017, OwlKids Books), $14.95, ISBN: 9781771472975
Recommended for readers 0-6

Wildlife photographer and advocate Suzi Eszterhaus put together one of the cutest books ever. It’s all right in the title: Baby. Animals. Playing. Who wouldn’t squeal at just the expectation of what’s to come? Full-color photos of baby animals (and their parents) at play will make anyone fall in love, instantly. Brief nonfiction text gives some background information on how Momma bears teach their cubs to fish for salmon, or how jackal pups fight over who gets to play with a ball of elephant poop. Which will, doubtless, be most kids’ favorite part of this book (it was for my 5 year-old). Eszterhas invites readers to connect with animals and nature by looking at photos, reading books, and going outside and immersing themselves in nature, just like baby animals do; it’s a nice call to get the kids outside and away from TV and electronics.

 

Bugs From Head to Tail, by Stacey Roderick/Illustrated by Kwanchai Moriya,
(Oct. 2017, Kids Can Press), $18.99, ISBN: 9781771387293
Recommended for readers 3-7

The third book in the “From Head to Tail” series gives readers an up-close look at bugs. We get rhinoceros beetle horns and luna moth antennae; tarantula hair (eeeek) and millipede legs, and a trick question! There are more facts to discover (tarantulas flick hair from their bellies at attackers… I know it would make me run screaming), with cute, wide-eyed bugs to attract readers. Kwanchai Moriya’s paper collage art continues to be visually exciting, popping off the pages. Additional bugs profiled at the end, plus a note about arthropods – the bugs profiled in this book – make this a great addition to bug books in primary collections. And if you have a kid like this young lady, whose love of bugs got her published in a scientific journal at 8 years old, you definitely want this book around to foster them!

 

Animals at Night, by Anne Jankéliowitch/Illustrated by Delphine Chedru
(Oct. 2017,Sourcebooks Jabberwocky), $19.99, ISBN: 9781492653196
Recommended for readers 6-10

This is a fun look at nocturnal animals in 12 different habitats, from the forest to more urban settings. You know when you see a museum display, with information about each animal in the display? That’s how nocturnals are presented here; each spread shows animals interacting in their environment, with a descriptive paragraph about each creature in the margins. Glow in the dark adds some more fun to the mix: a question is presented in each spread, answerable when readers turn off the lights to reveal the answers (answers are also at the back of the book, for any party poopers). With bright, bold animals that stand out against their night time backgrounds and glow in the dark challenges to find answers, it’s a fun addition to nonfiction collections for intermediate readers. Originally published in French in 2016. Pair this one with Tracey Hecht’s Nocturnals books for a nice fiction/nonfiction display.

 

 

Posted in Non-Fiction

Portrait of an American Activist: Listen – How Pete Seeger Got America Singing

Listen – How Pete Seeger Got America Singing, by Leda Schubert/Illustrated by Raúl Colón, (June 2017, Roaring Brook Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781626722507

Recommended for readers 5-10

Leda Schubert and illustrator Raúl Colón create a lyrical and beautiful tribute to singer, songwriter, and activist Pete Seeger. From the beginning of his career, strumming his banjo or guitar, Seeger led by example; first, by singing and encouraging his audience to chime in; later, through his activism: standing in peace lines to support unions, protest war, marching for civil rights, and caring for the environment. Whether he was talking to grownups or the children that loved his songs, Seeger always encouraged participation – “That’s what gonna save the human race” – and awareness. Schubert weaves Seeger’s song titles with the story text to highlight the relationship between Seeger’s songs and the causes he supported.

Raul Colon’s art is beautiful. His technique provides both beautiful texture a vintage glow to his images, and his spread featuring Seeger’s boat, the Clearwater, sailing down the Hudson River, is breathtaking. Beautiful artwork and stunning images make Listen a great addition to picture book biography collections and a great read when explaining social justice activism to younger readers.

Leda Schubert holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts in the Writing for Children and Young Adults and was a core faculty member until 2012. She is the author of many award-winning titles, including The Princess of Borscht, Ballet of the Elephants, and Monsieur Marceau, winner of the Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction. Leda lives in Plainfield, Vermont, with her husband and two dogs. To learn more, and to download a curriculum guide, visit ledaschubert.com.

 

 

Raúl Colón has illustrated several highly acclaimed picture books, including Draw!; the New York Times-bestselling Angela and the Baby Jesus by Frank McCourt; Susanna Reich’s José! Born to Dance; and Jill Biden’s Don’t Forget, God Bless Our Troops. Mr. Colón lived in Puerto Rico as a young boy and now resides in New City, New York, with his family.

Leda Schubert provides some great links to recordings and videos of Pete Seeger here.

Praise for Listen: How Pete Seeger Got America Singing

★“Schubert and Colón ably demonstrate one of their book’s final assertions: ‘there really was nobody like Pete Seeger.’”—Kirkus Reviews (starred)

“A rousing tribute to a singular musician and activist who ‘walked the talk.’” —Publishers Weekly

“This inspiring picture book biography about one of America’s greatest folk heroes is sure to get a new generation of children singing.” —School Library Journal

“An inspiring and heartfelt tribute to, as Schubert calls him, a ‘true American hero.’” —Horn Book

Giveaway!

One lucky winner will receive a copy of Listen: How Pete Seeger Got America Singing (U.S. addresses; one entry per person.) Enter this Rafflecopter giveaway for your chance!

Posted in Intermediate, Middle Grade, Non-fiction, Non-Fiction

Andrew Carnegie, The Man Who Loved Libraries

The Man Who Loved Libraries: The Story of Andrew Carnegie, by Andrew Larsen/Illustrated by Katty Maurey, (Aug. 2017, OwlKids Books), $16.95, ISBN: 9781771472678

Recommended for readers 8-10

Andrew Carnegie started out in life in Scotland, the son of a weaver. He and his family came to the United States, where he went to work; first, in a cotton mill, then as a messenger boy. He knew the key to success was in learning, and took advantage of the opportunities afforded by a local businessman, who made his private library collection available. As he became wealthier, he considered it his duty to help others help themselves: he built libraries. He built a library in the Scottish village where he was born, and went on to build over 2500 public libraries worldwide.

Andrew Larsen gives readers a concise biography of a premier industrialist and philanthropist, with a strong emphasis on the power of education and philanthropy. Award-winning illustrator Katty Maurey creates beautiful artwork to accompany Larsen’s text, framing her subjects with buildings and storefronts, and creating depth with her full-page art to show us a young Carnegie, standing on a library ladder as he explores Colonel Anderson’s private collection, and an older Carnegie in front of a map of the Americas (and Greenland), basket of yellow flags on one arm, surrounded by books and his dog as he maps out his library plans.

Andrew Larsen is an award-winning children’s author. Find more about his books and link to his blog by visiting his author website.