Posted in Intermediate, Non-Fiction, Non-Fiction

Black History Month: The Youngest Marcher, by Cynthia Levinson

youngest-marcherThe Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist, by Cynthia Levinson/illustrated by Vanessa Brantley Newton, (Jan. 2017, Atheneum Books for Young Readers), $17.99, ISBN: 9781481400701

Recommended for ages 5-10

In May 1963, children in Birmingham, Alabama, trained in peaceful, civil disobedience, marched to protest segregation. Nine year-old Audrey Faye Hendricks was the youngest marcher, fully invested in civil rights and aware that she would likely go to jail. She spent a week in juvenile hall with flimsy blankets and no toothbrush, but she persevered and made history. Nonfiction author Cynthia Levinson tells the story of the youngest marcher, with illustrations by Vanessa Brantley Newton, here for younger audiences, assuring children that no one is too small, too young, to make a difference in the world.

I’ve been handing this book to kids coming in, looking for African-American biographies for their Black History Month reports for just this reason. I want children to see that they are important. They count. At a time when many feel marginalized, books like The Youngest Marcher, with its powerful words and images, offer representation and affirmation. Children have a voice, and with support and encouragement, they can use them and be heard.

Cynthia Levinson’s author website offers links to further resources, including curriculum guides and videos. Illustrator Vanessa Brantley-Newton was spotlighted by the WeNeedDiverseBooks initiative, for which she also created original artwork. For more information about the 1963 Birmingham Children’s Crusade, visit or the Zinn Education Project, offering information about the award-winning documentary, Mighty Times.


Posted in Middle Grade, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Tween Reads, Women's History

Life in Motion: Misty Copeland’s inspiring autobiography, edited for young readers

misty-copelandLife in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina (Young Reader Edition), by Misty Copeland, (Dec. 2016, Aladdin), $17.99, ISBN: 978148147979

Recommended for ages 8-12

Misty Copeland is amazing. The first African-American principal dancer for American Ballet Theatre didn’t start ballet until her early teens and has faced poverty, racism, criticism, and injury to do what she loves. In this young readers edition of her autobiography, she tells readers about the trials and triumphs she’s lived, the hard work she’s put in, and the sacrifices she’s made to get where she is in the dance world. We read about the custody battle between her mother and ballet teacher when she was 15; the rampant racism she’s endured, and she holds up to the light the eating issues that run rampant in the ballet community. We also read about amazing achievements, like her dancing on tour with Prince and her joy at meeting the dancers that inspired her the way she inspires a new generation of children.

Misty does not shy away from diversity here: she embraces it, giving us the names of the African-American dancers that went before her. She also doesn’t hide the fact that she’s taken some heat for being “too mainstream”; that bringing ballet to the masses is looked down upon – thankfully, that’s something she disagrees with. Ballet and dance, the arts, are for all – if she can inspire another kid to put on a pair of toe shoes, or sign up for hip hop classes because it’s something they love, she’s done right. Copeland is all about embracing your passion. Her confidence and gratitude come through in equal measure, and she dispenses advice for living and building one’s self-esteem throughout the book. Embrace your strengths and never give up – these are the lessons that kids will come away with after spending some time with Misty Copeland.

There are photos in the finished book (I’ve got an egalley), and more on her home page. You can also find her on the American Ballet Theatre page, which also has a section on education and training for readers interested in learning more. Display and booktalk this with Copeland’s picture book (illustrated by Christopher Myers), Firebird.

This book is a must-add to biography collections. Booktalk and display this if, like me, you’ve got kids that need to see someone smashing stereotypes and making it to the top of her (or his) game. If you have dancers in your home or your life, give this book to them and let them watch this ABC Sunday Spotlight from 2014.

Posted in Early Reader, Graphic Novels, Intermediate, Non-Fiction, Non-Fiction, Non-Fiction

A touching portrait of a Canadian strongman: The Great Antonio

antonio_1The Great Antonio, by Elise Gravel (Oct. 2016, TOON Books), $12.95, ISBN: 978-1-943145-08-9

Recommended for ages 6-8

Antonio Barichievich was a bear of a man: he weighed as much as a horse, once wrestled a bear, pulled passenger buses full of people, and could eat 25 roast chickens and a dozen donuts in one sitting. He was also a beloved figure: an immigrant from Eastern Europe who loved his adopted country of Canada and its people. He was a wrestler and a strongman; he was a kind and gentle soul who twirled kids around on his gigantic braids, who lived simply, and could often be found in his neighborhood donut shop.

Even if you’re not familiar with The Great Antonio – I wasn’t, before this – this is a sweet tribute to a beloved public figure. The book is accessible to anyone, because it’s a story about a larger-than-life person who did larger-than-life things. Add bright and bold illustration to a story about a man that some people thought of in Paul Bunyan-type terms, even joking that he may have been from another planet – and you have a modern tall tale for a new audience.



A note from the author/illustrator at the end of the book explains her interest in Antonio. She “illustrates a little “About Me”, showing readers things she likes, like fart jokes, grumpy unidentified things, and strong and funny girl characters, which assures that I should probably become BFFs with her, because I like those things too, and my kids and the kids in my library know it. This will make life so much easier when I booktalk this book (and try to find more of her illustrated books in the US).

Check out Elsie Gravel’s website for more of her artwork and books. The Great Antonio‘s page on TOON Books will also have a link to an educator’s guide closer to pub date, so keep it bookmarked. The Great Antonio is a Level 2 TOON Book, so it’s appropriate for readers in grades 1-2 (but you can read it to younger – my 4 year old loved seeing Antonio swing kids from his braids and wrestle a bear). If your kids’ school uses Guided Reading, the book is appropriate for levels G-K, and it’s a Lexile BR-240.

As a biography, it’s pretty niche, at least here in the U.S., but as a story about a person who touched lives and made headlines, it’s a great read.  I love the art and the story, so I’ll see how this one does in my collection, especially with some booktalking/storytimes.

Here’s more excerpts from The Great Antonio:





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

Kid Athletes makes sports legends accessible to all!

kid athletesKid Athletes: True Tales of Childhood from Sports Legends, by David Stabler/Illustrated by Doogie Horner, (Nov. 20156, Quirk Books), $13.95, ISBN: 978-1-59474-802-8

Recommended for ages 8-12

The author and illustrator of Kid Presidents are back, this time with 20 true stories from famous athletes’ childhoods. From Babe Ruth to Tiger Woods, there’s a story for everyone here; there’s a great range of sports, spotlights on both male and female athletes, and featuring a multicultural spread of personalities, including Jackie Robinson, Yao Ming, Gabby Douglas, Bruce Lee, and Muhammad Ali. There are some great stories to tell: Babe Ruth grew up in an orphanage after his parents gave him up; soccer player Lionel Messi was teased for being small; Gabby Douglas and Jackie Robinson experienced racism from her own peers. Each profiled athlete provides inspiration for young readers on meeting and conquering challenges in their personal and professional lives. Kids will recognize many of the challenges – racism, poverty, sexism – faced by the athletes and be moved by the humanity behind the legendary personalities.

Doogie Horner’s colorful illustrations throughout the book add to each profile, infusing the biographies with color and personality.

Kid Athletes is a hit, with bite-sized bios on sports figures past and present, that will work for quick reads and quick class assignments. Get this one on your shelves, hopefully right next to your copy of Kid Presidents.

Posted in Non-Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads, Uncategorized, Women's History

Radioactive! The story of two women scientists and how they changed the world.

radioactiveRadioactive!: How Irène Curie and Lise Meitner Revolutionized Science and Changed the World, by Winifred Conkling (Jan. 2016, Algonquin Young Readers), $17.95, ISBN: 9781616204150

Recommended for ages 12+

Most of us know who Marie Curie was: the scientist who pioneered the study of radioactivity. But how many know that her daughter, Irène, was an accomplished scientist in her own right, whose studies on radioactivity, physics, and the transmutation of elements earned her a Nobel prize, shared with her husband? Have you heard of Lise Meitner, the physicist whose work in physics – often published in conjunction with her friend and research partner, Otto Hahn – led to the discovery of nuclear fission? She was passed over for a Nobel for several reasons, not the least of which involved her being straight-up robbed by a partner who took credit for much of her work during the World War II years, when she was exiled in Sweden.

Radioactive! tells the stories of these two very important women and their historical research. We learn Irène’s story from the beginning, as the daughter of celebrated scientist, Marie Curie. She worked by her mother’s side, operating an x-ray machine on World War I battlefields, eventually going on to further her mother’s work in radioactivity along with her chemist husband, Pierre Joliot. We learn about Lise Meitner, whose work put her in competition with Curie many times, but experienced more sexism and prejudice than Curie ever did. When Hitler rose to power in the 1930s, her Jewish heritage created problems at her research position, where former colleagues turned against her and demanded she resign; she was eventually forced her to flee Austria for Sweden or end up in a concentration camp. Although she continued to consult with Hahn on their nuclear fission research, he took credit for her work and took home the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1944.

I’ve been looking for biographies on women in science for my tweens and teens, and this certainly fits the bill. There are photographs throughout the book, and Ms. Conkling provides strong backgrounds on both Curie and Mietner, making them live again, making the reader care about them, and explaining physics, fission, and radioactive science in terms that we can all wrap our heads around. A valuable addition to libraries and classrooms, and a great book for anyone who wants to inspire the next generation of scientists – female OR male.

Winifred Conkling is an award-winning author of fiction and nonfiction for young readers, including Passenger on the Pearl: The True Story of Emily Edmonson’s Flight from Slavery and the middle-grade novel Sylvia and Aki, winner of the Jane Addams Children’s Literature Award and the Tomás Rivera Award. Her author website provides teacher guides for her books. There is no guide up for Radioactive yet, but I’m sure there will be one closer to the book’s publication date.

Posted in Non-Fiction

Coco and the Little Black Dress is an inspirational story

coco and the black dressCoco and the Little Black Dress, by Annemarie Van Haeringen (Sept. 2015, North South Books), $16.95, ISBN: 9780735842397

Recommended for ages 6-10

Raised in an orphanage, Coco Chanel may have started life off in a decidedly life, but she learned life skills and developed a drive for success that propelled her to the heights of high fashion. Coco and the Little Black Dress tells the story of Coco Chanel’s rise to fame, beginning with learning how to sew, embroider, knit, mend, and crochet at the orphanage. She befriended the wealthy and powerful as she got older, and decided to change to outlandish and uncomfortable clothing the women wore. Starting with a pair of jodphurs for herself, she began making beautiful hats and comfortable, loosely fitted knits for women, freeing them from corsets. She created a perfume that smelled “like a beautiful woman” and finally, her crowning achievement: the little black dress – “the magic dress that shows how beautiful a woman is.”

It’s always a relief to see a biography for younger children about a strong female figure, and Coco Chanel certainly fits the bill. She was a self-made woman who gave women the ability to be free of uncomfortable clothing, to embrace their figures. The endpapers lead us right into Coco’s story, providing an early dress design at the beginning and a finished black dress to leave us with.

Author Annemarie van Haeringen is a three-time Golden Brush Award winner; Coco and the Little Black Dress, previously published in German, won the silver in 2014.

Posted in Preschool Reads

Mahalia Jackson: Walking with Kings and Queens is a beautiful biography for young readers

mahaliaMahalia Jackson: Walking with Kings and Queens, by Nina Nolan/illus. by John Holyfield (2015, Amistad/HarperCollins),$17.99, ISBN: 978-0-06-087944-0

Recommended for ages 6-10

Mahalia Jackson had a voice that could make the world stop. I’m only familiar with her through my mom’s records and Ms. Jackson’s enduring performance as a choir soloist in the movie Imitation of Life, but once you’ve heard her sing, her voice is with you forever.

Walking with Kings and Queens is Mahalia’s story, from her New Orleans childhood to her performance at the March on Washington. It’s a story of determination and endurance, of her faith, and her talent. Orphaned at a young age, she lived with her aunts, forced to drop in and out of school as other duties made themselves known. She always had her singing, though. As a child, it made her feel like a peacock, spreading his feathers, and as she grew, it was a source of strength and comfort to her. She drove to churches that would pay her to sing, and was finally noticed by someone from Decca Records. From there, her gospel was heard far and wide. Her aunt once told her she would “walk with kings and queens” one day, but she never counted on being a queen herself – the queen of gospel.

This book is gorgeous, with beautiful acrylic paintings bringing out the true joy that singing brought Mahalia Jackson. Her face is always tilted upward, illustrating her relationship with God and her music, a beatific smile lighting up her face. The story emphasizes Mahalia’s determination not only to keep singing, but her determination to continue her education. There are positive messages to be found through this whole story, and I’m hoping it finds a place on library and classroom shelves to introduce a new generation of listeners to Mahalia Jackson and her amazing voice.