Posted in Intermediate

Nina introduces a new generation to Nina Simone

Nina: Jazz Legend and Civil-Rights Activist Nina Simone, by Alice Brière-Haquet/Illustrated by Bruno Liance, (Dec. 2017, Charlesbridge), $16.99, ISBN: 9781580898270

Recommended for readers 6-10

She is a legend in music and civil rights history. Author Alice Brière-Haquet and illustrator Bruno Liance introduce Nina Simone to new audiences with this beautifully written and illustrated book. Written as a story to Simone’s daughter, who’s having trouble falling asleep, Alice Brière-Haquet weaves a tale of achievement in the face of racism, using stunning imagery: the 52 white teeth “trapping” the 36 black teeth in the keyboard, and the white keys being whole notes while the black keys are half notes: “White was whole. Black was half. It was that way everywhere and for everyone.” Music was made by “important men in powdered wigs from past centuries”. Simone recalls her anger during a recital, when her mother was expected to give up her seat in the front, to white people who came to see her play; Simone refused to play until her mother resumed her rightful spot in the front row. She speaks of Martin Luther King, and his dream being her symphony – but the dream is fragile.

This book is gorgeous. The words are beautiful and strong, and using piano keys as an illustration of endemic racism is simply brilliant. Bruno Liance’s black and white illustrations are soft, dreamlike, beautiful. This spread is my absolute favorite; I’d love to give this print as a baby shower gift.

“Dream, my baby, dream, until you spread your wings…” (from Bruno Liance’s website)

Do kids know who Nina Simone is? Probably not, unless their parents are fans. Does that matter? Absolutely not – this is a gorgeous introduction to Nina Simone, and to activism, for all ages. This book is going on my shelves, in my storytimes, and in displays for social conscience, activism, and African-American history. If you’re so inclined, you can play Simone’s lullaby, “Hush Little Baby“, in your storytime or for your little one.

Nina was originally published in France in 2015. You can find more of Bruno Liance’s artwork at his (French/English) website, Pirate des Caramels, and you can follow Alice Brière-Haquet at her (French) blog, Alice in Wonderblog. Nina has starred reviews from Foreword Reviews and Booklist.

Posted in History, Non-Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

The Last Civil Rights March of the 60s: The March Against Fear

The March Against Fear: The Last Great Walk of the Civil Rights Movement and the Emergence of Black Power, by Ann Bausum, (Jan. 2017, National Geographic), $18.99, 978-1-4263-2665-3

Recommended for readers 12+

In June 1966, activist James Meredith set out to walk from Memphis to Jackson, Mississippi. He called it his Walk Against Fear; he wanted to conquer his own fears of walking through his home state; he wanted to encourage fellow African Americans to become voters: the Voter Registration Act had passed the year before, but the majority of African Americans had not yet registered, still living in fear of consequences they faced. Two days into his walk, James Meredith was shot in an assassination attempt. While Meredith recuperated, his cause was taken up by civil rights leaders of the day: Martin Luther King and Stokely Carmichael, and the ensuing March Against Fear became an historic march that included 15,000 people, resulted in 4,000 black voter registrations in Mississippi, and saw the rise of the Black Power movement.

Author Ann Bausum, who has connections to this history, captures the strife in Mississippi as whites and blacks clashed over civil rights. She looks at Meredith’s frustration at how his private stand grew into a full-scale movement, and at the discord between Stokely Carmichael and Martin Luther King: Carmichael’s desire for Black Power frightened whites who saw the movement as a possible militant uprising; King wanted to promote a nonviolent, peaceful march. Bausum also looks at why this march, of all marches, seems to have disappeared from history books – I certainly never learned about this one in school – and how we are still “trying to establish the essential truth that Black Lives Matter”.

An essential read for everyone. An essential addition to history classes in high school and college.

For more information about The March Against Fear, check PBS’ American Experience page on the Civil Rights Movement and the National Archives webpage on James Meredith and March Against Fear.

The March Against Fear received starred reviews from Kirkus, School Library Journal, and Publisher’s Weekly.

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 Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads, Uncategorized

A Blind Guide to Stinkville is a must-read!

61608104724460LA Blind Guide to Stinkville, by Beth Vrabel (October 2015, Sky Pony Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781634501576

Recommended for ages 8-12

Twelve year-old Alice’s family has moved her from Seattle, across the country, to Stinkville – that is, Sinkville, South Carolina. It’s a paper mill town, her dad’s the new paper mill manager, and he seems to be the only one settling into their new life. Her mother is depressed, her brother is angry, and Alice sticks out like a sore thumb. Alice is an albino who needs to slather on the sunblock and wear hats so her sensitive skin doesn’t burn, and she’s legally blind – but she’ll be the first to tell you that she’s not that blind.  She can see, but things have to be really close for her to see them.

Alice’s parents start talking about sending her to a school for the blind when school starts in the Fall, and Alice is furious – she’s always been in public school! She’s determined to start doing things for herself, whether it’s finding her way to the library or doing the laundry at home. She even enters the Sinkville essay contest and decides to tell the stories of some of the locals she’s met; and that’s when she learns that Stinkville may not stink so much after all.

This is a little book that tackles some pretty big issues: the Civil Rights movement, depression, special needs, for starters. Told in the first person from Alice’s perspective, A Blind Guide to Stinkville tells the story of a family and a town with humor and sensitivity. Alice is a normal tween: she wants to fit in, but she’s got something that makes her stand out. She wants to be independent, and her family drives her nuts. Most of all, she’s a new kid in a new town and she missed her friends – her best friend, who is moving forward with her life. It’s a lot for any kid to handle, and Alice’s sense of humor is her best defense – that, and her determination to advocate for herself.

Importantly, for me at least, it also provides a glimpse into parental depression and the effect it has on the rest of the family, and how the fight to “get better” is not that easy. Alice’s mom has good days, then a bad day will hit. It happens, and Alice’s brother James doesn’t always understand. It’s a realistic portrayal of the helplessness felt by parent and child, and there are no answers, just getting through as best as possible while sticking together as a family unit.

Readers will appreciate this book for its good story and likable characters.  Parents and educators will appreciate how it promotes deeper understanding of different special needs – and how a kid is a kid is a kid at heart, really – and the subplot telling the story of the Civil Rights movement in the South. Great for discussion groups.

Beth Vrabel is the author of the 2015 Cybils-nominated book, Pack of Dorks, also from Sky Pony. The sequel, Camp Dork, will be coming in May 2016. Her author website offers a study guide for Pack of Dorks, an FAQ, and links to her blog and published writing.

Posted in Graphic Novels, History, Non-Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

March: Book Two cover revealed!

jI’ve made no secret that Rep. John Lewis’ MARCH: BOOK ONE was one of the best books I read last year, and that I was excited about the next book in the series. Well, we’re one step closer – Top Shelf just revealed the cover earlier today!

March Book Two

US Congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis made history with the release of March: Book One, his award-winning and #1 bestselling graphic novel memoir co-written with Andrew Aydin and drawn by Nate Powell. Aside from the unprecedented factor of such a major figure using the graphic novel format, the book has been embraced as both a true work of literature and also a much-needed tool for reaching new generations with the history and lessons of the civil rights movement.

Today, for the first time, we’re revealing the gorgeous cover design of March: Book Two, the much-anticipated second part of the March trilogy. It’s scheduled for release in early 2015, so we’re still half a year away — but the interest in this title is so tremendous that we wanted to showcase something special now, as we head into Comic-Con next week.

Book Two will be significantly longer than Book One, taking a step forward into the tumultuous events of 1961-1963 while continuing the framing narrative of President Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009. Major plot lines include the famous journey of the Freedom Riders, imprisonment at Mississippi’s Parchman Penitentiary, and young John Lewis’ involvement in helping to plan and lead the legendary 1963 March on Washington.

Nate Powell’s powerful cover showcases (on top) the Freedom Riders’ bus set on fire by a white supremacist mob in Anniston, AL, May 14, 1961, and (on bottom) Lewis’ fiery speech at the March on Washington, August 28, 1963.

Check out this great piece from CNN featuring Rep. Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and author Brad Meltzer!