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.

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Posted in Non-Fiction

Children in Our World addresses racism, intolerance, and global conflict

Barron’s Educational’s Children in Our World series continues with the release of two more books: Racism and Intolerance and Global Conflict.

Racism & Intolerance (Children of the World), by Louise Spilsbury/Hanane Kai,
(Feb. 2018, Barron’s Educational), $9.99, ISBN: 9781438050225
Recommended for readers 6-10

As with the previous titles, Refugees and Migrants (2017) and Poverty and Hunger (2017), these titles provide smart, open social commentary on issues that face our kids every day, in a manner that’s factual, sensitive, and empowering. Illustrations provide examples of everyday intolerance, from someone refusing to provide a bouncy ball to a Jewish child to a group of people who refuse to give up their seats on a bus – or their bags’ seats – for an elderly woman with a cane. Global Conflict explores the reasons for conflict, and the violent ways that conflict can manifest: terrorism and war.

Global Conflict (Children of the World), by Louise Spilsbury/Hanane Kai,
(Feb. 2018, Barron’s Educational), $9.99, ISBN: 9781438050218
Recommended for readers 6-10

Each book also describes the aid efforts of individuals and charities who step into help others, and soothes children who may be afraid of what they see going on around them by encouraging them to talk to a grownup about their fears. Author Louise Spilsbury offers ways that children can help elevate the dialogue: by understanding one another, and by offering ways to help, whether it’s taking part in a bake sale fundraiser for charity or by writing letters to elected officials. There are additional books and resources for readers, caregivers, parents, and educators who want to learn more, glossaries of terms used, and indexes.

Hanane Kai’s artwork creates soft, muted pictures showing individuals working together to create understanding and, in turn, a better world for all.

Originally published in the UK in 2016 and 2017, these books – paired with the first two in the series – contribute to a strong current events shelf for elementary-age students, and a nice addition to collections for burgeoning activists. Add books like Innosanto Nagara’s A is for Activist and Counting on Community, and Maribeth Boelt’s Those Shoes and A Bike Like Sergio’s for a strong social commentary collection.

Posted in Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

Picture Book Roundup: Bears, Babies, Bats, and more!

In my continuing struggle to get on top of my review list, I present another roundup; this time, with picture books!

Priscilla Pack Rat: Making Room for Friendship, by Claudine Crangle,
(March 2017, Magination Press), $15.95, ISBN: 978-1433823350
Recommended for readers 4-8

Priscilla is a very sweet rat who loves to collect things, but when she’s invited to friends’ birthday parties, she finds that she has a hard time even parting with the gifts she chooses for her friends! When Priscilla’s house finally crashes around her, she realizes that her friends are worth much more than being surrounded by stuff. Magination Press is an imprint of the American Psychological Association; this is a book designed to discuss clutter and hoarding tendencies in kids, and it does so in a mild, easy manner. This can easily be a kids’ story on sharing and giving, no red flags necessary. Adorable felted characters and found objects create a visually interesting story that you can also turn into a little game of I Spy with little ones: there are plenty of things to find! A note to parents and caregivers advises parents on what to do if children have trouble parting with possessions, the differences between hoarding and collecting, and ways to help kids organize their belongings. A nice add to developing empathy collections and for caregivers and educators who need books to address behaviors.

Letters to a Prisoner, by Jacques Goldstyn
(Sept. 2017, OwlKids Books), $18.95, ISBN: 9781771472517
Recommended for readers 4+

Letters to a Prisoner is getting rave reviews, with good reason. The wordless picture book, inspired by the letter-writing campaigns of human rights organization Amnesty International, is so impactful, so relevant, and so necessary. A man is arrested during a peaceful protest, injured by a soldier who also pops the man’s daughter’s balloon. The man is thrown in a solitary jail cell, where he befriends a mouse and a bird. When letters arrive, the guard takes joy in burning them in front of the man, but the joke’s on the guard: the smoke from the burning letters serves as a worldwide beacon. Groups of people all over send the man letters; they arrive, en masse, and turn into wings with which the prisoner soars above the helpless, infuriated guard. The watercolor over black ink sketches adds an ethereal feel to this beautiful story of hope and social justice. The book’s wordlessness allows for every reader to come together, transcending language, to take part in this inspirational story. An author’s note tells readers about Amnesty International’s inspiration. Display and booktalk with Luis Amavisca’s No Water, No Bread, and talk with little ones and their parents as you display the book during social justice and empathy themed storytimes. Letters to a Prisoner has starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, and Quill and Quire.

 

I Am Bat, by Morag Hood,
(Oct. 2017, OwlKids Books), $17.99, ISBN: 9781492660323
Recommended for readers 3-7

One of my favorite picture books this year. Bat is adorable. And he loves cherries. DO NOT TAKE HIS CHERRIES. He is quite serious about this, so you can imagine his distress when his cherries start disappearing! The reader’s clued in, naturally – we see paws and ants sneaking cherries out of the book’s margins while Bat stares at us, demanding to know what’s going on. The animals leave him a pear, which Bat embraces – and the story is ready to begin again. There’s bold, black fonts to make for expressive storytime reading, and Bat and Friends are just too much fun to read and play along with. Absolutely delightful storytime reading; just make sure you read this one before you get it in front of your group: you will squeal with glee the first couple of times you read it. Print out bat masks for the kids to color in as part of your storytime craft.

Shelter, by Céline Claire,
(Oct. 2017, Kids Can Press), $18.99, ISBN: 9781771389273
Recommended for readers 3-7

A storm’s approaching, and two strangers – brothers – arrive in the forest. They stop at several animal family homes, offering a trade for shelter; they have tea, can anyone offer them some food? A place to ride out the storm? We see each family, safe and with full larders, turn them away. A young fox feels terrible about this, and runs out to give the brothers a lamp, which they use to find shelter. But as fate would have it, the storm is even more trouble than the families expected, and soon, they’re asking the brothers for shelter: which is cheerfully given. This kind, moving story about kindness and succor is perfect for illustrating the power of empathy. Qin Leng’s watercolor and ink illustrations are soft and gentle, a perfect match for Céline Claire’s quiet narration. Shelter offers the perfect opportunity to talk about putting kind thoughts into practice; whether it’s sharing with others or offering friendship to someone who needs it.

The Little Red Wolf, by Amelie Flechais,
(Oct. 2017, Lion Forge),$19.99, ISBN: 9781941302453
Recommended for readers 6-10

A slightly macabre twist on the traditional Little Red Hiding Hood tale, The Little Red Wolf is a story about a little wolf who, on the way to visit an ailing grandma, encounters an awful human girl. The message here is consistent with the original fable: there’s a strong stranger danger warning, but also a reminder that every side has a story, every villain has an origin. The art is beautiful and dark; an additional add for collections where readers may be ready for darker fantasy.

Middle Bear, by Susanna Isern/Illustrated by Manon Gauthier,
(Oct. 2017, Kids Can Press), $18.99, ISBN: 9781771388429
Recommended for readers 3-7

The middle child gets lots of love in this adorable picture book. Middle Bear is the second of three brothers; not small, but not big; not strong, but not weak; not a lot, not a little… “he was the middle one”. He has a hard time feeling special until the day his parents both fall ill and the three cubs have to get willow tree bark from the mountain top, to help them get well. When big brother is too big, and little brother is too little, it’s up to Middle Brother to save the day: he is, to quote that other story starring three bears, “just right”. The emphasis on bear’s “middleness” will drive home the point that he persevered and succeeded as is, through determination. Manon Gauthier cut paper collage, pencil, and mixed media illustrations add texture and a childlike sense of place in the story. There’s a good lesson about empathy to be learned here, too; the bear’s brothers and parents all support him and let him know that what he may see as being a challenge – being the middle one – is what makes him the perfect bear for the job. Perfect storytelling for middle children who may be feeling the frustration of being too big for some things, not big enough for others.

No Room for Baby!, by Émile Jadoul,
(Oct. 2017, Kids Can Press), $18.99, ISBN: 9781771388412
Recommended for readers 3-7

Leon’s baby brother, Marcel, has arrived! Leon’s excited, but a little concerned about where the baby’s going to go when he’s not in his crib. He certainly can’t go in Leon’s room. And there’s no room on Mama’s lap for him; there’s only room for Leon. And Daddy’s shoulders are just too high. After Leon thinks on the situation, he discovers the best possible place for his baby brother: in his arms. This is the such a sweet story about becoming an older sibling; it addresses the fears an older sibling may have when a new baby joins the family, and it allows the sibling to work through his fears and come to his own happy decision. At no point do Leon’s parents correct him or force the baby on him; they stand back and let him reason things out for himself. It’s an empowering story with a sweet sense of humor. The simple black pencil, crayon and oils illustration feels childlike and will easily appeal to readers. I’m looking forward to adding this one to my new baby bibliography.

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 Realistic Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Momma, let your babies grow up to be feminists: A look at Jennifer Mathieu’s Moxie

Moxie, by Jennifer Mathieu, (Sept. 2017, Roaring Brook Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781626726352

Recommended for readers 13+

This is one of the best books I will read this year. Vivian is a high schooler who is just DONE. She lives in a small Texan town that lets the football team run wild. They get away with chauvinist garbage all day long, from wearing explicit t-shirts, to telling girls to “make me a sandwich”, to groping in the hallways. The teachers – and the principal, whose son is the star player on the team – all dismiss the girls’ concerns. They have routine clothing checks to make sure the girls’ clothing doesn’t “tempt” the guys. This, my friends, happens every day in schools all over the U.S.

Vivian has had enough. The daughter of a 90’s Riot Grrl, she takes action by anonymously starting up a ‘zine called Moxie; initially, the ‘zine is her way of blowing off steam, but girls at school start responding. They answer Moxie’s call, whether it’s to identify one another by doodling stars on their hands, or showing up to protest dress code checks by wearing bathrobes and fuzzy slippers. Vivian isn’t the only one sick of the old guard. The girls’ soccer team has been wearing uniforms older than dirt, so Moxie Girls – as the girls name themselves – hold a bake sales and craft fairs to raise money for new uniforms. The girls at school unite thanks to Moxie, and before she realizes what’s happened, Vivian finds herself leading a movement from within.

I ADORE this book. It’s as empowering for women as it is for teens, who must read this book. I loved Viv’s mom as much as I did Viv, because I get that mom. She keeps her Riot Grrl stuff in a box labeled, “My Misspent Youth”; she’s working to pay the bills, relies on her parents probably a little more than she’d like, and she’s just damned tired. Riot Grrls don’t die; we’re still here, we just have a lot of stuff to do, man. But look to our kids. Viv may be the “good girl” at school, but once she’s fed up, she falls back on some solid third-wave feminism and makes a ‘zine while listening to Bikini Kill. It’s a call to action for every single person who picks up this book, and we’re not leaving the boys out this time: Viv’s boyfriend shows up for her, always supports her. But it’s Viv who is the strong character here, making him understand that the “not all guys” thinking is a cop-out, or even holding her relationship at arm’s length to figure things out.

Moxie is everything good and important about feminism and YA fiction, and if you haven’t added it to your TBR yet, you need to go do that right now. Go make a ‘zine while you wait; here’s a link to my meager Pinterest board so far. And if you can’t wait until Moxie hits shelves in a week, read an excerpt from feminist YA novel ‘Moxie’ from EW magazine.  Amy Poehler’s production company already has the film rights, so that should tell you volumes about the excitement behind this book.

 

Posted in Preschool, Storytime, Toddler

Storytimes for Social Justice in 2017

Happy New Year to all! I hope your holidays were amazing and that you said goodbye to 2016 in the best way possible. I had a stomach bug go through the entire household in a matter of days, so I rang in the new year taking baby sips of Gatorade, but it gave me some time to think, reflect, and plan for the new year.

This new year is heading into scary territory for many folks. As children’s librarians, we have a chance to help make those times a little less scary for parents and kids alike. We can point parents to resources they need to make sure they stay informed, aware, and can find help and information where they need it. We can help kids by introducing them to books, songs, and fingerplays that cheer them up, sure but also teach them about other kids that may experience similar circumstances, so they don’t feel alone, and we can engender empathy by exploring other families’ dilemmas through story. Storytime Underground has issued a challenge this year, and it’s one I’m excited to accept.

sjstorytime

I attended a great Storytime Manifesto program while I was at PLA last year. We talked about how storytime does make a difference in helping children become ready for kindergarten, we talked statistics about family literacy, phonological awareness, print motivation, oral communication and socialization between children, and development of fine motor skills by introducing and crafts during your storytime. I’ve kept a lot of that in mind as I’ve developed my storytimes, and now I’m taking things one step further by accepting this blog challenge. I’ll be continuing to read diverse titles by diverse authors, and I’ll be looking to my other librarians and bloggers for ideas to expand my mind and skills, so I can help families expand theirs. I’d love for you to join me as I start this journey. If you’re interested in your own Social Justice Storytime – anyone, teacher, educator, parent, aunt, uncle, next door neighbor who babysits their friends’ kids every now and then – Storytime Underground has a great starter kit with ideas that you can download for free. There are also fantastic lists you can discover through Pinterest to build on, including Picture Books About Immigration, Picture Books about Social Justice, Children’s Books about Refugees, and Books About Being Kind.

I’m off to start planning and working on my new flannels. Reviews to come, too! Let’s be kind to one another this year, we’re all a bit bruised from 2016.

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

Women in the Old West: Frontier Grit

frontier-gritFrontier Grit, by Marianne Monson, (Sept. 2016, Shadow Mountain), $19.99, ISBN: 9781629722276

Recommended for ages 12+

Monson profiles 12 pioneer women who lived life on the frontier as America expanded into the West. From a freed slave who watched her husband and children sold in front of her to a woman who rescued Chinese girls from human trafficking, every woman profiled in this book withstood hardships, overcame obstacles, and thumbed their noses at nay-sayers to change the world. There are entrepreneurs, doctors, politicans, and activists, all here to inform and inspire a new generation.

Frontier Grit gives us a new batch of women in history that many of us would otherwise never have heard of; while the research is well done and comprehensive, the writing is simplified, more for a middle school audience than the 18+ age group suggested by the publisher. An author summary at end of each profile relates what each woman personally means to the author, detracting from the scholarship of the overall book and relegating it to the territory of history report. Each woman’s impact could more effectively be communicated by making it less personal, more definitive; the lasting impact of each woman on all women.

Each profile includes photos (or drawings, where applicable), notes and sources. A reasonable purchase if you need additional women’s biographies, particularly as they relate to the American frontier or women’s suffrage.