February is Black History Month so here’s a heads-up to grab both of these fantastic titles now!
To help with that, I’m giving away my copy of one of them — Fancy Party Gowns! Details are at the end of today’s post.
Freedom Over Me, written and illustrated by Ashley Bryan
published in 2016 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
This powerful, visually-stunning, labor of love by one of our national treasures, Ashley Bryan, is guaranteed to make an impact on you and your children.
I read the Author’s Note first, even though it’s at the back of the book, and recommend you do that for some context. In it, Bryan tells how he “acquired a collection of slave-related documents” and went about focusing on one of them — an estate appraisal from 1828 detailing the valuation of eleven slaves among other assorted commodities: hogs, cotton, a cheap handmill.
Bryan uses his imagination, his long years of life and learning, and his very soul, to bring these people to life for us, giving them faces, histories, talents, sorrows, and dreams. And what magnificent faces. Strong as oaks. The sinewy, rich, wood grain whorls in these faces are at once a testament to the stalwart nature of these oppressed individuals, of their glory as human beings, and at the same time a reminder of how they were treated inhumanely, like a stick of furniture to be casually bought or sold.
Just let it sink in that someone could kidnap a child from her home, drag her across the world in the hell-hold of a ship, stick her on an auction block to be prodded and poked and crassly appraised like a cow, and sold, resold, worked, beaten, all to increase the value of a wealthy man’s property. Imagine this happening to your precious child.
Bryan spins free verse depictions of eleven unique persons and the situations they landed in — cooking fancy meals, sewing elaborate ball gowns, tending gardens, weaving artistic baskets for their masters, all the while feeling that sting of loss, the tug of homesickness, the burning desire for freedom and dignity.
Each of these folks also tells us his dreams — dreams of remembrance and dreams for the future. Bryan illustrates these pages in a bloom of radiant color, an unleashing of the richness each possesses.
Don’t miss this extraordinary work, for ages 4 through Adult.
Fancy Party Gowns: The Story of Fashion Designer Ann Cole Lowe, written by Deborah Blumenthal, illustrated by Laura Freeman
published in 2016 by little bee books
Just look at that stunning cover! The artistry of Ann Cole Lowe is on full display in this lovely book introducing us to “the first African American woman to become a designer of couture clothing.”
Here was a woman who persevered through tremendous odds, early tragedy, segregation, discrimination, and an abysmal lack of recognition due to her skin color. Yet she “thought about what she could do, not what she couldn’t change” and propelled herself to the top.
Lowe grew up with a needle and thread in hand, learning the dressmaking trade from her mother, then attending a New York design school.
Despite all the obstacles she faced, her elegant gowns attracted the attention of the rich and famous, including young Jackie Bouvier who requested Ms. Lowe to create the gown for her wedding to John F. Kennedy. What a fairy tale confection!
Lowe went on to create gorgeous ball gowns for Academy Awards stars and millionaires’ wives, yet her name remained relatively unknown, all because of her race. What an odd, sorry phenomenon racism is.
Thrumming with vivid color, lavish textures, and the boldness of Lowe herself, Laura Freeman’s illustrations are utterly captivating. A treat for ages 4 and up, this book just hit the shelves a couple of weeks ago. And…
Thanks to the generosity of little bee books, I’ve got a sweet, hardbound copy to give away!
Enter by commenting on my blog or by sharing this post on Facebook or Twitter — just give me a heads up in the comments so I can enter your name as I can’t see who shares my posts.
I’ll draw a lucky winner on January 26th.
Perfect for cold-weather, dark-early evenings, this outstanding graphic novel rendition of the classic fairy tale will suit folks ages 11-Adult looking for an unusual spin on a Grimm tale (did you catch that pun?) and phenomenal artwork.
Snow White in the Depression Era. Bobbed hair and Art Deco. Hoovervilles and the Ziegfield Follies. There’s so much heady atmosphere to work with in that time period! Matt Phelan brilliantly translates Snow White into an early-1930’s New York City scene with a Daddy-Warbucks-millionaire, his vamp-ish second wife, seven tough little street boys, and a tenderhearted beauty nicknamed Snow.
Phelan’s exquisite watercolors cast a lovely, moody, film-noir sense. Pages of brooding panels are punctuated by black placards bearing titles in stylized type, all hailing to the silent film era. The story itself is, appropriately, largely told through quiet, wordless panels. Phelan has granted us front row seats in an old cinema, as it were, with images carrying the story along, and only brief dialogue boxes.
The wicked stepmother in this story is as hideously ruthless as the old queen in the version you know. Instead of discovering her fate via a magical mirror, it is, ironically, a glass-domed ticker tape machine, the conduit of all their fortunes, which reveals the unwelcome truth to her about her fading glory. Somehow popping this villainess into a realistic modern setting made her coldblooded thirst for murder even more horrifying, for me, and Phelan capitalizes on this with smears of red on the otherwise gray-scale pages. Can you say creepy?!
Please note that this is not a jolly little fairy tale for the very young. It’s a sophisticated interpretation for middle-graders through adults, masterfully told. I thoroughly enjoyed it and encourage you to give it a whirl.
We Shall Overcome: The Story of a Song, written by Debbie Levy, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton
published in 2013 by Disney, Jump at the Sun Books
Music is a mover and a shaker, a transformer, an uplifter.
The soul-stirring melodies and rich words of spirituals sung by enslaved African Americans certainly have that effect on us, even today, even in strikingly different circumstances.
This fascinating book traces the history and evolution of one of those spirituals as it became the anthem for millions of oppressed people the world over:
We shall overcome
We shall overcome
We shall overcome some day.
Oh, deep in my heart
I do believe
We shall overcome some day.
Begin in the cotton fields, then follow along through factory workers’ protests, lunch counter sit-ins, the March on Washington, and on to South Africa under apartheid, to East Germany and Czechoslovakia, and to the election of Barack Obama, a day most African Americans could hardly believe they’d ever see.
Colorful, upbeat illustrations reflect the times and locations along the journey. Notable milestones are further annotated in some final pages. A wonderfully creative approach to history and song, for ages 6 and up.
Preaching to the Chickens: The Story of Young John Lewis, written by Jabari Asim, illustrated by E.B. Lewis
published in 2016 by Nancy Paulsen Books, Penguin Books for Young Readers
Here’s a gorgeous biography of John Lewis, a man who has worked and suffered and kept on keeping on for his whole life in the struggle for civil rights.
Asim confines his narrative to Lewis’s childhood, allowing him the opportunity to amble along slowly, to soak in the details of those growing up years that were the foundation for all that followed.
That includes dusty days of following the plow-mule, growing collards and sweet potatoes in the garden patch, and dressing for Sunday services in starched white shirts. John regularly attended church where he loved gospel music and felt called to be a minister, to follow in the footsteps of the sermon-givers he heard each week.
So much so that as a little boy, Lewis would practice by preaching to the chickens! Settle down, Sister Big Belle. Get back on your feet, Li’l Pullet. This boy’s got some Good News to share with you!
E.B. Lewis’s masterful, sun-dappled illustrations carry us straight into John’s world on a dusky farm in Alabama, shine a light on the earthy labors of his family and one earnest, tenderhearted fellow. It’s an intimate, warm, inspiring portrait of one of our American heroes. Ages 4 and up.
Birmingham, 1963, written by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated with archival photographs
published in 2007 by Wordsong
In one horrific moment, on September 15, 1963, four young girls were killed as they attended Sunday School in Birmingham, Alabama.
Violent, white, racist, men bombed their church, unleashed their abhorrent hatred on an entire community. Why? because their skin was a different color.
Poet Carole Boston Weatherford captures the senselessness and abomination of this act, the shock and sorrow of the congregation, as she weaves a free verse story from the point of view of a fictional witness, a ten-year-old girl who attends the same Sunday School.
Weatherford’s peaceable depiction of this child, the unsuspecting eagerness she feels preparing for Youth Day at church, her steady, happy march towards the terror we know awaits her, is tremendously moving. Devastating. As it should be.
Dylan Roof’s trial, the recent uptick in racist vandalism, Black Lives Matter, are all vivid indicators that this story must still be told. Share this striking, brief book with children capable of managing the emotional jolt of this event. Perhaps ages 8 and up.
Lillian’s Right to Vote: A Celebration of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, written by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Shane W. Evans
published in 2015 by Schwartz & Wade Books
Inspired by a woman named Lillian, granddaughter of a slave, who at age 100 in the year 2008 voted for the first African American president, this is the story of struggle and perseverance in the fight for civil rights and particularly voting rights.
Just as the elderly Lillian plods her way up a steep hill in order to get to her polling station and cast her vote, so an entire people strove in an uphill battle against slavery, oppression, indignities, discrimination, hatred, violence, untold weariness until that landmark day in 1965 when the Voting Rights Act was passed.
That right, so dearly won, is one Lillian can’t take for granted. You won’t either, after this meaningful, passionate, succinct survey of those centuries of American history. Illustrated vibrantly with Shane Evans’ affecting, dignified human figures, with pages that pull us up, up, up, until at last we stand. Impressive. Ages 7 and up.
Remember: The Journey to School Integration, written by Toni Morrison, illustrated with archival photographs
published in 2004 by Houghton Mifflin
Author Toni Morrison’s powerful imagination is beautifully employed here as she gazes at poignant, sepia-toned photographs, then brings them to life with dialogue, scenarios, thoughts, emotions, ushering us into the tumult of school desegregation in the 1950s and 60s.
Hear from a precious kindergarten-age girl and some protesting teen-age boys. From Ruby Bridges and a pair of women sitting at a lunch counter. Anonymous children and famous freedom-fighters. Apprehension. Determination. Innocence. Ugliness.
Pictures are indeed worth a thousand words and I’m so glad that these beauties are given plenty of room to speak to us. Morrison’s captions gracefully, mightily enhance the photos, but the modest volume of the text does not usurp their power.
A timeline, notes on the photos, and a lengthy foreword by Morrison are all tailored to slightly older students. The richness of the photos and ideas are suited to a wide age range, from 5 to adult.
Posted in non-fiction, picture books | Tagged birmingham, book reviews, children's literature, church bombings, civil rights, John Lewis, Jr., Martin Luther King, picture books, racism, school integration, voting rights act | Leave a Comment »
Some Writer: The Story of E.B. White, written and illustrated by Melissa Sweet
published in 2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
E.B. White. His name instantly evokes a response of warmth and nostalgia; of miracles and true friends; of a loquacious cob and his atypical, trumpet-playing son; of so many enthralling moments, lost in story.
I don’t have many distinct elementary school memories, but one that stands out is my third-grade teacher reading Charlotte’s Web to us. How many thousands of children have that shared experience?
A few years ago, I was chatting with a young married couple who were exploring children’s literature in anticipation of their firstborn. They were reading Charlotte’s Web aloud to one another, dumbfounded by the depth, poignancy, and truth in this small novel.
Who was E.B. White?
What kind of childhood did he have?
Where did his bucolic scenes of farm life come from, his genuinely amusing characters, as well as those honestly mourning over loss?
How did he get started writing and who helped shape his style?
Melissa Sweet has written a fascinating account of White filling in for us the background of this beloved writer and the stories we love. It’s absolutely crammed with the beauty, wonder, color, and whimsy of everything Sweet puts her hand to.
Quotes and excerpts from letters and essays, old family photos, marked-up and crossed-out early versions of manuscripts — all that is here. Add the choice bits of ephemera, singing colors, vintage papers, charming hand-lettering and a bit of old Corona typewriting, all spun together with Sweet’s remarkable savvy for composition — what you get is a feast for the eyes as well as the mind.
This is not a picture book. That is coming in the Fall of 2017 by the ace team of Barbara Herkert and Lauren Castillo and I cannot wait!
No, this is a meaty biography that adults will thoroughly enjoy as well as would-be authors ages perhaps 11 and up.
If you’ve not read White’s books for yourself, now is the time to do so. Begin with Charlotte’s Web, and no it doesn’t count if you’ve watched the movie. Then check out The Trumpet of the Swan. My least favorite of his trio is Stuart Little — it seems to be a book people either love or really dislike, so tackle that one last. Once you’re enamored with White’s storytelling and wordsmithing, join the rest of us in Melissa Sweet’s lovely biography.
Here’s the Amazon link: Some Writer
Beetle Boy, by M.G. Leonard, illustrations by Júlia Sardà
published in 2016 by Chicken House, Scholastic
It all starts with the mysterious disappearance of Dr. Bartholomew Cuttle, an enigmatic, punctilious scientist who enters the collection vaults in the Natural History Museum one ordinary day, and *poof* disappears.
12-year-old Darkus Cuttle, his son, is taken in by his uncle, Professor Maximilian Cuttle, a kind, honest, if slightly distracted archaeologist. All well and good BUT! what can have happened to his father? Despite what the detectives and journalists insinuate, Darkus is certain foul play is involved. His father would never abandon him. So where is he?
The answers to Darkus’s questions come from the most extraordinary sources beginning with a large-ish black beetle, eyes glistening like blackberries, sporting a pointy horn and capable of some downright terrifying hissing. Oh, and it understands human language. Comes when called. Darkus names him Baxter.
Baxter turns out to be just one of a whole collection of intelligent super-beetles, genetically altered in a sinister plot by the Cruella DeVille-esque Lucretia Cutter. Truly someone worth hissing about! Darkus and Baxter team up with a pair of new friends and a veritable army of phenomenal insects, but the clock is ticking. Can they find his father, plus defeat Lucretia, her sinister staff, and a pair of odious, ghoulish neighbors, in time to prevent her diabolical scheme?
This is the fast-paced first novel in a new trilogy with loud echoes of Dr. Who and Roald Dahl and a pinch of Suzanne Collins’ Gregor the Overlander series. With its fiendish, outlandish characters, crisp, polished prose, and relentless tension, it’s a sterling beginning. I know — super-beetles sound unpalatable to you. Believe me, though — you will love these guys! Their jeweled beauty and extraordinary abilities will make you not only cheer for their valor, but turn a newly-appreciative eye on their counterparts in the real, marvelous, curious world of beetles.
My U.S. copy did not have any of Júlia Sardà’s great illustrations, which is too bad. But an added Entomologist’s Dictionary helps readers understand terms used, from Coloeptera to transgenic. I thoroughly enjoyed this and recommend it for ages 10 and up.
Here’s the Amazon link: Beetle Boy
And consider this…
A fantastic pairing would be Dianna Hutts Aston and Sylvia Long’s gorgeous nonfiction book, A Beetle Is Shy. After reading about these amazing creatures’ sci-fi adventures in Beetle Boy, gazing at their true beauty and learning some amazing facts from this book will certainly appeal.
Here’s the Amazon link: A Beetle is Shy