Archive for the ‘non-fiction’ Category
Posted in non-fiction, picture books, tagged black history month, book reviews, children's literature, civil rights movement, Ezra Jack Keats, harlem, jazz, Lewis Henri Michaux, museums, picture books, Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture on February 6, 2017| Leave a Comment »
February is Black History Month and I’m so happy to pass on these five excellent titles. The more we seek to understand others, the more we are enriched and the more harmonious and peaceful society can become. This is what we all want!
I love the breadth of contributions to society and our common history these stories introduce and represent. Although they are all picture books, today’s set seems best for ages 7 and up. You can find lots more Black History titles including those well-suited for younger readers, in my Subject Index.
A Poem for Peter: The Story of Ezra Jack Keats and the Creation of The Snowy Day, written by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Lou Fancher and Steve Johnson
published in 2016 by Viking
I’ve always felt that The Snowy Day is one of the truly perfect picture books out there. Its art, understanding of the child, genius economy of words, continue to stand the test of time. With all the absolutely stunning work that’s been published since this book came out in 1962 — still, it’s at the top of my list of what to give a new baby upon entrance into our world.
And those aren’t the only elements that make Ezra Jack Keats’ book such a gem. It was unheard of at that time for a black child to be the main character of a story. Having his sweet brown face featured on the book’s cover was an important step forward in children’s literature and our society.
Read this lilting, expressionist, free-verse story to learn all about Keats and how his particular life led him to create that “brown-sugar boy” named Peter, to place an urban world in our hands and help us embrace the formerly-invisible . The illustration work in this book, incorporating Keats’ distinctive vibe and media, is fabulous.
This is a picture book best appreciated by those who have met Keats’ work. I’d hand it to kids ages 8 and up. Adults — it’s for you, too.
The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth, & Harlem’s Greatest Bookstore, by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie
published in 2015 by Carolrhoda Books
Lewis Henri Michaux was a feisty, independent-minded soul from the start, and he had something in common with me, and probably with you: He loved books.
All of which led him on a winding pathway to create something sadly unusual: a bookstore in Harlem. Michaux had a hard go of it. He was turned down for a loan on the premise that “Black people don’t read.” Good thing Michaux had the moxie to discard such ignorance and push ahead.
Michaux was full of pithy advice for all: “Knowledge is Power. You need it every hour. Read a book!” And his shop — the National Memorial African Bookstore — was full of books, conversation, ideas, and famous folk. Muhammad Ali. Langston Hughes. Malcolm X.
This biography, crackling with the same grit and gumption as Michaux, introduces readers ages 8 and up to a man who believed in the intellect of his fellow African Americans and challenged them to make their mark through knowledge and independent thinking. Christie’s robust, vigorous artwork easily bears the weight of his rugged subject.
Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph, written by Roxane Orgill, illustrated by Francis Vallejo
published in 2016 by Candlewick Press
In 1958, a fellow named Art Kane came up with a wild scheme to gather as many jazz greats as he could and take their picture.
The magazine he worked for was doing a jazz issue. It seemed like the perfect place for that kind of historic photo. But getting in touch with all these folks, finding a date when they could join up, all in the days before e-invitations — that was a challenge. Happily for Kane, and for us, a river of jazz musicians flowed into Harlem one hot summer day and cooperated — mostly — with the photo session.
Click. A moment, and an entire movement, preserved.
Roxane Orgill has ingenuously recreated the unfolding action from Kane’s initial idea to the arrival on the newsstands of a magazine with a crisp photo of 57 musicians: black and white; male and female. Plus 12 little neighborhood boys who just happened to be there, too.
She’s done this through a series of poems from the perspectives of a number of folks involved. Massive, delightful, effervescent personalities exude from her pieces which are accompanied by gorgeous, stylish portraits by artist Francis Vallejo. I love his work!
This is an outstanding picture book that older children and adults will thoroughly enjoy. Ages 8 through adult.
Are you one of the lucky ones who has had a chance to visit the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture? I understand its popularity right now makes that a tricky ticket to get ahold of.
Historian Tonya Bolden is here to tell us how this museum came about and I’m telling you — it will whet your appetite to go!
If you can believe it, this is a 100-year-long dream-come-true. A vision that began in 1915 and persevered through lots of halts and left turns and snags until finally, on September 24, 2016, the museum was open for visitors.
Learn the history of this long process and go treasure hunting to find all manner of items. A beautiful gown designed by Ann Lowe and a plane flown by the Tuskegee Airmen. Satchmo’s trumpet and Michael Jackson’s fedora. Gabby Douglas’s leotard and a couple of Woolworth’s lunch-counter stools from Greensboro. Posters. Photos. Medals. Harriet Tubman’s hymnal.
Illustrated with photographs. If you are making a trip to D.C. and hope to visit the museum, you should definitely read this first. Ages 8 to adult.
Let It Shine: Stories of Black Women Freedom Fighters, by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Stephen Alcorn
published in 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Finally, a collection of bite-sized biographies of some persevering, courageous women. Chosen after long hours of reading, research, and conversation, these 10 women represent hundreds of others who have set aside their own comfort and security, who have gone out on a limb, to fight for freedom and equality.
In her preface, Pinkney discusses the breadth of freedoms she considered as she chose her subjects. What is striking is how basic these freedoms really are. Freedom to choose housing. Freedom to ride public transportation. I hope that by reading Black History, we can put to rest the simplistic notion that “all you have to do in America is work hard to change your future.” No, the cards have been stacked against certain populations. The opportunities have been made unavailable to some and granted to others. Women and men and children have been beaten and killed for trying to improve their lot in life.
In about five pages each, Pinkney tells the compelling stories of both famous and lesser-known women: Sojourner Truth, Biddy Mason, Harriet Tubman, Ida B. Wells, Mary McLeod Bethune, Ella Josephine Baker, Dorothy Irene Height, Rosa Parks, Fannie Lou Hamer, and Shirley Chisholm.
Each bio is accompanied by one full-page and one small-sized painting, bursting with vibrancy and strength. These accounts make great additions to anyone’s grasp of American history. Ages 8 and up.
Posted in fiction, graphic novels, non-fiction, picture books, tagged book reviews, children's literature, compassion, holocaust, immigrants, Muslims, refugees, world war II on January 31, 2017| 4 Comments »
I want to think that all of us, no matter our opinion on the recent Executive Order in the U.S., have hearts of compassion for refugees.
One thing I am concerned about is the politicization of compassion. That in order to support the president, some might choose to suppress thinking about the war-weary, talking about the current humanitarian disaster, remembering brave people who sheltered Jews at the risk of their own lives, and cultivating compassion for the downtrodden, persecuted, threatened ones in our world. In an attempt to feel positive about the order, it is tempting to downplay the wretchedness of the situation. That is a tragedy.
Let’s choose to walk in others’ shoes and increase our understanding and compassion, no matter our political persuasion. Shuttering our hearts is not a value of any decent political or religious group.
To that end I’ve compiled a list of books that I’ve previously reviewed. Each is linked to the original review.
I encourage us — all of us — to read books that help us feel more compassion. It’s not political.
1. I did a post about Muslims and refugees a little over a year ago with links to many of the best titles on my blog. You can access that here:
2. This past year I shared many stories about sheltering Jewish refugees during the Holocaust. Here are those links:
3. Here are more titles about the immigrant and refugee experience not included in that first grouping:
4. Finally, I love this nativity story reminding us that Jesus, Joseph, and Mary were refugees:
Atlas of Animal Adventures, written by Rachel Williams and Emily Hawkins, illustrated by Lucy Letherland
published in 2016 by Wide Eyed Editions
Here’s another gorgeous atlas from Wide Eyed. What a shelf full of fabulous books they’ve given us!
Explore the seven continents, learning about the amazing wildlife that lives in various locations — their behaviors, migrations, habitats, uniquenesses — all while feasting on Lucy Letherland’s phenomenal illustration work.
This oversized book is cover to cover food for curious minds. From the spectacular annual migration of the wildebeest in Kenya to the exotic courtship ritual of decorative homebuilding carried on by bowerbirds in New Guinea and Australia; from the collective might of leaf-cutter ants in the Bolivian rain forest to that mysterious unicorn of the Arctic waters, the narwhal, whose spiral horn can grow up to 9 feet long.
These scenes are full of interesting tidbits of information. Maps along the way set the animals in their proper locales. And two pages of illustration details to try to spot help turn the book into an I Spy game. Absolutely top-notch, for ages 4 through much older.
Animals by the Numbers:A Book of Animal Infographics, written and illustrated by Steve Jenkins
published in 2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Steve Jenkins is brilliant at finding intriguing angles for learning about wildlife. I love his approach, not to mention his truly beautiful work in paper collage.
This book is like candy for mid-elementary kids on up — I was enthralled by it! — who have arrived at the age where they gobble up statistics and record-breakers of all sorts.
Each two-page spread addresses a different capacity or quality — leaping distance, tongue length, deadliness of venom, speed. Jenkins uses immensely clever infographics and crisp, attractive page layouts to compare a number of different animals so we can see at a glance who are the winners and losers.
Bars radiate out like radio waves to illustrate differences in decibel level of various animals, from a tiny water boatman through hyenas, cicadas, whales, wolves… I bet you’ll be surprised who are the loudest creatures on the chart! And what about those tongues? The winner of Overall Tongue Length does not come nearly close to winning the record for tongue length when it’s compared to body size. If your tongue was just as long, how far would it reach?
Hand this to kids ages 8 and up to pour over and prepare to be peppered with new data points!
Giant Squid, written by Candace Fleming, illustrated by Eric Rohmann
published in 2016, A Neal Porter Book from Roaring Brook Press
Time to focus in on just one of the world’s stunning creatures. Let’s pick one of the largest animals on the planet. One that remains quite a mystery despite centuries of seeking it out. In fact, in her intriguing afterword, Fleming tells us that “we have more close-up photos of the surface of Mars” than of this ginormous creature, the giant squid.
Such an eerie, downright terrifying being! Rohmann accentuates the mystery and fright with his cold, dark, murky palette and closer-than-you’d-ever-want-to-be perspectives on those razor-sharp suckers and dinner-plate-big eyeball. Yikes. I don’t advise reading this right before a snorkeling expedition!
Fleming introduces us to this creepy sea monster with incisive, sensory-laden free verse. She’s done a fabulous job, creating a visceral sense of strangeness and wonder, almost a ghostly mystique. Her afterword fills in a great deal of fascinating information for middle graders and up. The book itself is for brave kids ages 6 and up. It won a Sibert Honor, just last week.
Step Right Up: How Doc and Jim Key Taught the World About Kindness, written by Donna Janell Bowman, illustrated by Daniel Minter
published in 2016 by Lee & Low Books
If a giant squid is one of the most exotic and unknown of earth’s creatures, surely the horse is at the other end of the spectrum. But although horses are so familiar and loved, one horse and his amazing owner proved to be extraordinary beyond belief!
This is the story of a man named William “Doc” Key. Though he was born into slavery, the willingness of his owners to educate him and Doc’s sharp, curious mind meant that he learned, advanced, and transitioned into freedom with purpose, capability, and a hunger for success.
Doc wildly succeeded as a businessman, so much so that he became one of the wealthiest men in town. But it was his rich store of kindness, patience, and trust that enabled him to nurse to health one spindly colt and teach that horse an absolutely jaw-dropping amount of skills. We’re talking spelling. Telling time. Making change out of a register. I know you don’t believe me, but just read the book!
If you had been around in the 1890s, you could have seen Doc and his horse, Jim Key, perform to amazed audiences. Read this book and prepare to be astonished! Daniel Minter’s handsome block prints bring the era to life and bathe us in the golden warmth of the kindness Doc was known for.
A lengthy afterword provides lots more interesting information on both Doc and Jim Key. Enjoy this with ages 6 and older.
The Amazing Animal Adventure: An Around-the-World Spotting Expedition, text by Anne Claybourne, illustrations by Brendan Kearney
published in 2016 by Laurence King Publishing
Finally, here’s a game-in-a-book that brings us to 21 particular habitats around the world, tells us very briefly about them, and provides jolly lists of animals to spot in each scene.
Visit the tundra in Greenland, a British rock pool, the Gomantong caves on the island of Borneo, hydrothermal vents in the Pacific Ocean, a mangrove forest in India, and spot familiar and unusual animals who love living just exactly there — a mugger crocodile, a frilled-neck lizard, burrowing owls, harbor seals, and gadzooks! a mighty lot of wrinkle-lipped bats!
You won’t read scads of information here, but you’ll be introduced to a wide variety of intriguing places and amazing creatures. Hopefully your curiosity will be piqued to investigate some of them a bit more. Great fun for ages 5 and up.
Posted in Caldecott Books, early readers, fiction, Newbery Books, non-fiction, picture books, tagged award-winning books for children, book reviews, caldecott awards, children's literature, Newbery awards, picture books on January 26, 2017| Leave a Comment »
I have a winner for my giveaway of Fancy Party Gowns!!
Rhapsody in Books — your name was drawn! Contact me at email@example.com with your shipping address and I’ll get that beauty off to you!
Meanwhile, the biggest book awards in U.S. children’s literature were awarded this week. You can find a list of all the winners here.
I’ve reviewed a number of those that were recognized and am always happy to have my attention drawn to other titles I haven’t yet had time to read.
Here are links to the reviews you can find here at Orange Marmalade:
The most prestigious prize is the Newbery Medal and it went to a Minneapolis author this year! Woohoo! That was:
The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill
One of the books that won a Newbery Honor was just recently on my blog. It well deserves this honor, and was also awarded Coretta Scott King Honors for both its text and illustrations:
Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams, written and illustrated by Ashley Bryan
The Caldecott is the big prize for illustration work. I have loved and previously reviewed all four of the Honor Books:
Leave Me Alone!, illustrated by written by Vera Brosgol
Freedom in Congo Square, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, written by Carole Boston Weatherford. This book also won a Coretta Scott King Honor for its illustrations.
Du Iz Tak?, illustrated and written by Carson Ellis
They All Saw a Cat, illustrated and written by Brendan Wenzel
I’ve reviewed one of the Sibert Honor books thus far — a gripping account for teens through adult:
We Will Not Be Silent: The White Rose Student Resistance Movement that Defied Hitler, by Russell Freedman
One of the delightful Theodor Seuss Geisel awards went to:
Oops, Pounce, Quick, Run!: An Alphabet Caper, written and illustrated by Mike Twohy
I hope you’ll take the time to check these out if you missed them the first time. Every one is a gem!
Posted in fiction, non-fiction, picture books, tagged animals, book reviews, children's literature, humorous stories, penguins, picture books, polar bears, polar regions on January 23, 2017| 2 Comments »
What’s black and white and read all over? It’s a riddle that has spanned generations.
Today the answer is: A passel of books full of black-and-white critters.
This hilarious tale of a dismal, grumpy penguin made me laugh out loud in the bookstore.
The dour commentary begins, actually, on the jacket flap, with yours truly, one flumpy, fractious penguin grousing that we probably won’t even finish reading this book about him because why would anyone and you’ll probably get a bunch of paper cuts in the process anyway. Hrumph,hrumph,hrumph.
What seems to be the problem? Well, for one, it’s too early in the morning. And his beak is cold. And the sun’s too bright and the ocean too salty.
This guy clearly got up on the wrong side of the iceberg today and nothing, but nothing, is going to cheer him up. You wanna talk about problems? I have so many problems! he cries. This guy is the Bob Wiley of the penguin world.
There is a moment. A chance encounter with a sage walrus who attempts loquaciously to lift the penguin’s eyes up from his troubles and out onto the beauty of the world, but…well, have you tried that with a grumpus? Do you think it works?
Exactly the right touch of wry humor leads us skippeting through this very funny book, all to the tune of Jory John’s priceless illustrations. So brilliant, the volume of personality and emotion he can cram into one small lump of a penguin. Sure to put a smile on your faces even on One of Those Days. Ages 3 and up.
Jenni Desmond won me over in one swish with her first title, The Blue Whale, reviewed here. Now she’s back with another gorgeous book about those burly arctic giants, the polar bear.
Desmond’s genius is in providing the fascination of non-fiction, written with clarity and not a snitch of talking down, combined with her superb artwork that incorporates a zephyr of imagination. The results are at the pinnacle of enticing nonfiction. Can I say it again — I love her work!