Archive for the ‘non-fiction’ Category

Searching for just the right gift for an adult on your list?
 Books marketed for children can be spot-on for grown ups, too!

Here are a few ideas:

Are they passionate about immigration?

Her Right Foot, written by Dave Eggers, illustrated by Shawn Harris
published in 2017 by Chronicle Books

This is the only book on today’s list that hasn’t been on my blog yet so just let me say: It is tremendous!

Dave Eggers, with his nonchalant, conversational tone, wows us with fascinating tidbits about our treasured Statue of Liberty, all building up to a surprising reveal about that Lady’s right foot! Shawn Harris knocks it out of the ballpark with his strong, vibrant artwork. 

This one sneaks up on you with understatement, then moves you to tears. One of the best of 2017, for ages 5 through Adult.

Do they treasure the beauty of flora and fauna?

Try: The Lost Words (review here)

Are they enamored with words?

Try: Ounce Dice, Trice (review here)

Do they dream of world travels?

Try: City Atlas (review here)

Did they recently become parents after a long, difficult wait?

Try: Wish (review here)

Have they loved books since they were knee-high to a grasshopper?

Try: A Child of Books (review here)

Are they allergic to morning?

Try: Pug Man’s 3 Wishes (review here)

Is Norse mythology their thing?

Try: Odd and the Frost Giants (review here)

Do they cry every time they watch You’ve Got Mail?

Try: Skating Shoes (review here)

Need a book for your favorite feminist?

Try: Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls (review here)

Have someone interested in African-American history? 

Try: Freedom Over Me (review here)

Or: Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph (review here)

Or: One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance (review here)

Or: March Trilogy (review here

Would they appreciate a gorgeous Minnesota read?

Try: Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold (review here)

Are they jazzed by Art Deco?

Try: Snow White: A Graphic Novel (review here)

In addition, you might consider…

…a children’s book written by an author they love. I’ve reviewed children’s books by Sylvia Plath, Salman Rushdie, Aldous HuxleySherman Alexie, Chinua Achebe, Jane Gardam, Frank McCourt, Sigrid Undset, and a number of others you might consider.…a favorite book from their childhood that’s out of print now. It might take some tricky questioning to find out which stories they loved best decades ago, but especially for friends or family members getting on in years, this might be a lovely gift. Amazon and Abe Books are great sources for purchasing out-of-print titles.

Know any other children’s books that feel like perfect grown-up gifts? Let us know in the comments!


Read Full Post »

Have I saved the best for last? Giving books and bookish gifts is obviously what I love to do! Here are some great ideas for the kids in your life, plus a give-away

Litograph t-shirts

Text and illustrations make up these clever t-shirts. I am partial to Blueberries for Sal, but there are lots of choices so check them out.

Out of Print t-shirts

Favorites old and new beautifully printed.

Bookplates for those special books

I had bookplates as a child. It is lovely to feel ownership of a really special book, one to keep for always.

Anorak magazine or Dot magazine subscription

Magazine subscriptions sashay into a child’s mailbox all year long.
I recently discovered these tremendously creative magazines coming out of the UK. Gorgeous graphic design. A lalapalooza of imagination-sparking, brain-fizzing stuff for ages 2-5 (Dot) and 6-12 (Anorak.)

Visit their awesome webpage to get the details. Keep in mind these are British magazines so embrace the British English and some UK-oriented features. To me, that is an added bonus!

GIVE AWAY ALERT! If you’d like to win the two copies Anorak so graciously sent me — the Food issue of Dot and the Art issue of Anorak — just comment with a “sign me up!”. Winner will be notified on the blog, December 4th, so don’t delay!  U.S. mailing addresses only, please.

Literary cookbooks

Jama Rattigan’s delectable blog, Jama’s Alphabet Soup, has a round-up of delightful cookbooks based on favorite characters from Goldilocks to Star Wars.  Kids will love mixing up Diana Barry’s Favorite Raspberry Cordial or Hans Soloatmeal!! You can find Jama’s entire list here.

A boxed set of classics

Wow. Gorgeous design work courtesy of Rifle Paper Company. Many happy getting-lost-in-a-book moments all packaged up for you! I love tempting new readers with old classics.
Amazon Link

And a few more ideas for book-giving — one classic and one new title for each age group. I had to limit myself or the list would get too long! Browse through my blog for gobs more ideas.

 One for the whole family: The Lost Words

Read my review here to see what’s in store in this gorgeous, remarkable book.
Amazon Link

Ages 0-2:

something old: More More More Said the Baby (regular and board)
Amazon Link
review here

something new: Night and Day: A Book of Opposites, by Julie Safirstein
published in 2017 by Princeton Architectural Press
I haven’t reviewed this on my blog but it’s exploding in clever, exciting pop-ups for careful fingers! And yes, many small children can be careful with books. Plus: tape.
Amazon Link

Ages 2-5:

something old: My Father’s Dragon
Amazon Link
review here

something new: The Street Beneath My Feet
Amazon Link
review here

Ages 5-8:

something old: A Bear Called Paddington
Amazon Link
review here

something new: This Is How We Do It
Amazon Link
review here

Ages 8-12:

something old: Swallows and Amazons
(The new paperback from David Godine has a wretched cover! Here’s a link for this one which is available from 3rd party sellers.)
Amazon Link
review here

something new: The Wonderling
Amazon Link
review here

If you are able — please shop at a local Independent Bookstore. That’s who will keep the great books coming to us, trust me.

If you’re going to shop at Amazon anyway, then consider using my Amazon affiliate links. If you click through to Amazon on one of my links, I get a small dab back from Amazon no matter what you purchase. Thanks to those of you who do.

That’s it for 2017’s gift lists.
I’ll be back next week with some cheery new Christmas titles!


Read Full Post »

2017 has been quite the banner year for picture books about authors.

I love learning about these creators and seeing how fragments of their lives are woven into the fabric of their stories.

I’ll refrain from making lengthy remarks today and try to woo you with images! I’ve also listed a few more author bios from the Orange Marmalade archives you won’t want to miss.

Big Machines: The Story of Virginia Lee Burton, written by Sheri Duskey Rinker, illustrated by John Rocco
published in 2017 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt


Read about the creator of beloved figures like Mike Mulligan and Katy the snowplow while you watch her at work! A total delight for ages 4 and up.

A Boy, A Mouse, and a Spider: The Story of E.B. White, written by Barbara Herkert, illustrated by Lauren Castillo
published in 2017 by Henry Holt and Co.


Illustrated with warmth and tenderness by Lauren Castillo, this brief account of the creator of Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, and The Trumpet of the Swan suits ages 5 and up. Especially relevant for those who have already heard those stories read aloud.

John Ronald’s Dragons: The Story of J.R.R. Tolkien, written by Caroline McAlister, illustrated by Eliza Wheeler
published in 2017 by Roaring Brook Press


Meet young J.R.R. and hear the earliest rumblings that led to Smaug’s appearance in The Hobbit. A lush beauty for ages 4 and up.

Agatha Christie, written by Mª Isabel Sánchez Vegara, illustrated by Elisa Munsó
first published in Spain in 2016; first U.S. edition 2017 by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books


Visually arresting, this peek at the grand dame of mystery will tickle the fancies of folks age 5 and up, even if they haven’t met Hercule and Miss Marple yet.

Miguel’s Brave Knight: Young Cervantes and His Dream of Don Quixote, written by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Raúl Colón
published in 2017 by Peachtree Publishers


Engle’s fascinating free verse provides intriguing insights and Raúl Colón’s masterful illustrations bring medieval Spain to life. Fabulous extras make this a gem for ages 6 through much older.

Balderdash!: John Newbery and the Boisterous Birth of Children’s Books, written by Michelle Markel, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter
published in 2017 by Chronicle Books


You may not recognize Newbery’s name unless you track the prestigious Newbery Award in American children’s literature, but trust me — this guy is the father of children’s literature and this delightful book will make you wish there were a national holiday on his birthday! Fascinating and joyous!

Here are a few more author bios you won’t want to miss, linked to my earlier reviews.

Beatrix Potter & the Unfortunate Tale of a Borrowed Guinea Pig

A Boy Called Dickens

The Journey that Saved Curious George

Lost Boy: The Story of the Man who Created Peter Pan

The Perfect Wizard: Hans Christian Anderson

A Poem for Peter: The Story of Ezra Jack Keats and the Creation of The Snowy Day

The Road to Oz: Twists, Turns, Bumps, and Triumphs in the Life of L. Frank Baum

Some Writer!: The Story of E.B. White

Wanda Gag: The Girl who Lived to Draw

Read Full Post »

I don’t know about you, but lately my heart feels as though someone has been scouring it with steel wool.

Raw. Abraded. Grieving over violence and suffering, abuse of power and abuse of Earth, caustic tongues and acrimony, overwhelmingly loud day after day.  

As we move towards a series of holidays celebrating gratitude, light, and love, I want to share some powerful titles that console me with their messages of generosity, kindness, and working to alleviate suffering.

These books suit ages 2 through teens. Pick one or two, read them together, and dream of ways you can help mend the brokenness in our world.

At the end of the post, I have links to a couple of non-profits where your gifts can make a difference to people in extreme need.

You Hold Me Up, written by Monique Gray Smith, illustrated by Danielle Daniel
published in 2017 by Orca Books

Page through this gem and feel your heart glow with the warmth, strength, and richness of community, family, togetherness. 

You hold me up. I hold you up. That’s the bottom line, isn’t it? Monique Gray Smith quietly illuminates humanity’s best self with her minimal, just-right words.

Daniel’s striking palette and touching scenes mean each page delivers a wallop of goodness, all with that beautiful First Nation’s flavor. A total delight from our good neighbors in Canada that’ll woo readers of all ages toward being holder-uppers.


Love the World, written and illustrated by Todd Parr
published in 2017 by Little, Brown and Company

Todd Parr’s jubilant colors and relentless optimism radiate from every page in this simple call to love for the very young.

Love yourself! Love the world! Mix and repeat. What a great recipe! A warm-as-a-hug book for ages 18 months and up that fills minds and imaginations with smiles, welcome, and kindness. 


Can We Help? Kids Volunteering to Help Their Communities, by George Ancona
published in 2015 by Candlewick Press

Children engaged in knitting hats for homeless families, harvesting vegetables for soup kitchens, delivering meals to the elderly, training assistance dogs, skiing down mountains with physically-disabled kids, picking up trash along highways, and more, briefly describe their activities…

…all accompanied by copious color photographs. No glitz. Just ordinary kids pitching in to help their neighbors. Heartening and inspiring. Ages 3 and up. What can you think of to do together?

It Takes a Village, written by Hillary Rodham Clinton, illustrated by Marla Frazee
published in 2017 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

In her Author’s Note, Clinton says “this book is meant to spark a conversation with our youngest about what children can do to help make the world what they hope it will be.”

Short phrases comprise the text, some more meaningful than others. The main theme is almost completely borne out by Frazee’s ever-tender, inclusive illustrations… 

… a sequence of vignettes showing folks banding together to build a prime playground. A neighborhood gathering place. You can’t miss the vibe of hope, collaboration, and warm community shining through here, a lovely antidote to weariness and cynicism. Ages 3 and up.

Letters to a Prisoner, by Jacques Goldstyn
published in Canada in 2015 as Le prisonnier sans frontiéres; English edition 2017 by Owlkids Books

A powerful, wordless story unfolds when one man and his young daughter (could be a son) set off to protest a powerful regime. Soldiers attack and the father is thrown into prison. 

As his hope dwindles, a little bird flies through the prison window and delivers a letter. So cheering! But it’s confiscated by an angry guard. More letters come, only to be burned. The plight of this prisoner becomes known around the world, however, and all manner of individuals write letters — fortress-loads of letters. What is the result?

It’s a wordless story, vibrant, poignant, triumphant, taking its inspiration from Amnesty International’s letter-writing marathon and seeking to inspire participation in this annual event. What a wonderful movement to take part in! Ages 4 and up.

The Happy Prince: A Tale by Oscar Wilde, illustrated and adapted by Maisie Paradise Shearring
original edition 2016; published in 2017 by Thames & Hudson

Shearring retells Oscar Wilde’s famous short story featuring the ornate, bejewelled statue of a happy prince and a swallow who alights on it. 

The prince, so oblivious of others’ needs throughout his life of opulent wealth, sorrows now from his heights as a statue, for he can see the ugliness and misery of the world from this new vantage point. Both the prince and the swallow are thus moved to sacrifice themselves for the good of the destitute in this fairy tale-esque story.

Shearring’s masterful artwork won the prestigious Bologna International Award for Illustration and you will easily understand why. Her emotive color palette and stunning compositions are utterly captivating. Wherein does true happiness lie — in hoarding or in laying down one’s life for others? Compelling ideas for ages 5 and up.

Manjhi Moves a Mountain, written by Nancy Churnin, illustrated by Danny Popovici
published in 2017 by Creston Books

As I read this story, I found myself thinking the author might have toned down the preposterously-inhuman task she relates — that of one poor Indian man digging, spadeful by spadeful, a gap through an actual mountain — if she wanted it to be at all believable.

Then, I turned to the back of the book and discovered that the story is true! Oh! 

Dashrath Manjhi lived in a small, impoverished village in India, separated by a mountain from a village equipped with “running water, doctors, a school, and jobs.” Manjhi keenly felt that if only a roadway could be opened up between these two communities, his own neighbors would be so much better off. Thus, with chisel and hammer, he spent 22 years (!) cutting a road through the mountain.

Read this astonishing story of perseverance with children ages 4 or 5 and up, then ask as Churnin does in her Author’s Note: What kind of “mountain” can you move to make things better in your community? 

Twenty-two Cents: Muhammad Yunus and the Village Bank, written by Paula Yoo, illustrated by Jamel Akib
published in 2014 by Lee & Low Books

In 2006, Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for demonstrating that “even the poorest of the poor can work to bring about their own development.”

This is the story of Yunus’ life, from his childhood in India when he was awakened to the distress of poverty, to his encounter with a woman named Sufiya who needed just twenty-two cents for bamboo to build the stools she sold for a living. Forced to borrow these small sums from lenders who took unfair advantage, Sufiya and thousands of women like her could never escape grinding poverty.

Yunus dedicated his life to re-thinking money, banking, and lending, and in 1977 launched the first of his village banks which give microcredit to groups of women. His story and the fruits of his work for millions of women around the world are encouraging and inspiring to say the least. This bio is accessible to children ages 9 and up.

Philanthroparites!: A Party-Planning Guide for Kids Who Want to Give Back, by Lulu Cerone
published in 2017 by Aladdin and Beyond Words, Simon & Schuster

I believe there are tens of thousands of middle-grade and high-school kids whose heartbeat is to make a positive difference in the world. Sometimes, though, it’s really hard to figure out just how to do that.

Then, there are the born organizers of the world, God bless them. Lulu Cerone is one of them. As a ten year old, hearing the news of the 2010 Haitian earthquake, she organized lemonade stand wars with kids from her school who wound up raising thousands of dollars for charity. 

This book is a solid collection of 36 great party ideas whose purpose is to raise money for charity or directly infuse kindness into communities. Organized by month to correlate with nationally observed days, Lulu’s creative, fun party plans include tips for success, decorations, themed food ideas, and more. She also includes planning-ahead checklists for a smooth, successful philanthroparty, and lists of organizations she supports in case you need a place to start.

I can easily see how this book would have inspired and instigated my kids to host philanthroparties. Do you know anyone ages 10 and up who would love to be a changemaker? Check out this book!

Inspired to help but don’t know where to start? I have two funds I’d love to see Orange Marmalade readers support:



To help provide fresh fruits and vegetables to malnourished Syrian and Iraqi refugees sheltering in a neighboring country, click here.

Just $25 provides enough fresh produce for one family for one month. This is a faith-based program in great need of donations to continue this feeding program, and I can vouch for the integrity of those administering it.

For those who prefer to donate to a non faith-based fund, I suggest Save the Children’s fund for Rohingya refugees, which you can access here.  These children have fled horrific violence and need water, food, shelter, and protection in Bangladesh.


Thanks for spreading kindness! 

Read Full Post »

Looking for some great reads for those little shavers, say 15 months and up? Bold, jolly books, short in length but long in painstakingly-crafted ideas and artwork, coming right up!

Truck, Truck, Goose, written by Tammi Sauer, illustrated by Zoe Waring
published in 2017 by Harper

One oblivious duck goes on a picnic. How much trouble could that cause?

Plenty and more! Jazzy bright color, gobs of jolly trucks, great humor, and a sweet ending. Fabulous.

Goodnight World, written and illustrated by Debi Gliori
published in 2016 by Bloomsbury

Debi Gliori’s chalky, curving, comforting images spill across the pages in this lovely book…

… simply saying goodnight to all kinds of good things in the world. A creamy dreamy treat that’ll end your day with a warm glow.

Round — written by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Taeeun Yoo
published in 2017 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

An impeccably gorgeous book with a deceptively simple premise — exploring the round bits in our world.

One of my favorite books of the year. Warm, full of wonder, and beautiful.

Which Way? written by Marthe Jocelyn, illustrated by Tom Slaughter
published in 2010 by Tundra Books

Slaughter’s bold-as-brass graphic design and bright primary colors will arrest a child’s attention as you ponder together all the ways to get around and reach your destination.

Simple. Classy. Intelligent. This same team has several other cool titles for toddlers as well.

Stack the Cats, written and illustrated by Susie Ghahremani
published in 2017 by Abrams Appleseed

So stylish.

Beginning with one cat sleeping, we count up by cats. When enough of them arrive, we can stack ’em. But too many cats in a stack teeters and totters. Add a few more, and we can stack cats in a couple of equal, smaller stacks. Effortlessly mind-stretching number awareness on tap here with a side of wit.

I Know Numbers! written and illustrated by Taro Gomi
published in Japan in 1985; first U.S. edition 2017 by Chronicle Books

Taro Gomi’s genius explores the numerous places numbers show up in our world from thermometers to bus stops, team jerseys to dice…

… all delivered with aplomb and massive child-appeal.

Read Full Post »

Today’s post is all about words, those miraculous bits of language that move mountains.

From the youngest wordsmiths to longtime connoisseurs of words, you’ll find something to tickle your fancy here.

Magic Spell, written and illustrated by Julie Paschkis
published in 2017 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Come one! Come all! See the mighty magician Aziz and his beautiful assistant Zaza work wacky wonders with their wands!

This wand doesn’t cast spells. It actually…spells! With one swish a bat turns into a hat. Another swash and a wig turns into a pig! Uproarious, stupendous, fun, especially for beginning readers who can help decode the kerfuffles created by these dueling wizards and their spelling wands. Julie Paschkis’ swirling, vivacious line and zingy color add oodles of delight to the mayhem. Fun for ages 3 and up; especially fine for early readers.

Big Words for Little Geniuses, written by Susan and James Patterson, illustrated by Hsinping Pan
published in 2017 by Little Brown and Company

From A to Z — Arachibutyrophobia to Zamboni, that is — here are some astonishing mouthfuls of words to tickle the tongues and fancies of young and old alike.

Why should grown ups have all the fun? Why not add catawampus and rapscallion to the vocabularies of small persons? Charmingly illustrated, one word to a page, pronunciation guides included, with another 26 words added for good measure in a final list.

Kids will love the sounds of these juicy things and perhaps fall a little more in love with the wonder of words. Ages 4 and up.

13 Words, written by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Maira Kalman
published in 2010 by Harper

Start with 13 words: Bird, Dog, Despondent, Busy, Cake, Goat, Convertible, Haberdashery, Scarlet, Baby, Panache, Mezzo-Soprano.

Mix into one swell story courtesy of Lemony Snicket.

Illustrate with a blast of brilliance from Maira Kalman.

Makes one quirky, splash of a picture book to tickle the fancies of all, ages 4 and up. Now how about you pick 13 more words and make up your own invention!

Noah Webster’s Fighting Words, written by Tracy Nelson Maurer, illustrated by Mircea Catusanu
published in 2016 by Millbrook Press

Webster wanted words that were fully American, not British. And set about compiling just such a list. Ta da! Webster’s Dictionary. Do you own a copy?

Webster was a take-charge kind of guy, booting out those extra u’s in words like colour and humour for New World spellers, and opining that dictionaries ought to make room for new words as they were invented, a thing frowned upon at the time.

Read this zesty account, complete with editorial comments from that bossy fellow Webster himself! Ages 6 and up.

Any of the next three would make fine gifts for curious persons, language lovers, or that someone you have no idea what to give:

Speaking American*: *How Y’all, Youse, and You Guys Talk: A Visual Guide, by Josh Katz
published in 2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

You know when you go to college, and your roommate is looking for a “bubbler” and you wonder what planet she grew up on? Because you’ve only ever heard it called a drinking fountain. And of course — that’s the right way.

Or what about the brouhaha over Duck Duck Goose vs Duck Duck Grey Duck?

Josh Katz takes all the funny variations in what people call everything from soda-pop-coke to groh-shery vs. groh-sery stores across the U.S.A., and maps them out for us in this fascinating book.

A boatload of fun for ages 10 through adult.

Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World, written and illustrated by Ella Frances Sanders
published in 2014 by Ten Speed Press

If you speak another language, you know there are certain words that just do not have any equivalent in English.

Take “tsundoku” for example, an extremely handy Japanese word that means a book — or a serious stack of books — left unread after buying it. I definitely have my share of tsundokus lying about the house.

Or “fika” an exceptionally delicious Swedish word that means it’s time for some coffee and serious pastries ’round about 4 in the afternoon. This is a word I welcome into usage here in Minneapolis, where we even have a restaurant named Fika.

Ella Sanders has gathered a delectable collection of over 50 words from a tumble of world languages that are a delight to learn about, and brought them to life with her charming illustrations and hand lettering.  This would make a fabulous Christmas gift, by the way. For word enthusiasts ages 12 through adult.

She’s also created a second volume:

The Illustrated Book of Sayings: Curious Expressions from Around the World, published in 2016 by Ten Speed Press

This time around we have idioms such as:

“I’m on the pig’s back!” an Irish expression that means you’re feeling pretty great about life.

or this fabulous saying of the Ga people of Ghana:

“The one who fetches the water is the one who is likely to break the pot.” Want to find out what that’s getting at? Well, get ahold of this clever, fetching book!

Read Full Post »

I’ve been accumulating a list of reads on race in America. It now looks long enough to last me about a decade, which is not a bad thing. I’ll pop on from time to time with posts alerting you to the best of what I’ve read.

Today, I’ve got four stellar choices for middle grade readers through adults, books that decry injustice, inspire courage and sacrificial love, and educate us on the blood-soaked backdrop to today’s passionate discourse — a background we all must work to understand.

Each of these books addresses Black-White race relations. I’ll have titles covering a broader scope of racial relationships coming up so stay tuned.

At the top of the list today are:

March, Books 1, 2, and 3, written by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, illustrated by Nate Powell
published in 2013, 2015, and 2016 respectively, by Top Shelf Productions

This graphic novel trilogy is unusually powerful — moving, enlightening, vivid, and informative. I highly recommend it for ages 14 through adult.

The story arc is the life journey of Congressman John Lewis and his engagement in the civil rights movement. Broad segments of civil rights history are dovetailed into the account to provide context for the more personal spotlight on Lewis himself. The inauguration of Barack Obama effectively book-ends the narrative.

I found that although I had previously read many segments of civil rights history, having it laid out in chronological order within a storyline was helpful for me. The books were also clarifying in terms of the alphabet-soup of civil rights groups who coalesced, debated, butted heads, tolerated, linked arms, pressed on, along the way. Living in that moment, making decisions fraught with danger, figuring it out as they went along, was difficult, so much more difficult than it sometimes looks in retrospect.

Most importantly for me as a White reader, the trilogy helped me better comprehend the weight borne by these men, women, and children, helped me feel the suffering, indignation, humiliation, grief, inner fire, unjust assaults, the long slog without any idea what the outcome would be or if they would live to see victory, the geyser of gladness over the election of our first Black president. This account also helped me grant more space, patience, and understanding for protesters today who struggle and fumble and disagree with one another in this complex movement, determining which steps to take, which goals to pursue, which methods to employ. Civil disobedience is hard, muddlesome work; judgement tends to be quickly passed by those in the comfortable seats; the path was not clear then, and it will not be clear now.

Each volume is a fairly quick read so don’t be put off by the thought of a trilogy. Just be forewarned that you’ll want to go back and read them again.

Stella by Starlight, by Sharon M. Draper
published in 2015 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
320 pages

Stella is a young African-American girl living in the segregated world of rural North Carolina in the late 1930s.

The Depression is making life even tougher for her household and community than usual. It’s pinching the toes of whites in the area, too, giving rise to new waves of anger and lashing out by the KKK.

What does bravery look like in this context? And neighborliness? And an honest, standing up for truth, freedom, and decency? Great read for ages 9-12 highlighting Jim Crow, the KKK, the struggle for the right to vote, and unjust schooling under separate-but-(un)equal policies.

Night of Fire, by Ronald Kidd
published in 2015 by Albert Whitman & Company
264 pages

Billie Sims is a 13-year-old white girl living in Aniston, Alabama, a town made infamous when a busload of Freedom Riders were violently, horrifically attacked there.

Billie’s on a journey of her own throughout this story, one of self-discovery, a growing awareness of racist attitudes within her “nice” community, family, and herself. Her friendships with the boy next door and the daughter of her family’s African-American maid help bring about a rising sense of what she might be put in the world to do.

Will she be a watcher, an on-looker of injustice? Or will she become a rider, one who puts her own life on the line, even, for a just cause? Lots of great discussion points in this book that leans a bit female, I’d say. Ages 13 and up.

Blood Brother: Jonathan Daniels and His Sacrifice for Civil Rights, written by Rich Wallace and Sandra Neil Wallace
published in 2016 by Calkins Creek

Most biographies of civil rights workers cover people from the Black community, and rightfully so.

There were, however, a number of White civil rights workers who died in the struggle for decency and equality, notably the three Freedom Riders killed in Mississippi. This account of a young man — Jonathan Daniels — who gave up his life at the age of 26 — was new to me. It’s a potent story that calls us to self-examination.

Daniels grew up in a well-ordered world in Keene, New Hampshire, found his calling as a minister and began seminary training, became incensed by Bloody Sunday, drove to Alabama to stand with the Black community during the week immediately following that attack, and then could not justify to his own conscience leaving Alabama and those embroiled in the civil rights struggle there. He stayed on.

His unswerving dedication to justice, love, non-violence, loyalty, confrontation of evil, gained him not only rich friendships but malevolent enemies. In the end he gave up his life defending his Black companions, shot in cold blood in Lowndes County, then the heart of segregationist Alabama. A sham trial exonerated his killer.

The Wallaces’ account is riveting. It starts a bit slowly, I have to say. I began this book once before and didn’t press on far enough. The chapters about Daniels’ childhood and time at Virginia Military Institute were a bit more detailed than I was looking for. Keep reading, though. The book picks up in intensity and becomes inescapably thought-provoking as soon as Bloody Sunday occurs.

The other difficulty with this book is its unwieldy size — about as heavy and large as some coffee table books with its thick, glossy pages. This enables the larger print and copious photographs which make the book easy on the eyes, but I’m afraid it will turn away many readers.

I’m here to encourage you to read it anyway! Great book club choice as there is so much to discuss here for ages 13 and up. The call to conscience for those of us on the privileged side of of the divide, is uncomfortably powerful.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: