Posts Tagged ‘music’

The Wonderling, written and illustrated by Mira Bartók
published in 2017 by Candlewick Press

Arthur is a groundling, a curious part-animal, part-human creature whose dear fox face and lovely chestnut eyes speak volumes of the sensitive, kind heart within. 

His quiet tenderness does him no favors, however, in the dismal, dank Home for Wayward and Misbegotten Creatures where he lives along with scores of other raggedy, pitiful youngsters. Miss Carbunkle, a woman with a dreadfully pinched heart, rules there without mercy. Not a morsel of celebration, not a squidgeon of beauty, and certainly not a single drop of music is tolerated.

One day Arthur bravely protects a little bird named Trinket from some schoolyard bullies and in so doing earns a true and valiant friend. These two not only stage an epic break-out, but wend their way into extraordinarily strange places, meet a gamut of characters — some wise, some cunning, some downright villainous. What they overhear, stumble upon, and seek, turns into an adventure with vast repercussions for their world, and Arthur’s destiny as the Wonderling is at the center of it. 

Mira Bartók’s voice is sumptuous. Her fantasy gushes with richly descriptive passages, inventive cityscapes, and highly-imaginative elements, and she’s chosen to give a starring role to Music, weaving it throughout the account. That alone makes this a more thought-provoking fantasy than many others.

  Arthur himself is a bit of an antihero. He is no swarthy, swashbuckling captain figure, but a timid soul who gradually, bravely, blossoms into all he is meant to be.

The book as a whole is not as lightning-paced and action-packed as some fantasies, yet don’t let these charming fox-drawings fool you — it is similar in many ways to Oliver Twist with its settings, intensity, and sinister figures. 

All that, and the final moments take place on Christmas Eve, making it a perfect holiday read for ages 10 and up. I thoroughly enjoyed it. This story is already in the process of becoming a movie, so do yourself a big favor and Read. The. Book. First!


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The Music of Life: Bartolomeo Cristofori & the Invention of the Piano, written by Elizabeth Rusch, illustrated by Marjorie Priceman
published in 2017 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Fascinating! The evolution of today’s piano from its ancestors the clavichord and harpsichord via the perseverance, ingenuity, and vision of one Italian musician and instrument-maker.

Elizabeth Rusch distills a tremendous amount of information into this wonderfully lively, readable account. It’s packed with period details of 15th and 16th century Florence, woven through with instrument-maker know-how, yet doesn’t bog down at any point. Of course, Marjorie Priceman’s fluid, ravishing illustration work is an equal partner, wowing us on every page.

Especially for kids who study the piano, this is brilliant. Included are a timeline, information about the surviving pianos built by Cristofori, ways to listen to the sound of those old instruments, a comparison between his first pianos and the one in your living room, wonderful listening suggestions for piano music from Beethoven to Lady Gaga, and copious notes explaining how Rusch researched the book, great for inspiring kids crafting their own research papers. Ages 7 to adult.

Muddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters, written by Michael James Mahin, illustrated by Evan Turk
published in 2017 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Brassy, gritty, coarse-textured illustrations seize us immediately in this sizzling account of bluesman Muddy Waters.

Such a rough and tumble life and formidable obstacles, such tenacity and stubborn determination, are revealed in the “deep-feeling, gutbucket, gut-aching music full of life and love and trouble and pride” that Waters created and muscled onto the scene. The collaboration between text and image in this book are unusually powerful. Even if you don’t know Waters, you’ll be irresistibly drawn to experience his music. An Author’s Note fills in more detail. Great biography for ages 6 and up.

One Proud Penny, written by Randy Siegel, illustrated by Serge Bloch
published in 2017, a Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press

Yeah, there’s an anti-penny movement out there, but you can bet not a single child has signed on! Kids love pennies. Small and bright, glinting oh so tantalizingly under a park bench or at the bottom of the dentist office’s goldfish pool. Just right for a tiny pocket.

This jaunty account of pennies holds all that same magic, which is nearly unbelievable, right? How can the history of pennies in general, and the one 1983 penny who narrates our story, be so enticing? Trust me, though, this talented duo has created a book with gobs of personality, generous splashes of curious info, and oodles of charm. Ages 5 and up. End pages hold A Brief History of U.S. coins that older siblings and parents will most definitely read after this tasty appetizer.

Danza! Amalia Hernández and el Ballet Folklórico de México, written and illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh
published in 2017 by Abrams Books for Young Readers

One of the things I love about author/illustrator Duncan Tonatiuh is his selection of subjects, always intriguing and nearly always quite unfamiliar to me. I love learning from his brilliant picture books!

Here he tells us about an impressive, talented, woman called Ami, whose love for dance and dedication to the traditions of her homeland of Mexico came together with extraordinary, joyous results.

Born in 1917, Ami was entranced by the musicians and dancers she saw as a child performing in open air squares. She went on to study ballet, then began choreographing new ballets incorporating unique elements from regional, folkloric dances found throughout Mexico. Her amazing drive, creativity, and talent can now be seen in the work of the Ballet Folklórico de México, a highly-decorated dance company  which performs and inspires dancers worldwide.

Accompanied by his trademark illustrations, Tonatiuh regales us with Ami’s story and the riches of folkloric dance. Ages 4 and up. An Author’s Note, Glossary of terms, and bibliography including websites for learning more, are included.

Rube Goldberg’s Simple Normal Humdrum School Day, written by Jennifer George, illustrated by Ed Steckley
published in 2017 by Abrams Books for Young Readers

Rather than telling us about Rube Goldberg — yada, yada, yada — the creators of this energetic picture book allow us to experience all the fantastical, thingitybobness of Goldberg’s cockamamie inventions.

Little Rube nonchalantly goes through his day by stepping from one convoluted mechanism to another. Witty, comic-style pictures illustrate all fourteen of them, from his solar-power- boxing-glove-choo-choo-train-vacuum-cleaner-water-pitcher alarm clock, straight through to his lights-out, tucking-in machine which requires a jack-in-the-box, padlock, telescope, softball, encyclopedia, bike helmet and several other bits and bobs. A total blast for kids and their grown-ups, ages 4 or 5 and up.

Birthdays Around the World, written by Margriet Ruurs, illustrated by Ashley Barron
published in 2017 by Kids Can Press

Another colorful, intriguing entry from Kids Can Press, this time popping in on seventeen children around the world to find out how they celebrate their birthdays.

Which cultures place particular importance on certain birthdays — the first, the third, the seventh? Where might a child wear a paper crown in school on his birthday? Where does everyone in the whole country turn one year older on the same day? Which child enjoys an all-out celebration on the King’s birthday? Where might the birthday girl be treated to many gifts of flowers, always bunched in odd numbers?

A delightful way to learn about the world, illustrated by Barron’s jolly, cut-paper designs. A treat for ages 2 and up.

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The African Orchestra, written by Wendy Hartmann, illustrated by Joan Rankin
published in 2017 by Crocodile Books, Interlink Publishing Group

That buzzing cicada? That crackle-snap of a seed pod breaking? The thunder of hooves as a herd of zebras races across the plains? The burbling of a brook freshened by a mighty rainfall?

All those sounds woven into the wild, vast, haunting, lovely, lush, bleak African landscapes, found their way into African musical instruments as humans invented ways to replicate nature’s songs.

Thought-provoking ideas, lyrical text, and marvelously inventive, artistic images capture the natural world of Africa and the emotion of its music. A brilliant concept and collaboration to muse over with children ages 3 and up.

You can pursue the idea of nature-inspired music with these brilliant guides to classical music:

Listen to the Birds, music selection and explanatory notes by Ana Gerhard, illustrations by Cecilia Verela, translated from Spanish by Heléne Roulston and Sabrina Diotalevi
first published in Spain in 2010; English edition 2013 by The Secret Mountain

Amazing Water, music selection and explanatory notes by Ana Gerhard, illustrations by Margarita Sada, translated from Spanish by David Lytle
first published in Spain; English edition 2016 by The Secret Mountain

Gerhard chooses 20 classical selections for each book, with themes and sounds that convey birdsong and water respectively.

For example, Vivaldi’s “The Goldfinch and Saint-Saën’s “Aviary” from The Carnival of the Animals are included in Listen to the Birds. Schubert’s Trout quintet and “Alla Hornpipe” from Handel’s Water Music are included in Amazing Water.

Background for each piece is provided which might be best read by a parent to dole out judiciously, as well as brilliant listening notes that accompany the included CD, drawing children’s attention to specific aspects of the music and explaining how these reflect the subject. There are also brief bios of each composer and a glossary of musical terms, and all of this is presented on pages dominated by joyful illustrations.

This is a great resource for homeschooling families, for example, who could putter through one volume over a 20 week period with children as young as 3 or 4.

There is one other title in this series, Simply Fantastic, which explores fantasy-oriented musical selections.


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We’re coming up on the longest days of the year here in the northern hemisphere. Plenty of time for extra bedtime stories. These are all full of joy, starting with:

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Miles of Smiles, by Karen Kaufman Orloff, illustrations by Luciano Lozano
published in 2016 by Sterling Publishing

Baby starts the smiles off in this charming, happy story. She gives her mom a smile, and mom passes that smile along to Mrs. Glass, who shares it with Sebastian…and on it goes…

miles of smiles interior orloff and lozano

…until it comes around full circle. By now, the whole community is a happier, smilier place! Sunny, rhyming lines are paired with stylish, vibrant illustrations. It’s a day-brightener for ages 2 and up.

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The Big Book of Bugs, written and illustrated by Yuval Zommer
published in 2016 by Thames & Hudson

Wall-to-wall, phenomenal illustrations greet us on every page of this guide to all sorts of bugs.

the big book of bugs interior yuval zommer

Spreads devoted to dragonflies, pond bugs, baby bugs, night-time bugs contain interesting tidbits of information, questions to help us wonder, critters to find, and a feast of beauty. Maybe bugs don’t appeal to you in general, but I guarantee you will find them glorious here. Ages 2 and up.

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Secret Tree Fort, written and illustrated by Brianne Farley
published in 2016 by Candlewick Press

Two sisters are relegated by their smart mom to play outside. The older one is content to read her book while leaning up against a tree. The younger one wants to play…with her sister. Of course.

secret tree fort interior brianne farley

So, she invents a lavish tree fort, complete with a “marshmallow and chocolate storage compartment,” a crow’s nest, and a whale of a lot more! Can she entice that big sister to join her? Sparkling, buoyant, imaginative in text and illustration, this is a delight for ages 3 and up.

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Stanley’s Plan, written and illustrated by Ruth Green
first published in 2015 by Tate Publishing; distributed in the U.S. by Abrams

“Stanley the dog is always hungry.” This means he has something in common with my dog! Yours, too?

stanley's plan interior ruth green

Stanley has caught a whiff of a delicious meat pie cooling quite tantalizingly on a high shelf. He tries to enlist his friends to help him nab that pie, but finds them most uncooperative. What’s a dog to do? Great fun with a lip-smacking, surprise ending. Ruth Green’s smart, retro design style will rock your socks off. Ages 2 and up.

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There is a Tribe of Kids, written and illustrated by Lane Smith
published in 2016 by Roaring Brook Press

As usual, Lane Smith’s work here contains phenomenal artwork, thought-provoking cleverness, and sophisticated story-telling. 

there is a tribe of kids inteior lane smith

Journey along with a child through mountainscapes and polar reaches, rocky outcroppings and leafy jungles, meeting troops and herds, smacks and pods, ever moving on to locate his own tribe. So much to absorb and such a warm final homecoming. Ages 4 and up.

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Ada’s Violin: The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay, by Susan Hood, illustrated by Sally Wern Comport
published in 2016 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Fantastic nonfiction makes me glad! Here’s a moving story about a population of children who live among the trash heaps in Cateura, Paraguay. Surrounded by garbage, noise, and stink, these kids and their parents still love the beauty of music.

ada's violin illustration sally wern comport

Discover how kindness, ingenuity, resourcefulness, and hard work resulted in remarkable musical opportunities for them in this extraordinary account. Comport’s striking illustrations are a joyful, strong pairing for the story. An Author’s Note tells more of the details, and further exploration can be done via listed websites and videos. Inspirational, for ages 5 through adult.

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Chimpanzees for Tea!, written and illustrated by Jo Empson
published in the U.S. in 2016 by Philomel Books

Vincent is sent to the shops with a short list of items to pick up for his mum in this breezy, warmhearted, funny tale.

chimpanzees for tea interiorf jo empson

He’s meant to pick up carrots, rice, cheese, peas, and a pear and beat it on home in time for tea. But wait’ll you see what a rash of forgetfulness and some crrraazzzy happenstances result in! Wonderfully silly! Artwork that sings and ripples with glee. Love it! Ages 2 and up.

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I Won a What?, by Audrey Vernick, illustrated by Robert Neubecker
published in 2016 by Alfred A. Knopf

One little boy is off to the fair, heading straight for that booth with the rows and rows of goldfish in bowls and his penny to pitch. He wants one of those goldfish with his whole, entire heart. And! You won’t believe it! He wins!!

i won a what illustration robert neubecker

But he doesn’t win a goldfish. Nope. He wins Nuncio! What is Nuncio? You won’t believe that either! Ride along on this blast of a tall tale. Bold, bright, vigorous illustrations, a riot through and through for ages 3 and up.

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Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions, by Chris Barton, illustrated by Don Tate
published in 2016 by Charlesbridge

Do your kids have a super-soaker? I think we had at least 5 floating around here when my kids were small. Who but Chris Barton would think to tell us the story of how they came to be invented?!

whoosh interior barton and tate

It’s a wonderful story about a super-smart, super-creative, super-determined guy. Enjoy finding out about him and get motivated to pursue your own dreams. Illustrated in Don Tate’s friendly, welcoming style. Ages 6 and up.

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Thunder Boy Jr., by Sherman Alexie, illustrated by Yuyi Morales
published in 2016 by Little, Brown and Company

Talk about a power team! Alexie and Morales have teamed up to bring us an unusual story — of course! — exploding in powerful emotion and wrapped up in warm, father-son bonds.

Thunder Boy Jr. has a complaint. What is the problem? It’s his name. Inside him, the beasts of anger are a-howlin’ over the junior at the end of his name. Listen up and he’ll explain why. Then watch and see what his dad does about that.

thunder boy jr interior alexie and morales

Based on Sherman Alexie’s own experience of being named after his father, this covers new ground for sure. Naming is a complex and important part of many cultures, and the significance to this particular Native family could be better spelled out for the reader. Nevertheless, I imagine that the opportunity this story brings to talk about the reasoning behind your child’s name could open some intriguing discussions.

As ever, Morales tackles her illustration assignment with determined inventiveness and unfettered vigor. Be sure to read her note about how the artwork was made. Ages 4 and up.

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So many women are told their dreams “simply can’t be done.” Today, meet a drummer, a mathematician, a primatologist and others, who persisted and realized their dreams.

Plus a tribute to mothers: In our heart of hearts, we often feel overwhelmed at this epic task — nurturing healthy human beings for our world. Women’s History Month would not be complete without celebrating motherhood.

drum dream girl cover imageDrum Dream Girl:How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music, by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Rafael López
published in 2015 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Hot pepper oranges and Caribbean blues saturate the pages of this poetic celebration of Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, the first female drummer in Cuba. As a young girl, the varied drums’ beats tantalized her, but it was taboo for women to play them.

drum dream girl illustration rafael lopez

Winner of the 2016 Pura Belpré Illustration Award, the gorgeous artwork in this book explodes with color and Cuban culture, while the text dances along lithely. Superb introduction to Millo, who became a world-famous drummer, and another example of the odd restrictions women have had to overcome with the help of a key insider. Ages 3 and up.

ada byron lovelace and the thinking machine cover imageAda Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine, by Laurie Wallmark, illustrated by April Chu
published in 2015 by Creston Books

Ada, daughter of the poet Lord Byron, was a brilliant mathematician. From childhood she was mesmerized by numbers and the inventions made possible by their calculations. Ada was a child of privilege, yet had to overcome family dysfunction, a crippling illness, and her society’s conviction that math was no place for a woman.


Wallmark’s introduction is intriguing and accessible, and Chu’s handsome artwork immerses us in Ada’s world. Read about the woman who wrote the first computer program with ages 5 and up.

paiute princess cover imagePaiute Princess: The Story of Sarah Winnemucca, written and illustrated by Deborah Kogan Ray
published in 2012 by Frances Foster Books, Farrar Straus Giroux

Sarah Winnemucca was not a princess. And her name was not really Sarah. Yet by assuming an identity the White world invented, she was able to wield her strengths for the good of her Paiute people.

This lengthy, fascinating account by award-winning author and illustrator Deborah Kogan Ray introduced me to an amazing person I had never heard of, who worked tirelessly for justice for the Paiute.

paiute princess illustration deborah kogan ray

She was a controversial figure, accepted fully by neither white culture nor her own people. I think that is often the case for peacemakers caught in the middle, searching for the best compromise this world offers. A beautiful, thought-provoking read for ages 8 and up.

irena's jars of secrets cover imageIrena’s Jars of Secrets, by Marcia Vaughan, illustrated by Ron Mazellan
published in 2011 by Lee & Low Books

Irena was a young Polish Catholic woman when World War II broke out and with horror she witnessed the beginnings of the Holocaust. As a social worker, she gained access to the Warsaw ghettos, smuggling in aid for two years until it became clear that Treblinka was in store for all who remained.

irena's jars of secrets illustration ron mazellan

Read the story of how this intrepid woman risked her life to smuggle 2500 children out to safety, and find out what role was played by two glass jars hidden under an apple tree. A riveting account with rich, atmospheric paintings, for ages 5 or 6 and up. Obviously, extermination camps are a part of this narrative, so use your judgement as to the appropriateness for young children.

florence nightingale cover imageFlorence Nightingale, written and illustrated by Demi
published in 2014 by Henry Holt and Company

Demi’s characteristically elegant treatment of her subjects turns here to Florence Nightingale, another child of privilege who used her life to benefit the poor and broken in the world.

florence nightingale interior by demi

Demi traces her life from her birth in Florence, Italy, (I never knew that is how she got her name!) through her calling as a young woman into nursing — an objectionable life for a proper lady, careful study of the care of patients, and blossoming as a leader and innovator in nursing care. It’s a brilliant account, never bogging down yet covering a vast amount of information, accompanied by intricate, appealing illustrations. An inspiration for ages 5 and up.

me...jane cove imageMe…Jane, written and illustrated by Patrick McDonnell
published in 2011 by Little, Brown and Company

This tender story tells of Jane Goodall’s childhood love of the great outdoors and all the wondrous natural world around her. The entire, sparkling account spins out just a few thoughts, like candy floss, magically endearing us to this dear girl, until with one turn of the last page, she is all grown up, living out her dream in Africa.

me...jane illustration patrick mcdonnell

Charming and engaging for children ages 2 and up, the story is followed by a bio written for ages 8 and up, and a wonderful, the watcher cover imagepersonal message from Jane about the opportunity for each of us to make a difference in our world. If you want to learn more about her, follow this up with another excellent account focusing more on her long work in Tanzania:

The Watcher: Jane Goodall’s Life with the Chimps, written and illustrated by Jeanette Winter, also published in 2011 by Schwartz & Wade and ideal for ages 3 and up.

lullaby for a black mother cover imageLullaby (for a Black Mother), by Langston Hughes, illustrated by Sean Qualls
published in 2013 by Harcourt Children’s Books

Langston’s dark-cherry sweet lullaby, a mother singing to her little dark baby, her little earth-thing, her little love-one, is marvelously illustrated in Sean Quall’s rhythmic, contemporary styling. Twilight purples and midnight blues infuse  the pages, anchored in strong shapes, textures, and inky blacks.

lullaby for a black mother illustration sean qualls

A note about Langston Hughes informs us about his sweet connection with words during a childhood of fractured relationships. Qualls conjectures about the comfort Hughes believed a mother’s lullaby could bring to a lonely boy. Read this with children ages 2 and up, and invent your own lullaby to speak your love.

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little leap forward cover imageLittle Leap Forward: A Boy in Beijing, by Guo Yue and Claire Farrow, illustrated by Helen Cann
published in 2008 by Barefoot Books; 125 pages

The poetry of language, music, cooking, friendship, love, and nature gleam like moonlight on snow in this gorgeous memoir of life in China during the Cultural Revolution. It’s the juxtaposition of breathtaking beauty and punishing uniformity that gives this story such power.

Author Guo Yue was born in 1958 in Beijing at the outset of the Great Famine which, over the next four years, would cause death by starvation to some 36 million people. His father, apparently, was one of them. When Yue was 8 years old, the Cultural Revolution exploded in China, crushing the thought, creativity, individuality, and life out of her people. Yue was grievously separated from family and friends during that time. As a musician — Guo Yue is a virtuoso performer of Chinese flutes — all of the beauty and grief of his childhood informs his music.

little leap forward illustration helen cann

This book is a fictionalized account of his childhood. Its sumptuous language carries us right into the courtyards and riverbanks and schoolrooms of Beijing, allowing us to experience that world through Yue’s captivating viewpoint. The sensory richness — of aromatic ginger, sweet birdsong, cucumbers like green jade — running throughout the whole account is extraordinary. There is liveliness and humor as well, and intriguing depictions of kite-making and kite-flying expeditions. Comparisons of the old ways of China, the new ways of China, and the harsh crashing in of the newest extremes of revolution, are sharply drawn. 

little leap forward illustration2 helen cann

Hovering just beyond the overt aspects of the memoir is a poignant yearning for freedom. That struggle is cast symbolically as Little Leap Forward wrestles with his conscience over a small songbird he’s caught, whose song has disappeared as she’s confined. It’s a motif that the youngest readers might not pick up, but which makes this book an excellent choice for readers who are older than you might think of as the target audience.

Helen Cann’s lovely, rich paintings perfectly complement this story. I love her work! Even the end papers are alluring, with Chinese kites gracefully dancing against a blue sky. Her detailed, visual references for the many foreign elements mentioned in the text are extremely helpful. 

little leap forward illustration3 helen cann

Several pages of photographs and biographical notes are included at the end. Read this aloud with ages 5 and up, but consider it as well for older readers, especially those with artistic souls or with an interest in China. Or read it for yourself. I very much enjoyed it.

P.S. You can hear Guo Yue play at this youtube link. Hauntingly beautiful. 

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This week, I’m celebrating the rich contributions to the arts made by courageous, persevering African Americans, starting with dance:

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My Story, My Dance: Robert Battle’s Journey to Alvin Ailey, by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James E. Ransome
published in 2015, A Paula Wiseman Book, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

This is the stirring, inspirational story of Robert Battle, a young man who overcame so many obstacles to become a brilliant dancer, award-winning choreographer, and ultimately the artistic director of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. His personal story and the story of the expression of African American stories on the dance stage are immensely powerful.

my story my dance interior ransome

I was captivated not only by Robert’s passionate pursuit of his dream, but by the array of people in his life who helped him along the way. James Ransome has chosen to illustrated it in vibrant pastels. I particularly love the figurative studies on the endpapers and in one interior spread! Ages 6 and up.

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Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton, written and illustrated by Don Tate
published in 2015 by Peachtree

George Moses Horton was a slave in North Carolina with a thirst for the riches of words and language from his childhood. Being prohibited by his master from learning to read, George managed to teach himself through sheer inventiveness and unflagging effort.

poet the remarkable story of george moses horton interior don tate

Then, he went on to do glorious things with his words. Composing his own poetry sustained him over a lifetime of adversity. What an intriguing, yet difficult life he led, bursting with creativity but fettered by enslavement. I am so glad to have met this incredible man through this book. Don Tate’s luminous paintings are remarkably welcoming. Don’t miss this one, for ages 4 and up.

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Leontyne Price: Voice of a Century, by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Raul Colón
published in 2014 by Alfred A. Knopf

Raul Colón’s stunning artwork transfixes us as we’re immersed in this magnificent account of a young Mississippi-poor girl who rose to become a Metropolitan Opera star. 

leontyne price voice of a century interior weatherford and colon

The Price family home swirled with music, Marian Anderson broke through barriers that inspired, teachers along the way recognized outstanding talent, but it was Leontyne herself who practiced and persevered. She gifted the world with her fabulous voice and paved the way for African American opera singers who followed. A glorious story for ages 4 and up.

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Ira’s Shakespeare Dream, by Glenda Armand, illustrated by Floyd Cooper
published in 2015 by Lee & Low Books

Ira Aldridge’s life story dates back the farthest of the artists on today’s list. Born in 1807, he was fortunate to live in New York City where he was able to attend the African Free School. There he was introduced to the great William Shakespeare, and there his dreams of becoming a Shakespearean actor were born. 

ira's shakespeare dream interior armand and cooper

Aldridge had to buck not only racism but his father’s wishes in order to pursue his theatrical path, and finally had even to leave family and home, to move to England where possibilities for black actors actually existed. With indefatigable perseverance, Aldridge went on to become an astonishing success. 

Floyd Cooper’s handsome, soft illustrations bring Aldridge and his world alive. Ages 5 and up. 

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Draw What You See: The Life and Art of Benny Andrews, by Kathleen Benson, illustrated with paintings by Benny Andrews
published in 2015 by Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Benny Andrews was a contemporary artist whose life and art drew immensely from the obstacles he and his family faced as African Americans in the sharecropping days of the ’30s. His surreal use of color and form, expressive figures –at times standing tall against their backgrounds, at times breaking forth in exuberant joy, at times, straining under oppressive burdens  — are riveting.

draw what you see painting by benny andrews

Andrews had to overcome poverty as well as the expectation that, as a black child, he would not stay in school even through high school. His remarkable perseverance, his forward reach and simultaneous rooted commitment to home and to the ordinary, suffering people in his world, were a potent alchemy which transformed his art and his social activism. 

I love that this book is illustrated with his paintings so we really meet him as we read his story. Ages 6 and up.


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