Saturday, February 28, 2015

Saturday Roundup #5: 2015 Black History Month

I had picked out a lot of books for Black History Month this year, but unfortunately illness got the better of me for more than two weeks (and now you know, I'm not one of those efficient bloggers who does her posts in advance).   But I still have a few books I'd like to share with you now that I think reflect this year's theme, A Century of Black Life, History and Culture.

I, Too, Am America by Langston Hughes, illustrated by Bryan Collier
Simon & Shuster BFYR, 2012, 40 pages

Artist Bryan Collier takes the reader on a ride covering past to present, South to North, segregation to integration using as his starting point the spare words of Langston Hughes's well-known 1925 poem "I, too, sing America"about the Pullma porters who worked on the railroad trains.  The illustrations are metaphorical representations of Langston's words, for example, he shows how the porters used to toss the items left behind - newspapers, magazines, records, etc- from the caboose, and sees them as "acting as a conduit of culture, a distributor of knowledge to those who couldn't afford these items on their own." (Author's Note)  This is a beautiful book that will generate lots of discussion and, I hope, a love Langston Hughes's poetry. Collier used mixed media for creating his visually stunning illustrations.  Age 5+

Swing Sisters: The Story of the International Sweethearts of Rhythm
By Karen Deans, illustrated by Joe Cepeda
Holiday House, 2015, 32 pages

In 1909, a school/orphanage was founded by Dr. Laurance Clifton to educate black girls.  Part of the school's curriculum was learning to play a musical instrument.  In 1939, an all-female interracial group called the International Sweethearts of Rhythm was formed.  Embracing the new Jazz music of that time, the Sweethearts played around the country, traveling in a bus called Big Bertha, where they often sleep and ate when the African American members were barred from hotels and restaurants in the Jim Crow south.  The band was particularly popular during World War II, when traditional male bands lost members to the Armed Forces.  A nice addition to the world of jazz picture books.  The very colorful, very upbeat illustrations are done with acrylic and oil paint.  Age 7+

Ruth and the Green Book by Calvin A. Ramsey, illustrated by Floyd Cooper
Lerner Publishing, 2010, 32 pages

It's 1950 and Ruth is pretty excited when her dad brings home a nice new car and the family decides to drive from Chicago to Alabama to visit grandma.  Eager about going on a road trip, Ruth and her family keep running into signs that say "Whites Only"along the way.  Finally, a family friend they stay with for a night, tells them to go to an Esso station and ask for a copy of the Green Book.  The rest of the trip goes more smoothly as Ruth finds places to eat and places to stay that welcome African Americans listed in the Green Book.  The history of the real Green Book is included in the back matter.  This is an interesting and informative picture book for older readers about a part of African American history that most of us are not familiar with.  Cooper's realistic illustrations manage to beautifully capture the whole wide range of emotions that Ruth and her family experience on their road trip to grandma's.  Age 8+

Freedom Summer: The 1964 Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi 
by Susan Goldman Rubin
Holiday House, 2014, 128 pages

1964 was an important year in the Civil Rights Movement, particularly the Summer of 1964, when the eyes of the nation were focused on Mississippi and the young, mostly college student volunteers who traveled there to help educate the black citizens about their rights and help them register to vote.  Rubin chronicles the bombings of homes and churches, the creation of Freedom Schools, the jailing and beating of activists, but at the center of the book is the story of three civil rights workers from the north who disappeared and whose bodies were later found.  The book, which is written in chronological order, with copious photographs and other documents of the time, is a wonderful introduction to those difficult days for readers age 10+


28 Days: Moments in Black History That Changed the World
by Charles R. Smith, illustrated by Shane W. Evans
Roaring Brook Press, 2015, 56 pages

Written chronologically and beginning with an African American former slave whose shooting death with three other men was a spark that began the American Revolution, each person or event is included in this unique book is presented in a two page spread.  Smith uses a mix of poetry and prose and each entry is accompanied with a short informative piece about the person or event.  Some of Smith's choices will be familiar to young readers, like Oprah Winfrey, Nelson Mandala and Barack Obama, others may not be, but all contributed something in their own way that made the world a different place than it was before them.  The words are artfully matched with Evans's colorful digital collage and oil illustrations.  This picture book for older readers (age 8+) must be read and studied in order to fully appreciate every aspect of it.  

February is Black History Month

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Cosmobiography of Sun Ra by Chris Raschka

Since the theme of Black History Month this year is A Century of Black Life, History and Culture, I thought I would look at this picture book about a very talented African American musician who contributed to making jazz one of the most beloved musical forms around the world.  Jazz has its roots in African American communities, beginning in New Orleans, and spreading quickly to St. Louis, Chicago and New York and the reast of the world and it is considered by many to be a quintessentially black musical art form.

Herman (Sonny) Blount in Birmingham, Alabama in 1914, it quickly became evident that he was a musical genius.  He was a talented piano player by 11 and as a teen, Sonny could notate, compose and even had his own ensemble with singers.  But Sonny was too ordinary an name for someone who felt they really had come from Saturn, so Sonny became Sun Ra.

Sun Ra also noticed that blacks and whites lived separate, very different kinds of lives.  And when the US went to war, he refused to fight and kill people, spending those years in a Pennsylvania forest as a conscientious objector.

When the war ended, Sun Ra was off the Chicago, mastering jazz, do-wop and the blues.  Forming his own bank, the Arkestra, it was time to hit the jazz clubs of New York City, arriving in the 1960s.  From there, the sky was the limit, playing his particular brand of jazz around the world, wearing long colorful robes, necklaces and shiny metal crowns.

Raschka introduces the reader and draws them into the life of Sun Ra by playing a game of let's pretend - let's pretend that Herman Sonny Blount really did come from Saturn (but we know it is only pretend, right?).  He keeps up the conspiratorial tone throughout the book, thereby creating an intimate bond with his readers.  Raschka's colorful watercolor and ink illustrations, done in a palette of fittingly bold black and mostly primary colors, give the feeling of jazzy improvisation throughout the book.

Sun Ra may not be as well known as other jazz musicians like Dizzy Gillespie or Thelonious Monk, but Raschka's obvious love of jazz has now made him and his music accessible to a whole new generation of readers and hopefully, jazz lovers.

And The Cosmobiography of Sun Ra would pair up very nicely with Rascha's other jazz musician biographies - Charlie Parker Played Be-Bop, John Coltrane's Giant Steps and Mysterious Thelonious - for some very jazzy fun.

This book is recommended for readers 7+
This book was sent to me by the publisher, Candlewick Press

February is Black History Month

This is book 3 of my 2015 Nonfiction Picture Book Reading Challenge hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy

Sunday, February 22, 2015

2014 MG Fiction Cybils Winner: Nickel Bay Nick by Dean Pitchford

Congratulations for Dean Pitchford on winning the 2014 Middle Grade Fiction Cybils award.  It was a pleasure to read all of the Round 2 MG contenders and a mighty tough decision for all of us.  It was also a pleasure to work for my fellow Round 2 MG judges: Terry Doherty (Family Bookshelf), Jennifer Donovan (5 Minutes for Books), Heidi Grange (Geo Librarian), Holly Mueller (Reading, Teaching, Learning) and of course, the MG coordinator Karen Yingling (Ms. Yingling Reads).  And thank you, Greg Pattridge (Always in the Middle) for nominating Nickel Bay Nick.

Sam Brattle may only be 11, but he has had quite a life already.  The recipient of a heart transplant as a baby, Sam's mother left and she has just remarried.  Sam and his dad don't get along, and to make matters worse, Sam's best friends are older and wild.  In fact, Sam has already acquired quite a list of offences.  Luckily for him, the police are old friends of his dad and never press charges.  But Sam's luck seems to run out on Christmas Day.  After being chased by the police for breaking windows in the condemned railway station, Sam decides to lose them by climbing an evergreen tree in the yard of an unfriendly neighbor.  But after the police passed him by, Sam slide down the tree after seeing a monstrous dog in a window, taking a lot of tree and Christmas decorations with him.

Now, Sam's life is about change.  Mr. Wells, who lives in the house and is a bit of a recluse, makes Sam an offer he can't refuse - after all, he did cause a lot of expensive property damage.  It seems that Nickel Bay is a pretty depressed town, with lots of closed businesses, even Sam's dad is having money trouble with his bakery.  And this year, no one out hustling and bustling to get their Christmas shopping done.  In the past, a Good Samaritan nicknamed Nickel Bay Nick had secretly left $100 for the town's residents just before Christmas, but this year there was not Nick.

It seems Mr. Wells was actually Nickel Bay Nick and he had broken his leg so he couldn't get around.  His proposition to Sam: tell his father he is working off his debt by doing some filing for Mr. Wells.  Meantime, Mr. Wells come up with the idea that for the 12 days of Christmas, between December 25th and January 6th, Sam with train and become that year's Nickel Bay Nick.  Can such a preposterous idea really work?  Maybe.

When I first started to read Nickel Bay Nick, I wasn't too sure I was going to like it.  Sam seemed like a really unpleasant character and since the story is told in his voice, all the reader has is his perspective - not good with an unlikable character.  But as I read along, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that this was really a fun book to read, after all, simply because things are not what they seem to be at first.

Sam is really not a bad kid, but is a misguided one.  He has a lot to learn, but this is a coming of age novel, so, yes, he does learn the right lessons that change his life.  But it is the process of coming of age that makes this such an interesting book.  It is a well written book, with just the right balance of humor and poignancy, and in between that, there's plenty of excitement, especially when Sam goes out at night to deliver his envelopes of money.

As an adult reader, I found bits in this novel a little contrived, maybe there was just too much coincidence, and certainly, with all he has done wrong, there should have been consequences for Sam at some point regardless of past friendships but I know that as a kid reader I wouldn't have minded any of that, and I'm betting kids today won't either.

Nickel Bay Nick is a satisfying novel that not only entertains, but shows us the feel good benefits to helping others.  After all, this is a book with a lot of heart - real hearts, transplanted hearts, kind hearts and misguided hearts.
Once again, congratulations on winning the 2014 MG Cybils award.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was bought for my personal library

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday is a weekly meme hosted by Shannon Messenger at Books, Ramblings and Plenty of Shenanigans

Friday, February 20, 2015

Poetry Friday: Picture-Books in Winter by Robert Louis Stevenson

This week's poetry party is being hosted by Linda at Teacher Dance.  Thanks for hosting today, Linda.  Be sure to hop on over there to see what other poems are being shared today.

Even though the poem "Picture-Books in Winter" by Robert Louis Stevenson was published in 1905 in his poetry anthology A Child's Garden of Verses, I suspect when the temperature drops, and snow falls the way it has been lately, young readers all over the world still stay in and read picture books with parents, friends and/or older siblings in a hopefully toastly warm place.  

Picture-Books in Winter 

Summer fading, winter comes -
Frosty mornings, tingling thumbs,
Window robins, winter rooks,
And the picture story-books.
Water now is turned to stone
Nurse and I can walk upon;
Still we find the flowing brooks
In the picture story-books.
All the pretty things put by,
Wait upon the children's eye,
Sheep and shepherds, trees and crooks,
In the picture story-books.
We may see how all things are,
Seas and cities, near and far,
And the flying fairies' looks,
In the picture story-books.
How am I to sing your praise,
Happy chimney-corner days, 
Sitting safe in nursery nooks,
Reading picture story-books?

A Child's Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson, illustrated by Jessie Wilcox Smith
Charles Scribner's Sons, 1905, 105 pages
Digitally available at Project Gutenberg

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Seeds of Freedom: The Peaceful Integration of Huntsville, Alabama by Hester Bass, illustrated by E.B. Lewis

February is Black History Month and this year's theme is A Century of Black Life, History and Culture.  So it only seems appropriate that more and more children's books are being published introducing today's young readers to the often turbulent, sometimes violent struggles of African Americans for equality of the last century.  But it was also a century of change and one of those changes was the peaceful integration of Huntsville, Alabama.

As Hester Bass shows in her new book Seeds of Freedom, the 1960s in Huntsville, Alabama was a study in contrasts - as the "Space Center of the Universe," great scientific minds working on America's space program, but an invisible, uncrossable line dividing Huntsville into black and white existed.

However, things were happening all over the country and seeds of freedom were being planted by leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King, college students who were being trained in non-violence and staging sit-ins at segregated lunch counters, and demonstrators carrying protest signs.  By Easter 1962, those seeds of freedom had been planted in Huntsville, Alabama by its African American citizens who decided it was time for those seeds to grow there as well.

Bass tells the story of the peaceful integration of Huntsville event by event, month by month beginning with Easter 1962, when no African Americans bought their traditional new clothes for the holiday, choosing to wear blue jeans instead, an economic measure strongly felt by the white store owners.  More peaceful demonstrations followed.  Slowly, but peacefully, integration began to happen in Huntsville.   But it took a lawsuit brought by four families to finally integrate the schools.  The peaceful nature of the events in Huntsville, however, sets it apart from so many other towns and cities in the south where demonstrators were confronted by armed police, dogs and fire hoses.

In this picture book for older readers, Bass has presented the story of Huntsville in clear, concise yet lyrical language.  She not only describes the events in Huntsville, but gives some history of the Civil Rights movement and its leader Dr. King, as well as what was happening elsewhere.

Young readers will certainly find Seeds of Freedom an inspirational story, the more so because it is a true story.  And, it will definitely resonate with today's readers given some recent events in the news that sometimes make us feel that we are slipping back to those days of racial divide.  Hopefully, it will be the example of courage and sacrifice in the face of resistance that readers will carry away with them.

Complimenting and enhancing Seeds of Freedom are the watercolor paintings of E. B. White.  White always manages to catch just the right expression of the faces of the individual people he paints, and just as beautifully switches to an impressionist style for depicting crowds, such as those demonstrators who were met with firehouses elsewhere in Alabama.  Either way, White's illustrations are sure to move the reader.

Be sure to Author's Note at the end of the book, explaining why she decided to write Seeds of Freedom and giving some important background information.  Bass also includes a Selected Bibliography for further exploration.

Seeds of Freedom is an excellent and welcomed addition to the ever increasing body of literature on the Civil Rights Movement.

This book is recommended for readers age 7+
This book was sent to me by the publisher, Candlewick Press

February is Black History Month

This is book 2 of my 2015 Nonfiction Picture Book Reading Challenge hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Happy Valentine's Day and I'm back!

I've been battling a respiratory infection since the beginning of February and it finally got the best of me.  Now, as I emerge from my Robitussin haze, I see that February is already half way over and it's Valentines Day.  And so from me to you

But the last two weeks were all sleep and Robitussin for me.  First, last week, the Bank Street Children's Book Committee announced the 2015 Children's Book Committee Awards.  They are

2015 Josette Frank Award for fiction:

For older readers::
I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
Dial Books, 2014, 384 pages

For younger readers:
Feiwel and Friends, 2014, 240 pages

2015 Claudia Lewis Award for poetry

For older readers:
Nancy Paulsen Books, 2014, 336 pages

For younger readers:
Winter Bees and Other Poems of the Cold by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Rick Allen
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014, 32 pages

2015 Flora Stieglitz Straus Award for nonfiction

Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin
Candlewick Press, 2014, 192 pages

Congratulations to all the winners!

Next up - the Cybils!

Monday, February 2, 2015

It's Monday! What are you reading?

It's Monday! What are you reading? is the original weekly meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.  It's Monday! What are you reading? - from Picture Books to YA is a kidlit focused meme just like the original and is hosted weekly by Teach Mentor Texts.  The purpose is the same: to recap what you have read and/or reviewed and to plan out your reading and reviews for the upcoming week.

This week was a lot of reading and rereading for the Cybils and other awards, so it was a middle grade fest as far as I am concerned, though I did miss my usual fare of picture books.  Of course, today are the ALA awards and I am curious to see what will win the Newbury this year - just a few hours left and all will be revealed.

These are my rereads:

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
Nancy Paulson Books, 2014, 336 pages
A 2015 Newbery Honor Book

Written in free verse, Woodson remembers the family members, friends and experiences of her childhood and youth, allowing the reader to see the evolution of her as the writer she is today.  A slow reader as a child, we see how she struggled with the very same words that came to mean so much to her and her writing.  She has written Brown Girl Dreaming with unflinching honesty and love, as much an homage to her life as it is to her craft.  

Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin
Feiwel & Friends, 2014, 240 pages

For Rose Howard, the world is a chaotic, confusing place, but as Martin carefully explores the world from Rose's point of view, we see how she keeps her world under control with rules, homonyms, and prime numbers.  And when she loses her beloved dog, only to discover later that Rain belonged to another family, she is compelled to return him to the rightful owners.  However painful it may be, it is after all, the right thing to do.
The Meaning of Maggie by Megan Jean Brown
Chronicle Books, 2014, 220 pages

Not really understanding why her dad's legs have fallen asleep, Maggie, 11, discovers that her family has been shielding her from his multiple sclerosis.  But now the disease is progressing faster, and Maggie must "pulls up her bootstraps" and come to terms with all the changes that will mean for her and her family. 

These are my first reads:

  Nickel Bay Nick by Dean Pitchford
  Puffin Books, 2014, 272 pages (paperback edition)

  Based on the mystery person who was really leaving cash around for people 
  to find, this is the story of how one 11 year old lawbreaking boy with a 
  transplanted heart named Sam ends up becoming Nickel Bay Nick.  Normally, 
  Nick leaves $100 around this impoverished Maine town just before Christmas,       
  but this year he didn't show up.  Sad and depressed, Christmas was a bust for 
  the town's residents, but thanks for falling out of a tree on private property, 
  Nickel Bay Nick aka Same returns for the 12 days of Christmas.

 Death by Toilet Paper by Donna Gephart
 Random House, 2014, 272 pages

 After his dad dies, Ben, 12, and his mom hit some hard financial times.  Now, 
 on the verge of eviction, Ben feels the need to make money to help his mom, 
 but selling candy bars from WaWa isn't enough.  Ben is also a "sweeper" which means he enters as many contests to win money as he can, but so far all he has is an interesting correspondence with the head of Royal-T toilet paper, and coupons for free rolls.  There is lots of toilet and toilet paper info throughout the book.

The Magic Tree House Super Edition #1: Danger in the Darkest Hour by Mary Pope Osborn
Random House, 2015, 192 pages

Young fans of the Magic Tree House will like this longer version of this series.  Jack and Annie time-travel back to Nazi occupied France to rescue Kathleen, a young enchantress from Camelot.  It is a gentle introduction to World War II and though mention is made of Hitler's hatred of Jews, it is not really a true Holocaust story.  

These are this exciting week's reads:

  What are you reading this week?