Friday, May 26, 2017

A Diverse Picture Book Bonanza

I have quite a few picture books on my desk at the moment and I thought I would share some of my favorite diverse books with you. Some are new, some are old, all are excellent.
The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist 
by Cynthia Levinson, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley Newton
Atheneum BFYR, 2017, Nonfiction, 40 pages, age 5+
I was very curious to read this picture book since I had already read We've Got A Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children's March, Cynthia Levinson's nonfiction book for older readers that featured Audrey Faye Hendricks. Imagine your 9 year old daughter telling you she wants to go to jail? Well, that's just was Audrey did. She skipped school and marched with other young people protesting segregation in Alabama. Told in the first person, Audrey clearly explains why she did what she did. This is an ideal book for introducing kids to Civil Rights Movement and Audrey's week in jail, with themes of courage and how one person can help make a difference. Newton's colorful digital illustrations catch much of the danger the young protesters faced from the moment they set out until they were released from jail.
You can download an extensive Teacher's Guide for The Youngest Marcher from Simon & Schuster HERE
The Three Lucys by Hayan Charara, illustrated by Sara Kahn
Lee & Low Books, 2016, Fiction, 40 pages, age 7+
Young Luli likes nothing better than to sit in the shade of an olive tree behind his house in Lebanon playing with his three cats, the three Lucys: Lucy the Fat, Lucy the Skinny, and Lucy Lucy. In the summer, when Luli goes to visit family in Beirut, he makes sure to leave the Lucys plenty of food and water. Beirut is exciting, and the visit is full of good food, music and especially books and stories. At the end of the weekend, they are almost home when suddenly there is a scream in the sky, followed by a loud boom and fiery flash in the sky. Luli, his mom and dad return to his aunt and uncle's home where they hope they will be safe, staying in the basement. As the day go by, and his family still can't go home, Luli begins to worry about his three Lucys. Finally, a cease-fire is called and the family prepares to return home. But what will they find after 34 days of fighting and bombing? Will their home still be standing? Or Luli's school? And what about the three Lucys? Have they survived the attacks? Will life ever be the same for Luli and everyone else affected by the fighting? I have always been interested in the way author's depict the impact of war on children and The Three Lucys is an excellent example of this. Young Luli learns how to deal with loss and grief, but finds strength within his family, and also sees how people are able to repair and rebuild their lives in the hope that the future will remain peaceful. Kahn's watercolor illustrations are a contrasting palette of peaceful warm and hostile cool colors, but capture the warmth of family love throughout. Be sure to read the Author's Note to find out more about the fighting that impacted Luli's life. 
You can download an extensive Teacher's Guide for The Three Lucys from Lee & Low HERE
The Water Princess: based on the childhood experience of Georgie Badiel 
by Susan Verde, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds
G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2016, Fiction, 40 pages, age 5+
Gie Gie may think herself a princess who can do many things, but she cannot make the water come closer to her. So, every morning, before the sun is even up, young Gie Gie and her mother take their water pots and begin the miles long journey to get water for drinking, cooking, and washing body and clothes. When they finally get to the well, there is already a long line of women and girls waiting their turn to fill their water pots. When their turn comes, Gie Gie and her mother fill two pots and begin the long journey home... knowing that tomorrow will come much too quickly and the water pots will again need to be filled. In this simply told story, young readers will learn that not everyone can simply turn on the tap and immediately have clean, fresh water. Hopefully, Gie Gie's story will educate and generate some conversations about solutions to this problem. The illustrations are done in a palette of oranges, yellows capturing the heat of the days in this west African countryside, and the dark beauty of the clear, starry sky. 
To find out more about the problem of water in Africa, visit the Georgie Badiel Foundation.
Mama's Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Spearation
by Edwidge Danticat, illustrated by Leslie Staub
Dial BFYR, 2015, Fiction, 32 pages, age 5+
Saya, a young Haitian American girl, misses her mother more than anything. But her mother is being held in an immigration detention center. Saya and her father visit her mother every week, but she still misses her so much that each day she listens to the message her mother put on their phone's answer machine. One day, she accidentally erased the message and can no longer her her mother's voice. Then, Saya received a cassette tape in the mail, and that night she falls asleep listening to her mother singing, then telling her a bedtime story. Meanwhile, Saya's father writes letters to everyone - judges, politicians, TV reporters - all to no avail. One day, Saya asks to write her story, too. A few days later, a newspaper reporter calls and wants to talk to Saya. Her story is published, and is even told on TV. Her mother gets a hearing in front of a judge, is allowed to go home and wait there for her papers to be processed. This is, above all, a story about the impact that removing an undocumented parent who has committed no crimes has on her family. In 2015, when it was published, this book held possibility and hope for families caught in these circumstances. In 2017, that hope is gone, but the negative impact on a child remains. Staub's oil painted illustrations are colorful and whimsical, with blues and pinks predominating and reflecting a Haitian folk art style. 
The Anti-Defamation League has produced an excellent guide about Mama's Nightingale for educators which can be found HERE
Jamal's Journey written and illustrated by Michael Foreman
Anderson Press USA, 2017, Fiction, 32 pages, age 4+
Jamal is a young camel crossing the desert with a caravan for the first time. He's a little slower than the adult camels and tired, but as he says camels must walk, walk, walk. A sandstorm suddenly hits the caravan, and when it is over, it is night and Jamal finds that he has gotten separated from the rest of the caravan. Trying to find his way back, he meets different desert animals, but none offer any help or direction. Jamal is finally found by one of the caravan's falcons, who helps him find his way back where he belongs. Eventually, the caravan reaches a large modern city (Dubai) and the market place, where Jamal gets a new harness and a new attitude about walking. I think this is a nice look at another culture, so different from our own. There a lot in this book that could generate some lively discussions with young readers. I have to admit, I assumed the boy on the cover was Jamal, and I was wrong. Foreman has included a nice note at the beginning that explains why he chose the name Jamal for the camel. Theme's in Jamal's Journey include adventure, friendship, loyalty, fear when lost, relief when found, and having a purpose in life. Foreman's earthy watercolor illustrations really impart life in the desert using a soft palette of sandy yellows, blues and greens. 
I Just Want to Say Good Night written and illustrated by Rachel Isadora
Nancy Paulson Books, 2017, Fiction, 32 pages, age 3+
When her father comes home after a day of fishing, he tell Lala that it's time for bed. But Lala's isn't ready to go to sleep quite yet. Her excuse for bedtime procrastination? Saying goodnight to every animal she can find in her small village, including all the little ants crawling along the ground. In the end, she finally gets into bed with a good book she wants to bid good night to - none other than Margaret Wise Brown's Goodnight Moon. Isadora's bright oil and ink illustrations are richly textured and appear to set this story in the African plains, although that isn't mentioned. This is a nice bedtime story, but be prepared for young readers to imitate the refrain Lala tells her parents: "I just want to say good night to..."
Ada's Violin: The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay
written by Susan Hood, illustrated by Sally Wern Comport
Simon & Schuster BFYR, 2016, Nonfiction, 40 pages, age 5+
Living in Cateura, Paraguay, where scouring the trash from nearby Asunción to recycle and resell is a way of life, Ada Ríos liked to imagine that truckload of garbage was "a box of surprises." And that turns out to be just what they are when Favio Chávez arrived in town and offers music lessons to the children of Cateura. With more children wanting music lessons than instruments to play, Chávez knew he had to do something. After experiments, trials, mistakes and finally success, instruments were fashioned for the children from Cateura's garbage dump and the Recycled Orchestra was born, and it didn't take long for them to become world renowned musicians, including Ada and her violin. Comport's beautiful mixed media collages carry the theme of music throughout, including bits of paper with musical notes on them in the garbage piles. She has captured what life is like living so close to a dump so well, you can almost smell it. The author includes important back matter about the Recycled Orchestra.
You can find an extensive Teacher's Guide for Ada's Violin HERE
A Bike Like Sergios's by Maribeth Boelts,
illustrated by Noah Z. Jones
Candlewick Press, 2016, Fiction, 40 pages, 5+
More than anything, Ruben wishes he could have a bike like Sergio's. Then the two friends could go riding together, instead of Ruben running alongside Sergio's bike. But Ruben also knows his family can't afford a bike, in fact, they sometimes have difficulty providing the things the family needs. One day, while in the grocery store buying bread for his mom, Ruben sees a $1.00 fall out of a lady's purse. He picks it up, figuring it's only $1.00, but when he gets home, he realizes it is really $100.00. With one hundred dollars, Ruben could buy a bike like Sergio's. But how would he explain that to is family? Well, he won't have to when he realizes has fallen out of his backpack pocket at some point. He spends the next day thinking only about what he lost, when he realizes he put the money in a different pocket. Rich again, that bike is almost Ruben's, that is, until he stops in the grocery store to pick up juice and sees the lady who lost the $100.00. Knowing now how she must feel, Ruben follows her and returns the money. Now, Ruben has a really wonderful story to share with his family. This is a great story about the struggle a person feels when they know what the right thing to do is, but their desires get in the way and cause lots of guilty feelings. In the end, though, Ruben learns an important lesson about feeling empathy for another person. Boelts's digitally assembled watercolor, pencil, and ink childlike illustrations offer the right kind of balance to that the story's ultimate doesn't weighed it down and turn kids off.    
You can download an extensive Classroom Guide for A Bike Like Sergio's from Candlewick Press HERE
Adrift at Sea: A Vietnamese Boy's Story of Survival
by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch with Tuan Ho, art by Brian Deines
Pajama Press, 2016, Nonfiction, 40 pages, age 6+
It's 1981, and now it is  time for Tuan Ho, his mother and two sisters to escape Vietnam and seek freedom, just like his father and older sister had in 1980. It is a trip that won't be easy and one that many don't survive. Sneaking out in the middle of the night, the family is dropped at the water's edge. There, soldiers begin shooting at them, until a skiff appears that takes them to an overcrowded fishing boat. It is hot and humid, without much drinking water. The, the boat springs a leak, and on the third day, the engine dies and the refugees find themselves adrift at sea. Luckily, on day six, an American aircraft carrier spots them, and welcome the refugees aboard. Eventually, the Ho family make their way to Canada and reunite with the rest of their family. This true story is a powerful example of how picture books can shed light on events of the past that share a similarity to those that are happening in the world today. Dienes' highly textured oil on canvas illustrations capture all the fear, secrecy, and perils experienced by the Ho family, done in hot and humid oranges and yellows, with cooling blue touches. 
Nim and the War Effort by Milly Lee,
pictures by Yangsook Choi
Square Fish, 1997, 2002, Fiction, 40 pages, age 6+
It's 1943, and all the kids in Nim's San Francisco school are competing to see who can collect the most newspapers for the war effort. Her aunt has promised to leave papers tied in a red string for her, but when she goes to pick them up, they are gone. When she meets classmate Garland, she notices her aunts newspapers in his wagon. When Nim says something to him about it, he tells her that she can't win the competition, it's an American war and only an American can win, "not some Chinese smarty-pants." When Nim asks a doorman at a fancy Nob Hill building if there are any papers she can have, his is more than happy to oblige, with a winning amount of papers. But, now Nim has a dilemma - she is supposed to be a Chinese school, something her grandfather is adamant about her being on time for, but she needs to get the papers to school in order to win the competition. Nim's solution is surprising, but in the end it angers her strict grandfather. Can she will back his trust and respect? This is a great WWII picture book about cheating, racism, and misplaced patriotism that will certainly resonate with today's young readers. The muted illustrations done in a palette yellows and browns of really give readers a sense of the past, but make Nim's white shirt and red wagon really standout.  


Monday, May 22, 2017

The Year of the Garden by Andrea Cheng, illustrated by Patrice Barton

Fans of Anna Wang will be happy to see this last book which Andrea Cheng was working on at the time of her death on December 26, 2015. The Year of the Garden is a prequel to the three Anna Wang novels already published.

Anna, 8, and her family have just moved from their apartment in Manor Court to a home of their own, though they are still in Cincinnati. And now, Anna has a yard in the need some care.

Accompanying her mother to her Saturday job cleaning the apartment of elderly Mr. and Mrs. Shepherd, Anna is happy to be given a copy of The Secret Garden along with some normal seed packets from Mrs. Shepherd’s garden. 

The next day, reading The Secret Garden in the yard, she meet Laura, who has also just moved to the same neighborhood. Both girls are happy to find out that they will in third grade together at their new school. Anna and Laura begin to plan a garden using Mrs. Shepherd’s seeds, but once school begins, Laura loses interest. Instead, she decides to join the soccer team, making new friends there. Feeling a bit alone, Anna worries that their friendship may not last. 

But finding a baby bunny in the yard brings them together again in a common cause to save the bunny. Unable to find the rabbit’s mother, the girls make a bed in a cardboard box, and put the bunny on the porch. Laura knows something about saving rabbits, and tells Anna they need to fed this baby some dog or cat milk. When none is available at the pet store, Laura’s mother drives the girls to her aunt’s in Indiana, who is an old hand at rescuing baby animals. 

And so Anna and Laura spend part of their weekend at taking turns feeding their bunny with a eye dropper. Saving the bunny brings the two girls closer together, and Anna realizes that she can be friends with someone who doesn’t share all her interests, that a real friendship is based on acceptance and flexibility.

I always thought that Andrea Cheng’s Anna Wang series is perfect for readers at the chapter book level. Cheng seems to be able to identify just the right kinds of concerns and issues kids have, and The Year of the Garden is no different. Anna and Laura’s friendship hits some real bumps in the road that they have to work out. School is good for Anna, who likes it, but not for Laura, who lacks focus. 

Cheng also presents Anna’s Chinese culture with respect and understanding. Anna’s mother is a Chinese immigrant who is working hard to learn English, her father is Chinese American. And Laura and the reader are introduced to some Chinese traditions, such as receiving a red envelope or Hong bao for Chinese New Year’s (each Anna Wang book expands on Chinese traditions).

I did findThe Year of the Garden carried a nice theme of growing throughout the book - Anna (and Laura) growing as people and friends, a motherless bunny growing strong and healthy, Anna seeds growing in her garden. However, I felt the story was a little thin, as though it wasn’t really a finished novel, more like a draft. Despite that, I would still recommend it to Anna Wang fans, but don’t expect the same level of story that you find in the previous novels.

Patrice Barton’s numerous black and while spot illustrations throughout help to fortify the story and add so much to it. 

This book is recommended for readers age 6+
This book was an EARC received from NetGalley

Friday, May 19, 2017

Stand Up and Sing! Pete Seeger, Folk Music, and the Path to Justice by Susanna Reich, Illustrated by Adam Gustavson

My dad was an immigrant who loved music, and when he arrived in this country, he discovered all kinds of American music that he had never enough of heard in Wales. He often played Jazz, Gospel, and Folk Music, and one of his favorite musicians folk artists was Pete Seeger. 

In this picture book biography for older readers, Susanna Reich introduces them to the life and music of Pete Seeger, a man who was born to play the banjo and sing the songs he wrote. As a boy, Pete spent the winter at boarding school, and the summer living with his dad and brothers in his grandparents’ barn. There he played in the woods, played music and read books. After reading about how some Native American tribes believed that everything should be equally shared among its members, Pete decided that was the way he wanted to live, too.

Later, living in New York City during the Great Depression, Pete was further influenced by the workers’ rights protest songs that he heard at parties, concerts, and parades he and his dad participated in. Pete’s family may not have had much money in those days, but, thanks to Pete, they did have plenty of music - spirituals, work songs, dance tunes, games, songs, lullabies, love songs, ballads, field hollers, blues, and even chain-gang chants. 

For a while, Pete was allowed to tag along with Woody Guthrie as he toured the county singing his songs. Pete also began performing with a group called the Almanac Singers, feeling good be able to make a difference in the world. Later, performing with Woody and Paul Robeson, a African American singer, Pete realized that the life as a singer wasn’t easy and could also be dangerous, but one thing he learned from this experiences was that music could calm a angry crowd. 

Not long after joining another group of folk singers, the Weavers, they were blacklisted for not being “loyal Americans” and could no longer find any work. Eventually, however, Pete met Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who was so influenced by his song “We Shall Overcome,” that it became one of the most important songs of the Civil Rights Movement. And that was just the beginning of Pete’s work as a social activist, writing songs that protested the Vietnam War and and eventually, working to clean up his beloved Hudson River. 

Stand Up and Sing! is an engagingly written biography about one of America’s most gifted and influential activists who courageously used his music to inspire so many people into action. I particularly enjoyed reading Pete Seeger’s biography because he was such a big part of my childhood, yet I knew very little about his personal life, other than the word’s to his songs, all of which I still know by heart. And as Reich shows us, Pete was a man who never wavered in his principles or his dedication to music.  I'd say that those are pretty admirable traits.

Adam Gustavson’s illustrations, done using gouache, watercolor, color pencil and oil paint, are as soft and gentle as a Pete Seeger song, yet they too say so much. Complimenting the full color illustrations are spot back and white drawing that extend the narrative of this brave, talented man’s life.

Pete Seeger may seem a little on the old fashioned side to today’s music listeners, but in fact, he sang a message that is probably needed as much in today’s world as it was in his own time. Listen carefully to the words as he sings his, perhaps, most well known song:

You can find an excellent teaching guide to use with Stand Up and Sing! courtesy of Vicky Spandel at Six Trait Gurus 

This book is recommended for readers age 8+
This book was sent to me by the author, Susanna Reich

Monday, May 15, 2017

Motor Girls: How Women Took the Wheel and Drove Boldly Into the Twentieth Century by Sue Macy

One of my favorite things to do when I first began to drive was to get in the car and just go. And I did go - here, there, and everywhere, crossing the continental united states eight separate times, each time taking a different route. Little did I know that I was part of a legacy of women who took to cars with the same love of driving that I had. 

Motor Girls, Sue Macy’s latest book about women and mobility (see also Wheels of Change: How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom) traces that love from the very start of the automobile’s history, beginning in the 1890s and the very first prototypes of motorized cars. 

Motorized cars were pretty exciting and irresistible stuff back then and men may have felt that automobiles should remain strictly their domain, convinced that driving and all the perils that were part of early automobiles (things like changing tires and getting stuck in mud) would not only threaten women’s femininity, but that they were just too fragile to handle such a big machine anyway, but women had a different idea. First of all, it didn’t take long for women to realize that driving meant freedom from their previous house-bound life, a way to get around on their own, and what a boon for the women driving to rallies and fighting for the right to vote as early as 1910.  And as much as they were often not welcomed, women drivers even began participating in automobile races. 

Macy introduces readers to many of the early pioneering women, such as Lillian Sheridan, first female tire salesperson in 1917, Alice Ramsey, first woman to drive cross country in 1909, Mrs. Olive Schultz, first female taxi driver, and Mary Dexter, a nurse who drove makeshift ambulances  through war-torn France in World War I. 

Using an incredible array of archival photographs, as well as clippings from old newspapers and magazines, Macy presents a well-researched, thoughtfully written historical document of women behind the wheel. In between chapters, she has also included some pretty interesting cultural items relating to the automobile, such as some odd motoring laws, the ideal clothing to wear while motoring, and one of my favorite parts - a look at early series books written for young readers, such as the The Motor Girls, The Motor Maids, and The Automobile Girls, all of which can be found on Project Gutenberg for anyone interested (though I should add that while they may be interesting look a driving in those early days, some of the references made may be offensive to sensitive readers). 
A list of resources is included in the back matter, as is an interesting timeline and list of sources used by Macy.

Motor Girls is an ideal book for anyone like myself who loves to drive. Sometimes I think we take driving for granted and it is nice to read about how the automobile had such a tremendous impact on the lives of women in the late 19th and 20th centuries. This is a solid book that will be a welcomed addition to any nonfiction library.

This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was sent to me by the publisher, National Geographic

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Blog Tour: Share, Big Bear, Share! by Maureen Wright, illustrated by Will Hillenbrand

Big Bear is back and this time he has a big bucket of beautiful blueberries to eat. And they sure do look good, at least that’s what Big Bear’s forest friends think as they watch him dig in without offering any to them. But Big Bear is so busy with his blueberries, he doesn’t even notice his friends as they gather around him and wonder why he isn't offering any to them. In fact, he is so intent on enjoying his blueberries that each time the Old Oak Tree tries to remind him to “Share, Big Bear, Share,” Big Bear thinks he has been reminded to do something else, over and over and over. Will Big Bear finally understand what the Old Oak Tree is really telling him and share his blueberries with all his forest friends before they are all gone?

Share, Big Bear, Share follows the same jolly rhyming pattern as the two previous Big Bear books, Sleep, Big Bear, Sleep! (2009) and Sneeze, Big Bear, Sneeze! (2011). Kids already familiar with these books will no doubt immediately pick up on the repetition of the Oak Tree’s imperative to Share, Big Bear, Share! and join in at the appropriate places; kids not familiar with the pattern won’t take long to pick up on it and join in as well. There’s plenty of humor to be found in the story as Big Bear, so intent on enjoying his blueberries, doesn’t really pay attention to the Oak Tree and keep goofing up, so expect lots of laughter. 

Will Hillenbrand’s delightfully whimsical illustrations, done with graphite pencil and digital media, add so much to the humor of the story. And Hillenbrand knows what he is doing. He has written and/or illustrated over 60 books for young readers including Down by the Barn, Mother Goose Picture Puzzles and the Bear and Mole series. He has lived almost all of his life in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he grew up as the youngest of four boys. He now lives in Terrace Park and was recently honored as Author/Illustrator in Residence at Kent State University. 

Information about his books, selected readings, art process videos, and activity ideas can be viewed at You can also connect with Will at 
And, you can find some fun activities at his website, including a game to Help Big Bear Share HERE

Besides being a pretty funny story, there are some serious themes to be found that could/should generate plenty of discussion with young readers, themes that stress the importance of paying attention, making mistakes, forgiving, and sharing.

I think the book trailer for Share, Big Bear, Share! will give you an idea of just how charming this book really is. 

I was given a copy of Share, Big Bear, Share! by the publisher, Two Lions for a giveaway, but it unfortunately suffered some water damage in the fire that happened in my building last week, see my post of May 8, 2017.
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