February always catches me up short and this year is not different. There was the big Cybils Middle Grade Fiction decision for the winning book with my fellow second round judges, and this year Chinese New Year fell in February and, of course, it is Black History Month.
Today I thought I would share some of my niece's favorite picture books. Because it is an election year and voting is so important, we decided to begin with two books about that.
Granddaddy's Turn: A Journey to the Ballot Box
by Michael S. Bandy and Eric Stein, illustrated by James E. Ransome
Candlewick, 2015, 32 pages (Age 6+)
Michael and his granddaddy do all kinds of things together on their farm, like chores and fishing. One day, his grandfather puts on his church suit, and takes Michael for a long walk, without telling him where. What a surprise when they end up at the town hall. It's voting day and granddaddy will be the first in their family to cast a ballot and couldn't be prouder. Standing in line for a long, long time because other [white] voters cut in ahead of them, granddaddy has to remind Michael to have patience, "Takes patience to get what you've got coming to you." But when it is finally granddaddy's turn to vote, the deputy tells him he cannot vote because he can't read. The look of disappointment on his grandfather's face prompts Michael to promise that someday he would vote for him, a promise he keeps. The realistic watercolor illustrations by James E. Ransome add so much to this emotional story, that shows the prejudices and the practices that prevented African American men from exercising their right to vote.
Lillian's Right to Voe: A Celebration of the Voting Rights Act of 1965
by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Shane W. Evans
Schwartz & Wade, 2015, 40 pages (Age 5+)
Follow the long, uphill journey of 100 year-old African American Lillian as she goes to an Alabama courthouse to cast her vote In this picture book for older readers. As she climbs upward, Lillian recalls her family's history - from her enslaved great-great-grandparents and their baby Edmund being sold on the courthouse steps, to her enslaved great grandfather Edmund picking cotton from early morning to night and his later attempt to vote after the Fifteenth Amendment guaranteed him that right, to her grandpa Issac being charged a poll tax, and her uncle Levi asked impossible questions to answer, like "how many bubbles in a bar of soap?" Later her parents would be chased away from the polls by an angry mo, a cross burned on their property and Lillian's first failed attempt to vote. But as she nears the courthouse, she also recalled the Civil Rights Movement and the men and women who fought for voting equality for all African Americans and the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Set in narrative form, Lillian's life allows for a timeline of African American history right up to the point where she presses the lever to cast her vote. There is a sad note at the back of the book about how the Voting Rights Act was dismantled by the Supreme Court in 2013. This is an incredible book for kids to read and on that will work really well in classrooms and for homeschooling. Shana Evans's mixed media illustrations really capture the long, hard upward climb, both historical and for Lillian personally.
When my niece and I were deciding which books to include in this post, we thought it would be nice to include books about ordinary kids, too. As my niece reminded me, they are also part of Black History month.
Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman, illustrated by Caroline Binch
Dial Books, 1991, 32 pages (Age 4+)
I picked this book because my mother's name is Grace, and because I love the message that Grace can be anything she sets to mind on. Grace loves to hear and to make up stores, and then to act them out. Naturally, when her teacher announces that they will be performing Peter Pan, Grace wants to play Peter. But two of her classmates tell her she can't to that - after all, Grace isn't white and she isn't a boy. Discouraged, Grace's grandmother takes her to see the ballet Romeo and Juliet, starring a young, black dancer in the role of Juliet. Lesson learned, Grace gets the part of Peter Pan and is a great success. Amazing Grace is such an uplifting book, and Grace is such a wonderfully enthusiastic character, really so inspirational in how she lives her life. I gave this to my niece when she needed some encouragement and she says she goes back to it whenever she feels she needs some reassurance (she's 13 years old now). Caroline Binch has really evoked Grace's infectious spirit with her realistic watercolor illustrations (and I love that she illustrated Grace with a big smile even with her front teeth missing. So many kids refuse to smile when they loose front teeth).
The Paperboy written and illustrated by Dev Pikey
Scholastic, 1996, 32 pages (Age 4+)
Every morning, while it is still dark and everyone else in his family is asleep, a young boy and his dog quietly get out of their warm bed, eat some breakfast, then head out to the garage to fold a bunch of newspapers, getting them ready for delivery. Then, the paperboy, with his dog, heads out on his bicycle to deliver the paper to all his customers. The two pals have done their paper route so often, they know it by heart. After delivering his last paper, boy and dog head back home and, yup, you guessed it, right back to bed for a while. Pikey's illustrations, done with acrylics and India ink, really capture the silence and clearness of early morning and you can almost feel the dew forming on the grass. This is a simple, but inspiring story about doing a good job and about the companionship and loyalty of your best canine friend. My brother used to have a paper route, and while it was a nice way to make some extra money, but it's not an easy job. Interestingly no mention is made of the young paperboy's race, other then in the illustrations.
Chocolate Me! by Taye Diggs, illustrated by Shane W. Evans
Square Fish, 2015, 40 pages (Age 4+)
Self-esteem is a fragile thing when you are a child and sometimes it is a child's 'friends' who manage to chip away at it. In this picture book, the white playmates of a unnamed African American kid are always making comments and asking him questions about his skin color, his hair, his wide nose. Each time, the refrain "Chocolate me" shows how dispirited these things make the young boy. When he tells his mom that he wishes to be more like those playmates, read white, his mother points out how much she loved all the things that make her son who he is. Slowly, the refrain "Chocolate me!" shows how the young boy goes from feeling dejection to feeling proud of who he is.
Firebird: Ballerina Misty Copeland Shows a Young Girl
How to Dance Like the Firebird
by Misty Copeland, illustrated by Christopher Myers
G.P Putnam, 2014, 40 pages (Age 5+)
Let's face it, Misty Copeland is an incredible dancer, but, as she tells a young girl who is wondering if she will ever be a good a dancer, that she was once in the same place - she came to dancing late, at age 13, and often lacked confidence in herself about her ability, But, she tells the young girl, with hard work and dedication, she, too, will someday reach great heights with her dancing. The language in this picture book is so simple, yet so lyrical - my favorite lines are "each position one through five/stair steps to the sky?/ that's right." Complimenting the lyrical prose are Christopher Myers illustrations/collages which are every bit as abstract and bold as the Firebird dance itself. In June 2015, Misty was the first African American to be named a principle ballerina in American Ballet Theatre's 75 year history.
FEBRUARY IS BLACK HISTORY MONTH