One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia by Miranda Paul, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon
Used to just dropping their baskets when they wore out, people in Njau, Gambia did the same thing with their plastic bags, but the plastic bags decayed like the baskets would. They also didn’t last nearly as long. Torn bags can’t be mended or used at all, so one by one, then ten by ten, and thousands by thousands they were thrown to the side of the road. They accumulated in heaps, poisoning the goats that tried to eat the garbage around them. Water pooled in them and brought more mosquitoes and diseases. Burying and burning them weren’t the solution either. Then Isatou Ceesay found a way to recycle the plastic bags and get jobs for her community by transforming them into something new.
This book speaks to the power that one person can have to change things, both for themselves and their entire community. The prose here is straight-forward but also has moments of poetry thrown in, showing the devastation the plastic bags were creating in the Gambia. The book also shows the way that an idea is born, comes to fruition, passes through being scorned and is finally embraced.
The illustrations by Zunon are remarkable. Using collage, they bring together the textures of the weaving and baskets as well as the plastic bags from photographs. The textiles of the Gambia are also incorporated and vibrate on the page. They are combined with painting and other more playful textures to create the natural setting and the people.
Strong writing and superb illustrations combine to tell the true story of how one woman transformed pollution. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
Gordon Parks: How the Photographer Captured Black and White America by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Jamey Christoph
Gordon Parks had a rough beginning to his life from being born almost stillborn to losing his mother at age 14. He was told by his white teacher that he and the rest of his all-black class would end up as either porters or waiters. Parks did do those jobs, but then he purchased a used camera and everything changed. He started photographing models and then turned his camera towards the struggling families in Chicago and Washington DC. He is pointed towards one specific subject who will create his most famous image, American Gothic, the picture of an African-American cleaning woman standing in front of the American flag with her mop in hand. Parks managed to show racism with a clarity thanks to just picking up a camera at first.
Weatherford keeps this book very friendly with a minimal amount of text in the bulk of the book. She does include an author’s note at the end that fills in more of the extensive career of Parks as a film director and Renaissance man. The focus here in this picture book biography is Parks’ photographic work and the impact he had on exposing racism and poverty in the inner city, showing hard working people who were still in poverty. Make sure to turn to the end of the book to see his photographs and their intense message.
Christoph’s illustrations are stellar. Using a subtle color palette, the images echo the photographs that Park took, but not too closely. Instead they build upon them, showing Parks taking the images and embracing the dark beauty of the back streets of urban spaces. He also beautifully captures emotions and the humanity of Parks’ subjects that also shines in his photographs.
An important picture book biography, this book shows how one person can make a difference and have a voice. Appropriate for ages 7-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
March: Book Two by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell
The powerful second book in the March graphic novel series continues the true story of the Civil Rights Movement. Told by John Lewis in the first person, this book captures the dangers and violence faced by the Freedom Riders as they headed into the deep south. The nonviolent campaign for civil rights faced beatings, police brutality, bombs, imprisonment and potential death. Yet they found a way to not only keep going but to continue to press deeper and deeper into the south. This book is a harrowing read that shows how one young man became a leader of in civil rights and politics in America.
Lewis’ personal story allows readers a glimpse of what was happening behind the scenes. Historical figures like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X make appearances in the book, and their own personal perspectives on civil rights and nonviolence is shared. The pushback on the nonviolent aspect of the movement is also shown clearly on the page when new people joined the cause. This shift towards more reactionary tactics threatens to undo the progress that had been made to that point.
Thanks to the graphic novel format, there is no turning away from the violence. Beatings are shown up close and will a frenzy that is palpable. The dangers are not minimized nor overly dramatized, they are shown honestly. There are unforgettable moments throughout the novel, some of them small like a boy being encouraged to claw out a civil rights worker’s eyes. Other moments are larger from the mattress protests in the jail to the march of the children and the police brutality that followed.
Immensely strong and powerful, this graphic novel series allows us to see how much progress was made thanks to these civil rights heroes but also inspires young readers to make more progress against the continued racism in our society. Appropriate for ages 13-15.
Reviewed from library copy.
My Name Is Truth: The Life of Sojourner Truth by Ann Turner, illustrated by James Ransome
Told in her own voice, this picture book biography captures the childhood and emergence of Sojourner Truth as an orator and activist. The first pages of the book show the horror of slavery, the loss of family members when they are sold away, and the damage of loss, grief, battery and ownership. Then with her baby in her arms, Sojourner runs away, finding shelter. She eventually fought to get her son back with her, and finding her voice. Moving to New York City, she gains her new name of Sojourner Truth and begins to speak out. From wagon backs to formal lectures and then in print, her words travel and help destroy the institution of slavery across the nation.
Turner weaves Truth’s words into the text, creating poetry that is fiery and honest and burns with indignation about slavery. Using her own voice to narrate the story is a great decision, allowing readers to really see what has built the passion upon which Sojourner Truth draws again and again. The horrors of the loss of twelve members of her family never leaves her and it never leaves the book, as it begins and ends with that focus. The entire book is beautifully drawn and historically accurate. Readers can read the author’s note at the end and teachers will appreciate the book being reviewed for accuracy by experts.
Ransome’s illustrations are luscious and lovely. He shows the hard work, grueling labor of slavery and then with one page of running away, Sojourner Truth expresses freedom in the form of a large bed of her very own, something she has never experienced before. It is an image that is powerful and one that children will understand intuitively. As the book progresses, the images grow in power and strength as she comes into her own.
Strong, poetic and filled with history, this picture book biography of Sojourner Truth will be embraced by schools and public libraries alike. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage by Selina Alko, illustrations by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko
This nonfiction picture book tells of a history that will surprise modern American children. It is the story of love and one family that was brave enough to stand up to a racist law. Mildred and Richard Loving fell in love in the small town of Central Point, Virginia. They had different colored skin and so they were not allowed to get legally married in Virginia. So they crossed state lines into Washington, DC and got married there. When they returned to Virginia though, they were arrested for violating the state law against interracial marriage. The two moved to Washington DC and raised their children there. Things started to change in the 1960s and the Lovings took their case all the way to the Supreme Court to win the right to marry one another in the state of Virginia.
This book is strikingly beautiful with a rich warmth that flows directly from the story and art. The author and illustrator are a husband wife team who are also interracial. Their passion for this subject shines on the page. Alko explains that subject matter with a vibrancy, offering information on the laws in a way that is suitable for small children. The drama of the arrest is also clearly captured, exposing the ludicrous law to today’s perspective.
The art of the book was done by both Qualls and Alko. Their styles marry into a beautiful richness that fills the pages. They are filled will playful hearts and flowers that add a lighter note to the images. At the same time they have detailed paintings filled with texture and power at their center. The combination of both has created a stunning beauty of collage and painting.
An important piece of our civil rights history as a nation, this picture book documents one family willing to take up the fight for themselves and others. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from copy received from Arthur A. Levine Books.
Sand Swimmers: The Secret Life of Australia’s Desert Wilderness by Narelle Oliver
Set in the ferocious center of Australia, this book looks at one of the harshest climates in the world and the animals that not only survive there but thrive there. The “Dead Heart” of Australia can appear completely uninhabited at first, but this book has us look closer and see what the Aboriginal people have known for thousands of years. The huge salt lake has lizards, shrimp and frogs if you know where to look. The mulga scrublands have tangled timber but that is also shelter for spiders, ants, geckos, and birds. Down deep under the earth, there are even more animals sheltering. Even the oceans of rock and sand have animals living there. Explore an amazing ecosystem along with early explorers of Australia who failed to see the creatures hiding around them.
Oliver takes readers on an amazing journey through various regions of the center of Australia. Even the rocks and sand and plants themselves are wild and different from other parts of the world. Everything seems to combine to make the most uninhabitable ecosystem in the world, but that’s not true if you look deeper. Oliver takes readers deeper into the desert and readers will discover the beauty and life hidden in this desolate landscape.
Oliver’s illustrations combine line drawings of the creatures with smudged drawings of the early explorers. The combination of the crisp line drawings with the more smudged ones is very successful, giving readers a taste of both the animals themselves and the history.
A brilliant look at a fascinating habitat, this book goes far beyond the stereotypical kangaroos and koala bears of Australia. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
Seeds of Freedom: The Peaceful Integration of Huntsville, Alabama by Hester Bass, illustrated by E. B. Lewis
Violence was a large part of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. However in Huntsville, Alabama something quite different happened, quietly and successfully. They managed through cooperation, quiet civil disobedience, and courage to stand up for what was right for all members of their community. There were lunchroom protests where young black people sat at the counters they were not allowed to eat at. There were marches with signs. There were arrests, even one of a mother with an infant that gained national news. There were lovely protests like refusing to purchase new clothes for Easter and instead dressing in blue jeans to deny some stores their business. There were balloons with messages of coming together even as a segregationist ran for governor. There were brave children who attended schools where they were the only people of color. Yet it all happened in a community of support and with no violence at all.
Bass emphasizes throughout her book that there were challenges in the society and reasons for protest. Time and again though just as the reader thinks things will be more rough and confrontational, it abates and progress is made. Her use of details from the other cities in Alabama as well as the national Civil Rights Movement will show children how violent the struggles often were. It is against that backdrop that the progress in Huntsville really shines.
Lewis’s paintings also shine. He captures the strength and determination of those working for their civil rights. On each page there is hope from the children reaching to the sky with their balloons to the one black child in the class and his smile. It all captures both the solemnity of the struggle and the power of achieving change.
Beautifully told and illustrated, this nonfiction picture book offers a compelling story about a community’s willingness to change without violence. Appropriate for ages 7-10.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Queen’s Shadow by Cybele Young
Released March 1, 2015.
This fascinating and unique nonfiction picture book takes a mystery and turns it into information about how various animals see. At the Queen’s Ball, several different animals have gathered. Then there is a flash of lightning and a moment of darkness. When the lights come back on, the Queen’s shadow has been stolen! Who stole it and how can they prove it? One by one, each animal offers testimony to what they witnessed “colored” by the way they are able to see the world. There are the eyes of the chameleon who can look in two directions at once but only shoot out his tongue when both eyes are focused on the same thing. The shark excels at seeing contrast more than anything and notices patterns of light and dark. Pit viper sees in heat and cool. Dragonfly offers perspective from compound eyes. It will take each of their ways of seeing the world to solve this mystery.
Young creates an entirely abstract and amazing world here. There is a strong sense of decorum throughout the book, no animals attacking each other and the human queen unafraid of any of her more predatory guests. She combines information for the mystery about what was witnessed through that specific set of eyes and then shares strictly scientific information in offset text boxes too. The result is a book that keeps you turning pages not only to solve the mystery but to continue seeing the world in such unique ways and learning more.
The illustrations have a feel of vintage illustrations with finely detailed ink drawings washed with color. This style is reworked though when seeing through other animals’ eyes so that with each turn of the page, the art is ever-changing and fascinating.
Peculiar in a delightful way, this nonfiction picture book is one that will appeal to children wanting to “see” more of the natural world. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Netgalley and Kids Can Press.
Gingerbread for Liberty: How a German Baker Helped Win the American Revolution by Mara Rockliff, illustrated by Vincent X. Kirsch
German-born Christopher Ludwick had come to the Colonies as a young man looking for the opportunity to create his own bakery. He did just that, creating gorgeous gingerbread for his town. When the Revolutionary War began, he was eager to defend his America in any way he could, so he headed off to join General George Washington. When he got there, the soldiers were hungry and complaining about the quality of food they were getting. Ludwick jumped into action, feeing the armies bread from his ovens. But the dangers weren’t done yet. The King of England pulled together armies from other countries and sent them into battle. The soldiers came from Germany and Ludwick offered to see if he could convince them not to fight. Once again it was food and the promise of having enough to eat that convinced the soldiers to lay down their arms. Many battles later, the war was won, but Ludwick and General Washington had one final mammoth baking task ahead of them.
Rockliff keeps the tone of this book quite lighthearted even as Ludwick finds himself taking grave risks with his life. The writing is jolly and merry throughout. The tone suits this baker whose optimism shines on the page and whose patriotism seemed to know no limits. His accomplishments exceed what is shown in this picture book. Make sure to read the Author’s Note at the end of the book to learn more about this amazing patriot and what he did for children and education as well as liberty.
Kirsch’s illustrations are a gingery delight. Done in the forms of elaborate gingerbread cookies, the characters are shown as flat brown cookies with plenty of icing. From the brown outlines to the white lines of icing, there is no mistaking what they are meant to be. They too add a sweet and optimistic feel to this jolly picture book.
An unsung hero of the Revolutionary War and beyond, this picture book celebrates the impact that one man can have in making history. Appropriate for ages 6-8.
Reviewed from library copy.
“Honoring a Latino writer and illustrator whose children’s books best portray, affirm and celebrate the Latino cultural experience”
Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales
Green Is a Chile Pepper illustrated by John Parra, written by Roseanne Greenfield Thong
Little Roja Riding Hood illustrated by Susan Guevara, written by Susan Middleton Elya
Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation illustrated and written by Duncan Tonatiuh