Audacity by Melanie Crowder
Told in masterful verse, this is the story of real-life heroine Clara Lemlich who led the largest strike by women in the history of the United States. Born in Russia, Clara was forbidden any education because her devout Jewish father did not approve. When her family emigrated to the United States at the turn of the twentieth century, Clara was required to go to work to support her family while her father and brothers dedicated their lives to prayer. Clara got work in the garment industry, discovering horrific working conditions and refusing to just accept them. Clara worked to get women workers taken seriously by the male-driven unions and for their plight to be incorporated into union strikes and negotiations. Along the way, she also used the public library and free classes to teach herself English. Anyone wondering if one person can truly make a difference in a larger world has only to read this book to be inspired to action.
Crowder’s poetry here is completely amazing. From one page to the next, she captures the incredible spirit of this young woman and her desire to educate herself. When she finds something to fight for, she is unstoppable, fearless and unbeatable. Crowder also ties Clara to nature, even in among the tenement buildings of New York City. She is a small hawk, a flower in the concrete, she herself is the force of nature in the city.
Just the descriptions of the horrific beatings that Clara withstood on the streets and the picket lines would make most people quit. But Crowder makes sure to depict Clara as a person first and a hero second. It makes what she did so much more amazing but also encourages everyone to realize that they too have this within them if they are willing to take on the fight. This woman was a heroine in such a profound way, unsupported by her family and willing to use all of her free time to make a difference, she is exactly what the modern world needs to have us make change now.
Strong, beautiful and wonderfully defiant, this book is an incredible testament to the power of one woman to change the world. Appropriate for ages 13-17.
Reviewed from ARC received from Philomel.
Here are my picks for the best nonfiction titles for children from this past year. The list includes books of poetry and nursery rhymes along with more factual forms of nonfiction. Enjoy!
All Different Now: Juneteenth, the First Day of Freedom by Angela Johnson
Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin
Born in the Wild: Baby Mammals and Their Parents by Lita Judge
A Boy and a Jaguar by Alan Rabinowitz
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
Colors of the Wind: The Story of Blind Artist and Champion Runner George Mendoza by J. L. Powers
The Cosmobiography of Sun Ra: The Sounds of Joy Is Enlightening by Chris Raschka
Dare the Wind: The Record-breaking Voyage of Eleanor Prentiss and the Flying Cloud by Tracey E. Fern, illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully
Edward Hopper Paints His World by Robert Burleigh
Eye to Eye: How Animals See the World by Steve Jenkins
Feathers: Not Just for Flying by Melissa Stewart
Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems by Paul B. Janeczko
Goodnight Songs by Margaret Wise Brown
Grandfather Gandhi by Arun Gandhi and Bethany Hegedus, illustrated by Evan Turk
Hi, Koo!: A Year of Seasons By Jon J. Muth
A Home for Mr. Emerson by Barbara Kerley, illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham
How I Discovered Poetry by Marilyn Nelson
The Iridescence of Birds: A Book about Henri Matisse by Patricia MacLachlan
Little Melba and Her Big Trombone by Katheryn Russell-Brown, illustrated by Frank Morrison
Little Poems for Tiny Ears by Lin Oliver, illustrated by Tomie dePaola
Mr. Ferris and His Wheel by Kathryn Gibbs Davis, illustrated by Gilbert Ford
The Noisy Paint Box: The Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky’s Abstract Art by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Mary GrandPre
Not My Girl by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton, illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard
Poem-Mobiles: Crazy Car Poems by J. Patrick Lewis and Douglas Florian, illustrated by Jeremy Holmes
The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus by Jennifer Fisher Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet
The Scraps Book: Notes from a Colorful Life by Lois Ehlert
Searching for Sarah Rector: The Richest Black Girl in America by Tonya Bolden
Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh
Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Everything by Maira Kalman
Winter Bees and Other Poems of the Cold by Joyce Sidman and Rick Allen
Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold by Joyce Sidman and Rick Allen
Master nature poet, Sidman, takes readers on a journey through the wonders of nature during winter in this new book. Each poem focuses on a specific animal, showing the amazing adaptations they have made in order to survive the cold temperatures. Done in a variety of poetic formats and styles, all of the poems have a lush beauty to them. Each poem is paired with a paragraph of information that further explains the animal and their lives during the winter months. The animals include tundra swans, voles, fox, moose, birds, insects and of course bees.
Sidman’s poems are exceptional. She clearly has designed them for children, but they stretch vocabulary and concepts. Even better, they reveal things below the surface, inviting further exploration and investigation of the concepts. The nonfiction paragraphs are equally welcoming. They are filled with fascinating facts and will have nature-loving children fully engaged.
Allen’s illustrations are linoleum prints. They have such depth and texture, with details of feathers and fur clear on the page. Done in vibrant colors, the illustrations show the color of the world despite its layer of white snow. Rich and detailed, these illustrations are luminous on the page.
An amazing book of nature poetry, get this into the hands of teachers doing nature units, units on winter, and share the poems merrily with children at any time. Simply gorgeous. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
What Forest Knows by George Ella Lyon, illustrated by August Hall
This poetic exploration of the seasons invites young readers into the forest to see what happens to the animals and plants as the seasons change. It begins with snow, which is something the forest knows well. It also knows about waiting, so it waits as the animals in the forest sleep and rest during the cold. Then buds come and creeks run and birds fly and it’s spring. All of the animals and insects awaken and come out into the growing grass. Fruit arrives with fall, nuts ready for squirrels to harvest. Animals eat to survive the next winter. Finally, there is snow again in the forest and an invitation to make the forest yours too.
Lyon’s poem is glorious. She winds through the forest along with the breezes, touching down and pointing out exactly the right things. It’s a poem that is organic and natural, celebrating everything in the woods, the ongoing changes, and allowing us to see ourselves reflected in the woods as well. This book is an invitation to explore during all seasons, to look for birds and bugs and mammals as we walk.
Hall’s illustrations add to that immense appeal of nature and the forest. His paintings play with the light as it changes through the seasons as well as the colors of the trees and the grass as the time passes. They are dappled and lush, filled with the movement of the wind and the movement of the leaves.
A great addition to the crowded shelves about seasons, this picture book combines poetry with gorgeous illustrations. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
Voyage by Billy Collins, illustrated by Karen Romagna
The former US Poet Laureate wrote this poem in honor of John Cole who is the Director of the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress. The poem celebrates reading and books, and the voyage of discovery that writing and words can take us on. In the book, a young boy gets on a boat and travels across the open sea. When he can no longer see land, the boat turns into a book which he starts to read. When he finishes the book, he becomes the book. The moon looks down as the boy returns to shore with his boat and his book.
Collins offers children a book that truly introduces them to poetry. This is a book that asks children to stretch and understand that there is more to the story than is right on the page in the words. The poem is about reading, about journeys, about wonder and the way that books can inspire and change us. That is not there on the page, and yet it is there if you look for it. This is a great book to introduce children to deeper poetry and how it too is dazzling.
Romagna’s illustrations take a literal look at the poem, offering images of what the words are depicting and also hinting at the depths behind them as well. Filled with moments of whimsy with a friendly moon and a blowing cloud with a face, the illustrations are friendly and celebratory.
A poetic picture book that will make a great gift for book lovers, those who enjoy Billy Collins, and children who are ready for their own voyage into poetry. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Sequoia by Tony Johnston, illustrated by Wendell Minor
This is a poem about Sequoia, a giant and ancient tree and how he lives through the year. As the seasons change, Sequoia opens his arms and gathers different things to him. He gathers owls to him in the springtime when he is cloaked in green. When fires come in the heat of summer, he gathers flames to him. As the birds fly away in the autumn, he gathers one last crow. In the winter, he gathers snow. He also listens quietly and deeply to the nature around him and shares stories that he has gathered over time with the smaller cedars. This picture book is a celebration of ancient trees and this one sequoia in particular.
Johnston uses repetition very skillfully in his poem. It is enough of a structure to allow children to have something to lean on when reading, but the poem is also free too. It’s a strong mix of structure and freedom that is perfect for a tree poem. As the seasons change, children will see nature change as well. There is a joy to this work, a dedication to preservation of trees like this, and a thrill in the wildness of nature. Johnston uses gorgeous imagery throughout that further ties the wild to this tree and how he feels.
Minor’s illustrations are exceptional. They carry the beauty of the verse to new heights as readers get to see the glory of this single sequoia standing so tall above everything else. Yet Minor also makes sure that Sequoia is part of the nature around him. The light is beautiful in these images streaming through the trees in beams, bright dawn on other pages, and the softness of twilight at others.
A wild and beautiful poetic celebration of a tree, this book is less about the facts of sequoia trees and more about the experience of one. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.
Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty by Christine Heppermann
Released September 23, 2014.
Filled with the stark, violent and frightening truths behind the fairy tales you loved as a child, this book of 50 poems is designed for teens ready to see beyond the beauty of a princess dress. The poems bring the fairy tales into the modern day, introducing us to the dirty side of the entire princess and beauty myth. Here are girls who are trapped in the stories society has sold them, girls who cannot eat, girls with no hope, girls who do as they are told, until they don’t. You will find all of the princesses on the pages here, by they are not who you think they are. There are poems told in their voices and others that are based on rhymes. They are all caustic, brave and vary from tragic to hilarious. I dare you to try to put this one down.
Brilliant. I read the first poem in this book and knew that I had found something entirely unique and amazing. Heppermann skewers the princess trope, firmly demanding that girls realize what is happening to them. That they recognize that it is built on them not for them, that they are all beautiful no matter what the ads say, and that if you listen too much your life becomes a mockery or a tragedy. This is satire at its very best, paying tribute to the fairy tales but savagely tearing them apart to form a new garment and march onward.
Get this one for your teen collections, hand it directly to girls who don’t like poetry because this will change their minds forever. This book will speak to every girl, because we have all been sold the same stories. Appropriate for ages 14-17.
Reviewed from e-galley received from Greenwillow Books and Edelweiss.
Under the Freedom Tree by Susan VanHecke, illustrated by London Ladd
Told in free verse, this picture book is the story of how the first contraband camp formed during the Civil War. It all started with three runaway slaves who escaped across a river to a Union-held fort. Though the Confederate Army tried to demand their return, the general at the fort declared them “contraband of war” and offered them protection and a place to live. The three were quickly joined by a flood of people crossing the line into Union territory and they began to build a home for themselves near the fort. The freedom tree is the Emancipation Oak which stood witness to the events that unfolded, including the Emancipation Proclamation, which set all of the residents of the camp free.
VanHecke’s verse is loose and beautiful. She captures the danger the slaves faced in crossing the Confederate line, the risks they took asking for shelter, and the clever solution found by the general. She offers an author’s note in prose to give more historical context to the camp and the Emancipation Oak.
Ladd’s illustrations are lush and detailed. His paintings capture the hope of emancipation, the darkness of escape by water and night, and the beauty of the oak. The illustrations clearly honor the first three men who escaped to the fort, showing them as they wait for the judgment of whether they must return to slavery or not.
A little-known part of the history of the Civil War, this book in verse pays homage to the courage of the men who created the contraband camp. Appropriate for ages 6-10.
Reviewed from copy received from Charlesbridge.
Hi, Koo!: A Year of Seasons by Jon J. Muth
Join Koo, a panda, on an exploration of the seasons through haiku poems. The book begins with fall and haikus about fall leaves, wind, and rain. Winter comes next with poetry about snow and ice. Spring is bridged into with a glimpse of crocuses and then grass, insects, and birds. Summer arrives with fireflies, flowers and water. In 26 poems, this is a lovely celebration of the small things that make each season special.
Muth has created haikus that are beautifully written. They capture small moments in time and also point to the larger importance of these moments. They continue Muth’s Buddhist focus in his picture books, offering children a way to see these times of mindfulness as important and worthy of exploration.
Muth’s watercolor illustrations have a wonderful spirit to them. The palette changes colors as the seasons change with spring bouncing in green especially after the white cold of winter. He captures the seasons so well that your attitude changes with each season as well.
A stellar collection of haiku, this book will invite young readers to see nature and seasons in a fresh new way. Appropriate for ages 5-9.
Reviewed from copy received from Scholastic.
Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems selected by Paul B. Janeczko, illustrated by Melissa Sweet
There are just over thirty poems in this collection and as promised in the title, all of them are very short. These short poems though each have power and perfection in just a few words, offering insight into the way that language can be edited and played with to make it speak much more than the few words on the page. Readers will find poems that are well-known mixed with others that are delightful new surprises. Through it all, there is a feeling of joy that comes from the page and from the words as well as a pleasure of traveling the seasons through poetry.
Thanks to the brevity of all of these poems, this is a very child-friendly book to introduce children to poetry. Their condensed format also gives them a lot of power and bang per word, which makes them easy to discuss with children. Readers will also want to try their hands at creating short poems and are sure to quickly realize that while they read easily, they are very difficult to create. That makes this book all the more impressive with its high level of quality of poem and a perfect level of accessibility for youth.
Sweet’s illustrations frame the poems into one cohesive unit. They celebrate the small things, like these poems and their themes, looking at leaves, butterflies, fog and lots of other bits of nature. Her work is playful and yet not too light, bringing depth into each image.
A beautiful collection of short poems, this belongs in every library and would make a perfect way to start every day with a poem. Appropriate for ages 4-8.
Reviewed from library copy.