Tea Cakes for Tosh by Kelly Starling Lyons, illustrated by E. B. Lewis
Tosh loved spending time with his grandma Honey, who baked him tea cakes. She told him stories of the cakes, dating all the way back to his great-great-great-great-grandma Ida who made the best tea cakes around. But those tea cakes were not for her children, they were for her owners since she was a slave. Sometimes though, she would make some extra cakes for her children to promise that things would change. Honey started to forget things, like where she parked her car and phone numbers. Then one day, she forgot how to make tea cakes. Luckily, Tosh knew just how to help.
Lyons has created a relationship between grandmother and grandchild here that is warm and loving and filled with sweet baked good too. She shows the importance of generation in a family by tying in the history of the tea cakes. I appreciate seeing a boy’s relationship with his grandmother where the boy is also interested in his heritage and being in the kitchen.
Lewis has illustrated the book with realistic watercolors that capture the relationship of the two main characters. He switches to black and white images when family history is discussed and shows the tea cakes on recipe cards too. The entire book is filled with warm colors that speak to the sunny relationship being depicted.
A beauty of a book, this picture book celebrates family heritage, grandparents and the power of food to bring people closer together. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from library copy.
March: Book One by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, illustrated by Nate Powell
This is the first book in a planned series of graphic novels that follow the life of Congressman John Lewis and his work in the civil rights struggle. This first book opens with President Obama’s inauguration day and then flashes back to critical points throughout Lewis’ life. It tells the story of his connection to animals on the farm, particularly chickens. It also shows him as a young minister and his determination to stay in school and then to attend college. Readers get to witness the violence of the opposition to the Civil Rights Movement including many pivotal moments in history like the sit-ins at Nashville lunch counters.
This is one powerful graphic novel. The writing is sterling and strong. It shines with an honest portrayal of historical events from someone who did not just witness them, but fought the battles personally. The book clearly explains the world of the 1950s and 1960s, making sure that modern readers understand the dangers of the times and the differences. It is both a historical book but also one that is important for modern teens to understand how far we have come and how far we have to go.
Powell’s art is stellar. It is stirring art that evokes history with a fresh eye. He creatively uses light and dark, playing with words across it at times, other times allowing the darkness to take control. There is a sense of witnessing history throughout the book in both the words and the art.
An impressive graphic novel for teens, this book shines light on the Civil Rights Movement. Appropriate for ages 12-15.
Reviewed from library copy.
Max and the Tag-Along Moon by Floyd Cooper
When it’s time for Max to head home from his Granpa’s house, Max is very sad. But his grandfather reassures him by saying “That ol’ moon will always shine for you…on and on!” All the way home in the car, Max watches the moon as it travels along with them. When they get home though, the moon has disappeared and Max once again feels sad and misses his grandfather. As Max is alone in his bed that night, he looks out at the dark night with no moon. As he watches, the moon returns from behind the clouds and Max once again feels connected to his Granpa.
Cooper takes a very simple story of grandfather and grandson and makes it memorable with his amazing illustrations. The story resonates with the connection of the two main characters and their love for one another. The symbol of the moon and its light connecting them makes the book luminous and almost magical. I appreciate a children’s picture book that is not just about an African-American child and family, but one that shows a loving male figure.
A large part of that magic are the illustrations that glow with the white-gold light of the moon. Cooper plays with light and dark throughout the book. Even on the pages without the moon shining, there are sources of light and shadow that are expressive and lovely.
A strong African-American family is celebrated in this picture book that would add another level to any moon-centered storytime. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Philomel Books.
This Is the Rope: A Story from the Great Migration by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by James Ransome
Based on Woodson’s own family, this is the story of how one piece of rope serves as a symbol for the changes that came during the Great Migration of African Americans from the rural south to northern cities. One little girl tells the story of how her grandparents moved to New York City, using the rope to tie their things to the top of the car. The rope was used to tie up the drying flowers from their window boxes that reminded them of home. It was used by the little girl’s mother to tug her toys and play jump rope. It tied her mother’s belongings to another car when she went off to college. Then it was used for more jump rope with the little girl and in the end to support the banner for their family reunion. In the end, it was returned to the original grandmother in exchange for a new rope to jump with.
Woodson adheres to a strict structure in this book that really makes it feel like folklore, connecting it verbally to other histories, other migrations, other families. Each page begins with “This is the rope…” and then moves on to tell the next thing that the rope was used for in this changing family. Turning the pages, readers can see the time change and the opportunities progress.
Ransome’s illustrations are lovely. His paintings capture light and its movement as well as the family as they change. Most of them catch those fleeting moments of life, each connected by the symbol of rope. The result is a rich and warm series of memories.
Beautifully written and illustrated, this book captures a period of time not seen in most picture books and a story of one family’s history. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from copy received from Nancy Paulsen Books.
Rainbow Stew by Cathryn Falwell
Released on June 15, 2013.
Three children scramble out of bed at their grandpa’s house to a rainy day. But they don’t want to stay inside, so Grandpa sends them outside to find colors to add to his Rainbow Stew. They splash their way into the garden and look under the wet green leaves to find what colors are hidden beneath. They find all sorts of green vegetables like beans, spinach, and cucumbers, some rosy radishes, some purple cabbage, yellow peppers, red tomatoes and brown potatoes. Soon their basket is full and the three children are muddy and happy. They all head inside to cook the stew together, each child helping in their own way. Then there is quiet time inside as the stew cooks, until finally they can all enjoy Rainbow Stew!
Falwell merrily combines a love of gardening and a willingness to get muddy in this book. She uses quick rhymes that add a bouncy feel to the book, maintaining that sense of joy that is everywhere in this book. I am particularly pleased to see a book with a grandfather taking expert care of grandchildren in this book.
The illustrations are filled with falling rain, but also small faces turned up into it and knees plunked down into the mud. The completely African-American family is also great to see in a picture book that easily integrates into rain or gardening or color units and story times.
Ripe and ready to be picked, this is a great choice for sharing aloud in spring or fall. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Lee & Low Books via NetGalley.
A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Born in 1888, Horace Pippin loved to draw from the time he was a small child. He would draw on scrap paper using charcoal, he would draw for his friends, and he would even draw on his spelling tests though his teacher did not appreciate that. As he grew, he had to quit school in 8th grade. He worked hard with his hands in different ways, but continued to draw and paint. Then Horace went to war and was wounded in his right arm. Now he could no longer draw, or so he thought. He started trying again with a poker and using his other hand to steady himself. As he grew stronger, he drew more and more. Eventually, he gained the attention of people like N. C. Wyeth, who helped put together his first art show. Pippin’s life that was filled with hardships and obstacles serves as inspiration for young artists.
Bryant and Sweet collaborated before with Caldecott Honor results. This picture book biography of an important but lesser known African-American artist shows the power of art in one’s life and how it is impossible to stop seeing and communicating the world through art once you begin. Bryant writes with a solidity that is lovely. Incorporating Pippin’s own words from letters, she captures the life of this artist and how he came to be recognized for his work.
Sweet too weaves Pippin’s words into her art. Her use of collage truly builds Pippin’s world before readers’ eyes. My favorite image in the book is Pippin as a young boy sitting and drawing on piles of papers. It captures the intensity with which he created art even at such a young age. This intensity continues through his story to after he is wounded and the determination that is apparent in just his hands.
Another very successful collaboration of these two masters, this biographical picture book should serve as its own splash of red on every library’s shelves. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from copy received from Random House Children’s Books.
The Price of Freedom: How One Town Stood Up to Slavery by Dennis Brindell Fradin and Judith Bloom Fradin, illustrated by Eric Velasquez
In 1856, John Price and two other slaves escaped to Ohio and freedom. But the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was in effect and even free states were required to allow slave owners to capture escaped slaves anywhere in the United States. John and his friend Frank spent the winter in Oberlin, Ohio, a hub of Underground Railroad activity. They decided to stay and not travel to the safety of Canada. So when a group of slave catchers came to Oberlin specifically hunting for John and Frank, the residents of the city had no legal grounds to help the two men. When John was captured though, the city rose up against the slave catchers, forcing a showdown that would be one of the defining moments in fueling the Civil War.
Filled with informational facts, this book reads more like a fictional story thanks to its inherent drama. It begins with John Price’s escape across the ice on stolen horses, continues through the Underground Railroad but the most amazing part is the final showdown, where your heart almost stops with the bravery and daring the Rescuers demonstrate. Fradin offers just the right mix of information and heroism.
Velasquez’s illustrations add to the dramatic feel of the narrative with their deep rich colors, drawn guns and historical details. There are so many gorgeous night images filled with danger but also with hope.
This is a nonfiction picture book that is sure to inform children about an aspect of slavery that they will not have heard of as well as a tale of what a group of brave citizens can do. Appropriate for ages 7-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
A Certain October by Angela Johnson
Johnson continues to write powerful books in a short format. Here we meet Scotty, a teenage girl who thinks of herself as rather bland, like tofu. The people around her seem more vibrant and complex like her little brother who has autism and enjoys trains, being naked, and eating cookies. Her best friends too seem to be more interesting to Scotty. Then in October everything changes because of a train accident. Scotty’s little brother is injured severely and another boy is killed. Scotty feels responsible for both of them, though she barely knew the other boy. This is a story that takes the small details of life and then shows how a single event can tear through, changing life forever.
Johnson writes like a poet, using unique symbolism to make her points. Scotty sees herself as tofu, bland until someone else adds flavor. Readers though will immediately understand that that is how Scotty views herself, not how the she actually is. Instead Scotty is an intriguing mix of teen angst, intelligence, and a big heart.
Johnson writes her characters in real life. They all read as real people, not even the parents becoming stereotypical. The teen boys are just as human as the main character, treating the girls with respect and friendship. It’s a refreshing change to see male secondary characters who are more than a stereotype too. When Scotty is grieving, the power of family and friendship together is obvious.
With its dynamic cover and short length, this book is sure to be picked up by teen readers. Here they will find a strong heroine who is intensely and utterly real. Appropriate for ages 13-15.
Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.
I Have a Dream by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., illustrated by Kadir Nelson
The power of Martin Luther King’s words meet the beauty of Nelson’s art in this luminous picture book. Using lines pulled directly from the latter part of King’s famous I Have a Dream speech, Nelson shows young readers how history was made that day. From King himself standing before the Lincoln Memorial to the seas of people listening, people of all colors standing side-by-side. Kadir moves back and forth between capturing the magnificence of King and his speech to images of what the world being dreamed of would look like. There are beautiful skin tones shown together as well as impressive vistas of the nation. Pure celebration, this is a picture book that truly captures the heart of King’s speech in a way that children will be able to understand.
Nelson’s art has already won him a Caldecott Honor. Here he has the courage to take on a famous man at his more memorable moment. But he doesn’t just show us the history, he illuminates it. King shines with light, stands with power, and beams with faith. There is a humanity to him too, somehow Nelson has captured what is beneath the skin too. Beautifully.
One of my favorite images of the book is the pair of white and black hands joined together. Against a plain white background, the hands are such a powerful symbol. Kadir paired those joined hands with a section about faith, so the two joined together become a prayer of their own too.
This book belongs in every library, both for the historical power of the moment being captured, but also for its exceptional beauty and art. Appropriate for ages 7-9.
Reviewed from copy received from Schwartz & Wade Books.
I, Too, Am America by Langston Hughes, illustrated by Bryan Collier
Collier marries the famous poem by Hughes with the story of the African-American Pullman porters, who served the wealthy white patrons aboard trains. The poem speaks to the dream of freedom and equality that we are moving towards but have not yet attained in America. It tells of servants sent to eat in the kitchen but also that in the future that will change and no one will again be sent to eat separately. Collier’s illustrations depict the real work of the Pullman porters and the rhythm of the train seems to appear in Hughes’ poem too. These men who worked in a racist world long after slavery was abolished are a fitting match to this strong poem that sings.
Hughes was able to write with such spare poetry, that it gives a strong vehicle for illustrations. Collier built an incredible story around those lines, one of porters and a small boy who has new chances in the modern world. He wraps his illustrations in the flag, playing with stars and stripes and the blue of the open sky throughout the book. There is a gravity, a seriousness to his work that is truly fine. It lifts up to the level of the poem, creating a harmony that is very special.
This is an extraordinary picture book about freedom, African Americans, and the struggle that still goes on every day for equality. Appropriate for ages 7-10.
Reviewed from library copy.