Tag: African-Americans

My Story, My Dance by Lesa Cline-Ransome

My Story My Dance by Lesa Cline Ransome

My Story, My Dance: Robert Battle’s Journey to Alvin Ailey by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James E. Ransome (InfoSoup)

Starting from his birth through his rise to Artistic Director at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, this picture book celebrates Robert Battle’s life. Born with bowed legs, he was taken in by his aunt and uncle and then raised by his cousin Dessie. It was with Dessie that he discovered a love of music and words. He sang in the church choir and after he got his leg braces off, he began to take karate. At age 13, he started dance late in life for a dancer. Soon Robert was noticed by his high school dance instructor and then auditioned for The New World School of Arts. As he grew, he got to see the Alvin Ailey dance troupe perform and was awed by them. Moving to New York City to attend Julliard, his dancing reached another level and progressively he moved to work with Alvin Ailey. This story of talent and determination celebrates dance and the power it has to communicate.

The prose by Cline-Ransome is spry and fast moving. She shows the importance of family in Robert’s upbringing, even if his mother was not in the picture. The theme of the warmth of family plays throughout the book, from the early pages to the very end where Robert Battle is speaking to the Alvin Ailey audience. The author makes sure to not only talk about the facts of Battle’s life but also shows how his early disability and his willingness to work exceedingly hard played into his later success.

Ransome has done the illustrations in this picture book biography in pastels. The rich colors are gorgeous on the page. He uses them to show the richness of Battle’s life and then when the book shows the movement of dance, he uses them to create the moves from one position to another fluidly across the page in a rainbow of sketches.

A lovely biography on a contemporary figure in American and African-American dance, this picture book is rich and powerful. Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

 

 

Mixed Me! by Taye Diggs

Mixed Me by Taye Diggs

Mixed Me! by Taye Diggs, illustrated by Shane W. Evans (InfoSoup)

The author of Chocolate Me! returns with his second picture book. Mike is a boy with wild curls whose skin doesn’t match that either his mother or his father. His father has dark skin and his mother light, and Mike is somewhere in between. Mike loves to run and dash with a cape on his back. He knows exactly who he is and is proud to be a mix of both of his parents. He’s not mixed up at all, he just wants to do his own thing, wear his hair the way he likes it, choose his own clothes, and be exactly who he is.

Taye Diggs, the well-known actor, keeps his book fast moving and filled with rhythm. The character of Mike is a joy to find on the page, a creative boy who has a look and personality all his own. The frank look at skin color is also very welcome as is the exuberant acceptance of being mixed race and the beauty that brings.

Evans’ illustrations are a dynamic collage of fabrics, printed paper and skilled drawing. The way that Mike’s hair is shown gives it its own personality, often moving ahead of Mike himself as he zips through life. The art celebrates different races and colors and the way that Mike stands out for all sorts of reasons from the crowd.

A celebration of self-acceptance, children of all backgrounds will enjoy this book. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Feiwel and Friends.

Review: All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely (InfoSoup)

Rashad is just minding his own business, getting chips after school, when he is suddenly accused of shoplifting after a white woman trips over him. He ends up being brutally beaten by the police officer in the store and has to be hospitalized. At the same time, Quinn is heading out to a party with his friends from school and witnesses the beating first hand. Quinn considers the officer involved and his younger brother close personal friends and struggles with what he has seen. A video of the incident goes viral and Rashad finds himself at the center of the Black Lives Matter discussion. Both Rashad and Quinn have to figure out whether they are willing to stand up for change and what that means for each of them.

I have heard incredible praise for this book and it is all completely true. Reynolds and Kiely tell their story in alternating chapters, each narrated by one of the two teens. The book is so strong, the voices of each of the narrators are distinct and clear. The book fights stereotypes over and over again. It is done with care and consideration, each choice that is made fights against what our culture believes to be true. It is done though with such certainty too that the reader doesn’t notice that the very structure of the story itself is part of its message.

This is a stunning read. The authors do not duck away from the complexity of the questions being asked, instead adding nuance in some instances. Rashad’s father is a police officer and the story of why he left the force will resonate and show just how insidious societal racism is even in the African-American community itself. The two main characters also face difficult decisions but very different ones. The book is difficult, challenging and vital.

This is a must-read book for teens. It would make a great platform for important discussions that need to continue in America. Brave, incredible and riveting. Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Night on Fire by Ronald Kidd

Night on Fire by Ronald Kidd

Night on Fire by Ronald Kidd (InfoSoup)

Billie longs to be able to leave her small Alabama town of Anniston and head for a bigger city where things happen. She hopes to be a writer one day too. As the battle for civil rights comes right to Anniston with the Freedom Riders, Billie discovers that there is a lot more racism in her city than she had ever known. She sees it in her own father at home with the way he interacts with their housekeeper, Lavender. She sees it in her school in the way that people react to the news of the Freedom Riders and she sees it in action when the bus the Riders are aboard is attacked. Billie begins to realize that she too has certain points of view that need to change. She wants to be a rider in life, not a watcher. So when she learns that the Freedom Riders are back on the road, she and Lavender’s daughter head to Birmingham aboard the bus together. Along the way, they are faced with overt racism for being together and Billie begins to understand that her actions can have impact to support larger change.

At first I was very disappointed to see a white character as the lead in the book. Then as the book continued, I realized the power of what was being shown on the page. Kidd demonstrates through a very approachable young protagonist that racism is everywhere, even in people who do not seem to be racist at all. Billie is a great example of societal racism and someone who longs for change but can’t see their own role in the process and the subtle ways that race in Alabama during the Civil Rights Movement is so pervasive. In Billie, Kidd manages to show a modern racism that is just as toxic as the more overt kind. It is carefully done, never overplayed, and offers a space for understanding and change to happen.

Kidd brings the Civil Rights Movement to life before the eyes of the reader, placing Billie in the midst of not only the Anniston Freedom Riders riot but also in Birmingham with the Freedom Riders and Martin Luther King, Jr. In both situations, there is real violence happening and real danger of people being murdered. Kidd pays homage to the bravery of the Freedom Riders and to their cause. He shows the price of silence and the challenge to speaking up against your home and community. It is a powerful piece of historical fiction.

Rich and layered, this is not a simple book. It will challenge readers to look at themselves and their biases and prejudice. It is a book that speaks to the modern Black Lives Matter movement and that encourages everyone to become part of the solution and not witness in silence. Appropriate for ages 10-12.

Reviewed from ARC received from Albert Whitman & Company.

Review: Untwine by Edwidge Danticat

Untwine by Edwidge Danticat

Untwine by Edwidge Danticat (InfoSoup)

Giselle and Isabelle are identical teen twins on their way to Izzie’s concert at school when their car is crashed into and their lives changed forever. Giz wakes up in a hospital room, unable to speak or move. She can hear though and is in a semi-conscious state. That’s how she realizes that everyone thinks that she is Isabelle. People don’t mention her at all, avoiding the subject, but Giz is sure that she would know if Isabelle had died. Her parents eventually come to see her, both physically battered by the accident and with bruises, broken bones and casts. Trapped and unable to communicate, Giselle thinks about her past with her family, their strong ties to their Haitian heritage and the bond that she and her sister have always had.

Danticat is an award-winning author of several adult books. This is her debut YA title. Her writing is superb. Told in Giz’s voice, the prose lilts and dances like poetry. It weaves around the reader, creating moments of clarity and then as Giz reminisces about her family and sister lifting into pure emotion. Nothing is told, all is shown and there is a radiance to the entire novel that is sublime.

Giz is a strong heroine. Haitian-American, she is solidly connected to her heritage through her grandparents who still live in Haiti. It’s a joy to see a depiction of a family of color who are complex and far from stereotypical. Giz is a large part of this. Her voice is clearly her own, her upbringing affects everything around her, and being a person of color is at the core of this novel yet not at center stage. It is done with a delicate yet firm hand.

One of the most beautifully written teen novels of the year, this look at sisterhood, death, grief and family is hauntingly lovely. Appropriate for ages 13-17.

Reviewed from copy received from Scholastic Press.

Review: Mama’s Nightingale by Edwidge Danticat

Mamas Nightingale by Edwidge Danticat

Mama’s Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation by Edwidge Danticat, illustrated by Leslie Staub

Saya’s mother has been taken to an immigration detention center and held for three months. Saya misses her a lot, spending time at night listening to her mother’s voice on the answering machine. Her Papa spends his evenings writing to judges and the media to find help, but no one ever responds. Every week, Saya and Papa go to visit her mother, but it is always hard to leave her behind again. Then Saya’s mother starts to record stories for her, all based on Haitian folk tales, some sad and some happy. Saya decides to write her own letter to the media and gains their attention. Soon Mama is brought before a judge due to the pressure brought by the media and viewers. The judge allows her to return home until her papers arrive.

Danticat is a National Book Award winner for her adult books. In her Author’s Note she speaks to the impact of immigration and separation in her own childhood. In the United States in recent years, over 70,000 parents of American-born children have been jailed or deported. This is an issue impacting every community in our country. Danticat offers not only a view of how this separation affects a child, but also a way forward for both children to feel they are doing something to help and parents who are jailed to stay in touch with their children through stories from their heritage. Beautifully written, this picture book sings the message of diversity, inclusion and humanity.

The illustrations by Staub are lush and colorful. They show the power of the human voice and shared stories in a visual way, swirling the page with images of Mama as well as from the stories being shared. The colors of joy infuse the pages just as the colors of sorrow appear on others. It is a very effective way to show the myriad of emotions that Saya is feeling.

An important book that is beautifully written and illustrated, this picture book belongs in every library. Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from copy received from Dial Books for Young Readers.

Review: Marvelous Cornelius by Phil Bildner

Marvelous Cornelius by Phil Bildner

Marvelous Cornelius: Hurricane Katrina and the Spirit of New Orleans by Phil Bildner, illustrated by John Parra

Cornelius worked in the French Quarter of New Orleans. He was a garbage man who loved his job. He greeted everyone in the neighborhoods and made sure that the streets were clean of even a single wrapper. He had amazing calls he used with his driver, shouting “Woo! Woo!” when it was time to stop and “Rat-a-tat-tat!” when it was time to drive on. He didn’t just carry bags from the curve, he tossed and juggled them, adding dance steps to his routine job. He could launch bags through the air one after another and they landed in a perfect pyramid on the truck. But then Hurricane Katrina came to New Orleans and the city streets filled with mud and muck and piles of garbage. At first Cornelius was overwhelmed by the work to be done, but he started the same way he did every day and soon others started helping too.

This picture book is based on the true story of Cornelius Washington who was a sanitation worker in New Orleans. The Author’s Note speaks to his connection with Cornelius’ family and a reporter who had gotten to know him before the storm. In this book, Cornelius’ story is told in folklore style, offering him and his amazing spirit that he displayed every day a space to be honored and appreciated.

Parra’s illustrations play to the heroic feeling of the book, Often showing Cornelius with stars behind his head or rays of the sun. The painted illustrations have a gorgeous roughness to them in texture that also connects the subject to history and makes the entire book feel timeless and sturdy.

An homage to a man who did a humble job with style and energy, this book is also about survival and what it takes to be an everyday hero. Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.