Review: Dear Mr. Washington by Lynn Cullen

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Dear Mr. Washington by Lynn Cullen, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter

Based on a true story, this enchanting picture book will have everyone smiling.  When George Washington comes to the Stuart house to have his official portrait painted, the children must all by on their best behavior.  But it doesn’t quite work out that way.  With each visit to the house, Charlotte has to write another letter of apology.  She has to apologize for the cat racing up his shoulder, for the baby chewing on his hair ribbon, and much more.  She shares a list of how they will be better behaved the next time.  But then there are her many examples in the following letter of how very good they had been, which was not actually true.  In each and every letter though, she is cajoling Mr. Washington to smile in his picture.  Can a very serious president handle the wild and silly Stuart clan?

A large part of the joy of this book is that it’s based on a true story.  You can read the author’s note at the end to see just how much.  The interplay between Mr. Washington and the children is lovely.  He mutters under his breath, ignores them as best he can, and yet it all ends up a mess anyway.  And the children themselves are cheery and playful, undeterred by either their parents demanding they behave or the scowling Mr. Washington.

Carpenter’s art adds to the fun.  She merrily depicts the naughty children from the baby chewing on Mr. Washington’s shoe to the entire group falling asleep all together on top of him.  It’s great to see a historical book that is playful and fun.

A great read aloud, this book is funny, silly and filled with history and art.  What more could you want?  Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Dial.

Review: X by Ilyasah Shabazz and Kekla Magoon

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X by Ilyasah Shabazz and Kekla Magoon

This is the story of Malcolm X’s boyhood and teen years.  Malcolm Little grew up during the Depression, surviving on dandelion greens soup after his father is murdered.  When his mother gains the attention of social services, Malcolm is moved out of the family home and away from his days of stealing melons from patches and apples from stands to fill his belly.  When Malcolm gets a chance to leave his foster home and head to live with his half-sister in Boston, he jumps at the chance.  Boston and its neighborhoods are a buzz with activity and nightlife and Malcolm immediately joins the fray, turning his back firmly on the way he was raised.  Malcolm continues to explore the dangerous side of society by dealing reefer, drinking, and dating a white woman.  He moves to Harlem where the jazz is even more incredible and where he really gets into serious trouble.  This novel follows Malcolm from his childhood until he is imprisoned for theft at age 20 and eventually converts to Islam.

Shabazz is one of the daughters of Malcolm X and according to the Authors Note at the end of the book the story while fiction is firmly based in real life people and events.  The writing prowess of Magoon is also here in full force, directing a story that is a headlong dash into sex, drugs and jazz into something that speaks volumes about the intelligence and emotions of the young man at its center.  The result is a book that shines light on difficult years of Malcolm X’s life where he lost himself and then the tremendous results of having returned and found himself again. 

There is such emotion here on the page.  Malcolm’s heart shows in each interaction he has, each moment of losing himself that he manages to find.  It is a road map of hope for those who are lost to these moments in their lives that you can return and be better than ever.  It also shows the humanity behind the historical figure, the real boy behind the legend.

Powerful, gritty and honest, this novel expands what young readers know about Malcolm X and offers hope for those in their own crisis.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Candlewick Press and Netgalley.