Overground Railroad by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James Ransome (9780823438730)
Ruth Ellen and her family left the South to head north to New York. Some African-Americans made the trip on foot, some drove but Ruth Ellen and her family took the train. They got the last seats in the colored car, and settled in for the long journey. They left secretly, not telling her father’s boss or their landlord that they were leaving. More and more people filled the colored train car as they traveled northward, many of them left standing because all the seats were taken. Ruth read to her mother from the book her teacher had given her about Frederick Douglass. As they got to Maryland, the separation of white and colored was removed, and Ruth and her family moved to get seats in less crowded parts of the train. Some white people didn’t want them sitting near them, but others were friendly. Their trip continued all the way to New York City where they would make their new future.
Told in the voice of Ruth Ellen, this picture book is a very personal look at the deep changes in the South after slavery that created the opportunity for the Great Migration to the north. On these pages is a clear optimism about their future, their new opportunities coming to fruition. The book is focused specifically on the travel north, beautifully weaving in elements from Frederick Douglass’ experience as he journeyed north fleeing slavery.
The illustrations are done in paper, graphie, paste pencils and watercolors. Ransome has created illustrations that are richly colored, show the poverty of the south, but also capture the rush of the train towards the north and opportunity.
This historical picture book shows a moment of deep change in America. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Holiday House.
The Imaginaries by Emily Winfield Martin (9780375974328)
Told in fragments of stories with stirring paintings to accompany them, this book is like a series of gems on a necklace, each discrete and beautiful. Just like the necklace, they also work together side-by-side to create something larger than themselves. There are glimpses of large sea creatures. A girl journeys in the forest, but she is not alone. Cats and birds, flowers and lions appear on the pages. There are masks to conceal and masks to reveal. There are bats that soar and an alligator to ride.
Each image is paired with writing on a literal scrap of paper. Torn from envelopes, carefully folden, sometimes corrected, on the backs of postcards, each one is different and fascinating. Take those lines from untold stories and pair them with images that create something incredibly moving, bright glimpses into one story and then the next. These are tales you long to be completed, where girls perch on the moon and libraries are filled with music and animals. It is to Martin’s credit that they feel like a whole piece rather than transient images and words set side-by-side. They form a universe of stories to linger in.
The illustrations are whimsical and beautiful. The effect is rather like looking into a series of windows and being able to linger with a story for just a moment before moving on. There are repeating themes of companionship, concealment and surprise on the pages, each captured in a painting that is lush and carefully done.
A very unusual book and one that is at times almost surreal, this is one to celebrate. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Random House.
Cast Away: Poems for Our Time by Naomi Shihab Nye (9780062907691)
By the Young People’s Poet Laureate, this collection of poems shines a fierce light on the garbage and litter we create and toss away. The poems tie litter to larger environmental concerns as well as American politics in the time of anti-truth and fake news. Some poems question whether technology is helping us or not too. This is a collection that is thought provoking and insistent that we begin to pay attention to the large and small choices we are making each day and figure out how we too can make a difference and start picking up our own litter, both physical and figurative.
Nye has written a collection of poems with a strong political viewpoint that demands attention. Yet she never veers into lecturing readers, rather using the power of her words to make us all think differently about our privilege on this planet, how we abuse it, and how to restore balance to the world, our lives and our politics. The poems move from one to the next with a force of nature, almost like wandering your own garbage-strewn path and engaging with it. Sometimes you may lack the equipment, but the hope is that your own fingers start twitching to pick things up too.
A strong collection that is provocative and tenacious. Appropriate for ages 10-14.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Greenwillow Books.
Beehive by Jorey Hurley (9781481470032)
This simple picture book focuses on bees and beehives. The book follows bees that explore the area, find a hollow tree just right for a new hive, and build there. They lay eggs and then care for and feed the immature bees. They sometimes need to defend the hive from predators too. When the new generation of bees emerges, they go right to work too, continuing to care for and build up the hive.
Told in single words, the story really plays out in the illustrations which are done in Hurley’s distinctive style. Her simple text is just right for very small children learning about bees and the environment. Hurley’s author note cleverly uses the single words within the book as a structure for more information on bees as well as a comment about the recent decline in bee populations. The digital art is strong and has large shapes that will work very well with a group of preschoolers.
Buzzy and busy, this book is a glimpse into the life of bees. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Simon & Schuster.
Red Hood by Elana K. Arnold (9780062742377)
Bisou knows the cruelty of men, having found her mother dead at the hands of her father when she was a small child. She was taken in by her grandmother, a strong woman who lives a solitary and simple life in Seattle. Bisou lives much the same way, having few friends until she starts to date. Everything changes when on the night of homecoming, she runs from her boyfriend and finds herself alone in the woods and being stalked by a wolf. When she defends herself and the wolf lies dead, she heads home. The next day she hears of a boy found dead in the woods from the same injuries as the wolf she killed. Bisou soon discovers her family history, the tale of her grandmother, and the power of being a hunter.
Arnold has taken the tale of Little Red Riding Hood and turned it forcefully on its head. Her writing is heart-pounding and fast paced yet also takes its time to create settings and characters that are vivid on the page. She takes elements of traditional societal shame and makes them part of Bisou’s power, including menstruation. The book also captures sex scenes where there is no consequences other than pleasure for Bisou, something that is so rare in teen fiction that it is noteworthy.
Arnold’s deep look at family violence and sexual predators doesn’t pull any punches or many any excuses. Bisou instead of being the prey becomes the hunter, called out of her bed by the moon. With ties to both fantasy and elements of allegory, this novel is dark and bloody, just right to be relished by young feminists.
Strongly written, violent and triumphant, this novel is tremendous. Appropriate for ages 16-18.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Balzer + Bray.
The NAACP gives two Image Awards each year for outstanding literary work for youth. One is for children’s books and the other for teens. I admit to being cranky that Undefeated and New Kid didn’t make their nomination lists!
Here are the winners in each of those categories along with the titles that were nominated:
OUTSTANDING LITERARY WORK – CHILDREN
WINNER – Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o, illustrated by Vashti Harrison
Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry, illustrated by Vashti Harrison
Parker Looks Up by Parker Curry and Jessica Curry, illustrated by Brittany Jackson
A Place to Land: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Speech That Inspired a Nation by Barry Wittenstein, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney
Ruby Finds a Worry by Tom Percival
OUTSTANDING LITERARY WORK – YOUTH/TEENS
WINNER – Around Harvard Square by C.J. Farley
The Forgotten Girl by India Hill Brown
Her Own Two Feet: A Rwandan Girl’s Brave Fight to Walk by Meredith Davis and Rebeka Uwitonze
Hot Comb by Ebony Flowers
I’m Not Dying with You Tonight by Gilly Segal and Kimberly Jones
Tanna’s Owl by Rachel and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley, illustrated by Yong Ling Kang (9781772272505)
Based on the story of the owl one of the author’s cared for as a child, this picture book offers a glimpse of life in the Arctic as an Inuit family. Tanna’s father came back from hunting with a baby owl. It was so ugly, it was somehow also cute. The owl had to be fed two or three times a day, so Tanna and her siblings caught lemmings to feed it. The owl, named Ukpik (or owl in Inuktut), lived in her father’s workshop. When the owl was hungry she would stomp her feet, sway back and forth, and chomp her beak. Soon Ukpik wanted even more to eat and everyone was tired of catching lemmings, so they started to feed her other types of meat, including caribou and fish. Her beak was very sharp, so now she had to be fed with gloves on. When summer ended, Tanna had to return to school in another community. She didn’t return home until the next summer. That’s when she found out that Ukpik had been set free. But maybe the large white owl that she saw around their home was Ukpik coming back to visit.
The authors clearly share both sides of caring for a wild animal. There is the initial joy of learning about the animal and starting to be able to understand their needs and ways of communication. Then there is the drudgery of the ongoing care. At the same time, there is a delight in being that close to a wild creature, of knowing it needs to learn to fly away someday, and knowing you are helping in some way. The book also shows modern Inuit life complete with an unusual way of attending school.
The art is large and bold with the images fully filling both of the pages. Readers will get to see the transformation of the owl from small and gray to a graceful white bird. They will also get glimpses of the Inuit home and the wide-open setting of the Arctic.
An inspiring picture book for kids who dream of caring for wild animals themselves. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Inhabit Media.
The 2020 Notable Books for a Global Society have been announced. This is an annual list of 25 books created by the International Literacy Association which enhance student understand of people and cultures. The list includes books published during the previous year for grades K-12. Here are the 2020 books:
The Book Rescuer: How a Mensch from Massachusetts Saved Yiddish Literature for Generations to Come by Sue Macy, illustrated by Stacy Innerst
At the Mountain’s Base by Traci Sorrell, illustrated by Weshoyot Alvitre
The Bridge Home by Padma Venkatraman
Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee
Dreams from Many Rivers by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Beatriz Gutierrez Hernandez
Feed Your Mind: A Story of August Wilson by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Cannaday Chapman
Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal
Indian No More by Charlene Willing McManis
Lubna and Pebble by Wendy Meddour, illustrated by Daniel Egenėus
Mario and the Hole in the Sky: How a Chemist Saved Our Planet by Elizabeth Rusch,
illustrated by Teresa Martinez
Martin & Anne, the Kindred Spirits of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Anne Frank by Nancy Churnin, illustrated by Yevgenia Nayberg
The Moon Within by Aida Salazar
New Kid by Jerry Craft
Orange for the Sunsets by Tina Athaide
The Other Side: Stories of Central American Teen Refugees Who Dream of Crossing the Border by Juan Pablo Villalobos
Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga
Paper Son: The Inspiring Story of Tyrus Wong, Immigrant and Artist by Julie Leung, illustrated by Chris Sasaki
Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpre by Anika Aldamuy Denise, illustrated by Paoal Escobar
Room on Our Rock by Kate and Jol Temple, illustrated by Terri Rose Baynton
Soldier for Equality: Josė de la Luz Sáenz and the Great War by Duncan Tonatiuh
Thanku: Poems of Gratitude by Miranda Paul (Ed.), illustrated by Marlena Myles
Todos Iquales / All Equal: Un corridor de Lemon Grove/ A Ballad of Lemon Grove by Christy Hale
The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Kadir Nelson
Under the Broken Sky by Mariko Nagai
With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo