Category: Elementary School

Strange Fruit by Gary Golio

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Strange Fruit: Billie Holiday and the Power of a Protest Song by Gary Golio, illustrated by Charlotte Riley-Webb

Billie Holiday had survived a rough childhood that saw her jailed at age 14 and become a successful jazz singer. Despite her success though, she was still forbidden to do things that her white band members were allowed. She had to hide in rooms, take freight elevators and pretend to be someone different in order to stay in hotels and not sleep on the tour bus. This was all dangerous and eventually she quit. She found a new place to sing in Cafe Society, the first jazz club that welcomed African-American audience members. It was there that she was given the song, Strange Fruit, a song that would become her best-known work. A song that was so powerful that it was met with silence the first time she sang it. A song that would come to speak to a new generation as they stand together today.

Golio has taken a song that is about lynching and turned it into a picture book. It’s a daring subject for a book for young readers, yet he makes it entirely understandable. He uses notes at the end of the book to continue Holiday’s story and also speak about lynching and its history in the United States. The bulk of the picture book is about Holiday’s struggles in the 1930s with pervasive racism and the way that this song spoke to her personal experience and that of all African-Americans.

The illustrations are deep and powerful. They show the pain of racism, the power of song, the energy of a performance and the drama of silence and darkness. Done in acrylic paint and tissue collage, they have a wild freedom of line that works well with the intense subject matter.

An important picture book about a song that has transcended generations and speaks to the struggles of today and yesterday. Appropriate for ages 7-11.

Reviewed from e-galley received from NetGalley and Lerner Publishing Group.

Let’s Clap, Jump, Sing & Shout by Patricia C. McKissack

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Let’s Clap, Jump, Sing & Shout; Dance, Spin & Turn It Out!: Games, Songs & Stories from an African American Childhood by Patricia C. McKissack, illustrated by Brian Pinkney (9780375870880)

What a way to celebrate Black History Month! With plenty of games, songs, poems and stories, this volume happily combines them all into a delightful rhythm of rhymes, clapping and singing. While the book focuses on games and songs from an African-American background, children of various backgrounds will find new and familiar games on the pages. This mix of discovery and warm familiarity makes this a book that both invites exploration and gives everyone a place to stop and smile in recognition.

This book is almost an encyclopedia of games and songs. Page after page will have readers humming along, singing aloud and looking for a partner to play a newfound or best-loved game. The poetry section adds a real richness to the book, allowing it to slow from the fast pace of the games and songs. McKissack introduces each game, song or poem with a short paragraph about it. This creates a book that is far more than one game after another, adding historical information too.

Pinkney’s illustrations are pure movement on the page. They dance and swirl and tilt and play. Sweeps of color embrace the ink drawings, adding even more motion to the page. There’s a feeling of freedom in the illustrations, a playful wildness that is pure refreshment to the eye.

A book for every public library, this is a must-have. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Random House Children’s Books.

Frederick Douglass by Walter Dean Myers

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Frederick Douglass: The Lion Who Wrote History by Walter Dean Myers, illustrated by Floyd Cooper

The late Walter Dean Myers shows readers the upbringing of American hero, Frederick Douglass. Douglass was born a slave in Maryland. He was first taught about reading by the mistress of the house, but she soon stopped teaching him. Frederick grew up helping to care for the family who owned him and learned from the children of the family how to speak clearly. He also learned the differences between his life as a slave and their plans for happy futures. So Douglass taught himself to read. He was hired out to work in the shipyards where he met sailors who were free black men. He fell in love with a free woman and made his way North to freedom, posing as a sailor. Once free in the North, he started to speak out against slavery, becoming the legendary orator he is famous for being.

Myers draws a complete picture of Douglass here. He shows readers the differences between slavery and freedom with a clarity that is vastly helpful. He doesn’t linger on the violence of slavery but it is also not lessened or ignored. He strikes just the right balance for a young audience. As the book continues, one sees Douglass grow up, learn many things and then not only head to freedom himself but argue that slavery should be abolished. There is real courage on these pages, risks taken for a real life, and an understanding that Douglass himself was an incredible individual.

The illustrations by award-willing Cooper are exceptional. Done with erasers and oils on board, they have a beautiful texture to them, almost hazy with the historical significance of what they are depicting. There are images of love, others of violence, others of freedom newly found. As Douglass grows up on the pages he becomes more and more the icon visually as well.

Strong and important, this picture book biography is inspiring. Appropriate for ages 7-9.

Reviewed from copy received from HarperCollins.

My Kite Is Stuck by Salina Yoon

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My Kite Is Stuck by Salina Yoon

This second Duck, Duck, Porcupine! book continues the refreshing humor of the first. Familiar characters return with Big Duck leading the way, often into confusion. Porcupine joins in. Little Duck is quiet and wise, though no one ever pays him any attention. The book is made up of three short stories. The first story faces the problem of a kite stuck in a tree and their unique and very silly solution to the problem. The second story is about what happens when the characters make new friends, with bugs. Finally, there is the problem of the excitement of the lemonade stand and Big Duck and Porcupine forgetting one important ingredient: the lemonade!

Yoon has a great touch with humor. She allows each joke to play out just long enough to get all of the joy out of it and then briskly moves along to the next story. The stories are entertaining and fun, each of them written for beginning readers to enjoy with adult help or on their own. The three characters play beautifully against one another and will appeal to young readers.

The art is bold and bright. It reminds me of comic panels with its thick black outline on each double-page spread. The speech bubbles add to that feeling as well, making this almost a graphic novel for new readers, but not quite. I particularly enjoy the moments when Little Duck breaks the fourth wall and looks out directly at the reader for sympathy.

Funny and full of laughter, this emergent reader almost-graphic-novel is just right. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Bloomsbury.

The Bad Guys by Aaron Blabey

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The Bad Guys by Aaron Blabey

This Australian import is the first in a fresh new illustrated chapter book series. Wolf has decided that he’s tired of being a bad guy so he recruits three fellow baddies to his new gang where they do good deeds. But it’s not so easy for Shark, Piranha and Snake to give up their own ways, like eating meat and people. Their first mission for good is to rescue a kitten stuck in a tree, but what kitten wants to climb down if they see those big teeth smiling at them? Their next job is to rescue 200 dogs from the dog pound. It involves Shark dressing up as a little girl, Wolf making a great shot, and Piranha and Snake showing the dogs the way out. But the plan doesn’t quite work out they way they want it too either.

This book has the pep and feel of a comic book, filled with large fonts that add attitude to the pages and lots of illustrations. In fact, because of its many illustrations it will be a welcome early book for new chapter book readers who will love the humor as well as the pictures that nicely break up the text. There is a great zany energy to the entire book with one joke leading nicely to the next. The pacing is cleverly done with just enough time to catch your breath from laughing before the action starts again.

Blabey’s illustrations are a large part of that manic charm. They are hugely funny. Emotions are shown broadly and wildly on characters’ faces. The shark barely fits into the car and not without a bump out for the dome of his head. There are incidents of eating one another and being bashed against walls. Each one is hilarious and children will love the slapstick comedy of it all.

A funny delight, this illustrated chapter book will have young readers begging for the next in the series. I know I can’t wait! Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic.

Lesser Spotted Animals by Martin Brown

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Lesser Spotted Animals by Martin Brown

This book doesn’t include any koalas or bears or bison or tigers. Instead it’s full of mammals who tend to be ignored. In fact, I guarantee that there are animals here that you’ve never even heard of! All of them are amazing but for very different reasons. There’s the Cuban Solenodon, an insectivore with a poisonous bite. There’s the impossible to find and count Sand Cat who lives in the deserts of Africa and Central Asia. There’s the stinky Zorilla who can be smelled up to a mile away. Turning the pages of this book is a journey of discovery that is just right for any kid tired of the same old popular animals and up for a look at truly wild animals.

Brown’s tone in the book is masterful. He uses humor perfectly, creating moments of asides that made me guffaw aloud. This is one of the rare nonfiction animal books for children that you won’t mind reading aloud, even multiple times! It is full of fun facts, interesting tidbits and then that zing of humor that makes it entirely enjoyable. Brown picks his animals carefully, offering just the right amount of detail on each animal and then moving on merrily to the next.

Brown’s illustrations contribute to some of the best humor in the book. He uses images that are similar to mug shots of the various animals to show their similarities and differences to more familiar animals. He also uses comic-like speech bubbles and frames to create silly asides that add immensely to the appeal.

A delight of a nonfiction book about animals, here’s hoping that it’s the first in a series. Appropriate for ages 7-9.

Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic.

 

30 Best Children’s Books of 2016

What a great year for children’s books! Here are my favorite 2016 reads for elementary and middle-grade readers.

As Brave As You Beautiful Blue World

As Brave As You by Jason Reynolds

Beautiful Blue World by Suzanne LeFleur

The Best Man The Best Worst Thing

The Best Man by Richard Peck

The Best Worst Thing by Kathleen Lane

Booked The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle

Booked by Kwame Alexander

The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle by Janet Fox

Finding Wonders: Three Girls Who Changed Science Full of Beans

Finding Wonders: Three Girls Who Changed Science by Jeannine Atkins

Full of Beans by Jennifer L. Holm

Ghost (Track, #1) The Girl Who Drank the Moon

Ghost by Jason Reynolds

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

The Goblin's Puzzle: The Adventures of a Boy With No Name and Two Girls Called Allice The Haunting of Falcon House

The Goblin’s Puzzle: Being the Adventures of a Boy with No Name and Two Girls Called Alice by Andrew S. Chilton

The Haunting of Falcon House by Eugene Yelchin

Hour of the Bees The Inquisitor's Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog

Hour of the Bees by Lindsay Eager

The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog by Adam Gidwitz

Juana and Lucas The Land of Forgotten Girls

Juana and Lucas by Juana Medina

The Land of Forgotten Girls by Erin Entrada Kelly

The Lie Tree Maybe a Fox

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

Maybe a Fox by Kathi Appelt and Allison McGhee

Moo Ms. Bixby's Last Day

Moo by Sharon Creech

Ms. Bixby’s Last Day by John David Anderson

Raymie Nightingale The Poet's Dog

The Poet’s Dog by Patricia MacLachlan

Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo

The Sandwich Thief The Secret Horses of Briar Hill

The Sandwich Thief by André Marois, illustrated by Patrick Doyon

The Secret Horses of Briar Hill by Megan Shepherd

Soar Some Kind of Happiness

Soar by Joan Bauer

Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand

Unbound: A Novel in Verse When Mischief Came to Town

Unbound by Ann E. Burg

When Mischief Came to Town by Katrina Nannestad

The Wild Robot Wolf Hollow

The Wild Robot by Peter Brown

Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk