Review: I Am Farmer by Miranda Paul

i am farmer by miranda paul

I Am Farmer: Growing an Environmental Movement in Cameroon by Miranda Paul and Baptiste Paul, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon (9781512449143)

When Tantoh was young, he visited his grandmother’s farm and tried to plant onions on his own. They shriveled and never grew, but it inspired him to learn more about all sorts of things. As a teen, his father got him his how shovel and gardening supplies even though his father was ill. Tantoh is called Farmer by his classmates and takes pride in it, even writing it on his school uniform. His brother encourages him not to be a farmer, wanting him to get a good job in an office with high scores on his exam. But Tantoh is drawn to be a farmer and deliberately fails his exams. He starts working on the land and someone pays for him to go to college and study agriculture. At college, Tantoh contracts typhoid and it takes seven years for him to fully recover. This shows him the value of clean water. He goes to the  United States to study, returning to Cameroon to build gardens that will hold water in the soil and a catchment to capture spring water for a village. One project leads to another and now Farmer Tantoh has many young farmers wanting to learn from him.

This nonfiction picture book offers a close and personal look at an environmental hero who changed the face of Cameroon and brought water conservation and clean drinking water to his country. Farmer was clearly pressured as a young man not to follow his dreams of being a farmer, so this book looks at following one’s dreams and having the ability to live the life you wish to lead. The book also looks at barriers to his success such as his battle with typhoid, which also serves to speak to his strength, courage and resilience.

The illustrations in the book are done in mixed media with paper collage, paint, pen and pencil. The images range from the hills of Cameroon to images of Tantoh as a child, student and adult. The pictures are filled with bright colors, strong shapes and vibrant design.

A look at a man who changed his country by following his dream. Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Millbrook Press.

Review: The Bell Rang by James E. Ransome

the bell rang by james e. ransome

The Bell Rang by James E. Ransome (9781442421134)

This new book from a Coretta Scott King Award winner is a stunning look at slavery and freedom. Told over the course of a week, the book depicts the monotony and toll of the grueling work that never changes or abates. On each day, the bell rings to wake them and the narrator’s older brother indicates that he is going to leave and run away to freedom. Each touch of his hands says it, he says it aloud and he leaves her a gift. When he does run, the days become even harder, being unable to eat and unable to stop crying because he is missed and he is in danger. When the other boys who ran away with him are brought back and whipped, he is still free. And another week begins.

Ransome is a master storyteller and his skill is evident the verse in this picture book. Told with a spareness that allows readers no ability to look away or take solace in niceties, the book lays bare the human cost of slavery and what it takes to escape to freedom. The book is abundant in family love with all of the family taking time to be kind to one another and love one another through difficult and impossible situations.

The illustrations are just as powerful as the text. They illuminate the lives of this family, focusing on the people who are enslaved. Many of the scenes are filled with love and grace. But they are all shadowed by slavery and lack of freedom.

A harrowing look at slavery and freedom, this picture book reveals the truth of our American history. Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum.

Review: Let ‘Er Buck!: George Fletcher, the People’s Champion by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson

let 'er buck! george fletcher, the people's champion by vaunda micheaux nelson

Let ‘Er Buck!: George Fletcher, the People’s Champion by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, illustrated by Gordon C. James (9781541541801)

George Fletcher moved to Pendleton, Oregon, a place where there weren’t a lot of African-Americans. He made friends with the children from the Umatilla Indian Reservation and learned how to train horses with gentleness. George started riding in competitions at age 16, though he was often shut out of competitions because of the color of his skin or judged unfairly. He got his chance to really show off his skill at the 1911 Pendleton Round-Up, the biggest rodeo in the Northwest. He made the top three finalists for the Saddle Bronc Championship. He outrode the other two competitors, and when the white person was named champion the crowd booed. One man in the crowd decided it wasn’t alright and sold small pieces of George’s hat to the crowd for $5 each. He turned the money over to George and it ended up being more than the grand prize. George was crowned the “People’s Champion” that day.

Nelson writes with a lovely western twang in this nonfiction picture book. She captures the spirit of the west in the words she uses and in particular in her metaphors. George took to the ways of the Umatilla tribes “like a wet kitten to a warm brick.” Ranching suited George “like made-to-measure boots.” These are just two examples of the vivid way that Nelson uses language to firmly place her book in its setting. She also creates a compelling portrait of Fletcher and faces the inherent racism of the system head on.

The illustrations by James are full of color and motion. Created with oil on board, they are a stunning mix of movement, depth and history. One can almost see the action playing out from the lines he uses. Stunning

A strong picture book about racism, horses, rodeos and heroism. Appropriate for ages 4-8.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Carolrhoda Books.

Review: Rain by Anders Holmer

Rain by Anders Holmer

Rain by Anders Holmer (9780802855077)

Haiku tells the story of different types of rain in this poetry picture book. The haiku are all about nature, some about rain directly and others about other things like falling newspapers or cascading petals. The poems form a series of vignettes that show different parts of the world and various environments from the arctic to the Himalayas to the desert. They are bound together with the rhythms of the poems and the journey together to explore rain and our world.

The haiku poems range from solemn to merry, some carrying serious weight and others lighter. They mirror the weather, some with lightning and dark clouds while others fill with pink petals and friendship. The illustrations themselves are large and have the feel of traditional tales mixed with a modern edge. They show different parts of the world and take readers on a fascinating journey as rain descends on each page and yet each type of rain is different from the others.

A skilled book of haiku that explores our wide world and the nature we find there. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

2018 Best Poetry Books!

I didn’t manage to read a lot of poetry in 2018, unfortunately. The ones on my list of the Best of 2018 though are worth treasuring:

Can I Touch Your Hair by Irene Latham and Charles Waters For Every One by Jason Reynolds

Can I Touch Your Hair?: Poems of Race, Mistakes and Friendship by Irene Latham and Charles Waters, illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko (9781512404425)

In this book, there is a feeling of safety to explore difficult subjects that the poetry itself creates. – My Review

For Every One by Jason Reynolds (9781481486248)

It is a book about perseverance and resilience, a poem about life, hard knocks and getting up and continuing onward. – My Review

The Horse_s Haiku by Michael J. Rosen Imagine by Juan Felipe Herrera

The Horse’s Haiku by Michael J. Rosen, illustrated by Stan Fellows (9780763689162)

A stellar book of focused haiku. – My Review

Imagine by Juan Felipe Herrera, illustrated by Lauren Castillo (9780763690526)

Rich, memorable and timely, this picture book is something special. – My Review

Seeing into Tomorrow by Richard Wright

Seeing into Tomorrow by Richard Wright, illustrated by Nina Crews (9781512498622)

A dynamic look at one of the top African-American poets of the 21st century, this book of poetry is a celebration. – My Review

2018 Best Graphic Novels!

It was a great year for graphic novels, particularly for those showing diversity in authors and content. Here are my picks for the best of 2018:

Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol Brazen by Penelope Bagieu

Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol (9781626724457)

Brosgol is such a gifted book creator, moving skillfully from picture book to graphic novel. – My Review

Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World by Penelope Bagieu (9781626728691)

The book is a delight to read, each chapter focused on one woman and told briefly and yet in a way that honors them and makes readers want to learn even more about them. – My Review

Cardboard Kingdom by Chad Sell Deadendia The Watcher's Test by Hamish Steele

Cardboard Kingdom by Chad Sell (9781524719371)

There is a real spark here that demands creative thinking by the reader, looks beyond the cardboard and tape and sees the magic of imagination happening. – My Review

Deadendia: The Watcher’s Test by Hamish Steele (9781910620472)

Steele has created one of the zaniest, twistiest and most demonic graphic novels around. – My Review

Fake Blood by Whitney Gardner Grace for Gus by Harry Bliss

Fake Blood by Whitney Gardner (9781481495561)

A great pick for fans and haters alike, this one would make a great graphic novel to book talk to middle-schoolers and teens. – My Review

Grace for Gus by Harry Bliss (9780062644107)

An empowering read that makes the quiet child the hero and the star. – My Review

Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka Illegal by Eoin Colfer

Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka (9780545902472)

Personal, painful and profound, this graphic novel is honest and deep. – My Review

Illegal by Eoin Colfer (9781492662143)

Smartly written, deftly drawn and plotted to perfection, this graphic novel is a powerhouse. – My Review

On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden Peter & Ernesto by Graham Annable

On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden (9781250178138)

An impressive graphic novel both for its content and its art. This one is unique and incredibly beautiful. – My Review

Peter & Ernesto: A Tale of Two Sloths by Graham Annable (9781626725614)

A great early graphic novel for elementary-aged readers. – My Review

Photographic by Isabel Quintero The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

Photographic: The Life of Graciela Iturbide by Isabel Quintero and Zeke Pena (9781947440005)

One of the best biographical graphic novels I have read, this one is a stunning look at an impressive woman. – My Review

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang (9781626723634)

Beautiful, layered and modern, this graphic novel embraces gender identity and gorgeous dresses. – My Review

Sanity & Tallulah by Molly Brooks Speak The Graphic Novel by Laurie Halse Anderson

Sanity & Tallulah by Molly Brooks (9781368008440)

The story is fast paced and a delightful mix of STEM and girl power. – My Review

Speak: The Graphic Novel by Laurie Halse Anderson, artwork by Emily Carroll (9780374300289)

It’s a groundbreaking novel made into one of the most powerful graphic novels I have read. – My Review

The Unwanted Stories of the Syrian Refugees by Don Brown

The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees by Don Brown (9781328810151)

A strong and important look at the Syrian refugee crisis in a format that makes the content very readable. – My Review

Review: Elvis Is King! by Jonah Winter

Elvis Is King! by Jonah Winter

Elvis Is King! by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Red Nose Studio (9780399554704)

This picture book biography features a perfect match-up of author and illustrator. It tells the story of Elvis’ life from a young boy singing in church and in talent shows to him becoming a star. It is the story of a boy growing up poor with a father in jail and discovering many of life’s joys like gospel music and hamburgers. When the family moves to Memphis, Elvis needs to work to make money to keep them housed and fed. As a teenager, he turns himself into something new, coloring his hair black and adding his trademark hair wax. He falls in love, discovers blues music, and decides to be the biggest star in music. The speed of his journey into stardom is incredible, as he gets more inspiration for his unique music style.

Winter writes with a focused poetic style here, each page a short poem about Elvis’ life. Winter captures the poverty that Elvis is born into without romanticizing it at all. His story is particularly captivating because of how quickly he went from being entirely unknown to being a star. Another fascinating piece of the story is how Elvis realized that he needed to move and shake his hips to be able to sing the way he did.

Red Nose Studio has put their signature style in this book, elevating it into something really special that children will love to explore. There are certain page turns that are particularly effective, like the one where in a single turn of the page Elvis emerges with his well-known look. Red Nose completely captures the way that Elvis moves in their clay figures, something entirely remarkable for a still photograph.

A great pick for libraries, I’d recommend sharing some of Elvis’ music alongside the book. Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Schwartz & Wade.


2018 Best Elementary Fiction!

Here are my picks for the top books for elementary readers that span the entirety of elementary school grades:

Baby Monkey Private Eye by Brian Selznick Bob by Wendy Mass

Baby Monkey, Private Eye by Brian Selznick and David Serlin (9781338180619)

A winning new easy reader that pushes the boundaries of the format – My Review

Bob by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead, illustrated by Nicholas Gannon (9781250166623)

A deftly written magical tale of rain, friendship and families – My Review

Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson Hi, Jack By Mac Barnett

Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson (9780399252525)

A book that celebrates diversity and asks deep questions about our modern society, this is a novel that so many children will see themselves reflected in and others will learn something from. – My Review

Hi, Jack! By Mac Barnett, illustrated by Greg Pizzoli (9780425289075)

Two masters take on the easy-reader format in this first in a new series. – My Review

Knights vs. Dinosaurs by Matt Phelan Mallko and Dad by Gusti

Knights vs. Dinosaurs by Matt Phelan (9780062686237)

A boisterous, battle-filled book that will appeal to young knights and young dinosaur experts and anyone looking for a good read. – My Review

Mallko and Dad by Gusti (9781592702596)

An incredible book that is a picture book, but as thick as a novel thanks to the quantity of images crammed inside waiting to inspire you to love. – My Review

Mr. Monkey Bakes a Cake by Jeff Mack Saving Winslow by Sharon Creech

Mr. Monkey Bakes a Cake by Jeff Mack (9781534404311)

Using plenty of vaudeville-like falls, trips and hazards, the book is fast-paced and funny. – My Review

Saving Winslow by Sharon Creech (9780062570734)

Creech is an amazing author. Her books are so readable by children, the length just right, the story incredibly focused. – My Review

Sea Prayer by Khaled Hosseini Vernon Is on His Way by Philip C. Stead

Sea Prayer by Khaled Hosseini, illustrated by Dan Williams (9780525539094)

A devastating piece of fiction – My Review

Vernon Is on His Way: Small Stories by Philip C. Stead (9781626726550)

As always, Stead hits just the right notes with this book. – My Review

2018 Best Youth Nonfiction!

What a year for nonfiction! It was filled with looks at math, science, art, music and much more. Here are my picks for the best nonfiction for children and teens in 2018:

Before She Was Harriet by Lesa Cline-Ransome Carlos Santana Sound of the Heart, Song of the World by Gary Golio

Before She Was Harriet by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James R. Ransome (9780823420476)

An important and lovely book about Harriet Tubman that belongs in all libraries. – My Review

Carlos Santana: Sound of the Heart, Song of the World by Gary Golio (9781627795128)

A great pick for libraries looking for quality biographies of musicians. – My Review

Countdown 2979 Days to the Moon by Suzanne Slade Do Not Lick This Book by Idan Ben-Barak

Countdown: 2979 Days to the Moon by Suzanne Slade, illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez (9781682630136)

A glorious look at the Apollo missions. This belongs in every library. – My Review

Do Not Lick This Book by Idan Ben-Barak and Julian Frost (9781250175366)

A smart choice for libraries looking for great STEM reads. – My Review

Drawn from Nature by Helen Ahpornsiri Life Inside My Mind

Drawn from Nature by Helen Ahpornsiri (9780763698980)

Throughout there is a grace of line and delight. An organic look at nature in all of its beauty. – My Review

Life Inside My Mind: 31 Authors Share Their Personal Struggles edited by Jessica Burkhart (9781481494649)

Reading this book is an exercise in opening your heart. It belongs in every public library serving teens. It will save lives. Period. – My Review

Lovely Beasts by Kate Gardner Nothing Stopped Sophie The Story of Unshakable Mathematician Sophie Germain by Cheryl Bardoe

Lovely Beasts: The Surprising Truth by Kate Gardner, illustrated by Heidi Smith (9780062741615)

A beautiful and fresh look at some of the most misunderstood animals in the world.  – My Review

Nothing Stopped Sophie: The Story of Unshakable Mathematician Sophie Germain by Cheryl Bardoe, illustrated by Barbara McClintock (9780316278201)

The book shows again and again the resilience and determination that it took for Sophie to succeed. – My Review

One Day a Dot by Ian Lendler Otis and Will Discover the Deep by Barb Rosenstock

One Day a Dot by Ian Lendler, illustrated by Shelli Paroline and Braden Lamb (9781626722446)

A great look at the science of the Big Bang and evolution for small children, this is a cleverly designed book. – My Review

Otis and Will Discover the Deep: The Record Setting Dive of the Bathysphere by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Katherine Roy (9780316393829)

A winner of a science read. – My Review

Pass Go and Collect 200 by Tanya Lee Stone So Tall Within Sojourner Truth's Long Walk Toward Freedom by Gary D. Schmidt

Pass Go and Collect $200: The Real Story of How Monopoly Was Invented by Tanya Lee Stone, illustrated by Steven Salerno (9781627791687)

A very intriguing tale that is a mix of women’s rights, ingenuity and economics. – My Review

So Tall Within: Sojourner Truth’s Long Walk Toward Freedom by Gary D. Schmidt, illustrated by Daniel Minter (9781626728721)

This book aches with pain, loss, and grief. – My Review

The Sockeye Mother by Hetxw_ms Gyetxw Water Land Land and Water Forms around the World by Christy Hale

The Sockeye Mother by Hetxw’ms Gyetxw (Brett David Huson), illustrated by Natasha Donovan (9781553791395)

The book is deep and lovely, the tone unique and lush. – My Review

Water Land: Land and Water Forms around the World by Christy Hale (9781250152442)

A brilliant book that will have young readers looking at water and land in a new way with plenty of terms to name what they are seeing. – My Review

We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices edited by Wade Hudson

We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices edited by Wade Hudson (9780525580423)

A call to action for young people, this book is an anthology that belongs in every library in our country. – My Review