Category: Nonfiction

10 Great Picture Books on Heroism

On the eve of inauguration day, I hope that we all have the courage to be the heroes and heroines that our nation needs right now. Here are 10 picture books to inspire young ones and you too!

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Dare the Wind: The Record-Breaking Voyage of Eleanor Prentiss and the Flying Cloud by Tracey Fern, illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully

Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah by Laurie Ann Thompson, illustrated by Sean Qualls

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Hidden: A Child’s Story of the Holocaust by Loic Dauvillier, illustrated by Marc Lizano and Greg Salsedo

How to Be a Hero by Florence Parry Heide, illustrated by Chruck Groenink

little dog lost Little Red and the Very Hungry Lion by Alex T. Smith

Little Dog Lost: The True Story of a Brave Dog Named Baltic by Monica Carnesi

Little Red and the Very Hungry Lion by Alex T. Smith

Luna and Me by Jenny Sue Kostecki Shaw malala iqbal

Luna & Me: The True Story of a Girl Who Lived in a Tree to Save a Forest by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw

Malala, Brave Girl from Pakistan/Iqbal, a Brave Boy from Pakistan by Jeanette Winter

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The Princess in Black by Shannon Hale & Dean Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham

The Price of Freedom: How One Town Stood Up to Slavery by Dennis Brindell Fradin and Judith Bloom Fradin, illustrated by Eric Velasquez

I Dissent by Debbie Levy

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I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy, illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley (InfoSoup)

The life of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is told in this first picture book about her. Ruth grew up in Brooklyn in the 1940s where her mother took her to the library so she could learn. She was taught that girls could do anything they wanted. As a Jewish girl, Ruth knew racism with signs posted that Jews would not be served at specific establishments. Ruth learned that there were limits to what she was sometimes allowed to do, and sometimes she won when she protested and sometimes things stayed the same. She went to college in the 1950s when most women did not attend. She was one of nine women in her law school class of over 500. She went on to become a law professor even though she had a baby daughter at home. She was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1993 and has continued to be a voice for change and equality. She has made a difference in the country by being willing to disagree.

Levy cleverly uses the framework of one disagreement or dissent after another to frame Ginsburg’s life. From her mother originally disagreeing with how girls were meant to be raised to the way that Ginsburg and her husband’s roles in their marriage to the work she has done in courtrooms and the justice system. There is a clarity to the writing that keeps it very readable and Ginsburg is a great figure for children to know better.

Baddeley’s illustrations capture the expectations of the 1940s and 1950s in images and move into 1970s showing that Ginsburg continued to break the rules. There is a merriment to the illustrations that captures Ginsburg spirit and her intelligence as well.

A robust look at an amazing woman’s life, this is one for every library. Appropriate for ages 7-9.

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

 

A Poem for Peter by Andrea Davis Pinkney

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A Poem for Peter: The Story of Ezra Jack Keats and the Creation of The Snowy Day by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Lou Fancher and Steve Johnson (InfoSoup)

The son of Polish immigrants, Ezra Jack Keats grew up in poverty in Brooklyn. Early in his life, Ezra followed his dream of being an artist. As an 8 year old, he earned money painting store signs. His father worried about this dream, but also helped by bringing home partially used paint from the artists at the cafe he worked at. Ezra was encouraged at school by teachers and at the library by librarians. Just as Ezra was about to leave for art school, his father died. He thought his artist dream was gone, but then during the Great Depression the New Deal emerged with The Art School League. It was then that he discovered what would be the beginning of The Snowy Day, but World War II would intervene before that dream could come true.

Pinkney’s poem sings on the page, telling the story of how an image can create real magic, just like the snow that inspired it too. She writes with real passion about poverty, the transformation that snow brings to poor neighborhoods, the delight of creation, the wonder of art and the long path it takes to bring a story to life sometimes. Pinkney’s words are magic, dashing and reacting along with the reader, swirling like snowflakes against your cheeks.

The illustrations by Fancher and Johnson are wonderful. Done in collage and paint, they capture Brooklyn as a clear setting and the hardship of Keats life enlivened by art. They then go on to inspire new thoughts of snowflakes and snow as they pay homage to The Snowy Day.

Perfect for fans of The Snowy Day, this picture book speaks to the power of art in one’s life and the way that one man’s dreams have inspired generations to dream too. Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from library copy.

10 Best Nonfiction Books for Children in 2016

It was a wonderful year for nonfiction books for children, particularly those with a focus on diversity. I only wish I had managed to read more of them. Here are the ones I enjoyed most this year:

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The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth & Harlem’s Greatest Bookstore by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie

Cloth Lullaby: The Woven Life of Louise Bourgeois by Amy Novesky, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault

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The First Step: How One Girl Put Segregation on Trial by Susan E. Goodman, illustrated by E. B. Lewis

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

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Preaching to the Chickens by Jabari Asim, illustrated by E. B. Lewis

Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat by Javaka Steptoe

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The Secret Subway by Shana Corey, illustrated by Red Nose Studio

Six Dots: A Story of Young Louis Braille by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Boris Kulikov

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Some Writer!: The Story of E. B. White by Melissa Sweet

Their Great Gift: Courage, Sacrifice and Hope in a New Land by John Coy, photographs by Wing Young Huie

Radiant Child by Javaka Steptoe

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Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat by Javaka Steptoe (InfoSoup)

Coretta Scott King Award winner, Steptoe has created a visual feast of a book about the remarkable artist, Jean-Michel Basquiat. The book shows Basquiat as a child who drew all day long, refusing to sleep until his art is complete. He wakes in the middle of the night, drawing things from his dreams onto paper. His Puerto Rican mother teaches him to see art all around him. They visit museums, the theater, read poetry and Basquiat learns about art and artists. Eventually, his mother’s mind breaks and she can no longer live at home. He visits her when he can and shows her his artwork. As a teenager, he lives with friends and spray paints art around the city. He mixes collage and paint, his art moving from the street and into galleries, fulfilling his dream of becoming a famous artist.

Young readers are not shown the dark part of the Basquiat’s life. That is revealed in the author note at the end of the book where Basquiat’s death at age 27 from his drug addiction is explained. The picture book focuses on the inspiration for his art, his dreams of fame and how he used his diverse urban landscape as inspiration for his art and his life.

Steptoe’s art pays homage to Basquiat. Done on boards where the seams are rough and form an organic pattern, the art is a mix of painting and collage. As he explains in a note about motifs, there are certain items that repeat in Basquiat’s art that readers can see echoed in the art in the book as well. The art is stunning, detailed and worth lingering over.

A luminously beautiful book about a passionate and gifted artist, this picture book shines. Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

Preaching to the Chickens by Jabari Asim

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Preaching to the Chickens by Jabari Asim, illustrated by E. B. Lewis (InfoSoup)

John Lewis, renowned Civil Rights leader and Congressman, dreamed of becoming a preacher as a child. When he was put in charge of the family’s flock of chickens on their farm, he knew it was a great responsibility. John loved going to church on Sunday and took what he learned in church back to his flock. He would sermonize to them, the chickens mesmerized by his voice. He would also baptize them, speak up for them when they needed a voice and rescue them when they needed help. As he preached the words he learned in church, he put those words into action while tending his flock.

Asim beautifully ties together the lessons in church to actions in caring for others. There is a richness to the writing in this picture book biography, capturing both scripture and the beauty of life on a small farm filled with hard work. This is not a fantasy farm, but one where toil is what makes for a successful harvest. Still, it is a place that grew an activist like John Lewis, who learned about using his voice for a cause right there on the farm with his chickens.

The illustrations by Lewis are done in watercolor, capturing the chicken coop and John himself with just enough detail to convey their simplicity but also their stature. Lewis uses the play of light spectacularly in the book, deftly incorporating shadow and light into John’s childhood sermons.

A beautifully crafted picture book biography that speaks of the power of childhood dreams to create activism and a man with a voice to change generations. Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

Lift Your Light a Little Higher by Heather Henson

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Lift Your Light a Little Higher: The Story of Stephen Bishop: Slave-Explorer by Heather Henson, illustrated by Bryan Collier (InfoSoup)

Stephen Bishop was a slave who explored and mapped Mammoth Cave. The book is set in 1840 where you can follow the light of Bishop’s lantern deep into the massive cave as he gives people and the reader a tour. For the reader though, the tour is about slavery, about civil rights and about the ability for a man to discover value through exploring darkness. Bishop was the first to see many of Mammoth’s sights, including the blind fish. He learned to read as people signed their names on the cave’s ceiling, though learning to read and write was forbidden for slaves. This man’s story is a tale of resilience, self worth and discovery.

Henson tells the story almost in verse, capturing the highlights of the man’s discoveries but also weaving the dark side of slavery with the darkness of the cave. Henson gives Bishop a strong voice, one that stands out on the page and demands to be heard. Told in the voice of The Guide, Bishop explains slavery and its structure to the reader just as he explains his role and his attitudes towards life and the cave that made his famous. The author’s note contains information on Bishop and how he was sold along with the cave to several owners.

Collier’s illustrations are exceptional. He has several that are simply amazing in their power. One that caused me to linger for some time was the page with the oxen with faces on their sides, faces of slavery in various colors that are wrinkled and damaged. It’s a powerful reminder of the place of slaves as property. There are other pages that show hope in the slanting light of sun as Bishop exits the dark of the cave is one. Exceptional.

A strong picture book biography of a man many won’t have heard of before, this book speaks to the tragedy of slavery and the resilience and power of one man. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum.