Category: Nonfiction

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.

 

10 Great Picture Books on Civil Rights

The ACLU has just had its best fund raising month ever, so I know that others are concerned with civil rights being attacked just as much as I am. Happily, there are beautiful picture books on civil rights to share with the children in our lives:

The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch The Beatitudes: From Slavery to Civil Rights

The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch by Chris Barton, illustrated by Don Tate

The Beatitudes: From Slavery to Civil Rights by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Tim Ladwig

The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage Lillian's Right to Vote: A Celebration of the Voting Rights Act of 1965

The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage by Selina Alko, illustrations by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko

Lillian’s Right to Vote by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Shane W. Evans

Seeds of Freedom: The Peaceful Integration of Huntsville, Alabama Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family's Fight for Desegregation

Seeds of Freedom: The Peaceful Integration of Huntsville, Alabama by Hester Bass, illustrated by E. B. Lewis

Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh

Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down 22747807

Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illlustrated by Brian Pinkney

Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer:The Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement by Carole Bostone Weatherford, illustrated by Ekua Holmes

6519593 When Thunder Comes: Poems for Civil Rights Leaders

We Troubled the Waters by Ntozake Shange, illustrated by Rod Brown

When Thunder Comes: Poems for Civil Rights Leaders by J. Patrick Lewis, illustrated by Jim Burke, R. Gregory Christie, Tonya Engel, John Parra, and Meilo So

Six Dots by Jen Bryant

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

Louis Braille lost his sight at age five from an accident and a resulting infection. His family helped him learn to cope, making him a cane that he could use to explore a little farther from home each day. His brothers taught him to whistle and his sisters made him letters out of straw. He could play dominoes, knew trees by touch, flowers by their smell and could listen to books being read aloud. But there were no books for blind children like him. Even when he got into a school for the blind in Paris he had to work very hard and become one of the best students to be able to access their books. When Louis achieved that though, he found that the books were done in large raised wax letters so thick books were actually quite short. Then there was news that a French army captain had created a way to send secret messages that was read by touch. Louis worked to make the system readable by the blind, creating his own alphabet system as a teenager!

Bryant writes in first person from Braille’s point of view. She explains how Louis lost his sight with just enough detail to make it understandable how tragic it was but doesn’t overly linger there. When Louis’ sight is gone, the text changes to become filled with noises and other senses than sight. Bryant moves the story forward using Braille’s desire to read for himself, that drives both the story and Braille’s own life. As each opportunity proves to be disappointing, Braille does not give up hope, instead developing throughout his life a tenacity to find a solution.

Kulikov’s illustrations play light against dark. When Braille loses his sight, the pages go black with shadowy furniture forms only. Color is gone entirely. The reader is not left there, but moves back into the world of color unless the story is speaking about Braille’s blindness specifically, so when Braille finally gets to try reading the wax lettering, the page goes dark again, also showing his disappointment in the solution.

Intelligently designed and depicted, this is a warm and inspiring look at the life and achievements of Louis Braille. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Knopf Books for Young Readers.

 

Some Writer! by Melissa Sweet

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

The life of E. B. White, author of several beloved children’s books, is shown here in a children’s biography from a two-time Caldecott Honor winner. White’s upbringing as a child with his summers spent on a lake in Maine shows the impact of childhood experiences. He won several writing awards as a teenager, knowing exactly what he wanted to do. His work for The New Yorker and other publications as a column author and poet is shown as well as Sweet spends much of the book on the author’s adult life. The strong connection he had with water, nature and Maine shines on the page just as it does in his work. Issues with Stuart Little being accepted in libraries and other moments of note are wonderfully portrayed in original wording of letters. A writer who lived away from the fame he was garnering, White continued to do farm work, sail his boats, and enjoy the simple life he adored.

Sweet has written a simply incredible biography. Her writing flows with that of White. Hers has a frankness and an honesty that is particularly important in biography. Sweet intersperses White’s writing throughout the book, sometimes in clippings from magazines or newspapers and other times clearly typed using a typewriter to get the right feel. Unlike many children’s biographies, Sweet depicts White’s childhood and then moves on to his work and his adult life. While his childhood informs his work, it is not the sole focus of the biography, which honors young readers will plenty of information on his full life.

Sweet’s illustrations are equally amazing. She uses physical items on the page, weathered wood, screws, rope, typewriter keys, and leaves. She incorporates photographs and then her own art as well, creating a world of found objects, drawn Wilburs and Templetons, photos and actual documents that is rich and wondrous. It is like opening a drawer and discovering a treasure trove, a book you want to curl up with and read just as you did those beloved childhood books.

In short, this is a masterpiece. A book with just the right tone, style and organic nature. Terrific! Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

 

 

Coyote Moon by Maria Gianferrari

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Coyote Moon by Maria Gianferrari, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline (InfoSoup)

Coyote wakes and heads out of her den to find food for her pups. She walks the roads past houses and fences. She finds a mouse but doesn’t manage to catch it. There are geese on the golf course, but Coyote can’t get close enough to steal an egg without the geese attacking her. There is a rabbit on a lawn, but the rabbit is faster than Coyote. Soon dawn arrives and Coyote still has not caught any food for her family. Then there are turkeys walking nearby and Coyote manages to capture one. She heads home but not before a child spies her from a window when Coyote stops to sing to the morning.

This book is a beautiful dance between illustrations and text. Gianferrari’s prose is extremely poetic, using phrasing that almost turns it into verse particularly when read aloud. The pacing of the book is dynamic and picks up with a sense of near desperation as one prey animal after another escapes. Sympathy for the coyotes, which may not have been high in the beginning of the book, is skillfully built throughout the story until readers will be near cheering when the turkey is caught. The book finishes with information on coyotes.

Ibatoulline’s illustrations are incredibly detailed. Dark and light play on the page, from the electric outdoor lights from human buildings to the moonlight shining on fur. The darkness has dimension, subtle colors, and textures. There is a sense of near hyper-realism as well as readers get closer to these animals in the illustrations than they ever could in life.

This picture book blends nonfiction with great writing to create a realistic view of urban coyotes. Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

Plants Can’t Sit Still by Rebecca E. Hirsch

Plants Can't Sit Still by Rebecca Hirsch

Plants Can’t Sit Still by Rebecca E. Hirsch, illustrated by Mia Posada (InfoSoup)

Plants can’t walk or run or even fly, but they don’t stay still either! This jaunty picture book captures the many ways that plants manage to move, even though they are rooted to the ground. They squirm out of the soil. They turn towards the sun. They creep underground and spring up in new places. They can climb walls and even eat bugs. Some fold shut at night while others open only in the moonlight. Then there are the seeds that use all sorts of tricks to move to new places to grow. That’s where they start to move all over again.

As a person with a native garden that overtakes the entire front of house this time of year, I am very aware of plants being able to move! I love the dynamic quality of this book as well as the surprise factor where children will wonder about how plants in their lives are moving since they don’t appear to be doing much at all. Hirsch selects plants that children will experience in their normal lives: milkweed, strawberries, tulips, morning glories, and maple trees. She uses simple language to explain how the plants move and grow, making this a science book that preschoolers will enjoy. Those looking for more detail can turn to a section in the back of the book.

Posada’s illustrations beautifully enhance this picture book and its fresh look at plants. The illustrations are done with cut paper collage and watercolor. They fill the pages with bursts of color, zings of green and plenty of earthiness too. The colors are perfectly chosen to evoke the real nature of the plants like the changing colors of the maple leaves and the burst of fuzz from a dandelion.

A great new book on plants and the surprising ways they move, this is a fascinating read. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

Cloth Lullaby by Amy Novesky

Cloth Lullaby by Amy Novesky

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

Louise grew up alongside a river that wove through her life. Her mother restored tapestries and from age 12, Louise helped too by drawing in the missing bottom edges of tapestries. At her mother’s side, Louise learned about weaving and patterns. Louise eventually went to school in Paris and studied mathematics and cosmography at university. While at college, her mother died and Louise turned to art to express her feelings. She created enormous spiders out of metal and stone, naming them “Maman.” She took the fabrics of her life and cut them apart, working to put them back together in new ways. It was a tribute to her mother and her childhood expressed in art.

Novesky’s picture book biography keeps the magic of Bourgeois’ childhood intact. The book ends with an image of the artist and one of her spiders as well as a quote that speaks to her never having lost touch with the magic of her childhood. That quality weaves throughout the book where both the river and the restoration work create moments of inspiration and amazement. There is such beauty in the quiet work of restoration as well as the knitting activities of spiders. Readers will immediately understand the connection of wool and web in her art.

Arsenault’s illustrations are alight with that same magic and inspiration. In one image of Louise’s mother, there is a certain spider-ness there, subtle but also clear as she works with her black wool. All of the illustrations in the book celebrate pattern and weaving. There is a limited palette of reds, blues and grays that evoke the richness of tapestries and the excitement of art.

A top pick for picture book biographies, this book pays homage to a female artist that many may not know. Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from library copy.