So Tall Within: Sojourner Truth’s Long Walk Toward Freedom by Gary D. Schmidt, illustrated by Daniel Minter (9781626728721)
Isabella grew up in slavery, sold away from her mother when she was nine. She did hard labor for years, sometimes with no shoes in the winter and other times with no sleep at night because of the work expected of her. One year after she had been forced to marry a man and had five children, she was promised her freedom. But freedom didn’t come and so she escaped with her baby. She arrived at the home of two kind people, who stood by her in her escape and paid for the freedom of Isabella and her baby. When her son was sold away by her old master, Isabella went to court to have him returned to her. As time went by, she took the name Sojourner Truth and started to speak publicly against slavery. She fought many battles for equality, standing tall and speaking the truth.
This book aches with pain, loss, and grief. The book is broken into sections, each starting with an evocative phrase about slavery, that shows what is ahead. These poetic phrases add so much to Sojourner Truth’s biography, pulling readers directly into the right place in their hearts to hear her story. Schmidt’s writing doesn’t flinch from the damage of slavery and its evil. He instead makes sure that every reader understands the impact of slavery on those who lived and died under it.
Minter’s art is so powerful. He has created tender moments of connection, impactful images of slavery, and also inspiring moments of standing up for what is right. The images that accompany Schmidt’s poetic phrases are particularly special, each one staring right at the reader and asking them to connect.
A riveting biography of one of the most amazing Americans in our history. Appropriate for ages 7-10.
Reviewed from copy provided by Roaring Brook Press.
The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees by Don Brown (9781328810151)
This graphic novel tells the stories of Syrian refugees in their own voices. Based on interviews and visits to refugee camps around the region, the book clearly tells the story of the basis of the refugee crisis in Syria. As the flood of refugees begins and then continues, the nations taking in the refugees see sentiments in their populations shift to be anti-immigrant due to the overwhelming costs and disruption. Still, the refugees need a place to live in peace, a place to make a home and a place to feel safe.
Brown returns with another gripping nonfiction graphic novel. He uses the refugees’ own stories to really create a book that is heart-wrenchingly realistic. Young readers will benefit from hearing how the crisis began and will learn a lot about refugees, the dangers they face and the risks they are willing to take for freedom. The art in the book is done in limited colors, often filled with sandy yellows and deep browns. The faces of the refugees are compellingly depicted, often with expressions of deep fear, loss and grief.
A strong and important look at the Syrian refugee crisis in a format that makes the content very readable. Appropriate for ages 13-16.
Reviewed from library copy.
Eye Spy: Wild Ways Animals See the World by Guillaume Duprat (9781999802851)
This science-focused nonfiction picture book takes a close look at animal eyes and the ways that different animals see the world. Incorporating flaps to lift, readers can lift the eyes of the animals on the pages to see the way that they do. What does it look like to only see things clearly that are a few inches away? How does it change things to only be able to see three colors instead of five? What happens when a bird can see all the way around in a 360 view? How do insect eyes work to form a full image of what they are perceiving? All of these questions and more are answered in this engaging nonfiction picture book.
Beautifully designed, this picture book offers an engaging format combined with fascinating facts. While reading about how other creatures see the world is interesting, being able to actually see what that means in a visual way is incredible. The book includes mammals like cats, dogs, horses, and cows and then moves on to other types of animals like reptiles, insects, and birds. Each page turn brings a new animal with a new flap to peek behind.
The art here is vital. The flaps to lift offer a hidden view into the way these animals perceive the world. The art invites us to look right at the creature and then look at the world through their eyes. It is beautifully done, with all of the animals looking at the same scene so that readers can see the differences clearly.
An eye-opening look at the science of vision and animal eyes. Appropriate for ages 5-9.
Reviewed from copy provided by What on Earth Publishing.
Picturing America: Thomas Cole and the Birth of American Art by Hudson Talbott (9780399548673)
In this picture book biography, the life of artist Thomas Cole is explored. It begins with his early years in England and his love of drawing. He and his sister explored the area they lived in, looking for new things to draw. But when the Industrial Revolution came, it brought hard times for his family. So Thomas moved to America where his family settled down in Steubenville, Ohio and opened a workshop making decorative items. Thomas handpainted many of them. When he saw a book of fine art for the first time, his dream was born. He went on the road, selling his portraits. He eventually got a patron who sent him on a journey up the Hudson River where Thomas painted the wilderness. Soon his paintings were the toast of New York City. Thomas went on to travel to Europe and was inspired to paint a series of paintings about the fall of an empire. Thomas continued to capture the spirit of America and founded his own school Hudson River school of painting along the way.
Talbott tells the complicated story of Cole’s life with a refreshing ease. He has a real clarity in the story he is telling, keeping the tale focused on the results of Cole’s early struggles and then when he obtains success on the new inspirations Cole found on his travels. The book reads well and Cole’s story demonstrates tenacity and resilience as he followed a winding way toward being well known. It is also the story of a young America, what it said to a young immigrant and how its wilderness was worth preserving.
The illustrations combine a friendly lightness even during Cole’s struggles with Cole’s own paintings. It is a treat to see his actual paintings as part of the book. They are hinted at in other sections, but when it truly is his own they are dazzling. They demonstrate firmly why his art caught on and he became a famous painter.
A particularly timely book about an immigrant artist who loved America and caught her essence in paint. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from copy provided by Nancy Paulsen Books.
Through the Window: Views of Marc Chagall’s Life and Art by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Mary GrandPre (9781524717513)
The team who created The Noisy Paint Box take on another picture book biography of a famous artist. This time the book is about Chagall who was born in Belarus. Even from a young age he was interested in being an artist. He is sent to school for art, but doesn’t conform to the Russian instruction, filling his canvas with color rather than Greek studies. He moved to Paris where his entire life changed with new friends and a new French name. When he heads back to Russia for a family event, he is trapped there. He meets and marries his wife, the two of them eventually leaving Soviet Russia for Paris again. Later, he moves to America where he uses different media to create art, eventually creating his well-known stained glass windows.
Rosenstock brilliantly uses the theme of windows to structure this biography. Because Chagall traveled to various places in his life, this proves to be a vibrant way to follow his life from the early days to his later work. Throughout, readers will be shown that Chagall does not fit into Russia’s expectations for him and for his art. Colors are also used to show the differences between Chagall and Russia. Windows and colors beautifully frame this story, making it approachable and compelling.
The illustrations pay just the right amount of homage to Chagall without trying to imitate his work. The illustrations are lush and detailed. They are filled with gorgeous colors that almost illuminate the pages and certainly convey the beauty of Russia, Paris and Chagall’s artwork and life.
A rich look by an award-winning duo, this picture book is a great addition to artist biographies for youth. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Alfred A. Knopf Books.
Starstruck: The Cosmic Journey of Neil Degrasse Tyson by Kathleen Krull and Paul Brewer, illustrated by Frank Morrison (9780399550249)
This book rightfully starts with the Big Bang and then moves on to a young Neil Degrasse Tyson being inspired by the Hayden Planetarium. At age nine, Tyson was inspired to start investigating the stars and the universe around him. He began with binoculars and in a few years had his own telescope. He worked to get a better telescope and also started to build his library of science and astronomy books. In sixth grade, Tyson attended a class at the Hayden Planetarium, often one of the youngest people there. At fourteen, after drawing the attention of the education director at the planetarium, Tyson was taken on a journey to northwest Africa to view a rare solar eclipse. He attended the Bronx High School of Science and went on to start speaking publicly about astronomy. His hero, Carl Sagan, tried to get Tyson to attend Cornell University, but Tyson chose Harvard instead. Eventually after getting a PhD, he returned to the planetarium that had originally inspired him, becoming the director. It was there that the controversial but scientific decision to eliminate Pluto as a planet gained Tyson public attention, leading to him becoming one of the foremost speakers and authorities on astronomy in the nation.
Krull, a master nonfiction author, writes an inspiring story here, showing that from a single experience, a lifetime of enthusiasm and knowledge can be born. Throughout the book, Tyson’s drive and wonder at the universe is clear. Tyson’s willingness to be visible as an authority on astronomy is clearly depicted as he understands the power of media to reach people and demonstrate that people of color can be scientists too.
Morrison’s illustrations also demonstrate the wonder and awe that Tyson feels for the universe. The illustrations have a wonderful vibe to them with people frozen in action and Tyson shown as the heart of the book. There are shining pages filled with black sky and brilliant stars that are particularly striking.
A strong biography of a national science hero, this book will lead young people to dream and wonder. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Crown Books for Young Readers.
Mama Dug a Little Den by Jennifer Ward, illustrated by Steve Jenkins (9781481480376)
In this companion book to Mama Built a Little Nest, the story explores the many animals who build dens to protect their babies. The book offers rhyming couplets as the main part of the story but each animal also has facts included on the page. These facts include how long the babies stay with their mothers, how the dens function and how the animals are fed while in the den. There are mammals, toads, lizards, spiders and many more on these pages, each with a unique den of their own and interesting reasons for having them.
Ward has selected a broad range of animals to highlight here. Her poems are jaunty and clever, the rhymes never feeling forced. The facts she shares are brief, pertinent and fascinating, just what you need in a picture book format. As always, Jenkins’ art is exceptional. He captures small details and interesting habitats with his cut paper collage that introduces texture to the illustrations as well.
Curl up in your own den to share this with your own baby animal. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy provided by Beach Lane Books.
Countdown: 2979 Days to the Moon by Suzanne Slade, illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez (9781682630136)
This nonfiction uses free verse and evocative images to convey the history of the Apollo missions to the moon. The book begins with John F. Kennedy’s call to land a man on the moon in ten years. Over the next 2979 days, starting in 1961, over 400,000 people worked to make his vision become reality. The book shares the tragedy of Apollo 1, where three men died on the launchpad due to a fire. It shows the triumphs and set backs of the space program as they tested unmanned rockets. Then Apollo 7, 8, 9 and 10 return to manned flights with their silence, splendor and drama. Until finally, Apollo 11 reaches the moon and man takes their first steps on its surface.
Slade’s free verse is spare and lovely, capturing the essence of each of the dramatic moments in the quest to reach the moon. With the death of the first lunar astronauts, she allows the doubts about the program’s future to hang in the air, so that readers will understand how brave the choice was to continue forward. Throughout, her writing allows readers to feel and experience those moments, to count the minutes on the dark side of the moon, to feel the tension of piloting the lunar module to the surface, to all of the risks, the moments that could have gone differently.
Gonzalez’s illustrations add to that drama, depicting the astronauts themselves, the glory of space and the splendor of rockets and flight. He uses space on the page beautifully, showing scale and size. His glimpses of earth in space are realistic enough that one almost sees them spin in the blackness.
A glorious look at the Apollo missions. This belongs in every library. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Peachtree Publishers.
Carlos Santana: Sound of the Heart, Song of the World by Gary Golio (9781627795128)
Carlos Santana was born into a musical family with a father who was a popular mariachi performer. Carlos started learning to read music at age five and to play the violin at age six. But his father is often gone, playing musical gigs around Mexico. His father sends money home to the family, and eventually Carlos’ mother decides to head to America with the children. Carlos earns money playing music for the tourists, but his heart isn’t in it. It isn’t until he hears American blues music for the first time that he discovers his own kind of music. Carlos tries to play with his father’s band but it does not go well. Eventually, his father realizes that his son needs a new instrument, one that goes with his own blend of Latin and blues.
Golio tells a story of Santana’s childhood, focusing on the impact that music had throughout his early days but also the importance of finding his own musical voice that is entirely unique. The relationship between father and son is a critical one in this picture book biography, resonating throughout Santana’s childhood. Golio tells a complex story and yet keeps it straightforward for a young audience.
The illustrations are done in mixed media of torn paper, acrylics and printed inks. They are layered and deep, the colors swirling on the page. The faces of the various family members and Santana are particularly arresting. The art has a great vibrancy and a feel of freedom around it.
A great pick for libraries looking for quality biographies of musicians. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from copy provided by Henry Holt & Co.