The ABCs of Black History by Rio Cortez

Cover image of The ABCs of Black History

The ABCs of Black History by Rio Cortez, illustrated by Lauren Semmer (9781523507498)

Offer even the smallest children a look at Black history in the United States with this alphabet book. Told in rhyming stanzas, this picture book invites exploration beyond its covers. It begins with A is for anthem, a call for voices to rise in song and to call for freedom. B is for beautiful, with that and other letters, the book speaks to the importance of not listening to voices that put you down. B is also for bright, bold, brave, brotherhood and believing. That use of multiple words continues through the book, offering a feeling that there is so much to say with each letter, so much to do, so much left to accomplish together.

This alphabet book is several things at once. It’s a call to action for people of all ages to vote, to protest, to be heard. It is also a look at history, so there are letters that focus on artists, writers, teachers, scientists, and more. It is also a statement for self-esteem for Black children, to see themselves as valued, beautiful and able to bring change. It’s a book about how much has been accomplished, but also how much is yet to be done. The end of the book is filled with additional information on the people depicted under each letter as well as resources for further exploration.

The art is filled with bright colors. The images are flat, hearkening back to folk art even as it looks forward to the future and change happening. The art is filled with Black people, unknown and famous, full of urban setting and farms, protest signs and portaits.

A colorful and optimistic look at Black history and a call for Black lives to matter in the future. Appropriate for ages 3-7.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Workman Publishing

The Voting Booth by Brandy Colbert

The Voting Booth by Brandy Colbert

The Voting Booth by Brandy Colbert (9781368053297)

Marva gets how important voting is and how voting has been impacted by racism for decades, so she is up early to make sure she votes before school starts. Duke is up early too, keeping focused on his band’s first paying gig that night and getting his voting done too. But when Duke gets to his polling place, he can’t vote since he isn’t registered there. Marva sees this happen and the two of them go to the voting precinct that Duke should be registered at. But nothing is simple in voting or dating as their lives collide with Marva angry at her white boyfriend for deciding not to vote in the election, Marva’s celebrity cat going missing, and Duke coping with the memories of his dead brother that being with Marva brings up. Still, the two of them are a great team, traveling the city, discovering voter suppression firsthand, and still managing a touch of romance along the way.

Colbert has written a marvelous romantic political novel here. She demonstrates clearly for teen readers that voter suppression in the black community is still active and can impact them as voters at any time. From long lines to closed polls to running out of ballots, each incident underlines how civil rights are being infringed. Wisely Colbert allows that to be significant in the story line but also fills in with an engaging new romance between two people who may approach politics differently but deeply believe in the same things.

The two main characters are completely delightful. Marva is driven and full of passion for fighting back, voting and activism. Duke has lost a brother to gun violence, a brother who was a community activist. Wonderfully, Duke is not dismissive of Marva’s passion, instead he marvels at it, showing his own dedication to voting and also to his music as the day continues. The pair together are magic with their snappy conversation, teasing and humor.

Political and romantic, this book is also a clarion call to vote and get involved. Appropriate for ages 15-19.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Disney-Hyperion.

Dress Coded by Carrie Firestone

Dress Coded by Carrie Firestone

Dress Coded by Carrie Firestone (9781984816436)

Molly is beyond tired of the dress coding that is happening at her middle school. It’s a dress code that unfairly targets only the girls and then only some of the girls. Molly isn’t the most developed girl in her class, so she often isn’t dress coded though she’s wearing the same outfit as a friend who is. So Molly starts a podcast about the dress code at her school and how inequitable it is. She interviews girls about their experiences, catching the notice of even high school girls who want to share their own middle school stories. Molly also tries to get the attention of the school board, but their petition and requests go nowhere. Soon Molly is leading a significant rebellion at the school, finding her own voice, standing in her power, and not apologizing for what she wears.

It is hard to believe that this is a debut middle-grade novel. Firestone, the author of several young adult novels, really captures what it is to be a middle school girl. The pressures of that age are magnified in this book through the horrible dress code, but are also firmly universal, dealing with body image, periods, friendships, and complicated family relationships. Firestone’s writing is fiery and offers a call to action, positively showing what can happen when you stand up.

The characters of this book are wonderfully drawn with each friend and girl having their own personalities. They each stand out with a unique voice as well, something that is difficult with this large a cast of characters. Molly herself is marvelous, a mix of courage and middle school doubts and fears. The book contains gay characters, who reveal themselves with no trauma and lots of hope, just right.

A dynamo of a middle-grade read that will inspire girls to become activists for their own rights. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Putnam.

Banned Book Club by Kim Hyun Sook

Banned Book Club by Kim Hyun Sook

Banned Book Club by Kim Hyun Sook and Ryan Estrada, illustrated by Hyung-Ju Ko (9781945820427)

This timely read captures the work of protestors and underground activists in South Korea in the early 1980s. Hyun Sook was the first in her family to go to college. Her family and she had high hopes for her future. But on the first day of school, she has to cross through a demonstration to even enter campus. Soon she finds herself in the midst of a group of activists, even though she just wanted to join a folk dance group and a book club. As Hyun Sook starts to learn more about the Fifth Republic and the political situation she is in, her views start to change and she begins to help the revolutionaries. The work is seriously dangerous, as members of their group are taken by the police regularly and tortured. Hyun Sook must decide if she will stay and fight or quietly head back to simply going to college.

This graphic novel is so powerful. It looks at a totalitarian regime and the efforts to overthrow it, particularly the ideas and books that the regime forbids. It’s a deep dive behind the lines of the activists in the 1980’s a fictionalized graphical version of a true story that the author lived through. The courage and tenacity shown on the pages is remarkable, calling for all of us to lead our own revolutions or at least read revolutionary books.

The art is done in black and white, stark at times, violent at others. It doesn’t flinch from showing what truly happened when police took people into custody. The echoes between this and our own society are strong, making one ask questions about totalitarianism in our own western world.

A call to action, filled with anger, activism and books. Appropriate for ages 13-18.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Iron Circus Comics.

 

We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom

We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom

We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom, illustrated by Michaela Goade (9781250203557)

Two indigenous book creators have created a picture book that celebrates the North American indigenous battles to protect our water. Water is the the first medicine; it is where we all come from and nourishes us in the womb and on earth. There is talk of a black snake that will spoil the water, poisoning it. The black snake had been foretold for many years, and now it is here. Courage is the answer to it and the willingness to stand up and insist that water be protected. Nature cannot speak for itself, so we must speak and fight on its behalf. We can all be water protectors.

Lindstrom has written a book that calls out to be shared aloud. She has used an effective refrain: “We stand/ With our songs/ And our drums./ We are still here.” The importance of standing up and of Native people being visible as modern members of our society is vital here. The call to action in this picture book is also clarion clear and incredibly empowering. This book explains to the youngest children what the protests on Native lands are all about and why they are vital to all of us.

Goade’s illustrations are done in watercolor that washes across the pages in waves, swirls, and skies. The colors are deep and dynamic, showing nature in all of its beauty and demonstrating page after page what we are fighting to protect.

Strong and important. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy provided by Roaring Brook Press.

Mother Jones and Her Army of Mill Children by Jonah Winter

Mother Jones and Her Army of Mill Children by Jonah Winter

Mother Jones and Her Army of Mill Children by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter (9780449812914)

Mother Jones is mad. She is furious at the treatment of children who work in the mills for a paltry 2 cents an hour to help keep their families from ruin. She saw the issue first hand and called the newspapers. But the newspapers are owned by wealthy men who were friends with the owners of the mills. So Mother Jones came up with a plan to create a protest march from Philadelphia to New York City. The march started on July 7, 1903. They got a lot of media attention, and Mother Jones changed her plan and decided to march to Washington, D.C. Mother Jones presented her arguments in every town and then the children put on a play. It took them fourteen days to reach New York City and six more to reach D.C. They didn’t get to see the President, but the march did its job anyway and laws changed to forbid child labor in the United States. 

Winter tells the complex story of Mother Jones and her fight to stop child labor in the United States. By focusing on the march itself, the picture book stays sharp and fast paced. He uses quotes from Mother Jones in the text as well as on the endpapers which really capture the spirit of Mother Jones and her willingness to fight for others. 

The illustrations center on Mother Jones in her black and white outfit standing out against a pastel world that is almost foggy in its softness. This works very well for this subject, showing the impact of a person willing to make sacrifices and stand up to demand change.

A dynamic look at the unique historical figure of Mother Jones and her continued impact on our world. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Schwartz & Wade.

Review: A Ride to Remember by Sharon Langley

A Ride to Remember by Sharon Langley

A Ride to Remember by Sharon Langley and Amy Nathan, illustrated by Floyd Cooper (9781419736858)

Back in the 1960’s, African-Americans were not allowed to enter the Gwynn Oak Amusement Park in Baltimore. They were not allowed to sit on the grass, share treats or ride on the carousel. As the world around them began to change and become less segregated, Gwynn Oak continued its policies. They became the center of protests where hundreds were arrested. A mother and child who were African American and light skinned covertly entered the park and were allowed to enjoy themselves for hours. They shared their story with the press. As the pressure built, the park’s owners agreed to allow everyone into the park and to drop any charges from the protests. The first day the park was open was August 28, 1963. That day, a little girl named Sharon Langley, was the first African-American to ride the carousel with her father holding onto her. A photo of the ride made the papers as did the other major news story of the day, when Martin Luther King, Jr. made his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech. The carousel was moved to Washington, D. C. where Sharon took a ride on the fiftieth anniversary of her first ride in Baltimore.

The authors make a point of framing the tumultuous 1960’s for young readers. They have a child ask questions about why African-Americans were not allowed to enter the park. This is such an important moment in the book, giving modern children a lens into the inherent societal racism of the time, racism that is not erased in our modern society either, of course. They then turn to the protests about the park, showing the bravery of the people who protested, who went to jail, and who insisted on staying overnight to make a point. The body of the book does a great job offering historical perspective as well as details about the protests and efforts to desegregate the park. More information is also shared in the final pages, including more details of the events in the book, a bibliography and a timeline.

Cooper’s art is done with a lush softness to the lines. He used oil erasure on illustration board to capture an almost sepia-toned historical feel. The faces he shows of the people involved are tremendously moving, showing that this was about people insisting on change.

In a single story, children will deeply understand what the civil rights struggle was about. Appropriate for ages 5-9.

Reviewed from copy provided by Abrams.

Review: Our House Is on Fire: Greta Thunberg’s Call to Save the Planet by Jeanette Winter

Our House Is on Fire Greta Thunberg’s Call to Save the Planet by Jeanette Winter

Our House Is on Fire: Greta Thunberg’s Call to Save the Planet by Jeanette Winter (9781534467781)

Greta was a quiet girl living in Stockholm until she learned about climate change. Once she heard a little bit about it at school, she started reading and watching films to learn even more. Greta soon realized that the world was in serious danger of fires, floods, droughts and catastrophic environmental change. She was sad and depressed for a long time, then she decided to go on strike from her school to protest the lack of action on climate. She protested outside the Parliament building every Friday, at first alone and then with other students. Soon children around the world were joining the protests. The quiet girl from Stockholm has become one of the leading young voices for climate change in the world.

Winter makes this book not only about Greta but also about climate change itself. As Greta finds her passion for working on climate, readers learn alongside her about the dangers that climate change brings to the world. As with all of her nonfiction picture book, Winter distills the story of Greta into something digestible by small children. Her pages are full of illustrations with words that explain but never become narrative or overwhelming. Her illustrations are bold and fresh, depicting climate disasters in images on the wall, the dangers to wildlife in Greta’s thoughts, and also the resilience and determination it took for Greta to continue to protest when no one seemed to be listening.

A timely and strong biography about one of the most important people working in climate today. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy provided by Simon & Schuster.

Review: Amazons, Abolitionists, and Activists by Mikki Kendall and A. D’Amico 

Amazons, Abolitionists, and Activists by Mikki Kendall and A. D’Amico 

Amazons, Abolitionists, and Activists: A Graphic HIstory of Women’s Fight for Their Rights by Mikki Kendall and A. D’Amico (9780399581793)

Take a trip back through women’s history to discover queens, warriors, suffragettes, and much more! This graphic novel is set in the future and has a computer instructor who takes a group of girls back in time to understand the basis of women’s rights around the world. The book starts by looking deep into human history with the Assyrians, Mesopotamians, Eqyptians, Greeks and much more. The book then shows how the rise of the patriarchy eclipsed early women’s rights and replaced it with much more like what we see still today. The book moves forward in time, taking female rulers and warriors from around the world. There is also an exploration of civil rights as well as LGBTQ rights in the book that increases the representation of diverse experiences even farther. 

Kendall’s writing could have simply become a lengthy list of women from history, but she weaves a deeper narrative throughout. It also helps that she includes history as far back as she does. The supportive nature of those early societies is likely to surprise modern readers. Kendall works with intentionality to offer as diverse a cross-section of women as she can. They come from all over the world and represent many different countries, continents and races. Even more impressive is the way that Kendall is frank about the shortcomings of many of the women, acknowledging openly their open racism or unwillingness to challenge the status quo for others besides themselves. 

The art is great. The number of portraits in the book is daunting in its scope. Those women who are familiar visually are recognizable immediately. The additional information on each woman also offers vibrant images of their lives. The more tragic events are documented in more subtle tones, offering a visual cue that something dire has happened. 

A stellar graphic piece of nonfiction. Appropriate for ages 12-15.

Reviewed from library copy.