Tag: African-Americans

Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson

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Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson (9781681191058)

Jade attends a mostly-white private school on scholarship, riding the city bus to and from school as her mother works multiple jobs just to keep a roof over their head. Jade is one of the best students in Spanish class and she looks forward to being selected to travel abroad. But a different opportunity arises as Jade is placed in Women to Women, a mentorship program for at-risk African-American girls. Jade’s mentor, Maxine, is often distracted or late, seemingly more interested in her love life than in Jade. Sometimes though, she is wonderful, paying attention to Jade’s collage art, talking about ways to get her art seen. Still, Jade is the one with things to show and teach even as she is learning herself to find her own voice in life.

Watson’s writing is superb. She captures the conflicting issues of being poor and African-American in today’s America. There are opportunities, yes, particularly for talented students. Still, those opportunities can come at the cost of other decisions and choices. There is the tension of being the one leaving poverty to another place and not wanting to lose family and friends along the way. Even neighborhoods and ways of life are sources of pain and emotions.

Watson doesn’t shy away from directly addressing racism in the book. She gives Jade a new best friend who is white and who doesn’t understand the racism that Jade is experiencing and can’t support Jade in the way that she should. This is handled with sensitivity but also clarity, about what the role of white friends should be in our world. Jade herself is learning that she needs to speak up for herself, insist on fairness, and continue to push. Black Lives Matter is clear on the pages too, showing the violence of society, the murders by police and the impact that has on everyone in a community.

Powerful, strong and filled with writing that calls for action, this book is simply stellar. Appropriate for ages 13-16.

Reviewed from ARC received from Bloomsbury.

 

Strange Fruit by Gary Golio

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Strange Fruit: Billie Holiday and the Power of a Protest Song by Gary Golio, illustrated by Charlotte Riley-Webb

Billie Holiday had survived a rough childhood that saw her jailed at age 14 and become a successful jazz singer. Despite her success though, she was still forbidden to do things that her white band members were allowed. She had to hide in rooms, take freight elevators and pretend to be someone different in order to stay in hotels and not sleep on the tour bus. This was all dangerous and eventually she quit. She found a new place to sing in Cafe Society, the first jazz club that welcomed African-American audience members. It was there that she was given the song, Strange Fruit, a song that would become her best-known work. A song that was so powerful that it was met with silence the first time she sang it. A song that would come to speak to a new generation as they stand together today.

Golio has taken a song that is about lynching and turned it into a picture book. It’s a daring subject for a book for young readers, yet he makes it entirely understandable. He uses notes at the end of the book to continue Holiday’s story and also speak about lynching and its history in the United States. The bulk of the picture book is about Holiday’s struggles in the 1930s with pervasive racism and the way that this song spoke to her personal experience and that of all African-Americans.

The illustrations are deep and powerful. They show the pain of racism, the power of song, the energy of a performance and the drama of silence and darkness. Done in acrylic paint and tissue collage, they have a wild freedom of line that works well with the intense subject matter.

An important picture book about a song that has transcended generations and speaks to the struggles of today and yesterday. Appropriate for ages 7-11.

Reviewed from e-galley received from NetGalley and Lerner Publishing Group.

Let’s Clap, Jump, Sing & Shout by Patricia C. McKissack

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Let’s Clap, Jump, Sing & Shout; Dance, Spin & Turn It Out!: Games, Songs & Stories from an African American Childhood by Patricia C. McKissack, illustrated by Brian Pinkney (9780375870880)

What a way to celebrate Black History Month! With plenty of games, songs, poems and stories, this volume happily combines them all into a delightful rhythm of rhymes, clapping and singing. While the book focuses on games and songs from an African-American background, children of various backgrounds will find new and familiar games on the pages. This mix of discovery and warm familiarity makes this a book that both invites exploration and gives everyone a place to stop and smile in recognition.

This book is almost an encyclopedia of games and songs. Page after page will have readers humming along, singing aloud and looking for a partner to play a newfound or best-loved game. The poetry section adds a real richness to the book, allowing it to slow from the fast pace of the games and songs. McKissack introduces each game, song or poem with a short paragraph about it. This creates a book that is far more than one game after another, adding historical information too.

Pinkney’s illustrations are pure movement on the page. They dance and swirl and tilt and play. Sweeps of color embrace the ink drawings, adding even more motion to the page. There’s a feeling of freedom in the illustrations, a playful wildness that is pure refreshment to the eye.

A book for every public library, this is a must-have. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Random House Children’s Books.

Frederick Douglass by Walter Dean Myers

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Frederick Douglass: The Lion Who Wrote History by Walter Dean Myers, illustrated by Floyd Cooper

The late Walter Dean Myers shows readers the upbringing of American hero, Frederick Douglass. Douglass was born a slave in Maryland. He was first taught about reading by the mistress of the house, but she soon stopped teaching him. Frederick grew up helping to care for the family who owned him and learned from the children of the family how to speak clearly. He also learned the differences between his life as a slave and their plans for happy futures. So Douglass taught himself to read. He was hired out to work in the shipyards where he met sailors who were free black men. He fell in love with a free woman and made his way North to freedom, posing as a sailor. Once free in the North, he started to speak out against slavery, becoming the legendary orator he is famous for being.

Myers draws a complete picture of Douglass here. He shows readers the differences between slavery and freedom with a clarity that is vastly helpful. He doesn’t linger on the violence of slavery but it is also not lessened or ignored. He strikes just the right balance for a young audience. As the book continues, one sees Douglass grow up, learn many things and then not only head to freedom himself but argue that slavery should be abolished. There is real courage on these pages, risks taken for a real life, and an understanding that Douglass himself was an incredible individual.

The illustrations by award-willing Cooper are exceptional. Done with erasers and oils on board, they have a beautiful texture to them, almost hazy with the historical significance of what they are depicting. There are images of love, others of violence, others of freedom newly found. As Douglass grows up on the pages he becomes more and more the icon visually as well.

Strong and important, this picture book biography is inspiring. Appropriate for ages 7-9.

Reviewed from copy received from HarperCollins.

Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson

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Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson

Mary has served six years for killing a baby when she was nine years old. Now she is living in a group home with other teen girls, including ones who want to hurt her. Mary doesn’t talk much and didn’t speak for months after the baby’s death. Now though, Mary has something to speak up for and fight for. She has an older boyfriend who works at the nursing home where Mary is assigned. She also has their unborn child. Mary is smart and loves to read. She sets her mind on going to college and completing SATs. However, there are a lot of hurdles and barriers in her way from the system itself to just getting an ID. As Mary starts to fight back she will have to take on her mother, the person whose testimony got her locked up in the first place.

This is one incredible debut novel. It takes a dark and unflinching look at how our society treats young offenders and the bleak lives that are left to them. It also speaks to the horror of a baby being killed and the effect that race, where a black girl is accused of killing a white baby, has on the system. The writing is outstanding, allowing the desperation to seep into the pages and the darkness to simply stand, stark and true.

Mary is an amazing protagonist. Readers will relate to her as her intelligence shines on the page despite the grime surrounding her. As she begins to build hope and a new life around herself, readers will feel their own hopes soar and warmth creep in. Mary though is not a simple character, a girl wronged. She is her own person, messing up in her own ways and speaking her own truth.

Complex and riveting, this debut novel is one that is dazzling, deep and dark. Appropriate for ages 16-18.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Katherine Tegen Books.

How to Find a Fox by Nilah Magruder

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How to Find a Fox by Nilah Magruder (InfoSoup)

A little girl sets out to find a fox. She immediately finds a fox hole, but the fox isn’t home. She sets out fox bait, then hides and waits so long that she gets sleepy. She tries following fox tracks, but fox are sneaky animals. She puts out more bait and eventually falls fast asleep. She tries making fox calls. Finally, when she climbs a tree to look around, she spots the fox! But she loses him. The little girl is ready to give up, but convinces herself to keep on trying. Perhaps the solution is making the fox want to find her!

Magruder has created a wonderfully appealing picture book with an African-American protagonist. Both the little girl and the fox are dynamic characters who capture your attention. While the little girl searches for the fox, young readers will love spotting him themselves as the little girl just happens to be looking in the wrong direction. These missed encounters add to the excitement of the book. The entire book reads very well and is perfect to share aloud. It shares the value of resilience and persistence.

The art has a lot of charm and is reminiscent of Dora the Explorer which will make this a book that children pick up. There are illustrations that are wonderful, such as the little girl about to give up, lying flat on her back on the grass, spent. The art will project well for a group.

A great addition to storytime units on foxes or being outside. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from library copy.

Loving vs. Virginia by Patricia Hruby Powell

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Loving vs. Virginia: A Documentary Novel of the Landmark Civil Rights Case by Patricia Hruby Powell, illustrated by Shadra Strickland (InfoSoup)

Released on January 31, 2017.

In 1955, Richard and Mildred fell in love in the countryside of Virginia, in Caroline County. Their neighborhood was special and people of all races congregated together. As they went to drive-in movies together and started spending time together, the larger community showed its prejudice since Richard was white and Mildred was African-American. The two of them could not attend dances together, even though Mildred’s family was playing the music at the dance. The two of them get married in 1958 in DC, but their marriage isn’t legal in Virginia. Eventually, they are thrown in jail even though Mildred is pregnant with their second child. The two of them are forced to move to DC and never return to see their families together for decades. As Mildred begins to reach out to lawyers to help, she writes to the ACLU who take up their case which becomes a landmark case for interracial marriage in front of the US Supreme Court.

Written in verse, this novel shows the courtship of Richard and Mildred, their lives together and the damage done by the initial judgement against them that forbade them to cross the border into Virginia together. The use of poetry as a format allows readers to see both Mildred and Richard’s points of view as their relationship grows, flourishes and then is challenged. The book inserts other important Civil Rights events in between the poetry, so that readers can keep an eye on the other changes happening in the United States. It’s an important piece of their story, showing that other changes came much faster than theirs.

The illustrations by Strickland are done in limited colors of oranges and blues. There are beautiful moments captured such as the two teens running through the woods together at night, silent and free. There are also bleak moments like being pulled over by the sheriff with a flashlight shining in their eyes. The illustrations move from freedom to constraint much in the way the story develops and are important in revealing emotional elements to the tale.

This verse novel tells the true story of Loving vs. Virginia and speaks to the importance of regular people standing up to unjust laws. Appropriate for ages 13-15.

Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.