Tag: African-Americans

Seeing into Tomorrow by Richard Wright

Seeing into Tomorrow by Richard Wright

Seeing into Tomorrow by Richard Wright, illustrated by Nina Crews (9781512498622)

Nina Crews has selected some of Richard Wright’s haiku about his childhood and created an inviting picture book out of them. The haiku focus on the seasons, the outdoors and universal childhood experiences. There are winding dirt roads, yellow kites, blue skies, rainy days, trees and insects. Each haiku is a small window into simple childhood joys and moments that are more meaningful than one might think. They invite us all to slow down, dream a bit and enjoy the nature around us.

Crews adds modern zing to these poems with her photography. Using a series of photographs that fit together into a whole, they are layered and fascinating. African-American children are forefront in the images that then branch and reach across the page, paving the pages with hope and wonder.

A dynamic look at one of the top African-American poets of the 21st century, this book of poetry is a celebration. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Edelweiss and Millbrook Press.

Betty Before X by Ilyasah Shabazz

Betty Before X by Ilyasah Shabazz

Betty Before X by Ilyasah Shabazz and Renee Watson (9780374306106)

In this second middle grade novel by Shabazz, she this time focuses on her mother, Betty Shabazz, who would one day marry Malcolm X. Set during Betty’s childhood in the 1940s, this book explores Betty’s complicated relationship with the mother she was taken from at a young age. Betty was raised as a small child by an aunt but when the aunt died, Betty is  moved from the south to Detroit, where she lives with her mother and her mother’s new family. The book focuses on faith and community activism as Betty learns how to make her way with a mother who doesn’t show love or affection to her at all. As Betty’s connection to the community grows stronger, she finds people who care for her. She eventually joins the Housewives League and fights to support black-owned businesses in Detroit. Even though the novel is about just a few years in her youth, readers will clearly see Betty’s growth from young girl to a civil rights leader.

Shabazz and Watson together have created a book that soars. They firmly anchor Betty’s life in the 1940’s, surrounding them with the music of the time, the societal expectations in that time period, and small touches that make sure readers understand the implications of the time period. They also depict the richness of the African-American community in Detroit, the women who led organizations and endeavors, the strength of friendships that are built together with church and community, and the hope that it created for change.

Throughout the book symbols of oppression continue to remind readers that the 1940s was not a simpler time. A very young Betty witnesses the bodies hanging in trees after a lynching in the south. In Detroit there are riots when an African-American boy is shot in the back by police. These events echo through to the present and the Black Lives Matter movement, showing that while progress has been made there is still much to do.

A strong book that looks with clarity at the making of a civil rights leader. Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from copy provided by Farrar Straus Giroux.

3 New Picture Books Celebrating Diversity

Hey Black Child by Useni Eugene Perkins

Hey Black Child by Useni Eugene Perkins, illustrated by Bryan Collier

First written in 1975, the poem at the heart of this picture book speaks directly to young African-American children. It encourages them to be who they truly are. To learn all that they can learn. To be strong and be leaders for themselves, their communities and their country. If they do all of that, their country may just change to be what they want it to be. The poem is profoundly simple yet speaks deep truths that uplift children of color to fully be the wonderful people that they are. The illustrations by Collier are exceptional. He ties the children directly to role models like President Obama and Mae Jemison. Using collage and paintings, the illustrations are layered and lovely. A call for young people of color to stand up and change their country, this picture book belongs on the shelves of every public library. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Groundwood Logos Spine

I Wait by Caitlin Dale Nicholson (9781554989140)

Written in both Cree and English, this picture book quietly celebrates three generations of women in a Cree family. As the grandmother gets ready, a little girl and her mother wait. They all walk out into the fields together, then they all pray. They gather yarrow together, the mother a little bit more slowly than the others. Then they are done! Told in very simple sentences of just a few words, this picture book shows written Cree, Cree in English letters and also English. There is a gentle solemnity to the book, a feeling of importance and family. The illustrations are done in acrylic and show the landscape and also the three very different members of the family as they work together. Beautifully presented, this is a glimpse into modern Cree life for young readers. Appropriate for ages 2-4. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Princess Hair by Sharee Miller

Princess Hair by Sharee Miller (9780316562614)

This book directly challenges the idea that princesses must have straight golden tresses in order to be proper royalty. In this picture book, princesses come in all colors and their hair comes in all sorts of types and styles. There are puffs, dreadlocks, frohawks, head wraps, afros, kinks, and much much more. The text here is joyous as it celebrates each type of hairstyle with rhythm and rhyme. Happily, the illustrations have girls of color outnumbering those who appear to be white. This is a book about differences and similarities that make it just fine to be royal no matter what type of princess hair you might be sporting. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from library  copy.)

It All Comes Down to This by Karen English

It All Comes Down to This by Karen English

It All Comes Down to This by Karen English (9780544839571)

In 1965 Los Angeles, Sophie has moved to a new neighborhood as one of the only African-American families. Her summer is complicated not only by the move but by her sister leaving for college in August and her parent’s marriage becoming rocky. There are also external forces, like a pack of sisters in the new neighborhood who target Sophie and won’t let her swim with them. She does have one good friend, Jennifer, who stands up for Sophie and protests the way the others treat her. But racism is everywhere as Sophie discovers when she tries out for the community play, when she tries to shop in stores, and when she takes rides in cars with her sister’s boyfriend. When the riots in Watts erupt, Sophie discovers that the life in her wealthy neighborhood is not the one that others lead in the same city.

English, a Coretta Scott King Honor Award winner, brilliantly explores privilege and racism in this novel where Sophie lives a mix of both. The author directly looks at the color of skin, at the privilege given to those with lighter skin. She also explore wealth and the way that African-American families living in wealthier communities still face racism, both directly and indirectly. English’s pace here is very special with its mix of languid summer days, racial tensions, lack of parental involvement and then the riots.

Sophie is a well drawn protagonist as is her sister and her sister’s boyfriend. They each have distinct viewpoints, struggle with the expectations of family and society, and find themselves asking deeper questions about life in 1965. Sophie herself is often living in a bubble, but it is also one that is pierced regularly by the way others treat her. She is cleverly crafted, constantly learning and realizing how complex the world is.

This novel looks deeply into race in our country, offering a direct link between the Watts riots on today’s Black Lives Matter movement. It is timely, important and doesn’t offer easy answers. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from library copy.


3 Picture Books Celebrating Diversity

Days with Dad by Nari Hong

Days with Dad by Nari Hong (9781592702336)

Narrated by a little girl, this picture book looks at growing up with a father in a wheelchair. The girl’s father often apologizes for activities he can’t participate in. But the little girl always responds by saying that she prefers other similar activities that they can do together. Her father can’t go ice skating, but they can fish together through the ice. He can’t swim in the sea, but he can build sandcastles with her. He can’t ride bikes, but they can look at the flowers in the park together. Throughout the book, the tone is positive and joyful, showing that life is about what people can do together and the time spent with those you love. Described on the jacket as semi-autobiographical, this book has been listed on IBBY’s 2017 Outstanding Books for Young People with Disabilities. This book’s illustrations add to the lightness of the story with their playful feel. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Review copy provided by Enchanted Lion.)

Mama Africa by Kathryn Erskine

Mama Africa by Kathryn Erskine, illustrated by Charly Palmer (9780374303013)

A picture book about the incredible South African singer, Miriam Makeba, who became the voice of fighting against apartheid. Called Mama Africa, she sang to expose the injustice happening around her at a time when it was dangerous to do so. Eventually, she lived in exile in the United States yet never stopped speaking and singing about her home. She spoke before the United Nations to appeal for help. Finally able to return home after apartheid ended, she continued to fight for justice the rest of her life. Erskine lived in South Africa during apartheid and draws from that knowledge in her book. Throughout, there is a celebration of the impact of song and the importance of giving voice to those living under injustice. The art by Palmer is rich and vivid. He offers portraits of people as well as landscapes that capture the fight for freedom. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Review copy provided by Farrar Straus & Giroux.)

That Is My Dream By Langston Hughes

That Is My Dream! By Langston Hughes, illustrated by Daniel Miyares (9780399550171)

Miyares turns the poem “Dream Variation” by Langston Hughes into a picture book that shows a segregated town in the 1950s. There are separate drinking fountains for white and black people and the races are separate when they relax as well. Then the book changes with a feeling of whirling and release into a book that shows equality, shared time together and the hope of a day spent in harmony. The book is infused with hope, showing how possibilities of freedom and equality can be realized eventually. The book doesn’t move to the present, instead staying in the 1950s and showing what no segregation would have looked like back then. The illustrations by Miyares are beautiful, filled with deep colors and diversity. A very special book that pairs important poetry with a renewed vision. Appropriate for ages 4-7. (Review copy provided by Schwartz & Wade.)

3 Picture Book Biographies about…Books!

A Boy, A Mouse, and a Spider by Barbara Herkert

A Boy, A Mouse, and a Spider: The Story of E. B. White by Barbara Herkert, illustrated by Lauren Castillo (9781627792455)

A picture book biography of E.B. White, this book focuses on White’s love of animals and how that combined with his love of writing to become the stories he is known for. Featuring moments from his life, including a friendship with a mouse as a young child, White returns to his beloved Maine to continue to write and soon discovers a story of a pig who needs a hero to save him. Herkert uses a lovely spare poetic tone in this picture book, allowing White’s personal inspirations to shine from his animals to his sense of place. The illustrations by Castillo are wonderful, creating moments of time and beautiful spaces that show White on his journey to becoming one of the most beloved children’s authors. Appropriate for ages 5-8. (Review copy provided by Henry Holt.)

Miguels Brave Knight by Margarita Engle

Miguel’s Brave Knight: Young Cervantes and His Dream of Don Quixote by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Raúl Colón (9781561458561)

This picture book biography of Miguel de Cervanes Saavedra shows his childhood in Spain. He grew up the son of a barber and surgeon. His father though had a gambling habit and was even jailed for his debts. Just as the family rebuilt after each loss, his father would once again gamble and send the family into debt and moving to a new town. Along the way, Miguel got to attend school sometimes and once he was older his writing gained some attention. Even as a child, he dreamed of fantastic stories to counter the disarray of his family. Engle writes with a natural poetry in this book, showing the brutality of life for Miguel but also the way in which his unique upbringing created his love of stories for escape. The art works to tie the entire book together, showing Miguel’s imagination and scenes from Don Quixote. A great introduction to a legendary Spanish author, this picture book is exceptional. Appropriate for ages 7-10. (E-galley received from Edelweiss and Peachtree Publishers.)

Schomburg The Man Who Built a Library by Carole Boston Weatherford

Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Eric Velasquez (9780763680466)

This picture book biography shows the important impact one person can have when on a quest for knowledge. Schomburg was a man of Afro-Puerto Rican heritage who collected books, manuscripts, letters and more to show the achievements of people from African descent. These achievements were not in history books and not reflected in the national narrative at all. As he studied, he proved over and over again that black culture was unrepresented despite the incredible discoveries and art it contributed to the world. Schomburg’s library was eventually donated to the New York Public Library where you can visit it today. Weatherford highlights not just Schomburg’s own contribution to knowledge of black culture, but also shows other individuals that Schomburg discovered in his research. She does so via poems, some about specific people others about the books and research and many about Schomburg’s own life. The art by Velasquez is rich and beautiful, offering a dynamic visual for the fluid poetry. An important and timely read. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Reviewed from library copy.)



The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater

The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater

The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater (9780374303235)

This nonfiction book for teens looks at two sides of a hate crime in Oakland, California. It took place on a bus where an asexual student, Sasha, was riding. They (the pronoun they use) were reading at first and then fell asleep on the public bus. A white teen, they went to a small private school in town and lived in a middle-class neighborhood. They were wearing a gauzy skirt at the time. It was a skirt that caught the eye of Richard and his friends. Richard, a black teen, attended a public high school and was newly back in the community after being in juvenile detention. Without even considering the impact of his actions, Richard set Sasha’s skirt on fire. What was meant to be a prank turned into a hate crime and potential life imprisonment.

This internationally known crime is given voice by the people who lived it in this nonfiction book. Written with such care and compassion for both sides, the book made me weep with both the fact that asexual and gender nonconforming teens and people face this type of attack and also the fact that African-American teens are charged as adults and face huge sentences as a result. Slater dances what seems at times to be an impossible line, showing the humanity on both sides of the story, explaining the facts that impact the lives of the people involved, and offering an opportunity to look deeply into a case rather than reading the headlines.

There is such humanity on these pages. It will remind everyone that there are different sides to incidents like these, that rushing to judgement is not helpful, that forgiveness has power, and that people, especially teenagers can learn from mistakes and grow from them if given a chance. Written like a novel, the book has dashingly short chapters and features the voices of the two teens whose lives changed in a moment.

The skill evident in this book is remarkable. This is the nonfiction book that teen readers today need. Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Farrar, Straus and Giroux.