This picture book honors the history of African Americans in America. Looking at Africa first, as a place of pride, filled with a long history of heritage and kingdoms. When Africans were loaded onto ships and taken into slavery, they brought so many of the qualities that they had in Africa. Their freedom was taken into a brutal system, but their intelligence allowed them to bridge their different languages with music. They loved one another as family, secretly learned to read, and smuggled messages for one another. Some managed to escape with determination and bravery. Black Americans were inventors of engines, farm equipment, and furniture, though they rarely got credit for their ideas. They created jazz, ice cream, peanut butter, and the blood plasma bank. The book ties all of these qualities to modern figures who exemplify them, showing how the heritage carries through ancestors to today.
Filled with a sense of pride from the very first pages, this picture book offers a way to speak to children about slavery without creating shame. There is a strong sense of resilience throughout the book, of people who not only endured but survived and continued to invent and create. The book allows space for slavery as part of African American history, but frames it in terms of the qualities of character it took to survive. This is history that is not shared in schools that then turns to the accomplishments of Black Americans throughout our history.
Engel’s illustrations are full of connection and joy. She uses deep and bright colors, creating scenes where African Americans stand shoulder to shoulder in solidarity, work side by side, and sing together.
A necessary purchase for public and school libraries looking for a way to teach African American history in a better way. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Abrams Books for Young Readers.
King explains fiercely and openly that Black lives matter, and that they always have mattered. He pulls examples from history, filling the pages with lists of names and accomplishments. There are political figures, artists, musicians, athletes and many more. He reminds readers that Black lives died for our country’s independence. He shares quotes from great Black minds, like Malcolm X, W. E. B. Dubois, and James Baldwin. He uses the refrain of “Have I ever told you…” to open another list of names, share another chapter of history, and demonstrate again and again and again that Black lives are valuable, they matter, and they matter to us all.
The design of this book is almost in two separate pieces. The first part matches the cover art, using gorgeous bold text design to share the words of empowerment that fill the book, that share examples of Black figures, their words and their impact on the world. The book also has silhouettes of some of the people, shadowed in vibrant color. Then the book turns to facts about each of the Black people who are mentioned in the first part of the book. These pages turn a cool blue, sharing details of their lives, quotes from each of them, and offering a glimpse into their greatness.
A dynamic and insistent book that affirms just how much Black lives matter. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from copy provided by Tilbury House Publishers.
Ona Judge was a slave in the household of George and Martha Washington. While Washington worked to free the fledgling union from the British, he depending upon slaves in his household. Ona began working in slavery for Martha Washington at age 10, often playing with their grandchildren and sometimes being mistaken for one of them. The book explores the posh lifestyle that Ona lived amongst and yet was not truly part of. She was treated well, but still enslaved. When she was given to one of the granddaughters, Ona decided to escape. She chose the difficult life of a fugitive slave over than of the slavery.
Shepard uses a particularly successful structure in this picture book. He frames Ona’s story by asking repeatedly why she ran? He points out the opulence she lived in and the remarkable moments in history she saw. Shepard thoroughly explains exactly why Ona escaped, showing her being taken from her mother at a young age, being treated as more of a pet than a person, and being given to the haughty granddaughter. The structure leads to the clear answers of why she needed to escape.
Mallett’s illustrations beautifully evoke the historical period. They are filled with carriages, women’s clothing, fire places and some images of famous historical figures. It is Ona though who glows on the page, her face always lit from within and filled with the potential of freedom.
A picture book that brings the shamefulness of slavery forward, showing that everyone needs to be free. Appropriate for ages 6-8.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
The nominees for the 2021 NAACP Image Awards have been announced. The awards have a very broad range of categories from movies and TV to music to literary. They offer two awards for books for youth. Here are the nominees in those categories:
OUTSTANDING LITERARY WORK – CHILDREN
I Promise by LeBron James, illustrated by Nina Mata
In this companion book to One Last Word, Grimes explores the legacy of Black women writers from the Harlem Renaissance. Grimes has selected poems from these little-known female poets that speak to themes of heritage, nature and activism. Each of the poems in this collection is accompanied by a poem from Grimes that uses the “Golden Shovel” technique of taking a line from the Harlem Renaissance poem and using that line as the last words in each line of Grimes’ poems. In addition, each pair of poems is also matched with a work of art from female Black illustrators, creating an exciting and energizing grouping with every turn of the page.
Once again Grimes amazes with a poetry collection. Grimes has an astute eye for selecting poems for her collections that young readers will enjoy, understand and connect with. When she then creates her magic of using those poems as inspiration for her own, she demonstrates such poetic skill in both the poem construction but also in managing to pay tribute to what the poem is about and translate that into modern day poems for young readers.
Reading this collection is like finding one treasure after another. New poets are discovered. The art is beautiful, clearly inspired by the pair of poems that it is matched with. This collections serves to show Black poets and artists speaking in their own rich voices, offering a look at the women who paved the way for today.
Another astounding collection from Grimes that belongs in every library serving children. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
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
This novel offers first-person monologues from three generations of a Black family from Mississippi. They are a sharecropper family, caught in the aftermath of slavery and the cycle of poverty that resulted. Starting in 1927, Loretta tells the story of growing up picking cotton on land her family did not own. Her loving father died from exposure to the pesticides they sprayed in the fields. He gave her sapphire socks made with his own hands and she placed her other most valuable possession inside them, a marble that glowed like the sun. Loretta found Roly left outside as an infant. He grew into a boy who had a way with plants and animals. When the family got their own plot of land, they were attacked at night by someone who brutalized their animals, killing most of them, and poisoned their land. Roly slept out in the fields, hoping to draw the poison out and return the land to fertility. Then he caught the eye of Tess, a girl who he eventually married and had a daughter with. Aggie was that daughter, a girl who would not back down, much as her father would not make a hasty decision. Aggie fought for the right to vote even when she was not old enough to. She and Loretta worked together to pass the racist voting test and then to pay the toll tax. Beaten by police, Aggie finds comfort in the sapphire socks and the glow of the marble passed down to her. Just like the others in her family, she never stopped and never gave up.
Told in three distinct voices that speak directly to the reader, this novel takes a direct look at the systemic racism that has created such privilege for some and injustice for others. The use of monologues is brilliant, as the voices come through to the reader with real clarity, each speaking from their personal experience and from history. There is a sense of theater to the entire novel, helped by the introduction to each chapter that give stage directions and offers a visualization of how this would appear on stage. Often these are haunting images, transformative and full of magical realism.
The three characters are marvelously individual, each with their own approach to life, each facing daunting challenges and each ready to take those on, though in their own way. It is telling that as each new generation entered to become the new main narrator, I felt a sense of loss as the other moved off stage, since each was such a compelling character and each had more to share. I was pleased to see they stayed as part of one another’s stories all the way to the end of the novel.
Incredible writing, important civil right history, and a brilliant cast of characters make this novel glow. Appropriate for ages 9-12.