Tag: African-Americans

Preaching to the Chickens by Jabari Asim

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Preaching to the Chickens by Jabari Asim, illustrated by E. B. Lewis (InfoSoup)

John Lewis, renowned Civil Rights leader and Congressman, dreamed of becoming a preacher as a child. When he was put in charge of the family’s flock of chickens on their farm, he knew it was a great responsibility. John loved going to church on Sunday and took what he learned in church back to his flock. He would sermonize to them, the chickens mesmerized by his voice. He would also baptize them, speak up for them when they needed a voice and rescue them when they needed help. As he preached the words he learned in church, he put those words into action while tending his flock.

Asim beautifully ties together the lessons in church to actions in caring for others. There is a richness to the writing in this picture book biography, capturing both scripture and the beauty of life on a small farm filled with hard work. This is not a fantasy farm, but one where toil is what makes for a successful harvest. Still, it is a place that grew an activist like John Lewis, who learned about using his voice for a cause right there on the farm with his chickens.

The illustrations by Lewis are done in watercolor, capturing the chicken coop and John himself with just enough detail to convey their simplicity but also their stature. Lewis uses the play of light spectacularly in the book, deftly incorporating shadow and light into John’s childhood sermons.

A beautifully crafted picture book biography that speaks of the power of childhood dreams to create activism and a man with a voice to change generations. Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

Lift Your Light a Little Higher by Heather Henson

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Lift Your Light a Little Higher: The Story of Stephen Bishop: Slave-Explorer by Heather Henson, illustrated by Bryan Collier (InfoSoup)

Stephen Bishop was a slave who explored and mapped Mammoth Cave. The book is set in 1840 where you can follow the light of Bishop’s lantern deep into the massive cave as he gives people and the reader a tour. For the reader though, the tour is about slavery, about civil rights and about the ability for a man to discover value through exploring darkness. Bishop was the first to see many of Mammoth’s sights, including the blind fish. He learned to read as people signed their names on the cave’s ceiling, though learning to read and write was forbidden for slaves. This man’s story is a tale of resilience, self worth and discovery.

Henson tells the story almost in verse, capturing the highlights of the man’s discoveries but also weaving the dark side of slavery with the darkness of the cave. Henson gives Bishop a strong voice, one that stands out on the page and demands to be heard. Told in the voice of The Guide, Bishop explains slavery and its structure to the reader just as he explains his role and his attitudes towards life and the cave that made his famous. The author’s note contains information on Bishop and how he was sold along with the cave to several owners.

Collier’s illustrations are exceptional. He has several that are simply amazing in their power. One that caused me to linger for some time was the page with the oxen with faces on their sides, faces of slavery in various colors that are wrinkled and damaged. It’s a powerful reminder of the place of slaves as property. There are other pages that show hope in the slanting light of sun as Bishop exits the dark of the cave is one. Exceptional.

A strong picture book biography of a man many won’t have heard of before, this book speaks to the tragedy of slavery and the resilience and power of one man. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum.

 

Catching a Storyfish by Janice N. Harrington

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Catching a Storyfish by Janice N. Harrington (InfoSoup)

Moving away from Alabama is hard for Keet. She is moving closer to her beloved grandfather though, which helps. The two of them spend days together fishing, something that Keet used to find challenging because she loves to talk and tell stories. But at her new school, she is teased for her accent and suddenly her words start to dry up. She finds it hard to make friends and even at home she isn’t talking much. Slowly though, Keet starts to find her voice again and makes a new friend. Just as she starts to talk though, her grandfather suffers a stroke and struggles with the slow recovery. Keet though has just the solution, showing him the way forward with stories.

Harrington’s verse novel is pure loveliness. Throughout she plays with various poetic forms, delicately moving from haiku to concrete poems to narrative form with many others included too. She nicely lists them at the end of the book, talking about their difficulty and what makes a poem that form. Her skill is evident throughout with all of the forms as she tells the story of Keet and her progress from losing her confidence and her voice to finding it again. The voice of Keet’s new friend is including in the poems as well, often playing against ones in Keet’s voice.

The characters here are given time to grow and stretch on the page. Keet is a wonderful character filled with a great energy and drive, but also stuck in a lack of confidence that hits her out of nowhere. It is a book about quiet and both its power and the ability to drown in being silenced. It is a book about friendship, about family and the importance of finding your place and your voice.

Beautifully written and strikingly gentle, this book is a celebration of the individual and their ability to speak their own stories. Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

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The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon (InfoSoup)

A finalist for the National Book Award, this book for teens is exceptional. It is the story of two teens, Daniel and Natasha who meet one another through a series of events. Daniel, a poet, firmly believes in love at first sight and destiny bringing them together. Natasha though does not, believing in science and what is provable. The day is a big day for both of them. Natasha’s family is being deported back to Jamaica that night unless she can figure out a way to stop it. Daniel is being interviewed for Yale, a school and a career path that his Korean parents have chosen for him. When the two meet, the chemistry is palpable, but the timing is horrible. Daniel decides that he can prove to Natasha that love is real and measurable, but can he do it in time with their deadlines working against them both?

I can see why this book is getting all of the attention and praise that it is. It’s an amazing read, filled with possibility and the sense that the universe may just be on our side sometimes. It’s filled with romance and chemistry. The prose has a lightness that is exceptional, creating space for these two amazing characters to meet, breathe, and tumble head over heels in love with one another.

Meanwhile, it is also a story of New York City. It’s a story of immigration and illegal immigrants, of losing a culture and then losing the dream of America as well. It’s a story of overt racism and the new generation of teens who see beyond that and into hearts. It’s a story of profound loss, of parental betrayal, of hope that manages to rise again and again.

A book perfect for today, this teen novel is a voice of hope despite our challenges and loving through it all. Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from library copy.

Things Too Huge to Fix by Saying Sorry by Susan Vaught

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Things Too Huge to Fix by Saying Sorry by Susan Vaught (InfoSoup)

Dani’s grandmother suffers from Alzheimer’s and is slowly reaching the end of her life cared for by Dani and her parents. So when her grandmother sends Dani on a mission to find a letter and key, Dani isn’t sure that it’s real. She discovers both the letter and key, then has to follow the trail of clues her grandmother left in her writing to discover the truth of a feud that her grandmother had with Avadelle Richardson, a novelist who wrote about a riot that happened at Ole Miss. It’s a riot that both Dani’s grandmother and Avadelle actually were caught up in. As Dani gets closer to the end of the trail, she finds more and more secrets and history and modern life begin to collide.

Vaught has written a taut novel that takes readers on a journey through Civil Rights history in Mississippi. Told through the eyes of Dani, the book is accessible to modern children and shows that racism is far from over. With our recent election, it is also a timely book that speaks to the deep-seated racism still at work in our country today. Vaught uses excerpts from Avadelle’s fictitious novel to show the historical context that the riot took place in. It does show how far we have come, but also speaks to how far we have to go.

The complex friendships of middle grade children are captured here, with Dani and her best-friend Indri sharing the adventure while her “not-friend” Mac, grandson of Avadelle continues to also be a part of it though at times the two are not speaking, just like their grandmothers. This modern division is a clever way to show how friendships change, shift and fall apart, something that mirrors what is seen in the novel and in the grandparents’ relationship.

A rich look at Civil Rights, racism and the decisions too big to be unmade, this novel is a timely look at today and our shared past. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.

 

March: Book 3 by John Lewis

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March: Book 3 by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell (InfoSoup)

This is the final book in this amazing graphic novel trilogy. Congressman John Lewis concludes his story of the Civil Rights marches, providing real context to the Black Lives Matter movement of today. This book begins with the bombing of the church in Birmingham, Alabama that killed four young girls. It shows the fight for the ability to vote in Alabama for African Americans who were forced to take tests or just ignored as they tried to register to vote. The book culminates with the march in Selma and the violence that accompanied it and most importantly the changes it created.

I can’t say enough good things about this series. It brings critical Civil Rights history directly to teens in a format that is engaging. There is no way to turn away from the violence of the response of those in power as blood flows in the images on the pages. It makes it all the more powerful that the marches stayed nonviolent and focused on pacifism. Lewis himself voices again and again how much pressure there was at times in the movement to react more violently and how that was managed by himself and others. It is a testament to people willing to put their own bodies and lives at risk for progress.

The illustrations are riveting. Done in black and white, they effectively play darkness and light against one another, adding to the drama of the situations they depict. At times they are haunting and blaze with tragedy. The opening scenes of the Birmingham church are filled with tension and sadness that make it difficult to turn the pages and witness what happens.

These are the books our teens need right now. Every public library should have this series, no matter what races are represented in your community. This is our shared history and one that we cannot deny or turn away from. Appropriate for ages 12-15.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

 

Unbound by Ann E. Burg

Unbound by Ann E Burg

Unbound by Ann E. Burg (InfoSoup)

This novel-in-verse tells the story of Grace, a girl living as a slave on a plantation. Grace is selected to start work in the Big House, leaving her mother, stepfather and two little brothers behind. Grace is warned by everyone that she has to keep her eyes down and her opinions to herself, not even allowing them to show on her face or in her eyes. But Grace realizes that things are very unfair on the plantation where some people work in the fields from dawn to dusk and white people aren’t even expected to dress themselves. Grace finds it impossible to keep these thoughts deep inside her, and puts her family at risk. So they all flee to try to find freedom, heading deep into the Great Dismal Swamp where the men and dogs hunting them can’t track them.

The author of All the Broken Pieces returns with another verse novel just as stunning as her previous ones. Here she shares a piece of history that many don’t know about, slaves who found freedom by living deep in the Great Dismal Swamp in Virginia and North Carolina. The entire book is fraught with dangers from whippings and punishments as a slave to the dangers of reaching possible freedom to the real dangers of the swamp itself.

Told in verse, the poems are in Grace’s voice and it rings with authenticity but also a righteous anger at what is being done to people because of the color of their skin. Readers hearing Grace’s voice will understand her situation and spirit on a deep level. That is the power of poetry, to cut past exposition right to the heart of the person speaking. Burg does this with a simplicity that adds to that power, cutting right through to the core.

Beautifully written, this powerful story tells of the importance of freedom for all people. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic.