Tag: African-Americans

The Legendary Miss Lena Horne by Carole Boston Weatherford

The Legendary Miss Lena Horne by Carole Boston Weatherford

The Legendary Miss Lena Horne by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon (9781481468244, Amazon, GoodReads)

Born into a family of educators and activists, Lena Horne grew to be an African-American star and civil rights activist. As a child, Lena’s parents dreamed of making it big. Her father was a street hustler and her mother was an actress. As a small child, she was left with her grandmother in Brooklyn while her parents sought their fortune. From her grandmother, Lena learned about the value of education, good manners, and black pride. But soon Lena’s mother returned and took Lena on the road with her. During the Great Depression, her mother decided to put Lena on stage. Lena soon outshone her mother, becoming the first African-American actress to get a studio contract. She eventually also found her voice in the civil rights movement.

Weatherford shows Horne as a small child torn between the dreams of her grandmother and her mother. Then in the middle of the book, a transformation happens and Lena takes to the stage, becoming a star. The book beautifully weaves together the two dreams of grandmother and mother, showing how Horne’s life honors them both and how her career evolved to become large enough to encompass everyone’s wishes. Weatherford uses text carefully and deftly, making sure that the book remains readable by younger readers. There is a feeling of verse to her prose that invites readers in.

Zunon’s illustrations are done in oil paint and cut paper collage. The paper collage adds patterns and texture to the images. The paintings provide the people, expressions, and emotions. They show Horne growing and changing, transforming before the reader’s eyes into a star.

This is a gorgeous picture book biography honoring a woman who broke new ground in civil rights using her career and her voice. Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

Stone Mirrors by Jeannine Atkins

Stone Mirrors by Jeannine Atkins

Stone Mirrors: The Sculpture and Silence of Edmonia Lewis by Jeannine Atkins (9781481459051)

Edmonia Lewis was the first professional African-American sculptor. She lived and worked in the period right after the Civil War. This verse novel takes the little information known about Edmonia and fills in the gaps with what may have happened. Edmonia attended Oberlin College, one of the first colleges to accept women and people of color. Half Objibwe and half African-American, Edmonia struggles to find her place at Oberlin. When she is accused by other students of poisoning and theft she is forced to leave college despite being acquitted of all charges. The book follows Edmonia as she moves to Boston and eventually Italy, becoming a successful sculptor.

This is an exceptional verse novel. Each poem reads like a stand-alone poem and yet also fits into Edmonia’s complete story. Atkins uses rich and detailed language to convey the historical times right after the Civil War to the reader. She also works to share the real soul of Edmonia herself on the page, a girl who has given up the freedom of life with the Ojibwe to study art at a prestigious college only to have it all fall apart again and again. It is a lesson in resilience and the power of art that Edmonia continues to strive to become the artist she truly is despite all of the odds.

This book reads like a series of stunning pieces of art, strung together into a larger display. The use of language is so beautifully done, carefully crafted with skill and depth. Atkins uses the few details of Edmonia’s life to craft a real person of flesh, bone and dreams on the page. Throughout the book, care is taken that no one forget the historical times the book takes place during and their impact on Edmonia as a person of color.

Timely and simply amazing, this verse novel is uplifting and deeply moving. Appropriate for ages 13-16.

Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (9780062498533)

This teen novel has more buzz than any I’ve ever seen. Happily, it is all entirely justified and I’ll join the crowd in singing its praises and looking forward to the upcoming film!

Starr is sixteen and witnessed a friend killed in a drive-by shooting when she was a child. Now she finds herself witnessing another killing, this time another friend who is shot in the back by a police officer during a traffic stop. Starr already lives in two worlds, the poor neighborhood where her family lives and her father has a store and the private prep school she attends in the suburbs. Now she must walk an ever more razorsharp edge, figuring out the dangers of the truth and the equally harsh dangers of staying silent.

Thomas takes on racism in modern America head on and without flinching. She paints a picture of poor African-American communities that looks beyond the poverty into the heart of the community itself. Still, this is not a picket fence world but one that is complex, riddled with gang activity, but still has a heart and a culture that sings. Thomas also shows the choices that African Americans must make in staying in a crime-filled community to help or moving away for safety of their children. It is not simple, nothing in this novel is, thank goodness.

The characters are incredibly rich and complicated as well. Starr is a wonderful heroine, grappling with grief, the situation of being a witness, and the knowledge that even telling the truth may not make a difference. She is wise, young, hopeful and jaded all at once. She is a face for what is happening in this country and a way that white teens can understand the issues and black teens can see themselves portrayed beautifully in a novel.

I must also mention the incredible African-American fathers shown in the book. Yes, there are men who are awful here too. But Maverick is a complicated father with high expectations for his children who cheated on Starr’s mother and also did jail time for his gang activity. That doesn’t mean he isn’t there for his family or loves them any less. Again, it’s complicated. Add to that Uncle Carlos who is a police officer and who stepped in to help raise Starr when Maverick was in jail. He is a crucial character to the story, and also a critical figure in Starr’s upbringing and her strength.

This debut novel is breathtakingly honest, searingly angry and exactly what we need right now. I can’t wait to see what this author does next! Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from library copy.

Martin’s Dream Day by Kitty Kelley

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Martin’s Dream Day by Kitty Kelley, photographs by Stanley Tretick (9781481467667)

This nonfiction picture book uses photographs by legendary White House photographer Tretick to show the story of Martin Luther King, Jr’s historic speech for civil rights. There is an appropriate reverential tone about the day as a whole, the size of the crowds and the speech itself. The book also shows the struggles that led up to the protest, the barriers that stood in the way of racial equality, and the people who stood up for change. While the focus is Martin Luther King Jr., there is also a strong acknowledgement for all of those who fought for civil rights in the United States.

Kelley’s text is straight forward and captures the importance of the day with a laser-like focus. She does use terms and words one rarely sees in picture books and ones that children may need explained to them. Still, this is a picture book probably best shared with an adult who can offer even more of a historical and modern context for the event and the day.

The photographs are simply incredible. It is amazing that one photographer was able to capture so many of them with the density of the crowds and the heat. They tell the story though images, speaking across time. The clothing styles may be vintage but the struggle mirrors that of today, something made all the more evident by the quality of the photographs that capture that same passion and engagement.

A strong piece of nonfiction for children who are living in today’s political environment with other marches surrounding them. Appropriate for ages 7-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

 

Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson

piecing-me-together-by-renee-watson

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

strange-fruit-by-gary-golio

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.