I Is for Immigrants by Selina Alko

Cover image for I Is for Immigrants.

I Is for Immigrants by Selina Alko (9781250237866)

This alphabet book is a celebration of diversity and the immigrants who come to America. The book is a series of double-page illustrations that include words that match each of the letters. For example, A is ancestors, abuelita, African dance, ambition, art and aspire. F contains flags, food trucks, fish & chips, falafel, frankfurters, families, friends, freedom, a father with a fez, fields and flea markets. The book is joyful and moves effortlessly between cultures, often showing the connections between them and also the unique elements they have brought to our country.

The illustrations are paintings that appear to include collage elements as well. They use a variety of fonts to share the various words for each letter, allowing the words and the images to swirl together into a beautiful mix. So much food is celebrated here that your mouth will be watering by the end for samosas, sushi, spices and more on just one page!

Joyous and inclusive, this is a beautiful alphabet book celebrating the best of America. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Henry Holt & Co.

America My Love, America My Heart by Daria Peoples-Riley

Cover image for America My Love, America My Heart.

America My Love, America My Heart by Daria Peoples-Riley (9780062993298)

America is our country, but does it love everyone? Does it love people of different colors from the outside in? Does it love us no matter what language we speak? Does it love our various histories, from all over the world and across the nation? Does it love the way we worship? Does it love the sound of our voices, when we whisper and when we shout? Does it love children who stand up and stand out? What will it take for our nation to love all of us equally?

Voiced in the first person, this picture book takes an interesting approach to racism and bias in America. It shows how our nation itself doesn’t love equally. The words may be simple, but they are profound and deep as well. They point out how children of color must change themselves to fit in, not call attention to themselves. It firmly places the responsibility on our nation itself, rather than on the children to change. The text is laced with Creole and Spanish, showing exactly how language itself can be a barrier and an opportunity.

The illustrations are powerful, beginning with the American flag with the Pledge of Allegiance on it. The illustrations are painted using a color palette of gray, red, white and blue that sings at times of power and patriotism while other times the shadows gather using mostly gray.

A call for change around racism and bias in our nation. Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Greenwillow Books.

Blue Sky, White Stars by Sarvinder Naberhaus

Blue Sky, White Stars by Sarvinder Naberhaus

Blue Sky, White Stars by Sarvinder Naberhaus, illustrated by Kadir Nelson (9780803737006, Amazon)

Very simple patriotic text allows the illustrations by Nelson to shine on the page. The text moves from describing the nation and its flag to the various natural beauties of its land. The people of the nation come next. A well-worn face of Lincoln next to the well-worn flag that is tattered. People march on the streets, other attend a baseball game and still others are the face of America on its porches. Faces of all colors and creeds fill the pages until they return to the flag, our shared purpose and freedom itself.

This is one of the most patriotic picture books I have ever seen. The words are so simple and yet speak so profoundly of all that the United States holds dear. The illustrations for these words are truly exceptional. Each page is a wonder, and turning the pages is like visiting a gallery of Nelson’s work. They are filled with the faces of America, symbols of our nation, and the beauty of the land.

Awe inspiring, patriotic and grand, this picture book is superb. Appropriate for ages 3-7.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: West of the Moon by Margi Preus

west of the moon

West of the Moon by Margi Preus

Astri lives with her stepmother, stepsisters and younger sister until she is sold to the cruel goat farmer.  He takes her to his home, refuses to ever let her bathe, has her do drudge work, and doesn’t let her ever return to see her sister.  Then Astri discovers another girl kept locked in a storage shed, who spins wool into yarn all day long.  Astri escapes the goat farmer, taking his book of spells and his troll treasure.  She heads off with the other girl to find her younger sister and then all three flee, heading to find their father in America.  But it is a long trip to get to the sea and an even longer trip from Norway to America.  Along the way, the goatman continues to pursue them, they meet both friendly faces and cruel, and the story dances along the well-traveled roads of folk tales.  Astri slowly pieces together her own story and then resolutely builds herself a new one with her sister by her side.

An incredible weaving of the gold of folktales with the wool of everyday life, this book is completely riveting.  Preus has created a story where there are complicated villains, where dreams are folktales and folktales build dreams, where girls have power and courage, and where both evil and kindness come in many forms.  It is a book that is worth lingering over, a place worth staying in from awhile, and a book that you never want to end.

Astri is a superb character.  Armed with no education but plenty of guts and decisiveness, she fights back against those who would keep her down and separate her from her sister.  As the story progresses and she escapes, she becomes all the more daring and free spirited.  Her transformation is both breathtaking and honest.  One roots for Astri throughout the story, fights alongside her and like Astri wills things to happen. 

A wondrously successful and magical story that is interwoven with folktales, this book is a delight.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC received from Amulet Books.

Review: Seed by Seed by Esme Raji Codell

seed by seed

Seed by Seed: The Legend and Legacy of John “Appleseed” Chapman by Esme Raji Codell, illustrated by Lynne Rae Perkins

Two modern children are transported back in time from the busy highways filled with cars to the quiet woods of the late 1700s.  From there, the story of Johnny Appleseed, really named John Chapman, is told.  The differences between the world back then and our modern world are explored.  Then the way of life that Johnny Appleseed embraced that of using what you have, respecting nature, sharing, making peace, and reaching your destination in small steps is tied back to how important those things are still for us today.  His planting of seeds changed the landscape of our country.  The book ends asking what seed you will plant.

Codell writes with a wonderful lyricism paired with a directness.  It makes for a book that is straight-forward but also written with care to create a specific mood.  Chapman’s story is filled with legend, especially in his relationship with nature and animals.  While some of it may be tall tales, it contributes to the wonder that surrounds this man.  Codell made a choice to have some of that in her book and it works very well, distinctly noted as legend rather than fact.

Perkins’ illustrations vary from page to page.  Most of the art is done in watercolor and gouache, creating bright colored images that embrace the natural and feel clear and crisp.  Other pages incorporate burlap bags and needlework.  It’s a clever use of materials of the period that really add another dimension to the illustrations.

A beautiful look at a man who stand for much of what we are seeking in modern society.  This book reaches beyond the legend and finds the real Johnny Appleseed.  Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: The Quite Contrary Man by Patricia Rusch Hyatt

quite contrary man

The Quite Contrary Man: A True American Tale by Patricia Rusch Hyatt, illustrated by Kathryn Brown

In 19th-century New England when people lived and dressed plainly, Joseph Palmer most certainly did not.  It was his beard that made him different, since all the other men were clean shaven.  But Joseph did not just have a normal beard, his was huge, long and wide.  His neighbors were scandalized and tried to shame him into shaving, eventually trying to shave him by force.  His attackers headed to court before Joseph could get there and claimed that he had attacked them.  The judge fined him $10, but Joseph refused to pay it.  So he was jailed for a full year.  The rule in the jail was that prisoners had to be clean shaven, and you can guess how that went with Joseph.  As the tale twists and turns, readers will be in turns inspired by Joseph Palmer’s strength of conviction and appalled by the system that persecuted him.

Hyatt has found a true story that really speaks to what being an American means, down to the most basic rights of deciding how you appear.  While modern children may be shocked by the fact that beards were scandalous, this is a great book to start discussions about what sorts of things are taboo today that may also not make any sense.  Hyatt’s writing is engaging and rollicking.  The spirit of the book matches Palmer’s own strength and humor.

Brown’s illustrations are done in fine lines and soft colors.  They depict the glory of Palmer’s beard with enthusiasm.  On alternate pages, she creates a rustic frame from illustrations of branches tied together with vines, which adds to the feeling of the book being set in an earlier time.

An American hero, Joseph Palmer’s is an inspiring story of a regular man who stood up for his rights.  He would also make an intriguing hero to discuss in units.  Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from library copy.

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Of Thee I Sing: Obama’s Picture Book

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Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters by Barack Obama, illustrated by Loren Long

I was very leery of this book, because in my experience politicians and celebrities rank about equal for successful children’s book writing.  In other words, odds are good that it will be bad.  But I am so glad that I did eventually pick this one up and give it a try.  President Obama has written a letter to his daughters that asks a question like “Have I told you that you are creative?” He then offers an example of a famous American who exemplifies that character trait, summing them up in a few lines.  This is a celebration of what makes America great, but also what makes for a great person.  It is a celebration of all we hope our children will become.

President Obama’s words read like verse here.  The structure is a strong one with a question, a person as an example, and words that sum that person up simply and powerfully.  One of the pleasures of the book is that when you read it, you hear the President’s voice in your head, because the cadence matches the way that he speaks so closely.  Thanks to this, the book reads aloud beautifully.

Long’s illustrations feature the two Obama girls and their dog.  Then, as each famous American is mentioned, a child appears who is like that great person.  So a girl with paintbrushes and palette is there when Georgia O’Keeffe is featured.  A boy with a baseball bat, glove and ball is there when Jackie Robinson is given as an example of bravery.  And they join the group, so that by the end there is a crowd of diverse children listening to the book along with you.   Long’s style changes when he depicts the famous Americans.  Where the children are lighthearted and full of whimsy, there is a more serious feel to the great Americans. 

A beauty of a book no matter who the author is, this book is one to be appreciated by all Americans no matter their politics.  This will make a great holiday gift this year.  Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from copy received from Random House.

Please read Debbie Reese’s reaction to the Sitting Bull image on her blog, American Indians in Children’s Literature.  I respect her opinion immensely.

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Amazing Faces

Amazing Faces, poems selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins, illustrated by Chris Soentpiet

This book is a great collection of poems that really reflect diversity and America.  Diversity in race as well as the range of emotions in human experience, both are on display in this collection.  The collection moves gracefully from one poem to the next, each fitting next to the other to make a cohesive whole.  This is helped by Soentpiet’s art which celebrates emotions, humanity and community in the faces he depicts.

Hopkins has created a collection that really meshes well.  Each poem and poet has a distinct voice and point of view.  The differences are celebrated here, the poems just as diverse as the world they share.  The first poem, Amazing Face by Rebecca Kai Dotlich, welcomes readers with open arms into the collection.  It is closed just as effectively with a Langston Hughes poem, My People

Soentpiet’s art captures moments in the world that we all want to grasp and hold onto a bit longer before they pass.  There is the smile of a baby, the power of a storyteller, the evening sky, and that moment that loneliness disappears.  All are illustrated with great detail, making those moments ever so real.

Highly recommended, this collection of poetry will help you celebrate what America is all about: the diversity of its people.  Appropriate for ages 5-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Lee & Low Books.