We Are Not Free by Traci Chee (9780358131434)
Brace yourself for this teen novel that brings you along with fourteen teens who are taken into the Japanese detention camps in the United States during World War II. The teenagers have all grown up together in Japantown in San Francisco. But when Pearl Harbor is bombed, their lives are destroyed when their families are relocated to the detention camps. Told in each of their voices, the story revolves around their daily lives in the camp, the intolerable racism and injustice that they face, and how they navigate still being Americans.
Chee moves from her successful fantasy trilogy to this incredibly impactful story of a group of friends who are taken from their lives. Her writing is exceptional, moving from straightforward storytelling to passages that sing with poetic touches to direct verse. All of it screams of the injustice, demanding that people see what actually happened in the camps and the impossible decisions faced by the Japanese Americans who were held there. She also very successfully moves to the battlefields of World War II, breaking lives and hearts.
Fourteen voices are a lot to manage as an author, but Chee does it with such a deep understanding of each character that readers can simply allow the characters to flow around them at first. By the end of the book, readers will have connected with each of the characters both from their own perspectives and from the adjoining stories of the other characters that include them as well. It is deftly done, capturing readers into this powerful story and making it impossible to look away or deny.
Incredibly eloquent and compelling, this historical fiction for teens is one that can’t be missed. Appropriate for ages 13-17.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by HMH Books for Young Readers.
Dark Was the Night by Gary Golio, illustrated by E. B. Lewis (9781524738884)
This nonfiction picture book is about the life and music career of Blind Willie Johnson. The book begins with the fact that Willie Johnson’s music was sent into space on Voyager I in 1977. The year then turns to Johnson’s birth in 1897. Johnson was a musician from a young age when he could still see, losing his sight around age eight. Music continued for him in church choir and changing gospel songs to the blues. Grown up, Johnson traveled Texas by train, performing on the street corner and in churches. Eventually, a man from a record label heard him and his first record sold thousands of copies. Time passed and one of those songs launched into the darkness of space.
Golio keeps his text tight and brief, giving young readers plenty of opportunity to witness the remarkable gift of music that took a man from being a blind child to making a record that made history. Written in the second person speaking directly to Johnson, the book has the feel of a gift laid before him as well as being a reminder to young people of what hard work and skill can create in your life.
Lewis’ illustrations are remarkable. Done in watercolor they are filled with light, yellows glowing, stars shining, and hope emerging on each page. There are several great images of Johnson in the book, playing is guitar in each.
Make sure to listen to “Dark Was the Night” while reading this with children. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Nancy Paulsen Books.
If You Want a Friend in Washington by Erin McGill (9780593122693)
Based on the famous quote from President Truman, this nonfiction picture book explores the many different pets that presidents have had over the years. The book begins with dogs and cats, though some cats were of the more exotic type like tiger cubs! Horses were also popular, but barnyard pets didn’t stop there with some presidents having goats, sheep, roosters and cows, including Miss Wayne who grazed on the White House lawn and had her milk stolen. The pets just kept getting larger though with bear cubs, elephants, hippos, a wallaby and alligators! Some presidents had birds, though Jackson’s parrot swore a lot. Some had quite small pets like guinea pigs or even silkworms. Almost all presidents had some sort of pet, though Jackson found his friendly mice waiting for him while he faced impeachment.
Fast-paced and funny, this picture book is a wry look at presidential pets. The book first groups types of pets together then offers interesting anecdotes about a few of the pets in that grouping. Readers get the tales of Lincoln’s, FDR’s, George H.W. Bush’s, Obama’s and Truman’s dogs, for example. The stories throughout the book celebrate the president’s connection to these animals and how they found solace in their time together.
The art is marvelously silly, using cut paper drawings against pops of color or line drawings on white backgrounds. The spread of all of the dogs alone is an impressive two pages of quite small pooches, each labeled with their name. The illustrations have a peppy merriness to them that invites readers in and sets a jolly tone.
Humorous and historical, this glimpse of president’s best friend is a treat. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Schwartz & Wade.
Hello, Neighbor! The Kind and Caring World of Mister Rogers by Matthew Cordell (9780823446186)
Journey into the gentle world of Fred Rogers and the neighborhood and community he created on his iconic television show for children. Children are immediately shown the sets for the TV show and then carried back to Fred’s childhood playing the piano and making puppets. When he first saw television, Fred realized that an opportunity was being wasted and that this new media could be a tool for education. He began to work in television as well as studying about children and their needs. His television show launched in 1968 and quickly became embraced by children and families. His show broke many barriers, speaking to children with respect, broaching difficult subjects, and offering real diversity and inclusion in his neighborhood.
There are several picture book about Mister Rogers out this year, but this is the only authorized one. It is also the only one created by Caldecott Medalist Cordell who beautifully captures the spirit of Mister Rogers on the page. From his way of looking directly into the camera and right to the child in the room to his songs, his puppets and much more. Just as with Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, Cordell’s entire book has a gentle nature to it, offering a place to find safety and acceptance.
Given his skill as an illustrator, it should be no surprise that Cordell’s illustrations are well done. Here they invite readers behind the scenes of creating a TV show. They also capture the lyrics of songs sung on every episode by Mister Rogers. Glimpses of important shows are offered throughout, something that will offer a little thrill to fans of the series.
Gentle, lovely and pure Mister Rogers. Appropriate for ages 3-6.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Neal Porter Books.
Oil by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Jeanette Winter (9781534430778)
This nonfiction picture book offer a devastating look at the oil spill caused by the Exxon Valdez. The book begins with the Trans-Alaska Pipeway that carries oil to the ocean. It’s surrounded by wilderness and the animals who live there. The oil is then transferred to ships, and one of the those ships had an accident in the clear water when it ran aground on a reef. From there, the oil spreads, turning the water and waves black, covering the rocks on the shore. Hurting the wildlife who call the place home. People try to help, but even thirty years later so many things are different, changes caused by the destruction of an ecosystem and environment.
The Winter mother-son duo have crafted yet another compelling picture book about a complex nonfiction topic. Jonah’s text uses powerful repeating choruses of “oil” that is almost like a drum beat of emphasis. He uses other techniques of repetition and design that speed or slow the reading of the text very effectively. The book is a mixture of tragedy and a call to action.
Jeanette’s illustrations are in her signature simple style. They work particularly well here to emphasize the impact of the oil spill, steadily covering the pages with seeping blackness. Some pages are left without words, just allowing the reader to soak in the horror of what is happening.
Powerful and tragic, this picture book is an important addition for libraries. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Reviewed from copy provided by Beach Lane Books.
Box: Henry Brown Mails Himself to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Michele Wood (9780763691561)
Told in brief poems, this nonfiction picture book explores a daring escape to freedom in the face of loss and brutality. Born in 1815, Henry Brown was born into slavery in Richmond, Virginia. He worked from the time he was a small child, passed from one generation of his owners to the next. Despite a series of promises by various owners, Henry Brown’s family is sold away from him multiple times, even when he paid money to keep them near. Hearing of the Underground Railroad, he decides to make a dangerous escape to the North, mailing himself in a wooden box.
Weatherford builds box after box in her poetry where each six-lined poem represents the number of sides of Henry Brown’s box. Each of the poems also shows the structure of oppression and the trap that slavery sets for those caught within it. Still, at times her voice soars into hope, still within the limits she has created but unable to be bound.
Wood’s illustrations are incredibly powerful, a great match to the words. She has used a color palette representative of the time period, creating her art in mixed media. The images are deeply textured, moving through a variety of emotions as the book continues. The portraiture is intensely done, each character looking right at the reader as if pleading to be seen.
Two Coretta Scott King winners collaborate to create this powerful book about courage, resilience and freedom. Appropriate for ages 7-10.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Candlewick.
The Next President by Kate Messner, illustrated by Adam Rex (9781452174884)
This remarkable book takes presidential history and makes it both an exploration throughout time as well as an invitation to see oneself as a potential president. The book begins with George Washington as president and points out that when he was president there were nine future presidents alive with four of them already working at the capital with Washington. Readers will see presidents as children, teens and adults. They will watch them progress to being president, seeing the similarities and differences among the men who have been president. Yet most important of all is that they themselves might just be the future president who is currently alive.
Messner’s text is marvelous. It appears in bubbles that swirl through the illustrations or short paragraphs, making it bite-sized and inviting for young readers. Moving from one to the next, moves readers to a new president. Each one has interesting facts shared about them as well as glimpses of several of them over the course of their lives before they became president.
Rex’s illustrations are great. He creates recognizable images of past and present presidents as well as younger versions of them that are clearly still them. It’s a wonderful way to view presidents as human and to invite all children to see their own potential to lead.
Inviting, interesting and invigorating. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from copy provided by Chronicle Books.
Kent State by Deborah Wiles (9781338356281)
Two-time National Book Award finalist Wiles takes a deep look at the Kent State shooting in 1970. Using oral histories and articles from the incident, Wiles writes a searing book that looks at the various viewpoints at play in 1970 in Kent, Ohio and the nation. Beginning a few days before the shooting, Wiles sets the stage and captures the tensions between the town, the college, and the National Guard. As the tragedy looms, the horror of the moment grows. Still, when the shooting happens in the book, though one knows what is about to occur, it is written with so much empathy that it is almost like learning about it for the first time.
Brace yourself for this one. Wiles doesn’t pull any punches here. She allows all of the voices to speak, almost a chorus of the times, speaking about the draft, the Vietnam War, the incredible pressures on college students, the attitudes of the town, and the expectations for the National Guard. Her writing is a dramatic mixture of poetic verse, social justice, historical quotes, and passion.
It is great to see Wiles also entwine the voices of Black students into her story. So often forgotten or assumed to be included, they speak with a clarion voice here, insisting on being heard. Even more importantly, their perspective draws a clear line between what happened in history and the shootings of Black Americans happening today.
Incredible writing and strong historical research make this much more than regular historical fiction. Appropriate for ages 13-18.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Scholastic.
The Secret Garden of George Washington Carver by Gene Barretta, illustrated by Frank Morrison (9780062430151)
George Washington Carver grew up to be a famous botanist and inventor. In 1921, he spoke before Congress, talking about how the humble peanut could be used to make so many different products. This famous man’s connection with plants and the earth came from an early age in the form of his own secret garden. Born into slavery in 1864, he was kidnapped as an infant along with his mother. His mother was never found, but George was brought back to slavery. George and his brother grew up on the farm, even after slavery was abolished. Every day, George headed to the woods and the garden he was growing there. He learned all about plants without being mocked or teased, soon helping people in the area with their sick plants. He grew up, got an education, and became an Agriculture professor at Tuskegee Institute He also traveled the United States working directly with farmers to answer their questions and improve their farms.
Barretta’s picture book biography of this famous African-American scientist and genius is fascinating and filled with moments of wonder. The frightening kidnapping in his infancy, his start as a slave and then working on a farm for his previous owners, and his incandescent mind finding a way forward to learn and grow all add up to a remarkable life. The text is engagingly written for a compelling read.
Morrison’s art is phenomenal. The browns of the days of manual labor on the farm contrast with the bright greens, growing shoots, and tall trees of George’s secret garden. The two parts of his life could not appear more different.
A fascinating look at a remarkable man. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from library copy.