Legacy: Women Poets of the Harlem Renaissance by Nikki Grimes

Cover image for Legacy

Legacy: Women Poets of the Harlem Renaissance by Nikki Grimes (9781681199443)

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.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Bloomsbury.

The ABCs of Black History by Rio Cortez

Cover image of The ABCs of Black History

The ABCs of Black History by Rio Cortez, illustrated by Lauren Semmer (9781523507498)

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 Is Your Time by Ruby Bridges

Cover image for This Is Your Time

This Is Your Time by Ruby Bridges (9780593378526)

At age six, Ruby Bridges was the first Black child to attend an all-white elementary school in New Orleans. She had to be escorted to school by federal marshals, leading to iconic photographs of her small size and the screaming, threatening crowds. In this book for children, Bridges tells the story of her harrowing time attending school, how she was taught in a classroom all by herself with a teacher who made her feel safe and loved, and how it felt to be that little girl. Filled with historical photographs, the book shows and explains the battle for desegregation across the country and also the modern fights for equity, inclusion and antiracism.

This is one of those books that gives chills. It is a profoundly moving read as Bridges shares photos that demonstrate the intensity of the battle, the danger she was in, and the bravery that it took her and her family to take such a public stand for change. As Bridges moves into talking about modern youth and their battles, she maintains the same tone, challenging all of us to join us in the fight for civil rights and social justice.

The photographs and the iconic Norman Rockwell picture add a deep resonance to this book, taking Bridges’ beautifully written words and elevating them. The photo selection is done for the most impact, at times mixing modern and historical photographs together to show how little has changed but also how important the fight is.

One of the most important books of the year, this brings history and future together in one cry for justice. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Random House Children’s Books.

We Are Not Free by Traci Chee

We Are Not Free by Traci Chee

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

Dark Was the Night by Gary Golio

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

If You Want a Friend in Washington by Erin McGill

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

Hello, Neighbor The Kind and Caring World of Mister Rogers by Matthew Cordell

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

Oil by Jonah Winter

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

Box Henry Brown Makes Himself to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford

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.