Jump at the Sun: The True Life of Unstoppable Storycatcher Zora Neale Hurston by Alicia D. Williams

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Jump at the Sun: The True Life of Unstoppable Storycatcher Zora Neale Hurston by Alicia D. Williams, illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara (9781534419131)

As a little girl growing up in Eatonville, Zora loved to listen to stories. She listened to stories of Brer Rabbit and Brer Fox at the general store. Zora told her own stories too, to anyone who would listen. But her father didn’t approve of her storytelling, since he considered it telling lies. Her mother though, didn’t want her children growing up to till the land, so she encourage Zora to “jump at de sun.” When Zora’s mother died, she was sent to the Florida Baptist Academy boarding school. Zora loved the books there, but soon her school fees were not paid and she had to leave. She didn’t stay long with her family, quickly moving out and finding work though she kept getting fired or quitting. She only loved the times when she could spin stories. Zora decided to return to high school and graduate, so she lied about her age of 26, claiming she was 16. After graduating, she headed to Howard University and decided to become an author, writing her stories of Eatonville. So she moved to New York and eventually sent out some of her stories to a magazine contest. Zora made another leap after she got attention from winning the contest and got a scholarship to another college where she was assigned to collect Negro folklore, something she had been doing since she was a child!

Williams writes Hurston’s biography with such energy and appreciation. She takes the statement Hurston’s mother made and turns it not only into the title of the book but also into a sentiment woven throughout the entire story, showing the connection between Hurston’s success, her talent and her willingness to make leaps of faith to new opportunities. There is bravery and resilience on these pages, shining in the sunlight as Hurston takes risks in the most inspiring ways.

The illustrations are marvelously colorful, filling the pages with Eatonville, various colleges and the dynamic feel of New York City. All of the pages are full-page art, taking the color right to the edge of the page, glowing with streaming sunlight, peach, green, blue and reds.

A shining leap of a picture book biography that suits its subject perfectly. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum.

Have I Ever Told You Black Lives Matter by Shani Mahiri King

Have I Ever Told You Black Lives Matter by Shani Mahiri King, illustrated by Bobby C. Martin, Jr. (9780884488897)

King explains fiercely and openly that Black lives matter, and that they always have mattered. He pulls examples from history, filling the pages with lists of names and accomplishments. There are political figures, artists, musicians, athletes and many more. He reminds readers that Black lives died for our country’s independence. He shares quotes from great Black minds, like Malcolm X, W. E. B. Dubois, and James Baldwin. He uses the refrain of “Have I ever told you…” to open another list of names, share another chapter of history, and demonstrate again and again and again that Black lives are valuable, they matter, and they matter to us all.

The design of this book is almost in two separate pieces. The first part matches the cover art, using gorgeous bold text design to share the words of empowerment that fill the book, that share examples of Black figures, their words and their impact on the world. The book also has silhouettes of some of the people, shadowed in vibrant color. Then the book turns to facts about each of the Black people who are mentioned in the first part of the book. These pages turn a cool blue, sharing details of their lives, quotes from each of them, and offering a glimpse into their greatness.

A dynamic and insistent book that affirms just how much Black lives matter. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy provided by Tilbury House Publishers.

Runaway: The Daring Escape of Ona Judge by Ray Anthony Shepard

Runaway: The Daring Escape of Ona Judge by Ray Anthony Shepard, illustrated by Keith Mallett (9780374307042)

Ona Judge was a slave in the household of George and Martha Washington. While Washington worked to free the fledgling union from the British, he depending upon slaves in his household. Ona began working in slavery for Martha Washington at age 10, often playing with their grandchildren and sometimes being mistaken for one of them. The book explores the posh lifestyle that Ona lived amongst and yet was not truly part of. She was treated well, but still enslaved. When she was given to one of the granddaughters, Ona decided to escape. She chose the difficult life of a fugitive slave over than of the slavery.

Shepard uses a particularly successful structure in this picture book. He frames Ona’s story by asking repeatedly why she ran? He points out the opulence she lived in and the remarkable moments in history she saw. Shepard thoroughly explains exactly why Ona escaped, showing her being taken from her mother at a young age, being treated as more of a pet than a person, and being given to the haughty granddaughter. The structure leads to the clear answers of why she needed to escape.

Mallett’s illustrations beautifully evoke the historical period. They are filled with carriages, women’s clothing, fire places and some images of famous historical figures. It is Ona though who glows on the page, her face always lit from within and filled with the potential of freedom.

A picture book that brings the shamefulness of slavery forward, showing that everyone needs to be free. Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre by Carole Boston Weatherford

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Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Floyd Cooper (9781541581203)

This nonfiction picture book offers a gripping look at one of the worst racial violence incidents in American history. In Tulsa, Oklahoma, a community called Greenwood was formed by Black people descended from Black Indians, former slaves, and those fleeing the racism of the segregated South. Along a one-mile stretch of Greenwood Avenue, over 200 Black business started, becoming known as Black Wall Street. But there were people in Tulsa who were not alright with the growth of Black wealth. In 1921, those tensions turned into action when a white teen accused a Black young man of assault. A standoff at the jail resulted in the deaths of two Black men and ten white men. The white mob stormed Greenwood, burning it to the ground. 300 Black people were killed, hundreds more injured and more than 8,000 were left homeless. The survivors were moved into camps and eventually rebuilt, but never spoke of the massacre. Today, the truth is being spoken of and addressed through reconciliation efforts.

Weatherford does an incredible job telling this terrible truth, showing the beauty and potential of the Black community in Tulsa and then sharing its eventual destruction at the hands of a mob. Weatherford has family ties to other race massacres in the United States, which led to her this, the worst incident. Her author’s note shares some photographs and more of the history. Weatherford’s initial focus on the community built in Tulsa, makes the the burning of the area all the more impactful for the reader. The tragedy’s magnitude is carefully shown in numbers and continued impact.

Cooper’s illustrations are incredible. Cooper’s grandfather grew up in Greenwood, a history that he rarely spoke about. Cooper captures the promise of Greenwood with its libraries, churches, doctor’s offices and more. He shows the hotel, the bustling streets, the children playing safely in the neighborhood. He gives history faces that look right at the reader, demanding that they see what happened.

Tragic, powerful and insistent that change happen. Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Carolrhoda Books.

21 New and Upcoming #OwnVoices Books to Celebrate Black History and Black Lives

The Awakening of Malcolm X by Ilyasah Shabazz and Tiffany D. Jackson

Chlorine Sky by Mahogany L. Browne

Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas

The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna

Happily Ever Afters by Elise Bryant

Highest Tribute: Thurgood Marshall’s Life, Leadership and Legacy by Kekla Magoon, illustrated by Laura Freeman

J. D. and the Great Barber Battle by J. Dillard

Jump at the Sun: The True Life Tale of Unstoppable Storycatcher Zora Neale Hurston by Alicia D. Williams, illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara

The Life I’m In by Sharon G. Flake

Like Home by Louisa Onome

Love Is a Revolution by Renee Watson

One of the Good Ones by Martiza Moulite

Root Magic by Eden Royce

Runaway: The Daring Escape of Ona Judge by Ray Anthony Shepard, illustrated by Keith Mallett

Separate No More: Brown v. Board of Education and the Fight for Equality in School by Lawrence Goldstone

Stella’s Stellar Hair by Yesenia Moises

Take Back the Block by Chrystal D. Giles

Time for Kenny by Brian Pinkney

Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Floyd Cooper

We Wait for the Sun by Katie McCabe

When You Look Like Us by Pamela Harris

Legacy: Women Poets of the Harlem Renaissance by Nikki Grimes

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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

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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

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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.