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.

The Next President by Kate Messner

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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

Kent State by Deborah Wiles

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

The Secret Garden of George Washington Carver by Gene Barretta

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.

Mother Jones and Her Army of Mill Children by Jonah Winter

Mother Jones and Her Army of Mill Children by Jonah Winter

Mother Jones and Her Army of Mill Children by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter (9780449812914)

Mother Jones is mad. She is furious at the treatment of children who work in the mills for a paltry 2 cents an hour to help keep their families from ruin. She saw the issue first hand and called the newspapers. But the newspapers are owned by wealthy men who were friends with the owners of the mills. So Mother Jones came up with a plan to create a protest march from Philadelphia to New York City. The march started on July 7, 1903. They got a lot of media attention, and Mother Jones changed her plan and decided to march to Washington, D.C. Mother Jones presented her arguments in every town and then the children put on a play. It took them fourteen days to reach New York City and six more to reach D.C. They didn’t get to see the President, but the march did its job anyway and laws changed to forbid child labor in the United States. 

Winter tells the complex story of Mother Jones and her fight to stop child labor in the United States. By focusing on the march itself, the picture book stays sharp and fast paced. He uses quotes from Mother Jones in the text as well as on the endpapers which really capture the spirit of Mother Jones and her willingness to fight for others. 

The illustrations center on Mother Jones in her black and white outfit standing out against a pastel world that is almost foggy in its softness. This works very well for this subject, showing the impact of a person willing to make sacrifices and stand up to demand change.

A dynamic look at the unique historical figure of Mother Jones and her continued impact on our world. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Schwartz & Wade.

Lizzie Demands a Seat: Elizabeth Jennings Fights for Streetcar Rights by Beth Anderson

Lizzie Demands a Seat Elizabeth Jennings Fights for Streetcar Rights by Beth Anderson

Lizzie Demands a Seat: Elizabeth Jennings Fights for Streetcar Rights by Beth Anderson, illustrated by E. B. Lewis (9781629799391)

In 1854, Lizzie Jennings boarded a streetcar in New York City. In that time, there was segregation on public transportation which was a custom not a law. Certain cars were marked for “colored people” and others were for white people who could allow people of color to ride, or not. So Lizzie didn’t know if she would be allowed to ride the car she boarded. No passengers disputed her right to ride, but the conductor did. He forced her off the car and when she argued and boarded again, the police were called. Lizzie was educated as a teacher and her family had fought for their civil rights, so she decided to fight back in court and sued the streetcar company. She even had a white passenger who offered to be a witness to the way she was treated that day. In the end, Jennings won a landmark case for civil rights in public transportation. It didn’t fix every streetcar in New York right away, but led to other people fighting for their rights to ride too. 

Anderson takes one of the first legal victories against segregation and creates a dynamic look at a critical moment in our national history. This little-known event, particularly compared to Rosa Parks, helps set the stage for the civil rights movement that followed. Lizzie also breaks stereotypes of African Americans on her time period with her level of education and wealth. 

The illustrations are done in watercolor with amazing backgrounds that illuminate the scenes with their inspiring colors. Lizzie and her battle are surrounded by swirls of peach, lavenders, pinks and blues with her at the center, calm and composed. 

A stirring picture book that captures early civil rights efforts. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: A Place to Land by Barry Wittenstein

A Place to Land by Barry Wittenstein

A Place to Land by Barry Wittenstein, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney (9780823443314)

This book focuses on Martin Luther King, Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech but in a fresh and unique way. It looks at the difficulty of writing such an important speech to be delivered before such a huge crowd. It offers glimpses of King working with a group of advisors and speech writers to come up with the right approach. Then King heads off with only one other person and works all night on his speech. He stands in front of America and gives the speech of his life, the entire thing not coming together and offering him a place to land until he is encouraged to talk about the dream and he leaves his carefully written speech behind and flies.

Written almost as a poem, this picture book offers a look at how the historic speech came to be. It shows the night before the speech in 1963, the early morning hours of writing, and finally the afternoon before of still sculpting the words, the rhythms and the rhymes. And then, powerfully, it shows leaving that carefully written script behind and following the pastors of his family into glory.

Pinkney’s illustrations are so personal and filled with strength. Readers can look into the weary eyes of King as he continues to draft the speech despite not sleeping the night before. They can see the diverse crowd gathered in Washington, D.C. and almost hear the noise of it. They can certainly hear the echoes of King’s voice emerge from the images on the page as his voice soars.

Superb both in writing and illustration, this is one for every library. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Some Places More Than Others by Renee Watson

Some Places More Than Others by Renee Watson

Some Places More Than Others by Renee Watson (9781681191089)

When a project about family is assigned at school, Amara realizes that there is a lot she doesn’t know about her own family. Her mothers’ parents are both dead and she had no siblings, but her father’s side lives across the country in Harlem. Amara asks if she could travel to Harlem to see her grandfather whom she only knows from phone calls and cards, since her father often goes there on business. Her parents refuse for some time, then agree to allow her to go. It will be the first time in twelve years that her father sees his own father. Now it is Amara’s job to complete her school assignment by interviewing family members, explore New York City and also bring her family back together, all in a single week!

Newbery Honor winner, Watson brings her considerable writing skill to a fractured family. She captures how forgiveness is difficult even though love is still there and allows the connection between father and son to organically rebuild. All of this is seen through Amara’s eyes as she discovers that her family is different than she realized and that her father has a surprising history she knew nothing about.

Setting is so important in this novel with Harlem and New York City becoming characters in Amara’s story. Many important places in African-American history are explored including the Apollo Theater and the Schomburg Center. Murals and sculptures that feature African-American figures in history are also featured in the story. Readers will want to explore these streets themselves.

A warm and rich exploration of complicated family relationships and love. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Bloomsbury.