This picture book celebrates the life of Pura Belpré, librarian and storyteller. From a young age, Pura loved stories, particularly those that her Abuela told her. As an adult she moved from Puerto Rico to New York, where she first dreams of being a librarian. Soon Pura is hired at the library and works as the storyteller. But she is bound by rules such as only sharing stories written in books. But the stories she grew up hearing were not written down in English. Pura shows the how storytelling can be more than is in books, and gets permission to tell her stories in her own way. Pura also finds ways to bring in children who had not been coming into the library, children who spoke different languages and were new to America. Finally, Pura manages to put her stories into a book, one that reminds her of the taste of home.
Through lyrical prose, this picture book shows the power of stories as they cross borders. It also shows the impact of one woman, determined not to lose her stories and how she changed public libraries and their services to children permanently. It is beautiful to see a biography for young children that captures the elements of Pura’s stories and her own personality of determination but also one of joy and playfulness.
The illustrations are filled with that spirit of play. They capture the spark of storytelling, the dance of movement, and the wonder of children entering the library for the first time. Done in the colors of citrus, papaya, guava and mango, they suit Pura’s stories and herself.
An inspiring biography of the librarian who changed the rules for generations to come. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from copy provided by Abrams Books for Young Readers.
Told in a series of meals and food, this is the story of how she rose to become a great Japanese-American chef. Starting with growing up in LA to parents who came from Japan, eating American food with a Japanese influence. Niki wanted to do her own thing, deciding not to go into the family seafood warehouse business and showing her family that she could be as successful as her older brother was expected to be. After high school, she traveled to Japan and discovered the art and flow of the kaiseki feast, a series of dishes that told a story. She went to culinary school, worked as the lone woman in a sushi restaurant, and then went on to learn kaiseki, even though no women did that either. Niki returned to LA to open a restaurant, first serving sushi to prove to her family she could do it, and then finally, opening the kaiseki restaurant she always wanted.
Using the food itself to form the structure for this picture book biography makes for a delicious journey through Nakayama’s life. Her family may not have believed in her, but Nakayama had enough determination and resilience herself to make it. Powered by her love of food and its ability to bring people together, her story shows how small steps in a journey can become destinations and life callings.
The illustrations are bright and full of foodie warmth. They focus on Nakayama herself both with her family and on her journeys. The food is central too, dishes that are colorful, steaming, luscious. Using clever frames of restaurant doorways, prep counters and plates, the illustrations always come back to Nakayama and her food.
A brilliant look at an inspiring figure in food who did it her own way. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Farrar Straus Giroux.
As a child, Kitty O’Neil loved to go fast. She loved running, riding on the lawn mower with her father, and swimming and diving. Though she lost her hearing due to a childhood fever, it never slowed Kitty down. Kitty grew up to be a stuntwoman in movies. She also set records as the fastest water skier and boat racer. Then Kitty set her sights on being the fastest driver. Her car was called the Motivator and it was rocket powered, capable of going over 300 mph, if Kitty could steer it at that speed. The woman’s land speed record at the time was 308 mph. Kitty went 618 mph! She became an American hero in the 1970’s even having an action figure made in her likeness. Kitty continued to be a champion of children with disabilities and held records in an incredible range of sports.
Robbins’ book about Kitty O’Neil is just as fast paced as her records. His writing is brisk, opening the book with Kitty in her rocket car and closing the book with her record drive. This frames the story very successfully, as young readers will want to know what happens on that historic drive. Robbins also captures the breathlessness of the countdowns, the danger of the drive, and Kitty’s own fearlessness. It’s a marvelous rocket read of a book just right for the subject.
The art, done in pencil, watercolor, acrylic and digital, get readers right into the cockpit with O’Neil. They capture her joy at going fast and breaking records. With bright colors, they also show the dynamic moments of the countdowns, the acceleration, the determination and the eventual win.
A wild ride of book about a deaf woman driver who became a hero. Appropriate for ages 4-8.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers.
Scott Joplin was a child who loved to listen to the sounds around him rather than using his own voice. He was the son of a man who was once enslaved. Their home was full of music with his father fiddling, his mother playing banjo and singing, and his siblings playing instruments too. Scott played the cornet. To find work, the family moved north to Texarkana where Giles found work laying tracks for the railway. Scott’s mother found work as a housemaid for a wealthy white family who happened to have a piano. When Scott came along to help, he saw the piano and started to play when he had time. Eventually, the Joplin family was able to purchase a piano for Scott and traded housework for lessons. Scott loved learning about the piano and music, but most of all he loved composing his own songs. He played all over town, and eventually made his way north to play in saloons and eventually in Chicago where he heard ragtime for the first time. Scott went to Sedalia, Missouri where he went to college and composed music. He tried to get his songs published and finally found a man willing to take a chance on a Black unknown composer. That’s how “Maple Leaf Rag” became a national sensation.
Constanza’s writing is full of rhythm and talks about music throughout. From his mother singing hymns to his family playing together to learning piano to getting work playing and composing, the entire book dances along to the importance of music in Joplin’s life. The writing also incorporates lots of sounds like the chirping of cicadas, the swish of brooms, the plink of the piano, and the OOM-pah! The writing is full of energy and tells the story of Joplin’s life with style.
The illustrations are bright and full of color and light. They have elements of quilts that fill the ground with patterns. The skies are blue with swirling clouds that dance in the sky. The towns are full of colorful buildings. Everything is inspiration for Joplin’s music, from the trains to the chickens to the flowers to the towns. It all comes together into one warm and bright world.
A jaunty and rhythmic biography of a musical legend. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
It was 1858 and the Thames River in London smelled terrible. The problem was that the river was full of poop. The problem had started in 1500, when the sewers were emptied by men who shoveled them out at night. But the population kept on growing. By 1919, there were many more people in London and flush toilets are growing in popularity, but there is no way to get rid of all of the human feces, so some people connected their homes directly to the sewer, sending it all to the river. Cholera epidemics started killing thousands of people, but cholera is blamed on smelly air rather than polluted water, so they kept happening. In 1856, Bazalgette submits a plan to create large sewer pipes to take the sewage away from the river. His plan is finally approved in 1858 after a very hot summer causes the smell to get even worse.
Told with a merry tone, this book embraces the stink of history and shows how one man can change the lives of so many, rescuing them from disease and death. Paeff packs a lot of history into this picture book, making it all readable and fascinating through her use of historical quotes combined with a focused pared down version of what happened. Her writing is engaging and interesting, offering lots of information without ever overwhelming the story itself.
Carpenter’s art is just as stinky as can be. She captures the sewage entering the Thames, the miasma of stench coming off the river in the heat, and the grossness of dumped chamber pots. Against that unclean setting, a small baby is born and becomes an engineer who creates grand tunnels where the air is clear once again. Add in the macabre face of cholera and you have a book that is hard to look away from.
Fascinating, stinky and delightful. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Margaret K. McElderry Books.
Luz Jiménez was a child of the flower-song people, the Aztecs. She had listened intently to the stories told by the elders about their sacred mountains and streams and also about how the Spaniards had taken their lands away. Luz learned how to do the traditional work of her people, grinding corn on a metate, twisting yarn with her toes, weaving on a loom. She learned about the plants around her and what herbs were medicine. Luz longed to go to school, but it was forbidden for native children. Then the law changed and required schooling in the ways of the Spanish. Luz was a good student and learned much, still keeping the traditional tales alive as she shared them with the other students. At age 13, Luz was forced to flee the Mexican Revolution and live in Mexico City. There Luz became a model for artists, sharing her traditions in paintings and photographs. She longed to be a teacher, but was denied that opportunity. Instead she taught in a different way, through modeling, sharing her tales, and being a living link to the Aztecs.
This beautiful picture book pays homage to Luz Jiménez, a humble woman who became the face of her people. Amescua’s lovely Author’s Note shows the detailed research that went into this biographical picture book. That research is evident in the lovely prose she uses to share Luz’s story with a new generation. Her writing uses metaphors and evocative phrases to really show the impact that Luz’s presence has had as well as her strong connection to her heritage.
Tonatiuh’s art is always exquisite. Done in his own unique style, his illustrations mix modern materials with a folkloric feel. They work particularly well for this subject.
A stellar biographical picture book of a true teacher and heroine. Appropriate for ages 7-10.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Abrams Books for Young Readers.
Corita Kent was a remarkable pop-artist who was also a nun, a teacher and an activist. From a small child, Corita showed kindness and empathy for others and also a love of art and creativity. Her father wanted her to do something original, and Corita certainly did. She surprised her family by becoming a nun, discovering a love of teaching and training new teachers. She joined the art faculty at Immaculate Heart College, where she discovered a love of silkscreen printing. Soon her art was winning competitions. Corita continued to teach classes and make her own art, which spoke to social justice and against poverty and war. She transformed a rather formal celebration into one of bright colors and activity. Not everyone approved of what Corita was doing, and she surprised the people around her once again, asking to be released from her religious vows. She found places for her largest work, painted on a gigantic tank, and her smallest, a rainbow postage stamp.
While Kent may not be a household name, many of us have seen her work on the iconic postage stamp. This picture book embraces her unusual life, celebrating the decisions she made, the art she created and her voice for social change. The book cleverly pulls out elements of how Kent taught and created her art, offering unique perspectives gained by seeing the world in a fresh way. The writing here is engaging and offers a tone of delight as Kent continues to surprise and amaze.
The bright and vibrant art in the book shares elements of Kent’s own work. Her play with lettering and words appear throughout the illustrations of the book, filling tree trunks, coloring margins, and as posters on the walls. The entire book is a delight of collage, typography and riotous color.
A positive and affirming look at an artist who should be better known. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Inspired by the author’s experiences during the Holocaust, this picture book takes a child’s view of the horrors of that time. Hédi grew up in Romania. She loved her dog Bodri, and he loved her most of all. She had a best friend who lived nearby. They had all sorts of things in common, except Hédi was Jewish and her friend went to church. When Adolf Hitler shouted on the radio,Hédi’s parents assured her that he would never come there. But his soldiers did come and Hédi was forbidden to play with her Christian friend. Soon the family was told to pack their belongings. They went to the train station, followed by Bodri, who had to be left behind. Hédi’s parents disappeared in the concentration camps but Hédi and her little sister survived. She went back home and found Bodri still waiting for her.
Fried survived several Nazi labor camps, including Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen. She lives in Sweden and continues to be an expert voice for democracy and anti-racism. This book was inspired by a question she received at one of her presentations about what happened to her dog. The book translates the larger racism and hatred of the Nazis into a personal story of the impact of the Nazis. Fried writes through a child’s eyes, a child watching her parents to gauge what is happening. Using her dog as an anchor as time passes is very moving as he continued his vigil through the seasons.
Wirsen’s art is haunting. There is an ethereal nature to it throughout the book even as the girls play in the park full of pinks and greens. The colors change to more somber as the Nazis arrive. Wirsen uses watercolors and prints to create her images. The juxtaposition of the girls after they are liberated from the camp to before they went in is both startling and heartrending.
A powerful look at the Holocaust through the eyes of a survivor and her dog. Appropriate for ages 7-9.
Reviewed from copy provided by Eerdman’s Books for Young Readers.
Told by Joyce Scott, the twin sister of Judith, this picture book explores the closeness of the sisters as small children until they are separated for years. The two sisters shared everything with one another, playing together all the time. Then Joyce is sent to kindergarten and Judith is left behind. Judith has Down syndrome and has never spoken. Then her parents send Judith to a special school where she will live and learn to talk. They don’t visit for a long time and when they do, the school isn’t like other schools. There is no playground, no desks, no books. As they grow older, Joyce gets married and has children. She continues to think of Judith as being at her side all the time. Eventually, she is able to bring Judith out of the institution and to live with her. Joyce finds Judith an art program to be part of. Judith attends but won’t participate at all. Months go by until her teachers give her some natural materials and fabric. Suddenly, Judith is creating unique pieces of sculpture and is celebrated as an artist.
Full of sorrow and loss, this picture book examines the destructive nature of the systematic institutionalization of people with special needs to both the person institutionalized and their loved ones. Having Joyce herself narrate the book is powerful. The beautiful connection the sisters have in their young childhood forms a foundation of connection that allows her to rescue her sister decades later. Even as the book moves to when Judith finds her artistic voice, there is a melancholy to the years lost and the muting of her voice for so long.
Sweet’s illustrations are incredible and moving. She incorporates collage and also builds sculptures to pay homage to Scott’s work. Built with string, textiles, wire and wood, there is a celebratory nature to them of an art newly found. In other moments, Sweet captures wistfulness, longing and connection with light, shadow and color.
An extraordinary look at an artist who was almost lost. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Alfred A. Knopf.