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.

The Boy Whose Head Was Filled with Stars: A Life of Edwin Hubble by Isabelle Marinov

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The Boy Whose Head Was Filled with Stars: A Life of Edwin Hubble by Isabelle Marinov, illustrated by Deborah Marcero (9781592703173)

Born in the late 1800s, Edwin loved the stars from a young age. At eight, he was given a telescope by his grandfather, and they headed into the Missouri night to see the stars up close. Edwin was a good student who loved math and learning about the universe, but his father wanted him to do something else with his life. So Edwin studied law before becoming a high school teacher. It wasn’t until after his father’s death that Edwin felt he could study astronomy. His first job was at Mount Wilson Observatory, the world’s largest telescope. There, he spent years studying the Andromeda nebula, eventually proving that it was a separate galaxy. Edwin continued to classify and learn more about galaxies, discovering that they move away from each other and that the further away they are, the faster they move. Eventually, the Hubble Telescope was launched, named after this man who studied the stars and increased our understanding of the universe.

In her debut picture book, Marinov shows real skill in taking a lifetime of accomplishments and making them accessible for young readers. She writes with a tone that shares the facts of Hubble’s life but also shares his personality, his wonder at the universe and the hard work and resilience it took for him to make his discoveries. As Hubble and others ask big questions about the universe, these statements are done in a silver print that elevates them and will have the reader marveling along.

The illustrations are done in a whimsical style that uses fine ink lines to share small details of large telescopes and landscapes. Using the darkest of black ink, Marcero illuminates her pages with stars that sweep across the paper. One gatefold opens to reveal a series of nebulae to wonder at.

A strong and interesting look at one of the most famous astronomers. Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from copy provided by Enchanted Lion.

Try It!: How Frieda Caplan Changed the Way We Eat by Mara Rockliff

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Try It!: How Frieda Caplan Changed the Way We Eat by Mara Rockliff, illustrated by Giselle Potter (9781534460072)

When Frieda Caplan started working at the Seventh Street produce market in Los Angeles, there were only potatoes, bananas, tomatoes and apples for sale. Caplan thought it might be work giving something new a try. So she started selling mushrooms. Soon she was known as the Mushroom Queen and had her own stall at the market. She became known as a person who would taste anything and started selling kiwis, jicama, blood oranges, Asian pears and much more. Over the years she introduced consumers to many new things, including seedless watermelons in 1962, horned melon in 1984, and fresh lychee in 2015. Caplan’s daughters now work with her in her produce stall, introducing finds of their own and offering their unique and informed view of what the next big thing might be.

Rockliff offers a dynamic look at the woman who changed how America eats fruits and vegetables. Her fearless approach to trying new things combined with a deep instinct about what will work for the market. Beautifully, the book focuses on Caplan herself but also richly shows the things that she introduced to American stores. Readers are sure to find new fruits and vegetables on the pages here, and perhaps be brave enough to try then when they make their way to supermarkets across the country.

Potter’s illustrations are richly colored and warm. They show Caplan in the 1950s when she started and then steadily move forward in time, nicely showing the time period through the clothing of the people. The fruits and vegetables are rainbow bright and nicely labeled with their name and the year that Caplan discovered them for the U.S. market.

Bright, intelligent and full of juicy details. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy provided by Simon & Schuster.

Nicky & Vera: A Quiet Hero of the Holocaust and the Children He Rescued by Peter Sís

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Nicky & Vera: A Quiet Hero of the Holocaust and the Children He Rescued by Peter Sís (9781324015741)

As Czechoslovakia is taken over by the Nazis in 1938, one quiet man stepped forward and saved almost 700 children. At age 29, Nicky was invited to visit Prague while on a ski trip. At the same time, Vera was growing up outside of Prague, happily adopting stray cats. They were one of the only Jewish families in the town, but that didn’t matter in their lives. The in October the German army marched into Czechoslovakia and Vera’s parents learned of a British man who was saving children. That man was Nicky. Understanding that he could do something, he worked in Prague making lists of children and finding train connections. When he returned to London, he found foster families for the children and acquire visas and tickets with his own money, sometimes needing to create his own stamps. Vera left home with 76 other children on a train. In total, 669 children reached London safely. No one heard of Nicky’s quiet work until his wife found the records. Then Nicky’s work was revealed to everyone on a popular TV show, and his life is still celebrated.

Sís has created a haunting yet also celebratory nonfiction picture book that describes the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia through a child’s eyes and also offers the lens of a man who realizes the potential human disaster about to occur and does something to rescue the children. The tension between the two is beautifully done, creating a deep understanding of what was at stake and the speed at which something needed to happen. The book is one that will make you actually cry, particularly towards the end when the survivors are there to thank Nicky for what he did for them. Crushingly moving.

As always Sís’s art is entirely its own style. He offers overhead maps of Vera’s small town and her life. He also shares maps of Europe and whimsical images that are almost folkloric in their storytelling. It’s a lovely mix of story, truth and heroism.

Truly remarkable, this is a picture book to read with tissues nearby. Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Norton Young Readers.

Hans Christian Andersen by Heinz Janisch

Hans Christian Andersen: The Journey of His Life by Heinz Janisch, illustrated by Maja Kastelic (9780735843882)

A little girl takes a coach ride with Hans Christian Andersen. As they head to Copenhagen, the author answers her questions and then tells her a fairy tale. It’s the story of a boy who learned to fly, the story of his own life. Born on a Danish island, Hans’ father was a cobbler who mended shoes. In the evening though, he would read to Hans from a big book of fairy tales. He also built Hans a puppet theater and performed shows for his son. Then Hans’ father was sent to war and returned tired and sick. He died when Hans was eleven. As Hans grew up, he was inspired to try to join the theater as an actor but his voice broke at age fifteen and he had to find a different way. Hans truly loved writing and was sent to school tuition free. Now Hans was on his way, a boy who grew up to be famous by sharing parts of himself in his fairy tales.

First published in Switzerland, this translated version is a rich look at a famous author who has captivated children for generations. Framing his life with questions from a small child is a clever device to allow the character to answer questions about his life and his stories. Allowing Andersen to tell his own life story as a fairy tale is also a believable format that invites readers to really get immersed in the life of this amazing figure in literature.

The illustrations by Kastelic are dreamy watercolors that move from realistic colors on the carriage ride to sepia tones as Andersen tells his personal story. They really burst from the page though when Andersen talks of his fairy tales, becoming rich and vibrant, the colors fantastical and wild. These changes beautifully show just as the story does, the power of story.

A superb picture book biography. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by NorthSouth.

Respect: Aretha Franklin, The Queen of Soul by Carole Boston Weatherford

Respect Aretha Franklin The Queen of Soul by Carole Boston Weatherford

Respect: Aretha Franklin, The Queen of Soul by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Frank Morrison (9781534452282)

Told in a similar format to her signature song R-E-S-P-E-C-T, each double-page spread explores another important word in Franklin’s life. The book begins with her family’s move to Detroit and Aretha being raised in the middle of gospel and church. She is incredibly gifted musically, cutting her first gospel record at age 14. She becomes an R&B superstar, rising to the tops of the charts. She supports the civil rights movement with her voice, offering free concerts. She is there to sing President Obama into office. The book ends with plenty of RESPECT for all she has accomplished.

Weatherford’s clever use of single words, spelled out like the song, really forms a strong structure for this picture book. She keeps the book tightly focused and her words to a minimum, allowing the pace of Franklin’s own life and fame to propel the book forward.

The illustrations are gorgeous, the paintings singing with pinks and golds. Morrison uses interesting perspectives in his images, allowing Aretha to be the center of each, showing her changing style and the beauty of her powerful voice.

A fitting tribute for a queen. Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Atheneum 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.

Cubs in the Tub by Candace Fleming

Cubs in the Tub by Candace Fleming

Cubs in the Tub: The True Story of the Bronx Zoo’s First Woman Zookeeper by Candace Fleming, illustrated by Julie Downing (9780823443185)

Fred and Helen wanted a baby and planned for one, but never got one. So when Fred, a zookeeper, brought home a tiny lion cub, Helen’s supplies came in very handy. She had bottles to let him slurp, blankets to wrap him warm, supplies to wash him, and a crib for him to sleep in. But when the lion was two months old, he got sent to a zoo in another city. Helen packed up the baby items and spent lonely days with no baby to care for until the three tiger cubs arrived. With feedings every three hours, the cubs grew quickly and soon were causing mischief. Finally, they returned to the zoo at three months old, but this time Helen would not be left behind. Soon Helen found herself an empty storehouse that she turned into a nursery for baby animals, becoming the first woman zookeeper!

Fleming tells a wistful and factual story here, allowing the more remarkable elements to be wondered at by readers. It is amazing that Helen was not only willing to take in these little creatures but also very skilled at it. Many of us can care for human children, but ones with sharp teeth and claws would be daunting. Fleming simply appreciates the dedication, skill and tenacity of this woman, shining a spotlight on someone who was inventing it all as she went along.

Downing’s illustrations are soaked in the time period of the 1940’s by showing cars, fashion and home decor. The book wisely uses panels to show the different moments of caring for the animals, distress at their leaving, and planning to create something new. The panels break up the text for young readers and also give a jaunty comic vibe.

An engaging look at a remarkable woman with a knack for caring for little wild creatures. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Holiday House.

 

When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed

When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed

When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed (9780525553908)

This graphic novel memoir takes readers directly into the heart of a huge Kenyan refugee camp and the life of one boy who lived there. Omar and his brother Hassan lost their parents in Somalia when their village was attacked. Omar still hopes to find his mother, who was separated from them in the chaos. The brothers live together in their own hut in the camp and are watched over by their guardian who lives next door. When Omar has a chance to go to school, he must make the gut-wrenching decision of whether to leave Hassan, who doesn’t speak, behind. Their time in the camp is spent waiting, waiting for a UN interview, waiting to see if they can finally be moved to another country, waiting for water, waiting for food. It is also a time filled with doubts and hope, requiring true resilience for Omar to see a way forward.

It’s always a delight to see a new graphic novel by Jamieson, author of the Newbery Honor book Roller Girl. It’s all the more impressive to see her take on the challenge of a more serious topic and to do it as a biographical piece, telling the true story of Omar Mohamed and his time in the refugee camp. Jameison crafts the story in a way that truly reveals the plight of those in the camp, the horrors of what they experienced in the past, and the dullness of the routine days. She fills the pages with Omar’s deep caring and worry for his brother, his only remaining family member, and the reality of his sole responsibility to not only keep him safe but offer him a future.

As always with Jamieson, the art is wonderful. In particular, she offers glimpses of the beauty of the night sky in the camp and the warmth of the community of people who have been thrown together by tragedy. It is marvelous that Mohamed worked with her to tell a true story of the camps, that truth resonates on the page, lifting this new work to a different level.

Human, tragic and empowering, this book gives a human face to the many refugees in our world. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from purchased copy.