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.
Your Name Is a Song by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow (9781943147724)
A little girl tells her mother that she won’t be going back to school because no one could say her name, not even her teacher. So her mother explains that names are actually songs, and offers various examples, each accompanied by phonetic help in pronouncing them. The little girl goes on to explain the bullying behavior of some of the other students, pretending to choke on her name. Her mother explains that some names are not pronounced in the throat, but in the heart. Some of the children at school were scared of her name too, but her mother explains that certain names contain fire because they are so strong. What about the children who said her name was made up? Names come from dreamers who create new names when old ones were stolen, explains her mother. The next day, the little girl heads back to school, ready to sing her name for her teacher and class.
This picture book is completely inspiring, both for children with unique or unusual names but also for teachers and classmates to help lead everyone to inclusion of diversity in their classrooms. I love the help in pronouncing the rainbow of names shared in the story, particularly when that same pronunciation help extends to names that are not unusual such as Benjamin, Olivia and Ms. Anderson. It’s a clever way to show that we all have interesting names and we have learned to pronounce them all.
The illustrations show a diverse class of children in an urban setting as the little girl and her mother walk home together. As her confidence in her name grows, the world around becomes filled with colors, streaks of pinks and golds, clouds of pastel. These same bursts of cloud and fire return when she goes to school, declaring her griot-inspired name for everyone: Kora-Jalimuso.
A book that shows how powerful inclusion is, simply by saying someone’s name with care and conviction. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Innovation Press.
The Voting Booth by Brandy Colbert (9781368053297)
Marva gets how important voting is and how voting has been impacted by racism for decades, so she is up early to make sure she votes before school starts. Duke is up early too, keeping focused on his band’s first paying gig that night and getting his voting done too. But when Duke gets to his polling place, he can’t vote since he isn’t registered there. Marva sees this happen and the two of them go to the voting precinct that Duke should be registered at. But nothing is simple in voting or dating as their lives collide with Marva angry at her white boyfriend for deciding not to vote in the election, Marva’s celebrity cat going missing, and Duke coping with the memories of his dead brother that being with Marva brings up. Still, the two of them are a great team, traveling the city, discovering voter suppression firsthand, and still managing a touch of romance along the way.
Colbert has written a marvelous romantic political novel here. She demonstrates clearly for teen readers that voter suppression in the black community is still active and can impact them as voters at any time. From long lines to closed polls to running out of ballots, each incident underlines how civil rights are being infringed. Wisely Colbert allows that to be significant in the story line but also fills in with an engaging new romance between two people who may approach politics differently but deeply believe in the same things.
The two main characters are completely delightful. Marva is driven and full of passion for fighting back, voting and activism. Duke has lost a brother to gun violence, a brother who was a community activist. Wonderfully, Duke is not dismissive of Marva’s passion, instead he marvels at it, showing his own dedication to voting and also to his music as the day continues. The pair together are magic with their snappy conversation, teasing and humor.
Political and romantic, this book is also a clarion call to vote and get involved. Appropriate for ages 15-19.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Disney-Hyperion.