A Ride to Remember by Sharon Langley and Amy Nathan, illustrated by Floyd Cooper (9781419736858)
Back in the 1960’s, African-Americans were not allowed to enter the Gwynn Oak Amusement Park in Baltimore. They were not allowed to sit on the grass, share treats or ride on the carousel. As the world around them began to change and become less segregated, Gwynn Oak continued its policies. They became the center of protests where hundreds were arrested. A mother and child who were African American and light skinned covertly entered the park and were allowed to enjoy themselves for hours. They shared their story with the press. As the pressure built, the park’s owners agreed to allow everyone into the park and to drop any charges from the protests. The first day the park was open was August 28, 1963. That day, a little girl named Sharon Langley, was the first African-American to ride the carousel with her father holding onto her. A photo of the ride made the papers as did the other major news story of the day, when Martin Luther King, Jr. made his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech. The carousel was moved to Washington, D. C. where Sharon took a ride on the fiftieth anniversary of her first ride in Baltimore.
The authors make a point of framing the tumultuous 1960’s for young readers. They have a child ask questions about why African-Americans were not allowed to enter the park. This is such an important moment in the book, giving modern children a lens into the inherent societal racism of the time, racism that is not erased in our modern society either, of course. They then turn to the protests about the park, showing the bravery of the people who protested, who went to jail, and who insisted on staying overnight to make a point. The body of the book does a great job offering historical perspective as well as details about the protests and efforts to desegregate the park. More information is also shared in the final pages, including more details of the events in the book, a bibliography and a timeline.
Cooper’s art is done with a lush softness to the lines. He used oil erasure on illustration board to capture an almost sepia-toned historical feel. The faces he shows of the people involved are tremendously moving, showing that this was about people insisting on change.
In a single story, children will deeply understand what the civil rights struggle was about. Appropriate for ages 5-9.
Reviewed from copy provided by Abrams.
Clean Getaway by Nic Stone (9781984892973)
In her first middle grade novel, Stone takes readers on a trip across the southern United States in an RV. Scoob’s spring break has been ruined by getting in trouble at school until his grandmother shows up in her new RV and offers to take him on a road trip. The two of them travel together, retracing the trip that Scoob’s grandmother and grandfather took together. The two of them had big plans, but were unable to visit many of the sights because of their interracial relationship, segregation and general prejudice and racism. Scoob has never met his grandfather who died in prison after being convicted of being a jewel thief. On their trip together, Scoob begins to notice that his grandmother’s memory is slipping, that sometimes she doesn’t know who he is, and that she just might be pocketing some gems herself! She is also switching the license plates on the Winnebago and not answering her phone. When Scoob sees himself on the news as being kidnapped, he knows that everything has gone wrong once again in his spring break plans.
Stone’s skill as a writer really shows in this shorter format. She writes with a deep empathy for both grandchild and grandmother, giving them both a real humanity. Her book offers insight into Civil Rights history and looks specifically at racism towards interracial marriages and families. But it is the history of this family itself that makes the book special. Laced with guilt, memories and anger, the story is unique but also universal, though it likely has more sparkle than most family tales.
Stone writes with a great sense of humor as well that will appeal to middle grade readers. There is a little mystery at play too, both about his grandmother’s role in the thefts but also about how Scoob got himself into trouble. The book sets a brisk pace, unlike the Winnebago itself.
A modern look at social justice history, race and families. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy provided by Random House Children’s Books.
Amazons, Abolitionists, and Activists: A Graphic HIstory of Women’s Fight for Their Rights by Mikki Kendall and A. D’Amico (9780399581793)
Take a trip back through women’s history to discover queens, warriors, suffragettes, and much more! This graphic novel is set in the future and has a computer instructor who takes a group of girls back in time to understand the basis of women’s rights around the world. The book starts by looking deep into human history with the Assyrians, Mesopotamians, Eqyptians, Greeks and much more. The book then shows how the rise of the patriarchy eclipsed early women’s rights and replaced it with much more like what we see still today. The book moves forward in time, taking female rulers and warriors from around the world. There is also an exploration of civil rights as well as LGBTQ rights in the book that increases the representation of diverse experiences even farther.
Kendall’s writing could have simply become a lengthy list of women from history, but she weaves a deeper narrative throughout. It also helps that she includes history as far back as she does. The supportive nature of those early societies is likely to surprise modern readers. Kendall works with intentionality to offer as diverse a cross-section of women as she can. They come from all over the world and represent many different countries, continents and races. Even more impressive is the way that Kendall is frank about the shortcomings of many of the women, acknowledging openly their open racism or unwillingness to challenge the status quo for others besides themselves.
The art is great. The number of portraits in the book is daunting in its scope. Those women who are familiar visually are recognizable immediately. The additional information on each woman also offers vibrant images of their lives. The more tragic events are documented in more subtle tones, offering a visual cue that something dire has happened.
A stellar graphic piece of nonfiction. Appropriate for ages 12-15.
Reviewed from library copy.
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.
Thurgood by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Bryan Collier (9781524765347)
From the time he was a small boy, Thurgood Marshall was destined to be a lawyer. He even convinced his parents to have his name legally changed from Thoroughgood to Thurgood at age six. Thurgood faced racism growing up in Baltimore in the 1920’s. He had to attend the overcrowded Colored High School which had no library, gym or cafeteria. His father worked at jobs where he served wealthy white customers, including at a country club that did not allow black people to be members. His father also taught him to debate and argue ideas. When he attended Lincoln University, Thurgood was loud, funny and a great arguer. He went to law school at Howard University where he learned to fight for civil rights in court. His first major legal fight was to force his top pick law school to accept black students. Again and again, Thurgood fought to create laws that focused on equality for all.
A picture book biography that tells the story of the youth and upbringing and early legal cases of the first African American on the Supreme Court, this book really celebrates how he became a weapon for civil rights. Winter makes sure to keep the inherent racism in the society at the forefront, pointing out moments in Thurgood’s life when he was targeted and almost killed. The resilience and determination on display throughout his life is inspiring.
Collier’s art is done in a mix of watercolor and collage. Using patterns and textures, Collier builds entire worlds from paper, from a ruined movie theater to haunting segregated schools. The illustrations are powerful and add much to this story of racism and fighting back.
Strong and compelling, this biography belongs in every library. Appropriate for ages 7-10.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Schwartz & Wade Books.
This Promise of Change: One Girl’s Story in the Fight for School Equality by Jo Ann Allen Boyce and Debbie Levy (9781681198521)
This nonfiction novel in verse tells the story of Jo Ann Allen, one of the twelve African-American students who were among the first in the nation to integrate a segregated high school in the South. The small town of Clinton, Tennessee became one of the first communities to attempt desegregation after the Supreme Court ruling made segregation illegal. A year before the Little Rock 9, this lesser-known group of brave students at first attended their new school without incident but then outside agitators, the KKK and other white supremacists got involved. As the issue grew, simply attending school became too dangerous for the African-American students. When they were escorted by a local white pastor to school, he ended up beaten and almost killed. Jo Ann became a spokesperson for the group of students and for integrating schools in general. Her story is one of resilience and tolerance.
Levy very successfully uses various forms of poetic verse to tell Jo Ann’s story in this book. In her author’s note, she speaks about why verse was the logical choice as it captured the musicality of Jo Ann’s speech. Her skill is evident on the page, capturing both the quiet parts of Jo Ann’s life and the dramatic moments of desegregation including acts of hatred against the students. Jo Ann’s story is told in a way that allows young readers to understand this moment in United States history in a more complete way. The images at the end of the book and additional details shared there add to this as well.
Perhaps most surprising is the fact that these moments have been lost to history and this group of twelve students is not as well-known as the Little Rock 9. At the same time, that is what makes this book all the more compelling to read as their story is more nuanced since the mayor and governor did not defy the Supreme Court’s ruling.
Beautifully written, this heartbreaking and dramatic story of courage in the face of hatred belongs in every library. Appropriate for ages 12-15.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Bloomsbury Children’s Books.
Betty Before X by Ilyasah Shabazz and Renee Watson (9780374306106)
In this second middle grade novel by Shabazz, she this time focuses on her mother, Betty Shabazz, who would one day marry Malcolm X. Set during Betty’s childhood in the 1940s, this book explores Betty’s complicated relationship with the mother she was taken from at a young age. Betty was raised as a small child by an aunt but when the aunt died, Betty is moved from the south to Detroit, where she lives with her mother and her mother’s new family. The book focuses on faith and community activism as Betty learns how to make her way with a mother who doesn’t show love or affection to her at all. As Betty’s connection to the community grows stronger, she finds people who care for her. She eventually joins the Housewives League and fights to support black-owned businesses in Detroit. Even though the novel is about just a few years in her youth, readers will clearly see Betty’s growth from young girl to a civil rights leader.
Shabazz and Watson together have created a book that soars. They firmly anchor Betty’s life in the 1940’s, surrounding them with the music of the time, the societal expectations in that time period, and small touches that make sure readers understand the implications of the time period. They also depict the richness of the African-American community in Detroit, the women who led organizations and endeavors, the strength of friendships that are built together with church and community, and the hope that it created for change.
Throughout the book symbols of oppression continue to remind readers that the 1940s was not a simpler time. A very young Betty witnesses the bodies hanging in trees after a lynching in the south. In Detroit there are riots when an African-American boy is shot in the back by police. These events echo through to the present and the Black Lives Matter movement, showing that while progress has been made there is still much to do.
A strong book that looks with clarity at the making of a civil rights leader. Appropriate for ages 10-13.
Reviewed from copy provided by Farrar Straus Giroux.
The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet by Carmen Agra Deedy, illustrated by Eugene Yelchin (9780545722889, Amazon)
La Paz is a village ringing with sound and singing; it’s noisy and bustling. But sometimes it’s a bit too loud, maybe some quiet would help. So the old mayor is sent away and a new mayor is elected. Don Pepe promises a quieter life, but his rules and laws start to become stifling and soon the village is silent. Then a rooster and his hen and chicks arrive. The rooster greets the day with a song right under the mayor’s window. As the mayor struggles to control one rooster and his singing by taking away more and more of his rights, the village begins to realize what they have given up.
Deedy, a Pura Belpre Honor winner for writing, has written a wonderfully readable tale that offers a folktale feel with a modern sensibility. This is exactly the picture book and fable that is needed in our society right now. It clearly speaks to the power of civil disobedience and the crucial need to even one voice to speak up, singing for themselves and the entire world.
Yelchin’s illustrations are rather zany, using bright colors and zigging lines. The rooster has a gorgeous nobility about him, piercingly straight and colorful on the page. He almost glows. In contrast, Don Pepe is colorless and drab, bringing gray onto the page along with him. His only change is to turn a sickly green as he is stood up to by the rooster.
Strong, vital and important, this picture book is a great pick to read aloud and discuss. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Scholastic.
Martin’s Dream Day by Kitty Kelley, photographs by Stanley Tretick (9781481467667)
This nonfiction picture book uses photographs by legendary White House photographer Tretick to show the story of Martin Luther King, Jr’s historic speech for civil rights. There is an appropriate reverential tone about the day as a whole, the size of the crowds and the speech itself. The book also shows the struggles that led up to the protest, the barriers that stood in the way of racial equality, and the people who stood up for change. While the focus is Martin Luther King Jr., there is also a strong acknowledgement for all of those who fought for civil rights in the United States.
Kelley’s text is straight forward and captures the importance of the day with a laser-like focus. She does use terms and words one rarely sees in picture books and ones that children may need explained to them. Still, this is a picture book probably best shared with an adult who can offer even more of a historical and modern context for the event and the day.
The photographs are simply incredible. It is amazing that one photographer was able to capture so many of them with the density of the crowds and the heat. They tell the story though images, speaking across time. The clothing styles may be vintage but the struggle mirrors that of today, something made all the more evident by the quality of the photographs that capture that same passion and engagement.
A strong piece of nonfiction for children who are living in today’s political environment with other marches surrounding them. Appropriate for ages 7-9.
Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.