This picture book looks at the Black Lives Matter movement and explains it to young children in a way they can understand. Using rhythm, repetition and rhyme, the picture book is engaging while explaining larger societal issues. The book focuses on concepts that include respect, fear, remembrance, freedom and being enough. The book directly speaks to the Black child, explaining the vitality and importance of the protests and incorporating the protests into a message of self-worth, joy and music.
Clark’s writing is masterful. She uses rhythm and rhyme so successfully here, moving the words like jazz music or the tempo of drums. She uses rhythm to have her words become protest chants and then transforming anger into sorrow, remembrance and tears into power. She shows how all of the emotions, negative and positive, can be used as a demand for change.
The illustrations are large, colorful and bold. They move from a family with a new baby and the warm reds and yellows of their home to starry nights of protest done in deep blues to the poison green of the trouble that comes. She incorporates stained-glass windows into several of the images, showing the timelessness and importance of the demand for racial justice.
An importance picture book for public library collections. Appropriate for ages 3-6.
America is our country, but does it love everyone? Does it love people of different colors from the outside in? Does it love us no matter what language we speak? Does it love our various histories, from all over the world and across the nation? Does it love the way we worship? Does it love the sound of our voices, when we whisper and when we shout? Does it love children who stand up and stand out? What will it take for our nation to love all of us equally?
Voiced in the first person, this picture book takes an interesting approach to racism and bias in America. It shows how our nation itself doesn’t love equally. The words may be simple, but they are profound and deep as well. They point out how children of color must change themselves to fit in, not call attention to themselves. It firmly places the responsibility on our nation itself, rather than on the children to change. The text is laced with Creole and Spanish, showing exactly how language itself can be a barrier and an opportunity.
The illustrations are powerful, beginning with the American flag with the Pledge of Allegiance on it. The illustrations are painted using a color palette of gray, red, white and blue that sings at times of power and patriotism while other times the shadows gather using mostly gray.
A call for change around racism and bias in our nation. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Greenwillow Books.
This picture book biography of the great Nelson Mandela explores his adult life as first an attorney and then a prisoner and then president. Mandela defended people against the unjust White laws of apartheid that drove dark-skinned South Africans into impoverished communities and took away their rights. He joined the African National Congress, helping draft their Freedom Charter. Mandela was a leader in the fight for justice, soon arrested as an activist, tried and sent to Robben Island. Mandela was placed in a small, cold cell and separated from those he loved, allowed just one visitor in his first year and only two letters sent and received. But Mandela and others created ways to communicate and continue to learn. He saw ways to open the hearts of the guards in the prison, learning about their history as well as his own. Along the way, they gained more freedoms in the prison, eventually getting released as international pressure mounted. Mandela was elected President and formed a new multiracial government with new freedoms for everyone.
McDivitt shares in her Author’s Note that she was born in South Africa as a white person. Her background gives her an interesting lens of understanding from which to write a biography of Nelson Mandela. She does so with a real depth, allowing Mandela’s decades in prison to form a lot of the book and also focusing on the injustice of apartheid and its ramifications on its victims. Throughout her prose, she uses vivid imagery from South Africa that help readers better understand the impact and power of Mandela.
Palmer’s art beautifully captures Mandela throughout his adult life. From the days in prison to connecting with fellow prisoners and guards to eventually donning his signature vibrant tunics as President. The illustrations show the injustice of apartheid, the horrors of the prison, and the rise of Mandela as a world leader.
An important look at Mandela’s life and work. Appropriate for ages 7-10.
This picture book biography tells the life story of the first Black justice on the Supreme Court. It begins with Marshall changing his first name in second grade from Thoroughgood. From a child, Marshall knew that there were things that needed to change in the world around him, including segregation. Marshall discovered a love of the law and of debate in school, before heading to Lincoln University for college. He wanted to attend law school at the University of Maryland, but they did not admit Black students, so he attended Howard University, another Black college. As a young lawyer, Marshall won a case to allow a Black student to attend the University of Maryland. He worked on all sorts of civil rights cases with his most famous being arguing before the Supreme Court against school segregation and winning. He argued seven cases before the Supreme Court in his career, winning new rights for Black people along the way. Marshall was asked by JFK to become a judge and was himself sworn in as a member of the Supreme Court in 1967.
Magoon has created a focused and interesting biography for young readers in this nonfiction picture book. She takes a man of many accomplishments and highlights those of the most importance. By starting in his early years, she shows how a passion at a young age can become a career and a way to make a difference in our world. Her writing is insightful and fast moving, taking us through his career and personal life without her pace dragging at all.
Freeman’s illustrations focus on Marshall and the people around him. Even on the pages focused on his education, Marshall stays right in the center of the images rather than the university buildings. This focus on Marshall as a person centers the book visually, matching the text. The captures famous faces beyond Marshall’s in a recognizable yet simple way.
A resounding success of a biography. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Northbound by Michael S. Bandy and Eric Stein, illustrated by James E. Ransome (9780763696504)
Michael has always stopped work to watch the trains go by the farm he lives on with his grandparents in Alabama. Then one day he gets his dream and takes a train trip north with his grandmother to Ohio to visit cousins. Though Michael has caught sight of a boy his age on the train, he isn’t allowed to go into the car where the boy is riding, because it’s closed to Black people. As the train leaves Atlanta, the “Whites Only” sign on the door is taken down and now Michael is allowed to enter the car. The two boys quickly start to play together and explore the train. They discover they have all sorts of things in common. But when the train reaches Chattanooga, Tennessee, Michael has to return to his own car and the sign goes up again. Luckily, his new friend knows it is fair and shares a final drawing of all people riding in the same train car together.
In a book that starts with the wonder of trains and the joy of a train ride, this picture book shows the impact of arbitrary race laws throughout the United States in the early 1960s. While consistent racism in Alabama is an everyday occurrence for Michael, it is the on-again, off-again rules that will catch readers’ attention as well as that of the train passengers. It clearly demonstrates the differences in the way racism impacts lives in different parts of our country, speaking clearly to today’s issues as well as that of our past.
The art by Ransome is a grand mix of train travel with tunnels, bridges and cities together with a diverse group of passengers and staff on the train. There is a sense of frustration and limits in the illustrations with the closed doors and signs that is replaced with a joyous freedom as the two boys explore the train together.
A critical look at our shared civil rights history and a call for us to do better. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Offer even the smallest children a look at Black history in the United States with this alphabet book. Told in rhyming stanzas, this picture book invites exploration beyond its covers. It begins with A is for anthem, a call for voices to rise in song and to call for freedom. B is for beautiful, with that and other letters, the book speaks to the importance of not listening to voices that put you down. B is also for bright, bold, brave, brotherhood and believing. That use of multiple words continues through the book, offering a feeling that there is so much to say with each letter, so much to do, so much left to accomplish together.
This alphabet book is several things at once. It’s a call to action for people of all ages to vote, to protest, to be heard. It is also a look at history, so there are letters that focus on artists, writers, teachers, scientists, and more. It is also a statement for self-esteem for Black children, to see themselves as valued, beautiful and able to bring change. It’s a book about how much has been accomplished, but also how much is yet to be done. The end of the book is filled with additional information on the people depicted under each letter as well as resources for further exploration.
The art is filled with bright colors. The images are flat, hearkening back to folk art even as it looks forward to the future and change happening. The art is filled with Black people, unknown and famous, full of urban setting and farms, protest signs and portaits.
A colorful and optimistic look at Black history and a call for Black lives to matter in the future. Appropriate for ages 3-7.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Workman Publishing
This picture book tells Black and brown children that they matter. They were dreamed of by their ancestors. Stars sprayed the sky on the day they were born. Their first steps matter, their first words, and the first time a book opened as a mirror for them to see themselves. The book speaks to how at times you may question your place in the world, like when people laugh at your name or when you see the news about racial injustice and Black people being killed. But that does not change the power and beauty within you that comes from the sun, oceans, mountains and stars. Because not only do Black Lives Matter, but each Black and brown child does too.
This one is on lots of Best of the Year lists for 2020, and yet it somehow snuck right past me. The words by Charles are incredibly powerful, tying children of color directly to their ancestors, to the stars in the sky, to the social justice movements happening right now. Charles doesn’t dip into history, instead staying current and calling out the existing injustices and how they impact children. This book grounds children, showing they matter and that Black people matter, period.
Collier’s illustrations are phenomenal. He mixes paintings with collage to create images that are alight with hope and possibility. He weaves Black hands, Black faces together into one image after another that is arresting and visually stunning. These are powerful images to match the text, insisting on being seen.
One of the best of the year. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
This novel offers first-person monologues from three generations of a Black family from Mississippi. They are a sharecropper family, caught in the aftermath of slavery and the cycle of poverty that resulted. Starting in 1927, Loretta tells the story of growing up picking cotton on land her family did not own. Her loving father died from exposure to the pesticides they sprayed in the fields. He gave her sapphire socks made with his own hands and she placed her other most valuable possession inside them, a marble that glowed like the sun. Loretta found Roly left outside as an infant. He grew into a boy who had a way with plants and animals. When the family got their own plot of land, they were attacked at night by someone who brutalized their animals, killing most of them, and poisoned their land. Roly slept out in the fields, hoping to draw the poison out and return the land to fertility. Then he caught the eye of Tess, a girl who he eventually married and had a daughter with. Aggie was that daughter, a girl who would not back down, much as her father would not make a hasty decision. Aggie fought for the right to vote even when she was not old enough to. She and Loretta worked together to pass the racist voting test and then to pay the toll tax. Beaten by police, Aggie finds comfort in the sapphire socks and the glow of the marble passed down to her. Just like the others in her family, she never stopped and never gave up.
Told in three distinct voices that speak directly to the reader, this novel takes a direct look at the systemic racism that has created such privilege for some and injustice for others. The use of monologues is brilliant, as the voices come through to the reader with real clarity, each speaking from their personal experience and from history. There is a sense of theater to the entire novel, helped by the introduction to each chapter that give stage directions and offers a visualization of how this would appear on stage. Often these are haunting images, transformative and full of magical realism.
The three characters are marvelously individual, each with their own approach to life, each facing daunting challenges and each ready to take those on, though in their own way. It is telling that as each new generation entered to become the new main narrator, I felt a sense of loss as the other moved off stage, since each was such a compelling character and each had more to share. I was pleased to see they stayed as part of one another’s stories all the way to the end of the novel.
Incredible writing, important civil right history, and a brilliant cast of characters make this novel glow. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
At age six, Ruby Bridges was the first Black child to attend an all-white elementary school in New Orleans. She had to be escorted to school by federal marshals, leading to iconic photographs of her small size and the screaming, threatening crowds. In this book for children, Bridges tells the story of her harrowing time attending school, how she was taught in a classroom all by herself with a teacher who made her feel safe and loved, and how it felt to be that little girl. Filled with historical photographs, the book shows and explains the battle for desegregation across the country and also the modern fights for equity, inclusion and antiracism.
This is one of those books that gives chills. It is a profoundly moving read as Bridges shares photos that demonstrate the intensity of the battle, the danger she was in, and the bravery that it took her and her family to take such a public stand for change. As Bridges moves into talking about modern youth and their battles, she maintains the same tone, challenging all of us to join us in the fight for civil rights and social justice.
The photographs and the iconic Norman Rockwell picture add a deep resonance to this book, taking Bridges’ beautifully written words and elevating them. The photo selection is done for the most impact, at times mixing modern and historical photographs together to show how little has changed but also how important the fight is.
One of the most important books of the year, this brings history and future together in one cry for justice. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Random House Children’s Books.