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.

A Voice Named Aretha by Katheryn Russell-Brown

A Voice Named Aretha by Katheryn Russell-Brown

A Voice Named Aretha by Katheryn Russell-Brown, illustrated by Laura Freeman (9781681198507)

Explore the life of one of the greatest singers of all time in this picture book biography of Aretha Franklin. Aretha grew up in a family filled with music and talking. She was a shy little girl, but even from a young age had an incredible singing voice. Her parents left one another when she was a child, and she lived with her father. She adored her time with her mother until her mother died when Aretha was 10. She used music to express her feelings, moving to New York City at age 18. It was the turbulent 1960s where clubs and venues were still segregated for the most part. Aretha made sure to not ever be tricked out of being paid as well as paying attention to venues where everyone was allowed. She was popular but all of her albums flopped until she made some of her most iconic songs and became the Queen of Soul.

Told in a warm and welcoming tone of someone sharing the life story of a beloved family member, this picture book biography captures the way so many people feel about Aretha Franklin and her joyous impact in their lives through her music. The text is accessible and shares the hardships of Franklin’s life and career, displaying her resilience in the face of disappointment as well as her savviness about business and civil rights. The digital art in the book is full of bright and deep colors that pop on the white backgrounds.

A grand picture book biography for the Queen of Soul. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Bloomsbury.

Review: Dancing Hands by Margarita Engle

Dancing Hands How Teresa Carreno Played the Piano for President Lincoln by Margarita Engle

Dancing Hands: How Teresa Carreno Played the Piano for President Lincoln by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Rafael Lopez (9781481487405)

Teresa Carreno was a Venezuelan pianist who fled to the United States as a child when there was a revolution in her home country. But arriving in the U.S., there was a war here too, the Civil War was raging. Teresa used music to communicate, practicing her piano with a variety of musicians who came to her home. She played piano in enormous theaters as a child. Then, she was invited to play at the White House by President Abraham Lincoln. Teresa believed in the power of music, but how could it overcome the horrors of war and reach the heart of one of the most powerful men in the world, who had just lost his son. At the White House, Teresa found herself at a poorly-tuned piano and unable to start. When President Lincoln requested his favorite song, Teresa played it and improvised as well. Carreno went on to become world famous for her piano, composing and singing.

Engle embraces using poetic language in her picture books. Here, the moments of Carreno’s life come alive thanks to Engle’s language that uses metaphors often. Her metaphors will be well understood by children such as, “playing hymns that shimmered like hummingbirds” and “they stepped into a room so red that it looked like a storm o r a sunrise.” The effect is immersive and breathtaking.

Lopez’s illustrations are done in mixed media and assembled digitally. Dramatic moments such as the family fleeing Venezuela are done in deep colors that capture the mood and have layers of content to explore. Historical figures and Carreno herself have clear emotions that show the impact of her music.

A strong biography about a young girl with a tremendous gift. Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum. 

 

Review: Lovely War by Julie Berry

Lovely War by Julie Berry

Lovely War by Julie Berry (9780451469939)

The author of the Printz Honor winner, The Passion of Dolssa, returns with another spectacular teen read. In a novel wrapped with the attention of the Greek gods Aphrodite, Ares and Hephaestus, a love story for the ages is told. The story is set during World War I and moves from England to France and directly into the trenches and fog of war. It is the story of Hazel and James, two people who found one another right before James is being shipped off to the front. Without even a kiss to say goodbye, the two are separated. Hazel joins the YMCA volunteers in France, intent to offer her music to the troops as a way of staying close to James. There she meets Colette, a Belgian girl who lost her entire family and fiance to the Germans as they razed her town. Aubrey is an African-American pianist who shares his love of music on the sly with Hazel and Colette and eventually falls hard for Colette. Still, they are in the midst of a war in the early part of the 20th century, so racism and danger is everywhere. As the couples are separated, it is clear they may never find one another again.

Berry has created a pure delight of a book. I lingered over this one, not wanting it to end and yet rather desperate to find out what happens to all of the characters. Berry creates characters who are deep and interesting. In this book, she uses music and architecture to create shared languages that bring people together. Her use of the Greek gods to tell the tale is particularly effective, giving the story a sense of dread that one of these beloved characters will be lost in the war.

Berry’s writing is exquisite. Even as she creates a quintessential romance on the pages, there is nothing fluffy about it. Each moment, each kiss, each long look filled with meaning is given space and a sense of importance. The book is written so that one feels along with the characters, understands falling in love and doing it again and again as life deals new blows.

An incredible piece of historical fiction. This is one of the best of the year. Appropriate for ages 14-adult.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Viking Books for Young Readers.

 

Review: Elvis Is King! by Jonah Winter

Elvis Is King! by Jonah Winter

Elvis Is King! by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Red Nose Studio (9780399554704)

This picture book biography features a perfect match-up of author and illustrator. It tells the story of Elvis’ life from a young boy singing in church and in talent shows to him becoming a star. It is the story of a boy growing up poor with a father in jail and discovering many of life’s joys like gospel music and hamburgers. When the family moves to Memphis, Elvis needs to work to make money to keep them housed and fed. As a teenager, he turns himself into something new, coloring his hair black and adding his trademark hair wax. He falls in love, discovers blues music, and decides to be the biggest star in music. The speed of his journey into stardom is incredible, as he gets more inspiration for his unique music style.

Winter writes with a focused poetic style here, each page a short poem about Elvis’ life. Winter captures the poverty that Elvis is born into without romanticizing it at all. His story is particularly captivating because of how quickly he went from being entirely unknown to being a star. Another fascinating piece of the story is how Elvis realized that he needed to move and shake his hips to be able to sing the way he did.

Red Nose Studio has put their signature style in this book, elevating it into something really special that children will love to explore. There are certain page turns that are particularly effective, like the one where in a single turn of the page Elvis emerges with his well-known look. Red Nose completely captures the way that Elvis moves in their clay figures, something entirely remarkable for a still photograph.

A great pick for libraries, I’d recommend sharing some of Elvis’ music alongside the book. Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Schwartz & Wade.

 

Review: Carlos Santana: Sound of the Heart, Song of the World by Gary Golio

Carlos Santana Sound of the Heart, Song of the World by Gary Golio

Carlos Santana: Sound of the Heart, Song of the World by Gary Golio (9781627795128)

Carlos Santana was born into a musical family with a father who was a popular mariachi performer. Carlos started learning to read music at age five and to play the violin at age six. But his father is often gone, playing musical gigs around Mexico. His father sends money home to the family, and eventually Carlos’ mother decides to head to America with the children. Carlos earns money playing music for the tourists, but his heart isn’t in it. It isn’t until he hears American blues music for the first time that he discovers his own kind of music. Carlos tries to play with his father’s band but it does not go well. Eventually, his father realizes that his son needs a new instrument, one that goes with his own blend of Latin and blues.

Golio tells a story of Santana’s childhood, focusing on the impact that music had throughout his early days but also the importance of finding his own musical voice that is entirely unique. The relationship between father and son is a critical one in this picture book biography, resonating throughout Santana’s childhood. Golio tells a complex story and yet keeps it straightforward for a young audience.

The illustrations are done in mixed media of torn paper, acrylics and printed inks. They are layered and deep, the colors swirling on the page. The faces of the various family members and Santana are particularly arresting. The art has a great vibrancy and a feel of freedom around it.

A great pick for libraries looking for quality biographies of musicians. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy provided by Henry Holt & Co.

 

 

Review: The 5 O’Clock Band by Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews

The 5 O_Clock Band by Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews

The 5 O’Clock Band by Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews, illustrated by Bryan Collier (9781419728365)

This second picture book by Andrews takes the reader on a trip through New Orleans. Shorty and his friends had formed a band. They called themselves the 5 O’Clock Band because that’s when they gathered to play. One day, Shorty got so caught up in his music that he missed the meeting time of the band. He tried to catch up with them, bringing the reader along on his walk past New Orleans landmarks and meeting musicians on the streets. Shorty longs to be a great bandleader and as he looks for his band, he learns lessons about being a leader along the way.

Filled with a deep love for the city of New Orleans, this picture book continues the story of Trombone Shorty’s childhood. Andrews’ writing is deft and musical, using repetition and rhythm to great effect. The illustrations by master Collier are lush and beautiful. They depict the richness of New Orleans on the page, filled with yellows and greens.

A jazzy picture book that inspires. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

3 New Picture Books about Amazing Women

Brave Jane Austen Reader, Writer, Author, Rebel by Lisa Pliscou

Brave Jane Austen: Reader, Writer, Author, Rebel by Lisa Pliscou, illustrated by Jen Corace (9781627796439)

This picture book biography looks at the childhood and life of Jane Austen, focusing on how she was raised in a poor family where her father ran a boarding school in their home for boys, including Jane’s six brothers. Jane’s mother worked hard keeping the house, the garden and the animals. It was a bustling household and Jane spent her childhood listening and learning. Her father had a large library with hundreds of books and they spent their evenings being read to. Jane knew that boys and girls were treated very differently from one another and that her family was struggling financially. She was sent away to a boarding school herself but returned home after becoming ill. She spent her recovery time reading the books from her father’s library. She returned to school once more, but money soon ran out and she came home. She began to dream of being a writer and started creating characters who did not match society’s expectations either. Jane continued to write, even though her books were not published at first. Once published, she began to live more comfortably than before but died at a young age of 41, not seeing the last of her books come to publication.

Pliscou shows Austen’s tenacity in this picture book biography. This is not a biography for very young children, but one with plenty of detail and interesting tidbits for those in elementary school. The focus here is on Austen’s personal struggles, her intolerance for societal norms, her wit and her skill. Corace’s illustrations are filled with rosy-cheeked characters surrounded by detailed settings that embrace them. The greens of the countryside, the purple blush of first love, and wallpapers all wrap this book into a colorful package for readers.

A nonfiction picture book about one of our greatest women writers, this belongs in all public libraries. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Girl Running Bobbi Gibb and the Boston Marathon by Annette Bay Pimental

Girl Running: Bobbi Gibb and the Boston Marathon by Annette Bay Pimental, illustrated by Micha Archer (9781101996683)

At school, Bobbi is not allowed to be on the school’s track team because she’s a girl and those are the rules. But after school, Bobbi loves to run. She lives near where the Boston Marathon is held and she longs to join the race, but women are not allowed to participate. Bobbie trains anyway, running longer distances than even the marathon. She takes a trip across the country in the summer and runs in her nurse’s shoes through several states. She runs in all weather, but still she is not allowed to join the marathon. Bobbi does not give up, instead she comes up with a plan to join the marathon unofficially and run. When she takes off her bulky sweatshirt disguise, people realize that a girl is running the race. As Bobbi runs in her new shoes, the pain of blisters slows her down. But she completes the race, coming in 124th. The officials refuse to give her a medal, but Bobbi has proven something far more valuable.

The afterword in the book provides more information on how long Gibb trained and the fact that in 1996 she retroactively was named the female winner of the 1966, 1967 and 1968 Boston Marathons. Gibb’s story shows tremendous resolve and a desire to break through patriarchal boundaries that were artificially holding women back in sports and life. Told in very simple prose, this picture book biography is approachable and easily relatable to anyone who wonders about how women finally were taken seriously in sports. The illustrations are friendly and bright, filled with dazzling yellows and deep blues.

A strong picture book about an inspiring figure in women’s sports. Appropriate for ages 5-8. (Reviewed from ARC provided by Nancy Paulsen Books.)

Libba The Magnificent Musical Life of Elizabeth Cotten by Laura Veirs

Libba: The Magnificent Musical Life of Elizabeth Cotten by Laura Veirs, illustrated by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh (9781452148571)

When Libba was a little girl, she heard music everywhere, so she would borrow her brother’s guitar to play the music in her head. Her brother was right handed though, so Libba would need to play his guitar upside down and backward. When her brother left home, he took his guitar with him so Libba worked small jobs to earn enough money for her own guitar. She wrote her first song at age thirteen and played the guitar all the time. But then life happened and Libba stopped playing. Late in her life, Libba got a job as a housekeeper for a musical family, the Seegers, connected to many of the great musicians of the time. Eventually, she picked up a guitar and played it and the family heard her play. Soon she was playing large venues and her first song, Freight Train, was heard around the world.

In this delicate and gentle biography, first-time picture book author Veirs who is also a musician, captures the life and the music of Cotten. She includes an author’s note that speaks more to the limited options for an African-American woman in the segregated South. The illustrations are very special, done in the organic warmth of graphite with digital color added, they glow on the page.

Share this picture book biography with musicians of all ages and then listen to Cotten’s songs together as she plays upside down and backwards. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Reviewed from copy provided by Chronicle Books.)