Hey Black Child by Useni Eugene Perkins, illustrated by Bryan Collier
First written in 1975, the poem at the heart of this picture book speaks directly to young African-American children. It encourages them to be who they truly are. To learn all that they can learn. To be strong and be leaders for themselves, their communities and their country. If they do all of that, their country may just change to be what they want it to be. The poem is profoundly simple yet speaks deep truths that uplift children of color to fully be the wonderful people that they are. The illustrations by Collier are exceptional. He ties the children directly to role models like President Obama and Mae Jemison. Using collage and paintings, the illustrations are layered and lovely. A call for young people of color to stand up and change their country, this picture book belongs on the shelves of every public library. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from library copy.)
I Wait by Caitlin Dale Nicholson (9781554989140)
Written in both Cree and English, this picture book quietly celebrates three generations of women in a Cree family. As the grandmother gets ready, a little girl and her mother wait. They all walk out into the fields together, then they all pray. They gather yarrow together, the mother a little bit more slowly than the others. Then they are done! Told in very simple sentences of just a few words, this picture book shows written Cree, Cree in English letters and also English. There is a gentle solemnity to the book, a feeling of importance and family. The illustrations are done in acrylic and show the landscape and also the three very different members of the family as they work together. Beautifully presented, this is a glimpse into modern Cree life for young readers. Appropriate for ages 2-4. (Reviewed from library copy.)
Princess Hair by Sharee Miller (9780316562614)
This book directly challenges the idea that princesses must have straight golden tresses in order to be proper royalty. In this picture book, princesses come in all colors and their hair comes in all sorts of types and styles. There are puffs, dreadlocks, frohawks, head wraps, afros, kinks, and much much more. The text here is joyous as it celebrates each type of hairstyle with rhythm and rhyme. Happily, the illustrations have girls of color outnumbering those who appear to be white. This is a book about differences and similarities that make it just fine to be royal no matter what type of princess hair you might be sporting. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from library copy.)
#NotYourPrincess edited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale (9781554519576)
This is one powerful book about the experience and strength of Native women. The book is a collection of art, stories, poems and interviews of and by Indigenous women. The pieces in the book explore the intersectionality of being both Indigenous and female, demonstrating with a searing cry the damage done by abuse and stereotypes. There is power in the book, strong voices that insist on being heard and no longer being invisible in our modern world.
This book fights back against the harmful boxes that our society puts Native women in, labeling them with stereotypes of drunkenness or princess. This book shows instead the wide range of Native voices with art and words that shout on the page. Both the art and textual pieces are impressive separately, but put together into a whole, the book becomes more than its pieces. The result is a brilliant collection, building piece by piece. It is not an easy read, but one that is honest and raw.
Beautiful, angry and insistent, this collection of the voices of Native women belongs on the shelves of every library serving teens. Appropriate for ages 13-17.
Reviewed from library copy.
Stone Mirrors: The Sculpture and Silence of Edmonia Lewis by Jeannine Atkins (9781481459051)
Edmonia Lewis was the first professional African-American sculptor. She lived and worked in the period right after the Civil War. This verse novel takes the little information known about Edmonia and fills in the gaps with what may have happened. Edmonia attended Oberlin College, one of the first colleges to accept women and people of color. Half Objibwe and half African-American, Edmonia struggles to find her place at Oberlin. When she is accused by other students of poisoning and theft she is forced to leave college despite being acquitted of all charges. The book follows Edmonia as she moves to Boston and eventually Italy, becoming a successful sculptor.
This is an exceptional verse novel. Each poem reads like a stand-alone poem and yet also fits into Edmonia’s complete story. Atkins uses rich and detailed language to convey the historical times right after the Civil War to the reader. She also works to share the real soul of Edmonia herself on the page, a girl who has given up the freedom of life with the Ojibwe to study art at a prestigious college only to have it all fall apart again and again. It is a lesson in resilience and the power of art that Edmonia continues to strive to become the artist she truly is despite all of the odds.
This book reads like a series of stunning pieces of art, strung together into a larger display. The use of language is so beautifully done, carefully crafted with skill and depth. Atkins uses the few details of Edmonia’s life to craft a real person of flesh, bone and dreams on the page. Throughout the book, care is taken that no one forget the historical times the book takes place during and their impact on Edmonia as a person of color.
Timely and simply amazing, this verse novel is uplifting and deeply moving. Appropriate for ages 13-16.
Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
I Am Not a Number by Jenny Kay Dupuis and Kathy Kacer, illustrated by Gillian Newland (InfoSoup)
Based on the true story of the author’s grandmother, this picture book captures the experience of First Nations people in Canada being sent to boarding schools. Under threat of fines and jail time, First Nation parents were forced to give their children up to the government. When Irene is taken to her new home, she tries to never forget her real home, her parents and their way of life. Irene is called only by a number at the school and told to scrub the brown off of her skin. Her hair is cut off. She is punished when she speaks her native language by a nun burning her hands. Irene is eventually allowed to return home for the summer, where she continues to have nightmares of her time at school. Finally, her parents decide to hide the children rather than sending them back.
This is not a picture book for preschoolers, rather it is ideal for elementary-aged children closer in age to 8-year-old Irene in the story. The horrific treatment of First Nation children is shown with real clarity. The use of Irene’s own voice to tell the story makes it personal and much more painful. While there is a lot of text on the pages, the book reads well and the text is straightforward and necessary to explain the loss of culture and the darkness of the boarding schools.
The illustrations by Newland are almost like painted photographs. They show the family losing their children, the stern nuns, and the punishment scene is carefully captured afterwards in terms of pain and emotion rather than depicting the punishment itself. There is a feeling of constraint and loss in the images of the boarding school and then freedom when the children return home.
A powerful look at Canadian history and First Nation children, this book would work well paired with When I Was Eight by Christy Jordan-Fenton. Appropriate for ages 7-10.
Reviewed from library copy.
Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie, illustrated by Yuyi Morales (InfoSoup)
Thunder Boy Jr. is named after his father who is known as Big Thunder. But Thunder Boy wants a more normal name, like Sam which is what his mother wanted to name him. People call him Little Thunder, which sounds “like a burp or a fart.” Thunder Boy hates his name and wants one that is all his own. He thinks of other names that would be more cool and would speak to what he has done in life. He doesn’t know how to tell his father that he wants a different name, but his father may understand a lot more than Thunder Boy thinks.
Amazing, amazing, amazing. Alexie proves here that he can write for children with a voice that is clear and resonant. He writes almost like a poem, one that dances and moves. There is not a classic structure to the book, which makes it a treat to read. One isn’t quite sure where it is going to head next. There is the whimsical part there Thunder Boy is thinking of new names that shows again and again the actual power of his real name. Then his father steps in, showing his son that he understands him and builds upon the name he has been given. It is a book that takes you on a journey and by the end ties it all together.
Morales’ illustrations are luminous. She captures the emotions clearly with characters who pop against calm patterned backgrounds. The characters shine with an internal light that is very compelling. On every page, parenting with warmth and love is shown, just like it is in the story itself.
A powerful and beautiful picture book that respects modern American Indian culture and families. This book belongs in every library. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Not My Girl by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton, illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard
Continue the story of When I Was Eight with this second picture book by the authors. The picture book versions follow two highly acclaimed novels for elementary-aged children that tell the same story at a different level. In this book, Margaret returns home to her native family from the outsiders’ school. Her hair has been cut short, she has trouble speaking the language of her people, and her skills are more suited to school than life in the Arctic. When her mother sees her for the first time, she exclaims “Not my girl!” and rejects her daughter. Slowly, Margaret begins to rebuild her old life and relearn the ways of her family and their traditional life. But it takes time to be accepted by her mother and to find her way around her newly reunited family.
The Fenton family writes all of their books from the heart, clearly creating a case for the damage of the white people and their schools on the lives of Native people and their children. This book serves as the other side of the story from When I Was Eight, demonstrating that even when children were returned to their families it was not easy to integrate once again into that society because of the changes wrought by the schooling system.
Grimard’s illustrations show the Arctic landscape, the way Margaret doesn’t fit in with her clothing or her ways. It also shows the love of her father, his patience and understanding and the slow thaw of her mother and her anger. Grimard captures these emotions with a delicacy and understanding of all of them.
Another impressive entry into the story of Margaret and her childhood, this book should be paired with the first picture book to best understand Margaret’s story. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from library copy.
The American Indian Library Association has named the winners of their 2014 American Indian Youth Literature Awards. The awards honor the best writing and illustrations by and about American Indians. Here are the winners:
Caribou Song, Atihko Nikamon by Tomson Highway, illustrated by John Rombough
How I Became a Ghost: A Choctaw Trail of Tears Story by Tim Tingle
Killer of Enemies by Joseph Bruchac
Danny Blackgoat, Navajo Prisoner by Tim Tingle
If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth
Searching for Sarah Rector: The Richest Black Girl in America by Tonya Bolden
This nonfiction book takes a detailed look at a period in history that most of us know nothing about. It is the history of Indian Territory and the slaves who worked and lived there. It is the story of Oklahoma becoming a state, the establishment of black towns, and the changes that the oil boom brought to that area. It is also the story of one girl who is caught up in this history, made rich by the circumstances, and just like many other black children trapped by the corruption of those around her.
The history here is completely fascinating. Bolden brings it to life by focusing on one girl, but that focus really is a way to enter the story rather than the bulk of the story itself. Instead the story is the history and the twists and turns that it created. Bolden manages to piece together the story of Sarah Rector against this history, displaying the corruption of the adults and the system, the rush of wealth that comes and goes so quickly, and the racism that drove it all.
Bolden always creates nonfiction that is compellingly written. She shares sources at the end, offers a complete index, and her dedication to accuracy is clear throughout her books. Using primary documents, she has managed to bring together text and illustrations that paint a complete picture of the time.
Fascinating and powerful, this look into an unknown section of our history makes for one amazing read. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from library copy.
Salt: A Story of Friendship in a Time of War by Helen Frost
In 1812 in Indian Territory, two boys forge a friendship over hunting, fishing and survival of their families. James’ family runs the trading post at Fort Wayne, living right outside the walls of the fort. Anikwa’s family, members of the Miami tribe, has lived on this land for generations. Now two armies are heading right to Fort Wayne to battle, the Americans and British will meet for a critical battle. The question becomes whose side the Miami will be on when the battle occurs. But even more deep is the question of whether the friendship between the two boys and their two families can survive this battle and the losses that it brings.
Frost has mastered the verse novel, creating a work that functions as beautiful poetry with profound depths and also as a complete novel. Frost puts a human face on history in this novel that tells the story of a major battle in the war of 1812. By the time the soldiers arrive, readers care deeply for both boys and their families. So when the destruction starts, the wounds are real and the losses far beyond numbers. The poems show readers the beauty of the landscape, the bounty of the land, and all that is possibly lost afterwards.
Frost writes from both boys’ points of view in alternating poems. So the lifestyle and losses of both families is shown from their own points of view. Anikwa’s poems are done in a poetic form that creates a pattern on the page. Frost explains in her notes at the end that this is to mimic Miami ribbon work. Without knowing this while reading, I could still see the square form of James’ poem representing the fort and the home he lived in next to the motion-filled form of Anikwa’s poems that exuded nature.
An exquisite verse novel that fills history with real people and war with real loss. Appropriate for ages 11-13.
Reviewed from library copy.