America My Love, America My Heart by Daria Peoples-Riley

Cover image for America My Love, America My Heart.

America My Love, America My Heart by Daria Peoples-Riley (9780062993298)

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.

Nubia: Real One by L. L. McKinney

Cover image for Nubia.

Nubia: Real One by L. L. McKinney, illustrated by Robyn Smith (9781401296407)

When Nubia heads into a store to talk to Oscar, a boy she likes, everything goes wrong. The store is robbed, and Nubia finds herself using her Amazonian strength to stop the robbers and protect everyone in the store. The problem is, that Oscar witnessed what she did. Nubia and her mothers have had to move multiple times when people have seen her feats of strength just to protect her and let her have a normal life. Her mothers get advice from D, who helps relocate them and assess the dangers. As one of her best friends is targeted by a predatory classmate, Nubia learns that she can’t just sit by and let things happen to those she loves. But as a Black woman, the world sees her as a threat already, it’s not as simple as Wonder Woman has it.

McKinney, author of A Blade So Black, has created the voice of this graphic novel, focusing on modern issues like Black Lives Matter and the problem of being a super hero in a world that sees Black people as the problem, not the solution. McKinney centers the problems that Nubia faces into these larger societal problems, giving them a serious weight. Her text is lively and her dialogue is natural and deeply explores what Nubia is experiencing as a Black woman.

The illustrations by Smith are marvelous. I love the height and strength of Nubia. I adore the messy look of Wonder Woman, as if she has run her hands through her hair in frustration several times on her way into the room. The images of Nubia’s mothers are great, from their determination to their deep caring to the celebration of Nubia despite what the world might say.

A graphic novel for our times and for our future. Appropriate for ages 11-15.

Reviewed from library copy.

Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre by Carole Boston Weatherford

Cover image

Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Floyd Cooper (9781541581203)

This nonfiction picture book offers a gripping look at one of the worst racial violence incidents in American history. In Tulsa, Oklahoma, a community called Greenwood was formed by Black people descended from Black Indians, former slaves, and those fleeing the racism of the segregated South. Along a one-mile stretch of Greenwood Avenue, over 200 Black business started, becoming known as Black Wall Street. But there were people in Tulsa who were not alright with the growth of Black wealth. In 1921, those tensions turned into action when a white teen accused a Black young man of assault. A standoff at the jail resulted in the deaths of two Black men and ten white men. The white mob stormed Greenwood, burning it to the ground. 300 Black people were killed, hundreds more injured and more than 8,000 were left homeless. The survivors were moved into camps and eventually rebuilt, but never spoke of the massacre. Today, the truth is being spoken of and addressed through reconciliation efforts.

Weatherford does an incredible job telling this terrible truth, showing the beauty and potential of the Black community in Tulsa and then sharing its eventual destruction at the hands of a mob. Weatherford has family ties to other race massacres in the United States, which led to her this, the worst incident. Her author’s note shares some photographs and more of the history. Weatherford’s initial focus on the community built in Tulsa, makes the the burning of the area all the more impactful for the reader. The tragedy’s magnitude is carefully shown in numbers and continued impact.

Cooper’s illustrations are incredible. Cooper’s grandfather grew up in Greenwood, a history that he rarely spoke about. Cooper captures the promise of Greenwood with its libraries, churches, doctor’s offices and more. He shows the hotel, the bustling streets, the children playing safely in the neighborhood. He gives history faces that look right at the reader, demanding that they see what happened.

Tragic, powerful and insistent that change happen. Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Carolrhoda Books.

This Is Your Time by Ruby Bridges

Cover image for This Is Your Time

This Is Your Time by Ruby Bridges (9780593378526)

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.

What Lane? by Torrey Maldonado

What Lane? (cover image)

What Lane? by Torrey Maldonado (9780525518433)

Stephen loves his Brooklyn neighborhood and spending time with his best friend Dan. Most of the time he doesn’t even notice that he’s Black and Dan is white. But when Dan’s cousin Chad moves nearby, he starts taunting Stephen for being a coward. As Chad dares him to enter an abandoned building, Stephen realizes that he’s the only Black kid in the group. Lately people have been reacting differently to him, now that he’s in sixth grade. People in the neighborhood suspect him first, assume he’s doing something wrong, and watch him in ways that they don’t Dan and Chad. Stephen begins to learn more about being Black in America, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the fact that there are different rules for Black children and teens. But Stephen doesn’t want to be assigned to a lane and stuck there. Is there a way for him to make his own lane with all of his friends, Black and white, included?

Maldonado has written a powerful story that unflinchingly shows the racism inherent in our society, the differences between the ways that white children and Black children are treated, and the dangers faced by Black teens in particular. The inclusion of Black Lives Matter and the focus on the many Black young people who have been killed by police is powerful, strongly tying this fictional story to reality. The realization of Stephen as becomes treated differently by others is shone with empathy and a call for social justice.

The characters here are well drawn. Maldonado shows how being a white ally looks in practice through Dan, how being a non-ally looks in Chad, and the power of friendship across races. But this is not shown as a solution for the systemic racism that he also shows with clarity. It’s a book that will inspire conversation that is necessary.

Powerful and thought-provoking, this look at identity and race belongs in all libraries. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

A Bunch of Board Books

Here are some great recently-released board books to embrace this summer:

Antiracist Baby by Ibram X. Kendi

Antiracist Baby by Ibram X. Kendi, illustrations by Ashley Lukashevsky (9780593110416)

To raise an antiracist baby, you must understand that’s it’s all about showing them that society can transform. This is not a space to be neutral, but one to be an activist. This board book explores what it takes to raise a child who is not racist in our society. First, see all skin colors, don’t be artificially color-blind. Second, talk about race. Third, politics are the problem, not people. Fourth, there is nothing wrong with people, no matter their race, sex, gender, orientation or faith. Fifth, celebrate differences. This book continues through number none which is believing that we can overcome racism. With bright illustrations, this book takes a firm stand of hope and optimism as long as hard work is done and children are raised to see themselves as part of the solution.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Kokila. 

Pride 1 2 3 by Michael Joosten

Pride 1 2 3 by Michael Joosten, illustrated by Wednesday Holmes (9781534464995)

Join in the happiness of a pride parade in this counting board book. There is one parade in June with two DJs playing music. Three families, four activists, five motorcycles. Six floats go by with seven divas posing. Eight signs are held high with nine people standing together in unity. The final ten are people waving a variety of pride flags. Incredibly inclusive, this board book welcomes everyone to pride parades and celebrations with open arms. The illustrations are bold and bright, featuring all sorts of characters and families who are part of the LGBTQIA+ family.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Little Simon. 

Wake Up, Let's Play by Marit Tornqvist

Wake Up, Let’s Play by Marit Tornqvist (9781782506263)

This dreamy board book invites children to join in the fun that two friends find together. They play all sorts of things, like birthday party and restaurant. They build sandcastles and play stormy seas in the bath. Busy towns with wooden tracks fill the room, and sometimes art wanders onto the walls. They play through snow and even into the night. Then it’s time to figure out what to play tomorrow! Told in very simple sentences, this board book has marvelous illustrations that are quirky and fantastical. At the same time, these are exactly the games that small children play, so it is rooted in reality. A marvel of a little book.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Floris Books.

Black Lives Matter Books for Kids and Teens

Here are some great books that speak to the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement, the righteous anger we are seeing on the streets, America’s long history of racism, and voices that have always been worth investing in and listening to:

PICTURE BOOKS

Big Papa and the Time Machine by Daniel Bernstrom

Big Papa and the Time Machine by Daniel Bernstrom, illustrated by Shane W. Evans

Black Is a Rainbow Color by Angela Joy

Black Is a Rainbow Color by Angela Joy, illustrated by Ekua Holmes

Box Henry Brown Makes Himself to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford

Box: Henry Brown Mails Himself to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Michele Wood

Exquisite The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks by Suzanne Slade

Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks by Suzanne Slade, illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera

Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry

Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry, illustrated by Vashti Harrison

I Remember Poems and Pictures of Heritage compiled by Lee Bennett Hopkins

I Remember: Poems and Pictures of Heritage compiled by Lee Bennett Hopkins

i too am america

I, Too, Am America by Langston Hughes, illustrated by Bryan Collier

Lillians Right to Vote by Jonah Winter

Lillian’s Right to Vote by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Shane W. Evans

seeds of freedom

Seeds of Freedom: The Peaceful Integration of Huntsville, Alabama by Hester Bass, illustrated by E. B. Lewis

Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o

Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o, illustrated by Vashti Harrison

The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander

The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Kadir Nelson

we march

We March by Shane W. Evans

MIDDLE GRADE BOOKS

brown girl dreaming

brown girl dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Clean Getaway by Nic Stone

Clean Getaway by Nic Stone

For Black Girls Like Me by Mariama J. Lockington

For Black Girls Like Me by Mariama J. Lockington

From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks

From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks

lions of little rock

The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine

Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds

Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds

Some Places More Than Others by Renee Watson

Some Places More Than Others by Renee Watson

this promise of change by jo ann allen boyce and debbie levy

This Promise of Change: One Girl’s Story in the Fight for School Equality by Jo Ann Allen Boyce and Debbie Levy

When Thunder Comes: Poems for Civil Rights Leaders

When Thunder Comes: Poems for Civil Rights Leaders by J. Patrick Lewis, illustrated by Jim Burke, R. Gregory Christie, Tonya Engel, John Parra, and Meilo So

TEEN BOOKS

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

Amazons, Abolitionists, and Activists by Mikki Kendall and A. D’Amico 

Amazons, Abolitionists, and Activists: A Graphic HIstory of Women’s Fight for Their Rights by Mikki Kendall and A. D’Amico

The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta

The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta

march

March: Book One by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, illustrated by Nate Powell (and the entire trilogy)

Slay by Brittney Morris

Slay by Brittney Morris

x

X by Ilyasah Shabazz and Kekla Magoon

Box: Henry Brown Mails Himself to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford

Box Henry Brown Makes Himself to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford

Box: Henry Brown Mails Himself to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Michele Wood (9780763691561)

Told in brief poems, this nonfiction picture book explores a daring escape to freedom in the face of loss and brutality. Born in 1815, Henry Brown was born into slavery in Richmond, Virginia. He worked from the time he was a small child, passed from one generation of his owners to the next. Despite a series of promises by various owners, Henry Brown’s family is sold away from him multiple times, even when he paid money to keep them near. Hearing of the Underground Railroad, he decides to make a dangerous escape to the North, mailing himself in a wooden box.

Weatherford builds box after box in her poetry where each six-lined poem represents the number of sides of Henry Brown’s box. Each of the poems also shows the structure of oppression and the trap that slavery sets for those caught within it. Still, at times her voice soars into hope, still within the limits she has created but unable to be bound.

Wood’s illustrations are incredibly powerful, a great match to the words. She has used a color palette representative of the time period, creating her art in mixed media. The images are deeply textured, moving through a variety of emotions as the book continues. The portraiture is intensely done, each character looking right at the reader as if pleading to be seen.

Two Coretta Scott King winners collaborate to create this powerful book about courage, resilience and freedom. Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Candlewick.

Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park

Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park

Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park (9781328781505)

Hanna and her father travel by wagon in 1880 to a small town in the Midwest where they plan to sell dress goods. Hanna though has another plan, one that her father doesn’t support, to design, sew and sell dresses for the women in town rather than just selling the materials. Hanna also wants to graduate from school, but that is not without a lot of controversy in the town. Hanna is half Chinese, her Chinese mother died in California, and her father is white. While her father is entirely accepted by the town, Hanna faces prejudice on a daily basis. In fact, most of the other students drop out of school when it is clear that Hanna will be allowed to attend. Meanwhile, their family shop is being built and stocked. Hanna and her teacher work on a plan to get her to graduate by the end of the year, though it seems less like a solution for Hanna and more of a way around the controversy she creates. As the opening of the shop nears, Hanna will face one of the most daunting and frightening moments of her life and must figure out how to keep it from ruining their future.

In her afterword, Park explains her connection as a child to the Little House on the Prairie book series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Her book clearly pays homage to the best of that series, set in a similar community with characters who echo some of the most iconic from the series. But Park takes the opportunity to right a lot of what is wrong with that series. She carefully includes Native Americans in the book, paying attention to all they have lost by this time in American history and to their language and way of life. This is beautifully done.

Park also creates a space for Americans of color on the prairie, showing that the settlement of America was done by more than the white people we usually see depicted. She works with the prejudice, stereotypes and aggression that people of color faced then and continue to face today. This is a book that un-erases people from history.

Marvelous, timeless and important. Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Clarion Books.