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.
Ben Shahn was born in Lithuania and at age four saw his father taken banished for demanding workers’ rights. From a very young age, Ben drew, even though paper was scarce in Lithuania, so he drew in the margins. When his father ends up in America, he brings Ben, his mother and his brother to join him. Ben goes to school, learning a new alphabet instead of the Hebrew one that he learned in Lithuania. He is soon identified as a promising young artist at school, but his family must send him to work in order to survive. Ben works for a lithographer, hand-lettering signs while going to art school at night. But art school isn’t what he is looking for. They teach landscapes rather than the people and stories that Ben wants to paint. Inspired by stories of injustice, Ben painted about current events, creating series of paintings that while not pretty were inspiring. He went on to document the Great Depression using photography, hired by the government several times as an artist. Ben continued to paint the people who were invisible to others.
Levinson captures the story of Shahn’s life with a focus on what drove him to create art, linking it to tragedies in his homeland and his family. Her writing is full of admiration for his hard work and insistence that he paint what he wanted to rather than what he was being told to do. His belief in sharing the stories of those less fortunate shines in her words, revealed by her stellar writing that is both clear and also evocative.
Turk’s art pays homage to Shahn’s throughout the book. Made with gouache, acrylic, pencil, chalk and linoleum block prints, the illustrations are textured and layered. They include versions of some of Shahn’s most iconic works. Turk’s use of bold color, deep shadow and light create a marvelous background for Shahn’s life story.
A great picture book biography that speaks to the intersection of art and political statement. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Wes is always being taken to protests by his parents. But Wes wants to focus on his shoe collection, video games and hanging out with his friends, who all live or used to live in the Oaks with him. The Oaks is a special neighborhood that is mostly Black and full of events and neighborliness. But when a real estate developer moves in and tries to buy the properties from the owners, everything about the Oaks changes. Suddenly neighbors aren’t talking any more and are arguing and even screaming at one another as some of them take the money and others decide to stay. It even impacts Wes’ friend group, since some of their families need the money while others have already left. Still, Wes knows there is something he can do to help if he just keeps on trying, even if it means disobeying his parents telling him to let them handle it.
With its strong focus on gentrification and justice, this middle-grade novel shows young readers that they can have a positive impact on their communities by using long-standing social justice techniques but also new technologies. The erasure of Black history is central to this story as well, as Wes steadily uncovers how his beloved neighborhood came to be and turns it into a way to fight for it to continue to exist.
Wes is an engaging character with his history of protesting and his strong connection to his community. His group of friends are a fascinating mix, including one who has left the neighborhood and another who was forced out of where he had been living. They all show aspects of the impact of gentrification on historically Black neighborhoods but also the fracturing of long-term friendships as they find themselves on different sides of the conversation.
A book that shows the power of young voices in social justice. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Random House Books for Young Readers.
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.
The lists of the 2020 finalists for the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award have been announced. The awards highlight “excellent children’s books that can deepen understanding of peace and justice.” This marks the first time they have ever released the finalist titles that are under consideration for the award. The winning books will be announced on January 15, 2021. Here are the two lists of finalists:
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.