One Today by Richard Blanco, illustrated by Dav Pilkey (InfoSoup)
This picture book version of the inaugural poem for President Obama’s second term is a beautiful example of how poetry can reach young and old alike. Blanco’s poem stretches across the country, speaking to the diversity of our country, the universal things that bind us together, and the aspirations that we all hold dear. Faith, earth, sky, moon and more form a foundation for us all to relate to. This poem uses imagery that children will understand but also makes it bigger and larger and asks readers to see our country as a whole. Beautiful.
Blanco’s language is simple. He writes of “pencil-yellow school buses” and “the day’s gorgeous din of honking cabs.” He ties our every day experiences to larger efforts, to living with a dream, hearing symphonies in the city sounds, giving thanks, feeling praise. Just like with all the best poetry, it begins simple and then reaches up and beyond to the vision that inspires.
Pilkey’s illustrations are lush and lovely. Filled with deep colors, they show diverse people walking the same city streets, feeling the same things, worshiping in their own ways, and being one united country despite our differences. Each page has a young girl and boy witnessing together, seeing how united we can be if we try.
A poem that calls us to be better than we are now by being united and seeing the small things in life that are meaningful to us all. Appropriate for ages 8-11.
Reviewed from library copy.
Amazing Places selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins, illustrated by Chris Soentpiet and Christy Hale (InfoSoup)
This collection of fourteen poems celebrate various places throughout the United States. The poems celebrate moments spent in these places, from a visit to Chinatown in San Francisco to camping in the Denali National Forest. Each area has its own flavor, captured both in words and in the rich illustrations that accompany each poem. There is a dynamic mix of nature and man-made places that take the reader on a journey that will inspire future visits and exploration.
The poets included in this anthology are exceptional and include Nikki Grimes, John Bruchac, Janet S. Wong, Alma Flor Ada, J. Patrick Lewis, and Prince Redcloud. The diversity of these authors is exceptional and their voices weave together into a rich tapestry that remind all readers that this is what our nation is all about. The beauty of these different perspectives on these beloved parts of our nation adds yet another layer to the effectiveness of these poems. More information on each place is offered at the end of the book.
The illustrations are rich and filled with diversity too. Some images evoke nature and the movement of water and wind while others are filled with fine lines that create very realistic and detailed images. People of different races filled the pages, none of them placed in the more stereotypical settings but instead diversity is expanded as children explore museums and sites from different backgrounds than their own.
Chock full of diversity on a variety of levels, this book embraces the rich tapestry of America. Appropriate for ages 7-9.
Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Lee & Low Books Inc.
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.
Hit the Road, Jack by Robert Burleigh, illustrated by Ross MacDonald
Opening this book, I was surprised that it was not based on the song at all. Instead, this is a tribute to Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. Jack in this picture book is a jackrabbit who longs to travel America. So he leaves New York and rides his bicycle to Boston and then Buffalo. Pennsylvania and Cleveland are next with Detroit too. Jack spends some time in Chicago before heading back into the countryside and hopping a train. A car carries him to the Great Plains and Mount Rushmore. He sees the Rockies and the desert mesas before arriving at the Golden Gate. Jack has reached his west coast destination, but the road still calls.
Burleigh takes the picture book done in verse to another level here. Never forced, always brimming with honesty and joy, this verse rhymes but does so in a sophisticated way. It has all of the rhythm of the beat poets inside of it too, paying double homage to Kerouac both in subject and style. Young readers will explore the United States in this book, but even better, they will get a feel for what makes America great.
MacDonald’s illustrations have a playfulness and joy that matches the text well. Done with a vintage feel, Jack has huge ears but is more human than rabbit most of the time. Shown in his leather jacket and rolled-up jeans, Jack is the ideal companion on the road.
This is a special book where subject matter and form combine to create something all the more amazing. It may be difficult to get this into the hands of the right kids, but it is worth the challenge for a book this good. It will also make a great book to share with elementary classes studying the United States. Appropriate for ages 6-8.
Reviewed from copy received from Abrams Books for Young Readers.