Before She Was Harriet

Before She Was Harriet explores the many roles Harriet Tubman had throughout her life. Although she is most well known for her role in guiding slaves to freedom, Harriet also served as a spy in the Union army, a suffragist, and a nurse. In this Coretta Scott King Honor book, readers will be inspired by the various ways that Harriet demonstrated courage again and again and again.

Here are three reasons to love this book:

  • Illustrator James E. Ransome’s gorgeous watercolor illustrations offer unique points of view and interesting uses of color.
  • Author Lesa Cline-Ransome tells Harriet’s story in verse. The text is sparse, but lyrical and lovely.
  • The perfect structure tells us Harriet’s life in reverse (and the title hints at this!), starting with Harriet in old age and taking us back all the way to her early days as a young girl enslaved and working in the fields.

Before She Was Harriet is a great choice for readers six to ten years old. It would make an excellent historical selection, but could also be used to demonstrate the many facets of a person’s life.

Honeybee: The Busy Life of Apis Mellifera

Honeybee: The Busy Life of Apis Mellifera is a beautiful example of how narrative nonfiction can both captivate and educate. From the opening line “One summer morning deep in the nest,” readers are immediately drawn into the world of the working honeybee. I dare you to find a textbook that will teach young readers as much about the honeybee – effectively, so they actually remember! – as this book does.

Here are three reasons to love this book:

  • The melding of science and poetry. Candace Fleming’s text packs a powerful punch. Consider the conclusion of the opening line. “One summer morning deep in the next, a brand-new honeybee squirms, pushes, chews through the wax cap of her solitary cell and into… a teeming, trembling flurry. Hummmmm!”
  • Eric Rohmann’s illustrations transport readers into the middle of the beehive. The pictures are detailed and stunning.
  • Winner of the Sibert Medal (awarded to notable nonfiction books for children), you can be sure Honeybee is amazing, as the quality of children’s nonfiction works continues to rise.

I highly recommend this book for ages 6-10. Honeybee would be a wonderful supplement as part of an insect unit study or a spring/summer nature study.

Hair Love

Hair Love, written by Matthew Cherry and illustrated by Vashti Harrison, is a beautiful tribute to loving father-daughter relationships everywhere.

Here are three things I like about this book:

  • This could have been an overly sweet picture book, but Cherry and Harrison have balanced the poignant content with the right amount of fun and energy. The result is a heartwarming story instead of a saccharine one.
  • The protagonist is proud of all the different things her hair can do. She doesn’t want to change her hair – she just wants it to cooperate for her special day!
  • The story demonstrates the lengths fathers will go to make their daughters happy.

Hair Love would be a beautiful gift choice – either from father to daughter for a special day or daughter to father for Father’s Day. I recommend this book for kids ages 3-7.

Thunder Rose

Thunder Rose is a welcome addition to the tradition of American tall tales. Author Jerdine Nolen has created the larger-than-life Rose, who rolls lightning into a ball, twists iron, and tames stampeding steers.

Here are three things I like about this book:

  • There are less tall tales featuring female protagonists; even fewer non-white females. Thunder Rose gives us a valiant hero to embrace from an underrepresented group.
  • Illustrator Kadir Nelson’s illustrations convey the great expanse of the western frontier. His choice of viewpoint is unique and interesting – the reader is often looking up at Thunder Rose, which adds to the greatness of her personality.
  • Nolen has masterfully written a tale that has the feel of an old folktale, but also feels fresh.

Just under two thousand words, Thunder Rose is quite long, even though it is a fully illustrated book. While younger children may still be captivated by the tale, I would recommend this book for ages 6-10. It would be a great addition to a group of stories including Johnny Appleseed, Paul Bunyan, and John Henry.

Let the Children March

Let the Children March tells the story of the Children’s March that took place in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963. Under the direction of Dr. King, citizens gathered to construct a plan that would combat racially unjust Jim Crows laws. The trouble was that many adults feared they would lose their jobs if they participated in demonstrations. Their children volunteered to march in their place, and Let the Children March portrays their stories.

Here are three things I like about this book:

  • This book is inspiring for young people. Our society often diminishes what kids can do, and this book shows them the power they have and how they can indeed make their voices heard.
  • Author Monica Clark-Robinson chose to write this story in the first-person perspective of one of the marchers, which makes the account feel that much closer.
  • As one would expect, Frank Morrison’s illustrations are truly gorgeous. I also appreciate the unique angles he uses to recreate scenes that were captured in photographs.

Let the Children March does a fabulous job of being educational without being didactic or bland. It reads like a story while shining a spotlight on our nation’s troubled history. I recommend this book for ages 6-10.

Kitchen Dance

Side by side with stacked plates they glide.
My father twirls my mother by one hand.
Laughing, she spins into his arms,
then out again, like a yo-yo on a string.

And so two children spy on their parents as an evening kitchen clean-up turns into a celebration of love and family. Maurie J. Manning has created a beautiful testimony to family love in her lyrical and exuberant Kitchen Dance.

Here are three things I like about this book:

  • The story is a beautiful glimpse of an ordinary moment, made extraordinary. Love oozes from the pages – between husband and wife, parents and children.
  • Manning’s artwork is glorious – full of color and color. In particular, I love the facial expressions on every page.
  • Though not a rhyming text, Manning’s writing is rhythmic. Readers will feel like they are swaying to the music and part of the dance.

Kitchen Dance is a beautiful family read-aloud, particularly for children ages 3-7. It would be a wonderful choice for a bedtime read.

I Got the Rhythm

I thought of a rhythm in my mind…

And so begins a young girl’s celebration of dance, music, and rhythm . I Got the Rhythm inspires kids to express their inner selves to connect with others in their community.

Here are three things I like about this book:

  • Author Schofield-Morrison’s text encourages readers to experience the rhythm with all their senses. Kids will want to clap and snap right along with the young dancer in the pages.
  • Morrison’s buoyant illustrations add another layer of liveliness. I love the diversity of characters and wide range of vibrant colors.
  • The strong sense of community in this book demonstrates how we can lift others up while at the same time being true to ourselves.

I Got the Rhythm is a great read-aloud for ages 3-6. For extra fun, kids could act out the motions as they happen in the book, ending with a big group dance party when the book is finished.

Uptown

Uptown, by Bryan Collier, is a glimpse into the life of a young Harlem boy. Readers experience the sights and sounds of his city and develop a strong sense of his neighborhood.

Here are three things I like about this book:

  • Collier’s collage art is a feast for the eyes. There is so much happening on each page – just like in the city.
  • Evocative phrases put the reader right down in the city. “Uptown is weekend shopping on 125th Street. The vibe is always jumping as people bounce to their own rhythms.”
  • As someone who has never lived in a large city, I enjoy touring Harlem with a guide who shares his love for his community on every page.

Uptown is a great read-aloud choice for ages 4-8.

The King of Kindergarten

As school gears up again, there’s no denying this year will be a challenge for everyone, since no one is quite sure what pandemic schooling will look like. I imagine it’s even more daunting for new kindergartners who may already be tentative about starting school for the first time. Though The King Of Kindergarten walks through a typical first day before Covid-19 precautions were put into place, I imagine many young readers will still find comfort in its pages, and every little bit helps!

Here our three things I like about this book:

  • Author Derrick Barnes’ prose is simple, yet elegant, giving readers a better understanding of our regal protagonist. By using a second person POV, kids will feel like they are the King of Kindergarten, starting school for the first time.
  • Vanessa Brantley-Newton’s illustrations are sophisticated and layered, yet the overall mood is child-like. I love the wide range of color.
  • The joyous tone will make kids excited to go to school. There are games to be played, lessons to be learned, and new friends to be made.

The King of Kindergarten is a wonderful addition to the collection of first-day-of-school picture books. It shows a welcome diversity of children and adults, all of which are happy to learn and eager to make friends with each other. I recommend this book for all soon-to-be kindergartners.

Beautiful Ballerina

As more attention is given to racial equality, many book enthusiasts have created lists highlighting works by black authors, illustrators, and poets. While it is important to read books about the shameful atrocities of our nation’s past, we cannot limit our reading experience of the black community to slavery and Jim Crow laws. Children should be able to find books that feature black children doing the things many children love to do.

Beautiful Ballerina is such a book, celebrating young black dancers. Poet Marilyn Nelson’s lovely, lyrical verse matches with Susan Kuklin’s expressive photographs of young dancers from Dance Theatre of Harlem.

Here are three things I like about this book:

  • Nelson’s words are as graceful as the ballerinas pictured. I love her repetition of “Beautiful ballerina, you are the dance.”
  • Kuklin expertly captures photographs of ballerinas in motion, which I have to believe is not easy to do, especially in children who may not have quite achieved the body control of adult dancers. The solid color backgrounds accentuates the dancers’ presence, beautiful poses, and long lines.
  • Although Misty Copeland’s success has opened doors for young black ballet dancers, there is still a lingering stigma black girls don’t fit the profile of the ideal ballerina. This book turns that ridiculous notion on its head.

Beautiful Ballerina is a celebration of grace, strength, and beauty and makes one marvel at how ballerinas do what they do. My own ballerina loved this book. I recommend this book for all readers, and it will especially inspire young female dancers (alas, there are no male dancers in this book) between ages four to ten.