Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer

I knew very little about Voices of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer: Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement before checking it out from my public library. Nor did I know much about its titular hero. I am thankful to author Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrator Ekua Holmes for telling Fannie’s story and sharing this book with the world.

Here are three things I like about this book:

  • I love that it reads like a mini novel-in-verse. In a compilation of 21 illustrated poems, this book manages to give the reader a sweeping survey of Fannie Lou Hamer’s life. Weatherford’s language is exquisite, and the book earned a Sibert Honor, which recognizes achievement in nonfiction books for young people.
  • Ekua Holmes painting and collage artwork is rich with color and intricate in detail. Holmes received a Caldecott Honor for Voices of Freedom, which is an amazing feat for a debut picture book.
  • I love that this is a picture book made for older readers. I think we forget that tweens benefit from the beautiful artwork and rich language that we find in picture books.

I believe Voices of Freedom is best for readers ages 10 and up. Younger kids could also listen along, but I think a slightly more mature audience will benefit more from the content. This book would make a wonderful addition to any U. S. History curriculum or study on the Civil Rights in the United States.

New Kid

The ALA held their summer conference (virtually) earlier this week. While the award winners are announced at the winter conference, the winners give their acceptance speeches at the summer conference. Isn’t it nice the ALA gives the recipients time to prepare eloquent and thought-out statements? Maybe Hollywood should take note, but I digress…

This year, Jerry Craft was awarded both the Newbery Medal and Coretta Scott King Author Award for New Kid. The Newbery recognition is particularly significant, because it is the first graphic novel to win the most prestigious award in children’s literature. (Victoria Jamieson’s Roller Girl and Cece Bell’s El Deafo earned Newbery Honors.)

New Kid is a heartwarming story about a twelve-year-old boy who is a new student in an academically demanding private school. He also happens to be one of the few students of color. The story reflects his inner struggle to fit in with his peers while remaining true to his identity.

Here are three things I like about this book:

  • New Kid shows a young Black boy living an ordinary life, with the ordinary ups and downs any twelve-year-old will understand. You can read why this is so important (and sadly still not a common occurrence in children’s books) in Craft’s moving acceptance speech.
  • Craft’s artistic style is expressive, fun, and full of life.
  • I love how middle grade graphic novels present important themes while still keeping the tone light. I think it makes difficult and complex topics more approachable for a younger audience.

New Kid is a great addition to any library. Kids as young as eight may enjoy reading it; I think it will be most relevant for kids ten and up.

The Undefeated

I try to read the medalists and honorees of the major ALA book awards every year, so you can be sure I took notice when The Undefeated earned recognition in the Caldecott, Newbery, and Coretta Scott King award categories. Inspiring and beautiful, The Undefeated deserved its many wonderful accolades.

Here are three things I like about this book:

  • Kwame Alexander’s triumphant text. I’ve read several of Alexander’s books, and I have yet to encounter another author whose words pop off the page the way his do. He captures so much life in a few short lines per page.
  • Kadir Nelson’s luxurious illustrations. This is one of those books that you really must see in physical form to fully appreciate the gorgeous illustrations. I was stunned by the difference between what I could see in a digital preview versus what I could experience through the physical page.
  • The universal appeal. The short text and illustrations make this book accessible to young audiences, but the biographical stories in the back matter are both engaging and educational for older children. This book isn’t afraid to confront difficult history, but it is done in such a way that it can pack a powerful punch for all ages, which is an incredible feat.

The Undefeated is probably best for ages 6 and up. I think it could initiate some wonderful conversations particularly for kids 8-10 years old.

The Oldest Student

I love reading picture book biographies of people I have never heard of. Especially if they are seemingly ordinary people who accomplished extraordinary things. My kids and I recently enjoyed learning about the amazing Mary Walker, who not only lived to an incredibly old age, but learned to read when she was 116. Incredible. Author Rita L. Hubbard and illustrator Oge Mora have honored her story in The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read.

Here are three things I like about this book:

  • Hubbard presents Mary Walker’s persistence in an honest but hopeful way. Readers learn of Mary’s hardships but also feel her joy when she finally achieves her great goal of learning to read.
  • Mora’s youthful and vibrant illustrations seem to mirror the energetic soul of a person who lives to 121 years of age.
  • Stories of persistence are great for kids, and I love how this book can relate to kids in a very tangible way, since many young children are learning to read themselves.

This book is great for all ages, but I think it will land especially well with six to ten year olds.

What Miss Mitchell Saw

I love the current trend of infusing lyrical storytelling into non-fiction picture books. In picture book biographies, it is also becoming more common to feature people that history has previously ignored.

What Miss Mitchell Saw, written by Hayley Barrett, illustrated by Diana Sudyka, demonstrates all that is lovely in this golden age of children’s non-fiction. The poetic text is as lovely on the ears as the gorgeous illustrations are on the eyes. The story in and of itself is wonderful, and I consider it a bonus that my children and I could learn about real-life astronomer Maria Mitchell while enjoying a compelling story about a woman who bucked the conventions of her time.

I recommend this beautiful picture book for all ages, though I would suggest the target age is 6-10 years old. What Miss Mitchell Saw would make a lovely accompaniment to a history study (particularly during Women’s History Month) or a unit on astronomy.

The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise

Confession: I read The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart in May of 2019. I loved this book so much that I couldn’t think of how I could adequately do it justice in a blog post. To the point that I went through a freeze in writing any blog posts at all.

I still feel this way. So rather than share a synopsis, I want you to know this book has all the feels and moved me in a way no other novel has. Readers will find hope, despair, adventure, intense friendship, humor, community, and even a goat on a bus. Most of all, they will find love. Love for those we have lost and love for those we have now.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. If it were up to me, I would cover it with every award sticker for which it is eligible. This middle grade novel is probably best for ages ten and up, and I do mean “and up” – this one is for readers of all ages.

The Bridge Home

Padma Venkatraman’s The Bridge Home is both beautiful and heartbreaking. This book confronts the difficult realities of poor, homeless children in India, much as Linda Sue Park’s A Long Walk to Water did for showing readers the lives of young people who don’t have access to clean water.

Main character Viji persuades her disabled sister Rukku to run away with her, in order to escape their abusive father. With nowhere to go and no one to run to, they are homeless children in a big city and face dangers at every turn. After befriending a loving, stray dog, the girls look for shelter. They have the good fortune of bumping into Arul and Muthu, two young boys in circumstances similar to theirs, but who have more knowledge about the workings of the big city.

The four children and the dog quickly unite to become their own family. They work together, often scouring for recyclables in the city’s massive trash heaps. Loyal to one another, they pool their resources together and share all their earnings, food, and supplies. I appreciated how Venkatraman highlights the children’s pride in earning their keep – they don’t want charitable handouts from anyone.

The Bridge Home is ultimately an urban survival story for a middle grade audience. Venkatraman masterfully portrays the atrocities of the children’s lifestyle while also making it appropriate for younger readers. Though fictional, elements of the novel are based on true stories, and this book could be used to initiate discussion about how many children around the world live incredibly difficult lives. I think The Bridge Home is probably best for ages 10-14, due to the difficult life circumstances of the children, but mature eight- and nine-year-olds may handle it all right.

A Green Place to Be: The Creation of Central Park

Although I have traveled to many areas in the contiguous United States and various countries in Europe, I have never been to New York City. After reading A Green Place to Be: The Creation of Central Park by Ashley Benham Yazdani, I would love to visit the Big Apple and see this world-famous park.

Yazdani does a wonderful job of bringing to life the historical account of Central Park’s inception and construction. She includes interesting facts without bogging down the reader with too much technical terminology or trivial information. The illustrations are full of life, making the historical scenes appear fresh and present. From the broad, lush landscapes to the complete survey of the various bridges inside the park, the detailed illustrations are a feast for the eyes, welcoming multiple readings.

I recommend A Green Place to Be for readers who are looking for a beautifully illustrated slice-of-history story. It will probably be best for ages 6-10, though I do think artists of all ages will enjoy the beautiful illustrations.

Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster

Jonathan Auxier’s Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster is my favorite book of 2018 (adult or children’s), and one of my favorite children’s novels of all time. The themes are timeless, the story is riveting, and the writing is beautiful. I believe this book will stand the test of time – a modern classic indeed.

Nan Sparrow is a chimney sweep in Victorian London. Although she is old by chimney sweep standards (not yet a teenager), she is one of the best in the business. She knows how to navigate the treacherous flues in London homes, and has managed to stay unscathed in a profession that regularly claims the lives of its young workers. Until the day she gets stuck.

When a fellow sweep uses the “Devil’s Nudge” tactic of lighting a fire in the chimney to, shall we say, encourage her to break free, Nan finds herself trapped in a chimney fire and figures death is imminent. She blacks out, and when she wakes, she is not injured … and not alone. A creature made of ash and soot, called a golem, has rescued Nan, and is, in fact, her monster.

As others have noted, Sweep has a Dickensian feel to it, highlighting the terrible and brutal conditions that children endured as chimney sweeps. I honestly had no idea that children were used in this way,  and I suspect many contemporary readers share this ignorance. I commend Auxier for not shying away from the disturbing truth, but rather mining for the glimmer of hope in a hopeless existence.

Sweep received a lot of accolades, and it deserves every one. I would have gladly bestowed all the stars and awards it could possibly earn. I highly recommend this book for ages 10 and up, though 12 and up may be more appropriate for sensitive readers.

The Book With No Pictures

This book makes kids laugh. Hysterically. Or maybe that’s just mine. Over the last week, the best part of my day has been reading this book to my kids before bedtime. I think multiple readings have only increased the giggles, since my kids laugh in anticipation of what they know is coming next. For me, this makes The Book With No Pictures by B. J. Novak a worthy addition to our home library.

I love how this book promotes the importance of words in the most jubilant, undidactic way. It’s a great read aloud for children of all ages, for the littlest will giggle uncontrollably and even teens will be hard pressed not to smile. TIP: An exuberant performance is sure to bring the most laughs, which makes it most fun for the reader!