Children’s Poet Laureate J. Patrick Lewis honors seventeen civil rights heroes in the beautifully illustrated collection, When Thunder Comes: Poems for Civil Rights Leaders. While Lewis’ poems celebrate well-known leaders such as Coretta Scott King and Mohandas Gandhi, he also uses this as an opportunity to present lesser known heroes to today’s children. These include Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese pro-democracy activist. and Dennis James Banks, Co-founder of the American Indian Movement and Anishinabe political activist. The verses bring to life the spirit of these men and women who impacted the world at large and each is accompanied by a beautiful artwork from four of today’s most celebrated illustrators.
Activism is at the heart of Crow, by adult author Barbara Wright, her first novel for children. It’s the summer of 1898, and Moses Thomas of Wilmington, North Carolina is looking forward to a fabulous summer vacation. But things don’t go as planned when his best friend finds a new pal, his father and grandmother intensify their squabbling, and his mother works long days as a maid for a rich white family. He also grows increasingly aware of the escalating tension between the African American and white communities. Moses’ dad is an alderman in town and works for the African American newspaper. The African American middle class in Wilmington is growing, but not everyone is pleased with the power wielded by this population, and a White Declaration of Independence is issued. Leading African American figures, including Moses’ father, are told to leave town. The resulting riots bring devastation to the community and directly impact Moses’ family and future. Told from the realistic point of view of a courageous young boy, this story combines historic details of the disenfranchisement of the African American community in one town with a moving coming of age story.
During the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, hundreds of young people, led by library director Ismail Serageldin, joined hands around the world-famous Alexandria Library to protect it from damage by the marching crowds. Although much property was destroyed and many people died, the Library survived unscathed. Susan L. Roth and Karen Leggett Abouraya invest these dramatic events with emotion and suspense in their book Hands Around the Library: Protecting Egypt's Treasured Books.
The story is told from the point of view of a fictional librarian - at first caught up in the excitement of the march, then worried about the library, then proud of her countrymen for this act of love and peace. Roth's collage art is, as always, especially appealing to young people. Her naive, frontal compositions are constructed from brightly colored paper in a variety of textures: crinkled, fuzzy, fibrous, corrugated, and even iridescent. Protest signs in Arabic appear throughout the book, and though one page contains images of violence, in general the energy, scale, and potential havoc of the march is skillfully communicated by two-page spreads depicting large crowds.
The back pages of this book are especially informative: including the history of the ancient and the modern Library of Alexandria, a brief discussion of the Egyptian Revolution, translations of words on the protest signs, and, perhaps most importantly, photographs of the events described in the book. These pages use collage representations of quilt squares as a border, suggesting that the immense crowds that marched in Egypt were made of a kaleidoscope of unique individuals.
A painter who never gave up on his dream is the subject of the picture book biography The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau, written by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Amanda Hall. Making a living as a toll collector, Rousseau was restless. As much as he enjoyed his time spent in Parisian parks, he wanted to capture the beauty of nature he witnessed onto canvas. At the age of forty, he made his first attempts to paint the scenes he imagined.
Self-taught as an artist, Rousseau ventured into natural history museums and studied books and photographs to make his botanical and zoological paintings accurate. When he had enough paintings completed, he entered them into competitions. His "naïve" style, however, was met with the jeers of so-called expert art critics. Year after year, his paintings brought unintentional amusement to the establishment who found his paintings flat and simple. But decades later, attitudes on art had changed, and Picasso and other well-known artists led a re-evaluation and celebration of Rousseau’s work.
While none of Rousseau’s actual paintings are used in this book, Hall’s illustrations (in homage to his work) are astounding. Markel capably introduces the artist to a new audience of young readers who are likely unfamiliar with his work. Readers of this title are certain to remember Rousseau's style when encountering his paintings in the future. The message is clear without being overt – a dream delayed is better than a dream never realized.
The stories of four children who boycotted school to participate in a march to protest segregation are the centerpiece of Cynthia Levinson’s We’ve Got a Job: the 1963 Birmingham Children’s March. Audrey Hendricks, Washington Booker III, Arnetta Streeter, and James Stewart were between the ages of 9 and 15 and from different backgrounds, but were united in their fight for freedom. In the early 1960s, Birmingham was one of the most racially violent cities in America, and the adult residents were not responding to the civil rights movement. Some thought nonviolence was a poor tactic, while others feared for their jobs and their lives. It fell to the children to pick up the cause and “fill the jails” in accordance with the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King. Some 4,000 young people answered the call and stood strong in the face of police, attack dogs, and water cannons. Levinson’s interviews with the protestors give readers a palpable sense of the fear, pain, and triumph experienced by these young freedom fighters. Quotes, photographs, source notes, and an excellent bibliography all serve to support the narrative thread, and help create a remarkable research source.
Martin Luther King’s influence was clearly evident in the Birmingham Children’s March. August 28, 2013 will mark the fiftieth anniversary of King’s inspiring speech at the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington. Caldecott-Honor winning artist Kadir Nelson pays tribute to this iconic event in I Have a Dream. This beautiful picture book shares excerpts from the speech accompanied by Nelson’s magnificent full-page oil paintings. Nelson offers powerful images of King and the marchers, but also artistically interprets the speech and shares images which reflect the message. Interested readers will also appreciate the full text of the speech and an accompanying CD of King’s historic delivery. This is an outstanding tribute to an extraordinary moment in time.
Newbery Honor and National Book Award winning author Phillip Hoose offers another fascinating story in Moonbird: a Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95. The small shorebird’s name is B95, but scientists have nicknamed him Moonbird, because in his lifetime he has flown the distance to the moon and halfway back – a whopping 325,000 miles. B95 was tagged by researchers in 1995, and they have been chronicling his journeys since then. He is a red knot, a member of the subspecies rufa, and every February he joins a flock that leaves from Tierra del Fuego and heads to breeding grounds in the Canadian Arctic. Late in the summer, the flock begins its return journey. During this round-trip, the birds are able to fly for days without stopping, but rest and food are critical elements to a successful migration. Unfortunately, the available food en route has shrunk due to human activity. The numbers sadly speak to the increased danger involved in this flight, as the worldwide rufa population has dropped drastically from almost 150,000 to less than 25,000 in seventeen years.
Hoose is able to personalize the story of B95 with beautiful prose that has the reader cheering on this pint-sized dynamo. He also accessibly interjects facts about the birds and their survival, and introduces some of the men and women who research and help preserve the species. Photographs, maps, and sidebars add to the content. Source notes and an extensive bibliography point to the meticulous research, and information about how readers, including children and teens, can get involved in preservation may spur some to action. Moonbird is not just the powerful portrait of one strong bird, but also an engaging examination of worldwide ecology. And in the amazingly good news front – B95 is still going strong and was spotted at the Jersey shore in May of this year.
Did you know that the largest dog on record was Zorba the English Mastiff who weighed in at 343 pounds? There are more pet dogs in the world (about half a billion) than there are human babies. U.S. Presidents have owned a total of 118 dogs while in office. National Geographic Kids Everything Dogs: All the Canine Facts, Photos, and Fun That You Can Get Your Paws On! by Becky Baines with Dr. Gary Weitzman will charm any dog lover, young or old. This exciting new book for kids is full of colorful photos, attention-grabbing graphics, and astonishing dog facts.
For a charming story about a dog and her improbable best friend, try Kate & Pippin: An Unlikely Love Story by Martin Springett, with photography by Isobel Springett. When a fawn named Pippin was abandoned by her mother, no one could have guessed the bond that would develop between her and Kate, a Great Dane. Kate had never had puppies of her own, but she immediately began to cuddle little Pippin, who followed her protector around everywhere she went. Eventually, Pippin began to live on her own in the forest, but she still comes back to visit her good friend Kate and the other animals on the farm. The two still enjoy running and playing together. The Springetts, a brother and sister team, document Kate and Pippin’s friendship with photos and simple text, perfect for a young child.
Presidential politics are in full swing as Election Day approaches and two new books for kids offer a lighter look at the men who have been elected to this highest office. Julia Moberg researched the non-human First Family members in Presidential Pets: The Weird, Wacky, Little, Big, Scary, Strange Animals That Have Lived in the White House. While many had the usual cats and dogs, the White House also became home to goats, mice, bears, zebras, hyenas, and many more. Calvin Coolidge owned a raccoon named Rebecca who dined on shrimp, while Andrew Jackson’s parrot was known to use less than savory language. Each entry opens with a humorous rhyming poem that describes an event with the pet. Sidebars, such as "Presidential Stats" and "Tell Me More", offer basic information and share trivia about the president and his animal. This unique blend of humor, trivia, vibrant graphics, and children’s love of animals brings to life the presidents and the history of each man’s time in office.
Susan Katz uses humor in The President’s Stuck in the Bathtub: Poems about the Presidents and focuses on some of the lesser known anecdotes about our presidents. The forty-three poems are diverse in format and include concrete, free verse, and rhyming. Each poem is accompanied by a footnote outlining more specifics, and Robert Neubecker’s digital caricature illustrations are full of interesting details which highlight the stories. While trivial in nature, these funny facts are just right to pique young readers' interests. Further information is provided in the appended list of presidents which includes nicknames, a major accomplishment, and a famous quote. From William Taft’s extrication from a bathtub to John Quincy Adams skinny dipping in the Potomac, all of these stories serve to highlight the human nature of each of our presidents, and makes them more relatable to readers of all ages.
Tuberculosis has been called the greatest serial killer of all time, and remains a crisis in many countries. Two new books for children tackle this scourge and shed light on the incredible pain suffered by its victims and the horrors of treatment.
In 1940, thirteen year old Evelyn (“Evvy") Hoffmeister is sent to Loon Lake Sanatorium, a treatment facility for tuberculosis patients in Breathing Room by Marsha Hayles. Evvy is frightened by her new surroundings and must learn to adapt to the harsh rules – no talking, no visitors, strict bed rest. Evvy soon finds her place and makes friends with the other girls in her ward. Hayles provides a fascinating glimpse into the medical technology of the day, such as the pneumothorax which blew air into the chest, or thoracoplasty, the surgical removal of a rib which would supposedly allow a lung to collapse and heal. Period photographs add depth to the story and an author’s note provides additional information. Evvy’s voice captures the resentment, fear, determination, and hope of a young patient fighting an insidious disease with no real cure.
Evvy could very well be one of the young ladies pictured in the dramatic cover photograph of Jim Murphy’s Invincible Microbe: Tuberculosis and the Never Ending Search for a Cure. This is an impeccably researched narrative nonfiction title complete with photographs, prints, and source notes. Murphy starts with the history of this deadly germ and offers evidence of tuberculosis in a 500,000 year old fossilized skull. Murphy also details the many ineffectual treatments in ancient Egypt and Greece before following the course of the dread disease through Europe and America. Finally, readers learn of the social history and impact of tuberculosis. Examples include chapters describing the warped nineteenth-century romantic view of the disease, and the difficulties encountered by African-Americans and immigrants in their search for treatment. The research, photographs, notes and easy narrative flow make this biography of a disease a fascinating read.
Join in the celebration of the life and work of Roald Dahl, the renowned author whose books have delighted children and adults alike for over 50 years.
Roald Dahl Day takes place on September 13 every year, but this year is even more special because 2012 marks the 30th anniversary of the publication of The BFG. In this novel, an orphan named Sophie is taken from her bed by a giant who takes her to Giant Country. The giant doesn’t want to harm Sophie because, as he explains, he is the world’s only friendly giant. He is the BFG—the Big Friendly Giant. Unlike other giants who eat “human beans,” the BFG collects good dreams to give to children. Sophie and the BFG band together to save humans from the other giants.
To learn more about Dahl’s extraordinary life, try Michael Rosen’s new children’s biography Fantastic Mr. Dahl. This book tells the story of how a boy from a Wales grew up to write beloved children’s books like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, and Matilda. Rosen, who declares himself Dahl’s biggest fan, tells Dahl’s extraordinary life story with affection and humor.
If you would like to celebrate Roald Dahl Day tomorrow, read your favorite Roald Dahl book, or try one of the fun activities here!
Two new titles share the story of Alice Coachman, the first African-American woman to win Olympic gold. Touch the Sky: Alice Coachman, Olympic High Jumper is written by Ann Malaspina and illustrated by Pura Belpré Illustrator Award winner Eric Velasquez. Alice’s story is told in free-verse poetry and vibrant oil paintings created from photographs. Queen of the Track: Alice Coachman, Olympic High-Jump Champion by Heather Lang offers more detailed descriptions of Alice’s childhood and is complemented by the sepia-tone oil illustrations of Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award winner Floyd Cooper.
Alice grew up in segregated Albany, Georgia in the 1930s. She was the daughter of a poor cotton farmer and loved running and playing basketball. She created her own high jump with a crossbar made of branches and rags. Despite her father’s warnings that her tomboyish behavior wasn’t ladylike, Alice grew faster and stronger and was soon a star high school athlete. She was recruited by the Tuskegee Institute to join the Tigerettes as a high jumper where she achieved great success as an athlete and student.
Though she was at her best in 1944, the Olympics were cancelled because of World War II. Alice wasn’t discouraged, and continued training for the next four years. In 1948, the United States’ women’s track team was medal-less when the high jump, the last event of the day, started. Despite the pressure, Alice faced the challenge head on and not only won the gold, but also set a new Olypmic record.
Archival photographs, authors’ notes, and added information at the end of both of these books allow the reader to further investigate this remarkable life story. As the summer Olympics return to London for the first time since Coachman’s victory, these titles are especially timely and inspirational.