Just in time for Native American Heritage Month are two narratives of famous Indians by famous Indians for children. In response to the misrepresentation in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem “The Song of Hiawatha,” Hiawatha and the Peacemaker sets the record straight on the legend of two Indians who united the warring tribes of the Eastern Great Lakes region to form the Haudenosaunee — what would become of the Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy and the oldest participatory democracy in the world (formed well before the American Revolution). This epic tale is written by Robbie Robertson of The Band fame (who was immortalized in a biography of his own last year), with page-popping illustrations by Caldecott winner David Shannon. Sitting Bull is the latest biography in a series of Lakota histories written and illustrated by S. D. Nelson, who uses the famous chief's life story to contextualize the conflicts making up the American Indian Wars. The book begins with a first-person account of the major events in Sitting Bull's life, dotted throughout with direct quotations and photographs from the time period, followed up by a detailed timeline and concluding with an author's note discussing Nelson's thoughts as a member of the Sioux.
Despite the fact that they represent different tribes and different time periods of Native American history, both stories tell of how Indians have borne the brunt of adaptation in the face of great adversity and conflict. What is most interesting about this pair of stories is how they have incorporated mediums characteristic of the Indian arts. Hiawatha and the Peacemaker includes a CD, not of an exact reading of the text but of Robertson's musical performance of the legend that parents and kids will both enjoy listening to. Nelson has formatted his work in the form of Ledger Book Art: palimpsests that evolved as interred Indians repurposed the accounting cast offs from the U.S. government, examples of which can be seen at the National Museum of the American Indian.
To commemorate the centennial of the outbreak of World War I this summer, many new books have been and will continue to be released. They range from new analyses of battles, biographies of personalities of the era and wide-ranging assessments of how the ‘War to End All Wars’ set the history of the 20th and 21st century and its continuing conflicts in motion. A furry character study for young readers comes in Ann Bausum’s Stubby the War Dog: The True Story of World War I’s Bravest Dog. As the United States was at last pulled into the war in 1917, a stray, brindle-colored Boston Bull Terrier wandered onto a soldiers’ training ground at Yale University. The soldiers all took a liking to this sweet, short-tailed dog, but none more than enlisted man James Conroy.
Training complete (for both men and dog), the soldiers were sent to sea, and Conroy smuggled the pup onto the ship bound for France. Now considered a mascot, Stubby had been taught to stand on his rear legs and lift his right paw to salute high-ranking officers. This endeared Stubby to all he met, including women of the French resistance, who sewed him a natty uniform. The dog turned out to be a valiant and useful addition to the men in the trenches, as he aided with rat removal, alerted the men to enemies approaching and was even temporarily wounded in action while helping to discover landmines. Bausum illustrates the history of the four-legged hero with plenty of period photographs from the Conroy family collection and other ephemera of the WWI era. Her impeccable research is outlined in endnotes and an extensive bibliography. She also tells of this famous dog in Sergeant Stubby: How a Stray Dog and His Best Friend Helped Win World War I and Stole the Heart of a Nation, written for adult readers. This title covers even more of Stubby’s exploits during and after the war. Both books are published by National Geographic, and are excellent avenues into this period. They will be enjoyed by dog lovers as well as by history buffs.
As the nation marks the 50th anniversary of the unspeakable murders of three young civil rights volunteers, two books introduce to young readers what happened in Mississippi in June of 1964 – and the legacy of that Freedom Summer. Susan Goldman Rubin takes a timeline approach in her middle grade book Freedom Summer: The 1964 Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi. Each chapter is titled with a time, such as “June 21, 1964, Afternoon,” the last time any of the three victims were seen alive. Pulling no punches, Rubin outlines the devastating reality of the ingrained racist attitudes among many of the people of Neshoba County, Mississippi, at that time, while making plain that those feelings extended to the all-white law enforcement authorities which aided and abetted in the killings. Maps, interviews and reproductions of photos and newspaper clippings all bring to light the horror of the situation that played out over the course of that summer.
Don Mitchell’s The Freedom Summer Murders covers similar territory but in a slightly different way, and for a teen audience. Chapters introduce us to the victims individually as each of the young men – James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner – receives his due. Interviews with their families, friends and other volunteers in Mississippi that summer help bring a better focus to who they were and why they felt so strongly for this cause. Additionally, Mitchell’s book fully examines the legacy of the summer and how their martyrdom ignited nationwide awareness, shock and fury. He includes the protracted legal battles and eventual reconciliation efforts that have helped move Mississippi and the state forward from this dark episode even to this day.
Engaging nonfiction chapter books intended for middle grade children are few and far between. A new series from Grosset & Dunlap succeeds in making history interesting, with titles that read with the ease of a novel. What Was the Gold Rush? by Joan Holub, brings to life the excitement of the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill in the Sierra Nevada foothills of California, and the migration of fortune seekers westward, beginning in 1849. She delves into the science of gold (How can you tell it’s the real thing?) as well as the reasons behind its worth. Readers learn about how the gold rush led to the buildup of major cities, and how Native Americans were affected by the influx of prospectors.
Kathleen Krull tackles such weighty topics as racism, slavery, and Jim Crow laws in What Was the March on Washington? This book explains civil rights in an easily accessible way, and introduces the concept of peaceful protests. Readers meet A. Philip Randolph, the civil rights activist who had the idea for a national march, and “organizing genius” Bayard Rustin, who brought the whole thing together in only two months. Jim O’Connor takes on the Civil War in What Was the Battle of Gettysburg?, a book that begins by explaining the unrest between the Northern and Southern states, details the strategies and battle maneuvers, and ends with Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Readers will enjoy a plethora of interesting asides, including an explanation of why a Sharps carbine rifle is far superior to a musket, and the story of the Union general who donated the bones of his amputated leg to a museum following the war.
Each What Was? title is liberally illustrated with relevant drawings, diagrams, and even photos designed to complement the text. One timeline at the end of each book provides a snapshot of important events related to the topic, while a second shows what was happening in the world at large during the same time period. Parents and librarians have a reason to rejoice, as the books all weigh in at 105 pages each, satisfying those teachers who tell students that the nonfiction titles they choose for book reports must be at least one hundred pages long. Also available is What Was the Boston Tea Party?, with more titles to come.
One Times Square: A Century of Change at the Crossroads of the World, written and impressively illustrated by Joe McKendry, is the history of one building and the surrounding neighborhood situated at one of the planet’s most well-known intersections. The “bow tie” confluence of Broadway and Seventh Avenue in New York City has attracted millions to gaze at its lights, and one night a year, the dropping of an illuminated ball that marks the end of one year and the beginning of another.
Given the varied phases that Times Square has gone through in just the past fifty or so years, it can be hard to imagine that in the 19th century the area was a rural pasture. Later in the 1800s it became a manufacturing center, particularly for carriage builders. Only in the end of that century did the first theatres move into the area. The name “Times Square” first came into being in 1904 when the New York Times constructed the building whose address would become One Times Square. Although the newspaper quickly outgrew the tall, thin, ornate structure, and moved to a nearby street off the square, the name for the area stuck.
McKendry does an amazing job with vivid watercolors that match the hustle and bustle of Times Square. Pages are filled with signs, lights, and advertisements that place the reader into the pages’ chronology. Line drawings and illustrations in sepia hues mark earlier eras. Even the cover imagery is chosen smartly, with a depiction of the intersection closely resembling the stage lights of Broadway theatres. Fascinating details about the history and engineering of the lights, marquées, and the “zipper” news bulletin that wraps around buildings is included. For those who are preparing for their first visit to the heart of Manhattan, or for those who have walked through the area on countless occasions, One Times Square is a visual and historical treat.
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.
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.
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.