We Came to America by Faith Ringgold

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by Faith Ringgold
(Knopf BYR; $17.99, Ages 5-8)


We Came to America Cover Image


“We came to America
Every color, race, and religion
From every country in the world.”

This lovely lyrical stanza from We Came to America  invites children to participate in Ringgold’s inspirational poem while reminding them of the journeys made to this country by many different people. From the indigenous peoples already here to those who came bound in chains, from those who fled hardships elsewhere to those who came by choice, it is their stories and creativity which makes America great. As the poem unfolds, children come to realize the scope of this country’s diversity and how it contributes to our success as a country.

The acrylic illustrations have all the rich colors and naivety of folk art, a hallmark of Ringgold’s art. Her familiar style is put to good use here, vividly complementing the theme and helping to interpret the poem. She paints a rich diversity of faces against the backdrop of the red white and blue.

While there is little reference to such events as slavery and anti-immigrant violence, this book is a welcome addition and can used across the curriculum with a variety of age groups. Share it with lower elementary students who are working on a family origins unit for Social Studies. Or pair it up with other resources such as Shaun Tan’s The Arrival, Mary Hoffman’s The Color of Home and Anne Sibley O’Brien’s I’m New Here, to help students gain a deeper sense of the immigration experience and the importance of immigration to this country’s growth. Introduce it to older students as they debate contemporary immigration policies. Share it to help heal recent political divisiveness.

“In spite of where we came from
Or how or why we came,
We are ALL Americans, just the same.”

School library Journal Starred Review
2017 Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People

  • Review by Dornel Cerro

Iron Rails, Iron Men, and the Race to Link the Nation: The Story of the Transcontinental Railroad

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The Story of the Transcontinental Railroad
Written by Martin W. Sandler
(Candlewick Press; $22.99, Ages 10 and up)



Prepare to not want to put down this fascinating nonfiction book called Iron Rails, Iron Men, and the Race to Link the Nation by Emmy Award and Pulitzer prize winning historian, Martin W. Sandler.

In the early nineteenth century it took six months to travel coast to coast by horse and wagon. Rugged terrain and violent weather made the journey difficult and dangerous. The alternative, sailing around Cape Horn, took at least six months and was equally dangerous.

Dreams of a transcontinental railroad had great promise: quicker travel time, new communities, and improved opportunities for trade and commerce. It took years to advocate and raise money for this massive project. When President Lincoln signed the Pacific Railroad Act of 1862, two companies, the Central Pacific, laying tracks eastward, and the Union Pacific, laying tracks westwards, raced to complete the job.

The work required staggering feats of engineering, which award-winning historian MartinW. Sandler effectively demonstrates using period photos and weaving mind-blowing facts into the narrative. Workers had to blast through mountains to build tunnels and erected some of the highest bridges known. Supplies had to be hauled over mountains on horseback or cart to the workers. Conditions were grueling: prairie fires, cattle stampedes, severe weather, and Native American attacks. Each job had its physical challenges: imagine graders who hauled tons of dirt away or track layers who lifted and placed rails that weighed 500 to 700 pounds!

Sandler critically examines more controversial issues such as corruption, discrimination against the highly efficient Chinese workers, and the severe impact on the life and culture of the Plains Indians.

When the two rails finally met, tens of thousands of workers had laid over 18,000 miles of track and joined the two coasts of a rugged continent. Travel time, coast to coast, was reduced to one week.

The author has made dramatic use of archival photographs to enhance the engaging and informative text, all accompanied by easy to follow maps. A fascinating final chapter discusses what happened to the main personalities. Educators and parents should check out the publisher’s great teacher’s guide and audio excerpt. Highly recommended for teachers and librarians serving grades 5 and up and a great resource for 19th century United States history and train enthusiasts.

– Reviewed by Dornel Cerro

Two Friends: Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass

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Written by Dean Robbins,
Illustrated by Sean Qualls & Selina Alko
(Orchard Books/Scholastic; $17.99, Ages 4-8)



Two Friends is an excellent and inspiring new picture book about the friendship between Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass. It’s told in such an immediate way that the reader is drawn right into the lives of these two legendary figures as they have tea together. Susan’s life is summed up best by the sentence, “And Susan had many things to do.” She really did. Author Dean Robbins looks back on Susan’s childhood noting that she did not get the education she wanted or deserved. This enables illustrators Qualls and Alko to portray Susan B. Anthony’s life in gorgeous and yet deceptively simple illustrations that show childhood pictures of Susan’s life at home that they’ve imagined her drawing. Susan’s journey to get the vote and to fight for equality got some mixed reactions by her peers, but it never stopped her.


Two Friends Interior Spread 1

Two Friends by Dean Robbins, Illustrations © 2016 by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko, used with permission from Orchard Books/Scholastic.

Having taken us into Susan’s life, the illustrations return the reader back to these two friends talking over tea. Frederick Douglass tells Susan B. Anthony his exciting news about his newspaper. These magical words float across the page, “We are all brethren. Right is of no gender… of no color… Truth is of no color…” Frederick’s life is told as simply and as truthfully as Susan’s. Born a slave, he dreamed of learning to read and write. Qualls and Alko portray Frederick Douglass with a look of determination on his face as he reads a book. Like Susan, he wonders why some people have rights and others don’t. The illustrations clearly tell us that he has beautiful dreams of having something more. “The right to live free. The right to vote,” is what he is aiming for, something both Douglass and Anthony have in common. He was met with the same fate as Susan. Some of his peers liked what he had to say, but others didn’t. Frederick is shown standing proud while delivering a speech.


Two Friends Interior Spread 4

Two Friends by Dean Robbins, Illustrations © 2016 by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko, used with permission from Orchard Books/Scholastic.


The two friends have promised to assist each other in gaining the rights they deserve. One illustration that just may be my favorite depicts Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony in a circle of support, surrounded by so many loving friends of all colors. In another, as seen above, a charming blue and white tea set remains visible on the table between them as they discuss their plans. Two candles on the table glow, symbolizing each of their luminary presences to readers. So many things they both have to do, but friendship and tea comes first! My mother loves children’s books and as I showed her this one she said, “That’s the most beautiful children’s book I have ever seen. It’s my favorite one now.” High praise from someone who is a writer herself, and has very high standards! It is stunningly perfect in text and illustrations. I love the bit of peach that shines though Frederick’s hair and suit. Equally pleasing is the same peach in Susan’s cheeks and dress. Even both their skin tones have a bit of that lovely color that seems to join them together visually as united in their causes. Two Friends is simple enough for a small child to understand, and a wonderful conversation prompter about the important contributions of both these great people. I can think of no better picture book published recently that would be more important to add to your child’s library. Highly recommended!

  • Reviewed by Hilary Taber

The 50 States Fun Fact Blog Extravaganza!

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The 50 States:
Explore the U.S.A. with 50 fact-filled maps!

Written by Gabrielle Balkan
Illustrated by Sol Linero
(Wide Eyed Editions; $30.00; Ages 7-10)



50-States_CVRUpon reading The 50 States, a lavishly-illustrated collection of fact-filled maps, children will be inspired by the inventiveness, beauty and diversity of the United States. There are thousands of wondrous locations to be explored, hundreds of historical moments to discover, and The 50 States: Explore the U.S.A. with 50 fact-filled maps! also includes information on hundreds of people who helped make America what it is today. In addition, there’s a helpful guide to the state flags and presidents of the USA.

And we’ve got New York!!

WELCOME TO THE EMPIRE STATE New York was America’s capital before it was a nation, and still a British colony. After the Americans won their independence, George Washington—the first president—was sworn in on the steps of New York City’s Federal Hall. With a population of more than 8 million, New York City is the largest city by far in the country. In fact, “the City that Never Sleeps” has more people than 40 of the U.S.’s 50 states! This mighty metropolis is one of the only places where the price of a slice of pizza and the cost of a single ride on the subway have been equal for over 50 years! One visit is all it takes to fall in love with this historic, culture-filled state—from the jaw-dropping awesomeness of Niagara Falls or the rugged beauty of the Adirondacks to the cheesecake, hot dogs, and clam chowder of the Big Apple.

50 States_New York copy

Interior artwork from The 50 States: Explore the U.S.A. with 50 fact-filled maps! by Gabrielle Balkan with illustrations by Sol Linero, Wide Eyed Editions ©2015.

Here are some of my favorite facts about New York:

– DEREK JETER b.1974 Jeter’s 20-year baseball career with the New York Yankees included five World Series championships.

– JIMMY FALLON b.1974 Brooklyn-bred Fallon starred in Saturday Night Live and now hosts The Tonight Show.

– JULY 8, 1779: General George Washington moves his Revolutionary War headquarters to West Point, which later becomes the United States Military Academy.

– JULY 19–20, 1848: Votes for women! The first suffrage convention is held in Seneca Falls.

– MAY 24, 1883: The Brooklyn Bridge opens and 21 elephants cross to test its strength!

– AUGUST 15–18, 1969: 400,000 people come together in the name of peace at the Woodstock festival.

– New York is big on apples: it grows the most of any state after Washington.

– Dress up like comedian Lucille Ball and act out scenes from her hit show at the Desilu Studios in Jamestown.

– STATUE OF LIBERTY – This huge sculpture was completed in 1886. Representing freedom, it has become an icon of New York and the U.S. as a whole.

–  SUBWAY NYC has 722 miles of subway track!

– THE FINGER LAKES are made up of 11 long, thin lakes.

– SYRACUSE experiences the highest average snowfall of any American city.

– IROQUOIS ATHLETICS – An early form of lacrosse was played by the Iroquois nations.

Find out more by picking up a copy at your local independent bookstore today.

Let’s Celebrate Independence Day! In 1776 by Jean Marzollo

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IN 1776
Written by Jean Marzollo
Illustrated by Steve Björkman
(Scholastic; $ paperback prices vary, Ages 7-10)



In 1776, by Jean Marzollo and illustrated by Steve Björkman, while first published in 1994 by Scholastic, is still relevant today as we look forward to July 4th in 2017.

This paperback, part of the Scholastic Bookcase series, is a great book to bring out this holiday before all the BBQs and fireworks get started so youngsters can understand just exactly what it is we are celebrating. Told in easy to understand rhyme, “The colonists were angry, because they had no say, when the British king gave orders, three thousand miles away.” Kids will learn in simple language how, as colonists of Great Britain, Americans refused to be burdened with more taxes levied by King George III without representation. When the British marched on Lexington and Concord, fighting broke out. Soon the seeds of independence were sown, “So their leaders met in Philly, in June and in July. They picked some men to tell the king, “We must be free – here’s why!” The American Revolution or the War of Independence was bravely fought under the guidance of its leader, General George Washington and the rest as we say, is history.

“On the Fourth of July, in seventy-six, after a long and heated morn, The Declaration was approved, and the U.S.A. was born.”

Happy 4th of July everyone! 🇺🇸

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel