CHINA: A HISTORY Written by Cheryl Bardoe, The Field Museum (Abrams BYR; $22.99, Ages 10-14)
Cheryl Bardoe’s beautiful and educational nonfiction middle-grade book, China: A History, is based on the Cyrus Tang Hall of China exhibit at the Field Museum in Chicago. Whether or not you’ve visited the museum, the book serves as a go-to resource for young readers looking to learn more about this powerful nation.
Both a visual feast and a wealth of knowledge, China: A History provides information in a way that’s easily understood, interspersing frequent visual aids. Chapters are enlivened with full-color maps, photos, and illustrations of the people, landscape, artifacts, and rare objects. Kids will be amazed to discover all the remarkable things related to China.
Attention-grabbing stories include the 8,000 nearly life-sized terracotta warrior statutes buried with the emperor Shi Huangdi for the afterlife. Your feet may ache when reading about the painful custom of female foot-binding (officially banned in 1911). And, fascinating for everyone who loves eating noodles: “The world’s oldest-known noodles were discovered beneath a bowl that tipped over in northwest China, and then was buried under ten feet of sediment that formed a stay-fresh seal for four thousand years.” Those are some old noodles!
In honor of the Year of the Pig, it should be noted that pigs were first domesticated in East Asia in 7,000 BC.
All ages will be fascinated by this lovely book. Bold patterns accent pages and bright colors highlight additional material. The text concludes with an interesting 20,000-year Time Line.
AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET: BEN FRANKLIN AND NOAH WEBSTER’S SPELLING REVOLUTION Written by Beth Anderson Illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley (Paula Wiseman Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.
Anderson’s debut picture book, AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET, will resonate with young readers who are in the thick of mastering the spelling oddities of American English. While some may doubt they have anything in common with Noah Webster or Ben Franklin, Anderson makes a convincing case why the two revolutionaries should be lauded for efforts to unite a young America through common spelling and language conventions.
Writer and printer Benjamin Franklin was frustrated by inconsistent spelling. He tried to simplify the alphabet by removing extraneous letters, but his work did not catch on. Post-Revolution, Noah Webster was also vexed by grammar and pronunciation differences. His solution was the creation of a written guide to American English, but that also did not win public favor.
When Franklin and Webster finally met in Philadelphia, their shared interests in reading, writing, language and education sparked a new synergy between them. They agreed that “Using twenty-six letters to write forty-four sounds caused nothing but trouble.” Together they decided to devise a new alphabet in which letters matched sounds and sounds matched letters.
Franklin, the elder partner, left young Webster to the task of winning the hearts and minds of Americans to these spelling reforms. It was a long, uphill battle, even for these two accomplished and educated thinkers, to reach their ambitious goal. Yet Webster’s ultimate solution – a dictionary – was successfully published in 1806 with 37,000 entries, laying the groundwork for the spelling and grammar resources we use today.
Anderson’s illuminating text incorporates playful examples of inconvenient homonyms and confusing phonetic spellings that readers will appreciate. Baddeley cleverly energizes the subtle wordplay with colorful block letters that envelop and accost the main characters. Whimsical wallpaper, silly signage and quirky colonial architecture offer bold and brilliant punny details. In addition, charming dog and cat characters, explained in the postscript, provide lighthearted counterpoint to the “two men wearing tights and ponytails” throughout.
Thoroughly researched and delightfully presented, AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET is a unique look at a new kind of “revolution” and a lively choice for its approachable introduction to the history of American English.
WILLA OF THE WOOD Written by Robert Beatty (Disney-Hyperion Books; $16.99, Ages 8-12)
In Willa of the Wood, a middle-grade fantasy novel, twelve-year-old Willa is one of the last woodwitches in her Faeran clan. Willa lives with her mamaw, who teaches her how to communicate with plants and animals. Their kind are called “the old ones” by the Cherokee and “night-spirits” by the white-skinned homesteaders. Though Willa’s streaked and spotted skin blends into natural surroundings, she is as real as any other creature.
The year is1900 and, in the Great Smoky Mountains, Willa’s world is changing. The day-folk build unnatural dwellings from the carcasses of murdered trees and hunt the forest’s animals with their killing-sticks. The Faeran dwindle under the strict rule of their deified leader, the padaran. He demands that the young ones steal from the day-folk. Willa is the clan’s best thief because those who don’t return to Dead Hollow with a full satchel are denied food or physically punished. The padaran convinces them, “There is no I, only we.”
When Willa’s discoveries make her question the padaran’s decisions, she must choose between subservience to her clan’s new ways or accept the consequences of defiance.
The book’s twists will keep you guessing! Beatty pulls you into this captivating world with depth of setting and by showing us Willa’s many facets. Because of the scenes involving death, the padaran’s cruelty, and other complex issues, younger children may benefit from reading this book with an adult. Rich in story and detail, Willa of the Wood satisfies with its conclusion and promises to make readers eager for the next installment.
Willa of the Woodis the first book in a new series by Robert Beatty, known for his #1 New York Times best-selling Serafina series.
WRITE ON, IRVING BERLIN! Written by Leslie Kimmelman Illustrated by David C. Gardner (Sleeping Bear Press; $16.99, Ages 6-9)
This quote says it all –
“Irving Berlin has no place in American music – he is American music.”
— Jerome Kern
It’s been almost 30 years since we lost the brilliant musical talent, Irving Berlin, but his music lives on. In fact, the great news is that we can frequently hear some of his most famous songs throughout the year at sporting events, at Christmastime and in musical revivals across the country. Write On, Irving Berlin! written by Leslie Kimmelman and illustrated by David C. Gardner is billed as a lyrical story of an immigrant and the composition of “God Bless America.” This picture book biography provided the interesting back story of the man behind so many hits including “Alexander’s Ragtime Band”, “Putting On The Ritz”, “White Christmas”, “Oh! How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning” as well as all the wonderful songs from Annie Get Your Gun, Easter Parade and many others.
When it became too unsafe to remain in Russia for Jews, five-year-old Israel Isidore Baline and his family traveled by ship to America in 1893 to begin a new life. Thousands of immigrants arrived at Ellis Island in New York with barely anything but memories of their homeland. But at least they were safe and free. In school, Israel went by the name of of Izzy but found it difficult to focus on learning. Music filled his head. That was no surprise. In Russia his father had been a cantor, “standing side by side with rabbis, singing and filing synagogues with beautiful music.” Sadly, Izzy’s father passed away when the boy was just thirteen. He left school and his family so as not to be an added burden and struck out on his own. What did he do? He sang wherever he could get a paying job. He also wrote song lyrics although he couldn’t read or write music! He actually hummed his tunes and had someone else write down what he created. Pretty impressive I’d say. By this time Izzy was calling himself Irving Berlin and had sold his first song for 37 cents. He found a job at a music publisher and, since ragtime music was all the rage, he wrote Alexander’s Ragtime Band which became “a smash.”
Soon Irving Berlin married but not long after the wedding, his wife Dorothy became ill and died. He turned to his music to get him through his grief, still grateful for all that his new country had given him. During WWI Berlin was drafted into the army where he wrote songs to lift the spirits of his fellow soldiers. After that he found love again with Ellin and wrote the song “Always” for her. One hit followed another and Berlin’s popularity grew. He seemed to live and breathe music and wrote songs at any time of the day or night and in any place, including the bathtub!
It probably took little time to write one of his all time greats, “God Bless America”, a song that celebrates its 100th or 80th anniversary this year depending on whether you count when he first composed it or when he released it decades later. I had no idea Berlin donated all the proceeds from the song to the Boy and Girl Scouts of America or that people weren’t happy that a Jewish man, an immigrant, had written the song. What stunned me was those same folks could again not embrace his other huge hit, “White Christmas” for the same reason. Despite that, Berlin is said to have told a friend he thought it was the best song anybody had ever written. There is more to learn about this amazingly talented man such as how he traveled to war zones during WWII to help entertain the troops and how his fount of song ideas seemed ever flowing. Kimmelman’s included an author’s note in the back matter where I learned Berlin not only helped found the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) but in his lifetime he received not only the Medal of Merit from President Truman but the Congressional Medal of Honor from President Eisenhower as well.
Kimmelman’s shared just the right amount of information with her prose although there is so much material about Berlin to choose from given his long career. I liked how, since this is an anniversary year for “God Bless America”, she included that very line at various points throughout the book. Looking at Gardner’s beautiful historical imagery with its water color quality, readers will get a terrific sense of time, place and mood. Prepare to be transported back by both Kimmelman’s words and Gardner’s illustrations to a time when Tin Pan Alley was turning out the hits and Irving Berlin was at the top of his game. I recommend reading the book while playing a selection of some of his songs which can be found here.
NATURE’S FRIEND: THE GWEN FROSTIC STORY Written by Lindsey McDivitt Illustrated by Eileen Ryan Ewen (Sleeping Bear Press; $16.99, Ages 6-9)
One of the best parts about reviewing children’s books is learning about someone or something new. That’s exactly what happened after readingNature’s Friend: The Gwen Frostic Storyby Lindsey McDivitt with illustrations by Eileen Ryan Ewen. You may have noticed that there aren’t a lot of traditionally published picture books about people with disabilities, but there are more now than there used to be and that’s a good thing. Authors like McDivitt are making a difference by writing about diverse individuals and topics which I truly appreciate and why I jumped at the chance to review Nature’s Friend.
This inspiring debut picture book biography introduces children to the art and writing of Gwen Frostic, someone about whom, as I mentioned above, I knew nothing prior to reading the book. And now I’m eager to see her art in person and you will be, too. Born in Michigan in 1906, Frostic contracted an illness as an infant that left her physically disabled. But with the positive influence of her mother, Gwen never avoided doing all the things that her brothers and sisters did. “I never knew I couldn’t do something,” is the overarching message of Nature’s Friend, a quote in McDivitt’s book that captures the essence of who Gwen was—a bright, creative and resourceful woman who never let perceived obstacles hold her back. She clearly was ahead of her time.
Gwen’s mother, a former teacher, could have taught her daughter at home because in the early 20th century it was more common for disabled children to stay at home. Instead, Mrs. Frostic “sent Gwen to school and pushed her to learn.” While the bullying might have painful, the young girl chose to focus on her academics and was an adept student. In fact, it was also due to her mother’s encouragement and guidance that Gwen’s weak hands grew stronger as her mother had her practice sketching. Gwen, who had embraced nature at an early age, would find later in life that this experience greatly influenced her career path.
At age 12, Gwen’s family moved to Detroit. It was there in high school that she learned mechanical drawing and other skills not typically part of a girl’s curriculum. Someone wrote in her yearbook, “Her brush, her pencil and her pen will make this world a better place!” But pursuing a career in art wasn’t necessarily going to provide for her. The tides turned in her favor when wealthy and influential people began purchasing her designs. What joy and satisfaction it must have been for Frostic when her art was chosen to be exhibited at the 1939 New York World’s Fair! Soon though her grand plans were put on hold due to WWII. She went to work at the Ford Motor Company to help the war effort by designing “tools for building the airplanes.”
In addition to Gwen’s airplane construction work, at home she remained drawn to art, eventually purchasing a printing press and starting her own business. Frostic called it Presscraft Papers Stationary Company and based it first in Frankfort, Michigan and then on the Betsie River to be closer to nature. The back matter states that Frostic created greeting cards and books that “celebrated Michigan plans and wildlife.” She was awarded countless honors in her lifetime and worked in her shop well into her 90s.
Ewen’s serene artwork conveys Frostic’s love of nature on every page. I also felt the movement and emotion as Gwen clenched her sketching pencil, smelled the fresh Michigan air in the beautifully rendered outdoor scenes and watched the changing fashions go by as Gwen matured. The illustrations, coupled with McDivitt’s honest and uplifting prose that applauds determination and individuality, promises hope and invites creativity (there’s a craft included at the end), make this a wonderful and worthwhile read for not only kids, but for adults too who may be unfamiliar with Frostic.
Everything about Gwen Frostic was unique, from her art to her attitude. Rather than let society define what she could and couldn’t do as a woman and as a person with disabilities, she wrote her own rules and lived happily and successfully by them. Considering the era she lived in, it’s especially encouraging to read about female trailblazers like Gwen Frostic who forged ahead with their talents allowing their heart to guide them.
“As long as there are trees in tiny seeds … there will be miracles on earth.” – Gwen Frostic, A Walk With Me
GETTING AWAY WITH MURDER: The True Story of The Emmett Till Case Written by Chris Crowe (Speak/Dial BYR; $10.99, Ages 12 and up)
Author Chris Crowe first wrote Getting Away With Murder: The True Story of The Emmett Till Case, a riveting and award-winning nonfiction book, back in 2003. Today I’m reviewing a revised edition that “has been updated to reflect the newest information about Emmett’s life and untimely death …” which should be read by every teen to understand the Jim Crow era South and “the hate crime that helped spark the civil rights movement.”
In the L.A. Times on Friday, July 13, I read that the Emmett Till case has once again been reopened based upon new information that has come to the attention of authorities. I needed to know more. Over the years I only learned snippets about the case because, like a majority of students to this day, I was never taught the Till case in school. Now that I’ve read Crowe’s engaging, well-crafted and meticulously researched book, I know about the grave miscarriage of justice that occurred in Mississippi in 1955. In an intro, eight chapters, a detailed time line plus back matter, Crowe examines events leading up to the brazen and brutal murder of 14-year-old African American, Emmett Till, the subsequent trial and later developments that culminated in the exhumation of Till’s body. Crowe’s also tied in the Black Lives Matter movement that grew out of the senseless Trayvon Martin killing. For those yet to read Getting Away With Murder, Crowe puts all the events that take place into historical context by educating us about current events of the time period. For example, the heinous, racist crime against Till took place three months prior to Rosa Parks’ historic bus activism and was an important catalyst in the civil rights movement. Covering the case should be part of every school’s curriculum especially given that innocent black lives continue to be taken 63 years on.
Emmett Till and his mother lived in Chicago, but when his Uncle Mose Wright, a sharecropper from the Mississippi Delta region, invited him for a visit, he jumped at the opportunity to spend time with his family. It was the summer following eighth grade and fun-loving Emmett was feeling good. His mother, on the other hand, felt nervous. Mrs. Mamie Till Bradley knew that, while she and her son lived in a segregated Chicago neighborhood, theirs was a relatively racial violence free existence. Emmett didn’t have to deal with the harsh realities and repercussions of the Deep South Jim Crow era laws. But Mamie was from Mississippi. She worried Emmett wouldn’t take the law or her advice seriously and sadly she mother was right. He found her cautions silly.
Once with his southern family, Emmett was boastful about his life in Chicago, about how he interacted with and claimed to date white women. Not long after his arrival, in the nearby town of Money, Till was egged on by his cousins. He went into Bryant’s Grocery & Meat Market, a small white-owned store belonging to Roy and Carolyn, to chat up the woman. Bryant was out of town on a delivery and his wife was alone in the store. Things turned bad quickly when Emmett, who didn’t “appreciate the seriousness of this Southern taboo …” entered Bryan’t market, asked for some candy and then made a pass at Carolyn. According to her statement, “… when she held out her hand for his money, … he grabbed it, pulled her toward him, and said, ‘How about a date, baby?'” Some other interaction occurred as well. This was followed by a wolf whistle after Emmett had been pulled from the store by his friends.
When nothing happened for several nights everyone thought Emmett was in the clear. As we know, such was not the case. When Bryant returned from his trip, he and his half-brother, J. W. “Big” Milam, kidnappped Emmett in the middle of the night. The men felt retaliation was required to defend Bryant’s wife’s honor and teach the boy a lesson so they tortured him. When he was defiant, they killed him. One of five lawyers, J. J. Breland, who eventually took on the defendant’s case said they all felt intense pressure to “let the North know that we are not going to put up with Northern negroes ‘stepping over the line.'” As the title implies, the men were acquitted. While in their minds justice prevailed, it clearly had not. The case won national coverage due to multiple reasons, but one of the most crucial ones was Mamie Till Bradley’s decision to have an open casket at Emmett’s funeral so the world could see just what had been done to her son.
Getting Away With Murder explains how much of what happened that summer was driven by racism, fear and anger. Bryant and his fellow Southerners were unhappy about the recent Brown v. Board of Education decision mandating desegregation in schools. The majority of the population in the segregated South did not want their way of life to change, especially if dictated by Northerners. But it was truly the beginning of the end for them.
There were many surprises in the book for me but I don’t want to share them all here. While their significance is of the utmost importance, I think they have to be read first hand to appreciate the implications and feel the outrage. What’s sad about this pivotal event in our country’s history is that while a lot has changed, a lot has unfortunately remained the same in regards to racism. Last night I described the Emmett Till case to my husband who had never heard of it. My 17-year-old son had. My son said he found out more details from me than what he had originally learned. My husband thanked me. We must keep sharing the story. I recommend picking up a copy of Chris Crowe’s book for your teens. They will thank you .
We’re delighted to introduce a new monthly feature where local bookstore owner, Maureen Palacios and her daughter Jessica, of Once Upon a Time, weigh in on what they’re loving in hopes that you’ll love their suggestions too. Established in 1966, Once Upon a Time in Montrose, California is America’s Oldest Children’s Bookstore.
Many things come to mind when you mention celebrating the most American of holidays, Fourth of July — fireworks, picnics, parades, food and family, among others. As we take a look at a roundup of Fourth of July titles, one of my new favorites—although not technically an Independence Day title—is filled with emotional resonance that conjures up all the great feelings of a well-spent day of celebration. The debut picture book by author and poet Stephanie Parsley Ledyard, whose words are expressively coupled with artwork by Jason Chin,Pie Is for Sharing(Roaring Brook Press) is a first book about the joys of sharing. With a similar cadence to that wonderful picture book, Starsby Marla Frazee, this book celebrates a rich, diverse community in the everyday delights of climbing a tree, sitting on a warm beach towel and, of course, sharing every morsel of a pie. Chin expertly intersperses bits of red, white and blue in each page to magically and triumphantly end in a glorious cascade of fireworks! A perfect read for ages 2-6. ★ Starred reviews – Booklist, Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, Kirkus, The Horn Book,
Geared to the 4-8 age group is The 4thof July Story, written by two-time Newbery winner Alice Dalgliesh and illustrated by Marie Nonnast. First published in 1956, this paperback has adequate information for late kindergarten and a bit higher, but not for much younger and its illustration style may seem dated to some. The concept of war is a tough enough subject, and trying to explain the origins along with what actually happens may be too much for younger learners. I did enjoy remembering that the origin of “Congress,” which was newly enacted in Philadelphia during the run up to the Revolutionary War, means “coming together.” This simple telling of how the holiday began is why the book remains a primary teacher favorite. Still worth revisiting.
For a more contemporary approach for older children, I highly recommendThe Journey of the One and Only Declaration of Independence,written by Judith St. George and sprightly illustrated by Will Hillenbrand. This 46-page picture book is not so much about the actual Fourth of July holiday, but rather about the history of the document which it inspired. Young readers, ages 7 and up, will embrace the fun and engaging text, with much more current information about the precious piece of parchment that outlines our country’s initial thoughts on freedom, equality and liberty. Still resonating in today’s divisive political climate, this book, with a biography in back, is a terrific addition to your holiday book shelf. ★Starred reviews – Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal
• Reviewed by Maureen Palacios
You can click on the colored links for each book reviewed and go directly to the bookshop’s web store to place an order. Good Reads With Ronna does not get compensated for any purchase. All opinions expressed are those of Once Upon a Time.
After 40 years it’s about time we have a children’s book that captures the glorious strength of social activist Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in California, as well as Gilbert Baker, the man behind the internationally renown Rainbow Flag. PRIDE: The Story of Harvey Milk And The Rainbow Flag is a wonderfully written, honest introduction to the LGBTQ movement and offers the chance for all kids to understand its history.
In clear and direct prose, PRIDE takes readers up to Milk’s death, stating that his assassination came at the hands of people who, “Did not think like Harvey, or feel like him, or love like him.” Then the story continues and shows that Baker remained a gay rights activist helping others reclaim hope and pride with the Rainbow Flag for the rest of his life. My favorite moment in the book is a glorious two-page spread, see below:
PRIDE conveys an important, timely message that we all have the power to give hope, spread love, and reach places that may seem unimaginable to us, especially when things seem so dark in life. That’s when we need symbols of hope more than ever, and the Rainbow Flag is a strong reminder and nod to inclusivity that we all need, regardless of sexual orientation. The helpful back matter includes a great timeline, reading recommendations and photographs.
Reviewed by Ozma Bryant
Read another recent LGBTQ themed picture book review here.
It’s never too early to introduce children to one of America’s greatest presidents, Abraham Lincoln. In this colorful, 28 page board book, part of the Young Historians series, Abe cannot find his signature tall stovepipe top hat. Rather than presenting the board book with lift-the-flap pages to reveal where the top hat might be, Kenison’s chosen to use the book as a way to also show youngsters what Lincoln’s contemporaries were doing during the time period of 1845-1881. Kids will get a glimpse of Frederick Douglass writing a book, Clara Barton aiding Union soldiers, as well as Thaddeus Stevens, Harriet Tubman, Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee, Sojourner Truth and William Seward. After Abe’s search has come to a successful conclusion, he travels to Pennsylvania to give his Gettysburg Address only to be greeted by all the other famous people who have filled the book. Parents, caregivers and teachers will appreciate the back matter timeline and brief descriptions of all the individuals included in Where’s Your Hat, Abe Lincoln? and can use the book as a way to share Lincoln’s most important first line from the Gettysburg Address that ends with “… and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” Pair this with Kenison’s Young Historians board book, Cheer Up, Ben Franklin! for another great addition to your home library.
In justunder 60 words on 14 sturdy pages, Llama Llama Gives Thanks, based on the characters created by Anna Dewdney, perfectly and joyfully conveys what the holiday is all about — celebrating together with friends and family, trying new foods and giving thanks not just on Thanksgiving but throughout the year. A message worth remembering and easy to understand when shared by Dewdney’s beloved characters.
Otis Gives Thanks, a 30 page board book, is certain to appeal to old Otis fans and bring new ones on board. Long’s popular tractor is grateful for so many things on the farm where he lives and works. Whether he’s hopping over hay or settling down to sleep, Otis is always thankful for playful moments, hard work and friends. This beautiful book radiates warmth with its stunning artwork of muted hues and feeling of a bygone era. Every page is a tribute to the heartland where our food is grown and a caring community including farmers love the land and the country, just like Otis does. www.otisthetractor.com
This sweet interactive board book invites young readers to help Baby find his cuddly turkey. By lifting assorted flaps and searching behind seasonal flowers, a gate, a basket, the fridge, in the kitchen and behind the door, Baby is introduced to a colorful variety of Thanksgiving items until his plush toy turkey is found. With just the right amount of flaps to entertain and engage, Where is Baby’s Turkey makes an ideal gift this holiday season for those just learning what Thanksgiving is all about.
The Ugly Pumpkin Written and illustrated by Dave Horowitz (Nancy Paulsen Books; $7.99, Ages 2-5) Move over duckling, here comes The Ugly Pumpkin! Horowitz’s hit, The Ugly Pumpkinis now in board book format with its humorous illustrations and rhyming first person text. Ideal for both Halloween and Thanksgiving, this tale is about a distinctly shaped pumpkin who is frequently mocked, never gets picked and is left to wander on his own to find someplace where he’ll be accepted and belong. The mood picks up when he discovers “a garden that was overrun with squash. I noticed something very odd and then thought, O my gosh …” This little pumpkin was a happy little pumpkin when he learns he’s really a squash! And for him, that was definitely something to be thankful for! Horowtiz’s whimsical illustrations add another layer of zaniness to a funny story that easily engages kids since it’s impossible not to empathize with the long, thin orange narrator.
If you’ve ever visited New York’s Tenement Museum, this historical fiction picture book will surely resonate with you. But even if you haven’t, from the very first page you’ll be transported back to the Lower East Side in November of 1918. Americans were overseas fighting and at home an influenza pandemic swept across the country making thousands of children, rich and poor, orphans. The disease did not discriminate. In the two-room tenement of nine year old Loretta Stanowski, or “Rettie” as she was known, looked after her consumptive mother and three younger siblings. Her father was a soldier somewhere abroad. So, to earn money to support the family during her mother’s illness, Rettie cleaned rags. She also longed for the upcoming Ragamuffin Parade which many now say was the precursor to Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. But would the city call off the event since so many people were ill and public gatherings had been stopped to prevent the influenza from spreading? During the Ragamuffin Parade, wealthy people would line the streets and give pennies to the raggedy clothed children who asked, “Have ya anything for Thanksgiving?” There would also be a scramble at busy street corners were pennies were tossed in the air and kids would scramble to collect as many as possible, hence the name. The parade would provide a much needed opportunity to bring in extra money. Putting food in the mouths of her family was Rettie’s top priority as was staying healthy so when her tenement building’s manager came down with the flu and was quarantined, an opportunity for Rettie to earn more money presented itself. This moving story is a well-written and engaging resource for anyone interested in daily life in early 20th century New York, although these scenes likely played out in cities across America. As the war came to end on November 11, 1918, President Woodrow Wilson declared November 28 a day of Thanksgiving. To this day we gather together as Americans to share a meal and reflect on our many reasons to be thankful. Between Noble’s well-researched story and Gardner’s evocative illustrations, Rettie and the Ragamuffin Parade is a treat. The spirited young Rettie is an inspiring main character and her devotion to her family shines through on every page. An author’s note at the end provides more details for young readers as does an archival photo circa 1910 of the ragamuffins. Despite having grown up in New York, I’d never heard of this parade and appreciate Noble’s successful efforts at capturing the time, place and people struggling daily on the Lower East Side.
ORDINARY PEOPLE CHANGE THE WORLD: I AM GEORGE WASHINGTON Written by Brad Meltzer Illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos (Dial BYR; $12.99, Ages 5-8)
For Presidents’ Day 2017, let’s take a look at Brad Meltzer’s I am George Washington, another terrific biography in the popular and entertaining Ordinary People Change The World series. These books serve as a great introduction to some of the world’s greatest heroes and historical figures while emphasizing that individuals are not born into greatness but work hard to achieve it, earning the public’s trust, respect and admiration along the way. Each person depicted in the series has demonstrated proven leadership skills or unique knowledge making them worthy of inclusion.
The fourth of nine children, George Washington had great people skills, something needed in a large family, and eventually, to run a nascent country. Back when Washington was growing up, there was no U.S.A. yet, only colonies ruled by Great Britain. Readers will learn how Washington’s older brother Lawrence, fourteen years his senior, had a positive impact on his younger brother. In fact, a soldier himself, Lawrence influenced Washington’s decision to serve in the military. When his father died, Washington’s family could no longer “afford proper schooling so my brothers had to teach me at home.” At sixteen, Washington worked as a surveyor in the Shenandoah Valley with a wealthy family called the Fairfaxes. They treated him kindly and exposed him to the finer things in life. Yet, despite the opportunity to hobnob with the rich, Washington never forgot his roots and all the people less privileged than the Fairfaxes. He later fulfilled his childhood dream by joining the military, showing bravery and leadership in battle and being made “commander of all Virginia’s fighting forces.” George Washington also ran for office, and though he lost at his first attempt, he won all future elections.
When the American Revolution began in protest against high taxes imposed by Britain, “Our thirteen colonies decided we would fight together against King George III.” Washington was chosen to lead the battle. Cleverness, determination and unparalleled leadership helped the less experienced military of the colonies defeat the mighty British led, of course, by General George Washington. And the rest, of course is history, with Washington being selected as the first president of the United States of America.
What I love about Meltzer’s writing and Eliopoulos’ artwork is that they make learning about these important people so accessible, interesting and fun. Who doesn’t love seeing a miniature George Washington on every page or having him narrate his life’s story? Picking out the most relevant aspects of any individual’s life is never easy and to condense them into a picture book biography for elementary school aged kids and still be meaningful takes a lot of experience, something best-selling author Meltzer has lots of! The choice of Eliopoulos as illustrator is just icing on the cake and I cannot imagine this series with any other style artwork. And did I notice author Meltzer drawn into one spread near the end? See for yourself and let me know.
“Leadership doesn’t come from charisma or personality. It comes from courage: The courage to do what’s right. The courage to serve others. The courage to go first.”
And George Washington, the father of our country, had enough courage for an entire nation and we celebrate him today.
As our nation’s 45th president, Donald Trump, is sworn in, it feels fitting to share these three presidential-themed picture books looking at all aspects of a presidency including leadership qualities, first ladies and pets. Enjoy the variety!
Meet Squid. He’s going to be president and he’s going to be “the greatest president who ever lived.” Towards this goal Squid’ll do five things other presidents have done including: 1. Wearing ties. 2. Living in an enormous house (don’t miss the shark who has just taken a bite out of Squid’s home and is quickly leaving the scene. 3. Being famous and having a book named after him. 4. Talking so everyone has to listen. 5. Bossing everybody. But somehow the way Squid conveys those qualities doesn’t seem to go over too well with all the other fish in the sea. It takes a very little sardine stuck in a clamshell to explain the true qualities of a special leader which Squid attempts to do. Ultimately though, this all proves to be too exhausting and the way Squid sees it, it might be even better to be king! Though published last year, the tongue-in-cheek humor of this story still resonates today. Reynolds has found a fun way to help parents make kids laugh while starting the conversation about ego, leadership and character. Varon’s illustrations depicting a hot pink squid jump off the page and grab our attention just like Squid wants.
One of the What’s The Big Deal About new series of books, this entertaining and informative picture book is a timely read as we welcome on the second foreign-born first lady to the White House, the first being Louisa Adams. Melania Trump is following in the footsteps of some amazing women including Martha Washington, Mary Todd Lincoln, Eleanor Roosevelt, and so many more.
Author and former White House staffer (including two years working in the first lady’s office of Hillary Rodham Clinton, then leading her NY Senate office), Ruby Shamir poses a bunch of questions that kids might ask about the role of first lady. She answers them but doesn’t rely on lengthy responses. Rather she uses fact boxes to highlight some of the most meaningful and interesting contributions America’s first ladies have made.
“I’m so excited to offer young readers a window into the most important contributions this diverse array of patriotic women have made to our culture and history,” says author Shamir. “Even when women’s opportunities were hampered by custom or law, America’s first ladies turned an ill-defined, very public role into an opportunity to serve our country and shine a spotlight on our finest ideals.”
What’s The Big Deal About First Ladieshelps young readers gain insight into the many responsibilities of a first lady. The following examples will also help youngsters appreciate the positive impact first ladies can make on our country: Did you know that Abigail Adams was not only a first lady but the first second lady (Vice President’s wife)? Or that Julia Grant opened up White House events to curious reporters? Or that Grace Coolidge was famous for having a pet raccoon named Rebecca, and having taught deaf children, she got her husband to pay attention to people with disabilities? Mary Todd Lincoln was the first first lady to welcome African Americans to the White House as guests. And when Eleanor Roosevelt learned opera singer Marian Anderson was banned from a concert hall for being African American, Roosevelt was instrumental in getting her to sing at the Lincoln Memorial instead!
Shamir’s keen curation of which first ladies to cover invites curious children to delve deeper with additional reading. Faulkner’s artwork gives a loose interpretation of the featured women, honing in on some key aspects of the first ladies’ lives and breathing life into every scene. There’s also a handy list in the back matter of all the presidents, their term dates and the first ladies’ names that, along with the fascinating content, make this an excellent addition to any classroom or library.
A not-to-be-missed book for Election Day 2016 and beyond, Presidential Pets is ideal for schools and homes alike. From Abraham Lincoln to Zachary Taylor, these American presidents all have one thing in common, a plethora of noteworthy pets. With intros in rhyme, this 95-page non-fiction picture book is filled with funny facts about presidents, their families, their pets as well as their career accomplishments. Did you know that Andrew Jackson had a cussing pet parrot who had to be removed from his funeral for her foul language? Or that Herbert Hoover’s son Allan Henry had alligators “that roamed through the grounds” of the White House? Or lastly, that Grover Cleveland, the “only president to serve two terms that weren’t back-to-back,” had a virtual menagerie of animals during his presidency including Foxhounds, Dachshunds and chickens? Moberg has done her homework brilliantly choosing an engaging and entertaining subject that brings to light all the humorous details kids and parents will love about the variety of animals and owners who once called the White House home. The cartoon-style artwork from Jeff Albrecht Studios is a whimsical addition to each presidential pet profile and is sure to bring a smile to many faces with each turn of the page.
A not-to-be-missed book for Election Day 2016 and beyond, Presidential Pets is ideal for schools and homes alike. From Abraham Lincoln to Zachary Taylor, these American presidents all have one thing in common, a plethora of noteworthy pets. With intros in rhyme, this 95-page non-fiction picture book is filled with funny facts about presidents, their families, their pets as well as their career accomplishments. Did you know that Andrew Jackson had a cussing pet parrot who had to be removed from his funeral for her foul language? Or that Herbert Hoover’s son Allan Henry had alligators “that roamed through the grounds” of the White House? Or lastly, that Grover Cleveland, the “only president to serve two terms that weren’t back-to-back,” had a virtual menagerie of animals during his presidency including Foxhounds, Dachshunds and chickens? Moberg has done her homework brilliantly choosing an engaging and entertaining subject that brings to light all the humorous details kids and parents will love about the variety of animals and owners who once called the White House home. The cartoon-style artwork from Jeff Albrecht Studios is a whimsical addition to each presidential pet profile and is sure to bring a smile to many faces this election season.
One hundred years ago, “On April 6, 1916, a little yellow car set out from New York City.” The car’s occupants were Nell Richardson, Alice Burke, and a little black kitten. These courageous ladies were on a mission. Together they would drive around the USA to campaign for women’s right to vote. Throughout their journey, they encountered people from all walks of life, and situations that might have derailed other less dedicated individuals. Whether facing blizzards or getting stuck in the mud held them up, these were just temporary setbacks. Nothing would curtail Richardson and Burke from cruising across the country for this important cause. Nope. Not blocked roads or getting lost for days. Onwards they drove, getting invited to fancy dinners and local schools. They joined a circus parade and attended a tea party, all the while spreading their message, “Votes for Women.” Finally, after ten thousand miles, Richardson needed a rest, but Alice felt motivated to cover more ground. This time, however, she chose to travel by train!
In the interesting back matter, Mara Rockliff shares four pages of useful information that even parents will find enlightening. She explains about the car Richardson and Burke used for their Votes for Women adventure, and how uncommon it was to travel by auto in 1916. Readers learn how, as far back as 1776, First Lady Abigail Adams urged her husband John “to remember the ladies.” We know what came of that request. Also included are sources and recommended reading on this timely topic. Rockliff has done a fabulous job of making the suffrage movement accessible to hong readers with her upbeat approach and language. The story of Richardson and Burke was one I’d never heard about so I’m glad I had a chance to step back in time with these two inspirational women. Hooper’s illustrations complemented the text and theme, allowing us to feel the exuberance of the journey along with the book’s history-making heroines.
Isabella’s back, this time visiting Washington, D.C. with her parents. But why, you may ask? She’s channeling and celebrating five trailblazing women in the U.S. government culminating with her attending the first female president’s inauguration, and she simply cannot wait. Fosberry builds up to this momentous event by highlighting women throughout our political history who were firsts in their field and who opened doors for themselves and future generations that, up until that time, had been closed to them.
You’ll meet Susanna Madora Salter, the first female mayor, in Argonia, Kansas. Incidentally, I had no idea that Kansas had given women the right to vote back in 1887, although Wyoming allowed women to vote as early as 1869. Isabella also introduces readers to Jeannette Rankin, a truly independent and colorful character who, in 1916, beat seven men to get elected as the first woman in Congress. In 1925, Nellie Tayloe Ross broke the glass ceiling by being elected the first female governor of Wyoming following the death of her governor husband, William, while still in office. She also was named first female Director of the Federal Mint by Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Another woman to whom we owe a great debt is Frances Perkins. She, too, served under FDR, and had numerous appointments, in her lifetime, the most famous being “the first woman to serve on the Cabinet and be in line of succession to the presidency! Last, but not least is Sandra Day O’Connor who in 1981 was the first woman appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court only after another first as the State Majority Leader in the Arizona State Senate. How’s that for accomplished women? Fosberry’s chosen to highlight these women with their varied backgrounds and experience to serve as role models for young girls everywhere who aspire to reach their true potential.
There’s lots of fun wordplay (“Let’s vote on breakfast.” “Capital idea!”) and cheerful artwork throughout this delightful, empowering picture book, ending with a time line and bios for each of these amazing women. Isabella: Girl in Charge will also be available on Put Me in The Story, the #1 personalized book platform in America.
TWO FRIENDS: SUSAN B. ANTHONY AND FREDERICK DOUGLASS 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 Quallsand 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.
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.
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!
What’s the first thing I noticed when picking up my review copy of Frederick’s Journey: The Life of Frederick Douglass? The piercing eyes of Douglass in illustrator London Ladd’s cover portrait and the absence of a title on the front. Then, gripped by the story, I devoured the book, not once, but twice in my initial read throughs of this expertly crafted picture book. Part of the Big Words series, Frederick’s Journey effortlessly pairs Rappaport’s thoughtful biography of this former slave turned author, abolitionist and ultimately free man with Douglass’ actual words. “Douglass had traveled far – from slave to free man, from illiterate to educated, from powerless to powerful. It had been a difficult journey.” The book ends with this quote from Douglass, “What is possible for me is possible for you.” As a picture book, Frederick’s Journey is brought to life by Ladd’s inspiring artwork. I’ve interviewed this talented illustrator once before, but felt compelled to reach out again, this time for his insight on creating the illustrations and what working on the book meant to him.
An Interview with London Ladd
GRWR:Please tell us how you came to be connected with this project?
London Ladd: The publisher contacted my agent at Painted Words, Lori Nowicki, to see if I would be interested. I read the title of the manuscript [and] the answer was a definite yes. Once I read the through the manuscript I was so moved by it, so eager to get started.
GRWR:How do you decide what medium you’ll use for each book you illustrate and what did you choose for Frederick’s Journey and why?
LADD: For my illustration career I’ve primarily use acrylic with minor touched of pastels and colored pencils on illustration board if necessary. People says acrylics are challenging to use, but I love its flexibility because you can make it look like watercolor with layered thin washes or heavy opaque application like oils. It’s something I’ve always been comfortable using and quick drying is excellent for fast approaching deadlines.
GRWR:You mention in the back matter Illustrator’s Note how deep you dove into the research to really understand your subject including actually posing yourself in front of a mirror and reciting lines. Was there any particular text from Rappaport or quote from Douglass that you found most inspiring for this story’s artwork?
LADD: Rappaport’s text was so excellent with the way she gracefully combined her text with Douglass’ own quotes. But his autobiography was so powerful because you’re getting a first hand account in all its detail of his experience as a slave during the 19th century. Each page was filled with so much raw, honest, brutal, heart breaking material. So many vivid images would pop into my head from sadness, anger.
GRWR:Was there one particular image in the book that most resonated for you?
LADD: I think the first three images [see below] as a whole really resonate for me deeply due to the range of emotions and sounds I hear from the heart wrenching scream of Frederick’s mother as he’s being taken from her, the peacefulness of the river when he’s fishing with his grandmother, and his low weeping as he suddenly realizes his grandmother is gone and now his new life begins in the institution of slavery.
GRWR:You travelled to a lot of places in Douglass’s history, which place made the biggest impression on you?
LADD: Wow it’s so hard to pick one. Visiting his home in Anacostia was powerful. But I’ll have to go with a trip to Rochester in 2006. During my last semester in college I enrolled in an African American religious history course and the final was this amazing project where you had to travel to historical locations involved in the Underground Railroad in and around the Central New York area like Harriet Tubman’s grave and church in Auburn, NY. Well it happens that Douglass’ grave at Mount Hope Cemetery (Susan B. Anthony is buried there, too) in Rochester NY was on the list. The cemetery is huge and his grave is by the front street nearby so vehicles drive by constantly so it can be a little noisy. When walking to his grave it was so quiet with only a slight wind blowing. Being at his gravesite was moving. I just stood there silently for 20 minutes with many emotions going through my mind. After visiting his grave there was this incredible interactive Douglass exhibit at a local nearby museum and I’ll never forget it. So much on display like his North Star press, part of a house with hidden area for slaves, a double-sided mirror that when you dim the lights Douglass’ face appeared on the other side, an exhibit where you lay in a really small area like slave did during the middle passage (that had a strong impact on me) and so much more. Ten years later and it’s still one of my favorite museum exhibits.
GRWR:Not many illustrators get a front cover portrait with no title as an assignment. That’s a huge honor and your cover is outstanding. Can you tell us more about how that decision was made?
LADD: Thank you so much. That’s what makes the Big Words series so unique from other book series because each biography has this beautiful portrait of a well known person with the title on the back. That’s why I worked so hard on trying to not only capture Douglass’ likeness, but his essence.
GRWR:In a previous interview here you said “The human spirit interests me. I love stories of a person or people achieving through difficult circumstances by enduring, surviving and overcoming.” Douglass clearly exemplified that spirit. Who else, either living or deceased would you like to portray next in your artwork or in a story of your own creation?
LADD: Ernest Shackleton! I would love to illustrate Ernest Shackleton and the Endurance. An absolutely amazing story of when, in the early 20th century, he and his crew were stranded near Antarctica for nearly two years and everyone survived. It’s a testament to his tremendous leadership during the whole ordeal.
This Shackleton quote sums up my attitude towards any challenges I face. “Difficulties are just things to overcome, after all.”
GRWR:It’s said art is a universal language. What is it about making art and teaching it as well that speaks to you?
LADD: I think to be able to share with other people is something very important to me. I wouldn’t be here without the help of other people so it’s always been my goal to pay it forward when possible.
GRWR:Can you share with us anything else about your experience working on Frederick’s Journey: The Life of Frederick Douglass?
LADD: I truly loved working on this book and I’m so thankful to have been part of such a special project. Hopefully young people will learn, enjoy and appreciate the life of Frederick Douglass.
A huge thank you to London Ladd for this candid and informative interview.