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Good Golly, Miss Molly! The First Female Firefighter

Molly, by Golly: The Legend of Molly Williams, America’s First Female Firefighter ($16.95, Calkins Creek, Ages 7 and up) could not have come across my desk at a better time. It’s August, I live in Miami and every page of this book is magically illustrated with beautifully falling snow.  Naturally I found this very comforting and cooling.

Molly is an African American lady who cooks for the men of the New York Fire Company in the early 1800s. There is a blizzard outside, and many of the firefighters are home sick. Molly discovers there is a terrible fire in the city and is so concerned about the lack of workers, she runs through the snowy streets to the scene of the fire and instantly begins to lend a hand. What she does wins the hearts of the not just the firefighters, but all the people of the city.

What I love about Molly, by Golly is that it accurately depicts the era of the early 1800s. Author Dianne Ochiltree discovered a legend about Molly Williams while doing research for another historical fiction piece. To make the tale truly come to life, she was meticulous about depicting accurate firefighting techniques of that time period. I also applaud the fact that this is a book about heroine, an African American woman who stepped in when it was completely unexpected but desperately needed. Readers will truly appreciate the modern equipment we have available today as compared to back then!

You will thoroughly enjoy the superb, vivid illustrations by artist Kathleen Kemly, who studied old fire equipment at the NY City Fire Museum before beginning her work. In the back of the book are some great questions and answers, a list of additional valuable resources and a bibliography.

I highly recommend this book, as it would make a wonderful gift for any child.

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We Can All Drink From The Same Fountain

The title, White Water (16.99, Candlewick Press, ages 5 – 8) brings rafting to mind, but this book has nothing to do with that kind of white water. Based upon a true childhood experience, this story is about an African American boy who discovers the deep pain of discrimination and segregation in 1962, during the time of Jim Crow Laws. When he takes a drink out of a “colored” fountain, he is disgusted with the gritty tasting water. He realizes that the white boy next to him, who is drinking out of the “white” fountain, is taking a long drink and seems to be enjoying his water. The black boy becomes obsessed with the notion that “white” water is cleaner and better tasting than “colored” water. So later he sneaks back to town to try to drink from the white fountain to confirm his suspicions.  What he discovers in the process is life changing.

This special book is based upon the real childhood experiences of author Michael S. Bandy. The story is co-authored with Eric Stein and is beautifully illustrated by Shadra Strickland. Both captivating and truly unique in its approach, this story is also educational and an important one to share. It is the sort of book that every child in America should read. The message is not just about discrimination; it is also about how our lives are limited only by the way we think.

On the back of the book jacket is a quote by Bill Cosby that says, “White Water is a wonderful way to give children an American history lesson proving that racism is a waste of time.” I could not have said it better.

-Reviewed by Debbie Glade

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Heart and Soul, the History of African Americans

Debbie Glade reviews a remarkable ALA Notable Children’s Book, Coretta Scott King Author Award and Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor book for Black History Month.

Heart and Soul:The Story of America and African Americans ($19.99, Balzer & Bray, ages 9 and up) is an essential historical fiction book for children and their parents and teachers. It was written and illustrated by Kadir Nelson, one of our nation’s most accomplished, multiple award-winning artists. You will undoubtedly be wowed by the 44 illustrations in this remarkable book and will want to covet every page to soak in all the details. Made from oil paintings on canvas, these pictures are so incredibly impressive that they alone are worth the price of the book – and then some.

In the Author’s Note, Mr. Nelson talks about how history was never a favorite subject of his. Yet he found himself illustrating many historical figures over the years and getting more and more fascinated by the subject. It’s a good thing he did, because through his fascination comes this incredible summary of the most important aspects of the history of African Americans through the time of Abe Lincoln’s presidency. Through the voice of a narrator, Heart and Soul is a concise account of the life of the narrator’s ancestors, who endured the wrath of slavery.

I like the way the story touches upon a wide timeline, covering a great deal of information, while not being overwhelming to young readers. From injustice and despair to hope and freedom, the story inspires readers to want to learn more about slaves – the very people who were the “Heart and Soul” of our great nation. A detailed timeline in the back of the book helps readers better understand the history of black America. There’s even a detailed index too.

This is not your every day children’s book. Heart and Soul is a book you should buy and keep, rather than borrow and return. Trust me on this one.

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Celebrate Black History Month with Baseball Great, Larry Doby

There was a time when even baseball was segregated. African Americans were not welcome on major league baseball teams; they played in the Negro League. That was until the late 1940s when baseball changed for good . . .

Jackie Robinson was the first black player in the major leagues, and Larry Doby was the first black man to play in the American League. His athletic accomplishments earned him spots in seven All-Star games, and in 1998 he was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Just as Good: How Larry Doby Changed America’s Game, ($16.99, Candlewick Press, ages 6 and up) written by Chris Crowe, is a great picture book about an African American boy and his dad, who really love baseball. When they hear the news that Larry Doby is going to play his very first game for the Cleveland Indians, they can’t concentrate on anything else. At home, they listen to the game on their brand new radio and celebrate every run. Throughout the story readers feel as though they are experiencing the anticipation of the game firsthand. At the back of the book are two pages of factual history and a one-page bibliography.

I love this book for several reasons. 1) It commemorates a monumental moment in black history. 2) The story is told with such a great deal of enthusiasm that the reader feels like he is actually living in the story. 3) The illustrations by Mike Benny are wonderful. 4) It’s about baseball, and that’s about as American as you can get.

Any child, or adult for that matter, who loves baseball will love this book and will learn something important about American history.

– Reviewed by Debbie Glade

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