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Nonfiction Picture Book Review – Valentines for All

 

VALENTINES FOR ALL

Written by Nancy Churnin

Illustrated by Monika Róża Wiśniewska

(Albert Whitman & Co.; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

Valentines for All cover Esther Howland in center of Valentine

 

 

In Valentines for All, award-winning author Nancy Churnin sheds light on entrepreneur Esther Howland, a woman in 19th-century Massachusetts who had the keen foresight to sense there was a market in the United States for Valentine’s Day cards. Monika Róża Wiśniewska’s art details how the delicate nature of the cards lent themselves to be custom-made and highly desirable.

Back in the 1800s, women were generally not involved in business. Societal norms meant there were few careers for women outside the home. This picture book biography shows children how Esther broke that mold and persevered. When her father returned from a trip to England with a beautifully handmade Valentine’s Day card to demonstrate his love for her, Esther felt encouraged to pursue making something similar for Americans.

 

Interior art from Valentine for All written by Nancy Churnin and illustrated by Monika Róża Wiśniewska, Albert Whitman & Co. ©2023.

 

Esther’s handmade Valentine’s Day card business took off with a bang thanks to the financial and sales support from her father and brothers, all in the family business. Before this, “most Americans thought the holiday was a waste of time.” Not only was this venture a success but it continued to thrive for decades. Its peak, perhaps, was during the Civil War when soldiers missed family and their sweethearts. Originally designed to be messages of love, wartime meant that exchanging cards “could ease pain.”

When the demand for handmade cards increased, Esther needed assistance. Another innovation employed by Esther was the assembly line, years before Henry Ford utilized the same approach. She gathered friends and each one was assigned a task to help make the cards efficiently.

 

Valentines for All int2 a team of Esther's friends
Interior art from Valentine for All written by Nancy Churnin and illustrated by Monika Róża Wiśniewska, Albert Whitman & Co. ©2023.

 

In 1866 Esther fell and never fully recovered from her injury. Though she required a wheelchair she kept the business functioning. As time passed, Esther realized there was a need for more than Valentine’s Day cards. Cards could convey remorse, celebrate birthdays, friendship and so much more. These greeting cards filled a gap in the marketplace but with the growth of printing presses, hand-crafted cards were soon replaced by printed ones.

Readers learn in the Author’s Note that Esther eventually merged her business with a competitor’s son and then they sold it entirely in 1880. Esther retired so she could look after her ailing father but surely felt great satisfaction in the meaning her cards had brought to an entire nation.

Backmatter also provides ideas for creating Valentine’s Day card poems and an annual contest to enter.

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Brave with Beauty Review for Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2022

 

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BRAVE WITH BEAUTY: A STORY OF AFGHANISTAN

Written by Maxine Rose Schur

Illustrated by Patricia Grush-Dewitt,
Robin Dewitt, and Golsa Yaghoobi

(Yali Books; Hardcover, paperback, and eBook, Ages 7-9)

 

 

Brave with Beauty cover

 

 

Good Reads With Ronna is thrilled to be back again for the 9th year of Multicultural Children’s Book Day (tomorrow, Friday 1/28/22) sharing another noteworthy diverse book to introduce young readers to cultures and people from around the world and throughout history. (Don’t miss the important MCBD details below this review.)

More a storybook than a picture book, Brave with Beauty written by Maxine Rose Schur and illustrated by Patricia Grush-DewittRobin Dewitt, and Golsa Yaghoobi, is the fascinating story of the late 14th and early 15th-century forward-thinker, Queen Goharshad from Herat, Afghanistan.

Though she may have lived seven centuries ago, Queen Goharshad remains a great role model, clearly ahead of her time. Yet so many of us have never heard about her tremendous contributions to society. She was responsible for making art, architecture, science, and more flourish in her lifetime. As a young girl, Goharshad liked to “imagine beautiful things to draw.” When married to the powerful king, Shah Rukh, she brought her creative eye to her role, determined to add more things of beauty to the world around her. “‘It is as if the kingdom is made of many paintings,’ she mused.”

 

Brave with Beauty int1
Interior illustration from Brave with Beauty written by Maxine Rose Schur and illustrated by Patricia Grush-Dewitt, Robin Dewitt, and Golsa Yaghoobi, Yali Books ©2019.

 

First came music. Queen Goharshad challenged the court musicians to compose and perform enchanting music for the court and city. “The land grew rich with melody.” Then came the colorful gardens which people from all over were welcome to enjoy. Still, she dreamed of more, bigger projects that would add richness and beauty to the landscape. This would be a mosque, a gift to the western city of Mashhad. She drew plans and invited the court architect, Qavam al-Din Shirazi, to review them.  Though faced with initial opposition from him because Goharshad was a woman, Shirazi ultimately relented. The results were breathtaking.

 

Brave with Beauty int2
Interior illustration from Brave with Beauty written by Maxine Rose Schur and illustrated by Patricia Grush-Dewitt, Robin Dewitt, and Golsa Yaghoobi, Yali Books ©2019.

 

To top that accomplishment, the queen yearned to build a great center of learning. She told Shirazi she wanted “A college for girls, a grand mosque for prayer and a vast library brimming with books of science, religion, literature, and art. All the buildings must be decorated with paint made from precious stones.” Imagine how much that would cost. And despite the great wealth she and the king had Shirazi said they did not have enough in the coffers. For her dream to be realized she’d have to sell off her fine jewels and diamond crown. She didn’t hesitate.

 

 

Brave with Beauty int3
Interior illustration from Brave with Beauty written by Maxine Rose Schur and illustrated by Patricia Grush-Dewitt, Robin Dewitt, and Golsa Yaghoobi, Yali Books ©2019.

 

Naturally, Queen Goharshad could not reign alongside her husband forever, and eventually, they both died. Sadly, all that remains today of these majestic buildings are a few time-battered minarets but the rest are now ruins, the tragic result of war. Interesting back matter provides a helpful glossary, an author’s note, and a guide for parents and educators with resources. I’m so glad to have been offered the opportunity to review Brave with Beauty: A Story of Afghanistan.  Thanks to Schur’s thoughtfully written story together with the gorgeous jewel-toned art with its nod to the style of detailed illuminated manuscripts of that era, the incredible legacy of this amazing Renaissance woman lives on.

Download an activity guide here.

 

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

 

Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2022 (1/28/22) is in its 9th year! This non-profit children’s literacy initiative was founded by Valarie Budayr and Mia Wenjen; two diverse book-loving moms who saw a need to shine the spotlight on all of the multicultural books and authors on the market while also working to get those books into the hands of young readers and educators.

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Picture Book Review for MLK Day – A Place to Land

A PLACE TO LAND:

Martin Luther King Jr.

and the Speech That Inspired a Nation

Written by Barry Wittenstein

Illustrated by Jerry Pinkney

(Neal Porter Books/Holiday House; $18.99, Ages 7-10)

 

A Place to Land book cover

 

A 2019 Booklist Editors’ Choice
A Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year
A Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year
A School Library Journal Best Book of the Year

INTRO

Martin Luther King Jr.’s most famous speech, “I Have a Dream”, will never cease to give me chills or bring tears to my eyes so I’m grateful for the meticulously researched backstory behind the composition thoughtfully presented in A Place to Land by Barry Wittenstein and Jerry Pinkney.

While elementary-school-aged children may be familiar with King’s speech, they may not know how long it took to write, that it was delivered during the 1963 March on Washington, or that one of the most quoted parts of it was shared extemporaneously at the prompting of gospel great Mahalia Jackson. In this enlightening picture book, readers are privy to fascinating fly-on-the-wall moments that demonstrate King’s writing process and how his background as a preacher played a part in its creation.

 

Pages from A Place to Land interior Page 1
Interior spread from A Place to Land written by Barry Wittenstein and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney, Neal Porter Books ©2019.

 

REVIEW:

Over the years I’ve reviewed myriad wonderful MLK Jr. books and A Place to Land, like those others, has focused on an impactful point in King’s life and magnified it so we may understand it better. Wittenstein’s lyrical writing shines and flows like a King speech, pulling us in with each new line. I found myself repeating many of the sentences aloud, marveling at what he chose to keep on the page and wondering how much he had to leave out. The revealing information Wittenstein details will inspire readers to reexamine well-known orations throughout history, looking at their content through a new lens.

 

Pages from A Place to Land interior Page 2
Interior spread from A Place to Land written by Barry Wittenstein and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney, Neal Porter Books ©2019.

 

The story in A Place to Land unfolds in three significant locations, the Willard Hotel in D.C., the Lincoln Memorial, and at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama just prior to, during, and some years after King’s speech. Historical figures are woven into most of Pinkney’s spreads. Readers will be prompted to learn more about every individual noted and the comprehensive back matter provides the resources to do so.

I hadn’t known that the “I Have a Dream” speech was written at the Willard nor did I know how many influential colleagues contributed during the meeting of the minds prior to King’s drafting of the speech. “So Martin did what great men do. He asked for guidance.” I also hadn’t realized that MLK Jr. practically pulled an all-nighter writing it after the lengthy and honest discussions. How he managed to make such a powerful presentation after barely any sleep is beyond me, but clearly, his adrenaline kicked in and his natural oratory skills took command at that lectern.

As a former speechwriter, my favorite part of A Place to Land was reading about King’s exhaustive efforts to craft the speech late into the night while trying to integrate all the input he’d been given earlier in the meeting. In his message, he wanted to convey the goals of his non-violent civil rights movement and continue to push for racial equality and the end of discrimination. He was also determined to honor those who came before him and those who would carry on his dreams. “… and so many others, their faces forever seared into his memory.”

King found himself “Writing. Rewriting. Rephrasing, …” and then practicing his delivery before succumbing to sleep. I felt as though I were in the room with him, knowing as he did that there was an important element currently eluding him that was still to come.

 

Pages from A Place to Land interior Page 3
Interior spread from A Place to Land written by Barry Wittenstein and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney, Neal Porter Books ©2019.

ART

Pinkney’s outstanding collage-style illustrations are so fitting for the subject matter. He seamlessly blends images of civil rights advocates with elements of the movement and the era. As I turned the pages, I couldn’t wait to see what people would appear and against what backdrop. It’s hard to imagine any other art marrying so well with Wittenstein’s or MLK Jr.’s words. I resoundingly recommend A Place to Landby Barry Wittenstein and Jerry Pinkney for parents, teachers, and librarians. It’s a movingly written, motivating, educational, and timeless read that I will definitely revisit.

Visit the publisher’s website page here for bonus material.

Click here for a roundup of more recommended reads for MLK Day.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

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Picture Book Review – A Green Place to Be: The Creation of Central Park

A GREEN PLACE TO BE:
The Creation of Central Park

Written and illustrated by Ashley Benham Yazdani
(Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 7-10)

 

book cover illustration from A Green Place to Be by Ashley Beham Yazdani

 

Ashley Benham Yazdani’s A Green Place to Be: The Creation of Central Park shines a light on a familiar subject in a new way. This historical nonfiction picture book gives a glimpse into 1858 New York City when the park’s design contest was held. Architect Calvert Vaux and park superintendent Frederick Law Olmsted teamed up to win.

Yazdani’s images capture the vast undertaking as Vaux and Olmsted draft the layout, called Greensward. I like the spread of the ten-foot-long drawing envisioning what could be done with the land. Though their design was entered after the deadline, they won but had to change the name to New York City’s Central Park.

Olmsted planned ahead—about 100 years ahead—using “the color and shape of each plant to create illusions in the landscape” so nature would be the focus for generations yet to come. “Amenities such as the Dairy were specifically built to help those living with less, and Olmsted’s and Vaux’s compassion for others is shown by their determination to create a park that welcomed all social classes.” The men were early environmentalists striving to conserve this patch of parkland in Manhattan.

Kids who like construction-type books will appreciate that boulders were blasted to bits. Nearly every piece of the swampy, sharp, and foul-smelling land was raised or lowered, rocks were relocated and reused. Thought was given on how to best move people through the park without disturbances from carriages.

The end matter sums up the lives of Olmsted and Vaux. A page of interactive questions with items kids can search for within the book adds an element of interactive fun. More detail is given on Seneca Village, the area of land which had to be cleared for the park. The freed African-Americans who lived there were first offered money, then forced out—a sad beginning to this story.

 

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