The poems celebrate diversity, not only in terms of race and ethnicity, but in experience. Brantley-Newton welcomes all kinds of girls with differing hobbies, interests, likes, and dislikes. Girls can be an “Explorer,” a “Negotiator,” “Shy,” or just plain “Weird.” Each type of girl is recognized and validated.
Biblical principles weave throughout the poems. They call for making change in the world through kindness, grace, and “fight[ing] the good fight of love.” As “The Day I Decided to Become Sunshine,” “Warrior,” and “Girl Fight” emphasize, participating in this change is a willful decision girls can make. “I decided to be a light/ by holding a door/ open for others to come through.” “Respectfully/ with humanity/ and lovingly,” girls can empower the world by “fighting for … what [they] believe.”
Just as important, girls can empower themselves. Poems such as “I Love My Body,” “Gumbo Me,” and “My Crown” send positive body messages and celebrate the uniqueness of each girl. Each one is enough just for being herself. ”[T]o be the me/that I’m supposed to be” is one of the most life-giving statements a little girl can hear.
Framing Brantley-Newton’s reassuring words are her captivating illustrations. Layers of pattern, color, and texture overlap to energize and uplift, placing each girl in center stage so that every reader can see herself in these pages.
This book is like a blanket of love. It would make a wonderful gift for that upcoming (virtual?) baby shower, birthday party, first day of school, or any occasion caregivers want to send a clear message of appreciation to the little girl in their life.
FLASH AND GLEAM
Written by Sue Fliess
Illustrated by Khoa Le
(Millbrook Press; $19.99, Ages 5-8)
★Starred Review – Booklist
There’s more to light than meets the eye and Flash and Gleam: Light in Our Worldby Sue Fliesswith illustrations by Khoa Le makes that apparent and oh so interesting with every page turn. This read-aloud, rhyming nonfiction picture book introduces young readers to four diverse children, their light-filled lives and holidays, as well as the science behind light.
Fliess’s spare and poetic text takes us from morning, noon and night as we see wake up time, gardening, thunderstorms, birthdays, sunsets and rainbows, excellent examples of how light is at work in its myriad and miraculous forms.
I love how the words and art work so wonderfully together to convey the story of light in such an accessible way. It would be easy for kids to follow along just by looking at Le’s lovely illustrations with their warm tones and expressive poses. But Fliess’s poetic stanzas, “Flicker/Feel/Help us heal” (a family lighting candles at a sidewalk memorial), or one of my favorites, “Float/Guide/Far and wide” (visiting a lighthouse by boat), gently share the magic of light in a meaningful and repeatable way. Whether watching fireflies or enjoying a campfire, the scenes throughout Flash and Gleam show how light fills our lives with amazement, energy, entertainment and so much more.
Helpful back matter delves deeper into “The Science of Light” by breaking down the topic into six sections including What is Light?, Lightning, Rainbows, The Northern Lights, Fireflies, and Moonlight, all things that the four children experienced on the previous pages. Intermittent factoids shed light on fun facts: When you are looking at a rainbow the sun is always directly behind you! There is also a section called Light and Celebration where children can learn about the varying ways light is associated with certain holidays such Thailand’s Yi Peng and its “fire-powered rice paper sky lanterns.”
Flash and Gleam will be a welcome read at home, in classrooms or at the library. Not only is the subject matter fascinating, but how it’s presented will spark children’s curiosity about the light all around them, every day, everywhere.
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
MOMMY’S KHIMAR Written by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow
Illustrated by Ebony Glenn
(Salaam Reads; $17.99, Ages 3-7)
ALMA Written and illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal
(Candlewick Press, $17.99, Ages 4-8)
are reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.
Two parent and child dyads share and celebrate cherished cultural connections in beautiful new picture books by debut authors that will touch and delight the heart.
Debut author Thompkins-Bigelow depicts a child’s wonderful, busy day in MOMMY’S KHIMAR.“A khimar is a flowing scarf that my mommy wears” says a young Muslim girl who loves to dress-up in her mother’s rainbow collection of headscarves. Fun and fancy are foremost in her mind as she incorporates the beautiful khimars in her imaginative play. The yellow khimar – another term for hijab – is her favorite and she dreams of wearing it like a queen, or a superhero, flying through the sky like a star.
Mama sees the girl at play, but smiles tenderly rather than scolds. The scarf carries her familiar, motherly fragrance of coconut oil, cocoa butter and cinnamon, making it even more special to her daughter. The girl is also loved and celebrated by her father, teachers and her grandmother, wrapped in tangible and intangible messages of love and welcome.
Glenn’s bright, sunny illustrations are sweet and appealing, using vibrant colors that compliment the warm, well-rounded story and keep the focus squarely on the girl’s fun. The energetic images cool to soft blue-purples as night falls and the beloved khimar returns to her mother’s closet. Even in her dreams the heroine recalls the tender embrace of her family and community, but her mother most of all. A delightful depiction of an ordinary day in the life of a cheerful and charming child. ★Starred reviews – Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal
ALMA AND HOW SHE GOT HER NAMEis the book title, but the inquisitive heroine’s full name is Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela. Alma complains that her name is “too long” and “never fits.” In fact, Alma must tape an extra piece of paper to her page to accommodate all six! Soon, the how and why of the family stories behind each and every name is revealed in compelling, engaging descriptions.
When Alma’s father explains the rich history of the names she bears, Alma’s incredible imagination brings them to life. Aided by family photos and icons, her father’s story reveals Alma’s namesakes and the common bonds they share. Like her grandmother Sofia, Alma adores books. Like her grandfather Jose, Alma loves to draw and paint. Candela was Alma’s activist grandmother, and aunt Pura was deeply spiritual.
Alma wears delightful striped red pants, a perky red hairbow, and a red string around her left wrist. Her sweet, expressive face moves from solemn to astonished, serene to silly as she “meets” her ancestors and discovers the common bonds that they share. Martinez-Neal, recipient of the 2018 Pura Belpré Illustrator Award, uses a restrained color palette and imbues the well-designed textual components with meaningful symbols. Broad, double page spreads pace the story smoothly and linger for maximum impact on each name’s meaning. The final reveal for the name “Alma” is a warm, satisfying and ultimately empowering one for the little girl who has been enriched by the love and history of her family past and present. ALMA is a tender tale, a treasure for all readers who will wonder about their own name history. ★Starred reviews – Booklist, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal
•Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey
Where obtained: I reviewed advanced reader’s copies from the publishers and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.
MOTH AND WASP, SOIL AND OCEAN:
Remembering Chinese Scientist Pu Zhelong’s Work for Sustainable Farming
Written by Sigrid Schmalzer,
Illustrated by Melanie Linden Chan
(Tilbury House Publishing, $17.95, ages 6-9)
is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.
A farm boy in China relates the tale of Pu Zhelong, a scientist and conservationist, and introduces readers to early research in sustainable agriculture practices in MOTH AND WASP, SOIL AND OCEAN.
Through a series of flashbacks, author Sigrid Schmalzer reveals how invasive moths and beetles were destroying precious village crops. When villagers try to defeat the pests, their methods repeatedly fail. As the threat of famine looms, Pu Zhelong, an outsider, arrives bearing new, untested scientific ideas. Can Pu Zhelong save the rice crop without using harmful and ineffective pesticides?
With patience, restraint and deference, Pu Zhelong eventually wins over the skeptical villagers. His innovative methodology, introducing parasitic wasps to destroy the crop-consuming moths, led to a successful and sustainable victory for the farmers. Schmalzer’s imaginative and informative text weaves a tale that will engage young scientists with its ingenuity and sophistication while celebrating this little-known environmental hero.
Debut illustrator Melanie Linden Chan pairs intricate and multi-layered images with the factual content, making this book a pleasure for young readers to pore over. Structuring the narrator’s flashbacks in a journal format, Chan cleverly weaves scientifically precise illustrations against a lush agricultural setting. Elements of Chinese art, history and culture frame the narrative in an engaging, pictoral manner that both delight and inform.
An extensive endnote provides additional information on the history of the story, as well as suggestions for further reading. Also included is a detailed explanation of the decorative Chinese folk art papercuts utilized by the illustrator, and referenced to the pages where they appear in the text.
MOTH AND WASP, SOIL AND OCEAN offers a unique, child-friendly perspective on a earliest origins of agroscience. Add this STEAM selection to your school or classroom library to add depth to collections on organic farming, sustainable agriculture and Chinese history.
Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey
Where obtained: I reviewed a digital advanced reader copy from the publisher and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.
THIS IS IT
by Daria Peoples-Riley
(Greenwillow Books/HarperCollins, $17.99, Ages 4-8)
is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.
★Starred Review – School Library Journal
When a young dancer hesitates nervously at the studio audition door, her mirror-shadow self comes to life to encourage, support and reassure her in This Is It, a charming debut from author-illustrator Daria Peoples-Riley.
“Look at me,” commands a tutu-clad shadow, hands on her hips. The young girl, stiff and uncertain, looks askance but listens to the shadow’s message about challenge, confidence and poise. Slowly, the girl stretches, bends, leans and finally embraces the shadow’s exhortations. “Listen to the hum of your heart’s song,” says the shadow and reminds her to hear the melodies that flow from her elbows to her knees.
The delightful pas-de-deux, girl and shadow, pass together through a grey, concrete cityscape where bridges, staircases and sidewalks accentuate the opportunity for movement and energy. Red, green and pink shrubbery soften the silent, stiff buildings, while the curves of splashing fountains and smoky vents echo the dynamic pair’s swirling, twirling exuberance.
Peoples-Riley employs a mixture of free-verse and concrete poetry that showcase the strength and grace of the young dancer in definitive, certain terms. Moving in deliberate, thoughtful progression, the phrases carefully build up the young dancer’s inner confidence and ultimately celebrate her beautiful self-expression. While the shadow keeps all the spoken lines, it is the girl who ultimately shines in the triumphant, starring role.
Most young dancers become accustomed to studying their reflections in the dance studio mirror. This Is It will inspire them to look for a supportive, encouraging shadow that has also been with them every step of the way, both in and out of the spotlight.
Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey
Where obtained: I reviewed a copy from my local library and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.