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Middle Grade Nonfiction Book Review – Who’s Got Mail?

 

WHO’S GOT MAIL?
The History of Mail in America

Written by Linda Barrett Osborne

(Abrams BYR; $22.99, Ages 10-14)

 

 

Who's Got Mail cover assorted US stamps

 

Starred Review – Kirkus

 

REVIEW:

Long before there was email, there was V-mail. Short for “Victory mail” it was a system used during World War II as a way to save space for delivering other items, such as military supplies and equipment. This is just one of the many fascinating bits of information presented in Linda Barrett Osborne’s latest offering, Who’s Got Mail?: The History of Mail in America.

 

Who's Got Mail cover int pg5 intro
Interior spread from Who’s Got Mail? The History of Mail in America written by Linda Barrett Osborne, Abrams BYR ©2022.

 

Divided into ten chapters, the pages are cleverly designed to look like stamps themselves, with perforated borders. With photographs punctuating almost every page, it is very easy for middle-grade readers to remain interested in this nonfiction book and want to learn about the history of America and its postal service.

Although there is much to praise the USPS for throughout its long history, the author herself is to be praised for not shying away from addressing their treatment of African Americans and women, who each have a chapter dedicated just to them. Latinos, Asian Americans, and Native Americans are grouped together in their own chapter as well, depicting clearly the discrimination that these minorities faced within the hierarchy of employment.

 

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Interior spread from Who’s Got Mail? The History of Mail in America written by Linda Barrett Osborne, Abrams BYR ©2022.

 

But it is not just the large issues that are written up so vividly. The small details are just as noteworthy. For example, this Canadian reviewer was truly surprised to learn that mail is delivered six times a week in America (as opposed to five times a week in Canada.)

Back matter includes a timeline beginning in 1753 with the British government appointing Benjamin Franklin as the deputy postmaster general of its colonies, to the present day, with the delivery of free in-home COVID-19 tests, and the signing of the Postal Service Reform Act into law by President Joe Biden thereby canceling USPS’s large debt.

 

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Interior spread from Who’s Got Mail? The History of Mail in America written by Linda Barrett Osborne, Abrams BYR ©2022.

 

In keeping with the subject matter of the book, both the jacket and the front and back covers are decorated with a variety of images of stamps courtesy of the National Postal Museum, Smithsonian Institution’s, 4000+ collection adding much information and interest. One celebrates abolitionist Harriet Tubman; another pays tribute to the Pony Express, which lasted for nineteen months beginning in 1860, using relays of riders on horses to deliver the mail.

A selected bibliography and index round out this must-read for both young (and old) history buffs who want to read about a unique and captivating subject.

  •  Reviewed by Freidele Galya Soban Biniashvili
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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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Let’s Celebrate Independence Day! In 1776 by Jean Marzollo

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

 

 

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

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

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

Happy 4th of July everyone! 🇺🇸

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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