A Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection ★Starred Reviews – BookPage, The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, The Horn Book, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, Shelf Awareness
Andrea Wang and Jason Chin’snew picture book, Watercress, tells a story with that one word alone. This vegetable embodies a family’s experiences from the great famine years until today in the US. Wang’s spare, lyrical text shows us the range of emotions felt by the girl whose parents excitedly stop to pick watercress from the side of the road, much to the girl’s chagrin. Her feelings brew throughout the story until painful memories shared bring about an understanding.
Fans of Jason Chin’s gorgeous watercolor images will not be disappointed. The family’s many dimensions come alive on the page, reflecting today’s struggles and those long ago.
This book is relatable to people from immigrant families as myself, or any kid who’s been embarrassed by some things their family does—and who hasn’t?! Watercress is top-notch for its ability to convey a world of information and a wide range of moods.
The text and illustrations are flawless. There’s even a secret book cover image once the paper cover is removed. The accolades for Watercress are merited. It is definitely one of my top 2021 picks.
With the Presidential Election around the corner, parents are struggling with how to talk to younger children about it all on a relatable level. Reading Partners, an early literacy nonprofit, has curated a book list for parents to start an engaging and entertaining democracy dialogue with their children.
As part of their#RiseUpForReading2020campaign, the book list below is designed to spark conversations about democracy and inspire young ones to learn about civic engagement, to allay any confusion—and even fear—around what has been a year of uncertainties.
This reSource is one of many that Reading Partners has rolled out mobilizing for elementary school students in under-resourced schools reading below grade level. A number of free, virtual, and even text-rich programs are available viaReading Partners Connectsto all students across the nation to help bridge the opportunity gap. I hope you enjoy the recommendations.
The main character, Grace, is shocked that there has never been a woman president. She decides to enter the school election. Readers are exposed to responsible campaigning practices, election conventions, the electoral college, and voting. In the end, Grace wins the election!
Duck wants to make a change on his farm, so he hosts an election. Once he wins, he sees the work is hard. In an effort to improve work for the “boss” of the farm, he runs for mayor to make bigger changes. Again he wins, and again he learns leading is even harder at this level. And so it goes until he is president and learns a true appreciation for how much work goes into being a leader.
A great informational text that shares fun and important facts about elections at a digestible level. Think; everything from why elections are held on certain days, who was able to vote and when, and the formation of political parties.
This book is a historical account of the struggles of African Americans throughout history, celebrating the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Readers learn about the different policies in place that kept their vote silenced through discrimination and tests. Follow 100-year-old Lillian on her walk to the ballot box as she votes for the very first time.
This book dives into what it takes to be president including understanding all of the challenges facing the country and the people you represent. Your child will learn the vocabulary of the election process and understand the weight of responsibility for the president.
Originally published in 1932, this book written by our late first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, explains what our elected officials do as well as each citizen’s role in a democracy. Updates by Michelle Markel and Grace Lin have been made in the rerelease to make it more inclusive through back matter and illustrations. The book also talks about all civil servant roles, not just elected officials. Firefighters, teachers, and garbage men are all highlighted and connected to why voting matters in their chosen field.
In What Can a Citizen Do?Eggers explores what it means to be a citizen—that as a member of society we have a responsibility to be active and involved. Empowering messages about joining a cause, speaking up, or writing letters show how citizens have the chance to change the world.
This book introduces young readers to ten American women who worked tirelessly for women’s rights. It focuses on the work of bold, brave activists and suffragists across history and, ultimately, looks optimistically to the future.
St. George’s book offers a historical look at the first 41 presidents of the United States. Readers will have fun looking at who they were personally as well as what they contributed to our national story.
ADDITIONAL RECOMMENDATIONS FROM GOOD READS WITH RONNA
This picture book highlights budding activist, Sofia Valdez, who’s determined to turn a dirty, dismal plot into a park. When she’s told she cannot, she perseveres proving it’s powerful to stand up for what you believe in. Also of interest is The Questioneers chapter book series including Sofia Valdez and the Vanishing Vote, a timely new read about a class election to choose a pet. “But when the votes are counted, there’s a tie, and one vote is missing. How will the class break the tie? And what happened to the vanishing vote? It’s up to Sofia Valdez and the Questioneers to restore democracy!“
In August of 1920, if the Tennessee legislature approved it, the 19th amendment would be ratified, giving all American women the right to vote. One vote by Harry Burn could sway the election in women’s favor. And indeed that happened because of a powerful letter his mother, Febb Burn, had written him urging him to “Vote for suffrage and don’t forget to be a good boy.” The Voice That Won the Voteis the story of Febb, her son Harry, his tie-breaking vote, and the letter that gave all American women a voice and changed history.
In Leading the Way, readers meet some of the most influential leaders in America, including Jeannette Rankin, who, in 1916, became the first woman elected to Congress; Shirley Chisholm, the first African-American woman elected to Congress; Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman to sit on the Supreme Court; and Bella Abzug, who famously declared, “This woman’s place is in the House . . . the House of Representatives!” This engaging and wide-ranging collection of biographies highlights the actions, struggles, and accomplishments of more than fifty of the most influential leaders in American political history—leaders who have stood up, blazed trails and led the way.
This modern and progressive approach uses the ABCs to highlight voting and social justice issues is for those who believe that every vote counts. V is For Votingis an ideal and easy way to convey the tenets of democracy to America’s future leaders.
A is for active participation. B is for building a more equal nation. C is for citizens’ rights and our duty. D is for difference, our strength and our beauty.
The powerhouse pairing of Mark Shulman and Serge Bloch means readers will get an engaging look at why voting matters, offering a fun and meaningful perspective. “This nonpartisan book will help explain the concept of voting to the youngest readers.
I Votedexplains the concept of choosing, individually, and as a group, from making a simple choice: “Which do you like better, apples or oranges?” to selecting a class pet, to even more complicated decisions, like electing community representatives.” Visit the publisher’s website for bonus material including an activity sheet, an educator’s guide and more.
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
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.
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.
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.
Pinkney’soutstanding 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 pageherefor bonus material.
Click herefor a roundup of more recommended reads for MLK Day.
I’m a big fan of the BabyLit series and I especially like their alphabet primers, A is for America being no exception. It’s full of simple, relatable examples yet sophisticated with its retro-style art and bonanza of bright colors and detailed scenes.
Paprocki has assembled a pleasing assortment of Independence Day and overall America-themed illustrations including E is for Eagle and M is for Mount Rushmore. Of course it makes sense to share F is for Fireworks but I was pleasantly surprised by the inclusion of Q is for Quill as we see John Hancock writing his easily identifiable cursive signature on the Declaration of Independence.
Playful and pertinent, this charming 32-page board book serves not only as an alphabet primer but as a terrific way to acquaint little ones with our country’s history. From the first colonies to the transcontinental railroad when east met west, from the pilgrims to George Washington, A is for Americahonors our nation’s past and what it means to us now.
My Fourth of July is a joyful look at Independence Day through the eyes of an excited little boy. The holiday tale unfolds with the lad still in his pajamas, something I found so sweet, watching the parade passing by from his screen door then even joining in as shown on the cover. My town has a Memorial Day parade but if it had one on the Fourth of July it would be just like this one, full of kids on bikes carrying pinwheels or waving flags and generally having tons of fun. In fact, we even have a big park where many celebrations take place around the gazebo or bandshell just like in Spinelli’s story.
The boy’s in a hurry to get to the park so the family can claim a picnic table, another thing I could relate to! There are hot dogs galore on the grill and all the other mouth-watering food we associate with Independence Day. This imaginary, small town USA has a flag-draped train that passes through (like a scene out of the film Oklahoma) as well as face painting, organized games, a talent show and a concert at the park. Written as a warm, happy slice of life story with little to no obstacles (unless getting a prime picnic spot counts), Spinelli’s picture book celebrates family, community and tradition. It’s wonderful when everyone makes their way to the baseball field to watch the fireworks with Day’s ebullient illustrations depicting the magical display and the emotions it elicits as the day’s festivities come to an end. If you love a feel good picture book that feels both nostalgic and new at the same time, this one’s for you.
Calling yourself an American is more than watching fireworks on the Fourth of July, or eating fast food. It is believing that all people are equal as told by Rana DiOrio along with debut children’s book author, Elad Yoran, in the forty-page picture book, What Does it Mean to be American? Colorful, feel good illustrations by Nina Mata beautifully convey the many different aspects the authors address. Teachers and parents alike will enjoy this upbeat social studies lesson that educates young children on the importance of being grateful and that dreams can come true by working hard because all Americans have the freedom to choose whom we love, what we believe, what we do, and where we live.
The story begins with an interracial couple and their daughter traveling through the desert surrounded by cactus, mountains and a clear blue sky in a van packed with suitcases. The opening sentence is the question, What does it mean to be American? In the array of artwork, we see the young girl smiling as she attends a half Jewish wedding ceremony; she salutes a woman in military gear; and in another she hugs an older former military man seated in a wheelchair. Being American means having access to abundant natural resources so we see the child walking in the great outdoors, enjoying time in nature while holding her mother’s hand, a reminder to be grateful all year for her family’s many blessings.
As the reader turns the page, our character sees people from all countries working in America and learns to appreciate that people from all kinds of backgrounds have something to offer her, whether it’s playing a game of chess or exercising with an elder in the park. As the little girl sits on her father’s shoulders, he tells her about people in the past who had the creativity to invent new things and that she should be proud of all that Americans have accomplished, yet humble about all we still need to learn. The illustrations take us back to the invention of the computer and the automobile, but also remind us that women fought for their right to vote.
This vital story that every parent must take time with their young kids to discuss, reminds us to become our best self, but that we also have an obligation to help others (something children can NEVER hear enough of!) With mindfulness lessons on the importance of being present mixed in with a rich lesson in our American history, readers learn that the greatest nation in the world can always be better!
In addition to loving the message throughout this book, I got excited reading the back matter. Writers Rana and Elad share that their intention for writing the story was to encourage adults in children’s lives to start meaningful conversations about what it means to be American. With a fabulous history lesson reminding readers what our forefathers wrote in the Declaration of Independence to a guided list of questions to continue the conversation with young and older children alike, we are reminded about all the amazing people who made America what it is today.
This is a great read for teachers who can jump start a discussion with these initial questions, and then lead into so many other topics. Bravo to the writers who said, Being American means welcoming people from other countries and helping them learn what it means to be American … and appreciating that our differences make us kinder, smarter, healthier and stronger. Don’t miss the other great books in the What Does It Mean to Be …? series.
•Reviewed by Guest Reviewer Ronda Einbinder
Ronda is a teacher/writer who worked for Irvine Unified School District assisting students in grades K-6. She is also a 500-Hour Registered Yoga Instructor, teaching yoga and mindfulness both publicly and privately. Previously, she was a writer and publicist for ObesityHelp magazine and non-profit medical facilities.
Clickhereto read last year’s Fourth of July book reviews.