This Day in June

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Image Credit: Magination Press (American Psychological Association), Gayle E. Pitman/Kristyna Litten

What a cool book. The story is very simple but there’s quite a lot to experience if you soak in the illustrations and take time to read the guides at the end. This Day in June celebrates LGBT Pride celebrations and is a vibrant depiction of unity, love and acceptance. From “This day in June, Parade starts soon!” to “All Invited, All Excited” each page shows an aspect of a LGBT pride parade and all the fun, excitement and inclusion that it involves.

Rainbow colors, all types of families, confetti, “Born this Way” signs, people embracing, smiles galore and vibrantly dressed parade goers fill the pages and Litten’s illustrations are so happy and diverse. At the end of the book, there’s a Reading Guide that breaks down every page to give readers more context and information about the history of the parade. I recommend reading these notes because they’re interesting and some references in the story will make more sense after reading them if you weren’t previously knowledgeable. Parents might even consider reading the notes to themselves before reading the story to children to fluff up the presentation while reading aloud.

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Image Credit: Magination Press (American Psychological Association), Gayle E. Pitman/Kristyna Litten

Because this book is published by the American Psychological Association, there’s also a Note to Parents and Caregivers in the back of the book. It discusses how This Day in June can be helpful in promoting discussion about the LGBT community AND there are notes about how to discuss sexual orientation and gender identity to children of various ages. Picture books are always great catalysts for discussion and learning but with these extra tools included, teachers and parents have an extra guide. Get ready for great discussions about important issues of identity, love, expression and celebration!

 

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Diversity, We Need Diverse Books, Celebration, Parades, LGBT Community, Discussion, Pride Parade, Family, Friendship, Colors, Read-Aloud, Non-Fiction
Book Info: This Day in June by Gayle E. Pitman/Illustrated by Kristyna Litten, 2014 Magination Press (American Psychological Association), ISBN: 9781433816581

When the Beat Was Born: DJ Kool Herc & the Creation of Hip Hop

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Image Credit: Roaring Brook Press (Macmillan Kids), Laban Carrick Hill/Theodore Taylor III

 

When the Beat Was Born is the perfect example of how a “picture book” can be used to explore current events, modern history and socially relevant topics. Laban Carrick Hill gives us just enough to peak our interest in hip hop history.

The story begins in Kingston, Jamaica in the 70s with Clive Campbell’s budding passion for music. Though he was too young, he wanted to go to the awesome house parties thrown by DJ King George. He also admired his enormous records collection. Soon he moved to NYC with his mom and though he didn’t fit in at first, he was great at sports, grew to be a large boy and gained the nickname “Kool Herc.” His dad bought an impressive sound system for the house and he began spinning and filled the Bronx with his sound. Next thing he new, he was throwing parties and people were coming from all over NYC. People danced during the breaks (break dancing) and soon enough, he was a DJ…and hip hop was born!

At the back of the book, Hill adds his own reflections and personal experience with the early days of hip hop. This personalization really adds something special to the book. There’s also a nifty hip hop timeline that puts everything in place historically; there were multiple players who contributed to the creation of hip hop as we know it today. Theodore Taylor III’s illustrations are funky and bold and bring the parties to life. The dark colors he uses create the feeling of a nighttime party and a dark, thriving club scene.

When the Beat Was Born is great for hip hop heads, for hip hop heads who just had a baby, for hip hop head teachers who want their kids to learn about the origins of hip hop and for any person who wants to learn something new! 🙂  The possibilities of this book are endless for any history and music lover. Check out this book and be inspired to look up the origins of hip hop!

Recommended for: 2nd Grade and up
Great for: History, Diversity, African-American, We Need Diverse Books, Music, Hip Hop, DJ, Music History, Social Issues, Community, Pop Culture, Biography, Non-Fiction
Book Info: When the Beat Was Born by Laban Carrick Hill/Illustrated by Theodore Taylor III, 2013 Roaring Brook Press (Macmillan Kids), ISBN: 9781596435407

The Good Little Book

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Image Credit: Tundra Books (Penguin Random House), Kyo Maclear/Marion Arbona

 

“There is no frigate like a book” – Emily Dickinson

As Dickinson wisely says above and as any lover of reading knows, a good book can take you places. You don’t need tickets or luggage. All you need is a great story and a comfy place to sit.

The Good Little Book is delightful. If you’re looking for an excellent book about the power of reading, this is the one. In the first few pages of the story, we learn that The Good Little Book is very average; it doesn’t have any medals or honors but for just the right person, it can become the perfect book. A boy discovers it while sitting in the study after being sent there to reflect on his behavior. Before he knows it, he’s consumed by the story and The Good Little Book takes him to faraway lands. As time passes, he reads the book over and over again but one day he loses it on the street! He searches all over for his book and though he doesn’t give up hope, he starts to read MORE stories. Maybe he’ll be okay without The Good Little Book after all…

Arbona’s gouache and pencil illustrations are very quirky and memorable. They suit the quiet yet fantastical tone of the story and the palette she uses includes a lot of rich, earthy hues. I love that the book we read IS The Good Little Book…his cute smile graces the front cover and his burgundy body with his cheeky expressions can be found on just about every page. This is quite a good little book that your family will enjoy!

Recommended for: All ages
Great for: Encouraging Reading, Discussion, Community, Imagination, Sharing
Book Info: The Good Little Book by Kyo Maclear/Illustrated by Marion Arbona, 2015 Tundra Books (Penguin Random House), ISBN: 9781770494510

Here I Am

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Image Credit: Picture Window Books (Capstone Young Readers), Patti Kim/Sonia Sánchez

Whether escaping war, oppression, famine or discrimination, the United States has long been a place for new beginnings for people all over the world. Safe in our homes, it can be hard to put ourselves in the shoes of others, in the shoes of people who are fleeing their old life to make something better. Can you imagine being plucked from your home and while trying to hold on to what you know and understand, being placed in an entirely new (and sometimes scary) environment?

Reading Here I Am reminded me of the struggles of Syrian refugees trying to make new homes in various countries around the world. In this book, a young boy and his family leave Korea to make a new home in the US. This wordless picture book is inspired by the author Patti Kim’s experience leaving Korea at four years old to travel to the US. Her story, combined with Sonia Sánchez’s expressive and energetic art, is a moving tale of immigration.

In Here I Am, a child steps off a plane with his red seed from home tucked safely inside his pocket. It’s easy to see his confusion and reluctance to adjust to his new life. The words on sign posts and restaurants are a jumbled mess and all he hears from his teacher is “Blah Blah Blah” but…his red seed is comfort. He holes away in his family’s apartment, not ready to explore UNTIL…he drops his precious seed out the window and a girl picks it up and goes off with it! As he rushes down the stairs and begins to explore his city, he realizes how fascinating his new home is. Like his seed, he blooms and grows with his new friend, the new connection he makes in his new home.

This book is excellent for discussing difference, feelings and change and I hope you will keep this story with you!

Recommended for: Kindergarten and up
Great for: Diversity, Wordless, Moving, Immigration, Family, Friendship, We Need Diverse Books, Community, Discussion, Storyboarding
Book Info: Here I Am by Patti Kim/Illustrated by Sonia Sánchez, 2014 Picture Window Books (Capstone Young Readers), ISBN: 9781623700362

Calvin Coconut: Trouble Magnet

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Image Credit: Wendy Lamb Books (Random House Children’s Books), Graham Salisbury/Jacqueline Rogers

 

Calvin is a “trouble magnet” because he can’t help but get in sticky situations. This book is very fast-paced and a little all over the place but that’s not a bad thing because the story is so honest, good and funny!

Calvin lives with his mom and little sister Darci in Kailua, Hawaii. Their “famous” dad left them years ago for Vegas but they’re doing just fine. One day, mom tells Calvin and Darci that they’ll soon have a guest from Texas; her name is Stella, she’s fifteen, and is the daughter of one of her friends. She’ll be just like a sister she says. Antics ensue as Calvin finds a pet centipede in the garage, starts his first day of fourth grade, makes a new friend, dodges a bully and barely manages to stay out of trouble.

Salisbury’s writing, characterization, attention to language and cultural details are excellent; he helps the reader feel right at home on the island. From having the kids talk about how much a haole (white person) with blue eyes and blond hair stands out in their community to explaining spam musubi, kimchi and shave ice, he shares his culture. The Calvin Coconut series celebrates how diverse Hawaii is and the honest portrayal of race, difference, and social issues is refreshing.

Jaqueline Roger’s spunky illustrations fit the mood of the story perfectly. Her loose watercolor-sketch style brings the characters to life and she draws expressions so well.

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Image Credit: Wendy Lamb Books (Random House Children’s Books), Graham Salisbury/Jacqueline Rogers

I’m SO ready to hop on a plane and head down to Hawaii!  I just hope I don’t run into someone as silly as Calvin. Be sure to check out this series if you’re looking for something a little different and fun for your kids.

 

Recommended for: 3rd/4th grade and up
Great for: Humor, Friendship, Diversity, We Need Diverse Books, Food Culture, Hawaii, School Life, Single Mothers, Bullying, Family
Book Info: Calvin Coconut: Trouble Magnet by Graham Salisbury/Illustrated by Jacqueline Rogers, 2009 Wendy Lamb Books (Random House Children’s Books), ISBN: 9780385737012

Bernice Gets Carried Away

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Image Credit: Dial Books for Young Readers (Penguin Group), Hannah E. Harrison

 

In Bernice Gets Carried Away, Bernice gets carried away and gets carried away!

Bernice is in a bad mood and she’s not ashamed about it one bit! Even though she’s at a party, everything is going wrong for her; she doesn’t get a frosting rose on her cake slice, she gets a nasty warm soda and she doesn’t even get to hit the piñata before some big kid bursts it open. It’s just a bad day overall. Suddenly she spots the balloons and decides to make her day better by snatching them before anyone else can but they carry her up up and away! While dangling in the storm clouds, she realizes that it’s better to be nice and her generosity makes her a little lighter.

The illustrations in Bernice Gets Carried Away are gorgeous. Very detailed acrylic paintings accompany the story. From the whiskers on Fox’s face to the tiny details in Bernice’s annoyed expressions, the art is beautiful. Harrison’s use of color is also great; it ranges from gloomy gray hues to a bright, spring pastel palette. The lesson to take away from this book is, it’s okay to be grumpy sometimes (we all have our days) but it’s important to remember to care for others and not get carried away!

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Emotions, Discussion, Animals, Humor, Lessons, Party
Book Info: Bernice Gets Carried Away by Hannah E. Harrison, 2015 Dial Books for Young Readers (Penguin Group), ISBN: 9780803739161

A Lasting Taste…

“Because when I read, I don’t really read; I pop a beautiful sentence into my mouth and suck it like a fruit drop, or I sip it like a liqueur until the thought dissolves in me like alcohol, infusing brain and heart and coursing on through the veins to the root of each blood vessel.”

-Bohumil Hrabal, Too Loud a Solitude

Leontyne Price: Voice of a Century

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Image Credit: Alfred A. Knopf (Random House Children’s Books (Random House LLC), Carole Boston Weatherford/Raul Colón

 

Opera. Amazing Voice. Black Woman. World Domination. 😉

Carole Boston Weatherford’s latest biography book tells the story of the talented opera singer, Leontyne Price who started in the segregated South of Laurel, Mississippi and rose to stages around the world. As a young girl, Leontyne’s parents, knowing she’d grow up in a segregated world, encouraged her talent and made sure she knew she was loved and important!

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Image Credit: Alfred A. Knopf (Random House Children’s Books (Random House LLC), Carole Boston Weatherford/Raul Colón

Music came naturally to Leontyne and Marian Anderson was her inspiration. After she studied voice in college, she began on Broadway and would later dominate the opera stage. She was the first black singer to star at La Scala in Italy and would continue to enchant and inspire people, especially people of color, around the world with her long and impressive career.

This picture book is well written. Weatherford’s voice is strong and she knows how to tell a story with style; “Leontyne was in the church choir, praising God with her gift. A song of promise welled up in Leontyne, as it had in young Marian.” I love it. Raul Colón…what a boss. He’s one of my favorites because his illustrations are always FIRE. He uses watercolor, colored pencils and warm colors. His signature scratch technique is on every page and whenever he depicts music, he uses a rainbow swirl of color that envelops Leontyne. The colorful music is a part of her.

If you’re looking for an excellent new biography book about an often overlooked but well respected Black woman, check this one out! It’s pretty special.

Recommended for: 1st-2nd grade and up
Great for: Diversity, Music, Non-Fiction, Discussion, Inspiration, Opera, We Need Diverse Books, African American, Family, Girl Power, History, Segregation, BlackGirlsRock, Biography
Book Info: Leontyne Price: Voice of a Century by Carole Boston Weatherford/Illustrated by Raul Colón, 2014 Alfred A. Knopf (Random House Children’s Books (Random House LLC)), ISBN: 9780375856068

Mole Music

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Image Credit: Square Fish (Henry Holt and Company (Macmillan)), David McPhail

We may doubt ourselves and our abilities BUT, someone may be watching, learning and being inspired by what we do. We never know the effect we have on others.

In Mole Music, Mole is a proper mole (he digs and digs) but his life is rather mundane; he becomes lonely and searches for something new. On TV one night, he sees a man playing violin and decides that he wants to make beautiful music too. After many sour notes and years of practice, Mole becomes an extremely talented and beautiful musician but he thinks his music will never reach anyone. Little does he know his music soothes. He has a power that he doesn’t even realize; a power to unite people through music! Maybe one day he’ll leave his hole and see how much good he brings the world. I certainly hope he does and I hope he continues to make his music for himself as well.

McPhail’s watercolor and ink illustrations are lovely and I love Mole’s rotund body, cute snout and his fat fingers. The illustrations show two worlds at once to make one story. As we see Mole’s life, we can also see the effects his music has on the world above him. A sapling grows into a mighty tree and animals and humans are drawn to that spot. This is a great book for music lovers and is also a great reminder of the power we all hold inside ourselves!

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Animals, Diversity, Music, Discussion, Inspiration
Book Info: Mole Music by David McPhail, 1999 Square Fish (Henry Holt and Company (Macmillan)), ISBN: 9780805067668

 

Beyond the Pond

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Image Credit: Balzer + Bray (HarperCollins), Joseph Kuefler

Sometimes it takes a new experience to see the “exceptional” in our everyday lives.

Ernest D. is an adventurous boy who finds life to be rather drab until he realizes that the pond in front of his house is infinitely deep. He grabs his supplies and with his trusty dog, takes a dive into the unknown. Underwater, it’s pretty amazing but when he reaches the other side of the pond, he finds a land of wonder and fantasy. Soon it’s time to go home though, but Ernest D. takes a bit of that wonder home with him and…his drab world isn’t so drab anymore. He sees it with more color!

The message of this book resonates with me because I lived abroad for several years and as any person who’s lived abroad/outside of their home for a long time knows, you’re quite changed by that experience. When I came back from Korea, I experienced some reverse culture shock and now that I’m well settled back into my home, I still carry a bit of “color” from my Korean life. I can’t help but be affected by my experiences on the other side of that large pond, the Pacific Ocean.

The digital illustrations in Beyond the Pond are very well done and I especially love the murky blue scenes underwater. Kuefler uses a mostly blue, green and brown palate for Ernest D’s world, but Beyond the Pond, the colors explode in brightness. Ernest D’s big expressive eyes reflect his feelings of excitement, fear and content. This book is excellent for discussion and for children who have a natural sense of exploration! Go forth and explore. 🙂

P.S. Pay attention to the front and back endpapers!

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Adventure, Exploration, Discussion, Perspective, Friendship, Dogs
Book Info: Beyond the Pond by Joseph Kuefler, 2015 Balzer + Bray (Harper Collins), ISBN: 9780062364272