Puffy: People Whose Hair Defies Gravity

Puffy

Image Credit: CreateSpace, Aya de León

Black hair texture varies and because many of us are blended, it comes in every form imaginable. People of African origin naturally have a coarser hair type and our hair is often seen as unkempt, not beautiful and unprofessional. We can also be the toughest critics of our natural hair and therefore it’s SO important that children with “puffy” hair see positive images of themselves.

This picture book is a celebration of puffy hair in every magnificent form on various shades of skin. While reading Aya de León’s rhyming text and seeing the joyful photographs, readers will delight in the diversity of natural hair. Puffy isn’t just about hair, it’s about vibrancy and pride in oneself.

Representation matters and I would’ve loved this book as a child. My peers had a lot to say about my dreadlocks (“Are you a boy or a girl??”) and reading a book with people who looked like me in it would’ve been empowering! This unabashedly happy book is needed; it’s already difficult enough to find shining brown faces on book covers and this one is a welcome addition to every library.

I hope you’ll enjoy Puffy: people whose hair defies gravity! #CareFreeBlackKids

 

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Family, Friendship, Pride, Hair, Black Hair, Empowerment, Diversity, Black Girls Rock, Identity, Encouragement, Read-Aloud
Book Info: Puffy: people whose hair defies gravity by Aya de León, 2013 CreateSpace, ISBN: 9781494436773

My Blue is Happy

MyBlueIsHappy

Image Credit: Candlewick Press, Jessica Young/Catia Chien

My Blue is Happy is refreshing. It looks at how we connect colors to different emotions/experiences and how color carries different meaning for everyone. How the young girl in the story interprets her world isn’t so black and white. HER blue isn’t sad…it’s happy and joyful. She doesn’t see yellow as her mother does, cheerful and warm; her yellow is worried and frantic. She sees colors from a very rich perspective and they are special to her. As we follow the girl’s colorful daily life, we meet her family members too and get to see how they interpret color.

Jessica Young’s writing is pretty and visual. Good thing she was paired with Catia Chien whose warm acrylic illustrations work perfectly with the text. She uses scratchy, long streaks of color to create magical scenes. Chien is not afraid of color, she uses it confidently. This book has great potential in the classroom and home to spark creative thinking and lively discussion about color! It could also work well in therapy and counseling because it very vividly discusses emotion and feeling. I hope you’ll enjoy this one as much as I did!  🙂

 

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Emotions, Perspective, Personalities, Colors, Similes, Relationships, Family, Quiet Moments, Discussion, Animals
Book Info: My Blue is Happy by Jessica Young/Illustrated by Catia Chien, 2013 Candlewick Press, ISBN: 9780763651251

Alphablock

Alphablock

Image Credit: Abrams Appleseed (Abrams), Christopher Franceschelli/Peskimo

Quality design is important. Eye-catching graphics and clever construction can set a book apart from the rest.

Alphablock is a dynamic board book. Along with Take Away the A, this is one of my favorite ABC books. With its chunky build and interactive pages, it’s perfect for learning and discovering! The first page gets right down to it, flip the letter A and you’ll learn that A is for…Apple. The A blends into the page before it and we’re presented with a scene (a picnic).

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Image Credit: Abrams Appleseed (Abrams), Christopher Franceschelli/Peskimo

Alphablock is great for storytelling. What’s going on? Why do you think they’re having a picnic? What other fruits are on the page and so on. Parents and teachers can use this book in many ways to work on reading, vocabulary and word-picture association. Peskimo’s digital illustrations are bold and fabulous. Hope you’ll pick up this one and explore the alphabet.

 

Recommended for: Babies, Toddlers, Early Readers
Great for: ABC, Early Childhood Development, Word Picture Association, Interactive, Animals, Foods, Vocabulary, Early Learning, Discussion
Book Info: Alphablock by Christopher Franceschelli/Illustrated by Peskimo, 2013 Abrams Appleseed (Abrams), ISBN: 9781419709364

Etched in Clay: The Life of Dave, Enslaved Potter and Poet

EtchedinClay

Image Credit: Lee & Low Books, Andrea Cheng

I never had the chance to meet Andrea Cheng but I handled her books, I sold them. I was in the same space as them. A Cincinnati author, talented and kind are some of the things people told me about her. Interestingly enough, I’ve been connected to her for quite some time though; I went to school with one of her daughters, Ann. Recently I was able to reconnect with Ann and spend time with two of Andrea’s close writer friends. Here’s what I can say about Andrea Cheng, now that I’ve read her words for myself and can reflect on her people; her voice is strong and she’s left a legacy of goodness.

Etched in Clay is poetry inspired by the historical record of an amazing man named Dave (David Drake). Dave was a skilled potter/poet who happened to be enslaved. Cheng speaks for him but doesn’t say too much. It’s just enough. We follow Dave from his teenage years fresh off the auction block to his life as a free man in his seventies. He’s sold and re-sold several times within the Landrum family to work their pottery works. His first owner, Harvey Drake, notices his talent and teaches him how to create pottery. Drake’s religious wife Sarah gives Dave a powerful tool too, a spelling book from which he learns to read and write. In his long life, he is split apart from the women and children he loves, he struggles with his lack of agency as an enslaved man and he REBELS with words and poetry. Words spill out of his head and onto his pottery. Dave finds a way to assert his worth as a human being through the liberatory act of black creativity.

DavethePotterWoodCuts

Image Credit: Lee & Low Books, Andrea Cheng

Harvey Drake (like most whites at the time) is conscious of the danger in nurturing the intelligence of a slave. He’s comfortable in his power and is protective of the system that keeps his whiteness above blackness. Though Dave knows he can be lashed for knowing how to read (and showing it), he does it anyway. Even signing his name on a pot is dangerous yet he does it…and by doing so, he reflects on his legacy (his pots are made to last) and asserts HIS power. His defiance is through words.

Andrea Cheng doesn’t romanticize or soften slavery; she gives us a glimpse of Dave’s reality. I appreciate her honest characterizations of the slave masters and their disregard for Dave’s (and the other slaves’) humanity. The entire book is full of excellent characterization! A masterful storyteller has the ability to make you bubble and boil with frustration yet eagerly reach to turn the page. I wanted to keep going and see what would happen to Dave, a man who, like my ancestors, was remarkable.

The woodcuts in this book are also done by Andrea Cheng and just like the writing, they are just enough (and so much). They give us a glimpse into Dave’s life with blocky shapes, black and white lines and outlines that suggest more than tell. Not only do I recommend Etched in Clay for casual reading, I think it’s perfect for the classroom. There are so many lessons to take away and to discuss and Dave should be more well known. I hope you’ll pick up this book and enjoy.

 

 

Recommended for: Ages 11 and up
Great for: Inner Strength, Rebellion, Courage, Determination, Defiance, African American, Slavery, History, Pottery, Creativity, Poetry, Relationships, Black History Month, Black History Month Children’s Books, History-Inspired, Discussion, Classroom
Book Info: Etched in Clay: The Life of Dave, Enslaved Potter and Poet by Andrea Cheng, 2013 Lee & Low Books Inc., ISBN: 9781600604515

Mr. Tiger Goes Wild

 

MrTigerGoesWild

Image Credit: Little, Brown and Company (Hachette Book Group), Peter Brown

Ah, this is one of my favorites. ❤

Sometimes you just have to say screw it all and let out your inner tiger. Similar to the book Wild by Emily Hughes, this book explores themes of self discovery and acceptance in face of criticism.

Just look at his face! Look at it! He’s adorable! In Mr. Tiger Goes Wild, Mr. Tiger is in quite a predicament. His posh neighbors are very posh but for some reason he’s not feeling so posh anymore…change is coming for him and he doesn’t even realize it yet. One day, he s…l…o…w…l…y bends down on all fours (GASP!), runs around town like the wild animal he is and before he knows it, he’s NAKED! How unacceptable. His neighbors have had enough and tell him to go to the wild and so he does! But he gets lonely without his friends and when he comes home, it looks like he’s influenced them to be a little wild sometimes too. 😉

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Image Credit: Little, Brown and Company (Hachette Book Group), Peter Brown

I love Peter Brown’s art. Though he uses mostly muted colors in this book (browns, grays, blacks, greens) there’s a vibrancy to his style. He draws blocky bodies, uses simple shapes and creates expressive faces (I LOVE MR. TIGER’S EXPRESSIONS!) with ink, watercolor and gouache. The very first spread stands out; as Mr. Tiger is surrounded by the townsfolk with their gray bodies, closed eyes and haughty expressions, you can’t help but be attracted to his annoyed expression and bright orange skin. My favorite spread is the one where Mr. Tiger slowly…drops…down…to the ground, ready to be wild!

I hope you’ll enjoy this book with your little wild ones. ROOOOAAARRR!

 

Recommended for: All ages
Great for: Community, Criticism, Etiquette, Proper Behavior, Self Actualization, Freedom, Friends, Relationships, Self Discovery, Acceptance, Change, Difference, Discussion
Book Info: Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown, 2013 Little, Brown and Company (Hachette Book Group), ISBN: 9780316200639

Where Do We Go When We Disappear?

WheredoWeGoWhenWeDisappear

Image Credit: Tate Publishing, Isabel Minhós Martins/Madalena Matoso

I first discovered author Isabel Minhós Martins through The World in a Second. Because I enjoyed that book so much, I wanted to read more of her work. I found a few more titles of hers at my local library. Not all of her books are translated to English yet (from Portuguese) but out of the few I could get my hands on, I thought this one was very good.

Death, loss and change aren’t easy topics to discuss at any age and I know that parents often look for books that gracefully tackle these subjects. What I like about Where Do We Go When We Disappear? is that it’s very reflective, thought provoking and it isn’t necessarily about death, so parents can use this book however they need.

Martins says that for someone to disappear, someone must first notice the disappearance. Therefore, it always takes at least two people for someone’s loss to be recognized; for the missing to begin. And with the missing begins the questions and Martins opens the story to the discussion of disappearance of all kinds of things in our world! This can help a child begin to make connections and start healing. Even socks disappear, for example! (Who knows where they go??) Nothing lasts forever and some things take longer to disappear. But everything doesn’t disappear to NOTHING. Matter is recycled, exchanged and shifts and on and on it goes…

WhereDoWeGo2

Image Credit: Tate Publishing, Isabel Minhós Martins/Madalena Matoso

Martin’s evocative text is accompanied by Matoso’s bold illustrations. The bright, blocky illustrations are just enough for the text, to spark discussion. Smiling humans, sad humans, trees, winding roads, nature and the ocean; the pictures are strong yet gentle. Where Do We Go When We Disappear? is a beautiful book that’s good for all ages. It does a great job of starting conversations about existence, life, death and change.

 

P.S. For parents looking for a secular book about death, this book does mention “heaven” but in relation to where puddles go to eventually become clouds. It’s quite interesting.

 

Recommended for: All ages
Great for: Discussion, Change, Death, Family, Loss, Nature, Permanence, Reflection, Relationships, Sadness
Book Info: Where Do We Go When We Disappear? by Isabel Minhós Martins/Illustrated by Madalena Matoso, 2013 Tate Publishing, ISBN: 9781849761604

The Girl With a Brave Heart: A Tale from Tehran

TheGirlWithABraveHeartCover

Image Credit: Barefoot Books, Rita Jahanforuz/Vali Mintzi

I’m a sucker for traditional “folktale” stories! Reminiscent of Cinderella, Shiraz has her hardships and her rewards and The Girl With a Brave Heart shines due to its interesting and magical story with vibrant illustrations. There’s a soothing quality to the format of a well written folktale and this one is great for reading aloud.

The Girl With a Brave Heart tells the story of kind Shiraz, whose father has passed away and she lives with her stepmother and stepsister, acting as a maid for them. One day her cherished ball of wool blows into her neighbor’s garden so she goes to fetch it. A ragged old lady lets her in in exchange for Shiraz’s labor. She tells Shiraz to do three chores that involve destruction (smash all the things in her kitchen with a hammer, for example), but Shiraz understands what she really needs and helps her. The old lady rewards her with specific instructions for dipping into the two pools in the back on her way home.

When Shiraz arrives home, ball of wool in hand, her family doesn’t recognize her because her beauty is stunning! Eager to find out what happened, her greedy stepmother and stepsister Monir concoct a plan for Monir to get her beauty as well. But the character of a person is their most important aspect and Monir…when she rushes to find her “lost ball of wool”she gets exactly what she deserves for her selfishness.

GirlWithaBraveHeart

Image Credit: Barefoot Books, Rita Jahanforuz/Vali Mintzi

This book is gorgeous. The cover has gold foil on it. 🙂  I first spotted part of the cover image on Barefoot Books’ Twitter page and asked them where it came from because I had to know more about it. Vali Mintzi has amazing style and isn’t afraid to use color. Her gouache paints are bold; she uses strong lines, dabs of color here and there and with just a few strokes, she brings to life the colorful city of Tehran. I love how she gives her characters long noses and shades half their faces with another color. It reminds me of Picasso’s faces.

Though this story does follows the traditional folktale tradition where goodness is equated with beauty, I don’t fault the story for it. Shiraz’s heart is pure and for her kindness, she’s given a gift. Perhaps your family or classroom can discuss folktales and fairytales that break tradition! This is an excellent addition to any collection.

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Friendship, Family, Discussion, Folktale, Helping Others, Inner Beauty, Inner Ugliness, Kindness, Morals, Read-Aloud, Relationships, Selfishness, Tehran
Book Info: The Girl With a Brave Heart: A Tale from Tehran by Rita Jahanforuz/Illustrated by Vali Mintzi, 2013 Barefoot Books, ISBN: 9781846869297

 

Before After

BeforeAfter

Image Credit: Candlewick Press, Anne-Margot Ramstein/Matthias Arégui

Before After is a neat book that can be enjoyed by people of all ages; it works just as well as a gift for an inquisitive child as it does sitting on a coffee table. It’s a very conceptual book in that there are no words and only sets of illustrations that show before…then after. Some of the sets of illustrations work together to tell a short story, and we might see a image later in the book that we saw before. Most of the images are connected in some way and this is the beauty of the book! Creating a story. It’s great for storyboarding and sparking imaginative thinking; who do you think ate all this cake and why? Why’d they leave one piece?

Image Credit: Candlewick Press, Anne-Margot Ramstein/ Matthias Arégui

Image Credit: Candlewick Press, Anne-Margot Ramstein/ Matthias Arégui

Some before and afters span a few hours, others thousands of years!! One of my favorite sequences is Octopus -> Ink. Carrier Pigeon -> Feather for a quill which sits in the ink. Quill and ink -> Typewriter. Carrier Pigeon -> Letter ready to mail. Airplane jetting off (from a city we’ve maybe seen before?)

Ramstein and Arégui’s digital illustrations are beautiful with clean lines and a wide range of colors. I like how striking they are with an outline of color that makes the images pop. They do an amazing job of storytelling and help the reader to think about beginnings, endings, the sequence of events, results, processes, building up and tearing down, time and life and death. Whew that’s a lot for one book right? Before After is pretty amazing and very worth experiencing.

 

Recommended for: All ages
Great for: Animals, Colors, Storyboarding, Storytelling, Imagination, Discussion, Time, Process, Imagination, Inquisitive Minds, Wordless
Book Info: Before After by Anne-Margot Ramstein & Matthias Arégui, 2013 Candlewick Press, ISBN: 9780763676216

Wild

Wild

Image Credit: Flying Eye Books, Emily Hughes

I love this one. 🙂  Her big, expressive eyes draw you in, don’t they? She is unashamedly content and happy with her wildness.

Hughes’ story is about a young girl who grows up in the woods and is embraced and raised by its creatures. Bird teaches her how to talk, Bear teaches her how to eat (by catching salmon with her teeth on the edge of a waterfall!!) and Fox teaches her how to play. But one day strange animals take her away and attempt to raise her “properly.” From her perspective, they speak wrong, eat wrong, everything is WRONG and she is hopelessly unhappy. Will she find the strength within herself to be wild and happy again? This book touches on issues of acceptance, inner-strength, difference and perspective. Just because she’s “wild” does that make her lifestyle wrong? Perhaps “wild” is just a matter of perspective…

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Image Credit: Flying Eye Books, Emily Hughes (click for a closer look)

In addition to a great story, Hughes crafts gorgeous illustrations. The earthy brown, green and blue colors of the woods contrast with the girl’s pink skin and wild green hair. Though they contrast, it’s obvious how much she is a part of her surroundings. Her expressive eyes tell most of the story, as readers can easily read her emotions. Hughes loves to draw fauna and foliage and she’s very good at it; this is also also evident in her newest book The Little Gardener. I hope you’ll enjoy this book with your wild ones! Never let anyone make you forget who you really are!

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Perspective, Family, Inner-Strength, Action/Adventure, Animals, Community, Determination, Discussion, Friendship, Humor
Book Info: Wild by Emily Hughes, 2013 Flying Eye Books, ISBN: 9781909263086

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

WhenthBeatWasBorn

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