A Bike Like Sergio’s

 

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Image Credit: Candlewick Press, Maribeth Boelts/Noah Z. Jones

In A Bike Like Sergio‘s, Ruben’s family has trouble making ends meet and money is always tight. His best friend Sergio has a slick new bike and doesn’t understand why Ruben can’t just ask his parents to buy him one too. Ruben, like many children around the world, already understands the necessity of being choosy about every purchase in order for his family to survive.

One day at the grocery store, a lady drops “just a dollar” that turns out to be a hundred and Ruben’s thoughts go straight to buying a new bike!! But when he sees his mother crossing items off their grocery list (they can’t afford all of it), he starts to feel guilty; the bill suddenly weighs heavy in his pocket. After Ruben scares himself by thinking he’s lost the money, and his dream bike, he develops empathy for the woman when he sees her again in the store…What’s the right decision to make when you’re so close to having something you desire, and maybe even deserve?

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Ghost: Track #1

Ghost

Image Credit: Atheneum Books for Young Readers (Simon & Schuster), Jason Reynolds

Three things I love about this book are:

1) The voice

2) The careful and thorough characterization

3) How Reynolds depicts black male love

Ghost is a character you won’t forget because he’s very honest about everything. He messes up, you feel for him. He does something right, you cheer for him. As he explains, he has “scream inside.” Many people would quickly label Ghost a “bad kid” but what Reynolds does so well is remind readers that behind every person, behind every relationship, there’s a story. Usually the “bad kids” have experienced heavy things and could benefit from real, caring relationships.

Ghost likes sunflower seeds & world records and takes a lot of crap from kids at school. After his dad tries to shoot him and his mom, the harrowing experience leaves him even more shaken up. He learns to run that night (“…running ain’t nothing I ever had to practice. It’s just something I knew how to do.”) and later earns a spot on a track team without even trying. Tough as nails (not really) “Coach” takes Ghost under his wing and they become closer as Ghost learns more about himself. He leaves it all out on the track; pushing himself to be better, in every way. He becomes more disciplined, he finds community in his team, and though he continues to make stupid mistakes, he grows as a young man.

Reynolds does an amazing job of creating voice for this book. Ghost’s AAVE is prominent and used unabashedly, he’s silly and makes interesting connections in his head. I love it; it feels fresh. Reynold’s characters are all very interesting people; he includes little memorable details like…Ghost’s mom hates studying and pretends to study while they watch her favorite love stories. Though this is a slim book, there’s a great amount of character development that’ll keep you interested and excited about the next book in the series.

I love Coach!! He’s the father-figure Ghost needs and deserves in his life. Though he’s kind enough to bail Ghost out of sticky situations, he makes sure to teach him important lessons too. It not just about Ghost’s track potential for him; he recognizes early that Ghost needs guidance and love. He comes from the same rough place as Ghost and is committed to shaping him. This entire book is about connections and relationships but Ghost and Coach’s relationship is what shines the most.

I really enjoyed this book! I’m curious about how children of color are reading/enjoying it too. This is my first book by Jason Reynolds and I can’t wait to read more.

On your mark…set…go!!

P.S. OMG I reviewed a chapter book (it’s been a while)…lol.

Recommended for: 6th Grade and up
Great for: Family, Diversity, Role Models, African American, Sports, Track and Field, Middle School Life, Bullying, Friendship, Determination, Black Boys, Love, Relationships
Book Info: Ghost by Jason Reynolds/Jacket Illustrations by Vanessa Brantley Newton, 2016 Atheneum Books for Young Readers (Simon & Schuster), ISBN: 9781481450157

Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat

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

Radiant Child is a masterful tribute to artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. Steptoe channels Basquiat’s energy and love for his city in how he uses found-wood pieces from landmarks all over NYC and paints them in rich colors.

This is an honest and thoughtful picture book. It introduces Basquiat and his art to children and is exactly what we need in children’s literature, especially for children of color. A confident, smiling black boy on the cover is powerful in and of itself.

In Radiant Child, we meet a Haitian/Puerto-Rican boy from 1960s Brooklyn, NY who dreams of becoming an artist. Basquiat is a focused and messy artist and his mother, also a creative person, encourages him to create. His mother leaves home because of her mental health and this leaves him heartbroken…but not broken; he keeps creating and drawing outside of the lines. As he gets older, his drawings become graffiti. He makes sure to stay connected to his mother as best he can; he wants her to see the artist he becomes. His graffiti, under the name “SAMO,” eventually becomes art in galleries and museums. Basquiat’s  talent and drive bring him international fame.

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

Steptoe uses powerful and lyrical text (“Somewhere in Brooklyn, between hearts that thump, double Dutch, and hopscotch and salty mouths that slurp sweet ice, a little boy dreams of being a famous artist”) to tell Basquiat’s story. His art is equally compelling; brightly painted & collaged wood blocks are fun to look at. None of Basquiat’s original art is used in this book; it’s all Steptoe’s original work inspired by the artist. As we learn about Basquiat’s life, style and use of symbolism, we can also study the symbolism that Steptoe tucks into his detailed illustrations. The cover alone (Haitian and Puerto Rican flags prominent, ABC blocks that spell out Basquiat’s name, etc. ) tells Basquiat’s story.

I love that this book celebrates Basquiat’s relationship with his mother and that it’s honest about mental illness; this is important for children, as many may relate to Basquiat’s life. A lengthy Author’s Note gives readers more information about Basquiat (including information about his drug addiction and death) and tells us why and how Steptoe came to create this book.

This vibrant and beautiful book is one of the best of 2016. It will win a Coretta Scott King Award but will it also get a Caldecott? I hope it does; the art is top notch. Nevertheless, I hope many children read Radiant Child because Basquiat’s spirit, creativity and determination to create are inspiring!

 

 

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Family, Art, Love, African-American, Haitian, Puerto-Rican, Biography, Determination, Dreams, Mental Health, Diversity, Non-Fiction, New York, Discussion
Book Info: Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat by Javaka Steptoe, 2016 Little, Brown and Company (Hachette Book Group), ISBN: 9780316213882

A Hat for Mrs. Goldman: A Story About Knitting and Love

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Image Credit: Schwartz & Wade Books (Penguin Random House LLC), Michelle Edwards/G. Brian Karas

 

Happy New Year!! 😀

2017 is going to need a heaping spoonful of kindness. Kindness and consideration for others. But it’s not just “consideration” that we need, it’s holding people in our hearts. There’s a difference there. A deeper level of connection.

In A Hat for Mrs. Goldman, we meet Sophia and Mrs. Goldman who are close friends and neighbors. Mrs. Goldman has cared for and loved Sophia since she was a baby, when she knit her her first hat. Because Mrs. Goldman is so busy knitting for everyone else, she doesn’t have a hat to keep her head warm and Sophia decides to do something about it! Though she only vaguely remembers how to knit (her speciality is making pom-poms), she determinedly works on a special hat for her friend. It turns out a little lumpy but it’s beautiful because it’s a gift for her friend.

What I like so much about this book is that it’s very honest; two good friends love each other and work to take care of each other. The story is simple but touching storytelling and charming illustrations make it a winner. Children will learn Yiddish words like keppie (head) and mitzvah (good deed) too!  I love that Sophia is Latino and Mrs. Goldman is Jewish but it isn’t dwelled upon; there’s a great message of community and love here.

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Image Credit: Schwartz & Wade Books (Penguin Random House LLC), Michelle Edwards/G. Brian Karas

 

Karas’ sweet mixed media illustrations are full of gorgeous pale pinks, browns and blustery blues and greens. The illustrations are very soft, which adds to the comfortable, homey feel of the story. Sophia, with her determined expressions, brown skin and no-sense side-ponytail is a great character for children to emulate; even though she gets frustrated, she keeps working towards her goal!

Edwards even includes a pattern for Sophia’s Hat at the end of the book (Edwards writes for Lion Brand Yarn) so that children can dive into knitting themselves. What a sweet book about friendship and knitting! I hope you’ll enjoy this one as much as I did.

 

 

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Friendship, Mitzvah, Love, Caring, Selflessness, Determination, Creative Thinking, Kindness, Relationships, Diversity, Community, Knitting
Book Info: A Hat for Mrs. Goldman: A Story About Knitting and Love by Michelle Edwards/Illustrated by G. Brian Karas, 2016 Schwartz & Wade Books (Penguin Random House LLC), ISBN: 9780553497106

Mission to Space

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Image Credit: White Dog Press (Chickasaw Press), John Herrington

Native American Heritage Month just ended here in the U.S. with constant reports of aggression and violence towards Native peoples at Oceti Sakowin Camp. Snow has fallen on the camp and the water protectors are still standing strong against the Dakota Access Pipeline. I’ve noticed, through media coverage of this situation, that visibility of Native peoples has risen somewhat. When children see Native people standing strong and united against a pipeline that will affect all of us, that helps fight ignorance & combats racism. Stereotypes of Native people are still very pervasive and harmful.

Contemporary stories about Native people, especially written by Native people, are important “mirror” books for Native children who simply don’t see enough of themselves in books. These stories are also vital tools in classrooms full of non-Native children. That’s why Mission to Space is so important; it’s a non-fiction book, written by Chickasaw astronaut John Herrington, printed by Chickasaw Press. Author Zetta Elliott often talks about the importance of community-based publishing and this is a perfect example.

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Image Credit: White Dog Press (Chickasaw Press), John Herrington

In Mission to Space, Commander John Herrington takes us back to his roots as a boy who loved shooting rockets with his dad and brother. Years later, he’d grow up to be an astronaut on the shuttle Endeavor! In this book, simple but effective text is accompanied by vivid photographs. Herrington explains how much work it takes to do something well and in his case, to become an astronaut. That’s an important lesson for children. When he was launched into space, people from his nation came to celebrate; he was the first tribally-enrolled Native person to fly in space!

Children who love science, astronomy and languages will get a lot out of this book. Not only does Herrington give readers a behind-the-scenes look into what it takes to become an astronaut, he talks about how important language is for Chickasaw identity and provides a glossary of space terms in the Chickasaw language. I hope you’ll check this book out!

P.S. Visit the book’s website to see a cool video and take a look at Debbie Reese’s glowing review.

 

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Astronomy, Determination, Dreams, Role Models, STEM, Language, Native American, Chickasaw, Sovereignty, Native American Heritage Month, Family, Discussion
Book Info: Mission to Space by John Herrington, 2016 White Dog Press (Chickasaw Press), ISBN: 9781935684473

 

Lift Your Light a Little Higher

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Image Credit: A Caitlyn Dlouhy Book (Atheneum Books for Young Readers (Simon & Schuster)), Heather Henson/Bryan Collier

Because of slavery, we simply don’t know as much as we should about extraordinary Africans in the Americas. But luckily, in this renaissance of children’s literature, we’re getting some amazing books about slavery & slaves’ lives, written by #ownvoices and by non-PoC. Two great ones that come to mind are Etched in Clay by the late Andrea Cheng & Freedom in Congo Square by Carole Boston Weatherford & Gregory Christie.

I’ve been reflecting on slave stories and slavery for several reasons. One; I recently had the pleasure of hearing Ta-Nehesi Coates speak about the lasting effects of slavery on the fabric of America. Two; the other day, someone asked me about children’s books that are helpful for easing into a discussion about slavery with a white child. While it’s very understandable to want to shield your child from the horrors of slavery, it’s quite a position of privilege to be able to. Black children don’t have that privilege. That being said…there are several books that introduce slavery from a position of humanity and hope. Lift Your Light a Little Higher is one of those books.

Stephen Bishop was extraordinary. He was an adventurous cave-explorer and guide who happened to be enslaved. As a tour guide of the Mammoth Caves in Kentucky, he had a great sense of pride and agency; underground was his world. He was incredibly knowledgeable of the cave’s winding trails & dangerous chasms and he even discovered new creatures! Lift Your Light a Little Higher takes us back to around 1840 and is in first person; Stephen leads the reader on a journey while reflecting on his life, enslavement and legacy. Though he’s proud of being known far and wide, he says “…being known is not the same as being free.” When it comes down to it, he’s still a slave. He longs to read and write and eventually leaves his mark on stone for all to see; an assertion of his power.

Henson does a great job of using known information about Stephen to create a book that honors his spirit and voice. She lifted her light to shine on Stephen, creating a book that, I think, he would be proud of. I interpret this book as Henson telling his story while simultaneously telling the reader about her journey to uncover his story; lines like “sometimes you just got to go beyond what’s written down to get to what’s been left untold” suggest this. I also like how she comments on indigenous peoples’ presence in the caves and on the land. Stephen is aware, as a black, enslaved man, that he is on indigenous land and contemplates his legacy.

 

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Image Credit: A Caitlyn Dlouhy Book (Atheneum Books for Young Readers (Simon & Schuster)), Heather Henson/Bryan Collier

Collier’s art is, as usual, powerful and creative. His collages takes us deep inside the dark and mysterious caverns. Stephen’s big brown eyes and confident expression visually show us his strength. Collier uses many beautiful shades of brown to create the peaceful interior of the caves that Stephen found respite within. I always really enjoy Collier’s art; there’s so much depth to it.

Before reading this book, I didn’t know Stephen Bishop and now I do (and so will many children). When I travel down to Mammoth Caves, I’ll look for him and while in his space, I’ll think of him and the legacy he left for all to see. He was of the shadows but shone brightly! People of color always find a way to persevere despite oppression; part of his rebellion was his determination to learn and leave his mark as…S-T-E-P-H-E-N.

This book is sure to create lots of important conversation in classrooms and households about black history. I especially hope that it’s being used in Kentucky classrooms!

 
P.S. Be sure to also check out Heather Henson’s book, That Book Woman; it’s one of my favorites. Also click here to learn a little more about black history at Mammoth Caves.

 

 

Recommended for: 1st grade and up
Great for: Role Models, Inner Strength, African American, U.S .History, Black History, Determination, Slavery, Slave Narratives, Family, Curiosity, Kentucky
Book Info: Lift Your Light a Little Higher: The Story of Stephen-Bishop: Slave Explorer by Heather Henson/Illustrated by Bryan Collier, 2016 A Caitlyn Dlouhy Book (Atheneum Books for Young Readers (Simon & Schuster)), ISBN: 9781481420952

We Sang You Home

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Image Credit: Orca Book Publishers, Richard Van Camp/Julie Flett

We’re about half-way through Native American Heritage Month 2016 and almost a week into a world where Donald J. Trump is the President-Elect of the United States of America…I’ve been reflecting and thinking a lot about peace, love and family. I’ve also been thinking about kindness and doing my best to share books that celebrate open-mindedness, different perspectives, cultures and #ownvoices. I can’t praise this one enough.

If you’re looking for a great book that celebrates the joy and wonder of having a child, look no further. We Sang You Home is beautifully written and illustrated. We’re slowly getting more books about Native families created by Native people but we need more. As a bookseller and blogger, I can’t wait for these stories! I want to share them and most importantly, Native kids need to see more of themselves on bookshelves.

In We Sang You Home, a Native couple tells their child how they wished and dreamed for him and how his arrival changes their lives. They are better for having him. “We sang you from a wish. We sang you from a prayer. We sang you home and you sang back.” A child holds its parents hopes, dreams and wishes. Van Camp writes beautifully and in the short format of a board book, tells a story of happiness. We’re reminded that a child chooses its family just as much as a family wishes for it; it’s magic.

Julie Flett is a great illustrator; I always enjoy reading and reviewing her books! In this one, she depicts the sweetness of Van Camp’s words with warm earth colors, sunsets & moonshine, toothy smiles and brown skin. Flat, blocks of color fill the pages. The simpler the better for board books and this one is simply beautiful.

I hope you’ll pick it up for Native American Heritage Month and enjoy it throughout the year! 🙂

 

P.S. Check out Debbie Reese’s beautiful review here.

 

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Celebration, Diversity, Love, Family, Happiness, Indigenous Peoples, Native Heritage Month, New Baby
Book Info: We Sang You Home by Richard Van Camp/Illustrated by Julie Flett, 2016 Orca Book Publishers, ISBN: 9781459811782

Music Is…

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Image Credit: Simon Kids (Simon & Schuster), Brandon Stosuy/Amy Martin

I’m not a big fan of music. I know that sounds weird. I mean, I enjoy listening to music. Of course there are songs that take me back; the memories connected to those songs are so vivid. I always dance and move to a good song or beat. I’m just not INTO music. Some people live and breathe it; they always have headphones on and bump it loud in their car. They talk music, they anticipate music, they live music.

That’s not me but I appreciate music and I love how happily this book celebrates it.

Music Is…has flowing text that begins simply, becomes more lyrical and ends reflectively. Contrasting words like quiet & loud, slow & fast, lo-fi & hi-fi lead to lines like “cymbals that splash and ba-da-ba bass and rat-a-tat-tat drums on a rumbling stage.” Stosuy’s words are great for reading aloud and invite discussion. “How is music happy?” “What is lo-fi?” “What does ‘Music is for everyone’ mean?” are just a few questions that children might ask when reading this book and for that reason, it’s a book for all ages! Music-loving parents will want this book to share with their children.

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Image Credit: Simon Kids (Simon & Schuster), Brandon Stosuy/Amy Martin

 

Amy Martin’s illustrations are bold, eye-catching and so diverse. I love how she uses colors that contrast and highlight. Her art shows children that indeed, music is for everyone. Her illustrations match the rhythm of Stosuy’s words and the cover of the book is so bright and inviting!

I hope you’ll check this one out. It’s a pretty cool board book to share and enjoy. 🙂

 

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Music, Music History, Diversity, Family, Emotions, Friendship, Relationships, Vocabulary, Humor
Book Info: Music Is… by Brandon Stosuy/Illustrated by Amy Martin, 2016 Little Simon (Simon & Schuster), ISBN: 9781481477024

Ada’s Ideas

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Image Credit: Abrams Books for Young Readers (Abrams), Fiona Robinson

I love that the cover says “the World’s First Computer Programmer” which establishes the fact that Ada Lovelace was and always will be a big deal.

We’ve been blessed with quite a few recent picture books (all written and illustrated by women) about Ada Lovelace. I’ve already reviewed Ada Byron Lovelace and The Thinking Machine which is also very good and pairs well with this book.

Ada Lovelace grew up in her mother’s world of numbers and manners. She had a strict academic regimen and was expected to stick to it. Luckily, she was rich and grew up during the Industrial Revolution where she was distracted by modern technology. Ada started to invent things with her mathematical and imaginative mind! Unfortunately, she became very seriously ill with the measles but when she recovered years later, she was a teenager and was allowed to bloom in society. She met the inventor Charles Babbage who became a good friend and introduced her to his invention, The Difference Engine, which was like a large calculator.

This machine and the design for  The Analytical Engine would change her life. Babbage’s Analytical Engine is considered to be the world’s first computer design and Ada worked on the algorithms for the punch cards to be used in the machine. She programmed the machine using Bernoulli numbers! Ada had the imagination and forward thinking to see a world of potential in Babbage’s invention; she saw endless possibility in programming.

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Image Credit: Abrams Books for Young Readers (Abrams), Fiona Robinson

If there was one thing I’d change about this book, it would be how Ada’s parents’ relationship is described. From what I understand, Lord Byron could be very uncaring and at times abusive to his wife. Reading this book, one would think that Lord Byron was simply “wild” and Anne Isabella Milbanke much too proper, strict and overprotective of Ada.

The illustrations in this book are gorgeous. Robinson’s art is detailed, delicate and fanciful. I can’t imagine how many hours she spent painting and cutting paper to create the 3D images. I love how light the watercolors are on the paper and how much depth she achieves by propping up and layering the cut-outs. My favorite spread is of the giant cotton mills with smoke streaming out of them against a blotchy gray sky. So pretty!

Ada’s Ideas is a beautiful tribute to Ada Lovelace’s life and will definitely inspire young children to dream high. Whether you dream in words, numbers or paints & scissors, let your mind soar and discover what you’re capable of!

P.S. I love the punch cards on the end papers, the cover of the book and on the title page! So cool. 🙂

 

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Girl Power, Friendship, Mathematics, Biography, History, Math History, Girls in Science/STEM, Computer Science, Computer Programming, Determination, Dreams, Curiosity, Inquisitive Minds, Victorian Era, Imagination
Book Info: Ada’s Ideas by Fiona Robinson, 2016 Adams Books for Young Readers (Abrams), ISBN: 9781419718724

Let’s Celebrate Diwali

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Image Credit: Bharat Babies (Mascot Books), Anjali Joshi/Tim Palin

 

It’s almost Diwali, the festival of lights, so why not celebrate with this cool picture book!? 🙂

Let’s Celebrate Diwali tells the story of Harini and her friends. These four friends are in the same classroom and on Diwali, they share their Diwali stories. Harini is Hindu, Dhimen is Buddhist, Urvi is Jain and Amrit is Sikh. Dressed in traditional outfits, they take turns telling how they celebrate the holiday and readers learn how rich Diwali is. It’s important that their teacher, Ms. Lo, gives her students the ability to share their cultures and religions during circle time. Her classroom is a safe and welcoming space for all religions and cultures which is something children need to see and experience.

Harini and Urvi learn that they both light diyas for Diwali but the stories their families tell are different. This book does a great job of highlighting cultural diversity and respect; all the students in the classroom are engaged during circle time and ask great questions. At the end of the story, Anna, who does not celebrate Diwali, wishes for a special Diwali outfit too and Harini lets her wear her dupatta (scarf) and bangles. Harini races home and can’t wait to share the new Diwali stories she learned at school. Maybe readers will be inspired to learn more about the stories featured in this book!

I love the addition of a pronunciation guide + definitions of the vocabulary in the text. Anjali Joshi’s cute and relatable story is one that children will connect to and learn a lot from. I enjoyed Tim Palin’s vibrant and happy illustrations. I especially like the design of the cover; the bright, blocky letters mimic the bright lights and exciting fireworks of Diwali. The round faces of the children in the book are warm and inviting.

Here is a cute Paper Diya craft from blogger Artsy Craftsy Mom that pairs well with this book.  Just like Harani and Urvi, you’ll have diyas in your home this Diwali.

 

Happy Diwali! ❤

 

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Holidays, Cultural Relativity, Cultural Diversity, India, Diwali, Friendship, Community, School Life, Family, Respect, Religion, Celebration
Book Info: Let’s Celebrate Diwali by Anjali Joshi/Illustrated by Tim Palin, 2016 Bharat Babies (Mascot Books), ISBN: 9781631774218