Ellie Ultra: An Extra-Ordinary Girl

ellieultra

Image Credit: Stone Arch Books (Capstone), Gina Bellisario/Jessika von Innerebner

What a cute series!

Ellie Ultra is super in every way but when she switches from home school to public school, she suddenly feels out of place. She’s a little too strong, quick and brilliant for her teachers and classmates, so making friends is more difficult than she expects. It doesn’t help that Dex Diggs is a bully (and most definitely a budding-super villain)! When Ellie “borrows” her parents’ Ultra Remote invention, she can finally turn off her “super” but being “ordinary” doesn’t feel quite right. When evil Captain Blob & the Goo Crew invade her classroom, she has to make a difficult decision. Should she continue to fit in by suppressing her powers, or let them loose and save the day??

This book is very fast paced; the story whooshes by in a flurry of action. Though the pace is fast, Bellisario does a nice job of fleshing out her characters. Ellie’s parents are engaged, supporting and loving of their super girl. Ellie is always eager to help others, no matter what. Her selflessness makes her a good person, and a good super hero-in-training. Kids can relate to the issues Ellie faces in this book like being different, fitting in, making new friends and going from home school to public school. Von Innerebner’s digital illustrations are vivid and engaging. I love how she illustrates Ellie; her expressions and body language showcase her confidence and can-do attitude.

I love that Ellie is a Black girl! This series has a healthy dose of “black girl magic” especially since Ellie is a super hero! It’s so great to see. Bellisario also includes a glossary, discussion points and writing exercises to help children connect the story to real life. It’s not easy settling into a new space when you feel different from everyone else. It’s also not easy when the people you desperately want to connect to make you feel odd. There’s a lot to discuss in this story!

I hope you’ll check this one out! It’s a nice new series for beginning readers and if your child enjoys this one, there are three more in the series!!

 

 

Recommended for: 1st-2nd Grade and up
Great for: Friendship, Confidence, Family, Beginning Readers, Super Heroes, Black Girl Magic, Determination, Problem-Solving, School Life
Book Info: Ellie Ultra: An Extra-Ordinary Girl by Gina Bellisario/Illustrated by Jessika von Innerebner, 2016 Stone Arch Books (Capstone), ISBN: 9781496531445

 

City Shapes

CityShapes

Image Credit: Little, Brown and Company (Hachette Book Group), Diana Murray/Bryan Collier

I first saw this book cover online many, many months before it published and I couldn’t forget it. How could I?? Her smiling brown face is full of joy and wonder. Now I finally have my own copy of this book and it is a delight.

Summer is starting to wind down and like the little girl in this book, kids are holding onto the last bits of fun before they head back to school. City kids will really relate to City Shapes; it celebrates the beauty of city-living and also teaches shapes! In the story, a mama pigeon and an imaginative girl spend the day exploring their city. The dynamic spreads and gorgeous rhyming sentences teach children about shapes found in the city. Children will enjoy reading Murray’s rhymes and searching for shapes in the illustrations. Maybe they’ll even be inspired to search for shapes in their own home.

This book sounds beautiful read aloud. I hope families, teachers and librarians are reading it to their children. Murray’s flowing words are enhanced by Collier’s colorful and dreamy art. Collier’s signature watercolor and collage art has so many layers for children to explore; he truly brings the city to life. I especially love that the girl in the book is his daughter! In a time when we need many more excellent books staring black children, I’m so happy to have this one to love and recommend.

What a lovely book! With every read you’ll find something new to enjoy. ❤

 

P.S. Towards the end of the book, look for the tiny photograph of Collier’s daughter! 😀

 

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Imagination, Discovery, City Life, Creativity, Shapes, Animals, Friendship, Read-Aloud, Diversity, African American, Black Girl Magic
Book Info: City Shapes by Diana Murray/Illustrated by Bryan Collier, 2016 Little, Brown and Company (Hachette Book Group), ISBN: 9780316370929

 

 

 

 

When the Slave Esperança Garcia Wrote a Letter

EsperancaGarcia

Image Credit: House of Anansi Press (Groundwood Books), Sonia Rosa/Luciana Justiniani Hees

Women’s History Month is wrapping up and I’m going to officially end it on my blog by sharing the story of this strong black woman.

Esperança Garcia was an enslaved Afro-Brazilian woman, a mother, a wife and a writer. The author opens the book with the hope that the world will know her story and know her strength. Esperança’s family was enslaved by Jesuit priests but when the priests were expelled from Portugal and its colonies, her family was split apart. Under the Jesuits, though enslaved, she learned to read and write. At this time, very few women at all had this skill. Unfortunately, her life with her new owner was worse than with the Jesuits; she and her young children were regularly beaten and mistreated.

Esperança devoured books and knowledge because they gave her joy. But the more she read, the angrier she became about the injustices of slavery. With this passion for change in her heart, she decided she’d write a letter to the governor to tell about her suffering and ask for his help in sending her home to reunite with her family.  She also explained her dismay at not being able to baptize her young daughter. She carried on loving her children and working, toiling and waiting anxiously for a reply…Esperança was the first slave to write a letter of petition in Afro-Brazillian Brazil.

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Image Credit: House of Anansi Press (Groundwood Books), Sonia Rosa/Luciana Justiniani Hees

The writing of this book is gorgeous. This woman’s story deserves powerful illustrations and luckily, Luciana Justiniani Hees’ art goes above and beyond. I love how she draws Esperança and the slaves with their blue/black/purple skin and strong faces. Esperança’s cornrowed hair and features are beautiful. The colors Hees’ uses are so deeply vibrant and comforting despite the heavy subject matter of the book. My favorite spread is where Esperança rests in the slave quarters, body propped up and head rested on her hand as her children sleep beside her.

I’d never heard of this woman until now and I’m glad to know her. Thank you to Brazilian author and illustrator Sonia Rosa and Luciana Justiniani Hees and Groundwood books for publishing this book in North America. Check out When the Slave Esperança Garcia Wrote a Letter, discuss deeply and share her story. What is Women’s History Month if not an opportunity to learn about (and be reminded of) the strength of women?

 

Recommended for: 2nd Grade and up
Great for: Afro-Brazilian, Brazil, Piauí, Black History, Slavery, Injustice, Black Girl Magic, Family, Community, Cultural Diversity, Diversity, Defiance, Determination, Inner Strength, Resistance, Education, Discussion, Religion, Non-Fiction, Biography
Book Info: When the Slave Esperança Garcia Wrote a Letter by Sonia Rosa/Illustrated by Luciana Justiniani Hees, 2015 House of Anansi Press (Groundwood Books), ISBN: 9781554987290

Talkin’ About Bessie: The Story of Aviator Elizabeth Coleman

TalkinAboutBessie

Image Credit: Orchard Books (Scholastic Inc.), Nikki Grimes/E.B. Lewis

“…Bessie made me believe I could be anything.” – Young Fan

I’ve been wanting to review a book about Bessie Coleman for quite a while. I found two contenders and ultimately I chose this one over Fly High! The Story of Bessie Coleman. Though that book is also good, Talkin’ About Bessie: The Story of Aviator Elizabeth Coleman is a stronger book in execution, creativity and memorability. It has more heart and that’s exactly what Bessie was about. I recommend Fly High! The Story of Bessie Coleman for younger readers.

Talkin’ About Bessie has a unique concept; 20 family members, acquaintances and friends come together after Bessie Coleman’s funeral to speak about her. Instead of a straightforward non-fiction narrative style, we get something special; reflection based on fact, crafted by author, Nikki Grimes.

Bessie grew up poor in segregated Texas, picking cotton with her many siblings. She loved numbers and words from an early age and her mom always encouraged her to read the bible. Though her father left their family  when she was young (which left her little time for childhood), she kept dreaming. When an adult, she moved to Chicago and after taking many jobs found inspiration from the blacks who ran the newspaper The Defender. She decided to go to France and get her pilots license and when she set her mind on that goal, she was determined to follow through! Bessie Coleman became the first person of African descent in the US to get an international pilot’s license and came back to the US to became an aviatrix. She wanted to encourage blacks to fly and worked towards raising funds to open a flight school for her people. Her personality was bigger than life and she was (and still is) an inspiration.

Nikki Grimes’ writing is great. The characters’ various speaking styles bring them to life. Each page has a “photo painting” in the corner  with the name of the person speaking and a gorgeous full page illustration. This is a nice design. One aspect of the book that didn’t make sense to me though was the character “Laundry Customer.” She’s a white character who employed young Bessie and her family (created by Grimes). Her words are very privileged and she makes it clear that Bessie was, from an early age, challenging and out of line for a young Negro girl. So why would she be present at Bessie’s funeral?? Though I understand the author’s desire to help us understand the segregated world Bessie lived in, it seems out of place and the other characters do a fine job of creating context for readers.

E.B. Lewis’ art is absolutely beautiful. This kind of story requires a very straightforward type of illustration that serves to compliment/enhance the words. His watercolors are meticulous and he does a great job of creating place, mood and character. I hope you’ll take the time to read this excellent book that honors Bessie Coleman’s spirit!

 

P.S. Here’s some backstory from the author Nikki Grimes! Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

 

Recommended for: 2nd Grade and up
Great for: Womens History Month, History, Black History, African-American, Diversity, Black Girl Magic, Black Girls Rock, Aviation, Determination, Confidence, Inner Strength, Family, Relationships, Struggles, Segregation, Racism, Sexism, Tragedy, Role Model, Dreams, Biography, Non-Fiction
Book Info: Talkin’ About Bessie: The Story of aviator Elizabeth Coleman by Nikki Grimes/Illustrated by E.B. Lewis, 2002 Orchard Books (Scholastic Inc.), ISBN: 9780439352437

The Quickest Kid in Clarksville

TheQuickestKid

Image Credit: Chronicle Books, Pat Zietlow Miller/Frank Morrison

Sometimes it’s better to be friends than rivals, especially when you’re working towards the same goal!

In The Quickest Kid in Clarksville, Alta’s role model is the amazing sprinter Wilma Rudolph. The story takes place in 1960 when everyone in Clarksville, Tennessee is preparing for the big parade to celebrate Wilma’s 3 Gold Medals at the Rome Olympics. Wilma is the fastest woman in the world and Alta is the fastest kid in Clarksville. She’s confident in her feet. Problem is there’s a new girl named Charmaine who’s just as confident in her speed and struts around like she rules the block! It doesn’t help that she has shiny new sneakers while Alta’s are worn down. Nevertheless, Alta challenges her to a race!  On parade day, Alta and her friends struggle to get their bulky banner to the parade site and reluctantly accept Charmaine’s help. Relay-style (just like Wilma and her team) they arrive at the parade to celebrate their champion! Representation really matters and I can’t imagine how much Wilma meant to young black girls in the 60s (and now!).

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Image Credit: Chronicle Books, Pat Zietlow Miller/Frank Morrison

I enjoyed the writing of this book; there’s a nice rhythm and just the right amount of sass and confidence. Morrison’s beautiful watercolor illustrations pair perfectly with the words. Just take a look at the cover! Alta knows exactly who she is! Throughout the story, we see determination, confidence, worry, shame and happiness on her face and in her body language. My favorite spread is when she’s ready to run, banner in hand with furrowed brows, chanting “Wil-ma Ru-dolph. Wil-ma Ru-dolph” in her head to boost her heart and her feet.

Just gorgeous!

P.S. Check out author Pat Zietlow Miller’s awesome Nerdy Book Club post about the process of making this book/finding the right story. Also check out this great photo of Wilma with her parents during the parade! ❤

 

Recommended for: All ages
Great for: Determination, Confidence, Friendship, Rivals, Relationships, Teamwork, Sports, Track and Field, Black Girl Magic, African American, Diversity, History, Segregation, Clarksville TN, Wilma Rudolph, Rhythm, Read-Aloud
Book Info: The Quickest Kid in Clarksville by Pat Zietlow Miller/Illustrated by Frank Morrison, 2015 Chronicle Books, ISBN: 9781452129365

Happy to Be Nappy

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Image Credit: Jump at the Sun (Hyperion Books for Children), bell hooks/Chris Raschka

If I could ask any illustrator to draw my portrait, I’d choose Chris Raschka because I see myself in his illustrations.

Sitting still in a chair while mom, aunt or grandma cornrows/straightens/combs/dries our hair is something many black women grow up experiencing. One of my best memories is when my dad would sit me in front of him and speed dry my dreads with a towel, making me laugh. Hair care is a past-time, talking time, learning time and…waiting time. Oh sometimes it takes so long. >_<

“Nappy” is a term that means “unkempt” or “messy” or generally “rough” in black-hair-speak. If someone says your hair is nappy, it’s not a nice thing to say. Black women have a long history of resisting (or accepting) western hair norms but we’re always creative. We embrace our natural curls, we straighten, we twist, we curl, we weave, we grow afros. Black hair culture is fascinating.

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Image Credit: Jump at the Sun (Hyperion Books for Children), bell hooks/Chris Raschka

Happy to Be Nappy is bell hook’s book for little black girls and their hair. It’s about loving your hair in every capacity. Sometimes it’s frizzy, sometimes it’s neatly braided, sometimes it’s flat but it’s always a crown. This book celebrates being happy with the way you look and proud of the way you feel and pairs excellently with I Like Myself!  Any child can relate to the happiness and confidence exhibited by the girls in this book.

Chris Raschka’s art is perfect. His watercolor and bold black lines bring Happy to be Nappy to life. The pages are filled with blotchy colors, wide and thin strokes and swoops of black piled on top of brown faces with simple, beautiful expressions. Raschka really lets the watercolor soak into the paper and the results are gorgeous. ❤

I’m so nappy happy I discovered this book and I hope you’ll seek it out to enjoy too! 🙂

 

Recommended for: All ages
Great for: Hair, Black Hair, Girl Power, Happy, Empowerment, Family, Relationships, Pride, Black Girls Rock, Black Girl Magic, Confidence, Self Esteem, Diversity, Read-Aloud, Rhyme
Book Info: Happy to be Nappy  by bell hooks/Illustrated by Chris Raschka, 1999 Jump at the Sun (Hyperion Books for Children), ISBN: 9780786804276

 

When Marian Sang

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Image Credit: Scholastic Press, Pam Muñoz Ryan/Brian Selznick

Take a look at that cover!

Not only is the cover beautiful, well designed and eye-catching, the entire book is gorgeous.

The story begins with young Marian in her house, set in the middle of a grand stage. When Marian Sang is a moving and beautifully told story of the life of singer Marian Anderson. There was never a moment she didn’t love to sing and people loved to listen. She was passionate about her faith and her music and by the age of eight, was performing for choruses in Philadelphia. Early on, Marian decided that music was something she wanted to dedicate herself to but because of her race, she was turned away from formal lessons.

Prejudice is intertwined with Marian’s story. Even though she was invited to sing across the country, she couldn’t even get a hotel room! But she continued to rise and share the gift of her voice with the world. Like Josephine Baker, she came back to the US and faced the challenge of performing as a black woman. The D.A.R. might’ve denied her performance at their hall but little did they know Marian’s spirit was destined for greatness. Eleanor Roosevelt and President Roosevelt set her up to perform at the Lincoln Memorial instead!! That performance was groundbreaking and memorable not only for the integrated crowd that witnessed it, but for the entire country. Marian continued to sing, inspire and move audiences for years to come.

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Image Credit: Scholastic Press, Pam Muñoz Ryan/Brian Selznick

The art!! Selznick uses rich acrylics and his palette is lush and golden. He uses only browns, golds, rose golds, pinks, and creams for entire book. The layout is very wide and grand. The large pages are perfect for highlighting his art. His paintings glow and the combination of his art with Pam Muñoz Ryan’s beautifully poignant writing is perfect. What a team, what a book and what a story of an amazing woman!

P.S. Take some time to read through the notes in the back about the author and illustrator’s loving and thorough research. Also check out Leontyne Price: Voice of a Century. She was inspired by Marian Anderson!

#BlackGirlMagic #InternationalWomensDay

 

Recommended for: All ages
Great for: Family, Love, Relationships, Faith, Music, Girls in Music, Diversity, Black Girl Magic, Black Girls Rock, Determination, Inner Strength, Prejudice, Segregation, Choir, Opera, Spirituals, Integration, Philadelphia, Europe, Non-fiction, Biography
Book Info: When Marian Sang by Pam Muñoz Ryan/Illustrated by Brian Selznick, 2002 Scholastic Press, ISBN: 9780439269674

Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker

Josephine

Image Credit: Chronicle Books, Patricia Hruby Powell/Christian Robinson

A passionate woman full of energy, charisma and magic was Josephine Baker.

Patricia Hruby Powell uses the metaphor of volcano to describe Josephine’s personality and I think this is perfect. Ever since a little girl, she bubbled and popped and fizzled with pent up energy to perform and dance. She was born poor in segregated St. Louis to a single mother who also loved to dance. They shared a love of vaudeville. As a child she started out in the group The Jones Family but quickly moved on to The Dixie Steppers. Even in a chorus line she stood out with her distinct, silly style. She got hitched, went to broadway and used her smarts to get onstage and SHINE.

Look how spunky and charming she is in the film Zouzou (1934)!

Though she loved to perform, Josephine was tired of segregation and just barely getting by. She got the chance to head to Paris where as soon as she stepped off the steam ship, she wasn’t discriminated against because of her color and felt truly beautiful! She took Paris by storm, charming the entire city, headlining shows, staring in movies and drawing crowds with her energy and risqué banana skirts. She was in every way fabulous, scandalous and daring. When war came she spied for France and became a hero.

As she got older, she remarried and adopted twelve children from all over the world; her rainbow tribe. Though she worked hard to support her children and keep up her lavish lifestyle, she was put out of their mansion, the bills too much to pay. Luckily her friends helped her family and years later, at sixty-seven years old, she decided to give the US one more try. It was a success! America loved her and dear Josephine danced herself to eternal sleep.

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Image Credit: Chronicle Books, Patricia Hruby Powell/Christian Robinson

The rhythm and energy of the writing in this book suits Josephine’s personality. It’s broken very cleverly into “acts” of her life. Robinson’s illustrations, as usual, are vivid and beautiful. His signature long bodied figures are perfect for Josephine’s limber body. The book opens with a red curtain, each “act” is introduced by a scene on a stage and finally, after we finish reading the story, the red curtain returns, flowers stewn on the floor below it. I love this touch. It brings the story full circle; she lived for performance. Robinson says in the end notes that he’s been connected to Josephine Baker’s story ever since he was young and it’s very evident in the loving way he depicts her.

Josephine has become one of my favorite biography picture books. It’s one that my bookstore never carried and I kept reading about online. I kept thinking “I’ve GOT to read that book!” After reading Josephine (or maybe even during, like I did), you’ll want to look up photographs and videos of this AMAZING woman. What a woman she was…

 

Recommended for: 2nd grade and up
Great for: Dance, Vaudeville, African-American, Segregation, Determination, Black Girls Rock, Black Girl Magic, Confidence, Courage, Rhythm, Energy, Paris, Black History Month, Black History Month Children’s Books, Non-Fiction, Discussion, Biography
Book Info: Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker by Patricia Hruby Powell/Illustrated by Christian Robinson, 2014 Chronicle Books, ISBN: 9781452103143

Skit-Scat Raggedy Cat Ella Fitzgerald

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Image Credit: Candlewick Press, Roxanne Orgill/Sean Qualls

Ummm hmm. Ella’s voice is one of my all time favorites. What I like about this picture book is that it tells the story of her early life, when she was just a Raggedy Cat trying to survive.

Ella had a larger than life personality ever since she was a young girl. Growing up in Yonkers, NY, her family didn’t have much but they had plenty of music.  Her voice could draw a crowd. She and her friend Charlie learned the newest moves and made a little change on the sidewalks dancing for crowds. It was a time of Jazz Jazz Jazz. Her mother passed away suddenly and she ended up on 145th Street in Harlem, living with her aunt. She didn’t get much love there so she searched for something better, on her own.

Ella’s 1938 chart0topper “A Tisket A Tasket” which was included in a movie called Ride ‘Em Cowboy in 1942. Oh look she’s at the back of the bus!  >_<

She got into some trouble and found herself in a school for orphans. They beat the girls, especially the black girls, so she ran away, back to Harlem. She was on the streets and in and out of people’s homes but one day she heard about auditioning at the Apollo Theater and decided to give it a try. The crowd almost ran her off the stage but the emcee gave her another chance and she blew them away! Ella started to make a name for herself. Despite her plain looks, bandleader Chick Webb gave her a chance to join his band at the Savoy. Ella’s spirit shone through her voice, loud and clear. People loved dancing to her. The band got their first big hit when she wrote “A Tisket, A Tasket.” With that song she shot to stardom and didn’t have to worry about food, lack of nice clothes and a place to sleep ever again!

I like Sean Qualls’ art style. He likes to lay his acrylic down a little rough and scratchy and uses a palette of reds, oranges, blues and browns. I love the jazz scenes that show the vibrance of Harlem at its artistic peak. Author Roxane Orgill and Sean Qualls really did an excellent job of pairing story with illustration; when I finished the book, I felt satisfied. I learned so much about young Ella and her spirit.

If you’re looking for an excellent biography that celebrates never giving up despite the odds, check out Skit-Scat Raggedy Cat…and go listen to some jazz!

 

Recommended for: 1st Grade and up
Great for:  Jazz, Jazz Bands, Music History, History, African-American, Black Girls Rock, Black Girl Magic, Inner Strength, Family, Determination, Discrimination, Jim Crow, Apollo Theater, Harlem, Dance, Black History Month, Black History Month Children’s Books, Non-fiction, Discussion, Biography
Book Info: Skit-Scat Raggedy Cat Ella Fitzgerald by Roxane Orgill/Illustrated by Sean Qualls, 2010 Candlewick Press, ISBN: 9780763617332

Wilma Unlimited

WilmaUnlimited

Image Credit: Harcourt Brace & Company, Kathleen Krull/David Diaz

I love to watch track. I was lucky enough to see Usain Bolt in my town of Daegu, South Korea a few years ago. Whew! The speed and athleticism. Wilma Rudolph is an inspiration not only because of her athletic accomplishments but also for the hurdles she had to cross in her life to achieve greatness.

Born the twentieth child in her family, she was small and sickly though full of energy. Her family gave her love but there wasn’t much they could do when she was stricken with polio around age five. On top of her physical ailments, she was a black girl in segregated Clarksville, Tennessee. There was only one doctor in town who treated blacks and he was fifty miles away! Despite her struggles, Wilma was extremely determined and even while wearing braces on her legs, she worked on her strength. One day at church, she stood up without her braces, walking confidently down the aisle.

Wilma’s 100m dash win at the 1960s Rome Olympics. Woooo!

From then on, she was off! She got stronger and stronger and played basketball in high school. Though she was a skilled basketball player, she was scouted for track-and-field and got a full ride to Tennessee State University. In 1960, she headed to Rome for the Summer Olympics. This powerful woman left her competitors in the dust (with a twisted ankle!) and 3 gold medals later, she was the fastest woman in the world!! ❤

The illustrations of Wilma Unlimited are beautiful. They’re a mix of acrylic, gouache and watercolor with spreads that use photographs for backgrounds. I love this effect. The page where Wilma and her mother triumphantly wrap her steel brace in a box to send back to the hospital is surrounded by a photograph of a cardboard box marked “fragile.” Diaz’ style is wonderful. His human figures have long bodies, wide eyes, strong noses, large hands and remind me of Greek figures on ancient vases.

Have a young runner? A child with boundless energy? Check out this beautiful biography about one of our greatest athletes!

 

Recommended for: All ages
Great for: Family, Segregation, African-American, Inner Strength, Determination, Polio, Sports, Track and Field, Fastest Woman in the World, Olympics, Black Girls Rock, Black Girl Magic, Faith, Black History Month, Black History Month Children’s Books, Non-fiction, Biography
Book Info: Wilma Unlimited by Kathleen Krull/Illustrated by David Diaz, 1996 Harcourt Brace & Company, ISBN: 9780152012670