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

Brown Girl Writer & Dreamer at My Local Library

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Image Credit: Nancy Paulsen Books (Penguin Random), Jacqueline Woodson

Jacqueline Woodson strode into Cincinnati’s Main Library on June 18th to talk to us about her book Brown Girl Dreaming. Her walk is confident, she wears a nose ring and wore a shirt that said “Black is Beautiful.” She began with a quiet bang by reading from her book Each Kindness and then kept it very real. Not long ago, the Cincinnati Library board unanimously decided not to change their insurance to cover gender confirmation surgery for long time employee, Rachel Dovel. Woodson was honest with us, she said it was difficult for her to be in the space as a gay, out, woman of color who cares about equality. Though she was happy to talk to us, she was also frustrated that the library didn’t support Rachel & equality.

“I stand with Rachel” she said.

I respect and admire her strength in supporting another woman who continues to be strong in the face of opposition.

The next hour was her reading from Brown Girl Dreaming, anecdotes about her two kids and their short attention span, comments about living in Brooklyn, reflections on parenting and her confusion about how to pronounce Chillicothe, Ohio. >_< The mood was comfortable; the crowd wasn’t as big as I hoped it would be but the people in attendance were engaged. I was very happy to see young brown girls in the audience. In the very front row sat a few young white girls who followed along in their copies of Brown Girl Dreaming while Jacqueline read aloud to us (she’d announce what page she was on) and two of the girls had really great questions at the end.

It was a really nice event; I even asked a question about diverse books and her hopes for the future (how could I resist??) and when she signed my book, I got to talk to her a little more. She’s such a cool person!

I wish you the best Jacqueline! Thanks for stopping by Cincinnati, speaking to us and sharing your light.

 

P.S. If you haven’t read Brown Girl Dreaming yet…get on it! 😉

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

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

SkitScatRaggedyCatElla

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

Voice of Freedom Fannie Lou Hamer: Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement

VoiceofFreedom

Image Credit: Candlewick Press, Carole Boston Weatherford/Ekua Holmes

“We serve God by serving our fellow man.”

Fannie Lou Hamer spent her entire life doing just that, fighting for black people’s rights to equality and justice. This mighty woman was one of class, power, strength and dignity. I see my grandmother in Fannie Lou Hamer’s big body and I see my mother in her strength despite her weariness. She suffered yet continued to rise and speak, and sing, and empower.

Weatherford does an amazing job (as usual) of crafting Fannie’s voice as we follow her story from childhood to adulthood. The words of the book are a combination of Weatherford’s storytelling and Fannie’s powerful quotes. While reading, I reflected on history and couldn’t help but compare the struggles people faced during her time to those of people of color today. I admire her strength. She grew up poor, the youngest of twenty children, picking cotton in the fields while living and breathing injustice. From an early age, she saw that black people didn’t have it equal; that they had to work hard just to get a little.

Fannie eventually marries and loses the ability to have her own children (her body is policed by white supremacy and classism) but she yearns for change and starts to push for black voters’ rights. Her determination to vote brings attacks on her life but she keeps moving forward to become a leader of the SNCC. Her spirit is never broken. She runs for Congress several times and reaches back to help the younger generation with Freedom Summers. Towards the end of her life she starts programs to help poor folks and also wins a lawsuit to integrate the public schools of her home county in Mississippi.

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Image Credit: Candlewick Press, Carole Boston Weatherford/Ekua Holmes

I spent just as much time enjoying Ekua Holmes’ illustrations as I did Weatherford’s words. After reading the rich text I’d turn to the illustrations and let them have their turn speaking to me. So much is packed into her painting-collages; varying shades of brown for skin, angular faces, flower bursts, patchwork, and texture. I love the pages where young Fannie holds a cotton plant quietly as her family members drag the long white bags that resemble ghosts and the final page, an older Fannie’s strong and beautiful profile with the American flag behind her. Weatherford’s books always have amazing art and this one is no exception.

When I think on this woman, I wonder…was there ever a selfish bone in her body? No. Fannie Lou Hamer’s life was in every way about service.

What a picture book. What a way to start many meaningful discussions. Voice of Freedom Fannie Lou Hamer: Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement is deserving of all the honors it has received.

We’re still pushing ahead Fannie.

 

Recommended for: 2nd Grade and up
Great for: Civil Rights, Diversity, Discussion, Jim Crow, Segregation, Racism, Community, Family, Relationships, Black Girl Magic, Strength, Determination, Friendship, African-American, Social Issues, Social Justice, Injustice, Black History Month, Black History Month Children’s Books
Book Info: Voice of Freedom Fannie Lou Hamer: Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement by Carole Boston Weatherford/Illustrated by Ekua Holmes, 2015 Candlewick Press, ISBN: 9780763665319

Katie Fry Private Eye: The Lost Kitten

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Image Credit: Scholastic Inc., Katherine Cox/ Vanessa Brantley Newton

Katie Fry is one smart cookie with a knack for solving mysteries. This Level 2 Beginning reader is a great short story for building confidence in reading. Katie is very modern and relatable and kids will enjoy following her adventures in her neighborhood. Katie Fry Private Eye: The Lost Kitten is the first in a series and in it we meet Katie and her family. She practices her detective skills on her dad and finds his glasses…on top of his head! Katie, being the thoughtful entrepreneur she is, sets up a booth to help people solve mysteries. Before she knows it, she’s on a case to find a missing kitten named Sherlock!

Vanessa Brantley Newton is one of my new favorite illustrators because her digital/mixed media illustrations have so much life to them. She’s great at creating characters with personality and spunk. Katie Fry, with her brown skin, curly natural hair and flower dress reminds me of my little cousin. THAT is the beauty of a diverse book; a child can see a reflection of themselves in the story and might even be inspired to be the best private eye on their street, just like Katie Fry.

If you like this book, there’s a sequel called Katie Fry Private Eye: The Missing Fox! If you enjoy mystery picture books like me, check out my reviews for Shark Detective and Hermelin the Detective Mouse. Happy Sleuthing!

 

Recommended for: Kindergarten-2nd grade
Great for: Humor, Friendship, Animals, Cats, Mystery, Girl Power, African-American, BlackGirlsRock, Diversity, We Need Diverse Books, Family, Community, Encouraging Reading, Beginning Readers
Book Info: Katie Fry Private Eye: The Lost Kitten by Katherine Cox/Illustrated by Vanessa Brantley Newton, 2015 Scholastic Inc., ISBN: 9780545666725