Let’s Celebrate Diwali

letscelebratediwali

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

It’s Ramadan, Curious George

Curious George 1

Image Credit: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Hena Khan/Mary O’Keefe

It’s the month of Ramadan, a time for Muslims around the world to pray, reflect, and fast with loved ones. Last night at a gay club in Orlando, Florida, at least fifty people were killed and the shooter seems to be Muslim.  In this time of sadness, this tragedy has already resulted in increased Islamophobia and racism towards Muslims in our country.

I want to take a moment to say that we MUST love and understand each other. Hatred has no place here.

Now we have a new children’s book about Ramadan. It’s Ramadan, Curious George is an important and sweet addition to the Curious George series. We need more books that are mirrors for Muslim children and this is one more to add to your shelf. There’s already a Happy Hanukkah, Curious George and many Christmas books, so why not Ramadan? I’m glad that it exists and I hope it makes it into the hands of Muslim children who need it and any child curious about Ramadan and Islam. Parents, this is how we teach love.

Curious George 2

Image Credit: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Hena Khan/Mary O’Keefe

It’s Ramadan, Curious George is a tabbed board book; its sturdy size and format is perfect for little hands to grasp. Each tab highlights a chapter of the story with a small illustration. The story follows Curious George, The Man with the Yellow Hat and their new friend, Kareem. Kareem is going to try fasting for Ramadan for the first time and Curious George is actually…helpful!  😉  He cooks delicious food with Kareem’s family and helps Kareem make it through his tough first day of fasting. The book also discusses the importance of sharing with others; Curious George helps with a food drive at the mosque and even inspires a new tradition! At the end of Ramadan, they happily celebrate Eid together and Curious George is glad to have experienced it all.

Hena Khan (Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns) did another great job with this one. Her informative rhyming text with Mary O’Keefe Young’s sweet illustrations is perfect. This book is a treasure to keep on your shelf not only for Ramadan, but for all year long. Books like this are not only important for children who need them but are also important for fostering respect and understanding of difference at an early age. I hope you’ll enjoy it with your family!

Ramadan Mubarak!

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Family, Friendship, Community, Ramadan, Religion, Relationships, Love, Respect, Diversity, Cultural Diversity, Cultural Relativism, Cultures, Understanding, Discussion, Animals, Read-Aloud
Book Info: It’s Ramadan, Curious George by Hena Khan/Illustrated by Mary O’Keefe Young, 2016 Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, ISBN: 9780544652262

Thunder Boy Jr.

ThunderBoyJr

Image Credit: Little, Brown and Company (Hachette Book Group), Sherman Alexie/Yuyi Morales

There aren’t enough words to describe the joy that is this book and how ecstatic I am to know it. I feel privileged to be a bookseller and share this book with the world. I get to put this book into little hands and I’m hoping that kids will connect to Thunder Boy Jr.

I’ve been anticipating this collaboration for over a year, since it was announced, because Sherman Alexie and Yuyi Morales create magic…and together?? Rarely do we get such cosmic levels of possibility and creativity as this. I’m calling this book for, at the very least, a Caldecott Honor but it deserves a Caldecott Medal. I doubt the Newbery Committee will choose a picture book winner again this year but the story/writing is POWER.

You’d think Thunder Boy Jr. is a super special name; that only one person in the world has it but actually that’s not true. Thunder Boy is named after his dad and though his dad is great, he wants his own name! Thunder Boy likes to do things like ride his bike, roll in the mud and Grass Dance so maybe his new name could be related to those things? With a nickname like Little Thunder, it sure is easy to feel small but his bright and rambunctious personality (and the love between him and his father) will see him through.

ThunderBoy2

Image Credit: Little, Brown and Company (Hachette Book Group), Sherman Alexie/Yuyi Morales

Rarely do we get to see picture books about Native American families and this important and beautiful book should be in every library. I’m hoping teachers and families around the world will love Thunder Boy Jr. because it speaks to individuality, growing up and identity (and just happens to feature a loving Native family.) Indigeneity is central to the story but also it isn’t. It’s SO lovely to read a picture book that talks about powwow and how names are given and earned in Native cultures! Wow! ❤ Though the story focuses on a son-dad relationship, readers will love Little Thunder’s cool mom and his cute little sister who, by the way, have “fancy-normal” names.

Yuyi Morales’ illustrations have so much raw energy and vivid color and for that reason she’s one of my favorites (I’ve reviewed Just a Minute! in the past). I love how she draws the big body of Thunder Boy Sr. next his small son; he really is like his namesake. Earthy & bright colors and lots of movement fill the pages; this family bursts onto the scene like a lighting bolt and at the end of the book, I feel as though I know them. I enjoy how the writing matches the illustrations exactly in some parts of the book but Morales also uses her illustrations to create a separate story that gives us more insight into Little Thunder’s personality. He rocks out hard on a guitar but his dad is angry about the broken strings and he slyly steals his sister’s red ball as he continues sharing his story.

Thunder Boy Jr. is the strongest picture book so far of 2016 and I’m hoping people will love it and cherish it. Something tells me Little Thunder would gobble up all the love and attention…especially now that he has confidence in his brand new name!

MeWithThunderBoy

All the love and happiness

 

P.S. Since this book is out in the wild now, great discussions are starting. It has a lot of potential to teach but it also discusses aspects of native cultures that might need explanation to some readers. Please check out Debbie Reese’s two posts about how to read this book with your children; it gives context that the book itself is lacking. They are here and here.

 

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Family, Love, Humor, Identity, Struggle With Identity, Individuality, Growing Up, Native Americans, Father-Son, Siblings, Frustration, Powwow, Cultural Diversity, Diversity, Read-Aloud, Discussion
Book Info: Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie/Illustrated by Yuyi Morales, 2016 Little, Brown and Company (Hachette Book Group), ISBN: 9780316013727

Color and Charisma: Talking with Lois Ehlert

Lois Ehlert is, without a doubt, one of the most important creative talents in children’s literature.

I grew up with Lois’ art but it wasn’t until I found her Scraps book tucked in the art section in my bookstore that I really started to LOOK at her work and think about her legacy. As I re-familiarized myself with her books, I wanted to learn more about her…and so, a tiny seed was planted. That flower has finally bloomed and I hope you’ll enjoy our conversation.

 

Alia: Q1. What are three words to describe yourself?

Lois: By that do you mean my work?

Alia: Your work or just you. Anything you’d use to describe yourself.

Lois: Well, let’s see…I dress colorfully. I enjoy nature and I love to walk.

Alia: Cool! Those are good. I like that.

Alia: Q2. What’s your favorite type of sandwich?

Lois: Oh boy. I think peanut butter sandwiches.

Alia: What kind of jelly do you put on your peanut butter sandwiches?

Lois: I don’t put the jelly in at all. I just love chunky style peanut butter.

Alia: Ah. I’m more of a creamy peanut butter person.

Lois: Ah. Oh okay. We can differ on that. 🙂

[Laughing]

ScrapsBook

Image Credit: Beach Lane Books (Simon & Schuster), Lois Ehlert

Alia: Q3. The way that I started to learn more about your work was when I read your Scraps book and then your Hands book. In those books, you talk to us about how creative your parents were. So I’m wondering how important it is, in your opinion, to have parents or family who really nurture and encourage creativity.

Lois: I think it’s extremely important and in my case, when I speak with children, I always tell them the story about my dad fixing up an old table, a folding table, which I mention in the Scraps book and also in the Hands book. They made a bargain with me that if I kept working at my artwork on that table, I didn’t have to put things away every day. I think that was very unusual because I’m the oldest of three children and we had a very small house and I was right in the middle of everything. I often said to them, when I grew up to be an artist, did you realize how important that was for you to allow me that because a lot of parents want things to be too neat and if you have a creative soul, you can’t always be neat. You have to be messy some of the time. So, I think it’s very important.

Being the oldest of three, I would think [being an artist] was an unusual vocation to choose because there are certainly other vocations that are more steady. But they just allowed me to do what I wanted to do and I always said they were creative but they always said “No, no we’re not creative.” “Yes, you are!” But that was before the time that art was considered a profession, in a way, except maybe for painters (fine arts) and so they did their thing in their spare time because they both worked at other jobs during the day but I watched them and got little scraps from them. I do think I had creative parents.

Alia: I can kind of relate to that too because I’m also the oldest of three and I understand what you mean about as the oldest you might expect your parents to have strict expectations for what you want to do for your career but my parents too always told me “No you just do what you want to do.”

Lois: Yeah and that’s very liberating.

Alia: Yeah. Definitely. To not have that pressure; to know that they’re supporting you in everything that you’re going through and learning.

Lois: Yeah.

Alia: Q4. I really like your books because they’re not only beautiful, they’re very educational. I really appreciate how approachable your books are because children of many ages can enjoy them because of the way you write. You have simple text but then you also have a little more complicated text for them to grow into or for older children to enjoy. So I’m wondering, how did you go from an art school student to picture books??

Lois: Well, when I was growing up and I learned to read, we would go to the library every week, usually Saturday mornings and the three of us (my younger brother and sister and I) would pick out a maximum of five books each. So we had fifteen a week. Then we would read those and kind of interact with them; our mom would read them to us. So first of all, I loved reading and secondly, the only art, really, that I was exposed to, because I was from a small town, was art in picture books. And maybe later Art History books but I never went inside of an art museum until I was older, much older, because we didn’t have an art museum. I always like to think that art and writing help each other. That sometimes the younger children read the pictures-

Alia: Yeah! Yeah!

Lois: -and the middle kids, like my sister, would read the big type and then the older of the three (if there were three as we were) would read those little labels or read the content in the back of the books for some of the science books like about butterflies or animals or whatever. So what I try to do is to span the ages a little bit, both ways, younger and older but having the same thing. It’s deceptively simple because I really work on the text so that each word works. I don’t know if that makes sense or not but that’s my theory.

Alia: Oh it does because now that I look back on your books (I’ve been doing some research for this [interview]), you think “Oh it looks simple” but really when you dive into them, you can see how they are written for such a ride range. Like you said, the whole family can experience the book.

Lois: That’s right and if the book is popular, you know, if you’re a parent you’re going to be reading that book over and over and over until you’re kind of sick of it, so it better be something! I always liked the books where you didn’t notice everything the first time you read them and you could go back and discover little things like, for instance, have you looked at Fish Eyes?

FishEyes

Image Credit: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers, Lois Ehlert

Alia: I haven’t looked at that one yet but I’ll check it out.

Lois: It’s a counting book and it’s all fish and where the eye of the fish would be, it’s a cut out circle. From a tactile sense, you could read the text for “Number 2” and then there would be two fish on that page with two eyes cut out. Anyway, if you look at that, there’s a big fish for “Number 1” and the fish scales spell out a word! I won’t tell you what it is, but some kids see it the first time they read the book and other kids never see it until I ask them about it. So I like to put those surprises in. Another thing is I kind of blend fiction with non-fiction and I know the Library of Congress sometimes has trouble putting me in a category because it’s not one or the other; it’s both. But I like to do that because I think it’s all a part of learning and when I do research, I might as well share it, you know?

Alia: Yeah, I mean picture books are art and you can tell how much time and thought you put into every page. They’re very carefully laid out but it’s not overdone.

Lois: Yeah, I majored in graphic design when I was in art school and that encompassed both the page composition and a lot of things; other artists might not come from that point of view. Especially if somebody else is doing the writing for a book, some illustrators might not think about the placement of the text, particularly, and it’s understandable because they don’t interact with it. But when you do both the writing and the art, you have an advantage because you can talk to yourself and say “Lois, I don’t think that’s in the right spot! [Laughing] Either move the art over or put the type somewhere else.” You don’t want a young kid to have to struggle too much to read the book.-

Alia: Because you’ll lose their attention.

Lois: -It’s hard enough learning to read. Yeah, yeah. But you want it to be a challenge also. So, somewhere in between there is best, I think.

Alia: Q5. So I noticed that you like moles! At least four books of yours that I read were about moles or had moles so what do you like about moles?

Lois: Well, first of all, I am very interested in Anthropology…

Alia: Oh really? I studied Anthropology in college.

Lois: Oh! We’re twins I think!

Alia: Yes!

Lois: I’ve done a lot of traveling in a lot of countries so I have a collection of folk art but what I noticed is that the mole is an animal that appears in a lot of folk tales and it’s funny because they’re not particularly good looking; they’re small and rather insignificant and people don’t like them here because they dig holes in their lawn. But I started by looking up some folk tales. One is from Peru [Cuckoo], another one is from Mexico [Moon Rope], and one is Native American [Mole’s Hill] and the fourth one is pretty much the Midwest where I live. But I don’t know, I’ve always thought that they could be joined together in one book and be called “Mole Tales” but nobody’s done that yet.

holey-moley-9781442493018_hr

Image Credit: Beach Lane Books (Simon & Schuster), Lois Ehlert

Alia: So you were kind of inspired by the moles that you saw in different indigenous people’s stories so that made you interested in the animal itself and you incorporated moles into your books and art. I also noticed for Holey Moley you just gave the mole his own book! He’s just running around in that one…

Lois: Yeah, actually he takes care of some of the predators in the garden but they don’t surface very often. They stay primarily underground; their eyes are not very well developed. They just keep digging, you know, and I think there’s something to be said about that as a trait, even for human beings. Just keep working, you know.

Alia: Just keep stay working on your work and focus on what you’re doing; your own projects. Yeah, I think so.

Lois: Yeah, right.

Alia: Q6. So you touched on it a little bit but where are some of the places you’ve traveled through in your life and how do you think going to those different places has influenced your art style?

Lois: Well I have been to Europe but I’ve been to Central and South America more frequently. I just simply love color and of course my art is based on realism but it’s stylized realism and a lot of the cultures, especially their weavings and things are simplified but not simple. Like Pre-Columbian things are just beautiful in their simplicity but you can learn a lot about the culture; like what vegetables they have because they portray them in their art. I just have a big collection of things like that; some expensive and others very inexpensive and what I like best about it is they’re made by hand. They’re not made by machine.

Alia: Q7. The thing I like about picture books is that I think the images in picture books are very powerful and visceral because they stick with you. I’m twenty seven so I grew up with Chicka Chicka Boom Boom [she laughs joyfully] because that book was out when I was in pre-school so…that coconut tree, those bright letters, the bright cover; those images are a part of my childhood. That’s what I love about picture books and growing up with them. So my good friend Nida, she has a question for you. She wants to know 1) What’s your favorite color? and 2) What’s your favorite letter of the alphabet?

Lois: Oh boy. I don’t really have a favorite color. If you saw my studio you would know that I just love every color. If you read Planting a Rainbow, that’s about flowers and colors. I just can’t…I try to use as many colors as I can in the books and experiment with quiet colors and loud colors and as far as the alphabet’s concerned, I don’t know. I can’t quite think that I like one better than the other either. I think the idea that I put all the alphabet, for the endpapers [of Chicka Chicka Boom Boom] appeals to me more; each letter in a different color-

Alia: Yeah I really liked that.

Lois: -The capitals and the lower case. A lot of books like, if you’ve seen Eating the Alphabet, have you seen that?

Alia: Yeah I think that’s my favorite one of yours, actually…

Lois: So that’s a completely different approach to the alphabet as far as letters, style and everything. I just try to use as many of the letters of the alphabet and as many colors as I can, I guess. I just can’t make the other letters feel bad by picking one of them.

Alia: Just like with the colors, you can’t make them feel bad. There’s just too many good ones, right?

Lois: Yeah! Right!

[Laughing]

Lois: I don’t think you can have too many colors as far as I’m concerned!

Alia: I think so too! When I was in middle school I had a favorite skirt (I like long skirts) and it had all types of colors on it and maybe I was teased a little bit for it but I just loved that skirt because it was so bright.

Lois: Yeah, I dress that way and I have colorful socks and t-shirts all different colors that I wear when I’m working. I don’t know, it’s hard to find a lot of color in today’s clothing industry. They have a lot of gray and black and white, you know. It’s hard to find.

Alia: I think some people, it’s not that they’re afraid of color, they’re hesitant to embrace it maybe? Especially around the cold months and winter time. It’s like for some reason people think “Well I have to wear dark clothes, dark brown, black, grey.” I’m like “Wear bright colors too!” It kind of livens things up, you know.

Lois: Yeah. It’s also economical to have a lot of black and neutral colors, you know. Because if you wear something red people will remember that! If you wear it every day, they’ll say “Well…” you know, but I like color wherever I find it.

Alia: Me too.

Lois: Now you said you saw the advanced copies for Rain Fish, right? And so you can see I even found some colorful things in the gutter!

Alia: Oh, yeah! 🙂

[Laughing]

Alia: Q8. This might be tough but out of all your books, do you have one that you just really, really enjoyed working on or when you think about it, it makes you very happy?

Lois: No, I really don’t because I work a long time on the books. I spend maybe 50 percent of the time making art and doing the writing and the other 50 percent of the time taking things out and doing it over. But they’re all enjoyable I think. When an artist gets an idea, an original idea, that’s probably the most joyous part about it. Working on it is really work! But I try to use different art techniques and different art materials and different ideas for the writing and subject matter so it’s pretty hard to pick out one. I think if there is one that’s closest to my heart, it’s Hands.

hands

Image Credit: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers, Lois Ehlert

Alia: Yeah, yeah. Yeah I really enjoyed that one because I felt like Hands was very, not only is it educational, but it felt personal. You can really tell how close you were to your parents, especially when you were creating, when you read through that book. So I really enjoyed that one.

Lois: Yeah I would say that began as an artist’s book which, simply put, is one of a kind. I was studying the composition of books at the university as a graduate student and my dad had died and one of the assignments was to make a book about someone or something. So what I did with the artist’s book was to talk about my dad but indirectly by showing his gardening gloves for instance and that he liked to go fishing, without showing a photograph of him. It evolved twelve years later and by that time my mom had died, into that book. So I have to thank Allyn Johnston, my long time editor, for asking me to change it from an artist’s book, which is one of a kind to like thirty thousand of them. I devised a format and everything, which is more graphic design than illustration, in some regards, but it’s closest to my heart.

Alia: About the design of the book, that’s another thing that I think really stands out because as you’re reading it, you’re flipping the pages and you’re not only reading, you see the images, you see the gloves, you see the paints, and it’s like you’re a part of the story as well as-

Lois: Yeah you’re using your hands to read it!

Alia: -Right! Yeah, exactly. Using your hands to read Hands! You’re reading about the relationship between your hands and your dad’s hands and your mom’s hands. It’s such a nice book.

Lois: Well thank you.

Alia: Q9. So you touched on it a little earlier but I can tell that you’re a collector. [She laughs and we both laugh] Is there anything that you’re collecting these days that you’re excited about? Any new collections?

Lois: I’m trying not to collect so much. I have a very, very full apartment but one of the things that I collect that is pretty Midwest is ice-fishing decoys. There’s one spread of some of them in the Scraps book. They’re little carved, wooden, painted things and they have lead in their bellies and then they cut a hole in the ice in a lake and put those on a line and supposedly they attract a larger fish to come to the opening in the ice and then they’re speared. It’s a Native American tradition but now other fishermen partake in it too. So that’s an ongoing collection. They’re hard to find but I like the ones that look like they’re used and I think I have 178 now-

Alia: Wow…

Lois: -and they’re small. They’re like 6 inches, 7 inches and I have them all swimming together on top of my bookcases. It looks kinda nice. So there’s always room for a couple more of those!

Alia: I bet you like the thrill of seeking them out too. I think that’s-

Lois: I do indeed!

Alia: -the best thing because I like collecting things too and I like markets. I know you like markets; I read your book Market Day. I like markets and flea markets and thrift stores but half of the fun is going there to look, you know? The thrill of the hunt.

Lois: Absolutely! Yeah. And you know a lot of things that I have are not very expensive. I’m not into modern paintings, although I love them at the art museum. That’s not my interest…but I do like the fish.

Alia: Yeah they’re cute. I saw the photo you mentioned in your book. They’re really pretty; the different designs on each one.

Lois: Yeah, they’re neat.

Alia: Q10. Do you still do author visits at schools and if not, do you miss doing them?

Lois: I’m afraid I don’t do them anymore. As I grow older, I find I just don’t have the energy to do everything and I kind of decided I better just stay home a little bit more and make art as long as I can. But I do miss it. But I have hope that the Scraps book would be my stand-in a little bit, so that young kids would understand what it’s like to be an artist. So I’m doing my best but I just can’t do everything unfortunately. I have to leave that to the younger artists and writers. I did it for many years, so.

Alia: I bet that all the kids you’ve met really enjoyed seeing you.

Lois: I still do workshops once in a while at the art museum with kids and so I keep my hand in it but, you know. I’ve just decided, can’t do everything!

Alia: Right. I’m glad you’re still creating and putting books out there.

Lois: Oh, so am I!

Alia: Because we want to keep reading them, so we’re glad for that!

Lois: Oh good. Good, good!

RainFish

Image Credit: Beach Lane Books (Simon & Schuster), Lois Ehlert

Alia: Q11. So since you’ve been talking about it a little bit, can you tell us what Rain Fish is about? I know it comes out in April. Can you give us a little bit about it and what you hope kids will take from it?

Lois: Sure. I’d be happy to. Sometimes I see things that I don’t think other people see. For instance when I go to a farmer’s market, I sometimes see faces in the potatoes or I might see something in the leaves in a tree. I have often been out when it’s raining and I notice on the sidewalks, mostly and in the gutter there are things that people throw away that to me, look like they might be like a fish. Now again, that’s maybe something that if somebody else looked at it they wouldn’t think the same thing, so that’s how I began with the idea of Rain Fish. Things happen with the rain and the wind and just for a moment these things come into play with each other and they look like fish! But then as it continues to rain, they wash away and go down the drain and so it’s sort of a story that is more magical than real.

When I started looking for objects to make fish, because I thought that’s what I could do for the art, I looked for things that most people would throw away. I got to thinking that lots of times people go to art supply stores and they buy expensive things and this could be something where kids, some of whom maybe didn’t have extra money to buy art supplies but were so creative, could find things that people had discarded and make them into fish. I thought well, that was the way that I did it and I hope maybe there will be some kids that could do that too. I used that technique a little bit in other books like Snowballs. I don’t know if you’ve seen that?

Alia: Yeah, Mmm hmm.

Lois: Where I use real objects and then part of it is painted or Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf and Leaf Man. I’m playing with free art supplies so to speak and also with the idea that if you look at something and you use your imagination, it turns into something else. We’ll have to wait and see if the book is successful in its message or not; I always try my best but you never know really. It’s interesting because kids don’t all have the same favorite book of mine and I like that!

Alia: Kids connect to different things.

Lois: Yeah I think that’s good.

Alia: Well when I read it myself and now thinking about what you just said, what I like about it is that it encourages kids to use their imagination and I do know a lot of teachers like to do “Found Art” units in school so I think your book would work well for those kind of units where they take the kids out to the woods to get sticks and stones. I think it would fit well into that Pre-School-2nd/3rd grade age when they’re still doing those fun art projects, you know?

Lois: Yeah, that’s exactly right. I hope so.

Alia: Also Rain Fish reminded me of Leaf Man in the way that in Leaf Man you have to really look at the leaves to find the turtle and the fish and all the little things. So with Rain Fish you kind of have to stretch your brain a little bit and say “Yeah that looks like a fish, I see it swimming.” I think that’s good for kids and their brains. I think they’re going to enjoy it.

Lois: And you know so many things in our world are so nailed down and so prescribed. It’s kinda nice to float out a little bit and use your imagination, you know? That’s my own opinion!

Alia: Definitely. And I think kids these days, they’re so tied down to media and TV, etc. and it’s good to go back to a good book that they can sit down with and just “Go” and explore with their mind. I think that’s important.

Lois: Yup. I bet you were a good teacher.

Alia: Haha. Oh thank you. I tried. I had fun with my students and I was about making sure that they felt comfortable and that they had a good time in the classroom. That’s what it’s about.

Lois: Yeah, I think so. But you know it’s too bad that some of that joy is taken out of the classroom, I think.

Alia: Yes, I think school can be extremely stressful for kids, all over the world. I taught in Korea and their education system is very tough and the kids there have a lot to do, a lot of responsibilities and sometimes they don’t have moments to just play and explore so it’s extremely important for children and their development to have those moments to just be kids.

Lois: Yeah, I agree. It’s interesting. Quite a few of my books are reprinted in Korean.

Alia: Oh good! Yay!

Lois: And Chinese and Japanese and other countries too, like Spanish speaking ones. But I’m thinking maybe it’s the visual aspect of them that appeals to their sensibilities.

Alia: Yeah, I think, from my experience, Korean kids are just like American kids. They enjoy funny books, they like the jokes and the good thing about your books is that they could translate well. Like we talked about how they’re simple but are also complicated. I think that’s why they work well.

Lois: The only thing that’s missing when they translate it is the rhyme.

Alia: Yeah…

Lois: And of course, that can’t always be translated. But that’s okay. I think rhyming helps a young kid to learn the pronunciation of words that maybe are spelled differently but pronounced the same.

Alia: Well maybe there’s a young author/illustrator in Asia who’s been inspired by your style and they’re doing their own original work with rhyme. So that’s a possibility.

Lois: Yeah.

Alia: Q12. You’ve been a part of the evolution of the picture book/children’s literature industry. It’s really grown to become a very big industry. How do you feel about the current push for more diverse stories and diverse authors in children’s books?

MoonRope

Image Credit: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers, Lois Ehlert

Lois: Oh I’ve always been for that. In fact, some of my earlier books [Cuckoo and Moon Rope], two of the mole books, are bilingual and I really at the time had to argue about having two languages in the same book to make them more multicultural. But they did it. So, now it’s not uncommon to do a lot of those things but I’ve always felt that I was talking to a child no matter where they lived and of course some books are more specific than mine are. My books speak a little bit more about things that any child can approach but I think the more the merrier. I really do.

Alia: The good thing about your books is that any child can pick them up and see nature and learn about that. I think that’s why they’re so good for all types of children to learn from.

Lois: I always worry about kids not going outside so much anymore.

Alia: Yeah that’s true. Also some schools have cut back on recess time too. It’s a tough time for education but I have hope for the future. I’m hopeful.

Lois: I am too. I’ve always been and you can’t maybe change the word but just a little part of it.

Alia: Yes, definitely.

Alia: Q13. Did you have a favorite food when you were growing up?

Lois: No. Not really. I’ve always liked fruits and vegetables. We always had a garden and to this day I’m not sure what made me like them so much. I think sometimes it was the way they looked, the colors, like red strawberries and green leaves. I just don’t know but for fruits and vegetables I love to go to the farmer’s markets and pick out things. I would say fruits and vegetables.

eating-the-alphabet-lois-ehlert

Image Credit: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers, Lois Ehlert

Alia: Well you can definitely tell because in Eating the Alphabet, just the amount of time and love you put into each fruit and vegetable-

Lois: Yeah and I ate all those too!

Alia: -Oh you did!? When you were doing research?

Lois: Yup.

Alia: I remember reading it for the first time and there were a lot of fruits and vegetables in there that I’d never heard of. I was like “Oooh what’s that?” and it made me want to look them up!

Lois. Yeah! One of my best friends was a food editor at the Milwaukee Journal newspaper and so I’d sometimes ask her about things. Like at that time, kiwi fruit and star fruit were not very common. They are a little bit more now. Also ugli fruit, you know? It was fun to do; I painted them and then I ate them.

Alia: That’s some good research.

Lois: Well you know, you gotta be practical about these things!

[Laughing]

Alia: That reminds me. There’s a book that I’m not sure if you’ve read it but it’s called The Ugly Vegetables by Grace Lin. Have you read that one?

Lois: No.

Alia: It’s really good. It was Grace Lin’s first book and it’s about a Chinese family that’s growing a garden and the little girl is a little dismayed because she thinks their garden is ugly. Their neighbors have beautiful flowers and they have ugly vines but her mom has a plan; she’s growing a vegetable garden. I think you’d really enjoy that one. It’s a good one.

Alia: Q14. We know Rain Fish is coming out in April. Do you have any other projects that you can talk about yet?

Lois: Well I am working on a project right now. I’m about halfway done but I never talk about it until I get it done. Partly because I think it dissipates the idea somewhat to talk about it too much but sometimes the idea changes too. But there will be something that’s scheduled for probably of Spring 2017.

Alia: Okay so not too far. So, about a year from now.

Lois: No. But the deadline to do the art and everything is the end of this June because they need time to allow for printing and biding but I’m hopeful. I keep changing the text; every day it seems I change a word or two but it’ll get together. It’s quite different than any of the other things.

Alia: Oh? Oh really?

Lois: Which is probably no surprise to you, right?

Alia: No! Because every one of your books is a little different!

Lois: Yeah!

Alia: Which is good. Oh good, I’m excited.

Alia: Q15. Do you have a favorite place that you recommend in your hometown of Beaver Dam or in Milwaukee? A place that you really enjoy going to?

Lois: I like to go to the Audubon Center in Milwaukee. I love to go out there and walk around but for a more formal setting, I live about three blocks from both Lake Michigan and the Milwaukee Art Museum and that is a very interesting building. They’ve just remodeled the interior of it so I spend a lot of time over there both with teaching children and just looking. But there are not so many wild places left but the Audubon center is kinda wild and nice.

Alia: Yeah, I always like to ask authors/illustrators in my interviews about your favorite places because it helps me get a better understanding of where you come from.

Alia: Before I go, because I’m coming to the end, I wanted to give you one more book recommendation because that’s what I do! I’m a bookseller. Do you know the author/illustrator Julie Flett?

Lois: No.

Alia: She is Canadian, Cree-Metis-

Lois: Oh! 🙂

Alia: -and she is awesome. She mostly illustrates but has also written her own books. But her style, I think you’d like her because she does collage and painting too. She does a lot of depictions of Native families and also, like you do, incorporates nature like the woods and areas in which she grew up. I really think you would like her work.

Lois: Oh, okay!

 

Thank you again Lois. I really enjoyed our talk and I encourage you all to check out her many, many beautiful books! They’re a part of most public library collections and are available at your local bookstores.

Website: http://authors.simonandschuster.com/Lois-Ehlert/1877089

 

 

 

My Heart Fills With Happiness

MyHeartFillsWithHappiness

Image Credit: Orca Book Publishers, Monique Gray Smith/Julie Flett

I’m so glad to finally read this little book! Board book format is perfect for this story because it’s meant to be handled, loved and explored. My Heart Fills With Happiness is a much needed depiction of modern Native families; children’s publishing doesn’t have enough and I’m excited to welcome this story!

The families in this book are so happy and loving. Simple sentences accompany an illustration; children can study the art and work towards reading on their own. This story will evoke memories and inspire new memory-making in your family. Sometimes the simplest things put a smile on your face and make your heart full.

Julie Flett! I’ve already reviewed Wild Berries; I’ve expressed my love for her illustrations and once again, she’s created beautiful images to cherish. Her art paired with Monique Gray Smith’s lovely words (the font is also perfect!) is beautiful. This is a great new book to add to your collection and I hope it’ll be well loved alongside all your chewed up and cherished board books. 🙂

 

Recommended for: Babies, Toddlers, Early Readers
Great for: Family, Relationships, Siblings, Love, Everyday Life, Read-Aloud, Native Families, Nature, Happiness, Diversity, Cultural Diversity, Discussion, Vocabulary
Book Info: My Heart Fills With Happiness by Monique Gray Smith/Illustrated by Julie Flett, 2016 Orca Book Publishers, ISBN: 9781554987290

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.

EsperancaGarcia2

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

Too Many Mangos

TooManyMangos

Image Credit: Island Heritage Publishing (Madden Corporation), Tammy Paikai/Don Robinson

Hawaiian Author. Hawaiian Illustrator. Hawaiian Press. Woooo Boy! What a beautiful thing to see a completely Hawaiian product come to fruition and be shared with the world. This little book made it to my library system in Ohio and I’m glad. ❤

Too Many Mangos is gorgeous. Just look at the illustrations! Kama and his little sister Nani learn the power of kindness and sharing. Whenever they visit their grandpa’s house, they like to climb the big mango tree in the back. Grandpa tells them to pick the ripe ones and hand them down to him. There are just too many mangos for them to eat alone so he sends them to the neighbors to share. Kama and Nani head out with a wagon full of lovely mangoes and at every house, they’re given a gift in exchange for the mangos! Aunty Pua gives them fresh banana macadamia nut muffins, their friends Momi and Kawai give them golden papayas and on and on. When they finally get home, grandpa prepares a feast with all their “mahalo (thank you) gifts.” Sharing can be very sweet.

TooManyMangos2

Image Credit: Island Heritage Publishing (Madden Corporation), Tammy Paikai/Don Robinson

Robinson’s illustrations are GORGEOUS. Look at those soft pastel colors and how beautifully he blends them. His human figures are chubby and remind me of Peanuts characters. While reading this book, you’ll feel like you’re on the island in the warm sun. This is a feel good story in both content and the brightness of the illustrations. Hope you have a copy of Too Many Mangos near you so you can enjoy this delightful book! 🙂

 

Recommended for: All ages
Great for: Community, Sharing, Kindness, Relationships, Food Culture, Hawaiian Food, Hawaii, Cultural Diversity, Family, Friends, We Need Diverse Books, Ripe Mangos, Love, Grandfathers, Grandfathers-Grandchildren
Book Info: Too Many Mangos by Tammy Paikai/Illustrated by Don Robinson, 2009 Island Heritage Publishing (Madden Corporation), ISBN: 9781597007580

 

 

 

A Chat With Duncan Tonatiuh

Duncan Tonatiuh’s work is some of the most important work in children’s literature right now. His books speak truth, teach our realities and his art isn’t too bad. 😉 He creates picture books that cover topics like immigration, city vs. rural life, friendship, art history, discrimination, prejudice, determination and history. You can read my reviews for Funny Bones and Salsa here.

Funny Bones was the very first book I reviewed for my blog, so it holds an important place in my blogging life. Through reading and experiencing his books, I became more interested in learning about him. He’s a very cool person! Let’s get on to the interview…

 

AliaQ1. What are three words to describe yourself?

Duncan: Thats a tough one. One would be responsible or dependable.

Alia: Yeah I know! I like to ask people this though…

Duncan: Creative maybe? Smart sounds conceited but something to do with being a thinker. Thoughtful?  That is what I can think of for now.

Alia: That’s great. Thank you.

Duncan: Calm maybe?

Alia: 🙂

Duncan: No problem.

AliaQ2. Congratulations on your baby daughter! Has having a child influenced how you see yourself as a storyteller?

Duncan: I’m sure it has. But I’m not quite sure how yet. It’s definitely had a huge impact in my life. My world does not revolve around me anymore by any means. And I feel an enormous and unconditional love for my daughter. It’s a wonderful feeling.

AliaQ3. The first time I saw your books, your art made me cheer. It’s such a beautiful display of indigeneity. The Mixtec codex influence. Do you mind discussing your style and how it developed?

Duncan: I went to design school in New York City. There is a large Mixtec community there. I became friends with a Mixtec guy named Sergio. For my senior thesis I decided to make a small comic book about his journey from his small village in the south of Mexico to working as a busboy in a restaurant in New York.

One of the first things I did when I began that project was go to the library to look up Mixtec artwork. I found images of Mixtec codex from the 15th century. I was blown away by them. I grew up in Mexico, so I was familiar with Pre-Columbian art but never paid much attention to it. When I saw images of the codex at the library I decided I would make a modern day codex of Sergio’s story.

I began emulating the drawings from the codex. I drew every one in profile. I stylized their ears to look like a number 3. I drew the character’s entire bodies, etc. I collaged my drawings digitally though to make them feel more modern.

Alia: That’s awesome! You kind of touch on that modern day application of art in your book about Diego Rivera. How he’d view the world now and create it in his style. I love how you take ancient art from your culture and make it modern for today’s children. I really really like how you use digital collage too! It makes the images pop.

Duncan: Thanks!

Alia: No problem!

DuncanTonatiuhInterview2

Image Credit: Dear Primo, Abrams Books for Young Readers, Duncan Tonatiuh

Q4. What was your favorite food growing up?

Duncan: Hmmm. Maybe enchiladas or pozole. When I was a kid I asked my mom why my Dad always got to pick what we were having for lunch. She said it was because he gave her the money to buy the food. At some point I got a job after school helping out a jewellery maker. When I got paid I gave the money to my mom and asked her to make enchiladas.

Alia: Hahaha. That sounds like something my mom would say. 🙂

Duncan: lol

AliaQ5. Your books are very powerful and full of history and perspective. They also have the ability to reach any child in the world. What do you hope children take away from your books?

Duncan: Thanks! Well, first and foremost I hope they find my books entertaining and interesting to look at. I make books about things that interest me. Hopefully young readers will find those things interesting and important too. I try to have a message in my books but I hope they don’t feel preachy or didactic.

When it comes to Latino children I hope they see themselves, their family and their community in the books. Hopefully they feel pride and realize that their voices and stories are important. For non-Latino children, I hope they learn about a different culture. With books like Pancho Rabbit or Separate Is Never Equal, I hope that they feel empathy and understanding of the struggles Latino children and people have to face sometimes.

One of the most rewarding moments I’ve had as an author is when a group of 4th graders from an Elementary in Texas wrote a multi-voice poem about their border crossing experiences after they read Pancho Rabbit. I feel my book encouraged them to speak and realize that their voices and stories are important. Let me find the link:

 

Alia: Thank you for sharing and that is amazing. I’m glad for your books because it is so important to not only share stories, but to create stories that children can relate to. Children of color sometimes need that boost, that representation. That’s why diverse books are so important. For teaching and learning, and inspiring as in the case of those 4th graders! 🙂

Duncan: 🙂

AliaQ6. Congratulations on all the recent honors (Sibert Award/Pura Belpré Honor/NCTE Honor) for Funny Bones! Have you received any feedback from kids on that book?

Duncan: Thank you! I’ve received a few calavera drawings from students. And I’ve seen projects that they’ve created at school for the Day of the Dead. I look forward to receiving more feedback from kids and seeing how they respond to the book and what resonates with them.

Alia: How cool! When I was a teacher in Korea, I learned about Day of the Dead to share with my students. In Korea, they have a holiday called Chuseok where they also honor ancestors, make an altar of food, and clean graves. They seemed to connect with it, especially since they saw some cultural similarities. They were a little surprised about the calaveras though. But when I showed them the sugar skulls, they wanted to taste them. lol!

Duncan: lol

Alia: Yeah my students were cute.

DuncanSalsa1

Image Credit: Salsa, Groundwood Books, Duncan Tonatiuh

Q7. For the book Salsa, you illustrated words that weren’t your own. What was it like working with Jorge Argueta?

Duncan: The majority of picture books are written by one person and illustrated by another one. The publishing company pairs the two together. I did not meet Jorge until after I had illustrated the book. That is often the case with picture book authors and illustrators. I enjoyed illustrating Jorge’s book and we have become friends, but we didn’t work on that book together; at least not at the same time.

I finished illustrating a book recently for another author, a woman named Susan Wood. We’ve only met once very briefly. I enjoy illustrating other people’s stories but I like writing and illustrating my own books the best because I have a little more control. I can change the text or the illustrations as I need and hopefully that makes the book flow more smoothly.

Alia: That’s really interesting. I’ve also noticed that for some smaller publishers, the author can have some say in who they’d like to work with and there’s more dialogue during the creative process. I think the book came out really nicely.

Maybe also, like any piece of art, a book that is written and illustrated by you is your complete piece and like you said, you can tweak and bend the product to be exactly what you like and want to say.

Duncan: Definitely. And I’m not sure but I think the publisher asked Jorge if he thought I would be a good fit for the manuscript he wrote. He didn’t give me comments on my illustrations and sketches but he had the opportunity to look at some of my work first I believe.

Alia: Thanks for the insight!

Q8. You touched on it a bit above but are there any upcoming projects you can share with the public yet?

Duncan: I have two picture books coming out this fall. One will be called The Princess and the Warrior; A Tale of Two Volcanoes. I wrote and illustrated it. It’ll be published by Abrams. The book is my own version of the origin legend of two volcanoes that are outside of Mexico City: Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl. The story is set in Pre-Columbian times and it has some similarities to Sleeping Beauty and Romeo and Juliet.

The second book is called Esquivel! Space-Age Sound Artist. It’s written by Susan Wood and illustrated by yours truly. It’ll be published by Charlesbridge. The book is about a Mexican composer who is considered the creator of lounge music. It was fun to illustrate. It’s a groovy and swanky book with a lot of hand-drawn text in it.

Alia: Oh man, I’m looking forward to both!!

Duncan: Thanks! Me too!

AliaSide note: While studying your books for this interview, it was fun to see how your art style has evolved over time. In Dear Primo compared to Funny Bones, your lines now are a little cleaner, the hands of the people are smaller and they have necks! So interesting to see.

Duncan: Yeah. That is true. Sometimes I miss some of the rawness of Dear Primo. I am hoping to experiment a little more with upcoming projects. I want them to still be in my style but I also want them to evolve or change a little depending on the project.

Alia: Looking forward to how your style grows.

Q9. Any place or food you really recommend during a visit to your hometown of San Miguel de Allende?

Duncan: San Miguel is a great place to visit. A few years ago it was voted “Best City in the World” by Traveler’s Magazine. I think one of the things that visitors like about it is that there is nice combination of high-end and cheap options. There are some really good fancy restaurants but also great cheap street tacos.

My favorite place in town is probably the library. It has a wonderful courtyard. I love going there to write, draw and read. Some good places for visitors are the crafts market, the botanical garden, the Fábrica la Aurora -an old factory that was converted into art galleries- and the hot springs.

Alia: Fábrica la Aurora sounds sweet! A great space for creativity. Thanks for sharing!

 

Thank you Duncan for taking time to talk with me. I really enjoyed our conversation and I’m excited for all the books coming from you (this year and years to come!). Yay!

Be sure to check out his:

Website, http://www.duncantonatiuh.com/

Facebook Page, https://www.facebook.com/DuncanTonatiuharte/?fref=ts

Blog, https://duncantonatiuh.wordpress.com/ 


 

Thanks for reading! ❤

My Seneca Village

MySenecaVillage

Image Credit: Namelos, Marilyn Nelson

 

My Seneca Village is a mighty work. Marilyn Nelson, as she describes in the introduction, connected to the people of Seneca Village while spending years researching the community and this is very evident in how heartfelt and moving this collection of poems is. Seneca Village was a community in New York City located where Central Park now is. It was a community of mostly African American families, with Irish, German, Jewish and some Native Amerian residents. It existed from 1825 to 1857; in 1857 all residents were forced to move out by the city in order to build the park. With this forced removal came the end of a rich, vibrant and thriving community.

What My Seneca Village does so beautifully is bring Seneca Village back to life. Through original poems, Nelson honors and creates a voice for its residents. We learn their stories, we see young dreamers, young love, life, death, gossips, mischievous children, racism and strength. Some of the residents we meet are real people who lived in Seneca Village, others are fiction and we also meet huge historical figures, like Frederick Douglass, who stop through the village to give moving speeches. It’s hard to narrow this book into one category because it does so much. Nelson’s poetry is powerful. One of my favorite stanzas is from the village’s Reverend Rush during an anti-abolition riot:

 

                                      “I asked everyone to bow their heads and pray.

                                        Pray for this nation’s struggle to be free

                                        for ALL Americans. Equality

                                        must be bitter, if you’ve always been on top,

                                        and you’re slapped awake out of a lifelong sleep.

                                        Pray we’ll pull together toward a common hope.”

 

Over a hundred years later and we’re still struggling for the same thing. I’m glad for this story. I’m glad to know about Seneca Village, I’m glad that this novel is being read nationwide and I encourage you to read this book and travel to Seneca Village.

 

P.S. Just wanted to note how nice this book is. Namelos is a small publisher and I can’t remember the last time I picked up a book with such nicely inked letters.

Also, here’s an interesting NPR article about the play The People Before the Park.

 

Recommended for: 12 and up
Great for: Poetry, Everyday Life, Community, History, Seneca Village, American History, African American, Diversity, Cultural Diversity, We Need Diverse Books, Racism, Family, Love, Friendship, Relationships, New York, Eminent Domain, Injustice, Central Park
Book Info: My Seneca Village by Marilyn Nelson, 2015 Namelos, ISBN: 9781608981960

Freedom in Congo Square

FreedomInCongoSquare

Image Credit: Little Bee Books (Bonnier Publishing Group), Carole Boston Weatherford/R. Gregory Christie

In this beautiful book, we learn about the slaves of New Orleans who toiled and eagerly anticipated their day of rest because on that day, they headed to Congo Square to let their bodies flow freely and revel in the music and culture of home. Congo Square was their place of freedom, their chance to celebrate who they were and simply enjoy each other’s company. Eventually Jazz would develop out of the music played at this space.

Freedom in Congo Square has an excellent Forward and Author’s Note that I highly recommend reading. Taking time to summarize and teach the history is important because it adds to the experience of the book. Children with knowledge of slavery will easily understand how important a day to rest, a day to celebrate was to slaves. It’s easy to see the joy and relief in their bodies as they dance and sing and drum. Weatherford’s poetic language and description of plantation life during each day of the week builds anticipation for what readers know is coming, that glorious Sunday.

CongoSquare2

Image Credit: Little Bee Books (Bonnier Publishing Group), Carole Boston Weatherford/R. Gregory Christie

The rhythm and rhyme of this book is great for reading aloud to children and Weatherford always has the coolest illustrators for her books. Leontyne Price: Voice of a Century is both textually and visually gorgeous. Freedom in Congo Square is no different. Christie’s collaged paintings are inspiring; the slaves have black, beautiful skin highlighted with blue-gray and long, limber bodies. Their long limbs are bent over in the cotton field BUT are also outstretched in jubilation at Congo Square. I love the bright, joyful colors of his paints and the cover of the book is striking with its use of yellow and black.

This is an excellent book that tells the story of an important safe and creative space for enslaved people during Slavery. What a great new release for 2016! If your family takes a trip down to New Orleans, why not add Congo Square to your list of places to visit?

 

Recommended for: 1st-2nd Grade and Up
Great for: History, Slavery, Celebration, Determination, Music, Music History, New Orleans, Community, Family, We Need Diverse Books, Diversity, Cultural Diversity, Oppression, Spirituality, Discussion, Days of the Week, Rhyme, Rhythm, Read Aloud, Jazz, African American, Africa
Book Info: Freedom in Congo Square by Carole Boston Weatherford/Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, 2016 Little Bee Books (Bonnier Publishing Group), ISBN: 9781499801033