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

Growing Up Pedro

GrowingUpPedro

Image Credit: Candlewick Press, Matt Tavares

Let me get this off my chest…I’m not a baseball fan and I think that’s why it took me so long to pick up this book. I didn’t read it until I decided to participate in a Twitter Chat (SharpSchu) to discuss it. Sometimes I have to remind myself to open my eyes and embrace everything. I’m still not big on baseball but Growing Up Pedro isn’t just about baseball; it’s about the amazing relationship between brothers Ramón and Pedro Martínez.

The size of this picture book is large; it’s designed to be opened wide and fully experienced. As soon as you open the first page, you’ll see a sweeping landscape of the Dominican Republic in 1981 and little brown boys playing stickball. This sets the tone of the story where we’ll learn how two great baseball players came to dominate American baseball.

GrowingUpPedro

Image Credit: Candlewick Press, Matt Tavares

From an early age, Pedro admires his big brother Ramón’s skill and they practice together, throwing balls at the ripe mangos hanging from the trees. Eventually Ramón makes it to the LA Dodgers in 1985 and when he leaves for America, Pedro becomes more determined than ever to follow him. Ramón learns from his struggles and makes sure that Pedro is better in English than him when he’s ready to join him in the Major Leagues. Pedro isn’t as big as Ramón (this will cause some to doubt his ability) but his heart is just as big if not bigger. Heart pumping full of determination, he makes it to the Minor-Leagues just as his big brother is making waves on the Dodgers.

The brothers end up on the Dodgers, together. But before he knows it, Pedro is traded to Montreal! He continues to shine due to his inner strength and the support of his big brother. He DOMINATES as a pitcher and eventually surpasses even his brother in skill. Pedro goes to the Red Sox and later Ramón joins him again and together they lead the Red Sox to the American League Championship Series. Throughout their career, the Martínez Brothers are the pride of the Dominican Republic and never forget where they come from.

Tavares’ watercolor and gouache illustrations are dynamic. As I mentioned earlier, the wide, sweeping landscapes are gorgeous. I particularly enjoy the scenes of young Pedro and Ramón against the green trees, in shorts and caps, playing baseball with their friends and having fun! Baseball lovers will appreciate the almost photorealistic paintings of the brothers during their prime, pitching on the mound with determination in their eyes. If you’re looking for an excellent story about brotherhood, love and reaching for your dreams (oh and baseball 😉 ), pick up Growing Up Pedro!

P.S. If you buy this book, be sure to remove the jacket and check out the cover!! It’s really cool and brings the story full circle. Also, this book will be published in Spanish soon! SWEET!

 

Recommended for: 2nd Grade and up
Great for: Brotherhood, Ripe Mangos, Siblings, Relationships, Role Model, Admiration, Dreams, Determination, Coming of Age, Diversity, Cultural Diversity, We Need Diverse Books, Community, Friendship, Baseball, Biography, Sports, Sports History, Pedro Martínez, Ramón Martínez, LA Dodgers, Boston Red Sox, Montreal Expos, Dominican Republic, Inner-Strength
Book Info: Growing Up Pedro by Matt Tavares, 2015 Candlewick Press, ISBN: 9780763668242

That Book Woman

ThatBookWoman

Image Credit: Atheneum Books for Young Readers (Simon & Schuster), Heather Henson/David Small


That Book Woman
is one of my favorite finds of this year. I LOVE this book. I found it sandwiched in the picture book stacks at my bookstore and it was actually on its way back to the publisher due to low sales. I’m telling you, I found some interesting books that way. This book tells the story of a family in the remote Appalachian mountains of Kentucky and is beautifully written both in style and in the smooth rhythm of Appalachian dialect.

ThatBookWoman2

Image Credit: Atheneum Books for Young Readers (Simon & Schuster), Heather Henson/David Small

Cal holds a grudge against his sister Lark whose nose is always in book. He’s working hard and she’s always…readin’. Hmph. Well he doesn’t want to sit still reading “chicken scratch” and he’s baffled as to why a woman (in britches!) rides around bringing free books and why his sister treats those books so reverently. Pap though, he encourages his daughter’s love of reading and offers to the Book Woman what they can. Though all kinds of weather, the Book Woman rides her horse up the mountains and keeps coming to trade out books and Cal just can’t make sense of it! He starts to think that maybe…that woman is brave, maybe it’s worth seeing what’s so great about those books and what makes her so determined to share them.

That Book Woman is inspired by the real women who braved remote regions called the Pack Horse Women. Be sure to read the Author’s Note in the back to learn more about these amazing women who dared to work outside the home and do their best to improve literacy.

The art in this book is so right for the story. The soft watercolors and pastel chalk with heavy ink outlines are beautiful and David Small is so spot on with Cal’s expressions. Cal is so dang surly at first and we watch him soften as his curiosity gets the better of him. I love the scene of Pap and Lark together, a poke of berries in his hands as they gaze at each other. If you have a house full a readers who also love history, please check out That Book Woman. It’s a great story!

 

Recommended for: All ages
Great for: Reading, Literacy, Encouraging Reading, Discussion, History, Appalachian, Rhythm, Siblings, Family, Perspective, Growing Up, Girl Power, Pack Horse Librarians, Works Progress Administration, Rural Life, Cultural Diversity, We Need Diverse Books
Book Info: That Book Woman by Heather Henson/Illustrated by David Small, 2008 Atheneum Books for Young Reader (Simon & Schuster), ISBN: 9781416908128

Too Many Tamales

TooManyTamales

Image Credit: Paperstar Book (Penguin Young Readers Group), Gary Soto/Ed Martinez

Merry Christmas!

Too Many Tamales is a funny and cute Christmas tale. Maria is finally old enough to help her mother prepare tamales for the family Christmas get-together! She’s excited to help her mom but she’s also tempted by her mom’s shiny ring sitting on the table. She slips it on (just for a minute!) to knead the masa for the delicious tamales but it falls off her finger! Her father helps finish the tamales and Maria runs off to play with her cousins as family members slowly arrive. Maria realizes the ring has slipped off her fingers and she corrals her cousins into helping her eat all twenty-four tamales! Bellies full of too many tamales and no ring in sight, she faces her mother, eyes full of tears but ready to confess the truth.

Ed Martinez’s oil paintings are warm with dark colors and glowing skin to reflect the lighting of a warm home during winter. The big plate of tamales looks tantalizingly delicious and Martinez pays special attention to the characters’ expressions. I love stories that talk about family, culture and food and this one reminds me of my family’s Christmas get-togethers when I was a child, when I’d run off to play with my cousins.

Too Many Tamales has been around since the early 90s so perhaps many families have grown up with this cute story of a Mexican-American family during Christmas. If you read this book, maybe you’ll be inspired to make tamales for Christmas. Mmmm delicious. Just don’t lose your ring in the masa like Maria!

 

Recommended for: All ages
Great for: Humor, Friendship, Family, Cousins, Christmas, We Need Diverse Books, Cultural Diversity, Mexican-American, Food Culture, Mexican Food, Tamales, Lessons, Discussion
Book Info: Too Many Tamales by Gary Soto/Illustrated by Ed Martinez, 1993 Paperstar Book (Penguin Young Readers Group), ISBN: 9780698114128

Nosh, Schlep, Schluff: Babyiddish

BabyYiddish

Image Credit: Random House Children’s Books, Laurel Snyder/Tiphanie Beeke

I think this baby book just taught me some Yiddish! It also taught me that a word I already knew (klutz) IS Yiddish. Sweet.

Nosh, Schlep, Schluff: BabYiddish is a cool little board book that follows the daily life of a toddler boy as he explores his world. It’s in English with Yiddish words sprinkled throughout. What I love about the writing is that Yiddish words are incorporated into the sentences and children can figure out their meaning through context and by looking at the illustrations.

The illustrations are soft, vibrant paintings and the little baby is cute with his black hair and rosy cheeks. Beeke paints children of various ethnicities and this is lovely because it’s not only great to see, but it encourages the idea that everyone can learn a bissel Yiddish. 😉

I hope you’ll pick up this board book to share with your little one. It’s never too early to pick up another language!

 

Recommended for: Babies and Toddlers, but useful for All Ages!
Great for: Vocabulary, Yiddish, Cultural Diversity, We Need Diverse Books, Read-Aloud, Family, Friendship, Language Learning, Community, Rhyme, Storytime, Baby Shower, Jewish Culture
Book Info: Nosh, Schlepp, Schluff: BabYiddish by Laurel Snyder/Illustrated by Tiphanie Beeke, 2010 Random House Children’s Books, ISBN: 9780375864971

Auntie Yang’s Great Soybean Picnic

AuntieYangSoybeanPicnic

Image Credit: Lee & Low Books Inc., Ginnie Lo/Beth Lo

 

There’s nothing like finding a little bit of home in a new place.

Auntie Yang’s Great Soybean Picnic tells a story that may be familiar to many immigrant families in the US; a story about finding comfort with like minded people and forming community in a new country. Jinyi lives a little far away from her Auntie Yang but her family makes sure to visit often and stay close. She grows up with Chinese lessons, art lessons, cooking Chinese food and lots of playtime with her cousins.

One day on a lazy Sunday drive, Auntie Yang spots soybeans growing in a field! At this time, soybeans aren’t commonly eaten in the US. The farmer thinks the Chinese family wants the beans to feed their pig, but no, they will boil them to eat! And so begins the yearly tradition of The Great Soybean Picnic. Each year it gets bigger and bigger and more Chinese families in the Chicago area join in with lots of delicious Chinese dishes. Auntie Yang and her sister become less homesick because the happy discovery of soybeans brings them a new large and loving Chinese community in the US.

This is a sweet story of family, food and finding place…in a new place. It’s inspired by real events and in the back of the book, Ginnie and Beth Lo share family photos, more information about the Soybean Picnic, information about soybeans and a glossary of the Chinese words used in the book. We even get to see photos of the dynamic Auntie Yang!

Beth Lo’s paintings have a vintage mid-century Chinese art vibe to them that I like. I didn’t realize that the illustrations are actually painted on porcelain plates until I read the back of the book. I’ll repeat that, each “illustration” is a plate! How cool is that?? Auntie Yang’s Great Soybean Picnic is a great story to share with your family. I’m off to get some edamame! 😉

 

Recommended for: All ages
Great for: Chinese American Culture, Chinese Food, Friendship, Family, Food Culture, Community, Immigration, Soybeans, Cousins, Siblings, Cultural Diversity, We Need Diverse Books, Home Sickness, Discussion, New Traditions in a New Place, Chinese Language, Cultural Relativism
Book Info: Auntie Yang’s Great Soybean Picnic by Ginnie Lo/Illustrated by Beth Lo, 2012 Lee & Low Books Inc., ISBN: 9781600604423

Today is the Day

TodayistheDay

Image Credit: Tundra Books (Penguin Random House), Eric Walters/Eugenie Walters

This story is joy. 🙂

All the children in the orphanage are waiting for their special day, their birthday! Today is the Day is inspired by real life events at the Creation of Hope orphanage in Kikima, Kenya. The author notes at the end of the book that “birthday celebrations” in general are often not a big deal in several cultures around the world BUT this orphanage decided to make a yearly birthday celebration to remind the children that they are special. Many of the children at the orphanage’s parents died from HIV and AIDS and they don’t know their birthdays. So, once a year, they hold a special celebration to celebrate their existence and they also get a government-issued birth certificate!

In the story, Mutanu wakes up excited for the day because she knows it is their birthday! Her energy is contagious and she walks around their home, doing her chores and checking on the baby animals. She remembers their birthdays as well! Mutanu is at the orphanage because her parents died and she went to live with her grandma but when her grandma got too old to care for her, she had to take her to the orphanage. On this special day, she reunites with her beloved grandma and can hardly wait to hear her name called to get her gift bag and to sing Happy Birthday. Happy Birthday Mutanu! It’s truly your day.

Today is the Day features very cute acrylic illustrations that are joyful and full of energy. Fernandes bases Mutanu on an actual girl (her photo is in the back) and she is happy with eyes full of love and kindness. This book is a great way to introduce important social issues to your child; issues of HIV and AIDS in Kenya, homelessness, orphans, building community and self-confidence. If you enjoy this story, Eric Walters and Eugenie Fernandes have two more books in this series called My Name is Blessing and Hope Springs.

P.S. The cover of the book opens to a beautiful poster!

Recommended for: All ages
Great for: Community, Friendship, Birthdays, Orphans, Social Issues, Diversity, Cultural Diversity, We Need Diverse Books, Kenya, Joy
Book Info: Today is the Day by Eric Walters/Illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes, 2015 Tundra Books (Penguin Random House), ISBN: 9781770496484

 

Latkes, Latkes Good to Eat: A Chanukah Story

LatkesLatkesGoodtoEat

Image Credit: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers, Naomi Howland

 

Happy Chanukah!

I recently discovered this lovely book about Chanukah and latkes. Who doesn’t like latkes?? So delicious.

In this folktale, Sadie lives in a drafty house with her four little brothers and they’re so poor that they always worry about their next meal.  On the first night of Chanukah, as Sadie collects firewood, she meets an old woman and kindly offers the wood to her. For her kindness, the old woman gives her a magical frying pan and tells her the words to use it but she must remember to keep them a secret! When Sadie puts the pan on the stove and whispers the words, a feast of latkes appear in the pan. On the last day of Chanukah, her naughty brothers wait for her to leave the house then try to use the pan. But of course they didn’t hear the words correctly and soon the entire village is overflowing with tender, salty, delicious latkes!!

Howland’s gouache and colored pencil illustrations are folksy and beautiful. The story takes place in Russia and she includes colorful folk art flower borders in the illustrations. The character of Sadie is based on an old photograph of her grandmother and the story itself is inspired by The Magic Porridge Pot by The Brothers Grimm. Howland is also kind enough to include a recipe for latkes at the end of the book and there’s a note about Chanukah/Chanukah traditions for readers who aren’t familiar with the holiday.

Happy Chanukah! I hope you’ll seek out this cute story about family, culture and sharing with community. I’m off to find some latkes…

 

Recommended for: All ages
Great for: Chanukah, We Need Diverse Books, Cultural Diversity, Holidays, Food Culture, Religions, Family, Folktale, Morals, Magic, Kindness, Family, Community, Celebration, Storytelling, Russia, Latkes
Book Info: Latkes, Latkes Good to Eat:  A Chanukah Story by Naomi Howland, 2004 (Reprint) Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers, ISBN: 9780618492954

Ling & Ting: Not Exactly the Same!

LingandTing

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

I have a thing for Grace Lin’s art. Let me just get that off my chest. I already love her book Dim Sum for Everyone! and this one doesn’t disappoint.

Ling and Ting want everyone to know that they are not the same. They may be “identical” but they really aren’t the same. In this beginning chapter book, each chapter is a different episode in their lives. Ling can’t really sit still but Ting can. At the barber, Ting has a big sneeze and he snips her hair a little too much! Ting is a little forgetful but she’s also very imaginative. They’re both very caring towards each other and they like to tell good stories.

Grace Lin includes cultural details like making dumplings but the book doesn’t focus on “Being Chinese” The girls are simply girls who are silly and…happen to be Chinese. This is refreshing because children’s books that feature children of color are often historical stories or ones that pointedly focus on ethnicity. Those books definitely have their place but it sure is nice to simply read a great story featuring diverse characters!

Lin’s art style is beautiful; it’s obvious she spends a lot of time painting each illustration. Her paintings are full of bold lines and blocks of color and Ling and Ting’s expressions are very cute and funny. This is a great beginning chapter book series and if you enjoy this one, Ling and Ting have several more adventures!

 

Recommended for: Kindergarten- 2nd Grade
Great for: Twins, Siblings, Sisterhood, Family, Diversity, Cultural Diversity We Need Diverse Books, Chinese Americans, Chinese Food, Food Culture, Friendship, Individuality, Girl Power, Beginning Readers
Book Info: Ling & Ting: Not Exactly the Same! by Grace Lin, 2010 Little, Brown and Company (Hachette Book Group), ISBN: 9780316024525