Lift Your Light a Little Higher

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

Ada’s Ideas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Toys Meet Snow

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Image Credit: Schwartz & Wade Books (Penguin Random House), Emily Jenkins/Paul O. Zelinsky

It’s starting to get cold out where I am and though I’m not a fan of cold weather, I can’t deny how beautiful snow looks as it blankets the earth.

Toys Meet Snow celebrates the wonder of curiosity and play. It’s both simple and complex with excellent characterization. First, we’re introduced to our characters; Lumphy, a stuffed Buffalo, StingRay, a plush stingray and Plastic, a rubber ball. Their Little Girl has left for winter vacation and they’re staring out the window in wonder at the first snow of the season. Teamwork gets them out the door and into the snow (not before taking the necessary protective measures of course!).

We get to see the personalities of each toy and Jenkins writes the story so that it’s easy to anticipate their reactions on each spread, which can be great for children who’re learning to read (the predictability in story format). Lumphy is very inquisitive, StingRay is poetic and visual and Plastic is all about the facts! They study the snow, ask questions and make a snowman. Plastic even gets a special boost of self confidence before heading back in for the day.

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Image Credit: Schwartz & Wade Books (Penguin Random House), Emily Jenkins/Paul O. Zelinsky

 

I like the way Emily Jenkins writes. There’s a quirky cuteness to this story. Her writing pairs well with Zelinsky’s soft, beautiful digital illustrations. My favorite spread is the one where the toys leave indentations in the snow to make snow angels! It’s fun to guess which toy made which angel. With glittery snow on the cover, you’re ready to dive into a winter story, but you’ll find that it’s quite warm. 🙂 Toys Meet Snow is a large book with wide beautiful spreads. The blustery white snow covers the pages and you’ll feel like you’re out with the toys, on an adventure. Can you tell how much I love the illustrations?The red strawberry syrup sunset is lovely and so is this book. Check it out and enjoy!

 

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Friendship, Learning, Curiosity, Inquisitive Minds, Learning, Relationships, Action/Adventure, Snow, Animals, Personalities, Read Aloud, Play
Book Info: Toys Meet Snow by Emily Jenkins/Illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky , 2015 Schwartz & Wade (Penguin Random House), ISBN: 9780385373302

Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine

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Image Credit: Creston Books, LLC., Laurie Wallmark/April Chu


Ada Byron Lovelace. Enchantress of Numbers. Impressive Mind.

Ada grew up outside of London and away from her scandalous father, the poet Lord Byron. In the country, she explored, expanded her intelligent mind and loved to sketch machines based on nature. She even invented a flying machine and spent hours on the calculations! On a stormy day she went out to do an experiment by her pond but as a result, she developed a serious case of measles that left her paralyzed and blind. Determined to stay sharp, she continued to diligently work with numbers with her mother’s help. Her sight would come back but she was on crutches for 3 more years.

As a teen, she had impressive female mathematician and scientist tutors like Mary Fairfax Somerville and would befriend Charles Babbage. He designed an Analytical Engine, a mechanical computer, but never built it. Ada worked on this project for months and used her impressive knowledge of numbers to design a set of “instructions” for the machine, an algorithm; the world’s first computer program! She was ahead of her time. The author of this book, Laurie Wallmark includes an excellent Author’s Note with more useful information about Ada’s life and in general, does a great job in this book explaining science and history in an easy way for children to understand.

April Chu has a very distinct style of illustration. Her detailed pencil illustrations are colored with computer and the colors she uses are very rosy, golden, dark and warm. Her characters have straight noses and expressive eyes and she does an excellent job of recreating Victorian England. Chu has an “aerial shot” in her illustration that she uses in this book to take us inside of Ada’s room; a glimpse inside her world of imagination, numbers and calculations. This is my favorite scene in the book.

I highly recommend this biography. If you don’t already know about Ada Byron Lovelace, you really should. She’s an important contributor to not only history but modern technology!

 

Recommended for: 1st-2nd Grade and up
Great for: Mathematics, Biography, History, Math History, Girls in Science/STEM, Computer Science, Computer Programming, Girl Power, Determination, Dreams, Curiosity, Inquisitive Minds, Steampunk, Victorian Era, Imagination
Book Info: Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine by Laurie Wallmark/Illustrated by April Chu, 2015 Creston Books, LLC., ISBN: 9781939547200