Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat

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Image Credit: Little, Brown and Company (Hachette Book Group), Javaka Steptoe

Radiant Child is a masterful tribute to artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. Steptoe channels Basquiat’s energy and love for his city in how he uses found-wood pieces from landmarks all over NYC and paints them in rich colors.

This is an honest and thoughtful picture book. It introduces Basquiat and his art to children and is exactly what we need in children’s literature, especially for children of color. A confident, smiling black boy on the cover is powerful in and of itself.

In Radiant Child, we meet a Haitian/Puerto-Rican boy from 1960s Brooklyn, NY who dreams of becoming an artist. Basquiat is a focused and messy artist and his mother, also a creative person, encourages him to create. His mother leaves home because of her mental health and this leaves him heartbroken…but not broken; he keeps creating and drawing outside of the lines. As he gets older, his drawings become graffiti. He makes sure to stay connected to his mother as best he can; he wants her to see the artist he becomes. His graffiti, under the name “SAMO,” eventually becomes art in galleries and museums. Basquiat’s  talent and drive bring him international fame.

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Image Credit: Little, Brown and Company (Hachette Book Group), Javaka Steptoe

Steptoe uses powerful and lyrical text (“Somewhere in Brooklyn, between hearts that thump, double Dutch, and hopscotch and salty mouths that slurp sweet ice, a little boy dreams of being a famous artist”) to tell Basquiat’s story. His art is equally compelling; brightly painted & collaged wood blocks are fun to look at. None of Basquiat’s original art is used in this book; it’s all Steptoe’s original work inspired by the artist. As we learn about Basquiat’s life, style and use of symbolism, we can also study the symbolism that Steptoe tucks into his detailed illustrations. The cover alone (Haitian and Puerto Rican flags prominent, ABC blocks that spell out Basquiat’s name, etc. ) tells Basquiat’s story.

I love that this book celebrates Basquiat’s relationship with his mother and that it’s honest about mental illness; this is important for children, as many may relate to Basquiat’s life. A lengthy Author’s Note gives readers more information about Basquiat (including information about his drug addiction and death) and tells us why and how Steptoe came to create this book.

This vibrant and beautiful book is one of the best of 2016. It will win a Coretta Scott King Award but will it also get a Caldecott? I hope it does; the art is top notch. Nevertheless, I hope many children read Radiant Child because Basquiat’s spirit, creativity and determination to create are inspiring!

 

 

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Family, Art, Love, African-American, Haitian, Puerto-Rican, Biography, Determination, Dreams, Mental Health, Diversity, Non-Fiction, New York, Discussion
Book Info: Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat by Javaka Steptoe, 2016 Little, Brown and Company (Hachette Book Group), ISBN: 9780316213882

A Hat for Mrs. Goldman: A Story About Knitting and Love

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Image Credit: Schwartz & Wade Books (Penguin Random House LLC), Michelle Edwards/G. Brian Karas

 

Happy New Year!! 😀

2017 is going to need a heaping spoonful of kindness. Kindness and consideration for others. But it’s not just “consideration” that we need, it’s holding people in our hearts. There’s a difference there. A deeper level of connection.

In A Hat for Mrs. Goldman, we meet Sophia and Mrs. Goldman who are close friends and neighbors. Mrs. Goldman has cared for and loved Sophia since she was a baby, when she knit her her first hat. Because Mrs. Goldman is so busy knitting for everyone else, she doesn’t have a hat to keep her head warm and Sophia decides to do something about it! Though she only vaguely remembers how to knit (her speciality is making pom-poms), she determinedly works on a special hat for her friend. It turns out a little lumpy but it’s beautiful because it’s a gift for her friend.

What I like so much about this book is that it’s very honest; two good friends love each other and work to take care of each other. The story is simple but touching storytelling and charming illustrations make it a winner. Children will learn Yiddish words like keppie (head) and mitzvah (good deed) too!  I love that Sophia is Latino and Mrs. Goldman is Jewish but it isn’t dwelled upon; there’s a great message of community and love here.

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Image Credit: Schwartz & Wade Books (Penguin Random House LLC), Michelle Edwards/G. Brian Karas

 

Karas’ sweet mixed media illustrations are full of gorgeous pale pinks, browns and blustery blues and greens. The illustrations are very soft, which adds to the comfortable, homey feel of the story. Sophia, with her determined expressions, brown skin and no-sense side-ponytail is a great character for children to emulate; even though she gets frustrated, she keeps working towards her goal!

Edwards even includes a pattern for Sophia’s Hat at the end of the book (Edwards writes for Lion Brand Yarn) so that children can dive into knitting themselves. What a sweet book about friendship and knitting! I hope you’ll enjoy this one as much as I did.

 

 

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Friendship, Mitzvah, Love, Caring, Selflessness, Determination, Creative Thinking, Kindness, Relationships, Diversity, Community, Knitting
Book Info: A Hat for Mrs. Goldman: A Story About Knitting and Love by Michelle Edwards/Illustrated by G. Brian Karas, 2016 Schwartz & Wade Books (Penguin Random House LLC), ISBN: 9780553497106

Mission to Space

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Image Credit: White Dog Press (Chickasaw Press), John Herrington

Native American Heritage Month just ended here in the U.S. with constant reports of aggression and violence towards Native peoples at Oceti Sakowin Camp. Snow has fallen on the camp and the water protectors are still standing strong against the Dakota Access Pipeline. I’ve noticed, through media coverage of this situation, that visibility of Native peoples has risen somewhat. When children see Native people standing strong and united against a pipeline that will affect all of us, that helps fight ignorance & combats racism. Stereotypes of Native people are still very pervasive and harmful.

Contemporary stories about Native people, especially written by Native people, are important “mirror” books for Native children who simply don’t see enough of themselves in books. These stories are also vital tools in classrooms full of non-Native children. That’s why Mission to Space is so important; it’s a non-fiction book, written by Chickasaw astronaut John Herrington, printed by Chickasaw Press. Author Zetta Elliott often talks about the importance of community-based publishing and this is a perfect example.

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Image Credit: White Dog Press (Chickasaw Press), John Herrington

In Mission to Space, Commander John Herrington takes us back to his roots as a boy who loved shooting rockets with his dad and brother. Years later, he’d grow up to be an astronaut on the shuttle Endeavor! In this book, simple but effective text is accompanied by vivid photographs. Herrington explains how much work it takes to do something well and in his case, to become an astronaut. That’s an important lesson for children. When he was launched into space, people from his nation came to celebrate; he was the first tribally-enrolled Native person to fly in space!

Children who love science, astronomy and languages will get a lot out of this book. Not only does Herrington give readers a behind-the-scenes look into what it takes to become an astronaut, he talks about how important language is for Chickasaw identity and provides a glossary of space terms in the Chickasaw language. I hope you’ll check this book out!

P.S. Visit the book’s website to see a cool video and take a look at Debbie Reese’s glowing review.

 

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Astronomy, Determination, Dreams, Role Models, STEM, Language, Native American, Chickasaw, Sovereignty, Native American Heritage Month, Family, Discussion
Book Info: Mission to Space by John Herrington, 2016 White Dog Press (Chickasaw Press), ISBN: 9781935684473

 

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

Sarla in the Sky

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Image Credit: Bharat Babies (Mascot Books), Anjali Joshi/Lisa Kurt

In the United States, Amelia Earhart is considered an inspiration and hero. The first African American female pilot, Bessie Coleman, isn’t very well known and until I read this book, I didn’t know about Sarla Thakral, India’s first female pilot. This simple and pretty beginning reader will teach readers of all ages about her and will perhaps inspire them to learn more.

In this story inspired by Sarla Thakral’s life and accomplishments, Sarla dreams of flying like the birds. When she’s a little girl, her best friend Prem reminds her that girls cannot fly but she’s inspired by a caterpillar to make her dreams a reality. As she grows up, she’s persistent despite the discouragement of others. She tells her critics that wings are not just for boys and continues on her path to the sky. Sarla finally gets her pilot’s license at age 21 and becomes India’s first female pilot. Like the caterpillar from her childhood, she grows into a courageous butterfly.

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Image Credit: Bharat Babies (Mascot Books), Anjali Joshi/Lisa Kurt

I enjoyed this story but it would’ve been just as good if not better if written in prose, not verse. There were some rhyming lines that didn’t quite work. That being said, I can see children enjoying this book as a read aloud. Lisa Kurt’s paintings are very pretty and I love the scene where Sarla day-dreams in the tall grass. I also liked discovering little details in her art like the use of a map of India for the butterfly’s wings.

It’s not often we get quality stories, especially in picture book or beginning reader format, that discuss Indian girls and women. This book is also important because it’s about a girl who loves science and mathematics. Sarla in the Sky is a great addition to any collection and I hope it inspires children, especially little Indian girls and boys, to dream big and fly high.

Click here to learn more about Sarla Thakral!

 

Recommended for: 1st-2nd Grade and up
Great for: Aviation, Dreams, Determination, India, History, History Inspired, Girls In STEM, Girl Power, Inner Strength, Diversity, Inspiration, Beginning Reader, Rhyme
Book Info: Sarla in the Sky by Anjali Joshi/Illustrated by Lisa Kurt, 2016 Bharat Babies (Mascot Books), ISBN: 9781631777462

 

Brown Girl Writer & Dreamer at My Local Library

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

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

“I stand with Rachel” she said.

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

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

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

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

 

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

Teeny Tiny Toady

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Image Credit: Sterling Children’s Books (Sterling Publishing), Jill Esbaum/Keika Yamaguchi

Can you say “Modern Classic?” The story and art feel old in the best way. This book feels warm and happy, like sitting snuggled on Grandma’s lap as she reads you The Three Little Pigs and a slice of her chicken pot pie sits comfortably in your belly. Yup, Teeny Tiny Toady feels familiar…and EPIC.

The story starts in a super dramatic way; a big bad human picks Mama Toad up and traps her in a bucket! Cute little Teeny Toady rushes to get her seven big, burly, body-building older brothers to help her but they insist they can handle the situation themselves. The Toady Bros struggle to rescue their mother; every one of their attempts fail and of course they’re too busy to listen to their teeny sister’s suggestions! Before they know it, they’re in trouble too and Teeny must find courage & strength to become a Teeny Hero. There’s something to be said for brains over brawn and her Mama believes in her from the very beginning. 😉

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Image Credit: Sterling Children’s Books (Sterling Publishing), Jill Esbaum/Keika Yamaguchi

Esbaum’s rhyming text is delightful and sounds great when read aloud. She’s a very good storyteller; the pacing, drama, humor and characters are perfect. This story teaches an important lesson for little ones; have faith in yourself and even if you’re little, you can do big things! Yamaguchi’s digital illustrations are magical; lush greens, soft colors and warty chubby toad bodies fill the pages. The toads ARE.SO.CUTE. My goodness. I love how she illustrates and characterizes them; their expressions and personalities are great and feel inspired by Disney and/or anime (especially their eyes!).

One of my favorite spreads is when Teeny thinks up her plan; Esbaum’s text floats and curls from left to right alongside the swirls of leaves and color straight to Teeny’s brain! What a great story! You will fall in love with this family. Teeny Tiny Toady deserves a spot near your favorite fairy tales and fables.

 

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Fables, Lessons, Inner Strength, Creative Thinking, Determination, Rhyme, Family, Relationships, Siblings, Girl Power, Read-Aloud, Animals, Love
Book Info: Teeny Tiny Toady by Jill Esbaum/Illustrated by Keika Yamaguchi, 2016 Sterling Children’s Books (Sterling Publishing), ISBN: 9781454914549

The Great Pet Escape

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Image Credit: Henry Holt and Company (MacMillan), Victoria Jamieson

What do YOUR pets do when you’re gone? Plan escape? World domination? Sniff their butts?

Victoria Jamieson’s (winner of the Newbery Honor for Roller Girl) brand new graphic novel about three classroom pets and their clever plan to escape their elementary school is pure fun. Ringleader GW is a tenacious hamster with cute, lovey-eyes during the school day but as soon as the kids are gone…flee to the secret laboratory!! Little do the kids know, GW is an inventor and is super determined to convince friends Biter and Barry to escape. Unfortunately, they meet their match in a tyrant mouse named Napoleon who strives to keep things nice and orderly. There’s something to be said for seniority! >_<

What shines about The Great Pet Escape is the writing; witty lines, clever jokes and snappy banter between characters make for a fun read! Jamieson has stepped up her humor and I’m loving it; kids will get a kick out of how silly this book is. As usual, her art is great! With bold colors, exciting panels and characters with great expressions, this one is a hoot.

Another thing I love about this book is that it’s a great option for budding readers. I’m always looking for quality beginning readers and this is now on my “to-recommend” list for adventurous young readers who want to laugh out loud! I hope you’ll check out The Great Pet Escape and enjoy the shenanigans!

 

Recommended for: Age 6 and up
Great for: Humor, Animals, Friendship, Determination, Rivals, Ingenuity, Teamwork, Inventions, Imagination, Graphic Novel
Book Info: The Great Pet Escape by Victoria Jamieson, 2016 Henry Holt and Company (MacMillan), ISBN: 9781627791052

When the Slave Esperança Garcia Wrote a Letter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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