Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines

MayaLin

Image Credit: Henry Holt and Company (Macmillan Publishing Group), Jeanne Walker Harvey/Dow Phumiruk

This Women’s History Month, I’m sharing an upcoming (May 2017) picture book about the talented and influential, Maya Lin.

Maya Lin grew up in a creative household; her father a clay artist and her mother a poet. She was encouraged by her immigrant parents to dream and create. Nature was very important to young Maya and would continue to be influential as she grew and developed as an artist and architect.  When she was a senior in college, her understanding of nature, space, design and sensitivity would lead her to win a design competition for the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Lin received a great deal of push back for her design but held her ground. She showed the world her strength and stood her by creation. What’s special about the memorial is its symbolism, seamless integration into nature and how it makes those who experience it feel. Her art is meant to be experienced; the reflective granite of the memorial, with its thousands of names, elicits reflection.

Phumiruk’s soft, detailed digital illustrations suit this story. I love the first spread of the book where we see the mossy green “Lizard’s Back” hill Lin explored with her brother as a child. I like how Phumiruk uses an aerial perspective for a few key spreads. Seeing Lin from above, surrounded by nature & as she admires the architecture of her college library, highlights how much she was affected by her surroundings as a young artist. The cover of the book is striking too; Maya Lin gazes at her creation, seeing herself reflected while reading the name of a friend’s father who died in the war. The cover illustration reminds me just how important “mirrors” are for children of color and native children.

I really enjoy biographies for children that tell the lives and experiences of people who are living; children take a lot away from the fact that the person is STILL out there dreaming and making change. There simply aren’t enough books about Asian American creatives, let alone Asian American female creatives and I’m glad for this one. Walker Harvey’s great storytelling and Phumiruk’s lovely illustrations make this an important book to add to your collection.

 

 

Recommended for: 2nd grade and up
Great for: Biography, Architecture, Women’s History Month, Strong Women, Asian American, Chinese American, Girl Power, Girls In Stem, Determination, Dreams, Creativity, Family, Memorials, History
Book Info: Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines by Jeanne Walker Harvey/Illustrated by Dow Phumiruk, 2017 Henry Holt and Company (Macmillan Publishing Group), ISBN: 9781250112491

 

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Tiny Stitches: The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas

 

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Image Credit: Lee & Low Books Inc., Gwendolyn Hooks/Colin Bootman

Historical dramas like Hidden Figures have me thinking about all the stories of black excellence I don’t know about; stories that we’ve yet to discover and celebrate. Though I was fortunate to grow up with a decent education on Black History, there’s always more to learn.

In Tiny Stitches, Gwendolyn Hooks tells the story of the incredibly gifted Vivien Thomas. We meet Vivien as he’s examining the tiny needles he designed. The needles are for an operation he invented but wouldn’t get credit for for twenty-six years, all because of the color of his skin. As a teenager, Vivien worked as a researcher at the all white Vanderbilt University for Dr. Alfred Blalock. He absorbed everything very quickly, but when he learned that his official job was “janitor” (and that he made less than his white counterparts) he refused to work until that changed.

When given the chance, Vivien moved his family to Baltimore, Maryland to assist Dr. Blalock at John Hopkins University. Even though he faced more discrimination and segregation there than in his home of Nashville, Tennessee, he thrived. When presented with the challenge of how to treat “blue babies” he excelled. Though he got no credit for his procedure until he was much older, he became a respected technician, always eager to share and teach his knowledge. Vivien Thomas pioneered open heart surgery on children and his compassion, intelligence and bravery has saved countless lives.

Hooks does a great job chronicling Thomas’ life & explaining medical procedures clearly for children to understand. She also includes interesting back matter about “blue babies” and more information about Thomas. Bootman’s use of cool colors gives the story a calm feeling; Thomas seemed to be a calm and collected person and the watercolor illustrations reflect that.

This is a really nice addition to non-fiction picture books for children and even better, it’s about a black man! It very deservedly just won a 2017 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work for Children. If you have a child who is interested in the body, medicine and stories of perseverance, check out this book!

 

 

Recommended for: 3rd Grade and up
Great for: History, Medicine, Pioneers, Perseverance, Determination, Discrimination, Segregation, Black History Month, African American, Dreams, Role Model, Non-Fiction, Science
Book Info: Tiny Stitches: The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas by Gwendolyn Hooks/Illustrated by Colin Bootman, 2017 Lee & Low Books Inc., ISBN: 9781620141564

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

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

 

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

 

Shining Star: The Anna May Wong Story

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Image Credit: Lee & Low Books Inc., Paula Yoo/Lin Wang

Whenever I see photograph of Anna May Wong…SLAY QUEEN, SLAY!   >_<

Anna May Wong grew up in LA washing clothes in her parents laundry and healing from the hateful slurs from her white peers at school. She started skipping school to watch actors on movie sets and was inspired to act. Though she was discouraged by her parents (good Chinese girls didn’t act), as a teenager she won a role as an extra in a film (her dad allowed it because they needed the money). She did extra roles for years until her first big role in Bits of Life in 1921. She played the wife of a Chinese man (White actor in yellowface) but they could’t kiss because it was against the law. She was disturbed by the yellowface but pressed on for the money and experience.

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Image Credit: Lee & Low Books Inc., Paula Yoo/Lin Wang

She’d continue to rise but her roles were very stereotypical and demeaning of Asian women. Anna May moved to Europe and achieved fame there but when she came back, hoping to score the lead role in The Good Earth, they gave it to…a white actress. She was fed up with discrimination and was caught between her desire to resist the racist roles AND follow her dream of acting in the US. During a trip China (she faced some criticism there for accepting stereotypical roles) to learn more about her heritage and to visit her retired parents, her spirt was renewed. Her father reminded her to always be proud of her race and fight to respectfully represent her people. She’d continue to act, but only in non-stereotypical Asian roles!

Lin Wang’s watercolor and acrylic illustrations are gorgeous. I just LOVE the way Yoo and Wang open the book; the illustration of the train rushing towards Anna May is extremely dramatic and dynamic! Wang really brings to life the glamour and grace of Anna May Wong.

What a good book! Anna May Wong isn’t as well known as she should be…The efforts she made towards improving the representation of Asian Americans in film isn’t as well known as it should be. With the current state of diversity in the film industry (not enough has changed), it’s especially important to go back and learn about those who’ve paved the way!

 

Recommended for: 2nd grade and up
Great for: Determination, Confidence, Girl Power, Role Model, Women’s History Month, Acting, Film Industry, Discrimination, Racism, Stereotypes, Ant-Miscegenation Laws, Diversity, Cultural Relativism, History, Film History, Asian American, Chinese American, Dreams, Family, Relationships, Discussion, Biography, Non-Fiction
Book Info: Shining Star: The Anna May Wong Story by Paula Yoo/Illustrated by Lin Wang, 2009 Lee & Low Books, ISBN: 9781600602597

Talkin’ About Bessie: The Story of Aviator Elizabeth Coleman

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Image Credit: Orchard Books (Scholastic Inc.), Nikki Grimes/E.B. Lewis

“…Bessie made me believe I could be anything.” – Young Fan

I’ve been wanting to review a book about Bessie Coleman for quite a while. I found two contenders and ultimately I chose this one over Fly High! The Story of Bessie Coleman. Though that book is also good, Talkin’ About Bessie: The Story of Aviator Elizabeth Coleman is a stronger book in execution, creativity and memorability. It has more heart and that’s exactly what Bessie was about. I recommend Fly High! The Story of Bessie Coleman for younger readers.

Talkin’ About Bessie has a unique concept; 20 family members, acquaintances and friends come together after Bessie Coleman’s funeral to speak about her. Instead of a straightforward non-fiction narrative style, we get something special; reflection based on fact, crafted by author, Nikki Grimes.

Bessie grew up poor in segregated Texas, picking cotton with her many siblings. She loved numbers and words from an early age and her mom always encouraged her to read the bible. Though her father left their family  when she was young (which left her little time for childhood), she kept dreaming. When an adult, she moved to Chicago and after taking many jobs found inspiration from the blacks who ran the newspaper The Defender. She decided to go to France and get her pilots license and when she set her mind on that goal, she was determined to follow through! Bessie Coleman became the first person of African descent in the US to get an international pilot’s license and came back to the US to became an aviatrix. She wanted to encourage blacks to fly and worked towards raising funds to open a flight school for her people. Her personality was bigger than life and she was (and still is) an inspiration.

Nikki Grimes’ writing is great. The characters’ various speaking styles bring them to life. Each page has a “photo painting” in the corner  with the name of the person speaking and a gorgeous full page illustration. This is a nice design. One aspect of the book that didn’t make sense to me though was the character “Laundry Customer.” She’s a white character who employed young Bessie and her family (created by Grimes). Her words are very privileged and she makes it clear that Bessie was, from an early age, challenging and out of line for a young Negro girl. So why would she be present at Bessie’s funeral?? Though I understand the author’s desire to help us understand the segregated world Bessie lived in, it seems out of place and the other characters do a fine job of creating context for readers.

E.B. Lewis’ art is absolutely beautiful. This kind of story requires a very straightforward type of illustration that serves to compliment/enhance the words. His watercolors are meticulous and he does a great job of creating place, mood and character. I hope you’ll take the time to read this excellent book that honors Bessie Coleman’s spirit!

 

P.S. Here’s some backstory from the author Nikki Grimes! Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

 

Recommended for: 2nd Grade and up
Great for: Womens History Month, History, Black History, African-American, Diversity, Black Girl Magic, Black Girls Rock, Aviation, Determination, Confidence, Inner Strength, Family, Relationships, Struggles, Segregation, Racism, Sexism, Tragedy, Role Model, Dreams, Biography, Non-Fiction
Book Info: Talkin’ About Bessie: The Story of aviator Elizabeth Coleman by Nikki Grimes/Illustrated by E.B. Lewis, 2002 Orchard Books (Scholastic Inc.), ISBN: 9780439352437

Look What Brown Can Do!

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Image Credit: Sweetberry Books, T. Marie Harris/Neda Ivanova

I don’t know about you but I’m very aware of the fact that I come from greatness. Though I can’t tell you much about my ancestors, I DO know that they lived and loved and are the reason why I’m here today.

The excellent thing about Look What Brown Can Do! is that it’s about empowerment, specifically black empowerment. For a young black child, reading this book can cloak them in a blanket of comfort, pride…and inspiration! For other children, it’s a great book about black history/accomplishments that can inspire them too. The book is sectioned into art, music, business, science and more. T. Marie Harris writes an encouraging sentence about what brown can do and then we see photographs and descriptions of three important black heroes. In many ways, this book is a simpler version of the Empak Black History Series and is more “young kid friendly” because of the fun illustrations.

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Image Credit: Sweetberry Books, T. Marie Harris/Neda Ivanova

Neda Ivanova’s digital illustrations are cute. It’s beautiful to see little brown children dream of being scientists, doctors, athletes, artists and government officials. I was especially drawn to the cover! I happened to see it online one day and thought to myself, “Oh that looks interesting!” I love the different shades of brown hands and arms busy creating and dreaming together.

This book is the first in Harris’ upcoming ‘Black Like Me’ series which will feature stories that celebrate blackness and everyday life. She writes that sometimes it’s nice to read a fun story with your children that has black characters but doesn’t necessarily focus on race. I SO agree. Though there’s always a need for those books, it’s refreshing to read about kids of color…just being kids! I’m pleased to know and share this book. Please check out Look What Brown Can Do!

P.S. You can check out T. Marie Harris’ website at http://www.lookwhatbrowncando.com and follow her on Twitter at @T_MarieHaris.

 

Recommended for: All ages
Great for: History, Black History, Black Excellence, Encouragement, Inspiration, Leaders, Occupations, Dreams, Read-Aloud, Science, STEM, Government, Arts, Sports, Medicine, Business, Beg. Reader, Community
Book Info: Look What Brown Can Do! by T. Marie Harris/Illustrated by Neda Ivanova, 2016 Sweetberry Books, ISBN: 9780692483862

Growing Up Pedro

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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.

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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