New York is My Playground

NewYorkIsMyPlayground

Image Credit: POW! (powerHouse Packaging & Supply, Inc.), Jane Goodrich/Bob Raczka

City life. Movement. Happy kids.

New York is My Playground is a joyful romp though New York City. Goodrich’s vibrant photographs accompany Raczka’s playful words in this simple and beautiful book. It’s more of a collection of photographs with text than a story; one huge spread shows a little boy “holding up” a large red sculpture and he says “I feel like I can do anything in New York.”

This book showcases the hustle & bustle of New York but also explores the fact that you can find a quiet, restful spot when you need it. Curious kids twist, run, jump and play on every page. I love the diversity of the kids and the energy of the photography. Goodrich’s shots are dynamic! The typography, with its vibrant colors, is fun; it looks like graffiti covering the city landscape. Instead of sitting in straight lines on the page, the typography is blended & bended into the city landscape. It’s really visually interesting.

This is a fun one! Kids in New York might recognize familiar spots and kids not in New York have the opportunity to check out a new city. New York is My Playground, with words like “running,” “dancing,” and “jumping,” is great for getting kids up and moving during story time!

Enjoy!

 

Recommended for: All ages
Great for: City Life, New York, Movement, Diversity, Read Aloud, Friendship, Family, Photography, Exploration, Feelings, Colors
Book Info: New York is My Playground photographs by Jane Goodrich/Text by Bob Raczka, 2016 POW! (powerHouse Packaging & Supply, Inc.), ISBN: 9781576877890

Ghost: Track #1

Ghost

Image Credit: Atheneum Books for Young Readers (Simon & Schuster), Jason Reynolds

Three things I love about this book are:

1) The voice

2) The careful and thorough characterization

3) How Reynolds depicts black male love

Ghost is a character you won’t forget because he’s very honest about everything. He messes up, you feel for him. He does something right, you cheer for him. As he explains, he has “scream inside.” Many people would quickly label Ghost a “bad kid” but what Reynolds does so well is remind readers that behind every person, behind every relationship, there’s a story. Usually the “bad kids” have experienced heavy things and could benefit from real, caring relationships.

Ghost likes sunflower seeds & world records and takes a lot of crap from kids at school. After his dad tries to shoot him and his mom, the harrowing experience leaves him even more shaken up. He learns to run that night (“…running ain’t nothing I ever had to practice. It’s just something I knew how to do.”) and later earns a spot on a track team without even trying. Tough as nails (not really) “Coach” takes Ghost under his wing and they become closer as Ghost learns more about himself. He leaves it all out on the track; pushing himself to be better, in every way. He becomes more disciplined, he finds community in his team, and though he continues to make stupid mistakes, he grows as a young man.

Reynolds does an amazing job of creating voice for this book. Ghost’s AAVE is prominent and used unabashedly, he’s silly and makes interesting connections in his head. I love it; it feels fresh. Reynold’s characters are all very interesting people; he includes little memorable details like…Ghost’s mom hates studying and pretends to study while they watch her favorite love stories. Though this is a slim book, there’s a great amount of character development that’ll keep you interested and excited about the next book in the series.

I love Coach!! He’s the father-figure Ghost needs and deserves in his life. Though he’s kind enough to bail Ghost out of sticky situations, he makes sure to teach him important lessons too. It not just about Ghost’s track potential for him; he recognizes early that Ghost needs guidance and love. He comes from the same rough place as Ghost and is committed to shaping him. This entire book is about connections and relationships but Ghost and Coach’s relationship is what shines the most.

I really enjoyed this book! I’m curious about how children of color are reading/enjoying it too. This is my first book by Jason Reynolds and I can’t wait to read more.

On your mark…set…go!!

P.S. OMG I reviewed a chapter book (it’s been a while)…lol.

Recommended for: 6th Grade and up
Great for: Family, Diversity, Role Models, African American, Sports, Track and Field, Middle School Life, Bullying, Friendship, Determination, Black Boys, Love, Relationships
Book Info: Ghost by Jason Reynolds/Jacket Illustrations by Vanessa Brantley Newton, 2016 Atheneum Books for Young Readers (Simon & Schuster), ISBN: 9781481450157

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

 

NightLights

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Image Credit: Nobrow, Lorena Alvarez Gómez

Gorgeous.

NightLights is a new graphic novel about a magical girl who draws outside of the lines. Sandy has trouble fitting in; she’s a day-dreamer, a creative-type, and is misunderstood by not only her peers but her teachers.

Sandy has power. She takes the lights that appear in her bedroom and turns them into whimsical creatures. In her dreams she interacts with them and doodles them in the morning (and during class). Her classmates bully and tease her for having her head in the clouds until one day, a new girl named Morphie befriends her and tells her how good her art is. Interestingly enough, Sandy is the only person who can see Morphie but as she grows closer to the magical girl, she starts to feel uneasy.

Morphie is a greedy being; greedy for Sandy’s delicious & beautiful drawings. Even worse, Morphie begins to make Sandy question her creativity and independence; “And once you realize that you need me to tell you how brilliant you are, nothing will keep us apart!” she says.

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Image Credit: Nobrow, Lorena Alvarez Gómez

Morphie…is Sandy’s insecurity.

This story excellently explores the emotional difficulty of “not fitting in.” Sandy doesn’t think linearly; her mind blossoms with color and creatures and magic and so she has trouble in her rigid Catholic school. Insecurity slowly starts to creep in. As she battles herself, she finds strength by embracing her creativity (and even her insecurity and fear). This is such an important message for readers of all ages.

Alvarez creates a setting inspired by her hometown of Bogotá, Colombia (but dipped in colorful fantasy that rivals Miyazaki). NightLights works well as a graphic novel; each panel’s dialogue and illustration are well crafted. Her attention to detail and use of color is amazing! She weaves reality with fantasy to create a world that is both beautiful and terrifying. Readers will feel uneasy when Sandy interacts with Morphie & the twisted monsters she’s forced to create. They’ll also feel proud of her as she explores the beauty of her mind. I had a really great conversation with illustrator Erin Baker who pointed out the motif of “eyes” in this book. Sandy’s eyes are extremely expressive and the eyes of her fantasy creatures are fascinating and creepy.

There’s a lot packed into this graphic novel and I’m really excited for it to release in the United States. I hope you’ll check out NightLights!

Recommended for: 3rd Grade and up
Great for: Inner Strength, Insecurity, Determination, Power, Diversity, Community, Family, Confidence, Creepy, Fantasy, School Life, Daydreamers, Creative Thinking
Book Info: NightLights by Lorena Alvarez, 2017 Nobrow, ISBN: 9781910620137

Ellie Ultra: An Extra-Ordinary Girl

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Image Credit: Stone Arch Books (Capstone), Gina Bellisario/Jessika von Innerebner

What a cute series!

Ellie Ultra is super in every way but when she switches from home school to public school, she suddenly feels out of place. She’s a little too strong, quick and brilliant for her teachers and classmates, so making friends is more difficult than she expects. It doesn’t help that Dex Diggs is a bully (and most definitely a budding-super villain)! When Ellie “borrows” her parents’ Ultra Remote invention, she can finally turn off her “super” but being “ordinary” doesn’t feel quite right. When evil Captain Blob & the Goo Crew invade her classroom, she has to make a difficult decision. Should she continue to fit in by suppressing her powers, or let them loose and save the day??

This book is very fast paced; the story whooshes by in a flurry of action. Though the pace is fast, Bellisario does a nice job of fleshing out her characters. Ellie’s parents are engaged, supporting and loving of their super girl. Ellie is always eager to help others, no matter what. Her selflessness makes her a good person, and a good super hero-in-training. Kids can relate to the issues Ellie faces in this book like being different, fitting in, making new friends and going from home school to public school. Von Innerebner’s digital illustrations are vivid and engaging. I love how she illustrates Ellie; her expressions and body language showcase her confidence and can-do attitude.

I love that Ellie is a Black girl! This series has a healthy dose of “black girl magic” especially since Ellie is a super hero! It’s so great to see. Bellisario also includes a glossary, discussion points and writing exercises to help children connect the story to real life. It’s not easy settling into a new space when you feel different from everyone else. It’s also not easy when the people you desperately want to connect to make you feel odd. There’s a lot to discuss in this story!

I hope you’ll check this one out! It’s a nice new series for beginning readers and if your child enjoys this one, there are three more in the series!!

 

 

Recommended for: 1st-2nd Grade and up
Great for: Friendship, Confidence, Family, Beginning Readers, Super Heroes, Black Girl Magic, Determination, Problem-Solving, School Life
Book Info: Ellie Ultra: An Extra-Ordinary Girl by Gina Bellisario/Illustrated by Jessika von Innerebner, 2016 Stone Arch Books (Capstone), ISBN: 9781496531445

 

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

radiantchild

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

missiontospace

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

liftyourlightalittlehigher

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

We Sang You Home

wesangyouhome

Image Credit: Orca Book Publishers, Richard Van Camp/Julie Flett

We’re about half-way through Native American Heritage Month 2016 and almost a week into a world where Donald J. Trump is the President-Elect of the United States of America…I’ve been reflecting and thinking a lot about peace, love and family. I’ve also been thinking about kindness and doing my best to share books that celebrate open-mindedness, different perspectives, cultures and #ownvoices. I can’t praise this one enough.

If you’re looking for a great book that celebrates the joy and wonder of having a child, look no further. We Sang You Home is beautifully written and illustrated. We’re slowly getting more books about Native families created by Native people but we need more. As a bookseller and blogger, I can’t wait for these stories! I want to share them and most importantly, Native kids need to see more of themselves on bookshelves.

In We Sang You Home, a Native couple tells their child how they wished and dreamed for him and how his arrival changes their lives. They are better for having him. “We sang you from a wish. We sang you from a prayer. We sang you home and you sang back.” A child holds its parents hopes, dreams and wishes. Van Camp writes beautifully and in the short format of a board book, tells a story of happiness. We’re reminded that a child chooses its family just as much as a family wishes for it; it’s magic.

Julie Flett is a great illustrator; I always enjoy reading and reviewing her books! In this one, she depicts the sweetness of Van Camp’s words with warm earth colors, sunsets & moonshine, toothy smiles and brown skin. Flat, blocks of color fill the pages. The simpler the better for board books and this one is simply beautiful.

I hope you’ll pick it up for Native American Heritage Month and enjoy it throughout the year! 🙂

 

P.S. Check out Debbie Reese’s beautiful review here.

 

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Celebration, Diversity, Love, Family, Happiness, Indigenous Peoples, Native Heritage Month, New Baby
Book Info: We Sang You Home by Richard Van Camp/Illustrated by Julie Flett, 2016 Orca Book Publishers, ISBN: 9781459811782

Music Is…

musicis

Image Credit: Simon Kids (Simon & Schuster), Brandon Stosuy/Amy Martin

I’m not a big fan of music. I know that sounds weird. I mean, I enjoy listening to music. Of course there are songs that take me back; the memories connected to those songs are so vivid. I always dance and move to a good song or beat. I’m just not INTO music. Some people live and breathe it; they always have headphones on and bump it loud in their car. They talk music, they anticipate music, they live music.

That’s not me but I appreciate music and I love how happily this book celebrates it.

Music Is…has flowing text that begins simply, becomes more lyrical and ends reflectively. Contrasting words like quiet & loud, slow & fast, lo-fi & hi-fi lead to lines like “cymbals that splash and ba-da-ba bass and rat-a-tat-tat drums on a rumbling stage.” Stosuy’s words are great for reading aloud and invite discussion. “How is music happy?” “What is lo-fi?” “What does ‘Music is for everyone’ mean?” are just a few questions that children might ask when reading this book and for that reason, it’s a book for all ages! Music-loving parents will want this book to share with their children.

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Image Credit: Simon Kids (Simon & Schuster), Brandon Stosuy/Amy Martin

 

Amy Martin’s illustrations are bold, eye-catching and so diverse. I love how she uses colors that contrast and highlight. Her art shows children that indeed, music is for everyone. Her illustrations match the rhythm of Stosuy’s words and the cover of the book is so bright and inviting!

I hope you’ll check this one out. It’s a pretty cool board book to share and enjoy. 🙂

 

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Music, Music History, Diversity, Family, Emotions, Friendship, Relationships, Vocabulary, Humor
Book Info: Music Is… by Brandon Stosuy/Illustrated by Amy Martin, 2016 Little Simon (Simon & Schuster), ISBN: 9781481477024