Look What Brown Can Do!

LookWhatBrownCanDo

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.

LookWhatBrownCanDo2

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

Etched in Clay: The Life of Dave, Enslaved Potter and Poet

EtchedinClay

Image Credit: Lee & Low Books, Andrea Cheng

I never had the chance to meet Andrea Cheng but I handled her books, I sold them. I was in the same space as them. A Cincinnati author, talented and kind are some of the things people told me about her. Interestingly enough, I’ve been connected to her for quite some time though; I went to school with one of her daughters, Ann. Recently I was able to reconnect with Ann and spend time with two of Andrea’s close writer friends. Here’s what I can say about Andrea Cheng, now that I’ve read her words for myself and can reflect on her people; her voice is strong and she’s left a legacy of goodness.

Etched in Clay is poetry inspired by the historical record of an amazing man named Dave (David Drake). Dave was a skilled potter/poet who happened to be enslaved. Cheng speaks for him but doesn’t say too much. It’s just enough. We follow Dave from his teenage years fresh off the auction block to his life as a free man in his seventies. He’s sold and re-sold several times within the Landrum family to work their pottery works. His first owner, Harvey Drake, notices his talent and teaches him how to create pottery. Drake’s religious wife Sarah gives Dave a powerful tool too, a spelling book from which he learns to read and write. In his long life, he is split apart from the women and children he loves, he struggles with his lack of agency as an enslaved man and he REBELS with words and poetry. Words spill out of his head and onto his pottery. Dave finds a way to assert his worth as a human being through the liberatory act of black creativity.

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Image Credit: Lee & Low Books, Andrea Cheng

Harvey Drake (like most whites at the time) is conscious of the danger in nurturing the intelligence of a slave. He’s comfortable in his power and is protective of the system that keeps his whiteness above blackness. Though Dave knows he can be lashed for knowing how to read (and showing it), he does it anyway. Even signing his name on a pot is dangerous yet he does it…and by doing so, he reflects on his legacy (his pots are made to last) and asserts HIS power. His defiance is through words.

Andrea Cheng doesn’t romanticize or soften slavery; she gives us a glimpse of Dave’s reality. I appreciate her honest characterizations of the slave masters and their disregard for Dave’s (and the other slaves’) humanity. The entire book is full of excellent characterization! A masterful storyteller has the ability to make you bubble and boil with frustration yet eagerly reach to turn the page. I wanted to keep going and see what would happen to Dave, a man who, like my ancestors, was remarkable.

The woodcuts in this book are also done by Andrea Cheng and just like the writing, they are just enough (and so much). They give us a glimpse into Dave’s life with blocky shapes, black and white lines and outlines that suggest more than tell. Not only do I recommend Etched in Clay for casual reading, I think it’s perfect for the classroom. There are so many lessons to take away and to discuss and Dave should be more well known. I hope you’ll pick up this book and enjoy.

 

 

Recommended for: Ages 11 and up
Great for: Inner Strength, Rebellion, Courage, Determination, Defiance, African American, Slavery, History, Pottery, Creativity, Poetry, Relationships, Black History Month, Black History Month Children’s Books, History-Inspired, Discussion, Classroom
Book Info: Etched in Clay: The Life of Dave, Enslaved Potter and Poet by Andrea Cheng, 2013 Lee & Low Books Inc., ISBN: 9781600604515

Skit-Scat Raggedy Cat Ella Fitzgerald

SkitScatRaggedyCatElla

Image Credit: Candlewick Press, Roxanne Orgill/Sean Qualls

Ummm hmm. Ella’s voice is one of my all time favorites. What I like about this picture book is that it tells the story of her early life, when she was just a Raggedy Cat trying to survive.

Ella had a larger than life personality ever since she was a young girl. Growing up in Yonkers, NY, her family didn’t have much but they had plenty of music.  Her voice could draw a crowd. She and her friend Charlie learned the newest moves and made a little change on the sidewalks dancing for crowds. It was a time of Jazz Jazz Jazz. Her mother passed away suddenly and she ended up on 145th Street in Harlem, living with her aunt. She didn’t get much love there so she searched for something better, on her own.

Ella’s 1938 chart0topper “A Tisket A Tasket” which was included in a movie called Ride ‘Em Cowboy in 1942. Oh look she’s at the back of the bus!  >_<

She got into some trouble and found herself in a school for orphans. They beat the girls, especially the black girls, so she ran away, back to Harlem. She was on the streets and in and out of people’s homes but one day she heard about auditioning at the Apollo Theater and decided to give it a try. The crowd almost ran her off the stage but the emcee gave her another chance and she blew them away! Ella started to make a name for herself. Despite her plain looks, bandleader Chick Webb gave her a chance to join his band at the Savoy. Ella’s spirit shone through her voice, loud and clear. People loved dancing to her. The band got their first big hit when she wrote “A Tisket, A Tasket.” With that song she shot to stardom and didn’t have to worry about food, lack of nice clothes and a place to sleep ever again!

I like Sean Qualls’ art style. He likes to lay his acrylic down a little rough and scratchy and uses a palette of reds, oranges, blues and browns. I love the jazz scenes that show the vibrance of Harlem at its artistic peak. Author Roxane Orgill and Sean Qualls really did an excellent job of pairing story with illustration; when I finished the book, I felt satisfied. I learned so much about young Ella and her spirit.

If you’re looking for an excellent biography that celebrates never giving up despite the odds, check out Skit-Scat Raggedy Cat…and go listen to some jazz!

 

Recommended for: 1st Grade and up
Great for:  Jazz, Jazz Bands, Music History, History, African-American, Black Girls Rock, Black Girl Magic, Inner Strength, Family, Determination, Discrimination, Jim Crow, Apollo Theater, Harlem, Dance, Black History Month, Black History Month Children’s Books, Non-fiction, Discussion, Biography
Book Info: Skit-Scat Raggedy Cat Ella Fitzgerald by Roxane Orgill/Illustrated by Sean Qualls, 2010 Candlewick Press, ISBN: 9780763617332

Brick by Brick

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Image Credit: Amistad (HarperCollins), Charles R. Smith Jr./Floyd Cooper

This book is a tribute to the slaves who built the White House, a building never meant for their Black Bodies…but yet!

The writing of Brick by Brick is beautiful. Charles R. Smith Jr. plays with the word “hand” by focusing on the slaves’ hands while describing their position as hands, as workers. Slave hands, white hands and free black hands worked together but slave hands did the most of the hard work to build the original White House for John Adams. They hauled stone, laid brick and sawed through logs with blistered, tired, bleeding hands. They suffered while their slave owners took the money earned.

Yet, as oppressed people do, they survived, thrived and learned. As the White House came to completion, slaves were taught new skills to finish the fine interior work of the house. With these new skills, they were able to save money and work towards paying for their freedom. Brick by brick they built the massive structure but they also built a way out of enslavement. I love how Charles R. Smith Jr. works NAMES into the story. We read and speak aloud the names of these amazing people. By including the actual names of slaves who worked on the White House, he brings them to life for us and honors them.

Cooper’s illustrations, as usual, are skilled and moving. He depicts the slaves’ warm dark brown skin, strong hands and raw expression beautifully. For another example of his beautiful work, check out Ruth and the Green BookBrick by Brick‘s words and illustrations create a portrait of the people who built one of the most important buildings in our country. The White House is a symbol of “freedom” yet it was built by the hands of those who were not free. This book is excellent for sparking discussion and is important because it covers a part of history that may not be very well known. Enjoy this book, read the Author’s Note and talk, talk, talk!

 

Recommended for: 2nd grade and up
Great for:  Toil, Pain, African-American, Family, History, Slavery, Injustice, Rhythm, Rhyme, Read-Aloud, White House History, Black History Month, Black History Month Children’s Books, Non-fiction, Discussion
Book Info: Brick by Brick by Charles R. Smith Jr./Illustrated by Floyd Cooper, 2013 Amistad (HarperCollins), ISBN: 9780061920820

My Seneca Village

MySenecaVillage

Image Credit: Namelos, Marilyn Nelson

 

My Seneca Village is a mighty work. Marilyn Nelson, as she describes in the introduction, connected to the people of Seneca Village while spending years researching the community and this is very evident in how heartfelt and moving this collection of poems is. Seneca Village was a community in New York City located where Central Park now is. It was a community of mostly African American families, with Irish, German, Jewish and some Native Amerian residents. It existed from 1825 to 1857; in 1857 all residents were forced to move out by the city in order to build the park. With this forced removal came the end of a rich, vibrant and thriving community.

What My Seneca Village does so beautifully is bring Seneca Village back to life. Through original poems, Nelson honors and creates a voice for its residents. We learn their stories, we see young dreamers, young love, life, death, gossips, mischievous children, racism and strength. Some of the residents we meet are real people who lived in Seneca Village, others are fiction and we also meet huge historical figures, like Frederick Douglass, who stop through the village to give moving speeches. It’s hard to narrow this book into one category because it does so much. Nelson’s poetry is powerful. One of my favorite stanzas is from the village’s Reverend Rush during an anti-abolition riot:

 

                                      “I asked everyone to bow their heads and pray.

                                        Pray for this nation’s struggle to be free

                                        for ALL Americans. Equality

                                        must be bitter, if you’ve always been on top,

                                        and you’re slapped awake out of a lifelong sleep.

                                        Pray we’ll pull together toward a common hope.”

 

Over a hundred years later and we’re still struggling for the same thing. I’m glad for this story. I’m glad to know about Seneca Village, I’m glad that this novel is being read nationwide and I encourage you to read this book and travel to Seneca Village.

 

P.S. Just wanted to note how nice this book is. Namelos is a small publisher and I can’t remember the last time I picked up a book with such nicely inked letters.

Also, here’s an interesting NPR article about the play The People Before the Park.

 

Recommended for: 12 and up
Great for: Poetry, Everyday Life, Community, History, Seneca Village, American History, African American, Diversity, Cultural Diversity, We Need Diverse Books, Racism, Family, Love, Friendship, Relationships, New York, Eminent Domain, Injustice, Central Park
Book Info: My Seneca Village by Marilyn Nelson, 2015 Namelos, ISBN: 9781608981960

Freedom in Congo Square

FreedomInCongoSquare

Image Credit: Little Bee Books (Bonnier Publishing Group), Carole Boston Weatherford/R. Gregory Christie

In this beautiful book, we learn about the slaves of New Orleans who toiled and eagerly anticipated their day of rest because on that day, they headed to Congo Square to let their bodies flow freely and revel in the music and culture of home. Congo Square was their place of freedom, their chance to celebrate who they were and simply enjoy each other’s company. Eventually Jazz would develop out of the music played at this space.

Freedom in Congo Square has an excellent Forward and Author’s Note that I highly recommend reading. Taking time to summarize and teach the history is important because it adds to the experience of the book. Children with knowledge of slavery will easily understand how important a day to rest, a day to celebrate was to slaves. It’s easy to see the joy and relief in their bodies as they dance and sing and drum. Weatherford’s poetic language and description of plantation life during each day of the week builds anticipation for what readers know is coming, that glorious Sunday.

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Image Credit: Little Bee Books (Bonnier Publishing Group), Carole Boston Weatherford/R. Gregory Christie

The rhythm and rhyme of this book is great for reading aloud to children and Weatherford always has the coolest illustrators for her books. Leontyne Price: Voice of a Century is both textually and visually gorgeous. Freedom in Congo Square is no different. Christie’s collaged paintings are inspiring; the slaves have black, beautiful skin highlighted with blue-gray and long, limber bodies. Their long limbs are bent over in the cotton field BUT are also outstretched in jubilation at Congo Square. I love the bright, joyful colors of his paints and the cover of the book is striking with its use of yellow and black.

This is an excellent book that tells the story of an important safe and creative space for enslaved people during Slavery. What a great new release for 2016! If your family takes a trip down to New Orleans, why not add Congo Square to your list of places to visit?

 

Recommended for: 1st-2nd Grade and Up
Great for: History, Slavery, Celebration, Determination, Music, Music History, New Orleans, Community, Family, We Need Diverse Books, Diversity, Cultural Diversity, Oppression, Spirituality, Discussion, Days of the Week, Rhyme, Rhythm, Read Aloud, Jazz, African American, Africa
Book Info: Freedom in Congo Square by Carole Boston Weatherford/Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, 2016 Little Bee Books (Bonnier Publishing Group), ISBN: 9781499801033

Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine

AdaByronLovelace

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

That Book Woman

ThatBookWoman

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


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

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

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

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

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

 

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

The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch

TheAmazingAgeofJohnRoyLynch

Image Credit: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, Chris Barton/Don Tate

John Roy Lynch. A child of slavery and reborn during Reconstruction, he is a true example of hard work and determination. This biography gives us a glimpse into his amazing life during a very important but overlooked part of American history, Reconstruction.

John was a half Irish boy born into slavery. Soon the Civil War came and though slaves were eventually emancipated, John wasn’t really free until he set off on his own as a teen. He took several jobs in Natchez, Mississippi; just being able to make his own way, as a free man, was liberating! He taught himself to read and write and started to speak out in local politics on the issue of Blacks and voting. Before he knew it, he was Justice of the Peace and would eventually be elected to the Mississippi House of Representatives. He became the Speaker of the House and would rise on to the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington D.C. He did all this in just ten years time from being a slave and would live his life striving for equal rights.

John Roy Lynch accomplished quite a great deal but he was frustrated with the slow speed of progress for people of color. Though Blacks were legally liberated, Whites started to push back against the progress Free Blacks were making in American society though processes like voting to make changes, owning property, and gaining government positions. Some of this push back was done with violence. The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch is an important historical biography that not only tells us the story of a great man but also reminds us of the importance of Reconstruction.

The illustrations for this book are great! Don Tate brings John’s life to life though soft ink and gouache paintings. From his early days in the cotton field, to my favorite spread of John Roy Lynch standing in front of the flag with determination in his eyes, his life is honored though skillful illustration. Here’s to making your own amazing age and living with purpose!

 

Recommended for: 3rd Grade and up
Great for: Non-Fiction, Biography, Leader, Role-Model, Determination, Government, Slavery, Reconstruction, Community, Family, We Need Diverse Books, Diversity, Discussion, History, Social Issues, African-American
Book Info: The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch by Chris Barton/Illustrated by Don Tate, 2015 Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, ISBN: 9780802853790

Surfer of the Century

SurferoftheCentury

Image Credit: Lee & Low Books Inc., Ellie Crowe/Illustrated by Richard Waldrep

 

Ah, what a COOL guy. This excellent biography is about Hawaiian athlete Duke Kahanamoku who’s credited for spreading surfing all over the world with his passion for the sport and the waves.

Duke didn’t grow up with much but he grew up a boy of the island Oʻahu and its waters. He wasn’t the best at school work but he was a natural athlete and a powerfully fast and gifted swimmer. When he was a teen, he lucked upon a coach, started a “poor man’s swim club” and continued perfecting his swimming as well as the curve and design of his surfboards.

At a local AAU swim meet, Duke shattered the world record and AAU records but people on the mainland didn’t believe it! His community would raise money to send him to California to try out for the US Olympic Swim Team where he’d easily qualify and set off to the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden. Duke faced a great deal of discrimination and racism on the mainland for being a person of color and Crowe addresses these issues in the book. Though he faced several challenges, he overcame them and and became a symbol of Hawaii. In his lifetime, he won multiple medals, gained adoring fans from all over the world and would share his love for surfing with the global community.

Duke Kahanamoku truly embodied the spirit of aloha (love/kindness) in everything he did! He rightfully deserves the title of Surfer of the Century and continues to be a role model to this day.

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Image Credit: Lee & Low Books Inc., Ellie Crowe/Illustrated by Richard Waldrep

[Jim Thorpe and Duke Kanahamoku on their way to the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden a.k.a. #IndigenousBadassery]

 

Now an excellent book about surfing needs excellent illustrations and luckily, Walrep comes through strong. The gouache illustrations are absolutely glowing and gorgeous. Blocks of color, excellent lighting, shining dark brown skin, confident smiles, and blue waves with wispy foam transport readers to Hawaii. Surfer of the Century is a worthy tribute to a great sportsman and human being.

 

Recommended for: All ages
Great for: Community, Diversity, Surfing, Aloha, Hawaii, We Need Diverse Books, Biography, Discrimination, Segregation, Discussion, Social Issues, Family, History, Swimmers, Non-Fiction
Book Info: Surfer of the Century by Ellie Crowe/Illustrated by Richard Waldrep, 2007 Lee & Low Books Inc., ISBN: 9781584302766