Skit-Scat Raggedy Cat Ella Fitzgerald

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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

Voice of Freedom Fannie Lou Hamer: Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement

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Image Credit: Candlewick Press, Carole Boston Weatherford/Ekua Holmes

“We serve God by serving our fellow man.”

Fannie Lou Hamer spent her entire life doing just that, fighting for black people’s rights to equality and justice. This mighty woman was one of class, power, strength and dignity. I see my grandmother in Fannie Lou Hamer’s big body and I see my mother in her strength despite her weariness. She suffered yet continued to rise and speak, and sing, and empower.

Weatherford does an amazing job (as usual) of crafting Fannie’s voice as we follow her story from childhood to adulthood. The words of the book are a combination of Weatherford’s storytelling and Fannie’s powerful quotes. While reading, I reflected on history and couldn’t help but compare the struggles people faced during her time to those of people of color today. I admire her strength. She grew up poor, the youngest of twenty children, picking cotton in the fields while living and breathing injustice. From an early age, she saw that black people didn’t have it equal; that they had to work hard just to get a little.

Fannie eventually marries and loses the ability to have her own children (her body is policed by white supremacy and classism) but she yearns for change and starts to push for black voters’ rights. Her determination to vote brings attacks on her life but she keeps moving forward to become a leader of the SNCC. Her spirit is never broken. She runs for Congress several times and reaches back to help the younger generation with Freedom Summers. Towards the end of her life she starts programs to help poor folks and also wins a lawsuit to integrate the public schools of her home county in Mississippi.

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Image Credit: Candlewick Press, Carole Boston Weatherford/Ekua Holmes

I spent just as much time enjoying Ekua Holmes’ illustrations as I did Weatherford’s words. After reading the rich text I’d turn to the illustrations and let them have their turn speaking to me. So much is packed into her painting-collages; varying shades of brown for skin, angular faces, flower bursts, patchwork, and texture. I love the pages where young Fannie holds a cotton plant quietly as her family members drag the long white bags that resemble ghosts and the final page, an older Fannie’s strong and beautiful profile with the American flag behind her. Weatherford’s books always have amazing art and this one is no exception.

When I think on this woman, I wonder…was there ever a selfish bone in her body? No. Fannie Lou Hamer’s life was in every way about service.

What a picture book. What a way to start many meaningful discussions. Voice of Freedom Fannie Lou Hamer: Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement is deserving of all the honors it has received.

We’re still pushing ahead Fannie.

 

Recommended for: 2nd Grade and up
Great for: Civil Rights, Diversity, Discussion, Jim Crow, Segregation, Racism, Community, Family, Relationships, Black Girl Magic, Strength, Determination, Friendship, African-American, Social Issues, Social Justice, Injustice, Black History Month, Black History Month Children’s Books
Book Info: Voice of Freedom Fannie Lou Hamer: Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement by Carole Boston Weatherford/Illustrated by Ekua Holmes, 2015 Candlewick Press, ISBN: 9780763665319

Ruth and the Green Book

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Image Credit: Carolrhoda Books (Lerner Publishing Group, Inc.), Calvin Alexander Ramsey/Floyd Cooper

Family vacations are an American staple right? They’re when we take time away from our jobs to get in a car, train or plane to travel and have fun. But can you imagine needing to rely on a little book to help you stay safe on the road? The danger isn’t from other cars or weather conditions; the danger is from people who don’t like you because of the color of your skin.

 

Ruth and the Green Book is a story based on real historical events. Like Ruth and her family, in the 50s, many Black families were prospering in the North but had to take precautions when traveling, especially back down South and into Jim Crow. In this story, Ruth’s dad gets a brand new car and they head from Chicago to Alabama to visit grandparents. Ruth tells the story from her perspective and we experience her confusion and anger towards segregation. She doesn’t understand why they can’t use the restroom at the gas station and why the white hotel owner won’t let them stay in the hotel but she sees the effects these events have on her family.

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Image Credit: Wikipedia.org (New York Public Library) 1940 Edition of The Negro Motorist Green-Book

“Whites Only” signs are everywhere on their journey but her family sings joyfully as they drive and enjoy each other’s company. They make do as oppressed people do! Ruth learns the hard truth about Jim Crow, but luckily a family friend along the route tells them to look out for Esso Gas Stations. Esso is one company that accepts black business. At the first Esso Gas Station they see, a black worker sells them The Negro Motorist Green Book which lists safe places for Black people to eat, sleep and rest on the road. As they travel, Ruth grows up and makes a new friend at one of the inns they stay at. The Green Book helps Ruth and her family get to Alabama safely and she reflects on how thankful she is for a nationwide network of black people looking out for each other!

I love Cooper’s illustrations. He uses muted colors of browns, greens, and blues and it gives the feel of an old soft crackly television. Warm, expressive brown faces and Ruth’s loving family are beautiful to see. I really like the design of the cover of the book with its swooping green retro font, Dad’s brand new “sea mist” green Buick, and Ruth smiling proudly as her mom holds her steadily (strength, determination and a little worry in her expression.) This book is excellent for ALL ages because it discusses an important (and probably little-known) aspect of Black History. Check it out and talk about it!

 

P.S. For more information on The Negro Motorist Green Book and to browse through one online, click here and here. These links are super cool. I really encourage you to take a look!

 

Recommended for: 1st Grade and up
Great for: Civil Rights, Diversity, Discussion, 1950s America, Jim Crow, Segregation Community, Family, Relationships, Friendship, Travel, African-American, Social Issues, Determination, Injustice, Black History Month, Black History Month Children’s Books
Book Info: Ruth and the Green Book by Calvin Alexander Ramsey/Illustrated by Floyd Cooper, 2010 Carolrhoda Books (Lerner Publishing Group, Inc.), ISBN: 9780761352556