Kellee Moye of Unleashing Readers and Jen Vincent of Teach Mentor Texts decided to give Kathryn’s (at Book Date) “It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?” meme a kidlit focus, reviewing books in children’s literature (picture books, chapter books, middle grade novels, young adult novels, or anything in the world of kidlit). If you enjoy this type of reading, join us every Monday to share what you’ve been reading!
Our small town library finally ordered all the Kidlit award-winners and nominees in late July, so I’m catching up on any that I missed reading back in 2018. This week, that list includes When Angels Sing by Michael Mahin and Jose Ramirez, Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor by Patricia Valdez and Felicita Sala, and What Do you Do with a Voice Like That? by Chris Barton and Ekua Holmes. Award-winner or not, hopefully you’ll find something that looks interesting.
July 30, 2019
Farrar, Straus and Giroux/Macmillan
“As long as there were caskets so small, there were no miracles.”
11-year-old Wunder Ellis has been a miracolagist for as long as his town can remember. He records wondrous events that have happened all over his town — in fact, over 1,000 of these events have been meticulously written down in his special book over the years. But all that comes to an abrupt stop when his baby sister dies after only living for 8 days. Little does he know that his sister’s burial marks the beginning of an unusual adventure for Wunder. For he must face his demons with both grief and gratitude. This is a story of friendship, of pain, of wonder, of community, and of healing.
Can we all take a moment to admire that gorgeous cover? Yet another book jacket I would be happy to frame and hang in my home. I also wanted to point out that Jess Redmon is a therapist. Few authors have the bravery necessary to address such a weighty topic for a middle grade audience, but she clearly understands the value of examining this difficult journey. There’s also a teacher’s guide available at the publisher’s website for anyone who might be using this one in the classroom.
The Great Jeff
March 19, 2019
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
This is the story of 8th grader, Jeff Hicks. He’s in a bad situation, but none of it is his fault. His father left Jeff and his mom, his best friend ditched him, his mom drinks too much and lost yet another job, and they’re being kicked out of their home. Oh, and did I mention that he’s having to attend public middle school because they cannot afford his tuition for St. Catherine’s?
This one was tough to read at times, but there were valuable lessons on friendship, forgiveness, and family. And I honestly laughed until I had tears in my eyes during some of the middle school banter. There were times during my childhood when I felt like we didn’t have money and that I didn’t fit in, but I never experienced this level of fear and uncertainty — of not knowing when I could eat or where I was going to sleep or if my parents would take care of me. The Great Jeff offers an important window and mirror on poverty and family dysfunction for today’s readers.
When Angels Sing
The Story of Rock Legend Carlos Santana
Jose Ramirez, illustrator
September 4, 2018
Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Spanish words are woven into the English text as we learn of Carlos Santana’s interest in music, starting with the clarinet, then the trumpet, and then the violin. Then one day, his father shipped him a battered guitar and he loved it. Of course, life wasn’t always easy for Santana. He struggled with racism, with being held back a grade when teachers thought he was dumb, and with trying to figure out where he belonged. But after facing such darkness, hatred, and pain in the world, he eventually looked within to find the angels he so desperately sought.
The colorful illustrations were rendered in acrylic and enamel markers on canvas. Several pages have the year watermarked on the page-spread for readers to know when different events took place. I’ll provide one page-spread as an example, below:
If you’ll remember, I’ve been collecting good picture book titles that will work well with the “Music for the Classroom Teacher” course I teach. As with all subject matters, including literature is one of the best ways to expose children to a topic. I especially get excited to see picture books showing how little events in one’s childhood can make huge differences in their future. And When Angels Sing definitely falls into this category.
AWARDS: Sibert Medal Nominee (2019), Pura Belpré Award Nominee for Illustrator (2019)
Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor:
The Woman Who Loved Reptiles
Felicita Sala, illustrator
March 13, 2018
Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
Joan Procter had an interest in reptiles from an early age. One day, she reached out to the curator at the Natural History Museum and began learning far more details about reptiles. As it happened, the museum became short-staffed due to the war, so Joan was offered a job. She had artistic skills that allowed her to create models and drawings for the reptile exhibits. When the men returned from the war, Joan was in charge of the museum and was very capable. We learn that she was particularly interested in the Komodo dragon and she bonded with two that were shipped to the London Zoo where she’d created their enclosure. From that point on, she became an international sensation, not only caring for the Reptile house and performing surgeries, but by sharing her scientific research with the world. She was seen walking or riding in her wheel chair all over the zoo with her Komodo dragon, Sumbawa, walking by her side. Sadly, Joan passed away in her sleep at the age of 34 due to complications of her chronic illness. The back matter includes more details on Joan Beauchamp Procter, on Komodo Dragons, and a Bibliography for further reading.
I’ll provide one page-spread as an example of the artwork in this picture book:
AWARDS: NCTE Orbis Pictus Award Nominee (2019), Monarch Award Nominee (2020)
What Do You Do with a Voice Like That?:
The Story of Extraordinary Congresswoman
Ekua Holmes, illustrator
September 25, 2018
Beach Lane Books
I learned so much about Barbara Jordan in this beautiful picture book and I couldn’t help but look for videos on Youtube so that I could hear her bold voice. Jordan attended law school, then went on to the Texas state senate, then to the United States congress. She spoke with power and authority on discrimination and didn’t back down on the especially difficult situation with President Nixon:
“My faith in the Constitution is whole, it is complete, it is total. And I am not going to sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the destruction of the Constitution.”
Jordan had been struggling with multiple sclerosis and this eventually led her to head home to become a college teacher where she could encourage students to go out and continue the hard work. It was a tremendous loss when she died at the young age of 59, but the book ends with a call to make sure our own voices are heard. The back matter includes an Author’s Note followed by a fairly detailed timeline from Jordan’s birth in 1936 to her death in 1996, even noting President Clinton’s words at her funeral: “When Barbara Jordan talked, we listened.” The illustrations in this book were rendered in mixed media. I really liked the collaged look using different textures and patterns. I’ll provide one page-spread as an example, below:
I also had to share the following video from the Democratic National Convention in 1976 where Barbara Jordan was the keynote speaker. The applause began and continued for over 2 minutes straight before she could even be properly introduced. I felt the tears leaking as I witnessed the outpouring of love and adoration — what a powerful presence!
AWARDS: NCTE Orbis Pictus Award Nominee (2019)
To Be Read:
I’m just about halfway through Breakout by Kate Messner, and I’m one-third of the way through Black Girls Like Me by Mariama J. Lockington. I have a pile of books ready to go once I finish these two, so we’ll just see how far I get this week.