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!
NOTE: Congratulations to Ben Gartner whose The Eye of Ra is a Next Generation Award-winning Finalist in the Children’s / Juvenile Fiction category of the Indie Book Awards!! And if that wasn’t good enough news, I’m pleased to learn that Ben is working on book #2 in this series — something I had truly hoped would happen. If you haven’t yet gotten your hands on The Eye of Ra, maybe you can grab up a copy this summer. E-copies are available HERE or you can support your local bookstores by purchasing a print copy HERE.
How’s everyone holding up? I’ll come clean — I’m not doing so great. I’m terribly upset over the state of my nation, right now. Things were already feeling uncertain with COVID-19, but after the horrific death of George Floyd in Minnesota, the sorrow and uncertainty has risen to a level that leaves me on the brink of tears all day long. I haven’t felt much like writing/reviewing, but I know routine is important during times of shocking change. Therefore I will keep moving forward, one step at a time.
Considering the turmoil my nation is experiencing, it’s important to note that we severely lack books written about non-white characters. I’m always delighted when I find good options to share with children, so today I will use part of this post to share some wonderful recent picture books that provide a mirror for my Black brothers and sisters. Some of these titles are equally important as windows for those of us with white privilege (because, while we are all just human beings on the inside, we sometimes need a gentle reminder that we do not all experience the world in the same way). So whether it’s a new release or an older title, I hope you find something of interest to add to your reading wish list.
We Are Not From Here
Jenny Torres Sanchez
May 19, 2020
I don’t want to spoil this story by revealing too may details, so I’ll keep this brief. Pulga, Chico, and Pequeña are teens being threatened so much that it’s no longer safe to remain in their country. So they make the gut-wrenching decision to leave the only home they’ve known and begin the devastating journey through the deadly dessert and into the United States. It’s a grueling and tearful journey, but based on many real-life experiences. And that’s all I’m going to share of the plot line. 🙂 But I’ll also say that it’s absolutely heartbreaking and will keep the reader on the edge of their seat until they discover how it all ends.
Americans generally have such a limited understanding of the reasons why so many cross the border to get into our country without going through so-called “proper channels.” Ignorance is bliss, y’all. Because this story made me feel such anger and sorrow at the lack of options for people literally running for their lives. This story forces the reader to consider — if your family was being threatened, held at gunpoint, children being raped, your food/money being stolen, while you basically become slaves to hostile community leaders, would you take a major risk and break the law in order to save your family? Perhaps you’ll never truly know. My thanks to Libro.fm for providing me the audiobook of We Are Not From Here.
Santiago’s Road Home
May 5, 2020
Simon Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books
This storyline is similar to We Are Not From Here, but not quite as horrific. Award-winning author Alexandra Diaz shares the story of Santiago, a young boy who has been physically abused by his abuela and then is passed around between relatives who do not want him. One day he’s sent away from yet another family member with just enough money for a bus fare back to abuela’s house. Hungry, lonely, and with only what he has on his back, Santiago strikes up an unlikely conversation with a mother and child who, as he discovers, are traveling to the United States. Together, they arrange for safe passage to meet up with family and find work to keep them all from starving. But when bullets begin flying and the party becomes separated, how long will they remain in ICE before they’re sent back to Mexico. And will Santiago be forced to continue living with abuela’s abuse? So heartbreaking, but also brings on all the feels at times.
The back matter has an Author’s note about immigration and the different parts of this story that were true to form. For example, as mentioned in We Are From Here, the detainees were given foil blankets for weeks — they would fold them up and place them in their pockets during the day time, and use them to hold in heat during the night. And breast milk really is brought in from nursing mothers to their babies, since children are separated from their parents. At the very end, there’s a lengthy Glossary with many Spanish words and phrases, including their meaning and ways they could be used in common conversation. My thanks to Libro.fm for providing me the audiobook of Santiago’s Road Home.
Women Artists A to Z
Caroline Corrigan, illustrator
February 11, 2020
As one could gather from the title, this book shares 26 letters of the alphabet that correspond to female artists based on different traits they had. For example, Yayoi Kusama is known for her use of dots (D) in her artwork. Elizabeth Catlett is known for her use of ink (I) in her artwork. And Xenobia Bailey is known for her yarn-based artwork (Y). Each page is full of colorful illustrations, but none of the original artists’ work is showcased – it’s all depicted by a single artist (Caroline Corrigan). The back matter includes far more details on each of the selected artists, including when they lived, where they lived, and important information about their contribution to the world of art. The illustrations for this book was created digitally. I’ll provide one page spread to serve as an example, below:
Sylvia Townsend was a young African American girl growing up in 1950s America. Unfortunately, this meant she could not take dance lessons and join the white learners, like she wanted to. So she studied books from the bookmobile to learn all the ins and outs of dance. Her fourth grade teacher encouraged her and eventually other young Black girls asked her to teach them how to dance before they enter a school talent show, together. This is where Sylvia gets her big break and is invited to join a real dance studio with a professional dance instructor. Readers will definitely want to check out the back matter with references, many photos and detail about the history of the Bookmobile, and an Author’s Note. In the front matter, there’s also “A Note on Hopes and Dreams” written by Sylvia Robertson Townsend that showcases the importance of a parent noticing and encouraging their child’s interests. The artist used Photoshop CC and a Wacom Cintiq drawing tablet to create the digital illustrations for this book. I’ll provide one page spread as an example, below:
Growing up in Harlem during the 1940s, Althea Gibson was known as “the quickest, tallest, most fearless athlete.” She played stickball, basketball, and tennis on the hot asphalt and was known as the fleet-of-foot girl who was good at everything she tried. Due to her skin color, she couldn’t attend the fancy tennis clubs, but as she became too good to ignore, many people began fighting for her to be included in the US Championships. This eventually got her to Wimbledon in 1957 where she won a championship two years in a row! The back matter includes an Author’s Note and a list of important dates with more interesting details about Gibson’s life. The artist used Adobe Photoshop to create the digital illustrations for this book. I’ll provide one page spread to serve as an example, below:
Ruby Finds a Worry
September 3, 2019
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Ruby has a worry. But when she attempts to ignore it, it only grows bigger. No matter what she does, it is always with her in school, on the bus, and even in the movie theater. Obviously, it is dominating her life. Eventually, she learns that everyone has worries and that sometimes the best thing you can do is talk about them. I love the adorable illustrations in this story and am so happy to see this important message available for children who suffer from anxiety (and for those who need empathy for others who suffer). The artwork in this book was created digitally using Kyle T. Webster’s natural media brushes for Photoshop and a selection of hand-painted textures. I’ll provide one page spread as an example of what to expect, below:
Breanna J. McDaniel
Shane W. Evans, illustrator
January 22, 2019
I loved how this picture book depicted the numerous ways we raise our hands, whether it’s to stretch, to be called on in class, to select a book off a high shelf, in ballet class, in worship services, and in so many other ways. In the back, McDaniel talks about her niece who she worries cannot always show her full range of emotions and strength because she’s a Black girl and will often be seen as a victim or villain. Forgive me while I direct quote a chunk of text, from the Author’s Note:
For many people, the phrase “hands up” brings forward difficult emotions like anger, sadness, frustration, and fear. With this story, I wanted to emphasize the ways I’ve experienced that phrase as part of my everyday life, at home, at play, in church, and at protests with young people leading the way. I want the world to remember that black kids are just that — kids, people with mommas and daddies and teachers and friends, with lives full of happiness and struggle and triumph and even sadness.
Powerful! It’s a beautiful recollection of the many ways we raise our hands, particularly during childhood. The lovely artwork in this picture book was created digitally with mixed media. I’ll provide one page spread as an example, below:
Meet Miss Fancy
John Holyfield, illustrator
January 8, 2019
G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
This is a precious story about a young boy named Frank, who loved elephants. But when he and his fellow classmates raised enough money to bring Miss Fancy to Birmingham, black children were not allowed to touch or ride her. But as Miss Fancy escapes the zoo, Frank ends up saving the day using peanuts to lure her back home. While this story contains fictional characters like Frank and his mother, there was a real life elephant named Miss Fancy. And schoolchildren really did raise enough money (in pennies) to purchase her from the circus. Furthermore, there really were segregation laws that prevented African American families from coming into certain places, like the zoo. So this historical experience was written right into the storyline. An Author’s Note shares more about Miss Fancy’s life before and after her time in Birmingham. While the book doesn’t share how the artwork was created, I’ll provide one page spread to serve as an example of what to expect, below:
Joanne Lew-Vriethoff, illustrator
September 13, 2016
Running Press Kids
This was a re-read, which I greatly enjoyed. Each page shares well-known stereotypes of young girls and flips them on their heads. There will be ZERO gender conformity for these outgoing kiddos! The girls are obviously very happy, curious, and, of course, beautiful! I’ll provide one page spread to serve as an example of the artwork, below:
To Be Read:
My list feels unmanageable right now. I mean, I have books coming out my ears — books I already own that I recently purchased and am having trouble squeezing into my summer schedule. So first, I’d like to (finally!) start reading Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman as my first Big Book Summer Challenge read. Then I plan to review Tornado Brain by Cat Patrick. And I just checked out 30+ new picture books through ILL, so I’m looking forward to at least reading Bear Must Go On by Dev Petty and Old Rock (Is Not Boring) by Deb Pilutti with my younger daughter and son this week.
Reading Challenge Updates:
Goodreads Challenge 2020 – 180/200