Showing posts with label history. Show all posts
Showing posts with label history. Show all posts

Monday, February 25, 2019

Biddy Mason Speaks Up, by Arisa White and Laura Atkins: a powerful biography of an early California woman fighting for justice (ages 10-14)

As we celebrate Black History, it is crucial we include many people's stories, not just the ones we know well. When our students study California history, we must bring to light the stories of African Americans who helped shape our state. Biddy Mason Speaks Up is a terrific addition to help children learn about an influential African American woman in Los Angeles's early history.
Biddy Mason Speaks Up
by Arisa White and Laura Atkins
illustrated by Laura Freeman
Fighting for Justice series
Heyday, 2019
Amazon / Your local library
ages 10-14
*best new book
Biddy Mason was an African-American healer, midwife, real estate entrepreneur and philanthropist who lived in Los Angeles from 1851 until 1891. Born enslaved in 1818, Biddy was brought to California by the Smith family as one of their slaves, when they moved west as part of the Mormon settlement.
"Even though Granny
isn't allowed to read
or write, she knows
how to read plants."
Arisa White and Laura Atkins weave together Biddy's story with well-researched historical information, giving young readers the historical context for her life. Free verse poems, which enable  readers to feel that they are getting to know Biddy in a personal way, are interspersed with historical information on slavery and midwifery, plantation life and economy, migration, the struggle for freedom, and life as a free black person.
"Biddy probably grew up on a cotton plantation. Cotton, a major cash crop, was grown throughout the Cotton Belt states."
"The record we call 'history' does not tell everyone's story." The voices of ordinary people, especially those who were enslaved or subjugated, were rarely recorded or preserved. When the authors Arisa White and Laura Atkins started writing the biography of Biddy Mason, they faced a challenge: how to accurately portray her story when historical records were scant. They write in the introduction:
"Writing this book was a creative act of repairing the historical record, of imagining Biddy Mason's life based on all the information and stories we could gather. We believe that we are all better when we hear everyone's stories, especially those that have been silenced."
Very little is recorded about Biddy's early years, and so the authors "had to imagine this time in Biddy's life using historical research, 'slave narratives' (written accounts by enslaved people after escaping slavery), and audio interviews with people who lived during the same period and in similar regions." I appreciate how they explain their process and how they used this information to paint a fuller picture.

After 4 years in California, Biddy's owner Robert Smith, planned to move to Texas in 1855. While California was a free state, slavery was legal in Texas. Local sheriffs intervened and took Biddy and her family away from Smith. I appreciate how clearly the text breaks this confusing situation down:
"Even though Biddy was legally free, she had to rely on her community to support her in resisting Robert Smith and the institution of slavery..."
The free verse poems remind me of Ashley Bryan's masterful Freedom Over Me. As Bryan did, White and Atkins used historical records to paint a full picture of ordinary people. This brings to life the stories of Black Americans who helped shape our country.

I wonder if young students will realize that the scenes in the free verse poems did not necessarily occur, or that the authors created the character of Granny Ellen. While the authors are transparent about their process, I wonder if it will be clear to young readers. I see this book as a blend of historical fiction and historical reporting. Detailed source notes show the extensive investigations that went into writing this book.

Illustrations copyright ©2019 Laura Freeman, shared by permission of the publishers. The review copy was purchased for our school library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2019 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Memphis, Martin and the Mountaintop: The Sanitation Strike of 1968, by Alice Faye Duncan (ages 8-12)

As we get ready to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I want to share a powerful new book about his work. Alice Fay Duncan's powerful picture book gives context for King's work, helps explain his assassination, and provides inspiration to keep dreaming big.
Memphis, Martin and the Mountaintop: The Sanitation Strike of 1968
by Alice Faye Duncan, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie
Calkins Creek / Highlights, 2018
Amazon / your local library
ages 8-12
*best new book*
We often talk about Dr. King's legacy leading nonviolent protests and fighting for civil rights, but I'm not sure we talk enough about his commitment to fight for workers' rights for fair wages and better working conditions.
"Men, women and children contributed to the strike in 1968. Whole families sacrificed their comforts. They suffered for the cause. However, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. paid the highest cost. He gave his life to the struggle for freedom and justice."
Duncan brings young readers into this story centering it on Lorraine Jackson, whose father was a striking sanitation worker. Duncan bases her character on Dr. Almella Starks-Umoja, whose father helped organize the strike. The author deftly moves between helping readers connect to Lorraine and providing information about the bigger issues at stake.
"I remember Memphis and legions of noblemen.
I remember broken glass and the voice of a fallen King."
As the story begins, we learn about the sanitation workers' strike and the tragic deaths of two black garbagemen because of old, unsafe equipment. "Daddy told Mama, 'It ain't right to die like that.' Mama shook her head, and I saw a new storm rising up. I saw it in their eyes." This detail helps young readers feel the tension and understand the injustices. Throughout, Duncan highlights the dedicated efforts of community and the personal cost of striking.
"My daddy marched in that number. He marched for better pay. He marched for decent treatment. My daddy marched for me."
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. came to Memphis to help the striking men, inspiring them to keep fighting for better pay and working conditions. Through young Lorraine's voice, Duncan tells about King's "Poor People's Crusade" to fight for the working poor, using the Memphis strike to draw national attention to the larger problems.

I especially appreciate Duncan's poetic language throughout, both in her prose and poems:
  • "But as Daddy's soles wore think on his mountain climb, there came a spark of light. Good news filled the air."
  • "Since Martin had conquered giants in the valley of injustice, Reverend Lawson believed his powerful friend could help the striking men."
  • "I was there on that stormy night Dr. King returned. Clouds blotted out stars in the Memphis sky. Wind whipped through the bending trees."
Illustrations copyright ©2018 R. Gregory Christie, shared by permission of the publishers. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Calkins Creek, an imprint of Highlights. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2019 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer by Carole Boston Weatherford and Ekua Holmes (ages 10-14)

As we celebrate Black History Month, we must honor those who struggled, raising their voices to call for change. Fannie Lou Hamer was an iconic Civil Rights leader who led voting drives throughout the South and co-founded the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. Carole Boston Weatherford chronicles Hamer's life and struggles in the powerful picture book Voice of Freedom. This is an essential book to share--not an easy one to read, but an essential one to share with older children.
Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement
by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Ekua Holmes, narrated by Janina Edwards
Candlewick, 2015 // Dreamscape Media, 2017
2016 Caldecott Honor award, 2016 Robert F. Sibert Honor award and the 2016 John Steptoe New Talent Illustrator Award Winner
ages 10-14
Reading Voice of Freedom is like walking beside Fannie Lou Hamer on her hard journey. Even as a child in Mississippi, the daughter of sharecroppers who could barely make enough money to feed their family, Fannie Lou Hamer was keenly aware that the system around her was unjust:
"Black people work so hard, and we ain't got nothin'
to show for it,
I told anyone who would listen.
Sharecropping was just slavery by a gentler name."
"I was just six when I dragged
my first bag down a row of cotton."
We learn that Fannie Lou's hardships continued, and see her political awareness evolve when voting-rights activists came to Mississippi. Weatherford directly addresses harsh elements of life Hamer experienced under Jim Crow laws, such as her forced sterilization under a Mississippi law.

Conversational, free-verse text lends itself to animated adaptation. Janina Edward's narration embodies Hamer's powerful voice with depth and resonance. I watched this through my public library's Hoopla platform, and look forward to sharing this with my students.

Hamer's fierce determination to fight for equal rights survived and thrived, and this power shines through majestically in Weatherford's rich poetic text. Throughout her life, Hamer refused to give up hope. She faced many brutal hardships, which Weatherford describes with candor. This is not an easy book to read, but one that we must share with older children.

Ekua Holmes won the 2017 Caldecott Honor Award for her stunning, majestic illustrations. Multimedia collages capture Hamer's strength and struggles using both abstract and realistic elements.

Reading this book filled me with anger at the violence and bigotry that Fannie Lou Hamer faced, but it also inspired me to keep raising my voice, adding it to the persistent call for change.

Illustrations copyright ©2017 Ekua Holmes, shared by permission of the publisher. The review copy came from my public library, accessed through Hoopla Digital. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race, picture book by Margot Lee Shetterly and‎ Laura Freeman (ages 6-9)

The movie Hidden Figures was inspiring, and I'm happy to be able to share the story of these impressive mathematicians with a younger audience. This picture book gives young readers a clear understanding of these women's contributions, within the framework of the time period. Striking illustrations and brief, compelling text make this a terrific choice to read aloud.
Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race
by Margot Lee Shetterly, illustrated by‎ Laura Freeman
HarperCollins, 2018
Amazon / your local library
ages 6-9
Based on the popular book and movie, this picture book recounts the true story of four black women who helped NASA launch men into space using their mathematical analysis, persistence and hard work.

Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden used their mathematical skills to help NASA send astronauts into space. And they did so during a time when there were great prejudices against women and African Americans.
"Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden were good at math…really good."
Margot Lee Shetterly, the author who wrote the original book Hidden Figures, collaborated with Winifred Conkling to write an accessible, focused text. They bring young readers through the main achievements of these women, focusing on how they used their mathematical skills to solve important problems.
"Katherine wanted to help the group prepare its research reports, so she asked if she could go to meetings with the other experts on her team. Her boss told her it was impossible."
Laura Freeman's illustrations draw readers into the scene using bold colors and focusing on the women's experiences. The illustrated timeline in the back is especially engaging and helpful for young readers. A "Meet the Computers" provides more information on each of the four women featured, allowing students a way into learning more.

This picture book goes beyond just being a tie-in with the movie. Seek it out to share with young children who are interested in inspiring figures, but not ready for the whole movie.

Illustrations copyright ©2018 Laura Freeman, shared by permission of the publisher. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, HarperCollins. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Are You An Echo? Discovering the beauty of Japanese poet Misuzu Kaneko (ages 7-12)

Empathy -- it's a vital quality to develop for all of us. How do we reach outside of ourselves to imagine being in someone else's shoes? How do we take someone else's perspective? Misuzu Kaneko's beautiful poetry is a shining example of how poetry can help us stop for a moment and think about the world from a different point of view.
Are You an Echo? The Lost Poetry of Misuzu Kaneko
Poetry by Misuzu Kaneko
Narrative by David Jacobson
Translation and editorial contributions by Sally Ito and Michiko Tsuboi
Illustrations by Toshikado Hajiri
Chin Music Press, 2016
Amazon / Your local library
ages 7-12
This striking collaboration shares the story of how Misuzu Kaneko's poetry came to be discovered long after her death; moreover, it brings her poems to an English-speaking audience for the first time. In 1966, a young Japanese poet discovered a poem that struck him with its empathy and simplicity, yet he could find no other poems by this author -- who was she? Did she write other poems?
BIG CATCH
 -- by Misuzu Kaneko

At sunrise, glorious sunrise
it’s a big catch!
A big catch of sardines!

On the beach, it’s like a festival
but in the sea, they will hold funerals
for the tens of thousands dead.
Linger for a moment on this poem, and ask young readers to think about this poet's message. Why would the fish hold funerals? How does this shift readers' thinking?

Although Setsuo Yazaki began searching in 1966, it wasn't until 1982 that the curious poet uncovered more of Misuzu's poetry. Her brother still had her diaries, which contained the only copies of her poems that still remained. Finally, Setsuo began to discover more about Misuzu's life.

Born in 1903, Misuzu lived in a small fishing village in western Japan where her mother managed a bookstore. "To Misuzu, everything was alive, and had its own feelings." Her wonder and curiosity encourages young readers to think about the natural world with fresh perspective. By interspersing Misuzu's poems with the story of her life, the authors help young readers focus on the poet's work as well as her life.
"Snow on top
must feel chilly,
the cold moonlight piercing it."
After a short, unhappy marriage, Misuzu took her own life at age 26 in 1930. Jacobson conveys her suicide sensitively and straightforwardly. I especially appreciate how this lets young readers feel empathy for Misuzu without sensationalizing her tragedy.

The second half of this picture book shares fifteen more of Misuzu's poems translated into English, along with their original Japanese versions. Children will enjoy lingering over poems; teachers will want to use them as mentor texts for children as they explore writing their own poetry.

My own grandmother used to encourage me to think about different subjects in school as "mental gymnastics," helping me stretch and work my mind in new ways. I wonder if Misuzu's poetry might help us be more limber, more nimble in our emotional interactions with the world. Isn't that what empathy is at its root?

Many thanks to Betsy Bird for first bringing this unique picture book to my attention. Illustrations © Toshikado Hajiri, narrative © David Jacobson, and translations © Sally Ito & Michiko Tsuboi, shared with permission from the publisher. The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Chin Music Press. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Monday, February 13, 2017

Answering the Cry for Freedom: Stories of African Americans and the American Revolution, by Gretchen Woelfle (ages 9-13)

The complex story of slavery and freedom is difficult yet essential to talk about with our children because it rests at the core of our nation’s shared history. The National Museum of African American History states that its main messages about slavery and freedom are:
  • Slavery is a shared story resting at the heart of American political, economic, and cultural life.
  • African Americans constantly and consistently created new visions of freedom that have benefited all Americans.
  • African American identity has many roots and many expressions that reach far back into our past.
Our 5th graders are studying the American Colonies and the road to the American Revolution. Many wonder why the founding fathers could not address the fundamental contradictions between slavery and the freedom that the patriots sought.

Gretchen Woelfle's new book, Answering the Cry for Freedom, is an excellent resource examining the way thirteen African Americans took up their own fight for freedom during the Revolutionary War and the establishment of our country--by joining the British and American armies; preaching, speaking out, and writing about the evils of slavery; and establishing settlements in Nova Scotia and Africa. I highly recommend this both as classroom resource and for students' independent reading.
Answering the Cry for Freedom: Stories of African Americans and the American Revolution
by Gretchen Woelfle
illustrated by R. Gregory Christie
Calkins Creek / Boyds Mill Press, 2016
Google Books preview
Your local library / Amazon
ages 9-13
In the late 1700s, as the American colonists began to protest the tyranny of British rule, slavery existed in every one of the thirteen colonies. African Americans--both free and enslaved--listened as talk of freedom and the natural rights of men grew. How did they react? What did they say and do? As Woelfle writes, this collection of short biographies tells a "hidden chapter of the American Revolution."

In short, well-organized chapters, she helps readers understand the complexities of their choices and they way these courageous men and women resisted the tyrannical customs and laws that kept slavery part of our nation for much too long. Striking silhouette illustrations by R. Gregory Christie draw readers in and provide a visual hook.
The first installment tells about Boston King who grew up enslaved on a rice plantation in South Carolina, and joined the British Army in 1780 when they offered his freedom. When the British withdrew from Charleston, he traveled with them to New York and started life as a free man. Soon, he was then recaptured by a crew of an American ship who sold him to a man in New Jersey. He escaped again, rowing across the New York Harbor.

Woelfe represents a range of voices of African Americans from the late 1700s: men and women, educated and not, Northerners and the Southerners. Three people I found particularly inspiring are James Armistead Lafayette, Elizabeth "Mumbet" Freeman, and Ona Judge.

James Armistead Lafayette served the Marquis de Lafayette, acting as a spy as he served the British General Cornwallis. Students will be amazed that Lafayette was denied his freedom after the war because he was not enlisted as a soldier, but rather worked as an undercover spy. Woelfle combines clear description with many quotes from primary sources, documenting them clearly in her appendix.

Elizabeth "Mumbet" Freeman sued for and won her freedom from slavery in 1781 Massachusetts--paving the way for the abolition of slavery in this state. Ona Judge was the slave and personal maid of Martha Washington, President George Washington's wife, who escaped to New Hampshire from Philadelphia--and resisted several attempts from Washington to bring her back.

I heartily agree with Gary B. Nash, director emeritus, National Center for History in the Schools and distinguished research professor, Department of History, UCLA:
This engaging book provides a chance for young readers to learn about the death-defying attempts of black Americans to gain the inalienable rights promised in the Declaration of Independence...readers can appreciate how the American Revolution rattled the chains of slavery and expanded the boundaries of freedom beyond the Founding Fathers’ intentions. This book belongs in the library of every elementary and middle school.
Read short chapters aloud with 4th graders, share chapters with groups of 5th graders, or encourage older students to read this fascinating book independently. The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Calkins Creek / Boyds Mills Press. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Honoring & celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in the library (ages 6-10)

We celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day on the 3rd Monday of January by honoring the life and legacy of the man who brought hope and healing to America. Here are some resources you may find helpful in talking about this great man’s life and contributions with young children.


I Have a Dream, by Martin Luther King, Jr. and illustrated by Kadir Nelson. This book is a powerful way to share Dr. King's famous speech at the March on Washington. Kadir Nelson's paintings are not only a moving tribute, they provide a way for children to reflect on the meaning of King's words. A CD is included with a recording of Dr. King's speech.


Martin’s Big Words, by Dorreen Rappaport, illustrated by Brian Collier. This picture book biography is an excellent way to introduce children to Dr. King's life and work. I love the way Rappaport weaves quotes from Dr. King throughout the story, giving readers a real sense of the power of his words.

Martin & Mahalia: His Words, Her Song, by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Brian Pinkney. When Dr. King gave his famous "I Have a Dream" speech at the March on Washington, he asked gospel singer Mahalia Jackson to sing for the crowd, to lift their spirits, to inspire them with her voice. This picture book tells the story of both Martin and Mahalia, as they each found their passions and their voices. Part picture book biography, part story of a historic moment--this is an evocative picture book.

We Shall Overcome: The Story of a Song, by Debbie Levy, illusrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton. The song "We Shall Overcome" became an anthem of the Civil Rights Movement, but it has gone on to represent the fight for equality and freedom around the world. This picture book tells the history of the song, from its beginnings in America's harsh times of slavery through gospel songs of the early 20th century, to the protest movements of the 1960s.

Websites and online resources:
  • The King Center is both a traditional memorial and an active nonprofit committed to the causes for which Dr. King lived and died. Browse the digital archives; have students reflect on quotes.
  • I Have a Dream speech (audio only)
  • Time for Kids: One Dream -- 17 people remember the March on Washington. Time for Kids has an excellent mini-site dedicated to honoring Dr. King's work and legacy. I particularly like the One Dream video, with reflections of people including Representative John Lewis, Clarence Jones (speechwriter for Dr. King), Joan Baez and many others.
  • History.com: Martin Luther King, Jr. Leads the March on Washington This is a good, short video that explains the context of the March on Washington and its political message, but please preview because some of the scenes are intense.
As our communities struggle with the impact of racism near and far, it is important that we take time in our families and in our classrooms to reflect on Dr. King's message. I am inspired by the work of the artists and authors who share that message through their own work. And I am inspired by the thoughts my students have shared this week as they reflect on their hopes and dreams for a more just, more peaceful, more equitable society.

The review copies came from our school library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Hiawatha and the Peacemaker, by Robbie Robertson and David Shannon -- a stirring, heroic tale of peace (ages 9-12)

With the news so full of violence and conflicts, I yearn to share with my students stories that show us how to resolve their disputes large and small. Hiawatha and the Peacemaker, by legendary musician and songwriter Robbie Robertson, is a powerful, stirring tale of the brave Mohawk warrior who wants revenge but ends up leading six Iroquois tribes to peace, following the guidance of the Peacemaker.
Hiawatha and the Peacemaker
by Robbie Robertson
illustrated by David Shannon
Abrams, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 9-12
*best new book*
The path to peace is never easy--it's full of anger, turmoil and resistance. Hiawatha starts telling his tell by recounting how his family was killed in battle. Afterward, he could only think of taking revenge. But one morning, a man paddled across the water in a white stone canoe. The Peacemaker said to Hiawatha, in a halting voice,
"I-I-I know of your pain. I know of your loss. I carry a message of healing. I h-h-have come to tell you of the Great Law: Fighting among our people must stop. We must come together as one body, one mind, and one heart. Peace, power and righteousness shall be the new way."
"a man paddled gently toward me... (in) his hand-carved white stone canoe"
Robbie Robertson, who is of Mohawk and Cayuga heritage, first heard this story as a young boy visiting his relatives at Six Nations of the Grand River in southern Ontario, Canada. In his author's note, he recounts the day they journeyed through "the bush" to a longhouse and heard a respected Elder tell the story of the Great Peacemaker and his disciple, Hiawatha. Now Robertson, with the aid of his son, comes full circle to becomes the storyteller.

Young readers, especially in 4th through 7th grades, will grasp the difficulties Hiawatha faced, first battling his own rage and anger at his enemies, and later as he brought the Peacemaker's message to warring tribes. Healing can only be achieved by forgiveness and trust. Hiawatha was passionate and convincing delivering his message to the Seneca and others:
"We will all perish if we continue this violence. A change must come, and the time is now. Alone, we will be broken," I said, "but together we are more powerful than the greatest warrior."
Students will be able to see how this transformed the Iroquois nations to form the united league that eventually became the Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy. I think it would be fascinating for students to also apply these themes to conflicts we face today, whether in our local communities or in world politics.

David Shannon's illustrations are powerful, evocative and stunning. Although you may know him for his humorous No, David!, his picture book The Rough-Face Girl (with Rafe Martin) remains one of my all-time favorite folktales. In Hiawatha and the Peacemaker, he conveys both the heroic and mythological nature of the two main figures--but he also lets readers feel the anguish that results from the conflict and the power struggles. I found this interview with David Shannon at TeachingBooks very interesting.



Illustrations ©2015 David Shannon. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Abrams. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Monday, September 7, 2015

Honoring Cesar Chavez on Labor Day (ages 8-11)

I want to take a moment on Labor Day to honor Cesar Chavez and share a new biography that conveys his life and work clearly for young readers. This is a must-have for school libraries, and also a good choice to have at home.
Cesar Chavez
True Books biographies series
by Josh Gregory
Children's Press / Scholastic, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 8-11
Cesar Chavez changed conditions for farm laborers across the United States, especially in California. He helped farm workers come together to demand better working conditions and fair wages, and still inspires people today to stand up for their rights.
"Cesar Chavez changed farm labor in the United States."
Bright photographs will draw students in to this biography, but it's the overall design that makes me recommend it so highly. This biography is written in clear, short sentences -- but more than that, it is organized clearly in a way that helps students form a clear picture of his life. As you can see from these examples, each chapter has a meaningful title, and sections headings help students create a focus for their reading. Captions provide focused information, and are set out in red.
"Chavez talks with striking workers in a worker's home."
The timeline is one of my favorite features. It is often difficult for students to piece together the different parts of a person's life. Here, the timeline helps young readers see the key details progress in chronological order.
"1962: Chavez founds the National Farm Workers Association and begins gathering members."
This biography is available in paperback for home or classroom use. Our schools subscribe to TrueFlix, an online resource that lets students access full-text books as well as curated resources. I especially like the "read along" feature that provides full-text narration. Through this subscription, we have access to books on 18 different subject areas ranging from biographies to ancient civilizations to outer space.

You might also be interested in these picture books about the fight to improve the working conditions of farm workers in California:


The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Scholastic Library, as well as accessed through out TrueFlix subscription. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Celebrating Women's History Month with Leontyne Price & Mahalia Jackson (ages 5-9)

We celebrate Women's History Month each year, reading picture book biographies, investigating women through online sources and talking about women in our community. I'm happy to share today two new picture book biographies of inspiring African American singers, gospel singer Mahalia Jackson and opera singer Leontyne Price.
Mahalia Jackson
Walking with Kings and Queens
by Nina Nolan
illustrated by John Holyfield
Amistad / HarperCollins, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 5-9
Nolan introduces young readers to Mahalia Jackson, putting her life, passion and achievements in context. Right from the beginning, readers understand that music meant everything to Mahalia. I just love this opening spread:
"People might say little Mahalia Jackson was born with nothing, but she had something all right. A voice that was bigger than she was."
Although she was surrounded by all types of music in New Orleans and Chicago, Mahalia found comfort singing in church--especially given the hard times she experienced as a child. Nolan especially emphasizes Jackson's determination to pursue her singing and stay true to herself and her passion for gospel.
"Mahalia sang for as many people as she could. She knew gospel lifted people up. And when you know something like that, you've got to tell it to the world."
This is an important addition to our collection of picture book biographies. Pair this with Andrea Davis Pinkney's Martin and Mahalia: His Words, Her Song.
Leontyne Price:
Voice of a Century
by Carole Boston Weatherford
illustrated by Raul Colón
Knopf / Random House, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 5-9
I adore the beauty and strength in this new biography of opera singer Leontyne Price. Weatherford clearly introduces Price's life, showing how difficult it was for her to pursue singing as a career. Leontyne's family supported her passion for music: "Their song of encouragement rose above the color line." But it was Marian Anderson, the African American opera singer who gave a famous performance on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1939, who truly inspired Price.
"Singing along to her daddy James's records and listening to the Metropolitan Opera's Saturday-afternoon radio broadcasts...
Art songs and arias, shaping a brown girl's dreams."
Weatherford's language is poetic and beautiful, yet always simple enough for young students to understand.
"Leontyne was never more majestic than as Aida, playing the part she was born to sing... Standing on Marian's shoulders, Leontyne gave the crowd goose bumps. The song of her soul soared on the breath of her ancestors."
Raul Colón's soft watercolor illustrations capture Price's grace and grandeur, while still feeling personal. An inspiring combination of text and artwork that draws children to it right away.

Mahalia Jackson illustrations ©2015 by John Holyfield; used with permission from HarperCollins. Leontyne Price illustrations ©2015 by Raul Colón; used with permission from Random House. The review copies were kindly sent by the publishers. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

2015 Coretta Scott King Awards: celebrating African American culture and universal human values (ages 4-15)

Coretta Scott King Award
The Coretta Scott King Book Awards are a continued source of inspiration for me and the schools I serve. Each year, these awards are given to authors and illustrators for books that honor African American culture and universal human values. Today, I would like to share the winning books with you. As the award website states,
"The award commemorates the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and honors his wife, Mrs. Coretta Scott King, for her courage and determination to continue the work for peace and world brotherhood."
2015 CSK Illustrator Award
Firebird, illustrated by Christopher Myers and written by Misty Copeland. In this stirring, beautiful picture book, Copeland creates a conversation between a young girl who dreams of dancing and herself as a professional ballerina (my full review) Myers illustrations are full of vibrant, saturated colors and help children visualize a story as they listen to Copeland's poetic text.

I read Firebird today with 2nd graders -- Jeehyun said, "It's like it was showing the young girl's life cycle," as she grew up and followed her dreams. I smiled, as we thought back to Jeehyun in kindergarten and wondered what advice she would have to herself as she was just starting school. It was a magical moment to share.  Inspiring, for ages 6-10.

2015 CSK Illustrator Honor Awards:

Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Joesphine Baker, illustrated by Christian Robinson and written by Patricia Hruby Powell. I adore this beautiful biography that Patricia Hruby Powell & Christian Robinson created celebrating Baker's life and work (see my full review).  Christian Robinson captures Josephine's movement and playfulness with his gorgeous acrylic illustrations. Savor this long picture book biography over several sittings -- and notice how the pictures and words play off each other. For ages 8-12.

Little Melba and Her Big Trombone, illustrated by Frank Morrison and written by Katheryn Russell-Brown. As Kirkus writes, "Bewitched by the rhythms of jazz all around her in Depression-era Kansas City, little Melba Doretta Liston longs to make music in this fictional account of a little-known jazz great." Kids love the exaggerated illustrations that brim with humor, sass and verve--just like I imagine Melba's trombone playing did. A great picture book biography, for ages 4-8.

2015 CSK Author Award:
Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson, is a moving, evocative memoir in verse that paints a picture of what it was like to grow up black and female in the 1960s and 1970s (see my full review). This book was especially meaningful to several of my African American students, especially girls, who could relate to Jackie's experiences. This powerful book will now be decorated with four medals: the National Book Award, the Newbery Honor, the Coretta Scott King Award, and the Sibert Award for nonfiction. Excellent and outstanding in so many ways, best suited for ages 10-14.

2015 CSK Author Honor Awards:

The Crossover, by Kwame Alexander, was recognized for its portrayal of a close-knit African American family, loving and supportive but also rife with tension between the brothers. As you know, my students are **huge** fans of The Crossover. As I said to a friend when I first read it, I love how the characters' African American identity is an important part of the book, but not an issue in the story -- it's just part of who they are. Don't BOTH of those medals look fantastic on this cover? Fantastic for ages 9-14.

How I Discovered Poetry, by Marilyn Nelson, is memoir in verse that is based on Nelson's experiences growing up as a daughter of one of the first African-American career officers in the Air Force during the 1950s. Publisher's Weekly calls this "an intimate perspective on a tumultuous era and an homage to the power of language." To learn more, listen to this NPR interview with Nelson. I have not read this or shared it with students, so I'm not quite sure if it's best suited for ages 12 and up, or would be a good fit for our 5th graders.

How It Went Down, by Kekla Magoon, is a gripping novel for teens that is undeniably relevant to issues our society is grappling with around the country. As Publisher Weekly writes, Magoon "offers multiple, contradictory perspectives on the shooting of an African-American youth. No one disputes that 16-year-old Tariq Johnson was shot on the street by Jack Franklin, a white gang member, but the motives of both killer and victim remain fuzzy, as do the circumstances surrounding the shooting." While I have not read this, I am a big fan of Magoon's previous work and know this will be an intense and full of raw emotions, for ages 14 and up.

2015 John Steptoe Award for New Talent:
When I Was the Greatest, by Jason Reynolds. I have not read this, but friends are raving about this engaging story of urban teens Ali, Noodles and Needles. As the award committee writes, "In an authentic contemporary voice, Reynolds focuses on the importance of family, the acceptance of responsibility and the obligations of friendship and portrays a likeable teenager learning how to be a good man." Recommended for ages 12 and up.

Please seek out and share these books with kids in your life. They are each truly special. Early review copies were kindly sent by the publishers Penguin, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Lee & Low, and Chronicle Books. We have purchased additional copies for our school library and classrooms, and we will continue purchasing more for gifts. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Online Resources: exploring Japanese Americans' experiences during World War II (ages 8 and up)

As a school librarian, I want to find many ways to engage young children in exploring the world around them. Sometimes that comes from sharing a picture book or novel, and other times it might be helping them explore online resources. Recently I have been very moved by historical fiction about the experience of Japanese Americans during World War II, as they were forced from their homes following Executive Order 9066. Today I would like to share some online resources to help children learn more about these experiences.

The Remembrance Project is an initiative developed by the Japanese American National Museum which I highly recommend. As its website states, the Remembrance Project is
"a pioneering effort to build a permanent “living museum” online featuring the stories of those whose lives were forever changed by the signing of Executive Order 9066 by President Roosevelt on February 19, 1942, which instigated indignities and injustices for over 285,000 people of Japanese ancestry residing in the U.S. and abroad."
This introductory video featuring George Takei sets the stage for learning about the way Japanese Americans were treated here in America during World War II and the mission of the Remembrance Project. A short video like this helps children start building visual images to use in their understanding of historical events.


The Remembrance Project starts with a short introduction to Executive Order 9066, but students will be most interested in exploring pictures, memories and descriptions of the prison camps and people who lived through this ordeal. For example, I really wanted to learn about Minidoka Camp in Idaho, because Kirby Larson set part of her novel Dash in that camp. Tomorrow I will share more about this moving novel, but I want to start off by sharing these resources.
Students preparing to plant rye between classroom barrack buildings. Minidoka, ID. National Archives and Records Administration via the Remembrance Project
I especially like how easy it is to browse through the Remembrance Project, discovering information, photographs and primary source materials. This site will bring home for children how this is living history for many families, whether grandparents or great-grandparents had to go through this terrible experience.

For even more resource, check out the National Park Service website about the Japanese American Experience. This includes links to three National Park Service website as well as six other sites that children and families will find interesting.


I am very excited to share Dash by Kirby Larson with my students next week. I can't wait until Tuesday, August 26th, when it is released! Come back to my site on Tuesday for a full review (and giveaways!). In the meantime, here is the publisher's summary:
Although Mitsi Kashino and her family are swept up in the wave of anti-Japanese sentiment following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Mitsi never expects to lose her home--or her beloved dog, Dash. But, as World War II rages and people of Japanese descent are forced into incarceration camps, Mitsi is separated from Dash, her classmates, and life as she knows it. The camp is a crowded and unfamiliar place, whose dusty floors, seemingly endless lines, and barbed wire fences begin to unravel the strong Kashino family ties. With the help of a friendly neighbor back home, Mitsi remains connected to Dash in spite of the hard times, holding on to the hope that the war will end soon and life will return to normal. Though they've lost their home, will the Kashino family also lose their sense of family? And will Mitsi and Dash ever be reunited?
If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion & the Fall of Imperial Russia, by Candace Fleming (ages 12+)

Like many of my students, I love getting lost in a story--so absorbed that I am transported to that time and place, that I live with the characters in my mind. I just finished reading to a new biography of the Tsar Nicholas II of Russia and his family, the last of the mighty Romanov monarchy, and I couldn't put it down. I highly recommend the audiobook and think many teens and their families will find it fascinating.
The Family Romanov:
Murder, Rebellion & the Fall of Imperial Russia
by Candace Fleming
narrated by Kimberly Farr, et al.
Penguin Random House, 2014
Listening Library, 2014
Preview on Google Books
Your local library
Amazon / Audible
ages 12 and up
* best new book *
Candace Fleming pulls the reader into the story of the fall of Imperial Russia by providing both an intimate look at the royal family and a careful understanding of the political and social context of their time. It's interesting to read a story when you know the ending, but I found myself on the edge of my seat at several points, wondering just how it would turn out.

Tsar Nicholas II ruled over the immense Russian Empire, which stretched from the edge of Germany and the Baltic Sea all of the way across Europe and northern Asia to the Sea of Japan. He wed his beloved Princess Alix of Hesse in 1894, just weeks after he ascended to the throne.

But the world around them began crumbling under the weight of tremendous social inequalities and poverty, exacerbated by Nicholas's own ineffective political leadership. Fleming helps readers understand this context by using a myriad of primary sources: diaries, letters, first-hand accounts of life in Russia at the turn of the century. Fleming decided, according to an interview in Kirkus Reviews, to keep “any context as close to the story as possible.” These contemporary accounts help readers understand both the day to day lives of the Romanov family and also the discontent and anger that ran through Russia at the time.

Kimberly Farr imbues the audiobook with heart and soul, helping listeners connect with the family members and envision their world. She subtly changes her voice so listeners know when she's reading an actual letter or diary, bringing the myriad characters to life. I also really liked the way the producers used different narrators, often with Russian accents, to read diary excerpts from other individuals. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award for July 2014.

Show teens this video from History.com to get them interested in the mystery surrounding the Romanov's deaths. It's likely they know Anastasia from the animated film, but I'm guessing they don't realize its historical basis.

You might also have interested kids listen to Fleming talk on TeachingBooks.net about her inspiration for writing the book, which stems back to when she was a young teen and discovered a book on her mother's bookshelf. She then reads aloud a chapter from the book, to give readers a sense of her voice.

Other reviews:
The review copy comes from our home library, purchased from the terrific Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Monday, June 2, 2014

Common Core IRL: Life in Colonial America (grades 3-5)

Our older elementary students spend a lot of effort learning how to read and write informational texts, especially in 4th and 5th grades. The Common Core State Standards identify some of the key skills students need to master in this process. Students and teachers often ask their librarians for help finding resources for their research projects.

This year, both Cathy Potter (of the Nonfiction Detectives) and I have helped classes with research projects on the American Colonies. So we thought that we would share some of our resources as part of our ongoing Common Core IRL: In Real Libraries series. Check out these great posts this week:
Life in the American Colonies -- what an enormously huge topic. My biggest challenge in finding resources was helping students who are reading below grade level. They need clear information, well organized and presented, but not too complicated. Two books stood out to me from my search.
Life in a Colonial Town
(series: Picture the Past)
by Sally Senzell Isaacs
Heinemann / Capstone, 2001
Lexile 680 / GRL O
Your local library
Amazon
ages 8-12
Using clear, straightforward language, Isaacs describes daily life in the American colonies, primarily during the years 1650-1750. I especially like the basic introduction Isaacs provides in the first chapter, along with a simple timeline and map.
"A colony is like a small, new village or town. It is created in a country by people from a foreign, or different, country. Beginning about 400 years ago, people from Europe started coming to America to start colonies" (p. 4).
The text is organized into short two-page chapters, each focusing on a different aspect of everyday life. Students will gain a sense of colonists' houses, schooling, clothes and diets. I would recommend this book as a good starting place for students who need a basic introduction. It does not cover several topics my students were interested in, such as the conflict between Native Americans and European colonists, the slave trade, or religion. Here is another example of the text:
"Many colonists built wooden houses. The wood came from nearby forests. Most houses had a stone fireplace. Its fire heated the house. It was also used for cooking" (p. 12).
As students develop a clearer focus for their informational reports, they need books that go into more depth. But how can we do this for students who have trouble reading more complicated text? We have experimented with Capstone interactive ebooks and are liking our initial experience.

The real story about government and politics in colonial America
(series: Fact finders. Life in the American colonies)
by Kristine Carlson Asselin
Capstone, 2012
Lexile 720 / GRL T
Google Books preview
Your local library
Amazon
ages 9-12
Asselin examines how government was organized in the colonies and the relationship between European governing countries and the colonies. Students will find the description of leadership and government in different Native American societies, including the Iroquois and the Powhatan confederacies, very interesting. As the colonies grew, England developed more systematic forms of government for the colonies, with clearly established local roles.

"Each town or county elected two citizens to the colony's assembly."
Students have loved the audio narration that accompanies the Capstone interactive books--with a real human voice, and not just computer text-to-speech narration. These digital books have worked well on Chromebooks in the classroom, and are accessible to all students (we purchased an "unlimited copies" version for our school). We have integrated them into our FollettShelf, accessible through our Destiny Catalog and it has worked very well during our pilot year.

Both of these texts will help students with both reading and writing skills. As students read these texts, they must work to identify the author's main points and learn how to summarize the text (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.5.2). Teachers can use these as mentor texts, showing writing that introduces and develops a topic (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.5.2). For example, students and teachers could look at the way Asselin develops her main point about the role of governors in the colonies:
Much of the Common Core really continues our work helping students learn to read, understand and write informational texts. It is a difficult job, one that requires providing interesting materials that students can access independently as well as mentor texts we can look at together.

I am excited to read about other resources my colleagues have found in their search: Common Core IRL -- In Real Libraries. This week, we are excited to share:
The review copies came from our district library collection. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Writing nonfiction that honors women in history: an interview with Tracey Fern

As I explore Women's History Month with students, I want to help them think about how they can honor women in history. We talk about honoring women in their lives, because for young students the immediate it so important. But I'm also fascinated by the way authors investigate women whose stories we might not have heard yet.

Today, I'm thrilled to share with you an interview with Tracey Fern about her journey to learn about the life of Eleanor Prentiss and then writing Dare the Wind. My questions are in red; Tracey's answers follow in black.

MS: How did you first learn about Eleanor? What drew you to her story?

TF: I first learned about Eleanor when I was browsing through my local bookstore and happened upon David Shaw's book, Flying Cloud. I'm always on the lookout for strong female characters, and so I knew instantly that I wanted to write about Eleanor. Eleanor's story also combined adventure and science, two elements that I'm also often drawn toward. Finally, I'm a Massachusetts gal who grew up with the ocean and the beach in my backyard, and I love that Eleanor grew up here, too!

MS: Did you travel at all to do your research? What was your research process like?

TF: I traveled to Marblehead, Massachusetts while writing Dare the Wind. Marblehead was Eleanor's home town, and parts of the town still look much the way I imagine they looked when Eleanor walked its cobbled streets. I also visited the Mystic Seaport Museum in Connecticut and toured the USS Constitution in Boston harbor to get myself in a seafaring state of mind! My research process for this book was different from my usual research, because there are relatively few primary sources available. As a result, I relied more heavily on secondary sources than I typically do.

MS: I was amazed at how well you conveyed being on a ship at sea in a storm. Have you sailed like this at all?

TF: Thank you! I've been sailing before but never under the challenging conditions that Eleanor faced. I'm so happy that I could convey the sensations of being on a ship at sea in a storm to readers.
MS: Did you provide any guidance to Emily McCully to help her make sure the illustrations were historically accurate? What details do you want children to notice in the illustrations?

TF: I adore Emily's illustrations! She did her own research to ensure that her illustrations were accurate. I did send Emily a very detailed description of the Flying Cloud that was published at the time of the ship's launch. Some of the details that I love in Emily's illustrations are the wonderful spread of the Flying Cloud at the pier in New York City, the view of Ellen (Eleanor) below deck working on her charts which beautifully captures the feeling of motion in the tilt of the lamp above her head, and the cover illustration which shows the figurehead of an angel on the prow of the ship, mirroring Ellen and her telescope on deck. I especially love the cover illustration because it seems to capture the forward movement of Ellen's amazing journey!
MS: What was the most surprising thing you learned about Eleanor doing your research?

TF: The most surprising thing about Eleanor was just how ahead of her time she was. Not only did she assumed the role of navigator at a time when that was absolutely atypical for a woman, she also embraced the new navigational theories of Matthew Fontaine Maury, which went against the prevailing wisdom of the time. Eleanor was clearly a force to be reckoned with!

MS: Did you have to leave anything out that you really wanted to include?

TF: There's always so much more I'd love to include in all of my books! Believe it or not, Eleanor's journey was filled with even more exciting incidents, including a threatened mutiny that I simply couldn't include. I would have also loved to have included more details about Donald McKay, the builder of the Flying Cloud, and the ship-building process, but perhaps that's material for another book!

Thanks so much for your interest in Dare the Wind!

Thank you, Tracey! I loved sharing this story with students, and hearing their reactions. Eleanor was definitely a force to be reckoned with!

For more information, definitely check out Tracey's website. Illustration copyright © 2013 by Emily Arnold McCully, shared by permission from the publisher. The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Margaret Ferguson Books, Farrar Straus Giroux, an imprint of Macmillan Books. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books