Saturday, February 24, 2018

Five Fab Picture Books: African American Children (Preschool)


Gaia Cornwall, author and illustrator

Publisher Summary:  
Jabari is definitely ready to jump off the diving board.

He’s finished his swimming lessons.  He’s passed his swim test.  It’s just…maybe he should do some stretches first. 


Why It’s Fabulous:
The text and illustrations successfully depict the fear of trying something new and often seemingly scary.  The father is shown being affectionate and involved with his children.  However, he allows his son to work through his fears on his own for a while, but then steps in with wise advice when he is needed.  Jabari not only overcomes his fear, but he wants to continue being adventurous.   


Evan Kuhlman, author
Chuck Groenink

Publisher Summary:
Open this book if you want to meet a pill bug named Hank who is best friends with a girl names Amelia.  To the amazing story…


Why It’s Fabulous:
Young readers see the world from the perspective of the pill bug (Hank) as he passes a curious cricket, a weird worm, an industrial ant, a scary grasshopper, and an array of inanimate objects so he can meet up with his best friend, Amelia.  His day with her is a spunky backyard romp full of adventure, imagination, and fun.  As the day comes to a close, the perspective moves back to Hank’s world as he returns home to go to sleep.  The creative mixed media illustrations and the playful text make this tale of friendship a memorable story time selection.


Anna McQuinn, author
Rosalind Beardshaw, illustrator

Publisher Summary:
Lola really wants a cat.  But Mommy says pets are a lot of work.  Lola is eager to find out more. 

She reads all about cats at the library.  She takes extra good care of her stuffed cat toys.  When Lola finally gets to adopt a cat of her own, she knows just what to do.


Why It’s Fabulous:
Lola works to prove she is responsible and knowledgeable before her parents agree to grant her wish for a pet.  When they decide to add a furry member to their family, they adopt one from a shelter.  As the cat adjusts to her new home, Lola is patient and kind. Not only does she play and snuggle with her cat, she helps take care of her.  This sweet story is a wonderful addition to the Lola series. 


JaNay Brown-Wood, author
Priscilla, Burris, illustrator

Publisher Summary:
One grandma waits in her big easy chair, while TWO turkeys send scrumptious smells through the air…

It’s time to celebrate!  Count the festive foods, family, and friends at Granma’s feast.


Why It’s Fabulous:
Youngsters can count a long (1-15) as they listen to the smooth poetic text.  Lively people—young and old—and lots of delicious food fill each page.  When the house becomes overcrowded, a clever child comes up with the perfect solution. This celebration of family and friends proves it is the size of the heart, not the home that matters. 


Sandra L. Pinkney, author
Myles C. Pinkney, photographer-illustrator

Publisher Summary:
Children can be anything they want to be through the power of reading.  Through the Read and Rise literacy campaign, Scholastics teams up with the National Urban League to inspire African-American children to achieve their dreams.

Why It’s Fabulous:
The book begins with a poem by Maya Angelou.  A key line is, “Reading is the river to your liberty for all your life to come.” This theme is carried through on each page of photographs depicting children engaged in imaginative play and reading activities.  They are shown cuddled up with family members like fathers, mothers, and grandfathers reading and interacting.  The photographs are accompanied by lyrical text and interspersed with the refrain “read and rise.” This book is a wonderful celebration of the act and importance of reading. 

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Emmanuel’s Dream (Laurie Ann Thompson)




Illustrator Sean Qualls

Target Ages:  5 and up

Genre:  Picture Book Biography

Publisher Summary:
Here is the inspiring true story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah, who cycled an incredible four hundred miles across Ghana—with only one strong leg—to spread his powerful message:  disability does not mean inability.

First Lines:   
In Ghana, West Africa,
a baby was born:
Two bright eyes blinked in the light,
two tiny fists opened and closed,
but only one strong leg kicked.

Best Lines: 
But Emmanuel’s success goes even further than that.
He proved that one leg is enough to do great things—
and one person is enough to change the world.


Evaluation:
I have seen multiple blogs and sites give this book rave reviews for well over a year. As a result, I was so excited when my local library finally ordered a copy.  To say this biography is inspirational is an understatement! 

The word going through my head repeatedly is “Wow!”  I will admit.  I am a sucker for stories about people who overcome great odds and obstacles to succeed.  This story could not have come at a better time for me, having just failed at something I put my heart and soul into. I have been wondering…do I continue to pursue that path?  Are the obstacles worth it?  Reading Emmanuel’s story though puts life in perspective. 

He is born with a disability in a country where such people are relegated to beggars their whole lives.  He is unwilling to settle for what is expected.  Instead, he hops—literally—two miles everyday back and forth to school to get an education. He does chores like fetch water and pick coconuts. To make friends, he buys the one thing none of his classmates have--a soccer ball.  Emmanuel learns to play the game on crutches.  When his mother falls ill, he moves alone (at the age of 13) to a city to find work in order to send money home. 

What is truly amazing is his determination not just to ride a bike with only one leg, but also to ride across the country! He uses this event and others to advocate for people with disabilities.  According to the Author’s Notes, his work has helped countless disabled people to gain equal status and opportunities in Ghana. 

The story is well-written and engaging.  The illustrations work perfectly with the text and narrative. Mostly importantly, Emmanuel's life reminds us that all things are possible when we face challenges and obstacles with perseverance and hard work. For all those reasons, Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah is a perfect picture book. 

Activities and Extension Ideas for Lesson Plans:

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Five Fabulous Picture Books about African American Musical Artists


Nina Nolan, author
John Holyfield, illustrator

Publisher Summary:  
People might say little Mahalia Jackson was born with nothing, but she had something all right.  A voice that was bigger than she was. 

Mahalia’s extraordinary journey eventually took her to the historical March on Washington, where she sang to thousands and inspired them to find their own voices. 


Why It Is Fabulous:
Mahalia stuck with what she loved—Gospel music—and kept true to her promises—to never sing in a nightclub—even though compromising one or both would have likely given her quicker and greater success.   Despite many set backs and obstacles, she kept on singing.  Her perseverance and integrity pay off with a record deal and amazing performance opportunities. 


Alan Schroeder, author
Cornelius Van Wright & Ying-Hwa Hu, illustrators

Publisher Summary:
Straight up:  Florence was a remarkable child. Pint-sized dynamo “Baby Florence” Mills was singing and dancing just as soon as she could talk and walk.  Everywhere Flo went, she strutted through the streets of Washington D.C. with a high-steppin’ cakewalk.  Baby Flo went on to become an international superstar during the Harlem Renaissance—but first she had to overcome a case of stage fright and discover that winning wasn’t everything. 


Why It Is Fabulous:
The story centers on Florence Mills’ (Baby Flo) childhood singing and dancing for audiences—big and small.  She worked diligently to learn new songs and dance moves, allowing her to earn her first professional gig at the age of 7! The Author Notes illuminate more about her fascinating life.  This lively story of remarkable young girl will dance its way into your heart. 


Carole Boston Weatherford, author
Sean Qualls, illustrator

Publisher Summary:
Young John Coltrane was all ears.  And there was a lot to hear growing up in the South during the 1930s: church songs, preachers praying, music on the radio, the bustling of the household.  John was surrounded by all kinds of vivid noises that shaped his own sound as a musician. 


Why It Is Fabulous:
Written in lyrical free verse, the different influences on a young John Coltrane are revealed.  Musical influences like his daddy on the ukulele are juxtaposed with other influences like grandpa’s Sunday sermons and birds warbling at sunrise.  This brief introduction to the music legend shows the importance of everyday experiences and observations on a person’s development.  The Author’s Notes discuss Coltrane’s commitment to his music and some of his career highlights.  Reading and music selection suggestions are also included.


Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews, author
Bryan Collier, illustrator

Publisher Summary:
Hailing from the Treme’ neighborhood of New Orleans, where music always floated in the air, Troy “Trombone Shorty Andrews didn’t always have the money to buy an instrument, but he did have a dream to play music.  This is the (autobiographical) story of how he made his dream take flight.


Why It Is Fabulous:
Trombone Shorty listened to all the sounds in his world and mixed them together to create his own “musical gumbo.” He began his musical journey when he found an old trombone that looked too broken down to make music.  Even though the instrument was initially too big for him, he practiced day and night to learn how to play.  His hard work eventually pays off.  Trombone Shorty reminds readers it is never too early to begin following your passion, and the only way to succeed is hard work.  


Michael Mahin, author
Evan Turk, illustrator

Publisher Summary:
Muddy Waters was never good at doing what he was told.  His tenacious streak carried him from the hardscrabble fields of Mississippi to the smoky juke joints of Chicago and finally to a recording studio where Muddy’s signature sound was captured and a landmark record was made.  Soon the world fell in love with the indomitable spirit of Muddy Waters, whose electric sound laid the groundwork for what would become rock and roll. 


Why It Is Fabulous:
The smooth jazz-inspired text tells an engaging story.  Muddy’s determination to find his voice and his struggle to play his own way is inspiring.  He overcomes personal and professional obstacles, but he never gives up hope that he will succeed. 

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Frederick Douglass Books

Looking to teach your students or children about a great American?  Frederick Douglass is the perfect choice!  He was a real life hero, whose tireless work for human rights resonates generations after his death. Read on to find out more…and to enter to win a giveaway.


Nancy I. Sanders

I was immediately caught up in Douglass’ life story!  This resource is written in an appealing way both in the storytelling of his life as well as with the inclusion of documents, quotes, and pictures. There are also sidebars of information on other relevant people and events. The text is engaging enough to read out loud to younger children or to offer to older ones to read independently.

Teachers and parents will find Frederick Douglass For Kids: His Life and Times with 21 Activities is an excellent introduction to a study of this great man.  It covers his life from birth to death in seven chapters.  In addition, there are several activities from crafts to recipes for lesson plans at school or extension ideas at home.

While reading this resource, here is what I learned about Frederick Douglass…

Douglass embraced education. As a life-long learner, he epitomizes how reading and learning frees the mind and the spirit. His speaking was so articulate and intelligent, people began to doubt he was ever a slave!  He demonstrates an essential truth: Education is the ticket out of poverty and ignorance.

Douglass is a symbol of determination. Refusing to move to an inferior train car due to the Jim Crow laws, he help pave the way to change the law so whites and blacks traveled as equals on the rail line in the state (before the Civil War was even fought). He was instrumental in other similar laws being changed.

Douglass was brave. Not only did he escape slavery, he spoke publicly against it. Slave hunters could have captured him and returned him to his owner, but he was not deterred. Though he had opportunities to leave America to go where he would be treated as an equal and no longer fear for his life, he chose to stay and to fight for equality.

Douglass was a hard worker. He was not too proud to take whatever work he could get to support his wife and children.  Though the work was often beneath his skill level and intellect, he did what he had to. 

Douglass did not give in to hate—even though it would have been an understandable response based on his experiences and treatment.  He worked along side both Whites and Blacks toward common goals.  Though he did not agree on all of President Lincoln’s policies, he met with and developed a great respect for him.  Also, there were many objections to his second marriage. Nevertheless, he married a white woman he fell in love with. 

Douglass fought for others. Not content with being free himself, he worked to help others who escaped slavery.  Along with other abolitionist, he convinced the state of Massachusetts to change its laws to protect former slaves.  During the Civil War, he met with President Lincoln where he advocated for equal pay, protection, and recognition for Black soldiers.  Eventually, all those policies were enacted. 

Douglass was a visionary. As the war came to a close, he knew that just freeing the slaves was not enough.  He urged antislavery societies to focus on bringing “freedoms and civil rights to the former slave.”

Douglass believed in the constitution. Unlike some in the abolitionist movement, he rejected the idea of abstaining from voting because the constitution was an unsound document that promoted slavery.  Instead, he asserted, “that the Constitution of the United States not only contained no guarantees in favor of slavery, but, on the contrary, was in letter and spirit an antislavery instrument, demanding the abolition of slavery as a condition of its own existence as the supreme law of the land.” 

Picture Books about Frederick Douglass


Suzanne Slade, author
Robert McGuire, illustrator
Beautiful illustrations and straightforward text give a brief overview of Douglass’ life.  This book is perfect for young readers.


Doreen Rappaport, author
London Ladd, illustrator
Douglass’ own words are mingled in with this more detailed account.  Striking illustrations and absorbing storytelling reveal key moments of his life as a slave, his daring escape, and his abolitionist work. 


Lesa Cline-Ransome, author
James E. Ransome, illustrator
Written in first person through Douglass’ perspective growing up, the impact and power of words is focus.  This story highlights his determination to learn reading and writing skills. The narrative illustrates how he was free inside, as a result of his ability to read and to write, well before he was free physically.  In addition, he began to teach other slaves these skills before he executed his first attempt to escape (which is where the story ends).

If you would like to win a copy of Frederick Douglass For Kids: His Life and Times with 21 Activities, enter on Rafflecopter.  U.S. residents only.  One person will be chosen at random on February 28.  




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Friday, February 16, 2018

A Wrinkle in Time (Madeleine L’Engle)




Target Ages:  10 and up

Genre:  Fantasy

Award:  Newbery Award and Lewis Carroll Shelf Award

Publisher Summary:
It was a dark and stormy night; Meg Murry, her small brother Charles Wallace, and her mother had come down to the kitchen for a midnight snack when they were upset by the arrival of a most disturbing stranger.

“Wild nights are my glory,” the unearthly stranger told them. “I just got caught in a downdraft and blown off course. Let me be on my way. Speaking of way, by the way, there is such a thing as a tesseract.”

Meg’s father had been experimenting with this fifth dimension of time travel when he mysteriously disappeared. Now the time has come for Meg, her friend Calvin, and Charles Wallace to rescue him. But can they outwit the forces of evil they will encounter on their heart-stopping journey through space?

Memorable Lines:
Life, with its rules, its obligations, and its freedoms, is like a sonnet: You’re given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself.

We can’t take credit for out talents.  It’s how we use them that count.

Just because we don’t understand doesn’t mean that the explanation doesn’t exist.

Evaluation: 
I just finished A Wrinkle in Time for the third time. The first time I read it was in grade school.  I was in college the second time. This time, I listened to it on CD as a refresher for the upcoming movie.

I generally like the protagonist in children’s novels.  However, this one is an exception.  Meg is a bit too whiny and insecure.  She has unrealistic expectations, especially of her father.  She often grated on my nerves. On the plus side, she is a devoted sister and friend.  

The other main characters are likable. Calvin is kind and protective of Meg while being her biggest advocate.  Charles Wallace is wise, brave, and helpful. 

The adults are admirable and trustworthy.  From Mrs. Murry to the three Miss W’s, all the women are strong and smart, but also resourceful and compassionate. Mr. Murry is a devoted father. The Murry’s are steadfast in their commitment to one another despite their involuntary separation.

The plot is paced well. The creatures and planets are imaginative and exciting. However, the ending wrapped up a little too quickly and easily, but it was satisfying.  The main plot points come to a close while leaving it open for the sequel. 

The motifs are powerful—family, love, courage, non-conformity, and friendship.  Children who feel like outsiders—externally or internally—will connect with the heroic trio.  For those who like deeper discussions, there is plenty to mine. 

A Wrinkle in Time was a memorable book for me as a kid.  The unforgettable motifs, characters, and plot have kept it relevant five decades after its first printing. 

Ideas for Extension Activities at Home or Lesson Plans for Teachers:
Teacher’s Guide from MacMillan

For more Middle Grade book recommendations, visit the MMGM round up.  


Five Fab Picture Books: African American Children (Preschool)

Jabari Jumps Gaia Cornwall, author and illustrator Publisher Summary :   Jabari is definitely ready to jump off the diving boar...