Nancy Brashear and Carolyn Angus
This column features books that introduce readers to stories about people, places, and events from the distant past to recent times, including some stories that young people will not encounter in their textbooks. The books are notable for presenting history from interesting points of view and perspectives in engaging formats and for encouraging contemplation and conversation about how the past is shaping the history that is being made now and will be made in the future.
America Redux: Visual Stories from Our Dynamic History. Ariel Aberg-Riger. (2023). Balzer + Bray.
America Redux offers readers a brilliant and completely entrancing new way of seeing American history through visual storytelling. In 21 nonlinear chapters (each introduced with a catchy title and quotation) filled with mixed-media collages created with archival photographs, maps, graphic images, and excerpts from documents and a lively text presented in handwritten typeface, Ariel Aberg-Riger immerses readers in an exploration of thematic stories that have shaped our sense of the history of America for centuries, including what is not in our textbooks. For example, the first chapter, “In the Good Old Days,” covers how The United Daughters of the Confederacy (formed in 1894) became an “army of influence” that got textbooks banned and teachers fired, affecting the way generations of children learned about American history into the 1970s, and also notes the struggle to control the historical narrative that continues today. America Redux ends on a thought-provoking note: “We can’t change the past. But we can live in relationship with it in a way that informs and energizes our present.” Back matter includes acknowledgments, image sources, a selected bibliography, and an index. (Gr 9-12)
Ancestory: The Mystery and Majesty of Ancient Cave Art. Hannah Salyer. (2023). Clarion.
Hannah Salyer introduces young readers to cave art, “the ancient rock paintings, drawings, and etchings” that are time capsules telling the stories of our ancient past. With a spare informative text and stunning double-spread artwork (including a dramatic double gatefold) created using ceramic sculpture, photography, colored pencil, charcoal, pigment, and digital media, she tells the story of how our ancient ancestors produced works of art using pigments made from minerals and handmade tools to draw and etch on stone. Today, archaeologists continue to study the details of the stories being told in ancient cave art found all over the world and are working with Indigenous people from communities with connections to these ancient sites that “hold pieces of our history on the planet.” Back matter includes a world map of rock art sites that have been rediscovered, “A Story Within a Story” about the wall paintings in the Lascaux Caves rediscovered in the south of France in 1940, an author’s note, a glossary, a time line, and resources for further reading and investigation. (Gr 3 Up)
Last Flight. Kristen Mai Giang. Illus. by Dow Phumiruk. (2023). Levine Querido.
This informational picture book, presented from the viewpoint of an eight-year-old girl, is based on author Kristen Mai Giang’s constructed memories from family interviews and other sources of leaving on the last commercial flight out of Saigon, a rescue mission carrying more than 400 people on April 24, 1975, just six days before Saigon surrendered to the North Vietnamese Army. When her family disembarks in the United States, the girl stands atop the steps looking down at the tarmac, frozen in place until she draws courage from remembering how she and her mom navigated busy Saigon streets. Sharing Ma and Ba’s wisdom with her younger sister, she says, “Don’t be afraid. Just walk. Don’t stop,” and they enter their new world. Dow Phumiruk’s mixed-media illustrations capture the emotions and actions of the people portrayed as they make their flight from the war-torn country to begin a new life. Back matter includes a photograph of Giang’s family taken shortly after they arrived in the U. S., an author’s note, flight facts, and a bibliography. (PreK Up)
A Long Time Coming: A Lyrical Biography of Race in America from Ona Judge to Barack Obama. Ray Anthony Shepard. Illus. by R. Gregory Christie. (2023). Calkins Creek.
In this collective biography of race in America, organized in three parts: 1773-1913 Enslavement and Emancipation, 1862-1968 Freedom and Justice, and 1961-2008 The Promise of America, Ray Anthony Shepard’s story-poems focus on significant events in the lives of six Black Americans who heroically faced the challenges of their times to fight for freedom and justice: Ona Judge, Fredrick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Ida B. Wells, Martin Luther King Jr., and Barack Obama. In the epilogue, Shepard’s poem “The Long Time,” in which each stanza ends with “It was a long time coming,” celebrates the legacy of each of these Black leaders with verses—dated from 1796 for Ona Judge to 2009 for Barack Obama—and two additional stanzas, Today and Tomorrow. The extensive back matter of this informative and accessible biography-in-verse, which is complemented by R. Gregory Christie’s black-and-white artwork done in gouache and India ink, includes a timeline, further reading, a bibliography, source notes, and an index. (Gr 6 Up)
Pictured Worlds: Masterpieces of Children’s Book Art by 101 Essential Illustrators from Around the World. Leonard S. Marcus. (2023). Abrams.
In this beautifully designed volume celebrating the history of the illustrated picture book, Leonard S. Marcus features 101 illustrators from around the world who have made significant contributions to the art of children’s book creation. Each four-page entry includes a photograph, biography, and career overview of the artist and a profile of one of their books with an “about the book” note, photographs of illustrations from the book, and its publication history. About one-third of the books were originally published in the U. S. Marcus’s presentation of the illustrators in alphabetical order—from Akaba Suekichi (born 1910, Tokyo, Japan; died 1990, Tokyo, Japan) to Lisbeth Zwerger (born 1954, Vienna, Austria)—effectively keeps the focus on artistic innovations in children’s books. Back matter includes acknowledgments, a chronology of the featured books, source notes, and image credits. Pictured World is a 431 page treasure-trove of a reference about children’s book art. Readers will find themselves revisiting favorites from their own childhood experiences with books and also discover illustrators whose books they want to explore. (Adult)
The Plot to Kill a Queen. Deborah Hopkinson. (2023). Scholastic.
In Deborah Hopkinson’s spy story set in 1582 presented as a play in three acts, 13-year-old lutest Emilia Bassano sneaks out in boy’s clothing to see a production because she is writing a play of her own for a contest. On the way to the theater, Emelia is robbed of her coins right before she overhears part of a conversation by two men: “kill the imposter” and “smuggled letters in and out of Sheffield.” Running into 18-year-old Will Shakespeare, who also traveled to the play to study writing craft, she agrees to his sneaking her into the attic to view the play. After Emilia reports what she has heard to her guardian, Sir Francis Walsingham, Queen Elizabeth’s spymaster, he dispatches her to Sheffield Castle on a secret mission as a court musician to locate the spies of Mary, Queen of Scots, who is imprisoned there, and foil the plot to kill her cousin, Queen Elizabeth, to regain the throne. A cast, in order of appearance, is listed in the front of the book and asides to readers about theatrical productions (playbill, prologue, curtain call) and insets of an historical nature (photographs, maps, and diagrams) are interspersed throughout the story. The back matter includes historical notes, a timeline of actual events, Emilia’s one-act play “The Princess Saves the Cakes” (with production permission), acknowledgments, illustration credits, and an “about the author” note. (Gr 6-8)
Small Shoes, Great Strides: How Three Brave Girls Opened Doors to School Equality. Vaunda Micheaux Nelson. Illus. by Alex Bostic. (2023). Carolrhoda.
On November 10, 1960, six-year-olds Leona Tate, Tessie Prevost, and Gail Etienne stepped into history when, escorted by U. S. Marshals past a mob of protestors, they walked into McDonogh No. 19 Public School in New Orleans. Vaunda Micheaux Nelson tells this little-known story of the Civil Rights Movement from the points of view of the three first-graders who were the first black children to enter a previously all-white public school in Louisiana. (Ten minutes later, Ruby Bridges entered William Frantz Elementary School across town.) Alec Bostic’s exquisite artwork features expressive portraits of the courageous girls who “opened doors to school equality.” Back matter includes “After McDonogh 19: ‘House of Horror’—Thomas J. Semmes Elementary” about the racist mistreatment the girls faced after a transfer to this school for third grade; more about school desegregation in New Orleans; a photograph and information on Norman Rockwell’s 1964 painting The Problem We All Live With, published to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling; a “More About the McDonogh Three” section with photos; information on the U. S. Marshals Service; an author’s note; a glossary; websites; a selected bibliography; and a page of quotes and captioned photographs. (Gr 3 Up)
Stars of the Night: The Courageous Children of the Czech Kindertransport. Caren Stelson. Illus. by Selina Alko. (2023). Carolrhoda.
Caren Stelson begins this true story in 1938 with young Jewish children living in Prague when, as Hitler’s antisemitic campaign is sweeping through Europe, their parents meet with a man to arrange for them to join the Czech Kindertransport. In March 1939, as German soldiers march into the city, their parents whisper a final goodbye, “Let the stars of the night and the sun of the day be the messenger of our thoughts and love,” and the children board a train to begin their long journey to safety in England. Returning to Prague at the end of the war, most of the Czech Kindertransport children discovered their parents had perished during the Holocaust. Fifty years pass before the survivors learn the name of the man who had arranged for the rescue of 669 Jewish children from Czechoslovakia: Nicholas Winton. Five children, identified by different colored clothing, are followed throughout the book in Selina Alko’s evocative mixed-media illustrations. Back matter features information about the Kindertransport Movement, a timeline, “Winton’s Children” (the five children highlighted in the book), “Stars in Another Night: the Yad Vashem’s Children’s Memorial” in Jerusalem, a note on the needs of refugee children in the world today, author’s and illustrator’s notes, source notes, a selected bibliography, and recommendations for further reading. (Gr 3 Up)
Windrush Child: The Tale of a Caribbean Child Who Faced a New Horizon. John Agard. Illus. by Sophie Bass. (2023). Candlewick.
John Agard’s lyrical poem tells the story of the journey of a young Caribbean boy and his parents as they leave their island family to move to England aboard the ship Empire Windrush. “Behind you / Windrush child / palm trees wave goodbye.” During the long journey, the boy worries about the future— “… doors closing and opening // will things turn out right?” Once in London, he shares his Windrush adventure in a letter to his grandmother, who had told him “you’re stepping into history / bringing your Caribbean eye / to another horizon.” The final stanza ends with the boy being welcomed by new friends “… in a mind-opening / meeting of snow and sun.” Sophie Bass’s evocative gouache-and-pen illustrations on single- and double-spread pages contain strong figures and vivid colors that reinforce the emotions of leaving one’s past life to embrace a new home. Back matter includes a note from the author about the Windrush Generation, who relocated from the Caribbean to Britain between 1948 and 1971, and short author and illustrator biographies. (PreK-Gr 2)
Nancy Brashear is Professor Emeritus of English at Azusa Pacific University, in Azusa, California. Carolyn Angus is former Director of the George G. Stone Center for Children’s Books, Claremont Graduate University, in Claremont, California.
Poetry engages us through its sounds, rhythms, and language. I chose the ten picture books reviewed in this column (including one anthology and a lift-the-flap board book), written by creative poets and presented with eye-catching artwork and typography, because they entice young readers to use their imaginations, to be curious, and to ponder the answers to questions. What would happen outside if we hid away inside our homes? How do people deal with danger? How are we connected to each other and nature? Readers of all ages are sure to delight in these engaging and thought-provoking read-aloud books.
The Animals Come Out. Susan Vande Griek. Illus. by Josée Bisaillon. (2023). Groundwood.
Susan Vande Griek’s opening poem, paired with an illustration showing children playing in a living room, poses the question “Do you ever wonder / what we would see / if you and me / oh, all of us, / just hid away / for days and days?” If we stayed inside, the poem continues, when we looked out our windows “we might see / THE ANIMALS / COME OUT!” The next eight poems and illustrations feature different animals (deer, mallard ducks, bunnies, coyotes, mountain goats, porcupines, foxes, and birds) exploring lawns, streets, sidewalks, gardens, and other outdoor places as a child or adult observes them from a window. The final poem, set against a double-spread illustration showing many animals peacefully roaming outside while people sleep in their beds, ends with “And then we see / how we and they / share this earth, / all share this space.” Josée Bisaillon’s vibrant collage, mixed media artwork enhances the playful spirit of the poems in this engaging picture book. (PreK Gr 2)
How to Write a Poem. Kwame Alexander & Deanna Nikaido. Illus. by Melissa Sweet. (2023). Quill Tree.
Opening with “Begin / with a question, / like an acorn / waiting for spring,” Kwame Alexander and Deanna Nikaido invite children to discover their own poetry. The spare free verse text takes readers through steps of closing their eyes and opening their minds, listening to nature for inspiration, diving into their imaginations, discovering sounds and words and connecting them with emotions and dreams, and nurturing words in their hearts until the words are there “to slide down your pencil” onto the blank page. An introductory quote from Nikki Giovanni—“We are all either wheels or connectors. Whichever we are we must find truth and balance, which is a bicycle.”—served as inspiration for Melissa Sweet’s artwork (collages created with mixed media, handmade and vintage papers, and beach pebbles) that extends the playful, metaphoric imagery of Alexander and Nikaido’s poetry. The final double spread pictures children balancing bicycle-like interconnected circles and the prompt “Now, show us what you’ve found.” The back matter includes notes from Alexander and Sweet. (PreK Up)
Imagine a Garden: Stories of Courage Changing the World. Rina Singh. Illus. by Hoda Hadadi. (2023). Greystone Kids.
In this inviting picture book of free-verse poems, Rina Singh paints vivid word images about the actions of seven everyday people from around the world (a mother, dancer, teacher, coach, teenager, artist, and restaurant owner) who fostered hope in their communities facing challenges. For example, in “The Ballet Teacher,” a young woman in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, teaches 49 little girls ballet as an antidote to the danger of bullies patrolling with rifles. After a shooting during which they had to shelter quietly, “They dance, / trampling the sounds of fear / beneath their feet.” Hoda Hadadi’s expressive illustrations, rendered in tissue-paper collage, work seamlessly with the text to capture the essence of the bravery and resilience of each of these individuals making changes in the world. The back matter provides the backstory of each poem and names the person whose story is told and includes an author’s note on how “even our smallest actions can be world changing.” (PreK Up)
Peek-a-Boo Haiku. Deanna Smith. Illus. by Teagan White. (2023). Little Simon.
Eight haiku relate to animals (hare, fox, bird, ladybug, otter, turtle, squirrel, owl) that are hidden behind the easy-to-lift flaps on the colorful double-spread pages which depict nature scenes reflecting seasonal changes from winter to fall in this sturdy board book. For example, “sea of fallen leaves / divers search for lost treasure— / a golden acorn”) provides a clue to the identity of the creatures behind the two flaps on a fall woodland scene. “Peek-a-boo, squirrel!” This is a book that young children will enjoying reading again and again—listening to these clever haiku and voicing the peek-a-boo identification of the animals revealed when they lift the flaps as well as talking about the details pictured such as the plants and other animals (including one or two small mice) on each double spread. (PreS)
Remember. Joy Harjo. Illus. by Michaela Goade. (2023). Random House Studio.
Joy Harjo, member of the Mvskoke Nation, adapted her poem “Remember,” written in 1983, in this creative partnership with Tlingit illustrator Michaela Goade to produce a thought-provoking picture book for all ages. With the repeated use of “Remember,” Harjo prompts readers to reflect upon who they are (“Remember the sky that you were born under, / know each of the star’s stories”) and how they are connected to the earth and all living things and ends with “Remember you are this universe. // And this universe is you. // Remember.” Harjo’s spare meditative text and Goade’s stunning double-spread illustrations, created with watercolor, gouache, and colored pencils, celebrate the stories and traditions of their Mvskoke and Tlingit cultures. Back matter includes Harjo’s note on the need for poetry in our lives and the importance of remembering and telling our own stories and Goade’s note on the inspiration for her illustrations, done in the traditional art style of Indigenous nations along the Pacific Northwest coast that reflect the Tlingit land and stories. (All ages)
Soccer Queens (Sports Royalty). Charles R. Smith Jr. (2023). Candlewick.
In this collection of 13 poems, Charles R. Smith introduces women professional soccer stars from different eras with energetic poems complemented with photo-illustration artwork. For example, Carli Lloyd is featured in the poem titled “Lightning” reflecting on Lloyd’s quick footwork on the field. “Ominous / clouds / erase the blue sky / as cleats / churn / and burn / and fly, / . . . as Lightning Lloyd SCORCHES the net.” The poem is visually displayed in the shape of a vertical lightning strike. Ten other poems feature individual “soccer queens” Abby Wambach, Alex Morgan, Christen Press, Crystal Dunn, Julie Ertz, Kelly O’Hara, Megan Rapinoe, Rose Lavelle, Tobin Heath, and Mia Hamm, while two goalkeepers, Briana Scurry and Alyssa Naeher, are featured in “The Protectors.” The final poem pays tribute to the USA team that won the Women’s World Cup in 1999. Back matter includes a photograph of the 1999 team and notes about the women athletes Smith chose to spotlight in these poems. (Gr 3 Up)
Sometimes I Feel Like a River (Sometime I Feel Like #2). Danielle Daniel. Illus. by Josée Bisaillon. (2023). Groundwood.
In 12 short poems, each beginning with a “Sometimes I feel like a . . . ” refrain, children express how they feel about different aspects of the natural world. For example, “Sometimes I feel like a river, / bending and flowing fast, / I twist, I turn around every obstacle, / finding my way forward again.” In other poems, young children make connections to the sun, a mountain, the sky, a cloud, thunder, rain, a rainbow, the ocean, a forest, a star, or the moon. Josée Bisaillon’s vibrant mixed media illustrations playfully show the connections the youngsters share with nature. Back matter features “A Mindful Walk or Roll” activity to involve readers in exploring and appreciating their surroundings ends with “As you walk or roll, quietly absorbing all the sights and sounds around you, may your heart be filled with thanks,” and an author’s note about how we are all connected with each other and the natural world. (PreK-Gr 2)
Trees: Haiku from Roots to Leaves. Sally M. Walker. Illus. by Angela Mckay. (2023). Candlewick.
In Trees, Sally Walker introduces young readers to trees through a collection of haiku organized in ten sections from “In Times Long Past” where “for millions of years / gargantuan tree ferns ruled / Earth’s wet, warm forests” to present-day “Urban Forests” in which “pavement, steel, and glass / surround trees in tamed places . . . / urban oases.” Angela Mckay’s colorful, stylized artwork, done in gouache, provides visual stories of the scientific content in the poems to aid understanding. Extensive back matter includes a time line; additional scientific information related to each of the ten sections of the book; an author’s note; a glossary; and recommendations for further exploration: “Go outside! Look closely at trees and leaves,” as well as books and websites. For more haiku and science, check out Walker’s Earth Verse: Haiku from the Ground Up (2018) and Out of This World: Star-Studded Haiku (2022). (PreK Up)
Welcome to the Wonder House. Rebecca Kai Dotlich & Georgia Heard. Illus. by Deborah Freeman. (2023). Wordsong.
Each of the 12 rooms in the Wonder House has a different theme including curiosity, creatures, science, imagination and wishes. Double-spread pages present one, two, or more poems by Rebecca Kai Dotlich and Georgia Heard on dreamy, pastel illustrations (done in mixed media) by Deborah Freeman that support the room’s theme. The first room, the Room of Curiosity, addresses the overall theme of the book with a poem full of questions by Dotlich that ends with the line “We wonder about so many things!” and Heard’s rhyming couplet “Keep an open heart, / that’s where curiosity likes to start.” The final double spread dramatically proclaims “The Wonder House is our whole world . . . .” An appended “A Note About Wonder,” written by both authors in free verse, challenges readers to use their imagination and creativity and find wonder everywhere and suggests nine activities. (PreK Up)
Where I Live: Poems About My Home, My Street, and My Town. Paul B. Janeczko (Ed.). Illus. by Hyewon Yum. (2023). Candlewick.
This collection of 34 previously-published poems selected by prolific poet and anthologist Paul B. Janeczko prior to his death in 2019 celebrate daily life from the points of view of children. Sorted into three categories: Home, Street, and Town, the short poems, written in a mix of poetic styles and devices, make for interesting independent reading as well as an engaging read-aloud experience. Hyewon Yum’s illustrations, done in colored pencil and water color, feature children and other people and their activities in various places and add warm, visual details that appeal to the imagination and senses. Adults sharing Where I Live with children will find some of their favorites included in each section (my favorites: Valerie Worth’s “back yard” in Home; Linda Sue Park’s “October” in Street, and Langston Hughes’ “City” in Town). Young readers will enjoy identifying their favorite poems as well as talking about what makes their own homes, streets, and towns special. (PreK Up)
Nancy Brashear is Professor Emeritus of English at Azusa Pacific University, in Azusa, California.
Nancy Brashear and Carolyn Angus
The picture book biographies reviewed in this column introduce readers of all ages to creative individuals who have made notable contributions in the visual, literary, and performing arts. Included are books that are great choices for reading aloud to spark interest and discussion in classrooms, libraries, and homes as well as for independent reading.
Christo and Jeanne-Claude Wrap the World: The Story of Two Groundbreaking Environmental Artists. G. Neri. Illus. by Elizabeth Haidle. (2023). Candlewick.
Christo (1935-2020), a poor refugee from Eastern Europe, and Jeanne-Claude (1935-2009), the rich stepdaughter of a French general, met when Christo was commissioned to paint portraits of her family. After Christo shared his “wrapped art” (objects wrapped in cloth and rope) with her, she realized that it was “revealing—while concealing” and asked, “If you can wrap cans and bottles, why not wrap everything?” They fell in love and spent the rest of their lives together, wrapping and surrounding monuments, buildings, landscapes, and even an island with fabrics. Their public art installations included 23 finished projects, some that took decades to complete. For example, ”L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped” was begun in 1962 but not completed until 2021, a year after Christo’s death. Elizabeth Haidle’s stylized mixed-media artwork complements G. Neri’s text with real and imagined dialogue that expresses the collaboration of Christo and Jeanne-Claude whose realized environmental art enlivened the “What Is Art” question. Back matter includes additional biographical information, an author’s note, a collection of fun facts about the couple, and a bibliography (books, films, website). (PreK Up)
The Green Piano: How Little Me Found Music. Roberta Flack (with Tonya Bolden). Illus. by Hayden Goodman. (2023). Anne Schwartz.
Through a simple lyrical text accompanied by Hayden Goodman’s joyous gouache paintings, singer Roberta Flack (b. 1937) tells the story of her childhood growing up in a musical family in the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina and, later, Green Valley, Virginia. As a young child, she loved to sit at the piano in the church where her mother was the organist and pianist, imagining she was playing hymns to a congregation. “At age three, maybe four, / there was me / at the keys / of that church piano.” She dreamed of having her own piano one day. When her daddy found an old junkyard piano that he and her mother cleaned up, painted green, and gave to the nine-year-old Roberta, she was set on the path to achieving her even bigger dream: “Of a life / all wrapped up in / the majesty, / the magic / of music— / my treasure, / my gold.” Back matter of this soulful autobiography includes an author’s note with photographs and a timeline of career highlights. (PreK Up)
Just Jerry: How Drawing Shaped My Life. Jerry Pinkney. (2023). Little, Brown.
In this moving memoir, Jerry Pinkney (1939-2021) tells of his post-World
War II childhood experiences of growing up in a large, loving family on East Earlham Street, an all-Black block in Philadelphia. Jerry, who had school problems (unidentified dyslexia), was always drawing. Although drawing was the one thing he knew he was good at, dreaming of becoming an artist was not realistic. “And in the world in which I was living to be anything or go anywhere was not a dream that young Black boys often dared to have.” But, with encouragement from teachers and mentoring by newspaper comic-strip artist John Liney, who recognized his talents, Pinkney persisted in studying art and became one of the most celebrated children’s book illustrators of all time. The warm conversational tone of Pinkney’s narrative and the abundance of his rough sketchbook drawings makes Just Jerry a book to treasure along with all of his classic picture books (the covers of a few of these are shown in the “What Happened Next” epilogue). Back matter includes a timeline of key dates in Pinkney’s life and select accomplishments. (Gr 3 Up)
Make Way: The Story of Robert McCloskey, Nancy Schön, and Some Very Famous Ducklings. Angela Burke Kunkel. Illus. by Claire Keane. (2023). Random House Studio.
As a child, Robert McCloskey (1914-2003) carved and painted. Later, after studying art in Boston, he was told by a children’s book editor in New York City “not to be so serious.” Remembering feeding the ducks at the Boston Public Garden, McCloskey began an extensive study of mallards that resulted in his sepia-toned drawings in Make Way for Ducklings (1941). Nancy Schön (b. 1928) used art to escape being bullied at school. As an adult, after hearing about a child asking, “Mommy, where are the ducks?” on a visit to the Public Garden, she was inspired to sculpt a miniature parade of the ducks from Make Way for Ducklings. Learning about her project, McCloskey came to Boston to see it and, with his approval, Nancy Schön shaped and cast in bronze Mrs. Mallard and her eight ducklings. Claire Keane’s nostalgic digital illustrations match perfectly with Angela Burke Kunkel’s inviting text in this biography of McLCloskey, Schön. and the very famous ducklings that were installed in the Boston Public Garden in 1987. Back matter includes an author’s note with photos, a timeline, and a selected bibliography. (PreK Up)
Mary’s Idea. Chris Raschka. (2023). Greenwillow.
In his always innovative fashion, Chris Raschka creates an evocative ode to jazz pianist and composer Mary Lou Williams (1920-1981). Artwork rendered in ink, oil pastel, and watercolor on a brown textured background features Mary’s hands, a keyboard, sheet music, and colorful swirls of music. The simple lyrical text with only a few words on each double-spread page and a repetition of the phrase “It was Mary’s idea” presents the life story of Mary from child prodigy to legendary jazz musician. “It was Mary’s idea to play // the piano at three. // It was Mary’s idea // to play the piano for me.” Mary always made her own decisions, including to stop playing the piano for a time before beginning her career again. “It was Mary’s idea // to start again, for people, for God, and me.” Back matter includes additional biographical information and a thought-provoking quote. (PreK Up)
Pitch Perfect and Persistent!: The Musical Debut of Amy Cheney Beach. Caitlin DeLems. Illus. by Alison Jay. (2023). Calkins Creek.
Amy Cheney Beach (1867-1944), the first successful woman composer in America, was born into a musical family, but when she sang an anthem with perfect pitch to the delight of a gathering of relatives and friends at age two, her strict, religious mother was worried. She wanted Amy to be a normal child. “No indulgence. No spectacle. And certainly, no piano!” Caitlin DeLems’s engaging text describing the little girl’s persistence in wanting to hear, think, and play music, which won out with the help of her aunt who put four-year-old Amy up on the piano bench, is complemented by Alison Jay’s distinctive artwork done with a quick-drying oil paint with crackle varnish. This engaging biography follows Amy through her music-filled childhood to her piano debut with a symphony at the Boston Music Hall at age 16 (Mamma consents reasoning it might help Amy attract a husband), which proved to be the beginning of her breaking the glass ceiling for women musicians and composers. Back matter includes an author’s note (with photographs), timeline, musical glossary, selected bibliography, and a “To Learn More About Amy Beach” section of websites and places to visit.
Rock, Rosetta, Rock! Roll, Rosetta, Roll!: Presenting Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the Godmother of Rock & Roll. Tonya Bolden. Illus. by R. Gregory Christie. (2023). Harper.
Rosetta, a little girl “making downright mighty music, music, music” with a big guitar in tiny Cotton Plant, Arkansas, moved with her mother to Chicago where she “played, played, played” and had people clapping their hands, stamping their feet, and shouting as Mama preached in churches, at outside revivals, and on street corners. This little girl also had a big voice and began “belting out the rhythm-bound Gospel sound.” As an adult, Rosetta mixed Gospel music with boogie-woogie, jazz, swing, and the blues. She took her music into nightclubs including New York City’s Cotton Club, cut records for Decca, performed at Harlem’s Apollo Theater, had a concert at Carnegie Hall, and did a European tour. She “played, played, played--and sang! / as the fabulous, / flamboyant / Sister Rosetta Tharpe!” Tonya Bolden’s lively free verse text and R. Gregory Christie’s vibrant acrylic artwork full of movement create a fitting tribute to Sister Rosetta Tharpe (1915-1973), the godmother of rock and roll. Back matter includes a timeline, author’s note, and sources. (PreK Up)
Tomfoolery!: Randolph Caldecott and the Rambunctious Coming-of-Age of Children’s Books. Michelle Markel. Illus. by Barbara McClintock. (2023). Chronicle.
In the 1850s, children’s books had pictures that were “stiff, full of pretty poses and cluttered scenery.” But Randolph Caldecott (1946-1886), who filled his sketchbook with drawings of playful animals as a child in Chester, England, grew up to become the artist who transformed picture books forever: “No frilly lines, no fussy background, no crowded pages—scene by scene the story tumbles forth like life.” Michelle Markel’s text is descriptive, lively, and child friendly. “He dips his nib in the ink . . . and TALLYHO!” Barbara McClintock’s artwork completes this beautifully designed biography of Randolph Caldecott. Some of the double-page spreads include reproductions of Caldecott’s drawings, and there is a full-color wordless spread of an illustration from The Diverting History of John Gilpin (1878). Back matter includes an identification of the reproductions of Caldecott’s own art and the pages on which they appear in Tomfoolery; annotations; notes on illustrated Victorian periodicals and the “big three” of toy book illustrators: Walter Crane, Randolph Caldecott, and Kate Greenaway; Caldecott’s picture books listed by publication date; and a bibliography (books and articles). (PreK Up)
A Tulip in Winter: A Story About Folk Artist Maud Lewis. Kathy Stinson. Illus. by Lauren Soloy. (2023). Greystone Kids.
Canadian folk artist Maud Lewis (1903-1970) struggled cheerfully throughout her life with undiagnosed rheumatoid arthritis, which kept her small, affected her mobility, and caused her fingers and joints to swell. Once her mother gave Maud a paintbrush, however, she began to create colorful nature scenes. After the death of her parents, she was penniless and moved in with an aunt who wouldn’t let her paint (“Too messy”), so she left to become a live-in housekeeper (and, later, wife) to fish peddler Everett Lewis, who didn’t care about her physical limitations. Using leftover paint he scrounged from the dump and wharf, Maud transformed their tiny home into a work of art. Together, they sold fish and Maud’s nature creations painted on everything from trays to scraps of wood. Eventually her arthritis made it too difficult to walk or paint, and Everett pushed her in his wheelbarrow. Tiny Maud was buried in a child’s coffin, and their cottage is now housed inside the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. Kathy Stinson’s lyrical text pairs beautifully with Lauren Soloy’s colorful, stylistic folk art. Back matter includes additional biographical information and notes from the author and illustrator. (PreK Up)
You Gotta Meet Mr. Pierce!: The Storied Life of Folk Artist Elijah Pierce. Chiquita Mullins Lee & Carmella Van Vleet. Illus. by Jennifer Mack-Watkins. (2023). Kokila.
When a father takes his young son for a haircut at Elijah Pierce’s barbershop in Columbus, Ohio, he tells him, “You Gotta Meet Mr. Pierce!” While waiting for his turn, the boy draws with his new set of colored pencils, and Mr. Pierce shares how his uncle gave him a pocketknife and taught him to carve. He says, “I would turn wood into stories” and takes him on a tour of the wood art decorating the walls of his shop. The boy leaves the barbershop with an elephant Mr. Pierce has carved for him from a chunk of wood and is full of ideas for his own art projects. Chiquita Mullins Lee and Carmella Van Vleet’s engaging narrative for this picture book biography of African American folk artist Elijah Pierce (1892-1984) is accompanied by Jennifer Mack-Watkins’s vibrant illustrations done with Japanese woodblocks that incorporate collaged photographs of pieces of Elijah’s art. Back matter includes additional information on Elijah Pierce’s life, folk art, and honors; notes from the authors; and sections on where to see his work on exhibit and detailed information about Pierce’s art appearing in this book (PreK Up)
Nancy Brashear is Professor Emeritus of English at Azusa Pacific University, in Azusa, California. Carolyn Angus is former Director of the George G. Stone Center for Children’s Books, Claremont Graduate University, in Claremont, California.
These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG).