Osha Lynette Smith
As a teacher, I am passionate about providing my students opportunities to learn about persons who have done great things but are less well-known. I call them “Unsung Heroes.” These persons of color and diverse ethnicities and gender identities who have contributed to society in powerful ways are represented in the inspiring recently published books in this column.
Classified: The Secret Career of Mary Golda Ross, Cherokee Aerospace Engineer. Traci Sorell. Illus. by Natasha Donovan. (2021). Millbrook.
Traci Sorell tells the life story of Mary Golda Ross (1908-2008) noting the presence of Cherokee values in each step of Mary’s journey. In the early 1900s girls were not expected to love math and science, but Mary excelled in these subjects. She went on to attend the teachers college her grandfather, the Chief of the Cherokee Nation, helped found. During World War II, Mary became a mathematician for the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation, but she faced challenges. Wanting to design and build aircraft and spacecraft, Mary became Lockheed’s first female engineer and blazed the path for other women to join the field. Throughout her career, Mary modeled the Cherokee values of working in cooperation with others, staying humble regarding one’s accomplishments, and ensuring equal education and opportunities for everyone. Back matter includes a timeline, an author’s note, information on Cherokee values, source notes, and a bibliography. (Gr 3-5)
Claudette Colvin (She Persisted). Lesa Cline-Ransome. Illus. by Gillian Flint. (2021). Philomel.
Many people attribute the start of the Civil Rights movement to Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat on a bus to a white woman, but Black fifteen-year-old Claudette Colvin (b. 1939) was actually the first to take a stand for her rights in this way. Lesa Cline-Ransome tells Claudette’s story in an engaging easy-to read text. She tells of Claudette’s childhood when she and her sister were sent to live with their aunt and uncle in the small town of Pine Level, Alabama, and the education she received, both in school and in church. Claudette was inquisitive and constantly asked questions. Learning that God created everyone equal, Claudette questioned, “Why aren’t Black people treated as equals?” When her sister, Delphine, became sick with polio and died, she asked, “Why Delphine?” These critical questions spurred Claudette to stand up for her rights, an action that contributed to the desegregation of the Montgomery city buses in 1956. Also included is an introduction by Chelsea Clinton and a list of ways readers can make a difference. (PreK Up)
Dennis Brutus: Poet and Political Activist (Discovering History’s Heroes). Craig Ellenport. (2021). Aladdin.
Craig Ellenport introduces middle-grade readers to Dennis Brutus (1924-2009), who was born in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). Growing up in South Africa, Dennis was affected by the inequities of apartheid. His mixed-race parents were classified as “colored,” and the family was subjected to segregation and discrimination. During his life, Dennis Brutus was banned from teaching and was not permitted to publish his poetry in South Africa. He was also shot and imprisoned. Upon his release from Robben Island Prison after serving eighteen months of hard labor, he promised Nelson Mandela that he would do everything possible to put an end to apartheid. Ultimately, he was exiled from South Africa and went to London where he continued his anti-apartheid activism. Coming to the U.S. in 1970, he taught at various universities, published his poetry, and continued his political activism before permanently returning to South Africa in 2002. Readers will find Dennis Brutus’s life story fascinating and inspiring. Back matter includes a glossary, endnotes, and a bibliography (Gr 3-5)
The Fearless Flights of Hazel Ying Lee. Julie Leung. Illus. by Julie Kwon. (2021). Little, Brown.
Hazel Ying Lee (1912-1944), who was fearless and strived to be the first and the fastest as a young girl, knew she wanted to become a pilot after taking her first airplane ride. She earned her pilot’s license, but no one wanted to hire a Chinese American woman. During World War II, Hazel signed up for a new program, the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), and became the first Chinese American woman to fly for the U.S. military. Since women were not permitted to fight, the WASPs tested and ferried planes to bases. Julie Leung allows the reader to feel Hazel’s conflict as she describes how, when in the air, no one judge her as not an American. Julie Kwon’s illustrations are boldly colored and expressive. Hazel, who died in a plane crash in 1944, did not receive military honors and was not permitted to be buried in a white’s-only cemetery. Her family fought against this ruling and won. The author’s note provides additional information on this brave and determined woman. (PreK Up)
Grace Banker and Her Hello Girls Answer the Call: The Heroic Story of WW I Telephone Operators. Claudia Friddell. Illus. by Elizabeth Baddeley. (2021). Calkins Creek.
Claudia Friddell’s biography of Grace Banker (1892-1960) honors Grace and her brave World War I team of telephone operators, known as the Hello Girls. Women were not permitted to serve in the army—nor could they vote—but twenty-five-year-old Grace became the Chief Operator of the U.S. Signal Corps. Friddell chronicles the dangers and discomforts the women faced crossing the Atlantic on the Celtic and in the Paris headquarters of the American Expeditionary Force. The reader sees Grace as a hard and dedicated worker yet she was the life of the party and a prankster. “Our office is most primitive. Three switchboards, not another stick of furniture . . . I wouldn’t exchange this bare office for any other. I love it here.” Grace received the Distinguished Service Medal in 1919, “for exceptionally meritorious and distinguished services.” Friddell includes photos, a detailed timeline, notes, and a bibliography. (Gr 3-5)
June Almeida, Virus Detective!: The Woman Who Discovered the First Human Coronavirus. Suzanne Slade. Illus. by Elisa Paganelli. (2021). Sleeping Bear.
In this engaging and well-designed picture book biography, Suzanne Slade describes how, at the age of thirty-four, June Almeida (1930-2007) discovered the first human coronavirus. June’s interest in science and desire to help sick people began at a young age, but she was not able to attend college. Nevertheless, she was determined to pursue her interests in science and began working in a hospital lab. Later, June worked at a lab in Canada where she used a powerful electron microscope that magnified things 25,000 times and allowed her to clearly distinguish viruses from cells. In 1964, she worked in a London lab using a technique called negative staining and discovered a mystery virus that, because it looked like a crown, was given the name coronavirus. After returning to Canada, she continued studying other disease-causing viruses. Back matter includes a “More About June” section with photographs, an illustrated timeline of virologist June Almeida’s life and work, and a bibliography. (PreK Up)
The Leaf Detective: How Margaret Lowman Uncovered Secrets in the Rainforest. Heather Lang. Illus. by Jana Christy. (2021). Calkins Creek.
“We are part of our ecosystem, not outside it.” This epigraph is the perfect opening to this biography of Margaret “Canopy Meg” Lowman (b. 1953). Heather Lang’s lyrical text is rich in figurative language as she talks about the accomplishments of this intriguing scientist, who “stuck like sap to her passion” As a young girl, Meg was a “leaf detective.” In college, she faced sexism as the only woman in her science classes, but persevered and became the first graduate student at Sydney University to study the tropical rainforests of Australia. The text is peppered with quotes, and related information is presented in leaf-shaped text boxes. Jana Christy’s vibrant, richly detailed digital illustrations show the reader Meg’s exploration of the secret world of the rainforest canopy and how she has educated people about rainforests and the need to adopt sustainable practices for conserving them. Back matter includes an author’s note with photographs; a “Rainforest Magic” double-page spread showing the layers of the rainforest—forest floor, understory, canopy, and emergent layer—and their inhabitants; books, videos, and websites; and source notes. (PreK Up)
Saving American Beach: The Biography of African American Environmentalist MaVynee Betsch. Heidi Tyline King. Illus. by Ekua Holmes. (2021). Putnam.
Heidi Tyline King presents the life story of MaVynne Betsch (1935-2005), an African American environmentalist and activist, in an engaging writing style. Abraham Lincoln Lewis, MaVynee’s grandfather, purchased the beach front he named American Beach because he wanted all people to be able to use it, unlike the segregated beaches and other such areas in Florida. Returning home after a career as a world-famous opera singer, MaVynee restored the neglected beach, cleaning it up and planting trees and flowers. Later she fought against development of the beach for condominiums and led the petitioning of President George W. Bush to sign a law protecting American Beach forever. Ekua Holmes’ vibrant mixed-media illustrations beautifully capture the essence of MaVynee Betsch and American Beach. In an author’s note, Heidi Tyline King leaves the reader with a powerful message, “. . . you too, will experience sadness in your life, often by something that is not your own doing. Will it destroy you, or will you use it for good, like the Beach Lady?” Back matter includes individual notes from Heidi Tyline King and Ekua Holmes. (PreK Up)
Susan La Flesche Picotte: Pioneering Doctor (Discovering History’s Heroes). Diane Bailey. (2021). Aladdin.
Susan La Flesche Picotte (1865-1915) was the first Native American woman to earn a medical degree. Deeply affected by watching an old woman die on her Omaha Reservation while waiting for a doctor who never showed up and angered by this injustice, she was determined to become a doctor. Susan persisted in her desire to make changes to help her people. In 1910, she went to Washington, D.C. to speak to government officials about issues the Omaha Tribe was facing. Susan was tiny and spoke her powerful words softly. “We are not stones—we are not driftwood. We have feelings, thoughts, hopes. We have suffered enough from your experiments.” Her words made a difference in getting government officials to change their policies related to the Omaha Tribe. She returned to the reservation in Nebraska to provide care for anyone who needed medical support. Diane Bailey engages the reader with this heartfelt, inspiring life story of a Native American women that shows how injustice can be fought with education and determination. Back matter includes a glossary, endnotes, and bibliography. (Gr 3-5)
Who Is Neil deGrasse Tyson? Pam Pollack & Meg Belviso. Illus. by Manuel Gutierrez. (2021). Penguin Workshop.
On June 30, 1973, an African American fourteen-year-old boy from the Bronx watched a total eclipse of the sun while on board the ocean liner SS Canberra, a floating laboratory full of scientists sharing their knowledge. This boy was Neil deGrasse Tyson (b. 1958), who was on this ship because he had won a scholarship from The Explorers Club, a New York City club dedicated to science. Neil had a front row seat! He was also a participant in their experiments and shared in discussions with the scientists and astronauts, Neil Armstrong and Scott Carpenter. Tyson, who has been interested in all things related to the universe since visiting the Hayden Planetarium in New York City when he was nine, is now the director of the planetarium. Pam Pollack and Meg Belviso weave in information on interest-catching topics such as NASA, Star Wars, Carl Sagan, and climate change as they share the life story of astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson in this engaging book in the Who Was? biography series for young readers. Back matter includes a timeline of Neil’s accomplishments as well as a timeline of the world and a bibliography. (Gr 3 Up)
Osha Lynette Smith serves as Contributing Faculty in the Richard W. Riley College of Education and Leadership for Walden University.
Chelsey Bahlmann Bollinger and Skye Deiter
You’re never too young to fall in love with a book! In this column, we take a look at books for babies and toddlers to enjoy one-on-one with family members and caregivers or in early childhood settings. Books invite the youngest of readers to explore language and learn about the world around them—and, of course, enjoy snuggles with loved ones.
Amara’s Farm (Where in the Garden? #1). JaNay Brown-Wood. Illus. by Samara Hardy. (2021). Peachtree.
Young Amara is preparing for an autumn potluck and needs to gather some pumpkins. As she searches her farm, readers learn about a variety of cold-weather fruits and vegetables. JaNay Brown-Wood uses descriptive words to identify the garden bounty including apples, persimmons, potatoes, cauliflower, eggplants, and kumquats, which readers can identify in Samara Hardy’s colorful ink-and-watercolor illustrations. Eventually, as luck would have it, Amara spots the pumpkins, which are “large, round, and orange with thick shells.” Her molasses pumpkin bread recipe is included at the end of the book for readers to enjoy.
Angelina’s Baby Sister (Angelina Ballerina). Katharine Holabird. Illus. by Helen Craig. (2021). Little Simon.
In this refreshed hardcover edition of Angelina’s Baby Sister, a popular Angelina Ballerina story originally published in 2006, Angelina Mouseling is anxious to welcome a new baby and become a big sister. But shortly after Polly arrives, Angelina struggles to understand how her baby sister can take up so much of her parents’ time and attention. Feeling overlooked, Angelina finally reaches a breaking point, but it’s her family who lifts her spirits in a sweet, feel-good ending. Katharine Holabird’s reassuring text is complemented by Helen Craig’s quaint, softly colored illustrations of the Mouselings in their home as they navigate the journey of welcoming a newborn and making sure everyone feels loved.
Comparrotives (Grammar Zoo). Janik Coat. (2021). Abrams Appleseed.
In this oversize board book, Janik Coat introduces readers to comparatives, which are demonstrated by a funny parrot. As she did in the earlier books in the Grammar Zoo series--Hippopposites (2012), Rymoceros (2015), and Llamaphones (2018)—Coat includes tactile elements to illustrate the comparison between the two words. For example, the silly parrot is wearing bunny ears and the sillier parrot is wearing a large rainbow glitttery wig, which is created with a raised, grainy-feeling texture and a clown outfit. Children will love reading this book over and over again.
Ducks on the Road: A Counting Adventure. Anita Lobel. (2021). Paula Wiseman.
In Anita Lobel’s latest picture book, she keeps readers engaged through counting little yellow ducklings all in a row. Mama and Papa Duck are taking a walk with their ten little ducklings following behind them—“until the tenth little duck in the line turns back to quack, ‘Hello, Frog!’” One by one, the duck at the end gets distracted by an animal and drops out of line. Eventually, Mama and Papa Duck realize they have lost all of their ducklings. Then, they hear their ducklings and see that they are all lined up together with the various animal friends that they met along the way. Young children will continue to delight in the surprise that comes at the end of the book each time they count the little ducklings in Lobel’s softly colored gouache-and-colored pencil illustrations during repeated readings.
Goodnight, Little Panda (Baby Animal Tales #3). Amanda Wood. Illus. by Vikki Chu. Photo. by Bec Winnel. (2021). Magic Cat.
Little Panda spends her days with her family snoozing in the bamboo forest and munching on crunchy bamboo stems. Growing tired of the same meal for breakfast and lunch, the determined panda sets out to find something new for dinner. “Have you got anything nice to eat?” she first asks the monkeys, then some birds, and finally a frog. To her disappointment, Little Panda is only met with meals that are yucky to her and an empty tummy. At last, she meets Red Panda, who has just the meal to help Little Panda feel nice and full before settling down for bed. This Baby Animal Tale with Bec Winnel’s photographic images of adorable Little Panda, set against a background of her bamboo forest home created by Vikki Chu’s watercolor paintings, is perfect for reading when it is time for snuggling up at bedtime or naptime and for offering little ones a gentle message on the importance of self-discovery.
No! Said Rabbit. Marjoke Henrichs. (2021). Peachtree.
With expressive cartoon-like illustrations and relatable characters, Marjoke Henrichs’ debut story is the perfect story-time picture book. Toddlers will relish each “NO!” the stubborn young rabbit offers his mother as he goes about his day while adults will relate to the mother’s unwavering patience time after time. As soon as he responds with a rebellious “NO!” to each of his mother’s prompts, Rabbit always seems to find himself in a contradictory position enjoying the very activity he just tried to resist such as eating his breakfast (“But I can see juicy orange carrots . . .”) or playing outside (“But those are my lovely rain boots . . .”). Readers of all ages will take comfort in the familiar affection shared by a mother and her child as the book comes to its heartwarming close with Little Rabbit’s emphatic “YES!” when Mom says it’s time for bedtime cuddles.
Not Now, Cow. Tammi Sauer. Illus. by Trey Cummings. (2021). Abrams Appleseed.
It’s springtime. “Duck is ready. Helps things grow. / Sheep is ready. Skips below. // Goat is ready. Gives a show. / Cow is . . . // Oh, Cow. / Not now.” Readers will enjoy this laugh-out-loud picture book about a cow who, despite the changing scenery around him, can’t seem to get his seasons straight. As the story follows each season’s change, short rhymes are coupled with vibrant, digitally created cartoon illustrations to reveal the rest of the farm animals appropriately dressed for enjoying seasonal activities such as flying kites in spring, cooling off with ice cream in summer, carving pumpkins in fall, and ice skating in winter. And just when readers think Cow may finally be ready, they are met with a hilarious twist.
Ocean Animals (Words of the World). Motomitsu Maehara. (2021). Blue Dot.
This multilingual board book features colorful found-paper collage portraits of sixteen ocean animals including a clownfish, seahorse, sperm whale, hermit crab, sea lion, and dolphin. Each animal is identified by name in seven languages: Arabic, Chinese, English, Esperanto, French, Hindi, and Spanish. Readers can easily find the language they want to follow throughout the book as each language is color coded and numbered. Ocean Birds was published simultaneously. Two additional books in the series, Animals and Plants, will be released in October.
Off to See the Sea. Nikki Grimes. Illus. by Elizabeth Zunon. (2021). Sourcebooks Jabberwocky.
Nikki Grimes’ free-verse text and Elizabeth Zunon’s colorful, expressive illustrations, created using oil and acrylic paint with cut paper collage, marker, and gel pen, capture bath time with a wiggly toddler perfectly in this playful story. Mommy corrals her reluctant-to-get-in-the-tub little one, and together they play pretend with various bath toys to have an imaginative adventure. Parents will relate to “sneaking in the shampoo” during bath time fun.
100 Animals. Steve Jenkins. (2021). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Steve Jenkins introduces young readers to a world of animals in this interactive, padded word book that features one hundred animals including both familiar ones (like butterfly, cat, and shark) and lesser knowns (like wombat, macaw, and yak). Crafted in Jenkins’ cut-paper illustrative style, individual portraits of animals are grouped on double-page spreads by habitat: underwater, underground, treetop, airborne, desert, arctic, and indoor. The color palette for each habitat is set in different tones to match typical surroundings, such as using blue tones for the water and icy arctic habitats, green tones for the leafy forest, and orange and tan tones for the underground and sandy desert habitats. On each double spread, two flaps offer readers a child-pleasing interactive experience to learn more about the animals’ habitats, movements, and behaviors.
One Springy, Singy Day. Renée Kurilla. (2021). Abrams Appleseed.
Preschoolers will smile in delight as they listen to the reading of this rhythmic, sing-songy picture book about ten toddlers going about their days, starting with the first toddler waking up (“Stretchy / yawny / wide awake at dawn-y”) and ending with one headed to bed (“Comfy / cozy / kiss your tiny nose-y”). Renée Kurilla dedicates two double-page spreads to acquaint the reader with each new toddler, offering short, silly rhymes to describe their adventures. Paneled and full-page colorful illustrations are loaded with familiar objects children will love discovering as they listen and sway their bodies to the rhythm of the story.
Red Truck, Yellow Truck. Michelle Robinson. Illus. by Jez Tuya. (2021). Peachtree.
As Red Truck and Yellow Truck, both driven by dogs, travel around town, readers learn about the jobs of various types of trucks (also driven by various breeds of dogs) such as tug truck, tow truck, garbage truck, and low-bed truck. Michelle Robinson creates a rhythmic storyline while Jez Tuya’s colorful, detailed illustrations provide clues to help readers predict what will happen on the next page. Truck and dog lovers will be delighted to discover that all of the trucks are working towards the purpose of opening a dog themed Fun Bark.
Tow Truck Joe Makes a Splash (Tow Truck Joe #2). June Sobel. Illus. by Patrick Corrigan. (2021). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
“Summertime is full of fun, / and Tow Truck Joe is on the run. // Patch the Pup does her share, / helping Joe with each repair.” During the summer, Tow Truck Joe and his good friend Patch the Dog fix a variety of mechanical issues around Motor City. One big problem is that an eighteen-wheel semi-trailer truck is stuck in the Splash ‘n’ Dash carwash. Joe and Patch come up with a clever plan to get the truck out by using soap from the car wash. With June Sobel’s rhyming couplets and Patrick Corrigan’s colorful illustrations featuring anthropomorphized vehicles and an abundance of details to be discovered on each page, this board book is one that toddlers will want to read again and again.
Chelsey Bahlamnn Bollinger is an assistant professor in the Early, Elementary, and Reading Department of James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Skye Deiter is an elementary classroom teacher in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and a new mom who enjoys reading with her little one
These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG).