This is a strong batch of books–no duds here. Along with some of the books in last month’s installment of reviews, many of these titles can become part of a collection featuring culturally diverse personalities and topics.
Readers of this new picture book biography of Frederick Douglass will easily come away with important understandings about slavery, the connection between education and freedom, and the role of Frederick Douglass in obtaining both emancipation for slaves and suffrage for women. Masterfully told by the late Walter Dean Myers, the Douglass who emerges from these pages is tough, brave, smart, and passionate—a role model for our times. The dramatic Floyd Cooper illustrations effectively present the face of a thinking man set against historically significant backdrops. Presenting slavery with both accuracy and sensitivity to young readers is a challenge for picture book creators, and Frederick Douglass: The Lion Who Wrote History meets the challenge with text and images that are both powerful and palatable. This life of Frederick Douglass emphasizes how one voice can change history, a lesson for every American home, classroom, and library.
In May, 1963, more than three thousand children were jailed in Birmingham, Alabama after peacefully protesting the city’s segregation policies. Audrey Faye Hendricks, the youngest of those children, spent a week in jail before all the cells were filled, the children were released, and some of those segregation policies began to change. Audrey narrates her story in an uplifting tone that is mostly cheerful but also conveys her indignance at being denied equality with white children, and her fear and discomfort while in jail. The Youngest Marcher will pair well with Malala: Activist for Girls’ Education by Raphaële Frier to demonstrate how even the youngest members of a society sometimes play important, courageous roles in the quests for freedom and justice.
Benjamin Banneker, a young colonial-era farmer, is interested in how things work. When a friend loans him a pocket watch, Benjamin is fascinated and decides to use it as a model to build a bigger clock. Working with math and the concept of scale, Benjamin uses his troubleshooting and problem-solving skills to successfully craft a mantle clock out of surprising materials. Although David C. Gardner’s illustrations reveal that Benjamin is of African descent, that fact is not a major element in Shana Keller’s narrative. The back matter explains that even though Banneker was born free he was denied access to most educational opportunities because of his race. Ticktock Banneker’s Clock will appeal to young inventors, and shows math’s real-world relevance. The historical context also provides worthwhile aspects for consideration and discussion as we are presented with a true story of an African-American who applied his ingenuity to challenges in a time filled with obstacles.
I’ll admit to being a little skeptical about approaching a Martin Luther King picture book authored by celebrity biographer Kitty Kelley. Martin’s Dream Day, however, is an excellent addition to a bookshelf devoted to King, America’s struggle with civil rights, and the 1963 March on Washington where King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. In addition to clear, accessible text, the illustrations in Martin’s Dream Day are historic photographs taken by the late photojournalist Stanley Tretick.
My favorite aspect of presenting history to young people is illuminating how events and people connect. Nothing ever happens in isolation. This picture book provides concise background for the civil rights movement, King’s involvement, and the march itself. In addition, Martin’s Dream Day provides clear connective tissue not only to those topics, but also to the nation’s capital, President John F. Kennedy, Congressman John Lewis, and how a bill becomes law.
Abraham, written by former Oklahoma governor Frank Keating, is a worthwhile addition to collections. Told in first person from Lincoln’s point of view, the narrative concentrates on Lincoln’s early life but also covers his career up to the end of the Civil War. As Lincoln tells about formative experiences, primarily hard work and a passion for reading, the text effectively integrates quotes from Lincoln’s own writings. (These passages can be used as models to show students how to incorporate quotes into their own sentences.) Mike Wimmer’s illustrations of young Lincoln intriguingly show him as younger versions of the person we know from the familiar photographs taken later in life. Some of the vocabulary toward the end (emblazoned, unfettered) may be challenging for elementary readers to decode on their own, but the captivating artwork and engaging perspective successfully convey an appealing Abraham Lincoln.
Consider the challenge of conveying Malala Yousafzai’s story in a way that is appropriate for children: Malala’s courage and convictions arose from a context of political and personal violence. Malala: Activist for Girls’ Education masterfully navigates this territory. Author Raphaële Frier does not shy away from the Taliban’s brutality, including the shooting of Malala on a school bus, but she first establishes Malala’s passion for education, beliefs in the rights of girls, and her family’s role in providing schooling for Pakistani children. The illustrations from Aurélia Fronty present Malala and other individuals in a more expressionistic manner, reminiscent of muralists. The bright artwork is not gruesome or graphic on the pages conveying violent episodes, although it is dramatic. Young readers will come away from the main text with an understanding of how one person can make a difference, as well as the obstacles to freedom faced by some children, especially girls, in other cultures. The back matter presents photographs of Malala, numerous quotes from her, and background material relevant to understanding her life, work, and culture.
One Proud Penny by Randy Siegel
A plain 1983-vintage penny tells its story with pride. Since its minting in Philadelphia, this penny has been spent, saved, lost, and found many times in its travels around the country. No matter what happens, this penny is proud to do its job, even though 250 billion other pennies are out there. Mixing whimsical, engaging art with real images of pennies, One Proud Penny blends scientific and historical facts about pennies with more imaginative considerations about the role of pennies in our lives and economy. One Proud Penny will build on kids’ inherent curiosity about coins and money.
These reviews appeared elsewhere in slightly different form.
Which of these sound most promising for your young readers?