An Origin Story

My name is Jennifer and I’m a 30-something with a doctorate in Cultural Studies and a MA in Literary Studies. I also have a toddler. I didn’t give children’s picture books much thought until I was pregnant; until then my research focused on “grown-up” culture: films, literature, even pornography. But, as a Lefty mama with a PhD I understood the role cultural texts, like picture books, play in shaping how we perceive ourselves, the world, and all the people in it (and the animals, environments, ideas, ext.). I wanted the hours a week I knew we’d spend reading to help my child understand the most important lesson I think a parent can teach – you are good if you do good.

This blog reviews some of our favorite children’s books. I hope it helps other parents find awesome books! Feel free to email recommendations, comments, and questions to raisethemrighteous@gmail.com.

For Publishers and Authors: I review diverse, LGBTQ* inclusive, and social justice themed children’s picture books, early chapter books, middle grade books, and young adult books. I prefer hard copies (especially for children’s picture books and graphic novels). But, I understand the cost can be prohibitive and accept E-books. *It is currently taking me 4 – 6 weeks to review picture books and 8 – 12 weeks to review MG and YA. Email me with requests at raisethemrighteous@gmail.com.

How to use the blog: Scroll down, discover great books, buy the books, read the books!

Monica Clark-Robinson’s Let the Children March

Let the Children MarchLet the Children March, written by Monica Clark-Robinson and illustrated by Frank Morrison, is a brilliant and bold children’s picture book that brings the Birmingham Children’s Crusade of 1963 to life for young readers.

In the South, Jim Crow laws enforced segregation, which led to unequal access to education, employment, health care, and housing. Leaders in the Black Civil Rights movement came up with many strategies to end segregation.

A powerful strategy of resistance, peaceful protest, prompted the Birmingham Children’s Crusade of 1963. Children took to the streets to demand equality. Hundreds of brave young people were arrested, beaten, bullied, attacked with powerful hoses, and threatened with dogs. They continued to march. Images of their protest, and the violent state sanctioned response to it, were televised. Many of the protester’s demands were begrudgingly met as a result of the protest.

Clark-Robinson’s first-person narrative give the book a sense of urgency; events seem to unfold in real time as we march with the narrator. The first-person narrative also allows access to the narrator’s emotions, which range from fear to conviction and pride.

On page after page, Morrison’s images capture the complex emotions of all involved. Each illustration truly is a work of art. He unflinchingly conveys the brutality experienced by children. In a two-page spread, several Black children huddle against a building as three white men spray them with water that pounds their vulnerable bodies. Two dogs rip the clothes off children, drawing blood in the process.

In thoughtful words and detailed illustrations, this pivotal moment in US history is made accessible to children in all its pain, shame, and pride. Morrison’s images show what Clark-Robinson’s sparse, carefully chosen words tell.

While reading, it is impossible to ignore racism’s presence in US history, and of course, its present. Empowering back matter addresses children as activists who can become educated and participate meaningfully in community life.

This book will make a wonderful addition to school and personal libraries. It would work well as part of a multidisciplinary lesson about history, literature, and civic engagement.

 

Deborah Hopkinson’s Carter Reads the Newspaper

Carter Reads the Newspaper

Deborah Hopkinson makes history accessible to young readers through remarkably engaging and accessible children’s picture books. Her recent publication, Carter Reads the Newspaper, is no exception. Although I was planning on sticking to #ownvoices books throughout Black History Month, Hopkinson’s book is a wonderful description of Carter G. Woodson’s life and a moving description of the founding of Black History Month, so it seemed only fitting to include it.

Carter G. Woodson established what was then called Negro History Week in 1926. According to Hopkinson, he was partially motivated by his desire to prove a Harvard history professor, who told him Black people had no history, incorrect.

Woodson earned a PhD in history from Harvard and became a trailblazing public intellectual. Along with important academic contributions to Black American history, Woodson is known as the father of Black History Month, a project that helped make Black history accessible to a non-academic audience.

Woodson’s relationship to newspapers anchors Hopkinson’s book. He was born to two formerly enslaved Black Americans and, although his father was illiterate, he was invested in informed citizenship. Woodson would read newspapers to his father whenever he could.

Woodson’s high school education was deferred so he could work, earning money for his family. While working the mines of West Virginia, Woodson met a Black Civil War Veteran named Oliver Jones. Like, Woodson’s father, Jones was illiterate, but committed to learning. He invited Black men to his home to discuss current events, since Woodson was literate, he became a valuable member of the community, reading newspapers and researching information the men wanted to learn more about.

Woodson worked in the mines for three years before slowly pursuing his education, finally earning a PhD at thirty-seven-years-old.

Hopkinson’s picture book is fairly text heavy and most appropriate for readers over seven-years-old. She provides useful information in her back matter, including resources to learn more about Carter G. Woodson and information about important Black figures in US History.

Carter Reads the Newspaper will make a strong edition to classroom libraries. Although, in many ways it reads like a biography, Woodson is clearly entrenched in communities, and inspired by the stories of the people in his life.

Coming Soon: Rashad Malik Davis’s Carefree, Like Me!: Chapter 2: Sacra the Joyous

Book 2 Cover.JPGCarefree, Like Me!: Chapter 2: Sacra the Joyous, by Rashad Malik Davis, introduces young readers to fantasy, friendship, and cultural diversity. Envisioned as a series of seven picture books, the second chapter will be released in late-February 2019.

The story stars two friends, the skinny brown-skinned Amir and his best friend Neena, a girl with big glasses and a deep golden-tan.

In the first chapter, Amir complains to his father about being bored and his father responds by giving him a magical amulet. The amulet transports Amir and Neena to a spirit world where they must heroically restore balance to move onto their next adventure.

Chapter 2 opens with a recap of the first chapter grandly presented on a scroll held by the children’s spirit guide, the many-tailed, fox-like creature, Ritu.

At the start of Chapter 2, Ritu gives Amir and Neena cryptic clues about their next adventure before abruptly disappearing.

With their guide gone, the children begin to explore the land in search of… anything! At first, it seems like nothing other than sun and sand exists in this spirit world, but the children soon stumble upon a city. Because the land is so dry, the city’s inhabitants have little food and water. Consequently, they are too weak to help the children.

Refusing to give up, Amir and Neena hear a flute and follow the sound. Ichtaka, the flute player, is feathered-man. He laughs knowingly when he sees the children and helps them grasp their task. They must bring balance to the dry desert landscape by helping the goddess Sacra find her joy.

Neena is sure they can work together to help the city dwellers by helping Sacra. But, when they reach Sacra, she immediately demands they leave. Neena again takes the lead and refuses. In the end, it is the children’s impressive friendship that wins Sacra over, encouraging her to let it rain.

Davis provides readers with a wonderful discussion guide focused on emotional literacy, useful facts about the Aztec civilization that inspired his story, and information about his source material.

Davis is truly multi-talented. He uses his impressive artistic and literary skills to create a series that makes fantasy, suspense, and adventure available to young readers. Davis’ rhymes add a quirkiness and sense of humor to the story that keep it from being too heavy for his youngest readers. Even more, his images are colorful and comic. He employs exaggeration, especially in facial features, that help young readers master visual cues and fully grasp the emotional import of the story.

I recommend Davis’s Carefree, Like Me! series for personal and school libraries. The books are fun family reads and teachers will be able to plan several lessons around them.

Preorder from the author and he’ll send stickers and a PDF of coloring pages as a “thank you”!

Vanita Oelschlager’s A Tale of Two Mommies (2011)

Ebook cover imageA Tale of Two Mommies (2011), written by Vanita Oelschlager and illustrated by Mike Blanc, is an affirming story about a little boy and his two moms.

Three small, racially diverse children enjoy a day at the beach. One of the children, a little boy, has tawny beige skin, another is a girl with suntanned skin and red hair, the boy with two mommies has medium brown skin, curly-hair, and big brown eyes. The two moms’ faces are never shown but they both have pale skin with pink undertones.

The little boy with two moms is bombarded with excited questions from his friends who are curious about what activities his momma does with him and what activities his mommy does with him. He answers their sometimes very silly questions with ease, demonstrating that his moms have all the important stuff like cake baking and boo-boo kissing covered.

A Tale of Two Mommies is a fun book. The colors are bright and sunny like the day at the beach the characters are enjoying. It’s an accessible book with a clever lyricism that makes it fun to read aloud. It will make a solid addition to family libraries of very young readers who are sure to giggle along with the characters as they find answers to important questions like which mom is the best kite flying partner.

I accessed a review copy through NetGalley.

Coming in April: Kelly Starling Lyons’ Going Home with Daddy

Going Home with Daddy, written by Kelly Starling Lyons and illustrated by Daniel Minter, is gorgeous.

The story unfolds from the point-of-view of a young African American boy heading to his great-grandma Granny’s for an annual family reunion. The text is heavy with emotion, but none shine as boldly as joy.

Young readers will want to slow down to enjoy the lyricism of Starling Lyons’ poetic prose. Take, for example, the simplicity of her opening line: “We leave when the sky is still dark with sleep.”

Alan, the narrator, has many conflicting emotions about the reunion and the celebration to honor Granny that is a big part of it. He’s excited to see family but sad he hasn’t come up with anything to share during the celebration.

When Alan and his family arrive, he’s greeted by grandmas and grandpas, uncles and aunts, and more cousins than he can count. All his cousins seem to have thoughtful things to share with Granny, including scrapbooks, songs, and poems.

After reflecting on his deep connection to the land and his family Alan eventually does find the perfect thing to share.

Word and text dance on the page. Minter’s illustrations are deeply textured, and he uses color to prompt mood. Dialogue drips with vernacular sounds and sayings, bringing characters to life. Descriptions of the land, food, and fun give the story a strong sense of place.

Going Home with Daddy is the perfect addition to family libraries. Whether your family has traditions that mirror Alan’s or different ones, the universality of emotions depicted can inspire us to be different together.

You will need to wait a bit for this one, it will be released April 1, but it’s worth the wait. I accessed an advance copy at NetGalley.

Laura Roettiger’s Aliana Reaches for the Moon

Written by debut author Laura Roettiger and illustrated by Ariel Boroff, Aliana Reaches for the Moon, will be released February 19, 2019 to coincide with the full moon. The story is about Aliana, a creative and curious little girl, who learns to harness the beauty of moonlight to make her little brother a delightfully personal birthday gift.

Aliana has light-brown skin, long wavy dark hair, and big brown eyes framed by purple glasses. Her affluent family is Latinx and they live in a lovely home with many large windows framing the Rocky Mountains.

The family life Roettiger and Boroff conjure is just as perfect as the family’s picturesque home. Every morning, the family gathers around a big table for breakfast, and the children spend their days horseback riding, hiking nature trails, and making messy experiments. Their parents do not mind the messes, and Aliana’s brother, Gustavo, looks up to his big sister.

Even as she fills her days with love and learning, Aliana sets aside time to experiment with marble, quarts, vases, and moonlight to stage a fleeting but fantastic “magical birthday cake” on the evening of Gustavo’s birthday.

This is a sweet edition to a growing collection of STEAM themed books featuring little girls putting their big brains to work.