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 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.

Jennifer Carr’s Be Who You Are (2010)

Be Who You Are by Jennifer Carr (2010-11-23)Be Who You Are (2010), written by Jennifer Carr and illustrated by Ben Rumback, explores a young transgender girl’s transition. Although Hope’s sex assignment was male, she always felt like a girl. She tells her very accepting parents while she is quite young, and they support her. However, Hope isn’t comfortable being as open about her gender identity at school, and her gender is repeatedly policed by a teacher who sees her as a boy. This happens when Hope draws a picture of herself as a girl and when she stands in line with other girls. When Hope shares her discomfort at school with her parents, they become advocates. They introduce her to a therapist who encourages her to share her feelings about gender. Hope soon begins to transition; first growing her hair long, and then wearing girl clothes more and more frequently. Like her parents, Hope’s younger brother becomes a supportive ally.

This is one of a small handful of books about transgender children. Carr is a parent-advocate of a transgender child and Be Who You Are is unambiguously trans* affirming throughout. It provides an accessible trans* narrative for young readers.

I prefer Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings’ I am Jazz, which delivers the same story but is co-authored by a transgender child and told in the first-person. However, this book predates I am Jazz by several years and depicts its important lesson of transgender acceptance very nicely.

Rashad Malik Davis’s Chapter 1: Root the Brave

Carefree, Like Me! - Chapter 1: Root the BraveIn 2017, writer/illustrator Rashad Malik Davis published Chapter 1: Root the Brave, the first installment in his fun and suspenseful book series Carefree, Like Me!. Davis envisions creating a total of seven “chapters” released at the pace of about one a year. Two are currently available.

Davis describes the series as “an epic fantasy adventure, encouraging children to understand and develop a language for: empathy, emotional literacy, and diverse historical representation.”

Chapter One: Root the Brave centers the friendship of two nine-year old children: Amir and Neena. Amir is a super skinny brown-skinned boy with subtle glasses and amazing hair. Neena’s tan-skin has a rosy glow and her shaggy brown hair hangs over her face framing bold glasses. The two children obviously share a strong bond, even though they’ve grown bored with all their old games. It’s this boredom that prompts Amir to complain to his dad who gives him a very special necklace. The necklace transports Neena and Amir into another world. In this realm they are heroes tasked with saving King Root from the monsters under his bed. They are successful and the first chapter of their adventure ends. But as this adventure closes, they are sucked into another land!

Stay tuned for Chapter Two: Sacra the Joyous available for pre-order now!

Davis is a very talented writer and illustrator. He brilliantly captures his characters colorful emotions and caring relationships in his images. The story is written in clever rhymes that are fun to read out loud and will surely entertain young readers. The pace is perfect for building suspense, but the story isn’t too scary for its target audience of 6 – 10 year olds. I highly recommend this book. I am a sucker for girl-boy besties and really appreciate the cultural diversity in this series!

Davis won the 2017 Best Indie Book Award in the Children’s Category for this amazing debut.

You can purchase Davis’s books and prints directly from him at his website.

Bryan Smith’s Diversity is Key

Diversity if KeyAt first, I was suspicious of Diversity is Key, which is written by Bryan Smith and illustrated by Lisa M. Griffin. The first-person narrative unfolds from the point-of-view of a blond girl with pale white skin named Amelia. A new student from Japan will be joining her class, and this just happens to coincide with “diversity week.” The plot is a bit contrived and the tone is a bit didactic, but overall it works.

The narrator seems to have never heard of diversity before her teacher begins discussing “diversity week.” But she quickly catches on and is receptive to the lessons her peers impart about their cultures. For instance, the new Japanese student demonstrates how school in Japan differs from school in the US. She explains that in Japan students serve lunch, eat in classrooms, and cleanup after themselves. A Mexican American student describes the importance of family to her community through a discussion of Dia De Los Muertos. The week ends with a Hawaiian celebration at a student’s home.

Importantly, learning about cultural difference prompts the narrator to reflect on and change her own behaviors. She will clean-up after herself at school and she will celebrate her deceased grandmother’s birthday by making spaghetti and meatballs.

Although it’s not a must have title, I appreciate the book. Back matter introduces activities parents and educators can use to extend the story’s lessons.

*I received a review copy of the text via NetGalley.

Miranda Paul and Baptiste Paul’s I Am Farmer: Growing an Environmental Movement in Cameroon

I Am Farmer: Growing an Environmental Movement in Cameroon

I Am Farmer: Growing an Environmental Movement in Cameroon, written by Miranda Paul and Baptiste Paul and illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon, is a non-fiction account of environmental activism in Cameroon told through the story of farmer and activist Tantoh Nforba who works to bring organic gardening and clean water to Cameroon.

Tantoh is introduced as a young boy delighting in his grandmother’s garden. Sensual images and detailed descriptions of the land, and the vegetables that grow from it, pair brilliantly. The authors work the language of nature into much of the story.

Tantoh remains committed to learning about the earth in high school. His classmates nickname him “Farmer.” Miranda and Baptiste write: “It is not a nice name. It is a name that is meant to make him feel as low as the dirt beneath his feet.” But, it doesn’t have the intended effect on Tantoh who reveres the dirt. He claims the title, scrolling it in large letters on his school uniform.

Tantoh’s father gave him his first shovel and supported his love for the earth. However, his father passed away while Tantoh was still in high school and his brother became head of the house. Because farming was associated with poverty, Tantoh’s brother wanted him to study and get a more prestigious office job. Tantoh stubbornly writes the wrong answers on exams so he will be unable to qualify for the positions his brother has in mind.

After high school Tantoh farms the land, eventually going to college where he studies the environment and agriculture. While at college, Tantoh contracts typhoid after drinking contaminated water. It takes him seven years to recover.

After his long and frightening illness, Tantoh is committed to ensuring his community has access to clean water. He gets the opportunity to study in the US and pursues this goal. Upon returning to Cameroon, and with the help of community members, Tantoh creates botanical and rain gardens as well as springs that provide fresh drinking water.

Tantoh then created an organization called Save Your Future Association, to raise money for equipment to help with his work. He has taken on numerous increasingly large projects to bring clean water and healthy food to the people of Cameroon.

I Am Farmer: Growing an Environmental Movement in Cameroon will make a wonderful addition to personal and school libraries. It can be taught as part of lesson plans about biography, environmentalism and science, geography, or cultural diversity. It does a lot of work! Miranda Paul and Baptiste Paul do a great job balancing detail without being too text heavy. Thoughtful and engaging back matter concludes the book will extend the text’s lessons beyond the story itself.

Available February 15, 2019.

*I received a digital book through NetGalley to write a review.

Breanna J. McDaniel’s Hand Up!

Hands Up!“Hands up,” a command that demands a gesture of compliance, was resignified by activists as a gesture of protest following the 2014 police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. The act of resistance quickly made its way onto the football field and the Grammy Awards’ stage –  even members of the US House of Representatives were using it to protest police shootings of unarmed Black men and women.

Breanna J. McDaniel makes this gesture of resistance available and accessible to children in her joyful new children’s picture book Hands Up!, which is warmly illustrated by Shane W. Evans to visually communicate exuberant expressions of family and community love.

In Hands Up!, a young girl with glowing brown-skin is the clear star of the story. She is the sunny center of her family and community.

Throughout the short picture book, the girl, her family, and her community put their hands up in various gestures of excitement, care, and protest.

Her parents put their hands up to play peek-a-boo. Her grandmother gently guides her to put her hands up as they do her hair. In school, she throws her hands up, excited to share an answer with her class. After winning a basketball game, she stretches her hands up in pride, holding a trophy.

In the last image, she leads community members on a march. All hands are up carrying signs in protest of injustice: “Black Lives Matter,” “Water = Life,” and “Love Your Neighbor.”

This is a sweet-strong book. Young readers will enjoy the carefully worded text that reads like poetry. Older children will be encouraged to have socially relevant conversations about race and the abuse of state power after reading it.

Image and text are in perfect harmony, communicating a sense of warmth and universal humanity where it is often denied. This is a book that can be read over and over, taking on new meaning as the child(ren) in your life mature. Highly recommended for personal and school libraries.

Author Zetta Elliott provided me with a copy of the book to review.