Picture Book Review ~ Books for Black History Month

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. 

I saw a post somewhere earlier this month that said something to the effect of “if February is the first time your students are hearing about Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., etc. then you’re doing it wrong.” All history should be black history. We should be celebrating the lives and accomplishments of blacks right alongside whites as we study the events themselves rather than focusing on the white players and separating out the black players to be spotlighted briefly during the few short weeks in February. Especially since most of the black figures studied seem to be those who figure into the Civil Rights movement. What about the rest of history?

Well, I can’t claim to be the perfect example by any stretch. Two of the books I’m going to share deal, in fact, with Civil Rights figures. But I think it’s important to at least be aware of the holes in our history programs, our own gaps of knowledge and understanding and try to fill those as best we can. I’d love to hear your recommendations for books featuring lesser-known black historical figures so I can beef up my collection.

Frederick Douglass Book Review

Frederick Douglass: The Lion Who Wrote History

Written by: Walter Dean Myers

Illustrated by: Floyd Cooper

Number of Pages: 40

Age Range: 8-12

Rating: 4/5

Frederick Douglass is one of those names I hear all the time and yet if someone asked me I don’t know that I could tell them very much about him. We get a good overview of his life in this book by two revered award-winners. Growing up as a slave he was in a rare position of being owned by a relatively kind family and learned quickly that speaking clearly, reading and writing could make all the difference in a person’s life. He taught himself to read, worked hard, earned the respect of those around him and used all of that to his advantage to escape north where he quickly became a spokesperson for equal rights. His autobiography helped further the cause, giving people an understanding of what slavery was truly like. His courage and his words helped change the nation.

Several of the pages are quite text-heavy, geared toward a slightly older reader. But the story is engaging and easy to follow. And I absolutely love Cooper’s hazy, dream-like illustrations. I always feel as if I’m somehow looking back through the mists of time to actually see the events taking place.

Fannie Lou Hamer Book Review

Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement

Written by: Carole Boston Weatherford

Illustrated by: Ekua Holmes

Number of Pages: 56

Age Range: 8-12

Rating: 4/5

Fannie Lou Hamer is another name I recognize but actually know very little about. This book covers the bulk of her life, from childhood as a sharecropper in Mississippi to her participation in the Civil Rights Movement and political influence shortly before her death in 1977. She was right in the thick of it all. She fought for her right to vote, was jailed and beaten, ran for Congress, traveled to Africa, marched with Dr.King, started a Freedom Farm and a Head Start program and more. She was a woman who never stopped fighting for what she believed in.

The book is beautifully told in verse, each spread highlighting a phrase, topic or time period from Fannie’s life and accompanied by a gorgeous collage-style illustration. (Check out my Instagram feed for an inside peek.) There’s also fantastic backmatter including an author’s note and detailed timeline along with extensive source notes and suggestions for further reading.

(This book was a John Steptoe New Talent Illustrator Award Winner, Robert F. Sibert Honor Book, and Caldecott Honor Book in 2016.)

Step Right Up Book Review

Step Right Up: How Doc and Jim Key Taught the World About Kindness

Written by: Donna Janell Bowman

Illustrated by: Daniel Minter

Number of Pages: 48

Age Range: 5-9

Rating: 4/5

Finally, I give you one of those lesser-known characters, actually two for the price of one! In 1833 William “Doc” Key was born into slavery in Tennessee. And like Frederick Douglass, he was lucky to be owned by a family who was kind, to the point of educating him alongside their own children.  He had a natural way with animals and learned to care for them as easily as he cared for humans. After the Civil War he became a free man and set up a medical practice. He nurtured an old thoroughbred horse who gave birth to a runty pony he named Jim and the two became inseparable.

Jim wasn’t an average horse. After training him to do some tricks to help sell some of his medicines, Doc pushed the training a little further and Jim responded. Soon Jim was counting, spelling, telling time and identifying state flags. The two became famous doing performances at the Tennessee Centennial Exposition, for President McKinley, on Broadway and all across the country. He pushed for black rights in the towns, hotels and halls they visited and for animal rights as well (including the country’s first humane societies.)  Whenever he was asked the secret to their success and Jim’s training he would reply that with kindness, anything is possible.

The text is a bit lengthy but completely riveting. I think it’s one that would hold the attention of even younger readers despite its length. And the woodcut illustrations are perfect. (Again, check out my Instagram feed for a look at the inside.) A fantastic afterward goes into more details about the pair of unlikely heroes complete with photographs.

I love these kinds of stories! Off-beat, uplifting, completely mesmerizing. A horse that could make change, identify Bible passages and win spelling bees? Truth really is stranger than fiction.

Thoughts for a Winter’s Day

It’s definitely winter here and all I want to do is curl up with a good book and read until spring. C.S. Lewis summed up my thoughts perfectly.

book and tea quote CS Lewis

What are you doing to stay warm this winter? And more importantly, what are you reading?!

(You can check out my current virtual stack of books by hopping over to my Goodreads page. And while you’re there, let’s be friends!)

Middle Grade Book Review ~ Just Sayin’

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. 

I love me a good epistolary novel. (For anyone unfamiliar with that term, it’s a book written in the form of letters, diary entries or the modern-day version generally uses emails or even text messages.) I fell in love with the form back in 3rd or 4th grade when I spent my hard-earned money at the school book fair on a copy of Dear Mr. Henshaw (which is a little tattered but still graces my bookshelves today!)

Today’s middle grade book is a rare modern setting that actually relies on letters (our poor narrator constantly bugs her mom for a cell phone to text, can’t get on her grandma’s computer to email like she’d prefer and absolutely hates to talk on the phone.) It sounds a little contrived but it works.

Cassie is living with her grandmother while her mother goes off to ‘find herself’ and recover from a broken engagement. Meanwhile, Nick and Julie are forced to move from their home to a retirement community with their grandfather while helping their father heal. The kids spend the summer writing each other letters trying to piece together what happened between their parents to ruin the family they’d all hoped to have.

Cassie and Nick are the main writers but Julie, their parents, grandma, the local preacher and even a game show host each have a chance to have their say.  There’s a bit of Parent Trap-esque scheming involved but I really appreciated that the adults weren’t absent, just distracted. The realistic portrayals of each character’s growth and progression throughout the book was another point in its favor. It’s a great introduction to the genre and a fun, feel-good tale for middle grade readers.

Just Sayin' Book Review

 

Just Sayin’

Written by: Dandi Daley Mackall

Number of Pages: 190

Age Range: 8-12

Rating: 3.5/5

 

For fans of the genre, or those looking to explore more epistolary novels these are a few of my favorites:

Picture Books

The Quiet Place

Dear Mr. Blueberry

The Jolly Postman

Meerkat Mail

Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type

Middle Grade

Dear Max

When Audrey Met Alice

Trial by Journal

Diary of A Wimpy Kid

Young Adult

Life as We Knew It

Monster

Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares

Book of A Thousand Days

Code Name Verity

Adult

Dear Mr. Knightley

Where’d You Go, Bernadette?

84, Charing Cross Road

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Author Spotlight ~ Britta Teckentrup

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase

I like to pride myself on having a pretty vast knowledge of children’s lit but every now and then a book or an author will slide past my radar undetected and when they finally come to my attention I’m appalled that I didn’t know about them before. Britta Teckentrup is one such author. I stumbled over her dreamy board book Tree: A Peek-Through Picture Book last year, only to find out that she’s published dozens and dozens of books and they’re all equally dreamy. Here are just a few to whet your appetite!

One is Not a Pair Book Review

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One is Not a Pair

Written and Illustrated by: Britta Teckentrup

Number of Pages: 32

Age Range: 4-8

Rating: 4.5/5

Busy pages are filled with similar looking paired pictures except for one stand-alone item that looks similar to the others but doesn’t have an exact match. Can you spot the ice cream cone that doesn’t fit in or the sock that is missing its mate?

 

Up and Down Book Review

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Up & Down

Written and Illustrated by: Britta Teckentrup

Number of Pages: 32

Age Range: 2-5

Rating: 5/5

I may be a little partial to this one because I love penguins so much but I think you’ll find it hard not to love too. Little Penguin is missing his friend who lives far away and embarks on a journey to visit her. The pages have lift-the-flap portions that show penguin maneuvering over and under seaweed, climbing from the bottoms to the tops of icebergs and so on. A great illustration of opposites and prepositions…and cute penguins to boot!

Get Out of My Bath Book Review

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Get Out of My Bath

Written and Illustrated by: Britta Teckentrup

Number of Pages: 32

Age Range: 2-5

Rating: 4/5

Similar to Herve Tullet’s Press Here, the reader is encouraged to shake, tilt and shout at the book in an effort to help the main character Ellie clear her bathtub of uninvited guests. Great fun!

 

The Egg Book Review

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Egg

Written and Illustrated by: Britta Teckentrup

Number of Pages: 96

Age Range: 6-10

Rating: 4.5/5

This one is the most ambitious of the lot, geared toward slightly older readers. Each spread has a gorgeous illustration and a couple of paragraphs about an egg related subject. There’s no real rhyme or reason to what is covered or when but you’ll read about how eggs get their colors, the size range of bird eggs, some of the mythology and religious symbolism surrounding eggs, even a snippet about Faberge eggs. It’s really lovely and informative though probably not something that could be used as a reference for say a science project (except maybe for inspiration.)

Are there any authors out there you’d consider hidden gems? I’d love to discover more!