Archive for the ‘Biography’ Category

Review of Ordinary Hazards, by Nikki Grimes

Saturday, November 9th, 2019

Ordinary Hazards

A Memoir

by Nikki Grimes

Wordsong (Highlights), 2019. 325 pages.
Starred Review
Review written November 9, 2019, from a library book

Wow. Nikki Grimes wrote a powerful and moving memoir in verse.

Between this book and Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson, I should make a new page on my website for Teen Nonfiction. This book isn’t for children, even though it tells about Nikki Grimes’ childhood. It is for teens, and will speak to teens who have to deal with hard things.

There’s a caption at the front:

MEMOIR:
a work of imperfect memory
in which you meticulously
capture all that you can recall,
and use informed imagination
to fill in what remains.

The author explains that there are blanks in her memory because of trauma. And her childhood had lots of trauma. At the point when she finally found a loving home in a foster home, her mother took her back, and the difficulties began again.

At one point, when she’d described the abuse she went through at the hands of her mother’s husband, she then wrote about being thirteen – and I wanted to cry. So young! Later, when she was in high school and had built a good relationship with her father at last, more tragedy struck.

But she doesn’t ask you to feel sorry for her. And you can see her coping. One of the ways she coped, even as a child, was writing, always writing. She’s got excerpts from her Notebooks over the years, adding immediacy. (Though, alas, they are reconstructed and imagined.)

This is a quietly Christian book. She shows how important prayer was to her and how her faith in God was her lifeline – along with key people who came into her life and helped her through.

And there are tough things in her story, but Nikki Grimes infuses the book with joy. I love the story about going on the subway with her best friends – which goes with one of the handful of pictures in the back of the book.

One afternoon,
we three dressed up
in our finest rags
to help Gail’s boyfriend,
a fledgling photographer
in need of a portfolio
to display his considerable skills.
Debra and I ripped off our glasses,
and we three posed for portraits
in the park
(me in my new coat!),
then hung from a vertical pole
in the middle of a subway car,
swinging round it gleefully,
pretending to be
professional models.
In other words,
we hammed it up, yo!
And those photographs?
Oh, my God! Portraits
of joy.

I love reading this knowing that the little girl portrayed here, up against so much, did become the writer she planned to be.

“I want to write books about
some of the darkness I’ve seen,
real stories about real people, you know?
But I also want to write about the light,
because I’ve seen that, too.
That place of light – it’s not always easy
to get to, but it’s there.
It’s there.”

Yes! She achieved this. Even though this memoir portrays childhood trauma and difficulties, it’s a book about the light.

nikkigrimes.com
wordsongpoetry.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Alpine Path, by L. M. Montgomery

Monday, September 9th, 2019

The Alpine Path

The Story of My Career

by L. M. Montgomery

Fitzhenry & Whiteside Limited, 1990. First published in 1917.

I’m visiting Prince Edward Island in a few weeks (Yay!), and as part of my preparation, I’m rereading L. M. Montgomery’s books in the order they were published, so this short book about how she got started writing was up next.

In the Preface, the purpose of the book is explained:

In 1917 the editor of Everywoman’s World, a magazine published in Toronto from 1911 until the 1920s, asked L. M. Montgomery to write the story of her career. What she produced was published in six instalments, June through November, under the title she chose, The Alpine Path. It came from a verse that had been her inspiration during the long years when success as a writer seemed remote and only dogged determination kept her on

The Alpine path, so hard, so steep,
That leads to heights sublime.

Now, I’ve read L. M. Montgomery’s Selected Journals and am currently reading her Complete Journals — so this little book doesn’t really contain any new information for me. Instead of focusing on just her writing career, Maud Montgomery writes a lot about her childhood. Though that part very much reflects how she came up with a child as imaginative as Anne and a child so in love with the natural beauty of Prince Edward Island – this is simply who she herself was.

She also finished up The Alpine Path by copying her journal entries from her honeymoon in Scotland. It’s not very pertinent to how she became a writer, and it feels like padding to make this long enough to be a book. Visiting Scotland is very interesting, yes, but doesn’t have a whole lot to do with the story of her career. This time through the book I enjoyed that section much more, since I got to visit Scotland in 2003 and have been to some of the same places.

Since I am now reading her books chronologically, I did notice in particular how much of this story of how she got started as a writer she later used in her book Emily Climbs, as her heroine Emily of New Moon works and struggles to become an author – just as Maud Montgomery did herself. In fact, some of these scenes are pulled exactly and used for Emily, emphasizing how autobiographical a character she is.

I was also reminded that Maud Montgomery did her apprenticeship writing short stories. Here she writes about how her first efforts were spurned. But she persisted and started getting published by magazines that paid her in copies. And she persisted still more until she actually got paid, and eventually made quite a sum with her pen, even before she published a book. So Anne of Green Gables didn’t come from nothing.

This book does remind me that L. M. Montgomery is in her element writing about characters in a small town and incidents and interactions that happen with them. She knows the foibles and quirks of human nature and can draw people to great effect with her pen.

It’s also interesting that her career had just begun when she wrote The Alpine Path. She had published the first three Anne books, Kilmeny of the Orchard, the two Story Girl books, a book of short stories, and a book of poems. She would go on to publish fifteen more books in her lifetime. So it’s no wonder that this book talks more about how she got her start than on what it was like to continue to build a career as an author. I do recommend reading her journals to find out more about that!

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Best Friends, by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham

Wednesday, September 4th, 2019

Best Friends

by Shannon Hale
Artwork by LeUyen Pham
Color by Hilary Sycamore

First Second, 2019. 250 pages.
Starred Review
Review written September 3, 2019, from a library book

Best Friends is a follow-up to Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham’s wonderful graphic memoir, Real Friends, but you definitely can appreciate Best Friends even if you haven’t read the first book.

Best Friends covers one year of Shannon’s life – the year in sixth grade. I give Shannon credit for telling her story – because who would really want to relive sixth grade?

Shannon and LeUyen beautifully portray the questions that come into a kid’s mind as they try to figure out the “rules” of friendship and how they change as you get older. Shannon starts out the year best friends with the leader of “The Group,” which puts her in a good position. But can she stay there? And do her friends really like her for who she is? And what about boys?

Here’s a bit portrayed like a board game:

Sixth-grade friendships were like a game…
only as soon as I’d figure out the rules…
…they’d change again.

Games have losers. I was worried that losing this game meant I’d lose my best friend.

I especially like the way Shannon’s obsessive thoughts and problems with anxiety are portrayed as black clouds hanging over her and around her full of awful accusations (such as “Everyone thinks you’re stupid.”) and scary questions (such as “Is your mom dead?”). At the back of the book, Shannon has a note about anxiety and OCD. Here’s part of that note:

Anxiety is a totally normal feeling, and like all feelings, it’s important. It becomes an anxiety disorder when our worries get out of control day after day after day, when the worries don’t always make sense, when they keep us from doing things we want or need to do, and they make us feel awful. For most people who have an anxiety disorder, “just ignore it” doesn’t work.

Sometimes anxiety gave me feelings of dread – warnings that something bad was going to happen. At times I believed worrying was a power that kept me and the people I loved safe. But that wasn’t true. Talking with people who understand anxiety has helped me to untangle all my feelings. It’s taken me time to develop skills that help me manage anxiety. You can find more information at adaa.org (Anxiety and Depression Association of America).

But my favorite part of Best Friends were the scenes from a book Shannon Hale was writing in sixth grade. (She shows two pages of the manuscript at the back.) I like the way you can see Shannon was dealing with her real-life challenges by having a fantasy princess deal with similar challenges – and overcome them.

I love the way real-life Shannon was reminded by the fantasy book she was writing that the important thing is to be true to her essence.

It’s probably just as well this book didn’t come out last year when I was on the Newbery committee – I love all Shannon’s books so much, I’d feel like I was biased fighting for it to win. This is an example where it’s too bad the Newbery committee isn’t allowed to take the illustrations into account unless they detract – because these illustrations are the perfect accompaniment to the story. But the story itself has a whole lot of depth as Shannon portrays that universal experience of growing up to where you’re not quite a child any longer, and everything begins to change.

(Disclaimer: I have no idea what this year’s committee will decide and I have no idea how I would feel about this book next to the other contenders this year or how the book will look to the committee. But one thing I’m sure about – my Newbery radar is still active enough that I would definitely note this as a book to Suggest for all the committee members to read.)

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and I’m confident it’s going to be deservedly popular. It reminded me I’m glad I never have to go through sixth grade again, but for kids who are still facing it, this book will encourage them that they’re not alone.

squeetus.com
leuyenpham.com
firstsecondbooks.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of O Captain, My Captain! by Robert Burleigh, illustrated by Sterling Hundley

Wednesday, August 14th, 2019

O Captain, My Captain

Walt Whitman, Abraham Lincoln, and the Civil War

by Robert Burleigh
illustrations by Sterling Hundley

Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2019. 64 pages.
Starred Review
Review written April 20, 2019, from a library book

I was going to pass over this book. I thought it was a simple picture book biography. As much as I loved the first ones I saw, I’ve gotten somewhat jaded about their simple approach to a person’s life.

This goes into much more depth, and I was quickly pulled in. Although the format is the same size as a picture book, the book has twice as many pages, and there’s much more text on each spread. This would be appropriate for upper elementary school, though even as an adult, I learned much about Walt Whitman and Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War, and the beautiful paintings enhanced the text.

Walt Whitman lived and worked the same time as Abraham Lincoln, and he ended up writing two tribute poems to Lincoln (included in the book). Most interesting was that even though he was already a famous poet, he lived in Washington during the Civil War and visited soldiers in the hospital there every day, helping and encouraging them. So he regularly saw President Lincoln passing by.

Each section of this book (usually one or two spreads) has a heading that is a quotation from Walt Whitman. There are twelve pages of back matter – you can see the author has done his research.

Simply to see this president, to catch a glimpse of his face, increasingly etched with suffering – “so awful ugly it becomes beautiful” – yet with a wry smile on occasion, was uplifting. Just to watch as the stiff figure, sitting motionless in the shadow of the carriage, passed by, gave Walt new energy. He felt Lincoln was giving his all, and beyond. How could Walt do less?

This book pulled me into the emotions of living out the Civil War in Washington in a way I hadn’t experienced before.

robertburleigh.com
sterlinghundley.com
abramsyoungreaders.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of They Called Us Enemy, by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, and Steven Scott, art by Harmony Becker

Thursday, July 18th, 2019

They Called Us Enemy

by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, and Steven Scott
art by Harmony Becker

Top Shelf Productions, 2019. 208 pages.
Starred Review
Review written July 17, 2019, from my own copy purchased via amazon.com

I got to hear George Takei speak at ALA Annual Conference and received an excerpt from this book which I got signed by all of the creators. All of that got me so excited about it, I went ahead and preordered my own copy and read it the day it came in.

I didn’t know much at all about the incarceration of Americans of Japanese descent during World War II, even though one of my best friends has parents who were imprisoned as children at that time. And I guess I thought I knew more than it turns out I did. George Takei presents his memories as a five-year-old sent to the camps, but he inserts the facts of what was going on to make it possible for American citizens to be imprisoned simply because of their ethnicity.

The whole timeline and explanation is laid out. After Pearl Harbor, Americans of Japanese descent were regarded with suspicion, and young men were turned away from army recruitment centers. Next came curfews, and then the families were rounded up and sent to camps. George talks about the irony of going to school and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance surrounded by barbed wire and guards. The story is told from the perspective of a five-year-old who doesn’t know that anything he’s experiencing isn’t normal.

George’s father emerges as the hero of this story. He did what he could to help his family at the time. As George grew up, his father talked with him about democracy.

Our democracy is a participatory democracy. Existentially, it’s dependent on people who cherish the shining, highest ideals of our democracy and actively engage in the political process.

His father said about FDR:

Roosevelt pulled us out of the depression, and he did great things, but he was also a fallible human being, and he made a disastrous mistake that affected us calamitously. But despite all that we’ve experienced, our democracy is still the best in the world.

The art in this book is wonderful. Young George is adorable and mischievous. His parents’ love for each other and firm resolution to take care of their children is communicated in the pictures. At times, a manga style is used to show George’s excitement, with stars coming out of his eyes. It’s used with a light touch, but effectively.

The book is framed with a modern-day George reflecting on his experiences and the book touches on where his life went from there. Taken all together, this book is powerful and moving. And it’s also shocking – what the government was able to do to United States citizens. Unfortunately, it’s also horribly timely.

This is a book everyone should read. Since it’s in comic format, it doesn’t take long. Invest an hour of your time reading this. You won’t forget it.

topshelfcomix.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Important Thing About Margaret Wise Brown, by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Sarah Jacoby

Friday, July 5th, 2019

The Important Thing About Margaret Wise Brown

by Mac Barnett
illustrated by Sarah Jacoby

Balzer + Bray, 2019. 42 pages.
Starred Review
Review written May 29, 2019, from a library book

This is not your typical picture book biography. Since the author is Mac Barnett, I shouldn’t have expected typical. But the cover and art looked so lovely and sedate, I didn’t notice the author was Mac Barnett until the text started getting unusual.

Here’s the beginning of the book:

Margaret Wise Brown lived for 42 years.
This book is 42 pages long.
You can’t fit somebody’s life into 42 pages,
so I am just going to tell you some important things.

The important thing about Margaret Wise Brown is that she wrote books.

Mac Barnett begins giving facts about Margaret Wise Brown with this introduction:

It can be odd to imagine the lives of the people who write the books you read,
like running into your teacher at the supermarket.
But authors are people.
They are born and they die.
They make jokes and mistakes.
They fall in love and they fall in love again.
They go to the supermarket to buy tomatoes,
which they keep in the bottom drawers of their refrigerators,
even though tomatoes should stay out on the counter.
But which of these things is important? And to whom?

Then he gives facts about her life, including that she fell in love with a woman named Michael and a man named Pebble (no more details than that, though it certainly got me curious). Then he tells about her childhood and many pets.

I like the summaries of her most well-known books:

This is a story about a rabbit.
The rabbit must go to bed,
and he takes a long time
saying goodnight to everything.
Nobody knows why he says goodnight
to all this stuff –
his socks and some mush and even the air –
but I have an idea.
I think it is because he is afraid to go to sleep.
Have you read this book?
Do you know what I mean?

This is a story about a rabbit.
He is trying to escape from his mother.
But his mother just won’t let him get away.
(Maybe that is why he is trying
to escape from her.)

The author tells us about some strange things Margaret Wise Brown did. And about some strange things in her books:

Now it’s true that Margaret Wise Brown wrote strange books.
In her books, you would turn the page
and the story would suddenly change.
Sometimes a duck would appear for no reason.
And the narrator would often stop telling the story
and ask the reader a question.
Now isn’t that a strange thing to do?

Some people,
when they see something strange,
become bothered.
These people build worlds that make perfect sense,
even if that means ignoring many strange things
around them.

Now here is something I believe.
(I know there are only 23 pages left in this book,
but it’s important.)
No good book is loved by everyone,
and any good book is bound to bother somebody.
Because every good book is at least a little bit strange,
and there are some people who do not
like strange things in their worlds.

He goes from that discussion to telling about Anne Carroll Moore of the New York Public Library. He tells about some strange things she did, without commenting that they are strange. She stamped Margaret Wise Brown’s books with “NOT RECOMMENDED FOR PURCHASE BY EXPERT.” This meant they were kept out of the New York Public Library and many other libraries. Then he goes on to tell what Margaret Wise Brown did when she herself was kept out of the New York Public Library.

This book is a strange book. And here’s what the author has to say about that:

Lives are strange.
And there are people who do not like strange stories,
especially in books for children.
But sometimes you find a book that feels as strange as life does.
These books feel true.
These books are important.
Margaret Wise Brown wrote books like this,
and she wrote them for children,
because she believed children deserve important books.

If you like strange but informative books for children, this is a good one.

macbarnett.com
thesarahjacoby.com
harpercollinschildrens.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of I Am Farmer, by Baptiste & Miranda Paul, illustrations by Elizabeth Zunon

Tuesday, June 25th, 2019

I Am Farmer

Growing an Environmental Movement in Cameroon

by Baptiste & Miranda Paul
illustrations by Elizabeth Zunon

Millbrook Press, 2019. 36 pages.
Starred Review
Review written April 20, 2019, from a library book

This picture book biography tells about Farmer Tantoh of Cameroon, who ever since he was a small boy loved the soil and wanted to be a farmer. So much so that he took that as his name in high school and purposely flunked an exam that could have given him an office job.

Later he did go on to college, and to this day he works to bring clean water throughout his country and spreads good farming practices and cooperation.

The book follows Farmer Tantoh from childhood, through his college years when he caught typhoid from contaminated water, through his work today.

Here’s an example from one spread:

One project leads to another and another. Farmer Tantoh founds Save Your Future Association, a nonprofit organization to which people around the world can donate money and supplies. With local and international support, he finds a way to bring clean water to Njirong, a village suffering after a thirty-year conflict.

He begins a water delivery service for blind students. He hires engineers to design stairways, railings, or ramps for villagers with physical disabilities. In places with large populations, communities build reservoirs so that in times of drought, people can get the water they need.

The book is beautifully illustrated with Elizabeth Zunon’s wonderful collage artwork, and there are photographs on the endpapers which bring home that this is a real person. I like the Author’s Note, which tells us, “We traveled to northwest Cameroon in 2017, and we were overwhelmed by the number of villagers – from the very young to the elderly – who were beyond eager to tell or show us how Tantoh’s work had changed their lives.”

This is an inspiring story that I’m so glad to have read about.

baptistepaul.net
mirandapaul.com
lizzunon.com
lernerbooks.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Becoming, by Michelle Obama

Monday, March 25th, 2019

Becoming

by Michelle Obama
read by the author

Review written March 22, 2019, from a library audiobook plus my own print copy preordered via Amazon.com
Random House Audio, 2018. 19 hours on 16 CDs.
Starred Review

I got to hear Michelle Obama speak about this book last June at ALA Annual Conference and got excited enough to preorder the book from Amazon.com. But since it came when my Newbery reading was heating up, I decided to listen to the audiobook from the library. However, I had to stop in the middle before my trip to Seattle to choose the Newbery winner, and there was a long wait to get the audiobook again. I ended up reading part of the book in print, then listening to that part again. She is a slow and deliberate reader, so the book is extra long in audio format. But I like her so much, I was happy to hear her voice, and it was worth taking the time to listen.

As for the book – I loved every bit of it. This will be no surprise, since I already love the Obamas. Listening to the book now, with such a contrast between them and the current occupant of the White House – it makes you sad. Yet it’s good to remember that past presidents were there to serve the country. I believe it can happen again.

Part of what I loved about this book was that Michelle Obama was born the same year I was. And both of us skipped a year of school, so she graduated from high school the same year I did, too. Our lives were not terribly similar, but there are some little details about life in the 60s and 70s that felt so familiar to me. I also think that our personalities are quite similar – detail-oriented and trying to control things and achieving in school for starters. So I enjoyed reading about her growing-up years almost the most of all. Felt like I had a sister in spirit. I already knew a lot about her political years – but hearing about her childhood was extra charming to me.

And she’s a good writer. The story of her romance is told as effectively as a good romance novel. I had to turn in the audiobook when I’d gotten to where they’d just had their first kiss and was super frustrated to have to wait to hear more. Of course, it helps that I already have a crush on her husband!

Yes, this book paints her husband’s politics in a good light, so those who already despise the Obamas probably won’t like it. But if you can tolerate that, this book presents a window on American life. Michelle Obama presents herself as an ordinary person who was blessed with some fantastic opportunities, and she wants to pass on some of that good fortune to others and help young people from modest backgrounds aspire to much more.

I liked hearing about all the young people the Obamas brought to the White House with several different programs, to encourage them and give them a boost. Truly they were there to serve.

In her Epilogue, Michelle shows that she’s still living with optimism, one of her most important values. Even though this book made me discouraged for how things have gone since the Obamas left office, her optimism is contagious. America will continue to make progress. After reading this book, I can believe it again.

Here are her final thoughts in this book:

I’m an ordinary person who found herself on an extraordinary journey. In sharing my story, I hope to help create space for other stories and other voices, to widen the pathway for who belongs and why. I’ve been lucky enough to get to walk into stone castles, urban classrooms, and Iowa kitchens, just trying to be myself, just trying to connect. For every door that’s been opened to me, I’ve tried to open my door to others. And here is what I have to say, finally: Let’s invite one another in. Maybe then we can begin to fear less, to make fewer wrong assumptions, to let go of the biases and stereotypes that unnecessarily divide us. Maybe we can better embrace the ways we are the same. It’s not about being perfect. It’s not about where you get yourself in the end. There’s power in allowing yourself to be known and heard, in owning your unique story, in using your authentic voice. And there’s grace in being willing to know and hear others. This, for me, is how we become.

becomingmichelleobama.com
crownpublishing.com
penguinrandomhouseaudio.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Planting Stories, by Anika Aldamuy Denise

Tuesday, March 19th, 2019

Planting Stories

The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré

by Anika Aldamuy Denise
illustrations by Paola Escobar

Harper, 2019. 36 pages.
Starred Review
Review written February 13, 2019, from a library book

Here’s a picture book biography of Pura Belpré, who has a children’s book award named after her for outstanding works of literature by Latinx authors and illustrators.

In 1921, Pura Belpré was the first Puerto Rican librarian in New York City. She was hired to find books and create programs at the Harlem branch that would appeal to the neighborhood’s growing Spanish-speaking community.

Since Pura didn’t find any stories from Puerto Rico on the library shelves, she told the stories herself. She ended up creating puppets to go with them and authoring several books based on those stories.

This book, with particularly beautiful illustrations, celebrates the difference a librarian made to an entire community, while telling more of the background of her life.

I was glad to discover the story of the person honored by the award. Yes, she was someone who got stories into the minds and hearts of Latinx children.

anikadenise.com
harpercollinschildrens.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of So Tall Within, by Gary D. Schmidt

Saturday, March 2nd, 2019

So Tall Within

Sojourner Truth’s Long Walk Toward Freedom

by Gary D. Schmidt
illustrated by Daniel Minter

Roaring Brook Press, 2018. 48 pages.
Starred Review
Review written October 2, 2018, from a library book
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#1 Children’s Nonfiction Picture Books

Here’s a picture book biography of Sojourner Truth, focusing on how she spoke up for Freedom.

The words used are poetic and the pictures are full of beautiful resonance.

Many spreads have a panel on the left side beginning with “In Slavery Time…” or “In Freedom Time…” along with an image.

For example, the book begins like this:

In Slavery Time, when Hope was a seed waiting to be planted,

Isabella lived in a cellar where the windows never let the sun in and the floorboards never kept the water out.

The book takes us through her many years in slavery, and then the story of how she got her freedom – and sued her former master because he sold her son out of the state of New York.

But in Slavery Time, Broken Promises were like leaves on a tree.

It tells about how she changed her name and began walking around the country speaking about Freedom and Truth.

In Slavery Time, when Tiredness stood at the doorway,

Sojourner Truth walked all the way to Washington, D. C. There she met Abraham Lincoln, and she told him he was “the best president who has ever taken the seat.”

But the panels change after emancipation.

In Freedom Time, when Hope kindled a fire in the dark and Happiness winked over the horizon,

Soujourner Truth told an audience in Massachusetts, “Children, I have come here like the rest of you, to hear what I have to say.” And what she had to say was plenty.

This book powerfully and poetically portrays a woman who rose from slavery to stand tall and change America.

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