Review of Africa, Amazing Africa, by Atinuke, illustrated by Mouni Feddag

Africa, Amazing Africa

Country by Country

by Atinuke
illustrated by Mouni Feddag

Candlewick Press, 2021. First published in the United Kingdom in 2019. 78 pages.
Review written April 26, 2022, from a library book
Starred Review

This wonderful oversized picture book tells the reader all about Africa. The information is arranged by region, and every single African country gets a page with colorful pictures and information about what makes that country special. The details are given with a clear fondness for the continent, and the introductory page for each region includes ways to say “Welcome!” in the many languages spoken there.

I was hoping that reading this book would make me a better Worldle player. (In Worldle, you see the outline of a country and try to guess the name. Hints tell you which direction the answer is in and how far away from your guess.) I’m not sure I remembered all the information I read, but it gave me appreciation for the wide-ranging variety of climates and landscapes and cities and people found in Africa. If I still had school-age kids, this would be a fun book to leave out for them to browse at will.

Here is a bit from the Introduction. You can get a taste of how enthusiastic the author is about Africa.

Writing this book has been an adventure. I wanted to write it so that I could share the things I find exciting about Africa. But while I was working on it, I found out a zillion more really exciting things.

Did you know that the first human beings to walk this earth were African? They went on to populate the whole planet. So we are all from Africa originally!

Did you know that Africa is gigantic? It is as big as Europe, the United States, Mexico, India, and Japan all put together! . . .

Africa is changing all the time: new countries are being created or swallowed up, old traditions are being lost and new ones developing. This book can only give an idea of what Africa is like in the moment that I am writing. So enjoy this book for what it is: a tiny glimpse into this wonderful continent.

I could not squeeze everything that I know and love about Africa into this book. There is room to say only two or three things about each country. But I hope this book will make you want to find out more about the most amazing continent on the planet!

I learned so much reading this book about modern Africa!

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Review of Galloping Gertie, by Amanda Abler, illustrated by Levi Hastings

Galloping Gertie

The True Story of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge Collapse

by Amanda Abler
illustrated by Levi Hastings

Little Bigfoot (Sasquatch Books), 2021. 48 pages.
Review written February 19, 2022, from a library book
Starred Review

Galloping Gertie tells the story of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge that collapsed in 1940 only four months after it opened.

To keep the book from being too somber, it gives us the point of view of a boy named Dale Wirsing. He could see the bridge from his house and walked across it once with his parents. The windy day of the bridge’s collapse was Dale’s birthday. As a kid, he thought it was an incredibly exciting event to watch the bridge twist in the wind and eventually blow apart.

The book gives plenty more background, both in the text itself and in the back matter.

A local engineer, Clark Eldridge, had designed the bridge to be lightweight and flexible . . . perhaps a little too flexible.

When the wind blew, the center span bounced up and down. The men who built the bridge nicknamed her “Galloping Gertie.” People said they could see the cars ahead of them disappear and reappear as they drove across her. Others claimed it was like riding a roller coaster!

We are presented with the drama of the day of collapse, and how the few people on the bridge before it shut down did make it to safety (but alas! not the dog). The bridge designer, being local, had driven across the bridge early that morning and actually watched its destruction.

I knew about the bridge because of an exhibit on bridges at the St. Louis Science Center – where our family used to go frequently with my kids. It had a video running of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapse and claimed the reason was due to resonance — so I was interested in the discussion at the back that said experts now believe the collapse was due to aeroelastic flutter. I also enjoyed the terms to search for on YouTube and I again watched the bridge collapse.

This subject could be very grim, but this author and illustrator make it dramatic, compelling, and fascinating.

LeviHastings.com
sasquatchbooks.com

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Review of Opening the Road, by Keila V. Dawson, illustrated by Alleanna Harris

Opening the Road

Victor Hugo Green and His Green Book

by Keila V. Dawson
illustrated by Alleanna Harris

Beaming Books, Minneapolis, 2021. 40 pages.
Review written April 7, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

Opening the Road is a picture book that explains in simple and understandable language how Victor Hugo Green saw injustice and inconvenience and turned it into an opportunity.

First, in several spreads the book lays out the situation:

Black motorists were told:
No food . . .
No vacancy . . .
No bathroom . . .
for Black people.

White American travelers could stop at any roadside restaurant, hotel, or restroom.

But Black Americans had to pack cold food, blankets, and pillows for sleeping in the car . . . and a make-do toilet.

Then it tells how Victor saw a Kosher Food Guide put out by a Jewish newspaper and wondered if he could make a book with similar information for Black Americans.

So Victor asked his friends and neighbors in Harlem where they safely dined, shopped, and played in the city. Victor worked as a mail carrier. Along his postal route, Victor asked folks about places that were welcoming to Black people too.

It tells how The Negro Motorist Green Book took off and expanded so Black travelers took it with them to safely travel the country. I like the detail that black female entrepreneurs rented out rooms in their homes in cities with no hotels willing to rent to Black people. The discrimination turned into an opportunity.

A lovely and interesting picture book about a pertinent and inspiring bit of history.

beamingbooks.com

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Review of Call and Response, by Veronica Chambers

Call and Response

The Story of Black Lives Matter

by Veronica Chambers

Versify (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), 2021. 152 pages.
Review written October 22, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

When I checked out this book, I wasn’t sure I’d actually read it. But once I got started, I couldn’t stop. It’s got informative, detailed, and current information about the Black Lives Matter movement, including the widespread protests of Summer 2020. A project with The New York Times, the book is packed with photographs that keep the reader engaged.

I learned so much when reading this book, not only about the Black Lives Matter movement, but also about the Civil Rights Movement as a whole. The author placed current events in the context of an ongoing struggle.

I also learned about what goes into an effective protest. There was a short section about the roles of marshal, bike patrol, frontline, street medics, supplier, and legal observer. This is a book about history – recent history plus background – but it is also a book about ways that individuals can work for justice and change.

With all the pictures, this book took me longer to read than I expected. But the pages are large (the better to hold large photos), and a whole lot of information is presented in creative ways.

Whether you’re critical or supportive of the Black Lives Matter movement, this book will help you understand what they are trying to accomplish and how they rose to the moment.

The final chapter is titled “Never Too Young to Lead,” and features young leaders of various movements, including the Civil Rights movement in the sixties and the Black Lives Matter movement today, but also young people like Greta Thunberg against climate change and the Parkland survivors against gun violence – leaving kids with inspiration to find ways to step out and get involved.

veronicachambers.com
hmhbooks.com

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Review of Powwow, by Karen Pheasant-Neganigwane

Powwow

A Celebration through Song and Dance

by Karen Pheasant-Neganigwane

Orca Book Publishers, 2020. 82 pages.
Review written June 12, 2020, from a library book

This lovely book, which is lavishly illustrated with colorful photographs – explains the history of Powows, their important place in Indigenous culture, and the author’s own experiences with them.

I didn’t realize that they are a relatively new kind of celebration, although based on traditional dances that were almost lost.

The chapter “The Origins of Powwow Culture” begins this way:

The first powwow that took place on my home reserve, Wiikwemkoong, was in 1960. Powwow culture was quite new to Indigenous communities back then, because until 1951 it had been illegal for Indigenous Peoples in Canada to practice their culture and ceremonies, which included dance. As well, because my parents had attended Indian residential school, where they were always shamed for their Indigenous identity, there wasn’t much Indigenous culture or tradition in my home. As a young child, before I went to the powwows, my only understanding of what Indian meant was from those Hollywood “cowboy-and-Indian” shows on TV.

She explains how the governments of Canada and the United States made it illegal to celebrate Indigenous traditions and tried to force Indigenous peoples to assimilate and become like the people around them. Some native ceremonies and traditions were lost or almost lost.

She explains how powwows began as those laws were relaxed, and they continued to evolve.

Powwow culture has changed a lot in the last few decades, and there are now many different kinds of powwows, from smaller, traditional, local ones held on reserves and reservations to large competition powwows that take place in stadiums and casinos.

Traditional powwows don’t cost anything to attend. Competition powwows sometimes charge an admission fee. Some powwows focus just on the songs and dances, but others include other activities, like rodeos, fashion shows, music awards, midway rides and dance “specials” – exhibitions of dances from specific regions or peoples. But no matter how small or large the powwow, it is still the same in spirit. It’s still a celebration through song and dance, and it’s public and open to anyone, even people who have no experience. People go to powwows to have a good time – to hear the songs and dance or watch the dancers, see friends, share meals, tell stories and remember the past.

I especially enjoyed the chapter on certain traditional types of dances that are regularly performed at powwows. Most of them are specifically for different groups of people, for example Women’s Traditional Dance, Women’s Fancy Shawl Dance, and Women’s Jingle Dress Dance. Not only in this chapter, but throughout the book are wonderful photos of beautiful outfits worn for these dances. There’s a chapter about other things you’ll find at powwows and traditions for powwows in different regions.

I actually once attended a powwow – in Germany, of all places. I wish I’d had this book then, to better understand what I was seeing. Whether you can attend a powwow or not, this book offers upper elementary children and up a beautiful celebration of Indigenous culture and traditions.

orcabook.com

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

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Review of Fallout, by Steve Sheinkin, read by Roy Samuelson

Fallout

Spies, Superbombs, and the Ultimate Cold War Showdown

by Steve Sheinkin
read by Roy Samuelson

Listening Library, 2021. 8 hours
Review written 2/22/22 from a library eaudiobook
Starred Review
2022 Young Adult Excellence in Nonfiction Award Finalist

Fallout is a nonfiction book about the Cold War, leading up to the Cuban Missile Crisis. Steve Sheinkin takes a storyteller’s approach, telling you the stories of key figures, including many I’d never heard of before. Among others, these included a U2 pilot who got shot down over Russia, a Russian spy who tried to establish a network in New York City beginning soon after World War II, a paper boy who found a nickel that had been hollowed out to hold microfilm, and a Russian chief of staff of a submarine fleet who ordered a submarine captain and first officer not to launch a nuclear torpedo — after the world thought hostilities were ended, but the sub hadn’t heard about it.

The book is gripping and engaging and full of facts from witnesses. Although it takes place before I was born, I remember the climate when nuclear war seemed highly likely, even doing a drop and cover drill at my desk as a child, and being told by my parents that you could never trust the Russians.

Steve Sheinkin begins right after World War II and the development of bombs whose destructive force is hard to even imagine. He progresses through the space race and the rise of Castro and the development of the U2 program to fly over the Soviet Union. We hear about Khruschev’s ruthless rise to power as well as John F. Kennedy’s.

The one catch to this amazing audiobook is that my timing wasn’t good. I listened to it as Putin was threatening to invade Ukraine. Learning how several lucky coincidences saved us from World War III during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and learning that all-out nuclear war would mean the end of human life on earth as we know it — all made it disturbing to have Russia threatening war again, even in a different part of the world.

stevesheinkin.com
listeninglibrary.com

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Review of The Wedding Portrait, by Innosanto Nagara

The Wedding Portrait

The Story of a Photograph and Why Sometimes We Break the Rules

by Innosanto Nagara

Triangle Square, 2017. 36 pages.
Review written August 5, 2020, from a library book

The Wedding Portrait is a picture book about activism for kids. It’s all framed by the author’s wedding portrait, which was clipped from a newspaper and features armed guards beyond the happy couple.

The author explains things in a way a child can understand:

We usually follow the rules. But sometimes, when you see something wrong – more wrong than breaking the rules, and by breaking the rules you could stop it – you may decide that you should break the rules.

Then he talks about various people in history who have broken rules to stand up for what’s right. He covers Claudette Colvin and Rosa Parks fighting segregation; Indian people making salt in defiance of the British empire; the U’wa people in Colombia standing up against oil drilling on their land; a boycott by farm workers of tomatoes; and other forms of Civil Disobedience.

Eventually, he comes to himself and his wife, who met at a protest and decided to get married at a protest against nuclear weapons.

The author defines terms along the way and provides a wide variety of examples. It’s all framed with that wedding portrait, and there’s an epilogue following up by talking about different ways of taking action.

In current times, children may have a lot of questions about protests, and this book beautifully explains why people sometimes think it’s right to break the rules.

I do like the inclusion of this paragraph in the middle of the book:

Now. I’ll bet all this is giving you some ideas, isn’t it? Do you think some of the things that you do when you’re not following the rules should be considered civil disobedience? Do you think hiding under the bed to avoid taking a bath is a kind of sit-in? Is refusing to eat your dinner a kind of boycott?

Maybe. (Maybe not.)

As you can see, this book gives you lots to talk about.

AisforActivist.com
sevenstories.com

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Review of Dragon Hoops, by Gene Luen Yang

Dragon Hoops

From Small Steps Great Leaps

by Gene Luen Yang
color by Lark Pien

First Second, 2020. 446 pages.
Review written May 26, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

This is a graphic novel memoir about a notable high school basketball season at Bishop O’Dowd High School in Oakland, California, when the author was a teacher there. It was the 2014-15 season, and Mr. Yang had just had a graphic novel published on which he’d been working for six years. He puts himself into the story as he finds out all the hopes and dreams of the students and teachers were centering on finally winning a California state championship with their nationally ranked players. The school had previously had teams go to the championship game many times, but had never actually won.

And so we get the story of the season. The starting players and the coaches are featured. Key games are dramatized. We even get the history of basketball and why Catholic schools have a good record in this sport.

The author keeps the theme of “From Small Steps to Great Leaps” going by highlighting many small steps throughout – as people take a step into something new, and big things result. In Mr. Yang’s own life, he was trying to decide whether to quit teaching and switch to writing comics full-time, as he negotiated an offer to write for Superman.

But with basketball, you don’t know if the “good guys” win. And by making that point early in the book, we didn’t know how the season was going to turn out. The final game is well-dramatized and had me shouting at the end. Yes, shouting at a graphic novel as if it were a live game.

Now, the women’s basketball team at Bishop O’Dowd won the state championship that same year, so I found myself wishing there had been more coverage of that. (There was some, but mostly talking about the older sister of one of the players on the men’s team.) Though to be fair, the book was long enough as it was, and that might have made it unmanageable. Not to mention the difficulty the author might have had trying to get to both teams’ games.

I also wasn’t sure I liked the author writing himself into the story. But by the end, I appreciated it. It added a personal touch and emphasized that these were real kids caught up in big events.

I’m not a sports fan. (Though I was, in fact, a big fan of my high school’s basketball team and took stats for it.) But I am a fan of Gene Luen Yang’s writing, and I enjoyed this book thoroughly. The pacing was good; the history was interesting; and the competition was dramatic.

firstsecondbooks.com

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

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Review of The 1619 Project: Born on the Water, by Nikole Hannah-Jones and Renée Watson, illustrated by Nikkolas Smith

The 1619 Project

Born on the Water

by Nikole Hannah-Jones and Renée Watson
illustrated by Nikkolas Smith

Kokila (Penguin Random House), 2021. 44 pages.
Review written December 27, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

This book, like Your Legacy (which is for even younger children), shows African American children that the history of their people didn’t start with slavery. The book is presented as a series of poems. The story begins with a girl asked to do a school assignment, with a family tree and telling which country her family is from. She’s upset that she can only go back three generations. Then her grandmother tells her about their people, who were born on the water.

And she begins the story in Africa. There are ten lovely pages telling about their ancestors in Africa. Some bits of that:

Their story does not begin
with whips and chains.

They spoke Kimbundu,
had their own words
for love
for friend
for family.

Their hands had a knowing.
They knew how to hold a baby close,
how to rock the child to keep her from crying.

But the white people took them away and kidnapped them.

Ours is no immigration story.

They did not get to pack bags stuffed
with cherished things, with the doll grandmama
had woven from tall grass,
with the baby blanket handed down
from generation to generation all the way back,
so far back that it carried the scent of the ancestors.

We’re told about the White Lion, the first ship to bring slavery to America in 1619.

They had no things. But they had their minds.
The old ways, the harvest songs, the just-right mix of herbs
etched in their memories.

They had their bodies. Histories and bloodlines
and drums pulsing in their veins.
With trembling fingers
they braided seeds into their hair, defiantly hiding
tiny pieces of home
to plant one day
in new soils.

Many died on that ship, almost half, whether from despair or defiance or sickness and hunger. But those who survived resolved to live no matter what. Here’s the part that explains the title of the book:

Packed in dark misery,
strangers chained together
head to feet, hip to hip,
in the bottom of a ship
called the White Lion,
they saw that these strangers —
men, women, children, kidnapped, too,
from many villages —
these were their people now.

These many people
became one people,
a new people.

And that is why the people say,
We were born on the water.
We come from the people who refused to die.

The rest of the book talks about what those people born on the water accomplished, despite being enslaved. How they resisted, simply by living on. How they used their gifts and their intelligence to overcome and accomplish great things.

“Never forget you come from a people
of great strength,” Grandma says.
“Be proud of our story, your story.”

Let me add a note that I think it’s terrible it will be controversial to get this book out in the schools where kids can read it. This book is not shaming white people. Yes, it tells the truth about what many white people did. But the point of the story is that Black children can rightly be proud in the hope and resilience and intelligence and resourcefulness of their ancestors. And it would be great for white children to also know about this heritage their classmates proudly bear.

The story of African Americans does not begin with slavery.

nikolehannahjones.com
reneewatson.net
nikkolas.art
penguin.com

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Review of Run, Book One, by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, L. Fury, and Nate Powell

Run
Book One

written by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin
art by L. Fury with Nate Powell

Abrams Comic Arts, 2021. 154 pages.
Review written November 15, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

Run, Book One continues the story told in the award-winning series March, about John Lewis’s experiences during the Civil Rights Movement, this one beginning after the Voting Rights Act was signed. John Lewis got to see and approve of almost all the pages in this book before his death. I hope that the collaborators did enough work with him to continue the story, and I’m optimistic about that since they’re still calling it Book One.

We see lots of backlash against what they had accomplished. The book opens with members of the Ku Klux Klan on the march. There’s also conflict in SNCC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the organization for which John Lewis served as chairman for years – until dissent got him removed. The whole principle of nonviolence was being challenged.

A note at the back makes me appreciate how much historical research went into getting the detailed images in this book exactly right. They not only researched things like which models of cars were made that year, but also which cars people in any given neighborhood would drive. There are also short biographies at the back of people who show up in the book, and that section goes on for twelve pages. There’s so much detail and so much to learn in this book.

I thought it was interesting that the Black Panther party produced small comic books “explaining to new voters how they could vote for the new party, as well as the responsibilities and powers of the different elected positions they’d be voting for.” So this graphic novel comes from a long and fine tradition.

I am so thankful to the team of “Good Trouble Productions” for making sure that John Lewis’s voice can still be heard.

abramscomicarts.com

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