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The Horn Book editor's rants and raves. Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996
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1. Week in Review, February 1st-5th: Black History Month Week 1

Week in Review

This week on hbook.com…

Black History Month

For Black History Month, we’ve selected articles by and/or about African American children’s book luminaries — one a day throughout February, with a roundup on Fridays. This week’s selections:

Preview the March/April 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine

Reviews of the Week:

Read Roger: HB NB February

Out of the Box: 

Lolly’s Classroom: The past made present | Class #3, 2016: Two historical fiction books and Three nonfiction books

Events calendar

See overviews of previous weeks by clicking the tag week in review. Find us on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest to keep up-to-date!

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2. DC Super Heroes Origami

dc super hero origamiIt’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s…origami?

On a scale of 1 to 3 stars, the “Daily Planet Building” project is a 1, meaning it is the simplest level of the paper-folding projects in John Montroll’s DC Super Heroes Origami (Capstone, September 2015). As an origami novice, I decided to start with the easiest possible project, thinking “Buildings are rectangles; you’ve totally got this.”

Daily Planet Pic 1

what the Daily Planet Building project is intended to look like

But I will forever claim that I was doomed from the beginning: the origami paper specifically designed to be the Daily Planet building was not a square. I feel like that should have been a prerequisite for the production of this book:

“We’re creating a book on how to do origami projects. Origami paper is square. Should we make sure our paper is square?”

“Nah, no one will notice if the paper is rectangular. Just print it. What? No, no, just print. We’re good.”

Uneven paper pic 2

And I began.

Following the step-by-step instructions, I found myself repeatedly flipping back to the handy key in the front which explains different folds and how to do them. I did not master the “squash fold.” I imagine mastering the squash fold is not in the cards for me. But the “pleat-fold”? I’ve definitely got that one down:

awesome pleat fold pic 3

The squash fold, for your viewing pleasure:

Squash fold pic 4

At this point, my windows aren’t matching up and, for some reason, the base of my building has an extra side. There are lots of little steps left between “extra-sided-base” and “finished” and all of them are pleat-folds with mountain-folds along the crease and squash folds to make things…pointy? I’m not even done and it already looks like the Crooked Man built the Daily Planet. Or like something from A Serious of Unfortunate Events happened in Metropolis (that’s where Superman is from, right?).

I squash and pleat and create ART. Because I am an ARTIST. Then, the final step is to bend slightly so the building is 3D and can stand. I turn it over. This is what I have:

Complete laying down pic 5  Complete standing up pic 6
It does stand…when supported by my water bottle. To prove to myself that I am capable of folding paper, I cut my own origami paper and started over. I still have not mastered the squash folds. But look! Look at the difference when the paper is square!

MINE pic 7

That is a Daily Planet! A Daily Planet built by a not-very-imaginative Metropolis-ian (Metropolian? Metropolitan?) architect. Look at the detail! And that flat base. People could totally work in that thing. Tiny, two-dimensional, imaginary people.

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3. LumiKids Snow app review

lumikids snow title screenIt’s rainy, not snowy, in Boston right now, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to explore the winter wonderland that is LumiKids Snow (Lumosity Labs, December 2015).

Opening the app, you’re taken to a landscape of white and icy teals, where a friendly seal waits on a small ice floe. Tap to access a game starring the seal, or swipe either direction to play any of five other winter-themed activities alongside cute kids and critters. Three of these — ice fishing, toasting and sharing marshmallows, and having a snowball fight — are more silly winter fun than educational activities. But the other three are the type of “brain training” game found in Lumosity’s app for adults. (It’s challenging and fun; I recommend it for grownups!)

In the first of these brain games, the seal and his friends play hide-and-seek. The challenge? To remember where each seal is hiding, even when their ice floes start to move.

lumikids snow seals

Another game invites you to create increasingly complex systems of ramps, bouncy castles, and catapults for penguins to reach floating balloons (so they can fly, natch).

lumikids snow penguin

Both of these start off simple, but get incrementally more difficult as you proceed through them and return for subsequent visits. In the last brain game, you practice writing capital letters (letter names and sounds provided) by directing kids’ sleds. There is no text to read or directions of any sort, but figuring out what to do is part of the process. A locked parents’ section offers some usage tips.

Bright colors against the wintry background, cheerful music and silly sound effects, and visual humor (for instance, the ski-jumping penguins wear safety goggles) make this an engaging way to practice a variety of skills. Fun for an indoor snow day activity. There are several other LumiKids apps — Park, Beach, and Backyard — and I’m looking forward to giving them a spin as well.

Available for iPad (requires iOS 7.0 or later) and Android devices; free. Recommended for preschool users.

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4. Review of What Are You Glad About? 
What Are You Mad About?: Poems for When a Person 
Needs a Poem

viorst_what are you glad aboutWhat Are You Glad About? What Are You Mad About?: Poems for When a Person Needs a Poem
by Judith Viorst; illus. by Lee White
Primary, Intermediate   Dlouhy/Atheneum   102 pp.
2/16   978-1-4814-2355-7   $17.99   g
e-book ed. 978-1-4814-2355-1   $10.99

Viorst’s most famous book is Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, and this collection of over fifty poems expresses the same wry humor and sharp observation about the range of feelings children experience in their everyday lives. Viorst plays with school subjects such as reading, writing, and “arithmetrick” (in the “School Stuff” section), and there are poems about competition with friends (the “Friends and Other People” section), bossy moms (“About the Family”), and the mystery of time sometimes seeming fast and sometimes slow. But the strongest poems go to the heart of feelings, such as worrying: “I like the sun hot on my back. / If killer sharks did not attack, / I’d like beaches.” One especially poignant piece deals with breaking up with a best friend: “We’ve never had an argument, or even a small fuss, / But I’m not my best friend’s best friend anymore.” White’s illustrations bring zany humor to the poems, and even sometimes add their own little twist, as in “Whoops,” where a poem about trying to reach something high up is pictured with someone reaching for a treasure chest on the back of a dragon. From a riff on The Sound of Music (“My Least Favorite Things”) to a clever poem pondering the purpose of toes, this collection will delight kids and the adults who read it aloud, too.

From the January/February 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

The post Review of What Are You Glad About? 
What Are You Mad About?: Poems for When a Person 
Needs a Poem appeared first on The Horn Book.

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What Are You Mad About?: Poems for When a Person 
Needs a Poem as of 1/1/1900
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5. Review of What Are You Glad About? 
What Are You Mad About?: Poems for When a Person 
Needs a Poem

viorst_what are you glad aboutWhat Are You Glad About? What Are You Mad About?: Poems for When a Person Needs a Poem
by Judith Viorst; illus. by Lee White
Primary, Intermediate   Dlouhy/Atheneum   102 pp.
2/16   978-1-4814-2355-7   $17.99   g
e-book ed. 978-1-4814-2355-1   $10.99

Viorst’s most famous book is Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, and this collection of over fifty poems expresses the same wry humor and sharp observation about the range of feelings children experience in their everyday lives. Viorst plays with school subjects such as reading, writing, and “arithmetrick” (in the “School Stuff” section), and there are poems about competition with friends (the “Friends and Other People” section), bossy moms (“About the Family”), and the mystery of time sometimes seeming fast and sometimes slow. But the strongest poems go to the heart of feelings, such as worrying: “I like the sun hot on my back. / If killer sharks did not attack, / I’d like beaches.” One especially poignant piece deals with breaking up with a best friend: “We’ve never had an argument, or even a small fuss, / But I’m not my best friend’s best friend anymore.” White’s illustrations bring zany humor to the poems, and even sometimes add their own little twist, as in “Whoops,” where a poem about trying to reach something high up is pictured with someone reaching for a treasure chest on the back of a dragon. From a riff on The Sound of Music (“My Least Favorite Things”) to a clever poem pondering the purpose of toes, this collection will delight kids and the adults who read it aloud, too.

From the January/February 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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What Are You Mad About?: Poems for When a Person 
Needs a Poem appeared first on The Horn Book.

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What Are You Mad About?: Poems for When a Person 
Needs a Poem as of 1/1/1900
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6. The past made present | Class #3, 2016

class3books2016_500x444

Next Tuesday (February 9), Lauren’s class will be discussing several books. The theme for the day is “The past made present” so they will look at both historical fiction and nonfiction — including one book that’s a hybrid of the two.

Everyone will be reading One Crazy Summer; they will choose to read either No Crystal Stair or Bomb; and they are being asked to explore (but not necessarily read in full) either Claudette Colvin or Marching to Freedom.

We welcome all of you to join the discussion on these posts:

  • Two historical fiction books:
    • One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia
    • No Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson; illustrated by R. Gregory Christie
  • Three nonfiction books:
    • Bomb: the Race to Build—and Steal—the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin
    • Claudette Colvin by Phillip Hoose
    • Marching For Freedom by Elizabeth Partridge

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7. Two historical fiction books | Class #3, 2016

One Crazy Summer     No Crystal Stair by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia

Supplemental readings:

  • Rita Williams-Garcia’s profile in July/August 2007 Horn Book Magazine
  • No Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson; illustrated by R. Gregory Christie

Historical fiction is a balancing act of storytelling and character development with real-world events. How do these different aspects interact in each of these works? How do the authors engage readers in both the lives of the characters and their time and place in history?

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8. Three nonfiction books | Class #3, 2016

Bomb by Steve Sheinkin    Claudette Colvin    marching for freedom

Bomb: the Race to Build—and Steal—the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steven Shenkin

Claudette Colvin by Phillip Hoose

Marching For Freedom by Elizabeth Partridge

Good nonfiction shares many of the qualities of good fiction; the best writers pay as much attention to narrative, style, and characterization as to careful research of the facts. Design is another important feature of much nonfiction. Which literary elements are most notable in the works for this week?

 

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9. Preview March/April 2016 Horn Book Magazine

March/April 2016 Horn Book MagazneBeverly Cleary’s 100th birthday: To mark the occasion, publisher David Reuther; authors Elaine Scott, Varian Johnson, Kurtis Scaletta, Kate Messner, and Tony DiTerlizzi; and librarian Julie Roach reflect on Beverly Cleary’s work.

Ibi Zoboi on building a “Fine Bookshelf” of mirror books. Plus, her interview with authors Edwidge Danticat and Rita Williams-Garcia.

The Writer’s Page: Marc Aronson discusses writing narrative nonfiction (versus informational nonfiction) with his wife Marina Budhos.

Field Notes: Betty Carter wonders what new chapter-book readers miss from the picture-book section.

Spring 2016 Publishers’ Previews.

From The Guide: Narrative Nonfiction.

Audiobook reviews.

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10. Dream, dream, dream

The Horn Book GuideThe cover of the Fall 2015 Horn Book Guide is a beautiful Rafael López illustration from Drum Dream Girl by Margarita Engle (which, by the way, just won the Charlotte Zolotow Award). In this story, saturated acrylic-on-wood illustrations capture the island’s musicality and the surreal dream-images that inspire young Millo — a Chinese-African-Cuban girl who broke Cuba’s taboo against female drummers. It’s a stunning cover, and I’m proud and excited that the Fall 2015 Horn Book Guide bears it.

In the book, “dream” is used in the sense of a will or desire — Millo aspires to be a drummer.

In this issue of the Guide you’ll find more dreams-as-desire-and-will: Ira’s Shakespeare Dream by Glenda Armand tells the story of Ira Aldridge, an African American man who aspired to be an actor in 1824; Emmanuel’s Dream by Laurie Ann Thompson shows how Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah grew up to be a national hero and disabilities activist; and Henry Aaron’s journey to the major-leagues is described in Henry Aaron’s Dream by Matt Tavares.

But this cover has me thinking about actual dreams. I’m not the only one who finds the topic intriguing:

First, BBC Magazine wonders why people don’t talk about their dreams.

Which is, perhaps, answered by Sarah’s mother, Mrs. Matthiessen, on WBEZ’s This American Life. (Never talk about “your dreams. Nobody cares about your dreams.”)

RadioLab does what they’re oh so good at and delves into the science of dreaming.

This Guide issue also has dreams as I’ve been considering them: that space one inhabits in sleep. Sweet Dreams, Wild Animals! by Eileen R. Meyer highlights the sleeping habits of fourteen animals. The Vault of Dreamers by Caragh M. O’Brien follows a protagonist who enters a new boarding school but discovers the school is a cover for a nefarious experiment. In Kit Alloway’s Dreamfire, teen prodigy Joshlyn Weaver must teach her apprentice, Will Kansas, about dream-walking.

And Stick Dog Dreams of Ice Cream, which is, coincidentally enough, also what I do.

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11. Review of Dylan the Villain

campbell_dylan the villainDylan the Villain
by K. G. Campbell; illus. by the author
Primary   Viking   40 pp.
2/16   978-0-451-47642-5   $17.99   g

“‘Congratulations,’ said the doctor. ‘It’s a healthy little super-villain!’” Sweet, unsuspecting new parents Mr. and Mrs. Snivels are surprised by this development (and by the fact that they just “happened to have a baby”), but not disappointed. They tell their son Dylan, born wearing a purple mask and a fiendish expression, that he’s “the very best and cleverest super-villain in the whole wide world!” Dylan thinks so, too, until he goes to school and meets Addison Van Malice (sporting blue Princess Leia–style hair and a swashbuckling eye patch), who out-evils Dylan at every turn. Campbell’s soft-focus illustrations — rendered in watercolor and colored pencil on tea-stained paper — give all the characters personality, even those without speaking roles. The classroom of small villains is a hoot, and there are lots of dastardly details in the not-at-all-villainous art. The well-paced narrative’s comedic timing reinforces the absurdity of the premise. When a “most diabolical robot”–building contest is announced, Dylan seizes the chance to prove he’s more fiendish than Addison: “That hideous trophy…will be mine! All MINE!” And it is, after Dylan accidentally-on-purpose sends Addison and her menacing robot into space. And that’s that…or is it? In a satisfying twist, the final pages give Addison the last “MU-HA-HA-HA!!”

From the January/February 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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12. Say Hello to Your Friends*…in full color

In the heyday of Livejournal, several friends and I joined one of its fan communities: babysittersclub. For a while, it was quite an active community (and it still sees some activity). Its members, most of them probably ‘90s kids like myself who’d grown just old enough to be nostalgic, posted detailed questions and answers about Ann M. Martin’s Baby-Sitters Club series, announced books they were interested in buying or selling, shared excitement when they happened to see a street with one of the characters’ names…in short, fangirling and fanboying (yes, both) occurred in spades. I rarely posted myself, but commented regularly on others’ posts, and generally felt validated by this space that acknowledged how thoroughly cool it was to love the BSC.

telgemeier_kristy's great ideaIn 2006, the community was abuzz with the news that some of the books would be adapted into graphic novels. And then an FAQ post appeared from a Livejournal user with the handle “goraina.” Cheery, friendly Raina Telgemeier subsequently posted often enough to feel like part of the community, and other members embraced her four graphic novel adaptations. She made some changes, skipping some of the books so she could get to the meatiest possible story about each of the original four baby-sitters. (For instance, book #6, Claudia and Mean Janine, gives more insight into Claudia’s character than book #2, Claudia and the Phantom Phone Calls, so Raina skipped ahead and adapted #6.) Raina wasn’t some outsider brought in to create these graphic novels. She was a BSC fan, and she got it. She captured the characters’ enthusiasm. Kristy’s confidence. Mary-Anne’s naivete. Claudia’s famous crazy outfits.

Fast-forward a few years, and a familiar style popped up among the Boston Globe–Horn Book Awards, specifically in 2010 Nonfiction Honor Book Smile. I, of course, had a copy signed for a friend who was also a babysittersclub community member on LJ. Raina recognized my friend’s username. Fandom is a wonderful thing.

If you’ve followed kids’ graphica, you know what happened next. Raina’s work grew more and more popular with Drama and Sisters, both of which I would’ve loved with or without the BSC connection, though I might not have discovered them as quickly. The phrase “graphic novel” used to only conjure up images of superheroes and adventure stories; Raina’s funny realism is much more my thing — I mean, I did grow up reading The Baby-Sitters Club — so her work was a perfectly-tailored way into graphica.

martin_claudia and mean janinePresumably because of her later books’ popularity (there’s another one coming, you guys!), the BSC graphic novels are being re-released in full color (with color by Braden Lamb, who was also the colorist for Sisters). The first one, Kristy’s Great Idea, came out in April of last year, soon followed by The Truth About Stacy and Mary Anne Saves the Day. And today, Claudia and Mean Janine, the fourth and final entry in the graphic series, hits bookstore shelves in its full-color incarnation. Check out Raina’s blog post for a look back at her process — and some BSC fanart from her childhood!

Realistic graphic novels, especially middle-grade ones about girls, are more common these days, and though I don’t know enough to say for sure that Raina started the trend, she definitely played a role in its popularity. And as any BSC fan will tell you, that’s dibbly fresh.

*Who remembers this theme song?

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13. Whips AND chains

story-of-oI’d really like to ban the term “self-censorship” from discourse, given that we already have a spectrum of words–from “prudence” to “cowardice”–that say more precisely what we mean, and because it causes us to be confused about what censorship actually is.

As Megan Schliesman at Reading While White posted last week, the discussion about A Birthday Cake for George Washington is not about censorship. People talking about what’s wrong with the book are not censors; people saying it will damage children are not censors; Scholastic deciding to cease the book’s distribution is not censorship. Hell, somebody buying a copy of the book only in order to consign it to a bonfire is not censorship. (I think I told you guys I did this once, with a Sidney Sheldon book whose utter disregard for logical plot construction and consistent characterization caused me to pitch it into the fireplace by which I was reading. It felt naughty.)

Censorship happens when the government–and this includes public libraries–gets into the business of restricting access to information. As far as A Birthday Cake for George Washington is concerned, it would be censorship if a library that held a copy decided to restrict readership to adults, for example, or removed it from the collection on the basis of its being “offensive” or “harmful to children.” It is also censorship if a public library decided not to purchase the book on the grounds that it is offensive or harmful, or if the library thinks it will get into trouble with those who find it so. This is of course very tricky–libraries don’t purchase more books than they do, and it’s rarely one criterion that guides that decision. Here is where we have to trust in the librarian’s integrity and the library’s book selection policy and adherence to ALA’s Library Bill of Rights. I know I’ve told the story here before about the librarian I knew who didn’t purchase a sex ed book for children on the grounds that it didn’t have an index. Yes, it did not have an index–but that wasn’t the reason she didn’t buy it.

I bring all this up because of an interesting exchange I had on Twitter last week with YA novelist Daniel José Older. Reacting in a subtweet to my post about A Fine Dessert and A Birthday Cake, Older wrote “Ah here’s the Horn/Sutton tut tutting on why Scholastic should’ve let kids read that book,” with a screenshot of part of the post. I replied–or barged in, depending on your views about subtweeting–that I and the Horn believe kids should be allowed to read any book they wish. Then he asked me if I was cool with kids reading Little Black Sambo, Mein Kampf and The Story of O. (I think he dated us both with that last example.) Although I’m aware that this was intended as a sort of gotcha rhetorical question, it made me realize that Mr. Older is probably not familiar with the way librarians think. I said I was perfectly fine with kids reading any or all of those three books.

A bias toward believing that people, kids included, should be able to read whatever they want is so ingrained in librarianship that we can forget that it seems like a radical stance to civilians. And as discussions about children’s books have moved, via social media, beyond the usual suspects of teachers, librarians, and publishers, it would be good for all concerned to remember that our assumptions are not necessarily shared.

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14. Review of The Red Hat

teague_red hatThe Red Hat
by David Teague; 
illus. by Antoinette Portis
Primary   Disney-Hyperion   40 pp.
12/15   978-1-4231-3411-4   $16.99

With a nod to Albert Lamorisse’s film The Red Balloon, and with much of its tenderness, this fable-like story tells of Billy Hightower, whose isolated life atop “the world’s tallest building” changes when another skyscraper is built alongside it and Billy catches a glimpse of “the girl in the red hat.” Billy longs to communicate with the girl, but his various attempts fail, repeatedly foiled by the wind. First the wind snatches away Billy’s words, then it derails his paper-airplane missive. Finally it pulls Billy himself (wrapped in a parachute-like red blanket) off his building and into the sky, and deposits the boy on a noisy, gritty, confusing city street. Undaunted, he finds his way to the girl’s tower and is united with her. The ever-present antagonist here is the wind, pictured as a glossy, lightly embossed, swirling pattern on each page, a turquoise line against the restrained palette of black, white, taupe, sky-blue, and crimson. Teague’s rhythmical and unadorned text is fleshed out by Portis’s graphically arresting compositions. The color red, for example, has its own character and plot: the temporary roadblock of a red light, the welcoming red carpet, the subtly recurring shape of a red heart. When this love story ends with the words “The Beginning,” we believe it.

From the January/February 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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15. Antoinette Portis on The Red Hat

AntoinettePortisIn our January/February 2016 issue, reviewer Sarah Ellis asked illustrator Antoinette Portis about that pesky (playful?) wind in The Red Hat. Read the full review of The Red Hat here.

Sarah Ellis: The “bad guy” here is the wind, but in your swirly, spiral line the wind comes across as more playful than malevolent. Was it hard to figure out how to make a 3-D character out of a no-D antagonist?

Antoinette Portis: Instead of personifying the wind as one of the puffy-cheeked Greek gods you see on antique maps or as an evil villain, I imagined it as an externalization of Billy’s resistance to venturing out into the world. When he’s impelled to risk forging a relationship, all his fears don’t suddenly evaporate. They manifest themselves as the wind, trying to drive him back to the safety and isolation of his tower.

From the January/February 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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16. Sago Mini Music Box app review

music box titleI’ve been singing Sago Mini’s praises for some time (see my reviews of Ocean Swimmer, Road Trip, Friends, and Fairy Tales, as well as Shoshana’s review of Monsters), and now I have musical accompaniment! Sago Mini Music Box (2014) invites users to join cheerful animal characters to play three familiar tunes.

First things first: choose a character and thus the song you’ll be performing. Select the orange cat to drift over a meadow, through mountains, and into space in a hot air balloon, to the strains of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” Hop in a sled with the blue bunny to dash through the snow as you play “Jingle Bells.” Or “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” through a tropical paradise with the brown dog.

music box menu

Regardless of which character/song combination you choose, tap your device to both play the appropriate musical notes and accelerate your vehicle — you set the tempo of your song and the speed of travel.

Tapping different items or locations on your screen produces different instrumentation and a wide range of humorous visual surprises. For instance, in “Twinkle, Twinkle,” tapping the meadow as the kitty floats over in the balloon plays a low guitar note (and might produce a tree, flower, or mountain goat), while tapping the night sky plays a higher keyboard tone (as a star, comet, or rocket appears). When you drift past the moon, alien groundhogs pop out to greet you. Tap the same item twice in a row, and you might get a brief animation. If you’re lucky, you may spot paper airplanes soaring through the sky, or even a UFO beaming up one of the goats. Throughout, the kitty oohs and ahhs at the sights. Both the music and the landscapes are seamlessly looped, allowing for unhurried exploration.

music box moon

The visual surprises and various instrument sounds add considerable variety to the otherwise similar tunes. Bright colors; simple, rounded shapes; and a sense of joyful wonder enhance the experience. A locked parents’ section offers some usage tips.

Available for iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch (requires iOS 5.1.1 or later; free) and Android devices ($2.99). Recommended for preschool users.

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17. Review of Amazing Places

hopkins_amazing placesAmazing Places
selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins; illus. by Chris Soentpiet and 
Christy Hale
Primary, Intermediate   Lee & Low   40 pp.
10/15   978-1-60060-653-3   $18.95

The amazing places mentioned in the title of this poetry collection are all in the United States, with their locations marked on a map on the endpapers. The specificity of the places is a real strength of this compilation, with each of the fourteen poems centering on one particular location and the experience of being there. The focus is as much on people as on scenery, with many of the poems written in the first person, as with Janet Wong’s “Campfire,” set in Denali National Park: “Just think— / when Mother was my age, / she could build a fire / with sparks from rocks.” The art shows the mountain range in sunset colors, with firelight creating a cozy spot for mother and daughter to connect. While some poems are set in nature (Prince Redcloud’s “Niagara”; Nikki Grimes’s “Tree Speaks,” about Grand Canyon National Park), others are about historical sites, like Joseph Bruchac’s poem set in a longhouse at the Oneida Nation Museum in Wisconsin. Soentpiet and Hale combine their talents to showcase the special elements of a place (size or majesty or vibrancy) as well as the response of people to it, conveying powerful emotion and interactions through facial expressions and body language. Hopkins has gathered together an impressively diverse and talented group of poets for this polished and inspiring collection, which concludes with additional information about the places in the poems and source notes.

From the January/February 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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18. Review of Ling & Ting: Together in All Weather

lin_ling and ting together in all weatherstar2 Ling & Ting: Together in All Weather
by Grace Lin; illus. by the author
Primary   Little, Brown   44 pp.
11/15   978-0-316-33549-2   $16.00

In this fourth book in the sweet and funny easy-reader series (Ling & Ting: Not Exactly the Same, rev. 7/10, and sequels), six brief chapters take the twins through the 
seasons, together. In the first story, a thunderstorm finds them hiding under a blanket: they are not scared, just 
“surprised.” On a hot summer day they sell all their 
lemonade — to each other. Raking leaves has to be done all over again, since first Ting’s red hat and then Ling’s might be at the bottom of the pile (later in the book, Ling’s hat turns up, at first mistaken for an unusual spring flower). In the winter, Ting claims to be sick so she can avoid shoveling snow; Ling’s recipe for some “old Chinese medicine” (a smelly simmering of onions, ginger, dirt, an old sock, etc.) drives a suddenly recovered Ting out of bed, snow shovel in hand. The final story finds the twins looking for a rainbow and finding two. “They are twin rainbows!” says Ting. “Just like us!…We are so lucky to be together!” As always, the girls’ personalities shine through in both text and illustrations (and Ting is still differentiated by her jagged bangs). Each chapter employs a different-color border around the bold gouache illustrations, giving the book a predictable and unifying visual structure. An artist’s note says, “The color palette was inspired by the sudden appearance of a bright rainbow on a gray, glum day.” That’s how the whole book feels.

From the January/February 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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19. Review of A Year Without Mom

tolstikova_year without momstar2 A Year Without Mom
by Dasha Tolstikova; 
illus. by the author
Middle School   Groundwood   168 pp.
10/15   978-1-55498-692-7   $19.95
e-book ed. 978-155498-693-4   $16.95

Tolstikova’s illustrated memoir recounts the time when her mother relocated to America for graduate school and she, twelve years old, was left in the care of her grandparents in Moscow. Through present-tense narration, readers follow Dasha’s experiences chronologically as she navigates both specific and universal rites of passage, including uncertainty during the 1991 coup d’état attempt and distress when she learns that her crush, older boy Petya, has a girlfriend (who smokes cigarettes, no less!). Pencil and ink illustrations, in mostly whites and grays, emphasize the chilly setting. Color is used sparsely but to great emotional effect: bright reds on cheeks represent characters’ embarrassment; dark, smudgy grays dominate in moments of heartache. Most of the dialogue is in the same type as the main narrative but separated from it through thin speech bubbles drawn around characters’ statements. Hand-lettered text (sometimes incorporating Cyrillic) evokes mood as well, as seen when Dasha listens to her mother’s words (a letter left for her as a cassette recording) and they surround her, reflecting her longing. The author includes authentic details (including how the Russian grading system works) and, with personality and sincerity, 
creates an accessible, truthful, and relatable record for readers of a different generation.

From the January/February 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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20. January children’s lit events in the Boston area

Grace Lin

Grace Lin

Boston is starting 2016 off with a bang. There are a ton of children’s literature related events coming up this month in and around Boston — including ALA Midwinter this weekend! Here are just a few highlights; see our calendar for even more events.

  • ALA’s 2016 Midwinter Meeting begins Friday, January 8th, and runs through Tuesday, January 12th, at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. The Youth Media Awards announcements will take place Monday the 11th at 8:00 am in the ballroom. See the full schedule and register.
  • The Jumbies author and Creative Writing MA faculty member Tracy Baptiste will speak at Lesley University’s Marran Theater on Friday, January 8th, at 5:00 pm. The presentation is free and open to the public.
  • Also on Friday the 8th: at 7:00 pm, Brookline Booksmith will host a “Real Teen Lives in YA” panel with authors Marieke Nijkamp (This is Where It Ends), Laurie Elizabeth Flynn (Firsts), Annie Cardi (The Chance You Won’t Return), and Emily Martin (The Year We Fell Apart).
  • On Saturday, January 9th at 4:00 pm, Mac Barnett and Jory John will hold a prankster’s workshop at An Unlikely Story to celebrate the publication of The Terrible Two Get Worse. The (terrible?) two will also visit Barnes & Noble on Sunday the 10th at 12:00 pm.
  • As part of the low-residency MFA in Creative Writing Program, Lesley University will host a morning of Picture Book Seminars on Sunday the 10th. Author and faculty member Michelle Knudsen will cover “Picture Book Basics” from 9:30 am–11:00 am. Author/illustrator Brian Lies will discuss “Vision, Revision, and Re-revision” from 11:00 am–12:30 pm. The seminars are free and open to the public.
  • FableVision Studios will hold a reception for winners of the Massachusetts Book Awards on Sunday the 10th from 3:00 pm–4:30 pm.
  • KidLit Drink Night celebrates ALA with a gathering at Pastoral Boston at 5:30 pm on Sunday the 10th. Come socialize with fellow children’s literature aficionados!
  • The First Step: How One Girl Put Segregation on Trial author and Creative Writing MA faculty member Susan E. Goodman will speak at Lesley University’s Marran Theater on Sunday the 10th at 6:30 pm. The presentation is free and open to the public.
  • Peter H. Reynolds will participate in the Family Film Festival at Arlington’s The Regent Theateron Saturday, January 16th. The event includes screenings of animated films based on several of his books, a presentation, and a book signing. It begins at 10:30 am (ages 3 and up; $6).
  • On Saturday the 16th at 2:00 pm, The Writers’ Loft will host YA authors MarcyKate Connolly (Monstrous), Camille DeAngelis (Bones & All), Mackenzi Lee (This Monstrous Thing), and Marika McCoola (Baba Yaga’s Assistant) for a panel discussion on “Writing Monsters.” Free for Writers’ Loft members; donation requested for nonmembers.
  • Grace Lin will give her presentation “The Mirrors and Windows of Your Child’s Bookshelf” at The Carle Museum on Saturday the 16th (1:00 pm; free with museum admission) and as part of TEDxNatick on Saturday, January 23rd (9:30 am–3:30 pm; $27).
  • Jarrett Krosoczka will be visiting An Unlikely Story at 1:00 pm on Saturday, January 30th, to celebrate the release of Comics Squad: Lunch! Register here beginning January 16th.

See our monthly events calendar for more events and all details. Hosting — or attending — a local event and want to see it listed? Email the info to cbb (at) hbook.com.

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21. Live from ALA

Greetings from Midwinter where the REAL Caldecott Medal winner will be announced tomorrow morning — along with all the other youth media awards. If you can’t be there in person, here is a link to the live webcast (Monday 1/11 at 8 a.m. EST).

Print

It’s been a treat having the conference in our own back yard for a change. All of us at the Horn Book are required to attend and go to a few of the publishers’ parties. No problem! Walking up and down the aisles in the massive exhibit hall, I keep running into old friends and colleagues including librarians, people who work in publishing, teachers, former students, and even some folks I know from totally unrelated parts of my life. It reminds me of being at a high school reunion.

It’s also kind of overwhelming. I’m on day 3, my feet hurt, my face is tired from smiling so much, and I still haven’t seen everything I want to. But I did get to sit in on part of the Notables committee’s discussion 2015 picture books. This is one of the few book award deliberations that is open to the public. Unexpected bonus: Micky Freeny, one of my  2005 Caldecott Committee colleagues, was chairing the group.

Now I’m resting my feet and looking through photos from the past three days. Tomorrow morning I’ll be out the door bright and early, aimin to arrive at the convention center around 7:30 to get a good seat for the Big Announcements. You’ll hear more from all of us after that. Until then, here are a few picture.

 

View of the exhibit hall showing about half of the room.

View of the exhibit hall showing about one third of the room.

 

Sarah S. Brannen signing books at the Albert Whitman booth.

Sarah S. Brannen signing books at the Albert Whitman booth. Note the size of the backpack, presumably full of ARCs and other freebies.

 

notables_ALA16_550x365

The Notable Children’s Books discussion is open to the public.

 

Tomorrow morning's press conference will be  upstairs in the huge ballroom overlooking Boston haror.

Tomorrow morning’s Youth Media Awards press conference will be upstairs in the big ballroom overlooking Boston harbor.

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22. Go, indies, go!

It’s a bicoastal book-to-book battle, but it’s an everybody-wins sort of thing.

ncibaBeginning in the fall and running through the end of 2015, the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association Children’s Alliance (NCIBA) and the New England Children’s Booksellers Advisory Council (NECBA) were competing to see which coast’s booksellers can sell the most copies of certain titles with diverse characters.

NCIBA was touting One Word from Sophia (Atheneum, June 2015) by Jim Averbeck, illustrated by Yasmeen Ismail; and The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher (Delacorte, September 2014) by Dana necbaAlison Levy. NECBA was promoting Last Stop on Market Street (Putnam, January 2015) by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson — which just yesterday received the Newbery Medal, a Caldecott Honor, and a CSK Illustrator Award Honor.

The idea was to “provide hard evidence to publishers that diverse books sell,” according to a statement from NCIBA’s new Diversity Committee.

Brookline Booksmith participated in a similar campaign while I worked in the children’s section there. The Great Greene Challenge of 2014 was a competition to see which bookstore could sell the most copies of Varian Johnson’s The Great Greene Heist (Scholastic/Levine), a funny caper with a diverse cast pictured clearly on the cover. The most challenging part of handselling this book was its lack of wildly popular comp titles. The easiest way to sell a book from Intermediate Fiction was to say, “If you liked Percy Jackson/Harry Potter/Diary of a Wimpy Kid…” Recommendations for a middle-school caper novel often sounded a little out-of-the-blue. The solution? Honesty. When I explained to customers that we were competing to sell this title to prove to publishers that a book with kids of color on the cover could sell, it often piqued their interest. “That needs proving?” one customer asked. Some did walk away with copies of The Great Greene Heist. Others picked different books, but in at least a few cases, they picked different diverse books. The exchange almost always led to some discussion about the need for more diversity in children’s literature.

Let’s hope the same happened with this initiative! We’re looking forward to seeing the results announced. (And far be it from this New England bookselling alum to say which reason is the best region, but may the best region win!)

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23. Five questions for Barbara McClintock

Barbara McClintockEach of author/illustrator Barbara McClintock’s picture books provides a glimpse into a jewel-box of a world, from bustling early-twentieth-century Paris (Adèle & Simon; Farrar, 4–7 years) to a cozy 1970s mouse-house (Where’s Mommy?, written by Beverly Donofrio; Schwartz & Wade, 4–7 years). Her latest, Emma and Julia Love Ballet (Scholastic, 4–7 years), does the same for the vibrant world of ballet, giving readers a look at the daily routines of two dancers: one a student just starting out, the other a professional in her prime. A dancer myself, I jumped at the chance to talk to Barbara about how she translates movement to the page.

1. How did you decide on this day-in-the-life, compare-and-contrast format for showcasing a dancer’s reality?

BM: I blame two of my favorite books for putting the idea in my head: The Borrowers by Mary Norton and The Philharmonic Gets Dressed by Karla Kuskin, illustrated by Marc Simont. The parallel world of The Borrowers fascinated me as a child. And I fell in love — hard! — with the behind-the-scenes showering, sock-pulling-on, hair-combing, and beard-trimming preparations of orchestral musicians before their evening performance in The Philharmonic Gets Dressed.

My older sister Kathleen lived, breathed, ate, and slept ballet when she was little, and I’d wanted to make a book honoring her for a long time. She took me to my first professional dance performance, which proved to have a profound influence on my creative life. Her passion for dance inspired me to believe in myself as an artist.

2. Many of your books are set in bygone eras, with richly evoked historical settings full of texture and detail. How does your process differ when you’re portraying a contemporary setting rather than recreating a historical one?

BM: I tend to use slightly bolder, brushlike line work, little or no crosshatching, and brighter colors when working with a contemporary setting. Modern surfaces are shinier, glossier, brighter, harder. Metal and glass predominate. I find it’s easier to depict those hard, shiny surfaces with gradated watercolor washes. Textural ink crosshatching seems appropriate for older stone, wood, and plaster surfaces.

Modern forms call for fluid lines, less encumbered by lots of line work. There’s detail in contemporary buildings and clothing, but forms are more nuanced, freer, with open patterns and simplified shapes compared to historical structures and fashion.

Shapes of contemporary things that move — cars, airplanes, trains — are smooth and somewhat egg-shaped, reflecting aerodynamic design considerations. Carriages, carts, and buggies are boxy, with lots of angles, which makes for different compositional elements in pictures.

mcclintock_emma and julia love ballet23. The format of Emma and Julia Love Ballet is almost graphic novel–like, with the illustrations changing sizes and shapes to accelerate the pacing. How do you know what size illustration to use when?

BM: The size and shape of the illustrations is all about creating a sense of time, movement, emotion, and place.

Vignettes isolate characters to form a sense of intimacy between the reader and the character, like a spotlighted actor on stage. There can be a powerful emotional component to vignettes. Toward the end of the book as Emma prepares to go to the ballet performance, we see her in her fancy coat, with no background, nothing else in the image. Her facial expression alone tells us this is an important time for her. Anything else in the scene would impede the immediacy of her excitement.

Vignettes can also signify rapid movement and the passage of time. Several small vignettes on a page require only short amounts of time to look at. This visual device works well to depict Emma and Julia stretching, jumping, and spinning. Viewing several small images in quick succession can be like looking at a flip-book that gives the impression of fast, fluid motion.

Broad, dramatic scenes create a sense of mood and establish place; and fuller, detailed pictures slow the reader down at significant moments by creating an environment that invites investigation. That lingering pause can give majesty to a scene or narrative concept.

At the very end of the book, I wanted to go back to a vignette approach. We see Emma and Julia connected by their shared love of ballet. I wanted Emma and Julia to dominate and fill up the entire page with no external stuff to clutter up their emotional connection. This is their story, and they tell us absolutely and directly how they feel about ballet and each other.

4. You observed the Connecticut Concert Ballet as models for the illustrations, and took some ballet classes yourself for research. How did your perspective — or your illustrations — change after these experiences?

BM: I have a much better idea of just how hard a plié in fifth position is on your inner thighs!

Watching people in motion is a much different experience than simply studying photographs. Semi-realistic drawing has so much to do with gesture, and the best way to understand how an arm or leg really moves through space is to observe someone in the act of moving. As I draw the sweep of an arm, I get inside that motion. I’m not entirely sure how to express this, but I feel the movement in my head as a physical motion and visualize where that arm is going, then translate that motion as well as I can in a two-dimensional way on paper.

Ballet has its own regimented structure of movement. I just dipped into the surface of knowledge of ballet training, but hopefully enough to give some authenticity to the way the dancers in my book move.

Barbara loves ballet

Barbara in the ballet studio

5. The book is dedicated in part to the wonderful Judith Jamison, dancer and Artistic Director Emerita of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Is there a particular role of Ms. Jamison’s that resonates most with you?

BM: In the early 1970s my sister took me to see the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Minneapolis. Judith Jamison was the featured soloist. This was the first professional dance performance I’d ever seen. I had no idea what to expect, and was almost afraid to go. Any hesitation vanished the moment Judith stepped on stage. She dominated space and time, creating vivid shapes and patterns.

Judith performed Cry, a sixteen-minute solo homage to black women, choreographed by Alvin Ailey for his mother with Judith in mind. Judith expressed grief, depression, loss, redemption, and joy as eloquently as any novelist. I loved dance from that evening on.

Judith’s presence, authority, and grace inspired me in my work. I admired her, and looked up to Judith as a role model — a woman who was in command of her talent and a force almost bigger than life.

From the January 2016 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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24. Review of Murphy in the City

provensen_murphy in the cityMurphy in the City
by Alice Provensen; 
illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary   Simon   32 pp.
11/15   978-1-4424-1971-1   $17.99
e-book ed. 978-1-4814-1832-4   $10.99

The small, busy, curious, noisy farm terrier from A Day in the Life of Murphy (rev. 7/03) is on his way to the big city with his family for a day of adventures (visits to a dog park and a doggie boutique) and misadventures (wandering off and a resultant brief stay at the animal shelter). Murphy’s unbounded energy is reflected in bustling city scenes that often include multiple images of Murphy; one particularly effective 
double-page spread contains three stacked horizontal panels in which a progression of Murphys explores a crowded and fascinating sidewalk — humans seen only from the knees down — after his accidental escape out the back door of the doggie boutique. This sense of motion and energy is 
reinforced in the all-caps typeface and in the endpapers — a riot of paw prints going every which way — not to mention Murphy’s own spiky fur, hyper-alert gazes, and many BARK BARK BARKs. The arc of the story, from early-morning enthusiasm to late-night exhaustion, will be both satisfying and familiar to children, who often follow that same arc in their own lives. After such a hectic and exciting day full of new sights, sounds, and experiences, everyone will be happy that Murphy ends up back home, curled up in the hay in the barn with his familiar toys: “Dear sock, good old bone, good old stick. / Sigh. / Good night.”

From the January/February 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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25. Books for Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Martin Luther King Jr. Day provides an opportunity to reflect not only on the life of the great civil rights leader, but also on how far we’ve come — and how far we still have to go.

Below is an updated list of recommended books about Dr. King’s life and legacy (all reviewed and recommended at the time of their publication by The Horn Book Magazine and The Horn Book Guide). For more books on the civil rights movement, click here. What are your favorite books about Dr. King and the civil rights movement to share and discuss?

Primary

my brother martinOf the many stories about Dr. King, none is as personal and revealing as My Brother Martin: A Sister Remembers Growing Up with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a memoir-tribute by his older sister Christine King Farris. Starting with early family reminiscences, King Farris captures the drama of a life that would lead to the “I Have a Dream” speech. The brilliance of Chris Soentpiet’s realistic illustrations, the placement of the precise text, and the oversize format make this a dramatic contribution. A poetic tribute by Mildred D. Johnson, an afterword, and an illustrator’s note are included. (Simon & Schuster, 2003)

watkins_love will see you throughIn Love Will See You Through: Martin Luther King Jr.’s Six Guiding Beliefs, Angela Farris Watkins, King’s niece, explores his six guiding principles. Watkins cites specific examples of victorious actions, including the desegregation of Alabama buses and his famous “Letters from the Birmingham Jail,” explaining with “love and respect” the importance of the fight for equality.The foundation of King’s philosophy, illustrated with colorful mixed-media art by Sally Wern Comport, will resonate with all ages. (Simon, 2015)

My Uncle Martin's Words for AmericaWatkins shares her own memories of Dr. King and provides background on the civil rights movement in My Uncle Martin’s Words for America. Her text incorporates King’s own words and explains them in context (“Uncle Martin said, ‘Let justice roll down like waters.’ He meant that everyone should be treated fairly”). Eric Velasquez’s illustrations include close-up portraits and crowd scenes, all conveying the movement’s scope. (Abrams, 2011)

martin's big wordsThe text of Doreen Rappaport’s Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is a mix of finely honed biographical narrative and appropriate quotes from King himself, emphasizing the concept that from his youth Martin had sought to inspire others with his words. The essential events of King’s life are presented in a straightforward yet moving style. The facts are extended by Bryan Collier‘s breathtaking collage illustrations. A chronology and informative notes from author and illustrator are appended. (Hyperion/Jump at the Sun, 2001)

michelson_as good as anybodyAbraham Joshua Heschel, a rabbi born in Eastern Europe, becomes a stalwart friend to Martin Luther King Jr. as the Baptist preacher urges America toward new standards of equality and freedom. In As Good as Anybody: Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Joshua Heschel’s Amazing March Toward Freedom by Richard Michelson, readers first meet King as a young boy, then Heschel; their shared story later unfolds. Raul Colón portrays the two leaders in swirling, textured colored-pencil and watercolor illustrations. (Knopf, 2003)

pinkney_martin & mahaliaAndrea Davis Pinkney‘s Martin & Mahalia: His Words, Her Song relates the way “Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahalia Jackson combined their respective vocal gifts to form an unshakeable ribbon of faith.” A visual representation of that faith, a series of banners with directions (e.g., “This way to freedom”) create a frame for each of Brian Pinkney‘s illustrations, while words from both King and singer Jackson provide context for the uplifting text. Notes from the author and illustrator and a discography are appended. (Little, Brown, 2013)

carson_what was your dream, dr. king

Mary Kay Carson’s What Was Your Dream, Dr. King?: And Other Questions About Martin Luther King Jr. [Good Question! series] uses a question-and-answer format to relate the story of Martin Luther King Jr.’s contributions to the civil rights movement. Brief but sufficient explanations are given to questions related to segregation, nonviolent protests, the March on Washington, the importance of Dr. King’s philosophy, his historic “I Have a Dream” speech, and his assassination. Illustrations by Jim Madsen accompany the insightful text. (Sterling, 2013)

bunting_cart that carried martinAt his funeral, Martin Luther King Jr.’s casket was carried in a borrowed wooden farm cart pulled by two mules. It’s a humble image, but the throngs of people lining the streets to pay their respects reflects Dr. King’s great work and legacy. Eve Bunting’s simple, poetic prose in The Cart that Carried Martin follows the cart’s slow, sad procession; Don Tate’s somber, handsome gouache illustrations are a perfect accompaniment.

mcnamara_martin luther king jr. dayWhile learning about Martin Luther King Jr., Mrs. Connor’s first graders illustrate their own dreams to make the world a better place: no more fighting, a clean planet, everyone having fun. Margaret McNamara’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day [Ready-to-Read: Robin Hill School series] is a simple and age-appropriate introduction to Martin Luther King Jr. Day for beginning readers (though no substantial details about MLK are provided). Mike Gordon’s warm cartoons show the kids’ great aspirations. (Simon/Aladdin, 2007)

 

Intermediate

i have a dreamKadir Nelson brings to life Dr. King’s famous speech in the superlative oil paintings of I Have a Dream. He begins with Dr. King at the Lincoln Memorial addressing the crowd; literal illustrations of his words (e.g., his “four little children”) follow. Visually, this is a stunning accomplishment that embodies the thrilling inspiration of Dr. King’s words. The complete text of the speech is appended and an accompanying CD allows readers to hear the speech themselves. (Random/Schwartz & Wade, 2012)

 

Older

I See the Promised LandArthur Flowers’s I See the Promised Land: A Life of Martin Luther King, Jr. uses an innovative design to blend African griot storytelling and folk art from India to create a bold graphic homage to Dr. King for young adults. Manu Chitrakar’s illustrations, drawn in the style of Patua scroll painters (a combination of sequential and performance art), recast the story with a distinctively Indian flair. There is a creative symbiosis between the seemingly disparate elements, which reminds us that the civil rights movement is but one chapter in the story of global human rights. (Groundwood, 2013)

 

Poetry

lewis_voices from the march on washingtonIn Voices from the March on Washington, poets J. Patrick Lewis and George Ella Lyon give voice to a cross-section of the 250,000 participants of the 1963 March on Washington: from first grader Ruby May Hollingsworth and Aki Kimura, a Japanese American sent to an internment camp during WWII, to Coretta Scott King. Many fine works on the civil rights movement are available; this adds the power of poetic imagination. (Boyds Mills/Wordsong, 2014)

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