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Frederick Douglass: The Lion Who Wrote History
Author: Walter Dean Myers
Illustrator: Floyd Cooper
Publication Date: January 24, 2017 by HarperCollins

Summary: In this picture book biography, the late New York Times bestselling author Walter Dean Myers and acclaimed artist Floyd Cooper take readers on an inspiring journey through the life of Frederick Douglass.

Frederick Douglass was a self-educated slave in the South who grew up to become an icon. He was a leader of the abolitionist movement, a celebrated writer, an esteemed speaker, and a social reformer, proving that, as he said, “Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.”

The story of one of America’s most revered figures is brought to life by the text of award-winning author Walter Dean Myers and the sweeping, lush illustrations of artist Floyd Cooper.

Review: We bought this book in 2017 when it first came out, and we read it again and again and again. My kids love to listen and learn about one of the most brilliant people to have ever lived. His story is incredibly inspiring. Even as a young boy, Douglass defied the world and never took no as an answer. The details of his story within this book show children (and adults) that they must push for what is right and commit to changing the world for the better. This book belongs in every classroom (and not just relegated to the classroom library). It should be shared collectively and purposefully with kids.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: There are endless uses for this book. One suggestion is that it could serve as a read-aloud and close reading at the start of a research or biography unit. Kids might look at the use of pictures and the pacing of the story to write their own nonfiction picture book.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How does Douglass regularly display strength and resolve throughout his life?
  • How is the book paced to reveal key moments of Douglass’ life?
  • What other famous figures related to issues of equity showed this kind of resolve? How do their stories connect to Douglass’ story?

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Read This If You Love: Nonfiction picture books, Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly, Schomburg: The Man Who Built the Library by Carole Boston Weatherford, Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat by Javaka Steptoe, Duke Ellington: The Piano Prince and His Orchestra by Andrea Davis Pinkney, We March by Shane W. Evans, Harlem’s Little Blackbird: The Story of Florence Mills by Renee Watson, Freedom in Congo Square by Carole Boston Weatherford

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This is My America
Author: Kim Johnson
Published: February 28, 2017 by Balzer + Bray

GoodReads Summary: Dear Martin meets Just Mercy in this unflinching yet uplifting YA novel that explores the racist injustices in the American justice system.

Every week, seventeen-year-old Tracy Beaumont writes letters to Innocence X, asking the organization to help her father, an innocent Black man on death row. After seven years, Tracy is running out of time—her dad has only 267 days left. Then the unthinkable happens. The police arrive in the night, and Tracy’s older brother, Jamal, goes from being a bright, promising track star to a “thug” on the run, accused of killing a white girl. Determined to save her brother, Tracy investigates what really happened between Jamal and Angela down at the Pike. But will Tracy and her family survive the uncovering of the skeletons of their Texas town’s racist history that still haunt the present?

Fans of Nic Stone and Jason Reynolds won’t want to miss this provocative and gripping debut.

Review: This is a book that will stick with me forever. The characters are powerfully written, and the plot unfolds itself beautifully. It tackles complex themes that offer excellent fodder for classroom discussion. Some of these include implicit and explicit racism, the ripple effects of White supremacy and racism, White privilege, and injustices in the judicial system. I could go on. This book is truly exceptional, and I envision it winning some big awards this year. There is so much to unpack and so much to admire in Johnson’s writing. It’s absolutely brilliant. If you buy no other book this summer, buy this one. It will make you think deeply about equity and justice.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I highlighted so many passages of this book while I was reading it. There are so many sections that would make phenomenal close readings in the classroom. I highly recommend pairing this text with portions or all of Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.

Discussion Questions: What are some of the injustices in this text?; How can we, as a society, work to change these injustices?; How do the injustices have a ripple effect on other characters?; How does Johnson layer the plot to elevate the reading and message of the text?

Flagged Passage: “Corinne never held that memory [of Daddy getting arrested], but I know she feels it in everything we breathe. It’s in the polite nods across the street we have to make, the way our family turns down our music when there are others around. Say yes ma’am and no sir. Leave our jackets and backpacks in the car when we go shopping.

It’s in the way I carry myself that tells our story now. I can’t risk being accused of anything. Because if something goes wrong or missing, I know it’s in the back of someone’s mind that maybe I had something to do with it. And it’s in the way that the voice of the strongest woman I know stumbles when saying, ‘Hello, Officer’ as she walks through the visitation gates to see Daddy.”

Read This If You Loved: Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson; The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas; All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely; by Ilyassah Shabazz and Kekla Magoon; The Rock and the River by Kekla Magoon; How it Went Down by Kekla Magoon; Freedom Summer by Deborah Wiles;

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The Blue Giant
Author & Illustrator: Katie Cottle
Published May 26th, 2020 by Pavilion Books Ltd.

Summary: A poignant and timely picture book introducing children to the issue of ocean pollution, with ideas to help the world become a better, cleaner place.

Coral and her mom are enjoying a break at the seaside. Until a creature emerges from the waves! It’s a giant. A blue giant. It is made of water, fish, and sea plants and has a stirring plea to help clean up the ocean.

Coral and her mom agree to help, donning their scuba-diving outfits and setting off to sea. But they can’t do it alone…can they?

This stunning follow-up to Katie Cottle’s debut picture book The Green Giant is another entertaining and beautiful eco-tale from the 2017 winner of the Batsford Prize. It introduces children to the issues of pollution, waste management, and the oceans, with suggestions of lifestyle changes to help clean up our seas.

About the Author: Katie Cottle is an illustrator and printmaker living and working in Bristol, U.K. Her work is often informed by the marks and colors created through traditional lithography. She also works digitally, using an iPad, and occasionally paints with gouache. The Blue Giant is her second book, following on from The Green Giant.

Review: Katie Cottle has caught onto something big with the format of this and her Green Giant book: it truly brings our environment to life and shows the harm that we are doing to it. The anthropomorphism of the ocean makes it even easier to connect to it as an entity as it shows how we are hurting it, and it shows what Meera DOES to try to reverse the effects we’ve caused.

In addition to the theme and story, I also really liked the illustrations. The author’s use of line is used expertly to show movement, and I loved all of the colors to really bring the story to life.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book is perfect for any discussion of water pollution and the environment. It shows a problem, a potential soultion, and hope for the future. It also specifically talks about single-use plastics which may be a new topic for many students.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What is something you can do to help the ocean?
  • What does Meera do to help the ocean?
  • How does our actions effect the ocean?
  • What is an animal that is effected by our pollution?
  • What is a single-use plastic that you use that you could replace?
  • What was the author’s purpose in writing this book?
  • Why did the author give the ocean a voice in the book?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Learning about the environment

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**Thank you to Media Master Publicity for providing a copy for review!**

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Don’t Stop, song lyrics by Christine McVie, illustrations by Nusha Ashjaee
Good Vibrations, song lyrics by Mike Love and Brian Wilson, illustrations by Paul Hoppe
We’re Not Gonna Take It, song lyrics by Dee Snider, illustrations by Margaret McCartney
African, song lyrics by Peter Tosh, illustrations by Rachel MossAuthor:

Published June 2, 2020 by Akashic Books

LyricPop Summary: LyricPop presents your favorite song lyrics by renowned songwriters as illustrated picture books, instilling a love of music and song among young readers.

“LyricPop represents two things I’m passionate about—music, and books for children,” said Johnny Temple, publisher of Akashic Books. “As both a musician and a publisher, I hope LyricPop will inspire parents, grandparents, and others to read (and even sing!) these books aloud with the children in their lives.”

After these four initial books are released, October 6th We Got the Beat, Respect, and Move the Crowd will be published. Then March 2, 2021 will bring us (Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay, Humble and Kind, and These Boots are Made for Walkin’.

Don’t Stop Summary: Don’t Stop is a beautifully illustrated picture book based on Christine McVie of Fleetwood Mac’s enduring anthem to optimism and patience. The song was one of the singles on Fleetwood Mac’s megahit album Rumours, which spent thirty-one weeks at number one on the Billboard charts and went on to sell over forty million copies worldwide.

With lyrics by Christine McVie and illustrations by Nusha Ashjaee, this touching picture book imagines a rabbit willing her hibernating friends out of a long and dark winter and into joyous spring. Don’t Stop is a great opportunity for fans of Christine McVie and Fleetwood Mac to introduce their favorite band to their young children, and for parents looking to share a bright message in song.

• Debuting in 1977, this song is one of the most identifiable of that decade
• A classic rock radio staple
• A top-five single in the US, and one of the band’s most enduring hits
• Written by band keyboardist and vocalist Christine McVie
• Sung as duet between Christine McVie and guitarist Lindsey Buckingham
• Appears on the Grammy-winning album Rumours, which as of 2019 is the RIAA-certified tenth all-time best-selling album in the US
• It was the theme song for Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign

Good Vibrations Summary: Good Vibrations is a lively picture book based on Mike Love and Brian Wilson’s number one hit about absorbing positive energy from the people around them. Often praised as one of the most important compositions in rock, the Beach Boys’ original version of this song was their third number one Billboard hit. With lyrics by Brian Wilson and Mike Love, and illustrations by Paul Hoppe, this picture book follows a girl and her dog as they make their way down to the beach, sharing good vibrations all along the way. Parents and children alike can share and enjoy one of rock’s greatest hits through the colorful pages of Good Vibrations.

• Released in 1966, this is one of the defining and iconic songs of the era
• The recording involved the then-revolutionary process of tape-splicing, cutting up and editing pieces of the master tape together
• The musicians used in the recording of the song included members of the Wrecking Crew, the legendary set of Los Angeles session studio players
• Beach Boys publicist Derek Taylor described the song as a “pocket symphony” (Derek was the former press officer for the Beatles and the Beach Boys, and worked with the Byrds and the Mamas & the Papas, among others)
• The unusual sound featured in the song’s chorus was produced by an electrotheremin
• The song was a transatlantic number one, reaching the top spot in both the US and the UK
• The song was the last US number one the Beach Boys achieved in the 1960s
• Inducted into both the GRAMMY and Rock & Roll Halls of Fame
• Rolling Stone ranked the song at number six on its 2010 list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time
• In 2001, the RIAA and the National Endowment for the Arts published their Songs of the Century list, with “Good Vibrations” at number 24
• The song is part of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s permanent exhibition, 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll

We’re Not Gonna Take It Summary: We’re Not Gonna Take It is a playful picture book echoing 1980s hair band Twisted Sister’s most popular antiestablishment anthem. As part of their triple-platinum album Stay Hungry, “We’re Not Gonna Take It” spent fifteen weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, reaching number twenty-one. With lyrics by Dee Snider and illustrations by Margaret McCartney, this picture book follows three toddlers on a mission to defy their parents, whether it be lunchtime, bath  time, or bedtime. We’re Not Gonna Take It is a story both parents and children can relate to, and a song they can enjoy together.

• Released in 1984, “We’re Not Gonna Take It” is a signature rock anthem of the 1980s
• The song was a Hot 100 top forty hit and reached the top ten on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart
• The album it appeared on, Stay Hungry, was the band’s breakthrough and a US top twenty hit
• Its anthemic quality has propelled the song to become a US pop culture touchstone
• The song has an iconic music video

African Summary: African is a children’s book featuring lyrics by Peter Tosh and illustrations by Jamaican artist Rachel Moss. The song “African” by Peter Tosh was originally released in 1977 on his second solo record, Equal Rights. He wrote the song during a time of civil unrest in Jamaica as a reminder to all black people that they were part of the same community.
The album is considered one of the most influential reggae works of all time.

• A key song from the classic 1970s era of reggae
• Peter Tosh was one of the founding members of the iconic reggae group the Wailers

Review: All four of these classic songs are ones that as soon as you hear the title you start humming the melody or reciting the lyrics and LyricPop books is a great way to introduce these to a new generation of kids. All four are very different songs and illustrations which shows the extension of this new picture book series.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: In the classroom, I would have so much fun with these. I would love to group my students in four different groups (or more if it is after more LyricPop books have come out), have them listen to the songs these books are based on, and create their own picture book. Then, after they do so, they can read the LyricPop books and compare and contrast. This would be a great way to discuss interpretation, figurative language, illustrator choices, etc.

There’s another option too: Have students read the lyrics first without listening to the song and create a book. Then, after listening to the song, ask how they would change their book.

When done with the songs from LyricPop, students could then pick their own songs and make their own books!

Discussion Questions: 

  • Why do you think the illustrator interpreted the lyrics the way they did?
  • Do you think of the lyrics the same or different?
  • What is the main theme of the song?
  • (Before hearing the song) How do you imagine the song is going to sound?
  • (After hearing the song) Does the book fit the sound of the song?

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Read This If You Love: Music

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**Thank you to Akashic Books for providing copies for review**

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