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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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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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The Refuge
Author: Sandra Le Guen
Translator: Daniel Hahn
Illustrator:  Stéphane Nicolet
Published June 1, 2020 by Amazon Crossing Kids

Summary: “There’s a new girl at school. She never stops looking up at the sky! She likes the stars and comets.”

Jeannette tells her mom about her new classmate, who also loves astronomy but seems sad. She realizes it’s not easy to move to a new place. So the next day, at recess, Jeannette asks Iliana to play.

At first, it’s a little hard to communicate because Iliana is learning a new language. The girls have to use their hands and their drawings. But they keep trying, and, soon, Iliana tells Jeannette about her difficult journey as a refugee who had to leave her country. Then their families meet, and Iliana’s parents share their story too. The girls’ friendship blooms, as limitless as the sky and their imaginations.

Originally published in France and brought to life with wonderfully expressive artwork, this is a book about sharing stories and finding refuge in friendship, family, and a new home.

Kellee’s Review: This book is beautiful. It shows pure empathy for a young girl, and her family, who needs all love in the scary new situation she is in. Their journey was harrowing and being in a new place where they do not speak the language must be completely overwhelming; however, this was something they felt no choice in doing because of the horrors of war back at their home. But sadly, refugees have been villainized–once again fear winning over empathy. However, The Refuge puts a narrative to the journey that many children and families face just to stay safe. And it is such a well-crafted narrative with beautiful illustrations–just an overall excellent book. A must read for ALL ages. 

Ricki’s Review: Magnificent. This book is truly and utterly magnificent. I am quite hopeful it will win some of the major literary awards. Whew! The writing depicts the myriad emotions that Iliana might have experienced on her journey, and Jeannette has such deep empathy for her classmate. The illustrations take the book to the next level. I would purchase a spread of this book and frame it for the wall in my office—the illustrations are that captivating. We share some of the illustrations below. There’s one illustration in which Iliana is carrying a giant boat on her back, and a star hangs from a string on the front. Two small children walk up the top of the steep boat. The words match the illustrations, and yet the illustrations have deeper, metaphoric meaning. This would be a terrific book to study at the high school and college level. It would sustain several classes of discussion. I plan to purchase a copy to use in my Teaching Reading class. If you haven’t read this book, I recommend it highly.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Metaphor is powerfully used in this text (both in the writing and illustrations). This would be a magnificent text to use as a mentor text for the instruction of metaphor. Students might select a written metaphor to illustrate and an illustrated metaphor to write in words to consider the flexibility and power of the use of metaphor. Then, they might craft their own metaphors related to the story.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Choose one illustration that you like. What is the surface level meaning? What is the deeper meaning attached to the image?
  • How does Jeannette demonstrate empathy for Iliana?
  • What did you learn about refugees?
  • Why do you believe the author titled the book The Refuge instead of Refugee?
  • How do the illustrations and writing work together?
  • What creative techniques does the author use?
  • What creative techniques does the illustrator use?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: The Arrival by Shaun Tan, Refugee by Alan Gratz, Dreamers by Yuyi Morales, The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi, Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson

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**Thank you, Barbara at Blue Slip Media, for providing copies for review!**

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Tag Your Dreams: Poems of Play and Persistence
Author: Jacqueline Jules
Illustrator: Iris Deppe
Published April 1st, 2020 by Albert Whitman & Company

Summary: Whether just trying out for the team or reaching for the Olympics, there’s something for every reader in this playful poetry collection! From baseball, basketball, and football to double-dutch, mini-golf, and turning a cartwheel, these poems look at facing fears, dreaming big, and never giving up. This well-rounded collection explores sports and play across all abilities and backgrounds.

About the Author: Jacqueline Jules has been writing poems since middle school. Her poetry has been published in over a hundred publications. She is also the author of more than forty books for young readers, including the Zapato Power series, the Sofia Martinez series, and Duck for Turkey Day. She lives in northern Virginia and enjoys giving poetry workshops to students, teachers, and anyone else who loves poetry as much as she does. To learn more, and to download free classroom materials, visit her online at jacquelinejules.com.

Praise: 

“Jules presents a plethora of possibilities as the theme of children at play provides the structure for a collection of poems that encourage and applaud. . . . Fun and games, with something deeper to think about.” —Kirkus

“If you are looking for lighthearted, joyous, and youthful poems about childhood, this is the perfect selection for your bookshelves.” —Booklist

Review: Happy National Poetry Month! To celebrate, I knew I had to highlight this wonderful poetry book for two reasons:

1) It combines playing and poetry which will help with the engagement of reading poetry. It also teaches great lessons.

2) During this time of sheltering in place, play and persistence are both things we definitely need to encourage!

Jacqueline Jules does such a fantastic job with adapting each poem to the activity she is writing about and the fun illustrations by Iris Deppe bring the play to life. This is a poem book I recommend specifically now but also for all classrooms to use and have to explore this playful poetry.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: While Jules’s book represents many playground and outdoor activities, it doesn’t include everything. Have students write their own poems of play about the activity they love to do the most. To challenge them, ask them to put a conflict in the poem that must be overcome, so the poem includes a lesson of persistence.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Pick one of the activities written about that you have never done (that is reasonable to do). Do it then write a journal reflecting what it was like–maybe even try writing a poem about it!
  • Find examples of figurative language, such as imagery or personification, in one of Jules’s poems.
  • Which poem’s activity did you connect with the most?
  • Which poem’s lesson did you connect with the most?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Poetry, Sports

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Rosie: Stronger Than Steel
Author and Illustrator: Lindsay Ward
Expected Publication: April 1st, 2020 by Two Lions

Summary: A brave tractor farms for freedom in a story inspired by women who acted with courage and strength in American factories and on British farms during World War II.

This is our Rosie,
stronger than steel.
She’ll plow all the land
with a turn of her wheel.

Built by women in the United States and sent to England to dig and plow alongside female farmers during World War II, Rosie the tractor does whatever is needed to support the war effort. She works day and night to help grow crops for the troops…even when she has to hide in the fields. This is because she knows, like the women who built her and the women who farm with her, that they all must do their part.

Inspired by the group of American women collectively known as “Rosie the Riveter” and the British Women’s Land Army, this is a story about taking action and coming together for the greater good.

About the Author: Lindsay Ward is the creator of the Dexter T. Rexter series as well as This Book Is Gray, Brobarians, Rosco vs. the Baby, and The Importance of Being 3. Her book Please Bring Balloons was also made into a play. Lindsay lives with her family  in Peninsula, Ohio, where she often sees tractors from the 1930s and 1940s. Learn more about her online at www.lindsaymward.com. Twitter: @lindsaymward

Praise: 

★“More than the sum of its parts, this is a wildly successful and well-researched shaping of the picture-book form to true historical sheroes.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

★“This ‘little tractor that could’ sort of tale pays tribute to the iconic Rosie the Riveter persona from the US and the British Land Girls of the Women’s Land Army during WWII. Fans of Loren Long’s Otis, Virginia Lee Burton’s Katy, and like sturdy, dependable workhorses will welcome Rosie into the fold, but the historical perspective adds an unusual dimension to her story.” —Booklist (starred review)

“Vocabulary is rich, and the younger set will appreciate the intermittent rhymes. The style of Ward’s colored pencil and cut-paper illustrations reflect the period of the tale. ” —School Library Journal

Review: During World War II, our students’ lessons usually focus on the war itself and the horrific events because of the war, but there was so much more going on to ensure that our countries continued to run while all of our armed forces were at war. We don’t often enough hear about how women were essential to this effort, and Rosie shows us another side to this. Rosie represents not only the tractors made by women who helped keep our plants and crops healthy and edible, but she represents all women that stepped up to do jobs that before then they had been told they were not good enough for. This story, beautifully crafted and illustrated by Lindsay Ward, is a call for strength whenever faced with unprecedented times.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Rosie is a great addition to history lessons about World War II and the home front efforts of women. Her story is also a great read aloud–maybe during Women’s History Month, or whenever!

Discussion Questions: 

  • Did you know anything about what happened on the home front before reading Rosie?
  • How does Rosie the tractor represent the women’s work on the home front?
  • How does Rosie impact the war effort?
  • What does the Rose on her body represent?
  • What is the theme of Rosie?
  • Why do you think the author wrote the book from Rosie’s point of view in first person?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Historical fiction picture books, Learning about history

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I Like Animals…What Jobs Are There?
Author: Steve Martin
Illustrator: Roberto Blefari
Published March 1st, 2020 by Kane Miller Books

Summary: What do you want to do when you grow up? Children who love animals can find out all about potential future careers, from veterinarian to zookeeper to pet portrait artist, as they’re taken through a “day in the life” of 25 different animal workers.

Praise: 

Review: This book was written for so many kids out there! If any of you are librarians or teachers, you know how popular nonfiction animal books are. There are so few kids out there that don’t love animals! My son is one of those kids that adores animals and already says that he wants to be a zoologist and work with turtles, so when I saw this book, I knew I had to get it for him. What I love about the book (and the series I hope it is!) is that it gives options that kids may not know they have. Trent’s first thought for working with animals is working at a zoo, but there is so much more than that which he can choose from.

Each job’s section is really well done! It is written in first person from the point of view of the professional and includes fun yet truthful information, including the best and worst parts. Then, in the back, there is a flow map that helps kids see which job might be their perfect match, and there’s even back matter with more jobs. What a way to open up a kid’s imagination for the future!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: My first thought was that this book could be an awesome mentor text for creating a similar type pamphlet. Students could pick something like sports, technology, children, etc. and make a pamphlet about what jobs are out there. This would be a great research project.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Before reading: What jobs do you know of that include working with animals?; After reading: Add to the list.
  • Which job do you think would work the best with your personality and work ethic?
  • Any jobs that you are interested in that weren’t in the book?
  • Why do you think the author chose to write each section in 1st person?
  • Why do you think the author wrote this book?
  • Compare/contrast two of the jobs in the book.

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Aninimals

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**Thank you to Lynn at Kane Miller for providing a copy for review!**

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