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“Spread Hope and Optimism with STEM Picture Books”

Last year was a challenging year for children. The pandemic disrupted familiar routines associated with school, play, and family life. Kids were thrust into a world with masks, Zoom, and isolation that have taken a toll on their social, emotional, and academic well-being. While news outlets reported grim statistics, students struggled to focus. For some families, basic needs like food and shelter were challenges. Mental-health related visits to pediatric emergency departments increased 24 percent for children aged 5–11 from mid-March 2020 to October 2020.

When the situation seems insurmountable, it’s hope and optimism that help us deal with the stress. Researchers from the University of Minnesota and the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece studied the qualities that make kids resilient to disasters like pandemics. They wrote that hope and optimism in families, schools, and communities contribute to resiliency.

In these extraordinary times, hope and optimism can brighten a world that seems dark. They can temper feelings of anger, worry, loneliness, anxiety, and despair. Hope and optimism in STEM books can educate, illuminate, and inspire while shining a light on science.

In STEM books, hope is a promising discovery, a new method, a novel solution, or an advancement in technology that benefits society. In addition to educating readers, STEM books with visions of a better tomorrow inspire them. In a time of rising seas, raging covid variants, and racist tensions, hopeful books can help a child cope and inspire them to action.

They are many benefits in giving kids hope. Hopeful children have better health and less anxiety. Studies show hope improves academic and athletic performance. It builds resilience and lessens stress in challenging times. Hope can motivate a child to take action towards a long-term goal.

In my book, Robo-Motion: Robots That Move Like Animals, (Millbrook, 9/7/2021) the design team at Millbrook Press took my words and made them richer by surrounding them with color, intrigue, and hope. On each spread, in strikingly similar poses, animals are paired with the robots that mimic their motion,. Robo-Motion, a book about biomimicry, has action verbs on every page. Like animals in the wild, robots in the lab skitter, scuttle, grip, and glide. If we could move like animals, we could jump without getting tired, squeeze into tight spaces, and climb up glass. By building robots that mimic animal motion, we can move like them. Robo-Motion is a hopeful book about how robots can benefit society. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to charity.

With the following exercises, you can use Robo-Motion to boost hope and optimism in your classroom:

EXERCISE 1 – Gratitude

Ask children to pick the robot they are most thankful for. Have them write down the robot name and why they picked it.

EXERCISE 2 – Boost optimism

Have children close their eyes and spend some time thinking about the robot they picked. Ask them to imagine a scene where the robot is doing its job. The robot could be saving a life, cutting costs, gathering information, or making work more efficient.  Have them imagine that everything works out for the best.

EXERCISE 3 – Writing skills

Ask children to write an optimistic story about the robot they picked and how it helped society.

EXERCISE 4  – Spread optimism

Ask children to share their optimistic stories with the class.

You can also bring hope and optimism into your classroom with these recent STEM nonfiction picture books:

  • Crossings by Katy Duffield (Beach Lane, 2020) is a unique STEM book about structures built to protect wildlife from traffic. Although the vehicles that make crossings dangerous for animals are never mentioned in the main text, they appear in nearly all the illustrations. The book takes a fascinating look at manmade structures created to help various animals avoid traffic in the United States and abroad. The common thread is the desire to help wildlife and the hope that they will survive and flourish.
  • The Brilliant Deep by Kate Messner (Chronicle, 2018) is another book with a hopeful message. First, readers meet Ken Nedimyer, a diver. Then, in a wordless full-page spread, readers see the effect of one hotter-than-normal summer—bleached coral. Nedimyer and the Coral Restoration Foundation are farming corals and transplanting them to restore reefs. They’ve planted thousands of coral stalks off the Florida Keys and they’re working with other countries to help their threatened reefs. The book gives readers hope something can be done to regenerate corals damaged by warming ocean waters from climate change.
  • Mario and the Hole in the Sky by Elizabeth Rusch (Charlesbridge, 2019) is a story about Mario Molina discovering and helping to solve a global problem. In the 1980s, scientists discovered a huge hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica. When countries came together and agreed to stop making the CFC’s that were in everything from aerosols to air conditioners, the ozone layer began to recover. By comparing the ozone problem with climate change, readers see that by working together countries can solve global problems. We’ve done it before, we can do it again.
  • A leaking oil pipeline can wreak havoc on the environment. In We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom (Roaring Brook, 2020), the Ojibwe tribe fights to protect the ecosystem. A black snake symbolizes the oil pipeline that’s never mentioned in the text. The last page gives readers the opportunity to sign a pledge to protect the Earth. With gorgeous illustrations, this book is a rallying cry to action. It leaves the reader feeling hopeful that the tribe, along with others, will not give up their fight to protect water, land, plants, and animals.

STEM books with hope and optimism have power. They can broaden a child’s horizons, expand a child’s mind, and brighten a child’s world. In Emily Dickinson’s poetry collection, hope is the thing with feathers. In a post-pandemic classroom, hope is the thing with pages.

Resources:

Published September 7th, 2021 by Millbrook Press

About the Book: Like animals in the wild, robots in the lab skitter, scuttle, grip, and glide. In this STEAM title about biomimicry, crisp color photographs of animals are paired with the robots that mimic their motion. Action verbs and literary devices introduce each animal on the left, while details about each robot and its purpose grace the opposite page. This nonfiction picture book is a hopeful look at how robots can benefit society. Back matter includes a glossary and information about biomimicry. The book will appeal to young readers interested in animals, engineering, technology, and science. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to charity.

About the Author: Linda Zajac is an award-winning science writer. She’s a former computer programmer, systems analyst, and consultant who would have jumped at the chance to program a robot. Linda writes about cutting-edge science, technology, and biotechnology and how they’re used to save wildlife, advance medicine, and protect the environment. Linda is a Tassy Walden winner and a recipient of the PEN New England Susan P. Bloom Children’s Book Discovery Award. Her published works include six Minecraft books for kids along with many magazine articles in Highlights, MUSE, ChemMatters, and more. Robo-Motion: Robots That Move like Animals was published September 7, 2021 by Millbrook Press.

Thank you, Linda, for this post focusing on the social and emotional learning our students need to do in addition to academic and a way to combine the two!

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Weird but True!: Ocean: 300 Fin-Tastic Facts from the Deep Blue Sea
Published June 8, 2021 by National Geographic Kids

Goodreads Summary: Dive into these fishy facts: Did you know that the prehistoric shark, megalodon, had jaws so big that it could swallow a car? Or that goats, pigs, dogs, cats, and even an alpaca have all learned how to surf? And if that’s not weird enough for ya, one man even rowed solo across the Pacific Ocean for 312 days!
In this book filled with 300 wacky facts and pictures, you’ll glimpse the ocean’s weirdest wildlife, uncover shocking shipwrecks, and meet sensational seafarers, from pirates and sailors to ground-breaking marine scientists. Perfect for ocean enthusiasts and trivia-loving landlubbers alike!

My Review: This book is the perfect size for little hands! All three of my boys (ages 7, 4, and 2) loved it and really enjoyed looking through the pages. My older two boys were able to read the facts aloud, which made for a very fun experience. My 4-year-old kept shouting, “WHOA!” as they learned new facts. The photographs are absolutely stunning, and the pages offer really, really interesting facts that even adults will enjoy! 

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Check out this cool activity that Kellee did with her students as a classroom connection for these books!

Discussion Questions: 

  • Which facts were the most interesting to you?
  • Which ocean creature do you think is the coolest?
  • How can you learn more about this creature?

Flagged Passage: 

Read This If You Loved: Animal Books, National Geographic’s 100 Things to Know Before You Grow UpMastermind by National Geographic, Weird but True series by National Geographic, Animal Atlas, Almanacs

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**Thank you to Karen at Media Masters Publicity for providing a copy for review!**

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Oakley the Squirrel: The Search for Z: A Nutty Alphabet Book
Author: Nancy Rose
Anticipated Publication: June 22nd 2021 by Workman Publishing Company

Goodreads Summary: The letter Z is missing! Help little Oakley find it in this charming picture book with photos of real squirrels!

Oakley the Squirrel: The Search for Z is an alphabet book like no other. In it, we meet Little Oakley as he embarks on a quest to find the letter Z. He searches through an alphabet of human objects—looks beneath the Bed, claws through the Closet, digs through Drawers, examines his Easel, and so on. By the time he gets to a basket of yarn, Oakley starts to yawn, and soon falls asleep. And Z—as in, Zzzzzz!—appears!

Review and Teachers’ Tools for Navigation:I wish I had recorded my two-year-old giggling on each page as we read this book. It is a clever way to engage kids and make them think about each letter individually. The photographs are just hysterical. I love squirrels, so I was laughing right along with my son. I’d love to use this book with kids to take photographs to generate their own alphabet books. This would be an incredibly fun class project!

Discussion Questions: 

  • Where are some of the places that Oakley looks for the letter z?
  • Which is your favorite letter page and why?
  • Choose one image and rewrite it. What does Oakley do differently in your alphabet page?

We Flagged: 

Read This If You Love: Nonfiction books about animals; Alphabet books

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**Thank you to Sara at Skyhorse Publishing for providing copies for review!**

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As a 6th grader living in San Diego, CA, there was quite a buzz about the 1984 Summer Olympics, scheduled in nearby Los Angeles. Such excitement as we crowded along a sidewalk to see the torch relay go by! I still remember the special unit our teacher introduced, covering the history of the Games, from the Ancient Greeks to the meaning behind the rings on today’s Olympic flag. Fast forward many years to a children’s book author (me!) looking for a new topic to share with young readers. As mom to a child with physical limitations, our family loved watching the Paralympics. How did they come to be? After a bit of research, I discovered the fascinating story of a doctor who changed the standard of care for people with spinal injuries, eventually founding the Paralympic Games.

Did you know?

  • Ludwig Guttmann was a Jewish neurosurgeon who fled Nazi Germany in 1939 to continue his work with injured soldiers in England.
  • After WWI, nearly 80% of patients with a fractured spine died from bladder infections or bedsore infections caused by their full body casts.
  • Other doctors called Ludwig’s patients “incurables” until he introduced an entirely new treatment plan, including the removal of casts, movement in wheelchairs, and sports! Only 11% of Ludwig’s patients died from their spinal injury.
  • In 1948, Ludwig coordinated a wheelchair archery competition between 16 service men and women. It took place on the front lawn of the Stoke Mandeville hospital. A few dozen family members watched.
  • When Ludwig wanted to expand the competition, people laughed. They said wheelchair sports were ridiculous and no one would watch. But that didn’t stop Ludwig.
  • In 2016, more than 4000 athletes competed in the Paralympic Games in Rio. The Games broke viewership records with a global television audience of more than four billion people!

A Sporting Chance: How Ludwig Guttmann Saved Lives with Sports
Author: Lori Alexander
Illustrator: Allan Drummond
Published: April 7th, 2020 by Houghton Mifflin

Summary: Telling the inspiring human story behind the creation of the Paralympics, this young readers biography artfully combines archival photos, full-color illustrations, and a riveting narrative to honor the life of Ludwig Guttmann, whose work profoundly changed so many lives.

Dedicating his life to helping patients labeled “incurables,” Ludwig Guttmann fought for the rights of paraplegics to live a full life. The young doctor believed—and eventually proved—that physical movement is key to healing, a discovery that led him to create the first Paralympic Games.

Told with moving text and lively illustrations, and featuring the life stories of athletes from the Paralympic Games Ludwig helped create, this story of the man who saved lives through sports will inspire readers of all backgrounds.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: 

This Common Core and Next Gen Science Standards-aligned teacher’s guide includes discussion questions, activities about the nervous system, and a writing exercise encouraging students to support a social justice claim.

About the Author: Lori Alexander loves to read and write! She has written picture books like BACKHOE JOE (Harper) and FAMOUSLY PHOEBE (Sterling) as well as the FUTURE BABY board book series (Scholastic). Her first non-fiction chapter book, ALL IN A DROP (HMH) received a Sibert Honor Award. Her new book, A SPORTING CHANCE (HMH), is a Junior Library Guild Selection and a Kirkus “Best Books of 2020.” Lori resides in sunny Tucson, Arizona, with her scientist husband and two book loving kids. She runs when it’s cool and swims when it’s hot. Then she gets back to reading and writing. Visit Lori at www.lorialexanderbooks.com or on Twitter @LoriJAlexander or Instagram @lorialexanderbooks

Thank you, Lori, for sharing your inspiration, book, and guide!

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Planet Ocean: Why We All Need a Healthy Ocean
Author: Patricia Newman
Photographer: Annie Crawley
Published March 2nd, 2021 by Millbrook Press

Summary: A little more than 70 percent of Planet Earth is ocean. So wouldn’t a better name for our global home be Planet Ocean?

You may be surprised at just how closely YOU are connected to the ocean. Regardless of where you live, every breath you take and every drop of water you drink links you to the ocean. And because of this connection, the ocean’s health affects all of us.

Dive in with author Patricia Newman and photographer Annie Crawley—visit the Coral Triangle near Indonesia, the Salish Sea in the Pacific Northwest, and the Arctic Ocean at the top of the world. Find out about problems including climate change, ocean acidification, and plastic pollution, and meet inspiring local people who are leading the way to reverse the ways in which humans have harmed the ocean.

Planet Ocean shows us how to stop thinking of ourselves as existing separate from the ocean and how to start taking better care of this precious resource.

Scan QR codes to explore the ocean along with Annie Crawley!

About the Creators:

Patricia Newman‘s books inspire young readers to seek connections to the real world. Her titles encourage readers to use their imaginations to solve real world problems and act on behalf of their communities. These books include Sibert Honor title Sea Otter Heroes: The Predators That Saved an Ecosystem; Junior Library Guild Selection Eavesdropping on Elephants; Bank Street College Best Book Zoo Scientists to the RescueBooklist Editor’s Choice Ebola: Fears and Facts; and Green Earth Book Award winner Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Patricia frequently speaks at schools and conferences to share how children of any age can affect change. Visit her at www.patriciamnewman.com.

Annie Crawley, aka Ocean Annie, travels and works around the world. Trained as a photo and broadcast journalist, her work has been broadcast and published worldwide. From Indonesia to Galapagos, Belize to Papua New Guinea, India to Australia, Annie has explored and documented life on our planet. Based in Seattle, Annie works as a producer, writer, photographer, and motivational speaker. She founded Dive Into Your Imagination, a multimedia company producing books, enhanced eBooks, educator guides, films, motivational art, and more. Annie was the photographer and filmmaker aboard SEAPLEX sponsored by Project Kaisei and Samy’s Camera. Annie specializes in the underwater realm and also works as a photo, video, and scuba diving instructor. She is a member of the Women Divers Hall of Fame and created a dive team for kids and teens. Visit her online at www.AnnieCrawley.com and www.anniecrawleyphotography.com.

Praise: 

♥ Junior Library Guild Selection

“Read Planet Ocean with your children and grandchildren to begin the discussion of what humans can do to save our oceans from pollution and acidification. Books like this one help lead the way to a better climate future for all inhabitants of mother earth.” — Jeff Bridges, Academy Award winner and environmentalist

“A compelling and paramount read for all mankind so that we value our ocean resource.” –-Christine Anne Royce, Ed.D., Retiring President (19-20), National Science Teaching Association; Professor of Teacher Education and Co-Director of MAT in STEM Education, Shippensburg University

“The range of nationalities represented and the inclusion of a variety of Indigenous voices make a particularly compelling argument that ocean health is a whole world problem…Worth exploring in depth.” —Kirkus

“They nailed it! Ocean Annie and Patricia Newman have created a positive, action-oriented educational initiative that will inspire the next generation to be good stewards of our ocean planet!” — Jill Heinerth, Underwater Explorer and Explorer in Residence, Royal Canadian Geographical Society

“The book follows [Annie] Crawley, an underwater explorer and photographer, as a knowledgeable guide to three very different regions connected by ocean waters, the Coral Triangle north of Australia, the Salish Sea bordering Washington State and British Columbia, and the Arctic. Newman’s text describes each place visited, while Crawley’s many attractive photos introduce the people and animals affected by environmental changes there…For each region, illustrated features offer the viewpoints of individuals living there. Presenting a good deal of information within a well-organized framework, the book conveys a strong sense of urgency to clean the global ocean and restore the ecosystems it supports.” —Booklist

Review: I am a HUGE fan of Patricia Newman’s books. This is the 6th of her books that I have reviewed here. Want to know why? Because her books fit the mission of our blog–they are wonderful pieces of informational literature and belong in schools and classrooms because kids need these books. Planet Ocean is no different!

With each of Patricia’s books, I learn new things. I entered this book thinking that I knew all that I could about climate change and the ocean and the effects on our planet, but I left even more knowledgeable and even more scared of the future if we do not make a change. Learning about ocean acidification, the effects on the Arctic, and just how dependent we all are on the ocean was fascinating and change making.

And like Eavesdropping with Elephants, Patricia included QR codes in this book which I believe brings a great interactiveness with the text. It also adds digital literacy with traditional literacy. And Annie Crawley is a great visual storyteller in the linked videos!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: The publisher and author share a curriculum guide to go with Planet Ocean on their websites: https://www.patriciamnewman.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/Planet-Ocean-Curriculum-Guide.pdf

The guide includes activities for literacy, science, ocean literacy, and sustainability standards.

I’d also like to add that I love Annie’s Pro Tips for Visual Storytelling, and I would love to use these tips to have students create their own visual story!

The book also includes a great “Surfers Welcome” section in the backmatter which gives 7 different websites to further learning!

Why do you need this book in your library? Patricia Newman can explain!

Discussion Questions: 

  • How are maps incorrectly proportioned?
  • Why do we need a healthy ocean?
  • How is your life affected by the ocean?
  • What new word did you learn from the book or glossary?
  • How could you “Go Blue with Annie” in your life?
  • Which of the QR code videos did you enjoy the most? How does this interactive component make the book better?
  • Why does the author include so many different scientists and contributors in the book in the “In Their Own Words” side bars?
  • How do the images and videos add to the information received in the book?
  • What is your favorite animal? How are they affected by the ocean?
  • Why did the Arctic have a whole chapter of the book? What is so important about the Arctic?
  • What do you think the author’s purpose was in creating this book?
  • How does the health of the ocean compare now to the past?

Flagged Passages: 

Read an excerpt on the book’s publisher page!

Read This If You Love: Science, Animals, Learning about Climate Change, Marine science

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**Thank you to Patricia Newman and Lerner Books for providing a copy for review!**

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Nonfiction Writers Dig Deep: 50 Award Winning Children’s Book Authors Share the Secret of Engaging Writing
Editor: Melissa Stewart
Published November 2020 by National Council of Teachers of English

Summary: In Nonfiction Writers Dig Deep: 50 Award-Winning Children’s Book Authors Share the Secret of Engaging Writing, some of today’s most celebrated writers for children share essays that describe a critical part of the informational writing process that is often left out of classroom instruction.

To craft engaging nonfiction, professional writers choose topics that fascinate them and explore concepts and themes that reflect their passions, personalities, beliefs, and experiences in the world. By scrutinizing the information they collect to make their own personal meaning, they create distinctive books that delight as well as inform.

In addition to essays from mentor authors, Nonfiction Writers Dig Deep includes a wide range of tips, tools, teaching strategies, and activity ideas from editor Melissa Stewart to help students (1) choose a topic, (2) focus that topic by identifying a core idea, theme, or concept, and (3) analyze their research to find a personal connection. By adding a piece of themselves to their drafts, students will learn to craft rich, unique prose.

100 percent of the proceeds will be divided among the National Council of Teachers for English (NCTE), We Need Diverse Books (WNDB), and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI)

About the Author: Melissa Stewart has written more than 180 science books for children, including the ALA Notable Feathers: Not Just for Flying, illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen; the SCBWI Golden Kite Honor title Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes, and Stinkers: Celebrating Animal Underdogs, illustrated by Stephanie Laberis; and Can an Aardvark Bark?, illustrated by Caldecott Honoree Steve Jenkins. She coauthored 5 Kinds of Nonfiction: Enriching Reading and Writing Instruction with Children’s Books (forthcoming) and grades K-2 and 3-5 editions of Perfect Pairs: Using Fiction & Nonfiction Picture Books to Teach Life Science. Stewart maintains the award-winning blog Celebrate Science and serves on the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators board of advisors. Her highly regarded website features a rich array of nonfiction writing resources.

Contributors: Sarah AlbeeChris BartonDonna Janell BowmanMary Kay CarsonNancy CastaldoJason ChinLesa Cline-RansomeSeth FishmanCandace FlemingKelly Milner HallsDeborah HeiligmanSusan HoodGail JarrowLita JudgeJess KeatingBarbara KerleyHeather LangCynthia LevinsonMichelle MarkelCarla Killough McClaffertyHeather L. MontgomeryPatricia NewmanElizabeth PartridgeBaptiste PaulMiranda PaulTeresa RobesonMara RockliffBarb RosenstockLaura Purdie SalasAnita SanchezApril Pulley SayreSteve SheinkinRay Anthony ShepardAnita SilveyTraci SorellTanya Lee StoneJennifer SwansonStephen R. SwinburneDon TateLaurie Ann ThompsonPamela S. TurnerPatricia ValdezSandra Neil WallaceLaurie WallmarkJennifer WardCarole Boston WeatherfordLee WindPaula YooKaren Romano Young

From Melissa Stewart: “Behind the Book”

The idea for this book traces back to the 2017 National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Annual Convention in St. Louis, Missouri, when I was fortunate to participate in a panel titled ‘The Secret of Crafting Engaging Nonfiction’ with two of the most talented children’s nonfiction authors of our time—Candace Fleming and Deborah Heiligman.

During our discussion, moderated by educator and children’s nonfiction enthusiast Alyson Beecher, we dove deeply into what fuels our work and why we routinely dedicate years of our lives to a single manuscript. As we compared our thoughts and experiences, we came to realize something critically important—each of our books has a piece of us at its heart. And that personal connection is what drives us to keep working despite the inevitable obstacles and setbacks.

Several other nonfiction authors attended our presentation, and afterward they praised our insights. That conversation helped us all understand our creative process in a new and exciting way. And it eventually led to the essays in this anthology, which are our way of sharing an important—and often unrecognized and underappreciated—aspect of nonfiction writing with educators and students.

Review and Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I was star struck seeing all of the authors who had contributed! I was lucky enough to be at the presentation that this book’s seed of an idea started, so when I heard about this book, I knew it would be a book I would need!

This book is all about moving nonfiction writing to an authentic experience. The book is broken into 3 sections to help guide writing instruction:

  • Choosing a Topic
  • Finding a Focus
  • Making is Personal

Within each section there are essays by mentor authors focusing on different aspects of the topic. I loved reading the essays that ranged from a look at how to take an idea and make it grow, about complexities within nonfiction, about the bumps along the way, about the writing process, and everything else you can think of.

Then the last part of the chapter is In the Classroom which helps tie the essays all together with how to take it to our students.

This book is written specifically with teachers in mind–it is such an amazing resource!

Video about the Book: https://melissa-stewart.com/books/teachers/bk_nonfiction_writers_dig_deep.html

Read This If You Love: Teaching authentic nonfiction writing

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The ABCs of Black History
Author: Rio Cortez
Illustrator: Lauren Semmer
Published: December 8, 2020 by Workman Publishing Company

Summary: While many alphabet books have tackled a range of social justice topics from consent to feminism, there remains an urgent need to explore through a thoughtful lens how Black history has shaped American culture. The ABCs of Black History is a beautiful representation of the ideas and personalities that embody a wide range of Black people, experiences, and ideas in lively verse matched with vivid imagery.

Written by Pushcart-nominated-poet, Rio Cortez and illustrated by newcomer Lauren Semmer, The ABCs of Black History uses the alphabet as a frame to introduce Black history. Beginning with Anthem—an introduction to James Weldon Johnson’s Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing—and ending with Zenith, a tribute to the mountaintop Dr. King spoke about before his death, readers will travel across continents and centuries, navigate triumph and heartbreak, and celebrate creativity and joy.

The poetic text introduces big ideas to engage curious minds. Every letter has a rhyming verse, and every spread is a visual feast. F explores the concepts of farming and food. G is for Go! and the Great Migration from the rural South to the urban North. Then the reader lands in Harlem, New York, where they meet Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes. Contemporary moments are included too. M is for march and message, which explores the culmination of movements that have changed the course of history, from the Selma to Montgomery March in 1965 to the Black Lives Matter movement today. And Q is for queens, acquainting readers with powerful women like Leontyne Price, Queen Nandi, Toni Morrison, Michelle Obama, and many more.

The book also includes robust back matter that offers more information on the events, places, and people mentioned in the poem, from Fannie Lou Hamer to DJ Kool Herc, the Little Rock Nine to Sam Cooke.

A necessary addition to every child’s bookshelf, The ABCs of Black History is an exuberant celebration of history, culture, race, and justice.

Ricki’s Review: Oh my. This is a powerful book. Every single page is beautifully constructed. I simply cannot imagine how long it took to create this book. It is 64 pages of masterful writing and eye-catching illustrations. To call this an alphabet book would be to undermine everything that it is. Each spread features a different letter with numerous words connected to Black history and written in poetic form. Nine pages of back matter offer further information of all of the people, places, and terms used throughout the book. Thus, a child will hear the lilt of a poetic description in a read aloud, and the back matter offers more learning. I describe a child here, but as an adult, I was absolutely captivated by this text. This book is one to read and love and it is one to gift. Also, in case you missed it, look at the cover! I loved this book and give it my highest recommendation.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Teachers might ask each child to select a letter in the book. They can learn more about the people, places, and terms used and share with peers more information about Black history. Then, they might create their own alphabet books about a topic they are interested in researching.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Which letter spread did you like the most? What did you learn?
  • How does the author incorporate information in a poetic and engaging way?
  • How do the illustrations elevate your understanding of the text?

Flagged Passage: 

E is for explore—to study a place: like Matthew Henson, the Artctic; Mae Jemison, space.

E is for education, for expanding the mind, like Ruby Bridges, Linda Brown, the Little Rock Nine—The first Black children in all-white schools, they opened the doors and challenged the rules.

Flagged Spread:

Excerpted from THE ABCs of BLACK HISTORY by Rio Cortez (Workman Publishing). Copyright © 2020. Illustrations by Lauren Semmer

Read This If You Love: Nonfiction picture books, Black history books, alphabet books, Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly, Frederick Douglass: The Lion Who Wrote History by Walter Dean Myers, 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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