2 Picture Books about … family and migration

Within the first few pages of reading “The Keeping Quilt” this morning I was thinking about “This is the Rope.” It’s impossible not to make the comparison.

Both books tells stories of family and love by following an object that is passed down over generations. And both hint at larger histories of human migration.

First published in 1988, Patricia Polacco’s “The Keeping Quilt” is at this point a classic among picture books and comes from the real quilt and story of Polacco’s family. Jacqueline Woodson’s “This is the Rope,” is a more recent fictional work that I believe will one day be a classic.

The Keeping QuiltThe Keeping Quilt by Patricia Polacco

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A sweet (and true) story about the transformation of a young immigrant’s babushka into a quilt that is used at meals, weddings, births and more. The book spans several generations of a Russian Jewish family in America. Though the theme is continuity and connection, the small changes that happen to traditions over time and with human migration form a backdrop to the text and illustrations. The charcoal drawings, in which only the quilt gets a pop of color, are as timeless as Polacco’s quilt itself.

This Is the Rope: A Story From the Great MigrationThis Is the Rope: A Story From the Great Migration by Jacqueline Woodson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An intergenerational story of a family’s move from South Carolina to New York City. The narrative centers on a rope that is first used for skipping under a sweet-smelling pine in South Carolina, then for tying suitcases to the car, later for hanging laundry on a city block, and so on.
Jacqueline Woodson makes the historical context of the book clear in an author’s note describing the Great Migration:

From the early 1900s until the mid 1970s, more than 6 million African Americans moved from the rural South to northern cities. … We came for better jobs, better treatment, better education and better lives. … The rope we brought to this ‘new country’ was Hope.

The warm colors and soft focus of James Ransome’s oil illustrations evoke the familiarity of home, even as the characters move across states and neighborhoods.

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Two picture books about Irena Sendler | #IMAWYR 6/5/16

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“It’s Monday! What are you Reading?” is a meme hosted by Kathryn at The Book Date. as a way for bloggers to swap reading lists. Kellee and Jen, of Teach Mentor Texts, gave it a kidlit focus. Check out the links on their page to see what others are reading this week.

In recent weeks I’ve read two biographies of WWII hero Irena Sendler.

Jars of HopeJars of Hope by Jennifer Roy

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Simultaneously chilling and powerful story of one woman’s bravery in saving children during the Holocaust. It shows two opposite extremes of human capabilities.
I appreciate that although the book focuses on Irena Sendler, it also shows and names some of the others who also risked their lives in Zegota, an underground group of Polish men and women who rescued Jews from the Nazis. I also appreciate that it shows multiple families and scenarios in which Irena worked to rescue children. As opposed to other excellent books that focus on one individual or family’s experience, that choice points to the magnitude of the atrocities, as well as underscoring Irena’s courage.
There is something a little strange about the book’s layout, though — particularly the text placement and end pages — that makes it feel a bit like a print-on-demand text.
This is definitely worth reading if you don’t know anything about Irena Sendler, as I didn’t.
Irena Sendler and the Children of the Warsaw GhettoIrena Sendler and the Children of the Warsaw Ghetto by Susan Goldman Rubin

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An illustrated biography of a Polish social worker who risked her life over and over to save Jewish children during the Holocaust. Illustrations done in oil paints bring the historical figure to life. The story is best suited for older children with some background knowledge about WWII. It is text-heavy, so it’s not ideal for a read-aloud, but it provides more details about Irena Sendler’s work than a similar book, “Jars of Hope.” Good for an elementary classroom research project.

Interview with “Fearless Flyer” author Heather Lang

Heather LangLast week I wrote about my happy discovery of nonfiction kids’ books by Heather Lang. Her most recent title is “Fearless Flyer,” about early aviatrix Ruth Law. This week Heather answered some questions from me about the picture book biography. Enjoy!

Do you enjoy flying?
I’m what you would call a fearFUL flyer. I always do experiential research for every book, which I knew might be a little scary for this one! I wanted to do something that would help me understand what it was like to fly in an open cockpit. Since I couldn’t find an early biplane, I decided paragliding was the next best thing. Once I let go of the initial panic and terror, it was a wonderful experience—soaring up and down like a bird. It inspired me to weave the theme of liberty into the story—both the freedom she felt and sought as a pilot and as a woman. I’m not saying I want to become a regular, but I’m not as afraid of flying anymore!

How did you first learn about Ruth Law?
Since I’m a nervous flyer, those early aviators who risked their lives going up in their flimsy flying machines have always intrigued me. I read a lot of books about flying and early aviation and was especially fascinated by the women who came before Amelia Earhart. They are virtually unknown. Ruth’s spunky personality drew me in right away, and I loved how she became a mechanic, learning every nut and bolt on her machine. Continue reading

Nonfiction picture book Wednesday: Fearless Flyer and Queen of the Track

nonfiction picture book Wednesday

Check out the Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday link-up at Kid Lit Frenzy.

Last week I discovered an author kindred spirit.

It started when I pulled “Fearless Flyer” off the new books shelf in the children’s section of the library. After reading the story of pilot Ruth Law’s attempt to fly from Chicago to New York in one day in 1916, I did what I always do at the end of a when a book rings my kidlit bells: I read the author bio. Continue reading

True stories of 3 diverse athletes and 1 female sportswriter | #IMWAYR 4/18/16

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“It’s Monday! What are you Reading?” is a meme hosted by Kathryn at The Book Date. as a way for bloggers to swap reading lists. Kellee and Jen, of Teach Mentor Texts, gave it a kidlit focus. Check out the links on their page to see what others are reading this week.

It finally turned springlike in recent days, with buds on trees, and kids returning to baseball diamonds and lacrosse fields.

Apropos of the change in season, I’ve read several great children’s books about athletes (and one sportswriter) recently. Here are my Goodreads reviews for those books.

Catching the Moon: The Story of a Young Girl's Baseball DreamCatching the Moon: The Story of a Young Girl’s Baseball Dream by Crystal Hubbard

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This picture book is about Marcenia Lyle, a girl who loves baseball more than anything. We learn in the afterword that Marcenia was signed to the Negro League Indianapolis Clowns in 1953, making her the first female member of an all-male professional baseball team, but this story doesn’t get into Marcenia’s adult life. It focuses on one spring when Marcenia dreams of being accepted to a summer baseball day camp run by the manager of the St. Louis Cardinals. That means not only showing off her skills to the man in charge, but also convincing her father to let her attend.

Crystal Hubbard’s choice to highlight one emblematic chapter of Marcenia Lyle’s childhood is a great way of introducing a lesser known athlete through a conflict that builds and that draws in young readers.

The William Hoy Story: How a Deaf Baseball Player Changed the GameThe William Hoy Story: How a Deaf Baseball Player Changed the Game by Nancy Churnin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

William Hoy is a man worth knowing about. Plenty of details and events in here for all kinds of kids to relate to. Well written and well illustrated.

Continue reading

Miranda Paul on writing multicultural children’s books

I just came across this post from author Miranda Paul about writing across boundaries, such as race, and the need for diversity not just in kids’ book characters but authors and illustrators, too. It’s from 2014 but still very relevant and worth reading.

Here’s an excerpt:

Not every story is mine to tell.
I know that, and I respect that.
That doesn’t mean I only write stories that originate my Midwest hometown, about characters who look like me, grew up like me, talk like me, etc. In fact, those of you who know what I write is far more diverse. But what I write is also based upon experience, research, passion, and personal connection.

J.K. Rowling’s missteps with Native Americans and my We Need Diverse Books resolution for 2016

J.K. Rowling came under fire earlier this month for her portrayal of Native people and cultures in a series of online stories related to Harry Potter.

The collection focuses on the fictional history of North American magic as part of a larger project to expand the Harry Potter universe and its back stories. But the recent installment received fast criticism from Native Americans, who said Rowling treated them as magical creatures and a monolithic group.

The backlash speaks to the much bigger conversations to be had on how much and in what ways American Indians are represented in children’s literature. I touched on this subject briefly in my conversation with Pam Margolis, but I am by no means an expert. (But you know who is? Debbie Reese. Check out her blog.)

That’s why part of my 2016 We Need Diverse Books resolution is focused on books by or about Native people.

As I thought about my resolution back in January, I didn’t think upping the raw number of diverse books I read made that much sense, because I pretty much maxed out my reading time last year. But I did think about the breakdown of what I read last year and how I could mix it up. Continue reading

Listen up! Here’s a new podcast about diverse children’s books

thecutheaderI listen to podcasts every day, but the past two weeks have brought an extra infusion of podcast-y goodness to my life.

First I met Alex Laughlin, host of The Ladycast, during a journalism training. A few days later I interviewed Caroline Ervin and Cristen Conger, hosts of Stuff Mom Never Told You, for a freelance article.

And finally, I am featured in a new episode of a podcast all about diversity in children’s books, The Cut with Pam Margolis. I met Pam, a librarian and book reviewer, at KidLitCon last fall, when she was still conceptualizing her show. It launched this month, and I can’t wait for more episodes.

For the episode that I’m on, I talked with Pam about the dearth of picture books featuring Muslims, getting beyond sexuality as the main conflict in books featuring LGBTQ characters, and whether to label diverse books as such.

I also shared some of my favorite diverse children’s books. Those titles are below, along with my GoodReads ratings and comments on them.

Listen, SlowlyListen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

totally enchanting

Continue reading

In Carole Boston Weatherford’s latest picture book, she shows slaves’ joy and hope without ignoring injustice

Freedom in Congo Square1

Here’s an antidote to recent months of outcry over pictures books featuring smiling slaves. In “Freedom in Congo Square,” author Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrator R. Gregory Christie show us the humanity of slaves in the American South without ignoring or accepting the inhumanity of how their white owners treated them.

This nonfiction book – written in verse – takes up the topic of Congo Square, an open field in New Orleans where slaves and free blacks gathered to play music, dance and share news on Sunday afternoons in the 1800s. A Louisiana law at the time set Sunday aside as a day of rest, even for slaves, Weatherford explains in her author’s note. By spotlighting this little-known piece of history, she and Christie present a picture of the joy and hope people can find amidst harrowing circumstances.

That’s something Emily Jenkins and Sophie Blackall said they were trying to do in “A Fine Dessert,” which drew controversy last fall. In one part of the book, an enslaved mother and daughter hide in a closet to lick the bowl after serving blackberry fool to their masters. The difference between that scene and “Freedom in Congo Square” is that the context and open acknowledgment of injustice is not absent in the latter. Continue reading

It’s Monday! What are you reading? #IMWAYR 2/8/16

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“It’s Monday! What are you Reading?” is a meme hosted by Kathryn at The Book Date. as a way for bloggers to swap reading lists. Kellee and Jen, of Teach Mentor Texts, gave it a kidlit focus. Check out the links on their page to see what others are reading this week.

On Saturday, I saw the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater perform at the Kennedy Center in D.C. In anticipation of the show, I recently read a picture book biography of Ailey and another one about Robert Battle, the company’s current artistic director.

Here are my Goodreads reviews for those books.
Alvin AileyAlvin Ailey by Andrea Davis Pinkney
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This basic bio of Alvin Ailey, who brought the spirit of African-American traditions to modern dance, would be good for a classroom unit in which students write reports on historical figures. The text is active and the scratchboard illustrations create the sense of motion and flow that ought to be in a dance-centered picture book.

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My Story, My Dance: Robert Battle's Journey to Alvin AileyMy Story, My Dance: Robert Battle’s Journey to Alvin Ailey by Lesa Cline-Ransome
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The story of how a little boy wearing leg braces became a 13-year-old beginner dancer and eventually the artistic director for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. While it highlights Battle’s hard work, this picture book doesn’t leave out the guidance and support he received from family members and teachers, who are also part of his story and his dance.

Pairs well with “Alvin Ailey” by Andrea Davis Pinkney, “A Dance Like Starlight by “Kristy Dempsey,” and “Firebird” by Misty Copeland.

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