Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday: The Case for Loving

Last week I learned of Alyson Beecher’s Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge, hosted at her site Kid Lit Frenzy. I’m excited about the new source of reading recommendations, as well as a chance to share some. I’m not sure if I’ll post every week but I like the way Alyson does mini reviews, so I’ll try that approach to keep it manageable.

So without further ado, this week’s book: “The Case for Loving,” written by Selina Alko and illustrated by the Sean Qualls and Selina Alko, published by Scholastic last month.

The Case for Loving

This is a story of the Loving family — Richard and Mildred  — who were married in D.C. in the late 1950s, but lived in Virginia. The problem? Richard was black and Mildred was white, and Virginia law forbade interracial marriage. They were arrested and forced to leave their family, friends and hometown. Nine years later, though, their case resulted in the U.S. Supreme Court striking down bans on interracial marriage.

The plot focuses mostly on the Lovings’ relationship and how the unjust law affected them, making it relatable to children’s developing sense of fairness. The court case plays a more minor role (two spreads), making it seem a little magical, but overall the still a good introduction to a lesser-known story from the Civil Rights Movement. And I love the collage and paint illustrations, which are full of cutout hearts and butterflies that would match a Valentine’s Day card. (The artwork, by the way, is by a husband-and-wife team whose marriage would’ve been illegal in Virginia 60 years ago.)

Bonus material for older kids and adults: check out the 2012 HBO documentary, “The Loving Story,” on this subject. It’s available on Netflix instant and includes archival video of the Lovings. Pairing the documentary with this book is an interesting lens on different ways of telling a true story.

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“She knew that shadow was not just hers”: Leontyne Price biography

Roses at her feet and tears in her eyes, Leontyne bowed. She glimpsed the spotlight casting a shadow. She knew that shadow was not just hers, but her parents’, teachers’, and Marian’s. Back in Laurel, Mississippi, songs of pride filled many a heart. The folks there were bowing, too.

That’s an excerpt from the nonfiction picture book, “Leontyne Price: Voice of a Century” by Carole Boston Weatherford, published last month by Alfred A. Knopf.

Born in 1927, Leontyne Price was a pioneering black opera singer. But she wasn’t the first, nor were her achievements reached without support along the way. This story makes that clear, through passages like the one above and repeated references to standing on Marian Anderson’s shoulders.

Those acknowledgements don’t distract from the book’s overall focus on Price’s talent, though, and I appreciate the balance.

I often read/hear in advice for writing children’s books that stories need to be laser-focused on the main character and how he/she overcomes the problem in the story. I agree that simplicity can be key in reaching younger audiences, but I also know that most successful people will be the first to tell you they couldn’t have done it on their own. (Think of all those “thank you” speeches the stars gave at last night’s Oscars!)

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Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote

Pancho Rabbit and Coyote

It’s a good sign to me when I finish a picture book and immediately start writing down questions for the author, or Googling their name to find out their biography, their motivations for writing kidlit, and titles of their other works.

So it was with “Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote,” a 2013 book written and illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh. (I reviewed “Dear Primo,” also by Tonatiuh, last month.)

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Add these to your to-read pile! Newbery winner and more

In case you didn’t hear, the American Library Association announced its 2015 youth media awards on Monday. That includes the Caldecott Medal (for picture books), the Newbery Medal (for middle grade), various Coretta Scott King awards (recognizing African American authors and illustrators) and the Printz Award (for young adult books.)

While I’ve read several books that were honorees — like “Brown Girl Dreaming” and “El Deafo” — I haven’t read the top winners of either the Caldecott or the Newbery.

The Crossover

“The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend,” written and illustrated by Dan Santat won the Caldecott. It’s the story of an imaginary friend seeking the perfect child to pair with. “The Crossover” by Kwame Alexander won the Newbery. It’s a novel in verse about twin brothers dealing with growing up, family ties and basketball.

Count them among my to-read pile, along with a bunch of the others on the ALA list.

Also count this children’s book on my to-read pile when it debuts next month: “Rad American Women A-Z.” It’s an alphabet book featuring biographies of women from Angela Davis to Zora Neale Hurston. According to Bitch Magazine, the selected women are “diverse in terms of race, era, and in their field of work, ranging from scientists to writers and activists.” I can’t wait to check it out!

Rad American Women A-ZA book that came out this week that I hope to pick up soon is “One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia” by Miranda Paul, who is in one of the online writers community I participate in. It’s the true story of five women tackling the plastic trash problem in their village.

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What rad children’s books have you added to your to-read list lately?