“Will Allen can see / what others can’t see. / When he sees kids, he sees farmers.” Martin shares how Will Allen’s vision inspired an amazing life of...more“Will Allen can see / what others can’t see. / When he sees kids, he sees farmers.” Martin shares how Will Allen’s vision inspired an amazing life of service as he founded Growing Power, an innovative urban farm in Milwaukee. Families will come away energized to create their own gardens, whether it’s in patio pots, a window sill or a neighborhood plot. (less)
Kids who love inventing quirky things will enjoy this series for beginning readers. Buzz invents a cat-eye vest to help people see in the dark, and hi...moreKids who love inventing quirky things will enjoy this series for beginning readers. Buzz invents a cat-eye vest to help people see in the dark, and his dad suggests they take it along to explore a nearby cave. They spot crystals, snakes and bats with the help of Buzz’s cool vest. A fun new series featuring a cool little dude.(less)
WOW oh WOW. When a book hits a sweet spot, it zooms from one student to another. As soon as I read the opening lines of The Crossover, with its basket...moreWOW oh WOW. When a book hits a sweet spot, it zooms from one student to another. As soon as I read the opening lines of The Crossover, with its basketball cover and bouncing rap beat, I just knew I had to read it aloud to my 5th graders. But nothing prepared me for how it hooked them. To say they are loving it is an understatement. Fifth grade boys are just about wrestling each other to see who's going to get it next--jostling each other over a novel in verse!
For Josh Bell, basketball and his family are everything to him. He pushes himself to excel, but he loves every minute he spends with the game--especially the way he plays it with his twin brother Jordan and his dad. Kwame Alexander captures Josh's voice and the power of basketball in a way that comes alive for my students. They love the rhythm and pulsing movement, the attitude and sass in Josh's words.
The power of this novel comes not only from Alexander's language but also from the characters and their emotions. As Josh and Jordan (JB) near the championship playoffs for their school's division, friction develops between the brothers and trouble is brewing with their father. Josh starts to resent the fact that JB is spending too much time with his new girlfriend. I love the relationship Josh has with his dad. They tease each other, push each other, question each other in a way that feels so real.
Alexander engages kids on so many different levels. I especially like the Basketball Rules that Josh's dad shares with his sons. How is basketball like life? That's something all sorts of kids can think about, in a way that takes layered meanings to a different level.(less)
What's it like to hold on to a dream? Can a role model truly encourage a young child, or is that just what parents and teachers tell themselves? There...moreWhat's it like to hold on to a dream? Can a role model truly encourage a young child, or is that just what parents and teachers tell themselves? There are times that sharing a story helps me keep faith, just as much as reading an inspiring biography. A Dance Like Starlight is a book that filled me with hope and warmth, as I read about one little ballerina's dream.
A young African American girl longs to dance with the ballet school, but her mama says "wishing on stars is a waste anyhow." Hope is the key, mama says, but "hoping is hard work." Her mama certainly knows hard work, taking in laundry at night, and working every day sewing and cleaning costumes for the ballet school.
When the Ballet Master sees her dancing in the wings, he notices her talent and dreams and invites her to join lessons each day "even though I can't perform onstage with white girls." Demspey and Cooper build up the story slowly and softly, helping readers understand the setting in 1950s New York, the discrimination at play. When Mama takes her daughter to see Miss Janet Collins, the first African American prima ballerina to dance with the Metropolitan Opera House Ballet, the little girl's heart soars, "dancing, opening wide with the swell of the music."
This story reminds me of the power of role models, the way they can inspire us to reach out for our dreams and persevere through hard times. Floyd Cooper's artwork is uplifting and dreamy, with soft grainy textures. Did you know he creates all his artwork by first painting layers, and then erasing them slowly to reveal the shapes?(less)
No one expected Wilma Rudolph to survive her difficult childhood. My students are continually amazed at how Rudolph not only learned to walk after hav...moreNo one expected Wilma Rudolph to survive her difficult childhood. My students are continually amazed at how Rudolph not only learned to walk after having scarlet fever and polio, but joined her school’s basketball team and then her college’s track team. Through sheer determination and hard work, she went on to win three Olympic gold medals. Readers cheer for Wilma at every turn in this inspiring biography. (less)
Novesky draws young readers into the life of jazz singer Billie Holiday by highlighting her relationship with her favorite dog, an adoring boxer named...moreNovesky draws young readers into the life of jazz singer Billie Holiday by highlighting her relationship with her favorite dog, an adoring boxer named Mister. Holiday, who earned the nickname Lady Day early in her life, is presented as a glamorous singer who loved having dogs around her all of the time. Children will laugh as they see Lady Day and Mister walking together in matching mink coats, but readers will also relate to the way she sang to Mister and wanted him by her side. “When it was time for her to sing, Mister would lead a nervous Lady to the stage and wait for her in the wings.” Newton’s gouache and charcoal illustrations, with some mixed-media elements, capture Lady Day’s elegant charm and passionate singing. Unfortunately, this presentation glides over some difficult times in Holiday’s life. “Just when her career was at the top, Lady got into trouble. She had to leave home for a year and a day. And Mister couldn’t come.” The author’s note at the end explains that Holiday was sentenced to a year in prison for drug possession, but the vague treatment in the main text leaves young readers somewhat confused. Nevertheless, this appealing story serves as an engaging introduction to an iconic American jazz singer. An author's note, website, and source list are included in the end-matter. (less)
Wonderful illustrations, great rhythm for reading aloud, fun twist on a trickster tale. Although it isn't too scary, it struck me that there was a lot...moreWonderful illustrations, great rhythm for reading aloud, fun twist on a trickster tale. Although it isn't too scary, it struck me that there was a lot of text on each page.
I was a little bothered by the changes in font size throughout the book. It didn't add to my understanding or reading, but seemed to be based on when the layout needed the room. I'm wondering if anyone else notices this.(less)
Kadir Nelson’s stirring paintings capture King’s passion, vision and determination on this historic day. Showing literal and figurative scenes from Ki...moreKadir Nelson’s stirring paintings capture King’s passion, vision and determination on this historic day. Showing literal and figurative scenes from King’s speech, and close-ups of King himself, Nelson conveys the many emotions wrapped up in these inspiring words. The complete text of the speech is printed at the back, and an accompanying CD lets young children hear King’s original delivery of this famous speech.(less)
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s older sister tells the story of the March on Washington, bringing young readers into a personal perspective of this mome...moreDr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s older sister tells the story of the March on Washington, bringing young readers into a personal perspective of this momentous event. “Martin’s words were as loud as thunder. When he spoke, I could feel myself filling with pride … the kind of pride that comes from seeing your very own brother touch so many people in such a big way.” Look especially for the audiobook recording of this inspiring book, complete with musical excerpts that set the tone for the day. (less)
While Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke the gospel and led his people with his words, Mahalia Jackson sang the gospel and spread the word through her song...moreWhile Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke the gospel and led his people with his words, Mahalia Jackson sang the gospel and spread the word through her song. The Pinkneys show through inspiring words and pictures how these two pivotal figures in the Civil Rights Movement worked together to lead the American people with their voices. “Martin’s sermons and Mahalia’s spirituals told their listeners: YOU ARE HERE. On the path. Come along. Step proud. Stand strong. Be brave. Go with me. To a place, to a time, when all will BE FREE.” Full of hope, this beautiful book captures the way these two leaders came together to use their gifts to call for change. (less)
I read this as a Candlewick Biography, a small-size reprint in 2013 of the 2010 picture book. I found the combination of text and illustrations very e...moreI read this as a Candlewick Biography, a small-size reprint in 2013 of the 2010 picture book. I found the combination of text and illustrations very effective for understanding the hardships Ella Fitzgerald overcame. Children will like the small trim size but I'm concerned the font size ends up too small. I'll need to see how children react to it.(less)
Blue Balliett centers her most recent book around the rhythms and themes of Langston's Hughes poetry, but the story is firmly rooted in today's urban...moreBlue Balliett centers her most recent book around the rhythms and themes of Langston's Hughes poetry, but the story is firmly rooted in today's urban American landscape. Balliet's novel touched me - it's a powerful, emotional story of the way a young girl tenaciously holds fast to her dreams, in the face of terrible circumstances.
One bitterly cold winter afternoon, Early Pearl's father disappears. One minute Dash is riding his bike home from work, and the next he is gone, without a trace. As eleven-year old Early, her brother and mother reel from the news, their apartment is ransacked and they are suddenly on the run without any money.
With nowhere else to go, the Pearls seek refuge in one of Chicago's homeless shelters. Early is certain that her father is still alive and that if she pays attention to the clues, she will be able to find him. Through it all, she is steadfast in her certainty that she needs to hold fast to her father's dream that they are a family that will survive.
Balliett tells her story through Early's point of view, and I slipped into her perspective right away. I loved the way Early thought about situations, turning them over in her mind to look at them from all angles. I loved, loved the way she thought about words. Here's just one of my favorite examples:
"What happened at 4:44 on that grim January day was wrong. Wrong was the perfect sound for what the word meant: It was heavy, achingly slow, clearly impossible to erase. Wrong. The word had a cold, northern root as old as the Vikings.
Where was Dash? How could he have vanished into that icy, freezing moment?" (p. 23-24, ARC)
Balliett's writing is imbued with rhythm, description and meaning -- in a way that got right to my heart. Balliett shares with her readers her love of language, of words, of ideas. But she shares much more. She shares her hope and optimism that even in hard times, we can hold fast to our dreams. Through Early's story, she gives a face to homelessness, making sure that readers think about what it would be like to suddenly lose everything. It might seem cliched to talk about giving a face to a problem, but I was struck by how easy it was for the police to ignore the Pearl family.
There are certainly some flaws to this book. Part of me liked how names had significance (I chuckled when I figured out that Lyman Scrubs was a liar), but part of me found it too obvious. The international crime ring that Dash became innocently involved with seemed stereotyped, a bit out of a James Bond or Tom Cruise movie. And I never, ever figured out Skip Waive's roll (or name). But, I completely agree with the Booklist review:
"But what’s wonderful about this book, overshadowing the plot flaws, is the way Balliett so thoroughly gets inside the mind of a child accustomed to love and protection—and who now sees her life slipping away. Sadness and stoicism mingle freely in ways that will pierce all readers. Early is a clever heroine, and her smarts are enhanced by the poetry of Langston Hughes, which ripples beautifully through the story and infuses it with hope."
Hold Fast is getting positive early reviews, both from students I have shared it with and professional journals. It's gotten starred reviews from Booklist and Kirkus. The Chicago Tribune has a very interesting article on Hold Fast, interviewing Balliett as well as homelessness activists.
Share this with children who love books that get to the heart and make them think about bigger issues, like Rules by Cynthia Lord or Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper. But also share it with children who love language, poetry and words.(less)
Born over 100 years ago, Horace Pippin loved to draw as a child - everyone asked him to draw pictures for them. But life threw many hard times Horace'...moreBorn over 100 years ago, Horace Pippin loved to draw as a child - everyone asked him to draw pictures for them. But life threw many hard times Horace's way. He quit school after eighth grade to work and support his family. He fought valiantly in World War I, but he was wounded and never regained full use of his right arm. When he returned home, Horace's "fingers itched to draw all the colors and textures he saw," but his right arm was too weak to lift.
Bryant shows young readers how Pippin, through sheer determination, learned how to draw and paint again, using his left hand to guide his right. My students were filled with hope and inspiration as they heard about how Pippin stayed true to his dream and visions, even though painting was difficult for him. One of the aspects that really stuck with my students was that Pippin thought carefully about his paintings before he started drawing, because the act of drawing was so difficult. I loved how Melissa Sweet hand-lettered quotes from Pippin throughout, giving readers a real sense of his beliefs. "If a man knows nothing but hard times, he will paint them, for he must be true to himself..." -- Horace Pippin The mixed-media illustrations convey Pippin's warmth and spirit, combining drawings and printed elements with watercolor and gouache paints. Melissa Sweet writes in her illustrator's note that she was "inspired by Pippin's deep, rich colors." Like Bryant's words, Sweet's illustrations fill readers with a sense of Pippin's heartfelt artwork, simple on the surface but thought through at every step.(less)