Amy Novesky's most recent picture book, Mister and Lady Day, is a lyrical ode to jazz great Billie Holiday and her pet dogs, This is Amy's fourth book...moreAmy Novesky's most recent picture book, Mister and Lady Day, is a lyrical ode to jazz great Billie Holiday and her pet dogs, This is Amy's fourth book on prominent female figures in cultural history; she has also penned Me, Frida (on artist Frida Khalo), Georgia in Hawaii (on artist Georgia O'Keefe), Imogen (on photographer Imogen Cunningham). She is currently working on a picture book on sculptor Louise Bourgeois.
Billie Holiday's tragic life. which included working as a prostitute, living in a workhouse with her mother, drug addiction, a prison sentence, and more, might not seem like a natural fit for a picture book for young children, and indeed, this side of Holiday's life does not appear in Novesky's book. Novesky focused instead on Holiday's love for her many dogs, and in particular for her boxer named Mister. Love for a dog, of course, is a theme that children identify easily with, as do many adults (OK, I'm a sucker for a good dog story).
We first meet Billie Holiday as a young girl, dreaming of being a star, singing on a borrowed gramophone. Illustrator Vanessa Brantley Newton, whose charming illustrations are done with gouache and charcoal with collage elements, depicts Billie in a beautiful setting on a fancy chair, dressed up with a bow in her hair (perhaps a bit fanciful given the realities of her childhood!). The next spread shows her already a star, the great Lady Day. (Illustrated 2-page spreads from the book can be seen on Novesky's website). Novesky introduces a note of melancholy in the text from the beginning, by explaining that even stars need someone to listen to them, and that's the role Lady Day's dogs played. We meet her small dogs, chihuahuas Pepe and Chiquita, her big dogs (a Great Dane named Gypsy, and finally her favorite dog of all, Mister, who we see in a fabulous illustration, walking with Billie on a leash wearing matching mink coats. Instead of a sidewalk, they are walking on a piano keyboard, with the buildings of New York in the background. Mister had the life of a star himself; he was so pampered he got to eat steak while she was performing in glamorous clubs, and he waited for her while she performed, even serving to keep eager fans at bay.
Novesky tells young readers that "Lady got into trouble. She had to leave home for a year and a day. And Mister couldn't come." In an afterword, she explains that Billie Holiday was in fact in jail during that time for drug possession. When she returned, Mister was there to welcome her, and even accompanied her to a grand concert at New York's Carnegie Hall. The story ends on a hopeful note, with Billie singing her heart out, and Mister listening in the wings.
An author's note gives some more background on Holiday's life, appropriately omitting some of the uglier facts, and provides additional sources and a web resource.
There's no CD with the book, but readers could easily find CD's of Holiday's unique singing style at the library or on YouTube, which would enrich the story.
This is a moving yet charming book about a difficult subject, and could be integrated into units on Black History Month, Women's History Month, or jazz. (less)
I first learned about the Grimke sisters of South Carolina through the Kidlit Celebrates Women's History Month blog, as they were one of the Civil War...more I first learned about the Grimke sisters of South Carolina through the Kidlit Celebrates Women's History Month blog, as they were one of the Civil War era women profiled on storyteller Jim Weiss' CD Women in Blue or Gray: True Stories from Both Sides of the Civil War. I again heard their story in a PBS American Experience documentary aired in 2013, The Abolitionists. But neither captured my imagination as completely as Sue Monk Kidd's fascinating new novel, The Invention of Wings, which focuses on the elder of the Grimke sisters, Sarah, and her slave, Handful.
The Grimke sisters, separated in age by 12 years, were born into a wealthy Charleston slave-owning family, and, like other young Southern women of their class, were expected to study French, drawing and other lady-like pursuits, then make a good match and raise a family. As Kidd tells Sarah's story in the first person, beginning with her girlhood, she never fit into the hole society carved for her.
With her keen intellect, she yearned to become a lawyer like her brother, but her dreams of pursuing a career were ridiculed and then squashed by her family. When presented with a slave on her 11th birthday, she tried to free the young girl, called Handful, but when her father ripped up the manumission papers she soon decided to teach the girl to read--the only sort of freedom she could offer her. When her family found out, she was severely punished--all books were denied her--and so was the slave girl. She takes comfort in the birth of her youngest sister, Angelina, and persuades her mother to make her the child's godmother, and thus begins a close relationship that went considerably beyond sisterly bonds. Angelina, too, develops a horror of slavery, and we discover through the diary-like narrative that the Grimke sisters' destiny does not lay in Charleston, but rather in the North, where they become Quakers and become the first female soldiers for the abolitionist cause. This, we must remember, at a time when the idea of women speaking in public places was unheard of. At the same time, they were among the first to champion women's rights, even more shocking than taking up the cause of slaves. Their scandalous behavior for the time made them famous around the United States. Indeed, their anti-slavery pamphlets, addressed to Southern women, were best-sellers in their time, and were inspirational to Harriet Beecher Stowe in her writing of Uncle Tom's Cabin.
In alternating sections, we follow the life of Handful, the slave given to Sarah on her birthday. Handful is a house slave, schooled in sewing like her mother, and becomes indispensable to the household. While her life may have been better than a field slave, she craves for freedom, and pays a cruel price for her longing. Her story is given equal weight to that of the Grimkes, and in an afterword the author describes how while Handful is fictional, she is based loosely on the actual slave that was given to Sarah Grimke on her birthday (although that individual died a few years later). While the Grimkes' house slaves may be fictional, they are well developed characters, and their story is interwoven with a planned slave revolt orchestrated by Denmark Vesey, a free black historical figure who plays a substantial role in the novel.
While this is an adult novel, I would recommend it highly for high school and even middle school students who are interested in US history and women's history. It is extremely well written and provides great insight into life at that time, as well as portraying two amazing sisters who were infamous in their time (described in the novel as the most famous women in the country) but who are sadly practically unknown today. Their inspiring story would also be an excellent choice for a book club.(less)
A Death-Struck Year is an excellent historical novel for teens from debut author Makiia Lucier about the 1918 flu epidemic, which continues to fascina...moreA Death-Struck Year is an excellent historical novel for teens from debut author Makiia Lucier about the 1918 flu epidemic, which continues to fascinate and frighten into the 21st century. As the novel opens, we meet Cleo, a 17-year old orphan who's being raised by her older brother and his wife. She's a student at a ritzy girls' boarding school in Portland when the flu epidemic begins in the United States, but despite the dire news reports about the epidemic striking East Coast cities, she feels safe enough 3000 miles away in Portland.
But when a train filled with soldiers coming home from "The Great War" brings the epidemic to the West Coast, the influenza quickly spreads and Cleo's school is shut down, with girls that have no family at home quarantined at the school. Telling no one that her brother and his wife are out of town, Cleo escapes to her own home, where she lives alone--just for a few days, she thinks, until their housekeeper returns from a trip out of town. But when the epidemic strikes in force, Cleo decides to volunteer with the Red Cross, putting herself in harms' way but feeling a strong pull to help out in some way. This being a YA novel, she meets a handsome young medical student with whom she falls in love. The Red Cross volunteers are not immune to the flu epidemic, despite wearing masks (which did little if nothing to protect them). What will happen to Cleo and her new brave friends?
This is a well-researched and compelling historical novel that will appeal to teens 13 and up. It paints a realistic view of the tragedy of the 1918 flu, which struck particularly hard at healthy young people, as well as children and the elderly. The author does not try to spare the reader's feelings, and be prepared with some tissues to deal with the many tragedies described. Highly recommended, particularly for those teen readers looking beyond the plethora of paranormal and dystopian novels that have been flooding the YA market in the last few years.
A historical note provides further background about the flu epidemic, particularly in the Pacific Northwest.(less)
In this picture book for older readers. Tracey Fern tells the little-known story of Eleanor Prentiss, an extraordinary woman who not only navigated a...moreIn this picture book for older readers. Tracey Fern tells the little-known story of Eleanor Prentiss, an extraordinary woman who not only navigated a clipper ship but also set a record for the fastest time from New York to San Francisco, navigating around Cape Horn in a record-breaking 89 days, 21 hours.
Doesn't it seem incredible in our high-tech era how sailors used only the stars and a sextant to navigate around the world? Even more incredible (but true) is the life of Eleanor Prentiss, born the daughter of a sea captain in 1814 and taught everything about ships, including navigation, by her father, perhaps because he had no sons. Certainly this education was highly unusual for a 19th century girl. The sea was in Ellen's blood, and, not surprisingly, she married a sea captain, who took her along on his merchant ships as her navigator.
When Ellen's husband was given command of a new, super-fast clipper ship, Ellen seized the opportunity to get as quickly as possible from New York to the tip of South America to San Francisco and the Gold Rush. Speed was of the essence for those looking for riches in the gold fields of California. The book portrays the considerable dangers of the voyage, including a period when the ship was becalmed (no wind, no movement!) and also the perilous stormy waters of the Cape. Fern does a terrific job of capturing the excitement of the journey, and Ellen's triumph when she sets a world record for the fastest time for this 15,000 mile voyage. The book is greatly enhanced by the beautiful water-color paintings of Caldecott-winning artist Emily Arnold McCully. The seascapes, and particularly the scenes of storms, are particularly effective. Back matter includes an author's note with further historical information, and suggestions for further reading, both books and websites, a glossary, and end pages which show a map of the Flying Cloud's 1851 Voyage.
Highly recommended for Women's History Month and for those looking for stories of strong, heroic women and girls!(less)
Award-winning Australian author Sonya Hartnett returns to World War II in her latest historical novel for middle grade readers. The Children of the Ki...moreAward-winning Australian author Sonya Hartnett returns to World War II in her latest historical novel for middle grade readers. The Children of the King blends a paranormal ghost story with historical fiction; it takes place in England at the beginning of the Second World War, and the novel begins with the young and somewhat spoiled Cecily and her older brother Jemmy moving from their comfortable upper-class existence in London to the equally comfortable country home of their uncle, to be safe from bombs that are expected to soon begin falling on London. Their father, who appears to be someone important to the war effort, is left behind in London. Unlike other child evacuees, they are with their mother while other evacuees are taken in by total strangers. Cecily begs her mother for them to take in an evacuee too, and she chooses a young girl close to her own age named May. Cecily expects the younger May to be her little pet, obeying her in everything.
May, however, has a mind of her own, and soon is off exploring the countryside, where she discovers the ruins of an old castle. The castle is inhabited by two young brothers, dressed in fancy, old-fashioned clothes--are they evacuees who have run away from their new home? Or could they be something more amazing--and be somehow connected with the story that Uncle Peregrine tells them (and the reader) in bits and pieces? This story is the history of Richard III and the nephews he imprisoned in the Tower of London. The young princes' story is interwoven with that of the three children, all of whom are coping with the war in their own way. Hartnett does not spare the reader from some very vivid descriptions of the London bombings, which are contrasted with the peaceful existence in the countryside.
This is a beautiful and touching war story, with a ghost story woven in for good measure. As you might expect, the two stories intersect in a magical way toward the end of the novel (no spoilers). An afterword with some more information about the young princes in the tower and the London Blitz might have been a good addition, to provide some historical fact to go with the uncle's tales.(less)
Demi has published over 150 books during her long career, many of them large format biographical picture books aimed at elementary school-aged student...moreDemi has published over 150 books during her long career, many of them large format biographical picture books aimed at elementary school-aged students. In addition to their informative text, Demi's biographies showcase her unique artistic style, which features a strong Asian influence, traditional materials, intricate patterns, and vibrant, glowing colors.
When I was a girl, Florence Nightingale would have been one of the only women from history you would have been likely to find a book on in the children's biography section of your local library, although I would be reasonably certain that I could not have found a biography as beautifully illustrated as this new one. On the end pages and title page, we see Florence as the iconic Lady of the Lamp. The book unfolds in a traditional linear narrative, beginning with Florence's birth and girlhood. She was born into a very wealthy British family, where she had all the advantages of an upper class upbringing. But her interest in nursing and helping others began at a young age; Demi shows us Florence as a little girl playing hospital with her dolls. Her interest in nursing intensified on a family trip to the Continent when in addition to seeing the tourist sights, she visited hospitals and charities. Her parents were opposed to her becoming a nurse, but eventually relented when they saw her commitment.
Demi's text and artwork show Florence's career progressing from working at a hospital for indigent women to her groundbreaking work nursing soldiers in the Crimean War, where she arranged for patients to get healthy food and water and stressed the need for cleanliness. We see Florence wandering the wards at night with her lantern, earning her nickname, The Lady with the Lamp.
Florence worked herself to exhaustion and suffered ill health later in her life. Nonetheless, she continued to work for the poor and downtrodden in society, and inspired the founding of the International Red Cross.
Demi's book not only provides an outline of Florence Nightingale's remarkable life but also considers her legacy as an extraordinary woman in history. Back matter includes a timeline and suggestions for further reading. This slim but powerful volume is a must for school and public libraries. (less)
This was such a beautiful book, about an adopted girl who suffers an unbearable tragedy and finds a new, unconventional family to be a part of. Twelve...moreThis was such a beautiful book, about an adopted girl who suffers an unbearable tragedy and finds a new, unconventional family to be a part of. Twelve-hankies should be at the ready.(less)
Well done middle grade novel with a story that reminded me a bit to much of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, although the author pays tribute to man...moreWell done middle grade novel with a story that reminded me a bit to much of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, although the author pays tribute to many favorite children's books. A true love story to libraries in a way that kids will appreciate! (less)
Beautifully written reflections on the history of Israel from a very personal standpoint. Ultimately life-affirming and depressing at the same time, t...moreBeautifully written reflections on the history of Israel from a very personal standpoint. Ultimately life-affirming and depressing at the same time, this is a book that anyone interested in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should read.(less)
Riveting historical fiction about a frustrated architect in Nazi-occupied Paris. Desperate for commissions, he agrees to construct a hiding place for...moreRiveting historical fiction about a frustrated architect in Nazi-occupied Paris. Desperate for commissions, he agrees to construct a hiding place for a Jew--despite the enormous risks--because a commission for a major architectural project is tied to his accepting to build the hiding place. Much to his surprise, he becomes enchanted with outwitting the Nazis with his cleverness, until disaster finally strikes and his morals come into question. Very well written and poses interesting questions about the role of collaborators with the Nazis, among other issues.(less)
Good sequel to Dagger Quick--great for pirate fans, fans of historical adventure books. I recommend reading Dagger Quick first to better appreciate th...moreGood sequel to Dagger Quick--great for pirate fans, fans of historical adventure books. I recommend reading Dagger Quick first to better appreciate this sequel. A third volume will complete the trilogy. (less)
This is a beautiful, funny, and heartbreaking story of a young girl suffering from leukemia who's given up hope and a self-centered African grey parro...moreThis is a beautiful, funny, and heartbreaking story of a young girl suffering from leukemia who's given up hope and a self-centered African grey parrot whose owner (servant in the parrot's mind) dies and who unexpectedly finds himself homeless in the great big world. The two come together through mutual need for companionship--and banana nut muffins--as their stories are told side by side. (less)
If you fell in love with Hetty Feather in her first book, do not despair--you can follow her further adventures as she grows up in two sequels, Sapphi...moreIf you fell in love with Hetty Feather in her first book, do not despair--you can follow her further adventures as she grows up in two sequels, Sapphire Battersea and Emerald Star. In Sapphire Battersea, Hetty is 14, has discovered who her mother really is, and begins the life the Foundling Hospital has prepared her for--as a scullery maid. But fate has other things in store for Hetty--including a stint as a "pocket-sized mermaid" in a freak show. (less)