Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph

by Roxanne Orgill

illustrated by Francis Vallejo

In 1958, a graphic designer named Art Kane had an idea: gather as many jazz players as possible in Harlem and take a photograph of them—for free. He put out the word and waited to see what would happen. The result is an iconic photograph published by “Esquire” magazine, now famous around the world. Jazz Day uses poems to tell the story of how the photograph was taken. These poems focus on particular aspects of the famous jazz musicians and of the not-so-famous kids living in the blocks of Harlem. Most of the jazz greats are represented here, including Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, and Maxine Sullivan. The poems are mainly in free verse, and their rhythms echo the tempo of jazz. So do the illustrations, which are realistic and richly hued (do not forget to take off the dust jacket and admire the artwork on the hard cover). The book includes an “Author’s Note,” explaining the inspiration for the poems, biographies of some of the musicians, the legacy of the photograph in books and film, source notes, and a bibliography. A copy of the original photograph is included. The author and illustrator have managed to combine a great, true story with the poetic and visual arts to produce a book that will become a collector’s item for readers young and old.

Reviewer: Leona Illig

The Sun is also a Star

by Nicola Yoon

Natasha Kingsley and her family are about to be deported from New York City to Jamaica, but she has lived most of her life in the United States and doesn’t want to go back. Daniel Jae Ho Bae was born in the U.S., as was his older brother, Charles Jae Won Bae. Their parents are here legally; Natasha’s are not. The likelihood of Natasha and Daniel ever meeting seems very unlikely, but meet they do as Natasha makes one last ditch effort to turn the tide on her family’s deportation. Daniel is in Manhattan to be interviewed for admittance into Yale, not that he wants to go to Yale or become a doctor. He’d rather learn more about writing poetry. But they do meet and end up spending most of the day together. Daniel is open to falling in love with Natasha, but she keeps resisting. What’s the use she thinks, but she can’t help herself. In the end, Daniel takes her to the plane and watches her fly away. For a while they keep in touch, but time and distance finally take their toll on the relationship—until ten years later. The story is complex and, at first, it is difficult to follow who belongs in which family; but soon the reader figures out who belongs where and starts rooting for the star-crossed lovers. Like Ms. Yoon’s first book, Everything, Everything, this story will pull readers in. This book discusses some tough issues, such as the U.S. immigration laws, ethnic/culture differences, and “coincidences.”

Reviewer: Sarah Maury Swan

Lift Your Light a Little Higher: The Story of Stephen Bishop: Slave-Explorer


by Heather Henson
illustrated by Bryan Collier

Stephen Bishop is a slave. Assigned by his master to explore Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave in 1838, Stephen has become an expert guide for tourists visiting the natural wonder. He has searched its trails, discovered eyeless fish and albino crayfish in its streams, and made the original detailed map of the explored parts—he was the first to cross a spot called the “Bottomless Pit.” Since little is known of Bishop besides his work, Henson presents him as he might want to speak to modern readers. Her poetic words convey his pride in his expertise, his fascination with the cave, and his utter frustration at being a slave. Only underground does he feel the dignity and authority that his knowledge gives him. He has even learned to read in the cave, as a result of tourists’ graffiti written with soot from candles on long sticks. (Visitors can still see his signature—“Stephen.”) Award-winning artist Collier employs a rich palette of browns and black for excursions underground, reserving blues and greens for time in the sun, as in portraits of Bishop, his wife Charlotte, and their son in front of the small slave house; especially beautiful is a page of collage framing Bishop’s face. Speaking directly to readers, he tells them that no one knows exactly how he died, but he’s still there as a spirit of the cave. “Sometimes you just got to lift your light a little higher…go beyond what’s written down to get to what’s been left untold.” Young (and older) readers can learn more from endnotes by Henson and Collier and from Elizabeth Mitchell’s novel, Journey to the Bottomless Pit (Scholastic, 2004) or, best of all, visiting Mammoth Cave National Park.

Reviewer: Barbara L. Talcroft

The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle

by Janet Fox

To insure that the three Bateson children are safe from the Blitz in 1940’s London, their father has made arrangements for them to attend the Children’s Academy at Rookskill Castle in Scotland. A great danger awaits them at the castle, however. Lady Eleanor’s dark magic threatens to take their souls just as she has stolen the souls of other children through the centuries, using the charms on her chatelaine (“an ornamental appendage worn by ladies at the waist”). Both literally and figuratively, she loses a piece of her humanity with each soul that she takes. Before leaving for the castle, Kat Bateson, the oldest of the three children, is given a chatelaine by her great-aunt Margaret, who tells her it is magical. Kat, who is adept at math and logic, must use all her strength, knowledge, and newly-discovered magical skills to overpower Lady Eleanor before she takes Kat’s soul. Meanwhile, the children of the castle discover a Nazi spy is in their midst. They race to uncover his identity before he absconds with Lady Eleanor’s magic chatelaine. A strong sense of place, vivid characters, and spine-tingling suspense pervade this story of good versus evil. Children disappear, the wind howls, and strange noises come from the walls. Since her father works for the British government, and Kat’s human hand has been replaced with a powerful metal one, perhaps we will see a sequel. A fine mixture of historical fiction and fantasy.

Reviewer: Sharon Salluzzo

The Storyteller

by Evan Turk

The danger to a culture when its history-keepers are silenced is the foundational motif for this story of a boy who searches his city, in the kingdom of Morocco, for water to fill his cup. He encounters a wizened story-teller who begins to tell a fable to the boy about a family who always had enough water. The approach of a sand-tsunami that gathers out in the desert, and is rolling toward the city, alternates with the tale of an old woman who brings relief from drought to a village in the form of beautiful yarn that must be woven to realize the miracle. The boy repeats the story to the powerful storm. In the process, he empowers the people and together they drive off the desert spirits who threaten to destroy the land. The use of a culturally important craft (weaving) to rescue a land surrounded by desert delivers a powerful message about the importance of preserving beautiful and useful traditions in the midst of adapting to the technology of the future. The story design, of a story within a story within a story, is repetitive and circular, building from a story about a single weaver in a village to a city-wide uprising that defeats the storm, much like a carpet, woven from single threads, grows to cover an entire room. The illustrations, rich in cultural references in design and color, are framed in motifs that suggest carpet edges. The linear style blends with the weft and warp of a loom and produces a seamless visual that enhances the text. This story begs to be read over and over, each page offering new details for discovery on each encounter, like the complex patterns of a beautiful rug. Turk’s book concludes with an “Author’s Note,” that offers insights into why he wrote this story, and a list of resources labeled “Further Learning.” This book would be a good choice for story circle both as a way to introduce the culture of Morocco and as a way of initiating discussions with young children about why it is important to preserve and tell the stories of all cultures.

Reviewer: Hazel Buys

No Better Friend: Young Readers Edition: A Man, a Dog, and Their Incredible True Story of Friendship and Survival in World War II

by Robert Weintraub

“Courage is not having the strength to go on; it is going on when you don’t have the strength.” This quote by Theodore Roosevelt opens this 38-chapter middle grade edition of Robert Weintraub’s New York Times bestseller about Judy, the purebred Pointer, and her best friend, Frank Williams, a Royal Air Force radar expert. The two met in a Prisoner of War camp in Japan during World War II. In fact, it is not until 120 pages into the book that Frank and Judy meet. Judy’s life before Frank included traveling on British gunboats, being stranded on a desert island, traveling through jungles and imprisoned in Padang. She had had a litter of pups aboard a ship, and another while in a Japanese POW camp, and was essentially not only a heroic war dog but the world’s first therapy dog, bringing hope and comfort to soldiers and refugees she met along the way. The book has many photos and sidebars about the war and Judy’s story in light of these hardships is made even more remarkable. Written for a middle grade audience, the violence and desperate measures Frank had to take to keep Judy by his side for years are evenly paced throughout and the sidebars even include information on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, something not even considered following World War II. When the pair returned to London the Pointer was now known as “Gunboat Judy” or “Precious Pointer” and following her six-month quarantine (standard for all dogs entering the United Kingdom) Judy and Frank were honored in many ceremonies throughout the country for their service. Finally, the pair settled in Africa working on a food growing project for the British, where Judy had her third litter of pups and they spent two years together before Judy’s passing. The deeply touching relationship between Frank and Judy, as well as the historical details and uplifting stories of courage and survival, make this an unforgettable volume definitely worth adding to a collection.

Reviewer: Debra Lampert-Rudman

A Beetle is Shy

by Dianna Hutts Aston

illustrated by Sylvia Long

Some beetles can crawl through the eye of a needle. Some of them measure half a foot in length. Some dig and some hop. Some fly and some swim. All of them have incredible features that dazzle the eyes and ensnare the senses. Beetles come in every color of the rainbow, in incredible shapes, with astonishing abilities. Aston shares with readers’ insight about the character of these special bugs. Indeed, she skillfully explains their traits, but the narrative is not what makes this tremendous volume stand out. What truly resonates are the wonderful illustrations by Sylvia Long. With dexterity, artistry, and vision she depicts these creatures of the wild, bringing them and all their subtle nuances to the eyes of young audiences. The painted renderings make them accessible in ways that photography may not. An informational book worthy of any science teacher’s library, surely this one belongs in the hands of curious young people.

Reviewer: Remy Dou

Secret Coders

by Gene Luen Yang and Mike Holmes

Moving to a new school is always tough, especially when it looks like it might be haunted. The first day starts out badly for twelve-year-old Hopper, as she encounters a creepy janitor and a bunch of bullies. Eventually, along with her new friend Eni, Hopper gets wrapped up in the mystery of the school, which involves four-eyed birds and a leaf-blowing robot turtle. This graphic novel from the “Secret Coders” series is an engaging story and, using relatable examples, is a great introduction to binary code. Students who are intimidated by computers and coding will not have trouble digging into this story. Several times throughout the book, the reader is even invited to actively work on cracking the codes. Each of these challenges teaches a useful lesson. Even the chapter numbers are in binary code, using the birds’ eyes! There are also personal mysteries in Hopper’s life to solve, such as her family’s issues involving her father. The artwork is expressive and comical. There is plenty of humor overall, and the story is entertaining enough that readers will not realize they are also learning at the same time. There is potential for wide audience appeal to both boys and girls, and the ending will leave the reader wanting more.

Reviewer: Lisa Czirr

I Wish You More

by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

Illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld

Simple and sweet, this collection of wishes for a young listener is perfect for sharing in an adult’s lap or poring over with a friend. The anonymous narrator, “I,” can be anyone; the situations pictured will remind a child of moments experienced, like watching a caterpillar creep slowly along, tasting a snowflake, or standing under an umbrella in pouring rain. The wishes are short, but full of wordplay and contrasts, and Lichtenheld’s imaginative multi-media illustrations expand on each with an unexpected twist that will bring a smile of recognition. Lichtenheld’s use of colors is fresh, though he excels at using blues, from a snowflake-filled sky to a dark blue night scene with a child reading by flashlight under a sheet. The final, expansive wish is for warmth, love, security, “and more.” An excellent model for beginning writers, the collaboration could lead to an illustrated classroom book of wishes, an exploration of one’s own desires, or a tender gift for someone special. Readers and teachers who want to see more from Rosenthal and Lichtenheld should try the team’s Duck! Rabbit! (Chronicle, 2009), Rosenthal’s Spoon (Disney/Hyperion, 2009), or Lichtenheld’s illustrations for Stick and Stone (HMH, 2015).

Reviewer: Barbara L. Talcroft

Mama Seeton’s Whistle

Jerry Spinelli

Illustrated by LeUyen Pham

The enduring bond between a mother and her four children is delightfully demonstrated through a simple act—the mother’s “simple, two-note whistle” to call her children home. Whether the children are young or grown, whether they are in their own backyard or scattered through the world, their mother’s whistle beckons them. Though plain and sparing, Spinelli’s words capture the affections of a close-knit family and the joys of its members through rituals of family dinners and homemade chocolate cake. They conjure a simpler time when children roamed and played at each other’s’ homes for all hours, and were only called away from friends at dinnertime by their parents. Based on Spinelli’s childhood neighbor, Mama Seeton’s character and life from a bygone era are captured perfectly by the charming illustrations, from Mama Seeton’s clothing and hair style to the cars, bicycles, and a neighbor’s black-and-white television. Rendered in ink and watercolor, the artwork effectively conveys the children’s escapades and their growth and development through the years. One scene beautifully portrays the passage of time by capturing the neighborhood during the four seasons across the page, while others show the children’s exploits through the town and then all over the world as adults. A ribbon of pink twirls through the air in the pages, showing the connection between mother and children. The words and gorgeous pictures complement each other flawlessly, sure to resonate with adult readers with its sense of nostalgia while giving its young readers a sense of comfort, safety, and love.

Reviewer: Ann L. Kreske