Voice of Freedom Fannie Lou Hamer: Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement

by Carole Boston Weatherford

Illustrated by Ekua Homels

Fannie Lou Townsend was the youngest of twenty children born to sharecropper parents in the Mississippi Delta. Brought up with a clear sense of the indignities she and her family suffered at the hands of the local plantation owner, her family’s white neighbors, and the state government, Fannie Lou determined as an adult that she would stand up for what was right and pursued her right to vote. Over the years, Fannie Lou did gain the right to vote and became a vocal member of the civil rights movement, serving in various leadership roles. Beaten and jailed, with her life threatened because of her participation, Fannie continued her fight, working alongside Freedom Fighters and eventually running for office. Fannie’s story is told in verse, and meshes well with the illustrations that underscore both the darkness that Fannie Lou fought against as well as the brightness and creativity that emanated from her spirited attack on racism in this country. This is a great text to promote interest in the American civil rights movement.

Reviewer: Jean Boreen

Noah Webster: Man of Many Words

by Catherine Reef

As a child, Noah Webster was bored in school, yet he had a love of reading and a curiosity about words that would eventually lead to the creation of the first American dictionary. He was born in Connecticut during the French and Indian War and grew up during the escalating tensions and eventual war between the colonists and the British government. After the American Revolution, he advocated for a strong federal government and American English. Reef places Webster’s life in the context of the world around him. As a result, the reader gains insight not only into this “Man of Many Words” but also early American history and the creation of the United States. Well-researched and documented, there are source notes, a selected bibliography, a listing of the major works by Noah Webster, picture credits, and an index. Most importantly, Reef understands this man’s extensive contributions to a new nation. A carefully crafted text and the accompanying pictures allow his story to unfold and to inform the reader. From the ‘BEGIN’NING” to the “EP’ILOGUE” (with definitions), this is an outstanding book for discussions about personal accomplishments, the birth of a new nation, and contemporary issues such as a strong federal government and a common language.

Reviewer: Sharon Salluzzo

Viva Frida

by Yuyi Morales
With just a few words of English and Spanish on each double-page spread, Morales manages to speak on behalf of Frida Kahlo and summarize the artist’s life spent searching, seeing, playing, knowing, and dreaming. She realizes that she understands, loves, and creates, so she can finally declare, “I live!” Morales has chosen to illustrate the text with art using “stop-motion puppets made from steel, polymer clay, wool, acrylic paints, photography, and digital manipulation.” She uses all this to create vivid, intensely-colored pictures with a Frida-like doll in action, dressed in costume as she is in her self-portraits and surrounded by items from both her paintings and her life. Some of these are mentioned in the lengthy (English and Spanish-language) note that Morales adds to provide more information on both Kahlo and the artist’s influence on the author herself. The striking end pages are appropriate for the decorative, romantic, eye-catching work of visual art. Reviewer: Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz.

The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend

by Dan Santat

You may believe that imaginary friends do not exist until they are thought into being. In this story, they do. They come into being on an island far away, and there they wait to be selected and named by a child. One crowned, marshmallow-like creature tires of waiting. He decides to take matters into his own hands, and sails across dangerous waters to “the real world.” At first, it seems a dismal place. Then he catches sight of another imaginary and follows it to a bright playground full of children and their imaginary friends. Unfortunately, his child does not seem to be there—or is she? A fantastic friendship forms, our protagonist gains a name, and—as the end pages hint—the adventures continue long after the last page. Hopefully there will be more stories about this endearing hero in picture books to come. This book is very much in the style of Tom McCrae’s When I Woke Up I Was a Hippopotamus (2011, Andersen Press) as it artistically combines imaginary and realistic story elements. Readers may be reminded of Erica Perl’s Dotty (2010, Harry N. Abrams), another perceptive and warmly-told tale about children and imaginary friends. Highly recommended.

Reviewer: Heidi Hauser Green

This One Summer

by Mariko Tamaki

Illustrated by Jillian Tamaki

There have been many coming-of-age tales about friends growing together and apart, but few have been written and illustrated as gracefully as this one. The story revolves around Rose and Windy, two girls encroaching on adolescence, during their annual family vacations at Awago Beach. The girls’ summer begins as anticipated with visits to the beach and renting horror movies from the local corner store; however, something is different this year. The girls find themselves slowly drifting apart, as Rose is interested in a local teen, or “The Dud” as Windy refers to him and his dramatic relationship his girlfriend. Meanwhile Windy’s immaturity starts shining through. Rose is also dealing with family issues as her parents’ marriage is becoming strained due to her mother’s depression. The Tamaki’s have written and illustrated a true masterpiece, one that avoids clichés and feels real enough to be biographical. The tension between Windy and Rose, as well as Rose and her parents, avoids becoming melodramatic and seems to settle naturally on a hopeful, yet poignant note. The illustrations mesh perfectly with the text and were drawn using a purple ink that fits the mood of the tale. The book is moving; brimming with subtleties and charm. It is a treasure for any collection.

Reviewer: Brandon West

Nuts to You

by Lynn Rae Perkins

Adventure and humor abound in this cautionary tale populated by squirrels and narrated by the author, as told to her by the elderly squirrel Jed. As a young squirrel Jed is snatched up by a hawk but manages to escape practicing an ancient squirrel defensive martial arts technique. While most of his community gathers to memorialize him, two of his young friends see Jed escape the hawk’s talons. They set off to find him and bring him home. Along their journey, they meet other squirrels and humans, along with misfortune, territorial conflict, and environmental disaster. TsTs, Chai, Jed, and their new friend Tchke must warn the squirrel communities of the impending disaster and convince them to move to safer parts of the forest. This is not an easy task; as one notes, “Getting squirrels to listen to reason is like getting a tree to drop its nuts at your front door.” Perkins nails the interactions between the squirrels, which is not far removed from that among humans. The friendship and environmental themes are blatant but far from overbearing. Witty asides in the form of footnotes add insight and levity to the squirrels’ predicament. That levity is evident in Perkins’ delightful sketches scattered throughout the narrative. This should have broad appeal as a read aloud, class use, and for independent reading. Its themes make it a good literature addition to a science or social studies unit. Reviewer: Peg Glisson.

Gravity

by Jason Chin

As in his stunning books, Redwoods, Coral Reefs, and Island: A Story of the Galápagos, artist Chin brings his multiple talents to bear on a scientific subject and, with a combination of fact and fantasy, makes it understandable and exciting for young explorers. Gravity is a wide, horizontal volume, which allows long, spacious spreads as well as a few divided into sections. It begins with a dark blue book falling onto a beach where a boy is playing with his space toys. He and a gull show interest in its subject: gravity. Suddenly, he is caught up in a world where gravity disappears—everything floats into space: crabs, the book, his toys, a banana, even the sand, and water. In huge capital letters, words describe, and successive pictures show, how the moon and Earth would drift away from the gravitational centers that pull them. Huge spaces and a brilliant, burning Sun illustrate mass and its relationship to gravity, keeping Earth near the Sun and our moon near its Earth. Attention shifts back to earth again as the floating objects fall and readers can marvel that the space toys (and a banana now rotten) land on astonished girls who must have been selling lemonade under a tree. A final spread tells more about gravity along with some witty explanatory pictures, while a fun surprise waits on the end page. From its space-blue endpapers to its silky pages and brilliant images, Chin’s book is extraordinary. His artistry, like gravity, pulls young scientists into a disorienting experience they will long remember. A bibliography of eight books lists more information about gravity and physics.

Reviewer: Barbara L. Talcroft