Sunday, February 18, 2018

Five Fabulous Picture Books about African American Musical Artists

Nina Nolan, author
John Holyfield, illustrator

Publisher Summary:  
People might say little Mahalia Jackson was born with nothing, but she had something all right.  A voice that was bigger than she was. 

Mahalia’s extraordinary journey eventually took her to the historical March on Washington, where she sang to thousands and inspired them to find their own voices. 

Why It Is Fabulous:
Mahalia stuck with what she loved—Gospel music—and kept true to her promises—to never sing in a nightclub—even though compromising one or both would have likely given her quicker and greater success.   Despite many set backs and obstacles, she kept on singing.  Her perseverance and integrity pay off with a record deal and amazing performance opportunities. 

Alan Schroeder, author
Cornelius Van Wright & Ying-Hwa Hu, illustrators

Publisher Summary:
Straight up:  Florence was a remarkable child. Pint-sized dynamo “Baby Florence” Mills was singing and dancing just as soon as she could talk and walk.  Everywhere Flo went, she strutted through the streets of Washington D.C. with a high-steppin’ cakewalk.  Baby Flo went on to become an international superstar during the Harlem Renaissance—but first she had to overcome a case of stage fright and discover that winning wasn’t everything. 

Why It Is Fabulous:
The story centers on Florence Mills’ (Baby Flo) childhood singing and dancing for audiences—big and small.  She worked diligently to learn new songs and dance moves, allowing her to earn her first professional gig at the age of 7! The Author Notes illuminate more about her fascinating life.  This lively story of remarkable young girl will dance its way into your heart. 

Carole Boston Weatherford, author
Sean Qualls, illustrator

Publisher Summary:
Young John Coltrane was all ears.  And there was a lot to hear growing up in the South during the 1930s: church songs, preachers praying, music on the radio, the bustling of the household.  John was surrounded by all kinds of vivid noises that shaped his own sound as a musician. 

Why It Is Fabulous:
Written in lyrical free verse, the different influences on a young John Coltrane are revealed.  Musical influences like his daddy on the ukulele are juxtaposed with other influences like grandpa’s Sunday sermons and birds warbling at sunrise.  This brief introduction to the music legend shows the importance of everyday experiences and observations on a person’s development.  The Author’s Notes discuss Coltrane’s commitment to his music and some of his career highlights.  Reading and music selection suggestions are also included.

Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews, author
Bryan Collier, illustrator

Publisher Summary:
Hailing from the Treme’ neighborhood of New Orleans, where music always floated in the air, Troy “Trombone Shorty Andrews didn’t always have the money to buy an instrument, but he did have a dream to play music.  This is the (autobiographical) story of how he made his dream take flight.

Why It Is Fabulous:
Trombone Shorty listened to all the sounds in his world and mixed them together to create his own “musical gumbo.” He began his musical journey when he found an old trombone that looked too broken down to make music.  Even though the instrument was initially too big for him, he practiced day and night to learn how to play.  His hard work eventually pays off.  Trombone Shorty reminds readers it is never too early to begin following your passion, and the only way to succeed is hard work.  

Michael Mahin, author
Evan Turk, illustrator

Publisher Summary:
Muddy Waters was never good at doing what he was told.  His tenacious streak carried him from the hardscrabble fields of Mississippi to the smoky juke joints of Chicago and finally to a recording studio where Muddy’s signature sound was captured and a landmark record was made.  Soon the world fell in love with the indomitable spirit of Muddy Waters, whose electric sound laid the groundwork for what would become rock and roll. 

Why It Is Fabulous:
The smooth jazz-inspired text tells an engaging story.  Muddy’s determination to find his voice and his struggle to play his own way is inspiring.  He overcomes personal and professional obstacles, but he never gives up hope that he will succeed. 

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Frederick Douglass Books

Looking to teach your students or children about a great American?  Frederick Douglass is the perfect choice!  He was a real life hero, whose tireless work for human rights resonates generations after his death. Read on to find out more…and to enter to win a giveaway.

Nancy I. Sanders

I was immediately caught up in Douglass’ life story!  This resource is written in an appealing way both in the storytelling of his life as well as with the inclusion of documents, quotes, and pictures. There are also sidebars of information on other relevant people and events. The text is engaging enough to read out loud to younger children or to offer to older ones to read independently.

Teachers and parents will find Frederick Douglass For Kids: His Life and Times with 21 Activities is an excellent introduction to a study of this great man.  It covers his life from birth to death in seven chapters.  In addition, there are several activities from crafts to recipes for lesson plans at school or extension ideas at home.

While reading this resource, here is what I learned about Frederick Douglass…

Douglass embraced education. As a life-long learner, he epitomizes how reading and learning frees the mind and the spirit. His speaking was so articulate and intelligent, people began to doubt he was ever a slave!  He demonstrates an essential truth: Education is the ticket out of poverty and ignorance.

Douglass is a symbol of determination. Refusing to move to an inferior train car due to the Jim Crow laws, he help pave the way to change the law so whites and blacks traveled as equals on the rail line in the state (before the Civil War was even fought). He was instrumental in other similar laws being changed.

Douglass was brave. Not only did he escape slavery, he spoke publicly against it. Slave hunters could have captured him and returned him to his owner, but he was not deterred. Though he had opportunities to leave America to go where he would be treated as an equal and no longer fear for his life, he chose to stay and to fight for equality.

Douglass was a hard worker. He was not too proud to take whatever work he could get to support his wife and children.  Though the work was often beneath his skill level and intellect, he did what he had to. 

Douglass did not give in to hate—even though it would have been an understandable response based on his experiences and treatment.  He worked along side both Whites and Blacks toward common goals.  Though he did not agree on all of President Lincoln’s policies, he met with and developed a great respect for him.  Also, there were many objections to his second marriage. Nevertheless, he married a white woman he fell in love with. 

Douglass fought for others. Not content with being free himself, he worked to help others who escaped slavery.  Along with other abolitionist, he convinced the state of Massachusetts to change its laws to protect former slaves.  During the Civil War, he met with President Lincoln where he advocated for equal pay, protection, and recognition for Black soldiers.  Eventually, all those policies were enacted. 

Douglass was a visionary. As the war came to a close, he knew that just freeing the slaves was not enough.  He urged antislavery societies to focus on bringing “freedoms and civil rights to the former slave.”

Douglass believed in the constitution. Unlike some in the abolitionist movement, he rejected the idea of abstaining from voting because the constitution was an unsound document that promoted slavery.  Instead, he asserted, “that the Constitution of the United States not only contained no guarantees in favor of slavery, but, on the contrary, was in letter and spirit an antislavery instrument, demanding the abolition of slavery as a condition of its own existence as the supreme law of the land.” 

Picture Books about Frederick Douglass

Suzanne Slade, author
Robert McGuire, illustrator
Beautiful illustrations and straightforward text give a brief overview of Douglass’ life.  This book is perfect for young readers.

Doreen Rappaport, author
London Ladd, illustrator
Douglass’ own words are mingled in with this more detailed account.  Striking illustrations and absorbing storytelling reveal key moments of his life as a slave, his daring escape, and his abolitionist work. 

Lesa Cline-Ransome, author
James E. Ransome, illustrator
Written in first person through Douglass’ perspective growing up, the impact and power of words is focus.  This story highlights his determination to learn reading and writing skills. The narrative illustrates how he was free inside, as a result of his ability to read and to write, well before he was free physically.  In addition, he began to teach other slaves these skills before he executed his first attempt to escape (which is where the story ends).

If you would like to win a copy of Frederick Douglass For Kids: His Life and Times with 21 Activities, enter on Rafflecopter.  U.S. residents only.  One person will be chosen at random on February 28.  

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, February 16, 2018

A Wrinkle in Time (Madeleine L’Engle)

Target Ages:  10 and up

Genre:  Fantasy

Award:  Newbery Award and Lewis Carroll Shelf Award

Publisher Summary:
It was a dark and stormy night; Meg Murry, her small brother Charles Wallace, and her mother had come down to the kitchen for a midnight snack when they were upset by the arrival of a most disturbing stranger.

“Wild nights are my glory,” the unearthly stranger told them. “I just got caught in a downdraft and blown off course. Let me be on my way. Speaking of way, by the way, there is such a thing as a tesseract.”

Meg’s father had been experimenting with this fifth dimension of time travel when he mysteriously disappeared. Now the time has come for Meg, her friend Calvin, and Charles Wallace to rescue him. But can they outwit the forces of evil they will encounter on their heart-stopping journey through space?

Memorable Lines:
Life, with its rules, its obligations, and its freedoms, is like a sonnet: You’re given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself.

We can’t take credit for out talents.  It’s how we use them that count.

Just because we don’t understand doesn’t mean that the explanation doesn’t exist.

I just finished A Wrinkle in Time for the third time. The first time I read it was in grade school.  I was in college the second time. This time, I listened to it on CD as a refresher for the upcoming movie.

I generally like the protagonist in children’s novels.  However, this one is an exception.  Meg is a bit too whiny and insecure.  She has unrealistic expectations, especially of her father.  She often grated on my nerves. On the plus side, she is a devoted sister and friend.  

The other main characters are likable. Calvin is kind and protective of Meg while being her biggest advocate.  Charles Wallace is wise, brave, and helpful. 

The adults are admirable and trustworthy.  From Mrs. Murry to the three Miss W’s, all the women are strong and smart, but also resourceful and compassionate. Mr. Murry is a devoted father. The Murry’s are steadfast in their commitment to one another despite their involuntary separation.

The plot is paced well. The creatures and planets are imaginative and exciting. However, the ending wrapped up a little too quickly and easily, but it was satisfying.  The main plot points come to a close while leaving it open for the sequel. 

The motifs are powerful—family, love, courage, non-conformity, and friendship.  Children who feel like outsiders—externally or internally—will connect with the heroic trio.  For those who like deeper discussions, there is plenty to mine. 

A Wrinkle in Time was a memorable book for me as a kid.  The unforgettable motifs, characters, and plot have kept it relevant five decades after its first printing. 

Ideas for Extension Activities at Home or Lesson Plans for Teachers:
Teacher’s Guide from MacMillan

For more Middle Grade book recommendations, visit the MMGM round up.  

Thursday, February 15, 2018

A Full Moon Is Rising (Marilyn Singer)

Author:  Marilyn Singer

Illustrator Julia Cairns

Target Ages:  7 and up

Genre:  Poetry

Publisher Summary:
In the night sky, nothing is more magical than the full moon that rises every month.  When it shines, all kinds of fascinating things occur.  Tides rise to enormous heights.  Children dare each other to climb a staircase to the moon.  Families eat cakes with a moon inside.  Campers watch out for werewolves.  And sometimes, the whole moon disappears in Earth’s shadow. 

Come along on a whirlwind tour of the world to discover an amazing collection of full moon celebrations, beliefs, customs, and facts.  We’ll visit India, Israel, Morocco, China, Australia, and many more places to see what can happen…when a full moon is rising. 

Sample Poems:

“Cloudy Night”
Bogota, Colombia
Too many clouds. Rain coming.
It’s impossible to see the moon.
But she knows it’s up there,
    With that special dimple.
She’s seen its picture—
    Garavito crater,
named for her favorite astronomer,
   and from her country too.
She thinks, One day they’ll name a crater after me.
She hopes, Or better yet, a new lunar sea.

“Broadway Moon Again”
New York City, USA
On the sidewalk, the audience of one
 is now ten.
“What you looking at, girl?” they ask.
“Oh, the moon,” she says. “Just the moon.”
But what a moon!
Between the skyscrapers, it takes a bow.
“Encore in one month!” it proclaims.
“Admission is always free.”


A Full Moon Is Rising takes readers on a lyrical tour of the world.  Different customs and cultures—past and present—related to the full moon are revealed.  Readers get a snap shot of places, such as New York City, Morocco, Australia, Israel, Columbia, and Hong Kong. Julia Cairns’ lovely watercolor illustrations are a celebration of the brilliant full moon and the many diverse people groups. 

The “About the Poems “section is informative and interesting.  In it, teachers and parents will find a short explanation of the scientific, historical, and cultural background for each poem. 

From the peaceful view under a tent in the desert to the dancing jubilee in an African village to the hustle and bustle of the city, people everywhere look with wonder at the full moon illuminating the darkness to all equally.

Ideas for Extension Activities at Home or Lesson Plans for Teachers:
Moon Phases Foldable
Mini Book:  Moon Phases
Moon Phase Balloons
Moon Phase Paper Plates
Moon Phase Oreo Cookies
Foil Printed Moon Craft
Making Moon Craters Activity
28 Moon Books for Kids
Moon Dust Writing Tray
Space Writing Prompts
More Moon Activities

For more poetic inspiration, visit Check It Out for the Poetry Friday link up.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Testing the Ice: A True Story About Jackie Robinson (Sharon Robinson)

Author:  Sharon Robinson

Illustrator:  Kadir Nelson

Target Ages:  4 and up

Genre:  Biographical Picture Book

Publisher Summary:
When Jackie Robinson moves his family from New York City to Connecticut, the beautiful lake on their property is the center of everyone’s fun.  The neighborhood children join the Robinson kids for swimming and boating.  But oddly, Jackie never goes near the water.

In a dramatic episode that first winter, Jackie is called upon to test the ice on the lake to make sure it’s safe for ice-skating.  But why, Sharon wonders, is he always so afraid to go near the water?

First Lines:
The year was 1955. 
Dad was in his ninth season with the Brooklyn Dodgers, and for the third time in four years, they faced the New York Yankees in the World Series!

Memorable Moment:
In fact, Dad showed the same courage on the ice that day as he did when he broke the color barrier in baseball.  No one really knew what would happen.  But he felt his way along an untried path—like a blind man tapping for clues.

That was Jackie Robinson.  And that was my dad.  Big, heavy, out there alone on the lake, testing the ice to be sure it would be safe for us.

And he did it—even though he couldn’t swim!  

This non-linear story begins with 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers World Series win. 

Then it moves back a year to when Jackie Robinson moved his family out to the country for more privacy and family time. The idyllic scenes depict Robinson as a loving and devoted family man. 

Next, the story falls further back in time several years to when he was in the Negro Baseball League, and later recruited by the Brooklyn Dodgers.  Readers learn about his bravery, perseverance, and dedication. 

Finally, the heart of the story comes into focus as his daughter recounts Robinson’s courage as he went out on the ice, despite his own fears, to keep his children safe. His devotion as a father is inspirational.  

The contrast of the professional player with the personal man provides a fuller view of the legend.  It is refreshing to see a personal life of a public figure that is as worthy of praise as his professional life.  

The wonder of this story is furthered in the stunning paintings by Kadir Nelson.  He has a true gift for capturing the beauty of humanity—both the external and the internal. Nelson knows when to depict a sweeping view and when to give his characters their close up.  The facial expressions and thrilling actions bring this family recollection in full vivid glory. 

Testing the Ice:  A True Story About Jackie Robinson is a loving tribute to the revered baseball hero.  This snap shot story further solidifies his reputation as a hero—both in sports and in life.

Historical Connections:
Jackie Robinson
Negro Baseball League—We Are the Ship (Book Connection) 
Civil Rights Movement

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Penguins Love Their ABC’s (Sarah Aspinall)

Author:  Sarah Aspinall

Illustrator:  Sarah Aspinall

Target Ages:  1-6

Genre: Concept Picture Book—Alphabet

Publisher Summary:
It’s an alphabet hunt!  Join the fun as six playful penguins follow simple clues that lead them to find each little letter of the alphabet.

First Lines:
Once there were six little penguins—
six little penguins who loved to play
games with the alphabet.
Today they had put on their special
hide-and-seek glasses because…

Memorable Moment:
“We love our abc’s, and we love alphabet soup,” said the little penguins.  “But not as much as we love… Mama Penguin.”

As soon as I saw the cover, I had to read this book!  The penguins pulled me in like a girl to a platter of chocolates. The illustrations inside do not disappoint!  Lively penguins roll off the pages and into the hearts of readers of all ages!  The pictures alone are enough to cause children to beg to read this book over and over.  

The text is highly engaging.  For instance, children are asked questions, like what color they like best and which letter comes next. Also, they are encouraged to make predictions, such as how the penguins should carry the letters back to mama and what’s for supper. There are additional opportunities built in for parents or teachers to encourage responses. For instance, each letter has the same sentence pattern:  ___ is for ___ (h is for heart). A penguin is holding the item near the sentence. Children can figure out the answers with the visual context clues. Finally, the story has humor (imagine penguins in their underwear) and heart (see memorable moment quote).   

Penguins Love Their ABC’s is the perfect early childhood read.  You can check it out at the library, but I think it is worth buying for your personal bookshelf.

Ideas for Extension Activities at Home or Lesson Plans for Teachers:
  • Food Fun: Make alphabet soup together: Alphabet Soup Recipe.
  • Art:  Penguin Crafts here and here.
  • Letter Sounds:  List of activity ideas here.
  • Science:  Read some juvenile non-fiction about penguins.
  • Letters:  Practice identifying letters using flashcards or other creative activities.
  • Games:  Play hide and seek.
  • Writing:  Write out this sentence from the book: ___ is for ___.  Either pick the letter or allow the child to pick the letter.  Then, instruct the children to write a word or draw a picture to go with the letter.  Older children can write out the sentence themselves.

Five Fabulous Picture Books about African American Musical Artists

Mahalia Jackson:  Walking with Kings and Queens Nina Nolan, author John Holyfield, illustrator Publisher Summary :   People m...