Sunday, February 28, 2010


Today, the spirit of African American history...and an African American future.

WHO WILL I BE, LORD? by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, illustrated by Sean Qualls (Random House)
Great-Grandpap was a mailman. "He knew everybody in town and everybody knew him." He married Great-Grandma, a white woman who "mama'd five children and made the best cakes in the county. She wore pants when other ladies mostly only wore dresses...Mama says Great-Grandma knew more about love than most folks." Grandma is a teacher ("proud of her education and likes passing the plate around so everyone can have some"). Uncle is a pool shark ("if you're gonna be a ditchdigger, learn to dig the best ditches on earth," he advises), and cousin is a jazz man. Grandpa is a preacher, Papa is a car man, and Mama is a Mama, taking care of everybody. Looking over her family tree, the little girl can't help but wonder, "Lord, what will I be?" For those concerned about the title for inclusion in secular schools (as I was), in fact, the use of "Lord" is a matter of voice and characterization, true to the context of the little girl who narrates (and a great opportunity for teachers to talk about voice and characterization with young authors). Above all, this book values the power of stories passed down through a family, and recognizes how those connections are catalysts for aspiration and empowerment ("My mama is a mama. And what will I be, Lord? Who will I be? I guess like Mama says, it's up to me"), and between the lines pulses the sense that acceptance from that circle awaits, no matter what choice is made. Quall's line is daring and joyous, taking on the best qualities of a "retro" feel with muted, matte paintings overlapping unfilled pencil lines and dancing shapes (check out his wonderful blog for a sample of his inimitable style). This lovely, almost philosophical offering is a springboard into wonderings and dreamings about the future, as well as loving remembrances of people in the past. (6 and up)

Also of interest:
Black history is also American history, every month of the year. Keep on reading, sharing, recognizing and inspiring with these very personal accounts.

TESTING THE ICE: A TRUE STORY ABOUT JACKIE ROBINSON by Sharon Robinson, illustrated by Kadir Nelson (Scholastic) We know Jackie Robinson as the great ambassador who was the first African American to play in the Major Leagues seven years before the desegregation of schools, but Sharon Robinson knew him as "Dad." Join the family at the Robinson's house on the lake, a lake that Jackie Robinson did not want to set foot in. But when his daughter and her friends want to go ice skating, Jackie Robinson puts aside his own fears to assure safety for the ones he loves. "All I could think was: My dad is the bravest man alive...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." This effective metaphor, drawn with suspense and the great humanity of Robinson's own rare moment of vulnerability, makes for a powerful story. The incredible perspectives of the realistic paintings make the people seem to breathe on the page and draw the reader into every scene. Paired with a thrilling read-aloud, it is perhaps easier to share with a young audience than the illustrator's stunning tribute to the Negro Leagues, WE ARE THE SHIP, or at least serves as a perfect preface to it. What a gift Robinson has given with this memory...and what a tribute. (6 and up)

CHILD OF THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT by Paula Young Shelton, illustrated by Raul Colon (Schwartz & Wade)

But Uncle Martin wasn't really my uncle -- not by blood, anyway.
We were close because our fathers worked together.
Close because our mothers worried together.
Close because we all struggled together.
Close because we were brought together for a common goal, a common good.
We were one family -- the family of the American civil rights movement.

Inspired by the real-life memories of the daughter of civil rights activists Andrew Young and Jean Childs Young, this is the chance to sit under the table from a child's eye view and listen to grown-ups discuss the decision to march from Selma to Montgomery. The narrator describes each debating voice like an instrument, and then, "Uncle Martin loved the music of his friends and knew that each instrument needed to be heard. But he also knew in the end they must come together like a symphony, as one." The commitment of the family, moving from the north to south during Jim Crow, and details like being carried as a child after becoming to tired to walk or throwing a tantrum because of being hungry but not allowed to sit and eat, make a historical experience immediate and relatable to the young listener. What's more, the book ends with the passing of a "baton," and the march goes on for a new generation of children to join. The pointilistic art style done with colored pencil is mellow and rich, warm and well-matched to the text. Ultimately, it is an effective pairing that welcomes any young reader into the right side of history. (6 and up) Along these thematic lines, also check out THE BEATITUDES: FROM SLAVERY TO CIVIL RIGHTS by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Tim Ladwig (Eerdmans), an elegant rendering in both words and pictures of the famous Sermon on the Mount in the spirit of African American faith, taking the reader across a broad timeline: from the ships across the Middle Passage, under the starry night sky with Harriet Tubman in the lead, at the Lincoln Memorial as Marian Anderson's voice soared, at Emmett Till's funeral, alongside Ruby Bridges as she bravely marches into school, and with Barack Obama as he takes his oath. A thoughtful picture book for older children, it is very nice in conjunction with Jacqueline Woodson's stunning personal history, SHOW WAY, illustrated by Hudson Talbott (Putnam) for depicting a continuum of strength. (9 and up)

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1 comment:

Nishan Patel said...

Hi Esme--I've been a fan of this blog since the book-a-day inception--great work!

I'm studying to be an art teacher as well!
My children's book, Sammy's New Home, also just got picked up by Barnes&Noble for distribution--please visit my site/link to the book at:

It would be great to send you a copy of the book, please let me know if interested--my e-mail is

Kindest Regards,


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