Nov 27, 2021

TOGETHER WE MARCH: A Look Back At the Power of Peaceful Protest

 For short periods of time, young people have grown up without "marches" being in the news. This picture book is a valuable reminder that marching for a cause has always been a part of our American and global history and heritage. As the introduction says, when people combine the efforts of their feet, voices, signs, and mutual support, they become a force to be reckoned with. In the most basic sense, this is evident in sporting events, in which the cause is victory for your favored team.

On a more substantial note, though, are the many marches that seek/sought to serve the public good. Even when the specifics focus on a target need or identity group or rights, protesting and achieving progress toward equality and justice for those causes improves the broader society in which we all live.

Atheneum Books For Young Readers, 2021

TOGETHER WE MARCH: 25 Protest Movements That Marched Into History, is written by Leah Henderson and illustrated by Tyler Feder. It is yet another praiseworthy nominee  for a CYBILS AWARDS for nonfiction. I suspect that one of the challenges of compiling these twenty-five accounts involved deciding among hundreds that occurred (and MATTERED) throughout history. The author introduction ends with a note that the final cut includes "overlooked stories, revered moments, and courageous people" whose work to change the world provides lessons for all of us across time. Some will be familiar, even to young readers, and others will be   new introductions.

I respect that criteria and believe it has benefited the book and the young readers. Once those choices were made, a chronological approach was used, and that meant the first movement of this collection is the   leadership of MOTHER JONES, marching in defense of childhood and in protest of child labor.

That is a sure fire way to hook kids into reading and becoming inspired by these brief profiles. This march through time (pardon that pun) allows for some causes to recur, particularly related to race, peace, and rights. Each is a two page spread with colorful spot illustrations that anchor events in the general awareness of historic eras through clothing and other cultural details, with effective small spots to support comprehension (maps, flags, icons, etc.). The causes and their leaders are diverse, including various ethnicities, skin colors, global identities, abilities/disabilities, lgbtqia/gender identities. 

Many contemporary readers may be surprised to see concerns in current events reflected across continents and a century of marching: peace, voting, the environment/climate, immigration, labor, social justice, and more. The final entry accounts marches for social justice following the George Floyd murder, with a satisfying concluding note from the author. This is followed by a colorfully illustrated timeline, anchoring each of the twenty-five movements across the last century-plus. It's a helpful way to note patterns and similarities in causes, as well as diversity among those who choose to organize and march. The next page turn provides a selected bibliography that is also formatted with more kid-appeal than most- identifying each movement and citing the source of quotations. 

This is a powerful and very accessible approach to bringing background and meaning to the current political and other public protests, marked with visible indicators of the overall theme, reinforced through illustrated protest sign slogans. 

First and foremost is "TOGETHER WE MARCH", underscoring the power in unity and community. Also, and importantly, this theme rings true throughout each profile and as a summation of the book:



Nov 26, 2021

Stories of Righteous Upstanders: Holocaust Heroes

The two titles featured today offer profiles of very different young men, neither of whom were  Jewish, but both recognized the rightness and the necessity of taking actions in the face of threatening and overwhelming power.  

Quill Tree Publishing, 2021

BARTALI'S BICYCLE: The True Story of Gino Bartali, Italy's Secret Hero
 is written by Megan Hoyt and Illustrated by Iacopo Bruno. I wrote  a trilogy involving the Holocaust years, taught this topic throughout my career, and now serve as a volunteer Holocaust Outreach Educator. What has always astonished me is the seemingly infinite stories of heroism during that horrific era that are little known. Despite my relatively deep background in the subject, this picture book featured someone entirely new to my information about the subject. 

Gino Bartali was a lifelong biker on his hometown cobbled streets of Florence, Italy when he decided to launch into training as a competitive cyclist. His progress was impressive and in 1938 he won the TOUR de FRANCE. When he lauded as a hero, he protested,"Heroes are those who have suffered. I am just a cyclist."

That year, 1938, marked the shift in political tyranny in Germany and Italy from carefully orchestrated and oppressive laws against Jewish people to outright attacks, invasions, and concentration/work camps, leading to the death camps and intentional murders of more than six million Jews and millions of others, too. The story of his heroic, risk-taking efforts to save lives of Jewish friends and strangers in the following years involved using his bike-riding identity and skill to deliver secret documents, exchange messages, communicate information needed for escapes, and even hide Jewish friends in his own home. 

Once the war ended, he avoided attention to his role, saying, "Good is something you do, not something you talk about." Over time, though, his heroic and humane choices were revealed and now his story is available to young readers. The vibrant and action-packed illustrations make a dramatic story even more compelling, with tension rising throughout. A timeline on back pages indicates other markers before and after his resistance life as well as some highlight dates/events during the war years. I'll be using this book in my outreach work and have recommended it to many others, adults and kids alike. 

Norton Young Readers, 2021

NICKY and VERA: A Quiet Hero of the Holocaust and the Children He Rescued
is written and illustrated by Peter Sis. In this case the author/illustrator is world-renowned, and the featured Holocaust hero has gained considerable attention in recent decades. After his war efforts, he, like Bartali, never spoke of his rescue efforts. Only as the children he saved grew to adulthood and shared their individual stories did some investigative efforts reveal the man at the center of saving so many lives. 

The long view, from present time, is breathtaking and inspiring. But this picture book takes young readers right back to the start of his story. Nicky grew up in schools and with a family that encouraged curiosity, exploration, and travel. As a young man from England Nicky toured many European countries and learned about cultures and history along the way, becoming  fluent in many languages and an Olympic fencer.  In the same pivotal year as Bartoli's Tour De France, Nicky was invited to Prague, Czechoslovakia, in the heart of Europe where German Nazi forces were intent on conquering the world and establishing White/Aryan Supremacy. That growing threat would attempt to eliminate every Jewish person in the process, and followed through on their orchestrated effort that destroyed uncounted lives. 

That same year, Vera (from the title) was just ten years old, living a contented life in a village near Prague. When Nicky noted the advance of German troops, the malicious threats and assaults on innocent people, he returned to England to hatch a plan that might assist young people in escaping the assault. At that time, children under seventeen could receive visas to live their country. Before departing, he launched his own mission, to collect photos, names, and passports for as many children as possible, taking those details with him to England. 
At first, he worked alone and then found others to support his work, advertising for sponsoring families and safe homes, leading to trainloads of refugees on the KINDERTRANSPORT, 1938-1940.  Thousands eventually escaped and survived, but Nicky is personally credited with 669 children saved. Vera was among them.
It is important to acknowledge the bravery of Vera and her family and all of those others who left or were left behind. They had to separate from the ones they loved the most, knowing they might never see each other again, knowing that a choice was made from desperation and love, knowing that being courageous in departure would ease the pain of the others. 
When the iron grip of German forces ended the efforts, Nicky returned to England and spent his very long life doing good, quietly, but not sharing his story with others. He, like Bartali, believed that doing good is a choice, an action, not a ticket to fame. By pairing and paralleling the lives of 
Nicky and Vera, with informative but childlike illustrations, side text, and back matter, the lives of a young man and a child feel immediate and present in our lives.

Nicholas Winton is a widely recognized name in Holocaust history now, and you can learn more by viewing a 60 Minutes segment on Youtube, HERE (bring tissues).Watching it may be the best fifteen minutes you'll spend this year. You can see that he, too, was a young man at the time, barely ten to fifteen years older than the children whose lives he saved. 

Here's an image of Nicky with some of his rescued "children".

These two heroes are important subjects across time and at any time of year, but it is thrilling to share them here, together, among other outstanding nonfiction elementary nominees for this year's CYBILS AWARDS. I hope you will make time to read these, to learn more about their stories, and to stay tuned for reviews of even more wonderful nominees as nonfiction November ticks away.

Nov 22, 2021

THE LONGEST LETSGOBOY: A Picture Book You Must Not Miss

 Personal note: Dog books/stories enter my life with a head start, along with a bit of a handicap. I adore meeting dogs on the page, with or without pictures, and yet I open any dog book and turn pages with caution, knowing how easily their stories can break our hearts. Even so, the characters are often memorable, the stories reflect our lives, and the eventual endings often resonate with truths of deep significance. (See a few prior posts, HERE, HERE, and HERE, among many others). I had no qualms about reading and writing about this book, and I'm happy that I did.

Chronicle Books, 2021

My heart was drawn to THE LONGEST LETSGOBOY before even seeing the cover. That title told me instantly that the language would be dog-centered, allowing this first-person-narrator-dog to express himself with unleashed doggy-perspective and language of his lived experiences. Written by Derick Wilder and illustrated by Catia Chien, this achieves the highest levels of narrative and visual storytelling. As the cover suggests, this is a joyful, delightful book, but have a few tissues handy when you read or share it. 

This recent picture book release is a masterpiece, in my opinion, in both visual and narrative storytelling. I delayed writing about this one for more than a week, rereading it countless times. My  dilemma in beginning these notes came from pondering where to begin. I settled on summarizing the story, then tossed a coin to decide whether the author or illustrator would be first in line for the praise that would follow. 

From the opening endpapers to the final ones, an older dog's life and thoughts are revealed, including his exuberant embrace of life- from waking, to greeting his beloved "Little" (his foreverfriend), to walks through the "diggiedirt" into the "tallsticks", to the "gurgleburble", with a satisfying rest at the "smoothstump". Midway through the book our narrator reveals a gentle, happy, and glorious passage to another life, missing his Little and her pack of "twopaws", but thrilled to run and romp with vigor when he realizes that his "oldbones" feel new. Several page turns reveal passing seasons, holding Little in his caring gaze, then thrilling to the conclusion that I will not spoil. This resolution is so satisfying and joyous that I tear up as I type this, offering readers reassurance that it provides in every way both comfort and continuity in the cycles of life. 

Since the above provides samples of the remarkable voice, perspectives, and language of the narrator, "gooddog", its appropriate that author Wilder won the toss, so my praise will continue with his text. l've heard and read countless examples of smile-making word creations by preschoolers, and I've created a few words while playing with my own dogs over the years. I suspect most dog people have done so. I never doubted that my dogs incorporated my normal language as well as these dog-specific word, some with more ease than others. I was always certain that their responses to language revealed remarkable intelligence and understanding. 

Wilder appears to have been deeply connected to such dogs and to their concrete-descriptive-constructions. He speaks/writes in "dog-lish" superbly, with each use producing smiles and nods from this reader. They are laced through the text with a "just-right" frequency and fluency, never disrupting the narrative but rather enriching it with the sensory, innovative, heartfelt voice of the narrator. Readers/listeners of any age will translate automatically and engage with familiar experiences, but more deeply and fully through this voice. Reader immersion in "gooddog"s transitions and perspectives elevate a gentle and sensitive story by providing deep identifying and empathizing with these tender life experiences.

Illustrator Chien deserves equal praise for providing an immersive experience that fully captures the spirit and sensitive flow of this story. The colors, tones, crayon-like edges/fills, and matte finishes stretch across each spread with scenes and images that swirl with specificity and impressionistic style. Each spread sweeps across our view but also invites close examination. The expansive spreads interpret the text perfectly, plumbing the emotional and physical passages while anchoring the story in  the poignant and loving perspectives of "gooddog". 

Some folks caution picture book writers to not stretch such short text across long spans of time, unless intentionally addressing seasons, historic time frames, or are otherwise required to do so. In this case, the text implies a long expanse of time, but Chien serves that quality efficiently and masterfully with visual techniques. The opening endpapers incorporate spot sketches of "gooddog" and Little across years from infant to toddler to early childhood. The closing endpapers mirror that process with a flip I won't reveal. The use of a dayglo orange collar from that initial introduction provides a thread throughout every turn that, consciously or subliminally, carries reassurance and the delight of endless love from cover to cover. 

If my description in any way sounds melancholy or miserable, I have done the text and images an enormous disservice. There are other outstanding picture books dealing with dogs and their Littles and life cycles. I adore, have written about,  and recommend many of those, often. Even so, this exceptional blend of life-laughter-lingering-love, this unforgettable character with an instantly recognizable yet wholly original voice, these vibrant and soothing spreads combine to produce a picture book like no other. 

At the time I post this, THE LONGEST LETSGOBOY has received four starred reviews. With book awards season looming, I have no doubt that it will be seriously considered for and will win more accolades. Now that I've written a review/post about this book, I'll return my library copy. I've already purchased a copy to keep and one to gift, with more likely to pass through my hands to others. I hope the same will be true for you, too.

Nov 19, 2021

Nonfiction Fun- of the Chicken and the FLY Variety!

I've reached the end of a stressful week with a need for lighthearted humor with some actual substance at its base. Take a quick look at two unexpected and FUN nonfiction books, each on a topic that you might not suspect would  be appealing, engaging, or page-turning. That would be the wrong assumption to make. These two titles had flown beneath my radar during this year's releases, but came to me as CYBILS AWARDS nominees in the elementary nonfiction category.

It was joyful to take a close look at both of them, and I want to be sure that you haven't missed them!

CHICKENOLOGY: The Ultimate Encyclopedia is written by Barbara Sandri and  Francesco Giubbilini,  illustrated by Camilla Pintonato.

This cover had me instantly, and the content did not disappoint. I am not one of those folks who have become obsessive about chickens, but I do adore wonderful picture books. This encyclopedic approach introduces readers to all things chicken, from the familiar to the rare, from the descendants of dinosaurs to modern day hybrid and backyard cross breed dwellers. Along the way there are remarkable facts, relationships, comparisons, and oh, those illustrations.

 Download free Chickenology posters HERE.  Then stay tuned for the next title in this delightful approach- Pigology! I will be watching for it, too!

Charlesbridge, 2021

13 WAYS TO EAT A FLY is written by Sue Heavenrich and illustrated by David Clark.

This remarkable book manages to balance appeal and grossness, scientific accuracy and lively humor, a simple rhymed countdown text, and explanatory/expository paragraphs and illustrations that share knowledge effectively while entertaining and fascinating readers. In this book I learned more than I ever thought I'd want to know about flies of various kinds, and now I want to hand this book to readers young and old. 

The back matter extends the humor and information with a nutrition chart for a typical fly, as well as an anatomy diagram to indicate the most nutritious parts to consume. Add to that the sources and references provided, and the added knowledge about the predators who are consuming this "fast food" in various ways, and this seemingly simple picture book offers the powerful content of a text book, but with vastly greater appeal.

So, if you happen to own chickens and see one snapping up a fly, this will be a dynamic duo of books to enjoy. If neither chickens nor flies ar part of your life, I dare you to read these anyway. My guess? you'll enjoy every minute you spend with them.

Picture books are as versatile and diverse as the readers who enjoy them. Join me to explore the wacky, wonderful, challenging and changing world of picture books.