Mumbet’s Declaration of Independence

Mumbet's Declaration9780761365891_p0_v2_s260x420Mumbet’s Declaration of Independence

Gretchen Woelfle, Author

Alix Delinois, Illustrator

Carolrhoda Books, Biography, Feb. 1, 2014

Suitable for Ages: 5-10

Themes: Elizabeth Freeman, African-American Woman, Slavery, Massachusetts, Human Rights

Opening: Mumbet didn’t have a last name because she was a slave. She didn’t even have an official first name. Folks called her Bett or Betty. Children fondly called her Mom Bett of Mumbet. Others weren’t so kind. 

Book Jacket Synopsis: Everybody knows about the Founding Fathers and the Declaration of Independence in 1776. But the founders weren’t the only ones who believed that everyone had a right to freedom. Mumbet, a Massachusetts slave, believed it too.  She longed to be free, but how? Would anyone help her in her fight for freedom? Could she win against her owner, the richest man in town? Mumbet was determined to try.

What I like about this book:

  • Gretchen Woelfle’s tells Mumbet’s compelling and true story for the first time in a picture book biography. While the book is considered nonfiction, it is fictionalized so that the reader experiences the hardships in 1780s. The author’s language is true to the time period, she creates the right amount of tension and her pacing of the story is perfect.
  • The characters are realistically portrayed and well-developed. Mumbet is a smart, bold and determined character filled with hopes, dreams and ambitions for her life. Col. John Ashley is wealthy and owns the iron mine, a forge, a sawmill, a gristmill a general store and 3,000 acres of land with slaves. His wife is mean, abusive, strikes the slaves and calls Mumbet ” useless baggage, a stubborn wench and a dumb creature.” She didn’t break Mumbet’s spirit.
  • Mumbet’s courageous actions to fight for freedom and equality and challenge the new Massachusetts Constitution in the courts, is a huge step in ending slavery in the United States.
  • You can’t help but smile when you see Mumbet returning to the courthouse in 1781 to choose a name for herself, Elizabeth Freeman.
  • Alix Delinois fills the pages with bold, colorful. evocative and detailed acrylic illustrations.

Resources: Mumbet’s story is an excellent read for Women’s History Month. The book is a resource which will spark many discussions.  There is a wonderful “Author’s Note” at the end with a lot of information to use in the classroom, a picture of Mumbet and suggested reading materials. Check out the Mumbet website with the transcript of the trial as well as photos. Visit the author Gretchen Woelfle at her website.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.

Brick by Brick

Brick by Brick9780061920820_p0_v1_s260x420Brick by Brick

Charles R. Smith Jr., Author

Floyd Cooper, Illustrator

Amistad an Imprint of Harper Collins Publishers, Historical Fiction, 2013

Suitable for Ages: 5- 9

Themes: Building the White House, Slave labor, Trade, Buying Freedom

Opening: “Under a hazy, hot summer sun, many hands work together as one.  The president of a new country needs a new home, so many hands work together as one. Black hands, white hands, free hands, slave hands.”

Synopsis: President George Washington needs a new house.  It took both skilled and unskilled free men and slaves working together to dig, break, chisel and transport stone to lay the foundation for the president’s home.  Even children worked with clay, sand and water to make the bricks. Hands are an important theme in the story because machinery didn’t exist. The laborers worked 12-hour days which was hard on their hands bodies.  The title of the book Brick by Brick highlights how the White House was built by hands.

Why I like this book: This book is a beautiful tribute to the laborers who worked under harsh conditions in the middle of nowhere to clear the forest in 1792 to build the president’s house. Charles R. Smith, Jr., beautifully captures the rhythm and power of the workers through rhyme. Throughout his poetic text, Smith scatters the first names of workers adding a sense of realism and dignity to the forgotten heroes in American history.  You have to love the power in his rhyme:

“Slave hands saw twelve hours a day,/ but slave owners take slave hands’ pay./ Slave hands bleed under a hot, hazy sun,/ slave hands toil until each day is done”.

“Slave hand learn/new trade skills/using chisels,/saws,/hammers,/and drills.”  “Skilled hands earn/one shilling per day,/reaching slave hands closer/to freedoms with pay.”

Although the conditions were horrible, many slaves were learning skills and trades brick by brick that eventually yields shillings that buy freedom for their families. And, they play and important part building the history of their country.  Floyd Cooper’s illustration evoke emotions of exhaustion, anger and pride. His illustrations are in soft brown and yellow colors that show uniformity and  match the mood of the era.  Great teamwork between Smith and Cooper who are both former Coretta Scott King Award winners.

Resources: The author includes a page at the end of the book about why slaves were used to build the White House, which was later burned by the British on Aug. 24, 1814. Smith also includes resources for further study.  A good classroom activity would be to write  a story about one of the many characters in his illustrations. The facial expressions are so lively they speak to you. Visit Charles R. Smith Jr. at his website.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.

Taking Flight

TTaking Flight9780385755115_p0_v3_s260x420aking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina

Michaela DePrince with Elaine DePrince, authors

Alfred A. Knopf,  Memoir, Oct. 14, 2014

Suitable for Ages: 12-17

Themes: Michaela DePrince, Ballet, War orphan, Sierra Leone, Adoption, Vitiligo, Courage, Hope

Synopsis: Michaela DePrince was born in 1995 in war-torn Sierra Leone and named Mabinty Bangura.  She was born with Vitiligo, a medical condition that causes blotchy spots on her skin. To the villagers she was a curse and called a spotted leopard. However, she had loving parent who taught her to read, write and speak four different languages. When the rebels killed her father and her mother died, her uncle sold her to an orphanage, where she became #27 .  She was starved, abused, and faced incredible dangers from the rebels. One day she found a picture of a ballerina in a magazine which affected her life forever. At four, she and her best friend Mia were adopted by an American family. The family encouraged her love of dancing and made it possible for her to study at the Rock School for Dance Education and the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at the American Ballet Theatre.  She is now a member of the world-famous Dutch National Ballet in Amsterdam.

What I like about this book:

  • The heart of this story is the strong mother/daughter relationship which translates into a remarkable collaboration and a gripping memoir about Michaela’s journey from Mabinty Bangura, a war orphan in Sierra Leone, to a 17-year-old professional ballerina.
  • The story’s real strength lies in Michaela’s lifelong passion to become a ballerina and her remarkable determination to break through racial barriers to dance classical and neo-classical ballet with a professional company.  She shows great discipline and sacrifice to be the best.
  • The narrative about Michaela’s journey is compelling and unforgettable. Taking Flight is written in such a manner that young readers would be able to handle the details of war and be interested in learning some history about West Africa.
  • The story is simply told in prose, but is filled with satisfying detail. The pacing is perfect and the book is a page-turner.  This book is ideal for any reader, but young black ballet dancers will especially find hope in Michaela’s story.
  • I found Taking Flight a joy to read because of its authenticity and honesty. Michaela thought America was wonderful until she began to notice the bigotry she experienced while living with her white family, especially when they went out in public. But it took true grit to face the racial discrimination and profiling she encountered in the ballet world. She heard comments that “black women are too athletic for classical ballet…to muscular…and aren’t delicate enough to become  world-class dancers.” She still struggles with “the racial bias in the world of ballet.”
  • There is a section of photos in the middle of the book documenting her life — from the African orphanage, her new home and family, to her ballet training and dancing. These photos will help young readers better grasp her life.

Resources:  Michaela DePrince starred in the ballet documentary First Position, which can be found in many libraries.  She hesitated to be featured but decided that it was something that she could do to help African-American children who dream of dancing.  She felt she had a responsibility to write a memoir and share the “hardy dose of hope” she had been blessed with.  Visit Michaela DePrince at her website.

Love Will See You Through: Martin Luther King Jr.

love-will-see-you-through-9781416986935_lgLove Will See You Through: Martin Luther King Jr.’s Six Guiding Beliefs

Angela Farris Watkins, PhD., Author

Sally Wern Comport, Illustrator

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, Nonfiction, Jan. 6, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 6-11

Themes: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Beliefs, Courage, Equality, Love, Nonviolence, Tolerance

Opening: ‘Martin Luther King Jr.  is recognized as one of the greatest men in history. I’m proud to say that he was also my uncle.”

Publisher Synopsis: The niece of Martin Luther King, Jr. reveals six timeless and universal principles that encompass the civil rights leader’s greatest legacy: Love will see you through. Growing up as the niece of Martin Luther King Jr., Angela Farris Watkins witnessed firsthand the principles and values that “Uncle M.L.” practiced and lived by throughout his fight for equality. Drawing from experiences and episodes both personal and well-known, Dr. Watkins artfully details the guiding beliefs of one of the greatest men in history. Including “have courage” and “love your enemies,” these six hallmarks of virtue and nonviolence reinforce the truth that “the universe honors love” and will inspire readers of all ages.

Why I like this book:

  • Dr. Angela Farris Watkins’ book is heartfelt and compelling. She shares with children the guiding beliefs that her uncle lived every day of his life.
  • The six beliefs are universal, inspirational and very easy for children to understand: Face adversity with Courage; Love your enemies; Fight the problem not the person who caused it; When innocent people are hurt, others are inspired to help; Resist violence of any kind; and the Universe honors love.
  • Watkins uses real events in King’s life (the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott, the burning of his home, protesting segregation in Birmingham in 1963, his letter from the Birmingham jail, the voter registration drive in Selma) to emphasize the importance of how her uncle acted upon his beliefs of love and nonviolence. Her narrative is powerful and conversational.
  • Comport’s vivid double-page illustrations are strong and colorful mixed media collages that are compelling and capture the theme, tension and emotion of the book.
  • The book is an inspiring and excellent choice for school children to discuss during this particularly turbulent time in our history. Children will grasp that his beliefs are applicable to most any situation in life.

Favorite Passage: “Uncle Martin was a man of peace. Love was his way of life. Uncle Martin’s six guiding beliefs teach us that love has power. His life was proof that…Love Will See You Through.” 

Resources:  Check out the National Education Association website for classroom activities, tools and resources for children K-5. Many schools and communities will sponsor activities and walks on Martin Luther Kind Day, January 19. This would also be a good book to compare with Grandfather Gandhi by Arun Gandhi and Bethany Hegedus.

Angela Farris Watkins, PhD, is the niece of Martin Luther King Jr. She is an associate professor of psychology at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia. Dr. Watkins is a certified trainer of Kingian Nonviolence, the principles and steps of social change espoused by her uncle. Her books for children include My Uncle Martin’s Words for America; and My Uncle Martin’s Big Heart.

Sally Wern Comport has illustrated many picture books and novels, including Brave Margaret: An Irish Adventure; Hanging Off Jefferson’s Nose: Growing Up on Mt. Rushmore; and the Spy Mice series.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.

Stella by Starlight

Stella by Starlight9781442494978_p0_v2_s260x420Stella by Starlight

Sharon M. Draper, Author

Atheneum Books for Young Readers,  Historical Fiction, Jan. 6, 2015, the official release date. Many bloggers will be reviewing Stella by Starlight today as part of its launch.

Suitable for Ages: 9-12

Pages: 336

Themes: Segregation, Racism, the Ku Klux Klan, Family, Community, Hope

Synopsis: When 11-year-old Stella and her brother, Jojo, witness nine robed figures dressed in white, burning a cross on the other side of the pond near their home late one night, she knows that life in Bumblebee, North Carolina, is about to change. It is 1932, and “Every Negro family knew the unwritten rules — they had to take care of their own problems and take care of one another.” Stella and her community come together to find strength, courage and support as they face the injustices surrounding them in the segregated Jim Crow South.  Will Stella find her own voice in this coming of age story?

Why I like this book:  Sharon Draper’s book is a promise to her father that she would one day tell the story of her grandmother, Estelle Twitty Mills Davis. Draper’s compelling and powerful novel is inspired by her grandmother’s fifth-grade journal. It is a fictional account drawn from that journal. It is also a gift to her readers to share true stories of hatred and prejudice that ran so deep during the segregated South.

Draper works magic in her multi-layered storytelling that highlights the depression, segregation, racism, and a girl filled with hopes, dreams and ambitions during a time when such qualities are risky for a girl of color. Stella is a gutsy, resilient and compassionate hero with a strong and candid voice. Readers will benefit from meeting Stella and following her journey. The language in the story is true to the time period. The setting shows a caring and supportive African-American community at the height of the depression and segregation when families depend upon each other. The plot is packed with action, twists and a lot of tension — it is scary, heartbreaking, sobering, celebratory, and humorous. The pacing is spot-on throughout the story, keeping readers fully engaged. Readers will find themselves richly rewarded by this deeply realistic and satisfying tale. Draper has once again succeeded in creating a story that will ignite the passion of reading among students.

Resources: Visit Sharon Draper at her website for more information about Stella by Starlight and her other books.  There will be a study guide on the site for Stella.  Teachers and students may be interested in having their entire class read her book. Draper looks forward to communicating with students in their schools via Skype and Twitter. Visit her site for information and to follow directions.

Sharon Draper, a five-times Coretta Scott King Literary Award winner for Copper Sun and Forged by Fire, delivers another contender in Stella by Starlight. Her novel Out of My Mind has won over twenty state awards and has been on the New York Times bestseller list for over a year.  She lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, where she taught high school English for 25 years and was named National Teacher of the Year.

Brown Girl Dreaming

Brown Girl Dreaming9780399252518_p0_v2_s260x420Brown Girl Dreaming

Jacqueline Woodson, Author

Nancy Paulsen Books, Memoir, Aug. 28, 2014

Winner: National Book Award, the 2015 Newbery Honor Book and the 2015 Coretta Scott King Author Award

Suitable for Ages: 10 and up

Themes:  Jacqueline Woodson, Childhood, Family relationships, Living in the north and south, Finding one’s voice, From girl to author

Pages: 366

Opening“I am born on a Tuesday at University Hospital/Columbus, Ohio./USA– a country caught/ between Black and White.”

Synopsis: Jacqueline Woodson shares what it is like to grow up in the 1960s and 1970s in both Brooklyn, NY and Greenville, SC.  The south is home for Jacqueline and her brother and sister as they spend the summers with their grandparents. Children tease Jacqueline and her siblings about their northern accents. She struggles with the subtle prejudices in the South as her  awareness of the civil rights movement grows. In Greenville there are loving grandparents, friends, and a lot of love. In Brooklyn she’s teased about being a Jehovah Witness and having to follow rules that her  friends don’t understand. And living in the shadow of her sister’s academic performance in school presents another challenge. Jacqueline has difficulty with schoolwork. It is through her poetry and storytelling that a teacher tells  her “You’re a writer.” Jacqueline’s voice begins to grow stronger with each word she pens because she wants to believe.  Readers will find Jacqueline Woodson’s journey to become an author engaging and inspiring.

Every dandelion blown

each Star light, star bright,

The first star I see tonight.

My wish is always the same.

Every fallen eyelash

and first firefly of summer…

The dream remains.

What did you wish for?

To be a writer.”

What I like about this book: Brown Girl Dreaming is a deeply personal and authentic memoir for teens struggling with race, prejudice, absent fathers, and finding their place in the world. Jacqueline Woodson’s determined and uplifting voice is eloquent. Her use of free verse compliments the theme in her memoir.  Her story is lyrical, emotional, and powerful. Each page is a clever, lively or soulful poem about a growing girl’s identity; her struggle with reading, a love of stories, and a desire to become a writer. She gives her readers hope and the sweet taste of what it’s like to follow your dreams.

Jacqueline Woodson is the winner of the Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement in writing for young adults, the recipient of three Newberry Honors for After Tupac and D Foster, Feathers and Show Way, and a two-time finalist for the National Book Award for Locomotion and Hush.  Other awards include the Coretta Scott King Award and Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Miracle’s Boys. Visit Jacqueline Woodson at her website.

Knock Knock

Knock Knock9780316209175_p0_v1_s260x420Knock Knock: My Dad’s Dream For Me

Daniel Beaty, Author

Bryan Collier, Illustrator

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Dec. 17, 2013

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Fatherless sons, Separation, Loss, Hope

Opening: Every morning, I play a game with my father. He goes KNOCK KNOCK on my door, and I pretend to be asleep till he gets right next to the bed. Then I get up and jump into his arms. “Good morning, Papa!” And my papa, he tells me, “I love you.” We share a game…KNOCK KNOCK.

Synopsis: Every morning a boy plays a game with his father. Then one day the knock doesn’t come. The boy’s father is gone and is not there to help him get ready for school, cook his breakfast or help him with homework. One day he finds a letter from is father on the desk in his room. His father is sorry that he won’t be coming home and gives hims advice “for every lesson I will not be there to teach you.” He encourages his son to “KNOCK KNOCK down the doors that I could not.”

Why I like this book: Daniel Beaty’s powerful storyline is based on his own experience as a child when his father is incarcerated. In writing this heart-wrenching story, Beaty doesn’t indicate where the father in KNOCK KNOCK has gone. Many children who have an absent father due to incarceration, divorce, abandonment, military deployments and death, will identify with this story. Even though the story is sad, it is also about love, survival, and hope. Beaty’s text is simple and lyrical. The plot is engaging and moving.  The last few pages are filled with inspirational words from the father. Bryan Collier’s stunning illustrations are done in watercolor and collage and support the sentiment of the text.

Daniel Beaty is an award-winning writer, performer, educator and empowerment expert. KNOCK KNOCK  has won the Huffington Post Best Picture Book of the Year, the Boston Globe-Horn Books Award Honor and the ALSC Notable Children’s Book Award.  You can visit Beaty’s website here.

Bryan Collier has illustrated more than 25 picture books, including the award-winning Dave the Potter and Fifty Cents and a Dream.  He  has received three Caldecott Honors and five Coretta Scott King Award, including the 2014 Coretta Scott King Award for KNOCK KNOCK. You can visit Collier’s website here.