A Dance Like Starlight

A Dance Like Starlight9780399252846_p0_v1_s260x420.jpbA Dance Like Starlight

Kristy Dempsey, Author

Floyd Cooper, Illustrator

Philomel Books, Fiction, Jan. 2, 2014

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Ballet dancing, African-Americans, Discrimination, Janet Collins

Opening: “Stars hardly shine in the New York City sky, with the factories spilling out pillars of smoke and streetlights spreading bright halos around their pin-top faces.  It makes it hard to find a star, even harder to make a wish, the one wish that if I could just breathe it out loud to the first star of night, I might be able to believe it true.”

Synopsis:  A little girl living in Harlem in the 1950s has a dream of becoming a ballerina. Her mama works all day long and some times into the night for the ballet school, cleaning and stitching costumes for dancers. The girl spends a lot of time around costume fittings and rehearsals, watching every move and practicing in the wings. One day  the Ballet Master sees her talent and arranges for her join the lessons, even though she can’t perform onstage with white girls. When the first African-American prima ballerina Janet Collins performs at the Metropolitan Opera House, the aspiring dancer and her mother attend. The girl is inspired and realizes that she doesn’t need to wish on stars in the sky because dreams are possible.

Why I like this book: This book is a keeper for any child who has a dream of becoming a dancer, musician or artist. Kristy Dempsey ‘s lyrical text is so beautiful with lines like “It’s like Miss Collins is dancing for me, only for me showing me who I can be,” and “You don’t need stars in the sky to make your dreams come true.” Janet Collins inspires the dreams of young ballerinas everywhere, showing them that talent and hard work, not the color of their skin, lead to success. Floyd Cooper’s lively and passionate illustrations are painted in hues of brown and pink and beautifully capture the child’s dream of dancing on the stage.

Resources:   There is an author’s note at the end of the book.  One interesting note, Janet Collins danced at the Met four years before singer Marian Anderson made her debut.  Visit Kristy Dempsey’s website.  This is a good book to pair with When Marian Sang by Pamela Munoz Ryan and Josephine by Patricia Hruby Powell during black history month.

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

This Is the Rope: A Story from the Great Migration

This is Rope9780399239861_p0_v2_s260x420This Is the Rope: A Story from the Great Migration

Jacqueline Woodson, Author

James Ransome, Illustrator

Nancy Paulsen Books, Fiction, Aug. 29, 2013

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Theme: Migration of African-Americans north, Jump rope, Family, Moving

Opening:  “This is the rope my grandmother found beneath an old tree a long time ago back home in South Carolina. This is the rope by grandmother skipped under the shade of a sweet-smelling pine.”

Book Jacket Synopsis: When a little girl in South Carolina finds a rope under a tree, she has no idea it will become part of her family’s history. But for three generations, that rope is passed down, used for everything from jump rope games to tying suitcases onto a car for the big move north to New York City, and even for a family reunion where that first little girl is now a grandmother.

Why I like this story: Jacqueline Woodson calls This is the Rope a fictive memoir. She writes a very lyrical and engaging story based on the dreams of the many African-Americans who journeyed from the south to northern cities from the 1900s to mid 1970s to find better jobs and lives for their families.  Woodson’s mother and father left South Carolina in 1968 and moved to Brooklyn. I like how she uses the image of the rope repeatedly as a symbol of family linking one generation to the next. Ransome’s rich and colorful oil paintings vividly highlight scenes of the south and north in an uplifting manner.  His double-page spreads  are filled with expression and details of each period of history. This is a beautiful collaborative book by Woodson and Ransome. Visit Jacqueline Woodson at her website.

Resources:  There is an author’s note in the beginning of the book that talks about the great migration of African-American families. Woodson has a teacher’s guide on her website about using her books in the classroom.

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

“Panic” by Sharon M. Draper

Panic9781442408968_p0_v1_s260x420Panic

Sharon M. Draper, Author

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, YA Fiction, March 2013

Suitable for Ages: 14 -17

Themes:  Dance, Kidnapping,  Sexual Predators, Sexual Abuse, Teen Dating Abuse, African-American

Opening“Diamond knows not to talk to strangers.  But just once couldn’t hurt.  Right?”  (Jacket Flap)

Synopsis:  The Crystal Pointe Dance Academy is shaken when one of its members, 15-year-old Diamond, goes missing and no one can find her.  Diamond and her best friend, Mercedes, make a trip to the mall before a dance performance to purchase tights.  While Mercedes is looking around, Diamond heads to the food court to buy food so they won’t be late.  A well-dressed stranger approaches Diamond and asks for directions to the food court.  He tells Diamond that he’s supposed to meet his wife and daughter there.  Harmless, she thinks.  When Mercedes arrives minutes later, Diamond is gone.

Every other chapter is the voice of one of the main dancers, Diamond, Mercedes, Layla and Justin.  There are parallel stories told as Draper alternates between Diamond’s abduction, the emotional reaction of the high school dance troupe to the situation and the every day drama of their own personal lives.  There are some very important themes of relational and sexual abuse, teen dating abuse,  trust, and family issues woven into the story.  What holds the troupe together is their concern for Diamond and their love of music and dance.  My favorite scene in the book is when the dancers are with their instructor, Miss Ginger.  Each student selects a dance that fits their personality and expresses their own fear or desperation for Diamond  — a beautiful and powerfully moving cathartic release.

Why I like this story:  Sharon Draper has written a gripping and contemporary novel that is very real in today’s world.  It is a must read for teens.  Even though kids are taught at a young age not to talk to strangers,  abductions continue.  There is no tidy description for sexual predators.  But predators have one thing in common – the ability to artfully lure a child or teenager into a web of lies and manipulations that leads to kidnapping.  That is what Draper addresses in her skillfully crafted and suspenseful novel.  Draper handles Diamond’s abduction scene realistically but with sensitivity.   She also has a gift of getting into the minds of each character.  Panic is one book readers will have difficulty putting down because it is a page turner.  Hopefully teens will learn through Diamond the tragic results of taking risks with strangers.  Panic is an excellent book for school libraries.

Book Giveaway:  I will be giving away one copy of Panic during a random drawing on March 29.  All you have to do is leave a comment on this post and indicate whether you’d like to be included in the drawing.   I will announce the winner on Saturday, March 30.

Sharon Draper a New York Times best-selling author has also won the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent for Fears of a Tiger.  She won the Coretta Scott King Literary Award for her novels Copper Sun, and  Forged by Fire, and the Coretta Scott King Author Honor for The Battle of Jericho.  She also was selected as a National Teacher of the Year.  For more information about all the books she’s published, resources, activities, interviews and information on school visits, visit Draper’s website.  I’ve also reviewed Draper’s novels, Out of My MindCopper Sun and Double Dutch.

Morning Star

MorningStarCover.inddMorning Star

Judith Paxton, Author

Second Story Press, Fiction, September 2011

Suitable for Ages:  Grades 4-6

Themes: Slavery, Underground Railroad, Racism, African-American

Opening/Synopsis“Flower Felt fingers press down on her mouth, gentle but firm.  She struggled awake to see her mother lift them away, touch one against her own lips, eyes wide with silent warning.”   Twelve-year-old Flower, her baby brother and her parents live on a southern slave plantation.  In the middle of the night they flee for their lives following the Underground Railroad north to Canada.  Their only guide is the North Star and very kind people who help them along their journey.  Bounty hunters are in hot pursuit of her family.  Their journey is threatened by danger, illness, injuries, and hunger.

In a parallel story over 150 years later, we meet eighth-grader Felicia, who has moved from Toronto with her mother and grandmother to a small town in Michigan.  Felicia soon discovers she is among the few African-American students in the school.  She makes friends with a group of girls who introduce her to horseback riding and a drama class.   But, she also has to deal with some racism for the first time in her life.  When the teacher assigns the class to research their ancestry, Felicia discovers that her distant family members were slaves who followed the Underground Railroad to Canada.   She also learns about a community of free slaves living in her new town of Plainsville, MI.  Does she have the courage to share her family history with her class?

What I like about this book:  Judith Paxton has written a compelling and memorable story for young people where she interweaves the lives of two very different girls living 150 years apart.  Their stories are told in alternating chapters.  You will feel the strength and courage of both Flower and Felicia dealing with racism in different ways.  Their past and present paths will cross in an unlikely way.  Readers will easily identify with both engaging characters.  Each chapter is a page turner and the story is full of suspense.  This is a satisfying story for younger readers and a great read for Black History Month.

This book has been provided to me free of charge by the publisher in exchange for an honest review of the work.

January’s Sparrow

January's Sparrow9780399250774_p0_v1_s260x420January’s Sparrow

Patricia Polacco, Author and Illustrator

Philomel Books, Fiction, 2009

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes:  African-American, Slavery, Fugitives, Underground Railroad, Freedom

Opening/Synopsis“Sadie, the youngest Crosswhite, shuddered when she saw the paddy rollers thunder into the slave yard on their horses, draggin’ a runaway on the end of a rope behind them.  All the slaves had been ordered to stand at the porch rail that mornin’.”  Sadie was horrified when she realized that the men were dragging and beating January, who was like a brother to her.   He had carved a  sparrow for her days earlier and she knew he was going to run.  Adam and Sarah Crosswhite overheard that two of their four children were going to be sold.  The fled the Kentucky Plantation with only the clothes on their back and in the middle of the night.   They made a harrowing trip across the Ohio River into Indiana and traveled the Underground Railroad north to freedom in Marshall, Michigan.  In Marshall, there was a growing number of Negro families who found support and friendship in the white community.  Sadie’s father and brothers found jobs, and Sadie attended school.  But, the family was always on the look-out for bounty hunters and angry masters searching for runaway slaves.  One day a package arrived with Sadie’s treasured sparrow inside.  Attached to it was a note that said, “I found you.”  What will her family do?  Readers will be surprised by the ending.

Why I like this book:  Patricia Polacco has taken a true story that she discovered a few miles from her Michigan home and written a compelling story for children about slavery and the underground railroad.  In fact the home she lives in was site of underground activity.  In writing this story, Polacco used “dialect modified from slave narratives,” which enhanced the unique voice of January.  Polacco did a lot of research about the Crosswhite family and the amazing community of Marshall, MI, which adds considerably to the story’s authenticity.  Polacco’s vivid and colorful artwork is done with charcoal and watercolor.  She captures the fear, terror, pain and the joy in her powerful, detailed and expressive illustrations.  Visit Patricia Polacco on her website.  You can see a photo of her home built in the 1800s, and learn some interesting facts about famous visitors.

Resources:  Patricia Polacco has a Guide for Educators with Curriculum Connections, Discussion Questions and Classroom Activities, including a Reading Response Journal.  You will need to scroll down the PDF file to find January’s Sparrow.

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

I Have a Dream

Martin Luther King9780375858871_p0_v1_s260x420I Have A Dream

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Kadir Nelson, illustrator

Schwartz & Wade Books, Oct. 2012

Suitable for Ages: 5-10

Themes:  Dr. Martin Luther King, African-Americans, Civil Rights, Freedom, Diversity

Opening/Synopsis:  “I say to you today, my friends, that even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream.  It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.  I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

Book CoverFrom Dr. Bernice A. King:  “My father’s dream continues to live on from generation to generation, and this beautiful and powerful illustrated edition of his world-changing “I Have a Dream” speech brings his inspiring message of freedom, equality, and peace to the youngest among us — those who will one day carry his dream forward for everyone.”

Why I like this book:  Artist Kadir Nelson has taken one of the most powerful and inspirational speeches in history, and created a  beautifully illustrated book set to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s iconic speech delivered on Aug. 28, 1963.   Nelson’s oil paintings are masterpieces  and a feast for the eyes and soul.  I was mesmerized by the strength and power in each painting.  Now a new generation of children will have the opportunity to learn about this great civil rights leader.

Resources:  There is a CD that accompanies this book.  The entire speech is printed at the end of the book.  With the inauguration of President Barak Obama, our first African-American President,  falling on Jan. 21, Martin Luther King Day, it is right to combine the two.  In honor of both, tomorrow, January 19, has been named a National Day of Service, and Americans are being urged to get involved in a local community service project.   Just check on the website for information

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

Copper Sun

Copper Sun

Sharon M. Draper, Author

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2008, Fiction

Suitable for :  Ages 14 and up

Themes: African-American History, Slavery, Indentured Servants, Escape, Freedom

Awards:  2007 Coretta Scott King Literary Award

Synopsis:  “When pale strangers enter 15-year-old Amari’s Village, her entire tribe welcomes them, for in her remote part of Africa, visitors are always a cause for celebration.  But these stranger are not here to celebrate.  They are here to capture the strongest, healthiest villagers and to murder the rest.  They are slave traders.  And in the time it takes a gun to fire, Amari’s life as she’s known it is destroyed, along with her family and village.”  

Amari is beaten, shackled and herded with other survivors to the ocean, where she is branded and dragged on to a slave ship bound for the colonies.  Sailing on this ship of death is full of unimaginable horrors.  Survival is for those who are strong.  Upon landing in the Carolinas, Amari faces even greater  humiliation when she is forced to stand naked in front of buyers and is auctioned to the highest bidder.  Amari is purchased by a plantation owner, Percival Derby, who gives her to 16-year-old son, Clay, for a birthday present.  Mr. Derby also buys a white indentured servant, Polly.

This unlikely pair, Amari and Polly, become friends on the rice plantation, Derbyshire Farms.  They endure the daily hardships, back-breaking work, emotional turmoil, fear, and brutality beyond their imaginations.  When things couldn’t get any worse, a murder occurs on the plantation.  Amari and Polly have no choice but to escape and run for the freedom they both seek.  Freedom is found in a very unlikely place.  This novel celebrates the strength and spirit of Amari, and the thousands of slaves like her.

Sharon Draper has written a compelling, realistic and action-packed novel that will keep you in a state of suspense.  Draper is a skillful author whose writing is so vivid that you will find your senses heightened.   You smell the foul odors of the ship, feel the burn of the branding and beatings, and hear the screams of a child being torn from a parent.  Copper Sun is historical fiction and it took Draper 10 years to research and write her novel.  Copper Sun is a masterpiece in children’s literature.  It is also an important book for Women’s History Month.

Sharon Draper is the granddaughter of a slave.  She wrote Copper Sun after visiting Ghana years ago.  She “knew she had to tell the story of one girl who might have made that harrowing journey through the door of no return.”  “This book is dedicated to all the millions of girls like Amari who died during that process–as well as those who lived and suffered, but endured,” said Draper. “I also dedicate this to all those who came before me–the untold multitudes of ancestors who needed a voice. I speak for them. Amari carries their spirit. She carries mine as well.”

Draper has also won the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent for Fears of a Tiger.  She won the Coretta Scott King Award for Forged by Fire, and the Coretta Scott King Author Honor for The Battle of Jericho.  For more information about all the books she’s published, resources, activities, interviews and information on school visits, click here to visit Draper’s website.  I reviewed Draper’s latest novel, Out of My Mind,  Jan. 23, 2012.

The Other Side – Black History Month

The Other Side

Jacqueline Woodson, Author

E.B. Lewis, Illustrations, Fiction, 2001

Suitable for:  Ages 5 and Up

Themes:  Diversity, Friendship, Racial Equality, Segregation

Opening/Synopsis That summer the fence that stretched through our town seemed bigger.  We live in a yellow house on one side of it.  White people live on the other.  And Mama said, “Don’t climb over that fence when you play.”  She said it wasn’t safe.  Two girls, one white (Annie) and one black (Clover)  live in houses on the opposite sides of the fence.  Every morning, Annie climbs up on the fence and sits and watches Clover and her friends jumping rope.  They don’t invite Annie to play.  She sits on the fence every day rain or shine.  She dances in rain puddles by herself.  One day Clover goes over to the fence and climbs up to sit with Annie.   They become good friends and spend the entire summer sitting on the fence that the adults built to separate their two communities.

What I like about this book:  This is an excellent book to discuss the history of racism and diversity with children.  Clover narrates this realistic and lyrical book by Jacqueline Woodson.  E.B. Lewis’s beautiful water-color illustrations give the book a warm and friendly feeling.   This book clearly shows how children don’t see color.   They are puzzled by the fence between the black and white neighborhoods in their small town.  They don’t disobey the rules, but find a clever way around them by sitting together on top of the fence.  They aren’t going to let a fence get in the way of  their friendship.  Woodson does an outstanding job of showing that friendship can overcome any racial barrier.  This is the 11th anniversary of this classic book.  It continues to be a great book  for classroom discussions.

Activities:  There are two resource links for  The Other Side.  The second is an activity section that can be used with Woodson’s book.

To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.  Or click on the Perfect Picture Book Fridays  badge in the right sidebar.

The Escape of Oney Judge: Martha Washington’s Slave Finds Freedom

The Escape of Oney Judge

Emily Arnold McCully, Author and Illustrator

Farrar Straus Giroux, Historical Fiction, 2007

Suitable for: Ages 6 and Up

Themes/Topics:  Slavery, African-American, Freedom

Opening/Synopsis: “Oney!  Come here, child.”  It was Mrs. Washington!  Oney ran to her and curtsied, as the house slaves did.  Had the mistress caught her doing something wrong?  “Oney, I’ve had my eye on you,”  the great lady said.  I see a bright girl who can learn.  Tomorrow you will take up a needle and sew alongside your mother in the Mansion.”  “Oh, thank you, ma’am.” Oney cried.  “I’ll be glad to work with Mama!”  Oney knows why she was selected to work in the big house at Mt. Vernon.  It was because her father was white and she was light-skinned.   But, she’s also very bright and loved learning new things.

After the Revolutionary War ended, Oney was puzzled that liberty meant freedom for people, but not for slaves.  Mrs. Washington treated Oney like one of her own children, but she wouldn’t allow Oney to learn how to read or write.  Oney was especially close to the Washington’s daughter, Nelly.  After the general was elected president, Mrs. Washington chose Oney to be her personal maid at the first capital in New York City.  Oney studied ladies’ gowns to see how they were cut and sewn, and designed all of Mrs. Washington’s clothing and caps.  But, she never allowed Oney to earn money when she sewed for other women.

When the capital was moved to Philadelphia, Oney learned about slaves who were free.  Mrs. Washington told Oney one night that after she died, she would give Oney to her newly married granddaughter.  Oney knew the husband would sell her to  a stranger, so she began to plan her escape.  While  the Washington’s were preparing to return to Mount Vernon, Oney saw her opportunity to leave.  She ran to a white friend’s home where she hid until arrangements could be made for her escape.  She didn’t know where she would end up.  The Washington’s didn’t give up their search for Oney, even after she  married a free black slave and had a child.  They tracked Oney for years.  McCully shows how very determined this young woman was to be free.

Why I liked this book:  Little is written for children about the slaves of President George Washington and our Founding Fathers.  Emily McCully gives kids a realistic understanding of that period in our history.   She did an excellent job of researching Oney Judge Staines.  Her illustrations capture the mood of that revolutionary time.  George Washington was a good president, but he never took a public stand against slavery.  Washington hoped for its end, and he freed his own slaves upon his death.  Oney ended up in New Hampshire where she lived with her husband and three children.   I ran across a series of letters George Washington wrote trying to track Oney.  They are preserved in the Weeks Public Library and are very interesting.  She died in 1848, and her death certificate read “domestic servant.”  The Escape of Oney Judge is a 2008 Bank Street – Best Children’s Book of the Year, and a Jane Addams Children’s Book Award Winner.   Activity:  Click on Oney Judge for classroom activities.

To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.  Or click on the Perfect Picture Book Fridays  badge in the right sidebar.

Freedom Song – Perfect Picture Book

Freedom Song: The Story of Henry “Box” Brown

Sally M. Walker, Author

Sean Qualls, Illustrator

Harper, Jan. 3, 2012, Fiction

Suitable for:  Ages 4 and Up

Themes: African-American History, Slavery, the Underground Railroad

Opening/Synopsis “When Henry Brown came into this world, his family sang.  Mama blew kisses on his soft, brown belly.  Papa named him Henry, held him high to the sky.  Sisters and brothers tickled his toes.  Mama’s cooking grew Henry tall.  Papa’s stories grew Henry smart.  The whole family’s love grew Henry strong.  Even though they were slaves on Master’s plantation. “  As Henry worked in the cotton fields and gardens, he made up workday songs.  At night, he knew about children who were sold.  So he sang a silent freedom song in his head, hoping that his family would stay together.  Henry grew up, and his master sent him to work in a tobacco factory in Richmond.  He met a woman, Nancy, and fell in love.  They married and had four children.  Music and rhythm filled his head.  He sang his songs to his children, and to workers.  One day the master sold his wife and children.  Henry couldn’t save his family.  He felt powerless, and was filled with grief and despair.  He stopped singing.  Only one silent song remained in his heart, his freedom song and “its think, plan, take-yourself-to-freedom-land words were getting stronger every day.”   With the help of secret friends, Henry developed a most unusual plan to escape.

Why I like this story:  This is a remarkable story about one man’s courage and determination to be free.   It is based on the true story of Henry Brown, who was born in 1815, near Richmond, Virginia.  Sally Walker did a lot of research as she wrote Henry’s story.  Her text is captivating and lyrical.  Sean Qualls’ beautiful illustrations capture the mood of Henry’s  journey through laughter, despair and strength.   There is an excellent Author’s Note and a letter to the Anti-Slavery Office in 1849, documenting his extraordinary escape.  The letter is from the Collection of The New York Historical Society.  Activity:  This is an excellent book to discuss during Black History Month.  Here are some helpful activity resources to use in the classroom:  The Freedom Center,  samples of freedom songs that were sung as signal songs by the slaves, and the Underground Railroad.

To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.  Or click on the Perfect Picture Book Fridays  badge in the right sidebar.