Separate is Never Equal by Duncan Tonatiuh

Separate is Never 61QJH+UcmDLSeparate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation

Duncan Tonatiuh, Author and Illustrator

Abrams Books for Young Readers, Biography, May 6, 2014

Awards: 2015 Pura Belpré Illustrator Honor Book; 2015 Robert F. Sibert Honor Book

Suitable for Ages: 6-9

Themes: Mexican-Americans, Sylvia Mendez, Segregation in Education, Racial persecution, Mendez vs. Westminster School District, Multicultural

Opening: Sylvia had on her black shoes. They were shiny-new. Her hair was perfectly parted in two long trenzas. It was her first day at the Westminster school. The halls were crowded with students. She was looking for her locker when a young white boy pointed at her and yelled, “Go back to the Mexican school. You don’t belong here!”

Synopsis: Sylvia and her two brothers moved with their family to a farm near Westminster, California. Her father, a field-worker, finally got a lucky break to lease a farm and be his own boss. Sylvia was excited about starting a new beautiful school as a third grader. When they went to enroll at the school, her parents were told their children couldn’t attend the white school. They had to enroll in the Mexican school.  Sylvia was confused because she wasn’t Mexican. She was an American citizen and spoke perfect English. Was she banned because she was brown, had dark hair and her last name was Mendez? That fall Sylvia and her brothers attended the small run-down, inferior Mexican school where the teachers didn’t care about teaching.  The school was surrounded by a cow pasture. There was no beautiful playground, just dirt. And, there was no place for the children to eat their lunch.

After approaching the school board with no success, Sylvia’s father, Gonzalo Mendez, began to organize an association of Mexican parents. They filed a lawsuit against the school district to integrate the schools. Sylvia Mendez  and her family helped bring an end to segregation in California, which led to the 1947 Supreme Court ruling for equality for all children in America.

Why I like this book:

Duncan Tonatiuh’s compelling book brings Sylvia’s important story to life in a manner children will easily understand. He cleverly weaves Sylvia’s inspiring story with factual information. The text also includes Spanish words and phrases. I especially like how Sylvia’s story shows children that they can make a difference in their communities, country and world.

Tonatiuh’s bold and unique illustrations are done in muted tones with a Latino flare. They significantly contribute to Sylvia’s story and emphasize the theme of separatism and inequality. The cover is magnificent!

I was surprised to discover that the movement to desegregate schools for children of all ethnicities and races began with Latino children in the 1940s with Mendez vs. Westminster School District. There would be no “Brown vs. Board of Education” Supreme Court ruling without  Sylvia’s original lawsuit. This book belongs in every school library.  Children read a lot of books about the civil rights era, so it is important to introduce this important piece of Latino history into Black History month.

Resources: The author includes detailed information at the end of the book from court files, newspaper accounts and update information and photos of the real Sylvia Mendez, who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in 2011.

For tweens, parents may want to check out a middle grade novel, Sylvia and Aki, which is a more in-depth story about Sylvia and her relationship with Japanese-American girl, who has been sent to an internment camp.

If You Plant a Seed by Kadir Nelson

If You Plant a Seed 511V106f+0L__SY498_BO1,204,203,200_If You Plant a Seed

Kadir Nelson, Author and Illustrator

Balzer + Bray/Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, Fiction, Mar. 3, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Animals, Nature, Planting and Growing, Sharing,  Seeds of kindness, Generosity, Friendship

Opening: “If you plant a tomato seed, a carrot seed, and a cabbage seed, / in time, / with love and care, /  tomato, carrot and cabbage plants will grow.”

Synopsis: Rabbit and mouse, plant seeds in their garden. They patiently tend to their garden and watch the rain and sun do their magic. As the fruits of their labor begin to pay off they do their happy dance and marvel at the sweetness of their bounty. When five birds appear from the sky, rabbit and mouse try to protect their vegetables from their winged friends.  The birds stare them down (illustrations are priceless) and pandemonium breaks out, until mouse gives the birds a peace-offering. Because of mouse’s act of generosity, the birds return with seeds of kindness and friendship reigns.

Why I like If You Plant a Seed:

Kadir Nelson’s If You Plant a Seed is a timeless story for the entire family that will charm you from the first double-spread to the last. His spare and clever text makes this story an easy book for kids to read alone or to a sibling. It shows children what happens when you are selfish and hoard your bounty. And it teaches them what happens when they are kind and share with others — friendships form. These are values they will easily understand. The cover is gorgeous. Nelson’s beautiful, oversized oil paintings are breathtaking! Facial expressions are dramatic, expressive and humorous. The vegetables look so real, that you want to reach out and take a bite of a carrot or tomato. If You Plant a Seed has heart, humor, connection and friendship. It  is a treasure! Visit Kadir Nelson online at his website.

Kadir Nelson won the 2012 Coretta Scott King Author Award and Illustrator Honor for Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans. He received Caldecott Honors for Henry’s Freedom Box by Ellen Levine and Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford, for which he also garnered a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award and won an NAACP Image Award. Ellington Was Not a Street by Ntozake Shange won a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award. Nelson’s authorial debut, We Are the Ship, was a New York Times bestseller, a Coretta Scott King Author Award winner, and a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor book. He is also the author and illustrator of the acclaimed Baby Bear.

Finding Winnie by Lindsay Mattick

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Lindsay Mattick, Author

Sophie Blackall, Illustrator

Little, Brown and Company, Oct. 20, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Bear, True Story, Canadian Soldier, Mascot, London Zoo, Christopher Robbins

Opening: “Could you tell me a story?” asked Cole. “It’s awfully late.” It was long past dark, and a time to be asleep. “What kind of story?” “You know. A true story. One about a Bear.” 

Book Synopsis: Before Winnie-the-Pooh, there was a real bear named Winnie.

In 1914, Harry Colebourn, a veterinarian on his way to tend horses in World War I, followed his heart and rescued a baby bear. He named her Winnie, after his hometown of Winnipeg, and he took the bear to war.

Harry Colebourn’s real-life great-granddaughter tells the true story of a remarkable friendship and an even more remarkable journey — from the fields of Canada to a convoy across the ocean to an army base in England…

And finally to the London Zoo, where Winnie made another new friend: a real boy named Christopher Robin. Here is the remarkable true story of the bear who inspired Winnie-the-Pooh.

Why I like this book:

This is an inspiring true story by Lindsay Mattick about the origins of the most famous bear ever — Winnie-the-Pooh. It will rekindle memories of adults who loved this bear and appeal to their children and grandchildren. It is a heartwarming story for the entire family.

It is a revelation for me to learn that there is a family connection to the endearing story about this globally well-loved bear. The author is the great-granddaughter of Harry Colebourn, the soldier-veterinarian who found the little bear and named him Winnie. Her storytelling is warm and friendly and filled with little-known details about the bear.  It was a special treat to see the album of pictures of Winnie with Colebourn, the platoon members, at the London Zoo and with the original Christopher Robbins Milne. Children who love Milne’s classic Winnie-the-Pooh stories, will be captivated by the bear’s history. Sophie Blackall’s watercolor illustrations are warm and beautifully expressive. They compliment and add charm to this lovely story.

Resources/Activities:  Read your favorite Winnie-the-Pooh book, whether Milne’s original stories or the Disney series. Encourage kids to draw a picture of Winnie and pick out a favorite quote. Check out the teacher’s guide for using Finding Winnie with students.

A Morning with Grandpa by Sylvia Liu

Morning with Grandpa 51r2LRx0zTL__SX395_BO1,204,203,200_A Morning with Grandpa

Sylvia Liu, Author

Christina Forshay, Illustrations

Lee & Low Books, Fiction, Apr. 1, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Themes: Intergenerational relationships, Tai Chi, Yoga, Grandfathers, Multicultural

Opening: “Mei Mei watched Grandpa dance slowly among the flowers in the garden. He moved like a giant bird stalking through a marsh. His arms swayed like reeds in the wind.”

Book Jacket Synopsis: Mei Mei’s grandpa is practicing tai chi in the garden, and Mei Mei is eager to join in. As Gong Gong tries to teach her the slow, graceful movements, Mei Mei enthusiastically does them with her own flair. Then Mei Mei takes a turn, trying to teach Gong Gong the yoga she learned in school. Will Gong Gong be able to master the stretchy, bendy poses?

Why I like this book:

Sylvia Liu has written a story that celebrates the special relationship between a granddaughter and her grandfather as they learn tai chi and yoga together. Mei Mei watches her grandfather practice tai chi, wants to know more, and adds a lively spin to his methodical movements.  Grandfather shows patience with Mei Mei’s  enthusiastic and energetic interpretation of tai chi and praises her movements as “perfect.” He’s a good sport when Mei Mei in turn shows him yoga movements, despite his creaky knees.  Liu’s book is a beautiful intergenerational story about a grandfather and grandchild teaching each other something new. Christina Forshay’s colorful illustrations are warm, expressive and capture the lovely memories of a morning spent together.

Resources: The book includes instructions for the tai chi and yoga exercises described in the text in the back matter of the book — a fun activity for children, parents and grandparents. Visit Sylvia Liu at her website.

When Penny Met POTUS by Rachel Ruiz

When Penny Met POTUS 51Q6dLkRC5L__SX409_BO1,204,203,200_When Penny Met POTUS

Rachel Ruiz, Author

Melissa Manwill, Illustrator

Capstone Young Readers, Fiction, July 1, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 4-9

Themes: Going to work with mother, POTUS, White House, Political Season, Imagination

Opening:”Penny jumps out of bed extra early, even though she doesn’t have school today. Why? Because today she gets to go to work with her mom!”  

Synopsis: Penny’s mother works in a big white house for a boss called POTUS.  She thinks it is a funny name (POE-TUS), but she can’t imagine what he may look like. She imagines a blue, superhero monster, because after all he has his own secret service agents. She hopes she gets to meet POTUS and practices how to bow and what to say.  She imagines they may even have a tea party together. Once she arrives at her mom’s office, she’s impatient to meet POTUS and sneaks off to find this mysterious creature. Will she be disappointed or surprised with her discovery?

Why I like this book:

The timing is perfect for the release of Rachel Ruiz’s imaginative, entertaining, and very informative book that will introduce young children to the President, the job and the election year. It is a clever and animated story about Penny, an imaginative and curious brown-skinned girl, wondering what her mother does at work every day in a big white house with someone important named POTUS. When Penny finally tracks down the president and discovers POTUS is not a blue monster, her expressions are priceless! You sense some disappointment, until the POTUS invites Penny to visit the kitchen. There are other surprises that I won’t spoil.  The ending is humorous and satisfying.

Melissa Manwill’s illustrations are large, bold, lively and colorful. They significantly contribute to Penny’s larger-than-life imagination of what is a POTUS. I also enjoyed Manwill’s depiction of diversity among the White House staff.

Ruiz was inspired to write her picture book after spending most of 2012 working on President Obama’s re-election campaign. “After long days at the office, I would rush home to my inquisitive three-year-old daughter, who often showered me with questions like, ‘Did you see the President today? What did he have for lunch? Is he allergic to peanut butter?’ and on and on,” said Ruiz. “When my daughter met President Obama at a campaign rally the weekend before the election, the brief but oh-so-memorable exchange between POTUS and the 3-year-old was the exact moment when the idea for this book took hold.”

Resources: Check out this delightful video about kids thoughts on who and what is a POTUS! It will inspire discussions and activities for you to do with your children. You might add FLOTUS, VPOTUS, and SCOTUS to the list of political acronyms.  This is a great book to pair with President Squid by Aaron Reynolds and Diana’s White House Garden, by Elisa Carbone.

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.

Penny and Jelly: Slumber Under the Stars

Penny & Jelly9780544280052-276x300Penny & Jelly: Slumber Under the Stars

Maria Gianferrari, Author

Thyra Heder, Illustrator

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Fiction, Jun. 14, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 4-7

Themes: Sleepover, Dogs, Stargazing, Creativity, Solutions, Friendships

Opening: “Hooray!” said Penny. “Tomorrow is Sleepover Under the Stars Night, Jelly!”

Synopsis: Penny is excited when she receives an invitation to a sleepover under the stars from the recreation center.  She calls her four best friends to see if they are attending. Penny begins to make a list of what she needs: sleeping bag, pillow, PJs, book and Jelly. Then Penny realizes that the invitation says “no pets allowed.” She comes up with an idea to make a  pretend Jelly — out of paper, yarn, fleece, vegetables, marshmallow, cotton balls and clay. But, her creation just isn’t her beloved Jelly. Penny must find a solution.

Why I like Penny & Jelly:

Maria Gianferrari has written a perfect summer read for children about a determined girl and her devoted dog.  Slumber parties and outdoor sleepovers are a summer tradition for children. I especially like that this slumber party is about stargazing, a great activity for children to learn about constellations. Penny is a fun-loving character full of heart, who sports mismatched socks with every page turn. She’s imaginative, curious, enjoys picking out star constellations, and is resourceful in finding a solution to her problem. Thyra Heder’s  warm watercolor illustrations are cheerful, expressive and eye-catching. The characters are diverse.  I love the book cover. Verdict: This captivating story will be a popular summer read with children and parents as it lends itself to many discussions. Visit Penny & Jelly at their website.

Maria Gianferrari is also the author of Penny & Jelly: The School Show.

1-2-3 A Calmer Me

1-2-3 Calmer Me 51hB9ta-cnL__SX397_BO1,204,203,200_1-2-3 A Calmer Me: Helping Children Cope When Emotions Get out of Control

Colleen A. Patterson and Brenda S. Miles, Authors

Claire Keay, Illustrator

Magination Press, Fiction, Sep. 22, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Themes: Anger, Emotions, Calmness

Opening: I am happy, but sometimes I feel mad and VERY frustrated! Like the other day when I let go of my balloon. I felt s-o-o-o mad!

Synopsis: A girl becomes angry when she lets go of her balloon. Her friend tells her it’s okay to feel mad, but there is something she can do to feel better. He shares with her a rhyme he uses to calm his body and mind. “1-2-3 a calmer me. 1-2-3 I hug me. 1-2-3 relax and b-r-e-a-t-h-e…1-2-3 a calmer me.” When she discovers it melts her angry feelings, she begins to use the technique when someone takes away her favorite crayon, when she has to stop playing and eat dinner, and when she loses a race.

Why I like this book:

I was delighted to discover Colleen A. Patterson and Brenda S. Miles’ book which helps children with relaxation and mindfulness when their emotions spin out of control. We need more books like this to use at home and at school to help upset kids regain control so that they don’t act out in a harmful way. Claire Keay’s illustrations are rendered in warm and comforting pastels and capture the emotion of the story.

1-2-3 A Calmer Me introduces readers to a very simple rhyming mantra to help them stop their negative reaction, calm their anger, frustration or disappointment and replace it with a very easy technique.  In the first action of the mantra the girl wraps her arms around herself and gives herself a big, tight hug. Then she counts again and slowly breathes in and out and relaxes her body. In the last action she slowly releases her hug and lets her arms dangle by her side. She feels the relaxation.

Resources: The book includes a “Note to Parents, Teachers and Other Grown-Ups” with more information about the steps of the “1-2-3” rhyme, and advice for working through the steps with your child.