For Spacious Skies by Nancy Churnin

For Spacious Skies: Katharine Lee Bates and the Inspiration for “America the Beautiful”

Nancy Churnin, Author

Olga Baumert, Illustrator

Albert Whitman & Company, Biography, Apr. 1, 2020

Suitable for ages: 5-8

Themes: Katharine Lees Bates, Biography, Musical history, Poet, Writer, Scholar, Suffragist, “America the Beautiful”

Opening: “When Katharine Lee Bates was very young, the Civil War raged. Some of her earliest memories were of men trudging home in tattered blue. When Abraham Lincoln was shot, Katharine’s mother wept. A hush suffocated the streets of her village. The country’s heart was ripped in two.”

BookJacket Synopsis:

Katharine Lee Bates first wrote the lines to “America the Beautiful” in 1893, on a summer evening after a stirring visit to Pikes Peak. But the story behind the song begins with Katherine herself, who grew up with memories of the country divided by the Civil War and who pushed beyond conventional expectations of women to become an acclaimed writer, scholar, suffragist, and reformer.

She became the extraordinary woman who penned one of our country’s favorite songs. She believed in the power of words to make a difference, and in “America the Beautiful,” her vision of the nation as a great family, united from sea to shining sea, continues to uplift and inspire us all.

Why I like this book:

Nancy Churnin’s For Spacious Skies, is an inspiring and beautifully written biography about a young Katharine Lee Bates who defies the social norms for young women to sew, cook and marry in the 1880s. She wants to be a writer, studies hard and graduates from Wellesley.  It is heartwarming how her widowed mother believes in her daughter’s dreams. She takes in washing and sewing, and sells vegetables to help pay Katherine’s college tuition.

As Bates travels across the country in 1893, she sees its magnificent beauty, but she also sees great division and despair among its people. When she reaches the top of Pikes Peak she is moved by the “most glorious scenery I ever beheld.” A poem forms in her mind and she’s moved to write it down. Two years later it is published in a national magazine. In 1910, Samuel A. Ward composes a melody and her poem is sung and loved across the country. She never accepts money for what she writes. It is her gift to America — a country she believes in her heart is more connected than divided.

Bates is someone children can look up to because she shows them that they too can make a difference when they see injustices in their local communities and world. Bates becomes a professor and an activist for the poor, believes in equality and the right for women to vote. Her passionate journey to bring the country together will certainly inspire elementary students.

The book is visually engaging for young readers, thanks to Olga Baumert’s the stunning illustrations.

Resources: This book is a resource. Make sure you check out the Author’s Note at the end of the book, and a Timeline of Bates’ life. There is also a revised version of “America the Beautiful,” which I encourage you to teach your children, if they don’t know it.

Nancy Churnin is the author of several picture book biographies, including South Asia Book Award winner Manjhi Moves a Mountain and Sydney Taylor Notable Irving Berlin, the Immigrant Boy Who Made America Sing, both Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People. She is also the author of a Beautiful Shades of Brown: The art of Laura Wheeler Waring, The William Hoy Story: How a Deaf Baseball Player Changed the Game, and The Queen and the First Christmas Tree: Queen Charlotte’s Gift to England.  Visit Churnin 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 website.

*Reviewed from a library copy.

Making Their Voices Heard by Vivian Kirkfield

Making Their Voices Heard: The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe

Vivian Kirkfield, Author

Alleanna Harris, Illustrator

Little Bee Books, Biography, Jan. 28, 2020

Suitable for ages: 4-8

Themes:  Ella Fitzgerald, Marilyn Monroe, Biography, Jazz musician, Actress, Singers, Friendship

Opening: “Ella and Marilyn. On the outside, you couldn’t find two girls who looked more different. But on the inside, they were alike — full of hope and dreams, and plans of what might be.”

Bookjacket Synopsis:

Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe. On the outside, you couldn’t find two girls who looked more different. But on the inside, they were alike–full of hopes and dreams and plans of what might be.

Ella Fitzgerald’s velvety tones and shube-doobie-doos captivated audiences. Jazz greats like Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington couldn’t wait to share the stage with her, but still, Ella could not book a performance at one of the biggest clubs in town–one she knew would give her career its biggest break yet.

Marilyn Monroe dazzled on the silver screen with her baby blue eyes and breathy boo-boo-be-doos. But when she asked for better scripts, a choice in who she worked with, and a higher salary, studio bosses refused.

Two women whose voices weren’t being heard. Two women chasing after their dreams and each helping the other to achieve them. This is the inspiring, true story of two incredibly talented women who came together to help each other shine like the stars that they’d forever be known as.

Why I like this book:

There is so much beauty, sensitivity and heart in Vivian Kirkfield’s picture book about two female iconic performers, Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe.  I was mesmerized. Alleanna Harris’ artwork  is colorful and compliments the story. Look at that fabulous book cover!

The narrative is lyrical and richly-textured. “Wrapping herself in Ella’s voice…” and “velvety shube-doobie-doos wowed auidences…” And there are moments where the text is sparse, yet powerful. “Marilyn swayed to the melody…Ella swayed to the rhythem…Marilyn held her breath… Ella filled her lungs…” So beautiful!

Ella and Marilyn were on the outside, an unlikely pairing. Alternating stories about each woman mirror their humble beginnings, inner struggles, similarities and differences.  But on the inside they shared the same hopes and big dreams of performing. They were destined to meet, support each other and form a lifetime friendship.

Kirkfield did a remarkable amount of research on both women. She shares little-known stories that many adults are unfamiliar with.

Resources:  Make sure you read the “Author’s Note” at the end of the book, where more information is shared about Ella and Marilyn’s relationship. Adults will find it interesting. Visit Kirkfield at her website.

Vivian Kirkfield’s career path is paved with picture books. From shelving them in a children’s library and reading them with her kindergarteners, to writing them, her goal has always been to help kids become lovers of books and reading. She is the author of many picture books including: Four Otters Toboggan: An Animal Counting BookPippa’s Passover PlateFrom Here to There: Inventions that Changed the Way the World Moves; and Sweet Dreams, Sarah. Her parent-teacher guide, Show Me How! Build Your Child’s Self-Esteem Through Reading, Crafting and Cooking is a valuable resource for child-care facilitators. Vivian lives in the quaint New England village of Amherst, New Hampshire, where the old stone library is her favorite hangout and her ten-year-old grandson is her favorite Monopoly partner.

*Reviewed from a library copy.

The Next President by Kate Messner

The Next President: The Unexpected Beginnings and Unwritten Future of America’s Presidents

Kate Messner, Author

Adam Rex, Illustrator

Chronicle Books, Nonfiction, Mar. 24, 2020

Pages: 48

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Past Presidents, Future Presidents,  Childhoods facts, United States

Opening: “Quick: Name the President of the United States.”

Book Jacket Synopsis:

When George Washington became the first president of the United States, there were nine future presidents already alive in America, doing things like practicing law or studying medicine.

When JFK became the thirty-fifth president, there were 10 future presidents already alive in America, doing things like hosting TV shows and learning the saxophone. One president was born in 1961.

And right now—today!—there are at least 10 future presidents alive in America. They could be playing basketball, like Barack Obama, or helping in the garden, like Dwight D. Eisenhower. They could be solving math problems or reading books. They could be making art—or already making change.

Why I like this book:

Kate Messner’s nonfiction book for middle graders, is a timely and fascinating compilation of facts about the U.S. presidents when they were ordinary kids, before they became leaders of the free world. Her creative presentation is unique. Even though there may be one president leading the country, the future leaders of tomorrow are always out there, whether they are infants, students in school, lawyers, teachers, or running a farm and business.

The book wraps up with the most important question of all for young people: “So where is the next president?” At least three future presidents are children right now. It invites readers to think BIG and realize that anything is possible. In fact, they may be reading this book right now. Could it be you?   

Her  beautifully designed book will resonate with children. And make sure you peek under the book jacket cover. Adam Rex’s large pastel illustrations feature unusual and interesting stand-out moments for many of the presidents making them appear very ordinary. The text about each president appears in bubbles.  There is a special double-spread –“Snapshot” page — in the center of the book about presidential pets.

This is an excellent classroom discussion book, especially with a presidental election in November.

Resources: The backmatter in the book includes a map of the Presidential Birthplaces. There is information about Presidential Requirements and The Changing Face of America’s Presidency. There are also suggestions for further reading. This is a valuable and creative resource for students and teachers. It is a fun way to get involved in the process.  Afterall, there are three future presidents in school right now.

Kate Messner is passionately curious and writes books for kids who wonder, too. A former teacher, she has written more than thirty picture books, chapter books, and novels for young readers. She is an award-winning author whose many books for kids have been selected as Best Books by the New York Times, Junior Library Guild, IndieBound, and Bank Street College of Education. She lives on Lake Champlain with her family. Visit Messner at her website.

*Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the MMGM link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Reviewed from a library copy.

Beautiful Shades of Brown: The Art of Laura Wheeler Waring by Nancy Churnin

Happy Juneteenth 2020!

Beautiful Shades of Brown: The Art of Laura Wheeler Waring

Nancy Churnin, Author

Felicia Marshall, Illustrator

Creston Books, Biography, Feb. 4, 2020

Suitable for Ages: 6- 11

Themes: Laura Wheeler Waring, Artist, African American, Biography

Opening: “Laura loved the color brown. She loved her mother’s chocolate-colored hair, her father’s caramel coat, and all the different browns in the cheeks of her younger sister and brothers.”

Synopsis:

As a 10-year-old girl, Laura spent hours mixing and blending colors to find the perfect shades of brown to paint pictures of her parents, brothers and sister and friends. She dreamed of being an artist and exhibiting her artwork in museums. But she didn’t see any artists who looked like her. In 1897 she didn’t see artwork of African Americans. So she created her own gallery, and hung her painting on the walls of her room where her family could view her art.

Her dreams continued to grow. By the time she finished high school, she applied to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. She was accepted. Her dreams didn’t stop there. After she graduated she went to Paris to study art and the great artists.  Word of her talent spread and she was commissioned to paint the portraits of accomplished African Americans — poets, authors, diplomats, activists and singers, including her inspiration, Marian Anderson.

Today Laura Wheeler Waring’s portraits hang in Washington D.C.’s National Portrait Gallery, where children of all races can admire the beautiful shades of brown she captured.

Why I like this book:

Well done Nancy Churnin! Beautiful Shades of Brown is a celebration of brown Americans, as readers will discover in Churnin’s polished and richly textured narrative about Laura Wheeler Waring’s ordinary, but extraordinary life. Children will find her journey inspiring.

Waring is the perfect role model for little girls who have big dreams. Determined and committed to pursuing her passion, young Laura began to manifest her dreams. She was self-confident, believed in her gift, and welcomed each opportunity that came her way. Most important, she was paving the way for girls and women to live their dreams.

Felicia Marshall’s illustrations are rich, beautiful, expressive and soulful. My favorite illustration shows the joy Waring feels as she paints Marian Anderson’s red gown and remembers the day she first heard her sing.

There’s an informative Author’s Note, and the book is further enhanced by reproductions of seven of Waring’s portraits from the National Portrait Gallery.

Resources: Encourage children to draw or paint a picture of a family member. If they use paints, suggest that they mix colors together to create more interesting faces, hair and clothing.

Nancy Churnin is the author of several picture book biographies, including South Asia Book Award winner Manjhi Moves a Mountain and Sydney Taylor Notable Irving Berlin, the Immigrant Boy Who Made America Sing, both Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People. Visit Churnin 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 website.

Imagine by Juan Felipe Herrera

April is National Poetry Month

Imagine

Juan Felipe Herrera, Author

Lauren Castillo, Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Poetry, Sep. 25, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 5-9

Themes: Poetry, Juan Felipe Herrera, Imagination, Migrant workers, Moving, Multicultural

Opening: If I picked chamomile flowers / as a child / in the windy fields and whispered / to their fuzzy faces, / imagine.

Synopsis:

Have you ever imagined who you might be when you grow up?

When Juan Felipe Herrera was very young, he picked flowers, helped his mama feed the chickens, slept under the starry sky, and learned to say good-bye to his amiguitos each time his migrant family moved on. When he grew up, Juan Felipe Herrera became a poet.

Why I like this book:

Doesn’t that cover just tug at your heart? This beautiful book is taken from Juan Felipe Herrera’s poem, “Imagine.” It depicts Herrera’s life as the  young boy of migrant workers spending time outside exploring nature, traveling across country with his parents in search of work, learning to read, write and speak a new language when he attends school. He is a curious dreamer who loves life, nature and words. As a teen his words become stories, poetry and lyrics to songs. As an adult, he  becomes the U.S. Poet Laureate from 2015 to 2017.

Written in free verse, each page begins with “If I picked…if I walked.. if I practiced…If I wrote ” and ends with “imagine.” His poetry beckons children to be dreamers of their futures — to “imagine” their own stories as they read his beautiful lyrics.  What stories will they write for themselves? Will they be poets, scientists, artists, lawyers, doctors and musicians? They only need to imagine what they can do.

Lauren Castillo’s ink and foam monoprint illustrations are warm and cozy and beautifully compliment  Herrera’s poem. Her earth-toned illustrations are in soft shades of tan and brown, with yellows, blues and greens highlighting each page. Make sure you check beneath the book jacket to discover a dreamy blue cover speckled with stars.

Resources: This book can be used in many different ways by educators. Different pages will inspire students. Encourage kids to pick a page and imagine who might they be when they grow up. The “If I…” prompts are a great opener for writing a few paragraphs about their stories. Other students may want to draw a picture about themselves and their story.

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 website.

*Review copy provided by the publisher.

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.

Rachel Carson and Her Book That Changed the World

Rachel Carson 61AB358vSJL__SY446_BO1,204,203,200_Rachel Carson and Her Book That Changed the World

Laurie Lawlor, Author

Laura Beingessner, Illustrator

Holiday House, Biography, Reprint, Aug. 31, 2014

Suitable for Ages: 6 – 9

Themes: Rachel Carson, Biologist, Environmentalist, Nature, Change

Opening: Early one morning in May 1922, young Rachel Carson discovered a secret place deep in the woods fragrant with pine needles. “Witchity-witchity-witchity!” called a yellowthroat.

Book Jacket Synopsis: “Once you are aware of the wonder and beauty of earth, you will want to learn about it,” wrote Rachel Carson, the pioneering environmentalist. Rachel found many adventurous ways to study nature. She went diving to investigate coral reefs and tracked alligators on a rumbling “glades buggy” through the Florida Everglades. She worked for the U.S. Fish and Service. However, one of the bravest things she did was to write and publish Silent Spring, a book pointing out the dangerous effects of chemicals on the living world. Powerful men tried to stop the publication of the book, but Rachel and her publishers persisted, and Silent Spring went on to become the book that woke up people to the harmful impact humans were having on our planet.

Why I like this book:

  • I love true stories about strong girls who find a passion, pursue it into adulthood, and end up changing the world. That’s exactly what Rachel Carson did. She is an inspiring role model for children, especially for girls. Her story is inspirational for children who love nature and want to help protect the environment.
  • Laurie Lawlor has written a beautiful and extraordinary biography that tells the story of a young Rachel Carson (born in 1897) whose love of nature is nurtured by her mother. Rachel’s mother encourages her to explore the family’s 65 acres of orchards and woods, watch the starry nights and recognize the melodies of favorite birds. Laura Beingessner’s warm and colorful illustrations are true to the time period of  the early 20th century.
  • Rachel attends college and graduate school at great sacrifice to her family. She becomes a biologist, travels the world, studies and writes about the oceans. She begins to notice disturbing trends and wonders how they are effecting the web of life. She questions the rising ocean temperatures, investigates the deadly impact of insecticides on birds, wildlife and people. Her discoveries lead her to write a courageous book that the average person can understand, Silent Spring, in 1962. Her mission to warn people of threats caused by humans creates a big commotion. Unfortunately, she didn’t live to see the positive environmental changes she made in the world.

Resources: This book is really best suited for older children in the third to fifth grades. Don’t miss the lengthy Epilogue at the end about what happens after the book is published. There are other listed resources. Visit a national, state or local wildlife, waterfowl or marine life refuge in your area. Many have youth programs. Visit the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge website. Check out the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has a Conservation Kids page.

Grandfather Gandhi

Grandfather Ghandi9781442423657_p0_v5_s260x420Grandfather Gandhi

Arun Gandhi and Bethany Hegedus, Authors

Evan Turk, Illustrator

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Biography, Mar. 11, 2014

Themes: Arun Gandhi’s memories of living with  his revered grandfather, Mahatma Gandhi

Suitable for ages: 4-8

Opening: “We arrived at Sevagram, Grandfather’s service village, dusty and dirty. Father insisted we be taken straight to Grandfather’s hut. Bapuji sat serenely on the floor. I hung back, afraid to be in his presence, but Ela, took my hand and we rushed to him. We bent to touch his feet, a sign of respect.” 

Book Jacket Synopsis: Arun Gandhi lives with his family in Grandfather Gandhi’s village, where the days are thick and hot. Silence fills the air–but peace feels far away for young Arun. When an older boy pushes him on the soccer field, Arun’s anger fills him in a way that surely a true Gandhi could never imagine. Can Arun ever live up to the Mahatma? Will he ever make his grandfather proud?

Why I like this book: It is a true story that Arun Gandhi worked on for 10 years with Bethany Hegedus about his own intimate  relationship with his grandfather, Mahatma Gandhi. It is an endearing story about a boy’s memories of his grandfather and his mixed emotions about living up to the Gandhi name. The narrative is beautiful and told in first person. Living in Bapuji’s village is hard for Arun. The food is simple and bland. The day begins at 4 a.m. with prayer and is followed by chores and lessons. This is a demanding life for an energetic 12-year-old boy who misses John Wayne movies, electricity and real soccer games with friends.  Most of all he misses having access to his grandfather, who is surrounded by aides. He is teased by the other kids and erupts in anger. But there are touching moments when Gandhi  checks on his grandson, listens to his frustrations, wipes his tears and talks about how he handles his own anger. Gandhi tells Arun how he can use his anger to make change. “We can all work to use our anger, instead of letting it use us.” This is a picture-book biography that stands out because it is a glimpse of a grandson’s personal account of his relationship with his famous grandfather. Evan Turk’s illustrations are  stunning, bold and expressive. He uses water colors and mixed media collages with paper, cotton, cloth, yarn and tin foil. I highly recommend this unique story.

Resources:  Use this book to celebrate International Day of Peace on September 21.  Talk about what anger feels like. Draw pictures of your anger. List ways that you can channel or turn anger and negative feeling into positive action, as Gandhi suggests. Talk about non-violence and peace. Visit Arun Gandhi at his website where you will find a wealth of information.

Arun Gandhi, born in 1934, is the fifth grandson of Mahatma Gandhi. As a journalist for more than thirty years for the India Times, Arun now writes a blog for the Washington Post. He serves as president of the Gandhi Worldwide Education Institute and travels the world speaking to governmental leaders, as well as university and high school students about the practices of peace and non-violence.

Bethany Hegedus is the author of Between Us Baxters and Truth with a Capital TGrandfather Gandhi is her debut picture book. She heard Arun Gandhi in October 2001, a month after 9/11., after he spoke in New York City’s Town Hall about his relationship with his grandfather. A story he shared “hit her hard” and she contacted Arun and asked him to work with her on a children’s book. Visit Bethany Hegedus 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.