The Length of a String by Elissa Brent Weissman

The Length of a String

Elissa Brent Weissman, Author

Dial Books for Young Readers, Fiction, May 1, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 10-14

Themes: Adoption, Identity, Family relationships, Jews, African Americans, Holocaust

Synopsis:

Imani is adopted by a Jewish family. Now that she’s turning 13, she knows exactly what she wants as her big bat mitzvah gift: to find her birth parents. She loves her family and her Jewish community in Baltimore, but she has always wondered where she came from, especially since she’s black and almost everyone she knows is white.

When her mom’s grandmother–Imani’s great-grandma Anna–passes away, Imani discovers an old journal among her books. It’s Anna’s diary from 1941, the year she was twelve and fled Nazi-occupied Luxembourg alone, sent by her parents to seek refuge in Brooklyn, New York. Imani keeps the diary a secret for a while, only sharing it with her best friend, Madeline. Anna’s diary chronicles her escape from Holocaust-era Europe and her journey to America and her new life with a Jewish adoptive family. She continues to write to her sister Belle about the tall New York sky scrapers, shopping in supermarkets, eating Chinese food, modeling fur coats, and playing Chinese checkers, until news about her family stops. She fears the worst and puts down her pen.

Imani decides to make Anna’s story her bat mitzvah research project. She uncovers some important information about the war and Luxembourg. As Imani reads Anna’s diary, she begins to see her own family and her place in it in a new way.

Why I like this book:

The author skillfully weaves two stories, one from the present and another from the past, using characters that you will feel like you know intimately. This is a very different holocaust story because it focuses on the identity of Jewish and African-American girls (70 years a part) and their search for self, something that readers will find relevant. The setting, the unforgettable characters, and the plot create an engaging reading experience. The ending is unexpected and very satisfying.

You learn about Anna Kirsch and the painful decision her family makes in deciding which of their seven children to smuggle to America as the Nazi’s begin to occupy Luxembourg.  Anna is selected and separated from her identical twin sister, Belle, the other half of her heart. On the ship she begins to write Belle daily letters daily chronicling her journey so that she keeps their connection alive. Anna lives with  loving strangers, Hannah and Max, a Jewish family who open their hearts and home to her. Anna is essentially adopted, like Imani. She continues to write to Belle about her adventures until news about her family stops.

My children are adopted, each responding differently like Imani and her adopted El Salvadoran brother. Like Imani, my daughter had so many questions about her past. What were her ethnic roots? Who did she look like? Why was she adopted? Like Imani’s family, we ran a genetic DNA test for our daughter so she had a sense of her heritage. This eventually led to her finding two biological sisters this past year.  Now she has answers and it has brought her peace as an adult. We need more MG and YA books for adopted children who are trying to figure out who they are and need to see themselves in stories.

Elissa Brent Weismann’s novel is a captivating story that is a departure from her humorous Nerd Camp series. Her website includes teacher resources and curriculum for all of her books.

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

The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore

The Stars Beneath Our Feet

David Barclay Moore, Author

Knopf Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Sep. 19, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 12 and up

Awards: Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent

Themes: African-American, Family relationships, Harlem, Gangs, Grief, Self-discovery, Friendship

Book Synopsis: It all started with two garbage bags full of Legos. Or not, maybe it started with the two thugs following 12-year-old Lolly down 125th that night.

Or maybe it was Jermaine’s dying. Or that fight they had before ‘Maine got shot. Yeah, probably it was that.

Lolly’s having a hard time knowing how to be without his older brother around. Seems like he’s either sad or mad. The thing that helps most is building. His mom’s girlfriend, Yvonne, gave him two huge bags of Legos for Christmas, and Lolly’s working on an epic city — a project so big it outgrows his apartment. The community center lets him work on his magical Lego city in a storage room which provides Lolly with an escape—and an unexpected bridge back to the world from his grief.

But there are dangers outside that persist. There are older guys who harass, beat up and rob Lolly and his friend Vega on the street. They pressure the boys to join a crew (gang), like his brother Jermaine. What would Jermaine want him to do? Get with a crew and take revenge? Or build a different kind of world for himself. Lolly’s going to have to figure this one out on his own.

Why this book is on my shelf:

David Barclay Moore has penned a powerful debut novel with a gripping plot and timely, real-life issues for young people of color. He opens readers eyes to how 12-year-old boys are easily targeted and drawn into gangs/crews as a way to survive. They don’t want to be part of gangs, but they are beaten, robbed, threatened and bullied into submission. It’s a way of life in many inner city neighborhoods where opportunities are limited. They believe that having the protection of a gang can save their lives, but it can also kill them, like Lolly’s brother, Jermaine.

I like how the author helps Lolly deal with his brother’s loss through imagination, creativity, and his love of architecture. Lolly builds epic cities with fantastic stories. He doesn’t realize that he is a gifted artist and storyteller headed for great things.

The relationship between two very unlikely friends, Lolly, who doesn’t know what to do with his anger and grief, and Big Rose, who is on the autism spectrum, is my favorite part of the story. Lolly is furious about the center’s director giving Rose permission to build Lego cities in the storage room with Lolly. But, then he begins to see her talent and speed at building. They end up traipsing all over New York City studying, photographing and drawing its unique architecture. They need each other and are important to each other’s growth healing.

A major reason the author wanted to write this novel is because he feels “there aren’t enough books that speak with the voices of the characters in his story.” For instance a slang word in one Harlem neighborhood may not even be used in another neighborhood a few blocks away. So the narrative is richly textured and thought-provoking, and offers hope and an opportunity for self-discovery.

This novel belongs in the hands of every teenager and middle grade and high school. It offers students the opportunity to engage in important discussions about real life and modern social issues.

David Barclay Moore was born and raised in Missouri. After studying creative writing at Iowa State University, film at Howard University in Washington, D.C., and language studies at l’Université de Montpellier in France, David moved to New York City, where he has served as communications coordinator for Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone and communications manager for Quality Services for the Autism Community. He has received grants from the Ford Foundation, the Jerome Foundation, Yaddo, and the Wellspring Foundation. He was also a semi-finalist for the Sundance Screenwriters Lab. David now lives, works, and explores in Brooklyn, N.Y.  You can follow him at his website.

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

Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Ghost Boys

Jewell Parker Rhodes, Author

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Apr. 17, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Pages: 198

Themes: Police Shootings, Racism, Profiling, African Americans, Racial Injustice

Publisher Synopsis: Only the living can make the world better. Live and make it better.

Twelve-year-old Jerome is shot by a police officer who mistakes his toy gun for a real threat. As a ghost, he observes the devastation that’s been unleashed on his family and community in the wake of what they see as an unjust and brutal killing.

Soon Jerome meets another ghost: Emmett Till, a boy from a very different time but similar circumstances. Emmett helps Jerome process what has happened, on a journey towards recognizing how historical racism may have led to the events that ended his life. Jerome also meets Sarah, the daughter of the police officer, who grapples with her father’s actions.

Once again Jewell Parker Rhodes deftly weaves historical and socio-political layers into a gripping and poignant story about how children and families face the complexities of today’s world, and how one boy grows to understand American blackness in the aftermath of his own death.

Why I like this book:

Jewell Parker Rhodes’ tugs at her reader’s heart from the first page. Her unforgettable novel enlightens readers and helps them deal with the racial prejudices and tensions that continue to exist in our society. It is a current story about a black boy being shot by a white police officer out of fear and prejudice.

The chapters alternate between “Dead” and “Alive,” so readers experience Jerome’s untimely death and the impact it has on his family, the police officer’s family and the community. The “Alive” chapters give readers a sense of Jerome, his family, and school life before the shooting.

Jerome narrates the story as the “ghost boy.” Jerome is a good student who does well in school and has dreams for his future. He is loved by his family and idolized by his little sister. He is kind, responsible and walks his sister to and from school, making sure she isn’t harmed along the way.  Jerome is bullied at school by three boys, but doesn’t tell anyone. He befriends a Latino boy, Carlos, who is also being bullied. After his death, Sarah, the daughter of the police officer, is the only one who can see the ghost boy. Through Sarah readers are able to see how Jerome’s untimely death upsets both families, even her relationship with her father. Sarah represents hope in this story.

Jerome meets another ghost boy, Emmet Till, who was unjustly killed in 1955. I like how Rhodes’  connects the historical past of Emmet Till with the present, deftly showing that racial injustice continues. There are many other ghosts boys that appear to Jerome. They share one thing in common, they were robbed of the opportunity to grow up and live.

Jewell Parker Rhodes is the author of Ninth Ward, a Coretta Scott King Honor Book, Sugar, winner of the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award, Bayou Magic, and Towers Falling. She has also written books for adults.

Resources: Make sure you read the author’s Afterword that provides a little history.  And there are 16 Discussion Questions, that will encourage dialogue among students in the classroom and with family members. Recommend parents read this age-appropriate book. Visit Jewell Parker Rhodes at her website.

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

Under the Same Sun by Sharon Robinson

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Under the Same Sun

Sharon Robinson, Author

AG Ford, Illustrator

Scholastic Press, Fiction, Jan. 7, 2014

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: African-American, Family Relationships, Multigenerational, Multicultural, Tanzania, Safari

Opening: The sun rose in the sky like an orange ball of fire. The rooster crowed. Then the dawn light gave way to an early-morning blue. “Nubia! Busaro! Onia! Wake up!” Father called. “Rachel! Rahely! Faith! The plane will soon be landing!”

Synopsis: Auntie Sharon and Grandmother Bibi are coming to Tanzania from America to visit their family. It will soon be Bibi’s eighty-fifth birthday and her seven grandchildren are planning a big surprise! They spend the next few days telling stories, exchanging gifts, making trips to the markets and preparing spicy meals.

Finally the big day arrives, and three generations of family pack their bags and pile into their father’s jeep for a safari trip in the Serengeti National Park. They view beautiful animals in the wild — hippos, crocodiles, exotic birds, gazelle, a pride of lions, elephants, zebras and giraffes. They make a final stop on their return home to Bagamoyo, a slave-trading post along the Indian ocean.  It is a meaningful stop, because Bibi’s African-born grandchildren learn about how their great-great grandparents were captured and shipped to Georgia to pick cotton on a southern plantation.

Why I like this book:

This is a personal book for Sharon Robinson, daughter of Jackie Robinson, the first black major league baseball player. She shares the story of the trips she and her mother make to visit her brother David, who returned to Tanzania to raise his family. Readers will get a strong sense of the rich cultural heritage, customs and language. This is a heart-felt multigenerational story with a twist, showing Sharon’s African nieces and nephews learning about their ancestral heritage. AG Ford’s oil paintings are exquisite. Just study the vibrant and lively book cover. His brush captures the love and joy among the Robinson family.

Resources: There is an Author’s Note, family photos, a map of Tanzania, a glossary of Swahili words spoken in East Africa, and a page about Tanzanian history and meals. This is a great read for Black History Month. Encourage children to talk with great grandparent, grandparents and family members about their family history. Record the stories told, or write them down.

Favorite Quote: Bibi gathered her children and grandchildren in her arms. “We may be separated by land and sea, but we are always under the same sun,” she said. And she hugged them all at once.

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 where you will find lists of books by categories.

Loving Vs. Virginia by Patricia Hruby Powell

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Loving Vs. Virginia: A Documentary Novel of the Landmark Civil Rights Case

Patricia Hruby Powell, Author

Shadra Strickland, Artist

Chronicle Books, Historical Fiction, Jan. 31, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Interracial Marriage, Race Relations, Prejudice, African-Americans, Civil Rights, Social Justice, Virginia, Supreme Court

Synopsis: This is the story about Mildred Jeters, an African-American girl, and Richard Loving, a Caucasian boy, who live near one another, are childhood friends, and fall in love.  Mildred becomes pregnant in 1957 and delivers their first son. and a second son in 1958. They want to get married, but in Virginia, interracial marriages are against the law. They decide they won’t allow Sheriff Brooks and the government to tell them who they can marry. They travel to Washington D.C. and are married by a preacher. When they return home to Caroline County, Virginia, they have to be careful. They are arrested and put in jail. They are released as long as Mildred lives with her parents and Richard lives with his family. Even though they hire an attorney and go to court, they are not allowed to be seen together. They move to Washington D.C. to live with family. Richard continues to work as a brick layer in Caroline County and drives the 90 miles back Washington D.C. to spend the weekends with his wife  and children. After living in Washington D.C. for five years, Mildred hates the noise and crowded city and longs to raise her children in rural Virginia. After being arrested sneaking home, they contact the American Civil Liberties Union and meet an attorney, Mr. Cohen. He is eager to help the Loving’s face each stage of the legal system and takes their discrimination case to the highest court, the U.S. Supreme Court.

What I like about this book:

Patricia Powell chose to write the narrative of this powerful story in free verse, alternating the voices of Mildred and Richard. It effectively achieves a balance between the Loving’s beautiful love story and their determination to fight the discrimination to live as husband and wife and win. The last thing the wanted was publicity. They wanted to raise their growing family at home in Virginia, where their children could run barefoot through the grass, see the stars at night and be near grandparents.

The author and artist craftily weave factual information, photographs and illustrations around the lyrical narrative, which lends itself to “visual journalism,” says Strickland. There are page inserts about court rulings on school segregation; the Virginia state, federal and supreme courts refusal of interracial marriages; and the U.S. Supreme Court final ruling in 1967 to uphold the 14th Amendment. There are news clippings from former Alabama Gov. George Wallace and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a 1958 map showing the 24 states that banned interracial marriage. There are photographs showing the contrasts between white schools and black schools, protest marches for and against integration and equality.

I’m in awe of the massive amount of research that went into this masterful book. Strickland’s  artwork of Richard and Mildred and their family throughout their story is a light and moving  tribute to their deeply moving journey that lasted about 10 years. She used photographs from  LIFE magazine to create her lively and brush and pen illustrations, which compliment the conversational text between Richard and Mildred.

Middle Grade students will find this oversized book a page-turner. Because it is in verse, it is a quick read. It belongs in every school library. It is a beautiful love story and a book full of resources with historical timelines and more information about the Loving family.

June 12 will be the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court ruling by Chief Justice Warren on Loving Vs. Virginia.

Check other Middle Grade review links on author Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.

These Hands

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Margaret H. Mason, Author

Floyd Cooper, Illustrator

Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, Fiction, 2010 & 2015

Suitable for Ages: 4-7

Themes: African-Americans, Civil Rights Movement, Hands, Grandfathers, Family Relationships, Prejudice, Tolerance

Opening: “Look at these hands, Joseph. / Did you know these hands / used to tie a triple bowline knot I / in three seconds flat?  / Well, I can still help a young fellow / learn to ties his shoes / — yes, I can.”

Synopsis: Joseph’s grandfather could do most anything with his hands. He could play the piano, shuffle cards, throw a curve ball and hit a line drive ball. Despite all the many wonderful things he could do with his hands, he could not touch the bread dough and or bake the bread at the Wonder Bread factory. He was only allowed to sweep the floors, work the line and load the trucks.

Why I like this book:

Margaret Mason’s has written an inspiring intergenerational story about a boy and his grandfather. This  compelling story is about the discrimination the grandfather experienced as an African-American working in a Wonder Bread factory.

The text is written in free verse with a refrain from the grandfather that heralds the beginning of each double-page spread: “Look at these hands, Joseph. / Did you know these hands used to…”  The tension builds when the grandfather painfully tells Joseph what he was not allowed to do with his hands at the factory. Hands alone were the victims of the prejudice. Hands joined together signed petitions, protested, prayed and overcame the prejudice. What a powerful metaphor!

This little-known story is based on the true stories of bakery union workers at the Wonder Bread factory in the 1950s and early 1960s. Victory was achieved for African-Americans during the signing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964. It was told to the author by her friend, Joe, and after his death she decided to write his story.

Floyd Cooper’s larger than life illustrations are rendered in oil and beautifully compliment the author’s lyrical storytelling.  The muted browns tones are warm, expressive, lively and celebratory. You want to spend time studying each painting.

Resources: Make sure you read the Author’s Note at the end. This is an excellent classroom book for Black History Month. Do you know your family history? Talk with your parents and grandparents and ask them questions about what they may know about your family history. You may be surprised with your discovery. Record their stories or write information about your history in a journal. Browse through family photo albums. Visit  Margaret Mason’s 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.

Bayou Magic

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Jewell Parker Rhodes

Little, Brown and Company, Fiction, May 12, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Pages: 256

Themes: Bayous, Magic, Environment, African-Americans, Louisiana, Grandmothers, Friendship, Hope

Synopsis: At home, she’s just plain Maddy to her four older sisters. It is 10-year-old Maddy’s turn to spend the summer alone with her grandmother in the Louisiana bayou. Her sisters tease and frighten her about Grandmère Lavalier, who they claim is a witch. But after a few days in the bayou, Maddy begins to feel a kindred spirit in Grandmère and at home in the enchanted beauty of her surroundings. She learns about healing herbs, wisdom, and listens to stories about her ancestors and the Lavalier magic. Maddy begins to wonder if she is the only one in her family to carry family’s magical legacy.

Maddy finds a good friend, in “Bear,” a shaggy-haired boy who takes her on great adventures into the bayou. The bayou becomes her playground and she’s having the time of her life exploring its wonders and secrets. Everything speaks to Maddy, including the fireflies and a face she sees deep within the water. Could it be a mermaid, the legendary Mami Wata? When there is an explosion on an offshore oil rig and the leak threatens her beautiful bayou, Maddy knows that she may be the only one who can help save the Bons Temp bayou.

What I love about Bayou Magic:

  • Jewell Parker Rhodes’ novel is a whimsical adventure into another life that feels more real to Madison Isabelle Lavalier Johnson, than her real home in New Orleans. Rhodes has spun a story of pure magic. Her writing style is very lyrical.
  • The setting is lush, believable and magical. Fireflies shimmer in the sky at night as residents of the Bons Temp swamp come together to contribute to the pot of jambalaya, eat, dance and tell stories well into the night.
  • The characters are colorful, eccentric and realistic. Maddy is a courageous and hopeful heroine who already has a sense of reverence and gratitude about her. She thanks the hen for laying eggs for breakfast, a fish for giving its life for lunch, and the fireflies that call her. Grandmère is eccentric, the Queen of the bayou who takes care of its residents with her natural medicines. Bear is a lively friend that coaxes Maddy to explore and teaches her about the fragility of the bayou ecosystem.
  • What a glorious plot, filled with adventure, wonder, mystery and danger. When her grandmère asks Maddy one day, “Who do you want to be?” Maddy shares her secret, “A hero. Like in my stories. I want to do good. Be brave.” Maddy is tested before the summer is over when a disastrous oil spill threatens the gulf and the Bons Temp bayou. Does Maddy really have what it takes to be a hero when bad things happen? A time of great tension for Maddy and the community.
  • There is a quiet theme of hope rippling through the novel. At the end, the author says that “In Maddy, I poured all of my love for young people who seek, each and every day, new and better ways to care for our earth’s natural resources.” I highly recommend this novel.

Jewell Parker Rhodes is the Coretta Scott King Honor Book award-winning author of Ninth Ward and A Jane Addams Children’s Book Award winner of  Sugar, her first novels for young readers.  You can visit Jewell Parker Rhodes at her website. She has a Teaching Resource for educators.

Juneteenth for Mazie

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Juneteenth for Mazie

Floyd Cooper, Author and Illustrator

Capstone for Young Readers, Fiction, Jan.1, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 4-9

Themes: Juneteenth, Celebrating freedom from slavery, Passing down family history

Opening: Mazie wants to play outside, but it is too late. “It’s getting dark, Mazie. It’s time to stay inside.”

Synopsis: Mazie is restless because it’s bedtime and she can’t go where she wants, have what she wants or do what she wants. Her father tells her about a big celebration she will attend the next day — Juneteenth. “We will celebrate the day your great-great-great-grandpa Mose, crossed into liberty.” Grandpa Mose works hard in the cotton fields along with many slaves in Galveston, Texas, until that joyful day in 1865, when word of their emancipation finally reaches the slaves. They celebrate and dance into the night. After freedom arrives, Grandpa Mose and many others continue to work and are paid, but equality is still a long way off.  Mazie learns from her father that many African-Americans struggle to stand as equals with white people. Each generation carries that dream to improve their lives. Now it’s Mazie’s turn to celebrate who she is and to remember the accomplishments of her ancestors.

Why I like this book:

  • Floyd Cooper’s Juneteenth for Mazie beautifully illustrates and celebrates a memorable day in American history. His picture book about June 19, or Juneteenth, will encourage a new generation of children to celebrate, ask questions and remember. This year will  mark the 150th anniversary of that auspicious day.
  • This is a lovely saga about Mazie, her family and their ancestral relationship to Juneteenth. Her father narrates this touching story about Grandpa Mose who “worked in fields that stretched all the way to sunset.” He tells Mazie about her family legacy, the joy of freedom, the struggle for the right to vote, the desegregation of schools, of forgiveness, achievement and celebration.
  • With June 19 approaching, this is a perfect book for teachers to integrate into their lesson plans. The text and writing style will encourage children to love history and want to know more about their own family histories.
  • Cooper’s captivating oil illustrations are in shades of warm browns and yellows and give the book a nostalgic feel.  The faces of each character captures the intensity of the struggle, the joy of freedom, the determination of future generations, and celebration of milestones made.

Resources and Activities: Do you know your family history? Talk with your parents and grandparents and ask them questions about what they may know about your family history. Record their stories or write information about your history in a journal. Browse through family photo albums. Ask your parents to help you draw your own family tree.

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.

Mumbet’s Declaration of Independence

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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.