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.Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for a review.

*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.

Queen of the Diamond: The Lizzie Murphy Story

Queen of the Diamond9780374300074_p0_v2_s260x420Queen of the Diamond: The Lizzie Murphy Story

Emily Arnold McCully, Author and Illustrator

Farrar Straus Giroux Books, Biography, Feb. 17, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 5-8 years

Themes: Lizzie Murphy, Baseball, Women baseball players

Opening: “In 1900, baseball was America’s national pastime…In Warren, Rhode Island, there were several amateur teams and Lizzie Murphy followed all of them. Her father had played on one as a young man. Her brother, Henry, was a shortstop on one of the best boys’ teams. To sharpen his game, he played catch with Lizzie.”

Book Jacket Synopsis: Lizzie Murphy was good at baseball. In fact, she was better than most of the boys. But she was born in 1894, and everyone said baseball was not a game for girls.

Lizzie practiced with her brother anyway, and then she talked her way onto the local boys’ team, first as a batboy, then as a player. Everyone was impressed by her hard catches and fast pitches. By the time she turned fifteen, she playing for two different amateur boy’s teams. When she turned eighteen, Lizzie did something else that women didn’t do, she signed with a professional baseball team determined to earn her living playing the game.

Why I like this book:

  • It’s time to play ball and I can’t think of a more inspiring story to share than Emily Arnold McCully’s Queen of the Diamond.  Lizzie Murphy’s true story can only happen in America. It is historically accurate to the 1900 time period.
  • The story is definitely character-driven with Lizzy, a strong, self-confident and determined eight-year-old, who believes in herself, her abilities and follows her dream to play a boy’s game. Lizzy defies the social mores of the time.  Her father is supportive, her mother says “It’s not a game for girls.”
  • McCully also shows the inequality that Lizzie faces when she is signed with a major league team. Even though Lizzie is a phenomenon, draws large crowds and fans, the manager won’t pay her. She confronts him, demands equal pay and her team supports her.  Professional baseball  is her job for the next 17 years and she’s paid the same as men.
  • The narrative is a bit wordy, but it doesn’t feel inappropriate for the time period.  In fact I wanted to know the detail. I loved baseball as a girl and could catch a mean hardball.  I would have worn out the pages in this book if I had a copy.
  • McCully’s acrylic pen and ink drawings are warm, expressive and emotive. She captures the attire worn during the early 20th Century. Lizzie plays baseball in dresses and wears high-topped laced shoes.

Resources/Activities: There is a very  interesting Author’s Note at the end about Lizzie and women playing baseball.  Take children to a baseball game, if they’ve never attended a game. If they are interested in playing, sign them up for local Little League team. More girls are showing interest in playing Little League.  There are also Softball Little Leagues for girls. Visit Emily Arnold McCully 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.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

Boy Who Harnessed Wind9780803735118_p0_v1_s260x420The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer. Authors

Elizabeth Zunon, Illustrator

Dial Books for Young Readers, Biography, 2012

Suitable for: Ages 6-9

Themes:  William Kamkwamba, Science, Windmills, Irrigation, Children Making a Difference

Opening/Synopsis“In an a small village in Malawi, where people had no money for lights, nightfall came quickly and hurried poor farmers to bed.  But for William, the darkness was best for dreaming.”   William Kamkwamba, is a 14-year-old boy who lives in a drought-stricken area of Malawi in Africa.  He’s a curious boy interested in trying to figure out how car engines run and radios transmit music.  He loves to study science and mechanics.  When a drought hits his village and many people starve and die, William wants to help.  He goes to a nearby library donated by Americans where he learns that windmills can produce electricity and pump water.   He envisions a  windmill outside his home pulling electricity from the breeze and bringing light to the dark valley.  He sets to work to build electric wind to bring light to his village and water to soak the ground and grow crops to feed the village.  The villagers think he’s crazy.

Why I like this book:  This is a powerful and true story about how a boy’s dreams, imagination and mechanical talents save his village.   I love this book because it encourages and empowers children to imagine and dream big.  They too can make a difference like William.   It also introduces children to the Malawi culture which is unlike their own.  The book is written by the now grown William Kamkwamba, who is a student a Dartmouth College.  The book has a lyrical feel to it and Elizabeth Zunon’s illustrations are simple, bold and stunning.

Resources:  There are back pages of information about William Kamkwamba.  Also Alliant Energy Kids  teaches kids about alternative energies and powering toys with wind power.  Visit Kids and Energy for more activities and resources about alternative power sources.

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Friday, December 14, is the anniversary of the date in 1954 that the UN General Assembly recommended there should be a Universal Children’s Day.  All of those participating in author Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book Friday, are doing out part to raise awareness of the plight of children around the globe and to promote the welfare of children in the world by posting books which focus on multicultural/multiracial issues, human rights, and/or children who have helped to change the world in some way.