Reading biographies about important people—those who live near and far—is crucial for young minds to learn that at heart, we are all alike, and also to learn about people whose actions can inspire the rest of us to be better and think about how our actions can affect others.
Some American heroes include Dr. Fauci, the physician and scientist who led the fight against COVID-19 during the pandemic; Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman in Congress; and Hallie Morse Daggett, the first female fire guard in the US. All of these people serve as inspiration to others to fight for what they believe in as well as to help others. There are also quiet heroes, people whose names aren’t familiar in most households. Frieda Caplan was a woman who changed the way we eat, and Nicholas WInton saved the lives of children in the Holocaust. These people, and others, are featured in these children’s books which should all be considered for classroom and library shelves.
Ask any teacher what they want kids to do over the summer and most will reply: read. Of course we teachers all want kids to be outside, enjoying the summer weather and swimming and playing, but we also want them reading. Learning to enjoy reading, and reading for the sake of enjoyment, is a pastime that will have lifelong benefits. A person who reads is an informed person who is better able to analyze what is fact and what is fiction.
The set of blazing emotions provoked by Yusef Salaam’s memoir, “Better, Not Bitter: Living On Purpose in the Pursuit of Racial Justice,” includes strong doses of disgust, shame, anger — and inspiration. In 1989, five teenagers, all Black or Hispanic, were convicted in the notorious case of a young White female jogger who had been raped, beaten, tortured, and left for dead in Central Park. Salaam was one of those five teenagers.
The title of the story, “Poppy in the Wild: A Lost Dog, Fifteen Hundred Acres of Wilderness, and the Dogged Determination that Brought Her Home” by Teresa J. Rhyne is a bit misleading. It’s not really just the story of a beagle from China who escapes from her foster family and gets lost in a California wilderness area. It’s also the story of Teresa (I feel as if we are on a first name basis) and her love for animals.
Their names were Berdis Baldwin, Louise Little, and Alberta King. The percentage of Americans who might recognize those three names is approximately zero. But their lives, struggles, and accomplishments are every bit as important as those of the people we generally acknowledge as American heroes. And that is why Anna Malaika Tubbs’ detailed account of their lives is so significant and timely. Her study, “The Three Mothers,” shines a brilliant light on the influence these three women exerted in the lives of their sons — James Baldwin, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr.
Stéphan Pélissier’s memoir, “I Just Wanted to Save My Family,” enlightens us by aiming an unforgivingly bright beam on the injustices engendered by the network of dark systems and practices that define governments and authoritarian figures all over the world. Unfettered nationalism. Corrupt populism. Cruel tyrannies. Stubborn bureaucracies and the frustrating red tape that characterizes them. Pélissier came face to face with all those dark realities because he dared to attempt to save his Syrian in-laws from the terrors of the government of Bashar al-Assad. The narrator/protagonist/attorney simply wanted to bring his wife’s family to France, his home.
Nonfiction picture books for children are an essential way of emphasizing the importance of reading informational text to learn about the world around us. Most children are fascinated by animals and the environment they see every time they venture outdoors, whether it’s a city environment, like the cougar encounters in “Cougar Crossing: How Hollywood’s Celebrity Cougar Helped Build a Bridge for City Wildlife” or a coastal environment such as those in “Chase the Moon, Tiny Turtle” and “Beneath the Waves.” These three picture books span a wide reader audience from the simply rhyming story of turtles hatching and trying to reach the sea to the much more complex National Geographic Kids book about myriad creatures who live on, under, and near the ocean. Continue reading →
“A Dog’s Day” is a new series by Catherine Stier for early chapter book readers about working dogs and their various different jobs. In “A Dog’s Day: I Am Sammy, Trusted Guide,” readers learn about guide dogs and what they do. Sammy, the working dog, tells his story in first person narration and we learn about his training and how important it is that guide dogs be able to practice something called “intelligent disobedience.” That’s an important concept for children to learn, and they also learn that it’s important not to bother working dogs or ask to pet them because they shouldn’t be distracted. The story is told in an engaging manner and Sammy’s adventures are exciting enough to keep the readers interested. The illustrations by Francesca Rosa add visual interest for young readers making the jump from picture books and early readers to short chapter books. Continue reading →
I picked up “When Harry Met Minnie,” by Martha Teichner, thinking it was a story about dogs. I was wrong. While the dogs, two adorable but quirky bull terriers named, obviously, Harry and Minnie, are part of this story — it’s so much more. Teichner writes about serendipity, chance meetings that change lives, our love for our dogs and how they enrich our lives, the utter failure that our medical system can be for us in times of need, and above all, a friendship that arose quickly but became of supreme importance and changed the lives of both friends.
“Separate No More: The Long Road to Brown v. Board of Education” by Lawrence Goldstone is an important nonfiction young adult history of segregation and bigotry beginning in 1892 in the famous Supreme Court case Plessy v. Ferguson. Goldstone writes the story of segregation and institutionalized racism and bigotry as if writing a novel, and many of the historical figures and events he shares become real and present. Continue reading →
Let’s face it. While Joe and Jill Biden are fabulous new occupants of the White House, the new residents that are exciting the hearts and minds of animal lovers across the world are their two dogs: Champ and Major. Major is especially a celebration in light of the fact that he was a shelter dog that the Bidens fostered, then adopted before moving into the White House. A new picture book, “Champ and Major: First Dogs” by Joy McCullough and illustrated by Sheyda Abvabi Best celebrates these two four-legged Biden family members.
It’s February, and that means there are amazing new children’s books that are perfect for every month of the year, not just February, and which celebrate Black activists and Black heroes. Some you might already have read about, but some of these fascinating and important historical figures might be newly revealed to you through these worthwhile reads.
“Have I Ever Told You Black Lives Matter” is by Shani Mahiri King and Bobby C. Martin, Jr. and is a unique book. Its presentation is brilliant — in terms of color and layout. The cover of the book is the first hint that this book will be filled with colorful graphics and lots of positivity. You actually have to look at it a few times to see the order of the words. And words make up this book from the endpapers that are filled with the names of famous Black people with barely a space between, to the introductory letter from the author about why he wrote this book, to the pages filled with questions like, “Have I told you that we were among the 1st patriots to lay down our lives for the dream of an American independence and that a Black man named Crispus was the very first person to die for that dream?” One side of the page is filled with purple lettering on a teal background and the other side, with a stylized image of Attucks, features purple lettering on an orange background. The key is following the colors of the text to see what goes together. For example, on the page asking (telling) in purple letters that “we have long been world-acclaimed poets and authors,” there are names next to those purple letter in white lettering: Zora, Richard, Langston, James, Ralph, Maya, Toni, Ta-Nehisi, and on the facing page are those names, first and last, with the names of other acclaimed poets and authors such as Gwendolyn Brooks, Jacqueline Woodson, Countee Cullen (a few of my favorites). There’s a double page about Colin kneeling and those who went before him, including, “Jesse punctured the Nazi myth of racial superiority with four gold medals.” At the end are snippets about the lives of 116 Black leaders and artists and athletes. The author points out that choosing which Black lives deserved to shine was difficult, and that these form only a tiny sample. From its sentiment to the powerful presentation, this is a book that deserves a place in every school library and on every classroom bookshelf. (Tilbury House Publishers)