Be A King: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Dream and You by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by James Ransome

Published by Bloomsbury

Summary:  “Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve….You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.”  Martin Luther King Jr.’s words speak to children in this book showing how anyone can “be a King.”  Illustrations portraying scenes from King’s life are interspersed with others in a different style showing kids working together to paint an MLK mural.  Ideas for how to be a King include standing for peace, having a dream, and doing your very best at whatever you do.  The last page shows the kids gathered around the mural with the advice, “You can be a King.  Set your sights on the mountaintop.  Climb a little higher every day.”  An author’s note gives biographical information.  40 pages; ages 4-9.

Pros:  I liked how this book connected the sometimes abstract concepts of King’s work and speeches with concrete actions that kids can take to make the world a better place.  This would be an excellent book to use in conjunction with the day of service aspect of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.  There is a lot to look at in the illustrations, with two stories interwoven.

Cons:  Having biographical information on the pages with the pictures of King–even just a sentence or two–would have made this even more useful in helping kids understand his life.

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Martin Rising: Requiem for a King by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Brian Pinkney

Published by Scholastic Press

Summary:  The Pinkneys relate the story of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination, beginning with a “Henny Penny Prelude”, in which the fairy tale hen tries to warn of the bitter events ahead.  The remaining poems are in three sections: “Daylight”, “Darkness”, and “Dawn”, in which King’s work is described, particularly the sanitation workers’ strike that brought him to Memphis, Tennessee in March and April of 1968.  The assassination occurs part way through “Darkness”, and includes poems about Coretta Scott King, the Kings’ four children, and James Earl Ray.  “Dawn” is made up of just three poems, concluding with “Rejoice the Legacy” which celebrates MLK’s legacy, including the holiday celebrating his birth.  Back matter includes author’s and artist’s reflections, four pages of text describing the events from the poems called “Now Is the Time” (with several photographs), a timeline, and sources.  128 pages; grades 4-8.

Pros:  Both the poetry and the illustrations are majestic and give the reader much to think about.  The author’s note suggests that the poems could be performed with the “Now Is the Time” section as narration and adding poems to the appropriate parts of the story.

Cons:  The Henny Penny motif was a bit confusing to me.

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Betty Before X by Ilyasah Shabazz and Renee Watson

Published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux

Summary:  During the three years this book covers (1945-1948), Betty Sanders moves out of her abusive mother’s home and is adopted by a prominent Detroit couple who get her involved with community activism.  As junior members of the Housewives’ League, Betty and her friend Suesetta work to convince other African Americans not to patronize white businesses that have racist hiring practices.  The two girls lose a good friend because of their convictions.  Betty is also active in her church, Detroit’s Bethel AME Church, which hosted speakers like Thurgood Marshall and Paul Robeson.  Betty’s early life prepares her for her marriage to Malcolm X and her work as an educator and activist.  Her later years are described in a lengthy back matter section.  256 pages; grades 4-8.

Pros:  Written by Renee Watson and Malcolm’s daughter, Ilyasah Shabazz, this historical fiction book with its first-person narration, short chapters, and interesting cast of characters is an engaging and educational read.

Cons:  Readers not familiar with Malcolm X may not quite grasp the significance of Betty’s life.

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I Am Loved: A Poetry Collection by Nikki Giovanni, illustrations by Ashley Bryan

Published by Atheneum

Summary:  In 11 short poems, Nikki Giovanni expresses love, both for the reader and for the simple everyday pleasures surrounding him or her.  Wildflowers, cats, and quilts are all celebrated.  In “No Heaven”, she asks how there can be no heaven when there is so much to appreciate all around.  “A Song of Blackbird” looks at how we describe people and remember them when they’re gone.  “I Am a Mirror” comes with a mylar mirror for the reader to reflect on, and mentions the auction block and middle passage.  The final poem, “Do the Rosa Parks” is a catchy song that encourages readers to sit down with those who are suffering and stand up to injustice.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Award winners Giovanni and Bryan team up for a perfect introduction to poetry for the youngest readers, illustrated in Bryan’s trademark colorful folk-inspired paintings.

Cons:  The mylar mirror may not survive repeated library use.

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The Underground Railroad (American Girl: Real Stories from My Time series) by Bonnie Bader, with Addy stories by Connie Porter; illustrated by Kelley McMorris

Published by Scholastic

Summary:  The story of the Underground Railroad and slavery in America is told in this chapter book that includes sections on these two topics as well as abolitionists, slave catchers, and the Emancipation Proclamation.  Each chapter ends with two pages told by Addy Walker, the American Girl whose story includes an escape from slavery.  Her narrative is in her voice, drawing from the original American Girl books.  Black and white illustrations and photographs appear every two or three pages.  Includes a note about Addy’s dialect, a glossary, a map of free and slave states and territories in 1856, a timeline, and source notes.  112 pages; grades 3-6.

Pros:  What could have been a simple marketing tool for Addy is actually a very informative, engagingly written nonfiction book.  Other topics in the series will include the Boston Tea Party, the Titanic, and Pearl Harbor.  I will leave it to you to match the topic with the American Girl.

Cons:  On page 25, Quakers are described as “a Christian group who believe that people should shake and tremble at the word of the Lord.”  Having been part of a variety of Quaker meetings for the last fifteen years, I can safely say I have yet to meet a Quaker who fits this description.

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Let the Children March by Monica Clark-Robinson; illustrated by Frank Morrison

The majority of books I have read in 2018 have been about African-Americans and the Civil Rights Movement.  I will be sharing reviews of these for the next week, beginning today.

Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Summary:  A girl tells about her participation in the Birmingham Children’s March of 1963, starting with a family trip to church to hear Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  When he urges the congregation to march, many of the adults are afraid of losing jobs, so young people offer to go.  On May 2, she and other children and teens begin their protest, only to be met with dogs, fire hoses, and arrest.  On the third day, she is sent to jail.  When their story is broadcast around the world, changes begin to happen, and within two months, the girl is playing on a playground she’s never been allowed to use before.  Back matter includes an afterword, an artist’s statement, a bibliography, and three photos from the march.  40 pages; grades 1-4.

Pros:  A compelling story, made even more so by the first-person narration and the large, realistic oil paintings.  The message that one person can make a difference is inspiring.

Cons:  The desegregation process seemed overly simplified.

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My Friends Make Me Happy! by Jan Thomas

Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Summary:  What makes Sheep happy?  He has his friends guess, giving them a hint that it starts with the letter F.  Is it fish? Fans? Turnips? (Pay attention, Duck, turnips does not start with an F!).  Finally, he has to tell them…it’s his friends!  Sheep’s friends make him happy.  And occasionally drive him crazy.  40 pages; ages 3-7.

Pros:  Part of a new (or newly revived) series for emergent readers, this cartoon-illustrated entry will surely live up to The Giggle Gang’s name.

Cons:  Sheep’s friends seem a bit slow on the uptake.

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Mez’s Magic (The Lost Rainforest, book 1) by Eliot Schrefer

Published by Katherine Tegen Books

Summary:  Young panther Mez knows she is different from the rest of her family.  Unable to sleep during the day, she eventually sneaks out of her cave, triggering a series of events that lead to her family’s discovery of her as a daywalker.  This revelation makes her too dangerous to stay with the family, and she is cast out.  She is rescued by Auriel, a huge boa constrictor, who tells her that her birth during an eclipse has given her unusual powers.  Auriel is traveling through the magical rainforest of Caldera, collecting other eclipse-born animals who have been giving the task of defeating the evil Ant Queen, who is about to emerge from a long period of dormancy.  The animals gather at the stone ziggurat, where billions of ants are preparing for their Queen’s arrival.  Danger and betrayal await them as they try to discover their magical powers and save Caldera.  The enemy is temporarily defeated at the end of the story, but danger still lurks.  The animals go their separate ways, agreeing to gather information and reunite in a year’s time.  Includes a lengthy Q & A with the author about his adventures in the rainforest.  357 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Packed with adventure and interesting, funny characters, this book will appeal to fans of animal fantasy like Warriors and Guardians of Ga’hoole.  This is the first book in a planned series in which each installment is from the point of view of a different eclipse-born animal.

Cons:  There were a lot of characters to keep track of, including some unusual animal species that I wasn’t familiar with.

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The Breadwinner: A Graphic Novel based on the original book by Deborah Ellis, adapted from the feature film directed by Nora Twomey

Published by Groundwood Books

Summary: Parvana lives in a one-room apartment with her family in Kabul, Afghanistan.  Following the takeover of the city by the Taliban, her history teacher father no longer has a job, and her mother, like all women, must stay hidden as much as possible.  Parvana helps her father as he earns money on the street reading and writing letters for people, but when he is arrested for selling books and sent to jail, she can no longer work.  As her family descends into starvation, Parvana decides to disguise herself as a boy to find jobs and try to get her father out of prison.  Danger and desperation are everywhere, and while Parvana succeeds on some level, it’s clear that many hardships lie ahead for her family beyond the last page.  80 pages; grades 4-8.

Pros:  A compelling story that celebrates one family’s resiliency in a dark and dangerous world.  I haven’t read the original trilogy by Deborah Ellis or seen the animated film from 2017, but this graphic novel will undoubtedly inspire many readers to seek them out.

Cons:  At 80 pages, the story was a little bare bones, and I’m sure excludes a lot from the original novel.

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A Dash of Trouble (Love Sugar Magic book 1) by Anna Meriano

Published by Walden Pond Press

Summary:  11-year-old Leonora (Leo) is tired of being left out of  the family business.  Her four older sisters get to help out at the bakery, and when they get to miss school the day before Dia de los Muertos, Leo has had enough.  She sneaks out of school and into the bakery, where she secretly witnesses the induction ceremony of her 14-year-old twin sisters.  Turns out all the females of Leo’s family are brujas, or witches, and they practice their magic through their baking.  Leo is supposed to wait a few more years for her turn, but she is too impatient.  She learns just enough about magic to get into trouble, and when her best friend Caroline turns to her for help with a boy, Leo can’t resist.  She definitely has the powers of a bruja, but learning how to use them correctly is another matter, and Leo discovers she must depend on the wisdom of her family to help her. Includes recipes for three of the baked goods from the story.  320 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  This is sure to be a popular choice for middle grade readers, combining the realistic elements of a likeable but trouble-prone protagonist and loving family members with the fun of magical fantasy woven in.

Cons:  For some reason, each time I got back to reading this book, I expected it to be told in the first person; I can’t help thinking that would have made for a stronger narration.

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