The Legend of Gravity: A Tall Basketball Tale by Charly Palmer

Published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux

The Legend of Gravity: A Tall Basketball Tale: Palmer, Charly, Palmer,  Charly: 9780374313289: Amazon.com: Books
The Legend of Gravity

Summary:  A girl tells the story of Gravity, a mysterious kid who shows up at the local playground basketball court and soon becomes a legend.  His real name is never told, but the other kids give him the nickname Gravity since he seems to defy it.  Soon Gravity has turned the team into champions, and they’re excited to go to the Best of the Best, Milwaukee’s pickup basketball tournament.  They easily defeat one team after the other until they face perennial champions the Flyers.  Gravity does his best, but by halftime, he’s exhausted.  He tells the rest of the team how they can work together to win, and each one uses their unique talents to defeat the Flyers by 17 points.  Gravity insists that they share the trophy, and “twenty-five years later, we still do.”  Includes an author’s note celebrating championship basketball players who never made it into the NBA.  40 pages; grades K-5.

Pros:  If stories about Paul Bunyan and Pecos Bill are feeling a little tired, here’s a new tall tale that kids will love, with colorful illustrations and plenty of basketball action.

Cons:  The somewhat abstract paintings made it occasionally difficult to distinguish one player from another.

A History of Me by Adrea Theodore, illustrated by Erin K. Robinson

Published by Neal Porter Books

A History of Me: Theodore, Adrea, Robinson, Erin: 9780823442577: Amazon.com:  Books

Summary:  “I was the only brown person in class.” The narrator feels the stares of her white classmates when they learn about slavery and civil rights.  Her mother tells her of ancestors who were enslaved or who only got to go to school for a few years, reminding her to be grateful for her own education.  She loves to learn but doesn’t like feeling like her race is what the other kids see about her.  The girl grows up to become a doctor with a daughter of her own.  When her daughter tells her of similar experiences at school, she encourages her to feel proud of herself and her ancestors, and to focus on what she sees when she looks in the mirror.  Includes notes from the author and the artist.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  This book opens up interesting questions about how Black history is taught in schools and how to do it in a way that empowers children of color.

Cons:  The author’s note was in a font size that strained my middle-aged eyes.

The Faith of Elijah Cummings: The North Star of Equal Justice by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Laura Freeman

Published by Random House Studio

The Faith of Elijah Cummings: The North Star of Equal Justice: Weatherford,  Carole Boston, Freeman, Laura: 9780593306505: Amazon.com: Books
The Faith of Elijah Cummings: The North Star of Equal Justice: Weatherford,  Carole Boston, Freeman, Laura: 9780593306505: Amazon.com: Books

Summary:  Elijah Cummings’ parents worked as sharecroppers on a South Carolina farm before moving to Baltimore to give their seven children a better life.  Elijah struggled in school, but with the help of his parents, the librarians at his public library, and his first employers, he went on to Howard University and eventually became a lawyer.  He served in the Maryland House of Delegates from 1983 until 1996, when he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.  Elijah was elected chair of the Congressional Black Caucus in 2003; when he died in 2019, he became the first African American legislator to lie in state in the U.S. Capitol.  Includes remarks by Nancy Pelosi and an excerpt of a statement from the Congressional Black Caucus following Elijah’s death as well as a timeline, a bibliography, and a list of sources.  40 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  The first part of the book about Elijah’s early life is an inspiring testimony to the power of hard work and having mentors.  The writing is engaging, and the illustrations are a kid-friendly enhancement of the text.

Cons:  I don’t want to diminish Elijah Cummings’ considerable achievements, but to me, the second part of the book was less interesting than the first. If I were reading this to elementary kids, I would want to supplement it in some way to make it more engaging for them.

Awards 2022

I just watched the livestream of the ALA awards announcements. It’s a humbling experience, as there are always a bunch of books I’ve never heard of, much less read and reviewed. This is far from a complete list of all the awards given, but here are a few. I’ve linked to my reviews where applicable.

Caldecott Award

Winner

Watercress by Andrea Wang, illustrated by Jason Chin

Honors

Wonder Walkers by Micha Archer

Have You Ever Seen a Flower? by Shawn Harris

Mel Fell by Corey R. Tabor

Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Floyd Cooper

Newbery Award

Winner

The Last Cuentista by Donna Barba Higuera

Honors

Watercress by Jason Chin

Red, White, and Whole by Rajani LaRocha

A Snake Falls to Earth by Darcie Little Badger

Too Bright to See by Kyle Luyken

Coretta Scott King Award

Illustrator winner

Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Floyd Cooper

Illustrator honors

Nina: A Story of Nina Simone by Traci N. Todd, illustrated by Christian Robinson

We Wait for the Sun by Dovey Johnson Roundtree, illustrated by Raissa Figueroa

Soul Food Sunday by Winsome Bingham, illustrated by C. G. Esperanza

Author winner

Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Floyd Cooper

Author honors

Home Is Not a Country by Safia Elhillo

Revolution in Our Time: The Black Panther Party’s Promise to the People by Kekla Magoon

The People Remember by Ibi Zoboi, illustrated by Loveis Wise

Seeking Freedom: The Untold Story of Fortress Monroe and the Ending of Slavery in America by Selene Castrovilla, illustrated by E. B. Lewis

Published by Calkins Creek

Seeking Freedom: The Untold Story of Fortress Monroe and the Ending of  Slavery in America: Castrovilla, Selene, Lewis, E. B.: 9781635925821: Amazon.com:  Books

Summary:  May 26, 1861: George Scott, living in a cave in the woods after escaping slavery two years earlier, sees other Black people entering Fortress Monroe and not being returned.  He learns that the commander of the fort, Major General Benjamin Franklin Butler, has declared the Black people “contrabands of war”, which means he doesn’t have to return them to the Confederates.  When Scott tells Butler he can find the Confederate hideout, Butler sends him on a mission back into the woods where he’s been hiding.  Scott finds the Confederates gathered at a church, and the Union army attacks, thwarting the threat to the fortress.  As a reward, Butler writes a letter to President Lincoln making the case for Scott and the other contrabands.  His words play a part in what eventually becomes the Emancipation Proclamation.  Includes four pages of additional information about George Scott, Benjamin Franklin Butler, Fortress Monroe, and the contrabands, as well as a bibliography.  40 pages; grades 2-6.

Pros:  This well-written and engaging narrative tells a little-known Civil War story, illustrated with sepia-toned paintings that evoke the photographs from that era.  Seems like more should be written about Benjamin Franklin Butler, who went on to become governor of Massachusetts and was a leader in civil rights on many fronts.

Cons:  Apparently, “contrabands” was the term used for those who found refuge at the fortress, but it seems like a somewhat dehumanizing expression. 

The Year We Learned to Fly/El año en que aprendimos a volar by Jacqueline Woodson, Illustrated by Rafael López

Thank you to everyone who contributed to my GoFundMe page and helped me to raise the money to pay my annual WordPress fees. I’m starting 2022 with an optimistic book for the new year. Tomorrow I’ll kick off a week of Black history books to give you a head start on Black History Month in February.

Published by Nancy Paulsen Books

The Year We Learned to Fly - Kindle edition by Woodson, Jacqueline, López,  Rafael. Children Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.
El año en que aprendimos a volar (Spanish Edition) - Kindle edition by  Woodson, Jacqueline, López, Rafael, Canetti, Yanitzia. Children Kindle  eBooks @ Amazon.com.
The Year We Learned to Fly: Woodson, Jacqueline, López, Rafael:  9780399545535: Amazon.com: Books

Summary:  From the team that brought you The Day You Begin comes this picture book about a brother and sister going through a difficult year.  There’s boredom in the spring when the weather keeps them inside, sibling fights in the summer, loneliness in autumn, and finally, a move away from the familiar neighborhood in winter.  Each season, their grandmother reminds them, “Lift your arms, close your eyes, take a deep breath.”  When they do, the two children are able to fly, looking down on their city and letting go of their difficult feelings.  In their new house, other kids are initially unfriendly, but when they see the two who can fly, they close their eyes, take a deep breath, and join them.  Includes an author’s note acknowledging Virginia Hamilton’s The People Could Fly: Black American Folktales as her inspiration for this story.  Available in English and Spanish. 32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  I probably shouldn’t start predicting the 2023 Caldecott the day before the 2022 awards will be announced, but I do love Rafael López’s beautiful illustrations that perfectly complement the intriguing, poetic text by Jacqueline Woodson.

Cons:  Don’t hurry through the story; there’s a lot to unpack in both the text and the illustrations.

Five (or six) favorite nonfiction

Always one of my favorite categories!

Survivor Tree by Marcie Colleen, illustrated by Aaron Becker and This Very Tree by Sean Rubin

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers and Henry Holt and Co.

Survivor Tree: Colleen, Marcie, Becker, Aaron: 9780316487672: Amazon.com:  Books
This Very Tree: A Story of 9/11, Resilience, and Regrowth: Rubin, Sean:  9781250788504: Amazon.com: Books

Both of these books may be considered for a Caldecott, and both movingly tell the story of the Survivor Tree in this year that we observed the 20th anniversary of 9/11. I couldn’t choose just one!

Rescuing Titanic: A True Story of Quiet Bravery in the North Atlantic by Flora Delargy

Published by Wide-Eyed Editions

Amazon.com: Rescuing Titanic: A true story of quiet bravery in the North  Atlantic (Hidden Histories): 9780711262782: Delargy, Flora: Books

I’m as surprised as you are to see this book on one of my favorites lists after I vowed to never read another Titanic book. But this one is more about the Carpathia, the ship that sped to the rescue and that is often just a footnote in the Titanic story. The “quiet bravery” of the subtitle is the emphasis and makes for an inspirational read.

Revolution In Our Time: The Black Panther Party’s Promise to the People by Kekla Magoon

Published by Candlewick

Amazon.com: Revolution in Our Time: The Black Panther Party's Promise to  the People: 9781536214185: Magoon, Kekla: Books

Already a National Book Award finalist, this history of the Black Panther Party is likely to win other awards in a few weeks. I loved how Kekla Magoon never shied away from all aspects of this history, yet also conveyed the vision of the people who were part of the movement and tied it to the work of Black Lives Matter.

If the World Were 100 People: A Visual Guide to Our Global Village by Jackie McCann, illustrated by Aaron Cushley

Published by Crown Books for Young Readers

If the World Were 100 People: A Visual Guide to Our Global Village: McCann,  Jackie, Cushley, Aaron: 9780593310700: Amazon.com: Books

I love this kind of visual information that makes abstract concepts easier to understand and raises awareness about global issues we may not think much about. An invaluable resource for social studies classes at many levels.

Escape at 10,000 Feet by Tom Sullivan

Published by Balzer + Bray

Unsolved Case Files: Escape at 10,000 Feet: D.B. Cooper and the Missing  Money (Unsolved Case Files, 1): Sullivan, Tom, Sullivan, Tom:  9780062991515: Amazon.com: Books

Who doesn’t love a good unsolved mystery? The world has wondered what happened to D. B. Cooper since he parachuted into oblivion in 1971. This graphic presentation is well-researched, with various theories presented and debunked. It’s book 1 in the Unsolved Case Files series that now includes Jailbreak at Alcatraz.

Five favorite biographies

Usually I include biographies with nonfiction, but there were enough great ones this year for them to get their own list. This is the final list for 2021. I’ll be taking a break for a couple of weeks before starting up with the 2022 books.

The People’s Painter: How Ben Shahn Fought for Justice with Art by Cynthia Levinson, illustrated by Evan Turk

Published by Abrams Books for Young Readers

The People's Painter: How Ben Shahn Fought for Justice with Art: Levinson,  Cynthia, Turk, Evan: 9781419741302: Amazon.com: Books

Ben Shahn’s art focused on social justice. If there is any justice, Evan Turk will get a Caldecott medal or honor for this amazing book.

Gone to the Woods: Surviving a Lost Childhood by Gary Paulsen

Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Gone to the Woods: Surviving a Lost Childhood: Paulsen, Gary:  9780374314156: Amazon.com: Books

2021 has been a year of tough losses in the children’s literature world, including the legendary Gary Paulsen. His courage at surviving a horrifying childhood and adolescence shines throughout this unusual memoir.

Nicky & Vera: A Quiet Hero of the Holocaust by Peter Sis

Published by Norton Young Readers

Nicky & Vera: A Quiet Hero of the Holocaust and the Children He Rescued:  Sís, Peter: 9781324015741: Amazon.com: Books

Peter Sis’s folk art-style illustrations are deceptively simple until you look closer at all each one of them contains. A moving story told with spare prose that might be up for a Caldecott.

Nina: The Story of Nina Simone by Traci N. Todd, illustrated by Christian Robinson

Published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books

Nina: A Story of Nina Simone - Kindle edition by Todd, Traci N., Robinson,  Christian. Children Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.

It was a toss-up for me which Christian Robinson book to put on my Caldecott list: Milo Imagines the World, or this stunning biography which incorporates scenes from the civil rights movement into the illustrations portraying Nina Simone’s life.

Genius Under the Table: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain by Eugene Yelchin

Published by Candlewick Press

The Genius Under the Table: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain: Yelchin,  Eugene, Yelchin, Eugene: 9781536215526: Amazon.com: Books

And here’s one that could be a Newbery contender: Eugene Yelchin’s memoir about growing up in the Soviet Union that seamlessly blends humor with the fear and poverty he experienced as a child.

Five small press favorites

Although I’ve always reviewed books published by small independent presses, this year I made a conscious decision to try and do one every week. This led me to some happy discoveries of unusual and interesting books.

Hear My Voice/Escucha Mi Voz: The Testimonies of Children Detained at the Southern Border of the United States compiled by Warren Binford for Project Amplify

Published by Workman Publishing

Amazon.com: Hear My Voice/Escucha mi voz: The Testimonies of Children  Detained at the Southern Border of the United States (English and Spanish  Edition): 9781523513482: Binford, Warren, Bochenek, Michael Garcia: Books

This book is part of the effort by Warren Binford and Project Amplify to shine a light on the horrific conditions of the Clint Border Patrol Station and the children being held there. The children’s stories are told in their own words, with illustrations by 17 Latinx artists.

Make Meatballs Sing: The Life and Art of Corita Kent by Matthew Burgess, illustrated by Kara Kramer

Published by Enchanted Lion

Make Meatballs Sing: The Life and Art of Corita Kent: Burgess, Matthew,  Kramer, Kara: 9781592703166: Amazon.com: Books

I enjoyed learning about Corita Kent’s life and art, which includes the Boston Gas tanks and the 1985 USPS Love stamp. But mostly I loved her word “plork”, meaning a combination of play and work, which so perfectly captured her spirit.

Nobody Owns the Moon by Tobhy Riddle

Published by Berbay Publishing

Nobody Owns the Moon: Riddle, Tohby: 9780994384195: Amazon.com: Books

Sell your soul or save it? Clive Prendergast and his friend Humphrey had me thinking about the meaning of life long after I had closed this book.

The Capybaras by Alfred Soderguit

Published by Greystone Kids

The Capybaras: Soderguit, Alfredo, Soderguit, Alfredo: 9781771647823: Amazon.com:  Books

The capybaras and chickens form an unlikely alliance against the humans in this slightly subversive book that will have you questioning the meaning of such concepts as “safe” and “dangerous”.

Escape: One Day We Had to Run by Ming & Wah, illustrated by Carmen Vela

Published by Lantana Publishing

Escape: One Day We Had to Run . . .: Chen, Ming, Chen, Wah, Vela, Carmen:  9781911373810: Amazon.com: Books

Escape, cling, defy, swim: each verb is accompanied by an illustration and a compelling true story of escape that make this a difficult book to put down.