In the early stay-at-home days of Covid-19, I heard people saying they were having trouble focusing enough to read a book.  I was grateful not to have that problem.  Sure, it’s a stressful time, but I feel like it’s finite.  A vaccine, herd immunity…eventually life will get back to normal.  (That’s just my experience; I am not invalidating anyone else’s!).

But in the last week, I haven’t been able to read for more than a few minutes at a time.  There’s no vaccine coming for racism.  And it seems like every few years, that racism leads to explosions of violence and burning cities.  With the pandemic, getting back to normal is my greatest wish.  With racism, it’s my greatest fear.

I’ve been to a couple of protests this week, and one of my biggest takeaways is that white people need to stop talking and listen.  I’m giving myself a few days off of reading and blogging, and I invite you to listen to some authors and illustrators who have taught me a little bit about what it’s like to be Black in America (Based on my blog.  Forgive me for any omissions):

Dapo Adeola, Roda Ahmed, Jacqueline Alcantara, Kwame Alexander, Troy Andrews, Derrick Barnes, Melba Pattillo Beals, Daniel Bernstrom, Becky Birtha, Keturah A. Bobo, Tonya Bolden, Jo Ann Allen Boyce, Vanessa Brantley-Newton, Ashley Bryan, Howard Bryant, Nathan Bryon, Grace Byers, Tami Charles, R. Gregory Christie, Lesa Cline-Ransom, Brandy Colbert, Bryan Collier, Floyd Cooper, Jerry Craft, Nina Crews, Christopher Paul Curtis, Ken Daley, Junot Diaz, Sharon Draper, Erica Armstrong Dunbar, Alice Faye Duncan, Zetta Elliott, Tonya Engel, Shane Evans, Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, Laura Freeman, Nikki Giovanni, Ebony Glenn, Xia Gordon, Eloise Greenfield, Nikki Grimes, April Harrison, Ekua Holmes, John Holyfield, Rita Lorraine Hubbard, Gordon C. James, Veronica Miller Jamison, Angela Johnson, Jade Johnson, Varian Johnson, Angela Joy, Vivian Kirkfield, London Ladd, Francie Latour, E. B. Lewis, Mariama Lockington, Kelly Starling Lyons, Kekla Magoon, Torrey Maldonado, Janae Marks, Bre McCoy, Breanna J. McDaniel, Patricia McKissack, Michelle Meadows, Tony Medina, Sharee Miller, Daniel Minter, Oge Mora, Frank Morrison, Ibtihaj Muhammad, Walter Dean Myers, Kadir Nelson, Marilyn Nelson, Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, Vanessa Brantley Newton, Baptiste Paul, Daria Peoples-Riley, Andrea Davis Pinkney, Brian Pinkney, Jerry Pinkney, Connie Porter, Sean Qualls, Lisa Moore Ramee, James E. Ransome, Jason Reynolds, Jewell Parker Rhodes, Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, Faith Ringgold, Christian Robinson, Chris Sasaki, Connie Schofield-Morrison, Ilyasah Shabazz, Margot Lee Shetterly, Nikki Shannon Smith, Ronald L. Smith, Javaka Steptoe, Nic Stone, Shadra Strickland, Karen Strong, Don Tate, Quevenzhane Wallace, Charles Walters, Renee Watson, Carole Boston Weatherford, Alicia D. Williams, Rita Williams-Garcia,  Sherri Winston, Brenda Woods, Jacqueline Woodson, Elizabeth Zunon

Rónán and the Mermaid: A Tale of Old Ireland by Marianne McShane, illustrated by Jordi Solano

Published by Candlewick

Rónán and the Mermaid: A Tale of Old Ireland: McShane, Marianne ...

Rónán and the Mermaid: A Tale of Old Ireland: McShane, Marianne ...

Summary:  When Brother Declan discovers a boy lying in the sand surrounded by seals, he takes him back to the Abbey of Bangor.  As he picks up the boy, he notices two things: a flash of gold in the water and a silver ring with the letter L on it in the boy’s hand.  As the boy recovers, he tells the monks that his name is Rónán, and that he and his father were caught in a storm while out fishing.  His father drowned, and as Rónán hears stories from the monks about mermaids, he starts to believe he was saved by one, specifically a legendary mermaid named Lihan.  The boy stays at the abbey, learning to do chores and to play the harp.  One night he hears the song of the mermaid, and plays his harp back to her.  The next morning, he goes out in a boat and finds Lihan.  It turns out she’s been waiting 300 years for peace, which she thinks can be had by getting blessed by the abbott.  Rónán brings her back to the abbey, and Lihan receives the blessing, is christened Muirgen, and becomes known as the Mermaid Saint.  Includes an author’s note telling the origins of this story.  32 pages; grades K-5.

Pros:  A fun and interesting retelling of a tale that will appeal to anyone with an interest in mermaids (selkies are mentioned as well).  The watercolor paintings add the right touch with their renderings of the Irish coast and the sea.

Cons:  The ending was kind of anti-climactic.  If I ran across a mermaid, I don’t know what my first thought would be, but it wouldn’t be to turn her into a saint.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

Fighting Words by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Published by Dial Books (Released August 11)

Summary:  Della and her older sister Suki have just been placed in foster care with Francine.  It’s pretty clear from page 1 that some horrible things have happened to them.  Early on, Della tells how her mother got sent to jail several years before for setting fire to a hotel room while cooking meth with both girls in the hotel with her.  But, Della continues, that’s not the hard part of the story.  It’s not until many pages later that the reader learns how Clifton, the mother’s boyfriend that the girls ended up living with, tried to molest Della.  How Suki caught him and took a picture.  And how, slowly, Della realizes with horror what has been happening to Suki for years.  The unremittingly grim trajectory of their lives, though, begins to change.  Francine turns out to be an unlikely, no-nonsense heroine.  A girl named Nevaeh reaches out to Della and becomes a friend.  And when Suki finally finds her pain unbearable, doctors and therapists are available to help her.  Della decides the wolf is her favorite animal, and as the days with Francine go by, she learns to be strong like the wolf, but also to lean on the strengths of the rest of her pack.  272 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  This book is tough to read, but I couldn’t put it down and read it in less than a day.  You’ll recognize some of the elements that made The War That Saved My Life so memorable.  The flawed, but unforgettable young narrator.  The unlikely guardian who ends up creating a family.  The traumatized sibling.  The unlikely humor.  Kimberly Brubaker Bradley has created another masterpiece, as well as shining light on an issue that often stays in the shadows, especially for the intended audience.  A Newbery contender for sure.

Cons:  Fans of The War That Saved My Life will undoubtedly be clamoring for Bradley’s latest book., but the subject matter may raise a few parental eyebrows., so be ready for some potentially difficult questions.  On a lighter note, if you have parents who object to language, Suki tells Della to use the words snow, snowman, or snowflake instead of curse words.  That’s how the words appear on the printed page, but it’s usually pretty easy to guess what she’s really saying by how other characters react.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.


The International Day of the Girl: Celebrating Girls Around the World by Jessica Dee Humphries and the Hon. Rona Ambrose, illustrated by Simone Shin

Published by Kids Can Press (Released September 1)

The International Day of the Girl: Celebrating Girls Around the ...

Summary:  In 2011, the United Nations declared that October 11 would be an annual day of recognition for girls around the world–the International Day of the Girl.  This book tells the stories of nine (fictional) girls from all over the world who experienced gender inequality, and took action to remedy it.  Each one is introduced by name and a personality trait (“This is Abuya.  She is creative”), then tells a brief version of her story, including a sidebar about the more global issue it connects to.  For instance, in Kenya,  Abuya overheard her older sister asking to stay home from school because there was no girls’ bathroom.  Assisted by her father, Abuya used her carpentry skills to build an outhouse.  The sidebar describes the issue of providing safe bathroom facilities so girls are able to get an education.  An illustration accompanies each story.  Includes a timeline of events leading to the creation of the International Day of the Girl and further information about each of the issues facing girls addressed in the book.  32 pages; grades 2-6.

Pros:  This was the first I had heard of the International Day of the Girl, and this introduction explains many of the issues affecting girls around the world in a way that readers will understand and connect with.  The introduction uses the metaphor of a garden that’s been divided into two halves, with one half receiving all the nurturing and attention.  The colorful illustrations continue that metaphor, and the last page encourages kids to “be the world’s gardener”.  Another excellent entry in the CitizenKid series.

Cons:  A map showing where the different girls live around the world and some additional resources would have been useful additions.

A Rainbow of Rocks by Kate DePalma

Published by Barefoot Books

A Rainbow of Rocks: DePalma, Kate: 9781782859925: Books

A Rainbow of Rocks | Ages 3-7 | Barefoot Books

Summary:  Each page features two rocks of the same color on a black background with rhyming text to identify them (“Pyrite cubes reflect the light. Calcite is glassy–edged with white.”).  After going through red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, black, and rainbow-colored, the author concludes, “Rocks in every shape and hue. Each one’s different, just like you!”  The final three pages contain five questions about rocks and minerals with fairly in-depth answers.  24 pages; ages 3-7.

Pros:  The photos of are gorgeous, and the back matter provides a good introduction to rocks and minerals.

Cons:  There feels like a disconnect between the rhyming text, which seems most appropriate for preschoolers, and the back matter, which would work for kids up to age 10 or so.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

Stink Fights, Earwax, and Other Marvelous Mammal Adaptations by Laura Perdew, illustrated by Katie Mazeika

Published by Nomad Press (released August 13)

Stink Fights, Earwax, and Other Marvelous Mammal Adaptations by ...

Stink Fights, Earwax, and Other Marvelous Mammal Adaptations ...

Summary:  Beginning with four haiku about adaptation, the author then moves to a one-page explanation of what animal adaptation is.  From there, it’s a look at individual animals who have interesting adaptations:  ring-tailed lemurs’ stink fights and whales’ earwax from the title, as well as elephants’ ears, star-nosed moles’ noses, giant anteaters’ tongues, and more.  Each two-page spread includes an illustration and a few sentences describing the adaptation and how it helps that animal.  Includes an activity to explore how humans adapt; a page called “Connections” which is a list of fun facts about mammals; and a glossary.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A fun introduction to animal adaptation (specifically mammals) with playful illustrations and facts that are sure to pique the interest of young readers.

Cons:  There’s not a lot of information or additional resources; some facts, like “Elephants have an excellent sense of smell” don’t get any additional explanation.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click on.

War Stories by Gordon Korman

Published by Scholastic (released July 21)

War Stories: Korman, Gordon: 9781338290202: Books

Summary:  Trevor has always worshipped his great-grandfather, Jacob, who fought in World War II as a 17-year-old.  Trevor’s fascination of WWII has resulted in a room decorated with memorabilia and a passion for war-based video games.  When Jacob announces he’s going back to the French village that he helped liberate to commemorate the 75th anniversary of V-E Day, Trevor is thrilled to be invited along.  He, his reluctant father Daniel, and Jacob. make a journey that starts at Fort Benning, Georgia, and continues to Normandy, and on into the French countryside.  As they get closer to their destination, Jacob becomes more distant and irritable; Daniel monitors threats against Jacob being made on social media; and Trevor notices a girl about his age who seems to be following them.  Jacob’s war stories begin to take on a different tone, and by the time he finally reveals what happened in that French village, Trevor has learned some new truths about the horrors of war and what really makes a hero.  240 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Told in third-person narratives that switch between 2020 and 1944, the action really builds, and by the time the reader gets to the French village, it’s hard to put the book down.  Gordon Korman and a World War II story make an unbeatable combination for middle-grade readers.

Cons:  Through no fault of his own, Gordon Korman has created a story that would never have taken place.  You will have to suspend your disbelief and pretend we live in a parallel universe where a 93-year-old man could have traveled to Europe during the spring of 2020.

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