Thurgood by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Bryan Collier

Published by Schwartz and Wade

Image result for thurgood jonah winter

Image result for thurgood jonah winter

Summary:  Thurgood Marshall’s path to legal greatness began at the age of six, when he convinced his parents to legally change his name from Thoroughgood to Thurgood.  Growing up in 1920’s Baltimore, he saw injustice on a daily basis; at home, he learned from his father to back up his statements with factual evidence. After leading his high school debate team, Thurgood went on to college and then to law school at Howard University.  He became a lawyer for the NAACP, and argued 29 cases before the Supreme Court, including Brown v. Board of Education.  The book ends with that decision, simply mentioning on the last page that Marshall became the first black Supreme Court justice in U.S. history.  Includes an author’s note with more information about Thurgood Marshall’s Supreme Court appointment and career. 40 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  A powerful narrative about Thurgood Marshall’s life, presenting much of the information in legal terms (“Fact:”; “Verdict:”; “Injustice:”).  Bryan Collier’s illustrations boldly bring to life many dramatic scenes from Marshall’s life, in the courtroom and in unjust, sometimes dangerous settings growing up in Baltimore and traveling through the South.  

Cons:  The author’s note states, “A forty-page picture book such as this cannot possibly convey the magnitude of his legacy”, yet there are no resources for additional research.

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Miep and the Most Famous Diary: The Woman Who Rescued Anne Frank’s Diary by Meeg Pincus, illustrated by Jordi Solano

Published by Sleeping Bear Press

Image result for miep and the most famous diary

Image result for miep and the most famous diary

Summary:  Beginning on August 4, 1944, when the eight occupants of the Secret Annex under Miep Gies’s care were arrested and taken away, the narrative follows Miep’s story of how she saved Anne Frank’s diary.  Facing arrest for keeping any of the group’s belongings from the Nazis, Miep snuck back into the annex before their return, taking Anne’s diary and a combing shawl with some of Anne’s hair still on it. She kept these, hoping that Anne would return one day to claim them, but it was only Anne’s father, Otto Frank, who survived.  After he received the devastating news of his daughters’ deaths, Miep gave him Anne’s things. Even after the diary was published, it was many years before Miep could bring herself to read it. Reading it in one sitting at last, she felt a measure of peace, knowing that Anne would live on, thanks to her efforts. Includes an author’s note and a timeline of Miep’s life.  40 pages; grades 2-6.   

Pros:  Even with so many books about Anne Frank, this one is unique for its perspective from Miep’s point of view.  Her courage in standing up to the Nazis on numerous occasions is inspiring, as is her role in preserving Anne’s words.

Cons:  The illustrations were just okay.

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Billie Jean! How Tennis Star Billie Jean King Changed Women’s Sports by Mara Rockliff, illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley

Published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers

Image result for billie jean mara rockliff amazon

Image result for billie jean mara rockliff amazon

Summary:  From the time she was a child, Billie Jean King gave her all in whatever she was doing.  Seeing her dismay when she learned that there were no women in major league baseball, her parents suggested she try tennis.  She proved to be a natural, and slowly rose to break into the national rankings. After playing at Wimbledon just after high school graduation, she found herself working two jobs to get through college while the boy tennis players enjoyed full scholarships.  Her professional career continued to flourish, but Billie Jean was dissatisfied with the unequal prize money for men and women. She created an all-women’s tennis tour, and later helped form the Women’s Tennis Association. Probably her most celebrated moment came, though, during the “Battle of the Sexes”, her famous match with Bobby Riggs in which she decisively beat him, proving that men could be defeated by women in the world of sports.  An author’s note gives further information on Billie Jean King’s work to end gender discrimination in sports and as an LGBQT activist. 40 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  It’s hard not to be inspired by Billie Jean King’s hard work and determination, both on and off the tennis court.  Kids who have seen the 2017 movie Battle of the Sexes will enjoy learning more about King; as near as I can tell, this is one of the only picture books about her.

Cons:  While the illustrations are serviceable, they aren’t as unique and memorable as some of Mara Rockliff’s other recent books like Lights, Camera, Alice! and Anything But Ordinary Addie.

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A Place to Land: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Speech That Inspired a Nation by Barry Wittenstein, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney

Published by Neal Porter Books

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Summary:  Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech is such an integral part of American history, it’s difficult to believe that it almost didn’t happen.  This book starts the night before the speech, when King sat down with his closest advisors to hash out what he was going to say the next day.  The focus was on jobs and economic justice, and one friend even advised, “Don’t use the line about ‘I have a dream.’ You have used it too many times already.”  King then retired to his room to meditate and pray about what he was going to say. Shortly after 3:00 the next afternoon, he delivered his speech. It went well, but didn’t seem quite powerful enough to him.  So when singer Mahalia Jackson called to him, “Tell them about the dream, Martin!”, he put his notes aside and spoke from his heart. Back at the hotel, he and his friends celebrated the speech, knowing that it was just the beginning of a long struggle ahead. Includes notes from the author and artist; thumbnail sketches of who was in the hotel that night; a list of who spoke at the March on Washington; and a bibliography.  48 pages; grades 2-6.

Pros:  So many picture books have been written about Martin Luther King, Jr. and “I Have a Dream”, but this one adds to the narrative, giving background to the speech and placing it in the context of the Civil Rights Movement.  Jerry Pinkney’s illustrations not only add beauty and color to the story, but label the different people that were there and who inspired King while writing his speech.

Cons:  There’s no additional information about some of the people labeled in the illustrations.

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Rise! From Caged Bird to Poet of the People by Bethany Hegedus, foreword by Colin Johnson, illustrations by Tonya Engel

Published by Lee and Low Books

Image result for rise from caged

Image result for rise from caged

Summary:  Beginning with young Maya’s journey south to live with her grandmother in Arkansas, the narrative describes her early experiences of blatant racism in the deep south, and continues as she and her brother went to live with their mother in St. Louis.  Her rape by her mother’s boyfriend is described indirectly: “One day, Maya, left alone with Mr. Freeman, is anything but free. After a visit to the hospital, Maya calls out Mr. Freeman’s name as the one who hurt her.” Soon after, he was murdered, and Maya stopped speaking for several years, burying herself in books until she slowly emerged to become a dancer, actress, cable car driver, mother, and finally, a writer and activist. Ending with her death at age 86, the author assures readers that Maya’s words will “always rise rise rise”.  Includes a foreword by Angelou’s grandson; a timeline; resources for children who have been sexually abused; and a bibliography. 48 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  Gorgeous acrylic illustrations and poetic text detail the many different aspects of Maya Angelou’s incredible life.  Due to the horrific events of her childhood, it can be tricky to share her story with children, but Hegedus does a good job not shying away from Maya’s rape and its aftermath in a way that’s appropriate for the intended audience.  

Cons:  I had no idea Maya Angelou did so many different interesting things in her life.  It’s hard to cram it all into one picture book.

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You Are My Friend: The Story of Mister Rogers and His Neighborhood by Aimee Reid, illustrated by Matt Phelan

Published by Harry N. Abrams

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Summary:  For those familiar with Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, this book explains how Freddie Rogers’ childhood created the adult Fred Rogers that millions loved to watch on his TV show.  Freddie was a sickly child who had to learn to entertain himself during long periods indoors. He loved surrounding himself with puppets and telling them how he was feeling.  Bullied at school, Freddie appreciated the love and safety of his Grandfather McFeeley, who assured him he was special just being himself. When Fred grew up, he saw people fighting on TV and wanted to create a program that showed people helping each other.  The result was his own neighborhood where both people and puppets could express their feelings and learn how to care for one another. Includes additional biographical information, notes from both the author and the illustrator, and a bibliography. 40 pages; grades K-3.

Pros:  With the new Tom Hanks movie coming out this fall, this provides an excellent introduction to Fred Rogers and all he stood for, and will serve to introduce a new generation to the neighborhood.  Matt Phelan’s gently muted illustrations provide a perfect complement to the text.

Cons:  I’m pretty sure it’s a federal offense to say anything negative about Mister Rogers.

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Image result for you are my friend matt phelan

A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks by Alice Faye Duncan, illustrated by Xia Gordon

Published by Sterling Children’s Books

Image result for song for gwendolyn brooks

Image result for song for gwendolyn brooks

Summary:  From an early age, Gwendolyn loved words and poetry.  Fortunately, her parents were supportive of her interests and allowed her to opt out of chores if they knew she was working on a poem  When a teacher accused her daughter of plagiarism, Gwendolyn’s mother marched to the school and had Gwendolyn write a poem on the spot to prove her talent.  As an adult living on the South Side of Chicago, Brooks didn’t let marriage and family stop her from writing, and in 1950 she won a Pulitzer Prize for her poetry collection Annie Allen.  Includes an author’s note with additional information about Gwendolyn Brooks; a timeline; a list of some of her poetry books; and a bibliography.  48 pages; grades 2-6.

Pros:  Although this beautifully illustrated book is suggested for elementary ages, it would also make an excellent text to use in a middle school introduction to poetry.  Brooks’ poems are sprinkled throughout the story, and older kids might resonate with the poet’s more introverted nature.

Cons:  The fonts used for the main text and the poems were so similar, it was sometimes difficult to distinguish the difference between the two.

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