Try It! How Frieda Caplan Changed the Way We Eat by Mara Rockliff, illustrated by Giselle Porter

Published by Beach Lane Books

Try It!: How Frieda Caplan Changed the Way We Eat: Rockliff, Mara, Potter,  Giselle: 9781534460072: Books
Try It! | Book by Mara Rockliff, Giselle Potter | Official Publisher Page |  Simon & Schuster

Summary:  When Frieda Caplan started working at the Seventh Street Produce Market, she saw piles of bananas, potatoes, apples, and tomatoes.  Hoping to introduce a bit more variety, she started selling mushrooms.  It took some convincing, but before long people began to buy them.  Frieda went on to start her own produce company, where she loved trying new fruits and vegetables.  Kiwis, jicama, blood oranges…Frieda would get a funny feeling in her elbows when she tried something that she thought others would enjoy.  Thanks in part to Frieda and the produce company her daughters and granddaughters now run, there are more than ten times as many varieties of fruits and vegetables in supermarkets than there were in the 1960’s.  Includes an author’s note giving more information about Frieda and her company.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  The energetic writing and colorful illustrations of a great variety of fruits and vegetables capture Frieda’s enthusiasm for her work and may entice picky eaters to be a bit more adventurous.

Cons:  I was hoping for a bit more information in the author’s note about the funny feeling in the elbows, but alas, there was no further explanation.

Runaway: The Daring Escape of Ona Judge by Ray Anthony Shepard, illustrated by Keith Mallet

Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Image result for runaway the daring escape of ona judge
Image result for runaway the daring escape of ona judge

Summary:  The narrator addresses Ona Judge, asking her why she ran away from slavery in the home of George and Martha Washington.  As Martha’s personal slave, Ona had fine clothes, good food, and the chance to visit some of the best homes in New York and Philadelphia.  She also never had the chance to learn to read and write and was given as a gift to Martha’s “mean and sassy” granddaughter.  Ona left Philadelphia one night and escaped to New Hampshire, where she lived the rest of her life as a fugitive, despite George Washington’s efforts to bring her back to his family.  Includes an author’s note, timeline, bibliography, and a note on the text explaining the author’s poetic use of rhetorical questions.  40 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  This haunting text explores the question of why someone who had a relatively luxurious life, but was enslaved, would leave that life behind.  The excellent back matter provides additional context.  Older students may want to move from this book to Never Caught: The Story of Ona Judge by Erica Armstrong Dunbar and Kathleen Van Cleve.

Cons:  Reviews I’ve seen recommend this book for ages 3-6 or 4-8, but I think older elementary and even middle school students would find Ona’s story thought-provoking.

The Highest Tribute: Thurgood Marshall’s Life, Leadership, and Legacy by Kekla Magoon, illustrated by Laura Freeman

Published by Quill Tree Books

Image result for highest tribute thurgood amazon
Image result for highest tribute thurgood laura freeman

Summary:  When Thoroughgood Marshall was in second grade, he decided to change his name to Thurgood.  Growing up in Baltimore, he saw plenty of other things he wanted to change in his segregated city.  After attending college and law school, Thurgood worked for the NAACP, where he argued several cases before the Supreme Court, including Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka.  In 1967, President Lyndon Johnson nominated Marshall to the Supreme Court, where he became the first Black justice.  Includes a timeline; additional information on Thurgood Marshall’s major court cases; a list for further reading; and a bibliography.  40 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  It’s a tossup as to which Thurgood Marshall picture book biography I would choose…this or the Jonah Winter/Bryan Collier collaboration Thurgood (2019).  This one packs a lot of information into 40 pages and has excellent back matter, probably giving it an edge as a book for research.

Cons:  Most reviews recommend this for readers as young as 4 or 5.  If you want to try it out in a kindergarten class, more power to you, but I think it would have greater interest and impact with older kids.

12 books of Christmas

Starting the day after Christmas, I’ll be posting my year-end lists of Caldecott and Newbery predictions and my favorite books in different categories. I found myself with an higher-than-usual number of books at the end of the year that I had wanted to review, but didn’t get to before time ran out. That number turned out to be twelve, so as a little Christmas gift, here is a list of my final dozen books for 2020.

Tani’s New Home: A Refugee Finds Hope and Kindness in America by Tanitoluwa Adewumi, illustrated by Courtney Dawson

Published by Thomas Nelson

Tani's New Home: A Refugee Finds Hope and Kindness in America: Adewumi,  Tanitoluwa, Dawson, Courtney: 9781400218288: Books

The true story of Tani Adewumi, who moved to New York City as a Nigerian refugee at the age of 6. He discovered chess, and practiced it for hours in a homeless shelter. In less than a year, he was the New York State Chess Champion. I haven’t had a chance to see this book. The publisher, Thomas Nelson, is a Christian publisher, so I’m not sure if there is any religious content to the story. 32 pages; grades K-3.

Dear Earth…From Your Friends in Room 5 by Erin Dealey, illustrated by Louisa Uribe

Published by HarperCollins

Dear Earth…From Your Friends in Room 5: Dealey, Erin, Uribe, Luisa:  9780062915320: Books

The kids in room 5 begin a correspondence with Earth, learning different ways to help the planet like recycling and energy conservation. Rhyming text, letter writing, and environmental tips make this an appealing choice for Earth Day or any time of year. 32 pages; grades K-3.

Saving Stella: A Dog’s Dramatic Escape from War by Bassel Abou Fakher and Deborah Blumenthal, illustrated by Nadine Kaadan

Published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Saving Stella: A Dog's Dramatic Escape from War: Fakher, Bassel Abou,  Blumenthal, Deborah, Kaadan, Nadine: 9781547601332: Books

When Bassel was forced to flee Syria, he had to leave his beloved dog Stella behind. After settling in a new home in Belgium, he worked with friends back in Syria to create a daring plan to rescue Stella. 40 pages; grades K-5.

Rabbit, Raven, Deer by Sue Farrell Holler, illustrated by Jennifer Faria

Published by Pajama Press

Raven, Rabbit, Deer: Farrell Holler, Sue, Faria, Jennifer: 9781772781366: Books

There’s a copy of this book traveling to my library right now, but I haven’t gotten a chance to see it. A boy and his grandfather enjoy a winter’s day together, finding animal tracks and identifying the animals in both English and Ojibwemowin. Sounds like a cozy winter choice. 32 pages; ages 4-8.

When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller

Published by Random House Books for Young Readers

When You Trap a Tiger: Keller, Tae: 9781524715717: Books

When Lily and her family move in with her sick grandmother, Lily meets a tiger straight out of the Korean folklore she’s grown up on. This book won a Boston Globe/Horn Book honor and received five starred reviews. Personally, I couldn’t really get into it and only read about the first third back in the beginning of the year. Everyone else loved it, though, and it could definitely be a contender for more awards. 304 pages; grades 4-7.

Antiracist Baby by Ibram X. Kendi, illustrations by Ashley Lukashevsky

Published by Kokila

Antiracist Baby Board Book: Kendi, Ibram X., Lukashevsky, Ashley:  9780593110416: Books

Ibram X. Kendi’s book How to Be an Antiracist is #15 on Amazon’s list of 2020’s bestsellers. Here he offers nine tips for being (or raising) an antiracist baby, with a note to parents and teachers at the end. Available as both a board book and a regular picture book. 32 pages; ages 0-4.

Woodpecker Girl by Chingyen Liu and I-Tsun Chiang, illustrated by Heidi Doll

Published by Reycraft Books

Woodpecker Girl: Chiang, I-Tsun, Liu, Chingyen: 9781478869559:  Books

A girl with cerebral palsy tells how she learned to paint with a brush strapped to her forehead. An amazing gallery of her work is included. Told in the first person, the story doesn’t shy away from the challenges she faces and the discouragement she feels, but also expresses her joy at sharing with others through her art. 40 pages; grades K-4.

Everything Comes Next: Collected and New Poems by Naomi Shihab Nye

Published by Greenwillow Books

Everything Comes Next: Collected and New Poems: Nye, Naomi Shihab:  9780063013452: Books

I just got this book on December 23, so haven’t had a chance to read it. These 100 poems by Young People’s Poet Laureate Nye start with a section of poems on childhood, both her own and others. She also explores her Palestinian heritage and the need for peace, as well as an appreciation for the diversity of people in the world. 256 pages; grades 3-7.

Unstoppable by Adam Rex, illustrated by Laura Park

Published by Chronicle Books

Unstoppable: (Family Read-Aloud book, Silly Book About Cooperation) -  Kindle edition by Rex, Adam, Park, Laura. Children Kindle eBooks @ Amazon .com.

A crow being pursued by a hungry cat and a crab who dreams of flying work together to help one another. When they add a turtle and a bear, they become UNSTOPPABLE! At least until they see a bulldozer digging up the lakefront to build a mall. Then it’s off to see the President of the United States…and Congress…and things really get zany as only Adam Rex can imagine them. 56 pages; ages 4-8.

Chance: Escape from the Holocaust by Uri Shulevitz

Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Chance: Escape from the Holocaust: Memories of a Refugee Childhood  (9780374313715): Shulevitz, Uri: Books -

Caldecott Medalist Uri Shulevitz’s memoir covers his childhood from his days in Warsaw at the start of World War II to his family’s harrowing experiences in the Soviet Union during the war and their postwar years in Paris before emigrating to Paris when he was 14. Although it’s a thick book, the print is large and filled with Shulevitz’s illustrations, making it a quick and engaging read. 336 pages; grades 4-8.

A Gift for Amma: Market Day in India by Meera Sriram, illustrated by Mariona Cabassa

Published by Barefoot Books

A Gift for Amma: Market Day in India: Sriram, Meera, Cabassa, Mariona:  9781646860616: Books

Another one I haven’t gotten to see, but I love the brilliant colors of the cover (and pictures I’ve seen of the illustrations). A girl shops in an Indian market to find the perfect gift for her mother. 32 pages; ages 4-7.

Desert Diary: Japanese American Kids Behind Barbed Wire by Michael O. Tunnell

Published by Charlesbridge

Desert Diary: Japanese American Kids Behind Barbed Wire: Tunnell, Michael  O.: 9781580897891: Books

When Mae Yanagi was eight years old, she and her family were forced to move to Topaz Camp in Utah for the duration of World War II. She and her third-grade classmates created a diary of their daily lives in camp, filled with mundane details about school and family life, as well as descriptions of the difficulties of camp life. Michael Tunnell tells their story with plenty of photographs and excerpts from the diary. 144 pages; grades 4-7.

Selena: Queen of Tejano Music by Silvia López, illustrated by Paola Escobar

Published by little bee books Selena, reina de la música tejana (9781499811438): López, Silvia,  Escobar, Paola: Books Queen of Tejano Music: Selena (9781499809770): López, Silvia,  Escobar, Paola: Books

Summary:  Growing up in Texas, Selena Quintanilla was surrounded by music from an early age.  Her father taught her older siblings to play guitar and drums, and Selena soon proved herself to be a natural performer, singing and dancing to their music.  By the time she was nine years old, they were performing regularly in her father’s restaurant.  A few years later, the restaurant went out of business and the family fell on hard times.  Touring and making music seemed like the only way to make a living.  There was a demand for Tejano music, so Selena learned Spanish to perform the popular songs.  By the time she was in her late teens, Selena was an award-winning star, loved in both Mexico and the U.S.  She also was a popular celebrity, treating both her fans and co-workers with kindness and respect.  The final page memorializes Selena as a trailblazer and role model.  Includes several pages of additional information about Selena and her music, ending with a few paragraphs about her murder at the age of 23. A Spanish-language version of this book, Selena: Reina de la Música Tejana is also available. 48 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  Here’s another book I’ve been anticipating for several months, as my music-loving daughter has gotten me interested in learning more about Selena.  As I imagine is true for many others, I only knew about her death, so I’m glad this book has been written to celebrate her life and legacy.  There’s a lot of text, but the story is so engaging it doesn’t feel like a lot to plow through, and the illustrations really capture Selena’s spirit.  I was even inspired to watch the official video of “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom”, which is an incredibly catchy tune.  Sadly, as the book concludes, quoting Selena biographer Joe Nick Patoski: “The debate will never cease as to what could have been.”

Cons:  This book seems to be getting recommended for the 6-9 age group, but I think older kids will appreciate it more, due to both the text-heavy story and the tragic ending.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Frank Morrison

Published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

RESPECT: Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul: Weatherford, Carole Boston,  Morrison, Frank: 9781534452282: Books
The Original Art 2020: The Exhibit - Society of Illustrators

Summary:  The story of Aretha Franklin’s life is told in rhyming couplets, each one titled with a word written like “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” in the title.  Starting with “B-L-E-S-S-E-D”, showing a young Aretha praying while her parents watch, the story traces her life and career from singing gospel at her church to performing at President Obama’s inauguration.  In addition to her musical career, Aretha’s civil rights work is touched upon.  The final two pages celebrate both her legacy and her humility, ending with her description of her voice as “the gift that God gave me”.  Includes an author’s note with additional information about Aretha Franklin’s life and a list of her biggest hits.  48 pages; grades K-4.

Pros:  The large, colorful illustrations capture Aretha Franklin’s big personality and singing voice, starting with a gorgeous pink Cadillac on the title page. This is the third book I’ve reviewed this year illustrated by the prolific Frank Morrison, and I hope he gets some recognition at awards time.  This would make a good companion to A Voice Named Aretha.

Cons:  Those who don’t know much about Aretha Franklin’s life may struggle to make sense of the brief text unless they start with the author’s note at the end.

William Still and His Freedom Stories: The Father of the Underground Railroad by Don Tate

Published by Peachtree Publishing Company

William Still and His Freedom Stories: The Father of the Underground  Railroad: Tate, Don, Tate, Don: 9781561459353: Books
Review: William Still and His Freedom Stories - Mr. Alex's Bookshelf

Summary:  When William Still’s mother escaped from slavery, she was forced to leave her two sons behind.  She and her husband reunited in New Jersey, and they went on to have fifteen children, including William, the youngest, born in 1821.  When William was 23, he moved to Philadelphia, where he got a job as an office clerk at the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society.  He worked his way up to manager, and helped freedom-seekers by making his home a stop on the Underground Railroad.  One day a middle-aged man came to the office.  When William heard his story, he realized the man was his long-lost brother, Peter.  This inspired William to start recording the stories of every person who came through the office, thinking these records might help reunite other families.  When the Fugitive Slave Act was passed, William’s stories became evidence of crimes, and he was forced to hide them in a cemetery vault.  After the Civil War, he published many of the stories in his book, The Under Ground Rail Road.  Includes a timeline, author’s note, and bibliography.  40 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  According to the author’s note, when white writers told the story of the Underground Railroad, they often made themselves heroes and left out the work of many of the black people.  This book does a fabulous job of rectifying that for William Still, who was a tireless worker for many years.  Don Tate has been a busy man this year, creating both the text and beautiful illustrations for this book, as well as the pictures for Swish!, the recent book about the Harlem Globetrotters.

Cons:  I was curious as to what happened to all the papers Sill was forced to hide in the cemetery vault.  Did they survive?  Are they still around today?  There didn’t seem to be an answer in either the story or the author’s note.

Breaking the Ice: The True Story of the First Woman to Play in the National Hockey League by Angie Bullaro, illustrated by C. F. Payne

Published by Simon and Schuster

Breaking the Ice | Book by Angie Bullaro, C. F. Payne, Manon Rhéaume |  Official Publisher Page | Simon & Schuster

Summary:  Manon Rhéaume grew up playing backyard hockey with her brothers in Quebec.  When she was five, her dad recruited her to be goalie on the team he coached.  She did well and continued to push herself to succeed, becoming the first girl to play in the Quebec International Pee-Wee Hockey Tournament at age 11.  At the age of 20, she was invited to participate in a training camp for the new Tampa Bay Lightning hockey team.  She worked hard enough and played well enough to get to play in a couple of preseason games in 1992 and 1993, and remains the only woman to have played in a game in any of the four major North American sports leagues. Includes an afterword by Manon Rhéaume, a timeline, and fun facts about Manon.  40 pages; grades K-5.

Pros:  Here in New England, one can never have enough hockey books in the library, and hockey books about women are rare indeed.  This one has a very complete story and large colorful illustrations that will appeal to kids in all elementary grades.

Cons:  It wasn’t clear from the story or the afterword how much Manon had played in the NHL.  I had to go to the timeline for my answer (two preseason games).  

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

On Wings of Words: The Extraordinary Life of Emily Dickinson by Jennifer Berne, illustrated by Becca Stadtlander

Published by Chronicle Books

On Wings of Words: The Extraordinary Life of Emily Dickinson (Emily  Dickinson for Kids, Biography of Female Poet for Kids): Berne, Jennifer,  Stadtlander, Becca: 9781452142975: Books
On Wings of Words: The Extraordinary Life of Emily Dickinson (Emily  Dickinson for Kids, Biography of Female Poet for Kids): Berne, Jennifer,  Stadtlander, Becca: 9781452142975: Books

Summary:  Emily Dickinson’s life story is told from beginning to end, with her poetry woven into almost every page.  Her internal life is explored, how she loved books and sought answers when confronted with deaths of people near her.  As she grew older, she withdrew more, focusing on her writing and only interacting with a few people who were close to her.  Following her death in 1886, her sister Vinnie found hundreds of poems tucked away around her house, and the world began to discover the poet Emily Dickinson.  Includes additional information about Emily’s poetry; how to discover the world of poetry; a few books by and about Emily; and notes from the author and illustrator. 52 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  This gorgeously illustrated biography is an excellent introduction to the poetry of Emily Dickinson, and gives readers some glimpses into Dickinson’s life and why she chose to live the way she did.  The back matter provides additional inspiration for aspiring poets.

Cons:  As someone who has wished for a good elementary biography of Emily Dickinson (she’s a hot topic for third graders when they get to their unit on famous Massachusetts people), I was disappointed that this book didn’t include much of the factual biographical information (when she was born, where she lived, etc.) that kids are seeking for reports. A timeline would have been helpful and not taken away from the lyrical nature of the writing.

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

Above the Rim: How Elgin Baylor Changed Basketball by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Frank Morrison

Published by Harry N. Abrams

Above the Rim: How Elgin Baylor Changed Basketball: Bryant, Jen, Morrison,  Frank: 9781419741081: Books
Sixty years on, an NBA story teaches about racial injustice | MPR News

Summary:  Growing up in a segregated neighborhood in Washington, D.C., Elgin Baylor didn’t have much opportunity to learn how to play basketball.  So he taught himself.  When he got to high school and college, coaches were amazed at his style of play, so different from what they were accustomed to.  In 1958, Elgin was drafted by the Minnesota Lakers.  His pro ball career coincided with events in the civil rights movement.  Elgin himself took a stand after experiencing discrimination at hotels and restaurants when his team played in West Virginia.  He refused to suit up with the team, disappointing fans who had come to see him play, but using his status to make a statement.  A few weeks later, the NBA commissioner ruled that teams would no longer stay in hotels or eat in restaurants that practiced discrimination.  The following year, in 1959, Elgin was chosen as NBA Rookie of the Year.  Includes an author’s note describing how Elgin Baylor changed basketball and influenced players like Julius Irving, Michael Jordan, and LeBron James, as well as a list of additional resources, and a timeline of both Baylor’s life and events in the civil rights movement.  40 pages; grades 2-6.

Pros:  Basketball fans will enjoy this look at a lesser-known player who changed the game and influenced some other players they may have heard of.  Frank Morrison’s action-shot illustrations are amazing and should be looked at by the Coretta Scott King and/or Caldecott committees.

Cons:  Some sources recommend this book for preschoolers or kindergarteners, but with the civil rights events woven in and extensive back matter, it’s a better book for older elementary kids.

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