Summary: Until the age of 5, Joyce Scott and her twin sister Judy are inseparable. But when Joyce starts kindergarten, Judy, who had “what will come to be known as Down syndrome”, stays home. One day Joyce wakes up and finds that Judy is gone. From that day on, Judy lives in a big gray institution where Joyce only sees her on occasional visits. Joyce finds it harder and harder to leave at the end of each visit until, as an adult, she decides to bring Judy home to live with her and her family. Since Joyce works during the day, she enrolls Judy at the Creative Growth Art Center, an art school for adults with disabilities. For many months, Judy sits and looks at magazines, until one day she creates a small sculpture with twigs, yarn, twine, and paint. From that day on, she works at the studio every day, making unique art from all sorts of colorful materials. After her death, her work becomes renowned and continues to be exhibited all over the world. Includes information on Creative Growth Art Center and Down Syndrome, a timeline of Judith Scott’s life, notes from the author and illustrator, sources, and photographs of Judy and one of her sculptures called “Twins”. 48 pages; grades K-5.
Pros: Judith Scott’s story is so engaging that, even though it’s a bit long for a picture book, it would hold the attention of younger readers, and possibly inspire them to try their own creations. Joyce’s voice passes along the love and appreciation she feels for her sister and Judy’s artistic gifts. And, as always, I would be happy to see Melissa Sweet get some Caldecott recognition, which I wanted so badly for Some Writer! that I feel compelled to still mention it four years later.
Cons: I wish there were more photos of Judy’s work in the book.
Summary: Areli Morales tells her story, beginning with her childhood in Mexico where she lived with Abuela. Every Saturday her parents would call from the United States, and Areli dreamed of the day she could join them there. Her older brother Alex lived with her, but eventually was able to leave, because, unlike Areli, he had been born in the U.S. Finally, when Areli was in kindergarten, she got word that she would be able to join the rest of the family. When Areli arrived, she was thrilled to be with her parents and Alex, but struggled to learn English and fit in at school, where kids sometimes called her “illegal”. As the years passed, things got easier, and a fifth grade field trip to Ellis Island made Areli realize how many other immigrants had come to America just like she had, and helped her to dream of a bright future in America. Includes an author’s note about her DACA status: how she obtained it, what opportunities it opened up for her, and how it has been threatened. 40 pages; grades K-4.
Pros: Areli’s story is told in a way that will engage younger readers but also show older kids the experience of immigrating to the U.S. and what it means to be a DACA recipient. Kids who have had an experience similar to Areli’s will appreciate her story, and those who haven’t will get a child’s perspective on what it’s like.
Cons: I liked Areli’s author’s note, but I would have liked even more information or additional resources about DACA.
Summary: As a child growing up in Lithuania, Ben Shahn had two passions: art and justice. These continued after he and his family immigrated to America when he was 8 years old. Lacking the funds to attend college, Ben apprenticed himself to a lithographer and studied art at night. He worried that the art that he learned about in school was different from what he wanted to paint: stories. In 1927, outraged by the trial of Sacco and Vanzetti, Ben created 23 paintings to tell their stories. Later he was hired by the U.S. government to document the poverty of the Great Depression through photographs and paintings. He continued to create stories with his art through the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War until his death in 1969. Includes notes from the author and illustrator; a photo of Ben Shahn; a timeline of his life; and a bibliography and source notes. 48 pages; grades 1-5.
Pros: An engagingly written story of Ben Shahn’s life, focusing on both his art and his passion for justice. His work influenced the illustrations of Evan Turk, whom I think we can all agree should finally get some Caldecott recognition.
Summary: On September 29, 1909, Wilbur Wright flew for six and a half minutes around the Statue of Liberty, the first time either of the Wright Brothers had flown over a body of water. His feat was witnessed by a large crowd of New Yorkers, including 10-year-old Juan Trippe, whose conversation with his father bookends the main narrative of this story; Trippe would grow up to found Pan Am Airways. The story is supplemented by extensive back matter, including an author’s note with additional information about the Wright Brothers and their New York flights (a few days later, Wilbur took a longer flight down the Hudson River). There’s also a list of facts about other aspects of the story, an illustrator’s note, and a bibliography. Front end papers show a newspaper article reporting the event, and back papers show a map of the flight. 40 pages; grades K-5.
Pros: This veteran author-illustrator team has created a picture book that perfectly captures the tension and excitement of Wilbur Wright’s flight, while also conveying the peacefulness of flying. The extensive back matter adds a lot of information, and is written in a way that is accessible to younger readers.
Cons: I wish the back matter had included a few photos.
Summary: Growing up in Victorian England, Marianne North was never encouraged in her passions for art and botany. Self-taught in both, she stayed home and cared for her “irritable, demanding” father until his death when she was 40. When an elderly widow invited her to be a traveling companion to North America, Marianne jumped at the chance. This trip led her to Jamaica and the tropics she had long dreamed of seeing. She eventually circumnavigated the world several times, seeking out exotic plant species that she could paint. When her paintings crowded her London flat, she arranged to have a gallery built for them as part of the Royal Botanic Gardens. The Marianne North Gallery opened in 1882 with 627 paintings on display. She spent the last few years of her life at home in the English countryside, gardening, painting, and writing her memoirs before her death in 1890 at the age of 59. Includes additional information on her legacy and writings, as well as sources and a who’s who of people Marianne encountered throughout her life. 44 pages; grades 2-5.
Pros: This fascinating account of a woman who defied social expectations to lead an adventurous life makes for an inspiring read. Her single-minded passions, preference for being alone, and discomfort with social situations made me wonder if she was neurodivergent. The brilliant illustrations capture the spirit of North’s work, and make sure to check out the endpapers for reproductions of some of her paintings (identified in the back matter).
Summary: Gino Bartali gained fame in Europe when he won the Tour de France in 1938. So when Archbishop Elia Dalla Costa recruited him to help Jewish families escape the Nazis, Gino was ready. He began cycling all over Italy, delivering fake identity papers to families in hiding. He also used his fame by visiting train stations and distracting autograph-seeking soldiers while families destined for concentration camps were quickly rerouted onto other trains. Forced into the Italian militia, he became a spy who helped rescue English P.O.W.’s. After the war, he went on to win another Tour de France, but never talked about the more than 800 lives he had saved, stating that “Some medals are pinned to your soul, not your jacket.” Includes a timeline, a letter from Bartali’s granddaughter Lisa, an author’s note, and a list of sources. 40 pages; grades 2-5.
Pros: Another gripping story of a modest World War II hero that would pair nicely with Peter Sis’ Nicky and Vera. The illustrations, which look like vintage posters, add a lot to the story.
Cons: There was very little information on Gino Bartali’s life before or after World War II. Also no photos, so here’s one.
Summary: These two books arrived in the library for me from interlibrary loan land on the same day. Walking Toward Peace is the story of Mildred Lisette Norman, who had a vision of walking across the U.S. advocating for peace in the aftermath of World War II. She changed her name to Peace Pilgrim, and from 1953 until her death in 1981, walked through all 50 states, handing out flyers and talking to people about ending war and living in peace. Remarkably, she never carried any money with her, relying on her knowledge of outdoor living and, to a great extent, the kindness of people she encountered on the road.
Peace draws on Baptiste and Miranda Paul’s experiences growing up in war-torn Mozambique. With simple rhyming text (“Peace is pronouncing your friend’s name correctly/Peace means we talk to each other directly”) and pictures of kids and animals living harmoniously, the book offers concrete actions for fostering peace. The authors’ note explains how war affects not only humans, but animals and the natural world as well. Both books are 40 pages and recommended for ages 4-8.
Pros: I’ve heard about Peace Pilgrim for years, so I was happy to learn about this new book. Her story is sure to intrigue both children and adults, and is a moving testimony to following your own path in life (literally, in her case). Peace would make a great follow-up book to read, with its emphasis on how peace is important to animals as well as humans, something that will resonate with a lot of kids. I loved the simple actions described, and the illustrations, especially the beautiful tree on the endpapers, with the word “peace” written in different languages on its leaves.
Cons: It seems like an ironic bummer that Peace Pilgrim was killed in an accident while riding in a car at the age of 72, and did not live to see the end of the Cold War.
Summary: The first time Patti McGee saw a group of boys on skateboards, she mounted a board on her roller skate wheels, and took off down the tallest hill in her neighborhood. She was hooked, but the wheels kept falling off her board, and a real skateboard was expensive. When she heard about a new skateboarding team starting up, with a free board as part of the deal, she practiced even harder. Making the team inspired her to enter a competition, where she showed off her best trick: a handstand on a moving board that she held for six seconds. Her perfect score won her the championship and launched a skateboarding career. Includes a page answering the question “Where Is She Now?”, an author’s note, a photo of Patty performing her handstand, and a list of sources. 48 pages; grades K-4.
Pros: Patti’s enthusiasm and determination (particularly on the page that shows her applying multiple band-aids to her bleeding arms and legs) will be an inspiration and introduce kids to a little-known sports star.
Summary: When Kate Kaird left Germany for America with her young son Jacob, she couldn’t have imagined what lay in store for her. She soon married John Walker, the keeper of the Sandy Hook Lighthouse, and within a year they moved into the lighthouse to live. She spent the next 33 years there, taking over all the duties after John died when their daughter was only three years old. It took four years for her to get the title and salary of permanent lighthouse keeper, securing the job after two men passed it up as being too lonely. Kate kept the light clean and polished, rowed back and forth to Staten Island for visits and supplies, and rescued more than fifty people during her long career. Includes additional information with a photo and a list of sources; endpapers include a map of the lighthouse and the surrounding area. 40 pages; grades 1-5.
Pros: Another great choice for Women’s History Month, this would also pair well with Sophie Blackall’s Hello, Lighthouse! The lengthy story gives plenty of details which are supplemented further with the author’s note. As always, Emily Arnold McCully’s illustrations are excellent and really capture the different seasons and types of weather experienced by the lighthouse dwellers.
Cons: The story is long enough that younger readers might get antsy during a read-aloud.
Summary: This biography of Nelson Mandela covers his early life in the first few pages, focusing primarily on his imprisonment from 1963 until 1990. Mandela studied and taught others while in prison, reaching out to both white guards and black prisoners. His isolation gradually decreased as reforms slowly came to South Africa, and on February 2, 1991, he was released from prison. Three years later, he voted for the first time in his life–and was elected president of South Africa. Includes extensive back matter: lengthy author’s and illustrator’s notes; additional information on apartheid, the ANC, and Mandela’s imprisonment; a timeline of Mandela’s life and South Africa’s journey to democracy; and lists of books, videos, and websites with additional information (but, surprisingly, no photos). 48 pages; grades 3-6.
Pros: An inspiring look at Nelson Mandela’s life, with beautiful, brilliant acrylic paintings to illustrate it, and lots of material to support further research.
Cons: I wish this book had been edited more; the text is lengthy, and some of Mandela’s story could have been more effectively shown rather than told.