All the Way to the Top: How One Girl’s Fight for Americans with Disabilities Changed Everything by Annette Bay Pimentel, pictures by Nabi H. Ali, foreword by Jennifer Keelan-Chaffins

Published by Sourcebooks

All the Way to the Top: How One Girl's Fight for Americans with ...

All the Way to the Top: How One Girl's Fight for Americans with ...

Summary:  From the time she was a young girl, Jennifer Keelan-Chaffins realized her cerebral palsy kept her from doing everything her sister could–and she was determined to change that.  She and her family became activists, joining protests for disability rights all over America. Upon hearing that members of Congress didn’t want to pass the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), they decided to go to Washington, D.C. to join the protest there.  When Jennifer saw some of the adults sliding from their wheelchairs to crawl up the steps to the Capitol building, she wanted to join them. Photos of her climb were shown around the world and helped get the ADA into the news, and finally, passed by Congress. Includes two pages with additional information about disabilities, accessibility, and activism; a page on life before and after the ADA; a timeline of the Disability Rights Movement; the photo of Jennifer; and a bibliography.  32 pages; grades K-4.

Pros:  This excellent resource tells Jennifer’s story in a way that’s accessible to all readers.  Her determination and activism from such a young age may inspire others to get involved in causes they feel passionate about.  If they do, the back matter will give them a good start.

Cons:  It seemed like a photo and biography of the adult Jennifer belonged on the back flap with the author and illustration information.

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Joni: The Lyrical Life of Joni Mitchell by Selina Alko

Published by HarperCollins

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Summary:  “Joni Mitchell painted with words” begins this story of iconic singer Joni Mitchell.  Growing up in Canada, Joni loved art and music, often feeling a bit alienated from her parents who were “cautious and fixed in their ways”.  After surviving polio at age 10 (the same epidemic that sickened Neil Young), Joni began to pursue music in earnest, buying her first guitar in high school.  Moving from Toronto to New York to California, Joni found inspiration wherever she went: the clouds from her window on an airplane to write “Both Sides Now” and the view from her NYC apartment for “Chelsea Morning”.  Missing Woodstock to perform on TV prompted her to write “Woodstock”, and the aforementioned Neil Young’s song about staying young forever inspired “The Circle Game”. “I sing my sorrow, and I paint my joy,” Joni said, and this quote is illustrated by a collage of her albums spanning 1968 to 2007.  Includes an author’s note, discography, and bibliography. 48 pages; grades 1-5.

I looked at this book from both sides now, and:

Pros:  Any Joni Mitchell fan will appreciate this lyrical story of her life.  The illustrations are a gorgeous mix of painting and collage that perfectly capture Joni’s spirit and her music.  I particularly liked the one of her performing to an audience of Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, James Taylor, Judy Collins, Arlo Guthrie, and Pete Seeger.

Cons:  There are probably few 21st century kids who know who Joni Mitchell is.  

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Ruth Objects: The Life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Doreen Rappaport, illustrated by Eric Velasquez

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  Part of the Big Words series, this biography of Ruth Bader Ginsburg traces her life from her childhood in Brooklyn, New York to her present career as a Supreme Court justice.  From the days when her beloved mother (who died two days before Ruth’s high school graduation) encouraged her to learn and to think for herself to her arguments for gender equality on behalf of women and men, Ruth’s path has prepared her for her role as beloved Supreme Court justice.  Each page has at least one quote from Ginsburg to accompany the text and large, full-color illustrations.  Includes a timeline, author’s and illustrator’s notes, and a bibliography. 48 pages; grades K-5.

Pros:  Another beautiful picture book biography of Ruth Bader Ginsburg to put on the shelf next to I Dissent by Debbie Levy and Ruth Bader Ginsburg: The Case of RBG vs. Inequality by Jonah Winter (which I could have sworn I reviewed, but apparently didn’t).  The quotes and illustrations make all the books in this series excellent resources.

Cons:  It would be nice to see some picture books about the other two women on the Supreme Court.  Sonia Sotomayor has written her own, but there’s very little for kids on Elena Kagan.

Happy birthday to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who turns 87 today!  Long may you reign.

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Alice Across America: The Story of the First Women’s Cross-Country Road Trip by Sarah Glenn Marsh, illustrations by Gilbert Ford

Published by Henry Holt and Co.

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Summary:  Alice Ramsay fell in love with driving the minute she slid behind the wheel of her first car.  She enjoyed it so much that she entered a two-day endurance run to test her driving skills. After the first day, a publicist for carmaker Maxwell-Briscoe asked Alice if she’d be interested in driving from New York to California to show the public that their cars were so safe and well built that even a woman could drive one across the country.  Alice agreed, inviting three friends along. Two months and 4,000 miles later the four women pulled into San Francisco, having endured muddy roads, flat tires, potholes, and a bedbug-infested hotel. Alice lived to be 96 years old, enjoying driving and the distinction of being the first woman to drive across America. Includes additional information on Alice and the history of cars; several photos; a map on the endpapers showing the route; and a selected bibliography.  48 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  A fun and informative story of cars, cross-country driving and four adventurous women.  The back matter would make this a great choice for research.

Cons:  It would have been nice to incorporate the map into the illustrations more rather than having to refer to the endpapers.

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The Only Woman in the Photo by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Alexandra Bye

Published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  Although Frances Perkins was shy growing up, her passion for justice helped her overcome her fears.  As a young woman, she moved from Massachusetts to New York City where she became a social worker. Witnessing the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire turned her into an activist, and she was hired by former president Theodore Roosevelt to improve workplace safety.  She caught the eye of New York governor Al Smith, and moved to work at the state level, eventually working for Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt. When Roosevelt became President, he appointed Frances Secretary of Labor, the first female member of a U.S. presidential cabinet.  She was instrumental in many New Deal reforms, including Social Security and the federal minimum wage. Roosevelt wouldn’t let her resign, so Perkins remained in her position until FDR’s death in 1945. Disliking publicity and refusing to write her memoirs, Frances Perkins wasn’t always well-known, but her work continues to benefit us to this day.  Includes additional information and a list of sources. 48 pages; grades 2-6.

Pros:  This lengthy picture book biography of Frances Perkins highlights her work ethic and concern for people in need that led her to work for numerous reforms that have improved lives for almost a century.  Alexandra Bye’s illustrations enhance the text and nicely weave some of Frances’s quotes into the pictures.

Cons:  There aren’t a lot of dates of places in the text or author’s note, and very little is told of Frances’s personal life.  A timeline, kid-friendly list of resources, and some photos would have made this a more useful research book.

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Althea Gibson: The Story of Tennis’ Fleet-of-Foot Girl by Megan Reid, illustrated by Laura Freeman

Published by Balzer + Bray

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Summary:  From a young age, Althea Gibson excelled at all sports.  Growing up in Harlem, she didn’t know much about the world of tennis, but when she started hanging out at the Cosmopolitan Tennis Club (tennis club for black people in her neighborhood), people immediately took notice.  She worked at the club in exchange for lessons, and before long she was traveling with the all-black American Tennis Association. But Althea had higher aspirations, and, in 1950, she courageously moved to the all-white world of professional tennis.  She lost a lot at first and was not always a gracious loser, but she decided to learn from her defeats, and slowly started moving up the ranks. In 1957 and 1958, she made history with back-to-back Wimbledon wins, opening the door for other black players to compete at the top levels of tennis.  Includes an author’s note, timeline, and a list of additional resources. 40 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  An inspiring picture book biography of a natural athlete with a big personality who refused to accept the social norms of her day.  The back matter makes it an excellent choice for research–although the author’s note only hints at Althea’s post-tennis life which sounds pretty interesting.

Cons:  Once again, no photos.  Here’s a woman who lived into the 21st century, for crying out loud, there must be a ton of photographs of her.  

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Leave It to Abigail! The Revolutionary Life of Abigail Adams by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  “Leave it to Abigail!” is the repeating refrain of this book, as Abigail Adams defied expectations, beginning with her survival from a sickly baby to a rambunctious, inquisitive young girl.  She married John Adams at the age of 19, and continued to live life on her own terms, running a farm and raising a family when John was away for long periods of time. Their correspondence has become famous, as she offered insights and opinions from the home front while he traveled abroad.  When their children were grown, she boarded a schooner and sailed to Europe, where she lived the life of an ambassador’s wife, throwing parties and attending balls and concerts while maintaining a thrifty New England lifestyle. The Adams returned home to the presidency, and Abigail continued to influence politics through her writing and her conversations of John.  The two finally retired to their farm, but Abigail continued writing letters to the end of her life. Includes portraits of twelve American women influenced by Abigail Adams; author’s and illustrator’s notes; and source notes. 40 pages; grades K-4.

Pros:  It’s research project season at my schools, and with assignments on early American history and famous Massachusetts people, demand is outpacing supply.  So I’m delighted to find a new biography of Abigail Adams, particularly one that is written and illustrated so engagingly, really making Abigail come to life as a smart, courageous woman of her time.

Cons:  With research in mind, I would have liked to have seen a list of additional books and/or websites to help kids fill out Adams’ story.

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