This Promise of Change: One Girl’s Story in the Fight for School Equality by Jo Ann Allen Boyce and Debbie Levy

Published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books

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Summary:  Jo Ann Allen Boyce tells the story of her role in integrating Tennessee’s Clinton High School in 1956.  She and other black families lived on “the hill”; blacks and whites had a fairly peaceful relationship, but lived completely separate lives.  When she and 11 other students decided to go to the town’s high school, they became the first to integrate a public high school in the American South.  Their town erupted into protests and violence. After months of escalating harassment, Jo Ann’s family decided to join other relatives in Los Angeles, where she graduated from an integrated school.  A couple of the other Clinton students became the first black male and female to graduate from an integrated school in Tennessee. The book, written in verse, covers the period from January 1955 to December 1956, and ends with Jo Ann and her family driving away from Clinton.  Includes an epilogue that tells what happened to each of the 12 students; several pages of photos; a timeline of school desegregation and civil rights landmarks; a bibliography; and a list of books and websites for further reading. 320 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  A lesser-known story of desegregation, Jo Ann is an inspiring narrator who describes herself as optimistic and felt bad moving away instead of “finishing what she started”.  The verse format works well, and excerpts from news media of the day are scattered throughout the text, providing support for Jo Ann’s narration.

Cons:  It’s unfortunate these history-making teenagers were not as well-known as the Little Rock students.

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


Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré by Anika Aldamuy Denise, illustrated by Paola Escobar

Published by HarperCollins

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Summary:  Pura Belpré wasn’t planning to stay in New York City when she visited from Puerto Rico in 1921, but before long she had found a job at the New York Public Library.  She discovered the children’s room didn’t have any of the Puerto Rican folktales she had grown up with, and began sharing her stories with kids who visited the library.  Later, she found other ways to tell these tales, through puppets she created and books she wrote.  Her legacy lives on through the Pura Belpré award, given each year to Latinx authors and illustrators. Includes author’s note, additional resources (books, archival collections, articles, films, and a list of Pura Belpré’s stories mentioned in the book). A Spanish version of this book, Sembrando Historias, was published simultaneously with the English one.  40 pages; grades K-3.

Pros:  A beautifully written and illustrated book about a woman whose work with books and libraries continues to have an influence today.  Spanish words and phrases are scattered throughout the story, but with enough context to be understandable.

Cons:  Books about “celebrity librarians” can be a hard sell with the elementary crowd.

If you would like to buy the English version of this book on Amazon, click here.

If you would like to buy the Spanish version of this book, click here.

Brave Ballerina: The Story of Janet Collins by Michelle Meadows, illustrated by Ebony Glenn

Published by Henry Holt and Co.

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Summary:  Janet Collins was determined to be a dancer, even though she faced discrimination from an early age.  Her mother was a seamstress who paid for her dance lessons by sewing costumes. Janet was turned away from ballet schools and told she could only join a professional company if she painted her skin white.  She refused, and found other ways to dance. Finally, in 1951, the ballet master at the Metropolitan Opera House saw Janet dance, and hired her to be the first African-American prima ballerina there. An author’s note gives more biographical information, including two photos; sources and websites are also included.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  The story is told in simple rhyming text, each verse starting with “This is” (“This is the girl/who danced in the breeze/to the swoosh, swoosh, swoosh/of towering trees”).  Young readers will enjoy the illustrations depicting Janet in various dance costumes, and will be inspired by her perseverance that eventually led to success.

Cons:  The text is so brief that many details are omitted, and some of the people are just referred to as “the teacher” or “the man”; some of those characters are identified in the author’s note, but more information sources would be needed for any kind of research report.

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

Elvis Is King! by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Red Nose Studio

Published by Schwartz and Wade

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Summary:  “Elvis Is Born!” proclaims the first page, and each page thereafter has a headline that tells what happened to Elvis Presley for the first couple decades of his life.  He grew up in Mississippi in poverty–his father spent 14 months in jail for forgery–and moved to Memphis when he was 13. His mother bought him his first guitar for his 11th birthday, and music proved to be his ticket to a new world.  As a teenager, he dyed his hair black, started sporting some pretty funky clothing, and left his shyness behind every time he got on stage. After making a record for his mom at Sun Records, he was recruited to make a real record and became an overnight star.  The book ends with the release of “Heartbreak Hotel” that became a number one hit, and the simultaneous arrival of the hordes of screaming teenage girls. An author’s note gives more information and includes three photos of Elvis in 1937, 1956, and 1957. 40 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  Elvis may have been dead for over 40 years, but the legend lives on, and kids still enjoy reading about him.  The southern twang of the text and the outrageous three dimensional Red Nose Studio illustrations are a perfect combination to tell Presley’s story.

Cons:  A list of resources would have made a nice addition to the author’s note.

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


Through the Window: Views of Marc Chagall’s Life and Art by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Mary Grandpre

Published by Knopf

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Summary:  From the author-illustrator team that brought you The Noisy Paint Box and Vincent Can’t Sleep comes this introduction to the life of artist Marc Chagall.  Born Moishe Shagal in Vitebsk, Russia, he changed his name as a young man living and working in Paris.  Many of his paintings showed what he saw through various windows, which is referenced in the title.  Due to the two world wars, Chagall was forced to return to Russia for awhile before getting back to Paris and eventually moving to the United States. He continued to explore new art forms as he grew older, including sculpture, set design, and stained glass.  Includes an author’s note, which includes photos of some of Chagall’s work, and a list of sources. 40 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  A beautiful introduction to Marc Chagall’s life, both visually and through the text, which the author’s note explains is written the style of Chagall’s poetic autobiography, My Life.

Cons:  The story might be a little confusing without some guidance from a knowledgeable adult.

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

A Day with Judy Freeman

I spent today in Bristol, Connecticut at Judy Freeman’s What’s New in Children’s Literature workshop.  Judy was kind enough to invite me as her guest, and I enjoyed hearing what books she recommended and getting some programming ideas to promote them.  Sponsored by the Bureau of Education and Research (BER), it’s always a worthwhile workshop if you get the opportunity to go.

Judy and I have read a lot of the same books this year, but I did hear of a few that I missed and wished I had included on this blog.  Here’s a quick run-down if you want to try to get your hands on them.

The United States v. Jackie Robinson by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen

Published by Balzer + Bray

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Jackie Robinson’s baseball career is a familiar story, but this looks at his early life, growing up with a mother who refused to back down when their white neighbors tried to force the family to move.  The story also covers Jackie’s college and military career, showing how his early years shaped his later life playing baseball and working for civil rights.  32 pages; grades 3-6.


Mae’s First Day of School by Kate Berube

Published by Abrams

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Mae would rather sit up in a tree all day than face the uncertainties of the first day of school.  Soon she’s joined by another girl named Rosie, who shares Mae’s concerns about the unknown.  Finally, a third person joins them: Ms. Pearl, the new teacher who has her own insecurities.  The three finally decide to face their fears, climb down from the tree, and walk into school together.  32 pages; ages 4-8.


Stegothesaurus by Bridget Heos, illustrated by T. L. McBeth

Published by Henry Holt

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Two of the brothers are stegosauruses, but the third is a stegothesaurus.  Stegosauruses say hi; but it’s “Hello! Greetings! Salutations!” from the stegothesaurus.  A big mountain is “gargantuan, gigantic, Goliath”, and a hot day is “blazing, blistering, broiling”.  When the stegothesaurus meets an allothesaurus, the words really start to fly.  A fun introduction to word choice and thesauruses.  32 pages; grades K-3.


Worlds Make Way: New Poems Inspired by Art from The Metropolitan Museum by Lee Bennett Hopkins

Published by Abrams

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Seventeen children’s poets, plus Hopkins, created works inspired by paintings at The Metropolitan Museum in New York City.  A beautiful and accessible introduction to poetry and art.  48 pages; grades 3-7.


Dear Substitute by Liz Garton Scanlon and Audrey Vernick, illustrated by Chris Raschka

Published by Disney-Hyperion

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A girl is surprised to find a substitute in her class, and writes disgruntled letters about the changes in the routine.  As the day goes on, though, she begins to appreciate the fun-loving sub, and by dismissal time, she realizes the day has turned out just fine.  32 pages; grades K-3.



Regina Persisted: An Untold Story by Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, illustrated by Margeaux Lucas

Published by Apples and Honey Press

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Summary:  The story opens as Regina Jonas is on her way to take an exam that will allow her to be a Jewish rabbi.  As she’s walking to the school, she thinks back on what has brought her to this day–a love of the Torah, a father who believed girls should learn Hebrew, years of going to synagogue every week and staying after the service to study with the rabbi.  When she arrives at school, though, she’s stopped from taking the exam by a teacher who tells her that girls can’t be rabbis and that she must give up her dream. For five years, Regina continues to teach and inspire Jews during what is becoming an increasingly dark time in Germany.  Finally, on December 26, 1935, she is allowed to take the exam and become the first woman rabbi in the world. An afterword tells of Regina’s brief career until her death in Auschwitz in 1944; there was not another woman rabbi until 1972, but now there are close to 1,000, including the author.  32 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  It’s an amazing story of a woman who refused to take no for an answer in pursuing her dream.  The text and illustrations do a nice job of incorporating the stories of a couple of other strong Jewish women (Miriam and Esther).

Cons:  Because this was published by a small press specializing in Judaism, it’s probably not going to fly under the radar for many librarians and other book buyers.

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