Bad Princess: True Tales from Behind the Tiara by Kris Waldherr

Published by Scholastic

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Summary:  For centuries, princesses have captured the public’s imagination.  From the “princess wars” between Henry VIII’s daughters Mary and Elizabeth to the 21st century obsession with Kate Middleton, princesses have long been in the public eye.  This book looks at some of history’s “bad” princesses who have been surrounded by scandals ranging from divorce to murder.  Many are European, but there are also appearances by other nationalities like Hawaii’s Princess Ka’iulani and Maitha bint Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, a Dubai sheikha who competed in the 2008 Summer Olympics in tae kwon do.  Sidebars give interesting additional information about real-life princesses and their fairytale counterparts.  The book ends with a tournament of historical and storybook princesses (you’ll have to find out for yourself if Diana or Cinderella takes it all) and a princess board game.  Includes resources for further reading.  128 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  A heavy dose of history is handled with a light touch, complete with pink-tinged black-and-white illustrations and plenty of humor.  

Cons:  So many princesses to keep track of.

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When Sophie Thinks She Can’t… by Molly Bang

Published by Blue Sky Press

Summary:  Sophie is back, once again learning how to deal with her feelings.  This time, she’s frustrated when she’s trying to do a tangram puzzle and her older sister solves it in a minute, telling her “Too bad you’re not smart”.  When her teacher gives the class a math challenge the next day, Sophie doesn’t want to try, telling herself she can’t do puzzles and is never smart at math.  Her teacher and friends give her more positive messages, and ultimately Sophie is able to contribute to the different ways her classmates solve the problem.  She learns the power of “yet”, as in, “I haven’t figured this out…yet”, which helps her to persist and bring that lesson of perseverance home to her father.  Includes a page entitled “About this book” that tells more about the work of Carol Dweck and the growth mindset versus the fixed mindset.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Caldecott honoree Molly Bang has created another beautifully illustrated book to help young children understand their emotions and think empowering thoughts.  This would be a great discussion starter in a primary classroom.

Cons:  Having sat through more than one professional development on growth mindset and the power of “yet”, this book felt a bit didactic to me.

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March Forward Girl: From Young Warrior to Little Rock Nine by Melba Beals, illustrated by Frank Morrison

Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Summary:  Melba Beals, who told her story of helping to integrate Little Rock’s Central High School in Warriors Don’t Cry, recounts her early days, growing up in Jim Crow Arkansas.  At the age of three, she observed her family making the house quiet and dark each night, hoping the Ku Klux Klan would leave them alone.  She raged at seeing her beloved parents and grandmother slighted and scolded whenever they went into town, and at having to use inferior facilities everywhere, while white people got the best of everything.  As she grew up, her fear and anger turned into a determination to change things and to get out of Arkansas.  She jumped at the chance to go to Central High School, a huge, beautiful school that she had admired for years.  The main part of the book ends right before she starts high school; an epilogue describes the violent and frightening experience of integration.  The text is illustrated with drawings and a few photographs.  224 pages; grades 6-9.

Pros:  Readers will gain a better understanding of what it was like for African Americans living in the South in the 1940’s.  Beals’ conversational tone draws the reader in, and her story is so powerful and compelling (and at times, horrifying) that the book is hard to put down.

Cons:  This book is recommended for grade 5 or age 10 and up.  Be aware that there is a scene in which the KKK storms into a prayer meeting, and 5-year-old Melba witnesses a lynching from the church rafters; at age 11, she gets lost on a dark, isolated road and narrowly escapes being raped and/or murdered by a group of Klansmen.

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Be A King: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Dream and You by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by James Ransome

Published by Bloomsbury

Summary:  “Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve….You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.”  Martin Luther King Jr.’s words speak to children in this book showing how anyone can “be a King.”  Illustrations portraying scenes from King’s life are interspersed with others in a different style showing kids working together to paint an MLK mural.  Ideas for how to be a King include standing for peace, having a dream, and doing your very best at whatever you do.  The last page shows the kids gathered around the mural with the advice, “You can be a King.  Set your sights on the mountaintop.  Climb a little higher every day.”  An author’s note gives biographical information.  40 pages; ages 4-9.

Pros:  I liked how this book connected the sometimes abstract concepts of King’s work and speeches with concrete actions that kids can take to make the world a better place.  This would be an excellent book to use in conjunction with the day of service aspect of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.  There is a lot to look at in the illustrations, with two stories interwoven.

Cons:  Having biographical information on the pages with the pictures of King–even just a sentence or two–would have made this even more useful in helping kids understand his life.

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Martin Rising: Requiem for a King by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Brian Pinkney

Published by Scholastic Press

Summary:  The Pinkneys relate the story of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination, beginning with a “Henny Penny Prelude”, in which the fairy tale hen tries to warn of the bitter events ahead.  The remaining poems are in three sections: “Daylight”, “Darkness”, and “Dawn”, in which King’s work is described, particularly the sanitation workers’ strike that brought him to Memphis, Tennessee in March and April of 1968.  The assassination occurs part way through “Darkness”, and includes poems about Coretta Scott King, the Kings’ four children, and James Earl Ray.  “Dawn” is made up of just three poems, concluding with “Rejoice the Legacy” which celebrates MLK’s legacy, including the holiday celebrating his birth.  Back matter includes author’s and artist’s reflections, four pages of text describing the events from the poems called “Now Is the Time” (with several photographs), a timeline, and sources.  128 pages; grades 4-8.

Pros:  Both the poetry and the illustrations are majestic and give the reader much to think about.  The author’s note suggests that the poems could be performed with the “Now Is the Time” section as narration and adding poems to the appropriate parts of the story.

Cons:  The Henny Penny motif was a bit confusing to me.

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The Underground Railroad (American Girl: Real Stories from My Time series) by Bonnie Bader, with Addy stories by Connie Porter; illustrated by Kelley McMorris

Published by Scholastic

Summary:  The story of the Underground Railroad and slavery in America is told in this chapter book that includes sections on these two topics as well as abolitionists, slave catchers, and the Emancipation Proclamation.  Each chapter ends with two pages told by Addy Walker, the American Girl whose story includes an escape from slavery.  Her narrative is in her voice, drawing from the original American Girl books.  Black and white illustrations and photographs appear every two or three pages.  Includes a note about Addy’s dialect, a glossary, a map of free and slave states and territories in 1856, a timeline, and source notes.  112 pages; grades 3-6.

Pros:  What could have been a simple marketing tool for Addy is actually a very informative, engagingly written nonfiction book.  Other topics in the series will include the Boston Tea Party, the Titanic, and Pearl Harbor.  I will leave it to you to match the topic with the American Girl.

Cons:  On page 25, Quakers are described as “a Christian group who believe that people should shake and tremble at the word of the Lord.”  Having been part of a variety of Quaker meetings for the last fifteen years, I can safely say I have yet to meet a Quaker who fits this description.

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Let the Children March by Monica Clark-Robinson; illustrated by Frank Morrison

The majority of books I have read in 2018 have been about African-Americans and the Civil Rights Movement.  I will be sharing reviews of these for the next week, beginning today.

Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Summary:  A girl tells about her participation in the Birmingham Children’s March of 1963, starting with a family trip to church to hear Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  When he urges the congregation to march, many of the adults are afraid of losing jobs, so young people offer to go.  On May 2, she and other children and teens begin their protest, only to be met with dogs, fire hoses, and arrest.  On the third day, she is sent to jail.  When their story is broadcast around the world, changes begin to happen, and within two months, the girl is playing on a playground she’s never been allowed to use before.  Back matter includes an afterword, an artist’s statement, a bibliography, and three photos from the march.  40 pages; grades 1-4.

Pros:  A compelling story, made even more so by the first-person narration and the large, realistic oil paintings.  The message that one person can make a difference is inspiring.

Cons:  The desegregation process seemed overly simplified.

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