Fearless Mary: Mary Fields, American Stagecoach Driver by Tami Charles, illustrated by Claire Almon

Published by Albert Whitman and Company

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Summary:  When Mary Fields heard about a job opening for a stagecoach driver to make deliveries to a school over the mountains, she was determined to get hired.  She lined up with forty cowboys to apply for the job, but the manager wasn’t interested in considering a black woman. Mary wouldn’t go away, though, and finally she got a chance what she could do.  The manager was so impressed by her skills with horses and driving that he hired her, and she became the first black female stagecoach driver in Cascade, Montana. Traveling with her trained eagle, she fought off thieves and wolves, and never lost a horse or package.  Mary held the job for eight years, into her seventies, and paved the way for other women to become mail deliverers. Includes an author’s note with additional information about Mary. 32 pages; grades K-4.

Pros:  A little-known story of a fearless and determined woman, told in a way that will be understandable and interesting to primary-grade kids.

Cons:  So little is known about Mary’s life that the author says some of the scenes and dialogue are made up, making this a cross between biography and historical fiction.

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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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Water Land: Land and Water Forms Around the World by Christy Hale

Published by Roaring Brook Press

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Image result for water land christy hale

Summary:  Ten different land and water forms are depicted, using die cut pages to turn one form into another.  For instance, the first two pages show a tan landscape with a hole cut out showing the blue on the next page–a lake.  Turn the page, and that hole turns the previous page into an island in the middle of the blue water. Each spread shows people engaging in various recreational activities like camping and swimming.  There’s only one word on each page, but the last two pages define all the land and water forms. They’re part of a larger fold-out page that lists different examples of the forms and shows them on a map of the world.  32 pages; ages 3-10.

Pros:  This book will appeal to a wide variety of ages; preschoolers will enjoy the die cut pages and learning new words; older students of geography will get a good deal of information on the final pages.  And everyone will have fun seeing what the people are up to and dreaming about which land or water form they would like to visit.

Cons:  Such a cool book deserves a snazzier title.

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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.

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She Did It! 21 Women Who Changed the Way We Think by Emily Arnold McCully

Published by Disney-Hyperion

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Image result for she did it mccully amazon

Summary:  As per the subtitle, you’ll find 21 women who promoted feminism and changed the role of women, mostly in the twentieth century.  Each profile is several pages long, broken into sections with headings and sidebars, and begins with an illustration of the woman with a large head, a la the Who Was biography series.  They’re arranged in chronological order by the year each woman was born, beginning with Ida Tarbell (1857) and concluding with Temple Grandin (1947).  Many of the names may be unfamiliar to elementary and middle school students. The concluding chapter, “Second Wave Feminism” tells the story of feminism in the 1960’s and 1970’s, and includes an eye-popping list of eight things a woman couldn’t do before the second wave (get a bank loan, serve on a jury in most states, etc.).  Includes a list of sources and an index. 272 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  An educational and entertaining look at 21 fascinating women in a wide variety of fields and from diverse backgrounds, all placed in the context of the history of feminism.  The illustrations and page layouts make this easy to browse.

Cons:  While I liked the illustrations, photos of each woman would have been a useful addition as well.

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Thirty Minutes Over Oregon: A Japanese Pilot’s World War II Story by Marc Tyler Nobleman, illustrated by Melissa Iwai

Published by Clarion Books

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Image result for thirty minutes over oregon

Summary:  On September 9, 1942, Nobuo Fujita set out on a mission to drop two bombs in Oregon, with the intention of setting a forest fire that would spread to nearby towns.  The raid was successful, but only one bomb ignited, and the resulting fire was quickly contained. Residents of the town of Brookings, Oregon were somewhat alarmed to discover pieces of a Japanese bomb in a nearby forest.  The mission was repeated a few weeks later, with similar results. After the war, Nobuo settled down in Japan, never telling anyone about his raids over America. In 1962, the Brookings Jaycees, trying to boost tourism, decided to track down the Japanese bomber pilot and invite him to America.  For the first time, Nobuo told his family about his role in the war, and the whole family traveled to Oregon, not sure about what to expect. Despite some protests, most of the townspeople welcomed the Japanese visitors with open arms, and the trip ended up being the first of four that Nobuo made; he also sponsored three Brookings high school to visit him in Tokyo.  The day before he died in 1997, a town representative flew to Japan to make Nobuo an honorary citizen; a year after his death, his widow scattered some of his ashes in the Oregon town. Includes an author’s note and additional sources. 40 pages; grades 1-6.

Pros:  Kids who are interested in World War II may pick this up, but there is a lot more to the story than just military history.  It’s a tale of forgiveness and pacifism, and raises the interesting question about Nobuo: “He went from fighting to uniting.  Which took more courage?’’ An engaging story and meditation on war and peace.

Cons:  It does make you wonder what would have happened if those bombs had worked the way they were supposed to.

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Apollo 8: The Mission That Changed Everything by Martin W. Sandler

Published by Candlewick

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Summary:  Coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 8 mission, this book starts with a look at the history that led up to the first manned flight to the moon.  The first chapter explores the space race, John F. Kennedy’s vow to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade, the early Soviet successes, and the tragic deaths of the three Apollo 1 astronauts in a fire.  The rest of the book is about Apollo 8 and its crew, commander Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders, who risked their lives to reach the moon. They succeeded in entering into orbit around the moon, becoming the first humans to view its dark side, then left lunar orbit and returned to Earth.  Their TV broadcast from space was watched by millions of people, and and helped generate excitement about the space program.  Bill Anders’ iconic photograph of the Earth rising is one of the most famous ever taken. The success of the Apollo 8 mission laid the groundwork for Apollo 11 six months later, when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first to walk on the moon. Includes a bibliography and index.  176 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  Packed with exciting details and photos about the space program in general and Apollo 8 in particular, this large glossy book will appeal to aspiring astronauts in late elementary, middle, and high school.  The cover design is one of my favorites of the year.

Cons:  Every several pages, there were 2-3 pages on a related topic inserted into the text.  While these sidebar-type entries were interesting, they interrupted the main narrative in a way that was somewhat jarring.

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