So Tall Within: Sojourner Truth’s Long Walk Toward Freedom by Gary D. Schmidt, illustrated by Daniel Minter

Published by Roaring Brook Press

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Summary:  Each section of Isabella Baumfree’s life (later renamed Sojourner Truth) begins with a page that starts “In Slavery Time”.  “In Slavery Time, when Hope was a seed waiting to be planted,” or “In Slavery Time, when Happiness was a dream never coming true,”.  The last few sections begin with “In Freedom Time”. Each section tells part of Isabella’s remarkable life, starting with her childhood in slavery, and continuing with the determination that eventually led her to run away to freedom, and to bring a lawsuit to demand her son be returned home from a plantation in Alabama (he was).  Fifteen years after running away, now calling herself Sojourner Truth, she traveled across New York, to Washington, D.C., and to other parts of the country, first working to end slavery, then later speaking for human rights in other areas. She died in her 80’s, and the book ends with her quote: “My lost time that I lost being a slave was made up.”  Includes a biographical note and an extensive bibliography with notes about the various sources. 48 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  The poetic text and stunning illustrations give a compelling outline of Sojourner Truth’s life.  The excellent bibliography will help readers learn more. Deserving of an award or two for both the writing and the illustrations.

Cons:  There are some disturbing elements to Sojourner Truth’s story which young readers may need some help with.

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What Can a Citizen Do? By Dave Eggers, illustrated by Shawn Harris

Published by Chronicle Books

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Image result for what can a citizen do eggers amazon

Summary:  The team that brought us Her Right Foot takes a look at the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.  The rhyming text is simple, emphasizing the importance of helping others and working to make a better society.  Suggestions include helping a neighbor, joining a cause, writing a letter, and the generic “righting a wrong”. There may be a sly political message in the “No Trumpets” sign in a couple of the illustrations.  The conclusion? “So forget yourself a second/Grab a shovel or a pen/Do something for another./Don’t you dare doubt that you can!/Everything makes an impact/on a bigger big than you./And it all starts with the question:/What can a citizen do?”  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A basic introduction to civics for preschool and primary students.  The illustrations are the star of the show here, with a diverse cast of kid characters portrayed in collage illustrations that seem to pop out of the page.  

Cons:  If ever a book cried out for back matter, this is it.  What is a citizen? What are some specific actions citizens can take?  Definitely some missed opportunities here, particularly after the thought-provoking Her Right Foot.

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We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga by Traci Sorell, illustrated by Frane Lessac

Published by Charlesbridge

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Summary:  “Cherokee people say otsaliheliga to express gratitude.  It is a reminder to celebrate our blessings and reflect on struggles–daily, throughout the year, and across the seasons.”  With each season, the Cherokee people in this book are grateful, whether it is for food or community or festivals or family.  People are shown creating traditional crafts, celebrating life and death, eating, playing, and remembering their people’s history and how it is woven into the history of the United States.  Cherokee words and their pronunciations are scattered throughout the text. End matter includes a glossary, an author’s note, and a Cherokee syllabary with some lessons about the Cherokee language.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A beautiful book that would make an interesting harvest time supplement to Thanksgiving reading.  I loved the bright folk art style illustrations.

Cons:  After studying the Cherokee syllabary, I think I can safely cross learning that language off my bucket list.

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The Sinking of the Vasa: A Shipwreck of Titanic Proportions by Russell Freedman, illustrated by William Low

Published by Henry Holt and Company

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Summary:  On August 10, 1628, the warship Vasa set sail, the flagship of the Swedish navy, commissioned by the king and two years in the making.  The crew was on board with their families; to their horror, a wind blew that ship over less than a mile into the voyage, sinking it and killing many men, women, and children.  An investigation ensued, and several theories were put forth, but the cause of the accident was never determined. Centuries later, in 1956, the remains of the Vasa were discovered by Anders Franzen.  It took five years to figure out how to raise her, but this feat was accomplished on April 24, 1961.  Today the ship has been restored and is on display at the Vasa Museum in Stockholm, Sweden. Includes a list of sources. 44 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  Quite a bit shorter than Russell Freedman’s usual works (maybe because he passed away in March), this is nevertheless an interesting and well-researched story of a tragedy that will draw readers in.  The illustrations are sumptuous, particularly the large foldout page, and are done in a style appropriate for the period of the story.

Cons:  From the title, kids may be expecting a story more similar to the Titanic.  It would make an interesting compare/contrast exercise, though, for those familiar with that story.

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Spooked: How a Radio Broadcast and The War of the Worlds Sparked the 1938 Invasion of America by Gail Jarrow

Published by Calkins Creek

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Summary:  In chapter one, readers learn of a mysterious radio broadcast on October 30, 1938, reporting that the United States had been invaded and was quickly being destroyed.  They soon find out that this was actually a radio play based on H. G. Wells’ science fiction novel The War of the Worlds about invaders from Mars.  Orson Welles and his team at CBS radio’s Mercury Theater adapted the story to sound like it was actually happening, simulating broadcasts from New Jersey that broke into a musical program.  No one was prepared for the panic that ensued, as many people across America believed that the invasion was real. Jarrow reports on the variety of reactions, including letters and telegrams sent to CBS and Welles, some critical and others complimentary of the program.  She also looks at the exaggerated reporting that made it sound as though the panic was much more widespread than it actually was. Includes a timeline; information about other hoaxes; links to the original broadcast, script, and other source materials; an author’s note; and source notes.  144 pages; grades 5-9.

Pros:  This well-researched book with lots of photos brings the events of October 30, 1938 to life and ties them into today’s world of fake news and Internet hoaxes.  

Cons:  The font was a little small.

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National Parks of the U.S.A. by Kate Siber, illustrated by Chris Turnham

Published by Wide Eyed Editions

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Image result for national parks of the u.s.a. turnham

Summary:  This oversized guide to the national parks of the U.S. is divided into seven sections: Alaska, Tropics (Hawaii, the Virgin Islands, and American Samoa), West, Southwest, Rocky Mountains, Central, and East.  Each section starts with a map showing all the parks from that area, then gives more in-depth information (a two-page spread) on a few selected ones. These spreads include the location, date founded, size, and information about various plants and animals that can be found in the park.  Two pages at the end have an A-Z of wildlife: 26 plants and animals with a challenge to find which parks they are from. Also includes information on how to help protect the national parks and an extensive index. 112 pages; grades 1-7.

Pros:  It will take a pretty committed homebody to resist the urge to go exploring after perusing these pages.  The retro illustrations, oversized pages, and fascinating information make every park beckon to road trippers.

Cons:  For such a big book, some of the type is pretty tiny.

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Crescent Moons and Pointed Minarets: A Muslim Book of Shapes by Hena Khan, illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini

Published by Chronicle Books

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Image result for crescent moons and pointed minarets

Summary:  In this follow-up to Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns: A Muslim Book of Shapes, the author-illustrator team explores various aspects of Islam by looking at different shapes.  Each page contains a rhyming couplet introducing a shape and a word from Islam (“Circle is a daff, a drum large and round./We fill the air with its festive sound”).  The illustrations portray Muslims from a variety of countries and cultures. Includes a glossary that gives more information about each term from the text and an author’s note describing the importance of shapes and geometry in Islamic art.  32 pages; ages 3-8.

Pros:  An excellent introduction to the Muslim faith, with interesting illustrations that include a wide variety of beautiful geometric patterns.

Cons:  The information is pretty brief; I was curious about many of the terms, but the glossary only provides a sentence or two about each one.

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