A Flag for Juneteenth by Kim Taylor

Published by Neal Porter Books

Summary:  Huldah is excited to be turning ten on June 19, 1865.  That excitement grows when, on the morning of her birthday, soldiers ride up to the Texas plantation where Huldah and her family live and announce that all slaves are free and have been since Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation two years earlier.  All around her is a celebration, and a group of women begins to create freedom flags.  Huldah takes some time for herself, climbing a tree to capture a sunbeam in a jar.  When she returns, it’s time for her birthday celebration.  Her friends and family give her her own freedom flag; later, during a moonlit walk with her family, she wraps her baby sister in the flag, and the family celebrates this day of jubilee.  Includes an author’s note about how she came to create the quilts that illustrate this book.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  With Juneteenth coming up in a few weeks, this is a great introduction for younger readers, illustrated with distinctive quilt-inspired illustrations.  Kids may want to design their own freedom flags after reading this.

Cons:  There’s not a ton of information about Juneteenth here, so you may want to supplement with some other resources.

A Year of Good News: 52 Good News Stories from Around the World by Martin Smatana

Published by Boxer Books

Summary:  Martin Smatana began collecting good news stories during the pandemic, illustrating them with textile collages created from cast-off clothing.  Whether local, (a man who drove his 85-year-old grandmother 40,000 miles so she could see mountains and the ocean for the first time) or international (the eradication of polio in Africa), these 52 stories and pictures are designed to lift the spirits of those weighted down by all the less positive news in the world.  Includes a QR code that takes you to a website with additional good news stories.  112 pages; ages 7 and up.

Pros:  These happy stories and whimsical illustrations will lift anyone’s spirits and send readers on a search for more news that is positive.

Cons:  While I appreciated the human-interest stories, I would have liked to have seen a few more stories with broader scope like the polio one.

From Here to There: A First Book of Maps by Vivian French, illustrated by Ya-Ling Huang

Published by Candlewick

Summary:  When Zane sends Anna an invitation to his house with a map included, she’s annoyed that his house is in the middle of the map and hers is at the edge.  Dad suggests drawing her own map, but when Anna tries to include Grandma’s house, she runs out of paper.  Dad introduces her to the concept of a bird’s-eye view.  Once that map is completed, she draws one of her cat’s favorite places in the house, and Dad shows her a different kind of map he’s drawn: a family tree.  The next day, Anna and Dad follow Zane’s map to get to his house for the playdate.  Includes information about making your own map and an index with six terms.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Since maps are part of our kindergarten curriculum, I know there aren’t a lot of good introductory books for younger kids.  This book does a great job of expertly weaving map terms like scale and point of view into the story and encouraging readers to try to create their own maps.

Cons:  Introducing the family tree seemed a little confusing when all the other maps were about places.

Can We Please Give the Police Department to the Grandmothers? by Junauda Petrus, illustrated by Kristen Uroda

Published by Dutton Books for Young Readers

Summary:  If we give the police department to the grandmothers, they’ll patrol the streets in solar-powered cars like Corvettes, Jaguars, and Cadillacs, blasting “old school jams” from Patti LaBelle, Stevie Wonder, and Anita Baker.  If you get into trouble, the grandmas will give you a hard look but then take you home and feed you, help you with your homework, practice yoga, and rub your back while you fall asleep.  Grandmothers (some of whom look like grandfathers) “see the pain in our bravado, the confusion in our anger, the depth behind our coldness,” and know how to change people through unconditional love. Includes a playlist on both sets of endpapers. 32 pages; ages 4-8. 

Pros:  This book by writer and activist Junauda Petrus will bring a smile to your face but also make you think about what is lacking in our current society, particularly for young people of color.  Younger kids will enjoy it, but it could also be used as a text for older kids and adults to start a discussion about less harmful ways of policing.

Cons:  Some additional resources would have been useful.

Ancestory: The Mystery and Majesty of Ancient Cave Art by Hannah Salyer

Published by Clarion Books

Summary:  All over the world, ancient rock paintings, drawings, and etchings have been discovered.  Who made them?  How did they create the artwork?  This book looks at the answers to some of those questions, showing some of the works and looking at the materials ancient people might have used to make them.  A gatefold spread shows an amazing cave painting illuminated only by the lamps of the people who are looking at it.  The art is part of our “ancestory”–the story of humanity that continues with our own lives.  Includes a site map showing where rock art can be found around the world; the story of the discovery of the Lascaux Caves; an author’s note; a glossary; a timeline; and resources for further investigation.  48 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  Budding archaeologists will find this book fascinating and will want to dive into the additional resources to learn more.  The illustrations are gorgeous, using light and dark to highlight the artwork.

Cons:  I was curious to know if the art shown in the illustrations was based on real art and, if so, I wish there had been some labels to tell where it could be found.

Hidden Hope: How a Toy and a Hero Saved Lives During the Holocaust by Elisa Boxer, illustrated by Amy June Bates

Published by Harry N. Abrams

Summary:  Jacqueline Gauthier was a French teenager working with the Resistance during World War II.  She used a hollowed-out toy duck to smuggle papers to Jews who needed to change their identities to survive, eventually saving over 200 lives.  Jacqueline herself had changed her identity from Judith Geller to hide the fact that she was Jewish.  In addition to her work smuggling papers, she was hiding her parents and brother, having to find enough food to keep them all alive as she rode her bicycle for miles each day all over Paris.  Despite some close calls, Jacqueline/Judith survived to see the end of the war and the liberation of the people she had saved.  Includes two-page notes from both the author and illustrator with additional information about Judith and a list of additional resources.  48 pages; grades 3-6.

Pros:  This exciting story is told in spare, poetic text that conveys the danger Judith faced and the courage that kept her going for the long years of the war.  

Cons:  The only photo provided is from war-era identification papers.  I’m guessing there aren’t others available, but I would have loved to have seen more.

Dear Yesteryear by Kimberly Annece Henderson, hand lettering by Ciara LeRoy

Published by Dial Books

Summary:  “Dearest yesteryear, tell me your life’s story.”  Kimberly Annece Henderson, a historical researcher who specializes in genealogy and Black American lineages, directly addresses the people in the black-and-white photographs shown in the book.  Her poetic text asks them about their lives:  did they finish school?  Find love?  Achieve success?  She asks for their help and guidance in persevering, concluding, “I’ll walk within your shadow, until memory calls me home.  With love, Today.”  Includes an author’s note with additional information about her family and the work that she does, as well as thumbnails of each photo with a citation.  40 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  With the look of an old photo album, this unique book contains photos and text that are sure to be thought-provoking and discussion-inducing. The pictures would make great writing prompts and could lead readers to explore their own genealogies.

Cons:  The cover may not catch the eye of many kids. 

The Indestructible Tom Crean: Heroic Explorer of the Antarctic by Jennifer Thermes

Published by Viking Books for Young Readers

Summary:  Tom Crean grew up on the coast of Ireland and went to sea like most of the other young men around him.  But his fate took an unusual turn when he volunteered to be a last-minute replacement on board Robert Scott’s ship Discovery sailing for Antarctica.  This was the first of three trips Tom took to Antarctica: he was also part of Captain Scott’s attempt to be the first to reach the South Pole and was on board the ill-fated Endurance with Ernest Shackleton.  In fact, Tom was one of three men responsible for the rescue for the rest of the Endurance crew.  Shackleton tried to convince Tom to go on one more Antarctic exploration, but by then Tom had settled down in Ireland, opening the South Pole Pub (still operating today) with his wife, and raising three children.  Includes an afterword with additional information, a timeline, and a list of sources.  56 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  I love Jennifer Thermes’ illustrations, especially her maps, and am delighted to see on Amazon that she has a book about the history of America coming out this summer.  The illustrations are delightful, and the story is riveting, with plenty of back matter to make it a pretty complete biography.

Cons: Made Antarctica seem unappealing as a travel destination.

A Take-Charge Girl Blazes a Trail to Congress: The Story of Jeannette Rankin by Gretchen Woelfle, illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon

Published by Calkins Creek

Summary:  Jeannette Rankin was a take-charge girl from the start, helping out on her Montana ranch wherever she could.  Traditional female roles didn’t appeal to her, but social justice did, and she moved from working at a settlement house to campaigning for women’s suffrage.  After a victory for the cause in Montana, Jeannette decided to expand her influence by running for Congress.  On November 7, 1916, Jeannette won the election, becoming the first U.S. Congresswoman.  Five months later, she took her seat in the House of Representatives as a representative from Montana, declaring, “I may be the first woman member of Congress, but I won’t be the last.”  40 pages; grades 1-5.  Includes additional information about Jeannette Rankin, a timeline of her life, and additional resources.

Pros:  I’ve been working on a picture book biography of Jeannette Rankin off and on for the last few years, and this book is far better than anything I’ve been able to come up with.  The writing and illustrations are lively and capture Jeannette’s can-do spirit.

Cons:  To me, one of the most interesting things about Jeannette is that she voted against both World War I and World War II (the only member of Congress to do so for WWII), which was political suicide but supported her pacifist beliefs.  This part of her career is relegated to the back matter.

Stars of the Night: The Courageous Children of the Czech Kindertransport by Caren Stelson, illustrated by Selina Alko

Published by Carolrhoda Books

Summary:  Beginning in Czechoslovakia in 1938, the story follows five children from a peaceful happy life to a period of increasing restrictions and hardships for Jews.  When Germany occupies Czechoslovakia in March 1939, the children’s parents have a difficult decision to make. The kids are only vaguely aware of the man who’s offering them the chance to escape to safety. Before long, the families are at the Prague railway station, saying good-bye to their children as they board trains that will take them to England.  The children soon learn that the man has made arrangements with British families to take them in.  As the years pass, they grow more comfortable in their new homes, but worry as they hear news of Czechoslovakia.  Their fears are confirmed at the end of the war when most learn that their parents have not survived.  Fifty years later, they finally learn the identity of the man who saved them–Nicholas Winton, the British man who rescued 669 children.  Includes a timeline and extensive information on the Kindertransport Movement, Nicholas Winton, the five children, and The Children’s Memorial in Jerusalem, as well as additional resources, and notes from the author and illustrator.  40 pages; grades 3-6.

Pros:  The beautiful illustrations, riveting story, and extensive back matter make this a compelling nonfiction book that anyone with an interest in World War II or the Holocaust will want to get their hands on.  

Cons:  This story is told from the children’s perspective, so Nicholas Winton is simply a mysterious man, as he would have been to them.  His story is so interesting, though, that it seems a shame to relegate him to the back matter.  For a different perspective, be sure to check out Peter Sis’s Nicky and Vera.