Hello Lighthouse by Sophie Blackall

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  A man arrives at a lighthouse to take his new job as its keeper.  A cutaway illustration shows him busy, tending the light, painting the walls, and cooking food.  Despite his activity, he’s lonely, and often writes messages that he puts in bottles and tosses into the sea.  After awhile, a tender arrives, bringing supplies and the man’s wife.  They are happy together in the lighthouse, and eventually they’re joined by a third person, their new daughter.  Several years later, electricity comes to the lighthouse, and the family moves away.  A fold-out final page shows a little house on the coast, lights from its windows shining to meet the light coming from their old lighthouse home.  Includes additional information about lighthouses and the people who kept them going.  48 pages; ages 4-10.

Pros:  A lovely blend of fact and fiction, Caldecott winner Sophie Blackall makes life in a lighthouse seem indescribably cozy, while presenting each scene creatively (I especially admired the lighthouse cutaway, the shipwreck, and the circular images of the wife in labor).  Hello, my new favorite picture book of 2018!

Cons:  I suspect real life in a lighthouse was not this idyllic.  This sentence in the author’s note about foghorns particularly caught my attention: “Some lighthouse keepers learned to sleep through the din of the horn; others nearly went mad when the fog lasted for days.”

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A Lady Has the Floor: Belva Lockwood Speaks Out for Women’s Rights by Kate Hannigan, illustrated by Alison Jay

Published by Calkins Creek

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Summary:  Although a contemporary of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Belva Lockwood is (unfairly) less well-known for her contributions to women’s rights.  Starting as a teacher at the age of 14, Belva began her activism in the world of education, introducing public speaking and physical education for both boys and girls, and eventually opening up her own private school.  From there, she went to law school, sticking it out when other female classmates quit. She graduated, but had to petition President Ulysses S. Grant to receive her diploma. As a lawyer, she fought for the underserved: widows, Civil War veterans, and former slaves, and eventually became the first woman to argue a case before the Supreme Court.  In 1884, she ran for President of the United States and received over 4,000 votes. Sadly, Belva Lockwood died in May, 1917, a little more than three years before the Nineteenth Amendment gave women the right to vote. Includes author’s note, timeline of U.S. women’s history to 2016, and bibliography 32 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  A lively and engaging biography of an important and often overlooked suffragist; the timeline does a nice job of placing her life in the context of history.  

Cons:  Some readers might struggle with the cursive font that appears on some pages.

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Midnight Teacher: Lilly Ann Granderson and Her Secret School by Janet Halfmann, illustrated by London Ladd

Published by Lee and Low

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Summary:  As a young child working in the master’s house, Lilly Ann Cox was sometimes included in games of school with the other children.  She learned how to read and write, and enjoyed teaching other slaves when the master’s family went visiting on Sundays.  When the master died, Lilly was sold to a plantation in Mississippi, where she was forced to work in the cotton fields, often beaten for not being able to keep up.  When she became ill, she was moved into the kitchen.  On her trips to the market, Lilly discovered an abandoned cabin, and eventually opened a school there.  Slaves would sneak out in the middle of the night.  The penalty if they were caught was 39 lashes with a whip; however, when they were finally found out seven years later, they were miraculously allowed to keep the school going with no punishment.  After the Civil War, Lilly married and raised three children, while continuing her career as a teacher.  An afterword describes her work in greater detail and how it positively influenced her descendants, including great-grandson Charles C. Diggs, Jr., who became a Congressman and helped found the Congressional Black Caucus.  40 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  A fascinating story about one woman’s courage to improve the lives of others that had an impact for generations after her.  The acrylic paintings nicely illustrate Lilly’s story.

Cons:  Be prepared to answer questions about Lilly’s difficult days working in the cotton fields of Mississippi.

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Chasing King’s Killer: The Hunt for Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Assassin by James L. Swanson

Published by Scholastic

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Summary:  After James Earl Ray assassinated Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4, 1968, he was able to elude an international manhunt for more than two months.  James Swanson, author of Chasing Lincoln’s Killer and other books about assassins, tells the stories of Martin Luther King, Jr. and James Earl Ray leading up to the moment their lives intersected.  He then goes on to detail the desperate attempts to save King’s life, and Ray’s escape to Canada and London, where he was finally arrested.  The impact of the assassination on the country and the FBI’s tenacious hunt for the killer (despite J. Edgar Hoover’s hatred of MLK) are also detailed. There are plenty of photos throughout the text and over 100 pages of back matter, including places to visit, timelines, source notes, extensive bibliographies divided by topics, and a very complete index.  384 pages; ages 12 and up.

Pros:  A gripping history (I was almost late for work as I approached the moment of the assassination and didn’t want to put the book down) that is also extremely well documented.  The reading lists are complete enough to use for an entire college class. Even reluctant readers will get caught up in the narrative.

Cons:  This length of the book may be off-putting to some readers, which is unfortunate; with all the photos and back matter, it is really a pretty quick read.

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On Our Street: A First Talk About Poverty by Dr. Jillian Roberts and Jaime Casap, illustrated by Jane Heinrichs

Published by Orca Book Publishers

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Summary:  Poverty and homelessness are explained for young children, using a question and answer format for such queries as “What is it like to live on the streets?” and “Are there children who are homeless?”  Each question is answered on a two-page spread, with stock photos of different people, illustrated with drawings of the same three kids who seem to be the ones having the discussions.  International poverty is addressed, with information about refugees and fundamental human rights. Readers are given suggestions of how to help those who need it, and there is a list of Internet websites at the end, along with notes from both the authors.  32 pages; grades K-3.

Pros:  Simple, straightforward information is given about topics that are not often addressed in children’s literature.  The authors, a child psychologist and the educational evangelist at Google (who grew up in poverty) make an interesting combination of writers.

Cons:  The stock photos somewhat depersonalize the issues; it would have been more effective to follow the same people or family throughout the book.

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All That Trash: The Story of the 1987 Garbage Barge and Our Problem With Stuff by Meghan McCarthy

Published by Simon and Schuster

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Summary:  In 1987, Lowell Harrelson had the brilliant idea to make electricity from the methane gas released by decomposing garbage.  He rented a barge, hired two tugboat drivers, and loaded over 3,000 tons of garbage to be hauled from New York to North Carolina.  When the (incorrect) rumor got out that there was medical waste on the barge, officials in North Carolina refused to let the trash into the state. Thus began a saga that continued for five months and over 6,000 miles as one state after another (and a few countries) refused the barge entry.  Unbelievably, the trash ended up back in New York, where sanitation workers burned it. The news media picked up the story and ran with it, raising awareness about the problem of overflowing landfills and giving momentum to the recycling movement. Includes additional facts about the barge, garbage, and recycling, as well as a very complete bibliography.  48 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  Meghan McCarthy has a knack for finding obscure stories and bringing them to life, making them relevant to today’s readers.  Her bug-eyed portraits and cartoon bubbles make this entertaining and highly readable, while the text imparts plenty of information.

Cons:  Five months hauling a barge with 3,000 tons of garbage.  Eww.

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Abraham Lincoln, Pro Wrestler by Steve Sheinkin (Time Twisters series)

Published by Roaring Brook Press

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Summary:  When fourth-grader Doc tells his teacher history is boring, he unwittingly changes history so that it really is boring.  Doc and his stepsister Abby discover Abraham Lincoln in an old supply closet at the back of the library, and Abe is ready to make the past as dull as the kids think it is.  Textbooks and documentaries change to show a mundane existence for Lincoln and his contemporaries, while Abe, Doc, and Abby shuttle back and forth through time.  Lincoln ends up in a present-day wrestling ring, while their gym teacher finds himself back in 1860, trying to address the crowds in Illinois who have just elected him President.  It all gets straightened out in the end, but Lincoln warns the kids that now that other historical figures have seen what he’s done, they’ll be up for their own adventures, setting the scene for the series to continue.  160 pages; grades 2-4.

Pros:  Kids will learn a little history and have fun with this goofy time-travel story.  A large font and lots of illustrations, some with cartoon bubbles, will draw in reluctant readers or those just moving up to chapter books.

Cons:  It’s a fun romp, but I hope Steve Sheinkin gets back to doing what he does best: writing fascinating histories for older kids like Undefeated and Most Dangerous.

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