I Remember: Poems and Pictures of Heritage compiled by Lee Bennett Hopkins

Published by Lee and Low Books

Image result for i remember poems and pictures of heritage lee bennett

Image result for i remember poems and pictures of heritage lee bennett

Summary:  Fourteen poets have written childhood remembrances, with an emphasis on their cultural heritage and how it shaped them.  Each poem is illustrated by a different artist, and every artist and poet has written a sentence or two about their art or writing.  Some (“Grandpa” by Douglas Florian; “Amazing Auntie Anne” by Cynthia Leitich Smith) celebrate a person; others (“Route 66” by Marilyn Nelson; “Tepechapa River” by Jorge Tetl Argueta), a particular place; and still others (“Speak Up” by Janet S. Wong; “Pick One” by Nick Bruel) speak to the experience of growing up as an immigrant in America.  Includes brief biographical information and photos of all the writers and illustrators. 56 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  This beautiful and accessible collection of poetry and artwork shows readers the variety of experiences in America and may inspire them to find a way to express their own story through writing or art.

Cons:  The cover and title didn’t really grab me (sorry, Sean Qualls, I generally love your work); I was pleasantly surprised once I dove in.  

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.



If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

The Gift of Ramadan by Rabiah York Lumbard, illustrated by Laura K. Horton

Published by Albert Whitman and Co.

Image result for gift of ramadan amazon

Image result for gift of ramadan rabiah york

Summary:  When Sophie’s grandmother tells her that the heart of a person who fasts during Ramadan is “pretty and sparkly” like Sophie’s new ring, Sophie decides she wants to fast.  Waking up before sunrise is tough, though, and Sophie falls asleep at breakfast, and again during morning prayers. By lunchtime, she is famished, and her little brother is tempting her with his delicious cookie.  Grandma finds her eating cookies, and reassures her that her sparkles are growing, and that there are other ways to celebrate the holiday. She and Grandma spend the afternoon preparing a pizza dinner, which the whole family enjoys after sunset.  Includes an author’s note about Ramadan. 32 pages; ages 4-9.

Pros:  Children of all faiths will connect with this story, and those who don’t know about Ramadan will learn about it through the eyes of another child who is a lot like them.  

Cons:  The reasons for fasting during Ramadan aren’t explained in either the story or the author’s note.

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The Women Who Caught the Babies:  A Story of African American Midwives by Eloise Greenfield, illustrated by Daniel Minter

Published by Alazar Press

Image result for women who caught the babies minter

Image result for women who caught the babies minter

Summary:  Eloise Greenfield kicks things off with a five-page introduction giving a brief history of midwives, starting in Africa a few hundred years ago, traveling to slavery in America, and finishing up with midwives today.  This section is illustrated with black and white photographs. The rest of the book is her poetry, celebrating midwives of the past and present. There are seven poems altogether, from “Africa to America” to “After Emancipation, 1863” to “The Early 2000s”.  The final piece, “Miss Rovenia Mayo” is about the midwife who “caught” Eloise Greenfield on May 17, 1929. Includes a bibliography. 32 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  We should all hope to be producing works of art like this at the age of 90.  The poetry is lyrical and the illustrations are unique and fascinating. The Caldecott committee can add this to its list of works to consider, along with another Daniel Minter book, Going Down Home With Daddy.

Cons:  This doesn’t seem like a book most kids will pick up on their own. 

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Torpedoed: The True Story of the World War II Sinking of the “The Children’s Ship” by Deborah Heiligman

Published by Henry Holt and Co.

Image result for torpedoed heiligman"

Summary:  On September, 1940, the ship SS City of Benares left England, bound for Canada.  On board were 90 children traveling as part of the Children’s Overseas Reception Board (CORB) program, which evacuated British children to safer countries.  A few days into their journey, the ship was torpedoed by a German submarine, and sank in about half an hour. Of the 90 children, only 17 survived. Most were picked up the next day, but due to a miscalculation, Lifeboat 12 was missed by the rescuers and was adrift for eight days before finally being spotted by a plane (a story told in verse by Susan Hood in 2018’s Lifeboat 12).  The survivors returned to England, and CORB suspended operations after this tragedy.  Includes a list of all those who died, as well as a lengthy bibliography and index. 304 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  I started reading this with trepidation, as I’m not crazy about reading about disasters at sea (no more Titanic books, please).  I kept flipping between the narrative and the list of those who died, and I could tell the outlook for most was not good.  Once the torpedoes hit, though, I couldn’t put the book down. The storytelling is masterful, following the narratives of so many different children and the adults who traveled with them.  I saw this on a Newbery prediction list.  I’d be surprised if it got a Newbery, but I could definitely see a Sibert award.

Cons:  As mentioned above, reading about the drowning deaths of 73 children isn’t really my favorite pastime.

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Fever Year: The Killer Flu of 1918 by Don Brown

Published by HMH Books for Young Readers

Image result for fever year don brown

Image result for fever year don brown

Summary:  Using a graphic novel format, Don Brown tells the story of the flu epidemic of 1918 and how it spread across the United States and around the globe.  The tale is told in three acts: January-July 1918 when the epidemic began; August-December 1918 when it raged full force; and 1919 when it came back to life, sickening, among others, President Woodrow Wilson at an important peace conference in Paris.  The text is brief, but covers many different aspects of the epidemic, including the spread and death toll, the importance and shortage of nurses, how different cities reacted when the flu hit them, and scientists’ attempts to figure out what was causing the disease.  The book concludes with recent scientists’ experiments that lead to the revival of the virus which had been preserved in the lung tissues of one of its victims, and questions as to the ethics of such work. Includes a five-page bibliography. 96 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  Don Brown packs a lot of information into fewer than 100 pages, in a format that will appeal to many readers.  Fans of Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales may enjoy this, as well as other graphic history books by Brown.

Cons:  All the reviews I saw recommended this for grades 7 and up, but I feel like there’s no reason not to suggest it to fifth and sixth grade history buffs.  True, it’s a story of disease, pestilence, and death, but nothing that I would consider inappropriate for kids 10 and up.

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Just Ask! Be Different, Be Brave, Be You by Sonia Sotomayor, illustrated by Rafael López

Published by Philomel Books

Image result for just ask be different be brave be you

Image result for just ask be different be brave be you

Summary:  Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor begins the book by telling her own story, how she was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes at the age of 7.  She sometimes felt self-conscious when she had to give herself insulin injections around others. Although she felt like other kids were curious, no one ever asked her about what she was doing.  She encourages readers to ask questions if they want to know about something they don’t understand. The book then looks at kids planting a garden; just like the plants in the garden, each child is different in some way: one is blind, one is in a wheelchair, two have different forms of autism, and so on.  Each child tells a little about himself or herself, then asks a question like, “Do you ever take medicine to be healthy?” or “How do you use your senses?” Sonia finishes up by celebrating everyone’s abilities, and how all the differences make the world a more interesting place. Her final question is, “What will you do with your powers?”  Also available in a Spanish-language edition, ¡Solo Pregunta! 32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  This is a great introduction to a wide range of conditions that affect many different kids.  The tone is accepting and celebrating, and it’s a nice way to encourage children to talk to each other about differences in a respectful way.  The illustrations are gorgeous, showing a diverse group of children frolicking around a beautiful garden.

Cons:  I wish there had been more specifics about how a child (or adult) should ask someone about a physical difference.

Image result for solo pregunta sotomayor

If you would like to buy the English edition on Amazon, click here.

If you would like to buy the Spanish edition on Amazon, click here.

The Book Rescuer: How a Mensch from Massachusetts Saved Yiddish Literature for Generations to Come by Sue Macy, illustrated by Stacy Innerst

Published by Simon and Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books

Image result for book rescuer sue macy

Image result for book rescuer sue macy

Summary:  When Aaron Lansky was growing up, he heard the story of his grandmother, who immigrated to America when she was 16.  Her older brother greeted her by throwing her suitcase into the Hudson River, telling her it was time to break with the past.  Aaron has spent his adult life working tirelessly to find and preserve that past. As a college student interested in learning Jewish history through Yiddish novels, he discovered a passion for Yiddish books, and began traveling around the country to rescue them.  In 1980, he founded the Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, Massachusetts. A MacArthur grant in 1989 recognized his work, which he continues today, having collected 1.5 million books in Yiddish that he shares with people all over the world. Includes an afterword by Aaron Lansky, an author’s note, illustrator’s note, glossary of yiddish words, and a couple sources of additional information.  48 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  What could have been a dry, uninteresting topic comes to life in Sue Macy’s capable hands, aided by the Marc Chagall-inspired artwork.  The back matter fleshes out the story even further, and includes information for visiting the Yiddish Book Center, which turns out to be less than 30 miles from my house.

Cons:  I started to feel some pangs of guilt about my enthusiasm for weeding my libraries.

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