The Stonewall Riots: Making a Stand for LGBTQ Rights by Archie Bongiovanni, illustrated by A. Andrews and The National Parks: Preserving America’s Wild Places by Falynn Koch

Published by First Second

Summary: These two entries into the History Comics series tell the story of the 1969 Stonewall Riots that helped bring gay rights into the national spotlight and the history of the National Parks System that helped preserve natural wonders and historical artifacts in the United States.  In The Stonewall Riots, Natalia’s abuela takes teen Natalia and her friends Jax and Rashad back in time to the night of the first protest.  Abuela had a girlfriend at the time, and the three kids, all part of the LGBTQIA+ community, get some lessons about the people and events of that time.  The National Parks features two narrators, a bigfoot and an eagle, who look at the patchwork history of the National Parks System, going all the way back to the early 19th century.  Each book starts with a foreword and includes an author’s note with additional information and resources at the end.  128 pages; grades 4-8.

Pros:  Both books make history accessible through the graphic format and the fun narrators (abuela and Bigfoot).  The additional resources at the end make these a good introduction that could lead to further research.

Cons:  I thought this format worked better for a specific incident (Stonewall Riots) than a longer period of time (National Parks).  I could see kids losing interest in such a sprawling history that included so many different people and places.

Free At Last: A Juneteenth Poem written by Sojourner Kincaid Rolle, illustrated by Alex Bostic

Published by Union Square Kids

Summary:  This free verse poem begins with the news arriving in Galveston, Texas: the war is over, and “all who live in bondage here shall from now until be free.”  The words and oil paintings depict Black people’s reactions.  Some head for their shacks, which they now declare home; some go to another farm to work “for a pittance and a little plot of space.”  Others pray, dance, or head farther away.  The last few pages depict their descendants celebrating that freedom, right up to the present day.  An author’s note tells how she was introduced to Juneteenth in the 1980’s and wrote this poem, originally published in 2004, and how Juneteenth has gained wider recognition, eventually becoming a national holiday in 2021.  32 pages; grades K-4.

Pros:  The beautiful words and pictures in this book make it an excellent addition to Juneteenth literature, and a perfect way to observe the holiday.

Cons:  It would have been interesting to get more information about the fate of the different people portrayed in the book, and how their decisions to stay close to home or travel affected their futures.

Luli and the Language of Tea by Andrea Wang, illustrated by Hyewon Yum

Published by Neal Porter Books

Summary:  While a group of parents attends ESL classes, their children stay in the playroom next door.  Since they speak different languages, the kids end up playing alone a lot.  But Luli has an idea.  Today she’s brought a thermos, a teapot, and a stack of cups.  She sets up a table, then calls “Chá!’ the Chinese word for tea.  The word is similar in many other languages (and other languages have a word that is similar to the English “tea”).  Each child is shown saying the word for tea in their own language, and soon, they’re gathered around the table.  Lili pulls out another box and practices a new English word, “Cookie?”  The playroom is no longer quiet.  Includes an author’s note about tea, and several pages about immigrants from each continent that include maps and information about how tea is served in different countries.  40 pages; ages 3-7.

Pros:  A perfect book to share for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in May.  The kids are super cute, and it’s interesting to see how both the words and the customs for tea transcend different languages and cultures.

Cons:  Ten young children sharing tea in small cups (and even transferring some from one cup to another) without spilling a drop? Seems a tiny bit unrealistic.  

Nour’s Secret Library by Wafa’ Tarnowska, illustrated by Vali Mintzi

Published by Barefoot Books

Summary: Nour and Damir are cousins living in Syria with big plans to start a secret society for themselves and their friends.  Those plans are destroyed when the war moves to their city and they have to hide in a basement.  During lulls in the fighting, Damir goes out on his bike to look for food and begins to rescue books that he finds in the rubble.  The kids find an empty basement in a mostly-abandoned building and set up a library there.  With the help of neighbors, they build shelves and move their books into the basement.  Before long, people are coming from all over the city to borrow books.  Reading and books provide a respite for people as they endure the long war.  Includes a glossary, information about Syria, a list of 8 famous libraries in the Middle East, information about the real secret library, and notes from the author and illustrator.  32 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  An inspiring story based on real events that celebrates reading, books, and innovative kids who found a way to bring joy to their war-torn city.

Cons:  It wasn’t exactly clear which parts of the book were fact and which were fiction.

Love In the Library by Maggie Tokuda-Hall, illustrated by Yas Imamura

Published by Candlewick

Summary:  Tama and George have been at Minidoka, a prison camp for Japanese Americans, for a year.  Tama works in the library, and George visits every day to check out a stack of books.  The camp is dusty and hot in the summer, brutally cold in the winter, with monotonous days and no privacy for anyone.  Tama tries not to think about her previous life, when she would have graduated from college, instead immersing herself in the world of books at the library.  When she sighs over a book, George asks her what’s wrong.  Tama tries to put into words all that she’s feeling, and George assures her that she’s human to feel that way.  Tama realizes that George isn’t coming to the library just to check out a stack of books.  The two of them get married and have their first child in camp, and Tama sums up her experiences in her journal: “The miracle is in us.  As long as we believe in change, in beauty, in hope.”  Includes an author’s note about her grandparents, George and Tama (with a photo), and with additional information about the 120,000 Japanese Americans who were incarcerated during World War II.  40 pages; grades 2-6.

Pros:  This moving story does not hesitate from looking at the bleak conditions of Minidoka nor the racism that brought George, Tama, and so many others to live there, but also focuses on the hope and beauty of their story.  

Cons:  Early elementary kids may not relate to the romance of this story.

To the Front! Clara Barton Braves the Battle of Antietam by Claudia Friddell, illustrated by Christopher Cyr

Published by Calkins Creek

Summary:  Clara Barton’s role in the battle of Antietam is documented in her own words, poems written by the author, and realistic illustrations of battlefront scenes.  She nurses men (including one who is shot as she is giving him water), helps doctors, and cooks gruel from Indian meal she unexpectedly finds used as packing material.  At the end of the ordeal, she’s put on a makeshift bed in the back of a wagon and driven 80 miles back to Washington, where she collapses from exhaustion and typhoid fever.  Includes several pages of additional biographical information about Clara Barton, a bibliography, and a list of places to visit.  40 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  The narrative and illustrations combine to portray the horrors of war, as well as the tirelessness that Clara Barton brought to the battlefield.  The extensive back matter will help researchers understand more about Barton’s life.

Cons:  Kids will need some prior knowledge of the Civil War and Clara Barton’s life to understand what is going on.

Her Name Was Mary Katharine: The Only Woman Whose Name Is on the Declaration of Independence by Ella Schwartz, illustrated by Dow Phumiruk

Published by Christy Ottaviano

Summary:  Mary Katharine Goddard grew up in the Connecticut colony with her parents and younger brother William.  Unlike most girls of the time, she learned to read and write alongside her brother.  When her father died, she and her mother moved to Providence, Rhode Island, while her brother served an apprenticeship as a printer.  He started several newspapers but had the unfortunate habit of abandoning them to move onto other endeavors.  Mary Katharine learned the business and took over the papers, first in Providence, then in Philadelphia, and finally in Baltimore.  When William started a new project, creating a postal service for the colonies, Mary Katharine took on additional responsibilities as postmaster of Baltimore.  She was known as a loyal patriot, so when the Continental Congress decided to print a copy of the Declaration of Independence with the names of the signers, they gave her the job.  Usually, Mary Katharine used the name M. K. Goddard for her printing work, but for the Declaration she used her full name, the only name of a woman to appear on the document.  Includes an author’s note, list of important terms with definitions, and a list of sources.  40 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  This is a great resource to add to American Revolutionary War units, featuring a little-known but fascinating woman who seems to have been way ahead of her time.  The author’s note gives lots of additional information, including the fact that Mary Katharine had an enslaved woman who helped her run her business (and to whom she granted freedom and left all her possessions when she died).  

Cons:  I saw this recommended for kids as young as 5, but the text-heavy story, small font, and need for some historical context make it a better choice for older kids.

Blue: A History of the Color as Deep as the Sea and as Wide as the Sky by Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond, illustrated by Daniel Minter

Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers

Summary:  Blue may be the color of the sky and the ocean, but for much of human history, it was a difficult color to produce.  Ancient Egyptians crushed the blue stone lapis lazuli to make paint and eye makeup that only the very wealthy could afford.  Later, people discovered shellfish that produced a blue dye, but each organism only produced a drop or two.  Finally, the indigo plant, a native of Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, and the Americas, became more widely known and cultivated.  The value of the plant’s blue dye led to abuses as people were tricked into growing it instead of food and enslaved to help mass produce it.  In 1905, Adolf von Baeyer was awarded a Nobel prize for, among other things, creating a blue chemical dye.  Now everyone can own something that’s blue, but the rarity of blue and the suffering created in its production remind us of expressions like “the blues”, “feeling blue”, and “out of the blue”.  Includes two pages of additional information and a list of selected sources.  40 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  Here’s a fascinating history of something I had no idea had a fascinating history: the color blue.  Kids will have a greater appreciation for blue jeans and other commonplace items after reading about the struggles and high value associated with blue.  The gorgeous illustrations feature many different colors but appropriately highlight blue.

Cons:  Some of the claims about the expressions noted above were pretty speculative, and when I looked into them, they don’t appear to have the connections to the color the author writes about.

Loujain Dreams of Sunflowers by Lina AlHathloul and Uma Mishra-Newbery, illustrated by Rebecca Green

Published by mineditionUS

Summary:  Loujain dreams of flying to a beautiful field of sunflowers with her baba.  But in her community, only boys and men are allowed to fly.  All Loujain can do is put on a set of wings and run around the garden, pretending.  Baba tells her that she will fly “someday”.  Finally, Loujain confronts him and tells him that it’s not fair that boys can fly and she can’t.  She wants to learn to fly now.  Her wise mama tells him, “If you don’t support her, who will?  You have to believe things will change.  Otherwise they never will.”  Soon Loujain and Baba are getting up before sunrise for flying lessons.  One day he wakes her up extra early, telling her that they have a long flight to make.  It’s the field of sunflowers!  The next day, Loujain is in the news for defying the flying law.  Her parents are proud of her, and a young girl in the market sees her and immediately asks her baba to teach her to fly.  Includes a note about the real Loujain: Loujain AlHathloul, the author’s sister, who has been jailed for protesting the law prohibiting Saudi women from learning to drive.  40 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  This inspiring book would make an excellent discussion starter with older elementary students.  The information about Loujain AlHathloul gives a real-world example about protesting unjust laws.

Cons: The message of the book sometimes seemed to take priority over the story.

Because Claudette by Tracey Baptiste, illustrated by Tonya Engel

Published by Dial Books

Because Claudette: Baptiste, Tracey, Engel, Tonya: 9780593326404:  Books
Because Claudette – Books of Wonder

Summary:  “Because fifteen-year-old Claudette Colvin didn’t give up her seat on the bus for a white person on March 2, 1955, she was arrested.”  Thus begins a chain of events that leads Claudette to become friends with Rosa Parks, get involved with the Montgomery bus boycott, and to testify in court when her lawyer challenged the segregation laws.  Claudette was inspired by Black activists from the past as well as her contemporaries like Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, and other women who refused to give up their bus seats.  When the Supreme Court ruled that bus segregation was unconstitutional, Claudette read about it in the newspaper.  “On December 21, 1956, anyone could sit wherever they liked on the bus.  And all of it happened because of Claudette.”  Includes a brief author’s note, and a list of two books and three websites for further research.  32 pages; grades K-3.

Pros:  The simple text and beautiful illustrations (I love that cover) show how one young person can make a big difference.  This would be an inspiring book to read to younger kids for Black History Month.

Cons:  The lack of back matter was a real missed opportunity: there could have been photos, a lot more biographical information on Claudette, as well as more about the the others pictured in the text.