Joni: The Lyrical Life of Joni Mitchell by Selina Alko

Published by HarperCollins

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Summary:  “Joni Mitchell painted with words” begins this story of iconic singer Joni Mitchell.  Growing up in Canada, Joni loved art and music, often feeling a bit alienated from her parents who were “cautious and fixed in their ways”.  After surviving polio at age 10 (the same epidemic that sickened Neil Young), Joni began to pursue music in earnest, buying her first guitar in high school.  Moving from Toronto to New York to California, Joni found inspiration wherever she went: the clouds from her window on an airplane to write “Both Sides Now” and the view from her NYC apartment for “Chelsea Morning”.  Missing Woodstock to perform on TV prompted her to write “Woodstock”, and the aforementioned Neil Young’s song about staying young forever inspired “The Circle Game”. “I sing my sorrow, and I paint my joy,” Joni said, and this quote is illustrated by a collage of her albums spanning 1968 to 2007.  Includes an author’s note, discography, and bibliography. 48 pages; grades 1-5.

I looked at this book from both sides now, and:

Pros:  Any Joni Mitchell fan will appreciate this lyrical story of her life.  The illustrations are a gorgeous mix of painting and collage that perfectly capture Joni’s spirit and her music.  I particularly liked the one of her performing to an audience of Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, James Taylor, Judy Collins, Arlo Guthrie, and Pete Seeger.

Cons:  There are probably few 21st century kids who know who Joni Mitchell is.  

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

 

A Voice Named Aretha by Katheryn Russell-Brown, illustrated by Laura Freeman

Published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books

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Summary:  From her early days singing in her father’s church, Aretha Franklin had a powerful voice and the ability to express her emotions through her singing.  At age 18, she moved to New York to try to make it in the music world. She recorded and performed throughout the 1960’s, always making certain that her performances were in venues open to all races.  She hit the big time with her gold album “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)”; the song “Respect” from that album became her signature song, and she was crowned the Queen of Soul. Her voice continued to move and inspire people for many years, until it was finally silenced with her death in 2018.  Includes a lengthy note with additional information on Franklin; a list of her songs; a list of sources; and two photos. 40 pages; grades 1-5.  

Pros:  This gorgeously illustrated picture book biography will introduce a new generation to the amazing voice of Aretha Franklin.

Cons:  Although there’s a list of sources, there’s no kid-friendly listing of resources for additional research.

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

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Likewise, it’s not just the Newbery

Just like yesterday’s post, this list gives me an excuse to highlight more of 2019’s rich offerings, this time in the writing category.

 

This Promise of Change: One Girl’s Story in the Fight for School Equality by Jo Ann Allen Boyce and Debbie Levy

Published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books

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I really enjoyed this book when it was released in early January, but then it kind of slipped off my radar screen.  I’ve seen it on a few Newbery prediction lists, though, and that or a Coretta Scott King award (or Sibert, for that matter) would be well-deserved.

 

Infinite Hope: A Black Artist’s Journey from World War II to Peace by Ashley Bryan

Published by Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books

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Although I think the appeal of this book for kids may be limited, it’s a real work of art, and I’d love to see 96-year-old Bryan recognized with a Coretta Scott King award (or, again, Newbery or Sibert).

 

Each Tiny Spark by Pablo Cartaya

Published by Kokila

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A book about a girl connecting with her father over welding didn’t really spark my interest (ha, ha), but I’m glad I overcame my initial resistance and read it before the end of the year.  I loved all the characters in this book, and hope it’s recognized by the Pura Belpré folks.

 

A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramée

Published by Balzer + Bray

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Shayla generally avoids trouble at all costs, but incidents in her community turn her into an activist.  What could be more timely at the start of 2020?  Debut author Ramée should be considered for a Coretta Scott King award.

 

Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams

Published by Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books

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Another debut author and another one I had to kind of force myself to start (I’m not a huge fan of the cover, although I appreciated it more after reading the book), but this ended up being one of my favorites of 2019.  Coretta Scott King or Newbery, I hope.

Hi, I’m Norman: The Story of American Illustrator Norman Rockwell by Robert Burleigh, illustrated by Wendell Minor

Published by Simon and Schuster

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Summary:  Norman Rockwell tells his story in the first person, inviting readers into his studio, then taking them back to his early days when he used art to make up for his lack of athletic ability.  After a stint at art school, he took whatever jobs he could find, eventually landing the plum assignment of creating covers for the Saturday Evening Post.  When World War II arrived, his artwork took a more serious turn, and his The Four Freedoms set helped raise millions of dollars from war bonds.  After the war, he took on the civil rights movement, with The Problem We All Live With one of his most famous works to come out of that era.  His final published work shows him draping a “Happy Birthday” banner on the Liberty Bell to celebrate America’s bicentennial.  Includes additional information, author’s and illustrator’s notes, a timeline, reproductions of five or Rockwell’s paintings with additional information about them, a list of additional sources, and some quotes from Norman Rockwell.  48 pages; grades K-4.

Pros:  The folksy, conversational style of the writing will draw kids in, and Wendell Berry’s illustrations capture Rockwell’s works perfectly.  The extensive back matter makes this an excellent resource for research.

Cons:  There were no dates or places in the text–readers will have to go to the timeline for that information.

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

Infinite Hope: A Black Artist’s Journey from World War II to Peace by Ashley Bryan

Published by Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books

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Summary:  Author and illustrator Ashley Bryan offers a very personal look at his years serving in World War II.  From basic training in Massachusetts to Scotland to the D-Day invasion to waiting to be sent home in France, Bryan shares letters home, particularly to a college friend named Eva; a narrative about his experiences; and many, many sketches.  He writes about the racism that was rampant in the U.S. military, and the surprising lack of it in Europe (that experience of being treated equally by white Europeans led many black military men and women to join the civil rights movement after the war). Mostly, he talks about how art saved him.  He kept paper and pencils in his gas mask, and his comrades would often take over his work to let him draw. He concludes with his return to civilian life, including many years when he didn’t talk about his military experiences. Encouraged by colleagues in the children’s literature world, he has finally opened up and shared this wealth of art and stories.  112 pages; grade 5-adult.

Pros:  This is a pretty amazing work of art written and compiled by the 96-year-old Ashley Bryan.  Plan on spending a long time reading and studying his artwork. The audience for this may be pretty specific, but if you get this in the hands of the right readers, they are sure to find it to be a meaningful and important book.  Definitely a contender for some awards in January

Cons:  I would have liked more information about Eva.  I was confused at the beginning and had to read the jacket flap to understand to whom Ashley was writing.

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

 

Dancing Hands: How Teresa Carreño Played the Piano for President Lincoln by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Rafael López

Published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers 

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Summary:  Teresa Carreño had a gift for piano from the time she was a little girl in Venezuela.  War drove her family from their home and to the United States, where another war was raging–the Civil War.  Teresa found that music offered her a refuge from the sadness and suffering, and by the time she was ten years old, she was known as Piano Girl, performing all over the country.  She was amazed to get an invitation from President Abraham LIncoln to play at the White House, and nervous about accepting it. When the big day arrived, she found that the White House piano was poorly tuned, and didn’t know if she’d be able to perform.  But Lincoln asked her to play his favorite song, “Listen to the Mockingbird”, and once again music provided magical healing powers. An author’s note gives a bit more information about Carreño and her later musical career. 40 pages; grades K-4.  

Pros:  Acclaimed poet Margarita Engle and illustrator Rafael Lopez team up once again to create a beautiful story about a little-known episode in musical history.  Kids will be inspired to learn of the hard work and fame of this 10-year-old girl.

Cons:  I was expecting something bigger from the final scene in the White House.

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

Playlist: The Rebels and Revolutionaries of Sound by James Rhodes, illustrated by Martin O’Neill

Published by Candlewick

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Summary:  James Rhodes starts this book with his “ultimate playlist”, then profiles the seven classical composers from the list: Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Schubert, Rachmaninoff, and Ravel.  Each profile includes two pages of biographical information, listing popular music and movies that have been inspired or include soundtrack music from this composer. Then he details two of the composer’s pieces in kid-friendly terms, using stories to explain the music.  There are many pop culture references connecting the music and history to the present. Sections describing the orchestra and a timeline of western classical music are inserted between the chapters on the composers. Includes a glossary and index. 72 pages; grades 6 and up.

Pros:  I’m not particularly knowledgeable (or, I’m sorry to say, interested) in classical music, yet I found myself immediately drawn into this book.  The conversational tone, fascinating stories, connections to the present, and eye-popping, psychedelic illustrations make this a book that will appeal to middle and high school students and should be sought out by music teachers everywhere.

Cons:  It would have been nice to at least acknowledge somewhere that not all composers of classical music were white men.

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