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

Published by Candlewick

Image result for playlist the rebels and revolutionaries

Image result for playlist the rebels and revolutionaries

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.

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It Began With a Page: How Gyo Fujikawa Drew the Way by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Julie Morstad

Published by HarperCollins

Image result for it began with a page amazon

Image result for it began with a page julie morstad

Summary:  From an early age, Gyo Fujikawa loved drawing and painting.  She pursued her passion in college, an unusual move for a girl in those days, particularly an Asian-American one.  Traveling to her parents’ homeland of Japan, she learned traditional art techniques that she incorporated into her own work.  Gyo had experienced prejudice as a child, and this became worse in her adult years with the advent of World War II. Living on the East Coast, she was able to stay in her home, but the rest of her family in California, was not so fortunate.  They were sent to prison camps, losing their home and most of their possessions. After the war, Fujikawa continued to paint, and also to observe the continuing struggles for civil rights. Noticing the homogenous portrayals in children’s books, she created a book about babies with all different skin colors.  After many rejections, her book was finally published in 1963, where it became a big seller, and allowing Gyo to illustrate many more books over the next two decades. Includes a timeline of Gyo’s life, a note from the author and illustrator, and a list of sources. 48 pages; grades K-5.

Pros:  There’s a lot to learn and discuss in Gyo Fujikawa’s life.  The illustrations, inspired by Gyo’s own work, are beautiful, with lots of adorable babies.  Readers may be interested ins seeking out the original picture books, many of which are still in print.

Cons:  This may not be a book kids are likely to pick up on their own, and the length and subject matter may make it a better choice for older elementary students.

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Paper Son: The Inspiring Story of Tyrus Wong, Immigrant and Artist by Julie Leung, illustrated by Chris Sasaki

Published by Schwartz and Wade

Image result for paper sun the inspiring story of tyrus wong

Image result for paper sun the inspiring story of tyrus wong

Summary:  In 1919, Wong Geng Yeo immigrated to the United States with his father.  Since only Chinese citizens of high status were allowed to come to America, the two of them traveled under assumed names and had to learn a complicated backstory so their answers would match when questioned by immigration officials.  His “paper” name was Tai Yow, which was Americanized to Tyrus. Both father and son worked hard, Tyrus learning art and working as a janitor. He eventually got a job as an in-betweener at Disney Studios, doing the tedious work drawing the frames between the key scenes in films.  When Tyrus heard the animators were struggling with the backgrounds in the new movie Bambi, he drew on the Chinese style of painting he knew to help out.  Although his work became a key to the film, he was only credited as a background artist.  Back matter tells of Tyrus’s long life–he died in 2016 ate age 107–and of the many different forms of art he created.  40 pages; grades K-5.

Pros:  The Disney aspect will make this appealing to kids, but it really is much more of an immigrant story.  The illustrations are an interesting combination retro-Disney cartoon and Chinese art.  

Cons:  The spare text seems appropriate to the story, but I wish there were more details of Tyrus Wong’s life.  For instance, when working on Bambi, the author states, “Tyrus thought about the mother he had left behind in China,” but that’s the only information about his mom.

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Comics: Easy As ABC!: The Essential Guide to Comics for Kids by Ivan Brunetti

Published by TOON Books

Image result for easy as abc comics ivan amazon

Image result for easy as abc comics ivan

Summary:  Budding cartoonists will enjoy this drawing book that gives how-to’s on drawing people and animals, as well as creating perspective and communicating emotions through body language and facial expressions.  A few prompts are given to encourage readers to create their own stories. Advice is offered from some heavy-hitters in the comic world, including Roz Chast, Neil Gaiman, Jeff Smith, and Art Spiegelman. There’s a section at the end for parents, teachers, and librarians on reading comics to kids (I believe this is standard in many of the TOON books).  52 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  Fun and accessible for many elementary-age kids, this is a good basic introduction to get graphic novel fans busy on their own creations.

Cons:  Each section is pretty brief; serious artists will outgrow this fairly quickly.

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The Important Thing About Margaret Wise Brown by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Sarah Jacoby

Published by Balzer + Bray

Image result for important thing about margaret wise brown amazon

Image result for important thing about margaret wise brown jacoby

Summary:  “The important thing about Margaret Wise Brown is that she wrote books.”  And some of the important things about this book about Margaret Wise Brown are that it’s 42 pages because she lived 42 years.  That it celebrates the quirkiness of both Brown and her books. That the illustrations pay homage to many of Brown’s works. That critics of her works are humorously but firmly put in their place (Anne Carroll Moore, New York City’s children’s librarian, does not fare well here).  That you may not learn everything there is to know about Margaret Wise Brown, but you will learn interestingly odd facts like that every copy of the first edition of Little Fur Family were covered in fur.  That “sometimes you find a book that feels as strange as life does…Margaret Wise Brown wrote books like this, and she wrote them for children, because she believed children deserve important books.”  42 pages; grades K-5.

Pros:  Mac Barnett is not afraid to go way outside the box in this picture book that pays tribute to Margaret Wise Brown, her art, and her books.  It is full of the kinds of details that kids will love, like the fact that, as a child, Brown skinned one of her pet rabbits after it died and wore the pelt around her neck.  Or that she bought every flower on a flower cart after selling her first book, then had a big party in her flower-filled house. Any readers who aren’t familiar with Brown’s books will want to go looking for them after reading this one.

Cons:  Some will definitely find this book odd.  On the other hand, isn’t that kind of the point?

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Image result for important thing about margaret wise brown jacoby


Birds of a Feather: Bowerbirds and Me by Susan L. Roth

Published by Neal Porter Books

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Image result for birds of a feather susan roth

Summary:  What does collage artist and illustrator Susan Roth have in common with the bowerbirds of Australia?  For starters, they are both collectors who like to use their collections in unusual ways. They both work in small spaces.  No two compositions are the same. And they both hope their finished works are greater than the sum of their parts. The comparisons are, not surprisingly, illustrated with collage art.  The last few pages give more facts about bowerbirds and how they work; how Susan works; and expanded information on how they are the same. Includes a photo of a bowerbird and a bibliography.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  The illustrations in this book are gorgeous and unique, and the unusual comparison could be used as an inspiration for kids to find ways they are similar to other animals.

Cons:  It’s a little anthropomorphic to speculate what bowerbirds hope about their finished works.

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We Are the Change: Words of Inspiration from Civil Rights Leaders with an introduction by Harry Belafonte

Published by Chronicle Books

Image result for we are the change belafonte amazon

Image result for we are the change belafonte amazon

Summary:  “So long as we have enough people in this country willing to fight for their rights, we’ll be called a democracy.”  This quote from American Civil Liberties Union founder Roger Baldwin appears on the dedication page (the book is dedicated to the ACLU) and sets the tone for the book.  16 children’s book illustrators have each chosen a quotation to illustrate that captures the spirit of human rights, along with text explaining their choice. The last several pages include brief biographies of each illustrator.  48 pages; grades 2-7.

Pros:  A beautiful collection of inspiring quotes and art that could serve as a springboard for students to choose their own favorite quotations and illustrate them.  This would make a nice graduation gift.

Cons:  Sometimes the text appeared before the illustrations; other times it was after.  I found this format a little confusing.

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