Black Is a Rainbow Color by Angela Joy, illustrated by Ekua Holmes

Published by Roaring Brook Press

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Image result for black is a rainbow color angela joy

Summary:  A girl looks at the colors in her crayon box and in a rainbow, and realizes there’s no black in rainbows.  But her color is black, and she looks at what else is black: a feather in the snow, her best friend’s hair, her bicycle tires.  From there, she moves to the black in Black culture: Thurgood Marshall’s robe, birds in cages that sing, raisins and dreams left out in the sun to die.  Finally, she moves on to the history, family, memory, and love that are all part of her and her community. “So you see, there is no black in rainbows.  No black in green or blue.  But in my box of crayons, Black is a rainbow, too.”  Includes an author’s note; a playlist of 11 songs; two pages with further information on some of the allusions in the main text; 3 poems; a timeline of black ethnonyms (words that have been used to refer to Black people) over the course of American history; and a bibliography.  40 pages; ages 4 and up.

Pros:  This beautiful poem with its stunning illustrations (they reminded me of stained glass) is a deceptively simple introduction to Black culture and history.

Cons:  Most sources recommend this book for ages 4-8, but the references in the main text and the extensive back matter could make this a useful resource for any age and would be even more meaningful for older kids.

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Beehive by Jorey Hurley

Published by Simon and Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books

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Image result for beehive jorey hurley

Summary:  With only one word per page, Jorey Hurley’s illustrations portray the steps of creating a beehive and making honey.  The bees swarm and explore until they find a large hollow tree where they can build their hive.  Eggs are laid, the larvae are fed, and eventually new workers join the hive. They collect nectar from flowers in a nearby field, pollinating as they go, then return to the hive to make honey.  A final page explains what is going on in the illustrations, with each word from the story in all caps to show how it fits into the narrative. 40 pages; ages 3-7.

Pros:  Jorey Hurley’s distinctive books introduce the scientific world to kids in a way that is understandable for even the youngest readers.  The Photoshop illustrations are beautiful, with a distinctive palette that repeats throughout the book. The simple one-word pages convey a surprising amount of information.

Cons:  There are no additional resources listed.

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Fred’s Big Feelings: The Life and Legacy of Mister Rogers by Laura Renauld, illustrated by Brigette Barrager

Published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

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Image result for fred's big feelings amazon

Summary:  As a sickly child, Fred Rogers often felt alone and misunderstood.  He appreciated his grandfather’s unconditional love and acceptance, and learned to express himself through music and playing with puppets.  He planned to attend seminary to become a minister, but when he saw a children’s TV show filled with pranks and gags, he was inspired to try to do better.  Beginning with a local show in Pittsburgh, Fred’s show eventually grew to the universally loved Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood on PBS.  Recalling his own childhood, he acknowledged children’s feelings and accepted and loved them for being themselves, using music and make-believe to get his message across.  When Congress threatened to cut funding for public television, Fred went to Capital Hill and used a similar message to convince a Senate panel of the importance of his show. He continued to produce his show for more than 30 years, airing almost 900 episodes.  Includes a lengthy author’s note. 40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Similar in scope to You Are My Friend, this picture book biography emphasizes feelings, italicizing the different emotions that Fred Rogers experienced over the years.  This book includes Mister Rogers’ testimony to Congress that helped preserve PBS funding. Young fans of the show are sure to enjoy learning more about their favorite neighbor.

Cons:  Still socially unacceptable to say anything bad about Mister Rogers.

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The Best of Iggy by Annie Barrows, illustrated by Sam Ricks

Published by G. P. Putnam’s Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  When you’re in fourth grade, there are three kinds of trouble to be had: 1. things we wish we hadn’t done, but actually just wish we hadn’t gotten in trouble for, 2. things we wish we hadn’t done quite as much as we did, and 3. things we really, completely wish we hadn’t done.  Readers get an illustration of each of these from Iggy.  Iggy’s not a bad kid; he just doesn’t always think about consequences, like that skateboarding off a shed onto a trampoline or racing desks toward the teacher when her back is turned might not be great ideas. The term “extenuating circumstances” is introduced, with some examples of when they do and don’t exist in each of Iggy’s escapades.  The final episode, which Iggy regrets deeply, teaches him a few lessons, but even he is wise enough to see that he will sometimes forget those lessons in the future. 144 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  With short chapters, lots of humor, and plenty of illustrations, this is sure to engage both reluctant and enthusiastic readers.  Some may feel Iggy should be a bit more contrite about his actions, but he seemed just right for a 9-year-old boy.

Cons:  It’s a pretty short book, and dividing it into three separate episodes didn’t allow for much character development.

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A Ride to Remember: A Civil Rights Story by Sharon Langley and Amy Nathan, illustrated by Floyd Cooper

Published by Harry N. Abrams

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Summary:  Sharon Langley recounts the story of how her neighborhood amusement park slowly became desegregated thanks to nonviolent protests in July of 1963.  On the Fourth of July, groups of protesters stood outside the park holding signs and singing songs. When some members of the group tried to buy tickets, they were arrested.  After a second protest three days later, the media coverage became so intense that the owners of the park were forced to agree to let everyone in. Sharon and her family became the first African-Americans to enter the park on August 28, 1963, the first day it was open to all.  Just one month shy of her first birthday, Sharon was photographed with her father, riding the carousel. The day was memorable for another civil rights milestone: the March on Washington and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. The carousel now stands on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., with Sharon’s name on one of the horse’s saddles and horseshoes.  Includes two pages of additional information, photos, a timeline, and a bibliography. 40 pages; grades 1-4.

Pros:  I love how this book connects the civil rights movement to something kids will relate to: going to an amusement park.  Coretta Scott King Award winner Floyd Cooper does a masterful job of portraying all the characters in the story, including the carousel horses.

Cons:  I found the first couple pages a little confusing, until I realized who Sharon was and that she was telling her own story.

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I Voted: Making a Choice Makes a Difference by Mark Shulman, illustrated by Serge Bloch

Published by Neal Porter Books

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Summary:  Apples or oranges? Markers or crayons? Ice cream or cupcakes? Any time you make a choice, you are casting a vote.  When people vote together, the majority wins (at least theoretically, but we won’t go there). Talking to people about what you want can help them understand, and maybe they will change their minds.  It’s also a good idea to listen to others so you can make an informed decision. If you don’t vote, you don’t get to choose, so learn all you can about voting now, and exercise that right when you turn 18!  Includes additional information on voting and how the U.S. government works, as well as a list of books and online sites with additional information. 40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Kids are sure to hear a lot about voting and elections this year, and this is a great resource that explains the process in terms that even preschoolers will understand.

Cons:  Some may say the picture showing a red brick wall with a sign reading “No kids allowed!” and a blue brick wall saying “Free for kids” reflects a bit of partisan bias.

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Clean Getaway by Nic Stone

Published by Crown Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  Scoob has had some troubles at school, so he’s only too happy when his grandmother shows up with an RV, announcing that she’s sold her house, and takes him on an impromptu road trip across the southern U.S.  Along the way, she shares stories with Scoob about his grandfather, their interracial marriage in the 1960’s, and how Grandpa ended up in jail. Scoob learns about racism past and present when he discovers a well-worn copy of the Green Book in the RV and notices some people’s discomfort at seeing a black kid with a white woman.  G’ma’s behavior gets stranger as the trip progresses, and Scoob tries to figure out her frequent license plate changes on the RV, the large pile of money he discovers, and the reason why she refuses to take his dad’s increasingly frantic phone calls. The ending isn’t entirely happy, but Scoob finds he has grown and changed during the trip and gained a greater understanding of his family and their history.  240 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Scoob and G’ma are fun characters and readers will find plenty of humor in their adventures, while learning about civil rights history and race issues from the past and present.  The light tone, fairly short text, and plentiful illustrations would make this a good choice for reluctant readers.

Cons:  This book has been reviewed positively everywhere, but I was not a big fan.  The revelations about G’ma’s character were hard for me to understand and made her unlikeable to me.

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