Monday, February 17, 2020

Six New Picture Books to Celebrate African American History Month

How are you celebrating African American History Month this year? Reading or sharing a book is a great way to celebrate and today I'm highlighting six new picture books that would make great choices for reading with a child or putting on display at your library.

Big Papa and the Time Machine by Daniel Bernstrom, illustrated by Shane W. Evans. Ages 5-8. Harper, 2020. When a little boy is nervous to start school, his grandfather not only tells him to be brave, but takes him back in his time machine to show him moments in his own life where he had to be brave. With whimsical illustrations and stirring words, this is a heartfelt tribute to everyday triumphs and the enduring love of family.

Brave. Black. First.: 50+ African American Women Who Changed the World by Cheryl Hudson, illustrated by Erin K. Robinson. Grades 3-7. Crown, 2020. Each spread in this new collective biography features an influential African American woman with a portrait and a brief biography. This book is published in collaboration with the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Little Legends: Exceptional Men in Black History by Vashti Harrison. Grades 2-5. Here's another great choice if you're looking for collective biographies. This one features African American men. With cute illustrations, this one skews a bit younger than Hudson's collection above. Harrison has published several similar collective biographies to check out: Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History and Little Dreamers: Visionary Women Around the World

Mamie on the Mound: A Woman in Baseball's Negro Leagues by Leah Henderson. Grades 1-4. Capstone, 2020. Finally! A picture book biography of Mamie "Peanut" Johnson, African American baseball player who played in the Negro Leagues (yes, with the boys!) for three years in the 1950s. Sprightly text matches a sprightly personality in this biography that's perfect for young sports fans and women's history. Chapter book readers may also be interested in Michelle Y. Green's A Strong Right Arm: The Story of Mamie "Peanut" Johnson, which was published in 2004 and is a great read.

Overground Railroad by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James Ransome. Grades 1-5. A girl and her family make their way north via the "Overground Railroad" as part of the Great Migration in the 1930s. In free verse poem and with striking mixed media illustrations, the Ransomes portray this journey, taken by so many, in a hopeful tone. I love the play on the Underground Railroad in the title; this book would make a great compliment to any book you're reading about the Underground Railroad since it portrays another era of history that is maybe less talked about.


Patricia's Vision: The Doctor Who Saved Sight by Michelle Lord, illustrated by Alleana Harris. Grades 1-5. Sterling, 2020. This handsome picture book biography depicts the life and innovation of Dr. Patricia Bath, an opthamologist who invented laser treatment for cataracts. This book not only celebrates an achievement by an African American inventor, it celebrates a successful women in a STEM field. This is a great story to know.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

5 Picture Books about Love but Not Valentine's Day

Tomorrow is Valentine's Day and this is the perfect time to celebrate love! I know holiday books tend to get checked out really quickly at libraries, so if you've waited until the last minute to put out a display or to visit your library to pick out some books, here are some books that celebrate love without being Valentine's specific (so they might still be on the shelves!). Not into Valentine's Day or already got your books picked out? These are perfect to share anytime.

The I Love You Book by Todd Parr. Ages 2-6. Little, Brown, 2009. C'mon, you knew I was going to put a Todd Parr book on here. I super love his affirming messages, bright childlike illustrations, and moments of humor that keep things really fun. If you don't have Todd Parr on your shelves or in your storytime, you need to fix that right away!

Little You by Richard Van Camp, illustrated by Julie Flett. Ages 0-2. Orca, 2013. This tender board book is all about celebrating love for young children. It's a perfect bedtime readaloud and would make a super new baby gift. I love the muted, cut paper illustrations and the essential message about how important children are to their parents. 

Twosomes: Love Poems from the Animal Kingdom by Marilyn Singer. Ages 5-9. Knopf, 2011. This cute, punny book of short poems imagines love poems animals might share with each other. It has funny, cartoony illustrations and is short enough for a bedtime readaloud or could be broken up into lunchbox poems to send along to school. This one will be a hit with animal lovers and pet owners.


Worm Loves Worm by J.J. Austrian, illustrated by Mike Curato. Ages 4-8. Balzer + Bray, 2016. When two worms fall in love, they want to get married! But who will wear a dress and who will wear a suit? It turns out it doesn't matter because Worm loves Worm (and because scientifically worms are both male and female). This is a really sweet story celebrating love and a relationship where gender is not a factor and a wonderful way to introduce young children to the rainbow of gender and relationships in our world. Or, y'know, a worm can just be a worm.


Zombie in Love by Kelly DiPucchio, illustrated by Scott Campbell. Ages 4-8. Atheneum, 2011. This one is a fun readaloud and was a surefire February hit when we'd visit our afterschool groups for storytime. Mortimer is looking for love, but he hasn't met the right lady yet. He goes to the gym, but his arm keeps falling off. He's put up an account on, but no dice. How's a guy supposed to meet a ghoul? This is a perfect choice for young readers who like something a little scary but also funny and for skeptics who think think they're too cool for love stories. And there's a sequel if you like this one: Zombie in Love 2 + 1 (Atheneum, 2014).

Monday, February 10, 2020

Prairie Lotus

Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park. Grades 4-8. Clarion Books, March 2020. 272 pages. Review copy provided by publisher. Pre-order today!


Life on the frontier in Dakota Territory isn't easy for anyone, but for Hanna, who is half-Asian, it's even harder. Hanna dreams of being a dress designer and creating gorgeous dresses for sale in her father's shop, but first thing's first. Now that she and her father have settled in a new Dakota town, Hanna wants to go to school and complete her high school degree, just like she promised her mother before she died. 

But Hanna has to be careful. She knows that many white people don't like living next to people who aren't white. She's determined to find a way to get the people in her new town to see past the surface. And she's determined to help her father's new dress goods shop succeed. She knows that if he gives her a chance to design one dress that she'll impress the town and get her dressmaking business off to a good start. But first she needs the people of LaForge - and her own father - to give her a chance. 

This is a compelling historical read, perfect for readers who are interested in pioneer life and stories like Little House on the Prairie

My thoughts:

Inspired by her own childhood love for the Little House on the Prairie books and the acknowledgement that they have problematic racial content, Linda Sue Park set out to write a reconciliation of sorts. This is a story that celebrates the frontier life of our country's earlier days while acknowledging the people that were displaced to make it happen and the racism that excluded non-whites from sharing the spoils. 

In one of the very first scenes in the book, Hanna is approached by a group of Sioux women who offer her vegetables in exchange for sharing some of her meal with them. I think this book does a wonderful job of acknowledging the tension between Native nations and white colonizers while depicting the Sioux women that Hanna interacts with in a realistic and positive way. 

It's wonderful to get a frontier story that's told through the eyes of a child of immigrants, as well. Hanna's father is white and her late mother was an immigrant from China. Now that she and her father are traveling to find a new place to settle, Hanna is the one experiencing the West as a non-white person, something her father thinks about in reference to her but doesn't have to deal with directly. 

Throughout the book, Hanna encounters racism; many of these incidents were drawn directly from Linda Sue Park's own experiences growing up. Hanna is exhausted after a morning spent completely tense at her school desk wondering what her white classmates think of her. Hanna constantly second-guesses the meaning of her classmates' words and wonders if they would make such comments if she was white. 

This is a must-have for library shelves, particularly where Laura Ingalls Wilder is popular. Make sure your staff know about it and have it ready to hand over alongside the popular Little House books. 


This is a super book to hand to fans of Little House on the Prairie to provide another perspective and a book that is better at navigating the complicated racial landscape of 1880s America. 

Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson (Delacorte, 2007) is another empowering story about a teen girl making her way in the American West. Set in 1917 Montana, Hattie inherits her uncle's homesteading claim and has a year to make a home for herself and prove the claim. Tween readers who enjoy spirited girls with big dreams living in the American West may enjoy both of these titles. 

The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee (Putnam, 2019) is another historical novel about an Asian American teen interested in fashion and trying to make a living for herself. Although The Downstairs Girl skews a little more teen, I think the content is still appropriate for a middle school audience and readers will enjoy both plucky heroines and root for them to make it. 

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Of Curses and Kisses

Of Curses and Kisses by Sandhya Menon. Grades 7+. Simon Pulse, February 2020. 384 pages. Review copy provided by publisher. This one's due out February 18 - pre-order now!


Princess Jaya Rao has just one thing on her mind: destroy Grey Emerson. 

The Emersons and the Raos have been feuding for decades and now Grey Emerson has gone too far, leaking a story about Jaya's little sister Isha to the press. Jaya spends a great deal of her energy figuring out how to protect Isha from the paparazzi and the gossip columnists, not an easy task since Isha seems allergic to conforming to her role as a member of the royal Rao family. 

So now, Jaya has arranged their transfer to an elite Colorado boarding school where she plans to get her revenge on Grey by getting him to fall in love with her and then shattering his heart. 

His Lordship Grey Emerson, only son of the Emerson line, doesn't "people" very well. Warned since birth that a curse on their family foretold only tragedy and an early death for him, Grey doesn't like to get attached. His father blames him for his mother's death in childbirth and he's shipped Grey off to boarding school so as not to be bothered. 

When Princess Jaya shows up at his school, wearing a cursed ruby pendant, Grey knows that it's the very cursed ruby that started his family's decline. And as the rose pendant seems to lose its petals, Grey knows he's coming closer and closer to his own early death. 

Jaya signs up for all of Grey's classes to begin her seduction. Grey tries to stay as far away from Jaya - and the cursed ruby - as possible. But, as we all know, sometimes plans go awry. 

My thoughts: 

This modern day twist on Beauty and the Beast has a lot of fun elements of the original story, all told with a modern Gossip Girl-esque setting as Jaya and Grey navigate not only their feelings for each other and a potential deadly curse but the dramatic goings-on of their rich and powerful peers. Honestly, it reminded me most of a soap opera and I think fans of that dramatic, fantastical storytelling will most appreciate the book. 

I am a huge fan of Sandhya Menon's teen romance novels, but this one's a little bit different than her previous books. There's a little bit of a fantasy element with the curse, although it's not so heavy handed as to call this a fantasy novel. Fans of fairy tale retellings, especially  those with a modern setting, will find much to enjoy here. 


When the Stars Go Blue by Caridad Ferrer (St. Martin's Griffin, 2010). Ooh, I'm taking you back for this one. This modern-day retelling of Carmen has just the blend of dramatic storytelling rooted in a classic story and romance featuring culturally diverse characters written by own voices authors. 

Prince Charming by Rachel Hawkins (Putnam, 2019). Readers who love the royals-eye-view and boarding school setting may also enjoy this rom com about a teen who heads to a Scottish boarding school to escape the public eye after her sister becomes engaged to a royal. 

Monday, February 3, 2020

Dragon Hoops


Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang. Grades 6 and up. First Second. March 2020. 448 pages. Reviewed from digital galley provided by publisher. Due out March 17 - preorder now and get this on your shelves in time for March Madness!

I live in basketball country. High school and college basketball is absolutely huge here in Southern Indiana. And I just read a book that I am for sure adding to my shelves because I know I will have an audience for it, and I think you will, too.

You know Gene Luen Yang from his Printz-winning American Born Chinese and his National-Book-Award-shortlisted Boxers and Saints and now he's back with a new book that's a rather unusual memoir of sorts. And it's a very unlikely book for him to have written.

What it's about:

Mr. Yang is not a fan of basketball, or of sports in general. He's a comics nerd, the kid who was always made fun of on the basketball court, a guy more at home at an artist's table than a stadium. But as he was searching for his next book idea, he kept hearing the students at the high school where he taught talking about their basketball team. So, he took a step across the street to the school's gym to check it out.

And so begins Mr. Yang's year of basketball. He follows a team of stellar players and a coach who's brought his team to the California State Championships five times without winning the championship. Could this be their year? With eight seniors on the team, it had better be.

My thoughts: 

This is a fantastic book that Yang's many fans will appreciate and it's sure to garner him new fans, as well. Part action-packed sports story, part character-driven portrait of this dedicated high school team (and their teachers), and part sports history, this is a graphic novel that has a little something for everyone.

Yang includes personal stories of all the teens on the team and why basketball matters in their lives. It's a very diverse group of California students who had many different paths to attending this private, Catholic high school, but they come together to make one cohesive team.

Although at its heart this is a sports story, Yang interperses the team's story with his own personal story of taking steps forward into the unknown. Throughout the book the theme of taking a small step that changes your life comes back again and again. You never know where a small step might lead. For Mr. Yang, his small step across the street to the school gym eventually led to his decision to quit teaching and move to writing and creating full time, a decision he wrestles with throughout the book.

While that part of the story may sound like a story only an adult audience would appreciate, Yang treats his teen subjects with such respect and honesty that this is truly a teen book with huge crossover potential. Sports fans will definitely appreciate this book, but there's a lot for the nerdy quiet kids who don't care about basketball, too.


Press this into the hands of teens who enjoyed Attucks!: Oscar Robertson and the Basketball Team That Awakened a City by Philip Hoose (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 2018). While Dragon Hoops is a graphic novel and Attucks! is prose nonfiction, both profile diverse elite basketball teams with plenty of play-by-play action mixed with a good dose of basketball history.