Martin & Mahalia: his words, her song


by Andrea Davis Pinkney. Illustrated by Brian Pinkney. 40 p. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, July, 2013. 9780316070133. (Review copy borrowed from the public library.)

Do we really need another book about Martin Luther King Jr.? Well, yes. I have a variety of books about him in my middle school library, from picture books to longer biographies. But this one is a new collaboration by the Pinkneys. Not only is a new book by them an automatic purchase regardless of subject, this one is a dual biography and it’s gorgeous.

Follow this link to proseandkahn to read the rest of my review.



Farmer Will Allen and the Growing Table


Farmer Will Allen and the Growing Table
written by Jacqueline Briggs Martin; illustrated by Eric-Shabazz Larkin
2013 (Readers to Eaters Books)
Source: Orange County Library

Speaking about his childhood, Will Allen said “We never had a car or a TV, but we always had good food. My mother often fixed enough food for thirty.” Growing food was an important part of Will’s young life, even though he didn’t like the hard work of pulling weeds. As an adult, Will was a basketball player who spent time playing professionally in Belgium. A friend in Belgium asked him to help dig potatoes one day and he rediscovered how much he enjoyed growing food and sharing it. After finishing his basketball career, Will worked in Wisconsin in an office job and also found time to grow vegetables on his in-law’s land. Wanting to find his own place, Will found a plot of land in Milwaukee that had six empty greenhouses. Could you grow food in a city where the soil was filled with chemicals and pollution? Through the use of composting, volunteers, and red wiggler worms, Will’s city farm became a success after years of experimenting. Will went on to share his story and start farms around the globe.

How would I use this in the classroom? Go to NC Teacher Stuff and read the rest of this review.

Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker

Josephine Baker’s fascinating life has been examined in books, films, and documentaries. But perhaps none is so beautifully done as Patricia Hruby Powell‘s picture book Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker (Chronicle Books, January 14, 2014). Illustrated by Christian Robinson, Josephine tells the inspiring story of this boundary-breaking performer and champion for racial equality. A biography written in verse, Josephine is already collecting a jewel box of starred reviews, including one from Kirkus that says it’s “celebrated with style and empathy.”

Question: You’re a former dancer, so it’s easy to see the interest you might have for writing about another dancer. But why Josephine Baker? What drew you to her story?

Patricia Hruby Powell: It wasn’t till I hit my more advanced adult years that I took a close look at Josephine and was smitten. Her style, verve, her originality—as seen in the early film footage and the three movies she made—are irresistible. But when I was a serious young dancer—of Graham, Limon, and Cunningham techniques and of ballet, who became a choreographer and concert dancer—I did not take Josephine Baker seriously.

In my more recent capacity as a children’s librarian, surrounded by unfocused preteen African American girls, I thought Josephine could be a wonderful role model. Josephine had phenomenal confidence. Blind confidence, perhaps. That’s what drew me.

Q: Josephine is both beautifully illustrated, immensely informative, and well-written. And it clocks in at a whopping 104 pages! It is not every picture book that gets an editor’s green light to reach 100 pages! How did you win over your editor? Did the size of the book begin to worry you at any point?

PHP: Josephine evolved, you might say. I’d written it first as a 1,000 word picture book, received a lot of agent and editorial attention, but ultimate rejection. I then wrote it as a YA verse piece imagining Paul Colin-like black and white illustrations. Never mind that there’s really no such thing as a novella-length verse YA volume, I was writing what I wanted, as we’re always advised to do.

Read more of this interview over at, where you’ll find conversations with writers of some of the best books for children – from picture book to middle-grade, fiction and non-fiction.


Books to Celebrate the Chinese New Year

At Wrapped in Foil today we’re getting ready to celebrate the Chinese New Year, which starts next Friday, January 31, 2014. We have four older children’s nonfiction books to more learn about it.


Beginning with Holidays Around the World: Celebrate Chinese New Year: With Fireworks, Dragons, and Lanterns by Carolyn Otto. Part of National Geographic’s popular Holidays Around the World series, we find out that the Chinese New Year starts on the first new moon of the year, following the lunar cycle. In the past, the celebrations continued to the full moon or for 15 days. In modern times, the festival is often shortened to a week or less.

In Moonbeams, Dumplings & Dragon Boats: A Treasury of Chinese Holiday Tales, Activities & Recipes by Nina Simonds, Leslie Swartz, and the Children’s Museum, Boston, with illustrations by Meilo So we can explore five traditional Chinese festivals, starting with the Chinese New Year. On the 15th day, or the end of the New Year’s celebration, is the Lantern Festival. The book also includes chapters on the Cold Foods Festival, the Dragon Boat Festival and the Mid-Autumn-Moon Festival. It is packed full of stories, as well as traditional activities and recipes. Talk about fun for the whole year!

Visit Wrapped In Foil for more Chinese New Year books, crafts and activities all this week.

Do you have any favorite children’s books for the Chinese New Year? If you would like, leave a comment and let us know.

Locomotive by Brian Floca

Wow. That’s the first word that comes to mind when I think about Locomotive by Brian Floca. This is a nonfiction picture book that manages to pack an epic story–the building of the transcontinental railroad–into the interesting narrative of a family making their own transcontinental journey on that very railroad. In other words, the information about the railroad is interwoven throughout the family’s journey much as if they have their own personal historical guide they’re sharing with the reader. The story itself is written in a very poetic prose that verges on pure poetry both in sound, rhythm, and format:

Up in the cab–small as a closet, hot as a kitchen–

it smells of smoke, hot metal, and oil.

The fireman keeps the engine fed.

He scoops and lifts and throws the coal,

from the tender to the firebox.

It’s hard work, hot work,

smoke and cinders,

ash and sweat,

hard work, hot work–

but that’s a fireman’s life!

He tends the fire

that boils the water,

that turns the water into steam.

Beautiful typography–stylized capitals, script, boldface–all help communicate this very rich narrative. Floca‘s illustrations, which are rendered in watercolor, ink, acrylic, and gouache, are every bit as much the star of the story as is the text. He uses a variety of perspectives to communicate the immensity, power, and detail of the steam engine itself and what it was like to travel cross country by it. One of my favorite illustrations is a huge, two-page close-up of the train’s wheels on the track, which are accompanied by the very onomatopoetic text that includes the words huffs, hisses, bangs, and clanks in large, colored, boldface typography. The very next two-page spread includes small vignettes: an aerial view of the train; the ticketmaster collecting tickets; our passengers looking out their window; the engineer leaning out of his window with “the wind on his face, the fire by his feet.” If you’re expecting a gorgeous picture book, you won’t be disappointed. However, don’t expect a simple, pre-school story; this book is appropriate for all ages, from school-aged to adult. I read it to my three year old, and while I think he probably missed most of the details (and honestly, so did I–this is no lightweight informational book!), he appreciated the rhythmic text and the beautiful illustrations. From the detailed endpapers (maps, the history of the Transcontinental Railroad, and a beautifully detailed diagram of a steam locomotive) to the author note and lengthy list of sources, this is a not-to-be-missed informational picture book for history lovers and train lovers alike. I won’t be surprised by any accolades this book receives–a Cybil, a Caldecott–whatever. Don’t miss this one. Highly, highly (highly) Recommended. (Atheneum, 2013)

(This review is also posted on my blog, Hope Is the Word.)

Birmingham Sunday

birmingham sundayBirmingham Sunday by Larry Dane Brimner

48 pages; ages 10 – 18

Calkins Creek (Boyd Mills Press), 2010

During the Civil Rights movement, the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church served as a rallying place for Birmington, Alabama’s African American community. Martin Luther King Jr. used it as his “headquarters” when he was in town speaking about desegregation and equal rights. Because of that, the church – and Birmingham – became a target for attacks… bombings that were threatening but not deadly.

That changed on Sunday, September 15, 1963. Early in the morning, three Ku Klux Klan members planted 19 sticks of dynamite outside the basement of the church. At 10:22 am they exploded, killing four  young girls – Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley and Denise McNair – and injuring 22 others. The young people had come to prepare for Youth Day.

Rather than paralyzing the black community with fear, the bombing galvanized the community and guaranteed passage of the 1964 civil rights legislation.

You may read the full review at Sally’s Bookshelf

Let’s Go Nuts!: Seeds We Eat

April Pulley Sayre celebrates seeds of all kinds in Let’s Go Nuts!: Seeds We Eat. The simple, rhyming text and bold photographs are a perfect introduction for preschoolers to the wide variety of foods that are seeds. From beans to rice to corn to quinoa, Sayre covers the familiar and the more exotic. Coconuts, cashews, and even spices like cardamom and vanilla have a place here.

End pages give fairly extensive extra information on seeds and their place in diets around the world. I can see this one easily as a read-aloud time on food or as part of a preschool unit, especially combined with Sayre’s other food books: Rah, Rah Radishes! and Go, Go, Grapes!