Some Writer!

Some Writer! The Story of E.B. White

by Melissa Sweet

176 pages; ages 7-10 (and older!)

HMH 2016

Elwyn Brooks White loved words. And it’s a good thing he did, because lots of those words ended up in marvelous books, like Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little – words I read and reread as I imagined that I, too, might have a little mouse and a red car or a canoe…

So it is fun, fun, FUN to read this wonderful biography by Melissa Sweet. It is full of words, too – and bright collages that give the book the feel of a scrapbook. There are tales of vacations in Maine, writing stories for contests, working as a counselor at Camp Otter.

EB White traveled about, wrote for the New Yorker, and then started scribbling notes that would grow into Stuart Little. “One October evening Andy [E.B.’s nickname] watched a spider spin an egg sac and deposit her eggs,” writes Melissa Sweet. He detached the egg sac, put it into a box, and took it back to New York where he left it on his dresser. A few weeks later he noticed hundreds of tiny spiders climbing out of the box and spinning webs about the room. Later, back at his farm in Maine, he got to wondering whether a spider could save a pig…

Sweet includes a rough draft of Charlotte’s Web that opens, “Charlotte was a grey spider who lived in the doorway of a barn.” He struggled with the opening, jotting down different ways into the story, and then set the story aside for  year.

And then, Sweet notes, “he cut to the action …” to the lines we know so well:

“Where’s Papa going with that ax?”

What I love about this book is how Sweet weaves the story of E.B. White with illustrations that capture specific moments in his life. She even makes grammar fun! E.B. White is famous for his writing advice to Omit Needless Words. He’s also famous for explaining the difference between affect and effect (I know this because I have looked it up in The Elements of Style) and when to use an exclamation point.

Sweet also has fun introducing readers to the times in which E.B. wrote. Opposite the Table of Contents she explains how a manual typewriter works.

And of course there is back matter: an afterword by Martha White (E.B. was her grandfather) with family photos, a timeline of his works, a selected bibliography of works by E.B. White as well as works by others that curious kids might want to check out. And – yay! – there is an index for impatient folks who want to know right this minute where to find something about chickens or pigs or the nitty-gritty stuff of Stuart Little.

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Blood Brother

blood-brother-640x684Blood Brother: Jonathan Daniels and his sacrifice for Civil Rights

by Rich Wallace and Sandra Neil Wallace

352 pages; ages 12 & up

Calkins Creek, 2016

So why is a biography of some white guy being featured during Black History month? Because Jonathan Daniels worked for voting rights, and it’s still an issue.

Still. An. Issue.

Rich and Sandra Wallace have produced an information-packed (and very heavy) volume that explores the life and times of Jonathan Daniels, a white cleric from New Hampshire who answered the call from Martin Luther King, Jr. to join blacks in their struggle for voting rights. It was dangerous, in the 60s, to challenge the segregated ways of the south.

This book follows Daniels’ life from childhood in Keene, NH through college in Virginia Military Institute, through his entrance into service in the ministry. In 1963 Daniels, studying at the Episcopal Theological School, had been serving residents in Providence, RI. He believed that the church should be active in promoting social change, and even joined the March on Washington. When Martin Luther King, Jr, asked for help, Daniels responded.

In addition to being an intriguing biography, the text and photos present documentary evidence of the struggle that black people faced. Even though they had the right to vote, segregation and southern laws prevented them from casting ballots. The Wallaces put history into context using multiple points of view.

The photos and primary documentation is invaluable. They also include a note on their research and forensic analysis of a photo. Also provided are a timeline, bibliography, resources for those who want to investigate further, and source notes for quotes. The only thing I wish had been done differently is to present text on white pages; black print on blue is difficult to read.

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two more books about black history

underground-railroad-2017The Underground Railroad: navigate the journey from slavery to freedom

by Judy Dodge Cummings; illus. by Tom Casteel

128 pages; ages 9-12

Nomad Press, 2017

This book opens with an explanation of what slavery is and what the abolitionist movement was. It will help readers glimpse what life was like for enslaved people, and how they fought the system that shackled them.

The cool thing about this book: it’s like going on a field trip into the past. As with any expedition, you’ll want to grab your notebook and pencil to record ideas, observations, and reactions as you work through the activities.

There are 20 activities, starting with how to interpret statistics. Though graphs and statistics help put huge numbers into perspective (11.3 million enslaved men, women, and children brought to the Americas) they are impersonal. So how do you put a human face on the people who suffered?

Other activities include making a hoe cake, creating your own abolitionist broadside, writing coded messages, and learning navigation skills. Through the reading, we get to know Frederick Douglass, Isaac Hopper and his society of abolitionists, black businessmen who put themselves in danger to help fugitives, and Harriet Tubman. Excerpts of primary sources and links to online primary sources help connect readers to historic events.

shackles-from-the-deepShackles From the Deep: tracing the path of a sunken slave ship

by Michael Cottman

128 pages; ages 10 & up

National Geographic Children’s Books, 2017

Michael Cottman is an African-American journalist and deep sea diver. So when he learns of artifacts found in a shipwreck off the coast of Key West, artifacts from a slave ship, he wants to dive right in and learn more. His curiosity takes him on an excellent adventure to uncover the mystery surrounding the ship, Henrietta Marie.

The ship sank in the early 1700s, but it wasn’t until 1972 that anyone had found it. And that discovery came about when a treasure hunter was seeking a different wreck. Instead of gold, he found shackles small enough to imprison a child.

When Cottman was invited to help with the underwater memorial at the site of the slave ship, he decided he wanted to learn more: who owned this ship? Who made the shackles and cannons? Who was the captain? The crew?

He wanted to retrace the route the Henrietta Marie took from London down to the west coast of Africa, and then to the Americas. He came to realize that slavery, for a ship captain back in the 1600s – 1700s was simply a business. African people weren’t referred to as humans but as cargo. Not only is this a great adventure and mystery – it’s a true story.

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Black History and the American Revolution

spy-called-jamesThere are a couple of books that came out in the fall celebrating the lives and stories of black men and women who played a role in the American Revolution. One of these was James Lafayette, whose story is told in the picture book, A Spy Called James: the true story of James Lafayette, Revolutionary War double agent by Anne Rockwell; illus. by Floyd Cooper (ages 7-11; Carolrhoda Books).

We know the names of those leaders who led our emerging country through the Revolutionary War: Washington, Marquis de Lafayette, Franklin, Jefferson… But, as Anne Rockwell writes, “America would not have won independence without the courage of thousands of people whose names never became famous.”

James, enslaved by a farmer named William Armistead, had heard that an enslaved man could win freedom by fighting for the colonies. Armistead allowed him to join Lafayette’s army where, under orders, he dressed in tattered clothing and presented himself to Cornwallis and Benedict Arnold as a runaway slave. James would gather information and sneak it back to Lafayette.

James was so good at “serving” Cornwallis that the British general asked him to spy on the Americans. And so James began the dangerous job of being a double agent.

The war officially ended in 1783, but for James there was no victory. While blacks who served as soldiers were granted freedom, James’s work as a spy didn’t earn him that reward. Eventually Lafayette heard about this gross injustice and wrote a letter to the US government. James adopted the last name Lafayette and became a farmer.

answering-the-cry-for-freedomA thicker, heavier volume includes stories of more black men and women who played a role in America’s Revolution: Answering the Cry for Freedom by Gretchen Woelfle; illus. by R. Gregory Christie (ages 9-12; Calkins Creek,)

Gretchen Woelfle has gathered 13 stories of little-known African American preachers, writers, soldiers, organizers, and enslaved workers. Some escaped to freedom with the British; others fought for freedom at home.

Stories include James (the spy), poet Phyllis Wheatley, Ona Judge who was owned by Martha Washington, and John Kizelle who escaped to Nova Scotia and later worked to end the slave trade in Africa. After reading these stories you’ll ask: Why haven’t we heard about these courageous people before?

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In the Shadow of Liberty

shadow-of-libertyIn the Shadow of Liberty

by Kenneth C. Davis

304 pages; ages 10 – 14

Henry Holt, 2016

“Most of us learn something about the US presidents,” writes Kenneth Davis. “But this book is about some people who are not so famous.”

Davis introduces us to five enslaved people who lived with and worked for four famous founding fathers: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Andrew Jackson. These enslaved people were bought and paid for by the writers of the Declaration of Independence, the very same men who declared that all men are created equal and fought for their own freedom from another master, the king.

It is fitting that this book hits the shelves now, as September 22, 1862 is the day that President Abraham Lincoln issued a preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. Under the War Powers act, Lincoln warned that he would order the freedom of all slaves in any state that did not end its rebellion against the Union by January first 1863.

Davis begins his history with a look at how slavery began, and the importation of slaves to the colonies. By 1700, he notes that enslaved people are being imported into Virginia at the rate of 1,000 per year. Each subsequent chapter focuses on the story of one enslaved person and his (or her) connection with a president.

At the end of each chapter is a timeline of slavery in America. These points in history – British banning the slave trade (1804), Thomas Jefferson signing a ban on importing slaves (1807) put the personal stories into a national and international context. Historic photos, cartoons and illustrations from the archives add to our understanding of the history. I appreciate the chapter notes, bibliography, and index.

Read a longer review over at Sally’s Bookshelf.

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Dorothea’s Eyes

DOROTHEAS EYES-webDorothea’s Eyes

by Barb Rosenstock; illus. by Gerard DuBois

40 pages; ages 8-12

Calkins Creek (Boyd’s Mills), 2016

Dorothea opens her grey-green eyes. They are special eyes. They see what others miss…

So begins a biography of one of my favorite photographers, Dorothea Lange. Before she ever owned a camera she knew she wanted to be a photographer – even though girls weren’t supposed to be photographers. Even though it was hard for her to walk. She skips school to wander around the city, peering into crowded tenements, seeing with her eyes and her heart how people live – “happy and sad mixed together”.

What I like about this book: It is about Dorothea! I like how Barb Rosenstock shows Dorothea growing into a photographer. And how her childhood – and her heart – drew her to take photographs of poor people, immigrants, migrant farmers… the invisible people in our society. I like that Dorothea’s story can inspire young people to follow their dreams. Most of all, I like that “Dorothea’s eyes help us see with our hearts.”

Head over to Sally’s Bookshelf for some Beyond-the-book activities. And drop by the blog all next week for art activities and book reviews to celebrate National Arts in Education Week.

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Nadia ~ the girl who couldn’t sit still

NadiaThis is a perfect book for the season, especially if you have a gymnastics-crazy kid who cartwheels down the hall.

Nadia ~ The girl who couldn’t sit still

by Karlin Gray; illus. by Christine Davenier

40 pages; ages 6-9

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016

Nadia Comaneci loved soccer, swimming, and climbing trees in the forests beyond her village of Onesti, Romania. “She didn’t just climb the trees,” writes Karlin Gray, “she swung from branch to branch until her family would call her home.”

To find an outlet for all that energy, Nadia’s mom signed her up for gymnastics classes. It would be great to just say …”and the rest is history…” but that would ignore the years of hard work and learning that Nadia put into developing her skills on the bars and beam. It would ignore the falls and failures.

When she fell, Nadia picked herself up and brushed herself off and practiced some more until she perfected each move. Until she got first place in national competitions. Until she reached the Olympics in Montreal (1976). She whipped around the bars, balanced, flipped, and won the highest score ever – a perfect 10.

At the end of the competitions, Nadia took home five medals (three gold). Back home she did just what you’d expect a girl who couldn’t sit still to do: keep on practicing.

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The Hole Story of the Doughnut

Hole Story of DonutThe Hole Story of the Doughnut

by Pat Miller; illus. by Vincent X. Kirsch

40 pages; ages 6-9

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016

“Few remember the master mariner Hanson Crockett Gregory, though he was bold and brave and bright. But the pastry he invented more than 166 years ago is eaten daily by doughnut lovers everywhere.”

Hanson Gregory was just 13 when he went to sea. He wanted to learn as much as possible, and he eventually became a captain of a clipper, shipping foods from Maine to California. He even got a medal for heroism from the Queen of Spain.

But what people remember him for: inventing the doughnut.

What I like about this book: It’s a true story that reads like a tall tale. Kitchen boy goofs up making buns; comes up with way to ensure there are no raw, doughy centers by cutting them out. Sailors loved them and the rest is history. It’s fun to read and the illustrations are clever, but make sure you’ve got a plate of doughnuts because everyone will want one when you turn the last page.

I like that there’s back matter: author’s note, a timeline, a bibliography of resources. I also like that author Pat Miller was inspired to write this book by a snippet of conversation she overheard. On a tour of Boston Harbor the guide offhandedly commented, “The guy who invented the hole in the doughnut is buried over there.” That, and Miller’s curiosity, led her to discover a delicious story.

Today is National Donut Day – so head over to Sally’s Bookshelf for some beyond-the-book activities.

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Samurai Rising: the Epic Life of Minamoto Yoshitsune

Samurai RisingSamurai Rising: the Epic Life of Minamoto Yoshitsune

by Pamela S. Turner; illustrated by Gareth Hinds

256 pages; ages 12 & up

Charlesbridge, 2016

Minamoto Yoshitsune had little going for him. As a fatherless child he was exiled to a monastery, had no money, had few friends and no allies, and had no martial arts training. But he was smart and determined, and he had a dream.

At the age of fifteen, Yoshitsune escaped from exile, joined his half-brother, and led an uprising against the most powerful samurai in Japan.

Pamela Turner spins a tale of courage, battles, cunning, and improvisation in a story that sounds like the adventures of King Arthur or Harry Potter. Except this story is true, and accompanied by maps of battles that really took place. It is also a story about shifting loyalties, political allegiance, love, and family. There are warrior monks, archers, and much clashing of swords. There is victory and defeat.

Not only is it page-turning nonfiction, it is a perfect book to read this political season. If I gave out stars, this would get a galaxy’s worth.

Head over to Sally’s Bookshelf for an interview with the author. And head over to Pam’s website to learn more about Yoshitsune’s World at Pam’s website. Click on “Enter Yoshitsune’s World” and you’ll find videos, photos, and more.

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Whose Hands are These?

whose_handsWhose Hands Are These?
By Miranda Paul; illus. by Luciana Navarro Powell
32 pages; ages 4-9
Milbrook Press, 2016

Hands can wiggle, hands can clap.
Hands can wrap and flap and tap.

But hands can help, too. What can they do? Turn the page to find out! This book shows how people living in your community use their hands to help each other. Some people use their hands to raise vegetables while others use their hands to slice and dice those veggies. Some create art while others fix engines.

What I like: Not only does Miranda introduce youngsters to a diversity of jobs, but she does it with rhythm, rhyme, and panache. This book is just plain fun to read out loud. What’s even more fun: every page is a riddle. Can you guess the answer before you turn the page?

There are so many ways to help other people. What will your hands do?

Head over to Sally’s Bookshelf for some beyond-the-book activities and an interview with author Miranda Paul.

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