Pathfinders: the Journeys of 16 Extraordinary Black Souls, by Tonya Bolden (ages 10-14)

In her outstanding new book Pathfinders, Tonya Bolden shares the remarkable stories of sixteen African Americans who pursued their dreams, excelling in careers ranging from entrepreneur to race car driver, bank founder to spy.

Pathfinders: the Journeys of 16 Extraordinary Black Souls
by Tonya Bolden
Abrams, 2017
preview on Google Books
Amazon / your local library
ages 10-14
*best new book*

This collection of short biographical sketches will inspire today’s young people to go after their dreams. Bolden profiles a wide range of leaders from math and science, business, the arts and legal fields. With each profile, she helps readers understand both the achievements and the challenges:

“Over the centuries countless blacks in America have done amazing things against the odds. Had big, bold dreams, pursued passions. Caught up with their callings. Charted courses to success. Pathfinders.”–preface to Pathfinders

Bolden’s short biographical sketches are engaging and quick to read; timelines and background information help round out the overall picture. This would be terrific to read aloud at home or in class, highlighting different career paths these remarkable individuals pursued.

Read more at my post on Great Kid Books. ©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Answering the Cry for Freedom: Stories of African Americans and the American Revolution, by Gretchen Woelfle (ages 9-13)

As students learn about the American Colonies and the road to the American Revolution, many wonder why the founding fathers could not address the fundamental contradictions between slavery and the freedom that the patriots sought.

Gretchen Woelfle’s new book, Answering the Cry for Freedom, is an excellent resource examining the way thirteen African Americans took up their own fight for freedom during the Revolutionary War and the establishment of our country–by joining the British and American armies; preaching, speaking out, and writing about the evils of slavery; and establishing settlements in Nova Scotia and Africa. I highly recommend this both as classroom resource and for students’ independent reading.

Answering the Cry for Freedom: Stories of African Americans and the American Revolution
by Gretchen Woelfle
illustrated by R. Gregory Christie
Calkins Creek / Boyds Mill Press, 2016
Google Books preview
Your local library / Amazon
ages 9-13

In the late 1700s, as the American colonists began to protest the tyranny of British rule, slavery existed in every one of the thirteen colonies. African Americans–both free and enslaved–listened as talk of freedom and the natural rights of men grew. How did they react? What did they say and do? As Woelfle writes, this collection of short biographies tells a “hidden chapter of the American Revolution.”

In short, well-organized chapters, she helps readers understand the complexities of their choices and they way these courageous men and women resisted the tyrannical customs and laws that kept slavery part of our nation for much too long. Striking silhouette illustrations by R. Gregory Christie draw readers in and provide a visual hook.

Read more about this excellent nonfiction book at Great Kid Books.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Honoring Cesar Chavez on Labor Day (ages 8-11)

I want to take a moment on Labor Day to honor Cesar Chavez and share a new biography that conveys his life and work clearly for young readers. This is a must-have for school libraries, and also a good choice to have at home.

Cesar Chavez
True Books biographies series
by Josh Gregory
Children’s Press / Scholastic, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 8-11

Cesar Chavez changed conditions for farm laborers across the United States, especially in California. He helped farm workers come together to demand better working conditions and fair wages, and still inspires people today to stand up for their rights.
“Cesar Chavez changed farm labor in the United States.”
Bright photographs will draw students in to this biography, but it’s the overall design that makes me recommend it so highly. This biography is written in clear, short sentences — but more than that, it is organized clearly in a way that helps students form a clear picture of his life.
Head over to Great Kid Books to read more about this book and TrueFlix, the online service we subscribe to for our students.

Who Was Harriet Beecher Stowe?

The  Who Was … ? series books are quite popular at my library for kids with biography assignments. One reason is because Grosset & Dunlap (Penguin) was smart enough to make them each about 100 pages long.  (Teachers, I do wish you would be less strict with page counts, particularly in nonfiction.  Kids miss out on a lot of great books because they’re trying to reach that magic number.)

In any case, the latest entry into the Who Was? series is writer Harriet Beecher Stowe, best known for her book Uncle Tom’s Cabin, or for being, as President Lincoln said,  “the little woman who wrote the book that made this great war.”

Who Was Harriet Beecher Stowe? by Dana Meachen Rau  (2015, Grosset & Dunlap)

The first chapter bears the title of the book, “Who Was Harriet Beecher Stowe?” and gives a very brief synopsis of her life and its impact on history.  Other chapters elaborate on her personal life and her book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  Today’s young readers should find it fascinating that in an age before telephones, radios, televisions and computers, the publication of this one book made Harriet Beecher Stowe a wealthy and well-known celebrity in the U.S. and Europe, and it helped bring about the end of slavery by changing public opinion.

The book is illustrated with black and white drawings, and also contains several double-spread illustrations featuring background information that is necessary to gain an understanding of the era. These inset illustrations explain The Famous Beecher Family, The Underground Railroad, The Congregational Church, and Frederick Douglass.

The story of Harriet Beecher Stowe is a perfect illustration of the power of the pen. Hopefully, it will inspire young readers to seek out a copy of Uncle Tom’s Cabin in the future.

Rounding out the book are time lines and a bibliography.

Who Was Harriet Beecher Stowe? will be on a shelf near you on 4/21/15. My copy was provided by the publisher.

Following on the heels of the Who Was… series’ popularity, there is a  What Was … series and now, a Where Is… series.  Details on all three series may be found on the publisher’s site.  Learn more about Harriet Beecher Stowe at the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center.
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Copyright © 2015 L. Taylor [Shelf-employed]. All Rights Reserved.

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Tricky Vic

Tricky Vic: The Impossibly True Story of the Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower

by Greg Pizzoli (Viking, 2015)9780670016525

In 1890, the man who would one day be known by forty-five different aliases was born to the Miller family, in what is now the Czech Republic.  His parents named him Robert.

Working both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, Robert Miller was a con man of legendary proportions, becoming most famous for his “sales” of Paris’ iconic Eiffel Tower. In addition to selling the Eiffel Tower (numerous times), Miller was a counterfeiter and a card sharp.

Yes, Robert Miller was a criminal of the worst order, but it will be hard for readers to remain unimpressed by the sheer chutzpah of the man! It’s a book that readers won’t put down until they learn the fate of the legendary man who came to be known as Tricky Vic.

Not content with merely an intriguing story, Greg Pizzoli has enveloped Tricky Vic in outstanding artwork. The back matter includes an explanatory note about the unique combination of methods (including halftone photographs, silkscreen and Zipatone) used to achieve the book’s dated, contextual feel.  Appropriately, the face of the elusive Tricky Vic is represented by a fingerprint stamp.

Back matter includes a Glossary, Selected Sources, Author’s Note, Acknowledgments, and the aforementioned “Note about the Art in this Book.”

(Advance Reader Copy provided by the publisher)

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Copyright © 2015 L. Taylor [Shelf-employed]. All Rights Reserved.
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Sally Walker on Her Huggable Non-Fiction ‘Winnie: The True Story’

Sometimes we come across books that we simply fall in love with. For me, I’ve fallen hard for the Sally Walker’s fascinating and adorable non-fiction title Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh (Henry Holt and Co., January 2015), gorgeously illustrated by Jonathan D. Voss. This is one of those books you leave out on the kitchen table so family and friends can pick it up. It lingers in the imagination, makes other writers smack their heads and wish they’d thought of it first, entertains and informs. Just like the bear on the cover, this book is huggable, irresistible.

Sally, a Chicago-area author of fiction and non-fiction for young readers, including early readers, series, and a long list of non-fiction for older readers, has hit it out of the ballpark with Winnie. It tells the story of a World War I veterinarian named Harry, from Winnipeg, and the bear cub he meets and decides to buy. With detailed endpapers showing photographs of the real-life Harry, Winnie, and a boy named Christopher Robin, Sally takes readers through the sweet story of friendship, caring, and separation. Jonathan Voss’s warm illustrations enhance the story beautifully.

Read the full interview at AuthorOf.blogspot.com.

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Brown Girl Dreaming

Woodson, Jacqueline. 2014. Brown Girl Dreaming. New York: Penguin.

Despite the title, Brown Girl Dreaming is most certainly not just a book for brown girls or girls.  Jacqueline Woodson’s memoir-in-verse relates her journey to discover her passion for writing. Her story is framed by her large, loving family within the confines of the turbulent Civil Rights Era.

Sometimes a book is so well-received, so popular, that it seems that enough has been said (and said well); anything else would just be noise. Rather than add another Brown Girl Dreaming review to the hundreds of glowing ones already in print and cyberspace, I offer you links to other sites, interviews and reviews related to Brown Girl Dreaming.  And, I’ll pose a question on memoirs in children’s literature.

First, the links:

And now something to ponder:

As a librarian who often helps students in choosing books for school assignments, I have written many times about the dreaded biography assignment – excessive page requirements,  narrow specifications, etc.

Obviously, a best choice for a children’s book is one written by a noted children’s author. Sadly, many (by no means all!) biographies are formula-driven, series-type books that are not nearly as engaging as ones written by the best authors.  Rare is the author of young people’s literature who writes an autobiography for children as Ms. Woodson has done.  When such books exist, they are usually memoirs focusing only on the author’s childhood years.  This is perfectly appropriate because the reader can relate to that specified period of a person’s lifetime.  Jon Sciezska wrote one of my favorite memoirs for children, Knucklehead, and Gary Paulsen’s, How Angel Peterson Got his Name also comes to mind as a stellar example.  These books, however, don’t often fit the formula required to answer common student assignment questions, i.e., birth, schooling, employment, marriages, accomplishments, children, death. Students are reluctant to choose a book that will leave them with a blank space(s) on an assignment.

I wonder what teachers, other librarians and parents think about this. Must the biography assignment be a traditional biography, or can a memoir (be it in verse, prose, or graphic format) be just as acceptable?  I hate to see students turn away from a great book because it doesn’t fit the mold.  If we want students to be critical thinkers, it’s time to think outside the box and make room for a more varied, more diverse selection of books.

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