Perfect Pairing – of Talented Female Voices

As our celebration of Women’s History Month continues, I’m pairing two new picture book biographies that feature cultural icons from the mid to late twentieth century.

Making their Voices Heard: The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe

Author: Vivian Kirkfield

Illustrator: Alleanna Harris

Publisher/Date: Little Bee Books/2020

Ages: 4-8

Themes: friendship, following dreams, helping others, social justice, biography, cultural icons, singing

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe. On the outside, you couldn’t find two girls who looked more different. But on the inside, they were alike–full of hopes and dreams and plans of what might be.

Ella Fitzgerald’s velvety tones and shube-doobie-doos captivated audiences. Jazz greats like Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington couldn’t wait to share the stage with her, but still, Ella could not book a performance at one of the biggest clubs in town–one she knew would give her career its biggest break yet.

Marilyn Monroe dazzled on the silver screen with her baby blue eyes and breathy boo-boo-be-doos. But when she asked for better scripts, a choice in who she worked with, and a higher salary, studio bosses refused.

Two women whose voices weren’t being heard. Two women chasing after their dreams and each helping the other to achieve them. This is the inspiring, true story of two incredibly talented women who came together to help each other shine like the stars that they are.

Read a review at The Picture Book Buzz.

 

A Voice Named Aretha

Author: Katheryn Russell-Brown

Illustrator: Laura Freeman

Publisher/Date: Bloomsbury Children’s Books/2020

Ages: 4-8

Themes: biography, cultural icon, singer, African-American history, respect

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

From acclaimed author and illustrator pairing comes a beautiful picture book biography about the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin and how she fought for respect throughout her life.

Aretha Franklin is the Queen of Soul, a legend. But before she became a star, she was a shy little girl with a voice so powerful it made people jump up, sway, and hum along.

Raised in a house full of talking and singing, Aretha learned the values that would carry her through life–from her church choir in Detroit to stages across the world. When she moved to New York City to start her career, it took years of hard work before she had a hit song. In the turbulent 1960s, she sang about “Respect” and refused to perform before segregated audiences. The first woman inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Aretha always remembered who she was and where she came from.

In this stirring biography of a true artistic and social icon, award-winning creators Katheryn Russell-Brown and Laura Freeman show young readers how Aretha’s talent, intelligence, and perseverance made her a star who will shine on for generations to come.

Read a review at Kirkus Reviews.

I paired these books because they both recount the stories of women who were entertainment icons. While A Voice Named Aretha is almost a cradle-to-grave biography of this singing legend, Making Their Voices Heard is a dual biography focused on the friendship between Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe. Read together, I think these new biographies shed light on the struggles these female performers had to overcome to succeed.

 

PPBF – Dare

I found today’s Perfect Picture Book in London, but it’s also available in the US. After reading it, I wanted to get up and DO something, take positive action. I hope others feel that way, too!

Title: Dare

Written By: Lorna Gutierrez

Illustrated By: Polly Noakes

Publisher/Date: Tiny Owl Publishing/2019

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: social activism, self-esteem, rhyming, poetry, multicultural

Opening:

Dare to dream. Dare to aspire.

Dare to trust… Dare to inspire!

Brief Synopsis: Short rhyming text encourages and inspires children to be true to themselves, to be the best they can be, and to help others and speak out for a better world.

Links to Resources:

  • Try something new: an activity, a food, an outfit, or even visit a new place;
  • Watch the book trailer;
  • Check out the suggested activities in this Teacher Resource.

Why I Like this Book:

In just 93 words divided into short, active, rhyming phrases, Dare encourages all children to be true to themselves, to support causes important to them, and to take action to make the world better. Dare features both small actions, like reading, reaching out a hand to someone who appears to be a newcomer, and stopping to smell a flower, and big actions, like participating in a protest march.

I think the rhyming text will appeal to young children. I also think the illustrations will encourage activity. I especially like that these bright illustrations feature details that stretch the text: the girl on the cover is wearing a hearing aid; several children carry protest signs; a child in a tutu appears to be male; skin colors and hair types span a wide spectrum.

Dare is a positive, hopeful book, that, I think, will be a great addition to home and school libraries, whether you’re looking to encourage positive self-images and the pursuit of dreams or to spur social activism.

A Note about Craft:

Gutierrez uses short, rhyming phrases to encourage action. Verbs dominate the text: dare, dream, aspire, inspire, see, speak, sing, dance, lend a hand, and more.

Gutierrez also leaves a lot of room for the illustrator. I especially appreciated the phrase, “Dare to do what hasn’t been done,” accompanied by an illustration of several children in a cardboard “boat” exploring the world. And nowhere does the text state “save the environment”, but the illustrations add that layer to the book.

Learn more about the author and illustrator of Dare.

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

Perfect Pairing – of Female Scientists

It’s March – Women’s History Month! I’m looking forward to celebrating by reading and pairing some recent picture book biographies of some fascinating women, including the scientists featured today.

Queen of Physics: How WuChien Shiung Helped Unlock the Secrets of the Atom

Author: Teresa Robeson

Illustrator: Rebecca Huang

Publisher/Date: Sterling Children’s Books/2019

Ages: 5 and up

Themes: physics, #STEM, biography, immigrant, Women’s History, prejudice, perseverance

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Meet Wu Chien Shiung, famous physicist who overcame prejudice to prove that she could be anything she wanted.

When Wu Chien Shiung was born in China 100 years ago, most girls did not attend school; no one considered them as smart as boys. But her parents felt differently. Giving her a name meaning “Courageous Hero,” they encouraged her love of learning and science. This engaging biography follows Wu Chien Shiung as she battles sexism and racism to become what Newsweek magazine called the “Queen of Physics” for her work on beta decay. Along the way, she earned the admiration of famous scientists like Enrico Fermi and Robert Oppenheimer and became the first woman hired as an instructor by Princeton University, the first woman elected President of the American Physical Society, the first scientist to have an asteroid named after her when she was still alive, and many other honors.

Read a review by Kathy Halsey at Group Blog.

 

What Miss Mitchell Saw

Author: Hayley Barrett

Illustrator: Diana Sudyka

Publisher/date: Beach Lane Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing/2019

Ages: 4-8

Themes: astronomy, #STEM, biography, Women’s History, perseverance

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Discover the amazing true story of Maria Mitchell, America’s first professional female astronomer.

Every evening, from the time she was a child, Maria Mitchell stood on her rooftop with her telescope and swept the sky. And then one night she saw something unusual—a comet no one had ever seen before! Miss Mitchell’s extraordinary discovery made her famous the world over and paved the way for her to become America’s first professional female astronomer.

Gorgeously illustrated by Diana Sudyka, this moving picture book about a girl from humble beginnings who became a star in the field of astronomy is sure to inspire budding scientists everywhere.

Read a review at Gathering Books.

I paired these books because they recount the lives of two female scientists who were trailblazers in their fields. Although Maria Mitchell received more recognition in her field in the 19th century than the 20th century physicist Wu Chien Shiung did in her field, both battled prejudice in their male-dominated professions, both had parents who kindled and supported their love of science, and both endured to excel in their chosen fields and become faculty at prestigious American universities.

Looking for similar reads? See any of Laurie Wallmark’s excellent picture book biographies of female scientists.

 

 

PPBF – The Little Island

I picked up today’s Perfect Picture Book when I visited London last fall. It may not be available in the US yet, but I think it’s publishing here soon. Hopefully, US readers will be able to find it!

Title: The Little Island

Written By: Smriti Prasadam-Halls

Illustrated By: Robert Starling

Publisher/Date: Andersen Press/2019

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: community, island, working together, barriers, bridges, fable

Opening:

There was once a farm where all the animals were friends. They worked hard and each was at liberty to live and work where they chose. Together they looked after the farm and each other.

Brief Synopsis: When a flock of geese on an island at the edge of a farm remove a bridge to keep other animals off of the island, they are happy at first, until they realize that perhaps life is better when they are together with the other animals.

Links to Resources:

  • Do you have a favorite farm animal? How do you think that animal could help another one, like a goose?
  • Have you ever visited an island? What animals did you see there? How do you think each type of animal contributes to island life?
  • This story is a fable. What do you think the moral of this fable is? Think of other fables that include animals;
  • Check out the Teaching Notes for more insights.

Why I Like this Book:

When I think of kids at play, I often think about how they play at keeping some friends near and other kids further away. Who hasn’t seen the “Keep Out” signs on forts or play structures, or the dreaded “No XXXs Allowed”?

In similar fashion, the geese in The Little Island grew tired of sharing their island with the larger animals on the farm. But instead of building a wall or posting a sign, they destroyed the only route to the island for non-swimming farm animals: the bridge.

I think even young children will understand a discussion about this exclusionary action. I think they’ll also understand how this action hurts not just the other animals, those kept away from the island, but most especially the geese and ducks left alone there. And for adults or older children reading this story, my guess is that the impetus behind it, the exclusionary antics of certain politicians and governments building barriers and/or leaving multilateral organizations, will engender spirited comparisons.

Starling’s bright illustrations are engaging, and I especially loved the map on the endpapers.

A Note about Craft:

A straight-forward book about keeping others out may get to the point, but setting the situation on a farm with animal characters will, in my opinion, better engage young children and better show the ill consequences for both those excluded and those who exclude others.

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

Perfect Pairing – of Picture Books about African-American Migrations

In small numbers, while slavery held sway in the southern states, and in large numbers, in the early to mid-twentieth century, African Americans headed north. Today’s pairing explores these journeys:

Before She Was Harriet

Author: Lesa Cline-Ransome

Illustrator: James E. Ransome

Publisher/Date: Holiday House Publishing, Inc./2017

Ages: 4-8

Themes: biography, African-American history, women’s history, slavery, underground railroad

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

A lush and lyrical biography of Harriet Tubman, written in verse and illustrated by an award-winning artist.
We know her today as Harriet Tubman, but in her lifetime she was called by many names. As General Tubman she was a Union spy. As Moses she led hundreds to freedom on the Underground Railroad. As Minty she was a slave whose spirit could not be broken. An evocative poem and opulent watercolors come together to honor a woman of humble origins whose courage and compassion make her larger than life.
A Junior Library Guild Selection

Read a review at Kirkus Reviews.

Overground Railroad

Author: Lesa Cline-Ransome

Illustrator: James E. Ransome

Publisher/Date: Holiday House/2020

Ages: 4-8

Themes: African-American history, the Great Migration, moving, train journey

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Ruth Ellen’s odyssey on the New York Bound Silver Meteor is the start of a new life up North that she can’t begin to imagine in this gorgeously illustrated picture book.

In poems, illustrated with collage art, a perceptive girl tells the story of her train journey from North Carolina to New York City as part of the Great Migration. Each leg of the trip brings new revelations as scenes out the window of folks working in fields give way to the Delaware River, the curtain that separates the colored car is removed, and glimpses of the freedom and opportunity the family hopes to find come into view.

Overground Railroad offers a window into a child’s experience of the Great Migration from the award-winning creators behind Finding LangstonBefore She was HarrietBenny Goodman & Teddy Wilson, and Just a Lucky So and So.

Read my review.

I paired these books because they recount two eras of black migration from the south to northern states. In Before She Was Harriet, Cline-Ransome recounts the life of the most famous of the underground railroad conductors, Harriet Tubman. In Overground Railroad, Cline-Ransome recounts the fictional story of a young girl and her family who flee the poverty and segregation of the 20th century south to find a better life in the north. Reading these books together shows how these journeys were similar quests to find freedom, from the bondage of slavery and the bondage of the sharecropping system, poverty, and segregation.

 

 

Perfect Picture Book Friday – Todos Iguales/All Equal

I discovered today’s Perfect Picture Book in a listing of recent non-fiction picture books. The bilingual title and the cover image intrigued me, and I knew I had to share it with you.

Title: Todos Iguales/All Equal: Un Corrido de Lemon Grove, Y El Primer Caso Exitoso de Desegregación Escolar/A Ballad of Lemon Grove and the First Successful School Desegregation Case

Written & Illustrated By: Christy Hale

Publisher/Date: Children’s Book Press, an imprint of Lee & Low Books/2019

Suitable for Ages: 6-10

Themes/Topics: Mexican-Americans, California, bilingual, school desegregation, #NF

Opening:

Weekday mornings, while the sun was slowly ripening over Lemon Grove, California, twelve-year-old Roberto Álvarez raced out the door. He loved school and didn’t want to be late. He hurried along North Avenue and around the corner to Olive Street, where he joined his friends on their way across town.

Brief Synopsis: In Spanish and English, Todos Iguales/All Equal recounts the true story set in California in 1931 of the first successful school desegregation case in the United States.

Links to Resources:

  • Find additional background information, discussion questions, and more in the comprehensive Teachers Guide;
  • Have you ever felt like you weren’t being treated as an equal because of your age, gender, cultural background, citizenship status, abilities, race, heritage, or religion? How did this make you feel? What did you do about the situation?
  • Do you have a friend who faces discrimination? How do you think you can support this friend?

Why I Like this Book:

Todos Iguales/All Equal broadens our history of the fight to end school segregation by bringing to light a little-known desegregation case in California that preceded the famous Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision by over 20 years.

In Todos Iguales/All Equal, Hale introduces us to the main child witness, Roberto Álverez, at the outset, and shows readers how he loved school. But the school board of this agricultural district populated by many farm workers of Mexican descent decided that Roberto and the children from his part of town should not mix with the Anglo children, and they hastily built a school that was little more than a barn for the Mexican American children. In response, the Mexican American community came together, hired a lawyer, and took the school board to court. Although the decision was not decided on racial grounds, the resolve showed by the Mexican American community and the role of the children, in this case as a witness in the trial, foreshadows the actions of later communities in fighting school segregation.

Not only does Hale provide a wonderful introduction to the characters and issues involved in this landmark legal case, but she precedes the text with a ballad, a song about the events that will be described. I can envision a roving troubadour singing it throughout the land, lending a mythic quality to this epic fight.

Hale’s illustrations in gouache and relief printing inks, often full-page spreads, feature the fruits and colors of the region, and place readers firmly in this period.

Backmatter includes notes on the area and migration from Mexico to the region, the participants in the case, the aftermath, the history of Corridos, and sources.

Todos Iguales/All Equal is a wonderful addition to classroom and school libraries. By publishing it in Spanish and English, with the Spanish text preceding the English text, I think Lee & Low have increased its value for Spanish-speaking communities who are battling discrimination today.

A Note about Craft:

The story of a little-known state court decision can be quite dry and boring. So how does Hale gain readers’ interest? Before jumping into the story, Hale offers A Ballad of Lemon Grove, a song, complete with melody, that recounts the facts of the case and elevates it to legend status. My interest was immediately piqued! Next, Hale begins the text by introducing young Roberto, smiling as he walks to school, joined on the second spread by his fellow Mexican American students. The emphasis is placed immediately on what’s so important in the case: these children. Finally, she shows, in text and pictures, how the community rallied to sue the school board, pointing out instances when the children themselves played a part: helping to fundraise via rummage sales, boycotting the new school, and, in Roberto’s case, even testifying at the trial.

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

Perfect Pairing – of Traditional Comfort Foods

Looking for a fun family activity to chase away the winter chills? Try cooking together – as shown in today’s Perfect Pairing.

Freedom Soup

Author: Tami Charles

Illustrator: Jacqueline Alcántara

Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press/2019

Ages: 4-8

Themes: intergenerational, cooking, tradition, Haiti

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Join the celebration in the kitchen as a family makes their traditional New Year’s soup — and shares the story of how Haitian independence came to be.

The shake-shake of maracas vibrates down to my toes.
Ti Gran’s feet tap-tap to the rhythm.

Every year, Haitians all over the world ring in the new year by eating a special soup, a tradition dating back to the Haitian Revolution. This year, Ti Gran is teaching Belle how to make the soup — Freedom Soup — just like she was taught when she was a little girl. Together, they dance and clap as they prepare the holiday feast, and Ti Gran tells Belle about the history of the soup, the history of Belle’s family, and the history of Haiti, where Belle’s family is from. In this celebration of cultural traditions passed from one generation to the next, Jacqueline Alcantara’s lush illustrations bring to life both Belle’s story and the story of the Haitian Revolution. Tami Charles’s lyrical text, as accessible as it is sensory, makes for a tale that readers will enjoy to the last drop.

Read my review.

Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story

Author: Kevin Noble Maillard

Illustrator: Juana Martinez-Neal

Publisher/Date: Roaring Brook Press/2019

Ages: 3-6

Themes: Native Americans, family tradition, cooking, community

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Fry bread is food.
It is warm and delicious, piled high on a plate.

Fry bread is time.
It brings families together for meals and new memories.

Fry bread is nation.
It is shared by many, from coast to coast and beyond.

Fry bread is us.
It is a celebration of old and new, traditional and modern, similarity and difference.

Read a review by Susanna Leonard Hill.

I paired these books because they involve food traditions that tie communities together, be it soup, as in the Haitian Freedom Soup, or the Native American Fry Bread. And a special bonus: both picture books include recipes, perfect for wintry days!