38. Ida B. Wells-Barnett: The Light of Truth, edited by Mia Bay and Henry Louis Gates Jr. It took me all summer to read this dense book, but it is worth the effort. This is a collection of work by famed journalist and writer Ida B. Wells-Barnett. Most of the writing deals with her essays, columns and pamphlets protesting the lynch laws prevalent during her time, and her writing was an eye-opener for me. I know I’m not the only one but my “knowledge” (if it could be called that) of lynching was somewhat limited. I thought, and always had the impression, that lynching meant a spur-of-the moment enraged mob hanging someone. Oh no. That is the sanitized version of what lynching meant. Wells-Barnett, through her writings which could wax poetic one moment and hurl barbs the next, provides facts, numbers, figures and many interviews to counter the common opinions of the time- that lynchings were necessary, and were always done against someone who was guilty and deserved such treatment. Wells-Barnett details several cases where, when the culprit (who may or may not have been guilty of a crime) could not be found, lynch mobs attacked the family. Wives, children, brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers could be targeted. And forget the idea that a lynch mob was a spur of the moment group. There were more than a few cases where trains made special excursions to cities where a lynching was anticipated, and whole families – including small children- came out by the hundreds. And while hanging someone without the full benefit of trial would be horrible enough, it was “just” a hanging if the mob decided to be lenient. Removal of fingers, toes and ears for souvenirs was all too common, as was burning, shooting and stabbing. The victim would often be alive as these atrocities happened. What’s more appalling is the lack of action by the government (at least one governor is quoted as saying that he would have lead a lynch mob if circumstances warranted it). The number of people killed by lynchings run into the thousands. Wells-Barnett early on states that the Civil War really did not end in 1865; civil war continued for decades. I think she had a point. This is not an easy book to read, but it does contain an unvarnished look at our history. A history we need to acknowledge fully if we do not wish to repeat it.
39. El Deafo, by Cece Bell. This charming graphic novel is a sort of autobiography. Bell became deaf after contracting meningitis as a young child. She draws her characters as rabbit-like creatures – it is hard to miss the irony. Bell is unflinchingly honest in telling her story about adapting to a new world where, no matter what, she would stand out as being different. But eventually, she discovers that the hearing aid system she uses for school gives her an ability the other students don’t have, so she becomes El Deafo, someone who has super powers. The drawings are simple and clean, and there is a great mix of humor and sadness. This is good for older grade school and preteens, especially for those who may know someone with a disability.
40. The Crossover, by Kwame Alexander. This story centers on Josh, the narrator, and his twin brother Jordan. The entire book is told in free verse; The Crossover would be an excellent, modern-day book for teachers working on the various forms of poetry with their students. The poetry and feelings conveyed aren’t limited to the sentences themselves, but often how the words are placed. Josh and Jordan are both in middle school. They are incredibly talented basketball players, more than living up to the image of their basketball star father. But this year, the brotherly ties that have always held the twins together starts to fray, particularly after Jordan develops feelings for the new girl in school. The story is a quick read, good for the reluctant reader and sports fan, as well as those looking for something just a bit different. If I have a nit, I did find it hard to believe that the two brothers were only 12, going on 13. The writing and vocabulary feel older, more like high school. That was my only issue. All in all, I highly recommend this book.
41. A Boy and a Jaguar, by Alan Rabinowitz, with illustrations by Catia Chien. This lovely picture book is based on the real story of zoologist and conservationist Alan Rabinowitz. The illustrations have an organic feel, with its greens, golds and browns. Rabinowitz overcame many difficulties to help establish a jaguar sanctuary, fulfilling a promise he made as a child. This would be a good book for younger grade school, either for self-reading or for a teacher or librarian to read.
42. The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus, by Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet. This picture book is a feast – both in information and in its illustrations. Most people, of course, have heard of Roget’s Thesaurus- but how many know about the man behind this ubiquitous book? Here, the reader can find a brief biography of Peter Roget, which includes timelines, family information and his thought processes which lead him to compile and publish the first thesaurus. The book is richly illustrated with charts, artfully arranged words and lovely illustrations. The Right Word is a book which you can flip through multiple times and see something new each time. This would be a good read for older grade schoolers (I do wonder if children younger than first grade might be a bit overwhelmed by all the detail), and a good way to learn new words (not to mention introducing a valuable writing tool).
43. Waiting is Not Easy, by Mo Willems. Those looking for a good, fun book for kindergarten age and younger cannot go wrong with any of Mo Willems’ Elephant and Piggie books. Once again, Willems publishes a book that has become a hit. Here, Piggie tells Gerald, an elephant, that she has a surprise for him. Gerald finds it very hard to wait so long for this surprise – something any young child can relate to! But Gerald finds in the end that Piggie’s surprise is well worth the wait.
44. The Noisy Paint Box, by Barb Rosenstock and Mary GrandPre. Artist Vasily Kandinsky always saw the world in a different way. But when he tried to convey what he heard through the colors of his paint box, he only served to confuse and infuriate his parents, family and teachers. As an adult, though, he would connect with other artists who wanted to paint what they heard and felt, and move away from the typical painting subjects such as portraits, still lifes and landscapes. This picture book does a wonderful job not just telling Kandinsky’s story, but showing through color and word placement how a sound might look. I’d recommend The Noisy Paint Box for older grade school; it is a good introduction to teaching abstract art and expanding color vocabulary. What I love about the illustrations is the contrast between Kandinsky’s everyday existence – especially with his strict, straight-laced family – done in muted, almost sepia tones, and the bright, vivid splashes of color when he is painting.
45. Viva Frida, by Yuri Morales. There are several recent books aimed at children and teens about famous artist Frida Kahlo. This book is perfect for younger children. It’s large, colorful illustrations are complimented by bold font types and few words per page. It is a good way to introduce young children (preschool to first grade) to Frida, but a good way to introduce the Spanish language (the book is written in both English and Spanish). What is fascinating about the illustrations is how the pictures use many 3D items, including a doll, as Frida thinks about her art. But when she gets to creating a piece, the illustrations take on the feel of one of her works. The book also includes a brief biography of the artist.
46. Beekle, the Unimaginary Friend, by Dan Santat. What a charming and original story! This picture book would be great for younger grade school. An imaginary friend becomes lonely as other imaginary creatures are adopted by children. Finally, he decides to do the unimaginable and go search for a child himself. The illustrations are bold and imaginative, with great use of color and space.
47. Firebird, by Misty Copeland, with Christopher Myers. This picture book has famous ballet dancer Misty Copeland encouraging a young, nameless teen (who can be any teen) to aim high and reach for her dance dreams. This is a powerful message coming from Copeland, who overcame many obstacles to become a renowned soloist with the American Ballet Theatre. Her words are lushly illustrated by Myers’ work; his vibrant drawings seem to come alive on the page. I would recommend this for kindergarten (a teacher reading it) and grade school age.
48. Nana in the City, by Lauren Castillo. A wonderful picture book for younger grade school, especially for children who may find themselves, or have found themselves, in a different and overwhelming situation. Here, a young boy visits his nana in the city, but he finds himself overwhelmed by the crowds, the noise, the busy streets and the unfamiliar. Nana makes him a cape, which she says will protect him. Feeling safer, the young boy sees the beauty and excitement of the big city. I love the bright, simple illustrations, which capture the vast feeling of the city.
49. You Are (Not) Small, by Anna Kang, with illustrations by Christopher Weyant. A perfect book for preschool and kindergarten age. It wonderfully illustrates not only the differences in sizes (big and small) but the differences in perceptions. The illustrations are simple and clean, and the text large and easy for developing eyes to read and follow. This would be great either as a solo read or for a classroom/library.
50. Separate is Not Equal, by Duncan Tonatiuh. Most adults have heard of the groundbreaking Brown v. The Board of Education, which overturned “separate but equal” across the United States. But seven years before this landmark case, another court battle, Mendez v. The Westminster School District, would provide the legal precedent in abolishing segregation. The story is told through the eyes of Sylvia Mendez, who, along with her brothers, were forced to attend a segregated school. Their father fought to desegregate the school system so his children could be afforded the same opportunity for a quality education. The illustrations are highly stylized, with sharp colors. The author’s notes at the end give a more detailed description of the court case, the Mendez family and current issues with segregation.
Currently reading: I’ll Give You The Sun, by Jandy Nelson, and Let’s Have Another, by Dan Coughlin.