Friday, February 22, 2013

Friday Poetry: Brick by Brick

by Charles R. Smith, Jr., illustrated by Floyd Cooper. HarperCollins, 2012 (F& G reader's proof) This lovely picture book (all I'm saying is Floyd Cooper, ladies and gentlemen...) tells the story of the building of the white house. In 1792 workers were needed to construct the White House. There weren't enough free labors so the government rented out the work of slaves from Virginia and Maryland. Owners were paid for the backbreaking, monumental work these men did for our country. Charles R. Smith, Jr. has created a poem that sings the praises of their contribution to our history. In the afterword he says,

"I chose to focus on the hands because all of the work was done at a time when machines didn't exist to do those same jobs. "Hand is also another name for a laborer or worker. Thus many slaves were needed  to turn a wooded forest into our country's most famous address."

Here are a few of my favorite stanzas from the very beginning and the end:

Under a hazy,
hot summer sun,
many hands work
together as one.

The president of a new country
needs a new home,
so man hands work
together as one.


Slave hands buld
and slave hands save
shillings to be free
and no longer a slave.

Slave hands count shillings
with worn fingertips
and purchase freedom
earned brick by brick.

The paintings are absolutely stunning, of course. I love the varried tones of black, browns and beige, as well as the evocative faces filled with passion and determination. If you haven't seen this book yet you need to get your hands and eyes on a copy!

Floyd Cooper

Charles R. Smith

Browse inside at the HarperCollins site to see some of this gorgeous picture book.

Charles R. Smith, Jr. book list page with activities, poetry, and more.

Review at Publisher's Weekly.

Review and more poetry excerpts at Carol's Corner.

Seven Impossible Things blog interview with Smith, including art spreads from the book.

Today's Friday Poetry Round up is hosted by Sheri at Sheri Doyle. Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Great Migration

I've been reading two great books on the Great Migration. Between 1915 and 1975 more than 6 million African Americans moved from Southern states to the North and West. Cities like Philadelphia, Washington D.C., New York, Cleveland, Detriot, Chicago, St. Lewis, San Diego and Los Angeles swelled in numbers of Black residents. This phenomena was bigger than the gold rush and the dust bowl as far as moving populations across the land. The stories of this part of our history are under-told, however. The full impact and influence of this great migration on citizens is hard to fathom. I have heard a little about it over the years, and I'm sure it was mentioned in my education, but I never really understood the magnitude of the movement. My reading in the past couple months has opened my eyes.

American Tapestry: The Story of Black, White, and Multiracial Ancestors of Michele Obama by Rachel L. Swarms is a fascinating book. Swarms traces back through six generations in Ms. Obama's family, telling their stories and connecting the various family lines. It was a surprise to Ms. Obama and many of her relatives both near and far flung to find out that she has White ancestors as well as Black. Most of her distant cousins were living quiet lives unaware of their connections until this research was done by Swarms. Swarms first published her findings in the New York Times in 2009. This book is the result of her continued research. One of the things I really loved about it was the way it illustrates how intertwined our common heritage is in the United States, whether one is Black, White or Brown. Anyone who thinks the history of one minority has nothing to do with the rest of the country is only seeing part of the picture. American Tapestry reads like a novel and is both entertaining and enlightening. Here is an interview with Swarms for the Root.

Right now I am in the middle of reading The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson. Wilkerson is the Pulitzer-prize winner journalist who spent more than 20 years researching the Great Migration to write a book that is often called "epic". Her own parents were part of the movement of Blacks from the South to North and West of the country, so she had a personal interest and passion for the historical research. In the book she traces the lives and journeys of three African American families in the years between 1940 and 1950. Again, the writing in this book is haunting and beautiful and captivating. It is an American story that we have not fully been conscious of and have not celebrated or shared. But we all live with the impact.

One of the things I noticed about the stories of the people portrayed in both of these books is that many of those who lived through this time don't really talk about it too much. We don't hear their stories handed down. They seem to want to forget the troubles and move on, always pushing forward to a better day. But that leaves the younger generations left out of their own history. We need to listen and absorb and relate to this history, as it is part of all of us. Again and again as I read these books I am thinking of my own family and my life, and comparing where I was, or my parents and grandparents were while these events were happening. Piecing it all together, I am getting a better sense of where we are right now and what is happening in our current environment. History has a way of doing that...

If you are looking for a great read with depth, breadth, relevance and drama these two books should definitely be on your list!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Review: STAT

Home Court by Amar'e Stoudemire. Scholastic, 2012. I bought this paperback for my fourth grade son. He loves all kinds of sports but is especially interested in skateboarding and basketball. Both of these sports are featured in an interesting combination of passions in the main character in Stoudemire's opening book of the series. "STAT" (standing tall and talented) is well written and fun to read. The text is scattered with sensory descriptions of the enticing smell of pizza, the rumbling hum of a skateboard on sidewalk, and the easy way boys tumble through their days taking play seriously. Amar'e, the main character, is an eleven year old boy who strives to achieve in school, works for his dad's landscaping company after school, and looks forward to getting together with his friends for basketball, baseball or skateboarding in his treasured free time. He has a natural, kid-friendly way of describling his world, sliding into informal talk that is almost intelligible to my middle aged librarian ears, but hits home for my kids.

"Mike bounced a skip pass to me as I stepped onto the court. I sprinted over and took the ball at a full run. A few quick dribbles and I laid it up. They let me take a few shots to warm up. But when I bricked my third jumper, Deuce swooped in and grabbed the rebound."

When some older, tougher boys start taking over the neighborhood basketball court, Amar'e and his friends have to find a way to re-establish their right to play. That and a history project at school have Amar'e thinking hard on  his priorities, the value of friendship, and his developing leadership skills. With plenty of exciting play-by-play game descriptions in a complex social environment, Amar'e's story will connect with middle grade readers on many levels. It's a quick read that lays open conversations kids will really find engaging.

Amar'e Studemire, NBA all-star, author, actor, and philanthropist,  has a foundation whose mission is to
 " to creatively inspire and help at-risk youth to succeed with the goal of eradicating poverty through education.  By providing education, support, supplies, tools and donations, the Amar’e Stoudemire Foundation helps each child thrive and achieve goals well beyond even their own expectations." 
His Each 1 Teach 1 program works with youth sports leagues to secure scholarships to student athletes in colleges and universities. You can find out more about all the programs he has going at the foundation website. Scholastic has an interview with Studemire here. There are two more books in the series, with more possible to come.

Shannon Messenger rounds up Marvelous Middle Grade book blog posts every Monday.
Here's today's round up!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Friday Poetry: Snow haiku


wet snow
just enough to show lines
erased by sun

-Andromeda Jazmon

We had a lovely snow the other night; softly falling all through the dark. Woke up to a couple inches of pure powder stuck to every twig and line. By the time I was driving to work the sun was brilliantly about her work melting everything into a world of drips and drops. On the way home I saw it was mostly gone, soaked into the earth.

Friday Poetry is hosted at Linda at TeacherDance. Enjoy!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Review: What Color is My World?

The Lost History of African-American Inventors. by Kareem Abdul-Jabber and Raymond Obstfeld, illustrated by Ben Boos & A. G. Ford.  Candlewick, 2012. This is a fun, informative book introducing children to some of the major scientists and inventors of African American dissent.  Told in story format, we join 13 year old twins Herbie and Ella when they move into a fixer-upper home in a suburban neighborhood. The handyman who comes around to help make their home livable shares his wealth of knowledge about African American minds that have gone into the history of modern conveniences.

We first learn about Dr. Henry T. Sampson, who "invented the gamma electric cell, which makes it possible to convert nuclear radiation into electricity." As we read the story, which is illustrated in full color paintings and filled with snappy dialog between the twins, we go on to learn about James West, the black man who invented the microphone in your cell phone, and Dr. Mark Dean, a VP at IBM. There is also a profile of Dr. Valerie L. Thomas, who worked for NASA and designed something called an "Illusion transmitter" that creates 3D projections. I would have liked to see more women included, as she is the only one mentioned.

Interspersed between the story pages and on fold-out flaps are notes taken by Ella, as well as extended explanations of the problems solved by these clever scientists and inventors, including how microphones and race car drivers are related. There are full pages spreads on interesting background details such as the family history of Dr. Percy Lavon Julian, whose passion for chemistry brought him from a segregated elementary school in rural Alabama to induction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1990 after developing a method for synthesizing cortisone from soy, which made it affordable and available to millions of pain sufferers. My boys will be particularly interested in the story Lonnie Johnson, the NASA engineer who invented the Super Soaker. His other major achievements include working for the Air Force with the Strategic Air Command to develop the stealth bomber.

This is an attractive and entertaining look at some fascinating figures of modern history, sure to be an excellent addition to Intermediate and Middle School classrooms, homes and libraries. New York Daily News review here.

This post is linked to the Non-Fiction Monday round up at Abby the Librarian.

This is one of the books I have purchased for my boys for International Book Giving Day coming up on February 14. What are you doing to celebrate?

Friday, February 08, 2013

Friday Poetry: Africa

by Carole Boston Weatherford. Great Brain Entertainment, 2013. (nook ebook). After I posted about the non-fiction book Africa for Kids; Exploring a Vibrant Continent last week, author Carol Boston Weatherford reached out to me on my G+ account to suggest I check out her latest ebook project, a poetry book called Africa. On her blog she says,

"Just in time for Black History Month. AFRICA, my new ebook, celebrates the Motherland through poetry and photos. For children ages 0-6. The book is the debut release from Great Brain Entertainment, a venture by fine artist and digital designer Jeffery Weatherford (my son)."

I was very excited to get Africa on my nook and share it with my son. The pictures are adorable and the texts is light-heated, charming, and  engaging. The whole book is just sixteen pages long, with goreous photos accompanying a sweet poem that will delight children and their grownups. Here are screen captures of the first two pages:

This simple but thoughtful poem brings several important concepts to children as they are introduced to the continent of Africa. First, it is a vast and complex continent filled with widely diverse habitats, animals and people. So many times we lump it all in together and don't realize that it's not just one country, one wild savannah. This book includes child-friendly images of our favorite African animals, the lions, elephants and zebras. It also includes major features and industries, including the Nile, the ancient pyramids, diamonds, a nod to the first humans, and beautiful images of elders and young children in a variety of family and cultural groups. The diversity and dynamic energy of this vibrant land with a long history and a bright future is celebrated on every page. It's a lot to pack into such a short, rhythmic poem, but Weatherford does a masterful job!

The one quibble I have with the nook edition is that the photos and text are small and there is too much white space on the page. I am not able to zoom in to increase the size of the photos, which is frustrating. Young readers will want to have larger photos and text. You can get the nook software free on your computer so you could get a larger screen size this way. I also had some trouble uploading screen captures from my nook and had to get a colleague to help me grab them from my iPod touch, which also has the nook software loaded. This post has been a learning curve for me! One great thing about the nook edition is that is is a "lend me" book, so that anyone else with nook software and my email address can ask to borrow it. :) Love that!

 I posted about Weatherford's book Moses  in 2006.
Video interview with Weatherford at Reading Rockets
Weatherford biography at Writers & Illustrators of North Carolina 
Interview with Robyn Hood Black
If you live near Charlotte you can go see her in person this month!

Friday Poetry is rounded up by Tara at A Teaching Life. Enjoy!

Black History Month Motivational Posters

I was looking for some posters to put up in the Learning Commons this week. I have a small budget, so wanted to see what I could find free online. I found this great blog post with printable black and white posters of famous African American men, showing a photo and quote. I loved them and printed a bunch to hang up on the bulletin board. Then I realized I needed some women too, so I went over to Big Huge Labs where they have a Motivational Poster maker. I had some fun finding quotes and photos and made a bunch of posters.

Here are the first four. What would you make?

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Review: The Grace of Silence

by Michele Norris. Pantheon, 2010. (nook ebook) I am posting about a book for grown ups today.

Known as one of the hosts of NPR's All Things Considered, Michele Norris is a journalist who has also written for the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune and Washington Post. She set out to write about her family after learning, almost by accident, that her father had been shot in the leg by police as a newly returned Veteran from WWII. Her father had never told anyone in his family, not even his wife. He died without every discussing what had happened. Michele tried to find out more about the incident by asking her family members from her father's generation, but she kept running into a wall of silence. Being a journalist, of course this only made her more persistent. The result is this fascinating memoir about her family's development through the 20th century. This is history that is often left out of the history books. Norris explores racial identities through family stories revealed through layers of silence and resistance, gradually coming to understand the perspectives of parents, aunts and uncles, and grandparents who would much rather not talk about the past. So many of the experiences they endured were painful and confusing due to the racism that infuses our country. It is as if, by continually pushing forward and striving towards their dreams for their children, they hoped to leave the past behind completely. But it is in our exploration of what has come before that we can truly know ourselves. Michele does us all a tremendous service by eloquently bridging the gaps in our collective memory.

Norris has a blog where she is posting more about American history and the complexity of race in our society. She has started something she calls the "Race Card Project", inviting readers to submit their own ideas about race in six word statements. You can read them here, and submit your own ideas if you like. Find a Teacher's Guide to the book here on her website.

Watch and listen to Michele discuss her family stories here on YouTube. I warn you, it is so intriguing you will not be able to let the story go until you read it all! Here are more reviews from the Los Angeles Times and the Christian Science Monitor, as well as reviews on GoodReads.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Review: Barack Obama: Son of Promise, Child of Hope

written by Nikki Grimes, illustrated by Bryan Collier. Simon & Schuster, 2008. We've been reading this book over and over in the past several weeks. The story begins with a mother and son watching Obama give a speech on TV during the 2008 campaign. The little boy in the story starts to ask why all the people are chanting and clapping as Obama stands before them giving an inspiring talk. His mother explains the importance of that historic moment by giving him the story of Obama's life. We hear about his beginnings, his parent's origins, and his life in Kansas, Hawaii and Djakarta. The text is descriptive, rhythmic and warm as mother and son engage in a back and forth of questions and answers, much as our real life story times go of an evening. (We have had a few chuckles over the delight my youngest takes in singing "Gramps and Toots, Gramps and Toots", rolling those endearing terms around his head). The story goes on through his college and post-grad years as he finds his calling and begins to engage in the work he is called to, impacting the world by the force of hope. The illustrations are bright and lovely. Obama's life is shown to be full of challenge and loss as well as love, connection, and hope. We can relate to Obama's pain over missing his father, his struggle to form an identity, his sadness in witnessing the struggles of poverty, his inspiration drawn from the strength of his family, and his decision to dedicate himself to getting an education in order to change the world positively. 

My sons are thinking deeply about the layers in this story, as it is presented with a complex and imaginative format. Grimes states on her website:

"The idea was simple: to tell Obama's story in a cycle of poems. Okay, well maybe simple was not the right word, because I also thought it would be interesting to create a story within a story by having a mother tell the story to her son, and having them comment on Obama's story throughout.

Why a story within a story? Wouldn't that complicate things unnecessarily, you ask? Well, I never choose easy. You've read my books—you know that by now! Besides, I wanted to give the reader a young character to relate to, from beginning to end."

This format works well, as it draws the reader into a process of inquiry, thoughtful consideration, and studied appreciation of life as a continual development. My 10 year old son goes back and forth from the beginning to check on what questions the boy asked his mother at the start, and to get a better sense of the places Obama lived as a boy. He checks back to see when Obama felt the loss of his father, and when he reconnected, and when Obama's parents passed away. He wants to sort out the details and get the big picture of how exactly Obama built a life driven by a foundation of hope for a better future. At the end of the book we are satisfied and inspired. Grimes has done a beautiful job in this biography of our 44th president!

Teacher's Guides here and here.

In February on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays I am featuring picture books, biographies, chapter books and poetry by, for and about African Americans for Black History month. Stop by often to get reviews on some wonderful new and well-loved books.

This post is included in the weekly Non-Fiction round up of kidlit blogs at Apples With Many Seeds. It will also be in the World Wednesday round up at Ms. YingLingReads. Take a few minutes to enjoy some of the other blogs linked in these two locations this week.

Bonus link: here's my mother's blog with a review of Ben and the Emancipation Proclamation. She's an experienced reviewer with a very insightful blog!

Friday, February 01, 2013

Friday Poetry: In the Land of Milk and Honey

by Joyce Carol Thomas, illustrated by Floyd Cooper. Amistad, 2012. (review copy/F&G) I received an "F & G" from the publisher for this book. What that means is it is not the final bound version but just the printed and gathered pages. The illustrations are so beautiful in this book I think I am going to have to frame some of them, so having the pages unbound makes that easier! :)

In 1948 Joyce Carol Thomas took the train from Oklahoma to California, when her father moved the family there to be near extended family. The author recals lovely, flavorful details of the excitement and wonder of the trip. Some of my favorite lines:

"Daddy says,
"If the lemons are big as oranges
if the oranges are big as grapefruits
if you bit into a strawberry
and taste heaven in your mouth
why, you're in California
the Land of Milk and Honey."

..."where ships sit
anchored in the coastal waters..."

"where the music swings
and every voice rings
with its own true sound..."

"Beyond the bay
mountains topped with ice cream snow

Thomas employs sharp color words associated with wonderful tastes and smells to give readers sharp images that make those of us enduring a dreary northern winter long for southern California. If you are in need of some citrus and sunshine go find this book and drink it in!

Today's Friday Poetry round up is hosted at Teaching Authors.

Please come back here often in the coming weeks for lots of Black History Month featured children's literature!