For Flashback Friday I want to look back at a fantastic picture book biography published back in May of 2020. Itzhak: A Boy Who Loved the Violin by Tracy Newman and Abigail Halpin tells the story of world-renowned violinist Itzhak Perlman.
Title: Itzhak : A Boy Who Loved the Violin Author: Tracy Newman Illustrator: Abigail Halpin Published: May 12, 2020 Publisher: Abrams Format: Picture Book
Beginning with his childhood in Tel Aviv and ending with Itzhak Perlman’s first appearance on the Ed Sullivan show in 1958, this stunning book perfectly captures the beauty of Itzhak’s music. Young readers will learn of Itzhak’s fight for his life when he was hospitalized for polio at the age of four, and how he was paralyzed by the disease. They will also learn of how Itzhak never let his paralysis hold him back from his dreams.
Readers will also learn that, like many other musicians, Itzhak Perlman has synesthesia. This neurological condition allows him to see music as color. I absolutely love the way Abigail Halpin captures the colors of music on every page of Itzhak.
Itzhak is a beautiful story of perseverance and the love of music. I would highly recommend it! You can pick up your own copy wherever books are sold, including Bookshop and Amazon. (Please note: Some links provided are affiliate links. Affiliate links allow me to receive a small commission for recommendations at no cost to you. This commission is used to maintain this site and to continue bringing content to you. I always appreciate your support!)
Thank you so much to Abrams for providing me with a review copy of Itzhak. I can always count on Abrams to deliver fantastic picture book biographies, and I can never get enough.
About The Author:
Tracy Newman is the author of many books for young readers, including the . . . Is Coming series. She lives in coastal New England.
About The Illustrator:
Abigail Halpin is the illustrator of many books for young readers, including Finding Wild and Mama’s Belly. She lives in Maine.
We all know that Jackie Robinson was the first Black major league baseball player, but how much do you know about the second? All Star: How Larry Doby Smashed the Color Barrier in Baseball by Audrey Vernick and Cannaday Chapman introduces young readers to the man who joined the major leagues just eleven weeks after Jackie Robinson.
Title: All Star: How Larry Doby Smashed the Color Barrier in Baseball Author: Audrey Vernick Illustrator: Cannaday Chapman Publisher: Clarion Books Published: January 4, 2021 Format: Picture Book
Beginning with his childhood in Camden, South Carolina, All Star follows Larry Doby all the way to the day he helped his team win the World Series with a game-winning home run in 1948. Highlighting the changes we’ve seen since Larry Doby’s career as well as the changes we fight for today, All Star doesn’t shy away from the racism found in America and it’s favorite pastime. From detailing Larry’s first day in the dugout to pointing out the racism of Cleveland’s team name and logo in the author’s note, All Star eloquently addresses progress with young readers, inspiring them to continue changing things for the better.
Cannaday Chapman’s powerful artwork pairs perfectly with Audrey Vernick’s text. The illustrations are filled with emotion and brings Larry Doby’s story to life on every single page.
The back matter contains an author’s note with more detail about Larry’s life, a bibliography, and the iconic photo of Larry Doby and pitcher Steve Gromek embracing after their World Series victory, making this a fantastic educational resource for classroom and school libraries.
All Star officially releases tomorrow (January 4, 2021), but you can preorder your copy today wherever books are sold, including Bookshop and Amazon. (Please note: Some links provided are affiliate links. Affiliate links allow me to receive a small commission for recommendations at no cost to you. This commission is used to maintain this site and to continue bringing content to you.)
Thank you so much to Clarion Books for providing me with a review copy of All Star: How Larry Doby Smashed the Color Barrier in Baseball. I am honored to share Larry’s story on Mutually Inclusive.
About The Author:
Audrey Vernick is author of several novels and many picture books, including Brothers at Bat: The True Story of an Amazing All-Brother Baseball Team. She lives with her family near the ocean in New Jersey. Visit her online at audreyvernick.com and on Twitter @yourbuffalo.
About The Illustrator:
Cannaday Chapman is the illustrator of the picture book biographies All-Star: How Larry Doby Smashed the Color Barrier in Baseball and Feed Your Mind: The Story of August Wilson, and his work has been featured in the New York Times and on the cover of The New Yorker. He was born in upstate New York and studied illustration at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, and he currently lives and works in Berlin, Germany.
If you’re looking for a book to help with “the talk”, I have an amazing resource for you today. The Every Body Book: The LGBTQ+ Inclusive Guide for Kids about Sex, Gender, Bodies, and Families is a fantastic example of an inclusive book to answer children’s questions about topics parents often find difficult, like sex, gender, puberty, and pregnancy.
Title:The Every Body Book Author: Rachel E. Simon Illustrator: Noah Grigni Publisher: Jessica Kingsley Publishers Published: June 18, 2020 Format: Middle Grade
Recommended for ages 8-12, The Every Body Book provides a wealth of information on a wide range of topics with inclusive language throughout. Young readers will learn the difference between sex and gender, what our bodies look like and how puberty impacts them, what sexual attraction is and how this defines sexual orientations, what consensual sexual intercourse is, how pregnancy works, and the different ways families are created. This comprehensive, medically accurate resource is a wonderful tool to read with your child, or allow them to read on their own.
I personally appreciate the straightforward language used in The Every Body Book as well. There isn’t a ton of emotion behind the educational way the information is presented, creating the perfect tone for teaching. I feel like “the talk” is commonly discussed by parents in either a romanticized flowery way or a shameful way, and neither is very productive for children to learn the medical facts behind their changing bodies. The Every Body Book cuts straight through and presents the facts, providing young readers with the information they need.
The illustrations by Noah Grigni are fabulous, too. There are all sorts of bodies represented throughout the book with visuals that are equally as inclusive as the language used. All the way down to the smallest detail, there is representation for everyone. For example, I was especially pleased to see an illustration of a C-section scar, as this is a scar I possess, and it is often overlooked in imagery surrounding pregnancy and birth education.
Of course, because this is a book about bodies, there are illustrations of genitals and depictions of erections, menstruation, and even condoms and birth control. If these topics make you uncomfortable, I would encourage you to read the book by yourself before introducing it to your child. But please remember, these are accurate representations of body parts and bodily functions, and our children will learn about them one way or another. Personally I would rather create an open dialog with my son to teach him about these things than have him googling whatever questions he might have.
The Every Body Book was released in June of 2020, and it is available wherever books are sold, including Bookshop and Amazon. (Please note: Some links provided are affiliate links. Affiliate links allow me to receive a small commission for recommendations at no cost to you. This commission is used to maintain this site and to continue bringing content to you. I always appreciate your support!)
Thank you so much to Jessica Kingsley Publishers for bringing such an educational and inclusive resource into the world, and for providing me with a review copy.
About The Author:
Rachel E. Simon, LCSW, is a psychotherapist and educator who specialises in gender and sexuality and runs her private practice in Philadelphia, PA. She has worked in partnership with the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Gender and Sexuality Development Clinic, Mazzoni Center, and Walnut Psychotherapy Center.
About The Illustrator:
Noah Grigni is a Boston-based illustrator and comic artist, whose work bridges themes of gender, sexuality, body positivity, and trans history. Through art, Noah hopes to uplift their community, make space for reflection, and create a source of comfort in and uncomftable world. You can see more of their work at noahgrigni.com.
With summer winding down, I’d like to share a beautiful picture book that has me wishing for one last summer vacation. Kate Messner and Christopher Silas Neal are back at it again with the third installation of the Over and Under series, Over and Under The Canyon—a stunning picture book that captures all the wonder the desert has to offer.
Title:Over and Under The Canyon Author: Kate Messner Illustrator: Christopher Silas Neal Publisher: Chronicle Books Published: September 7, 2021 Format: Picture Book
Like the previous books in the series, Over andUnder The Pond and Over and Under the Snow, this new addition combines lyrical prose with incredible illustration, creating an engaging and highly visual narrative.
Inspired by Kate Messner’s experiences camping with her family at the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in California, Over and Under the Canyon takes young readers on a tour of a desert canyon ecosystem as they follow a mother and her child on a hike. On their hike, they see the variety of animals that call the desert home, from the hawks flying over the canyon to the harvester ants burrowing underground. The pair hikes on through the sweltering sun to find a field of wildflowers, then back to their campsite where the father waits for them. The family then spends the night under the stars, listening to the sounds of the desert canyon.
Those of you who know me well already know that I am not the outdoors type (well, not in the Gulf Coast humidity, anyway), but Over and Under the Canyon made me want to get up and go see the wonders of nature. I’ve forgotten the magic that can be found in an afternoon hike, and this lovely book illustrates it perfectly. The illustrations by Christopher Silas Neal are absolutely stunning. Seriously, they had me ready to pack a bag and find the nearest desert!
I also appreciate it when nonfiction doesn’t feel like work. The progression of the story introduces all the various aspects of the ecosystem so effortlessly, making this both an educational and entertaining read for children. The back matter contains further detail about the 24 animals found throughout the hike for young readers who would like to delve deeper. Over and Under the Canyon is perfect for parents, nature lovers, educators, and librarians looking to add engaging nonfiction to their collections, and of course fans of Kate Messner and Christopher Silas Neal’s previous work on the Over and Under Series.
Over and Under the Canyon officially releases next week (September 7, 2021), but I would highly recommend preordering your copy today. You can preorder anywhere books are sold, including Bookshop and Amazon. (Please note: Some links provided are affiliate links. Affiliate links allow me to receive a small commission for recommendations at no cost to you. This commission is used to maintain this site and to continue bringing content to you. I always appreciate your support!)
Thank you so much to Chronicle Books for sending a review copy of Over and Under the Canyon. I cannot wait to read this one to my little one and nurture his love of the great outdoors.
About The Author:
Kate Messner is the award-winning author of Over and Under the Snow, Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt, Over and Under the Pond, The Brilliant Deep, Over and Under the Rainforest, and How to Read a Story, as well as more than a dozen other books for young readers. Kate lives on Lake Champlain with her family.
Christopher Silas Neal is the award-winning artist of Over and Under the Snow, Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt, Over and Under the Pond, and Over and Under the Rainforest. His work has been published in a variety of books and magazines and featured on television. He currently lives and works in Brooklyn.
If you’re looking for a picture book biography about a lesser known artist with a unique story, I have the perfect pick for you today. Make Meatballs Sing: The Life and Art of Corita Kent by Matthew Burgess and Kara Kramer shares the remarkable life story of Corita Kent, an artist, educator, nun, and activist who unapologetically spread a powerful message of love and justice.
Title:Make Meatballs Sing: The Life and Art of Corita Kent Author: Matthew Burgess Illustrator: Kara Kramer Publisher: Enchanted Lion Books Published: August 24, 2021 Format: Picture Book
Make Meatballs Sing introduces readers to Corita Kent when she was known as Frances Elizabeth Kent, a young girl who loved to read, draw, and daydream throughout her childhood in Hollywood, California. As a teenager, young Frances shocked those closest to her by following her religious calling and joining the Order of The Immaculate Heart, becoming Sister Mary Corita. Through her duties as a nun, Corita continued to follow her passion for art and creativity, teaching young children and eventually joining the art department of the Immaculate Heart College, where she studied art history and printmaking. Corita became an accomplished teacher, sharing the art of serigraphy, or silkscreen.
Corita’s religious beliefs had a great influence on her work, but she was also inspired by the Civil Right Movement. She often spoke out against poverty, war, and injustice in her work, which didn’t always go over well with the leaders of the Church, but did make her a recognized and celebrated public figure who left a mark on the world.
The illustrations in Make Meatballs Sing are fantastic! Kara Kramer perfectly captures the spirit of Corita Kent’s work. The range of bright colors, textures, fonts and patterns on every page mirror Corita’s prints, providing the perfect backdrop for her fascinating story.
The extensive back matter featuring a timeline and informative author’s and illustrator’s notes also make this a fantastic selection for classroom and school libraries.
Make Meatballs Sing will officially be released next week (August 24, 2021), but you can preorder your copy today. Preorders are available wherever books are sold, including Bookshop and Amazon. (Please note: Some links provided are affiliate links. Affiliate links allow me to receive a small commission for recommendations at no cost to you. This commission is used to maintain this site and to continue bringing content to you. I always appreciate your support!)
Thank you so much to Enchanted Lion Books for sharing a review copy of Make Meatballs Sing with me. I am so honored to share this loving tribute to Corita on Mutually Inclusive today!
About The Author:
Matthew Burgess is a full-time professor at Brooklyn College and a part-time teaching artist in New York City public schools. He was fascinated by the lives of saints as a child, and now he loves sharing the stories of his artistic heroes with young readers. Matthew is also the author of Enormous Smallness: A Story of E. E. Cummings and Drawing on Walls: A Story of Keith Haring. He lives with his husband in Brooklyn and Berlin.
Kara Kramer is a mixed media artist, and illustrator who loves to PLORK with all mediums. She has taught creative art workshops for both children and adults. Ever since she was little, her happiest hours are spent moving her hands to make something new. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her family.
Today marks the 65th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, and I can’t think of a better title to share for Flashback Friday than The Teachers March: How Selma’s Teachers Changed History by Sandra Neil Wallace and Rich Wallace. Originally released in September 2020, this picture book shares the story of Reverend F. D. Reese and the 1965 Selma Teachers’ March.
Title:The Teachers March: How Selma’s Teachers Changed History Author: Sandra Neil Wallace and Rich Wallace Illustrator: Charly Palmer Publisher: Calkin’s Creek Published: September 29, 2020 Format: Picture Book
Reverend F. D. Reese was a science teacher at R. B. Hudson High School who encouraged 104 Selma, Alabama teachers to march from the school to the county courthouse to demand the right to register to vote. The Teachers March follows his journey, along with the other teachers who were often seen as “respectable” members of society who had “better sense than to march”. The teachers were afraid they would lose their jobs or be arrested if they spoke up, but with the help of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, Reverend F. D. Reese convinced the teachers that the vote was worth fighting for and organized the Teachers March of 1965.
The teachers of R. B. Hudson High School were not granted the right to register to vote on that January day in 1965, but they did inspire others to march, including beauticians, barbers, undertakers, and even their own students. That summer, with Selma jails filled with thousands of citizens who demanded the right to vote, including many schoolchildren, the Voting Rights Act was passed.
Though The Voting Rights Act was passed back in 1965, voting rights are still under attack today. Since 2013, The US has seen a rise in voter suppression laws, including discriminatory voter ID requirements, polling place closures, blocking access to voting by mail, and even a law that prohibits providing water to voters waiting in line. It is imperative to share the stories of how freedoms were won with children today so they can understand what is at stake. When my son learns of the voter suppression that is taking place in this country, I want him to know that it is a direct affront to the thousands of men and women who put their jobs, bodies, and lives on the line to stand up for “freedom and justice for all”. The Teachers March is a wonderful resource to help him make that connection.
Sandra Neil Wallace and Rich Wallace carefully detail the events of the march, and do not omit the “uglier” truths of injustice faced by Black citizens in the sixties. They highlight the fact that teachers taught their students the Constitution every day, though they were not granted the freedoms promised in it. They do not shy away from the rage, hatred, and violence faced by the protestors who were demanding equality.
The backmatter provides both an Authors’ note and Illustrator’s Note. The Authors’ note provides further detail on several teachers who participated in the March, highlighting their lives after the march. I especially appreciated the Illustrator’s Note from Charly Palmer. In this note, he shares that he hired a photographer to restage images from the Teachers March, which he used as his source material. I found the idea so creative, and it clearly worked! The illustrations instantly take readers to that day in 1965, proving an authentic atmosphere for the story.
I am ashamed to admit that I never heard of Reverend F. D. Reese until I read The Teachers March. As a child in an Alabama public school, I was required to take Alabama History in the fourth grade. Regretfully, I did not learn about the Teachers March of 1965 or Reverend Reese back then. This is a prime example of the need to explore an accurate and inclusive history lesson in our classrooms today. The Teachers March fills a gap left in many textbooks, and is an absolute must have for the classroom.
You can find a copy of The Teachers March wherever books are sold, including Bookshop and Amazon. (Please note: Some links provided are affiliate links. Affiliate links allow me to receive a small commission for recommendations at no cost to you. This commission is used to maintain this site and to continue bringing content to you. I always appreciate your support!)
Thank you so much to Boyds Mills & Kane for providing me with a review copy of this amazing book. I am so thrilled to have the opportunity to share it with the children in my life, ensuring they know more about the history of the state they live in than I did at their age.
About The Authors:
Sandra Neil Wallace and Rich Wallace are award-winning writers of nonfiction titles including First Generation: 36 Trailblazing Immigrants and Refugees Who Make America Great and Blood Brother: Jonathan Daniels and His Sacrifice for Civil Rights, which won the International Literacy Association’s Social Justice Award and a YALSA Award nomination for Excellence in Nonfiction. Sandra’s picture-book biography Between the Lines: How Ernie Barnes Went from the Football Field to the Art Gallery is the NCTE 2019 Orbis Pictus winner for Outstanding Nonfiction. You can find them online at sandraneilwallace.com and richwallacebooks.com.
About The Illustrator:
Charly Palmer is an award-winning graphic designer and illustrator. He also teaches design, illustration, and painting, most recently at Spelman College. His two recent picture books are There’s a Dragon in My Closet and Mama Africa, which won the 2018 Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Award. Please visit Charly online at www.charlypalmer.com.
It’s time for another Author Spotlight, and I am so excited that today’s Author Spotlight is also a Book Tour Stop for Rochelle Melander’s newest release Mightier Than the Sword: Rebels, Reformers, and Revolutionaries Who Changed the World through Writing.
Rochelle Melander wrote her first book at seven and has published 11 books for adults. Mightier Than the Sword: Rebels, Reformers, and Revolutionaries Who Changed the World through Writing is her debut book for children. She’s a professional certified coach, an artist educator and the founder of Dream Keepers, a writing workshop for young people. She lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with her husband, children, and two dogs. Visit her online at writenowcoach.com or rochellemelander.com
Thank you so much for joining me today! I am so excited to chat with you today, but I was hoping you might start us out by introducing yourself, and telling us a bit about your latest release Mightier Than The Sword: Rebels, Reformers& Revolutionaries Who Changed The World Through Writing.
Thanks so much for welcoming me to your blog! I’m excited to be here.
Let’s start with the important things: I live in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, not far from Lake Michigan with two dogs, two kids, and my husband, who is also a writer. My family keeps me grounded.
I own the business, Write Now! Coach and coach writers and students who struggle to overcome procrastination and distractions to get their work done. I also edit and do freelance writing. Mightier Than the Sword is my 12th book, and my first book for young people. I’ve wanted to write for young people for a long time, and I am delighted to finally have that chance!
Mightier Than the Sword: Rebels, Reformers, and Revolutionaries Who Changed the World through Writing is a middle grade social justice book that tells the stories of historical and contemporary writers, activists, scientists, and leaders who used writing to make a difference in their lives and the world. The stories are accompanied by writing and creative exercises to help readers discover how they can use writing to explore ideas and ask for change.
Title: Mightier Than the Sword: Rebels, Reformers, and Revolutionaries Who Changed the World through Writing Author: Rochelle Melander Illustrator: Melina Ontiveros Publisher: Beaming Books Published: July 27, 2021 Recommended Ages: 8-13 Years Format: Hardcover
What inspired you to write Mightier Than the Sword?
I’ve been teaching writing to young people for many years. I often use mentor texts as writing prompts—maybe the poems of Richard Wright or Langston Hughes. I tell them stories about the writers, too. Young people liked hearing stories of people like Maria Merian, who at 13 designed an experiment to study the life cycle of silkworms. I also found stories online about young people who wrote to change the world—people that wouldn’t normally be included in a book. After using these stories for years, I felt like it was time to create a resource so that I could share these stories and writing exercises with young people.
Mightier Than the Sword is such a unique book in that it’s both a biography collection and a collection of writing prompts. How did the idea for such a unique format come to you?
I love books that are interactive, that invite the reader to participate in some way. My last book, Level Up: Quests to Master Mindset, Overcome Procrastination, and Increase Productivity invites readers to take on quests to understand and improve their work habits. I wanted Mightier Than the Sword to share the stories about mentors and then encourage young people to write. The writing prompts enabled me to do that.
You cover so many wonderful writers in Mightier Than the Sword, (I think I counted 140 including the mini-biographies peppered throughout) spanning from 978 to present day. There are so many people throughout history who have changed the world with writing. I know it must have been hard to narrow down your selection. How did you select the writers you included?What was the research process like? It must have been quite an undertaking!
I have been collecting names and stories for years. To develop the list, I read many anthologies, searched online, and talked to history and English professors. Then I chose an array of people based on three criteria:
Representation. I wanted children to find a diverse cast of people from a wide range of cultures, life experiences, and writing styles.
Diverse disciplines. I wanted young people to see the unique ways people use writing in their work.
Recognizability. I wanted young people to open the book and recognize some of the writers.
Once the book was accepted by the publisher, we worked together to finalize the list.
Then, I started reading and writing. For each person or document, I read an article on Wikipedia or a history website (https://besthistorysites.net/general-history-resources/). If possible, I read primary sources. Next, I turned to biographies and other history books. After I wrote the chapter, I would often go back through these resources to check my facts.
I wrote the book during the pandemic. I was very lucky. When I had a sense that the libraries were going to close, I spent a wild weekend running around to various libraries in town, checking out books. I think I had over 100 books checked out during that time. And during the research process, I purchased a few books as well.
I know it sounds like a lot of work, and it was—but I really enjoyed digging into the lives of these writers!
Not to ask you to play favorites, but were there any standout subjects that were more fun to research or write about?
I found Charles Darwin’s story to be helpful and inspiring. He goofed off in grade school, skipping out to wander the woods or do chemistry experiments with his brother. (Don’t think he was being studious—he made laughing gas!). He went to college to study medicine but didn’t like it. Then he tried divinity studies (Rev. Darwin?). All along he was chasing after beetles, which was a popular pastime in his day. His father thought he was a failure. A trip around the world launched his career as a naturalist. He spent the rest of his life doing experiments and writing books—while working about 3 hours a day. He was a great dad, keeping detailed journals about their development (they may have been a science experiment to him). And when On the Origin of the Species was published, he spent much of his time promoting his book: by writing letters! I was inspired that Darwin wasn’t the typical overachiever and yet, when he followed his passion, he achieved so much.
The portrait illustrations by Melina Ontiveros are so great, and I love that we get a face to put with the names and stories of each writer featured. I believe Mightier Than The Sword is your first illustrated title? How was your experience working with an illustrator?
Melina is wonderful! I didn’t actually work with her—all the briefings went through my editors. But we’ve gotten to know each other on Instagram and email. She’s going to be a guest on my blog next week (writenowcoach.com/blog). And I hired her to make a Mightier-like portrait of me!
You’ve been writing since you were young, and now assist young writers through your writing workshop Dream Keepers. What books or authors inspired you to write the most as a child?
Hands down, Madeleine L’Engle. In second grade, I fell in love with A Wrinkle in Time. When I was in my first job, I learned she was going to be presenting at a conference in a town nearby. I was lucky enough to meet her. I was also inspired by poets and playwrights. When I was 6, a friend gave me the book, I See a Poem. I read that book so many times. As a teen, I read the play, The Belle of Amherst by William Luce, and fell in love with Emily Dickinson and her poetry. (My favorite was, “I’m Nobody! Who are you?”) I kept a commonplace book, where I copied down quotes and poems I liked. And, I had notebooks where I wrote bad poetry!
Mightier than The Sword is a perfect selection for classrooms with so many writing prompts to choose from. If teachers and young readers only take one thing away from Mightier Than the Sword, what would you want it to be?
I want young readers to see that there are many different kinds of writers and many ways to write. I want Mightier Than the Sword to be an invitation to them, letting them know that the world needs their ideas and stories and activism.
I hope teachers will be inspired by the many types of writing—and use the book as a supplement to their curriculum.
Those are all of my questions. Thank you again for taking the time to answer them all! Is there anything else you’d like to share with Mutually Inclusive’s readers?
Thanks so much for having me. I have a blog where writers talk about how to use their books in the classroom. Feel free to stop by: themightywriters.com.
It’s Flashback Friday again, and today I am sharing one of my favorites genres—a picture book biography! Originally released in April 2020, Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks by Suzanne Slade and Cozbi A. Cabrera is a stunning example of the powerful way picture books can bring historical figures to life for young readers.
Title:Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks Author: Suzanne Slade Illustrator: Cozbi A. Cabrera Publisher: Abrams Books For Young Readers Published: April 7, 2020 Format: Picture Book
Exquisite details the life of Gwendolyn Brooks, the first Black person to win the Pulitzer Prize, from her childhood surrounded by books to her celebrated career sharing the stories of the people of the neighborhood she grew up in. We follow the ups and downs of Gwendolyn’s life, including the struggles her family faced during the Great Depression, Gwendolyn’s struggles to feel seen amongst her peers, her marriage and the birth of her first son, wrapping up in 1950 when she won the Pulitzer Prize.
Gwendolyn Brooks’ story is especially inspiring to young writers, because Gwendolyn herself started writing when she was only seven years old. Children will find an example in Gwendolyn’s childhood to observe the world around them and find the poetry there.
The illustrations by Cozbi A. Cabrera are absolutely stunning. The color and composition of the acrylic paintings are so beautiful throughout, and every page breathes life into Gwendolyn’s story. It’s no surprise that Exquisite was a 2021 Coretta Scott King Book Award Illustrator Honoree.
The back matter contains a wonderful Author’s Note with additional details about Gwendolyn Brooks, as well as a timeline of her life, making Exquisite a great selection for classroom and school libraries.
You can pick up your own copy of Exquisite wherever books are sold, including Bookshop and Amazon. (Please note: Some links provided are affiliate links. Affiliate links allow me to receive a small commission for recommendations at no cost to you. This commission is used to maintain this site and to continue bringing content to you. I always appreciate your support!)
Thank you again to Abrams Books For Young Readers for sending me a review copy of Exquisite. This book is a beautiful example of why picture book biographies are my some of my very favorites.
About The Author:
Suzanne Slade is the award-winning author of many books for children, including several about other groundbreaking women, such as Dangerous Jane and A Computer Called Katherine. Slade lives in Libertyville, Illinois.
Sarah and the Big Wave by Bonnie Tsui is a wonderful picture book biography that tells the story of Sarah Gerhardt, the first woman to surf Mavericks.
Young readers will learn about Sarah’s journey to become a pioneer for women in surfing, including her challenges, such as finding gear in the right sizes and finding a welcoming group of friends to share her passion with. Sarah and the Big Wave shares a wonderful lesson of following your passions and persevering through challenges. And of course, this is a great pick for young surfing enthusiasts.
I really love the illustrations by Sophie Diao! The way she captured both the beauty and movement of the ocean was really stunning.
The back matter also contains a wonderful timeline of the history women in surfing from the 1600’s to 2020, making it a great resource for educators.
Sarah and the Big Wave is officially out next week, but you can purchase it anywhere books are sold, including Bookshop and Amazon. (Please note: Some links provided are affiliate links. Affiliate links allow me to receive a small commission for recommendations at no cost to you. This commission is used to maintain this site and to continue bringing content to you. I always appreciate your support!)
Bonnie Tsui is an author and journalist who lives, swims, and surfs in the Bay Area. To learn more about her and her work, please visit her website at bonnietsui.com.
Sophie Diao is an artist and illustrator based in San Francisco, California. Please visit her website at sophiediao.com to learn more about her and her work.
I also want to thank Henry Holt Books For Young Readers for proving me with a review copy of Sarah and the Big Wave. I loved learning about Sarah, and I’m so glad to share her story with you all.
Ya’ll know I love a picture book biography, and I have to tell you that Sakamoto’s Swim Club by Julie Abery might be one of my new favorites. With simple rhyming text, this book tells the little-known story of Soichi Sakamoto, a science teacher who dedicated his life to coaching hundreds of Hawaiian children on the Three-Year Swim Club.
Sakamoto’s Swim Club starts out simply enough. We see a sugar plantation and children swimming in an irrigation ditch, along with a police officer who chases them away as a teacher looks on from his classroom. I was hooked!
As the story unfolds, we follow Soichi Sakamoto’s journey to becoming a swimming coach. After coming to an agreement with Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar Company, Sakamoto began training children to swim in the plantation’s irrigation ditch. Though he was not a powerful swimmer himself, he used his background in science to develop training techniques.
After Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar Company built a community swimming pool, Sakamoto and his team began training daily to reach their dream of competing in the 1940 Olympics. Unfortunately, World War II kept the Three- Year Swim Club from reaching this goal, but in 1948, one of Sakamoto’s students, Bill Smith, took home the gold for the 400-meter freestyle race.
Sakamoto’s Swim Club is a wonderful story of determination and persistence, encouraging children to work hard for their dreams and never give up.
Chris Sasaki’s illustrations are absolute perfection. I love the vibrancy of the colors and the way they capture the beauty of Maui, but I really appreciate the way they pair perfectly with the sparse text. Sasaki’s experience in animation really shows in the way he tells a story through his illustrations.
This is such a unique picture book biography because it is told in simple verse, making for a great read aloud. The back matter contains a wonderful author’s note detailing the specifics of the Three-Year Swim Club’s journey to the gold.
Sakamoto’s Swim Club officially releases next week, but you can preorder your copy today wherever books are sold, including Bookshop and Amazon. (Please note: Some links provided are affiliate links. Affiliate links allow me to receive a small commission for recommendations at no cost to you. This commission is used to maintain this site and to continue bringing content to you. I always appreciate your support!)
Julie Abery is children’s book author and former illustrator based in Lausanne, Switzerland. To learn more about her and her work, please visit her website at littleredstoryshed.wordpress.com.
Chris Sasaki is an illustrator, animation art director, and writer based in Oakland, California. Please visit his website at csasaki.com to learn more about him and his work.
Many thanks to Kids Can Press for providing me with a review copy of Sakamoto’s Swim Club. I can’t wait to share this one with my little swimmer.