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    black history, children's books, diverse books

    Hammering for Freedom (A Book Review)

    Hammering for Freedom by Rita Lorraine Hubbard, illustrated by John Holyfield

    Publisher: Lee and Low Books
    Format: Hardcover
    Pages: 32
    Age Range: 7-10
    Grade Level: 1-2

    Synopsis
    Born into slavery in Tennessee, William Lewis learned the blacksmith trade as soon as he was old enough to grip a hammer. He proved to be an exceptional blacksmith and earned so much money fixing old tools and creating new ones that he was allowed to keep a little money for himself. With just a few coins in his pocket, Bill set a daring plan in motion: he was determined to free his family.

    Winner of Lee & Low s New Voices Award and a Junior Library Guild selection, Hammering for Freedom tells the true story of one man s skill, hard work, and resolve to keep his family together.

    Reflection
    Hammering for Freedom introduces readers to William “Bill” Lewis, born into slavery in Tennessee. Bill learned the blacksmith trade as soon as he was old enough to grip a hammer.

    Once he mastered the blacksmith trade, Bill set a goal to save his money and buy his entire family’s freedom at the age of 26. He knew the slave owners rented to enslaved men and women to make extra money, so Bill asked the slave owner to let him rent himself. Bill paid $350 per year to rent his freedom. After he paid the rent from his savings, Bill still had money leftover to open his own blacksmith shop. He became the first African American blacksmith in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

    When Bill paid for his freedom he began saving again to buy his wife’s freedom, his son’s freedom, his mother, aunt, siblings, the whole dang family!

    This is a feel good story. It made me cry happy tears to see this Black man overcome the odds, work hard, set an elaborate goal and achieve it all to keep his family together. It took him 26 years to buy freedom for his entire family, but he got it done…like a boss! And then what does Bill do after all that? He pays $2,000 cash for a two-story home for his family to live in. Back in those days most White people couldn’t afford to do that. Bill Lewis is my new hero!

    Check this one out if you get a chance. I’m so in love with it and I’m thrilled to now know about William “Bill” Lewis and introduce this story to my kids. Recommended for ages 7-10 and up. 

    Your turn: Have you ever heard of William “Bill” Lewis before?  Did you read this story yet?  Feel free to share in the comments.

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    children's books, diverse books, giveaways

    Sing to the Moon by Nansubuga Nagadya + A Book Giveaway!


    In partnership with Lantana Publising, this summer I revealed the cover of the picture book Sing to the Moon written by Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl.  Now I’m excited to partner with them again and join the blog tour for this beautiful book.  You may be already be familiar with the dynamic author and illustrator duo of this book.  They also created the equally beautiful book Sleep Well, Siba and Saba.

    Sing to the Moon features a little boy from Uganda who likes to dream big.  This story was inspired by the rainy days the author spent with her family in Uganda during the rainy season. It’s a beautifully written and illustrated story that shows the precious bond between a grandfather and grandson.

    Available for Sale: October 1, 2018
    Age Range: 4 – 8
    Grade Level: PreK – 2

    Synopsis
    For one little Ugandan boy, no wish is too big. First he dreams of reaching the stars and then of riding a supernova straight to Mars. But on a rainy day at his grandfather’s house, he is brought down to earth with a bump. Do adventures only happen in galaxies far away or can he find magic a little closer to home? A touching story of a grandfather’s love for his grandson and the quiet pleasures of a rainy day.

    About the Author
    Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl was born to Ugandan parents in Cambridge, MA, USA. For over ten years, Nansubuga has worked in international development in East and Southern Africa. In her current role as a technical writer and editor, she produces a range of written work for international organizations such as the UN and the World Bank. Having lived in seven countries across three continents, creative writing has always been her way to re-connect with her cultural heritage. Sleep Well, Siba and Saba is her first children’s book.

    About the Illustrator
    Sandra van Doorn was born in a small medieval town in France and now lives in Australia. She attended art classes at Emily Carr University in Vancouver before embarking on her career as a children’s illustrator. You can find out more about her work at www.sandravandoorn.com.

    The Giveaway!

    One (1) winner will receive a copy of Sing to the Moon.  Enter to win using the entry form below.  Good Luck!

    Sing to the Moon Book Giveaway

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    children's books, diverse books, interviews, middle grade

    Exclusive Book Cover Reveal: For Black Girls Like Me by Mariama J. Lockington + An Interview!

    For Black Girls Like Me by Mariama J. Lockington COVER REVEAL!

    In partnership with Macmillian Children’s Publishing Group, I am thrilled to be revealing the cover for the forthcoming July 2019 book For Black Girls Like Me by Mariama J. Lockington.  The cover is illustrated by Jamea Richmond-Edwards.  I also had the opportunity to ask the author a few questions which you can read below.

    • Total Pages: 336 pages
    • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
    • Publication Date: July 30, 2019
    • Recommended Ages: 8-12 and up
    • Pre-Orders: Available for Pre-Order Now!

    Synopsis

    I am a girl but most days I feel like a question mark.

    Makeda June Kirkland is eleven-years-old, adopted, and black. Her parents and big sister are white, and even though she loves her family very much, Makeda often feels left out. When Makeda’s family moves from Maryland to New Mexico, she leaves behind her best friend, Lena— the only other adopted black girl she knows— for a new life. In New Mexico, everything is different. At home, Makeda’s sister is too cool to hang out with her anymore and at school, she can’t seem to find one real friend.

    Through it all, Makeda can’t help but wonder: What would it feel like to grow up with a family that looks like me?

    Through singing, dreaming, and writing secret messages back and forth with Lena, Makeda might just carve a small place for herself in the world.

    In this lyrical coming-of-age story about family, sisterhood, music, race, and identity, Mariama J. Lockington draws on some of the emotional truths from her own experiences growing up with an adoptive white family. For Black Girls Like Me is for anyone who has ever asked themselves: How do you figure out where you are going if you don’t know where you came from?

    Author Interview

    WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO WRITE FOR BLACK GIRLS LIKE ME?
    When I was a kid I was always looking for books that mirrored my experience growing up as a transracial adoptee. I searched library shelves for stories about curious black girls with white parents—black girls with mothers who gave them away, but I never really found them. Instead, I’d find and devour books about spunky orphans like Heidi or Anne (with an E!) of Green Gables because I was able to relate to the resilience and questioning personalities of these characters. I wrote For Black Girls Like Me because it is the book I needed to read as a kid, a book that reflects the kind of family that looks like mine.

    WHAT DO YOU HOPE READERS WILL TAKE AWAY FROM READING YOUR BOOK?
    This is a book about adoption, yes, but more than anything it’s a book about a young black girl searching for her voice. It’s a book about a multiracial American family trying to love one another, despite difference and human flaws. My hope is that adoptees will read this book and see some small part of their experience validated. I also hope that this book will spark conversation about identity, race, and belonging between siblings, parents and their children, teachers and students, and anyone else who has ever asked themselves: Where do I belong? I hope that this book will be a friend to someone who needs it.

    HOW DID THE EXPERIENCE OF WRITING THIS BOOK DIFFER FROM WRITING YOUR PREVIOUS BOOK, THE LUCKY DAUGHTER, OR OTHER THINGS YOU HAVE WRITTEN?
    Well, The Lucky Daughter was a book of individual poems, about varying topics written for an adult audience. In earlier drafts, For Black Girls Like Me was also written for an adult audience. In 2013, I graduated from my MFA program at San Francisco State University with a collection of about sixty prose poems about a nameless adopted pre-teen black girl. The manuscript was much more abstract, and I was having a hard time taking it to the next level. When I published my article “What a Black Woman Wishes Her Adoptive White Parents Knew” on Buzzfeed in 2016, my now editor at Farrar, Straus and Giroux, reached out. She asked if I’d ever considered writing a fictional book based on my own experiences as an adoptee, but for a middle grade audience. I was SO excited by this prospect, since my other passion in life is teaching and working with youth. I have a Masters in Education and I have worked with education nonprofits for more than ten years. When I thought about this girl I kept writing poems about, about writing her story more concretely for a younger audience, giving her a name, something just clicked. I was able to dive back into the manuscript and I began to write Makeda’s store in short poem-scenes, with a stronger narrative thread.

    WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO BEGIN WRITING AS AN AUTHOR?
    Since I was little, I’ve known I wanted to write books. I used to make my own books out of cardboard, glue, and string. When I was about 12 I saw the movie Harriet the Spy, and I’ve been keeping a journal ever since. At first writing down my daily observations and telling stories was about survival, about creating worlds bigger than the one I sometimes felt confined to. But ultimately it was music that helped me find my path as an author. Both of my parents are classical musicians, and while I did not grow up in a particularly religious household, music is a kind of religion in our family. I played the flute and piano growing up and the practice of music led me to explore the possibilities of other kinds of creative arts. Eventually, music led me to formally studying writing in High School and beyond. Like my main character, Makeda, music helped me find my voice and my discipline. It has always been an anchor for me.

    HOW MUCH OF YOURSELF, OTHER PEOPLE OR YOUR OWN PERSONAL EXPERIENCES DO YOU PUT INTO YOUR BOOKS?
    While For Black Girls Like Me is fiction, it’s based on some of the emotional truths of my experience growing up as a transracial adoptee. There are some ways in which I drew from my own memories to write Makeda’s character. For example, I made both of her parents musicians. But then I let my imagination run wild and allowed myself to move past the autobiographical. As I was writing, I found that my characters took on new complex identities and histories that are different from the identities and histories of my actual family.

    WHICH BOOKS HAVE INFLUENCED YOUR LIFE THE MOST?
    This question is so hard for a bookworm like me! As I mentioned, as a kid, it was any story about an orphan— Annie, Anne of Green Gables, Heidi, or any story about a young kid who has to survive on their own in the wild— My Side of the Mountain, Hatchet, Island of the Blue Dolphins. I felt a kinship with these characters, as they struggled to make a way for themselves, without always knowing where they came from or if they belonged.

    As an adult, my all-time favorite book is Sula by Toni Morrison. I re-read it almost every year. To me, it is an epic love story between two best friends who are full of contradictions. I love that it is a story about black girlhood, black womanhood, friendship, and how sometimes we fail to speak the same language as the ones who raise us or come up with us. But we love them fiercely anyway.

    IF YOU COULD GIVE ADULTS ONE PIECE OF ADVICE ABOUT READING WITH CHILDREN, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
    Don’t gloss over or skip subjects in books you think your child can’t understand, especially when it comes to race and identity. Be OK with being uncomfortable, with not having all the answers. Books help all of us learn about different perspectives and experiences— even adults. You don’t have to be the expert, you just have to be willing to grow alongside your child, ask questions, and listen.

    HARDCOVER, PAPERBACK OR E-BOOK (WHEN READING A BOOK ON YOUR OWN)?
    Team Hardcover all the way! There is nothing more luxurious than the weight of a hardcover book in my lap and a hot cup of tea in hand.

    FICTION, NON-FICTION OR SOME OTHER GENRE (WHEN READING A BOOK ON YOUR OWN)?
    I read anything and everything I can get my hands on. I am a poet at heart, so I read a ton of poetry, but I am also an avid reader of fiction. Lately, I’ve really been enjoying reading short story collections. I can read at least one story before I fall asleep!

    WHAT BOOKS ARE ON YOUR NIGHTSTAND OR E-READER RIGHT NOW?
    If you follow me on Instagram, I periodically post #nightstandselfies which feature an overzealous stack of books I hope to get to. Right now, at the top of my pile, you’ll find: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, The Heads of the Colored People by Nafissa Thompson-Spires, Other Words for Grief by fellow adoptee, Lisa Marie Rollins, and Ghost by Jason Reynolds.

    ARE YOU WORKING ON ANY SPECIAL PROJECTS THAT YOU WANT TO SHARE WITH OTHERS?
    I work full-time for a youth nonprofit, so this fall I am busy writing curriculum and delivering programs. I’m also excited to be working on a YA project— a queer, black girl love story. It’s very fresh, so that’s all I’ll share for now, but stay tuned! And of course, I’m getting ready to launch For Black Girls Like Me and hopefully go on book tour.

    HOW CAN PEOPLE GET IN TOUCH WITH YOU ON SOCIAL MEDIA OR ON YOUR WEBSITE?
    You can find me on Twitter @marilock, or on Instagram @forblackgirlslikeme (Which frequently features pictures of my sausage dog, Henry!)

    Check out For Black Girls Like Me when it publishes in July 2019!

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    book reviews, children's books, diverse books

    5 Reasons Why You Should Read The Questioneers Chapter Book Series


    I could hardly contain my excitement when I initially learned about The Questioneers Chapter Book Series, a clever chapter book spin-off of the popular STEM picture books based on the characters Rosie Revere, Iggy Peck and Ada Twist.  I am a huge fan of Iggy Peck, ArchitectRosie Revere, Engineer and Ada Twist, Scientist so that automatically made me have high expectations for the chapter book series.  If you love Ada, Iggy and Rosie as much as I do, here are five reasons why you should read The Questioneers chapter book series:

    1. Each of the original high achieving, STEM lovin’ bunch of kids are featured in the series: Ada, Iggy and Rosie.  Plus, there are a few new characters introduced (Mrs. Lu, the Blue River Riveters, Ada’s great-aunt Bernice) along with some familiar ones like Rosie’s great-great-aunt Rose.

    2. There’s lots of fun, engineer-inspired artwork featured throughout that is easy for kids to understand.  I love the use of graph paper illustrations shown throughout.  I think they really capture the feeling of Rosie actually writing in her notebook and taking notes for her project.  The illustrations are drawn in black and white with some added pops of red (and of course, Rosie and Ada’s signature red and white polka dots).

    3. Just like in the picture books, readers will learn great lessons of: teamwork, brainstorming, persistence, camaraderie, problem solving and STEM.  I always love it when readers can take away wonderful messages they can use in their own real-life experiences.

    4.  Diverse female characters are shown as strong and positive role models.  The Blue Riveters who are portrayed in Book #1 are a group of smart, tough and hard working airplane builders who just happen to be females.  This shows children that women can do ALL types of jobs including build airplanes, tanks, and jeeps.  The scarf-wearing character Rosie the Riveter is a cultural icon representing the women who worked in factories and shipyards during World War II.  She recently passed away in January 2018 at the age of 96.  The hard work of the Riveters helped the Allies win World War II.  So there’s also a bit of history kids learn too about The Riveters in the back matter.  How clever of author Andrea Beaty to introduce a real-life historical element to the character in the book!  I’ve seen the Rosie the Riveter image for years and never made the connection of the red polka dot scarf to Rosie’s character until reading this book.

    5. The chapters are short (there are 22 chapters in total) and contain lots of action words including a good amount of onomatopoeia that kids are sure to love: THUD, CRACK, BOOM, SPLAT, SLURP (these words are always so fun to say with kids).  An early reader could read this book easily on their own or with the help of a grown-up in a short period of time.  The chapters don’t drag out and they are fun to read!  Grown-ups will love reading these books just as much as the kids.  Makes a fantastic family read aloud book for story time at home!

    Overall, the kids and I loved everything about Book #1 of The Questioneers series.  It’s perfect for science and STEM enthusiasts or budding entrepreneurs to read.  The back matter also contains factual science information about valves, a brief history of The Riveters, a “Think About This” question for kids to ponder, and author/illustrator notes.

    We’re already looking forward to reading the second book in the series when it publishes in April 2019!

    Your turn: Have I convinced you to check out the books in this series?  Have you read any of the popular picture books?  Which character from the series is your favorite?  Feel free to share in the comments.

    Rosie Revere and the Raucous Riveters: The Questioneers Book #1

    Recommended Ages 6-9 and up

    Ada Twist and the Perilous Pants: The Questioneers Book #2 (Available for pre-orders NOW!)

    Publishes in April 2019, but you can pre-order it NOW!

    Recommended Ages 6-9 and up

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    book reviews, children's books, diverse books

    Turning Pages: My Life Story (A Book Review)

    Disclaimer: I was provided with a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  As always, all opinions expressed are my own.

    Turning Pages: My Life Story by by Sonia Sotomayor, illustrated by Lulu Delacre

    Publisher: Philomel Books
    Format: Hardcover
    Pages: 40
    Age Range: 4 – 8
    Grade Level: Preschool – 3

    Synopsis
    As the first Latina Supreme Court Justice, Sonia Sotomayor has inspired young people around the world to reach for their dreams. But what inspired her? For young Sonia, the answer was books! They were her mirrors, her maps, her friends, and her teachers. They helped her to connect with her family in New York and in Puerto Rico, to deal with her diabetes diagnosis, to cope with her father’s death, to uncover the secrets of the world, and to dream of a future for herself in which anything was possible.

    In Turning Pages, Justice Sotomayor shares that love of books with a new generation of readers, and inspires them to read and puzzle and dream for themselves.

    Reflection
    From the very first sentence right to the very end, this story captured my full attention.  Not only did I learn so much about Justice Sonia Sotomayor and her background, but I also read some of the most poetic and beautiful phrases about books and reading.  It was such a treat to learn how much books played such an important part in her life.

    My story is a story about books – of poems and comics, of law and mystery, of science and science fiction.

    Reading was like lighting candles, each book a flame that lit up the world around me.

    Written words, I discovered, were electrical currents that jolted feelings to life.

    Books, it seemed, were magic potions that could fuel me with the bravery of superheroes.

    Books were my loyal friends.  They made it so I never felt lonely.

    Books were mirrors of my very own universe.

    Throughout Sonia’s life, books brought her comfort in the darkest periods. She talks about being diagnosed with diabetes when she was seven years old and how she found courage by reading comic books.  The illustrations showing her injecting herself with needles are powerful.  Instead of insulin, she imagines injecting herself with a “magic potion” and being a brave superhero.  When she was nine years old her father passed away.  At the time, Sonia found comfort and escape at the nearby Parkchester Library.  Books helped her escape her reality and allowed her precious opportunities to experience wonder.

    Almost every illustration in the book features books or reading in some way.  Sonia is seen reading at home, at the library and in college.  The back matter has a timeline of Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s life and there are actual photographs in the end papers.  The thing I love most about this book is that Sonia wrote it on her own and she’s still alive to tell her own story – her own truth.  A delightful and informative book that is sure to inspire a new generation of readers, leaders, aspiring lawyers and social justice activists.

    Your turn: Which book(s) from your childhood played an important part in your life?  Feel free to share in the comments.

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    children's books, diverse books

    The Ultimate List of African-American Baby Boy Names Inspired by Children’s Books from Alfonso to Ziggy

    There are so many wonderful picture books that feature strong, Black males as the main protagonist. Little boys (or girls) can read about heroes from the past and present who have emerged as role models for all children. They can explore nonfiction books about famous male inventors who have contributed to society. Or they can enjoy stories about everyday kids just being kids. Whatever they’re in the mood to read, either on their own or with a grown-up assisting, the one thing I can bet is they’ll be able to find a book to fit!

    Below I’ve rounded up a list of picture books that feature African-American boy protagonists with first names from A to Z.  Some are popular names that you see often and others are unique like my name.  Is your name or your son’s name listed here?  What other books would you add to this list?  Feel free to share in the comments.

    To see the ultimate list of girl names click HERE!

    A

    AlfonsoArt
    Arturo

    B

    BarackBen
    BobBud

    C

    CastleCharlie
    ClaytonClive
    Cornelius Charles
    Cole

    D

    DaveDavid
    DevonDominic
    Deshawn

    E

    ElijahEmmanuel
    Ernie

    F

    Frank

    G

    GeorgeGordon
    Gregory

    H

    HenryHorace

    J

    JabariJacobJackson
    JadenJamesJameson
    JeremyJeromeJohn

    K

    Kevin

    L

    LennyLeoLewis
    LindenLonnieLuke

    M

    MalcolmMalusiMarcus
    MaxMichaelMiles
    MatthewMuhammad

    N

    NeilNelson

    O

    Olu

    P

    Peter

    R

    RayReginaldRichard
    RodneyRomareRon
    RileyRufus

    S

    Sam

    T

    ToniehToshTravis
    TreyTyrell

    W

    WilliamWillie

    Y

    Yosef

    Z

    Ziggy

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    children's books, cover reveal, diverse books

    Cover Reveal: Sing to the Moon

    I’m thrilled to participate in this beautiful book cover reveal in partnership with Lantana Publishing.  From the creators of the book Sleep Well, Siba and Saba, comes this forthcoming picture book featuring a little boy from Uganda who likes to dream big.

    This story was inspired by the rainy days the author spent with her family in Uganda during the rainy season. It’s a beautifully written and illustrated story that shows the precious bond between a grandfather and grandson.

    Available for Sale: October 1, 2018
    Age Range: 4 – 8
    Grade Level: PreK – 2

    Synopsis
    For one little Ugandan boy, no wish is too big. First he dreams of reaching the stars and then of riding a supernova straight to Mars. But on a rainy day at his grandfather’s house, he is brought down to earth with a bump. Do adventures only happen in galaxies far away or can he find magic a little closer to home? A touching story of a grandfather’s love for his grandson and the quiet pleasures of a rainy day.

    About the Author
    Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl was born to Ugandan parents in Cambridge, MA, USA. For over ten years, Nansubuga has worked in international development in East and Southern Africa. In her current role as a technical writer and editor, she produces a range of written work for international organizations such as the UN and the World Bank. Having lived in seven countries across three continents, creative writing has always been her way to re-connect with her cultural heritage. Sleep Well, Siba and Saba is her first children’s book.

    About the Illustrator
    Sandra van Doorn was born in a small medieval town in France and now lives in Australia. She attended art classes at Emily Carr University in Vancouver before embarking on her career as a children’s illustrator. You can find out more about her work at www.sandravandoorn.com.

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