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    book reviews, children's books, diverse books

    Review: Fearless Mary – Mary Fields American Stagecoach Driver

    I received this book for free from Albert Whitman in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

    Review: Fearless Mary – Mary Fields American Stagecoach DriverFearless Mary by Tami Charles
    Published by Albert Whitman on January 1, 2019
    Pages: 32
    Format: Hardcover
    Source: Albert Whitman
    Buy on AmazonBuy on Indie Bound
    five-stars

    A little-known but fascinating and larger-than-life character, Mary Fields is one of the unsung, trailblazing African American women who helped settle the American West. A former slave, Fields became the first African American woman stagecoach driver in 1895, when, in her 60s, she beat out all the cowboys applying for the job by being the fastest to hitch a team of six horses. She won the dangerous and challenging job, and for many years traveled the badlands with her pet eagle, protecting the mail from outlaws and wild animals, never losing a single horse or package. Fields helped pave the way for other women and people of color to become stagecoach drivers and postal workers.

    Mary Fields, also known as Stagecoach Mary and Black Mary, was the first African-American female star route mail carrier in the United States.  Two other women, Susanna A. Brunner in New York and Minnie Westman in Oregon, were known to be White mail carriers in the 1880s.

    Born as a slave in Tennessee during the administration of Andrew Jackson, Mary was sixty years old in 1895 when she became the second woman and first Black person to ever work for the U.S. Post Office. Over the next six years, Mary and her pet eagle rode her stagecoach all over Montana and never missed a day of work, never failed to deliver mail and was never late once.

    This story is so inspirational and empowering for readers of all ages.  America was built in part by mail carriers and truckers, the people who move goods and products from place to place. Writer Tami Charles brilliantly explores the history of a woman whose contributions to the mail carrier industry was overlooked for years.  I’m so grateful for historical picture book biographies like Fearless Mary that expose hidden figures like Mary Fields to ensure their stories are told to younger generations.  It’s great for reading during Black History Month, Women’s History Month, or anytime of the year. Recommended age range: 5-7 years and up.

    Your turn: Have you read this book yet with your little readers?  Feel free to share in the comments.

    five-stars
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    The Roots of Rap by Carole Boston Weatherford (A Book Review)

    The Roots of Rap: 16 Bars on the 4 Pillars of Hip-Hop by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Frank Morrison

    Publisher: Little Bee Books
    Format: Hardcover
    Pages: 48
    Age Range: 4 – 8
    Grade Level: Pre-K – 3

    Synopsis
    The roots of rap and the history of hip-hop have origins that precede DJ Kool Herc and Grandmaster Flash. Kids will learn about how it evolved from folktales, spirituals, and poetry, to the showmanship of James Brown, to the culture of graffiti art and break dancing that formed around the art form and gave birth to the musical artists we know today. Written in lyrical rhythm by award-winning author and poet Carole Boston Weatherford and complete with flowing, vibrant illustrations by Frank Morrison, this book beautifully illustrates how hip-hop is a language spoken the whole world ’round, it and features a foreward by Swizz Beatz, a Grammy Award winning American hip-hop rapper, DJ, and record producer.

    Reflection
    Nostalgic. That’s the first word that came to mind the first time I read this book. I was immediately transported back to my childhood in the 1980’s when hip-hop reigned and was blasted on the radio and in the streets at every block party.

    Hip-hop’s foundations were being laid in the 1970s, but it was DJ Kool Herc, a.k.a. Clive Campbell, who laid the first building block of hip-hop down in 1973.

    The thing I love most about hip-hop music is it’s another form of storytelling. Just as the sound of the movement was created by re-purposing music that already existed, the success of hip-hop’s MCs was based on their willingness to shatter old forms of music and create a new style of self-expression. Enter hip-hop.

    The Roots of Rap is a lyrical rhyming book accompanied by captivating illustrations by Frank Morrison. The book also features a foreward by Swizz Beatz and mentions both male and female rappers. Some of the artists mentioned are: DJ Kool Herc, The Sugarhill Gang, James Brown, Run-DMC, LL Cool J, 50 Cent, Tupac, Biggie, and more. All of these artists used rap music as a form of wordplay, repetition and extended metaphor to relate real-life experiences that were sometimes dark, violent, romantic, hopeful or funny.

    When I was younger I remember feeling elated when female rappers started coming onto the scene unapologetically detailing their interpretations and experiences of the world they lived in. They all had distinct variations in style, flow and lyrical content, but what each woman had in common was a fiercely independent voice and the power to remain consistently and resoundingly herself. Little girls and older females will be thrilled to see female rappers like: Queen Latifah, Salt-N-Pepa and Lauryn Hill mentioned in this book too!

    The Roots of Rap teaches readers about the history, creativity and diversity of hip-hop and how it has become a major genre of popular music in the 21st century. Recommended for ages 4-8 and up. Music lovers and lovers of hip-hop are likely to enjoy this one!

    Your turn: Have you read this book yet?  What are some of your favorite memories of hip-hop music?  Feel free to share in the comments.

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    book reviews, children's books, diverse books, STEM

    Celebrate National STEM/STEAM Day: Abby Invents Unbreakable Crayons (A Book Review)

    Abby Invents Unbreakable Crayons by Dr. Arlyne Simon illustrated by Diana Necsulescu

    Publisher: Bella Agnes Books
    Format: Hardcover/Paperback
    Pages: 40
    Age Range: 5 – 8
    Grade Level: Kindergarten- 3

    In honor of National STEM/STEAM Day, I’m sharing an awesome children’s book with you entitled Abby Invents Unbreakable Crayons.  Have you read it yet?

    Synopsis
    Tired of coloring with broken crayons, Abby invents the world’s first UNBREAKABLE CRAYONS. She even gets a patent to prove it! Through Abby’s failures and eventual success, she playfully introduces young readers to the scientific method. This book also contains a fun activity page, encouraging young readers to create their own unbreakable crayons.

    Reflection

    Little Abby is tired of coloring with broken crayons and I don’t blame her.  It’s no fun to be in the middle of coloring only to have your crayon break and interrupt your creative flow.  She has an idea to invent the first unbreakable crayons after seeing a local inventor who looked just like her visit her classroom.

    Abby gets to work and starts her research by heading to the library after school.  She learns what crayons are made of, the process used to make them and why they break.

    Crayons break because they are not strong enough.  They are thin and long so if pressed too hard, they will break.

    After having many failed attempts to test her unbreakable crayons, Abby starts to get discouraged and feels like quitting.   With help and encouragement from her teacher, Abby keeps going and eventually finds a solution to truly make her crayons unbreakable.

    There are several things kids can learn from reading this book:

    • The importance of representation/windows and mirrors – Abby became inspired to be an inventor when an inventor who looked like her came to speak at her school.
    • STEM – This is a great book to introduce children to STEM (Science, Math, Technology and Engineering)
    • Diversity – There are several diverse characters featured throughout the book
    • The invention process – Children will learn the basics of the invention process: what it means to invent, asking questions, testing and receiving a an official patent from the government

    I loved how determined Abby was to see her idea come to fruition and how she pushed through despite having failed attempts in the beginning.  She used affirming phrases to help keep her motivated, energized and focused on her goal:

    I am a problem solver.  I am an inventor.  I solve problems, big and small because I have great ideas.

    We should all be like Abby and give ourselves mini pep talks like this whenever we’re facing challenges.  Am I right?

    This book is also a great way to help spark curiosity, wonder and imagination for little readers while introducing science and engineering.  The back matter features an author’s note, a small glossary of terms and a couple of questions for kids to ponder and express their own ideas.

    Abby Invents Unbreakable Crayons checks all the boxes of a great STEM/STEAM book.

    It empowers children to:

    • Ask questions
    • Be curious
    • Problem solve
    • Think outside the box
    • Be innovative

    About the Author

    Honored as a trailblazing female innovator by the United States Patent and Trademark Office, Dr. Arlyne Simon is a biochemical engineer, inventor, author and entrepreneur. She is originally from the Commonwealth of Dominica. Like Abby, many of her early experiments failed but she didn’t give up and neither should you! Visit her online at arlynesimon.com.

    Your turn: How are you celebrating National STEM/STEAM day?  What STEM/STEAM related books will you be reading?  Feel free to share in the comments.

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    Tomorrow I’ll Be Brave Blog Tour: Teaching Kids About Bravery

    Tomorrow I’ll Be Brave by Jessica Hische

    Recommended Ages: 3-7

    Synopsis
    Tomorrow I’ll be all the things I tried to be today:
    Adventurous, Strong, Smart, Curious, Creative, Confident, & Brave.
    And if I wasn’t one of them, I know that it’s OK.

    Journey through a world filled with positive and beautifully hand-lettered words of widsom, inspiration, and motivation. As this book reminds readers, tomorrow is another day, full of endless opportunities–all you have to do is decide to make the day yours.

    Reflection
    As a parent, I’m always mindful to ensure I’m setting good examples for my kids while also teaching them valuable life lessons that will benefit them in their adult lives.  Like many parents and caregivers, I want my children to grow up and lead successful lives.  While there are many things that lead to success and happiness, I believe one of the most powerful things is courage.

    During the average person’s lifetime, they will likely experience successes, failures, rejections, and many unexpected turns.  That’s why I think it’s important to instill courage in children from a young age and continuously expose them to safe opportunities where they can practice being brave in real life scenarios.

    For example, my daughter sometimes gets anxious if she’s picked up a bit later than usual at school.  This is especially true at the start of any new school year or after an extended break from school.  It usually takes her about a week or two to get back into the school routine after being at home during school breaks.  If she’s picked up late she will cry non-stop until either myself or my husband arrives.  Whenever this happens, my husband and I reassure her that one of us will always be there to pick her up from school.  We also read lots of books about anxiety, having courage, and being brave like Tomorrow I’ll Be Brave.  It’s the perfect book to read to give kids the courage to keep going, to find a different way, and of course the courage to try and be brave in the first place.

    This book teaches kids that bravery isn’t about something magical that happens inside us to make us ‘not scared’. It’s about something magical that happens inside us to make us push through fear, self-doubt, anxiety, and do the things that feel hard or risky or frightening. Sometimes, being brave only has to happen for seconds at a time – just long enough to be brave enough.  This book also reminded me about one of the most important parts of being brave: knowing that somewhere inside of you, ‘brave’ will be there when you need it, whether you feel it or not.

    There is also a fantastic overall message that rings loud and clear in this book:

    Tomorrow I’ll be all the things I tried to be today…and if I wasn’t one of them, I know that it’s okay.

    Children get the reassurance that if they haven’t been any of the things they hoped to be today, there is always tomorrow, which is full of endless opportunities.  I think that messages give children space for imperfection which is a great growth staple.

    In summary, there are so many great things I enjoyed about this book:

    • It teaches children they are strong, that they can cope, and that they are not as fragile as they might sometimes feel.
    • There are wonderful vocabulary words like: adventurous, curious, confident, brave
    • Kids understand brave is about doing what’s best for them
    • Encourages children’s sense of adventure

    Check this one out if you’re looking for a picture book to help have a discussion about bravery and courage with your little readers.

    About the Author
    Jessica Hische grew up in Pennsylvania. She currently lives in San Francisco, where she works as a letterer, illustrator, type designer, and relentless procrastiworker. Clients include Wes Anderson, Dave Eggers, The New York Times, Tiffany & Co., OXFAM America, McSweeney’s, American Express, Target, Victoria’s Secret, Chronicle Books, Nike, and Samsung.

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    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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    New Bilingual Series Inspired by the Life of Latina Sensation Sarai Gonzalez

    Viral video sensation and social activist, Sarai Gonzalez has teamed up with award-winning author Monica Brown to create a new illustrated chapter book series influenced by Gonzalez’s life.  Sarai initially became popular back in 2016 when she “broke the internet” with a music video for Colombian band Bomba Estéreo for the song “Soy Yo” (“I’m Me”).  The video has a contagious Latin rhythm and strong lyrics emphasizing self-love and diversity.  The video garnered over 30 million views and the New York Times called Sarai a Latina icon.

    Sarai Gonzalez is AWESOME. Fourth grader Sarai Gonzalez can do anything. She can bake, dance, and run her own cupcake business, Sarai’s Sweets.  Sarai is a spunky little girl with a kind heart and big dreams.

    My kids and I truly enjoyed reading both of these chapter books over the course of a few weeks as read aloud stories.  We liked how much Sarai loves her family, her Peruvian and Costa Rican culture and her willingness to help her family and friends when needed.  We found this chapter book series to be very fun and upbeat to read!

    I also appreciated having a few Spanish words sprinkled throughout both books as well as a few Peruvian references like the word “Tata”, which means grandfather.  Emerging readers would have no problem reading the text on their own, with some help needed from a grown-up every now and again.  Overall, we adore little Sarai, her friends and tight knit Latinx family.  A great series for emerging readers ages 7 and up.

    Launching simultaneously in Spanish and English, the series kicks off with two books: Sarai and the Meaning of Awesome (9781338236682; 9/11/18; $5.99; Paperback) and Sarai in the Spotlight (9781338236699; 9/11/18; $5.99; Paperback).  Recommended for ages 7-10, Grades 2-5.

    About Sarai Gonzalez
    Eleven-year-old Sarai Gonzalez became an overnight sensation after appearing in Bomba Estero’s, “Soy Yo,” a music video about embracing yourself and loving your flaws. Sarai and the Meaning of Awesome is the first book in her new chapter book series inspired by her life. Sarai lives in New Jersey with her family.

    About Monica Brown
    Monica Brown is the award-winning author of super-awesome books for children, including The Lola Levine chapter book series, Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match/no combina, Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos, and Waiting for the Biblioburro. She is Professor of English at Northern Arizona University, specializing in Latinx and African American Literature. She lives in Flagstaff, Arizona with her husband and her dogs, Lola and Finn. Visit her at www.monicabrown.net.

    Your turn: Have you checked out this series yet?  Feel free to share in the comments.

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    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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