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Brown Girls Reading: A Promised Land by Barack Obama A Joint Book Review with Charnaie Gordon & Nicole Blades

One of the joys of blogging is meeting other like-minded book lovers who share the same taste in books as you do. From the time I met author Nicole Blades, she and I clicked since with both have an affinity for great literature. Bonus points for us living in the same state and only a few miles apart from one another. She was the perfect person to read President Barack Obama’s memoir, A Promised Land with.

In case you haven’t read it yet, check out the synopsis below from the publisher.

Synopsis
In the stirring, highly anticipated first volume of his presidential memoirs, Barack Obama tells the story of his improbable odyssey from young man searching for his identity to leader of the free world, describing in strikingly personal detail both his political education and the landmark moments of the first term of his historic presidency—a time of dramatic transformation and turmoil.

Obama takes readers on a compelling journey from his earliest political aspirations to the pivotal Iowa caucus victory that demonstrated the power of grassroots activism to the watershed night of November 4, 2008, when he was elected 44th president of the United States, becoming the first African American to hold the nation’s highest office.

Reflecting on the presidency, he offers a unique and thoughtful exploration of both the awesome reach and the limits of presidential power, as well as singular insights into the dynamics of U.S. partisan politics and international diplomacy. Obama brings readers inside the Oval Office and the White House Situation Room, and to Moscow, Cairo, Beijing, and points beyond. We are privy to his thoughts as he assembles his cabinet, wrestles with a global financial crisis, takes the measure of Vladimir Putin, overcomes seemingly insurmountable odds to secure passage of the Affordable Care Act, clashes with generals about U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, tackles Wall Street reform, responds to the devastating Deepwater Horizon blowout, and authorizes Operation Neptune’s Spear, which leads to the death of Osama bin Laden.

Nicole’s Review

It was kind of fitting that the first book I finished in 2021 was Barack Obama’s instant bestselling memoir, A Promised Land. Mind, I started the book just after Thanksgiving 2020… but, listen, as you know, this thing is more than 700 pages long! For someone who typically shies away from books over 500 pages (375-ish is kind of the sweet spot), the fact that I read it cover to cover is a triumph. 

A Promised Land is good. Really good. So good that I’m ready for volume two of his memoir. (That thing better not be 900 pages, though, B! *long stare*) Obama is naturally smart, charming, and funny, and it all comes through on the page. He feels like a real person with humor and humanity. (He even drops a few F-bombs, which made me giggle a little.)

The book is beautifully written—candid and revealing while also being interesting and filled with warmth. The man knows how to tell a riveting story. And the details! He describes people places, rooms, even “The Beast”—the armored limo that is the presidential state car—with such precision, paying attention to even the smallest note. For example, he mentions a nun with a face as “grooved as a peach pit”…I mean, you can totally see the face, right? There are plenty of moments like that, where his words paint a clear picture. It’s not an easy task to do as a writer. It is a remarkable skill, fueled by an honest interest and curiosity in people, their lives, and your shared moments with them.

Early in the book, the essential question is posed: Why you, Barack? Why do you need to be president? His answer, in part, is one of my favorite quotes from the book:

“…Here’s one thing I know for sure, though. I know that the day I raise my right hand and take the oath to be president of the United States, the world will start looking at America differently. I know that kids around this country—Black kids, Hispanic kids, kids who don’t fit in—they’ll see themselves differently, too, their horizons lifted, their possibilities expanded. And that alone… that would be worth it.”

Listen. When I read that passage, I read it again, slowly. Then I got my Oprah on and highlighted the quote, and marked it with one of those sticky note flag strips. I wanted to remember it. I wanted to remember how it made me feel: Inspired. 

Charnaie’s Review

A Promised Land. What can I say? I expected this book to be a winner and it did not disappoint! Although it was long, I savored every page of this book like a fine wine. I will admit, it’s hefty 700+ page count was daunting in the beginning, but since Barack Obama is such an enjoyable and natural storyteller that definitely helped make it feel less daunting. And since I had the homie, Nicole Blades, holding me accountable to finish our “assigned” chapters, that definitely helped too.

It was refreshing to hear Obama admit to his mistakes, doubt himself on different occasions, climb out of credit card debt, get more insight into his relationship with Michelle, learn about his mom and have the ability to re-live the 2008 election, which I personally refer to as the “Yes We Can” era.

I found myself laughing out loud in some parts, shedding tears, and nodding in full agreement during other parts of the book. Oh, how I miss the Obama family dearly! Lucky for us, we get to enjoy his words here in A Promised Land and then again in Volume 2 once it’s released. Oh, and let’s not forget about Michelle’s book Becoming and both of their podcasts on Spotify!

I am in awe of the Obama family and have total admiration for them and their service. It’s a delight to hear a politician speak so candidly and eloquently with honesty and dignity. The one word that kept running through my mind while reading this book was: hope. Hope for a better future for my children and this world.

Here are two of my favorite quotes from the book:

“there are people in the world who think only about themselves. They don’t care what happens to other people so long as they get what they want. They put other people down to make themselves feel important. “Then there are people who do the opposite, who are able to imagine how others must feel, and make sure that they don’t do things that hurt people. “So,” she said, looking me squarely in the eye. “Which kind of person do you want to be?”
― Barack Obama, A Promised Land

“But you don’t choose the time. The time chooses you. Either you seize what may turn out to be the only chance you have, or you decide you’re willing to live with the knowledge that the chance has passed you by.”
― Barack Obama, A Promised Land

About Nicole

Author Nicole Blades

Nicole Blades is a novelist, speaker, and journalist who has been putting her stories on paper since the third grade. Born and raised in Montreal, Quebec, by Caribbean parents, Nicole moved to New York City and launched her journalism career working at Essence magazine. She later co-founded the online magazine SheNetworks, and worked as an editor at ESPN and Women’s Health.

As a freelance journalist, Nicole’s articles and essays have appeared in The New York Times, Runner’s World, Women’s Health, Good Housekeeping, Health, MarieClaire.com, WashingtonPost.com, and more. Her latest book, HAVE YOU MET NORA?, along with her previous novels, THE THUNDER BENEATH US and EARTH’S WATERS, are available wherever books are sold.

Nicole is a proud member of the Tall Poppy Writers, a professional group of women writers committed to supporting and promoting its members’ work and connecting authors with readers. And she is also a National Academy of Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer.

She has been a presenter and guest speaker at conferences such as Massachusetts Conference for Women; The Muse & the Marketplace; Mom 2.0 Summit; Well-Read Black Girl Festival; Writer’s Digest Conference; the Women’s Fiction Writers Association Retreat, and the Surrey International Writers’ Conference.

Nicole lives in New England with her husband and their son. You may find her on social media at: Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook

About Charnaie

Author Charnaie Gordon

Charnaie loves connecting people with diverse and inclusive books, kid-friendly products and family experiences they will love. She has been reading aloud with both of her children daily since they were born.

Charnaie is a wife, mom and a former Computer Programmer by education. She have over 15 years of experience in the Information Technology field and has both a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Computer Science/Information Technology. She is now an author, podcast host, speaker, Digital Creator/Influencer and the founder of her children’s soon-to-be non-profit organization 50 States 50 Books where they collect and donate diverse children’s books to deserving kids in each of the 50 U.S. states.

Her blog Here Wee Read, is where she expresses her creativity and passion for reading, diverse literature, and literacy. More than anything else, she cares about connecting people with great books that they love because she believe that books are an absolute necessity . Her passion for diversity and inclusion is driven by a desire for everyone to have his or her own voice, whether it be through books, television, or other media. Charnaie believes it’s important that people of all races, and all ethnicities, are able to see themselves represented and included.

Charnaie lives in New England with her husband and their daughter and son. You may find her on social media at: Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook

Book Reviews

The Last Mirror on the Left by Lamar Giles (A Book Review)

Title: The Last Mirror on the Left by Lamar Giles, illustrated by Dapo Adeola
Published by Versify
Pages: 272
Age Range: 8 – 12 years
Grade Level: 3 – 7

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Versify in exchange for an honest review.  As always, all opinions expressed are my own.

Synopsis
In this new Legendary Alston Boys adventure from Edgar-nominated author Lamar Giles, Otto and Sheed must embark on their most dangerous journey yet, bringing a fugitive to justice in a world that mirrors their own but has its own rules to play by.

Unlike the majority of Logan County’s residents, Missus Nedraw of the Rorrim Mirror Emporium remembers the time freeze from The Last Last-Day-of-Summer, and how Otto and Sheed took her mirrors without permission in order to fix their mess. Usually that’s an unforgivable offense, punishable by a million-year sentence. However, she’s willing to overlook the cousins’ misdeeds if they help her with a problem of her own. One of her worst prisoners has escaped, and only the Legendary Alston Boys of Logan County can help bring the fugitive to justice.

Reflection
The legendary Alston Boys of Logan County, Otto and Sheed, are back for another adventure in the follow-up to The Last Last-Day-of-Summer. Think The Hardy Boys meets The Phantom Toolbooth, but with Black boys who happen to be cousins AND best friends.

Last time, Otto and Sheed accidentally managed to freeze time because they wanted the final day of summer to last longer. They ended up going on an action-packed journey to rescue their community, get things back to normal, and unfreeze time with the help of a few supportive friends. The cousins also learned some important truths about themselves along the way.

In The Last Mirror on the Left, the amateur sleuths pick back up where the first book ended. While I don’t think you necessarily need to read the first book before reading this one, I believe it definitely helps add a bit more depth and moments of reflection if you do. New readers to this series will have no problems following the story since the writing is so well done and seamless.

At the end of the first book, there is mention of Sheed possibly having health problems that may impact his future. Unfortunately, that possibility ends up becoming a reality in this book when Sheed becomes ill. Throughout the book, Otto is concerned about Sheed’s overall health which shows how close the bond is between the two cousins. Sheed’s illness doesn’t stop him and Otto from embarking on another new twist-turning journey.

Missus Nedraw of the Mirror Emporium reminds the boys about their adventure last summer and how they stole some of her mirrors without asking for permission. Oops! The boys then get caught in one mirror after another in a Warped dimensional prison world and are stuck there. To top it all off, Otto and Sheed are the only two who can help catch Miss Nedraw’s most dangerous prisoner, Nevan, who recently escaped. But first they’ll have to deal with a notorious group of spiders also known as the ArachnoBRObia. Spiders, and mirrors, and “butt shrubs”, oh my!

Overall, The Last Mirror on the Left is a funny, magical, and wild adventure that will have you laughing and cheering for the dynamic cousin duo, Otto and Sheed as they help bring a fugitive to justice. Author Lamar Giles is masterful at crafting fantasy stories and incorporating relatable themes that are relevant to current events. I also appreciate the illustrations Dapo Adeola included throughout to illustrate specific elements of the story which also helped to visualize what some of the fantasy characters looked like.

Will Otto and Sheed go on another fantastical journey? I certainly hope so! We’ll just have to eagerly wait and see…won’t we?

About the Author
Lamar Giles writes for teens and adults across multiple genres, with work appearing on numerous Best Of lists each and every year. He is the author of the acclaimed novels Fake ID, Endangered, Overturned, Spin, The Last Last-Day-of-Summer, Not So Pure and Simple, and The Last Mirror on the Left as well as numerous pieces of short fiction. He is a founding member of We Need Diverse Books and resides in Virginia with his wife. Twitter: @LRGiles, Instagram: @LamarGiles

About the Illustrator
London born and bred but of Nigerian heritage, Dapo Adeola is an illustrator and designer who creates characters and images that challenge gender norms in a fun and upbeat way. He is the co-creator and illustrator of the upcoming picture book series Look Up (June 2019) and illustrator for the middle grade novel The Last Last-Day-of-Summer by Lamar Giles (April 2019). When he’s not busy cooking up new characters and adventures, you can find him running illustration and character design workshops in and out of schools, to help highlight the possibilities of a career in illustration to inner-city children. Twitter: @DapsDraws Instagram: @DapsDraws

The Last Mirror on the Left by Lamar Giles
Book Reviews

All Because You Matter by Tami Charles & Bryan Collier (A Book Review)

Title: All Because You Matter
Published by Orchard Books an imprint of Scholastic
Pages: 40
Age Range: 4 – 8 years
Grade Level: Preschool – 3

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Scholastic, Inc. in exchange for an honest review.  As always, all opinions expressed are my own.

Synopsis
Discover this poignant, timely, and emotionally stirring picture book, an ode to black and brown children everywhere that is full of hope, assurance, and love.

Tami Charles pens a poetic, lyrical text that is part love letter, part anthem, assuring readers that they always have, and always will, matter. This powerful, rhythmic lullaby reassures readers that their matter and their worth is never diminished, no matter the circumstance: through the joy and wonder of their first steps and first laughs, through the hardship of adolescent struggles, and the pain and heartbreak of current events, they always have, and always will, matter. Accompanied by illustrations by renowned artist Bryan Collier, a four-time Caldecott Honor recipient and a nine-time Coretta Scott King Award winner or honoree, All Because You Matter empowers readers with pride, joy, and comfort, reminding them of their roots and strengthening them for the days to come.

Interior page from the book All Because You Matter

Reflection
“They say that matter is all things that make up the universe: energy, stars, space…If that’s the case, then you, dear child, matter.”

We all matter. Each person on Earth has something worth noticing and appreciating. This forthcoming October 2020 release written by Tami Charles and illustrated by Bryan Collier is a beautiful and affirming tribute to children.

Our kids deserve to be fully seen by their grown-ups’ accepting eyes. Their presence, thoughts, and words should also be acknowledged at all times. This book is filled with so much heart, hope and joy that can be used as a conversation starter to help kids understand how extraordinary they are and how much their lives matter.

Most people don’t realize how amazing they are, and our children are no exception. In fact, many of us often look for permission and acceptance from others to bring our full brilliance to the table.

I think after reading this book, many adults will want to pull their little readers close, look them in the eye and let them know how much they believe in them and their abilities.

When we believe in children, acknowledge them, validate their ideas and feelings, and encourage them to believe in themselves, we hand them the keys to their own power and brilliance. Wouldn’t you agree?

Interior page from the book All Because You Matter

“I wrote All Because You Matter to provide parents with a starting point for conversations about the racial climate in our country today. These are issues that should be discussed in all families, of all backgrounds, if we are to raise empathetic future leaders.” —Tami Charles

“I tried to capture the musicality, rhythm, and bounce of the text as it takes readers on a journey that zooms through time and space shouting All Because You Matter. And I wanted to remind readers when they walk into a room, all those voices, faces and ancestors walk with them. You are not alone.” —Bryan Collier

About the Author
Former teacher. Wannabe chef. Tami Charles writes books for children and young adults. Her middle grade novel, Like Vanessa, earned Top 10 spots on the Indies Introduce and Spring Kids’ Next lists, three starred reviews, and a Junior Library Guild selection. Her recent titles include a humorous middle grade, Definitely Daphne, picture book, Freedom Soup, and YA novel, Becoming Beatriz. When Tami isn’t writing, she can be found presenting at schools both stateside and abroad.


About the Illustrator
Bryan Collier is an American writer and illustrator known best for illustrating children’s books. He won both the Coretta Scott King Award, as illustrator, and the Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator Award for UPTOWN, the first book he both wrote and illustrated. He has won six King Awards as illustrator and he is a four-time Caldecott honor recipient. For his lifetime contribution as a children’s illustrator, Collier is U.S. nominee for the biennial, international Hans Christian Andersen Award in 2014.

Book Reviews

Multicultural Children’s Book Day: The Unstoppable Garrett Morgan + Barefoot Books Review #ReadYourWorld

Disclaimer: I was sent a copy of these books and cards from the publishers to share my review as part of Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2020.  As always, all opinions expressed are my own.  Thank you to the Multicultural Children’s Book Day Team for selecting me as a reviewer and a co-host!

The Unstoppable Garret Morgan: Inventor, Entrepreneur, Hero by Joan Dicicco, illustrated by Ebony Glenn

Publisher: Lee & Low
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 40
Recommended Age Range: 7 – 10 and up
Recommended Grade Level: 2 – 5

Synopsis

“If a man puts something to block your way, the first time you go around it, the second time you go over it, and the third time you go through it.”

Living by these words made inventor and entrepreneur Garrett Morgan unstoppable! Growing up in Claysville, Kentucky, the son of freed enslaved people, young and curious Garrett was eager for life beyond his family’s farm. At age fourteen, he moved north to Cleveland, where his creative mind took flight amidst the city’s booming clothing-manufacturing industry.

Using his ingenuity and tenacity, Garrett overcame racial barriers and forged a career as a successful businessman and inventor. But when a tunnel collapsed, trapping twenty men, the rescue would test both Garrett’s invention — and his courage.

The Unstoppable Garrett Morgan is a powerful biography of an extraordinary man who dedicated his life to improving the lives of others.

Reflection

Garrett Morgan referred to himself as “The Black (Thomas) Edison. Do you know his other numerous inventions and talents beyond the traffic signal which he is best known for?

Despite racial barriers that often stood in his way, Garrett still managed to forge a career as a successful businessman and inventor. Whenever Garrett saw a need, he filled it by using his ingenuity and tenacity. He is known for inventing: the three-way traffic signal (which he eventually sold to General Electric), a hair straightening product, the gas mask, the electric hair curling comb, and a revamped sewing machine with a belt tightener. He also had a successful children’s clothing line in partnership with his wife Mary Hasek.

Accompanied by gorgeous illustrations, The Unstoppable Garrett Morgan gives readers a detailed glimpse into the life of Garrett Morgan from his early days to living in a segregated section in Kentucky to his many achievements to his death 1963.

I’d highly recommend this book to learn more about this talented man who helped shape America and blazed the trail for other African-American inventors and entrepreneurs.

Let’s Celebrate! Special Days Around the World by Kate DePalma, illustrated by Martina Peluso

Publisher: Barefoot Books
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 40
Recommended Age Range: 4 – 8
Recommended Grade Level: Kindergarten – 2

Synopsis

Illustrations and rhyming text introduce special days around the world, including the Spring Festvial, Inti Raymi, Eid al-Fitr, Dâia de Muertos, and the New Yam Festival. Includes calendar of special days and notes.

After reading this book, me and my children learned so much about lesser known special days that are celebrated around the world throughout the year.

In this book, readers are introduced to celebrations from thirteen different cultures including: Kodomo no Hi (Japan), Spring Festival (China) Matariki (New Zealand), Inti Raymi (Peru), Carnaval (Brazil), Midsommar (Sweden), Nowruz (Iran), Passover (United States), New Yam Festival (Nigeria), Novy God (Russia), Eid al-Fitr (Egypt), Dia de Muertos (Mexico), and Diwali (India).

Accompanied by simple rhyming text and vivid illustrations featuring a very diverse cast of characters, Let’s Celebrate makes a wonderful addition to a home or school library for those interested in learning about different cultures and celebrations around the world.

Each special day has a pronunciation key to help readers pronounce the names correctly. The back matter also has a visual yearly calendar/timeline along with additional detailed information about each special day like the different types of foods typically eaten or traditions followed by the people.

For an added extension of learning, you can also pair this book with the Global Kids flashcard set. Kids and adults can explore over 50 countries and cultures with easy-to-follow, hands-on activities.

Each card has step-by-step instructions and simple illustrations which makes it easy to re-create on your own. For example: kids can make pretend passports, learn numbers 1 – 10 in Arabic, learn to play kid games from other countries like “Capture the Stones” popular in Egypt, learn different cultural recipes like Jollof Rice (Ghana) (ingredients and steps included), and so much more!

Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2020 (1/31/20) is in its 7th year! This non-profit children’s literacy initiative was founded by Valarie Budayr and Mia Wenjen; two diverse book-loving moms who saw a need to shine the spotlight on all of the multicultural books and authors on the market while also working to get those book into the hands of young readers and educators.

Seven years in, MCBD’s mission is to raise awareness of the ongoing need to include kids’ books that celebrate diversity in homes and school bookshelves continues.

MCBD 2020 is honored to have the following Medallion Sponsors on board

Super Platinum

Make A Way Media/ Deirdre “DeeDee” Cummings,

Platinum

Language Lizard, Pack-N-Go Girls,

Gold

Audrey Press, Lerner Publishing Group, KidLit TV, ABDO BOOKS: A Family of Educational Publishers, PragmaticMom & Sumo Jo, Candlewick Press,

Silver

Author Charlotte Riggle, Capstone Publishing, Guba Publishing, Melissa Munro Boyd & B is for Breathe,

Bronze

Author Carole P. Roman, Snowflake Stories/Jill Barletti, Vivian Kirkfield & Making Their Voices Heard. Barnes Brothers Books, TimTimTom, Wisdom Tales Press, Lee & Low Books, Charlesbridge Publishing, Barefoot Books Talegari Tales

Author Sponsor Link Cloudhttps://www.barefootbooks.com/l

Jerry Craft, A.R. Bey and Adventures in Boogieland, Eugina Chu & Brandon goes to Beijing, Kenneth Braswell & Fathers Incorporated, Maritza M. Mejia & Luz del mes_Mejia, Kathleen Burkinshaw & The Last Cherry Blossom, SISSY GOES TINY by Rebecca Flansburg and B.A. Norrgard, Josh Funk and HOW TO CODE A ROLLERCOASTER, Maya/Neel Adventures with Culture Groove, Lauren Ranalli, The Little Green Monster: Cancer Magic! By Dr. Sharon Chappell, Phe Lang and Me On The Page, Afsaneh Moradian and Jamie is Jamie, Valerie Williams-Sanchez and Valorena Publishing, TUMBLE CREEK PRESS, Nancy Tupper Ling, Author Gwen Jackson, Angeliki Pedersen & The Secrets Hidden Beneath the Palm Tree, Author Kimberly Gordon Biddle, BEST #OWNVOICES CHILDREN’S BOOKS: My Favorite Diversity Books for Kids Ages 1-12 by Mia Wenjen, Susan Schaefer Bernardo & Illustrator Courtenay Fletcher (Founders of Inner Flower Child Books), Ann Morris & Do It Again!/¡Otra Vez!, Janet Balletta and Mermaids on a Mission to Save the Ocean, Evelyn Sanchez-Toledo & Bruna Bailando por el Mundo\ Dancing Around the World, Shoumi Sen & From The Toddler Diaries, Sarah Jamila Stevenson, Tonya Duncan and the Sophie Washington Book Series, Teresa Robeson & The Queen of Physics, Nadishka Aloysius and Roo The Little Red TukTuk, Girlfriends Book Club Baltimore & Stories by the Girlfriends Book Club, Finding My Way Books, Diana Huang & Intrepids, Five Enchanted Mermaids, Elizabeth Godley and Ribbon’s Traveling Castle, Anna Olswanger and Greenhorn, Danielle Wallace & My Big Brother Troy, Jocelyn Francisco and Little Yellow Jeepney, Mariana Llanos & Kutu, the Tiny Inca Princess/La Ñusta Diminuta, Sara Arnold & The Big Buna Bash, Roddie Simmons & Race 2 Rio, DuEwa Frazier & Alice’s Musical Debut, Veronica Appleton & the Journey to Appleville book series Green Kids Club, Inc.

We’d like to also give a shout-out to MCBD’s impressive CoHost Team who not only hosts the book review link-up on celebration day, but who also works tirelessly to spread the word of this event. View our CoHosts HERE.

Co-Hosts and Global Co-Hosts

A Crafty Arab, Afsaneh Moradian, Agatha Rodi Books, All Done Monkey, Barefoot Mommy, Bethany Edward & Biracial Bookworms, Michelle Goetzl & Books My Kids Read, Crafty Moms Share, Colours of Us, Discovering the World Through My Son’s Eyes, Educators Spin on it, Shauna Hibbitts-creator of eNannylink, Growing Book by Book, Here Wee Read, Joel Leonidas & Descendant of Poseidon Reads {Philippines}, Imagination Soup, Kid World Citizen, Kristi’s Book Nook, The Logonauts, Mama Smiles, Miss Panda Chinese, Multicultural Kid Blogs, Serge Smagarinsky {Australia}, Shoumi Sen, Jennifer Brunk & Spanish Playground, Katie Meadows and Youth Lit Reviews

FREE RESOURCES from Multicultural Children’s Book Day

TWITTER PARTY! Register here!

Hashtag: Don’t forget to connect with us on social media and be sure and look for/use our official hashtag #ReadYourWorld.

black history

Freedom Bird by Jerdine Nolen (A Book Review)

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Simon Kids in exchange for an honest review.  As always, all opinions expressed are my own.

I’m in full 2020 review mode pouring over all of the beautiful books I’ve received from publishers and authors so far. Freedom Bird is an absolute gem that left me in happy tears with a full heart.

In the beginning, readers are introduced to an enslaved family of four: Samuel, Maggie, Millicent and John Wheeler who live on Simon Plenty’s plantation. Very early on, John and Millicent’s parents are sold away leaving them behind.  Although the children were left alone on the plantation, their parents had already sown the seeds of freedom in their children’s minds and hearts. They told them stories of how people could fly away to freedom as free as a bird and they believed it.

Photo courtesy of Simon Kids

One day while working out in the field, a huge bird is flying overhead all of the enslaved people. Annoyed of the bird, the white overseer grabs his leather whip and yanks the bird right out of the sky injuring it.  Late in the evening, Millicent and John sneak out in the field and bring the injured into a shed to begin bringing it back to health. They are able to keep the bird hidden for four months until it was discovered.

Upon discovery from the overseer, Millicent tells the bird to fly away and it does. In a daring escape to freedom Millicent and John follow the bird which leads them West.  In the author’s note you find out this book is a combination of three stories from history meant to all sit alongside each other: Big Jabe, Freedom Bird, and Thunder Rose. Millicent in this book is Millicent MacGruder, mother of Thunder Rose who escaped to freedom and went West.

Photo courtesy of Simon Kids

The thing I love most about this story is it filled me with so much comfort and peace knowing enslaved people desired and longed for freedom.  Some history books describe enslaved people as being “happy” which just isn’t true.  The fact that Samuel and Maggie sowed the seeds of freedom in their children’s minds and hearts fills me with so much joy.  I cannot begin to fathom what it must have been like to be enslaved living on a plantation especially as a child without your parents.  Humans are truly resilient beings.

Freedom Bird is a beautifully written, compelling, (sometimes heartbreaking) yet inspiring story about enslaved Americans of African descent and their desire to be as free as a bird.  Due to a few pages of lengthy text, I’d recommend this one for slightly older readers ages 8 – 9 and up.  Although it can be read aloud with people of all ages.  A great book to add to your home, school or public library for reading during Black History Month or anytime of the year.  Publishes January 14, 2020 from Simon Kids. Ages 5-9 and up.

Your turn: Have you ever read the other two books mentioned in this post (Big Jabe and Thunder Rose) also written by Jerdine Nolen?  Feel free to share in the comments.

Book Reviews

Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story (A Book Review)

Reflection
Fry bread.  Of all the foods most commonly associated with Native American culture, fry bread has long been at the center of the table.  It is a food that was born out of desperation and survival that no one could have predicted it would be the become a touchstone of Native American culture.  I think in order to truly understand and appreciate the beauty of the book Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story, you must first learn about the complicated history of fry bread.

Fry bread is a flat dough bread, fried or deep-fried in oil, shortening, or lard. It is tradition to the Navajo people, who are the largest federally recognized Native American Indian tribe in the United States.  Frybread was first used in 1864 using the flour, sugar, salt and lard that was given to the Navajo tribe by the United States government when the Navajo, who were living in Arizona, were forced to make the 300 mile journey known as the “Long Walk” and move to Bosque Redondo, in New Mexico, onto land that could not be farmed with their traditional foods, which were vegetables and beans.

The Navajo had been forced to move because of the pioneers who came to the southwestern area where the Navajos lived. The pioneers wanted the land and resources to themselves, so they drove the Navajos out of their homes violently, and, as is said, forced them to walk 300 miles to where they would be held in camps.  The camps they were put into had meager supplies, so the U.S. government sent them supplies to make the food that is now known as fry bread.  Since the Navajos no longer had access to fresh meats, fruits, and vegetables, they used what they had in order to survive.  And that is how fry bread came to be.   Fry bread is important to Native American culture, because it represents the perseverance,  and pain the Navajo people went through.

Now that you know this history, let me tell you about this book that I’ve now included in my list of Top 10 picture books of 2019.  Yes, it’s that great…trust me!

Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story is so much more than a story about food.  From the illustrations to the end papers to the back matter, this is a simple, yet phenomenal story about food, history, culture, diversity, resourcefulness, perseverance, family and community.

As soon as you open up the book,  you are immediately drawn in with the mesmerizing end papers.  The end papers list the 573 federally recognized Native American tribes in the United States.  This is so powerful to me as I honestly had no idea there were so many tribes in the United States.

The story is told in simple, lyrical text.  Readers learn that fry bread is a food, it’s a shape, it’s sound, it’s history and more.  In short, readers learn that fry bread is an important symbol of the Native American culture.  At the end of the book, readers are invited into the story with the simple phrases, “Fry bread is you.”, “Fry bread is us.”  The back matter has a recipe for fry bread, an author’s note and more detailed information about fry bread.

This book shows us that food helps to bring people together.  Food has the power to connect people.  Sometimes, sharing a meal together gives us a safe space to talk about our days, our ups and downs, our fears and anxieties, our joys and successes.  Food also allows us to learn and share about different cultures.  Not only does cultural expression through food allow us to be exposed to new flavors, but it also allows us to become more aware of each other’s cultural background and the food that comes with it.  In essence, food gives us comfort.  Although the Navajo people were only given meager supplies by the pioneers, they found comfort in eating fry bread.  It helped fuel and nourish their bodies and allowed them to keep going despite the odds they faced.

Coming together and sharing a meal is the most communal and binding thing in almost every place in the world.  As witnessed so beautifully in this story, being able to make a dish and share it with the people you love is one of the most universal concepts because it’s at the root of survival.  Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story shows as that even when times are tough and painful, the urge to survive and persevere endures.

After reading this book, I learned some modern Native Americans have a troubled relationship with fry bread.  While it is symbolic of their people’s darkest time, it is also viewed as their ingenuity and ability to survive despite the odds.  Whatever the larger cultural agreement is, among Native Americans I still think this is an amazing story that should be be on children’s bookshelves’ in homes and schools worldwide.

Your turn: What are your thoughts on the history of fry bread?  Feel free to share in the comments.

Book Reviews

The Pirate Tree by Brigita Orel (Blog Tour)

the pirate tree

Disclaimer: I received a free advanced copy of The Pirate Tree from the publisher to review and enjoy with our family in exchange for an honest review.  As always, all opinions expressed are my own.

Friends are an important part of everyone’s life. For children who recently arrive in a new country, state or town, making friends is even more significant. Friendship can help ease a child’s transition and enhance their learning and social development.

As beautifully demonstrated in the book The Pirate Tree, making new friends can sometimes be a challenging and uncomfortable experience.  When newcomer Agu tries to make friends with Sam, Agu doesn’t immediately feel welcome after asking if he can play pirate ship with her.

I don’t know you.  You’re not from my street.  Agu’s face falls.  He watches her struggle with a thick rope.  No one wants to play with him because he’s a newcomer.

Initially, Sam is unsure about Agu, but then she finds out he’s from Nigeria and that he sailed on a ship before.  Once Sam begins to open up and get to know a little more about Agu, she invites him aboard her make believe pirate ship and they embark on a journey towards friendship.

The Pirate Tree teaches readers to encourage inclusions among new friends and connect through conversations.  Sam and Agu were quickly able to establish things they had in common which led to an invitation to play together.  A delightful story about finding a kindred spirit and discovering a new friend.  Available for purchase now from Lantana Publishing.  Ages 5 – 8.

Book Reviews

Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o (A Book Review)

Disclaimer: I received a free advanced copy of Sulwe from the publisher to review and enjoy with our family in exchange for an honest review.  As always, all opinions expressed are my own.

Having lighter skin has long been a status symbol and is still seen as “superior” by many people around the world. However, thanks to the introduction of affirming songs like Beyonce’s “Brown Skin Girl” and books like Lupita Nyong’o’s forthcoming release Sulwe; Black girls and women everywhere are unapologetically adoring themselves for who they are inside and out.

Sulwe, which means “star” in the Kenyan language Luo, introduces readers to a young girl named Sulwe who is the darkest person in her family. Sulwe wished she had light skin like her sister Mich who is the color of high noon. In an effort to try and lighten her skin, Sulwe uses a big eraser to try and rub off layers of her skin and she only eats the lightest, brightest foods like: bananas, white bread, and crackers. As a last effort, Sulwe decides to turn to God and pray for a miracle. She prays to wake up and have light skin and lots of friends just like her sister. When she wakes up the next morning and sees her prayer wasn’t answered she breaks down and tells her mother everything.

Her mother gives her sage advice and reassures her she’s beautiful just the way she is. Later that night, Sulwe is visited by a shooting star who takes her on a quest which helps her learn to love and appreciate herself.

Based on Lupita’s childhood, Sulwe will pull at your heartstrings and make you cheer at the end when Sulwe gains the strength to see the beauty and power in her own dark skin. The book may also spark some excellent conversations about colorism and the pressures women of color face to obtain Eurocentric standards of beauty. In a world where women and young girls still grow up with constant reminders that only light/fair skin is beautiful, I’m so glad books like this exist.

The overall message of inspiring children to see their own unique beauty is powerful. Sulwe will undoubtedly plant seeds of sufficiency and adequacy in little Black girls’ minds and empower them to proudly say, “I Am Enough.” Publishes October 15, 2019 from Simon Kids, but available for pre-orders now.

Your turn: Have you ever felt ashamed of your skin color like Sulwe?  Feel free to share your experiences in the comments.

Book Reviews

The Women Who Caught the Babies by Eloise Greenfield (A Book Review)

In honor of Black Breastfeeding Week, I want to introduce you to this forthcoming September 2019 book: The Women Who Caught the Babies by Eloise Greenfield.  The book opens with a beautiful and informative five-page introduction by author Eloise Greenfield.  There are also a series of poems about African American midwives from the days of slavery to the early 2000s. The book closes with a poem about the midwife Miss Rovenia Mayo who caught Eloise Greenfield herself on the evening of May 17, 1929.

The amazing illustrations in the book are done by illustrator Daniel Minter who was also caught by a midwife during his birth.  Minter said in a recent interview with Press Herald, “In those rural areas, you just did not have access to a hospital, for one thing,” Minter said in an interview. “And if there was one, hospitals didn’t accept black patients until recently. You didn’t have that as an easy option, so you had midwives.”

The Women Who Caught the Babies traces the history of Black midwives and the critical role they played in improving the care and outcomes for Black families.  Midwives are prominent members of the community. They do more than just deliver babies, they are spiritual healers, family counselors, nutritionists, and postpartum doulas.  I think it’s wonderful books like this exist to teach readers about this rich tradition of African American midwives.  It has been carried across the Atlantic, kept alive and passed down from healer to healer, continuing through slavery and spread throughout the African diaspora.

I’m so impressed with the attention to detail that was paid to this book to ensure its authenticity.  The archival photographs that appear in this book were digitally captured from a film called All my babies…a midwife’s own story by documentary filmmaker George C. Stoney.  I think this book is a winner for poetry lovers and those wanting to learn more about the important history of Black midwives.  Ages 9-12 and up.

Fun fact: If you scan the QR code on the back cover of the book you can hear Eloise Greenfield read her introduction and poems from the book.  Give it a try…so cool!

 

Note: For those who may want to support midwives and help spread the word, please consider supporting one of the resources listed below.  All of these organizations are doing incredible work for Black midwives.

Book Reviews

Not Quite Snow White by Ashley Franklin (A Book Review)

Many fairy tales depict a world of predominantly blonde heroines with twinkling blue eyes and a fair complexion. This is problematic and an unrealistic view of the world we live in today.

Seeing oneself is an affirming moment, but for little girls of color, this mirror image is as rare as Cinderella’s glass slipper fitting properly. We all crave representation and deserve access to reflections of ourselves, and that is why I’m excited by this book: Not Quite Snow White by Ashley Franklin illustrated by Ebony Glenn.

When little Tameika auditions for the role of Snow White, she overhears kids saying she’s “too chubby” and making comments about her having brown skin. They whisper and giggle and stare at her which in turn causes Tameika to second guess her decision about playing the lead role.

I adore this book for so many reasons. It shows all marginalized kids that everything is possible. Tameika auditioning for the role of Snow White is powerful not only for readers of color, but for everyone, enabling us to see beyond the dominant images of White protagonists in childhood stories and fairy tales.

It is revolutionary that fairy tales and stories represent children of all colors. With her brown skin, and kinky hair, Tameika is the furthest from classic Disney fantasies—but closest to my reality.  Hopefully all children (and adults) reading this book will realize that we can become our wishes and dreams, and that we’re worthy of being seen despite what others may think or say.

I think this book is a winner! It has great read aloud appeal, beautiful illustrations that inspire, and messages about body positivity, acceptance, self-love, bravery, diversity and inclusion. Ages 4-8 and up.

Book Reviews

Women’s History Month: Our Legendary Ladies Presents Anandi Gopal Joshi (A Book Review)

The second board book in the Our Legendary Ladies series, this board book introduces tiny readers (ages birth – 4 and up) to Anandi Gopal Joshi.  Born on March 31, 1865, Anandi Gopal Joshi was one of the first Indian female physicians.

Joshi was married at the age of just nine, which was common in 19th century India, to a man 20 years older than her.  She gave birth to their first child when she was 14, but her baby son died 10 days later due to a lack of medical care for women.  The death of her son served as her motivation to study medicine.

During a time when it was unthinkable for a woman to get an education, Anandi defied the odds and came to America to study medicine at the Women’s College of Philadelphia.  She later returned to India and received special recognition and congratulations from Queen Victoria.  Anandi dreamed of opening a medical college for women, but due to an early death from tuberculosis on 26 February, 1887, her dream was never realized.  She died at the age of 21.

In 1997, a crater on the planet Venus was named after Anandi by the International Astronomical Union.  She is one of the few notable to receive this honor.

Although Anandi’s life was short lived and she is lesser-known, she was a true inspiration and pioneer of her time.

About the Our Legendary Ladies Book Series
The books are written by Megan Callea and illustrated by Jennifer Howard.  For each featured lady in this book series, a leading historian signs off on the final version of the book.  Each book is well researched and fact checked for accuracy.  In addition, for each book purchased, a portion of the proceeds, and books, will be donated to these non-profits: Bright by ThreeJumpstart and Operation Showers of Appreciation.  Following Anandi Gopal Joshi, future Our Legendary Ladies books will include Sacagawea, Amelia Earhart and Anne Frank.

For more information about Our Legendary Ladiesclick here to visit the official website.

Book Reviews

Go on a BabyMoon and Bring This Picture Book With You: BabyMoon by Hayley Barrett, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal

Have you ever been on a babymoon?  Do you even know what a babymoon is?

ba·by·moon
/ˈbābēˌmo͞on
noun
a relaxing or romantic vacation taken by parents-to-be before (or after) their baby is born.

The term Babymoon was first coined in a 1996 book, The Year After Childbirth, by childbirth educator Sheila Kitzinger.

Essentially, a babymoon is sort of like a honeymoon, only it happens after you confirm that you are pregnant and expecting a baby, and before (or after) the baby arrives.

My husband and I didn’t go on a babymoon before or after having either of our children.  Why?  Because I had no idea this was even a THING!  Now that I know the definition of what a babymoon is and especially after reading this beautiful book, it ALMOST makes me want to go and make another baby!  Seriously though, as far as I’m concerned, my baby making days are over, but thanks to Babymoon I can live vicariously through these gorgeous illustrations and imagine what a babymoon might be like.

In this rhyming book, readers meet a sweet family (a biracial family of color) who decide to go on a secluded babymoon with their newborn baby.  The baby is gender neutral which was a purposeful decision.  I love that the family chose to take their babymoon AFTER baby arrived along with their pet cat and dog in tow as a way for them all to bond as a family.

As first-time parents, they have so much to learn about caring for a new baby.  From changing diapers to nursing to building trust.  If you are a parent then you know having a child changes the family dynamic dramatically.  The baby becomes the center of attention from the moment he/she arrives.

I like how the parents in this book are investing time and space to be together as a family unit away from home.  It gives me hope these parents will walk into parenthood more connected than ever.

Newborns should be spending the vast majority of their time in the arms of their mothers and fathers and that’s exactly what this book shows.  And since they were away from their home, they won’t have to worry about being their baby bombarded with the smells of other family members, friends or neighbors.  All of that can be confusing to a new baby, especially when they are still learning to nurse. Babies are primal little creatures and rely on their nose to guide them.

Although this babymoon getaway is blissful, it is peppered with a bit of anxiety as the parents look like they’re trying to decipher baby’s cries.  This shows the reality of parenthood and how tough it can be at times having a newborn.

Here together.  So much to learn.  We muddle through each new concern.

The illustrations in Babymoon will take your breath away and make you feel the love these parents have for their baby.  I think this is some of Juana Martinez-Neal’s best work to date.  Each illustration is so tranquil infused with gentle and loving tenderness.  A definite must-have for newborn parents or parents-to-be.  Add this one to your baby shower gift giving list!

Your turn: Seasoned parents, what tips or advice would you offer a new family to help them get through the first couple of weeks? Please share your wisdom in the comments below!

About the Author
Hayley Barrett wrote BABYMOON to encourage growing families to take time together to rest and fall in love. Once an aspiring nurse-midwife, she honors the arrival of any child, whether newborn or older, by birth or by adoption, as a momentous event.  Hayley lives in eastern Massachusetts.

About the Illustrator
Juana Martinez-Neal is the author-illustrator of Alma and How She Got Her Name and the Pura Belpré Award–winning illustrator of La Princesa and the Pea and of La Madre Goose: Nursery Rhymes for los Niños, both by Susan Middleton Elya. Juana Martinez-Neal was born in Lima, Peru, but currently resides in Arizona.

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