Eyes That Speak to the Stars by Joanna Jo (A Book Review)
This is a beautiful story that should be in every home and school library. Books like this may help to have productive discussions about self-acceptance, racism, and anti-bullying from an early age. Teaching children to accept people for who they are and what they look like may help mold young, impressionable minds to be more accepting and empathetic of others.
Unfortunately, many Asian Americans are still facing racist attacks, both verbal and physical – just for being Asian. How sad is it that the shape of someone else’s eyes (or the color of their skin) is enough to make some people dislike them immediately? When others reduce your entire identity to a simple facial feature like your eyes, it can have lasting and harmful psychological effects. No one likes feeling left out, especially kids who are learning to discover where they fit into the world.
To every Asian who has ever been bullied, you are not alone. You are seen, heard, and worthy. People should not be ridiculed for the shape of their eyes, the color of their skin, or for any other reason. Forgive yourself if you’ve let negative remarks make you think you needed to “fix” everything that bullies said was ugly and weird. Understand that you don’t need to look like the Eurocentric standard of beauty to be liked or loved or to “fit in”. Ignore the hateful remarks and hurtful comments. Continue to hold your head high and look to the stars. For your eyes are magical, powerful, and beautiful. “Your eyes rise to the skies and speak to the stars.”
Eyes That Speak to the Stars is recommended for ages 4 – 8 and up. This book publishes on February 15, 2022, but can be pre-ordered now.
Read my review of Eyes That Kiss in the Corners here!
Have you read the companion book, Eyes That Kiss in the Corners? Sound off in the comments!
Kids can always count on the sage ideas, advice, and wisdom from their grandparents. Just ask little Carla. After she accidentally eats the cookie meant for Santa, her Granny suggests they leave Santa an extra special treat- Carla’s Christmas Cornbread topped with cinnamon butter. Yum!
Carla loves celebrating Christmas at her Granny’s house. Every Christmas Eve, her family packs up the car piled high with presents to bring to Grandma’s house. As soon as they arrive, Carla can’t wait to get inside to find out if Granny’s special cornbread is ready. Granny tells her she’ll have to wait a bit longer to enjoy her favorite food.
After catching up with her grandpa, it’s finally time to eat. Everyone gathers around the table for dinner which consists of fried pork chops smothered in gravy, green beans, macaroni and cheese, glazed ham, creamed spinach, collard greens dessert, and of course – cornbread. After dinner, Carla returns downstairs dressed in her jammies ready to help her mom with a puzzle before going to bed. That’s when she makes a detour to the dining room where she sees the most perfect sugar cookie sitting on a plate. Carla can’t resist picking it up and taking a BIG bite.
When she learns that cookie was left out for Santa, Carla is worried her name will end up on Santa’s naughty list and she won’t receive any gifts. Granny reassures Carla hat Santa likes kids who are kind and sweet just like her. Then she and Carla start baking Carla’s Christmas Cornbread together to replace the cookie., but will it be enough to save Christmas?
We enjoyed this sweet intergenerational story about family, food, traditions, Black culture, and Christmas. The story is loosely inspired by Carla Hall’s childhood growing up in Nashville, Tennessee.
The back matter has a recipe for Carla’s Christmas Cornbread and Cinnamon Butter along with baking instructions.
Written by a Native member of the Cherokee community, Notable Native People is a beautifully illustrated and well-written book that introduces readers to 50 Indigenous leaders, activists, scientists, and changemakers from past to present. To curate a balanced group of individuals to feature in this book, the author elaborates a bit on the final group of people she chose.
“The people in this book represent a small slice of the Native experience, balanced across the three broad cultural groups of American Indian, Alaska Native, and Kanaka Maoli, as well as various gender identities, ages, locations, tribal affiliations, and work. I also intentionally focused on the inclusion of Black Native, female, LGBTQ+, and Two Spirit people.”
In the introduction, readers learn a little about the author’s background and upbringing. She was surrounded by non-Natives and educated in predominantly white schools. She grew up learning from outdated textbooks and resources in her school that Indigenous people only existed in the past, not the present. The author also talks about being surrounded by harmful images and stereotypes that depicted Native Americans in a negative way. It wasn’t until years later when she learned about the importance of representation and knowing the power of sharing stories that push beyond stereotypes.
If you’re unsure of the name of the Indigenous nation or nations where you currently reside, there is a resource mentioned in the Whose Land Are You On? section. The website http://native-land.ca can help you find out whose land you’re on. Once you find out, it’s up to you to decide how you will honor your relationship to the land going forward. For example, it is becoming more popular to hear people making “land acknowledgements” at the beginning of some public events, conferences, or talks. Another way to honor your land relationship is to get to know Native people in your area or invite local Indigenous people to speak at events or conferences. Perhaps one of the easiest ways you can honor your land relationship is to center, acknowledge, respect, and amplify Indigenous voices and perspectives.
What I appreciated most about this book is the amount of people featured that aren’t so well-known. People like: Viola Waghiyi, an environmental advocate and Aaron Yazzie, an engineer. Of course, there are more well-known people featured too like: Maria Tallchief, Sharice Davids, and Wilma Mankiller. It was great learning about everyday people like me who are making such amazing strides and contributing to society in positive ways.
The biographies for each person are brief enough to understand about the person’s background, their achievements, and their work. I’d recommend this one for home and school libraries for readers aged fourteen and older who may want to read about Indigenous leaders, changemakers, activists, scientists, and more.
A fantastic resource to check out during Native American Heritage Month or any time of the year.
Published by: Ten Speed Press Author: Adrienne Keene Illustrations by: Ciara Sana
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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 byVersify 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 Gileswrites 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
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.
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?
“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.
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!
Publisher: Lee & Low Format: Hardcover Pages: 40 Recommended Age Range: 7 – 10 and up Recommended Grade Level: 2 – 5
“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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story (A Book Review)
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.
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.
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.