Black Girl Magic: A Poem (Mahogany L. Browne & Jess X. Snow)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Black Girl Magic: A Poem, written by Mahogany L. Browne and illustrated by Jess X. Snow, a moving tribute to struggles, inner strength, and triumphant spirit of black girls and women.

These are the rules: Don’t wear red lipstick. Don’t wear high heels. Don’t smile in public. Don’t share your opinion. Don’t HAVE an opinion. Carry weaves, families, households, burdens, but never your own dreams or aspirations. These are the rules by which black girls and women are expected to live their lives – but these rules were made to be broken. Follow the example of fierce, intelligent, talented women that came before, and carve your own path. Never let anyone tell you that you are not worthy enough to have what you deserve. You are growing more into a beautiful black woman every day, and you already have within you the most precious of intangibles – Black Girl Magic.

Absolutely gorgeous. The words of Browne’s powerful poem and Snow’s raw, emotional art blend together seamlessly to give an honest, uplifting, and encouraging examination of black girl- and womanhood. The language of the poem is frank, covering both the societal oppression of black women as well as a call to break expectations and limitations. The black, white, red woodcut-inspired art is both intimate and broad, creating a sense of individuality as well as community. The length is great, and JJ and I both enjoyed it, but it’s more than all that. This is a book that should be read to and by little black girls of every age to remind that that the world may be ugly, but they are beautiful, they are worthy, and they are limitless. Baby Bookworm approved.

(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

Ellington Was Not A Street (Ntozake Shange)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Ellington Was Not A Street, written by Ntozake Shange and illustrated by Kadir Nelson, a beautiful look through a child’s eyes at the men who make history in the time before they do, when they are simply men.

Using flowing free verse without punctuation or capitalization, the spare text of Shange’s poem “Mood Indigo” accompanies Nelson’s detailed paintings to tell a narrative. It begins with a shot of “Ellington Street” in an unnamed city, with the text immediately reminding the reader that “it hasnt always been this way/ ellington was not a street”. From there, it tells the story of a little girl welcoming her father at the door and watching as a group of black luminaries (DuBois, Robeson, Gillespie, Nkrumah, etc.) gathers in her home to meet, dine, and throw parties with the girl’s family.

Based on the author’s childhood home – where several great black musicians and leaders would often gather when she was a child – this is a fantastic book on several levels. With an appendix that highlights each man’s impact and rich, lifelike art that brings their conversations to life, it serves as a wonderful way to introduce these historic black figures to young readers, especially in an age when many of them are remembered only for their last names on street signs, awards or plaques. It also reminds children that these great heroes of music and civil rights were also simply men with families, friends, and children. It both highlights and humanizes them, making them all the more fascinating to learn about. The art is stunning, with a warm and inviting quality that draws you into the home the story is based around. The length is great, and JJ and I both enjoyed it. Baby Bookworm approved!

Crown: An Ode To The Fresh Cut (Derrick Barnes)

Hello, friends! As we’ve mentioned, we like to take time in February to highlight stories that celebrate black luminaries, history, and culture, so where better to start than this year’s Ezra Jack Keats Award winner for writing! Crown: An Ode To The Fresh Cut, written by Derrick Barnes and illustrated by Gordon C. James, is a stylish and empowering book that pays homage to black boys and men, and the unique kingdom of the barbershop.

There is no place for a young man of color like the barbershop, a place of majesty and wonder where true works of art are created. It’s where a black boy can go and be treated like royalty, draped in robes and given a cut and/or style that makes him feel his best self. He can look around to see men – and women – who look like himself being fitted with their own fresh styles: flawless fades, a lion’s mane of locs, a shining wave, a razor sharp part, and the vitally perfect line. Each patron leaves looking and feeling regal, ready to take on the world with their power, grace, intelligence and soul, and the young man is no different. For each black boy has within him a king, and “the shop” is where he is crowned.

Utterly fabulous. As we’ve discussed on our blog, representation in kidlit is still extremely lacking for people of color. So to see a book like Crown is revelatory: from the first page, it bursts with unapologetic pride, each page singing with black excellence and effortless cool. The illustrations are vibrant, colorful, and full of the style the story evokes. The text is rhythmic and energetic, with a perfect flow and a liberating dynamic. It’s a story that both celebrates black hair and style while also assuring boys of color that their hair is a mere reflection of the limitless capability and potential they possess within. The length is great, and JJ and I adored it. A modern classic, and it’s absolutely Baby Bookworm approved!

Top 5: Black History Month

top

Hello, friends! As most of you know, tomorrow begins Black History Month, a time to focus on the importance of black Americans to our history, culture and identity as a nation. We’ll be taking time all this month to read and review books that celebrate black history, important figures, and black culture, and we encourage you to do the same! There are some truly amazing books out there that explore these topics, and we wanted to use this month’s Top 5 list to take a look at a few titles that you may not know about, or that focus on moments in black history that often get overlooked.

So to celebrate the start of February, here’s a few of our favorite books for Black History Month:

1. A Splash Of Red: The Life And Art Of Horace Pippin (Jen Bryant, illus. Melissa Sweet)

img_0354

Born with a passion and talent for art and a loving and supportive family, Horace Pippin overcomes poverty, war, and a debilitating injury to become a prolific and nationally recognized artist in his own time. This story of Pippin’s life explores his life, his inspiration, and his indomitable determination to create.

“Horace is a wonderful role model, and his story is told beautifully here. Especially lovely are the illustrations, which capture life, mood, and character gorgeously in a style that emulates Pippin’s paintings. […] A fantastic biography of a true artist […]”

2. I, Too, Am America (Langston Hughes, illus. Bryan Collier)

img_1523

Using the text of the titular poem by Langston Hughes, Collier’s art tells the story of a Pullman railway porter, one of the first American jobs to offer black men decent pay and comparatively dignified work. Following the porter as he uses his position to help other African Americans improve their stations as well, we are then transported to the present, where a young black boy on a subway train peers into what comes next: the future.

“This was a superb book, featuring layers of meaning and interpretation through both Hughes’s words and Collier’s art. Visual and textual metaphors blend together perfectly, creating a story that both examines a very specific part of African-American history with the grand scope of growing up as a black person in America, and the indefatigable spirit doing so requires.”

3. The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth & Harlem’s Greatest Bookstore (Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, illus. R. Gregory Christie)

img_1817

Told through the eyes of the son of founder Lewis Michaux, Sr., The Book Itch tells the story of the National Memorial African Bookstore, a hub of knowledge, culture, and civil rights activism from 1932 to 1974. Fighting racism and police harassment from his days peddling books from a cart, Lewis Sr. refuses to give up on his “book itch,” and his dream of sharing his passion for books, as well as the impact they can make on the world, with his community.

“[…T]his book is an absolute must-read. It focuses on civil rights, not only historically but as a basic human entitlement, the powers of literature, education, free thought, access to information, and the importance of community, all while telling the story of a remarkable man who believed that knowledge was the right and obligation of every man, woman and child, regardless of color, creed, or status.”

4. Harlem (Walter Dean Myers, illus. Christopher Myers)

img_6965

Told in free verse, the evocative words of Myers’s poem tells the story of Harlem, the home of a great history and greater hope, celebrating the neighborhood’s one-of-a-kind history of jazz, literature, activism and culture, and writing a love letter to a community built out of a desire for freedom; freedom of expression, freedom from discrimination, and the freedom to achieve.

“[…T]he gorgeous mixed-media art, which captures as much an emotion as a people and place, is colorful and exciting enough for any little one. Then, once the reader is familiar with the words and rhythm of the text, there is a passion and life to the poem that is impossible to deny, and becomes more affecting with each repeat reading. This is a book that captures the soul of a vibrant, and vital, place in American history, and it’s simply wonderful.”

5. When The Beat Was Born: DJ Kool Herc And The Creation Of Hip Hop (Laban Carrick Hill, illus. Theodore Taylor III)

img_5603

An awesome tale of a revolutionary musical innovator and his contribution to the birth of hip hop, When The Beat Was Born tells the story of DJ Kool Herc (born Clive Campbell), a young Jamaican immigrant who brought together his love of the dancehall DJs of his youth with his unique style of mixing and rapping to help create a brand new genre of American music.

“Music history fans will love how the story of this seminal era of musical experimentation is told. For those unfamiliar with the origins of hip hop, this is an awesome primer for all ages that introduces the figures, styles and theory that brought hip hop to be. […] This is a great one, especially for young DJs and MCs looking to learn more about the roots of hip hop and the people who brought it to life.”

That’s our list! And there are many, MANY more stories of African American history and important figures out there – we encourage you to take this month to explore them! Did we miss any of your favorites? Do you have a book you would like to recommend to us? Let us know in the comments, or message us from our Contact page. Thanks so much!

We March (Shane W. Evans)


Hello, everyone! Today, we’re wrapping up our Black History Month series with We March by Shane W. Evans, an account of the 1963 March on Washington written from a child’s point of view.

Set against the background of the seminal civil rights protest, We March tells the story of one family’s experience, presenting the history of the day in one short sentence and concept per page (“The sun rises,” “We pray for strength,” “We walk together,” “We sing,” etc). The simple yet dramatic art tells the rest of the story, of people of all ages and walks of life coming together to take a stand against discrimination and inequality.

This book is a great way to introduce a vital historical event to young readers. The simplicity of the text is perfect for pre-readers, and keeps the length fairly short, enough that we were able to read through it twice. The art then invites a closer examination of the events of the day, and a discussion between children and adults about the people, places, and motivations that unfold on each page. JJ really enjoyed this one, and loved exploring the illustrations long after we had finished our read-throughs. A great way for little ones to experience the March through the eyes of another child, and definitely Baby Bookworm approved!