Jump at the Sun: The True Life Tale of Unstoppable Storycatcher Zora Neale Hurston (Alicia D. Williams)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Jump at the Sun: The True Life Tale of Unstoppable Storycatcher Zora Neale Hurston, written by Alicia D. Williams and illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara.

In a little town called Eatonville lived a little girl named Zora who had a passion for stories. She would hang around Joe Clarke’s general store whenever her mother sent her on an errand, listening to the townsfolk swap stories of Brer Rabbit and Brer Fox. She would invent stories of her own and offer to ride along with travelers and tell them tales of the local folklore. And despite the scoldings of her preacher father, her mother encouraged her storytelling, telling her to “jump at de sun.” Following this credo all her life, Zora left home young, working odd jobs and putting herself through school, impressing literary luminaries of her time with her collections of folklore and original stories. She then spent years traveling the Southern US and Caribbean collecting black folklore and publishing them into books, inviting the world to share the stories she loved.

A unique biography of a fascinating folklorist. Hurston was undoubtedly ahead of her time as a black woman in the early twentieth century, someone who deeply valued both her independence and the rich culture of African American folklore, and the tone of the story evokes a great deal of each; Zora’s journey is conveyed with energy and enthusiasm, using the same vernacular, idioms, and dialects that she used in her writing; this makes for an incredibly immersive reading experience, though it can trip up those unfamiliar with the colloquialisms when reading the book aloud. The artwork is equally dynamic and expressive, and cleverly integrates folklore characters to represent how Hurston’s passion for the tales of her childhood followed her throughout her life. The length, vocabulary, and a few of the story elements make this one best for older elementary and middle-grade readers; JJ was losing interest in the text midway through, but she loved the colorful and exciting art. Overall, a fascinating look at a one-of-a-kind writer, and we liked it a lot. Baby Bookworm approved!

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

William Still and His Freedom Stories: The Father of the Underground Railroad (Don Tate)

Hello, friends! Our book today is William Still and His Freedom Stories: The Father of the Underground Railroad by Don Tate, a fascinating look at a lesser-known hero in the fight against slavery.

When William Still’s parents escaped slavery before he was born, they were forced by circumstance to leave their two oldest sons behind. Years later, when working as a clerk for the Anti-Slavery Society in Philadelphia, Still was shocked to find that a recently arrived freedom-seeking runaway was one of his long-lost older brothers. Inspired to help reunite other families torn apart by slavery, William began meticulously recording the stories of the former slaves he encountered through his work or in his home (which he had opened as a station on the Underground Railroad). Risking the wrath of slave owners, slave “catchers”, and eventually the law, William continued to record the stories of the people he helped usher to freedom, hoping to bring broken families back together, and making sure the world never forgot the horrors of slavery, nor the triumphs of those who defied it to live free.

Astounding. Still is, even by the author’s admission in the afterward, a relatively obscure figure in African-American history, despite the pivotal role he played in helping and recording the lives of those who had risked everything for the chance at freedom. Tate does an incredible job of making a very heavy subject comprehensible for young readers, simplifying where necessary without blunting the heartbreaking realities of life as a black person in that era – whether as a slave or free in the racist North. Make no mistake: this is a picture book for older, middle-grade bookworms, both in tone and length. The rich, dynamic artwork pairs well with the sharp and passionate prose, taking readers on a journey through Still’s family history, to his early years, to his years as an abolitionist, to his post-Civil War years as a businessman, author, and activist. JJ was a bit young for the length of the story, but she did enjoy the artwork immensely. This is an amazing tribute to an inspiring and often-overlooked American hero, and we recommend it. Baby Bookworm approved!

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

Lift As You Climb: The Story of Ella Baker (Patricia Hruby Powell)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Lift As You Climb: The Story of Ella Baker, written by Patricia Hruby Powell and illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, a powerful biography of the passionate civil rights icon.

Growing up in segregation-era North Carolina, Ella Josephine Baker was raised by the words and stories of her grandparents. Her preacher grandfather spoke of freedom, cooperation, and community, imploring his congregation to consider: “What do you hope to accomplish?”. Her grandmother spoke of life under slavery, and her defiance of marrying for love rather than at the command of her slave master – who also happened to be her father. Drawing inspiration from the pride and community of her home, Ella established her own personal creed, “Lift as you climb.” With this tenet firmly in mind, Ella set out on a life’s mission to improve the lives and rights of her fellow African Americans, through her work with the NAACP, the SCLC, the Freedom Riders, and in the living rooms and churches of anyone who gathered, listening to her words and her simple query – what do you hope to accomplish?

Moving. The life story of a somewhat lesser-known figure of the civil rights movement is beautifully related through rich, expressive yet educational text and beautiful African American folk art-inspired illustrations. While not inappropriate for the intended age-range, the text is refreshingly frank about the black experience during the Civil Rights movement, describing the fire-bombing of buses, police brutality, and even the sexism against women within the movement itself. The repetition of key phrases and concepts tell a story of perseverance and leadership, one that will inspire any reader, young or old. The length is best for slighter old bookworms, but JJ was fascinated by the steady rhythm of the text and the beautiful artwork. A fantastic biography of a oft-unsung hero, and we loved it; Baby Bookworm approved!

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

Black Is A Rainbow Color (Angela Joy)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Black Is A Rainbow Color, written by Angela Joy and illustrated by Ekua Holmes, a phenomenal celebration of black beauty and culture.

As a little girl ponders a rainbow, she laments that black, “her color”, is not one of the traditional rainbow colors. However, she continues, black is multitudinous in and of itself. It can be as simple as the dirt from which sunflowers grow, or rubber bike tires, or the braids of her best friend’s hair. Or it can be the shoes of people marching for their rights, or of Judge Thurgood’s robe. Black can be a feeling, a rhythm, a song, ink staining pages in poetry or lyrics or music or prose. It can be a culture, a movement, a community, and the legacy of those who came before. It can be family, love, history, and hope. So it doesn’t matter that there’s no black in rainbows, the girl concludes – black is a rainbow all its own.

Stunning. The lovely free-verse style text and strikingly vibrant illustrations weave together flawlessly to highlight notable aspects and figures from black history, culture, and art in exultant style. The mixed media art, which heavily evokes stained-glass church windows, features breathtaking scenes with powerful details, such as that of the black-shoed feet of marchers as they trod over a pavement made of Civil Rights-era newspaper headlines. Bonus is the fantastic backmatter, which feature in-depth explanations of the subjects covered in the text, a music playlist, poems by Hughes and Dunbar, and a timeline of American ethnonyms for black people from the 1600s to 2020. The length is perfect for any age, yet the backmatter and sheer power of the story encourage repeat readings. JJ and I loved it, and this is a fabulous title for any bookworm, but an essential for young black readers, who will feel empowered, celebrated, and connected. Baby Bookworm approved!

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

Pocket Bio: Nelson Mandela, Rosa Parks, and Martin Luther King, Jr. (Al Berenger)

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Hello, friends! Our books today are from the Pocket Bio series by Al Berenger, specifically three notable figures in civil rights: Nelson Mandela, Rosa Parks, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Each book gives the reader a brief history of the subject’s early life, their influences, their actions, and their legacies. Mandela’s focuses on his imprisonment and triumphant election as president of South Africa after his release – the first election he was able to vote in – and touches briefly on his Nobel win and the 1995 Rugby World Cup. Parks’s includes her famous bus ride, and King’s looks at his involvement in the Montgomery bus boycott, the Selma march, and his “I Have A Dream” speech.

As early-learner primers for these historical figures, these aren’t terrible. King’s is the most informative, making note of his early influences (Jim Crow south, his father’s religious work, his study of Ghandi, etc.) and even his courtship with Coretta Scott. His murder is mentioned (though not depicted), and the book ends on a note of surprising honesty, noting that racism is still a problem that needs to be fought, but King’s work made great strides and encourages us to make more. Mandela’s book is serviceable, delving into the racist policies of Apartheid and mentioning the violent, often deadly protests that took place, but glossing over the reformation years pretty heavily. Most disappointing is Parks’s book, which relies almost solely on her arrest; the bus boycott that follows is made to seem entirely the idea of MLK (Parks volunteered to be the face of the boycott at great personal risk and sacrifice), and her work as a secretary and investigator with the NCAAP gets zero mention. Likewise, the bobble-headed illustrations are just okay – engaging for younger readers but occasionally at odds with the tone of the subject matter (a scene depicting a meeting of Mandela’s Spear of the Nation militant group is laughable). The length is fine, the backmatter – maps, timelines, etc – is a nice addition, and JJ enjoyed them for the most part. Somewhat uneven, and definitely only a jumping-off point, but worth a browse. Baby Bookworm approved!

(Note: Copies of these books were provided to The Baby Bookworm by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)