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.)

Brave Ballerina: The Story Of Janet Collins (Michelle Meadows)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Brave Ballerina: The Story Of Janet Collins, written by Michelle Meadows and illustrated by Ebony Glenn, the true story of the remarkable dancer who became the Metropolitan Opera’s first black prima ballerina in 1951.

Born in 1917 in New Orleans, Janet Collins found a passion for dance at an early age. Her tradesmen parents paid for her ballet lessons by making costumes for recitals, and Janet worked hard to improve her craft each day. Yet despite her obvious talent, each ballet academy turned her away at the door, refusing to accept a black student. Continuing to train, mastering new styles and learning from any instructor who would teach her, Janet was finally accepted to a ballet company – only to be told that she would need to paint her skin white to match the other dancers. Janet refused, continuing to work and train and perform where she could until finally, a company saw her skill and talent. Earning her place as prima ballerina at the Met in 1951, Janet Collins was able to step out on stage as herself and do what she was born to – dance.

Powerful. I admit to never having heard Collins’ story before, and it’s a testament to Meadows’s rhyming text and Glenn’s artwork that, by the time the story was through, the reader feels as though they have joined Collins in her journey. The passion for dance bursts from her face and form in each illustration of her in motion; the frustration and shame of the prejudice leveled against her is palpable; the glorious final spread of her beaming onstage before a cheering audience is triumphant. The text is succinct enough to keep the story moving at a brisk pace, yet never glosses over or rushes – each beat feels important and necessary. A beautiful story of perseverance, determination, and pride, and we loved 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.)

Waiting For Pumpsie (Barry Wittenstein)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Waiting For Pumpsie, written by Barry Wittenstein and illustrated by London Ladd, an uplifting story about the integration of the Boston Red Sox.

In 1959, the Red Sox are the only Major League Baseball team not to have integrated, twelve years after Jackie Robinson’s debut with the Dodgers. To Bernard, a young black boy from Roxbury and a die-hard Red Sox fan, this is mystifying. He knows what he reads in the papers (that the owners don’t want a black man on their team), and from his family’s yearly game at Fenway (where they are treated with contempt and open racism despite being fellow fans). “Change is coming real soon,” advises his mother, and sure enough, there’s talk of a talented minor-leaguer named Pumpsie Green. He looks sure to make the roster, but the owners hold him back at the last moment, claiming he’s “not ready”. However, after fan protests and a drop to last place, Pumpsie is brought up to the big leagues. Bernard and his family are overjoyed – but will the team truly give Pumpsie his opportunity to shine?

Powerful. Following Green’s integration through the eyes of one of his young fans, the tone and language of the text deftly strikes a delicate balance between reality and hope. Era-typical vernacular is used, including terms like “colored” and “negro”, used both as slurs but also generic terms (Bernard refers to his family and Pumpsie as “colored”, for instance); it’s jarring and uncomfortable, as it should be, and sets the stage for both Pumpsie and Bernard’s triumph of spirit at the end. Bernard and his entire family are heartwarmingly endearing characters, especially his fierce, hopeful mother and sage and kind father. Ladd’s gorgeous illustrations capture every scene of joy, anger, sadness, and pride. It’s a bit on the longer side, and the content is for the more mature bookworm, but JJ and I loved it. This is a moving tale about the importance of diversity, and how it can change lives in the biggest and smallest of ways. Baby Bookworm approved!

(Note: A copy of this books was provided to The Baby Bookworm by a representative of the author in exchange for an honest review.)