Hey Black Child (Useni Eugene Perkins)

Hello, friends! Our book today is the joyful Hey Black Child, written by Useni Eugene Perkins and illustrated by Bryan Collier, a poem to encourage, enlighten, and inspire little readers of color.

Using the spare yet impactful text of Perkins’s beloved 1975 poem, words and visuals weave together to form a message of motivation for little black boys and girls. The poem asks three simple questions of its listener: Do you know who you are? Do you know where you’re going? Do you know you are strong? The answer to all three is the same – it all depends on you, and the only limits are the ones you set for yourself. The world is waiting, so go forth and do great things, and you will build a better world for doing so.

Love. This. Going in, I had no knowledge of Perkins’s poem, which is often attributed to other sources. It’s a compact powerhouse, using an economy of words to spread a message of self-confidence, faith in oneself, and hope for a better tomorrow. It translates beautifully to book form, with a flawless rhythm that makes it a joy to read aloud and straightforward text that is sure to engage little bookworms. Collier’s work is gorgeous as always, and there are some especially breathtaking spreads here: a stargazing young girl with the expansive cosmic universe spread out behind her, balloons rising from a piano as a little girl grows into a ballerina, the real-life faces of dozens of black children forming radiant beams of sunlight. The length is great, and JJ loved it. A perfect staple for any child of color’s library at any age, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!

Trombone Shorty (Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Trombone Shorty, an autobiographical picture book written by Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews and illustrated by Bryan Collier, a fun and fascinating tale that celebrates music and the people who love it.

“Where Y’at?” That’s how people in New Orleans greet each other, a town as friendly and musical as there ever was. And in the neighborhood of Tremé, there once lived a little boy named Troy, who loved music so much that he would play it without an instrument. He would play along with his older brother’s band and with the bands that played in the Mardi Gras parades. One day, Troy finds a trombone, beat up, but still having music to give. Troy carries the heavy instrument wherever he goes, teaching himself to play and dreaming of making “music gumbo”, a music that mixes together all the styles and feelings he adores. His brother encourages him, bestowing him with the nickname “Trombone Shorty” on account on of the instrument’s size compared to his. He plays without fear, marching with the parades as a small boy, and even being invited onstage for an impromptu performance with Bo Diddley. Now Troy is successful musician, playing around the world with his band – but he always returns to New Orleans, finding and encouraging young musicians as his brother once did for him.

Lovely! Mixing together elements of a musical biography and a love letter to New Orleans, Andrews tells his tale with verve and excitement, writing passionately about his home and music in a way that inspires infectious joy (the author’s photos in the back are especially adorable). Collier’s mixed-media art is as spectacular as ever, seamlessly mixing in photography with illustration to create spreads that sing with the spirit and music of the text. The length is great, and JJ and I both loved it. A must-read for any young music lover, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!

Top 5: Black History Month

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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!

What’s Your Favorite Color? (Eric Carle & Friends)

Hello, friends! Our book today is the visually stunning What’s Your Favorite Color? by Eric Carle & Friends, a gorgeous collaboration of fifteen of the most beloved children’s book illustrators on their favorite colors.

What’s your favorite color? Is it yellow, like The Very Hungry Caterpillar’s Eric Carle? He likes yellow because it is often the color of the sun in children’s drawings. Or is it green, like Philip C. Stead, who likes to imagine that many things can be green, even an elephant if he really feels like it. How about the late, lovely Anna Dewdney’s favorite: purple, the color of her favorite childhood outfit and the peacocks she dreamed of having one day. Or is it blue like Bryan Collier, who is reminded of his daughter whenever there are rainy days and blue balloons. Everyone has colors that are special to them, even many colors, or all the colors! How about you? What’s YOUR favorite color?

Absolutely stunning. For kidlit nerds like me who absolutely love picture book illustrations, this is quite simply a treasure trove. Each color-inspired spread is unique, personal, and visually striking, from Mike Curato’s raccoon enjoying a mint chocolate chip ice cream cone to Frann Preston-Gannon’s vibrant orange tiger hidden in grass to Jill McElmurry’s hauntingly beautiful black garden. The short blurbs that the artists have written to accompany the colors are sometimes funny, sometimes touching; all of them will make you consider each color from a different perspective. The length was fine, and JJ and I both adored it – this was even the first color book in which JJ was able to distinguish between gray and black, and the first time I’ve heard her use “black” properly! A feast for the eyes for readers of every age, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!

Martin’s Big Words: The Life Of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Doreen Rappaport)


Hello everyone! It’s Friday, so we are continuing our Black History Month series with today’s book, Martin’s Big Words: The Life Of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., written by Doreen Rappaport and illustrated by Bryan Collier.

This picture book biography of Dr. King uses the theme of his “big words,” i.e. his powerful writings and orations, to trace his story; from his roots as a pastor’s son growing up in the Jim Crow South, to a young activist advocating peaceful protest during the Montgomery bus boycott, to his being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, to his tragic death in Memphis. Throughout, excerpts of his writing and speeches are quoted to emphasize his message of justice, equality, civil rights, and change through strength of love, not violence.

This is a great primer for children to learn about Dr. King’s life and work. It’s simplified enough that younger readers will not feel overwhelmed, and the quotes it features are ones with universal concepts that little bookworms can understand (focusing on justice, love, peace, equality, etc). I especially like that it started his story as a child, so little ones can more easily identify with his journey as he grows. But the book is still honest enough that it confronts the murder of Dr. King (tactfully), and the legacy he left behind. Collier’s illustrations are, of course, gorgeous (he was also the illustrator of last week’s BHM book, I, Too, Am America). The length is fine for baby bookworms, and JJ liked it very much. A fantastic kidlit biography with some beautiful art and a powerful message about the right to equality, the courage of one’s convictions, and the power of words. Baby Bookworm approved!