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!

Harlem (Walter Dean Myers & Christopher Myers)


Hello, friends! Today’s review is another favorite from our library that we’ve been wanting to review for a while, and with everything in the news recently, it felt like a good time to shine a spotlight on this phenomenal book: Harlem, a poem written by Walter Dean Myers and illustrated by Christopher Myers.

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. It dashes between past, present and future, peeking into windows and through doors at the citizens of Harlem as they go to church, wash vegetables in their kitchens, ride the subways and play games in the streets. It celebrates Harlem’s one-of-a-kind history of jazz, literature, activism and culture, and writes a love letter to a community built out of a desire for freedom; freedom of expression, freedom from discrimination, and the freedom to achieve. 

Harlem can be a challenging read for some little bookworms, with much of the text being names and places written in a syncopated free verse style. However, the 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. It’s a good length, a favorite of ours, and emphatically Baby Bookworm approved!

Top 5: Women’s History Month

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Hello, everyone! It’s the end of the month, so it’s time for another Top 5 list! As you may know, March is Women’s History Month, so we thought we’d spend this Top 5 taking a look at some of our favorite kidlit biographies of notable women. Some challenged stereotypes to serve their nation, some fought for the rights of women and children, and some made their mark with art and dance, but all of them were brave, dedicated and hardworking women who made an impact on the world. Celebrating these real-life female icons and role models sends the important message to our little girls and our little boys that women are strong, women are important, and women can do anything.

So, without further ado, here are our Top 5 Women’s History Month biographies:

1. On Our Way To Oyster Bay: Mother Jones And Her March For Children’s Rights (Monica Kulling)

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Told through the eyes of two young cotton mill workers, On Our Way To Oyster Bay relates the tale of elderly activist Mary Harris “Mother” Jones’ protest march to Oyster Bay, NY, to raise awareness for worker’s and children’s rights. As a biography, it really only covers a slice of Mother Jones’ work, but captures the essence of who she was as a leader and organizer, and her passion for and dedication to the people she was representing. The young protagonists give little readers characters they can relate to, and the book does a fantastic job of showing a glimpse of what life was like for children, and child workers, in the 1900’s in a way that is striking, but not so graphic as to be frightening. The art by Felicita Sala is colorful, lively, and draws you into the world of Mother Jones and her fellow protesters. The story leaves the reader with the lesson that you must fight for your beliefs, even in the face of disappointment or difficulty, and that. be you man or woman, young or old, your voice matters.

2. Me, Frida (Amy Novesky)

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This award-winning picture book biography of Mexican artist and feminist icon Frida Kahlo covers the time period in which Frida had moved to San Francisco with her husband, Diego Rivera. Channeling her homesickness, isolation, and physical and mental health struggles into ecstatically beautiful art, Frida finds herself and her beauty within her talent, expressing herself in ways that no woman in art had before. While the story relies a bit too much on a romanticized version of Kahlo’s marriage (which, in reality, was an absolute mess), the key message is one of self-acceptance, perseverance, and belief in oneself. And in a book about art, David Diaz’s gorgeous Kahlo-inspired illustrations fill every page with life and energy to bursting, and the story of Frida’s unapologetic desire to be herself in person and in her art sends to the message to young readers that we are far more beautiful and powerful as we are, not as the world tries to make us.

3. Doing Her Bit: A Story About The Woman’s Land Army Of America (Erin Hagar)

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While technically not a biography, Doing Her Bit is based on the true story of the Woman’s Land Army, a collective of brave women from all walks of life who volunteered to become farmhands and take up the workload left by men who had shipped out to fight in WWII. Centered around the experiences of a young woman named Helen, it follows the story of a group of these women undergoing backbreaking training to learn how to do farm labor, only to have their efforts refused by farmers who doubt their abilities and value as workers. When the hard-nosed female director of the camp negotiates a chance for the women to prove their mettle, the farmers find that bravery and skill know no gender. Highlighting a lesser-known chapter in women’s history, the story does a great job of making the characters and story accessible, and the art by Jen Hill gives the women personality and life. The overall effect is a story that leaves baby bookworms with the lesson that women are strong, brave, kind, and never ever less than their male counterparts.

4. For The Right To Learn: Malala Yousafzai’s Story (Rebecca Langston-George)

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While the infamous assassination attempt on women’s and children’s rights activist Malala Yousafzai’s life is covered in this kidlit biography (subtly, yet poignantly), the tale of the youngest person to ever receive the Nobel Peace Prize does not focus too much on that event. Instead, the story centers around Malala’s childhood in Pakistan, she and her father’s dedication to education as an inalienable right to every man, woman and child, and the fearless risks Malala took as a young teenager to speak out against the subjection and censorship of her people by the Taliban. The art by Janna Bock is sweeping and emotional, and seems to leap off the page to draw the reader into Malala’s life and world. This is a beautiful and powerful true story of a remarkable young woman, and it is sure to leave any young reader in awe of the power of education and their own voice.

5. Firebird (Misty Copeland)

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Misty Copeland set out to create a unique ballet book for young dancers who looked like her, and she absolutely succeeds. Forgoing the prim, pale pastels of other ballerina tales, Firebird tells the story of Copeland’s rise to the first African-American principal dancer of the American Ballet Theater through her encouragement of a young dancer who is struggling with confidence. Copeland cuts through the idea that the young girl’s goals of being a renowned dancer like her are not achievable, saying that she once stood in the girl’s shoes, and that hard work, dedication, and belief in herself is what led her to greatness, showing that with these qualities, any young dancer (of any color) can shine bright like the Firebird, and inspire the next generation of dreamers to come. With ecstatically vibrant art by Christopher Myers that dances across every page and stylistically lyrical text, this is a ballerina book that breaks the mold.

There it is! A Top 5 that celebrates the women who make their mark on history. Also, we want to include two honorable mentions: I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark, written by Debbie Levy and illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley and I Am Jazz, written by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings and illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas, two phenomenal kidlit biographies about fearless women. The only reason we didn’t include them in this list is because we’ve featured them before, but you should absolutely check them out, because they are wonderful. What do you think? Did we miss any of your favorites? Do you have a picture book biography of an awesome woman you’d like to recommend to us? Let us know in the comments, or message us from our Contact page. Thanks so much for reading, and Happy Women’s History month!

Firebird (Misty Copeland)


Hello, friends! Today, we read Firebird, written by Misty Copeland and illustrated by Christopher Myers, a gorgeously unique ballerina book to inspire young dreamers.

An abstractly autobiographical story, Copeland, the first African-American ballerina to become a principal dancer of the American Ballet Theater, uses the story of her own rise to encourage a young dancer struggling with confidence. The girl believes that Misty’s success and talent are an unachievable goal for someone like her. Misty denies this, relating that she once stood in the girl’s ballet slippers, and that hard work, dedication, and belief in herself is what made her great. She shows the girl that with these qualities, she too will shine bright as a Firebird, and inspire the next generation of dreamers that follows.

This book was fabulous. On the surface, it’s a classic lesson in achieving through work and perseverance, made all the more authentic due to its author. More than this, though, it is a wholly unique ballerina book that injects a little style and color into a well-worn genre. As Copeland notes in her afterward, while there are plenty of books about ballerinas, there are very few about ballerinas who look like her, and she wanted to write a book for them. The stylistic, lyrical text and bright, vibrant hues of the illustrations join the story in celebrating dancers of color (including boys in the final pages, a lovely surprise!) in a way that departs from the prim, pastel images of most ballet books, giving it a vibrancy that these stories can lack. The length was great for little ones, and JJ adored the story and art. If you’re looking for a ballerina book that breaks the mold, this is it. We loved it, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!