Elem. – I Color Myself Different

Kaepernick, Colin. I Color Myself Different. Kaepernick Publishing, 2022. 978-1-338-78963-8. 40 p. $18.99. Grades PreK-2.

I Color Myself Different tells a true story from Colin Kaepernick’s childhood where he shared with his classmates that he was adopted. When Colin was in school, he had to draw a picture of his family and he drew his family as they were, and when he shared his picture with his classmates they had questions. Colin remembers what his mother told him when he asked her why he was different, and she explained how he was adopted into their family. Based on Colin recalling this conversation, he answers his classmates with, “I’m brown. I color myself different. I’m me, and I’m magnificent.” This prompts a discussion with his teacher about all the ways that families can share love.

THOUGHTS: This book could be a great introduction to adoption for a family to share or an inside look into Colin Kaepernick that many people might not be familiar with.

Picture book            Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

YA – Why We Fly

Jones, Kimberly, and Gilly Segal. Why We Fly. Sourcebooks Fire, 2021. 978-1-492-67892-2. $17.99. Grades 9-12.

With a shared love for cheerleading, Eleanor (“Leni”) and Chanel (“Nelly”) have been long time best friends. Continuing to recover from a bad fall and concussion, Leni attends physical therapy in preparation for senior season. When Leni, a White, Jewish girl, is named captain over the more deserving Nelly, a Black girl who has stepped up during Leni’s injury, the friendship begins to splinter. Since she’s become interested in star quarterback Three, Leni doesn’t seem to notice how hurt Nelly feels. Nelly, meanwhile, has her own pressures to cope with and does so by making some questionable choices. Leni struggles to reign in the team and feel like a true captain. Then in support of a professional football player who is from their Atlanta, Georgia high school, Leni convinces the cheer team to take a knee during a game. The repercussions ripple through their community, impacting each character differently. Told in alternating voices by author team Jones and Segal (I’m Not Dying with You Tonight, 2019), this novel tackles social issues in a new perspective from those who are on the sidelines. 

THOUGHTS: This novel addresses how friends, despite similar interests and history, may grow apart. Told amongst a contemporary backdrop with racial justice at the center, Why We Fly will be popular where similar books are enjoyed.

Realistic Fiction           Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Elem. – Stitch by Stitch: Elizabeth Hobbs Keckly Sews Her Way to Freedom

Schofield-Morrison, Connie. Stitch by Stitch: Elizabeth Hobbs Keckly Sews Her Way to Freedom. Holiday House, 2021. 978-0-8234-3963-8. 45 p. $18.99. Grades 2-5.

Born into slavery, Elizabeth Hobbs Keckly learned to read, write, and sew at a young age. She became a very talented seamstress and worked tirelessly to earn the patronage of some of the most fashionable women of St. Louis. Eventually, she was able to buy her and her son’s freedom and move to Washington, D.C. There, she continued work as a seamstress, making gowns for many prominent women in history, including the wives of Abraham Lincoln, Robert E. Lee, and Jefferson Davis. Quotes from Keckly’s own memoir are interspersed throughout the book, and back matter features an author’s note, timeline, and bibliography. This intriguing biography of a remarkable and heretofore little-known figure is a solid addition to elementary biography collections.

THOUGHTS: I had never heard of Elizabeth Hobbs Keckly before reading this book but was struck by her determination and perseverance. Despite the cruelty and hardships she faced as a slave early in life, she went on to become a successful businesswoman. As if this “hard work pays off” message isn’t enough to warrant purchase, the book will also help strengthen biography collections that may be lacking stories about African American women.

Picture Book           Julie Ritter, PSLA Member
Biography

MG – The Black American Journey (Series NF)

The Black American Journey. The Child’s World, 2021. $22.00 ea. $528.00 set of 24 (2021-2022 titles). 32 p. Grades 4-7.

Somervill, Barbara A. The Amistad Mutiny. 978-1-503-85370-6.
Shaffer, Jody Jensen. Barack Obama: First African American President. 978-1-503-85377-5.
Maupin, Melissa. Benjamin Banneker: Astronomer and Mathematician. 978-1-503-85378-2.
Venable, Rose. The Civil Rights Movement. 978-1-503-85369-0.
Carey, Charles W. The Emancipation Proclamation. 978-1-503-85368-3.
Dolbear, Emily J. Juneteenth. 9781503853799.
Madam C. J. Walker: Entrepreneur. 9781503853768.
Jones, Amy Robin. Mary McLeod Bethune: Pioneering Educator. 9781503853751.
Neshama, Rivvy. Nat Turner and the Virginia Slave Revolt. 9781503853720.
Meadows, James. Slavery. 9781503853744.
Laughlin, Kara L. The Tulsa Race Massacre. 9781503853713.
Williams, Carla. The Tuskegee Airmen. 9781503853737.

This reviewer read The Tuskegee Airmen from the The Black American Journey series. This series offers approachable information in a visually-appealing format relating to Black culture and the history of slavery, discrimination, and the Civil Rights Movement throughout American history. Each book in the series includes clearly-labeled sections, attractive sidebars and captions, bolded vocabulary words that are also found in the included glossary, and a variety of interesting historical photographs to accompany the text. “Think about it” questions, a timeline, and an index round out the back matter for each book. 

THOUGHTS: These titles would make great additions to collections where students will benefit from engaging text introductions to the topics in this series. Fans of military history would also enjoy this quick read about a fascinating chapter in the evolution of fighter pilot training, racial integration, and the Air Force. (Title Reviewed: The Tuskegee Airmen.)

940.54 Military History of World War II            Erin Faulkner, Cumberland Valley SD

Elem. – Soul Food Sunday

Bingham, Winsome. Soul Food Sunday. Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2021. 978-1-419-74771-7. 48 p. $17.99. Grades K-2.

It can’t be soul food Sunday without the macaroni and cheese, greens, and chicken, ribs, and sausage! The narrator is a young boy but old enough to join in the fun (and hard work!) in his grandmother’s kitchen. His grandmother guides him through grating cheese, rinsing greens, skinning the chicken, skinning the sausage, and even a special surprise. The hard work that goes into this meal makes the food taste that much more delicious! The beautiful story of mouthwatering family time showcases tradition and culture that goes far beyond the actual recipes–but a recipe for mac and cheese is included! An author’s note includes the importance of soul food to the author and a story of how the illustrator learned to cook from her family members.

THOUGHTS: A great addition to any elementary library to showcase culture that emphasizes the importance of food and family and how they come together.

Picture Book          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD

YA – The Personal Librarian

Benedict, Marie, and Christopher Murray, Victoria. The Personal Librarian. Berkeley Books, 2021. 978-0-593-10153-7. 341 p. $27.00. Grades 11-12+.

The broad genre of historical fiction needs to specify all the long, lost stories of yore that focus on little known historical figures. The fictionalized retelling of J. P. Morgan’s personal collection of books, artwork, and other materials that eventually became the Pierpont Morgan Library through the curation of his personal librarian, Belle de Costa Greene was sensational. Belle worked as a librarian at Princetown before returning to New York City to live with her family and work for Morgan as a curator of his magnificent collection. Her position took her to foreign cities, elite parties, and other exclusive events that Black women often were not at liberty to experience during that time. Some scenes include romantic descriptions. Belle also has an abortion without her consent, which can be triggering for some readers.

THOUGHTS: Some of the character building took longer than typical YA books might. But for the student who has a love of history, arts, women’s rights, and Black rights, this is the perfect story to get lost in before doing their own research on the Pierpont Morgan Library and who Belle de Costa Greene was and how her work at the turn of the 20th century still has ripple effects today.

Historical Fiction          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD

YA – They Better Call Me Sugar: My Journey from the Hood to the Hardwood

Rodgers, Sugar. They Better Call Me Sugar: My Journey from the Hood to the Hardwood. Black Sheep, 2021. 978-1-617-75929-1. 176 p. $14.95. Grades 7-10.

Sugar Rodgers’ journey to the WNBA was not an easy road, to say the least. Rodgers starts her tale with a desire to motivate others and share her story of the struggle to succeed by discussing her childhood in Virginia. Growing up in an over-policed neighborhood, Rodgers’ mother supported her involvement in golf and eventually basketball. The loss of her mother, brother, and father, not to mention siblings in jail, and a lot of moving from home to home, didn’t cultivate an environment for Rodgers to thrive, but through support and determination and a lot of natural skill, she found her way to the court. Although the writing style is not cohesive, it is easy to read, and many readers will find the vernacular relatable. Despite some confusing timelines, Rodgers’ story doesn’t start with a basketball in her hand at age two or a family member who helped her break into the sport, and it ends with advice that provides hope to readers who might not see a clear path to their dream. Her childhood and conflicts are ones many readers will be able to identify with and find hope in her motivation. Sugar Rodgers’ motivation model is based on being able to take constructive criticism, “someone thinks you are good enough to correct.”

THOUGHTS: This book does contain some swearing, including derogatory terms, and potentially triggering life events such as death, jail, and physical abuse. Although this book would best suit middle school readers, some caution should be taken for sensitive readers.

796.323 Basketball          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD

Elem. – She Persisted: Florence Griffith Joyner

Williams-Garcia, Rita. She Persisted: Florence Griffith Joyner. Philomel. 978-0-593-11596-1. 59 p. $5.99. Grades 2-4. 

This chapter book biography shares the life story of Florence Griffith Joyner who is considered one of the fastest women of all time. In 1988, Flo Jo set two world records that still stand today. Her journey to becoming a five-time Olympic medalist was not an easy one, though. This biography chronicles her childhood growing up as one of eleven children in the low-income neighborhood of Watts, California, racing at UCLA, and training hard in pursuit of her Olympic goals. It also includes details about her unique personal style on and off the track, including nontraditional racing suits and long, colorful fingernails. Through short, fast-paced chapters, readers will get a sense of Flo Jo’s dedication, competitive spirit, and commitment to self-expression. Backmatter includes references as well as a section titled “How You Can Persist” which lists ideas such as making healthy choices, engaging in physical activity, expressing your thoughts through journaling or drawing, setting goals, and trying new things. This series was inspired by “She Persisted,” written by Chelsea Clinton and Alexandra Boiger. More than a dozen additional chapter book biographies in this series include the stories of women like Harriet Tubman, Claudette Colvin, Maria Tallchief, Oprah Winfrey, Nellie Bly, and others. 

THOUGHTS: This biography will hook young readers and inspire them to work hard in pursuit of their own dreams. The narrative nonfiction writing style also makes this a good choice for classroom read-alouds. Share this title with fans of the “Who Was?” biography series. 

Biography          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

YA – The Cost of Knowing

Morris, Brittney. The Cost of Knowing. Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2021. 978-1-534-44545-1. 336 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

Despite trying his best to hold things together, sixteen year old Alex Rufus is struggling. Since the death of their parents, he and his little brother Isaiah have grown apart, barely interacting with each other in their Aunt Mackie’s house. Alex has his girlfriend Talia but constantly worries that he’ll do something wrong to ruin their relationship. At work Alex would prefer to remain in the back washing dishes while wearing rubber gloves than be out front scooping ice cream and interacting with customers. At the same time, Alex and Isaiah’s neighbor Mrs. Zaccari makes initially subtle and increasingly frustrating comments about neighborhood crime and what the Shiv concert coming to the area will mean for their safety. Alex is one touch from losing his carefully constructed exterior. Since the death of his parents, Alex gets a glimpse of the future when he touches anything. Usually something simple and easily dismissed, things become complicated when Alex visualizes an unreadable expression on Talia’s face – the sign of a breakup – and unbearable when he has a vision of his brother’s death. Burdened with the knowledge that he he can’t stop the inevitable, but determined to fix his relationship with Isaiah, Alex races to reconnect with his brother and learns that the two may not be as different as he thought.

THOUGHTS: Readers will root for Alex from the beginning as he works against “his curse.” Many readers will be able to suspend reality enough to believe this mostly realistic fantasy. Recommended for high school collections where compelling, character driven titles are in demand.

Fantasy (Paranormal)          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD
Magical Realism
Realistic Fiction

Elem. – Standing on Her Shoulders: A Celebration of Women

Clark-Robinson, Monica. Standing on Her Shoulders: A Celebration of Women. Illustrated by Laura Freeman. Orchard Press, 2021. 978-1-338-35800-1. Unpaged. $18.99. Grades 2-5.

“Standing on the shoulders of giants” is an oft used term for referencing those who came before us in a given area. In this nod to female path-makers, Monica Clark-Robinson guides a young black girl and shows her some of the great leaders and trailblazers through history who helped bridge her current opportunities. As she walks through a portrait gallery, she sees some expected women figures such as Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, and Sacajawea, as well as modern heroes like Megan Rapinoe and Serena Williams, and less familiar names including Harriet Chalmers Adams and Nellie Bly. Through the poetic couplets, the young learner hears how important it is to recognize those giants before us in many fields and fighting for equal rights, but also to leave our mark for the next generation. Featuring mostly black and people of color through the illustrations by Laura Freeman, there are a few short notes about each historical figure at the endnotes. The message is clear to walk among the heroines and lead the way for others to stand on your shoulders next.

THOUGHTS: An inspirational, though not always obvious, celebration of female trailblazers. Those readers most familiar with the illustrated people will appreciate the themes for each path, but those wanting to know more about the heroines will need to research further. Nevertheless, the picture book is a beautiful touchpoint introduction or kick-off for Women’s History Month.

Picture Book        Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD