Elem. – Kate’s Light: Kate Walker at Robbins Reef Lighthouse

Spires, Elizabeth. Kate’s Light: Kate Walker at Robbins Reef Lighthouse. Margaret Ferguson Books, 2021. 978-0-8234-4348-2. 40pp. $18.99. Gr 3-5. 

This picture book biography features Kate Walker, a German immigrant who was one of the first women on the Eastern Seaboard to be put in charge of an offshore lighthouse. Kate took responsibility for the Robbins Reef lighthouse in New York Bay when her husband, John, passed away. For more than 30 years, she carried out the grueling daily tasks of caring for and cleaning the light and siren, performing water rescues, and tending the light ‘round the clock. Although life wasn’t always easy, and was at times very lonely, Kate discovered life in the lighthouse also had its rhythms and its advantages, such as being able to watch the Statue of Liberty’s dedication through binoculars from the catwalk. Emily Arnold McCully’s watercolor and pen and ink illustrations, featuring mostly blues, greens, and grays, beautifully capture the constantly changing weather and water around the lighthouse. Two pages at the end of the book provide additional factual information about Kate and the challenges and obstacles she overcame during her 33 years at Robbins Reef. Primary source photographs also allow readers to glimpse real images of Kate going about her work in the lighthouse.

THOUGHTS: Pair with Sophie Blackall’s Hello Lighthouse for a nautical-themed storytime. Or, use both texts together for a fiction and nonfiction compare-and-contrast discussion. This would also be an excellent addition to women’s history units.

Picture Book Biography          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

Elem. – R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Weatherford, Carole Boston. R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Atheneum, 2020. 978-1-534-45228-2. Unpaged. $18.99. Grades K-3. 

Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, is introduced to a new generation in this vibrant picture book. While this biography is brief, it succeeds in conveying the essence of Franklin’s life. The oil paint illustrations by Frank Morrison draw readers into the story, their richness implying the importance of her family, faith, community and music. The rhyming couplets on each two-page spread succinctly summarize aspects of Franklin’s history, the rhyme scheme unifying the book. Understandably, the abbreviated format does not allow for deeper exploration of her life, and no mention is made of darker events such as her parents’ separation, her mother’s death before Aretha was 10 years old, or the children she bore at age 12 and 14. (The information about her parents is mentioned in the Author’s Note following the story text.) The book accomplishes its intended purpose beautifully, celebrating the life of a revered talent. Hopefully a nearby adult will pair a reading of the book with an introduction to Franklin’s glorious music.

THOUGHTS: A lush, inspiring introduction to a musical icon and activist. With a motion picture biography slated for release in August 2021, this could be a timely purchase.

Picture Book          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Elem. – Over and Under the Rainforest

Messner, Kate. Over and Under the Rainforest. Chronicle Books, 2020. 978-1-452-16940-8. Unpaged. $18.99. Grades K-3.

Following up Over and Under the Snow and Over and Under the Pond Messner explores the rainforest both high and low. Christopher Silas Neal’s artwork, overwhelming the pages in luscious saturated shades of green, draws the reader into the forest along with the young narrator and her guide. Above is a world of monkeys, insects, and birds. Colorful toucans, flit among the branches. Capuchin and howler monkeys and sloths move through the leafy growth. Below are critters and creatures, both cute and deadly: agoutis and crocodiles, anteaters and spiders. As the day wanes, the rainforest fades to purples, creatures of the night emerge, and the young narrator heads for home, Abuelita and supper. Messner’s informative text never overwhelms the reader. Facts are lovingly wrapped in description to evoke life in the rainforest.

THOUGHTS: Messner never disappoints, and this book will be a solid addition to any elementary collection, useful as a read-aloud or with a classroom curriculum.

Picture Book         Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Elem. – Kamala Harris Rooted in Justice

Grimes, Nikki. Kamala Harris Rooted in Justice. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2020. 978-1-534-46267-0. 40 p. $17.99. Grades K-2. 

Kamala Harris Rooted in Justice follows Kamala Harris from growing up as a young girl in Oakland until she ran for President of the United States in 2019. The biography of Kamala is backed by the story of a young girl named Eve who is talking with her mom about an incident that happened at school.  Eve’s story helps drive the story of Kamala Harris’s life, and you easily can follow Eve’s narrative as it is in a different font compared to Kamala’s. The illustrations show Kamala’s life and mirror the story, as well as showing Eve and her mother throughout the story. The book ends right when Kamala Harris dropped out of the 2020 Presidential race, and does not include her becoming Joe Biden’s Vice President nominee. The illustrations are beautiful and give extra detail to the story as the reader goes through.

THOUGHTS: This is a wonderful addition to an elementary school biography collection that I highly recommend!

Biography          Mary Hyson, Lehigh Valley Academy Regional Charter
Picture Book