Elem. – Freedom Bird

Nolen, Jerdine. Freedom Bird. Simon & Schuster, 2020. 978-0-689-87167-2. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades 2-5.

Brother and sister Millicent and John Wheeler are enslaved children whose parents instilled in them the dream of freedom. One day, while the children are working in the fields of a North Carolina plantation, the overseer takes a whip and hits a large mysterious bird, knocking it to the ground. At night, the children rescue the bird and keep it safe. The siblings learn that John would soon be sold to a farm in Georgia, and the pair realize that now is the time to make their escape. As the children run away from the overseer, the bird takes flight into a storm and heads west. The children hide in the woods during the storm and they eventually escape westward across the Missouri River. On the last page, the author reveals this tale was one that was told by storytellers and utilized the common imagery of the bird’s flight to symbolize freedom. James E. Ransome has created vibrant full bleed illustrations that show the characters on a large scale, like the drawing of the bird taking flight. The images masterfully show motion, and the reader can almost feel a breeze from the bird’s wings.

THOUGHTS: This book completes a trilogy of stories that feature African Americans from the same plantation and their journey to freedom from slavery (Big Jabe and Thunder Rose). This book works well as a mentor text for imagery and metaphor and shows the power of storytelling. A wonderful read aloud for anytime.

Easy Picture Book          Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member

Elem. – The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read

Hubbard, Rita Lorraine. The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read. Schwartz & Wade Books, 2020. 978-1-5247-6828-7. $17.99. 40 p. Grades K-3.

As a child born into slavery, Mary Walker admires the freedom of birds that pass over the plantation. She spends her days toiling in the fields picking cotton, which leaves no time for schooling of any kind. After the Emancipation Proclamation sets her free at the age of 15, Mary works as a nanny and a maid to keep her family afloat. One day, she meets a group of evangelists who gifts her a Bible. Mary vows that she will read it one day, but today is not that day. Work consumes the next six decades of her life until she moves to Chattanooga, Tennessee. Having outlived her entire family, her life changes when she moves to a retirement home, and, at 116 years old, takes a reading class. Caldecott Honor illustrator Oge Mora uses paper, including sheet music and pages from books, to create beautiful collages in shades of brown, green, yellow, and blue. Readers should take care to notice how Mary’s dress changes throughout the book, especially once she learns to read.

THOUGHTS: Even though The Oldest Student is geared towards K-3 students, ALL students can take away the very important message of the book: No one is ever too old to learn. This inspiring book is a gentle way to ease into difficult conversations about slavery, race, and education in our society. With the current emphasis on growth mindset in the classroom, this is the perfect book to show that learning and growing continue long after school is over.

Picture Book          Danielle Corrao, Ephrata Area SD
921 WAL Biography

Mary Walker’s inspirational story, beautifully illustrated in this picture book biography, proves you’re never too old to learn. Born a slave in 1848, Mary never gave up on her lifelong dream of learning how to read. And, at age 116, she finally accomplished it. This book follows Mary from her childhood spent picking cotton on an Alabama plantation, through her emancipation at age 15, to her life spent working low-paying jobs and raising her three children. Mary always dreamed of learning to read, but there never seemed to be enough hours in the day. Finally, at age 114, after outliving her entire family, Mary attended her first reading class. From memorizing the alphabet and each letter’s sound to copying her name over and over again, Mary spent more than a year studying and practicing. Her dedication paid off when, at age 116, she finally learned to read. Friends and neighbors gathered around to hear her read aloud from her cherished family Bible. Oge Mora’s mixed media illustrations, composed of acrylic paint, china marker, colored pencil, patterned paper, and book clippings, bring Mary’s memorable story to life. Beautiful full-page illustrations feature a palette of primarily blues and greens and yellows. Endpapers include black and white photographs of Mary Walker celebrating some of her milestones.

THOUGHTS: Teachers will want to share this inspirational story with older students during morning meetings. It will also work well with lessons or units focusing on perseverance or the importance of working towards a goal.

Picture Book          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD
Biography

Elementary NF – Ready, Set…Baby!; Sea Otter Heroes; Beacon to Freedom; Bicycles

Rusch, Elizabeth. Ready, Set…Baby! Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017. 978-0-544-47272-3. Unpaged. $17.99. Gr. PreK-K.

Big siblings Anna and Oliver have a new baby at home, so they’re prepared to offer advice to any kid whose family has a new baby on the way. “Lots of people are probably telling you what to expect, but kids in the know can give you the real deal.” Author Elizabeth Rusch gives practical advice and information for new big siblings as Anna and Oliver tell the story of their sister’s arrival, along with a lot of advice on the days and months that followed. Sections detail “The Big Wait,” “Meet the Conehead”, “The Real Scoop on Baby Poop,” and more. Information is basic yet helpful. “At first, our baby got to stay up later than we did!” (“It’s all that napping…” says Oliver sullenly in a speech bubble, common throughout the story).  Colorful, cartoonish illustrations complement the information, and kids will love the family’s curious brown dog. Extra resources include “More Stuff About Life with a New Baby,” a list of helpful websites and books, and “Tips for Parents on Life with Big Kids and New Babies.” THOUGHTS: A funny and helpful book for new big brothers and sisters who are old enough to appreciate the humor and understand the information.

306.87; Family Structure      Lindsey Long, Lower Dauphin School District

 

Newman, Patricia. Sea Otter Heroes: The Predators That Saved an Ecosystem. Millbrook Press, 2017.  978-1512426311  $25.95  56 pp. Grades 3-8.                        

“What does a playful sea otter have to do with flowering seagrass that grows underwater?”  In this book, Patricia Newman follows marine biologist Brent Hughes as he works in the intertidal area of Elkhorn Slough in Northern California.  Hughes observed that although the Slough is the recipient of heavy pollution from fertilizer and should be heavily polluted with dead or dying seagrass, the seagrass in the Elkhorn Slough is “healthy and lush and green” (7).  Hughes set out to discover what made this happen.  Newman tracks Hughes’ work and his thinking as Hughes eventually discovered it was: the sea otters.  The sea otters an apex predator reduce the number of sea crabs, which in turn leads to an increase in the sea crabs’ food of choice: the sea hares.  It is the sea hares which rid the seagrass of the algae which would otherwise smother and kill it.  Thus the presence of sea otter influenced the health of the entire Slough.  This book presents the scientific method and the work of marine biologist Hughes in an interesting ‘solve-the-mystery’ light.  The page spreads are colorful and accompanied by full-color photographs and sidebars illustrating important concepts.  Newman also spends a chapter focusing on the full range of Hughes’ education and work, and ends with a doable experiment and ways to positively impact the environment.  Source notes, glossary, bibliography, further reading, and index.  A positive read for middle and high schoolers interested in marine biology and science careers.  Teaching Guide available through Titlewave.  Readers may also be interested in Newman’s post Newman, Patricia. “Giving Readers a Front Row Seat.” Nerdy Book Club Blog.  15 May 2017.  nerdybookclub.wordpress.com/2017/05/15/giving-readers-a-front-row-seat-by-patricia-newman/.   THOUGHTS: Newman’s book is an accessible, realistic look at the work of current scientists, and is a fantastic addition to science, career, and STEM collections for middle and high school.         

599.769; Sea Otter    Melissa Scott, Shenango High School

 

Glatzer, Jenna. Beacon to Freedom: The Story of a Conductor on the Underground Railroad. Capstone, 2017. 978-15157-34963 $21.49  40 pp.   Gr. 3-6.

A short but impactful biography of John Rankin, a reverend and abolitionist who saved over 2,000 lives before the end of the American Civil War.  Raised by religious, abolitionist parents, John believed strongly that no human being should own another.  He set out to talk his Kentucky neighbors into setting their slaves free, but none wanted to let go of their free labor, and so Rankin, his family, and his unsettling talk were compelled to move.  When they settled in a house in Ohio (a free state) along the Ohio River, John placed a lamp in the window each night.  The lamp served as a beacon to tell slaves, “make it to this house—across the river into Ohio—and you will have help”.  Many did.  Many slave-holders suspected the Rankin family’s work, but raids and harsh treatment did not uncover anything nor frighten John and his family.  The digital illustrations show frantic, desperate slaves and often-angry slave owners.  Several stories of escaping slaves make their plight more personal.  The content is suitable for upper elementary.  Afterword, glossary, source notes, index.    THOUGHTS:  An inspiring biography of a man who stood up for others’ rights.

326 Abolitionists; Picture Book Biography     Melissa Scott, Shenango High School

 

Lakin, Patricia. Bicycles (Made by Hand series). Aladdin, 2017. 978-1-4814-7896-0. $17.99. 32 pp. Gr. 2-5.

With a voice that is conversational and relatable, Patricia Larkin grabs readers and takes them for a ride! Readers soon see not just the joy and history of bikes, but also the dreams of one maker who wanted to build his passion into a business. Along the way, we meet Aaron Dykstra, who has always loved bicycles and decided to start making them for a living. The bulk of the book shows the effort and process that he uses to create the frame of a new bike, including many close up photographs designed as a step-by-step scrapbook of sorts. The challenge at the end to explore STEM concepts and make your own inspirations, as well as the detailed timeline and resource list, should be enough to draw in scientists, makers, and bikers alike. Get ready to ride! THOUGHTS: This narrative nonfiction style is very approachable, and the photos help readers to connect to the text easily. This is part of a new series (Made by Hand) which also includes Skateboards and Steel Drums. I think this would be great for tinkerers and hands on readers to explore and get inspired.

629, Transportation    Dustin Brackbil, State College Area

Under a Painted Sky…new YA Historical Fiction

paintedsky

Lee, Stacey.  Under a Painted Sky.  New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2015.  978-0-399-16803-1. 374 p.  $16.99.  Gr. 7 and up.

The year is 1849, and Samantha is a young Chinese girl living in Missouri with her father.  She longs to return to New York to pursue a career in music.  However, her plans change when her father perishes in a fire, and she finds herself wanted for the murder of a man who tried to rape her.  Luckily, she meets Annamae, a black slave who longs for her freedom.  The two girls decide to dress up as boys and run away to California via the Oregon Trail.  On the trail, they meet a group of cowboys who become their travel companions.  Throughout the journey, they face many difficult obstacles, including wild stampedes, cholera, lawmen on the lookout for criminals like themselves, and more.  As they begin to fall in love with two of their travel companions, they struggle to keep hiding their true gender.  A tale of friendship, love, survival and perseverance, this novel will resonate with fans of adventure and historical fiction.

Historical Fiction      Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area High School

Despite its three starred reviews, I wasn’t sure about this book when I first picked it up; it just sounded like another Wild West adventure story.  Boy, was I wrong!  The action picked up immediately, as a fire killed Samantha’s father in the first chapter, and Samantha killed her former landlord and rapist by the end of the third chapter.  From there on, the action only continued at a rapid pace.  I found myself unable to put the book down, wanting to know the answers to my questions.  Are the girls going to get caught by law enforcement officials?  Will the cowboys figure out that they are girls, and if so, will they love them back?  Will they make it to California on the Oregon Trail?  Besides being an exciting read, there were so many elements that made this book a great addition to any social studies curriculum or historical fiction collection.  There were many historical components incorporated into the story, including Oregon Trail landmarks, 19th century race relations, slavery, the Chinese zodiac and many other Chinese cultural elements.  I would definitely recommend this title for any school library!​

 

Series Nonfiction…Compact Research, In Controversy, Understanding World History

addictions
Compact Research: Addictions (series).  San Diego: ReferencePoint Press, 2015.  96 p.  $30.00 ea.  Gr. 7-12.
Dudley, WilliamSynthetic Drug Addiction. 978-1-60152-764-6.
Nakaya, Andrea C. Internet and Social Media Addiction. 978-1-60152-760-8.
Parks, Peggy J. Heroin Addiction. 978-1-60152-756-1.
Wilcox, Christine. Gambling Addiction. 978-1-60152-758-5.
Wilcox, Christine. Sex and Pornography Addictions. 978-1-60152-762-2.
Focusing on a variety of addictive habits, these titles begin with an overview of each addiction and then go on to look at issues such as causes of addiction, health dangers of addiction, and ways to overcome addiction.  Each chapter is supplemented by primary source quotes, color photographs, charts, graphs, and statistics.  At the end of each book there is a list of key people and advocacy groups, a chronological timeline of the addiction, contact information for
related organizations, and a list of additional sources for further research.  These titles provide straightforward, factual information for researchers and allow them to analyze the data and come to their own conclusions about each addiction.
               
600s; Addictions       Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area High School
​These titles are an excellent addition for student researchers.  Not only is there plenty of background information presented about each addiction, but the primary source quotes, statistics, charts and graphs provide students with plenty of evidence to help them form opinions and make arguments supporting these opinions.  The index, table of contents, and list of illustrations make the books easily accessible, and the list of sources for further research provides researchers with additional quality sources to guide them as they form opinions and arguments.
digitaldevices
In Controversy (series).  San Diego: ReferencePoint Press, 2015. 96 p. $31.32 ea. Gr. 7+.

Abramovitz, Melissa. How Are Digital Devices Impacting Society?  978-1-60152-772-1 
 
This 45-book set features outstanding data and information on topics that are controversial and argumentative in today’s world.  Each book in the collection focuses on a specific question from its title, then divides the book into several chapters revolving around the main components of the issue.  For example, in How Are Digital Devices Impacting Society?, the author takes a look at when controversies surrounding digital devices first appeared, then shares information on how digital devices impact private and social interaction, affect the brain and thought processes, and affect physical and mental health.
 
One of the greatest assets of these books is that the authors try to supply and cite information from both sides of the issue, drawing from experts who both agree or disagree with the situation or feel that things positively or negatively impact society.  Each books contains important facts bulleted at the end of each chapter, along with pull-out quotes throughout the reading.  This book was extremely entertaining to read just for fun but would also provide excellent secondary source information for students conducting research on a controversial topic.
Technology     Nicole Starner, Biglerville HS/Upper Adams MS
islam
Understanding World History (series). San Diego: ReferencePoint Press, 2015.  96 p.  $31.32 ea.  Gr. 7+.

Allman, Toney. The Rise of Islam.  978-1-60152-744-8.
Marcovitz, Hal. The History of Slavery.  978-1-60152-742-4.
Marcovitz, Hal. The Rise of the Nazis.  978-1-60152-654-0.
This 22-book set covers an incredible range of topics in world history from numerous eras, including time periods and events such as Ancient Chinese Dynasties, Victorian England, the Industrial Revolution, the Holocaust, and the Early Middle Ages.  Along with these selections, the set also includes books focused on other topics of interest that may be confusing and/or interesting to students, such as Islam, slavery, the Nazis, and the history of Rock and Roll.
Each book includes an index, a section describing and defining important people in the time period or event, a timeline, and photographs or illustrations to further understanding.  One of the greatest assets of this collection are the numerous white-boxed sections of the text that describe stories related to the event, give more information on a particular subject, or provide statistical research associated with what is being discussed.  These boxes are especially interesting and easy to read while adding supplementary knowledge on the topic.
World History   Nicole Starner, Biglerville HS/Upper Adams MS

Willow…a look at Reconstruction in the South

willow

Hegamin, Tonya Cherie.  Willow.  Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2014.  978-0-7636-5769-7. 374p.  $16.99.  Gr. 7 and Up.

Willow is a fifteen-year-old slave growing up just south of the Mason-Dixon Line in 1848.  Her life is far different than most other slaves.  Her master, Reverend Jeffries, has taught her to read and write.  She believes that they are almost like family and has little desire for a free life.  Willow’s family has been a part of Knotwood Estate for five generations, and although her mother is dead, she is being raised by a loving father and the other slaves of the estate.  Willow knows that change is coming, however.  Willow’s father has been pressuring her to marry and have children, so the next generation will be ensured a place in the Jeffries family Bible.  There are few suitable men for Willow to marry and her father/Reverend Jeffries have chosen Raymond, a slave at a neighboring plantation.  Willow is distraught over this choice, and bemoaning her lack of choice in the decision, rides off on horseback to her mother’s grave.  While she is praying to her mother, she catches her first glimpse of Cato, a free black man who has been helping slaves cross the Mason-Dixon Line to freedom.

Reverend Jeffries is also contemplating marriage to a widow, Mistress Evelyn, and her grown son from Baltimore.  When the widow visits Knotwood, it is clear that many things will change once she is the Reverend’s wife.  Willow has grown closer to Cato, who wants her to come North with him.  However, Willow commits to life on the plantation as a married woman because it is her duty, but she is deeply saddened because she realizes that there is no place for her anymore as an educated slave at Knotwood.  A dramatic series of events finally leads Willow to decide she must leave with Cato, and they try to make their escape in the tense pre- Civil War days of the Fugitive Slave Act.

This novel did not receive a lot of critical attention, but it is both exciting and well-researched.  It would be a useful adjunct to any classroom study of the Civil War Era and the significance of the Mason-Dixon Line. Although Willow becomes romantically involved with Cato, this is not a love story.  Instead, it is the story of a young woman who must escape from a different kind of slavery- the traditions and family ties that can also be imprisoning. Willow’s story is quite relevant to young adults today who must choose between family, duty, and following their own dreams.

Historical Fiction       Susan Fox, Washington Jr. /Sr. High School

The Invention of Wings

inventionofwings

Kidd, Sue Monk. The Invention of Wings. New York:  Viking Adult, 2014.  978- 0670024780. 384p. $27.95. Gr. 7-12.

Sue Monk Kidd takes a unique look at the real lives of feminist sisters, Sarah and Angelina Gremke, who grew up to become leading feminists and abolitionists from Charleston, South Carolina, in the early 1800s. The true story starts out when Sarah, at age 11, is given, by her parents, her very own slave named Hettie, a 10 year old girl.  Sarah is appalled and wants to give her back thinking that she cannot own another human being even though it is all she has ever known in her wealthy family. Soon Sarah teaches Hettie to read which is forbidden by law. Both girls are punished, but in the true story Hettie dies after her beating.  Kidd reimagines Hettie’s life, through the character of Handful, if she had lived.

In this novel, Kidd continues the story of Handful and Sarah for the next 35 years and uses the alternating voices of Sarah and Handful to tell the story of two girls who see humanity at its worst and work towards a different and better world. This memorable book written for adults is perfect for young adults as it shows the brutal depiction of the time period and the strong personalities of both women who refuse to give into the social conventions of their time. This novel is a perfect choice for high school libraries.

 Historical Fiction              Marian Kohan, Erie School District