Elem – The Welcome Chair

Wells, Rosemary. The Welcome Chair. Simon & Schuster, 2021.  Unpaged. 978-1-5344-2977-2. $17.99.  Grades 1-4.

Drawing on her own family history, Wells has created a heartwarming story about immigration to the United States. The first half of the book recounts the experiences of her relatives, beginning with her great-great-grandfather, who emigrated from Germany in 1807. Seeking freedom in his choice of livelihood and religious practice, the young man became a carpenter’s apprentice in New York. He made a wooden rocking chair for the shop owner with whom he lived and carved the German word for welcome on it-“Willkommen.” This chair becomes the vehicle that Wells uses to continue the narrative of other settlers, such as the Irish maid escaping famine, two nuns from the Dominican Republic escaping persecution and Syrian refugees fleeing from war. Over time, as the chair passes to a new owner-immigrant, the word “welcome” is carved on the chair in the family’s native language. In what is likely one of his last works, Jerry Pinkey uses his favorite medium, watercolors, to create soft, Impressionistic drawings. The Caldecott winner describes his art in the back matter and includes a thumbnail sketch from his storyboard. In fact, the endpapers show a number of them, some of which are not found in the final copy. Wells provides additional information about her family complete with her ancestor’s photo. The author’s message is that America should continue its tradition of welcoming immigrants.

THOUGHTS: This is a must-have for elementary collections. It works well as a read aloud and will promote discussion about immigration both in the past and today.

Picture Book          Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member

Elem. – My Two Border Towns

Bowles, David and Erik Meza. My Two Border Towns. Illustrated by Erika Meza. Kokila, 2021. 978-0-593-11104-8. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-2.

Life along the U.S. – Mexico border can be more similar than different, especially for a small Hispanic boy who makes weekend trips back and forth with his father. “Vamos a la otra lado.” (Let’s go to the other side.) Once they pass through customs into the Mexican town, they run chores, visit family, and eat at their favorite places. The boy is proud of the gifts and supplies that they are collecting along the way. Erik Maza illustrates the town with friendly people, peaceful streets, and colorful tones. David Bowles brings in Spanish terms and phrases with mostly English narrative to tell their routine journey. The trip ends with an important and realistic stop near the border bridge, where a large group of refugees are camped out and waiting. “The US says there’s no room, and Mexico says it can barely look after it’s own gente.” The boy seeks out his friend who is waiting, and hands over the collected toys, comics, medicine and supplies to the grateful family. The dilemma of crossing the border freely as citizens leaves the boy, and perhaps the readers, wishing for a future of compassion and friendship.

THOUGHTS: Making a complex and never ending issue such as immigration and border control work through the eyes of a child is always a lesson in empathy. In this case, the author chooses to show the connections rather than the divisions between the two countries with a stunning effect. Discussions comparing similarities and differences between students’ towns and the story may continue the conversation. Recommended.

Picture Book          Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD

Elem./MG – Amina’s Song

Khan, Hena. Amina’s Song. Saleem Reads, 2021. 978-1-534-45988-5. 275 p. $17.99. Grades 4-6.

Amina is spending some of her summer in Pakistan with a family that she doesn’t see often, and she loves it! The market, the food, the sights, as well as spending time with her extended family, it’s hard to pick a favorite thing. With the end of the summer pending, Amina is headed back home and ready to share her favorite parts of Pakistan with her friends and classmates. However, they only seem to hear the bad parts of Pakistan, which is extremely frustrating and disheartening to Amina. She wonders if she can change their minds when she gets just that opportunity! Her history teacher assigns a project which just might help Amina change her classmates’ mind about her homeland, as well as show them the Pakistan Amina knows.

THOUGHTS: Amina’s Song is an amazing sequel which showcases the bond that Amina’s family has between Pakistan and the United States wonderfully. I feel many readers will be able to relate to Amina’s thoughts and feelings, especially when Amina is struggling to share her favorite parts of Pakistan with her classmates and friends. Highly recommend this book for any elementary or middle school collection.

Realistic Fiction          Mary Hyson, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

YA – Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America 1619-2019

Kendi, Ibram X. and Blain, Keisha N. Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America 1619-2019. One World, 2021. 978-0-593-13404-7. 528 p. $32.00. Gr. 11-12+.

Despite being a hefty tome, this book belongs on all high school shelves to start to fill the gap of curriculum on race and inclusive historical views of America. Ninety writers and two editors provide different perspectives throughout the four-hundred year span. Each writer takes on a five year period with a different approach and technique to tell the story of Africans in America. The purpose of including so many voices was start to release the stereotype of African American monoliths that is still present in many minds today. The diversity and unique assemblance of this book provides so many teachable moments in all classrooms. Although a large book on its own, it can easily be broken down into bite sized pieces for classroom content or slow reading.

THOUGHTS: If you are responsible for book acquisition and work in a high school library, this needs to be at the top of your list. Once in the library, the value of the book should be highlighted with teachers and students alike.

973 United States History          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD

YA – Illegal

Stork, Francisco X. Illegal. Scholastic, 2020. 978-1-338-31055-9. 291 p. $18.99. Grades 7-12. (Book 2 in Disappeared series)

Brother and sister Emiliano and Sara Zapata must flee from Mexico and the nefarious unnamed boss pursuing them. They cross the border into the United States, then split up.  Sara requests asylum, and Emiliano nearly dies in the desert before being picked up by an American rancher, then reunited with his father in Chicago. Emiliano carries the cell phone of a member–perhaps the leader–of a human trafficking organization that Sara has worked so hard to bring to justice. Neither Emiliano or Sara is safe, and conditions only worsen as Sara is separated and threatened in the detention facility, and Emiliano is tracked down in Chicago. Neither Emiliano or Sara is able to trust anyone immediately, and each must trust that the other will do “the right thing”–but the right thing for the victims of the human trafficking organization could be exactly the wrong thing for Sara and Emiliano. Both realize repeatedly that their lives are expendable and meaningless to others. Sara and Emiliano share one phone call in which Sara (in code) urges him to remember what he learned from Brother Patricio. Through his work for a neighbor of his father’s, Emiliano learns of a retired policeman who may help him. But Sara is to be moved to another facility–code for ‘lost’ or ‘terminated’–and both realize that time is running out.

THOUGHTS: Stork continues Sara and Emiliano’s stories (from Book 1, Disappeared), this time in the US. The various characters show human strength and frailty, stereotypes, hopes, and hatred. A must-purchase where the first novel was popular, though this novel can stand on its own.

Realistic Fiction          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

YA – Fault Lines in the Constitution: The Graphic Novel

Levinson, Cynthia, and Sanford Levinson. Art by Ally Shwed. Fault Lines in the Constitution: The Graphic Novel. First Second, 2020. 978-1-250-21161-3. $18.99. 279 p. Gr. 8 and up.

This graphic novel, which is an adaptation of a nonfiction book written in 2017 and part of the World Citizen Comics book series, tells the story of the United States’ Constitution, from its drafting and ratification through its many amendments over the last two centuries and right up to and including part of Donald Trump’s presidency. In a sort of dual timeline, the story goes back and forth between the framers making decisions about the Constitution and various points in American history where those decisions had problematic consequences. From the argument of balance of power between federal and state government in the infancy of the nation to the problems with the Patriot Act after the September 11 attacks, the back and forth plot clearly demonstrates how these men couldn’t possibly have predicted and accounted for occurrences 200-plus years in the future when they wrote this monumental document. This includes a particularly timely discussion of habeus corpus in 1787 that the book’s creators then tie to the Ebola crisis in 2014, which obviously strikes a chord with readers in 2020 dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. After telling the story of the Constitution’s history, the creators grade the document in several areas from “providing for the common defense” to “establishing justice” and give it an overall report card; the results are unsettling.

THOUGHTS: Take out the cartoons, and this book reads exactly like a history textbook. It is chock FULL of information, and it forces readers to ask some very serious questions. At times, though, readers may forget how serious the content is because of the fun simplicity of the cartoonish forefathers speaking in common 21st century vernacular. A highly recommended read for everyone, but reluctant readers in a Social Studies class will find this format extremely approachable. On a personal note, I read this book in the days following the insurrection at the US Capitol, and I am not exaggerating when I say that several lines of this book gave me chills – the opening, in particular, part of which reads, “It might be appealing to believe that, because the Constitution and our country have survived this long, they’ll always do so. But the framers were not so confident. Perhaps you shouldn’t be, either.”

Graphic Novel          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD
342.73 Constitutional law — United States

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

YA – Stamped

Reynolds, Jason, and Ibram X. Kendi. Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2020. 978-0-316-45369-1 320 p. $18.99. Grades 7-12. 

Re-evaluate everything you learned or think you know about history in this text that is “NOT a history book.” Broken down by various time periods, Reynolds adapts Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning for a teen audience. Reynolds explains that everyone fits into a category – racist, antiracists, or assimilationist – often moving from one to another or being associated with one but really fitting into another. Various leaders throughout time are analyzed for their words and actions, causing readers to reconsider what they think they know about history.

THOUGHTS: Teen readers will appreciate Reynolds’ open and honest voice which asks them to question the educational system – what they have been taught, by whom, and why. Instead of accepting what they are told, readers will want to prove their history texts (and teachers) wrong. teachers should appreciate the opportunity to encourage students to rewrite history with a more open, honest, and true version. This is a must have nonfiction title for every secondary library.

305.80 Racial, ethnic, national groups          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

This “not history, history book” (how Reynolds references this book) describes how racism has been around in one form or another for centuries. It shows how racist ideas are interwoven into our nation’s history and acknowledges that the only way to change our future narrative is to accept and understand our racist past, and move forward from here. This book is called a “remix” of  Stamped from the Beginning, written by American University professor Ibram X. Kendi. Includes an extensive Further Reading section, Source Notes, and an Index.

THOUGHTS: Told in Jason Reynolds conversational style, this book is a must read (must teach) title for students by the time they graduate from high school. Racist history is shocking, and how it continues to thrive in our culture is shocking.  This book could be an important step in opening student’s eyes to the reality of their lives.

305          Krista Fitzpatrick- Waldron Mercy Academy

“This is not a history book. I repeat, this is not a history book” (1) thus begins Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You, by Jason Reynolds, adapted from Stamped From the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi. In this adaptation, Reynolds shares the history of racism and antiracism in the United States through an easily approachable, conversational tone. Beginning by defining segregationists, assimilationists, and antiracists and continuing to revisit these terms throughout history, Stamped looks at the development of racism beginning in Europe through today. Each section of the book focuses on a different period of history and the important players during that period. It connects little known racists, segregationists, assimilationists, and antiracists like Gomes Eanes de Zurara, John Cotton, Richard Mather, Phillis Wheatley, and Marcus Garvey to well known figures like Thomas Jefferson, Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Du Bois, Booker T. Washington, Martin Luther King Jr., and Angela Davis. It examines uplift suasion and the white savior, explores popular culture like Tarzan and boxing legend, Jack Johnson, and forces the reader to consider how history portrays and defines racism.

THOUGHTS: With an introduction and afterword by Ibram X. Kendi, this adaptation truly begins the necessary conversation about racism in the United States for young people and forces readers to not only question the history they know, but also the present in which they live. This is a must-have for all middle school and high school libraries and is a welcome addition to ELA and social studies curriculum. It’s also a fabulous read for adults. Included with the text is “Further Reading,” “Source Notes,” and an index. The audiobook is read by Jason Reynolds and truly feels like you are having a conversation with him. It is possibly more impactful than the text itself because of his voice.

305.8 Social Sciences          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

MG – Lifting As We Climb: Black Women’s Battle for the Ballot Box

Dionne, Evette. Lifting As We Climb: Black Women’s Battle for the Ballot Box. Viking, 2020. 9780451481542. 176 p. $19.99. Grades 5 and up. 

Evette Dionne’s Lifting As We Climb: Black Women’s Battle for the Ballot Box is a historical account of the struggle for the right to vote. Covering the lesser-learned about but powerful figures in history, the book provides a comprehensive look at the path it took to get where we are today. Activists Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Mary Church Terrell, Fannie Barrier Williams, and Alice Paul (among many others) played key roles in the fight to vote but are frequently left out from the history books. Their arduous battle to earn the right to vote was fraught with struggles and setbacks from still on-going voter suppression to lynchings and voter intimidation. While suffragettes succeeded and the nineteenth amendment was ultimately ratified, voting rights are still jeopardized by unfair practices making this an extremely timely and relevant look at the way our country has and continues to function.

THOUGHTS: A succinct yet complete account, Lifting As We Climb highlights many lesser known figures in the fight for voting equality making this a key piece for any collection. 

323.34 Women’s History          Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD

YA – When They Call You a Terrorist : A Story of Black Lives Matter and the Power to Change the World

Khan-Cullors, Patrisse & Asha Bandele. When They Call You a Terrorist: A Story of Black Lives Matter and the Power to Change the World. Wednesday Books, 2020. 978-1-250-19498-5. 272 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.           

Part memoir, part call to action, Khan-Cullors craftily tells her story of growing up during the drug war in LA, her personal experiences with police, untreated mental illness, and cold-hearted racism in the country she calls home. This puts the reader in such a position to question who else possibly could have created a movement as powerful as Black Lives Matter. Broken into two parts, Khan-Cullors’ family story and the reality of her childhood culminate into the first seven chapters, while a focus on the civil rights movement starting with her brother’s experience with the law and lack of access to mental health treatment resources follow during the last seven chapters. Complete with quotes from well known authors, activists, and politicians, photos, and reader questions in each chapter, this is more than the story of how Black Lives Matter came to be the movement of the century and more than Khan-Cullors own journey–this is a call to action and creates space for difficult thoughts and conversations to begin.

THOUGHTS: Buy it now and thank yourself later. This book should be on the shelves of all high school libraries for students to learn more about BLM’s beginnings and the pilgrimage of one individual discovering who she truly is. The reader questions and recommended reading and viewing alone could serve as guideposts for teachers, students, parents, and more to start the work.

323 Memoir          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD