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.
Murphy, Frank. A Girl Like You. Sleeping Bear Press, 2020. $16.99. 32 p. $16.99. 978-1-534-11096-0. Grades K-3.
A Girl Like You is a celebration of all of the things a girl can be: brave, bold, empathetic, radiant, proud, and more. The story begins with a girl who stands apart from a sea of adults and then moves through all of the ways that she is unique. Mantra-like text such as “radiant girl, stand tall” is supported by diverse portrait style illustrations showing girls in action demonstrating the qualities discussed. The main character shows bravery when standing up for herself and boldness while leading others to speak out. Girls are encouraged to learn, lead and care for others without forgetting to take care of herself. The main protagonist of this story presents as Asian with a lovely dark golden complexion, rosy cheeks, and long straight dark hair past her shoulders which is often worn in a loose braid. The myriad of girls included throughout the book represent nearly every skin, body, and hair type imaginable including permanent and temporary differing abilities. Multiple images of girls with wheelchairs and prosthetic or missing limbs are included throughout. Girls with Vitiligo, Albinism, and freckles appear along with a rainbow of skin tones. Many girls wear khimar, scarfs, or bandannas. A few are bald or have very short hair including one that is presumably due to medical treatment. Children appear to be elementary age. Some scenes include boys working and playing alongside, but the focus remains on encouraging young girls.
THOUGHTS: As inclusive as a children’s book can possibly be, this book is a good one to have on hand when discussing differences with children or introducing women’s history celebrations to younger readers.
Beatty, Andrea. One Girl. Abrams, 2020. $16.99. 32 p. 978-1-419-71905-9. Grades K-3.
One dejected looking little girl sits all alone on the steps of a remote porch underneath a starry sky when a glowing book falls to her feet like a comet. Immediately upon opening it, her world changes into a brightly colored fantasyland where books grow on trees and pencils sprout from the earth. As the young girl travels through this wondrous land, she witnesses diverse women working independently as artists, scientists, and leaders. The next morning she races to school to share her treasure with an eager and diverse group of students. Shortly after, she picks up a pencil and begins writing while astonished classmates watch the magic spill from her hand. Next, boys and girls alike follow her lead and begin to read, write, and share their unique stories while elements of their stories: a tiger, a grand piano, a helicopter, and hot air balloons float overhead. Later, by the light of the moon another girl sits on the front steps and watches as several new glowing books fall from the sky. Lovely, repetitive prose “One girl glowing/shares her song” reinforces the beauty of a young girl finding her voice yet also allows the reader to be fully immersed in the opportunities she has opened with her love of books. The young girl protagonist along with her supportive teacher present as Asian with medium-beige skin and beautiful dark hair. Classmates all wear the same school uniform but represent a variety of ethnicities among skin and hair colors.
THOUGHTS: One Girl is a loving tribute to the power of reading, writing, and storytelling. In addition to being a lovely read aloud, this title would make a great introduction to a writing unit or a classroom conversation about how words and actions can affect others. Short and repetitive text surrounded by stunning art with some graphic elements make this a nice option for sharing with pre-readers or English language learners who may need a little nudge to find their reading groove. This book has a place in any school library collection, classroom libraries, and beyond.
Moss, Caroline. Become a Leader Like Michelle Obama (Work It, Girl). Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2020. $15.99. 978-0-711-24518-1. 56 p. Grades 3-6.
A beautiful, appealing biography on Michelle Obama. The text details Michelle Obama’s life from her early years living with extended family in a tiny Chicago house to her role as First Lady and beyond. Moss’s narrative writing is easy to read and really brings Michelle to life but does, of course, take some liberties as readers follow Michelle through her days that include imagined thoughts and conversations. Interesting back matter includes a section called “Become a leader like Michelle! 10 Key Lessons from Michelle Obama’s Life” that highlight points like, “Not everyone needs to believe in you if you believe in yourself,” and “New friends can help you grow!” along with examples of these points from Michelle’s life. There are also questions to check for understanding and resources for further reading. Sinem Erkas’s illustrations, done in paper, add color and fun to the book.
THOUGHTS: Young readers will enjoy the narrative writing style and enjoy learning about Michelle Obama.
Bullaro, Angie. Breaking the Ice: The True Story of the First Woman to Play in the National Hockey League. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2020. $18.99. Unpaged. Grades 3-6.
Manon Rhéaume began playing backyard hockey with her brothers before the age of 5, but it wasn’t until her dad’s team needed a goalie that Manon started playing on a real team. In fact, Manon’s father told her to keep the goalie mask on before taking the ice because people weren’t ready to see a girl play on a boys’ team in 1977. By 1984, Manon’s talent spoke for itself. She was the first girl to play in the prestigious Quebec International Pee-Wee Hockey Tournament, and she continued to prove critics wrong as she played at higher and higher levels of boys’ and men’s hockey. In 1992 Manon became the first woman to play a game in any of the four men’s major US professional sports when she played in a preseason game with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Angie Bullaro’s picture book biography nicely details Manon’s hard work, courage, and perseverance in making her hockey dreams come true. An Afterword by Manon herself encourages readers to work hard no matter what, saying “Don’t let ‘no’ stop you.”
THOUGHTS: An interesting addition to picture book biography collections.
Turk, Evan. A Thousand Glass Flowers. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2020. Unpaged. 978-1-534-41034-3. $17.99. Grades K-2
This nonfiction biography tells the story of Marietta Barovier who came from a family of glassblowers, and her journey to becoming the first woman given permission to open her own furnace in Venice. The story begins with her as a small girl watching her father create glass until he allows her to try, and her passion for glassmaking grows from there. The end of the book contains an author’s note, which really adds to the story as there is not much known of her, because glassblowing was a male dominated industry. Marietta is credited with creating the rosetta bead, which was used as a currency!
THOUGHTS: This is a wonderfully illustrated biography that will introduce readers to Marietta Barovier and the world of glassblowing.
Biography Mary Hyson, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy
Sanchez Vegara, Maria Isabel. Astrid Lindgren. (Little People, Big Dreams). Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2020. 978-0-711-25217-2. $15.99 ea. $912.26 set of 66. Unpaged. Grades K-3.
Astrid Lindgren grew up on a farm in Sweden with her parents and siblings having an idyllic childhood. When she learned to read, however, her world changed and opened up beyond her small farm in Sweden. The book follows Astrid as she grows up and gets married and has children of her own. Karin, Astrid’s daughter, asked for a story about a girl she had named Pippi Longstocking, and Astrid’s career as an author began! At the end of the book, there is a timeline of Astrid Lindgren’s life including pictures from her life, and more information about Astrid’s life.
THOUGHTS: This is a great introductory biography that is a must have for an elementary school collection, especially with the wide range of biographies to pick from in the series.
Biography Mary Hyson, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy
Rappaport, Doreen. Ruth Objects: The Life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Disney-Hyperion, 2020. 978-1-484-74717-9. Unpaged. $18.99. Grades 2-4.
This illustrated biography of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the late Supreme Court Justice, highlights her life and achievements. It details her childhood, her college years, her marriage and family, and her career as a lawyer (and later, a judge). The story is interspersed with some of Ruth’s very own quotations, making the narrative a little more personal. A timeline, bibliography, and additional resources are included in the back of the book. A solid portrait of an influential figure, this biography will inspire girls and boys alike to strive for the things they believe in, even if society tells them these things are unattainable.
THOUGHTS: This is an excellent introduction to the famous Supreme Court justice and a solid addition to any elementary biography collection. It would also make an outstanding starting point for a discussion about women’s rights and/or gender equality. Even older students could learn something from this title; have them read about Ruth’s achievements, then write a dissenting opinion of their own about a court decision with which they disagree. Its potential to both inspire and educate makes this title a worthy addition to most collections.
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
Henderson, Leah. Mamie on the Mound: A Woman in Baseball’s Negro Leagues. Capstone Editions, 2020. $18.95. Unpaged. Grades 3-6.
“‘I was a ballplayer. This is what I was and this is the way I want to be known, a ballplayer,’ Mamie “Peanut” Johnson.” Mamie Johnson grew up playing baseball with her uncle Leo, who was close to her age, starting at the age of 6 on the family’s farm in South Carolina. She moved several times over the years, but love for the game remained a constant in Mamie’s life as she earned spots on several boys’ and mens’ teams over the years. After graduating high school, Mamie attempted to try out for the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, but was denied a try-out because she was black. Instead, Mamie went to play professional ball for the Negro Leagues Indianapolis Clowns team and spent three seasons traveling through Canada and the US (including the heavily segregated South) playing baseball. In 1955 she retired to return to her husband and young child, but her love for the game continued. Author Leah Henderson’s Afterword tells readers that Mamie was honored by Presidents Clinton and Obama and helped clear the plate for other female baseball players.
THOUGHTS: Leah Henderson captures Mamie’s spunk and spirit well in this beautiful picture book biography.