Freedom over me; Eleven slaves, their lives and dreams brought to life

Written & Illustrated by: Ashley Bryan

For ages: 10-12 years (grades 4-6)

Language: English

Topics Covered: POC-Centric Narratives, Enslavement, Enslaved People, Historical Figures, Historical Events, Poetry, Historic Narratives, Narratives of Enslavement. 

Summary: This book is comprised of poems telling the stories of 11 enslaved people.  Records of these individuals were found in a historical document owned by the author himself, who developed free verse poetry and personal details of the people who were merely listed with their price on a document.

In Athelia’s poem, the last stanza reads “As slaves, we do what our owners expect and demand of us. As human beings, our real lives are our precious secret.” Bryan brings to life the harsh realities of enslaved life in a way that humanizes and reveals the multi-faceted nature of these enslaved peoples.  After a poem that corresponds with each of the people: Peggy, John, Athelia, Betty, Qush, Jane, Stephen, Mulvina, Bacus, Charlotte & Dora;  another poem tells of their dreams.  While their real jobs and dreams are unaccounted for in written historical documents, they are probably not far off from the dreams of many of the millions of enslaved peoples throughout the history of the United States.  America is a country that was founded with and built on the backs of enslaved people.

These poems are beautiful, and have even more beautiful illustrations paired with them. Bryan does a fantastic job memorializing these 11 people that history all but forgot.  We particularly love the colorful illustration of Bacus’ dreams, showing him blacksmithing and singing a song of freedom.

Reflection Questions:

  • Why do you think that personal details of these and other enslaved people weren’t recorded?
  • How can we memorialize the lives lost through enslavement, if we don’t know so many of the people who were enslaved?
  • What other questions do you have about the process of creating poetry based on just a few simple details?
  • Why do you think Ashley Bryan felt the need to not only write these stories, but also make a book about them?
  • How is this helping our current day viewpoint about the lives of enslaved peoples?

About the Author & Illustrator:

ashleyAshley Bryan doesn’t speak his stories, he sings them, fingers snapping, feet tapping, his voice articulating. His entire body is immersed in the tale. Born in 1923, Ashley was raised in the Bronx, NY. At seventeen, he entered the tuition-free Cooper Union School of Art and Engineering, having been denied entry elsewhere because of his race. Encouraged by supportive high school teachers, Ashley was told, “Apply to Cooper Union; they do not see you there.” Admission was based solely on a student’s exam portfolio. Drafted out of art school into the segregated US army at age nineteen, Ashley preserved his humanity throughout World War II by drawing, stowing supplies in his gas mask when necessary. After the war, Ashley completed his Cooper Union degree, studied philosophy and literature at Columbia University on the GI Bill, and then went to Europe on a Fulbright scholarship, seeking to understand why humans choose war. In 1950, renowned cellist, Pablo Casals, agreed to break the vow of silence he had taken after Franco came to power in his native Spain. Ashley was permitted to draw Casals and his fellow musicians during rehearsals in Prades, France, where Casals was in exile. Through the power of Casals’ music sessions, something “broke free” for Ashley: “I found the rhythm in my hand.” Ashley returned to the United States, teaching art at several schools and universities, retiring in the 1980s to Maine’s Cranberry Isles as professor emeritus of Dartmouth College.

My Footprints

Written by: Bao Phi

Illustrated by: Basia Tran

For ages: 3 years and up

Language: English

Topics Covered: Imagination, LGBTQ Families, Bullying, Xenophobia, Family, Love, LGBTQ, Growing Up, Girls Outdoors.

Summary: 

My Footprints is a lovely book that tackles some tough subjects. Thuy, our main character, is walking home from school making footprints in the snow and thinking about how kids have been making fun of her for a slew of reasons. When she gets home, she’s greeted by both of her mothers who were shoveling snow outside. Together the three of them use imaginations to think critically about the situation and if those mean things that were said are true or worth thinking about. 

We think that this book is really important to use as a way to foster discussion about bullying and the things that were being said to Thuy. She’s teased for having two moms and told to “go back to where she came from”. Both homophobia and xenophobia are incredibly sensitive topics that are all over the media currently as well as near to our hearts. Being queer people that plan to have children one day, we are optimistic that things may change but realistic about the fact that there is a very good chance we will be having these conversations with a tiny person we wish we could shield the horrors of the world from. We are white, but we have family that immigrated here and have been profoundly harassed for being different. These are very real experiences that children have at school, and it does no good to shield others from this reality. Having a book like My Footprints that addresses tough times while not making it the focus is crucial. The author does a fantastic job of making Thuy and her mothers’ imagination be the healing power that their family needs. Focusing on the love instead of the hate, we can have tough conversations with those around us to create more empathy and windows into the lives of others around us. 

It’s personally one of the best books of the year in our opinion.

This book was sent to us by the Capstone for consideration in the Best Books of 2019 List put on by the Read With River book club. All opinions are our own!

About the Author & the Illustrator:

Bao-byMichaelTranBao Phi has been a performance poet since 1991.  A two-time Minnesota Grand Slam champion and a National Poetry Slam finalist, Bao Phi has appeared on HBO Presents Russell Simmons Def Poetry, featured in the live performances and taping of the blockbuster diasporic Vietnamese variety show Paris By Night 114: Tôi Là Người Việt Nam, and a poem of his appeared in the 2006 Best American Poetry anthology. His poems and essays are widely published in numerous publications including Screaming Monkeys and Spoken Word Revolution Redux. He has also released several CDs of his poetry, such as Refugeography and The Nguyens EP. A short story of his, Revolution Shuffle, appeared in the anthology Octavia’s Brood: Stories from Social Justice Movements, AK Press, 2015, and an essay of his was included in the anthology A Good Time for the Truth, edited by Sun Yung Shin, Minnesota Historical Society Press.

f070c83af410a5afeec167f172d086ec92bbee98Basia Tran is a Polish-Vietnamese children’s book and lifestyle illustrator currently based in her hometown Kraków, Poland.
Illustration BFA with Honors, Ringling College of Art & Design, Sarasota FL, USA
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Basia Tran jest polsko-wietnamską ilustratorką książeczek dla dzieci oraz designerką. Ukończyła studia z honorami na wydziale ilustratorstwa w Ringling College of Art & Design w Sarasocie na Florydzie i aktualnie mieszka i pracuje w pięknym, rodzinnym Krakowie.
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Basia Trần là một họa sĩ minh họa và thiết kế đồ họa người Việt Nam và Ba Lan. Bố mẹ của Basia sinh ra ở Thái Bình, nhưng Basia đã được sinh ra và lớn lên ở Kraków, Ba Lan. Tốt nghiệp đại học tại Ringling College of Art & Design ở Sarasota, Mỹ, bây giờ Basia đang làm việc ở quê nhà tại Kraków, Ba Lan. 
E-mail: tranbasia@gmail.com

The Immortal Jellyfish

Written & Illustrated by: Sang Miao

For ages: 5-8 years

Language: English

Topics Covered: Family, Grief, Loss, Love, Social-Emotional Growth & Development, Death.

Summary:  

This is a beautiful book in both storyline and artwork.  Our main character is a small boy who is told about a jellyfish that can revert back to the polyp stage and grow up again, thus being essentially immortal. The child wonders if people are immortal, and his grandfather says no.  Then, the child doesn’t see his grandfather for a bit.  His parents tell him that his grandfather died, and he won’t get to see him anymore.  The child cries, and falls asleep thinking of his grandfather.  Suddenly, his grandpa appears and the pair fly into the air on a mission to become immortal.  A fantastical adventure ensues in which the pair end up at the Life Transfer City and meet some of the individuals there.  We won’t spoil the ending, but do you think the young boy will see his grandpa again?

The book is a beautiful take on grief and remembering a loved one that has passed on.  The whimsical illustrations convey the dreamscape adventure that the protagonist goes on, and we can’t get enough!  Grief is a difficult concept for young children to fully grasp, and this does a great job of explaining how a person can always be around in memories and dreams.  What we also love about this book is the way it tackles both losing a family member and the fact that everything ends up passing on, maybe at the Life Transfer Station!

 This book was sent to us by Flying Eye Books, Nobrow in the UK, but all opinions are our own!

Reflection Questions:

  • Who is an important person in your family?
  • Do you ever have dreams about your family or friends?
  • Do you have any other questions about the jellyfish, Life Transfer Center, or any of the other topics that the book talked about?

About the Author & Illustrator:

619303HmNrL._US230_Sang Miao is a freelance illustrator who recently graduated form the University of Brighton in the UK. She has since been doing work for numerous fiction and children’s book projects, including Sang’s first project with Flying Eye Books, Out, Out, Away From Here. She currently lives in China.  Visit her Instagram!

The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl

Written by: Stacy McAnulty

Cover Art by: We can’t find this, if you know-let us know!!

For ages: YA Book-middle grades

Language: English

Topics Covered: Middle School, Neurodivergence, OCD, Friendship, Fitting In, Self-Acceptance, STEM, Synesthesia, Social-Emotional Learning & Development. 

Summary: This book was great!  Lucy Callahan got struck by lightning, and because of this gained extraordinary mathematical abilities, as well as synesthesia and OCD.  After being homeschooled by her grandmother, she is thrust into the 7th grade at a local public school despite having taken both high school and college courses.  Lucy has a plethora of online friends on math forums and they are her only interactions.  She rarely leaves the house, and has severe germ anxieties.  Her grandmother makes her a deal-1 year, 1 book, 1 friend, and Lucy can go to college.

Lucy starts school, navigating being the new kid and having her compulsive habits publicly acknowledged by classmates.  This book, which we won’t give too much away, is about self-discovery, patience, and friendship.  Lucy may be a genius, but she has some trouble relating to others.  Luckily a service project, animal shelter, and a couple friends come along and help Lucy realize that maybe being out in the world, and seventh grade, aren’t so bad after all.

About the Author:

stacy mcanultyStacy McAnulty is a children’s book author, who used to be a mechanical engineer, who’s also qualified to be a dog therapist (is that a thing???), a correspondent for The Daily Show (why not), and a Green Bay Packer coach (totally!). She has written dozens of books including her debut middle-grade novel, The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl , a Junior Library Guild Selection, and the 2017 Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Honor book Excellent Ed, illustrated by Julia Sarcone-Roach. Her other picture books include Earth! My First 4.54 Billion Years, illustrated by David Litchfield; Max Explains Everything: Grocery Store Expert, illustrated by Deborah Hocking, Brave and Beautiful, both illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff; Mr. Fuzzbuster Knows He’s the Favorite, illustrated by Edward Hemingway; and 101 Reasons Why I’m Not Taking a Bath, illustrated by Joy Ang. She’s also authored the chapter book series Goldie Blox, based on the award-winning toys, and The Dino Files. When not writing, Stacy likes to listen to NPR, bake triple-chocolate cupcakes, and eat triple-chocolate cupcakes. Originally from upstate NY, she now lives in Kernersville, NC with her 3 kids, 3 dogs, and 1 husband.

 

Fanatical About Frogs

Written & Illustrated by: Owen Davey

For ages: any age

Language: English

Topics Covered: STEM, Nature, Conservation, Natural World.

Summary: This is the latest installment of Owen Davey’s animal series, and I bet if you’ve been reading our book reviews for a bit you can guess what we think about it.  Davey has written & illustrated books in this series about beetles, sharks, monkeys, and cats!

I’ll give you a hint: it starts with L and ends with -OVE!  Davey has the incredible ability to give readers a huge amount of information but not have an overwhelming amount of text.  Inside the book, the reader learns all about amphibian attributes and adaptations like specialized skin and feet since so much time is spent in the water!

Something we really like about this particular book is that on some pages Davey has done life-size drawings of different species of frogs!  There are all types of really cool frogs inside this book, and there is a wide range of topics covered.  At the back are the few pages that make the series special too-a part about different mythology surrounding the animal as well as conservation efforts.

This book was sent by Flying Eye Books for consideration of the Best Books of 2019 event that we are participating in, and we could not be more grateful.  However, all opinions remain our own!

About the Author & Illustrator:

owen-2Owen Davey is an award-winning Illustrator, living & working in Leicester, UK. He has a First Class BA(Hons) Degree in Illustration from Falmouth University. Davey is a primary Illustrator for TwoDots which has been #1 in over 70 countries, as well as the illustrator of iPad App of the Year 2015 game, The Robot Factory.  His work has been published in every continent except Antarctica, including picture books in UK, America, Australia, Germany, France, The Netherlands, Portugal, China, Sweden, Russia & South Korea!

We Are Everywhere

Created & Compiled by: Matthew Riemer & Leighton Brown

For ages: all ages

Language: English

Topics Covered: LGBTQ History, Activism, Global Community, Own Voices.

Summary: So this might seem like a funky book to review since we primarily do children’s books, but it’s really not.  Corrie in particular had a favorite book when she was little, it was a giant photo book of the best Life Magazine photos of the 20th century! Being able to flip through that giant heavy book and learn all sorts of facts, look at picture and camera technology develop through the years, and learn about lots of events that were never taught in school was (and still is) very important to her.

This book is incredible!  We saw it once in a shop when we were traveling and it was too heavy to take home, so we didn’t end up buying it.  The book itself is a huge and beautiful coffee table book and contains our queer history in between the covers.  Being able to look back on historical LGBTQ figures & activists is so special.  Many names and lives have been forgotten, particularly with the loss of a generation during the AIDS epidemic. Looking back on the work that activists who came before us, and seeing them in action is nothing short of inspiring.

Such time and care was put into developing this volume of photos, we are looking at our past.  The LGBTQ community is indebted to those who struggled before us, and without their sacrifices we would not have as many protections as we do today.  Our community still struggles today, and Black trans women of color are being murdered at sickening rates.  This book reminds us that the fight is not over, in one of the most beautiful and comprehensive ways we personally have ever seen.  This book will be parking itself right on our coffee table and not leaving!

This book was generously given to us by Ten Speed Press in exchange for an honest review, all opinions are our own!

About the Creators:

Best-known as the creators and curators of Instagram’s @lgbt_history, Matthew Riemer and Leighton Brown blend striking imagery and meticulously researched narratives to uncover details too often overlooked. With a uniquely engaging ability to grapple with queer history so that individuals and organizations can understand the present and shape the future, Matthew and Leighton’s approach to history teaches, challenges, and inspires.

Described as “absolutely essential” by Out magazine, @lgbt_history has drawn praise for for “giving special attention to the often overlooked stories of transgender and bisexual members of the community . . . [as well as] to people of color and people with disabilities, who have been crucial to the advancement of queer liberation but often go ignored.”

Matthew and Leighton live in Washington, D.C., where Leighton is an attorney and Matthew, a former attorney, is a writer and lecturer. They enjoy fighting fascists, spending time with their dog, and disrupting fundamentalists’ worldviews. We Are Everywhere is the couple’s first book. 

The Birth of Cool; How Jazz Great Miles Davis Found His Sound

Written by: Kathleen Cornell Berman

Illustrated by: Keith Henry Brown

For ages: second grade and up

Language: English

Topics Covered: POC-Centric Narratives, Historical Figure, Musician, Trailblazer. 

Summary: This beautifully illustrated picture book and it’s accompanying poem are an incredible testament to a legendary musician, but does not cover much about his personal life and the darker parts of his story (more on that in a note for educators at the end of this summary). The illustrations, by Keith Henry Brown, are raw and jittery, defying the usual expectation of figures clearly defined, matching the energy of the music and constant adaptation and exploration that marked Davis’ journey. He travels from Illinois, to Arkansas, and finally to New York City where he became a part of the coterie of musicians that included Charlie “Bird” Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and other notable members of the bebop jazz scene at the time. Though he found a place with those musicians, Davis was not content to rest on his laurels, instead pushing himself to discover new avenues of sound. This new style that he rang in with the album Birth of the Cool in 1957. This book pays homage to the drive and pure sound that Davis discovered in himself, and the changes that he made to jazz and American musical history, and it is a worthwhile read for jazz lovers and dilettantes as well.

Tiny Activist Note to Educators:

While Davis had periods of unmatched musical creativity and success, he also suffered from a debilitating drug addiction, which is not covered by this book. He was known as “The Prince of Darkness” and this was not just a nickname-he was prone to bouts of anger, and readily admitted to physically abusing his first wife, Frances Davis, while high on cocaine, alcohol and/or heroin.  This is obviously a tricky subject to reckon with, particularly in a classroom setting.  While both sides of the story are important, some of these details should be potentially left unshared unless in a place for open classroom discussion and caregiver knowledge.  Some students may be grappling with these issues in their own lives, we feel that anything beyond the storybook needs to be carefully considered.  You know your classroom best!

Reflection Questions:

  • What do you know about jazz music?
  • What types of music do you like to listen to?
  • Can anyone in your family play an instrument?
  • What instrument do you think would be fun to play?

About the Author & the Illustrator:

img_3291Kathleen most likely started her writing career in her friend’s garage; writing plays for the little kids in the neighborhood. Reading stories about celebrities and writing an opinion page about them was a fun pastime of hers.

It was a lucky break for Kathleen to teach in the NYC schools when the arts flourished.  She and her students worked with the NYC ballet, architects, writers, and fine artists. It was a wonderful experience for both students and teachers. She was inspired to write children’s stories after reading Roald Dahl stories aloud to her students. After teaching, she spent more time focusing on the craft of writing. She is now a published author who is still writing lots of stories over and over because it takes time to find the perfect words to write a story for kids.

Artist Statement:

My work consists of sculptures and assemblages constructed with found objects. Most of my pieces are made from wood, usually found at garage sales, flea markets, and the beach.

My inspiration comes from many great artists like Louise Nevelson and David Smith as well as African Art, dance, music, nature, and even home décor designs .The energy, cultural differences, and towering architecture of New York City will continue to thrill and motivate me.

I believe art is refuge from the inane; it fuses random fragments into a focused visual being. I love the challenge of taking parts of found objects and creating something visually compelling. My goal is to present a piece that offers one, an escape from reality and into a place that ignites the imagination and encourages the eyes to dance.

Photo+by+John+AbbottKeith Henry Brown began his career like many young artists, dreaming of becoming a cartoonist at Marvel Comics. After attending the High School for Art and Design in New York and a brief stint as an illustrator for a couple of comic companies including his beloved Marvel, Brown went on to pursue a career in painting, and later, as an illustrator. His favorite artists at this time were innovators like Howard Pyle, Frank Frazetta, Burton Silverman, Le Roy Neiman, David Stone Martin, as well as painters Diego Rivera, Picasso, and Jean Michel-Basquiat, among others.

Brown began publishing watercolor paintings. First for greeting cards and then newspapers and magazines. Being a lifelong music freak, his work has placed a special concentration on jazz, which reflected my lifelong love of the music.

In the late nineties, Brown forged a career in design and in 1997, became Design Manager for Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby. Then he became Creative Director at Jazz at Lincoln Center in 2001. Handpicked for the position by Artistic Director Wynton Marsalis, Brown designed marketing and promotional graphics for the 2004 opening of the celebrated “House of Swing”– a new facility specifically designed for jazz music, Frederick P. Rose Hall at Columbus Circle in New York City.

He has designed and illustrated several jazz CD covers for Christian McBride, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Duke Ellington, The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, and many others.

Brown lives in Brooklyn New York, where he continues to write, paint and draw stuff.