@Cybils #Kidlit Biography: Before She Was Harriet

Let’s explore some of the fantastic nonfiction children’s books that have been nominated for 2018 Cybils awards.


Today’s picture book biography Before She Was Harriet is from the award-winning husband and wife team of Lesa Cline-Ransome and Coretta Scott King Illustrator, James E. Ransome.

One thing that sets this book apart is it is organized in reverse chronological order. The reader learns about Harriet Tubman in her later years first. The text reveals each of her earlier accomplishments layer by layer until we discover the young girl she once was. It is such a fresh approach and works really well.

Lesa Cline-Ransome’s text is lyrical and spare. It matches her husband’s absolutely gorgeous illustrations perfectly. They are a wonderful combination.

The book is sure to inspire kids to want to learn more about Harriet Tubman. Yet sadly, there is no back matter in the book for them to do so. No timeline, no glossary, no author notes, no suggestions of places for kids to find out more.

Still, Before She Was Harriet is a stand out that is attracting a lot of attention. In fact, I have to take my copy back to the library because someone else has already requested it. You should try to get your hands on a copy today.

Age Range: 4 – 8 years
Publisher: Holiday House (November 7, 2017)
ISBN-10: 0823420477
ISBN-13: 978-0823420476

Alabama Spitfire: The Story of Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird

This week To Kill a Mockingbird won The Great American Read contest.


That makes it a perfect time for young children to learn about the author and how the book came about by reading Alabama Spitfire: The Story of Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird by Bethany Hegedus and illustrated by Erin McGuire.

In spite of the overwhelming success of her novel, Harper Lee (full name Nelle Harper Lee) avoided doing interviews and rarely talked about herself. Regardless, author Bethany Hegedus was able to piece together details of Lee’s early life in Monroeville, Alabama and her later experiences writing the novel in New York City. I don’t want to give away all the details, but her relationship with a certain boy who she meets in her home town and then encounters again later in life is fascinating.

McGuire’s digital illustrations look like paintings. They capture the times and the tone of the book seamlessly.

It is important for children to realize that authors of books are real people because it helps them understand they might be able to become authors, too. Alabama Spitfire not only gives readers a glimpse into an author’s life, but also shows how she used details of her life to write a novel. It is a must read for those who love the novel, aspiring writers, and history buffs alike.

Related:

You can listen to what is touted as Lee’s only recorded interview on YouTube (from 1964). She discusses how she did not expect the popularity of the book.

This book was nominated for 2018 Cybils awards in the Elementary and Middle Grade Nonfiction category.

Age Range: 4 – 8 years
Publisher: Balzer + Bray (January 23, 2018)
ISBN-10: 0062456709
ISBN-13: 978-0062456700

Disclosure: The book was provided by our local library. Also, I am an affiliate with Amazon so I can provide you with cover images and links to more information about books and products. As you probably are aware, if you click through the highlighted title link and purchase a product, I will receive a very small commission, at no extra cost to you. Any proceeds help defray the costs of hosting and maintaining this website.

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Looking for more children’s nonfiction books? Try the Nonfiction Monday blog.

Two Children’s Books About Crossing Borders

What better way to learn about people who immigrate from Mexico to the United States than to read their personal stories? Let’s look at two sets of biographies nominated for 2018 Cybils awards, each with their own approach and voice.

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Artist and author Yuyi Morales stepped across the border from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico to El Paso, Texas in 1994. She writes about her experiences in Dreamers, the English version and Soñadores, the Spanish version.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dreamers/Soñadores is creative, dramatic, beautiful.

The English text is enriched with gems of higher-level vocabulary (for example, “resplendent”) and Spanish words (amor, caminantes, lucha). It gives room for learning.

The illustrations are gorgeous (Morales is a Caldecott Honor artist) and are full of symbolism. For example, the monarch butterfly on the cover represents an insect that migrates from Canada and the U.S. to Mexico and back. According to the author, the snakes represent difficulties in one’s path (see her explain some of the symbolism in this YouTube video).

The core message not only reveals the trials and joys of coming to a new place, but also celebrates the importance of books in easing the transition.

“Books became our language.
Books became our home.
Books became our lives. “

We are all for promoting/celebrating books!

Be sure to visit the back matter, which is also full of gems:

  • Check out the extensive list of books (45+) that inspired the author, such as Freight Train by Donald Crews.
  • Read Morales explanation in “My Story” that the tile of the book isn’t a reference to undocumented immigrant children who were brought to the United States — as the word is currently used — but has the broader meaning of imagining a better future.
  • “How I Made this Book” lists all the things she photographed and scanned for the illustrations. Send readers on a hunt to see if they can spot the items listed.

Dreamers/Soñadores is a complex and vibrant book. It will appeal to many different readers for many different reasons. Share a copy today.

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In contrast, Deborah Mills , Alfredo Alva, and illustrator Claudia Navarro use a bilingual approach with La Frontera / The Border: El viaje con papá/ My Journey With Papa, displaying the Spanish and English sections on the same page.

La Frontera takes the reader on the arduous and at times frightening trip made by a actual immigrant child. Over thirty years ago Alfredo Alva moved from La Ceja, Mexico to Texas with his father because their family had no means to support themselves. They waded/swam across the Rio Grande when Alfredo was only eight. At first, they lived in an old bus and Alfredo went to school while his father worked. Alfredo’s father gave him a $100 bill to carry with him at all times. It was for the bus fare back to his mother if he was ever deported without his father.

Although this is a picture book according to Amazon, the text is much denser than for Dreamers. There are two or three paragraphs of Spanish and then English on each two-page spread. This allows the story to unfold more fully, but puts it closer to a middle grade title.

The acrylic, graphite, and digital collage illustrations complement the story well. The back matter has black and white photographs of Alfredo and his family, plus a map of their journey.

La Frontera is children’s biography genre at its best. Young readers are likely to come back to it again and again.

Dreamers:
Age Range: 4 – 8 years
Publisher: Neal Porter Books (September 4, 2018)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0823440559
ISBN-13: 978-0823440559

Soñadores:
Age Range: 4 – 8 years
Publisher: Neal Porter Books (September 4, 2018)
Language: Spanish
ISBN-10: 0823442586
ISBN-13: 978-0823442584

La Frontera:
Age Range: 4 – 8 years
Publisher: Barefoot Books; Bilingual edition (May 1, 2018)
Language: Spanish and English
ISBN-10: 178285388X
ISBN-13: 978-1782853886

 

Disclosure: These books were provided by our local library. Also, I am an affiliate with Amazon so I can provide you with cover images and links to more information about books and products. As you probably are aware, if you click through the highlighted title link and purchase a product, I will receive a very small commission, at no extra cost to you. Any proceeds help defray the costs of hosting and maintaining this website.

Midnight Teacher #kidlit for Women’s History Month

For Women’s History Month, let’s take a look at the fantastic new historical fiction picture book, Midnight Teacher: Lilly Ann Granderson and Her Secret School by Janet Halfmann and illustrated by London Ladd.

What do you do if you find hints that there’s a fascinating person in history, but you can only find a few tantalizing mentions of her existence? What if the person’s name changed in the records, making it nearly impossible to get more information? If you are Janet Halfmann, you don’t give up.

Janet Halfmann followed the thread through history by tracing ancestral records. Once she contacted Lilly Ann Granderson’s descendants, she was able to pull together more of the story. This book is the result of persistent sleuthing and it paid off. Although this had to be a work of historical fiction because of the scarcity of details, Janet Halfmann built it on a solid foundation of historical fact.

Why did Halfmann want to tell this story so much? As an enslaved woman growing up in the 1820s and 1830s, Lilly Ann Granderson wasn’t allowed to learn read. Regardless, when her master’s children played school she joined in and used an old speller to teach herself. Later, she shared her learning with many other slaves. She held school at midnight so the owners wouldn’t find out, at the threat of a painful punishment if she were caught. She knew the ability to read was important enough to risk the consequences and she was dedicated to learning. She stood up and made a difference in the lives of those around her, and those who came after.

Adding tension to the story, London Ladd’s acrylic illustrations give just the right touch of drama. Check out his artistic process, starting from rough sketches. He even acts out the scenes and takes photographs of himself to help capture the mood.

Midnight Teacher would be perfect for Women’s History Month, but it also would be great for reluctant readers who might just be inspired to try harder by Lilly Ann Granderson’s dedication to education. Pick up a copy to share today!

Related:

Age Range: 7 – 10 years
Publisher: Lee & Low Books; Illustrated edition (February 13, 2018)
ISBN-10: 1620141639
ISBN-13: 978-1620141632

Disclosures: This book was provided electronically by the publisher for review purposes. I am an affiliate with Amazon so I can provide you with cover images and links to more information about books and products. As you probably are aware, if you click through the highlighted title link and purchase a product, I will receive a very small commission, at not extra cost to you. Any proceeds help defray the costs of hosting and maintaining this website.