Board Book Review: Barack Obama 101

This introduction to Barack Obama is informative enough to hold even an older child’s attention.

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Barack Obama 101 by Brad M. Epstein.
Michaelson Entertainment, Los Angeles, CA, 2008.
Informative non-fiction board book, 26 pages.

Barack Obama 101 packs a surprising amount of practical information into a board book, covering both basic facts about the presidency and Obama’s life up to his presidential election.

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Barack Obama 101 by Brad M. Epstein.

Every time I shop at my favorite used bookstore, I take a minute to peruse their used board books.  They never have more than a few shelves, mostly of the same titles, so it doesn’t take long.  And I’ve never purchased any there.  Why look?  I’m determined to create a diverse board book library, which means I can’t turn down a chance to find books that might be out of print and difficult to obtain.

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Review: Coretta Scott King

“Coretta’s mother, Bernice, believed that education was the key to a better life. She encouraged her children to work hard in school.” page 11

History Maker Bios: Coretta Scott King by Laura Hamilton Waxman, illustrations by Tad Butler.
Originally published by Lerner Publishing Group, Minneapolis, Minnesota, my edition Barnes & Noble, New York, 2008.
Biography, 48 pages including extras and index.
Lexile:  720L  .
AR Level:  4.5 (worth 1.0 points)  .

A biography of Coretta Scott King, best known as the wife of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., although she was a civil rights activist herself as well.

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History Maker Bios: Coretta Scott King by Laura Hamilton Waxman.

Not long ago, I came across a Barnes and Noble that had all these little History Maker Bios and quite a lot of Sterling Biographies on clearance for a dollar each!  I spent a happy hour picking out all the African American ones.

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Review: Outliers

“Their success is not exceptional or mysterious. It is grounded in a web of advantages and inheritances, some deserved, some not, some earned, some just plain lucky – but all critical to making them who they are.” page 285

Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell.
Little, Brown, and Company, New York, 2008.
Adult nonfiction, 309 pages including notes and index.
Lexile:  1080L  .
AR Level:  7.8 (worth 13.0 points)  .

What do geniuses, rice paddies, hockey players, a Korean airline, a small town in Kentucky, and young Jamaican twins have to do with each other?  These topics and more are woven together in Gladwell’s explanation of success.

Outliers

This book goes beyond the ten thousand hours to achieve mastery theory to examine what else can effect our success or failure in life.  Gladwell looks at how community can change health, how Germany jumpstarted the Beatles, what made one Jewish lawyer wildly successful while his father struggled, and what linguistic difference makes Chinese children understand math more easily.

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Five Picture Books About African-Americans

Here are five books for the youngest readers that focus on different African Americans.  Some you may have heard of before, others may be new to you!
(Perhaps these will help you go beyond the big five.)

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Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave by Laban Carrick Hill, illustrated by Bryan Collier.

Dave must have been very strong, as he was able to create pottery that not many could.  He knew how to read and write, because he wrote poems on the side of some of his pottery.  This book shares the beauty and artistry of his life without ever ignoring the harsh reality that he was a slave.

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Ida B. Wells: Let the Truth Be Told by Walter Dean Meyers, illustrated by Bonnie Christensen.

This picture book does a great job of presenting the life story of Ida B. Wells, including difficult topics such as lynching.  Because of the subject matter, I’d recommend this for older picture book readers, or as a family read so parents can address any questions children might have.

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Major Taylor: Champion Cyclist by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James E. Ransome.

Did you know that Major Taylor was the first black world champion bicyclist?  He used hard work and athleticism to prove that race did not determine ability at a time when the world was determined to prove him otherwise.  This would be a great book to read before or after a bike ride, or when the weather keeps you indoors!

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Ruby Bridges Goes to School: My True Story by Ruby Bridges.

This nonfiction early reader is actually written by Ruby Bridges herself, and includes photos of her historic integration of a New Orleans elementary school.  This is one of my earliest reviews for this blog, so I was hesitant to link it, but there aren’t enough diverse early readers and this book should be better known.

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When the Beat Was Born: DJ Kool Herc and the Creation of Hip-Hop by Laban Carrick Hill, Illustrated by Theodore Taylor III.

I’m not much of a music person, so it’s surprising how much this book delighted me.  The story of DJ Kool Herc is fascinating and covers topics like immigration, community, and of course music!  The illustrations never fail to delight new readers and this remains a favorite in our house.
(Note: technically Kool Herc is a Jamaican-American, but he’s seen as part of the African-American community, which is why I included him on this list.)

Challenge: Beyond the Big Five

A simple challenge to take this year’s Black History Month beyond the basics.

So let’s talk about something.  America has a month devoted to African-American history (February).  Most teachers and school districts these days fall in line with this and do at least a few activities relating to the theme.

The problem?  Teachers, and schools, tend to focus on the Big Five:
(Paraphrases of inaccurate comments I’ve heard from schoolchildren in parenthesis.)

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
(that guy who dreamed the Civil Rights Movement.  Oh and they shot him.  That’s sad.)

Rosa Parks
(King’s wife who sat down on the bus.  She was so tired she just couldn’t get up again!)

Jackie Robinson
(they let him play baseball with the white guys, and he was good at it.)

Harriet Tubman
(she freed all the slaves, so Lincoln almost had nothing left to do later.)

And of course, Abraham Lincoln
(he’s white, but he helped the slaves so much.  Oh and they shot him.  That’s sad.)

Sometimes Nelson Mandela is thrown in, even though he is African, not African-American!

There are a few reasons for this.  African-American history and culture is so ignored by the mainstream culture, I’ve actually encountered people who don’t know that there were other notable blacks.  Not to mention, Husband (who doesn’t study this, but has been around when the kids and I read) got more questions right on a Black History Month quiz even compared to his African-American co-workers.  I would say that this blog helped educate him, but this was before blogging, when we were just starting to study Black History!

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E-book Review: Negro Explorer at the North Pole

“Another world’s accomplishment was done and finished, and as in the past, from the beginning of history, wherever the world’s work was done by a white man, he had been accompanied by a colored man.” page 136

A Negro Explorer at the North Pole by Matthew Henson, forward by Matthew E. Peary and introduction by Booker T. Washington.
Frederick A. Stokes Company, New York, 1912.
Available online at www.gutenberg.org/files/20923/20923-h/20923-h.htm
Accessed in September 2017.
Nonfiction, 200 pages.

Matthew Henson was the black man who accompanied Peary on most of his expeditions, including to the North Pole.  He received scant notice from the white people of the time, but his life story was very much in demand among African-Americans.  Eventually he used his journals from the trip to write this book.

Henson In His North Pole Furs After His Return
“Matthew A. Henson in his North Pole furs, taken after his return to civilization.” Facing page 139, A Negro Explorer at the North Pole.

The book is a curious mix of direct entries from Henson’s journals, summations of journal entries, and his direct writing covering periods of time when he couldn’t write or adding information he felt was helpful.

Racism is very present in this book.  For the most part, this is overt, although it does come out more blatantly.  There are two main forms of racism present – against African-Americans, and against Native Americans.

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Review: Flygirl

“Sure, they’d only been around a few years, they were dangerous, and quite frankly, only a handful of colored people knew how to fly.” page 29

Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith.
Scholastic, New York, 2008.
YA historical fiction, 275 pages.
Lexile:  HL680L  ( What does HL mean in Lexile? )
AR Level:  4.3 (worth 11.0 points)  .

Ida Mae Jones just wants to fly.  But her mother’s dead set against her even going North to get her pilot’s license.  So using her light skin color to join the WASP shouldn’t even be an option, but Ida will do anything to get in the air and help her military brother.

Flygirl

Those of you who have been reading for a while will recall that I’m pretty tough on historical fiction.  I want it to be inclusive of diverse characters and perspectives, but also realistic.  (A character might be targeted with hateful language, but the author should also make clear that those words are wrong.)  Depending on the grade level, I’d also like it to be appropriate for the age recommended, not too graphic nor too idealistic for young readers.  And, of course, it should be well written and have an interesting plot and intriguing characters.

I’m happy to share that Flygirl succeeds on every count.

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