November 18, 2017

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SLJ TV: “Book Nerds” Discuss Stellar Nonfiction Featuring Women

The latest episode of “Book Nerds” on SLJ TV centers on a topic near to my heart—nonfiction! Hosts SLJ reviews manager Shelley Diaz, Library Journal and SLJ reviews director Kiera Parrott, and I discuss our favorite 2017 biographies on women for children and teens. The video and a listing of all titles mentioned can be found below.

BROWN, Monica. Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos. illus. by John Parra. 40p. North South. Sept. 2017. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9780735842694. POP
Gr 1-4 –Two well-known children’s book creators present the life of iconic Mexican artist Frida Kahlo through the kid-friendly lens of her animal friends. Kahlo’s life as a young girl at La Casa Azul was marked by the support of her family, illness, and her “animalitos,” or the many pets and creatures that she loved. Each spread introduces a new animal, from Bonito the parrot to her spider monkeys Fulang Chang and Caimito de Guayabal. The text often makes comparisons between the featured critters and the independent, free-spirited girl and budding artist. Throughout, Brown makes references to Kahlo’s love of and inspiration by her Aztec culture, which was often seen in her art and evidenced by her pets’ names. The picture book biography touches only briefly upon some of the artist’s life-changing events, such as the accident she experienced in her teens or her marriage to Diego Rivera, but instead emphasizes the companionship of the animals with which she surrounded herself. Parra’s lively acrylic paintings pay tribute to the vibrant hues of Kahlo’s paintings, and her ties to her Mexican and Aztec heritage are apparent. A detailed author’s note about the subject’s life, art, and influence concludes the book and lists the many works in which her animalitos appear. VERDICT This unique and gorgeous take on the famous figure’s work will give children an accessible entry point to an important artist. A good choice for picture book biography shelves.–Shelley M. Diaz, School Library Journal

This review was published in School Library Journal‘s August 2017 issue.

redstarCHARLEYBOY, Lisa & Mary Beth Leatherdale, eds. #NotYourPrincess: Voices of Native American Women. 112p. illus. photos. Annick. Oct. 2017. Tr $19.95. ISBN 9781554519583; pap. $12.95. ISBN 9781554519576.

Gr 10 Up –According to the foreword, Charleyboy’s intent for this anthology is to provide a “space to not only write a love letter to all young Indigenous women trying to find their way, but also to help dispel those stereotypes so we can collectively move forward to a brighter future for all.” Charleyboy and Leatherdale have selected art, poetry, and prose created by Indigenous teenage girls and women that touch on a plethora of topics, from Standing Rock to ReMatriate, a collective of Indigenous women dedicated to showing the multiplicity of Indigenous identity through social media. Each entry is titled and accompanied by the author’s name and their tribal ancestry or affiliation. In addition to the text, art pieces such as Lianne Marie Leda Charlie’s Tagé Cho (Big River) and Pamela J. Peters’s Real NDNZ Re-Take Hollywood, which recasts iconic movie stars as Indigenous actors/actresses, deepen the conversation and provide alternative ways of looking at identity, history, and inherited trauma. Some entries are in dialogue with readers, while others offer deeply personal insights—and all emphasize the damage that ignoring or changing the rich histories of Indigenous people does, especially in regards to women. This portrait of girlhood is a necessary addition in line with #ownvoices and We Need Diverse Books movements. And with a hashtag as a title, it should garner much-needed attention on social media, in libraries, and on bookshelves. VERDICT A stunning anthology of creative writing and art—a love letter, indeed. All YA collections will want this.–Alicia Abdul, Albany High School, NY

This review was published in the School Library Journal September 2017 issue.

redstarCLINE-RANSOME, Lesa. Before She was Harriet. illus. by James E. Ransome. 32p. Holiday House. Nov. 2017. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9780823420476.

Gr 3-6 –Before and after Harriet Tubman became the stalwart conductor leading enslaved people to freedom on the Underground Railroad, she played many remarkable roles during her long life. Cline-Ransome honors Tubman in lyrical verse, beginning when the heroine is “tired and worn/her legs stiff/her back achy.” In each stanza, Tubman looks back to the time “before she was an old woman.” She recalls speaking out against injustice as a suffragist providing “a voice for women/who had none/in marriages/in courts/in voting booths.” She recollects everything she accomplished during the Civil War, spying for the Union and nursing the wounded. Looking back even farther, she remembers leading her people out of bondage and then her own arduous years in the slave owners’ fields. Before all of this, Tubman was a little girl named Araminta who dreamed of the time she would “leave behind slavery/along with her name/and pick a new one/Harriet.” Each episode in her compelling life is illustrated by a luminous watercolor. The expertly done expressive paintings evoke Tubman’s strength and integrity showing “the wisp of a woman with the courage of a lion.” VERDICT This lovely tribute effectively communicates Tubman’s ­everlasting bravery and resolve, and will ­inspire curious readers to learn more.–Linda L. Walkins, Saint Joseph Preparatory High School, Boston

This review was published in the School Library Journal October 2017 issue.

redstarRUBIN, Susan Goldman. Maya Lin: Thinking with Her Hands. 112p. bibliog. index. notes. photos. Chronicle. Nov. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781452108377.

Gr 4-8 –For many, Maya Lin’s name is synonymous with the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. This biography moves beyond that singular project to provide readers with a fuller picture of Lin. Born in the United States to Chinese parents and a “Class A nerd,” she never felt that she fit in until college. Rubin incorporates information about Lin’s life and family, while putting the primary focus of each chapter on a specific project. Lin’s thinking is outlined in each case, whether it is how to help people understand the civil rights movement (the Civil Rights Memorial, Montgomery, AL) or how to raise hopes and spirits with her design for a chapel for the Children’s Defense Fund in Clinton, TN. Pages of large text alternate with black-and-white family photos and striking color images of her designs, both as they were taking shape, and upon completed construction. The spare writing style and the book’s uncluttered layout provide a reading experience as thoughtful and emotionally connected as one of Lin’s installations. The narrative represents the artist’s body of work from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial to her current involvement with What Is Missing?, a project bringing attention to endangered species. VERDICT Thoughtfully written and visually engaging, this biography is a must for elementary and middle school libraries.–Maggie Knapp, Trinity Valley School, Fort Worth, TX

This review was published in the School Library Journal September 2017 issue.

redstarYOUSAFZAI, Malala. Malala’s Magic Pencil. illus. by Kerascoët. 48p. photos. Little, Brown. Oct. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780316319577. POP

Gr 3 Up –Yousafzai, the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize and campaigner for the rights of all children to attend school, has written her first picture book. It is an autobiographical account of her life designed for younger readers. She gently introduces her childhood in Pakistan and recounts a favorite TV show where a young boy has a magic pencil that he uses to help people. The magic pencil becomes a reoccurring motif throughout the work on how to make the world a better place. Of the infamous Taliban violence, she simply says, “My voice became so powerful that the dangerous men tried to silence me. But they failed.” The beautifully written book goes on to describe Yousafzai’s quest for justice and the importance of finding one’s voice. The enchanting story is accompanied by the beautiful illustrations of duo Sebastien Cosset and Maries Pommepuy, also known as “Kerascoët.” Sparse pen and ink outlines the bright, soft watercolors that effortlessly depict Yousafzai’s daily life and then are enhanced by delicate gold overlay drawings that highlight her magical wishes for a better world and the power that a single voice can command. This is a wonderful read for younger students that will also provide insight and encourage discussion about the wider world. Included are biographical notes and photos of Yousafzai and her ­family. VERDICT The simplicity of Yousafzai’s writing and the powerful message she sends, make this book inspirational for all. Highly recommended.–Carole Phillips, Greenacres Elementary School, Scarsdale, NY

This review was published in the School Library Journal August 2017 issue.

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Della Farrell About Della Farrell

Della Farrell is an Assistant Editor at School Library Journal and Editor of Series Made Simple

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