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Books We Love: Take a Picture of Me, James Van Der Zee!

#DiverseKidLit, Books We Love

Take a Picture of Me, James Van Der Zee!
by Andrea Lorey

Take a Picture of Me, James Van Der Zee! is one of those books that tells the story of someone we should have all known about a long time ago. James Van Der Zee was a remarkable photographer during the Harlem Renaissance. His story is one of triumph over adversity, perseverance through doubt, and above all, hard work.

Something that captivated me through this book was the way Lorey and illustrator Keith Mallett bring Van Der Zee’s story to life. As a reader, I felt transported to 1890s Massachusetts and 1920s New York City. This book is captivating, and will absolutely grab the interest of children in classrooms around the world.

This book is so desperately needed in the world right now, as it preaches the importance of representation. As the book explains, before Van Der Zee’s photos, most pictures of black people were “sad and grim depictions of poor farm workers or struggling city dwellers.” But with Van Der Zee behind the camera, “Click! Boom! Everything changed.” I can only imagine how powerful that must have been. We are so fortunate to have Van Der Zee’s photos as documentation of the energy of 1930s Harlem. And thanks to Lorey and Mallett, Van Der Zee’s photos will inspire a new generation of viewers.

Take a Picture of Me, James Van Der Zee! will be released in May 2017 by Lee & Low Books.

Note: I received an Advanced Review Copy of this book from Lee & Low Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions in this review are my own. Thanks for reading!

Books We Love: Maybe Something Beautiful

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Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood
by F. Isabel Campoy and Teresa Howell
Illustrated by Rafael López

There is something so powerful about the way we see things. In any given day, there are a million moments where our mindset and vision make a huge difference. Maybe Something Beautiful celebrates the mindset of a girl who sees beauty in her community. She works with others to turn grey into a rainbow. Along the way, she discovers beauty not only in the art, but in the people who create it.

This book is such a great fit for elementary school classrooms, because it promotes pulling people in with your passion. It encourages kids to be unapologetically excited about the things they love. If you find joy in something, you might inspire others to find joy in it, too.

Maybe Something Beautiful is a super sweet read. With incredible illustrations by Rafael López, your students will be captivated. If you’re looking for a heartwarming addition to your classroom library, this book will be perfect for your shelves.

Enjoy the book trailer below:

Books We Love: Ada’s Violin: The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay

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Ada’s Violin: The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay
Written by Susan Hood
Illustrated by Sally Wern Comport

“Buried in the trash was music. And buried in themselves was something to be proud of.”

When I was eight years old, I joined a choir at my elementary school called the Peacemakers. I speak often about how being a part of a music group changed my life. It gave me confidence and instilled a strong work ethic. Nothing felt more magical than coming together to create one sound. Today, I get to see my third grade students shine in the Peacemakers, too, and I can see yet again how instruments and songs can make a difference. When I picked up Ada’s Violin, I immediately felt connected to the story of music changing lives.

It’s not often that you find a nonfiction book that so strongly radiates hope. While children’s stories often teach lessons and inspire to action, the story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay reaches another level. Teaching lessons of growth, perseverance, environmental activism and diversity, not a page goes by in Ada’s Violin that doesn’t inspire.

At its heart a story about the power of education, Ada’s Violin follows a young girl in Cateura, Paraguay as she lives her life among trash heaps. In a small town where mot people are employed as “recyclers” who go through the trash each night, Ada strives for something more for herself and her younger sister. Her call is answered when her grandmother signs her up for lessons with a man named Favio Chávez. As Favio realizes his students are without instruments, he begins to create them out of the trash that lines the streets. Over time, the instruments and their musicians come together to create a beautiful orchestra.

As soon as I finished reading Ada’s Violin, I picked it up to read it again. There are so many ways in which this book gets you thinking. This story holds the promise of change. It urges us to change the way we use and throw out garbage. It urges us to find magic in the smallest things. It urges us to never give up, even when the odds are stacked against us. As Favio Chavez tells his students, we all must “be kind, always say please and thank you, say you’re sorry, be dedicated when you commit to something.” Ada’s Violin inspires us to do just that.

Friday Five: Books for Black History Month and Beyond

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“I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits.”
Martin Luther King, Jr., 1964, Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech

Around February every year, I see lists of great books featuring black protagonists or written by black authors. I love having this opportunity to share books that celebrate some amazing figures in our nation’s history. My hope, however, is that we can use these texts year-round in our classrooms. Kids deserve to see themselves represented in literature, and they also need to see the lives of others represented. My students have all read at least four of the books on today’s Friday Five list, and I can tell you that these books are in high demand year-round. The time is always right to share these stories with our children.

Martin’s Big Words
by Doreen Rappaport

I have always found the words of historical figures to be powerful tools in understanding a person’s impact on the world. The words of Martin Luther King Jr. live on in both our hearts and on stone, and with good reasons. My students were so inspired by the words of Dr. King, and they created posters to share their favorite quotes from the story. The quotes hang around our classroom as a reminder to be our best selves and help others in every way we can.

The Other Side
by Jacqueline Woodson

My students absolutely love Jacqueline Woodson’s books, and I love the way they introduce empathy and understanding to kids. In a New York Times article, author Kwame Alexander referenced Woodson’s books, then said: “If we don’t give children books that are literary mirrors as well as windows to the whole world of possibility, if these books don’t give them the opportunity to see outside themselves, then how can we expect them to grow into adults who connect in meaningful ways to a global community, to people who might look or live differently than they?” The Other Side is an excellent example of how Woodson creates windows and mirrors for kids.
Through My Eyes
by Ruby Bridges
There’s something extremely powerful about hearing someone’s story in their own words. Ruby Bridges’ memoir for children is an incredible collection of moments, feelings and memories. I read Through My Eyes for the first time in third grade, and I was completely hooked. I’ve never forgotten Ruby Bridges’ story. When I met her at a conference in 2012, I had the chance to tell her what an impact Through My Eyes made on me. The book is still inspiring children to reach out of their comfort zones in order to make connections with others.
Preaching to the Chickens: The Story of Young John Lewis
by Jabari Asim
In 2012, I met Congressman John Lewis for the first time at the National Book Festival in Washington, DC. I asked him what work was left to be done for civil rights education, and he said “I think it’s important for all of our schools, elementary, middle school but even kindergarten level, really to teach young people about what happened and how it happened.” In our country, we have a tendency to teach a few lessons about the Civil Rights Movement during January and February, then check it off our list of things to cover. We need to make sure that education about civil rights heroes is engrained in our instruction so that students can understand America’s history. Preaching to the Chickens is an amazing new biography from Jabari Asim. It tells the story of John Lewis’ childhood, inspiring children to realize that any kid can grow up to be a world changer.
Who Was Rosa Parks?
Rosa Parks once wrote, “People always say that I didn’t give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn’t true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was forty-two. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.” Rosa Parks’ story is one that often gets reduced to a sentence or two of a black history month presentation. My students love this book because it lets them dig deep into the story of Rosa Parks’ deliberate actions towards creating a better world.

Feel free to share your favorite books in the comments below!

Books We Love: This is Me: A Story of Who We Are & Where We Came From

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This is Me: A Story of Who We Are & Where We Came From
Written by Jamie Lee Curtis
Illustrated by Laura Cornell

“For who you all are isn’t JUST what you’ve GOT, but part what you learn, part what you’re taught. Who you become STARTS with your past, family histories and stories that last.”

“Where did you come from? Because it wasn’t here.” That’s the message written on a classroom chalkboard at the start of Jamie Lee Curtis’ This is Me. For those of us who aren’t Native American, our ancestors all came to this land from somewhere.

This is Me is a collection of questions about immigration, ancestry, and what it means to call a place home. In one scene, a narrator tells us about her great-grandmother, who arrived from “a far, distant place. She came on a boat, with just this small case.” The objects in the case tell us much about what life was like for the great-grandmother as a little girl. Readers are encouraged to ask questions and make inferences about the items that represent a little girl’s life.

At the end of the book, students are encouraged to think: if you had to leave today, what would you bring? The book suggests that the objects we choose probably aren’t our most expensive possessions. Instead, we choose items that connect to the people and places we call home.

This book landed on my bookshelf at a time when so many children are asking big questions about identity, immigration, and what it means to be an American. This book deserves a place in classrooms and homes so that it can start conversations about what defines us. After all, our identity isn’t just what we’ve got. It’s part what we learn and part what we’re taught.

Review: She Stood For Freedom

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She Stood for Freedom: The Untold Story of a Civil Rights Hero, Joan Trumpauer Mulholland
by Loki Mulholland and Angela Fairwell
Art by Charlotta Janssen

My Rating:

Note: She Stood For Freedom will be released on August 2nd, 2016 by Shadow Mountain Publishing. A link to pre-order is included at the bottom of this review.


“Remember, you don’t have to change the world… just change your world.” She Stood For Freedom tells the story of Joan Trumpauer Mulholland, an ordinary girl from Virginia who did extraordinary things during the Civil Rights Movement.

In college, I took a class with the late Julian Bond called Oral History of the Civil Rights Movement. It was all about hearing the stories of ordinary people who contributed in some way to the Civil Rights Movement during the 1960s. Our one assignment was to document the stories of an activist from the time. I was lucky enough to interview Virginia Ali, who taught me that every single person on this earth has a story to tell.

Joan Trumpauer Mulholland’s story is particularly remarkable. She abandoned her life at Duke University to put her life on the line for her values. She traveled to the Deep South during a time of tumult and and fear. She participated in sit-ins, spoke up about her beliefs, and fiercely protected her fellow activists.

Her son, Loki Mulholland, tells her story in She Stood For Freedom. A fantastically written biography, the book takes you to the time period and immerses you in the events by using vivid language and dialogue. Accompanied by incredible artwork from Charlotta Janssen, She Stood for Freedom is a great biography for middle grade or young adult readers. Through inclusion of artifacts and dialogue, She Stood for Freedom will tell Joan Mulholland’s story for years to come.

Favorite Passages

On an important lesson:
“You can never go wrong by doing what is right. It might not be easy, but it is always right.”

On changing things:
“Anyone can make a difference. You don’t need to be a Dr. King or a Rosa Parks. It doesn’t matter how old or young you are. Find a problem, get some friends together, and go fix it. Remember, you don’t have to change the world… just change your world.”

Classroom Connections

This text is bound to find its home in many language arts and history classes!

  • This book can serve as a mentor text for biography or nonfiction writing units at the middle school level. Students can learn from the author’s use of dialogue, imagery, and questioning within nonfiction writing.
  • Students can examine the pictures and infer about the character’s emotions based on evidence from the text. The pictures are so well created through collage that students will have a lot to say about them!
  • Artifacts pictured throughout the book can be used during a unit on the Civil Rights Movement.

Book Information
Title: She Stood For Freedom
Authors: Loki Mulholland Loki Mulholland and Angela Fairwell
Illustrator: Charlotta Janssen
Publisher: Shadow Mountain Publishing
Release Date: August 2016
Price: US $17.99
Source: Edelweiss – Advanced Review Copy

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Disclaimer: I received an Advanced Review Copy of this book from Shadow Mountain Publishing in exchange for an honest review. All opinions in this review are my own. Thanks for reading!

Review: For the Right to Learn – Malala Yousafzai’s Story

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For the Right to Learn: Malala Yousafzai’s Story
by Rebecca Langston-George

My Rating:

Those of you who know me know that girls’ education is a cause that is near and dear to my heart. I’ve spent the last three years of my life as Founding President of American University’s chapter of She’s the First, an organization that provides scholarships to girls in low-income countries who will be the first in their families to graduate from high school. People like Malala inspire me to continue advocating for girls’ education, as well as educating myself and others about the struggles faced by girls and women around the world. Over the past three years, our chapter has raised over $40,000 to sponsor girls who will be the first in their families to graduate, and we’ve learned so much about leadership along the way.

When I saw that Rebecca Langston-George had written a book to tell Malala’s story to readers 9-12, I was so thrilled that there would finally be a way to share Malala’s inspiring story with children. While Malala’s rise to fame started with a violent act against her, her story is one of peace and teamwork that carries meaningful lessons for students.

The illustrations by Janna Bock are absolutely breathtaking. They truly bring Malala and her village to life for readers who may have never seen pictures of the beautiful mountains in which Malala grew up. The pictures add to the story, communicating meaningful information and allowing students to make inferences based on the visuals.

Starting the story back when Malala was a little girl, Langston-George’s beautiful writing brings the story to life and truly conveys the determination that surrounded every moment of Malala’s journey. The book manages to communicate a large amount of historical information into a piece that is appropriate in length and language for the 4th-6th grade set.

I expect this book to be turning up in many classrooms and libraries in the months to come. So many students will learn about Malala through this book, and I hope they will be as inspired by her journey as I am.

Classroom Connections

  • A glossary is included in the back of the book, along with a page with more historical information for teachers and parents who may like to bring a little more detail to their teaching of the story. This is a great resource for adults who are sharing this book with young readers.
  • This book is a great fit for a biography project. If students are researching key historical figures, Malala certainly qualifies as a “living legend.” This book is a great introduction to her story and can be a helpful starting resource for students who are looking into Malala’s life.
  • Malala’s speeches and blog posts are key moments in this story. Youtube videos and online blog posts are publicly available, and sharing videos with students while reading about Malala’s story can help students to grasp that Malala is a real person with a real story of growth and determination.

Book Information
Title: For the Right to Learn
Author: Rebecca Langston-George
Illustrator: Janna Bock
Publisher: Capstone
Release Date: September 1st, 2015
Price: US $15.95
Source: NetGalley – Advanced Review Copy

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Disclaimer: I received an Advanced Review Copy of this text from Capstone in exchange for an honest review. All opinions in this review are my own – thank you for reading!

Review: Everything, Everything

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Everything, Everything
by Nicola Yoon

My Rating:

Note: Everything, Everything will be released on Tuesday, September 1st by Random House Children’s. A link to preorder is included at the bottom of this review.

I loved this book in so many ways, it might be hard to explain them all. Trust me when I say this book is absolutely, positively worth your time. It makes you think, reflect, laugh, and cry all at once, and you’ll learn so much through the story.

Madeline F. Whittier is an 18-year-old girl who lives her life trapped in a bubble. As a baby, a chain of illnesses led to a diagnosis of SCID – a disease that basically means Madeline is allergic to the outside world. She has never left her house, where air filters and windows that don’t open keep her safe. Her only connections with society come in the form of her mom, her nurse Carla, and her Tumblr friends.

That’s until Olly arrives. When a family moves in next door, Madeline (or Maddy, as Olly calls her) quickly unlocks the world around her in more ways than one. A life path that was once predictable and safe becomes “unknown and unknowable.” Madeline finds out the truth about the world around her, and learns the difference between being alive and truly living.

A summary doesn’t do this book justice, because there is so much more than the cliche romance some might expect from a book about a sick girl and a boy who “saves her.” In fact, as Madeline says, “I’m not a princess. And I don’t need rescuing.” Olly and Madeline have their own problems and their own solutions for them. Their relationship doesn’t fix everything, and it’s not perfect (nor should it be). Their relationship is largely about respect, which sets a fantastic example for YA readers. Maddy and Olly’s is a romance in which Olly thinks Maddy is “funny and smart and beautiful in that order, and the order matters.” Their relationship is admirable, sweet, relatable and beautiful all at once, and that’s one of the highlights of Everything, Everything.

The creative way the story is told will captivate readers, especially young adults. Beautiful prose from Madeline’s perspective is mixed with IM transcripts, childhood diary entries, school notes, and other creative “artifacts” from Madeline’s life. Breakout writer Nicole Yoon’s unique style makes this book a page turner, and the pacing is absolutely perfect. Passages that are meant to be funny are absolutely hilarious, and parts of the story that are meant to be inspirational are relatable and honest instead of preachy.

As the tagline of the book says, “the greatest risk is not taking one.” This is a book that takes risks, and asks the reader to come along for the ride. Addressing issues such as growing up, mental illness, race, and more, this book is one that will speak to a young adult generation that is socially conscious and wants to learn more about the issues that affect others. While Yoon takes risks in her subject matter and the way in which she tells the story, it’s the risks that Maddy and Olly take that will captivate readers and make this a favorite of many for 2015.

This is the type of book I can’t wait to talk to people about, because it’s filled with so much wisdom and inspiration mixed with youthful optimism, and I can’t wait to hear how it speaks to readers differently. Reserve it at your local library, pre-order it on Amazon, or find some other way to get this book in your hands this September. This book truly has everything, everything.

Book Information
Title: Everything, Everything
Author: Nicola Yoon
Illustrator: David Yoon
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Release Date: September 1st, 2015
Price: US $21.99
Source: NetGalley – Advanced Review Copy

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Penguin Random House

Disclaimer: I received an Advanced Review Copy of this text from Random House Children’s. All opinions in this review are my own!