Childrens Book Reviews

This is Belle

Review by: Michael Lambert
Published: February 14, 2019

Every parent is looking for a book to inspire their children, and this book is special in so many ways.

For starters, the entire book is presented with beautiful graphics. Graphics are a part of every childrens book, or at least they should be, but the graphics often are an after thought. These graphics actually paint the picture that the story is telling. It's easy for a child to focus on the book because of these well presented graphics. Not too "slick", not to goofy, just right to speak to your child.

To further aid in your childs development, the book is written in two languages...showing side by side. Coming from south Florida this is invaluable. But should be considered valuable by anyone interested in language skills. Exposing a child (as well as the parent) to multiple lanaguages as early as possible is a great way to help insure an open mind, for language, as well as various cultures. And obviously a primarily spanish speaking family will be thrilled to have a well written childrens book written in english and the original author!

But there is no doubt that the true value of this book is it's message. I would actually say there are two distinct messages within the book. One is showing that any child that has difficulty finding friends or mixing in should realize that they are not alone. This simple fact can put your child at ease, and allow them to feel less alone and awkward. The second message suggests that the child find things in common with others, and build relationships based on the commonality. A message that should speak to children as well as adults, but too often doesn't.

I have had the opportunity to meet this author, as well as to "fight" with her, as she is a 3rd degree black belt in Aikido, and I am a shodan (1st degree). When Isabel is not swimming, running or pursuing other physical challenges, she teaches Aikido to children and exhibits great patience training the children to be respectful and controlled, but have fun. She and her family are amazing people, and their children are a testament to her ability to speak to and inspire children.

Title:This is Belle
Paperback: 26 Pages
Author: Isabel De La Vega
Publisher: AuthorHouse
Publication Date: 13 April 2017
Format: Paperback
ISBN-10: 1524687308
ISBN-13: 978-1524687304
For ages: 5 - 12


Charlie Morphs into a Mammoth

Review by: Shaye Wardrop
Published: February 20, 2020

How to describe Charlie Morphs into a Mammoth?

Outrageously hilarious, beyond engaging and the best fun you can have with paper and words!

This is a FANTASTIC series for kids. 

It follows Charlie McGuffin, who has a very special and interesting talent: Charlie can morph into animals!

He can make it happen by thinking about things that make him sad, angry or stressed, but he doesn’t quite have control over the animals he turns into, which results in hugely hilarious challenges for Charlie.

I haven’t read the first two books in the series (Charlie Changes into a Chicken and Charlie Turns into a T-Rex), but it caused me no confusion whatsoever. Author Sam Copeland does a great job of getting readers up to speed on Charlie’s adventures.

In this particular adventure, Charlie and his friends notice that pets and animals are going missing across town (feared eaten). Charlie’s friends suspect it’s Charlie changing into animals and eating other animals without realising it, but Charlie swears it isn’t him, even if the evidence points in that direction. Can Charlie and his friends solve the mystery of the missing (possibly eaten) animals?

Easy to read with large text and brilliant illustrations by Sarah Horne throughout (with some very funny Easter eggs to find), this is an engaging and addictive read. Kids (and adults) who love non-stop laughs and a fast moving story will love this book. 

It’s got a healthy dose of grossness kids will love and so much humour in some really cool and different ways — like the foot notes that appear throughout where Copeland adds in additional notes to hilarious effect, and the funny letters from fans and the publisher about Copeland’s quirky refusal to make Charlie change into the very animal that is described in the title of each book. 

But perhaps this is the one, dear reader. Perhaps Charlie will change into a mammoth in this instalment. 

You’ll just have to read it to find out!

Title: Charlie Morphs into a Mammoth
Author: Sam Copeland
Illustrator: Sarah Horne
Publisher: Penguin Random House, $14.99
Publication Date: 4 February 2020
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9780241346235
For ages: 7 - 12
Type: Junior Fiction, Middle Grade Fiction

The Corner of My Eye

Review by: Anastasia Gonis
Published: February 19, 2020

This is a book you must spend time with. Because it is the story of a life whose colour has gone out of everything and all is reflected in grey. You will want to read how this came about.

It is presented frame by intricate frame, in whole page illustrations that depict the amount of things collected in a lifetime, and the probability that more than half of them will be forgotten.

You don’t actually forget anything. You’ve collected so much stuff in your head there’s not enough room for it all, so you throw lots of it away.

Highly significant, these illustrations demand full attention. They are extraordinary; created with striking, detailed art work, and montages of photographs and other media.

Grandad has lost something. Can his granddaughter to help him find it? But what is it that is lost?

Colin Thompson’s story is unavoidably biographic and valuable. The excuse that ageing is uncomfortable to talk about and therefore is frequently avoided, steals from life. This stunning book’s theme is memory; something people of all ages struggle with. Thompson has written about life and its natural evolution, within a relationship between old and young. For nothing and no one is ever the same as it, or they are, at the beginning.

For collectors of extraordinary picture books, this is for you. Lovers of books that move you to tears and touch the heart, and those that want to give a gift that will be treasured, this is a priceless gem for every collection.

On the inside of the back cover is the most beautiful set of words, This is What Should Happen, a hymn to Old Age.

Colin Thompson began writing The Corner of My Eye in 2016. It will stay with me forever and with all those people that take it and read it for what it is.

Title: The Corner of My Eye
Author/Illustrator: Colin Thompson
Publisher: Walker Books, $26.99
Publication Date: October 2019
Format: Hardcover
ISBN: 9781925381931
For ages: 5+
Type: Picture Book

7 Steps to Get Your Child Reading

Review by: Shaye Wardrop
Published: February 19, 2020

If you’re anything like me, you are constantly worrying that you’re not doing enough as a parent.

You worry you have dropped the ball on something you find out all the other parents are doing. You worry your kids are falling behind in something and you could have done more to prevent it.

Reading and writing are big worries — reading in particular. Reading to kids is essential and exposing them to books at a young age is key.

But when and how and why? It isn't always clear.

Luckily, Louise Park has come to the rescue with 7 Steps to Get Your Child Reading.

Louise is a teacher, children’s author and an educational consultant. She knows what’s what when it comes to books, kids and literacy. 

But this isn’t just any non-fiction book. This is a book that has been written with time-poor parents in mind.

From the information to the layout to the design and fun illustrations, this is a book you will pick up and say ‘yes! This is exactly what I was looking for.’

Let’s start with the information. Divided into seven key chapters (one for each of the steps), Park covers everything from birth and up. There’s information about what comes before books and reading to support literacy, how writing is linked to reading (so really this is a book about supporting kids to write as well!), how to deal with the constant distraction of electronics and TV, and the two main philosophies on how to teach your kids to read. 

Plus more. There’s so much more. 

Park has translated all the research into parent-friendly language, and there’s a fantastic mix of real life stories, fact sections, quotes, detailed explanations (with lots of subheadings) and diagrams. There are also chapter takeaways at the end of every chapter.

The brilliant mix of information leads into layout and design. Different sections are clearly marked, the headings are large and funky, and a good balance of white space helps the eye. Nelle May Pierce’s illustrations also add to the fun and readability. Scattered throughout, they bring pizzazz to the pages. They are joyful and really do add to the reading experience.

But there’s more. One of the things I love most about this book is the step-by-step instructions Park provides for helping kids to read. She doesn’t just advise you to do this or do that, she actually shows you how to do it. 

Using her own brilliant books as examples, Park steps you through how to sit down with your kid and guide their learning-to-read experience page by page. Park outlines words kids might struggle with and what to do if they do indeed struggle to read them. She provides questions to ask them to prompt thinking and help them move forward.

The whole book is filled with useful tips and tricks — lots of them simple things that you can implement immediately without cost or effort.

I also love that this is a book for anyone with kids (or even pre-kid) no matter their age. A child’s reading journey really does start from birth, so if you have young babies, this book is for you. But if your kids are older — about to start school, just started taking home readers or have been reading for a while — this book is still for you. 

There’s so much useful information between the covers for encouraging life long readers. And no matter where your kids are on their reading journey, Louise Park has you covered. Insightful, helpful and made for time-poor parents, this is an easy and fun read packed with all the information you need to support kids through their reading adventures.

Highly, highly, highly recommended.

Title: 7 Steps to Get Your Child Reading
Author: Louise Park
Illustrator: Nelle May Pierce
Publisher: Allen and Unwin, $24.99
Publication Date: February 2020
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9781760524678
Type: Non-Fiction

Are These Hen's Eggs?

Review by: Cherri
Published: February 18, 2020

A delightful and surprising story featuring Hen, who is diligently protecting her eggs when a storm sweeps through and scatters eggs everywhere.

Hen was counting the days until her eggs hatched, but now she is searching for eggs, counting each one as she finds them with the help of her friends, including cat, dog, owl, goose and duck. Soon there are many eggs! Hen knows they cannot all be hers - some are big, others small, some are blue, some pink and some are even spotted - yet Hen cares for all of them.

Christina Booth is an award-winning Australian author/illustrator, with a gift for conveying emotion and joy in her many stories. Booth's illustrations are endearing, showing love between the hatchlings and their parents.

Are These Hen's Eggs? is a counting book, an egg hunt and a story of friendship and caring with surprises to be found on many pages.

Title: Are These Hen's Eggs?
Author/Illustrator: Christina Booth
Publisher: Allen&Unwin, $24.99
Publication Date: 4 February 2020
Format: Hardback
ISBN: 9781760523497
For ages: 3 - 6
Type: Picture Book

Alice-Miranda at School (10th Anniversary Edition)

Review by: Shaye Wardrop
Published: February 18, 2020

Can you believe it has been ten years since Alice-Miranda started her first day at boarding school — ten years since the fun and adventure began?

Now with 18 books in the series (and another due out in June 2020), activity books, journals and a movie, Alice-Miranda is a worldwide phenomenon!

But let me take you back to where it all began: Alice-Miranda at School.

We are first introduced to Alice-Miranda Highton-Smith-Kennington-Jones outside her new boarding school — the Winchesterfield-Downsfordvale Academy for Proper Young Ladies.

Alice-Miranda is actually too young to start school (she’s only seven and one quarter), and her parents are extremely teary about the giant milestone.

But Alice-Miranda is confident and bold, and she wants to go to boarding school. She’s ready for bigger things, so she moves to the academy, excited for her new beginning. 

Unfortunately for Alice-Miranda, things at Winchesterfield-Downsfordvale Academy for Proper Young Ladies are not quite what she expected. The headmistress is continuously absent and not very well liked, a mean and spoilt girl is terrorising the school, mysterious and unexplained occurrences keep happening, and the school has some very strange rules.

Alice-Miranda wants boarding school to be splendid and amazing — and she also wants to figure out what's going on at the school — so she pulls up her socks and gets to work, because, well, she’s Alice-Miranda.

Positive and chirpy, Alice-Miranda always sees the good in people. She believes everyone is good, and everyone and everything has value. Sometimes this can-do attitude lands her in trouble, but time and time again Alice-Miranda proves that her way of thinking wins out over negativity. She brings warmth and joy to everything she touches. 

As for the 10-year anniversary edition, how can you go past the stunning hard cover with shiny gold embellishments? You’ll also be treated to a letter from Jacqueline at the start of the book.

This is a brilliant series for junior readers. And like I said, there are 18 books in the series (and another due out in June), so it’s definitely a series to become obsessed with (in the very best bookish way!).

As far as recommended reading age goes, that’s a tricky one. I've heard Jacqueline Harvey mention in several interviews that the Alice-Miranda readership spans from very junior readers all the way up to teens. I recommend that if you know a kid who loves a story filled with adventure, friendship, humour and mystery, they will likely be Alice-Miranda fans.

Bonus: Back in 2010, Jacqueline Harvey did a brilliant guest post on how she developed Alice-Miranda as a character. It’s brilliant, and if you’re an Alice-Miranda fan already, it’s a must read. Check it out here. You might also like our 12 Curly Questions with Jacqueline Harvey and our 2010 author interview with Jacqueline Harvey.

For reviews on other books in the Alice-Miranda series, check out: Alice-Miranda on Holiday and Alice-Miranda Takes the Lead.

Title: Alice-Miranda at School 10th Anniversary Edition
Author: Jacqueline Harvey
Publisher: Penguin Random House, $19.99
Publication Date: 4 February 2020
Format: Hardback
ISBN: 9781760896034
For ages: 7+
Type: Junior Fiction, Middle Grade Fiction

Dragons in a Bag by Zetta Elliott, illustrations by Geneva B,160 pp, RL 3

Review by: Tanya
Published: February 19, 2020

Dragons in a Bag
illustrations by Geneva B

This is the review I want to write, followed by the review I have to write.

As Jaxon and his mother stand outside the door of the mean old lady his mama calls "Ma," there is tension and sadness. Their landlord has turned off the water and gas and is forcing Jaxon and his mother out of their Brooklyn apartment. Alicia needs a place for Jax to be while she tries to work it out and Ma is her last resort, for reasons Jax will soon find out. 
Ma has been sent three dragon hatchlings that she needs to deliver to a more magical realm immediately - feeding the hungry babies will make them grow and there is not enough magic in New York City to sustain the trio. Given a choice, Jax decides to accompany and aid Ma as needed and the two head into Prospect Park and to what appears to be the smallest castle Jax has ever seen. Stepping into this portal to other worlds with the help of a seemingly homeless man named Ambrose, Ma and Jax land in a realm without magic and are separated in a moment of danger. Back in the park with a bag of baby dragons, Jax turns to his best friend Vikram for help while Ambrose calls on Trouble.

While Vik turns out not to be much help at all - in fact, his tag-along-little sister Kavita ends up making more trouble - Trouble is more than helpful. He is the grandfather Jax has never met! And, he learns that Trub once hoped that Jax's mom would be his apprentice, but a trip to a magical realm when she was a girl turned her off magic for good. Trub and Jax get the bag of dragons back to Ma - and to the magical realm they need - only to find that Kavita has kept one of the dragons for herself. As Dragons in a Bag draws to a close, Jax's mom comes to terms with his decision to continue as Ma's apprentice and allows Ma to offer them a temporary home while Ma and Jax prepare to find the missing dragon and . . . The Dragon Thief!
The review I need to write: In a time when, as of 2018, only 10% of characters in children's books were African/African-American, 7% were Asian Pacific Islander/Asian Pacific American, 5% Latinx and 1% American Indian/First Nations, I have to begin by noting that the cast of Dragons in a Bag consists entirely (at least I think - we can't see Ambrose under all the clothes, so he could be white) BIPOC. I look forward to the day when I do not feel compelled to point this out in a review, but when the combined representation of BIPOC in children's books is still less than the representation of Animals/Others as characters, this needs to be front and center. As I finished reading Dragons in a Bag and turned the page to read the acknowledgements, this inscription let me know I had more to say:

The "trouble" with magic, as it is represented in much of children's literature, is that is appears to exist in realms to which only certain children belong.

Elliott goes on to write about being invited to contribute to a "scholarly anthology on urban children's literature" while attending a Race, Ethnicity, and Publishing conference in 2012. Suspecting that her last-minute invitation came only after the editors realized they hadn't included any scholars of color, she declined. They persisted and Elliott finally agreed, writing an essay on the "need for inclusive fantasy and fiction for youth." She then withdrew her essay when the editors complained that the "tone" didn't fit . . . While Elliott eventually left academia and her post as a professor to pursue fiction writing, she did win an award from the Children's Literature Association for her withdrawn essay, "The Trouble with Magic: Conjuring the Past in New York City Parks." It is wonderful to see how her Dragons duet (series???) brings people of color and urban settings (not every fantasy requires a wardrobe, castle or woods) to the world of kid's books, but,  the numbers tell us we still need more authors like Elliott creating these fantasy worlds where BIPOC are the protagonists. Yes, we have Tomi Adeyemi's Children of Blood & Bone series and Nnedi Okorafor's Akata Witch books, along with Rick Riordan Presents featuring the mythologies of BIPOC, but there is room for so many more stories to be told, so many more fantasy worlds to be imagined. 

Some Places More Than Others by Renée Watson, 208 pp, RL 4

Review by: Tanya
Published: February 17, 2020

Some Places More Than Others 
Cover art by Shadra Strickland
Purchased Audio Book, 
narrated by the superb Bhani Turpin
On the verge of turning twelve and becoming a big sister, Amara Baker narrates a this story of family, connections and acceptance. The only child of a clothing designer and marketing executive at Nike, Amara has had a comfortable childhood in a suburb of Portland. Born the day her father's mother died, Amara has often heard how much she is like her grandma Grace, but not much else about her father's childhood in Harlem. Feeling pressure from her mother to abandon her sneakerhead sense of style for more feminine dresses and worried about how the arrival of a baby, especially after her mother suffered miscarriages, will change her life, Amara wants to spend time with her father. But, when she asks to accompany him on a business trip to New York City and stay with her Grandpa Earl, a former basketball coach, she gets a firm "no." 

A school project requiring students to collect family memorabilia and interview relatives prompts Amara to ask again, and, surprisingly, she gets her wish, with a promise to her mother that she will work to get her father to talk to Grandpa Earl. Staying in her father's childhood home, Amara is excited to explore Harlem, even if she has to depend on her cousins, teenagers Nina and prickly Ava, to show her around while her dad works. One special day, her Grandpa Earl takes Amara and her cousins to visit landmarks, ending at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture where she experiences the Rivers Cosmogram, a work of art inspired by Hughes's poem, "The Negro Speaks of Rivers." This inlaid, geometric design, an encoding of memories that draws connections between people and places through space and time, connects the histories of Arturo Schomburg and Langston Hughes, whose ashes are interred beneath the cosmogram. These connections that resonate for Amara, who makes a cosmogram of her own, connecting Harlem and Portland.  

As Amara explores the city and her father's childhood, she learns about the deep wounds between father and son that began with expectations about what a man should be. Clumsy on the basketball court, Charles was a writer, a poet who dreamed of reading at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe. Amara notices that in pictures, he is always standing at his mother's side. The arrival of Amara's birthday and the anniversary of her grandma's death brings climax and resolution, with Charles reading his poetry out loud for his father for the first time ever. 

While the cast of Watson's book is all black, her story is universal. Amara's desire to connect with her relatives and her worries that she was a disappointment to her mother resonated, especially as Amara is a well-developed character. Knowing that Watson has connections to both Harlem and Portland, two very different places, made listening to Some Places More Than Others a truly wonderful experience - particularly since I have connections to both places also! I met my husband and graduated from college in Portland, OR, and my daughter lived in Harlem for two years while going to grad school. 

While researching to write this review, I came across this 
interview between Watson and cover illustrator and friend, Shadra Strickland. I especially appreciated this quote from Watson that signals an important step toward body positivity and diversity. Traditionally, if the main character of a kid's book (and adult, too, I'm sure) is presented as anything other than thin on the cover, this becomes part of the plot. Watson explains her choice this way;

The other thing that was really important for me was to have Amara’s full body on the cover. Although Amara’s body is never described in the book, I wanted readers to know she is fat. I wanted a fat girl to be able to exist in a story that was not centered on her size. To have Amara’s full body on the cover—looking stylish in her puffy coat and sneakers—makes me so proud. I didn’t get to have that as a young reader, and I think having an image like that would have been validating and powerful for me. I am intentional about making work that literally makes space for a variety of sizes to be seen. So, thank you for creating that for the cover.

ENOUGH! 20 Protesters Who Changed America written by Emily Easton, illustrated by Ziyue Chen

Review by: Tanya
Published: February 14, 2020

ENOUGH! 20 Protesters Who Changed America
by Emily Easton, illustrated by Ziyue Chen
Purchased for my school library with grant funding
With a single sentence on each two page spread, Enough! 20 Protesters Who Changed America introduces readers to the powerful ways Americans have fought for change, starting with Samuel Adams and the Boston Tea Party in 1773. Easton and Chen continue with Harriet leading the way,  Susan casting her vote, Rosa keeping her seat, Ruby going to school,  Martin having a dream and Cesar and Dolores declaring, "No grapes!" Woody sang, Rachel wrote a book and John and Yoko honeymooned in bed while Gilbert sewed a flag. Muhammed Ali refused to fight and "Tommie and John raised their fists" at the 1968 Olympics. 
Chen's illustrations are gentle - faces are smooth, eyes are big and round and the more intense emotions activists may have felt at the time are not evident. As an introduction to Americans fighting for acceptance and equality and basic human rights, this is a book you can read to the youngest listeners, but it is also a book that demands discussion and further reading. Easton starts the process with back matter that includes a paragraph of information about the twenty featured protesters and quotes, again, presenting their stories in a way that is accessible for younger children. Easton makes clear the sacrifices made by these protestors
What I especially appreciate about Easton's book are the contemporary figures she includes. Jazz Jennings and Colin Kaepernick end the book along with America Ferrara saying, "Time's up," and Parkland demanding, "Never again!" An author's note from Easton, who is the vice president and co-publisher of Crown Books for Young Readers, is also the cousin of students who survived the shooting at Parkland. Having visited them a few weeks before the shooting, Easton was grateful they were safe and in awe of and moved by the teens who organized the March for Our Lives, including her cousins, now graduates of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, including one who took a leave of absence from college to return home and help the movement. Easton's cousin, Ryan Deitsch, was a senior at  Parkland on February 14, 2018, and is now leader of a movement to change gun control laws. Deitsch contributed the foreword to Enough! 20 Protesters Who Changed America, writing:

There's no telling how our actions will impact this world, but we are determined to continue our efforts to protect other communities from the horrors we faced. Anyone is able to join this fight; all you need is passion in your heart and a way to share it: online, in a crow with a memorable sign, with something as small as a crayon or a pen. Anyone can help bring change. You can, too.

A great companion to Enough! 20 Protesters Who Changed America is Peaceful Fights for Equal Rights by Rob Sanders, illustrated by Jared Andrew Schorr. The dedication to Sanders' book reads:

In honor of those who lost their lives at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and those who found their voices.

Black Is a Rainbow Color by Angela Joy, illustrated by Ekua Holmes

Review by: Tanya
Published: February 12, 2020

Black Is a Rainbow Color
by Angela Joy, illustrated by Ekua Holmes
Review Copy from Roaring Brook Press
Black Is a Rainbow Color is both an excellent first black history book as well as a joyful celebration of black culture. A box of crayons and a rainbow in the sky sends a thoughtful girl, coloring on her stoop, on a journey that leads her to realize that, while black may not be a color in the rainbow, being black is as meaningful, beautiful and layered as a rainbow. Joy's writing is poetic and melodic:

Black are the braids in my best friend's hair.
Black are the bottoms of my summertime feet.
Black are the soft circles that spin-nnn down the street.
My color is black.

Joy's words and evocations of things that are black, from the "side-walking in spit shined shoes," that allude to the bus boycott in Montgomery, AL and the "robe on Thurgood's back," carry the text as it flows through time. In one powerful passage, Joy calls on Langston Hughes and playwright Loraine Hansberry, inspired by Hughes' poem, with the "Black dreams and raisins . . . left out in the sun to die." Black Is a Rainbow Color is powerful, painful, joyful and undefeated:

Black is history. Black is family.
Black is memory. Black is community.
Black is the love that lives inside of me.

My color is Black.
Joy's back matter includes a playlist of songs and poems by Langston Hughes and Paul Laurence Dunbar, as well as an author's note, historical information rooted in the text. And, the final pages are devoted to something I am especially grateful for and fascinated by, "A Timeline of Black Ethnonyms in America," ending with 2020 where, "Common standards of writing practice call for the use of a lowercase b when referring to Black people and their interests. In the spirit of the W.E.B. Dubois campaign, the B in 'Black' has been capitalized herein."

The Fierce 44: Black Americans Who Shook Up the World, written by the staff of The Undefeated, portraits by Robert Ball

Review by: Tanya
Published: February 10, 2020

The Fierce 44
Black Americans Who Shook Up the World
Written by the staff of The Undefeated
Portraits by Robert Ball
Review Copy from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
The Fierce 44: Black Americans Who Shook Up the World joins the growing ranks of a genre I just dubbed "Portrait Biographies," adding an inspirational new collection to the shelves. The 2016 publication of Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls and its overwhelming success, as well as a push for diversity in children's books has resulted in a wealth of non-fiction that can be both a great introduction and a superb starting place for further research. The Fierce 44 brings a lot to the table, from the writers of The Undefeated who, as Editor in Chief Kevin Merida notes in his preface, debated fiercely over who would be included in the collection of "dreamers and doers, noisy geniuses and quiet innovators, record breakers and symbols of pride and aspiration," to their decision to keep the list (acknowledging that it is not a "complete list of jaw-dropping black achievers") to forty-four as an homage to the forty-fourth president of the United States. And then there is forward by Henry Louis Gates, Jr that is powerfully pointed and elegant. Quoting black historian Carter G. Woodson, Gates says we need the "beautiful romances," these stories of the "successful strivings" for "enlightenment under the most adverse circumstances" more than ever. And he reminds us that these strivings were, 

interwoven with every president who came before Obama, pushing the country to live up to the ideals of freedom and equal human rights that it had articulated at its founding, even as it retreated from them during both the long age of enslavement and the long retreat from Reconstruction after the Civil War that marked the nadir of race relations in the United States.

What I love most about The Fierce 44, and what makes it stand out from other Portrait Biographies, is the "Because" that leads every bio. You can read The Fierce 44 in full here, where you will find the "Because" immediately after the name of the subject. In the book format, it appears in the negative space of the portrait of the subject. Giving readers a concise lead in is a great framework for learning about these amazing people and the challenges they faced. And, while forty-four is just a start, the fierce black Americans who made the list are well chosen, from contemporaries like Jay-Z, Serena Williams, Simone Biles and Oprah Winfrey to historical figures like Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington. Alvin Ailey, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Aretha Franklin, Jimi Hendrix, Duke Ellington and Zora Neale Hurston join Sydney Poitier, Quincy Jones, Richard Pryor, Toni Morrison and Stevie Wonder are among the artists represented. I especially loved learning about people I had never heard of, like Ella Baker, "Because she didn't let gender keep her from defending her race," and Benjamin O. Davis Sr., "Because he led the fight against enemies both foreign and domestic," and Gordon Parks, "Because he brought us pictures of black America."

Yet another stellar collection of inspirational biographies to spark young readers.