February 22, 2014

Before John was a Giant by Carole Boston Weatherford

Before John Was a Giant, centers on the childhood of jazz legend John Coltrane, and the sounds that inspired and shaped him as a musician.

The story begins in John's kitchen at home where the sounds of the pots and pans of where his grandmother cooks catches his ear, as well as the ukulele his father played. Young John also would pay attention to the steam engine that passed through his neighborhood, and the music coming from the local movie theatre. He paid close attention to the poetic sounds of his grandfather's sermons in church, as well as the choir.

At age 12, John was invited to join a community band by the scout leader who was also the pastor at his church. In the band, he played clarinet and marched in community parades. John would continue to be influenced by the sounds around him, including the birds chirping around him, and eventually, the sound of big bands and jazz he heard on the radio which inspired him to join the school band and learn the saxophone.

Before John was a Giant is a great book for encouraging children to be creative by paying attention to their surroundings. The actual story however does not tell a lot about how John came to be a jazz legend; that information is in saved for the Author's Note at the back of the book. Much of that information would have been great for the story itself, and would have served as an opportunity to discuss with children issues beyond Coltrane's childhood. For example, John poured himself into his music after his father died, a tidbit of information that would serve as an example to children about how to deal with the difficulties in life by turning to a hobby.

The beautiful illustrations of Sean Qualls however, and the poetic prose of writer Carole Boston  Weatherford make up for this exclusion in the story. I recommend this book to parents and others who seek a book for children who have a love of music and want to learn about the legends who many times are forgotten in today's world of music. 

February 20, 2014

A Picture Book of Thurgood Marshall by David A. Adler

A Picture Book of Thurgood Marshall tells the story of the first African-American Supreme Court Justice of the United States, and how he came to be one of the most influential trailblazers in American history.

The story takes us first to Marshall's youth, where as a child, his school principal would make him memorize the constitution as a punishment when he got in trouble. Marshall was also introduced to the law by his father, the first African-American to serve on a Baltimore jury, who enjoyed the law so much, that he would sit in on court sessions, and bring young Thurgood, to learnhow to debate.

Marshall would go to college at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, an all-male, all-black college at the time. At Lincoln, he once took part in a silent protest of an all-white theatre. He graduated and hoped to go to University of Maryland, but it was an all-white institution at the time, and he instead went to the law school at Howard University in Washington, DC.

The story tells how Thurgood Marshall graduated from Howard University and began a career at the NAACP, where within three years he becomes chief lawyer of the organization. His career at the NAACP brings him several courtroom victories including arguing to for the University of Maryland to admit African-Americans, a case he argued and won with Charles Hamilton Houston. Thurgood's most notable achievement however would be winning the historic Brown v. Board of Education case, resulting in the decision to de-segregate public schools in the United States. Marshall would go on to win twenty-nine of the thirty-two cases he argued to the Supreme Court in his legal career before being nominated for Supreme Court by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1967.

A Picture Book of Thurgood Marshall is a great telling of the life of Thurgood Marshall. It is a book all children should read so that they know that before there was a Clarence Thomas, or a President Obama, there was a man who fought for African-American rights, who paved the way for the African-American leaders and politicians of today.

February 17, 2014

of THEE I SING: A Letter to My Daughters by President Barack Obama

In honor of President's Day I am reviewing of THEE I SING: A Letter to My Daughters by our very own president, Barack Obama. This book can be appreciated by Democrat and Republicans alike because it is a book about historical figures who made a difference in America, and more importantly it is a beautiful letter from a father to his daughters about his love for them and hope for their future. For that reason, it is sure to be a much loved American classic.

of THEE I SING highlights activists and social reformers, artists and inventors, and presidents and others that our children may or may not have heard of, but should know about. Reading the book to your children will not only educate them, but empower them, giving them confidence to want to make their own mark in this world.

In of THE I SING, Obama tells his children stories of trailblazers who remind him of their own wonderful traits - bravery, creativity and strength. He tells of artistic, political and even scientific strides made by different trailblazers from the United States and abroad. Some of the people featured are Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., Helen Keller and Sitting Bull. He tells of their work and the extraordinary progress each made that made our world a better place.

The only criticism I have with the book is that Mahatma Gandhi should have been included because Gandhi is a great example of bravery, strength and unity; qualities represented by characters in the book; qualities of which Gandhi certainly possessed as well. Other than this exclusion, the book is historic gold, and is a great for handing down generation to generation.

Of Thee I Sing tells great stories of great leaders, and includes on the last page of the book, mini bios of each extraordinary individual's beginnings. The beautiful prose and colorful illustrations by Loren makes the book a treasure. I highly recommend it, because it is a great history lesson for children, it promotes respect for all people, and it acknowledge the contributions and gifts that all people, regardless of race, disability or religion have brought to our world, and to our lives.

February 10, 2014

As Good As Anybody: Martin Luther King and Abraham Joshua Heschel's March Toward Freedom

Martin fought for good,
Abraham wanted it too.
Together they marched and prayed,
So that justice would ensue.

As Good As Anybody: Martin Luther King and Abraham Joshua Heschel's Amazing March Toward Freedom by Richard Michelson tells the story of how two unlikely men, one Christian, one Jewish, who shared  one common goal - to fight injustice, which brought them together to protest and march against  society during a time that did not give African-Americans the right to vote.

The story begins with young Martin, angry and discouraged by the "WHITE ONLY" signs he finds everywhere he goes - by pools where he wants to swim, by fountains where he wants to drink water, and by bathrooms he wants to use. But Martin's father tells him not to be angry, that he is as good as anybody else, and that he should look to the future, because the world would change one day.

The story continues with young Martin growing up and attending college, becoming Dr. King, a preacher like his father, and a respected civil rights organizer and leader. He marched with other organizers, but as the attacks became more widespread and violent against protesters, Dr. King put out a call for all of God's children to help them in the fight against inequality. Rabbi Abraham Heschel answered the call.

Abraham Heschel grew up on the other side of the world in Poland, but his father, a Rabbi and man of God like Dr. King's father, taught him the same values young Martin had been taught - that he was as good as anybody. Abraham was not rich, but his father taught him that there would always be someone in greater need, allowing Abraham to learn the importance of helping others.

Abraham grew up and attended a university in Berlin, Germany, and even though he obtained a job there, he was thrown out of Germany because he was Jewish. When he went home to Poland to find a job, he continued to encounter discrimination. He found signs that said "NO JEWS" wherever he went, and decided to leave Poland for America, where he would find a job and speak out against discrimination.

The story demonstrates that like Dr. King, Rabbi Abraham encountered opposition for speaking out for peace and equal rights. But Abraham was determined. His mother and sisters had been killed by Hitler's army in Poland, and he felt it was his religious duty to help those in greater need than himself, and he answered Dr. King's call to march for equal rights. On March 21, 1965, Rabbi Abraham Heschel marched with Dr. King and 3,000 others - Whites, Blacks, Christian and Jews - toward a better America. Four months later, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed.

As Good As Anybody is a great story of brotherhood, and a great book to demonstrate to young ones how all people, no matter their background can share similar experiences, and use those experiences to work together for good.

February 1, 2014

A Child of the Civil Rights Movement by Paula Young Shelton and Raul Colon

A Child of the Civil Rights Movement by Paula Young-Shelton, tells the story of the civil rights movement with mention of Dr. King, and the role he played, as seen through her then four year-old eyes. Young-Shelton, the daughter of Civil Rights activist and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Andrew Young, begins the story begins with Paula and her family moving from New York, where there were no Jim Crow laws, to the south, where inequality and Jim Crow laws ran rampant. She describes Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in a way many of us have rarely seen - a man full of joy with a twinkle in his eye -  a man that the media rarely portrayed, but a man that no doubt did exist in the presence of his loved ones.

In the story, Young-Shelton refers to Dr. King as "Uncle Martin," because while he was not her blood uncle, she explains that like her father Andrew Young, Dr. King was part of the American civil rights movement family - a family she describes as frequently eating dinner together at one another's homes, where like a biological family, they would have heated discussions together, many times about the next steps to take in the civil rights movement; and like a a family, they struggled through the era of inequality together, they worried together, and  they marched together like a family from Selma, Alabama to Montgomery, Alabama - an event she is proud to have been a part of, since it led to the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

A Child of the Civil Rights Movement is beautifully told, and the illustrations by Raul Colon add to beauty of the book. From the expressions on the faces of the characters to the corn rows in young Paula's hair, the illustrations vividly capture the essence of the story and those in it.

A Child of the Civil Rights Movement is an interesting re-telling of the civil rights movement that children can understand, that will also keep adults interested. It is a thoughtful introduction to the civil rights movement, and stirs up emotions you don't expect from a children's picture book. I felt sorrow for the loss of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but I also felt pride in the African-American leaders he worked with who like Dr. King, sacrificed time with their families; who were beaten and thrown in jail so that they and African-Americans could have the right to vote like those of white Americans.

This book touches on these subjects and more in a way that will not scare children, but make them think about and realize how much they have to be thankful for - and those who helped them have the basic human rights they are able to live with today.