Ida B. Wells, Voice of Truth (Michelle Duster)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Ida B. Wells, Voice of Truth, written by Michelle Duster and illustrated by Laura Freeman, a powerful profile of an incredible activist and writer.

Born into slavery in 1862, Ida began her professional career at only sixteen, when she became a school teacher to support her five younger siblings. Shortly after, she began writing, often on social and political topics that (by the standards of the time) no woman of color had any business writing about. At 22, she sued a major railroad corporation for discrimination, and won (though the ruling was later overturned in appeals). Ida wrote about her experiences with the railroad, with segregated schools, and with the racism and sexism she experienced daily. When three of her friends were lynched by white rival business owners, Ida encouraged boycotts in her newsletters, something that put her life in danger. Yet Ida never stopped – she continued to fight for minority and women’s rights until her death in 1931, leaving a legacy that continues to inspire activists and community organizers to this day.

Stirring. Wells was certainly ahead of her time as a writer and activist, and this look at her life does a wonderful job of exploring both her immense body of work and the motivations and drive behind it. Duster, who offers a truly unique perspective as Wells’s great-granddaughter, tells her ancestor’s story with a great balance of informative facts and emotional pull; the sequence that covers the lynching murders of Wells’s friends in Memphis and the subsequent fallout is particularly affecting. Freeman’s illustrations are compelling, both visually and emotionally, and truly feel like snapshots of Well’s life and times. The length and subject matter are best for older elementary readers, but JJ was certainly captivated by the story and artwork. Overall, this is an impressive and stirring tale of a figure more than deserving of recognition, and we highly recommend it. Baby Bookworm approved!

(Note: A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

Bold Words From Black Women: Inspiration and Truths from 50 Extraordinary Leaders Who Helped Shape Our World (Dr. Tamara Pizzoli)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Bold Words From Black Women: Inspiration and Truths from 50 Extraordinary Leaders Who Helped Shape Our World, written by Dr. Tamara Pizzoli and illustrated by Monica Ahanonu, a gorgeous collection of black female icons and their wise words.

“To say that in order to be accepted we must be stripped of everything that makes us unique is faulty in its very premise.” – Yara Shahidi. This stirring quote, along with 49 others from the same number of brilliant, bold, brave and beautiful black women fill the pages of this absolutely stunning compendium. Each two-page spread features a colorful portrait of its subject alongside an empowering quote and a short blurb on the woman quoted and the quote’s origin. Readers will meet actors, singers, athletes, writers, scientists, politicians, activists, world leaders and more, and be left feeling encouraged, enriched, and inspired by the final page.

A masterpiece. The combination of this masterfully-compiled group of women, their powerful words, and the incredibly eye-catching art and design is a recipe for a perfect title, and Pizzoli and Ananonu deliver, big time. Pizzoli wisely balances her lineup of subjects; there are women from history and modern icons, household names and lesser-known heroes, and women that not only represent a wide range of professions, but also hairstyles, body types, and skintones. Polymaths are identified as such (such as “Dee Dee Bridgewater / Jazz singer. Producer. Songwriter. UN goodwill ambassador.”). The artwork is absolutely striking, employing pop art and color blocking to create powerful larger-than-life portraits. This one takes longer than a storytime to get through, but the large print and remarkable art makes it a title for all ages; JJ and I both loved it. One quibble: actor Amandla Stenberg, who identifies as non-binary, is misgendered by her inclusion. It would have been nice if her blurb had at least mentioned her gender identity, but it did not. Beyond that, this is a flawless book. And while all readers will have something positive to take away from it, the value that this one has for young black girls is limitless. Baby Bookworm approved!

(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

Moving Forward: From Space-Age Rides to Civil Rights Sit-Ins with Airman Alton Yates (Chris Barton)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Moving Forward: From Space-Age Rides to Civil Rights Sit-Ins with Airman Alton Yates, written by Chris Barton and illustrated by Steffi Walthall, a fascinating look at a lesser-known hero of the Civil Rights Movement.

Growing up in Jim Crow Florida, Alton Yates saw, time and time again, how black veterans were mistreated and discriminated against, despite putting their lives on the line for their country. After Alton’s mother passed, he decided to enlist in the Air Force – which had been recently integrated – to help support his family. At Holloman Air Force Base, Alton put his own body on the line in experiments on human endurance, contributing to scientific advances and forming a bond of respect and friendship with fellow airmen of all races. Yet when he returned to the South, he was struck once more by the indignities and disenfranchisement suffered by the black communities there. Determined to make change, Alton decided to put himself on the line once again – this time, for equality and justice.

A poignant and enlightening tale. Yate’s life experiences – including the often-overlooked Ax Handle Sunday riot, which left Yates with a prominent scar after he was brutally attacked – are a covered in a way that examines the multiple influences that spurred his choices, while also building to a climax that examines the difference between being a “warrior” and committing acts of violence. While the abrupt tonal shift from storytelling to moralizing can be jarring, the message is incredibly solid, especially after a harrowing account of Ax Handle Sunday over eight pages: violence does not make a warrior, nor does it make their cause noble. Barton’s text can be a little intricate at times, which can make reading aloud difficult, but he tells Yates’s story compellingly and with obvious respect. And while some of Walthall’s spreads underwhelm, others are gripping, stirring works of art. The length and tone are best for older elementary readers, but JJ and I enjoyed it overall; it’s a lesser-known story with a lot of impact and a fantastic moral. This is absolutely worth a look, and we recommend it – Baby Bookworm approved.

(Notes: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

Black Is A Rainbow Color (Angela Joy)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Black Is A Rainbow Color, written by Angela Joy and illustrated by Ekua Holmes, a phenomenal celebration of black beauty and culture.

As a little girl ponders a rainbow, she laments that black, “her color”, is not one of the traditional rainbow colors. However, she continues, black is multitudinous in and of itself. It can be as simple as the dirt from which sunflowers grow, or rubber bike tires, or the braids of her best friend’s hair. Or it can be the shoes of people marching for their rights, or of Judge Thurgood’s robe. Black can be a feeling, a rhythm, a song, ink staining pages in poetry or lyrics or music or prose. It can be a culture, a movement, a community, and the legacy of those who came before. It can be family, love, history, and hope. So it doesn’t matter that there’s no black in rainbows, the girl concludes – black is a rainbow all its own.

Stunning. The lovely free-verse style text and strikingly vibrant illustrations weave together flawlessly to highlight notable aspects and figures from black history, culture, and art in exultant style. The mixed media art, which heavily evokes stained-glass church windows, features breathtaking scenes with powerful details, such as that of the black-shoed feet of marchers as they trod over a pavement made of Civil Rights-era newspaper headlines. Bonus is the fantastic backmatter, which feature in-depth explanations of the subjects covered in the text, a music playlist, poems by Hughes and Dunbar, and a timeline of American ethnonyms for black people from the 1600s to 2020. The length is perfect for any age, yet the backmatter and sheer power of the story encourage repeat readings. JJ and I loved it, and this is a fabulous title for any bookworm, but an essential for young black readers, who will feel empowered, celebrated, and connected. Baby Bookworm approved!

(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

Pocket Bio: Nelson Mandela, Rosa Parks, and Martin Luther King, Jr. (Al Berenger)

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Hello, friends! Our books today are from the Pocket Bio series by Al Berenger, specifically three notable figures in civil rights: Nelson Mandela, Rosa Parks, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Each book gives the reader a brief history of the subject’s early life, their influences, their actions, and their legacies. Mandela’s focuses on his imprisonment and triumphant election as president of South Africa after his release – the first election he was able to vote in – and touches briefly on his Nobel win and the 1995 Rugby World Cup. Parks’s includes her famous bus ride, and King’s looks at his involvement in the Montgomery bus boycott, the Selma march, and his “I Have A Dream” speech.

As early-learner primers for these historical figures, these aren’t terrible. King’s is the most informative, making note of his early influences (Jim Crow south, his father’s religious work, his study of Ghandi, etc.) and even his courtship with Coretta Scott. His murder is mentioned (though not depicted), and the book ends on a note of surprising honesty, noting that racism is still a problem that needs to be fought, but King’s work made great strides and encourages us to make more. Mandela’s book is serviceable, delving into the racist policies of Apartheid and mentioning the violent, often deadly protests that took place, but glossing over the reformation years pretty heavily. Most disappointing is Parks’s book, which relies almost solely on her arrest; the bus boycott that follows is made to seem entirely the idea of MLK (Parks volunteered to be the face of the boycott at great personal risk and sacrifice), and her work as a secretary and investigator with the NCAAP gets zero mention. Likewise, the bobble-headed illustrations are just okay – engaging for younger readers but occasionally at odds with the tone of the subject matter (a scene depicting a meeting of Mandela’s Spear of the Nation militant group is laughable). The length is fine, the backmatter – maps, timelines, etc – is a nice addition, and JJ enjoyed them for the most part. Somewhat uneven, and definitely only a jumping-off point, but worth a browse. Baby Bookworm approved!

(Note: Copies of these books were provided to The Baby Bookworm by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)