Rosa (Nikki Giovanni)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Rosa, written by Nikki Giovanni and illustrated by Bryan Collier, the story of Rosa Parks’s famous act of defiance and the fire it lit in the Civil Rights movement.

Rosa Parks is a seamstress, an activist, and a well-respected woman in her town of Montgomery, Alabama. One December afternoon, she is riding the bus home, seated in the section of the bus designated for use by either black or white people. Suddenly, the bus driver demands that she stand up, and quiet, mild-mannered Rosa does something that no one expects: she refuses. Reminiscing of all the work and protesting that she and others have done to bring equality to all Americans, Rosa decides that she will not give up her seat on the bus, and is arrested. When word of this gets out, a women’s political action group immediately sets to work raising support for Rosa, and eventually they and several other groups organize protests, a boycott, and marches to protest the unfair laws that separate white and “colored” people in public places. With the movement gaining both steam and the support of their fellow Americans, the buses are soon desegregated by a Supreme Court ruling… and it all began with one woman’s simple act of defiance.

This was a great retelling of a seminal moment and figure in the Civil Rights movement, featuring a brisk yet powerful story and gorgeous art. The story has some great messages about courage and the right to equality and the illustrations are powerful and evocative. The length is fine, and JJ enjoyed it. There a few small issues: there’s a strange moment that seems to imply that men have a right to more space on public transit than women, which I didn’t love. But overall, this is still a story about how one very ordinary woman had the power to inspire others to fight for what’s right, and we liked it. Baby Bookworm approved!

A Is For Activist (Innosanto Nagara)

Hello, friends! Today, we read A Is For Activist by Innosanto Nagara, a children’s guide to human rights, equality, and civil disobedience. 

As with any alphabet book, the reader is taken through their ABC’s, this time using progressive subjects and topics to illustrate each letter. For instance, E is for Environmental Justice, L for LGBTQ rights, and F is for Feminism. Each letter provides a short primer of a multitude of subjects for young radicals, following trippingly free-verse rhymes to encourage little readers to question, support, protest and unite.

First thing’s first: if you prefer your children’s books apolitical, this is NOT the book for you. This book is thoroughly and unapologetically liberal, and focuses exclusively on civil and global political themes. However, if that is a mindset you want to introduce to little ones early on, this book is the perfect way to do it. The number of topics covered here is dizzying, each one being touched on briefly before moving to the next. This gives young readers the chance to be introduced to these issues with the intent of opening up conversation with the adults in their lives to expand on the information given. The mixed-media illustrations are colorful and bright, creating slightly abstract scenes that weave together the issues very nicely. And the detail of including a cat on each page for little ones to spot is a clever one. The length is fine, and JJ enjoyed it. This is definitely a more niche book, but for those looking to encourage activism in their children’s lives, it’s near about perfect. Baby Bookworm approved!

We March (Shane W. Evans)

Hello, everyone! Today, we’re wrapping up our Black History Month series with We March by Shane W. Evans, an account of the 1963 March on Washington written from a child’s point of view.

Set against the background of the seminal civil rights protest, We March tells the story of one family’s experience, presenting the history of the day in one short sentence and concept per page (“The sun rises,” “We pray for strength,” “We walk together,” “We sing,” etc). The simple yet dramatic art tells the rest of the story, of people of all ages and walks of life coming together to take a stand against discrimination and inequality.

This book is a great way to introduce a vital historical event to young readers. The simplicity of the text is perfect for pre-readers, and keeps the length fairly short, enough that we were able to read through it twice. The art then invites a closer examination of the events of the day, and a discussion between children and adults about the people, places, and motivations that unfold on each page. JJ really enjoyed this one, and loved exploring the illustrations long after we had finished our read-throughs. A great way for little ones to experience the March through the eyes of another child, and definitely Baby Bookworm approved!

The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth & Harlem’s Greatest Bookstore (Vaunda Micheaux Nelson)

Hello, everyone! It’s Friday again, so we’re continuing our Black History Month book series with The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth & Harlem’s Greatest Bookstore, written by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson and illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, the story of the National Memorial African Bookstore as told through the eyes of Lewis Michaux, Jr.

Lewis’s dad runs a bookstore in Harlem, over which hangs a sign that reads “House of Common Sense and the Home of Proper Propaganda.” Lewis tells the story of his father, Lewis Sr., and his “book itch,” i.e. his passion for books and the impact they can make on the world. From Lewis Sr.’s early days of peddling books from a cart, to being turned down for bank loans for his store (being told “black folk don’t read” as the reason), to his self-financed store becoming a hub of knowledge, culture, and civil rights activism.

This is an incredible book. Now, right out the gate, I would give a content warning: this book covers the assassination of Malcolm X (a close friend of Lewis Sr.), and it’s both jarring and sorrowful (as the subject should be). But if you feel okay with your littles reading it, this book is an absolute must-read. It focuses on civil rights, not only historically but as a basic human entitlement, the powers of literature, education, free thought, access to information, and the importance of community, all while telling the story of a remarkable man who believed that knowledge was the right and obligation of every man, woman and child, regardless of color, creed, or status. Gorgeous art compliments an inspiring story, the length is manageable for baby bookworms, and JJ loved it. This one will be making its way into our library, and we can’t recommend it enough. Baby Bookworm approved!

Martin’s Big Words: The Life Of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Doreen Rappaport)

Hello everyone! It’s Friday, so we are continuing our Black History Month series with today’s book, Martin’s Big Words: The Life Of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., written by Doreen Rappaport and illustrated by Bryan Collier.

This picture book biography of Dr. King uses the theme of his “big words,” i.e. his powerful writings and orations, to trace his story; from his roots as a pastor’s son growing up in the Jim Crow South, to a young activist advocating peaceful protest during the Montgomery bus boycott, to his being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, to his tragic death in Memphis. Throughout, excerpts of his writing and speeches are quoted to emphasize his message of justice, equality, civil rights, and change through strength of love, not violence.

This is a great primer for children to learn about Dr. King’s life and work. It’s simplified enough that younger readers will not feel overwhelmed, and the quotes it features are ones with universal concepts that little bookworms can understand (focusing on justice, love, peace, equality, etc). I especially like that it started his story as a child, so little ones can more easily identify with his journey as he grows. But the book is still honest enough that it confronts the murder of Dr. King (tactfully), and the legacy he left behind. Collier’s illustrations are, of course, gorgeous (he was also the illustrator of last week’s BHM book, I, Too, Am America). The length is fine for baby bookworms, and JJ liked it very much. A fantastic kidlit biography with some beautiful art and a powerful message about the right to equality, the courage of one’s convictions, and the power of words. Baby Bookworm approved!