Malala’s Magic Pencil (Malala Yousafzai)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Malala’s Magic Pencil, written by Malala Yousafzai and illustrated by Kerascoët, the first picture book to tell the extraordinary story of Malala’s journey from schoolgirl to activist in her own words.

When Malala was little, she watched a television show that featured a boy with a magical pencil. Whatever he drew with it became real, and Malala wished for such a pencil of her own. She dreamed of drawing small conveniences for herself, and grand gifts for her family. As she grew older and learned of children who were too poor to attend school, as well as women who weren’t allowed to by tradition, Malala began to dream of creating bigger things: a peaceful world where all people were treated as equals. When danger and violence descended upon her home city, Malala found the courage inside herself to speak out against it. She discovered that, when placed in the hands of those who fight injustice, a pencil really does have the power to change the world – not with magic, but with words.

Wow. Being a fan of Malala and her work, I was expecting to enjoy this book, but it still managed to blow me away. There are some wonderful kidlit biographies of Malala – we’ve reviewed two of them – but hearing Malala’s story in her own voice gives it a passion and authenticity that is incomparable. It also manages to distill her story down for its youngest audience yet: the length is fine for smaller bookworms, and while the more violent aspects of Malala’s life are not glossed over, they are handled with sensitive subtlety. The art is a wonderful companion to the message, using shimmering gold ink to add the magic of the fantastical elements to illustrations grounded in reality. And the message, that of the power of words, courage, and education, is both timely and timeless. A gem of a book that encourages little ones to fight for their rights and the rights of others, and it’s enthusiastically Baby Bookworm approved.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: The Case Of R.B.G. vs. Inequality (Jonah Winter)

Hello friends! Our book today is Ruth Bader Ginsburg: The Case Of R.B.G. vs. Inequality, written by Jonah Winter and illustrated by Stacy Innerst, a picture book biography of the Supreme Court justice’s formative years.

Born in Brooklyn to the children of Jewish immigrants, Ruth Bader learned early on that discrimination was a part of daily life. Her family was the victim of anti-Semitic prejudice, and her mother, despite her intelligence, was forced to stay at home and support the men in her life as the attitudes of the time dictated. This introduction to the inequitable treatment of minorities, along with the encouragement and support of her mother, drove Ruth to fight. She fought for her right to attend college (where she regularly finished at or near the top of her class), to graduate from law school, and to become a lawyer for the ACLU, all while marrying the love of her life and starting a family. Her diligent work was recognized after many years when she was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals, then to the Supreme Court, only the second woman in history to do so. There, she continues to argue for the rights of the disenfranchised to this day.

It’s not hard to be moved by a biography of Ginsburg, but Winter’s version – presented in the structure of a legal argument, including items of evidence and opening and closing statements – does a great job of distilling RBG’s wealth of accomplishments down for young readers. I loved the focus on individual acts of discrimination she suffered, which not only highlights her fortitude but also illustrates the national attitude towards women and Jews at the time. The illustrations are wonderful, using color, style and tone to imbue each scene with emotion. However, the length should be noted here: this book is LONG, and while JJ sat patiently through it, it’s a better fit for older bookworms. A great biography of an American icon, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!

The Case For Loving: The Fight For Interracial Marriage (Selina Alko)

Hello, friends! Today’s review is The Case For Loving: The Fight For Interracial Marriage, written by Selina Alko and illustrated by Alko and Sean Qualls, which tells the true story of the family behind the landmark case of Loving v. Virginia. 

Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving grew up in a small town in Virginia. Both were quiet, humble, and kind, and eventually they fell very much in love. It never mattered to either of them that Richard was white and Mildred was black/Native American. Unfortunately, it mattered to the state of Virginia; at the time, it was illegal there and in 17 other states for people of different races to get married. Richard and Mildred wanted to be together though, so they married out-of-state, but were still arrested when they returned home to Virginia. So the Lovings decided to fight for their right to be together, and hired lawyers to argue their case in court. And in the midst of working and raising three children, the two quiet, humble people won their right to be together, and changed the laws of the United States in the process.

I adore the story of the Lovings, so I was delighted to see a children’s book that recognizes this courageous family. And this absolutely lived up to expectations: the Lovings’ story is simplified well for young readers, yet treated with honesty and respect. It takes the time to explain the anti-miscegenation laws and systemic racism that infringed on the couple’s right to be a family, and gives easily-understood context for the prejudice they suffered. The illustrations are lovely and fit the romantic and inspiring themes of the story well. The length is great, and JJ and I both loved it. This is a must-read for little ones, to show them the importance of standing up for what’s right, and that no matter what it looks like on the outside, love is love. Baby Bookworm approved!

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!

Miss Paul And The President: The Creative Campaign For Women’s Right To Vote (Dean Robbins)

Hello, friends! Today, we read Miss Paul And The President: The Creative Campaign For Women’s Right To Vote, written by Dean Robbins and illustrated by Nancy Zhang, a biography that tells the abbreviated story of Alice Paul, noted suffragist and women’s rights activist, and her unconventional methods for raising support for women’s right to vote.

The day that President Woodrow Wilson arrives in Washington DC to take office, he is expecting huge crowds to greet him. However, as he exits his train, he is shocked to find no one! Instead, spectators have been drawn, either to cheer or boo, Alice Paul’s parade for women’s suffrage – intentionally scheduled for the very same day and time. A passionate suffragist from a young age, Paul is not above a bit of mischief-making and boldness to make herself heard. She organizes letter-writing campaigns, protests, and even a meeting with the president, who dismisses her by saying he has “more important issues.” But Alice Paul refuses to quit or be silenced, and eventually, President Wilson finds that he can no longer turn a deaf ear to the cries for suffrage.

We had a mostly positive impression of this one. Alice is depicted as a passionate, convicted and wiley political force for women’s rights, and she and her story are a great example for young readers. The illustrations are gorgeous, full of life, color, and personality. The length is fine, and JJ really enjoyed it. However, I was disappointed that more focus was not given to Margaret Wilson, President Wilson’s daughter. When the President refuses to read the many letters he receives from Paul’s campaigns, Margaret reads them instead. When Paul is arrested for protesting, it’s Margaret Wilson to stand up to Woodrow and proclaim “Votes for Women.” While Wilson makes the final play for suffrage, it’s Margaret who spurs him there. Perhaps this one should have been titled Miss Paul And The President’s Daughter instead. Still, a lovely book about a wonderful female role model, and definitely Baby Bookworm approved!