R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Aretha Franklin, The Queen of Soul (Carole Boston Weatherford)

Hello, friends! Our book today is R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Aretha Franklin, The Queen of Soul, written by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by Frank Morrison, a gorgeous tribute to the iconic singer, songwriter, and activist.

This brief introduction to the life of the queen of soul begins with a young Aretha saying prayers at her bedside: “B-L-E-S-S-E-D” reads the header, the rhyming couplet that follows describing how she was raised in a home of faith and black pride. Each spread continues in a similar vein, using a one-word theme to describe the moment or period in Aretha’s life as she grows, develops her voice, stands up for equality, and becomes a L-E-G-E-N-D in her own time.

Beautiful. Aretha is certainly a luminary deserving of the picture book treatment, and while this is not a particularly comprehensive biography, it is a great way to introduce the Queen of Soul to young readers. Yet what it lacks in informational breadth, it more than makes up for in style; from a design standpoint, this title is a knockout. Morrison’s rich, vibrant illustrations are positively striking, each one a work of art in composition, light/shadow, and dynamics. The choices to spell out each spread’s header and end each line with an /ē/ sound (just like in the bridge of Franklin’s mega-hit “Respect), and even to make the book itself 12×12 inches (the standard size of an LP) are wonderful details that celebrate Aretha’s connection to and love of music. There is one spread that’s quite odd: one in which the break-up of Aretha’s parents is attributed to her father’s infidelity, accompanied by an illustration of Clarence Franklin smiling proudly over his children. The overall effect is rather strange and explaining the concept of being “faithful” might be an awkward conversation for young readers and their caregivers. But overall, this is a visually stunning ode to music royalty, and we both loved it. Baby Bookworm A-P-P-R-O-V-E-D!

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

Let The Children March (Monica Clark-Robinson)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Let The Children March, written by Monica Clark-Robinson and illustrated by Frank Morrison, a powerful account of the Birmingham Children’s Crusade.

In Jim Crow Alabama, a little girl’s family attends church to hear the words of Dr. Martin Luther King. He is trying to raise a peaceful army to march for civil rights, but the attendees are reluctant for fear of losing their jobs. But a remarkable group from the congregation step forward to volunteer: teens and children, who sagely point out that they have no jobs to lose. The adults, including Dr. King, are hesitant – even peaceful protests can and often do turn violent – but the children insist; it’s their own rights they’re marching for, after all. On a sunny Thursday, one thousand children begin their march and, over the course of three days, thousands more would join – despite being harassed, threatened, brutally assaulted by police, and arrested. But in the end, their courage was a landmark moment for the movement that caused the world to sit up and take notice, and began a wave of desegregation in Birmingham less than a week later.

I am always shocked that the Birmingham Children’s Crusade is not a more wildly-known event, likely because of the national shame the horrific treatment of American minors brought. Clark-Robinson handles this difficult story deftly, putting the reader into the perspective of a young, unnamed marcher and allowing them to connect to the pain, pride, and perseverance of the children and teens who marched. Each child is illustrated in exquisite detail, giving every character vivid personality and humanity. The art also doesn’t shy away from the violence, an bold choice – children are seen huddling against fire hoses and cowering from attacking police dogs, clothing tattered and bloody. It’s never exploitative, but brutally and vitally honest of what these kids risked to be heard. The length is fine for most reading levels, and JJ was spellbound by the heartbreaking art. This is a book that should be read by bookworms of every age, to pay tribute to these brave young people and remind us that courage knows no age. Baby Bookworm approved.

The Roots Of Rap: 16 Bars on the 4 Pillars of Hip-Hop (Carole Boston Weatherford)

Hello, friends! Our book today is The Roots Of Rap: 16 Bars on the 4 Pillars of Hip-Hop, written by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by Frank Morrison, a lush and beautiful ode to the art form.

It started with poetry, folktales, spirituals, and rhymes. Then came funk, providing the basslines and rhythm, then the Jamaican MCs and dub. Finally, it was all pulled together in the Bronx by DJ Kool Herc – and hip-hop was born. It spread across the country, then across the world, giving rise to street fashion, culture, dance, and – most critically – the music and verse. Now it is a worldwide nation of the faithful, those who feel the beat, hear the words, and are moved – ya heard?

Phenomenal. Using a flowing rhyme interspersed with onomatopoeic syncopated rhythms and drop-dead gorgeous urban-inspired art, this book takes both fans and newcomers through both the history and musical elements of hip-hop. Not only the music itself is explored; B-boy and B-girl dancing, street art, and other cultural elements both influential and influenced by the genre are showcased. Kid-unfriendly elements are skipped over (the East Coast/West Cost feud, the censorship wars, etc.), and the focus is primarily on East Coast and male rappers, though two spreads gloriously celebrate the original holy trinity of female rap: Salt n’ Peppa, TLC, and Queen Latifah. A wealth of backmatter and a foreword by Swizz Beatz are the cherry on top. The length was great, and JJ especially loved trying out the beats. Stylish, beautiful, informative, and fun – a must for music lovers of all ages. Baby Bookworm approved!

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