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Staff Picks

Children 2021

Recommended by Mary Burns from Northeast Dade – Aventura Branch.

In partnership with

The Children's Trust Logo

March

This month’s Staff Picks highlight the important gains and achievements of women in celebration of Women’s History Month. From Harriet Tubman’s journey before she rescued slaves via the Underground Railroad, to Margaret Hamilton’s groundbreaking work as a software engineer during the Apollo Moon Landing, this month’s selection of books features inspiring stories of women who defied expectations and paved the way for others to achieve their dreams.

Margaret and the Moon: How Margaret Hamilton Saved the First Lunar Landing
Written by Dean Robbins, Illustrated by Lucy Knisley

From the time she was a child, Margaret Hamilton, who was among the first to call herself a “software” engineer, loved to solve problems. She worked harder than most to overcome the limitations society imposed on her, particularly in mathematics.

Her poet-philosopher father fueled her curiosity and imagination and encouraged her to pursue computer science – a career field that until recently was reserved for men. As an adult, she used fledgling computers to find answers to questions about the universe and wrote code for them. Her proficiency and talent brought her to the attention of National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), which hired her as the director of software programming for the Apollo Moon Landing. Her leadership and imagination were essential to the success of the first lunar landing.

Fans of the Black female NASA scientists featured in the movie Hidden Figures will find parallels with Margaret’s story in this book, which includes a great author’s note, as well as a bibliography and additional reading list. Lucy Knisley’s illustrations make Margaret’s inspiring story endearing and relatable to younger readers. (Ages 6-10 years)

Illustration of a woman in space

Before She Was Harriet
Written by Lesa Cline-Ransome, Illustrated by James E. Ransome

We know Harriet Tubman as the brave, African American woman who provided aid and shelter to enslaved Black adults and children who escaped captivity from white slave owners. But what is the story that led up to this time and how did she continue in the face of unrelenting brutality and violence.

In short, stirring verse, young readers go back in time to when Harriet was a suffragist, a person who advocated for a woman’s rights in marriage, court and the voting booth. During her life, Harriet was a spy for the Union, which fought to end slavery during the Civil War. She was a nurse, tending with bandages and care to those wounded in the war. She helped her parents flee slavery to Canada. And she was “Moses,” helping Black Americans elude people who sought to capture them and return them to slavery. The book also harkens back to a time when Harriet was a slave named “Minty.”

The text is beautifully illustrated by award-winning artist James Ransome. Harriet’s face is particularly striking, for its detail and expressions as she ages. It is an inspiring book about unflinching love and dedication to justice. (Ages 6-10 years)

Illustration of a young Harriet Tubman looking up at moon

Hedy Lamarr’s Double Life: Hollywood Legend and Brilliant Inventor
Written by Laurie Wallmark, Illustrated by Katy Wu

What keeps computers and mobile phones protected from hackers? A breakthrough technology Hollywood starlet Hedy Lamarr invented more than a half century ago called “frequency-hopping spread spectrum” that helps keep them safe today.

Despite her brilliance as both an actress and inventor, Hedy had to convince people that her brain power rivaled her star power. After a long day of acting, Hedy rushed home to the inventor’s workshop she created to work on her science and engineering ideas.

Her passion for finding new ways to do things was nurtured by her father, who exchanged ideas with his young daughter as they walked through their hometown in Vienna, Austria in the early 1920s.

As an adult, Hedy acted in many popular movies, which made her a film star at the same time her adopted country, the United States, fought in World War II. A chance conversation with a musician who was also a weapons inspector led her to experiment with and invent a new guidance system for remote controlled weapons with directions that were sent on changing frequencies and in short bursts. The innovation was designed to prevent enemies from tampering with the guidance systems of things like torpedoes.

Although the technology was not implemented in time for the war, it is the foundation of protections incorporated into mobile phones today.

Interspersed between Laurie Wallmark’s narration are inspiring quotes including, “Hope and curiosity about the future seemed better than guarantees.” There is also a timeline and a longer explanation of her invention at the end of the book. Together with Katy Wu’s delightful illustrations, the author’s story of Hedy’s invention is fascinating and enjoyable to read. (Ages 7-10 years)

Illustration of a woman facing forward

Jane Goodall: A Champion of Chimpanzees
Written by Sarah Albee, Illustrated by Gustavo Mazali

If we know much at all about chimpanzees, it’s thanks largely to primatologist Jane Goodall. From a young age, Jane loved watching animals and playing with Rusty, a neighborhood dog. Jane dreamed of going to Africa to study animals there, and upon receiving an invitation to visit from an old school friend living in Kenya, she jumped at the chance. A chance meeting with the famous Dr. Louis Leakey and a job offer to study chimps in the wild led Jane to set up camp in Tanzania. Living and working alongside chimps was hard and required much fortitude, hope and patience, but eventually Jane would gain their trust and make fascinating discoveries about them and their families. She also continued her education, married, and had a family of her own.

Sarah Albee is the best-selling author of many children’s books including Accidental Archaeologists: True Stories of Unexpected Discoveries. Gustavo Mazali, an illustrator of comics and children’s books, provides simple and beautiful drawings that help young readers understand and visualize Jane’s life, the chimps and their world. (Ages 5-8 years)

Illustration of a young woman sitting with a chimpanzee

One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia
Written by Miranda Paul, Illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon

Isatou Ceesay of Republic of the Gambia in West Africa comes to realize how dangerous discarded plastic bags had become in her village when goats died from eating them. The bags also littered gardens and became breeding puddles for mosquitoes that carried disease.
Desperate to find a productive use for the bags, Isatou and her friend, Peggy, come up with an idea: to wash and cut them into thin strips that could be collected into spools of thread for crocheting. Even with the help of other village women, crochet work was painstakingly slow (“ndanka” in Wolof, a language spoken in The Gambia) and the women were even made fun of for their efforts. Nevertheless, the women persevered, creating intricately woven crocheted purses, which they took to the nearby city to sell. As demand for the purses increased, Isatou and her friends earned more income to invest in their village, empowering themselves and their community to recycle more and become healthier.

Young readers will feel they are inside Isatou’s world, as Miranda Paul uses Wolof words throughout the story and provides a glossary and pronunciation guide for them. Elizabeth Zunon, originally from the Ivory Coast, beautifully illustrates Isatou, the Gambian women of this story and their customs including their clothing, with art that uses bold collages of colorful paints, paper, and yes, even plastic bags. (Ages 5-8 years)

Illustration of a woman sitting down, holding a plastic bag

February

Every year Black History Month celebrations in February commemorate the accomplishments and struggles of African Americans. Recent events demonstrate that our country continues its long journey as it comes to terms with existing inequities and issues of race. This month’s Staff Picks highlight books that give children hope that a world of equality and empathy is still within their reach.

Parker Looks Up: An Extraordinary Moment
Written by Parker Curry & Jessica Curry, Illustrated by Brittany Jackson

Parker Curry is a little girl who loves to dance in her favorite sparkly pink tutu at dance class. One day, though, Mom suggests going to the National Portrait Gallery instead, together with Parker’s little sister Ava. Much to Parker’s delight, her best friend Gia and Gia’s mother are there to meet them for what turns out to be a fun outing. There are all kinds of paintings of curious people, places and things for Parker, Gia and Ava to gaze at. The little girls have terrific fun in the playroom and pretend to be like the ballet dancers they see in various paintings. But then Parker looks up and sees a portrait of a seated, beautiful African American woman wearing a majestic, magical gown. The woman reminds Parker of all her female family members, as well as herself, and inspires her imagination to see a future of endless possibilities. The portrait is of former First Lady Michelle Obama.

Readers of all ages will enjoy viewing famous portraits through a young person’s eyes and guessing the subjects of the portraits and the names of the artists who painted them. They will also love Brittany Jackson’s endearing portrayal of Parker and her world, through her large, sparkling, intelligent brown eyes. (Ages 3-7 years)

Illustration of a girl looking up

Mae Among the Stars
Written by Roda Ahmed, Illustrated by Stasia Burrington

Mae dreams of seeing the Earth “from out there.” Mae’s mother says she can become an astronaut if she dreams, believes and works hard for it. At the library, they search for books about space and astronauts, and Mae begins to read, draw and learn more about space and how far away it is. She even makes her own astronaut costume out of cardboard boxes and an old curtain. In her dreams, however, it is close, and she describes it to everyone she encounters, including her classmates and teacher, Miss Bell. Her teacher is discouraging, though, and her classmates only laugh at Mae’s dreams. Mae’s parents continue to support and encourage her, and many years later, after attending college and becoming a medical doctor, she applies to NASA and becomes the first African American female astronaut.

Somali-born Roda Ahmed grew up in Norway and graduated with a degree in anthropology from the Norwegian University of Technology and Natural Sciences, and was a Norwegian newspaper columnist. Her debut novel, Forberedelsen (The Preparation), is an award-winning bestseller in Norway. In addition to loving sci-fi and science, Seattle-based Stasia Burrington is a full-time illustrator. (Ages 4-8 yrs.)

Illustration of a girl in space

The Undefeated
Written by Kwame Alexander, Illustrated by Kadir Nelson

In a direct, strong, yet tender voice, Kwame Alexander writes a poetic tribute to many known and unknown African American heroes across the centuries. The narrator begins with Olympic runner and medalist, Jesse Owens, who he describes as, “The swift and sweet ones/who hurdled history/and opened a world/of possible.” Ordinary African Americans who survived in America and those who did not are also addressed by the narrator – including the ones who worked in chains (literally) and the ones that used their faith to keep their families intact. Harlem Renaissance figures, black veterans of America’s wars, and Civil Rights marchers, as well as the many activists still out there today, are all hailed. In the climax, the narrator brings the readers’ attention to the unspeakable suffering and violence of slavery and racism and the lives of black men, women, teens and children adversely changed or ended too early. The narrator ends with a positive affirmation for all: “This is for the undefeated. This is for you. And you. And you. This is for us.”

Kwame Alexander is the award-winning author of numerous children’s and teen’s books, including The Crossover series of teenage twins that are junior high basketball stars. This picture book features some of Kadir Nelson’s incredible paintings, which have gained national attention, and are hung on the walls of the Smithsonian and featured in The New Yorker and Sports Illustrated. They are also on album covers for Michael Jackson and Drake. Nelson also authored, We are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball. (Ages 7-10 yrs.)

Illustration of a man with fist in the air

Grandpa Stops a War: A Paul Robeson Story
Written by Susan Robeson, Illustrated by Rod Brown

Paul Robeson’s deep, rumbling voice and screen fame captivated modern 20th century America, but his story is more complex. Long before he was unfairly branded by the House Un-American Activities Committee as a Communist sympathizer in 1956, Robeson had been a renowned college football player, law student and Civil Rights activist at home and abroad. In this book, his granddaughter, Susan Robeson, shares the true story of her grandfather’s mission of peace to the frontlines of the Spanish Civil War in 1938. With the help of a Spanish friend, Robeson was able to reach Teruel, where many weary Republican Loyalist soldiers welcomed him and helped him perform on the actual battlefield to all who could hear – including Franco’s Nationalists (the enemy).

Susan Robeson is the author of The Whole World in His Hands: A Pictorial Biography of Paul Robeson, which was an ALA best book for young adults. Fine artist and award-winning illustrator Rod Brown’s artwork has been featured in museums and on national TV, as well as in the books We Troubled the Waters and Freedom’s a-Callin’ Me authored by Ntozake Shange, and From Slave Ship to Freedom Road by Julius Lester. (Ages 7-10 yrs.)

Illustration of a man with clouds in background

This is Your Time
Written by Ruby Bridges

At the tender age of six, Ruby Bridges was the first black student to integrate an all-white elementary school in the South after the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling. In this wonderful narrative written by Ruby herself, younger audiences and readers for whom she wrote this book get to meet older Ruby and hear her story. Attending the William Frantz Elementary every day in the early 1960s, Ruby and her mother were escorted by federal marshals, who were there to protect her from angry segregationists.

Fortunately, Ruby enjoyed learning from her teacher Mrs. Henry, who made school fun and made sure Ruby “learned everything she needed to know.” Ruby’s father, a decorated war hero, lost his job due to the racist backlash of Ruby attending William Frantz. Only as she grew older did Ruby understand the historical significance of events surrounding her then. To young school children, she urges, “I am so inspired by you and by everyone out there making change happen. I know, and you must remember… what can inspire tomorrow often lies in our past.”

In addition to the short and eloquently written narrative by Ruby, there are photos of her, her family, the school, Mrs. Henry, friends she made at William Frantz and kids she has met at the talks she gives today in school classrooms. The book also includes Civil Rights era photos from her school and famous leaders and young peace activists, as well as recent demonstrators responding to George Floyd’s death. The book’s cover features Norman Rockwell’s famous painting commemorating Ruby, published in Look magazine on January 14, 1964. (Ages 7-10 yrs.)

Illustration of a girl walking with book in hand

January

Seldom has a new year ever been welcomed with more anticipation and hope. Wherever you are from, chances are last year was among your most difficult ever. This month’s selection of books remind us that there is always hope on the horizon. Whether you take your inspiration from the music of John Lennon, the selflessness of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., or from fantasy, traditional celebrations and customs, you will find that each book is full of hope and a wonderful way to have our children view the upcoming twelve months.

Imagine
Written by John Lennon, Illustrated by Jean Jullien

Young readers are introduced to John Lennon’s beautiful and famous song, “Imagine,” through the story of a passenger pigeon’s quest to spread a message of world peace. Along with the mail stuffed in his carrier bag, Passenger Pigeon carries an olive branch. Our protagonist leaves a dark underground subway train car crammed full of people who are, “Imagin[ing] there’s no heaven. It’s easy if you try.” He comes up the stairs to be greeted the world above and a blue sky. In a pivotal moment, he realizes there is, “No hell below us. Above us, only sky.” So, he takes flight with his bag and olive branch, flying out to sea, where he can begin to see for himself and encourage all the people and other birds he meets to, “Imagine all the people living life in peace.” He then continues his journey, gathering fellow birds to adopt his example and his message of brotherhood.

Passenger pigeon and the world around him are illustrated in bold colors and outlines. Yoko Ono Lennon’s stirring forward also helps to bring to the fore the message of all we can do “to make a difference every day…Then the world truly will live as one.” French graphic artist and photographer Jean Jullien has designed costumes, clothing, posters, and he has illustrated popular several books for children, including Before & After and Why the Face? (Ages 3-7 years)

Illustration of a pigeon holding an olive branch

Be a King: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Dream and You
Written by Carole Boston Weatherford, Illustrated by James E. Ransome

Kids and parents, have you ever wondered how to take charge and change the world? It can involve modeling one’s self after the King -- Martin Luther King, Jr., that is. It begins by enjoying creation and keeping the faith of one’s ancestors (as with, say, a family reunion), knowing that bigotry hurts, and remembering what it felt like when we were treated unfairly even at a young age (and forcibly stopped from playing with others with different skin colors than ours). To model ourselves after King, we need to admit when we’ve done wrong, to say sorry and sincerely mean it (especially when we have caused mischief and mayhem harmful to others). Also, we need to be conscious of divisions sown between people that we’ve experienced and really know should be there. As readers turn page after page, another piece of King’s wisdom is introduced with the positive affirmation, “You can be a King.” The message is movingly illustrated and easy to understand.

A brief, helpful history of King and his accomplishments are provided in the author’s note at the book’s end. Illustrations by award-winning James Ransome help make this is a truly awesome, simple introduction to King for young readers, from start to finish.  (Ages 3 to 8 years).

Portrait of Dr Martin Luther King Jr

The Bear and the Star
Written by Lola M. Schaefer, Illustrated by Bethanne Andersen

One early December morning, Bear wakes up and sees a new, special star that tells him it is time to begin searching. But searching for what? Bear, it turns out, is searching for a strong, tall tree, “that would be the center/of all to come.” When Bear finally comes upon the most majestic evergreen on the top of a windswept hill, he roars and bellows to the East, West, North, and South. But how can his call be heard across the ends of the earth by other creatures? It can be heard simply because, “…it was time…” As Bear continues to roar and lumber through the woods, other wild inhabitants start to follow him, curious and intrigued. Eventually people of all walks of life stop their work as well and start their quests as well, realizing also that, “It was time.” But what exactly is it time for all the living creatures to celebrate and discover, as Bear has already found the evergreen tree?! Read this wonderful, warm story to find out.

A former elementary school teacher, author Lola M. Schaefer is the author of Because of an Acorn and Lifetime. Illustrator and painter Bethanne Andersen, also a professor at Brigham Young university, has illustrated several children’s books, including A Packet of Seeds, and Seven Brave Women. Young readers and parents will like Bear’s expressive eyes and the natural beauty of Bear’s world and that of other creatures, and how Andersen uses perspective to make readers feel as if they are there in the book enjoying the heavens and the special, magnificent tree close up.  (Ages 4-8 years)

A bear peeking out of tree on a snowy hill, stars fill the night sky

Every Month is a New Year
Written by Marilyn Singer, Collage Illustrations by Susan L. Roth

We all know and love to celebrate New Year’s at midnight on December 31st and the next day on January 1st.  What if we could enjoy the New Year every month of the year?! In charming verse and eye-catching collages, Marilyn Singer shows us how the new year is celebrated around world in many countries and cultures, with festivities that are secular, religious, or a combination of both. There are the famous Midnight Ball Drop on New Year’s Eve in New York City, Hogmanay in Scotland, the Two New Years in Russia that two sisters can enjoy over two weeks, and the Lunar New Year and Dragon Dance in China, and others. My personal favorites are Songkran, celebrated in April in Thailand with water fights, and Enkutatash, celebrated in September in Ethiopia with springtime daisies.

Organized in a calendar format, young readers also can be immersed in Susan Roth’s collage art, featuring people with the most magnificently drawn eyes and expressions taking part in festivities both small and large, quiet and loud. There’s also a handy glossary of definitions and additional sources for the even more curious minds and researchers (Ages 4-9 years)

Circular collage subdivided with images depicting different holidays

Binny’s Diwali
Written by Thrity Umrigar, Illustrated by Nidhi Chanani

Binny is nervous because she has to share what she knows about Diwali, the five-day Hindi Festival of Lights, with her class. On the big day, wearing new clothes and with a stomach full of breakfast, orange sweet jalebis, and milky pedas, Binny feels almost ready. But when the moment comes to share in front of the class, she’s tongue-tied. But then, after some encouragement from the teacher, and by remembering what Mom had told her about lighting little oil lamps known as diyas, known for bringing good luck into homes and for chasing away the darkness – Binny knows all of what she needs to say!  Read the rest of the story to find out what Diwali is about!

There’s also an afterward providing young readers the legend behind Diwali (or Deepavali), an outline of what people do during the five day celebration, and personal notes from the author and illustrator on how they enjoyed the holiday while growing up in India alongside others of diverse faiths and backgrounds, as well as in the United States. San Francisco-based illustrator Nidhi Chanani brings Binny and this wonderful holiday to life in beautiful vivid colors of night and light.  (Ages 4-8 years)

A little girl smiling while looking at a small flame