Lynn Beckwith

Sometimes it is difficult to find books about civil rights that can be read comfortably by the youngest reader, but This Is the Dream, written by Diane Z. Shore and Jessica Alexander and illustrated by James Ransome, fits the bill. The authors have created a clear and concise poem following a simple rhythm that illuminates the milestones of civil rights history, from Jim Crow to the present. Ransome's understated, powerful collage illustrations bring together iconic images from newspapers with the faces of lesser-known people who bravely put themselves in harm's way to demand change. Ransome does not shy away from including unpleasant pictures of the time, especially the angry looks on the faces of white people. When the time shifts to the present, the colors change to warm blues as we see a water fountain, this time being shared by all: "This is the fountain that stands in the square,/and the unwritten rule is to take turns and share."

Nearly every child has heard of Rosa Parks, the recently deceased heroine of the Montgomery bus boycott. To honor her, poet Nikki Giovanni and artist Bryan Collier have teamed up to create a stunning new volume, Rosa. Moving beyond the familiar mythology of a woman too tired to move out of her seat, Giovanni and Collier tell the whole story of a strong woman with a mind of her own who knew the power of working with others. She sighed as she realized she was tired. Not tired from work but tired of putting white people first. Tired of stepping off sidewalks to let white people pass, tired of eating at separate lunch counters and learning at separate schools. . . . Tired of 'separate,' and definitely tired of 'not equal.' The cover shows the bus driver angrily willing this strong black woman to move and Parks' quiet defiance. The yellow wash of the illustrations reflects the hot Alabama sun as the book marches toward its stunning climax: a fold-out mural showing the proud, tired, resolved people of Montgomery preparing for the hard work to come.

Have you heard of W.W. Law of Savannah, Georgia? Well, I hadn't until I read Jim Haskins' Delivering Justice. Haskins, who died in July, was an award-winning writer who spent his career chronicling the history of African Americans. In his final book, he focuses on W.W. Law, who received little acclaim for his contribution to the civil rights movement. Through his activities with the NAACP, Law started the Savannah Boycott, a nonviolent protest by the black community that lasted for more than a year. With blacks refusing to shop in downtown Savannah, the city's businesses began to fail. Law used his job as a letter carrier to communicate with the white community, and little by little helped the two groups come together. Benny Andrews' oil and collage illustrations bring this important time to life for today's children and their parents.

Daphne Muse's collection of poetry, The Entrance Place of Wonders: Poems of the Harlem Renaissance, illustrated by Charlotte Riley-Webb, is a celebration of a rich cultural tradition. From Countee Cullen and Langston Hughes to James Weldon Johnson, the leading poets of the Harlem Renaissance are all represented here. Though some adults might long for the stronger, more political poems these poets are famous for, young readers will enjoy the child-friendly poems that tread on some of the typical territory of childhood: reading, wishing, eating, singing and playing.

Every school and home library should find space for these fine books, during Black History Month and the whole year 'round.

Every school and home library should find space for these fine books, during Black History Month and the whole year 'round.

I have always been interested in American history, especially the history of women, people of color and other groups remarkably absent from the books I found in my classrooms when I was young. Luckily, I had high school history teachers who found articles and academic books to satisfy my interests, and I attended a college where I could take as many courses in black history as I liked. Today's young readers are much luckier numerous books on minority populations are published every year, and Black History Month is the perfect time to spotlight some of the best titles.

Poet Eloise Greenfield and illustrator Jan Spivey Gilchrist have teamed up to create the informative How They Got Over: African Americans and the Call of the Sea. A collection of short, easy-to-read biographies of African-Americans who have a connection to the ocean, this volume will serve as a fine introduction to nautical history for young readers. Seven profiles comprise the heart of this slim volume. Readers will find the story of freed slave Paul Cuffe, whose successful shipping and whaling business in Massachusetts allowed him to become an abolitionist. Convinced that the only hope for the descendants of African slaves was to return to Africa, he offered his ships to anyone who wanted to go to Sierra Leone. Greenfield manages to sneak a great deal of history into her vignettes, and she does not shy away from some of the most difficult issues these historical figures faced. This would be a great book to share with a child who loves history and wants to learn more about some little-known African Americans. The large font, simple writing and clear connections to better-known areas of history make this a good choice for the youngest historian.

Gail Buckley's American Patriots: The Story of Blacks in the Military from the Revolution to Desert Storm has recently been adapted by Tonya Bolden in a special version aimed at younger readers. Buckley's adult book won the 2002 Robert F. Kennedy Award, and this new edition reflects all the finest qualities of the original. Following the timeline of American history, Buckley and Bolden tell the story of black Americans in the military. Much of the history is vaguely familiar: Crispus Attucks and the Boston Massacre, Peter Salem and the Battle of Concord, blacks serving as laborers in the Confederate army, the shameful treatment of blacks who fought valiantly in World War II, the rise of Colin Powell in Desert Storm. Though the volume is easy to read, it is also jam-packed with historical details that make it more useful as a reference title than as a book to curl up with. The historic photos, dating as far back as the Civil War, greatly enhance the book for the casual reader (in one photograph, Buckley's mother, Lena Horne, is pictured entertaining the troops in 1943). This is a fine story and an excellent resource for young history buffs.

Bravery, ingenuity, faith and cooperation are the hallmarks of the Yao people in Ann Grifalconi's newest picture book The Village That Vanished. Slavers come to Njemile's village, and because all the men are away, the women and elderly people have no protection. Just when things look bleakest, Njemile thinks of a plan a scheme involving cunning and trickery, incredible courage and faith. Told in the tradition of African storytellers, featuring Grifalconi's gentle prose and Kadir Nelson's rich pencil and watercolor illustrations, the book tells the unforgettable tale of Yao villagers as they dismantle their huts, hide them from the slavers and disappear into the deep forest. Nelson's remarkable illustrations, reminiscent of scratchboard, raise this wonderful story to the level of instant classic.

While there are many fine collections of African folktales available, a new one Nelson Mandela's Favorite African Folktales deserves a place on the shelf next to the picture books of Verna Aardema and Ashley Bryan. Each tale is from a different area of Africa, though most are from the southern part of the continent, Mandela's home. The stories are illustrated by 19 talented artists who work in many media, from watercolor to gouache to acrylics. Each tale reflects the storyteller, so the reader and listener are treated to a wonderfully wide range of styles. I was drawn to Judy Woodborne's illustration of a fat baby surrounded by a cow, a snake, a butterfly, a bird and a chameleon, and just had to read "Mpipidi and the Motlopi Tree," an adoption story like no other! Each narrative is about three pages long, the perfect length for reading right before bed. A treasure.

I have always been interested in American history, especially the history of women, people of color and other groups remarkably absent from the books I found in my classrooms when I was young. Luckily, I had high school history teachers who found articles and academic books to satisfy my interests, and I attended a college where I could take as many courses in black history as I liked. Today's young readers are much luckier numerous books on minority populations are published every year, and Black History Month is the perfect time to spotlight some of the best titles.

Being a teenager isn't easy. With various social minefields, clothing styles that change by the minute and academic stresses, each day seems fraught with danger: Is that boy going to be nice to me? Am I good enough to make the team? Should I give in to peer pressure about drugs and alcohol? Am I too fat? It's a wonder any kid makes it through these years.

Enter two new books for adolescents, For Teens Only: Quotes, Notes and Advice You Can Use by Carol Weston and No Body's Perfect: Stories by Teens About Body Image, Self-Acceptance, and the Search for Identity by Kimberly Kirberger. Both these titles provide invaluable advice to young people on how to survive and flourish during the difficult coming-of-age years.

Carol Weston, author of Girltalk and the Melanie Martin books, talks directly to teens with advice straight from her heart and mind. Each short essay in her new book starts with a quotation. With wise words from notables like Pablo Casals, e.e. cummings and Wallace Shawn, along with up-to-date advice from such successful female role models as Jennifer Aniston and Alicia Keys, Weston's breezy book offers advice that young adults may actually take to heart. Never didactic, always comforting, Weston writes in a just-chatting-with-you-on-paper style, and she knows her audience. A grown-up with valid advice, she's more like a fun aunt or older cousin than a mom or a teacher.

One of the book's most provocative pieces begins with a quotation from Lisa Kudrow: "This is who I am. Not everybody has to like it." What follows is Weston's direct style at its best. "You don't have to like everybody. Not everybody will like you. And that's okay. . . . When people are not friendly, let that be their problem, not yours. Focus on the people who are your friends. And on pleasing yourself." Hear, hear!

At the beginning and end of this appealing book are a few pages of inspiring quotations. I know many teens who keep journals of meaningful lines they hear in music and read in poems and books. This volume will be a treasure trove for them.

In her new book No Body's Perfect, Kimberly Kirberger, author of Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul and Teen Love: On Relationships, A Book for Teenagers, has compiled a variety of poems, essays and stories by teenagers that address issues surrounding body image, food and self-acceptance. Though the stories vary in length and quality, they are heartfelt, moving and, in some instances, devastating. No problem escapes the insightful reflection of these young, mostly female, writers. Difficult topics like anorexia, bulimia, drug addiction and alcohol abuse are discussed with unflinching honesty.

The raw scabs of young adulthood are exposed here, but Kirberger also offers hope between the covers of her book. There are chapters brightly titled "Give Yourself a Break" and "Stay True to Yourself" and "Ask for Support." Young people who are recovering from the ravages of adolescent choices write some of the hopeful pieces; others are simply the words of supportive friends who care about their suffering peers and offer encouraging words. Many read like journal entries complete with the horror and angst of new pain and the joy of self-discovery and healing.

Kirberger has also created a fill-in-the-blank journal to accompany her new book. The No Body's Perfect Journal offers exercises in self-reflection along with writing activities all perfect opportunities for young readers to stop, ruminate and record their feelings about peer pressure, body image and conformity.

These new books are the perfect way to open up sensitive discussions about how to deal with the everyday stresses of being a teen. Leave them on the bedside or coffee table for your youngster to find, and they're sure to discover words of wisdom on negotiating the bewildering road to adulthood.

Being a teenager isn't easy. With various social minefields, clothing styles that change by the minute and academic stresses, each day seems fraught with danger: Is that boy going to be nice to me? Am I good enough to make the team? Should I give in to peer pressure about drugs and alcohol? Am I too fat? It's a wonder any kid makes it through these years.

Lush, beautiful coffee table books aren't only for adults. A number of stunning new volumes will please the younger members of the family and make welcome gifts this holiday season.

HarperCollins Treasury of Picture Book Classics: A Child's First Collection covers a lot of territory and will make the perfect gift for a new baby or a child who is just entering the world of books. Most adult readers will sigh and smile as they turn the pages and renew old friendships. The magical first words of Goodnight Moon, published in 1947, still sound fresh and spare and alive: "In the great green room/There was a telephone/And a red balloon/And a picture of/The cow jumping over the moon." Like Brown's classic, each book in this volume has stood the test of time, from the funny peddler and his monkeys in Caps for Sale to Harold and his magical crayon. There are a few lesser-known characters here, but that's all the more reason to love this treasury of 12 stories, all beautifully illustrated and presented in one big (and heavy!) volume. The perfect way to start a library.

Yann Arthus-Bertand and Robert Burleigh have created the breathtaking Earth From Above for Young Readers. Arthus-Bertand is the well-known aerial photographer and author of numerous adult books, including last year's Earth From Above 365 Days. Though readable and interesting text accompanies these double-page spreads, the photos are the elements that will truly captivate young readers. Each photo demands close inspection: Is that a human dancing on a block of ice? (Nope it's an exuberant penguin.) Are those really ghostly camels? (Or shadows?) Each continent is represented in these brilliant pictures, which reflect the awesome diversity of life on earth.

The Making of America is a history book for elementary readers and a fine reference book for every family. From the first chapter, the author, Robert D. Johnston, Ph.D., does not mince words about Columbus' role in American history. "It was Christopher Columbus who set in motion the most dramatic and devastating assaults on Native American life and culture," he says. This straightforward telling of the story of our country's birth and development is just one of the reasons this beautifully designed and illustrated book should find a spot in the library of every family and school. The chapters are sensibly short, and each page has informative paintings, pictures, photographs or maps to draw the reader into the story and allow browsing by the casual reader. Biographical profiles and questions for debate punctuate each of the eight chapters, giving a framework for the interpretation of history. Even the last chapter, which brings us to events that are shaping our history right now, asks the difficult question, "How Should America Combat the War on Terrorism at Home?" Web sites, a state-by-state visitors' guide to historic places and scrupulous source notes complete this reference book .

The World Almanac for Kids 2003, edited by Kevin Seabrooke, is just the sort of book my children loved and dragged out during games of Trivial Pursuit. What child can resist looking up his birthday in an almanac to find out who shares it? The colorful, busy pages will attract and keep the attention of the most dedicated multi-tasker in your house. Even the table of contents, with subtitles like "Largest, Smallest, Fastest" and "20 Popular Kids Videos of 2001," will draw in fact-finders. While there is certainly enough information in these pages to help with almost any school assignment, most kids will stick this under their pillow to sneak a forbidden peek late in the evening. In the morning, your little scientist will be able to tell you all about puffer fish and their toxins and the number of Chihuahuas registered with the American Kennel Club. All this might come in handy if your well-informed child ever gets to show his stuff on Jeopardy. And if you keep supplying him or her with good books, it could happen.

Lush, beautiful coffee table books aren't only for adults. A number of stunning new volumes will please the younger members of the family and make welcome gifts this holiday season.

The flags that began flying right after September 11 might have faded a bit in the sun, but the feelings of patriotism they symbolize remain as strong as ever. Just in time for Independence Day, BookPage spotlights a number of books that will remind kids of what makes America so special.

Lynne Cheney, besides being the wife of the vice president, is an author and senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. Along with noted illustrator Robin Preiss Glasser, she has written America: A Patriotic Primer. This alphabet book follows the familiar routine, starting with A is for America, the land that we love. Each page is jam-packed with information about our nation its history, symbols and people. Cheerful watercolor-and-ink illustrations are filled with details about everything from how to fold Old Glory to the concept of patriotism to the philosophies of Jefferson, Madison and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. As with many alphabet books, some letters work better than others, but readers will forgive the occasional awkward letter ( X marks the spot, Z is the end of the alphabet. ) because the illustrations are so interesting and marvelous. Children will pore over the pages and find new details in the borders each time they look at this book. Who would have thought a children's book would mention the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 or the 1924 Indian Citizenship Act?

Kids like to know about presidents. They remember that Abe Lincoln was skinny and wore a tall hat, and that George Washington had wooden teeth. After reading Michael Garland's hilarious The President and Mom's Apple Pie, they will never forget that William Howard Taft was an enormous man with an equally big appetite . . . and an excellent sense of smell. In Garland's charming tale, the rotund Taft pays a visit to a small town in order to dedicate a new flagpole, and everyone is all a-twitter. After the young narrator gets over the shock of seeing the president fill the doorway of the train (and I do mean fill), the whole town gets into the act of walking with Taft to the flagpole. Just as he approaches it, he suddenly sniffs the air and moves in the direction of a mysterious, wonderful aroma. Everyone follows the 27th president as he runs down the street and samples the variety of foods the city has to offer. From a big pile of spaghetti at Tony's Italian Village to ribs at Big Ed's Barbecue to steamed vegetables at Mrs. Wong's Hunan Palace, Taft is up to the task of searching for the marvelous aroma! Who cares if he has a little snack on the way? Well, Taft eventually finds the source of the intoxicating aroma: an apple pie baked by the narrator's mother. Garland's drawings are impossible to forget: Taft's enormous body looks like a bowling ball with tiny legs, and his handlebar mustache bisects his square head. A rollicking, memorable story.

Poet and author Janet S. Wong's newest offering, Apple Pie 4th of July, will make young readers reconsider the significance of the nation's birthday. The story is told from the perspective of a young Chinese-American girl whose family owns a Chinese restaurant. Like many children, she does not think her parents understand the world. Even though my father has lived here since he was twelve, even though my mother loves apple pie, I cannot expect them to know Americans do not eat Chinese food on the Fourth of July. Although the restaurant is open for business on the Fourth, the day wends on with nary a customer, and the sun lowers in the sky. But eventually patrons do arrive. They buy picnic food: chow mein, egg rolls and sweet-and-sour pork, among other things, turning the Fourth of July into a celebration of America's multi-culturalism. Brightly painted illustrations that resemble collages reveal more details of the story. The narrator is decked out in all-American red, white and blue, and one of the customers is carrying a pie into the restaurant. The family, after feeding so many other families, climbs the steps to the rooftop of their restaurant, where they watch fireworks and eat their own apple pie. This vivid book is the perfect menu for a patriotic celebration.

Happy Birthday America!

The flags that began flying right after September 11 might have faded a bit in the sun, but the feelings of patriotism they symbolize remain as strong as ever. Just in time for Independence Day, BookPage spotlights a number of books that will remind kids of what makes America so special.

It's time again for new pencils, paper and folders, and the excitement that rolls around for kids as the school season returns. A fresh crop of books out this fall will help students face the year with confidence and, most importantly, a sense of humor.

Laura Numeroff's If You Take a Mouse to School continues her popular mouse series. With the comforting, familiar story line that has made her previous books such a hit with the preschool set, the newest installment in the adventures of Numeroff's jolly little critter finds him following his boy-owner to school. The mouse is packed and ready to go, starting with a lunchbox, which leads to a sandwich, then notebooks and pencils and a cozy spot in the boy's backpack. You get the picture. Or do you? Look closely at the illustrations and the fun really begins. As the children are solving basic addition problems, the mouse is blithely sailing through calculus. Look inside the children's house of blocks, and you will see the mouse lounging in a tidy mouse-made house. Because this is certainly a book that readers will want to return to again and again, they'll enjoy discovering new details in the illustrations each time.

Further hilarity is in store with Lynn Plourde's School Picture Day. Thor Wickstrom's cartoony illustrations are the perfect complement to Plourde's exaggerated situations. It seems that Josephina Caroleena Wattasheena the First does not know that it's picture day at school. Everyone else starts the morning dressed in their best outfits, but our heroine marches onto the school bus in overalls, with a jaunty hat over her multiple pigtails, carrying her trusty toolbox. She's not thinking about the photograph; she's just wondering how things work. When the bus' gearshift makes an odd sound, Josephina rushes to the rescue. After some highfalutin "fidgeting, fiddling, fuddling, and foopling," she solves the problem, but her oilcan sprays grease on all the well-dressed kids on the bus! Josephina's "help" with the pencil sharpener, school sprinkler system, heating vent and a wind-up chicken culminates in a rather odd class picture. The photographer is hilariously goofy, asking the children to show their "teethy weethies" and to say "cheesy weezy if you pleasy." And what about the fidgeting, curious Josephina Caroleena Wattasheena the First? She is off to bigger and better projects even a rocket that looks ready for the moon.

Hunter's Best Friend at School is Laura Malone Elliott's delightful tale of the pleasures and perils of friendship in the classroom. Lynn Munsinger's wonderful signature watercolors illustrate this story of peer pressure. Hunter and Stripe, two raccoons, like the same things: striped sweaters, Goldilocks and the Three Raccoons and cartwheels. However, sometimes their friendship can be a problem. "When Stripe comes to school one day in a mischief-making mood," he distracts Hunter at reading time, uses poor table manners at lunch and misbehaves during painting time. Hunter ends up following his friend's lead, but he's disappointed in the results. After a loving talk with his mother, he figures out a way to follow her advice: "Being a best friend doesn't mean always following along," she says. "Sometimes being a best friend means you have to help your friend be his best self." Good advice for any student!

It's time again for new pencils, paper and folders, and the excitement that rolls around for kids as the school season returns. A fresh crop of books out this fall will help students face the year with confidence and, most importantly, a sense of humor. Laura Numeroff's If You Take a Mouse to School continues […]

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