>> Picture Books
Thunder Boy Jr.
By Sherman Alexie
Illustrated by Yuyi Morales
(Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2016)
In this gorgeous picture book, Thunder Boy Jr. wants his own name. His dad is called Big Thunder, and he doesn’t want to just be Little Thunder. He wants a name all to himself, one that speaks to who he is and what he’s done. Alexie’s narrative captures the tension and excitement of a young child beginning to assert his own identity while continuing to love his father. Morales’ vivid illustrations bring us into Thunder Boy’s vibrant imagination, capturing everyday details, family traditions, and the humor of childhood. This book could be used with early elementary students, but would still spark meaningful discussions in upper elementary classrooms. Of course, teachers should make sure they discuss respectful naming practices with students, and avoid stereotypical activities like having students come up with their own “Indian names.” But, used carefully, this book invites us to celebrate and discuss the power of names and family traditions in our classrooms.
Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library
By Carole Boston Weatherford
Illustrated by Eric Velasquez
(Candlewick Press, 2017)
“Where is our historian to give us our side? To teach our people our own history?” asks Afro-Puerto Rican Arturo Schomburg on the first page of this beautifully illustrated picture book. Schomburg’s 5th-grade teacher had told him “Africa’s sons and daughters had no history, no heroes worth noting.” Schomburg dedicated his life to ensuring that future generations would learn of Africa and African Americans’ powerful heritage. He set out to write, research, and collect the stories that chronicled the Black history of the diaspora. Filling every nook and cranny of his family home in Harlem, his collection was eventually donated to the now-famous Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York.
In the Fields of the North
En los campos del norte
Photos and text by David Bacon
(El Colegio de la Frontera Norte/University of California Press, 2016)
So often, our food arrives without a history. Bought in supermarkets, restaurants, or food carts, it appears with no explanation of the human labor — and sometimes suffering — that brought this food into our lives. In this timely and essential book, photojournalist David Bacon, through images and text, brings to life our intimate connection with the immigrant workers responsible for what we eat. Bacon notes that those carrots in our potato salad and green onions chopped onto a steamed fish dish “all came from somewhere, that somewhere is likely a field like the one in Lamont [in California’s San Joaquin Valley], and the hands that pulled the weeds so those vegetables could flourish belong to Marcelina and Juan Hernández, Aurora González, Erica Bautista, and others like them. They are connected to us. We all eat the product of their labor.” Developing this awareness is the beginning of making ethical choices about what we eat and how we can support the struggles of the people who grow and harvest our food. In the Fields of the North is filled with poignant photographs, accessible stories, and first-person immigrant narratives. Every middle and high school library should have this fine book.
>> Education Activism
Counter-Recruitment and the Campaign to Demilitarize Public Schools
By Scott Harding and Seth Kershner
(Palgrave Macmillan, 2015)
The premise of this book is that “a military presence in schools corrupts traditional educational values and often runs roughshod over students’ privacy rights.” But this book is not simply a litany of horror stories about military recruitment abuses. Its focus is on activism, like the annual poetry slams of Peaceful Vocations in Fort Worth, Texas. For three years, Scott Harding and Seth Kershner crisscrossed the United States interviewing “counter-recruiters,” activists committed to challenging the influence of military recruiters in high schools. The result is a tremendously useful, story-rich volume that offers critical insights and practical lessons on the work of protecting the integrity of public schools as sites of inquiry rather than farm teams for the military.
Between Families and Schools:
Creating Meaningful Relationships
Edited by Allyson Criner Brown
(Teaching for Change, 2016)
With Between Families and Schools: Creating Meaningful Relationships, Teaching for Change revisits two critical questions that launched an action research project in Washington, D.C., more than a decade ago: “How do we get more parents involved in our schools?” and “How do we enhance collaboration and communication between parents and teachers?” The authors of the original edition included parents and teachers of color who studied — and were members of — school communities serving largely African Americans, immigrants, and low-income families. The second edition, released in November 2016 as a downloadable publication, brings fresh stories and insights into the eight findings that came from the original action research project. Each section consists of a description of the finding, quotes and stories that illustrate the point, a tool to investigate one’s own school and practice, and suggested actions to build stronger schools with multiracial parent power. Between Families and Schools shows in print and with visuals what is possible when schools create meaningful and respectful relationships with parents of color and low-income families.
Book Uncle and Me
By Uma Krishnaswami
Illustrated by Julianna Swaney
(Groundwood Books, 2016)
Nine-year-old Yasmin Kader, who lives in India, is an avid reader. Her favorite place to visit is the Book Uncle’s free outdoor lending library. His mantra is “Right book for the right person for the right day.” One day the “right book” he lends her is a folk tale about birds working together to free themselves from a hunter’s net. The parable becomes a timely lesson in organizing when the city decides to shut down the Book Uncle’s stand. Yasmin takes advantage of the upcoming mayoral election to organize a campaign to get candidates to address the fate of the Book Uncle. After the election, rather than simply counting on the winner to do what he promised, she organizes again to ensure the new mayor follows through on his campaign promise. There are valuable lessons for activists of all ages in this lovely upper elementary chapter book.
Crossing Ebenezer Creek
By Tonya Bolden
(Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2017)
This is an extraordinary book of historical fiction about the December 9, 1864, massacre at Ebenezer Creek, where, on the march to Savannah, thousands of African American families who had just escaped from slavery were left to drown by Sherman’s Army. The protagonist of the book is a young girl, Mariah, who flees slavery to join Sherman’s March along with her younger brother and a deranged woman from the plantation. Mariah recounts the daily and many forms of torture carried out by plantation owners. Readers also learn how the enslaved resisted, protecting culture and family in any and every way they could. In the epilogue, the author explains that demands by Black ministers after the massacre led to the short-lived land distribution during Reconstruction known as Sherman’s Special Field Order No. 15.
Reviewed by Bill Bigelow, Deborah Menkart, and Grace Cornell Gonzales