Rise! From Caged Bird to Poet of the People, Maya Angelou: A Review

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I spent time this weekend reading and reviewing lots of new picture books. This one is definitely a favorite.

Title: Rise! From Caged Bird to Poet of the People, Maya Angelou

Author: Bethany Hegedus

Illustrator: Tonya Engel

Publisher: Lee & Low Books, Inc.

Rise! is a remarkable book about a remarkable woman, Maya Angelou. Bethany Hegedus’s lyrical language written as poetry flies off the page, creating perfect images that take us from knowing Maya as a young child to her roles as performer, writer, mother, and activist. The complications and dark times of Maya’s life are treated respectfully and serve to help us understand how much she had to overcome. The exquisite craft of the writing coupled with the illustrations of words swirling across many pages of the book are a celebration of language in itself. They remind us of the important role words played in Maya’s life: “…the twisting, turning/conga line of language/that pulses across the page.”

The book opens with a touching tribute from Maya Angelou’s grandson and concludes with an author’s note, a timeline, additional resources, and photographs.

This is a book that will touch your heart and soul and be a reminder that Maya Angelou’s words “…will always rise/rise/rise.”

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Always Looking Up: A Review

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Title: Always Looking Up: Nancy Grace Roman, Astronomer

Author: Laura Gehl

Illustrators: Louise Pigott and Alex Oxton

Publisher: Albert Whitman & Company

Publication Date: October 1, 2019

Summary: This picture book biography tells the story of Nancy Grace Roman, an astronomer whose work led to the creation of the International Ultaviolet Explorer Telescope and the Hubble Space Telescope and important space discoveries. From Amazon: “A testament to women in scientific careers and a record of an important NASA milestone.”

Always Looking Up had me hooked from the opening lines:

“Young Nancy Grace loved to look up at the endless night sky. She gazed at tiny blue-white stars glittering in inky blackness.”

By creating contrasts (small Nancy/vast sky, blue-white stars/inky blackness) Laura Gehl sets the stage for a book that makes the wonder of the universe more tangible to a child.  Laura skillfully uses words and comparisons familiar to a child. For example, she describes Hubble as “as big as a bus, as heavy as two elephants,” and “like a falling meteorite,” and “as fiery as a supernova.” Young readers will relate to Nancy Grace Roman’s curiosity, wonder, and determination to overcome poor eyesight and discouragement from those who thought women should not follow scientific pursuits. Nancy Grace achieves her goal of becoming an astronomer, but as Laura points out, “…this was only the beginning.” Nancy Grace’s vast accomplishments, like the universe, are far-reaching and significant to everyone.

The universe is celebrated in the illustrations on almost every page, along with scientific and mathematical symbols. These depictions enhance the text and allow the reader to watch Nancy, as well as her curiosity and accomplishments, grow. Also included are actual photographs from Hubble.

The timeline and author’s note provide additional important information. Included are inspiring and encouraging words of advice from Nancy Grace to young readers. What a gift!

Always Looking Up: Nancy Grace Roman, Astronomer hits the book shelves in October, 2019. It is available now for preorder.

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Be Astonished

Last week I received a beautiful gift from a friend who also happens to be one of my critique partners. She had asked for a favorite inspirational quote, then had it etched in leather and wound into a bracelet. I chose something from Mary Oliver:

Instructions for living a life:

Pay attention.

Be astonished.

Tell about it.

I put the bracelet on, and it felt like magic. Everywhere I went my mind filled with wonders that sparked my curiosity and filled me with awe.

Checking on the bluebirds, I marveled at the care taken to build the nest, protect the babies, and teach them to fledge. (They will soon be on their way!)

In the children’s garden at Longwood Gardens I stuck my nose in every herb, delighted by the wondrous smells. I jotted down every word I could think of to describe a smell – sharp, bitter, spicy, damp, fruity, delicate…I noticed so many that are also linked to tastes.

Yesterday, one of the women in the golf festival I was participating in was able to play from her wheelchair. Her special chair worked as her legs to lift her up where she then hit the ball using just one arm. Such grit, determination, and perseverance to do what she loves to do! It was a lesson that I won’t soon forget.

There are wondrous things happening in the world all around me every day. Maybe I don’t need a bracelet to tell me that, but somehow that bracelet with Mary Oliver’s words acted as a reminder not to miss out on life. It’s wonderful advice for everyone, but especially for a writer looking for stories to tell in new and wondrous ways.

What will astonish us today?

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Moon’s First Friends: A Review

Last week I was delighted to pick up a copy of Moon’s First Friends: One Giant Leap for Friendship by Susanna Leonard Hill and illustrated by Elisa Paganelli. There are many new releases that celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the moon landing, but this one takes a unique perspective. Here we see the moon as the queen of the night sky, but lonely, and longing for a friend. What young reader can’t relate to that? Moon watches as the earth forms and creatures appear. We see her showing her different faces, and even trying to attract attention by creating an eclipse. It takes some time, but Moon is finally rewarded for her patience with visitors. And as most friends do, the moon and the visitors exchange gifts. The enchanting and colorful illustrations complement the text and add another layer of interest.

The book is sure to raise questions, and many are answered in the extensive back matter that offers a timeline of the earth, lists the phases of the moon, and explains the different parts of the rocket that took the first visitors to the moon. A special bonus is a QR Code where young readers can listen to the words spoken by Neil Armstrong when he took his first step onto the moon.

This is one book that will engage even our youngest book lovers and awaken in them a curiosity about our universe.

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The Moon Is a Star!

Not really, of course, but since this summer marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, it almost seems like it is. Yesterday I spotted not one, but two, moon book displays in a local bookstore. There were new titles mixed in with older titles, almost as if old friends were introducing the younger crowd. Here’s a little about two of my favorites:

Ten years ago, Robert Burleigh and Mike Wimmer collaborated on One Giant Leap to commemorate the moon landing’s 40th anniversary. That book takes us right to the surface of the moon where we experience that moment when a nation held its breath. In contrast, Papa Put a Man on the Moon by Kristy Dempsy and illustrated by Sarah Green for the 50th anniversary, takes us to a mill town in South Carolina. There, we learn about textile workers who wove special threads to form a layer in the astronauts’ spacesuits. The pride of the people in that community and the nation as a whole is a beautiful contrast to Papa’s humility. The first person account and simple, colorful drawings create an intimacy that serves as a tribute to everyone who made the moon landing possible.

A few other new titles I can’t wait to dig into include:

A Kite for Moon by Jane Yolen and Heidi Stemple, illustrated by Matt Phelan

Moon’s First Friends by Susanna Leonard Hill, illustrated by Elisa Paganelli

Moon! Earth’s Best Friend by Stacy McAnulty, illustrated by Stevie Lewis

For the next few weeks I’ll be learning and wondering more about the moon, spending time with old book friends and new. Want to come along?

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Oh, Boy! A Boy Like You: A Review

photo from Amazon.com

I was excited to receive an advance copy this weekend of A Boy Like You by Frank Murphy with illustrations by Kayla Harren. This book is not only beautiful and heartfelt, it is a timely reminder to everyone, especially boys, of what it means to be strong and smart, kind and brave. With carefully chosen words, Frank encourages boys to be curious and to find their place in the world.  He calls attention to the importance of emotional as well as physical strength, of asking questions and knowing when to ask for help, of how to treat others with respect, and of caring for the environment.

This is an important book that speaks to our future generations. As Frank explains in a back matter note: “Each generation’s best future rests with its children. These children can become leaders who honor humanity – leaders with open hearts and minds who accept the uniqueness of individuals, regardless of their differences.”

All readers will find themselves in the beautiful and engaging illustrations that accompany and enhance the text, further encouraging readers to discover what makes them unique.

Just as Frank reminds us to connect with others through story, this story is one not to be missed.

A Boy Like You is published by Sleeping Bear Press and will be available on July 15.

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Adventures in Kayaking

I’ve never been a particularly athletic person. I was the kid picked last for the teams in gym class and the one most likely not to hit the volleyball in a friendly back-yard game. The closest I came to having any athletic skill was with a hula hoop or jump rope. So when my book group decided that a kayaking outing was in order, I was a little skeptical.

Last year, my fellow book group friend, Lois (who also just happens to be a kayaking instructor), took me with her in her two man kayak. I was calm, followed all her instructions, and had a wonderful time. I was expecting the same thing this year, so you can imagine my surprise on Friday when I saw six single kayaks waiting for us. This year I would have to go it alone!

What if it tips?

What if I can’t paddle straight and I get caught in the reeds like I did on the river and had to be towed in?

What if…what if…what if…

Maybe I’ll just wait here for everyone.

Those same negative voices in my head that appear sometimes when I write were back. They were filling my head with unnecessary concern and doubt. But I’ve learned to silence them, and with gentle encouragement from the group, I persevered. I think the hardest part was getting in!

It was a beautiful, relaxing night on the lake. We were rewarded with glimpses of herons and hawks as well as an exquisite sunset. This was our second kayaking outing as a group and we’ve decided to make it a yearly event. I’m already looking forward to next year!

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