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PITTMAN PICKS

The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read

 

Author: Rita Lorraine Hubbard

Illustrator: Oge Mora

Genre: Picture Book Biography

Target Ages: 4-8

Prime Audiences: Struggling Readers; Advocates for Literacy; Readers Interested in African-American Biographies

Publisher: Schwartz & Wade

Publication Year: 2020

 

Does the possibility of education have a time limit?  Is there a point at which it's pointless to attempt to learn something new?  Mary Walker, a former slave who finally learned to read at the age of 116, would tell you, "You're never too old to learn."

 

In The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read, Rita Lorraine Hubbard and Oge Mora create a wonderful tribute to Mary Walker and her courageous and inspiring effort to learn to read despite her well-advanced age.  Hubbard does state in her author's note that "Very little is known about Mary's life from her emancipation at age fifteen until she learned to read at 116," and that she (Hubbard) "chose to imagine other details to fill in the blanks," and those details serve as the bridge between Walker's inauspicious beginnings to her triumph in mastering words a century after her physical emancipation.  Mora's art, which includes patterned paper and book clippings, skillfully amplifies the tone of Hubbard's narrative of Walker's journey.  The endpapers contain black and white photos of Walker, including her teacher, Helen Kelley, presenting Walker with her first graduation certificate.

 

If you want to be encouraged, read The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read!

 

 

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Home Is a Window

 

Author: Stephanie Parsley Ledyard

Illustrator: Chris Sasaki

Genre: Fiction Picture Book

Target Ages: 4-8

Prime Audiences: Children Experiencing a Family Move to a New Home

Publisher: Neal Porter Books

Publication Year: 2019

 

Home is that familiar place with all the familiar things than make it comfortable, that make it "home."  But more importantly, home is the family who love you, no matter where your physical home might be, even if that place changes.  This is the comforting message to readers of Stephanie Parsley Ledyard and Chris Sasaki's picture book Home Is a Window. 

 

Ledyard's narrative is a "quiet" story about moving from the familiar to the unfamiliar.  It echoes the unnamed protagonist's comfortable routine of living in her family's home but also the gentle uprooting when her family moves away to a different town.  The refrain "Home is" is interrupted as her family arrives at a new home, but she quickly identifies the comforts of their new home, especially "the people gathered near," her father and mother and brother.  And so the narrative ends with that pleasant word– "Home."  Sasaki's illustrations, especially the color tones, deftly match Ledyard's words, and the endpapers frame the journey from the old neighborhood to the new neighborhood. 

 

Readers who are apprehensive about a family's move will identify with the protagonist and find the same comfort she does in knowing home is always where your loved ones are— in fact, your loved ones themselves.

 

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Moose's Book Bus

 

Author & Illustrator: Inga Moore

Genre: Fiction Picture Book

Target Ages: 3-7

Prime Audiences: All Readers Who Love Libraries

Publisher: Candlewick Press

Publication Year: 2021

 

When Moose runs out of stories to tell his family, he attempts to borrow books from his neighbors— but nobody has any books!  So Moose goes to the city and borrows books from the library, and soon his family's home is overfilled with neighbors who enjoy listening to him read stories.  Moose's solution?  Transform an old bus into a book bus and drive the countryside providing books for his neighbors!

 

Inga Moore's Moose's Book Bus is a quaint story about the love of stories, and anyone who has experienced the joy of getting books from a bookmobile/book bus will enjoy reading about Moose and his neighbors.  It's a story that promotes storytelling, literacy, and neighborly goodwill, and Moore's illustrations deftly capture the tone and mood of her tale about tale-telling.  After the final page, readers will be on the lookout for a book bus in their neighborhood!

 

 

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All Different Now: Juneteenth, the First Day of Freedom

 

Author: Angela Johnson

Illustrator: E.B. Lewis

Genre/Format: Historical Fiction Picture Book

Target Ages: 5-9

Prime Audiences: African American Descendants of Slaves and Former Slaves and All Americans Who Value Freedom

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Publication Year: 2014

 

On the morning of June 19, 1865, a slave girl wakes to the smell of honeysuckle, sweet but not enough against the bitter reality of slavery.  And on the morning of June 20, the honeysuckle will once again come to wake her and her family, but all will be different because of the proclamation that has finally reached the slaves of Texas— You are free.

 

"To be given freedom for the first time in your life-- wouldn't that be truly awesome, but also somehow surreal and dreamlike?"  These words of E.B. Lewis from his Illustrator's Note of the picture book All Different Now: Juneteenth, the First Day of Freedom, capture the tone of Angela Johnson's story of a group of slaves in Texas experiencing their first day of freedom on June 19, 1865, now known and celebrated as Juneteenth.  Lewis's watercolor scenes of a first day of freedom match the thoughtful and straightforward words of Johnson through her fictional narrator, nameless yet symbolic of all those real souls who suffered enslaved, whose sufferings are not forgotten though their names may be unknown to us today.  Lewis also writes "I illustrated not just jubilation and celebrations, but expressions of repose, disconnect, surprise, and contemplation."  And this is a book of all those things, a book that speaks quietly, yet clearly to all who enjoy freedom today, a book that speaks in solemn remembrance of those whose precious dream of freedom finally became a reality.  

 

 

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Big Papa and the Time Machine

 

Author: Daniel Bernstrom

Illustrator: Shane W. Evans

Genre: Picture Book

Target Ages: 4-8

Prime Audience: Children Who Don't Like School; Children Who Struggle with Fear; Children Who Are Close to Their Grandparents

Publisher: HarperCollins

Publication Year: 2020

 

When Big Papa shows up with his time machine because his grandson doesn't want to go to school, he takes him on a ride through his personal history.  And during each stop on their ride through time, Big Papa's grandson sees Big Papa overcome a fear.  "That's called being brave," Big Papa says before they move on.  And by the time they return to the present day in front of the school, Big Papa's grandson understands many more things about life and, most importantly, Big Papa's love for him.

 

Big Papa and the Time Machine is a heartful story of a grandfather and his grandson, one that echoes Daniel Bernstrom's relationship with his own grandfather as he depicts in his author's note at the end of the book.  Shane W. Evans's bright, bold colors bring the present and the past to life, and the reader rides along with the grandson in experiencing the important moments in Big Papa's life.  This book will prompt the grandchild to ask and it will prompt the grandparent to share as it reminds us that our memories— our histories— matter to the ones we love.

 

 

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Summer Color!

 

Author: Diana Murray

Illustrator: Zoe Persico

Genre: Picture Book

Target Ages: 4-8

Prime Audiences: Children Learning Colors; Families Who Love the Outdoors

Publisher: Little, Brown and Company

Publication Year: 2018

 

What can happen on a hot summer day?  You can sit on the porch eating popsicles with your cousins, you can explore nature beyond the yard, you can watch neighbors fish from the dock…and you can run back inside and wait for the storm to pass!

 

Summer Color, a rhyming picture book by Diana Murray and Zoe Persico, is a colorful look at what happens on a hot, summer day.  Murray's verse emphasizes the colors that Persico puts in her illustrations, making a fun pairing of word and picture throughout.  And Murray's verbs she uses to describe the actions contribute to a book that's sure to grow the vocabulary and wonder of its young readers and hearers!

 

 

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We Dream of Space

 

Author: Erin Entrada Kelly

Genre: Fiction

Prime Ages: 11-14

Prime Audiences: Junior High/Middle School Students Dealing with Family Conflicts, Anger Problems, Personal Short-Comings, or Just Feeling Out of Place; Adolescents Interested in Space Exploration

Publisher: Greenwillow Books

Publication Year: 2020

 

We're all in orbit, circling each other's lives, navigating the spaces of life, taking each day as a new frontier.  But the universe is not always a kind place, not even the spaces we inhabit within our own thoughts.  But it's within those spaces where the greatest discoveries can be made, the ones that make navigating all the other spaces easier.

 

Erin Entrada Kelly's fantastic middle-grade novel We Dream of Space is about three siblings, Cash, Fitch, and Bird, and their tumultuous month of January 1986, set against the backdrop of the anticipation of the Challenger shuttle launch and its subsequent tragedy.  Readers will get these characters, along with the other characters within their orbits, and Kelly's use of a changing third person point of view between the siblings gives readers a full view of the Nelson Thomas's universe.  And while this is definitely not a "happily ever after" story, the after is hopeful— and that's enough to make Cash, Fitch, and Bird's spaces, individually and collectively, happier places to navigate.   

 

Read We Dream of Space!

 

 

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Watercress

 

Author: Andrea Wang

Illustrator: Jason Chen

Genre: Picture Book

Target Ages: 4-8

Prime Audiences: Children of Immigrants; Children Living in a New Place

Publisher: Neal Porter Books

Publication Year: 2021

 

For many if not most of us, food is more than food— food is memory, and certain dishes, their smells and their tastes and their very appearances evoke within our hearts and minds the journey of our lives.  And food is family, the sweet and bitter links to one another, and this is the focus of Andrea Wang and Jason Chin's touching picture book Watercress.

 

Based on her own experiences as a first-gernaration immigrant, Wang describes her story as "an apology and a love letter" to her parents, as her adolescent-aged protagonist reflects Wang's own feelings about having to pick wild watercress by the roadside.  Wang's narrative is skillfully seasoned with figurative language and imagery, and Chen's watercolor illustrations capture the tone of both the families present actions and their memories.  And though it's a picture book, it's a story than will resonate with older sibling and with parents, a story that will stir their memories and remind them of family recipes, not just the foods but the recipe of how their family came to their present circumstances.  Watercress is a literary dish well worth savoring. 

 

 

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The Prince's Poison Cup

 

Author: Dr. R.C. Sproul

Illustrator: Justin Gerard

Genre: Picture Book

Recommended Ages: 8 and Older

Prime Audiences: Children Beginning to Come into a Greater Understanding of the God of the Bible and Jesus Christ; Children Inquiring about God and Jesus Christ

Publisher: Reformation Trust

Publication Year: 2008

 

"Daddy, why does medicine taste so bad if it's going to make us well?"  That's the question Ella Ruth has for her father, a question Grandpa answers with a story when he comes to visit later that afternoon.  It's a story about the King of Life. It's about his subjects who disobey him and drink from a fountain that turns their hearts to stone.  And it's about the King's son, the Prince, who drinks from a different fountain, a fountain of poison, so that the subjects whom the King of Life so loves can love him again in return.

 

Written by the late Dr. R.C. Sproul, pastor and founder of Ligonier Ministries, and illustrated by Justin Gerard, The Prince's Poison Cup is an allegory of man's fall in the garden of Eden, God's love for fallen man whom He created, and our salvation through Jesus Christ.  Pastor Sproul's story within-a-story is beautifully captured through Gerard's soft and glowing, serious and tender illustrations, as if the reader is opening and viewing a treasure.  The "For Parents" section after the narrative is a helpful resource that walks through the allegorical points of the story in the form of questions answered by Scripture.  This is an excellent primer for discussions about God and Jesus Christ and the Bible, one that families will treasure because it points towards the true treasure— reconciliation with God through salvation in Christ!

 

 

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William Still and His Freedom Stories: The Father of the Underground Railroad

 

Author/Illustrator: Don Tate

Genre: Picture Book Biography

Target Ages: 6-10

Prime Audiences: Children, Parents, and Teachers Interested in Black History

Publisher: Peachtree Publishing Company

Publication Year: 2020

 

 

When you hear the term "Underground Railroad," the name Harriet Tubman comes to mind.  But what about that of William Still, born free, the son of former slaves, the man who became the manager of the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society, whose home became a "station" on the Underground Railroad, whose empathetic ear and pen recorded the stories of freedom-seekers whom he and others helped, records that "helped reunite families, torn apart by slavery, to find each other once they'd found freedom"?  If not, then you'll learn all about him in William Still and His Freedom Stories: The Father of the Underground Railroad, written and illustrated by Don Tate.

 

Tate's biography of William Still is informative and inspirational, adding to the canon of Black History literature for both children and adults.  It is an applause for the life of a man who used his resources as a balm for others when "living ached like an open sore," the sore from slavery's separating lashes, and it is fitting that the man who so valued the stories of others has his own story told in such an excellent way!   

 

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