Book review: I Am Sonia Sotomayor, by Brad Meltzer, illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos

Meltzer, Brad. I Am Sonia Sotomayor. Illus. by Christopher Eliopoulos. (Ordinary People Change the World series). Dial, 2018. $14.99. unp. ISBN 978-0-7352-2873-3. Ages 4-7. P4Q4

The latest in this series continues to use cartoon illustrations and comic book bubbles, this time to tell about the life of a Supreme Court justice.

Verdict: Sotomayor’s autobiographical picture book, Turning Pages: My Life Story, illustrated by Lulu Delacre, is a better buy.


December 2018 review by Nel Ward.


Book review: Pasando Páginas: La historia de me vida, by Sonia Sotomayor, illustrated by Lulu Delacre, translated by Teresa Mlawer

Sotomayor, Sonia. Pasando Páginas: La historia de me vida. Illustrated by Lulu Delacre. Translated by Teresa Mlawer. Philomel Books, 2018. $17.99. ISBN 9780525515494. Unpaged. Ages 7-10. P9 Q10

In the Spanish version of Turning Pages: My Life Story, Sonia Sotomayor shares the story of her life and all she experiences that leads up to her becoming the first Latina Supreme Court Justice. In the English edition, she explains the meaning of cultural words while in the Spanish version, no explanation is needed. In the English edition, it mentions the Catholic High School she attended while the Spanish edition omits it. The phrases in the Spanish edition create a more positive message, for example, the English edition reads, “Fix and try harder to be better” while the Spanish edition reads, “Put things right and try harder.” The ending differs in the following way, “It is what I am” and “This is my responsibility.” The translator took liberty with sentence structure and wording. While the words are not exactly the same, the same image appears in one’s mind. The idiomatic phrases are unique to each language. The words in the Spanish edition flows better than the English edition, even though the English edition was written first. Having read both the English and Spanish editions, I would prefer the Spanish edition since it comes across as warmer and more familial in Spanish. The illustrations are the same in both editions and work equally well.

Verdict: This book contains a lot of information and may be difficult for some children to read. Children may not gravitate on their own to this book, but they may find it interesting if an adult read it to them. This is an inspirational book on starting out with very little and creating, with hard work, a life that greatly influences others. I recommend this book for elementary school libraries.

September 2018 review by Tami Harris.

Book review: The 5 O’clock Band, by Troy Andrew, Illustrated by Bryan Collier

Andrew, Troy. The 5 O’clock Band. Illustrated by Bryan Collier. Abrams Books For Young Readers, 2018. $17.99. ISBN 9781419728365. Unpaged. Ages 4-8. P7Q9.

The 5 O’clock Band is an amazing sneak peek into the magical neighborhood of Treme in New Orleans. The reader follows a young boy, Shorty. He is an integral part of a band called, The 5 O’clock Band.  The band would parade throughout the streets of the town playing and ‘living’ the music that they loved, out loud. One day he was late in meeting his band and is thrust on a personal mission as he doubts his ability to be the band leader he longs to be.  On the boy’s journey we meet many influential people who teach the boy about what it takes to be a leader, how to be dedicated, to honor tradition, and to play with heart. Illustrations are a rich blend of water color collage and pen and ink. Treme is brought to life with the vivid color displays from streets to rooftops captured throughout the story.

Verdict: This is a delightful story and would be a great cultural and historical addition to any classroom or library. It can be used to teach theme, perseverance, tradition, culture, community, and dedication.

September 2018 review by Marcy Doyle.

[Editor’s note: The 5 O’Clock Band is a companion to Andrew’s autobiographical picture book, Trombone Shorty, a 2016 Caldecott honor book and winner of the 2016 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award.]

Book review: Who Says Women Can’t be Computer Programmers?: The Story of Ada Lovelace, by Tanya Lee Stone, illustrated by Marjorie Priceman

Stone, Tanya Lee. Who Says Women Can’t be Computer Programmers?: The Story of Ada Lovelace. Illustrated by Marjorie Priceman. Henry Holt and Company, 2018. $18.99. ISBN 9781627792998. Unpaged. Ages 6-9. P6Q7

Ada Lovelace, daughter of Lord Byron, grew up in England with her mother, who wanted to protect her daughter from developing an overactive imagination like her badly behaved father. Her mother had Ada study math, French and music at home to keep her mind steady, and groomed her for a good marriage. As she grew older, she met the mathematician Charles Babbage, who invented the Difference Engine. Ada worked on the machine with Babbage, and realized that it could do more than basic mathematical calculations; she published a paper describing its potential not only to process numbers, but to create pictures and music. As a result, Ada is thought of as the first computer programmer, and the first to understand what such machines could do. The illustrations (gouache and india ink) are colorful and flowing, and I love that numbers, musical symbols, and other kinds of marks are incorporated in them.

VERDICT: This book will be a good addition to both public and school libraries, and will be useful for teachers talking about women in math and science.

September 2018 review by Carol Schramm.

Book review: So Tall Within: Sojourner Truth’s Long Walk toward Freedom, by Gary D. Schmidt, illustrated by Daniel Minter

Schmidt, Gary D. So Tall Within: Sojourner Truth’s Long Walk toward Freedom. Illustrated by Daniel Minter. “Advance reader’s edition.” Roaring Brook Press, on sale 9/25/2018. Unpaged. Includes bibliography. $18.99. ISBN 9781250298355. Ages 6-9. P7Q9

“In Slavery Time, when Hope was a seed waiting to be planted”

Events in the life of Sojourner Truth—first called Isabella—are framed by full-page illustrations and a line of poetry.  The frame pages feature brilliantly colored inserts framed by patterns in somber shades that remind me of quilt blocks.  The pages of the biography are unbordered on white pages with a block of text.

Many children’s books state or imply that slavery in the United States occurred primarily in the Southern States. This gorgeously illustrated picture book biography of Sojourner Truth points out that she was born into slavery in the state of New York.  The description of her life—having ten or twelve sisters and brothers, but not knowing them because they had been sold; being made to work both day and night; being made to marry and have children; being promised freedom and then denied it—make clear to young readers the importance of freedom, and, as the biography also makes clear, Isabella’s courage in claiming her own freedom and the freedom of her children.

Verdict:  This beautiful picture book biography includes information I had not previously known about Sojourner Truth’s life.  Both the biographical note and illustrator’s note add context to the work and the full page of bibliographic references, many for adult readers, points the way for further research.  Highly recommended for elementary, middle school and public library collections.

September 2018 review by Jane Cothron.


Schmidt, Gary D. So Tall within: Sojourner Truth’s Long Walk toward Freedom. Illus. by Daniel Minter. Roaring Brook. 2018. $18.99. unp. Ages 6-9. P7Q9

“Hope was a seed” that Isabella, born into slavery in 1797 and sold to a number of owners, nurtured through her first 30 years until she escaped to New York, forced to leave behind her children and husband. Throughout her life she sought Respect, winning a court case to regain her five-year-old son, also in slavery, and taking on a new name because of her sojourns to oppose slavery and fight for civil rights and women’s suffrage. End notes enhance the story with information about Sojourner Truth’s family life, an essay of the veracity of sources, and a note by the artist on his work.

Verdict: The luminous two-page watercolor spreads, every other one highlighted with a strong vertical panel on the left, match the poetic text in the most outstanding youth book about this leader for women’s and blacks’ rights despite a life of danger. The moving narrative covers both the inner and physical journey of Truth through her 86 years of resolute strength.

December 2018 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: The Golden Thread: A Song for Pete Seeger, by Colin Meloy, illustrated by Nikki McClure

Meloy, Colin. The Golden Thread: A Song for Pete Seeger. Illustrated by Nikki McClure. Balzer+Bray, 2018. 18.99. ISBN 9780062368256. Unpaged. Ages 4-8. P6Q8

Want to take a musical trip through American History? This non fiction picture book starring Pete Seeger is for you! The Golden Thread weaves the story of Seeger who was born into a traveling musical family. Pete Seeger went on to use lyrics and music across the country as a means of declaring environmental social justice. Pete Seeger stood up for the rights of factory workers, farmers, and miners. His message was not welcomed by all, and after a trial Seeger was blacklisted. However, this does not stop him and he continued to be an American activist the rest of his life. The book tells the story in lyrical verse, and each page features bold pictures that help tell the story. Not to be missed: the gold thread on each page tells a story in and of itself. The final pages of the book feature a timeline of Pete Seeger’s life, and a Recommended Listening page with titles of his songs.

VERDICT: A great book featuring key moments in American History. This book belongs in classrooms, libraries and home collections as well.

May 2018 review by Denyse Marsh.

[Editor’s note: Colin Moloy, lead singer for the Portland, Oregon based folk group, the Decemberists has written a prose song in honor of legendary folk musician, Pete Seeger.  The book combines a solid biography of Seeger’s life from his childhood in a family of traveling musicians, his work playing banjo for labor unions, a stint in the Army, the McCarthy anti-Communist hearings and resulting blacklist, and his work in social activism and environmentalism with Nikki McClure’s intricately cut black paper designs.  This is a worthy introduction for young readers and includes a bibliography of works (many for adult audiences) for further exploration.]

Book review: How Sweet the Sound: The Story of ‘Amazing Grace’

Weatherford, Carole Boston. How Sweet the Sound: The Story of ‘Amazing Grace.’ Illus. by Frank Morrison. Atheneum, 2018. $17.99. unp. ISBN 978-1-4814-7206-7. Ages 7-10. P5Q7

Rhyming couplets follow the story of the famous hymn from John Newton’s youth when he thanks God for his life after a violent storm at sea. After Newton’s mother died when he is seven years old, he went to sea with his father at the age of 11, and later served on slaving ships. Although the book claims that he “is reborn” after the near sinking of the Greyhound in 1748, Newton continued working on slavers for another seven years and didn’t renounce slavery for another 40 years. Weatherford addresses President Obama’s singing of “Amazing Grace” with the congregation at the funeral of a church-shooting victim, and endnotes give other times when the hymn was sung, including by the Cherokees on the Trail of Tears when they are forced from their land in the South.

Verdict: The oil paintings are magnificent, but the close-ups of Newton’s face don’t ring true, starting from the first one which makes him look much older than his 23 years. The narrative also attempts to make his conversion against slavery much quicker than reality.

April/May 2018 review by Nel Ward.