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.]

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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.

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.

Book review: Grandma Gatewood Hikes the Appalachian Trail, by Jennifer Thermes

Thermes, Jennifer. Grandma Gatewood Hikes the Appalachian Trail. Abrams. 2018. 48p. ISBN 978-1-4197-2839-6. Ages 6-9. P8Q9

In 1955, 67-year-old Emma Gatewood told her children she was going for a walk and hiked the Appalachian Trail developed during the 1920s and 1930s so that people could walk the 2,190 miles from Georgia to Maine. Having learned about the “walk” from a National Geographic magazine she read in a doctor’s office, she carried a blanket, rain coat, and plastic shower curtain, otherwise taking only what she wore. On the way she wore out four pairs of Converse sneakers. The author treats her life of domestic abuse lightly as she raised 11 children, instead emphasizing her grit and joy in her accomplishments during her later life. The friendliness of strangers helped the amazing woman as she demonstrated that success comes from putting one foot ahead of the other. Narrative and watercolor/colored pencil illustrations show the beautiful skies of day and night, the hurricane, and the rivers she forded on her journey, and intermittent double-spread hand-drawn maps show her progress.

Verdict: The cartoon-style illustrations give a feeling of movement and adventure, and the story of Grandma’s walk seems almost surreal. Reading about her is a true delight, especially the back material that tells about her taking the trip again—when she was 76 years old. She also walked the 2,000 miles of the Oregon trail, starting at Independence, Missouri. This would be a great book to share with classes.

April/May 2018 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Brave Jane Austen: Reader, Writer, Author, Rebel, by Lisa Pliscou, illustrated by Jen Corace

Pliscou, Lisa. Brave Jane Austen: Reader, Writer, Author, Rebel. Illus. by Jen Corace. Christy Ottaviano/Holt, 2018. $17.99. unp. ISBN 978-1-62779-643-9. Ages 7-9. P5Q5

The 200th anniversary of a noted author has produced a number of biographies for children, and this one covers the usual ground about her life and her hardships in becoming a published author in a time when women were overlooked.

Verdict: Illustrations of acrylic, gouache, ink, and pencil fit the historical period with the high-waisted Empire dresses, but the flat images of characters have round faces with round pink circles on their cheeks, much like ragdolls. The lack of excitement in Austen’s life does not lend itself to wide readership among children. Libraries can keep their copies of Ordinary, Extraordinary Jane Austen (Deborah Hopkinson and Qin Leng).

April/May 2018 review by Nel Ward.