In Memory of Mary Wilson: A Non-Review of We Are The Supremes—Friends That Change the World

We Are The Supremes—Friends That Change the World
Zoë Tucker, illustrated by Salini Perera
Wide Eyed Editions
January 12, 2021
Ages 5-8

Growing up in Metro Detroit, many a car ride started as a negotiation with my Dad. His radio was “stuck” on the golden oldies station, and we wanted to listen to—literally—anything else. Thanks to parental privilege, or poor negotiating skills, I had an early and frequent exposure to the Supremes. And it has taken quite a while for me to appreciate it.

I picked up Zoë Tucker and Salini Perera’s We Are The Supremes for a Black History Month book list. Just a week later, with the passing of Mary Wilson, I was distracted and plans changed. Their biography of the group begins when Wilson was a high school student on the east side of Detroit and just meeting aspiring singers Florence Ballard and Diana Ross. Tucker focuses on the girls’ friendship and perseverance in forming the Primettes (their original name), convincing Berry Gordy of Motown Records to sign them, and their rise to stardom against the backdrop of the civil rights movement. Tucker leaves out, or glosses over, their difficult childhoods in the Brewster-Douglas Housing Project, most of the drama surrounding the coming and going of group members, and the racism they faced as black female musicians, but does include these themes in the back matter. The vibrant and graphic digital illustrations capture the 1950s aesthetic (saddle shoes and all) and follow them into the more glamorous 1960s look they are known for.

This high level look at the making of the Supremes might not have enough detail to work as a stand-alone title in the classroom, but would make an interesting addition to a Black History Month unit or an exploration of pop culture changing racial perceptions during the civil rights movement.

Looking for a deeper dive for YA and adult audiences? Or for more information on Mary Wilson’s activism and advocacy for the right of musicians to protect their names, songs, and reputations from being used without their consent (Truth in Music legislation). She also wrote several of her own books on her life and legacy: Dreamgirl: My Life as a Supreme; Supreme Faith: Someday We’ll Be Together; Supreme Glamour: The Inside Story of the Original Pop Fashionistas.

Thanks, Dad, for the introduction. And thank you, Mary Wilson, for keeping the Supremes alive for all of us.

Finding Kinship: A Review of I Am a Bird

I Am a Bird
Hope Lim
Illustrated by Hyewon Yum
Candlewick Press
Available February 2, 2021
Ages 3-7

A young girl joyfully embraces her morning commute, imagining herself a bird flying to school on the back of her father’s bicycle. She waves to friends and neighbors, and sings to her fellow birds as they soar by. A stern older woman is the only thing to dim her smile, when curiosity fights with anxiety about the unknown person and her unfriendly behavior. Her stranger-danger only increases until the day they discover the woman feeding and singing to the girl’s beloved birds. Maybe they’re not so different after all. Hope Lim’s gentle tale of discovering kinship in the most unlikely place is perfect for our current moment of division. The juxtaposition of the little girl’s joy and the woman’s dejected countenance help build enough tension that the revelation of their commonality feels like a celebration. Hyewon Yum’s vibrant colored pencil and gouache illustrations blend an almost architectural precision with softer, freehand coloring and embellishments (and sweet birds). Her emotive faces amplify the story’s sentiment—the girl’s joy and anxiety, the friendliness of their South Korean community, and the woman’s transformation. A sweet reminder that we can all be happier when we focus more on our similarities than our differences.

Adventure Awaits: A review of Sydney & Taylor Explore the Whole Wide World

Sydney & Taylor Explore the Whole Wide World
Jacqueline Davies
Illustrated by Deborah Hocking
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Kids
Available February 2, 2021
Ages 6-9

Sydney the skunk and Taylor the hedgehog are roommates in a cozy burrow under an enchanting backyard garden. When Taylor yearns for excitement and adventure, Sydney grudgingly agrees to explore the Whole Wide World, despite the fact that “exciting is… exhausting.”  And exciting it is as they make their first foray out of the yard and into the unknown to explore, hunt for food, and battle foes both wild and motorized. Anxiety often overwhelms Taylor, but Sydney’s gentle encouragement and stalwart friendship see the pair through their frightening encounters and safely home to the burrow and their comfy armchairs. In this first installment of the early chapter book series, Jacqueline Davies (Lemonade Wars series) brings these lovable characters to life with sweet humor and honest emotions. Their explorations gently illustrate that fear and bravery go hand-in-hand, with both characters exhibiting courage and trepidation in turn. Deborah Hocking’s gouache illustrations add delightful detail, perfectly enhancing the text and portraying the excitement and anxiety adventure can hold. A delightful escapade that proves true friendship is worth its weight in tuna fish sandwiches!

When Are We? A Review of Yesterday Is History

Yesterday Is History
Kosoko Jackson
Sourcebooks
Available February 2, 2021
Ages 14-18

Angsty teenage romance plus medical drama plus time travel adventure. Uptight, African American, honor student, Andre Cobb is recovering from cancer and a life-saving liver transplant, when he passes out and wakes up standing in front of his own house—but not. It’s 1969, and the house belongs to the family of cute and charismatic Michael. Andre learns that his new liver has made him a time traveler and that his donor’s white, upper class family chose him knowing what would happen. Domineering and calculating Claire, her distant, workaholic husband Greg, and angry, heartbroken son Blake all have their own reactions to Andre and his new ability. Andre jumps through time, pushed by growing feelings for Michael and pulled back by new feelings for Blake, until he’s forced to choose between a past that doesn’t belong to him and a future that could be all he wants and needs. High personal expectations drive Andre to do what he thinks are the right things—fix Michael, support Blake, live his parents’ dream for him, and even save his donor’s life. Jackson’s primary characters are achingly complex and will have readers just as torn between love stories as Andre. The reality-based aspects of the plot and tension-filled relationships balance the intriguingly far-fetched idea of genetically driven time travel. A dramatic exploration of the things we can and can’t do. And if we can, should we?

Just Try It: A Review of No Reading Allowed: The WORST Read-Aloud Book Ever

No Reading Allowed: The WORST Read-Aloud Book Ever
Raj Haldar and Chris Carpenter
Illustrated by Bryce Gladfelter
Sourcebooks Explore
Available November 10, 2020
Ages 4-7

Ptolemy the Pterodactyl (from 2018’s P Is for Pterodactyl) is back to help explain another quirk of the English language: homographs, homophones, and homonyms. As if learning to read isn’t confusing enough, we have words that are spelled the same but have different meaning or pronunciation (homographs), words that are pronounced the same but have different meaning or spelling (homophones), and words that are spelled and pronounced the same but have different meanings (homonyms). Just try reading this book aloud and the listen to the madness! Clever word-play from rapper turned children’s book author Raj Haldar (also known as Lushlife), delivers pairs of sentences with hilariously different meanings. “The new deli clerk runs a pretty sorry store” full of rats and thieving gnomes vs. “The New Delhi clerk runs a pretty sari store” full of colorful dress fabrics. The absurd situations are each accompanied by their own wacky illustration, with opposing sentences on opposing pages or stacked on a page for easy comparison. Examples illustrated to dramatically silly effect showcase Gladfelter’s hand-drawn line work accented with vibrant digital color. Great vocabulary throughout is complemented by “the Worst Glossary Ever… Again!” to help those brave enough to read aloud parse the meaning of each wacky word pair.

Butler Bookshelf

This week on the Butler Bookshelf, we’re pleased to meet Captain Swashby, a grouchy ocean lover who wants the beach to be quiet and serene. Too bad for him a cheerful, energetic young girl and her granny have come to the sea! This warmly illustrated and emotion-laden picture book is a true delight. Check out the list below for some more great reads!

Rural Voices: 15 Authors Challenge Assumptions About Small-Town America
Edited by Nora Shalaway Carpenter
Published by Candlewick
Available now!

Swashby and the Sea
Written by Beth Ferry and illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal
Published by HMH Books for Young Readers
Available now!

Cut Off
Written by Adrianne Finlay
Published by HMH Books for Young Readers
Available now!

Julián at the Wedding
Written and illustrated by Jessica Love
Published by Candlewick
Available now!

Stink and the Hairy, Scary Spider
Written by Megan McDonald and illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds
Published by Candlewick
Available now!

Condor Comeback
Written by Sy Montgomery and photographed by Dianne Strombeck
Published by HMH Books for Young Readers
Available now!

Sweet (as candy) Halloween Reads

Are the little monsters in your library looking for not-so-spooky reads this season? Whether they want witches, ghosts, or some trick-or-treating fun—there’s a book for that! And check out Gustavo for a sweet Dia De Los Muertos ghost story.

Board Books:

Brooms Are for Flying
Michael Rex
Henry Holt/Godwin Books
July 2020

In this board book adaptation, follow a little witch and her trick-or-treating friends as they dance through this introduction to traditional Halloween characters and symbols. A sweet treat.

Trick-or-Treat with Tow Truck Joe
June Sobel, illustrated by Patrick Corrigan
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
July 2020

Tow Truck Joe and his buddies are all dressed up for Halloween and ready to trick-or-treat, bob for apples, and have a frightfully-fun night on the town. Surprises under each flap are more friendly than scary, showing that even pirates and dragons can help a friend in need. A sweet treat.

Picture Books:

Monsters 101
Cale Atkinson
Random House/Doubleday
August 2020

Everything you ever wanted to know about monsters and more! You’ll learn from top monster professors about monster names, habits, diet, history, and even their biggest fears—humans! A silly and spooky trick.

Gustavo the Shy Ghost
Flavia Z. Drago
Candlewick
July 2020
Available in Spanish as Gustavo el Fantasmita Timido

Gustavo is shy and has a hard time making friends. In fact, the other ghosts and monsters see right through him. But he is also brave and invites them all to a Day of the Dead party to hear him play the violin. By sharing his talent he makes friends just by being himself. A sweet treat.

Bears and Boos
Shirley Parenteau, illustrated by David Walker
Candlewick
July 2020

The bears are back and ready to create the perfect Halloween costumes. Chaos at the costume box ensues as the bears scramble for the perfect costumes. With one left out, the bears show their trademark kindness to outfit their friend just in time for the Halloween parade. A sweet treat.

Butler Bookshelf

Up next on our TBR list? Outside In written by Deborah Underwood and illustrated by Cindy Derby. This gorgeous picture book tells of the ways nature creates and touches our lives in homes, apartments, and cars–reminding us all of the world’s connectedness. For more great reads, check out the list below!

There’s Something About Sam
Written by Hannah Barnaby and illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf
Published by HMH Books for Young Readers

Playing Possum
Written and illustrated by Jennifer Black Reinhardt
Published by Clarion Books
Available now!

The Vanderbeekers Lost and Found
Written by Karina Yan Glaser
Published by HMH Books for Young Readers
Available now!

Nothing in Common
Written by Hoefler and illustrated by Corinna Luyken
Published by HMH Books for Young Readers
Available now!

Stealing Mt. Rushmore
Written by Daphne Kalmar
Published by Feiwel & Friends
Available now!

Outside In
Written by Deborah Underwood and illustrated by Cindy Derby
Published by HMH Books for Young Readers
Available now!

Election Year Titles for All Ages

We’re less than two months from election day, and it’s the perfect time for civic-minded students of all ages to understand that their voice and their vote matters. Publishers have provided a plethora of options; from picture books to YA novels, fiction and nonfiction, there is something for every kid and every lesson plan.

Pre-school—Kindergarten

Curious George Votes
Deidre Langland
Illustrated by Mary O’Keefe in the style of H. A. Rey
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
September 1, 2020

As per usual, Curious George causes well-intentioned chaos with an elementary school mascot election while passing out stickers, stuffing the ballot box, helping a write-in candidate get elected—a monkey! This silly introduction to voting will be a great introduction for little ones that might be curious about all this election-talk.

V is for Voting
Kate Farrell
Illustrated by Caitlin Kuhwald
Macmillan/Henry Holt
July 21, 2020

This civic-minded ABC book is a bright and optimistic look at why we vote—for Citizens’ rights, Onward progress, and Representation. A diverse cast of engaged voters (and kids), with cameo appearances by political and social figures past and present, represent 26 reasons why your vote is important. The back matter, including notes on how to contact elected officials, organizing a voter registration drive, and a voting rights timeline, is geared toward grown-up reading buddies.

Elementary

Vote for our Future
Margaret McNamara
Illustrated by Micah Player
Penguin Random House/Schwartz & Wade
February 18, 2020

They may not be old enough to vote yet, but these elementary school students will make their voices heard because “kids have to live with adult choices.” By passing out voting guides, talking about voting options, encouraging registration, and hosting a bake sale, they build enthusiasm and turn out in their community. Includes a list of Acts of Congress that were influenced by votes for a better future.

The Next President: The Unexpected Beginnings and Unwritten Future of America’s Presidents
Kate Messner
Illustrated by Adam Rex
Chronicle Books
March 24, 2020

Everybody starts somewhere, even our presidents, who were politicians, soldiers, farmers, students, and regular kids. This timeline of U.S. presidents gives snippets of their histories and overlapping experiences to show how, even now, our future leaders are leading, learning, growing-up, and maybe even reading this book.

Middle-Grade

Act
Kayla Miller
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
July 21, 2020

Olive puts her sixth grade civics lessons to work when she runs for student council representative. Learning about protests, debates, and the issues important to her classmates will make her a great candidate, even if it means running against her friends. This bright and engaging graphic novel includes a recipe for Mint Chocolate Chip-Ins, notes on historic and modern day peaceful protests, and a suggested reading list.

The Kids’ Complete Guide to Elections
Cari Meister, Emma Carlson Berne, and Nel Yomtov
Capstone
January 1, 2020

This thorough nonfiction guide covers everything from vocabulary to in-depth, but age-appropriate explanations of democratic values, campaigns, the electoral college, political parties, and voting. Vibrant photography and relatable examples will both inform and inspire students to make a difference in their communities.

Young Adult

Running
Natalia Sylvester
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Clarion
July 14, 2020

When Mari Ruiz’s father runs for president; she isn’t prepared for the effects on her life—intense media scrutiny, questioning her family values, and her growing sense of political activism. As she evaluates her feelings and beliefs, Mari sets her own boundaries and finds her own voice. An intimate look at the way personal beliefs conflict with business as usual in U.S. politics.

Unrig: How to Fix Our Broken Democracy
Daniel G. Newman
Illustrated by George O’Connor
Roaring Brook/First Second
July 7, 2020

An accessible exploration of the connection between corporation, big money, and political power, and how breaking that connection is the needed to see genuine change in our country. The subtle turquoise and goldenrod color palette in this YA graphic novel puts the focus on specific examples, clearly-explained concepts, and what readers can do to affect change.

Beyond the stars: A Review of Lights on Wonder Rock

Lights on Wonder Rock
David Litchfield
Clarion/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
September 9, 2020
Ages 4-8

Heather was searching for something more—magic, friendship, adventure, and aliens! So she spends her nights at Wonder Rock, doing all she can to attract the attention of a spaceship. When she finally gets her chance to jump aboard, Heather realizes she doesn’t want to leave her family behind. She grows up, loses the wonder of childhood, and has a family of her own, but never gives up waiting for her alien friend. When at last they return, Heather once again recognizes that she might already have all she needs here on Earth.

Litchfield’s thoughtful story explores themes of longing, hope, and curiosity about what other lives may be out there for us. His use of dark and muted tones for the forest, juxtaposed with the colorful and sparkling pages where the spaceship appears, help to set off the difference between how Heather sees her life and her expectations about what might await her in outer space. Double-page spreads of wordless panels put a unique focus on the two most important relationships in the story, with her son and her alien friend, and explain the pull she feels between them. Throughout, Litchfield cleverly uses light—sun, moon, and flashlight beams—to focus on Heather’s emotions and the devotion she feels to both her family and her dreams.