Books by Kadir Nelson

THE UNDEFEATED by Kwame Alexander
CHILDREN'S
Released: April 2, 2019

"An incredible connector text for young readers eager to graduate to weighty conversations about our yesterday, our now, and our tomorrow. (Picture book/poetry. 6-12)"
Past and present are quilted together in this innovative overview of black Americans' triumphs and challenges in the United States. Read full book review >
BLUE SKY WHITE STARS by Sarvinder Naberhaus
CHILDREN'S
Released: June 13, 2017

"Naberhaus and Nelson give new life to Old Glory for the youngest of readers. (Picture book. 3-7)"
Sparsely worded and rich in symbols, this oversize picture book speaks boldly, both visually and textually. Read full book review >
IF YOU PLANT A SEED by Kadir Nelson
CHILDREN'S
Released: March 3, 2015

"Though the message is as old as time, its delivery here is fresh and sweet as August corn. (Picture book. 4-8)"
Nelson spins a gardening metaphor about kindness. Read full book review >
BABY BEAR by Kadir Nelson
CHILDREN'S
Released: Jan. 7, 2014

"Resonant. (Picture book. 4-7)"
The award-winning Nelson turns from nuanced treatments of historical subjects to this exploration of a classic preschool trope: a lost animal's search for home. Read full book review >
NELSON MANDELA by Kadir Nelson
CHILDREN'S
Released: Jan. 2, 2013

"A beautifully designed book that will resonate with children and the adults who wisely share it with them. (author's note, bibliography) (Picture book/biography. 5-8)"
An inspirational ode to the life of the great South African leader by an award-winning author and illustrator. Read full book review >
I HAVE A DREAM by Martin Luther King Jr.
Released: Oct. 9, 2012

"A title for remembrance and for re-dedication to the dream, published in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. (Informational picture book. 5 & up)"
An award-winning artist captures the passion and purpose of this most notable 20th-century American speech in beautifully realized oil paintings. Read full book review >
HISTORY
Released: Sept. 27, 2011

In an undertaking even more ambitious than the multiple-award-winning We Are the Ship (2008), Nelson tells the story of African-Americans and their often central place in American history. Read full book review >
MAMA MITI by Donna Jo Napoli
CHILDREN'S
Released: Jan. 5, 2010

Napoli adopts a folkloric narrative technique to showcase the life work of Wangari Maathai, whose seminal role in Kenya's reforestation earned her the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. When, one after the other, women journey to Maathai to seek counsel about scarce food, disappearing firewood and ailing animals, she tells them, "Plant a tree….Thayu nyumba—peace, my people." Specific tree species and their utility are mentioned in the text and reiterated in a glossary. Nelson's pictures, a jaw-dropping union of African textiles collaged with oil paintings, brilliantly capture the villagers' clothing and the greening landscape. The richly modulated oils portray the dignified, intent gazes of Maathai and other Kenyans, and the illustrator's signature use of perspective suggests the everyday heroism of his subjects. In addition to incorporating the fabric collages (and some whimsy in his animal depictions), the artist newly focuses on landscape, with many double-page spreads depicting undulating fields, distant mountains and a white-hot sky. Deserving of a special place with Claire Nivola's Planting the Trees of Kenya (2008), this is, in a word, stunning. (Picture book. 4-8)Read full book review >
CHILDREN'S
Released: Oct. 1, 2009

In 1955 Jackie Robinson and the Brooklyn Dodgers beat out the Yankees and the Robinson family left New York City for a secluded home in Connecticut. Sharon Robinson's remembrance of this time includes a concise description of how her father became the first African American to play in the major leagues, accompanied by sepia-toned illustrations. This recollection's Connecticut scenes are painted in lush seasonal colors, as swimming and boating are favorite pastimes at their new home, although Jackie always sticks to the shore. The first winter in Connecticut offers a new entertainment: ice skating. Sharon, her siblings and their friends beg Jackie to take them on the ice. As the legendary ballplayer tentatively makes his way onto the frozen lake Sharon has a dramatic realization—her father can't swim. Nelson uses varied perspectives to create tension and then resolution as Robinson signals the all-clear. This fond daughter's reminiscence is a welcome addition to the life story of one of America's best-known athletes and civil-rights advocates. (Picture book/memoir. 7-10)Read full book review >
ALL GOD’S CRITTERS by Bill Staines
CHILDREN'S
Released: Jan. 27, 2009

"'All God's critters got a place in the choir,' indeed. (Picture Book. 4-8)"
The catchy, feel-good folk song comes to life like never before in this spirited production. Read full book review >
CHANGE HAS COME by Kadir Nelson
BIOGRAPHY
Released: Jan. 13, 2009

Two-time Caldecott Honor winner Nelson here gives up his studied compositions and meticulous applications of color in favor of quick, emotion-laden graphite sketches that commemorate Barack Obama's groundbreaking campaign and victory. Set to Obama's own words, gathered from several speeches given from 2004 to his acceptance speech on Nov. 4, 2008, the illustrations neatly provide visual accompaniment to the oratory. A long line of patient voters stretches across two-and-a-half pages before the next turn reveals citizens in voting booths, as the text reads, "It's the answer told by lines / that stretched around schools and churches / in numbers this nation has never seen." Martin Luther King Jr. leads a march in another spread; the page turn reveals the White House. The wee trim size, creamy stock and ornately loopy typeface gives the volume both intimacy and ceremonial weight. The unabashed feeling conveyed in every loose line helps to make this a lovely memento, just in time for Inaguration Day. (Picture book. All ages)Read full book review >
CORETTA SCOTT by Ntozake Shange
BIOGRAPHY
Released: Jan. 1, 2009

There have been many books written about Martin Luther King Jr., but precious few about Coretta Scott King. Now the poet and painter who previously collaborated on Ellington Was Not a Street (2004) join again for a heartfelt homage that is more adulation than book-report biography. Shange strikes an emotional chord in her recitative about Scott King's youth in the time of Jim Crow, seeking inspiration from the words of a spiritual, finding a soul mate in a young divinity student and joining him on marches and protests. However, the true power of this title lies in Nelson's full-page portraits, which convey determination, fear, serenity and weariness. Words can describe segregation and marching for freedom; the images of a young Coretta and her siblings walking miles to their school or of four college students sitting in at a lunch counter speak rivers. A double-page spread of freedom marchers carrying American flags silhouetted against a yellow sky will resonate with children and linger in their minds. (author's note) (Picture book. 4-8)Read full book review >
ABE’S HONEST WORDS by Doreen Rappaport
CHILDREN'S
Released: Oct. 7, 2008

Rappaport plainly explicates the major events in Abraham Lincoln's life from his poor beginnings to the assassin's bullet. Her explanations of Lincoln's intellectual and social condemnation of slavery, and that condemnation's increasing influence on his decisions as President, arguably rank among the clearest in nonfiction for this age group (although as compressed as most): "The Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves only in the states and territories that were in rebellion. Lincoln wanted slavery ended in the entire nation." A design companion to Martin's Big Words (2001), Nelson's compelling illustrations, worked in a palette of umber, ochre, red and blue, epically render such scenes as the suffering of enslaved field workers, and Lincoln towering above the crowd at Gettysburg. By placing the viewer virtually at ground level in relation to the picture plane, Nelson evokes the heroism inherent in his compositions' central figures. Regrettably, the failure to contextualize the Lincoln quotations sprinkled throughout diminishes the historical verisimilitude of this otherwise remarkable achievement. (author's and illustrator's notes, timeline, suggested reading, selected bibliography of sources, Gettysburg Address) (Picture book/biography. 6-10)Read full book review >
WE ARE THE SHIP by Kadir Nelson
CHILDREN'S
Released: Jan. 8, 2008

Nelson continues to top himself with each new book. Here, working solo for the first time, he pays tribute to the hardy African-American players of baseball's first century with a reminiscence written in a collective voice—"But you know something? We had many Josh Gibsons in the Negro Leagues. We had many Satchel Paiges. But you never heard about them"—matched to a generous set of full-page painted portraits and stadium views. Generally viewed from low angles, the players seem to tower monumentally, all dark-skinned game faces glowering up from the page and big, gracefully expressive hands dangling from powerful arms. Arranging his narrative into historical "Innings," the author closes with lists of Negro Leaguers who played in the Majors, and who are in the Baseball Hall of Fame, plus a detailed working note. Along with being absolutely riveted by the art, readers will come away with a good picture of the Negro Leaguers' distinctive style of play, as well as an idea of how their excellence challenged the racial attitudes of both their sport and their times. (bibliography, index) (Nonfiction. 10-13)Read full book review >
MICHAEL’S GOLDEN RULES by Deloris Jordan
CHILDREN'S
Released: Jan. 23, 2007

Michael Jordan's mother and sister return with another story about his childhood, this one more didactic than Salt in His Shoes (2003). This one is a baseball story, wherein young Jonathan is upset after losing a game. His friend Michael and Michael's Uncle Jack see this as an opportunity to teach Jonathan the ten golden rules of baseball, starting with "Know the game" and "Be a team player" and ending with "Practice, practice, practice" and "Have fun!" Jonathan follows the rules and plays hard, though his Badgers lose anyway, and he and Michael assure themselves that they feel good "because we all played together and gave our all." Though purported to be a family story, it is only a vehicle for the moral, and has no energy of its own; even Nelson's usual dramatic images cannot breathe any life into it. Someone, somewhere, needs to think about some golden rules of writing for children. (Picture book. 5-8)Read full book review >
HENRY’S FREEDOM BOX by Ellen Levine
CHILDREN'S
Released: Jan. 1, 2007

Nelson's powerful portraits add a majestic element to Levine's history-based tale of Henry "Box" Brown, a slave who escaped by having himself mailed to freedom in a crate. Depicted as a solemn boy with an arresting gaze on the cover, Henry displays riveting presence in every successive scene, as he grows from child to adult, marries and is impelled to make his escape after seeing his beloved wife and children sold to slaveowners. Related in measured, sonorous prose that makes a perfect match for the art, this is a story of pride and ingenuity that will leave readers profoundly moved, especially those who may have been tantalized by the entry on Brown in Virginia Hamilton's Many Thousand Gone: African Americans from Slavery to Freedom (1993). (afterword, reading list) (Picture book. 8-10)Read full book review >
BIOGRAPHY
Released: Sept. 1, 2006

In elegant free verse, Weatherford imagines Tubman's remarkable escape from slavery and her role in guiding hundreds to freedom. Diverse typography braids three distinct narrative strands. White or black type delivers the third-person immediacy of Harriet's journey: "At nightfall, Harriet climbs into a wagon, / and the farmer covers her with blankets. / As the wagon wobbles along, Harriet worries that it is heading to jail." Larger, italic type telegraphs the devout Harriet's prayerful dialogue with God: "Shall I leap, Lord?" God's responses to her beseeching questions garner capitalized letters in warm grays. Nelson's double-page, full-bleed paintings illuminate both the dire physical and transcendent spiritual journey. At night, the moon lights Harriet's care-wracked face below a deep teal, star-pricked sky. By day, she disappears: A distant safe farm appears under a wan blue sky; a wagon transporting the hidden Harriet silhouettes against a golden sunset. Unique perspective and cropping reveal Tubman's heroism. Reaching Philadelphia, she's haloed in sunlight. Embracing her role as conductor, Harriet's face, eyes on the journey ahead, fairly bursts the picture plane against a blazing blue sky. Transcendent. (foreword, author's note) (Picture book. 5-9)Read full book review >
PLEASE, PUPPY, PLEASE by Spike Lee
ANIMALS
Released: Nov. 1, 2005

Two adorable African-American preschoolers, a boisterous puppy and a marmalade cat are the characters in this exuberant story suitable for children from toddlers to those just learning to read a few words on their own. The two children care for the puppy as he gets into mischief: escaping from the yard, rolling in the mud, getting a bath and fetching a ball. The deceptively simple text features short, rhyming couplets of the children's pleas for the puppy to behave, interspersed with a refrain of variations of the words in the title. The words in the refrain are printed in varying type sizes corresponding to the level of the puppy's antics and the children's resulting frustration, adding an extra dimension to the repetition. Nelson employs a wide range of perspectives in his vibrant oil paintings, sometimes showing the children as the puppy would see them, from below. A memorable climactic spread (with no text) shows the puppy bringing his ball back to the children, showing that the kids really can control their puppy after all. (Picture book. 2-6)Read full book review >
HE'S GOT THE WHOLE WORLD IN HIS HANDS by Kadir Nelson
CHILDREN'S
Released: Sept. 1, 2005

Nelson uses the old spiritual—offered here, astonishingly, in its first singleton, illustrated edition, though it's available in many collections—as a springboard to celebrate family togetherness. Each line of a four-verse version of the lyric captions an intimate scene of an African-American lad, three sibs (one, lighter-skinned, perhaps adopted) and two parents in various combinations, posing together in both city (San Francisco) and country settings, sharing "the moon and the stars," "the wind and the clouds," "the oceans and the seas," and so on. Sandwiched between views of, more or less, the whole world, Nelson alternates finished paintings in his characteristic strong, bold style with authentically childlike crayon drawings done with his left hand—demonstrating a superb ability to evoke both grand and naïve effects. Moving, reverent, spiritual indeed. (musical arrangement to close) (Picture book. 5-7)Read full book review >
THE REAL SLAM DUNK by Charisse K. Richards
CHILDREN'S
Released: Feb. 1, 2005

Marcus and Mia Robinson, genial elementary-school-aged twins, are excited about meeting fictional NBA star Jason Carter. Mia is writing an article for her newspaper and Marcus, the budding basketball star, has won the honor of asking the class's questions during a field trip to Giants Practice Day. Sometimes sounding more like motivational speaking than fiction, Richardson encourages her young audience to dream more than one dream. After Carter points out the obvious facts—that most athletes do not become professional athletes, athletes often get injured and athletes need to have other interests—young Marcus thinks more about his mathematical talents. Though it seems unlikely that a top NBA athlete would choose NCAA Division II Morehouse University (where, conveniently, Martin Luther King Jr. matriculated) over the NBA, cynicism should be put on hold for this feel-good lesson for the youngest reader. Engaging cover and black-and-white interior art will draw many fans, especially those elusive boy readers. Not quite a slam-dunk, but the straightforward, accessible story will invite them to stay for the end of the game. (Fiction. 7-10)Read full book review >
HEWITT ANDERSON’S GREAT BIG LIFE by Jerdine Nolen
CHILDREN'S
Released: Jan. 1, 2005

Low on suspense but high on sheer feel-goodness, this Tom Thumb-like original tale will elicit sighs of content from readers and listeners needing a change of pace. Born to adoring, humongous parents, tiny Hewitt sometimes does get lost in his immense bed, or have to dive between the floorboards to avoid a passing broom. Still, not only do the good times far outnumber the chancy ones, but his size comes in downright handy when, for instance, his father carries him up a towering beanstalk, then turns out to be afraid of heights, or his parents lock themselves in the treasure house. Nelson's burly, monumental, brown-skinned giants positively glow with beneficence, and Nolen writes, as always, with a distinctive mix of humor and formality: Listening to his parents sing "made Hewitt's liver quiver and tickled his funny bone right down to his shoes." Here's proof that, when it comes to heart, physical size isn't the whole story. (Picture book. 6-8)Read full book review >
ELLINGTON WAS NOT A STREET by Ntozake Shange
CHILDREN'S
Released: Jan. 1, 2004

Deeply colored paintings enrich this homage to African-American men who made history and influenced culture, including Duke Ellington, Paul Robeson, Dizzy Gillespie, and W.E.B. DuBois. Nelson's setting is a home, filled with the folks who made it happen, as observed by a small girl whose presence, greeting the guests or peeking around the corners, adds the child's point of view. The poetic text is spare, with only a few words on each spread, but they match the majesty of the scene. Children will need context to understand the brief lines, and happily, an author's note provides it. In bell hooks style, none of the lines or names are capitalized, nor do they have punctuation. Intended for children today who know these names as commemorative plaques on buildings or streets, the deceptively simple text reveals the feel of the Harlem Renaissance: "Politics as necessary as collards, music even in our dreams." A tribute to what these men did for African-Americans, indeed all Americans, is soulfully and succinctly stated: "Our doors opened like our daddy's arms, held us safe and loved." Exquisite. (Picture book. 4-8)Read full book review >
THUNDER ROSE by Jerdine Nolen
CHILDREN'S
Released: Sept. 1, 2003

Nolen and Nelson offer a smaller, but no less gifted counterpart to Big Jabe (2000) in this new tall tale. Shortly after being born one stormy night, Rose thanks her parents, picks a name, and gathers lightning into a ball—all of which is only a harbinger of feats to come. Decked out in full cowboy gear and oozing self-confidence from every pore, Rose cuts a diminutive, but heroic figure in Nelson's big, broad Western scenes. Though she carries a twisted iron rod as dark as her skin and ropes clouds with fencing wire, Rose overcomes her greatest challenge—a pair of rampaging twisters—not with strength, but with a lullaby her parents sang. After turning tornadoes into much-needed rain clouds, Rose rides away, "that mighty, mighty song pressing on the bull's-eye that was set at the center of her heart." Throughout, she shows a reflective bent that gives her more dimension than most tall-tale heroes: a doff of the Stetson to her and her creators. (author's note) (Picture book. 7-9)Read full book review >
PLEASE, BABY, PLEASE by Spike Lee
CHILDREN'S
Released: Nov. 1, 2002

Parents and caregivers will recognize the ritualistic pleading that takes place when spending the day with a toddler. Sounding like a broken record, a mother pleads with her daughter to share her toys, eat a balanced meal, and finally go to sleep. As she plays on her mother's tummy, up way past her bedtime (the clock radio shows 3:01 a.m.) her mother pleads, "Go back to bed, baby, please, baby, please." When she dumps the contents of her breakfast, "Not on your HEAD, baby baby baby, please!" Each page features an impish grin and impossibly beautiful eyes peeking out from under a tangle of perky curls, but the angelic expression does not change the fact that this little one is all devil. A tiny clock records the time of day at the beginning of the line of text on each double-paged spread, but it's the rambunctious tot who captures all of the focus. Vivid illustrations of this African-American family full of love and patience for their strong-willed daughter will evoke laughter as the parents attempt, with mixed results, to guide their charmer's behavior. Sure enough, the closing line turns the tables as the little girl asks for a kiss, ". . . Mama, Mama, Mama, please." Richly colored and meticulously detailed paintings highlight the tiny, but determined imp with curls that literally spring from her head. The repetitive text, sunny illustrations, and entirely familiar scenarios will make this a favorite of parents and children alike. (Picture book. 1-4)Read full book review >
UNDER THE CHRISTMAS TREE by Nikki Grimes
CHILDREN'S
Released: Oct. 1, 2002

Grimes (Talkin' About Bessie, p. 1530, etc.) explores the Christmas season through a poetic prism, examining both positive and negative aspects of the holiday. In 23 poems, most focusing on one African-American family, she explores traditions such as unpacking decorations, big holiday dinners, shopping trips, playing in the snow, and ice skating. Other poems sensitively examine giving to others and the place of Jesus in the season. Grimes works effectively in a wide variety of poetic formats, from haiku to free verse to traditional rhyme schemes, with many poems in the first-person voice of the little girl shown with her mother and siblings on the rather dark cover. Many of the illustrations from rising star Nelson (Please, Baby, Please, p. 1533, etc.) are set at night and use this same subdued, candlelit effect. In the most memorable spread, the dramatic poem "Christmas Eve" captures the excitement of the special church service with the congregation "slightly giddy / And primed / For miracles." The powerful facing illustration shows the little girl's candle being lit by her father, passing along the flame of faith to his child. The final poem reprises this sentiment in a gentle haiku describing an angel (her daddy) kissing his daughter good-night. Both poetry and art succeed in being forceful without being preachy and sweet without being saccharine. (Poetry. 6-10)Read full book review >
THE VILLAGE THAT VANISHED by Ann Grifalconi
CHILDREN'S
Released: Sept. 1, 2002

In this powerful tale presented in the style of African storytelling, a girl, mother, and grandmother draw upon their individual strengths to help save their Yao village from slave traders. Grifalconi's (Patrol, p. 663, etc.) use of dialogue and narrative shows how young and old inspire others to overcome their fear by devising a clever idea that will save their people. Nelson's (Brothers of the Night, 2001, etc.) technique of combining photocopied pencil drawings with oil paints brings to life the lushness of the forest and gives a rich texture to the characters' faces. On the cover and in a double-page spread the clouds form a silhouette of the slave traders and foreshadow their coming. Warm hues and detail of line effectively capture the excitement of young Abikanile as she dances across a stone path in the river, the pride of Njemile as she convinces her people to trust in her plan, and the stubbornness of old Chimwala as she refuses to leave the place of her ancestors. Pictures of children eagerly listening to a storyteller spin her tale open and close the story. An author's note explains how a griot uses stories to teach young people their history as well as how to behave. A pronunciation key for the Yao names of the characters is provided to ensure that all who read or listen to this tale will learn " . . . one must answer not only with faith, but with courage . . . " (Picture book. 7-10)Read full book review >
JUST THE TWO OF US by Will Smith
CHILDREN'S
Released: May 1, 2001

The lyrics from Smith's rap (of the same title) are beautifully illustrated here in this selection for one-on-one reading that celebrates the bond between father and son. Nelson (Big Jabe, 2000, etc.) uses a broad palette in his pencil and oil paintings to capture emotion and gesture in close-up or landscape views. The pictures are full of light, shadows, and love. He shows the father and the growing son of Smith's text playing ball and trimming hair, as the father advises, "Throughout life people will make you mad / Disrespect you and treat you bad. / Let God deal with the things they do / 'Cause hate in your heart will consume you too." Smith "standardized" some of the grammar in his text, which still needs to be read aloud, and with a beat. Different font size throughout a line indicates emphasis, and makes the words seem to move on the page. Though general in sentiment, the text is specific of an individual pair: "It didn't work out with me and your mom / But yo, when push comes to shove / You were conceived in love." This might make reading awkward for happily married fathers, but it's a unique and beautiful title, and for some it will fit the bill. (Picture book. 6-10)Read full book review >
CHILDREN'S
Released: Nov. 1, 2000

Mother and sister combine to tell of a sweet-natured family reminiscence based on the childhood of America's most famous athlete: the one and only Michael Jordan. In this fable, Michael's own special brand of hoop dreams begins on a Saturday morning. Older brothers Larry and Ronnie play a regular pick-up game on a local court, which Michael is desperate to join. The tallest boy in the game, Mark, seems to sense Michael's intensity and strong competitive urge. In fact, every time "Mikey" joins in, replacing no-show older kids with longer legs and far greater reach, Mark focuses especially on him—stealing the ball and winning the game. Michael feels the loss acutely. He even apologizes to his brothers, who understand and remind that after all, he's the smallest player in the game. Once home, Michael takes a time-out with Mama, who's cooking dinner for their large and active family. When Michael confides his desire to be tall. Mama, as usual, has the answer. "We'll put salt in your shoes and say a prayer every night. Before you know it, you'll be taller!" Young Michael does what his Mama suggests. Salt and prayers. But he adds one more thing—practice, practice, practice. Michael wore "his game shoes everywhere." But after a few months, downhearted that he hasn't grown as fast as he'd hoped, he has a one-on-one talk with Daddy. His counsel is as wise as Mama's: " ‘ . . .you've already got everything it takes to be a winner: right in here.' Daddy tapped Michael on his chest." Buoyed, Michael rushes to the court and scores the game-winning two-pointer—over the head of Mark. Nelson's paintings add zest and child appeal though the book's design and look makes it seem like a companion to dancer-choreographer Debbie Allen's Dancing in the Wings (p. 1190), which Nelson also illustrated. This can be a source of soul-satisfying inspiration for kids who will probably read it as pure fact. But is it? Probably not. Professional athletes of Jordan's caliber and talent have already achieved mythic proportions. Put this next to the shoes, ball, and Bulls jersey under the tree. (Picture Book. 6-9)Read full book review >
DANCING IN THE WINGS by Debbie Allen
CHILDREN'S
Released: Sept. 1, 2000

Dancer-choreographer Allen (of Fame fame) joins forces again with Nelson (Big Jabe, p. 565) in their second dance-themed picture book, following Brothers of the Knight (1999). Sassy is a tall African-American girl of middle-school age, a serious ballet student with extra-long legs, extra-big feet, and an extra-sassy manner of speaking that earned her the unusual nickname. She bickers with her brother, trading mean-spirited insults about his big head and her big feet, and snaps out sassy retorts to snide comments from her teacher and the more petite dancers in her ballet classes. Because of her height, Sassy is not allowed to participate in her school's dance recitals—a most unlikely situation at any ballet school in the US. Despite this lack of performing experience (and despite wearing a non-regulation, sunshine-yellow leotard to the audition with a strict Russian ballet master), Sassy wins a competition to attend a summer dance program in Washington, D.C. She finally finds her way into the spotlight there, dancing with a boy who is taller than even she is. Some of Nelson's illustrations would have benefited from tighter art direction: the height of the Russian ballet master seems variable from page to page and the dance shoes and positions of the feet are sometimes not quite correct. Despite these minor flaws, Sassy is an appealing girl with attitude who learns to accept her less-than-perfect physical features and make the best of her talents. Little girls who long for pretty tutus and pointe shoes of their own will like this sassy lassie. (Picture book. 5-8)Read full book review >
BIG JABE by Jerdine Nolen
CHILDREN'S
Released: April 30, 2000

Nolen (In My Momma's Kitchen, 1999) rears up a new tall-tale hero, with the strength of 50 and a hidden agenda. The lad, who floats down the river and into the arms of Simon Plenty's house slave, Addy, shows early signs of unusual ability, calling fish out of the water until Addy's wagon is piled high. By that June, young Jabe is a full-grown man, capable of mending ten miles of fence between midday and sundown. Like the pear tree he plants, which grows to full size in one season "with the North Star shining through its branches," all of the crops on the plantation come in with unprecedented abundance that year. Only the overseer is displeased—even more so when each slave who feels his displeasure disappears with his family in the wake of a strange storm that wipes out any sign of a trail. Addy whispers that Jabe is "taking them to the pear tree," which is to say pointing them North to freedom. Nelson (Brothers of the Knight, not reviewed) takes Jabe from a rawboned child with an engaging grin to brawny adulthood, placing him into historical scenes that rival Trina Schart Hyman's for fine detail and strongly drawn, expressive figures. In the end, Jabe leaves as suddenly as he came, and is last seen striding away, towering over the trees. Like Virginia Hamilton's Drylongso (1999) and unlike John Henry, Big Jabe seems not just larger than life, but a force of nature, subtle, secret, untouchable—and that undercurrent of mystery gives his story a mythic power. (Picture book. 7-10)Read full book review >