A good introduction to Simone’s life, from her early love of music to her rise to the status of legend.

NINA

JAZZ LEGEND AND CIVIL-RIGHTS ACTIVIST NINA SIMONE

A biography about the legendary singer told as a lullaby from Simone to her daughter.

With black-and-white illustrations that evoke a dreamy, old-time feel, Simone (appropriately portrayed with an Afro) sings her daughter a lullaby interspersed with the story of her life. At 3, Simone starts piano lessons, connecting the appearance of the piano keys to the oppression of black people in the U.S. Music offers Simone an escape (“Music has no color”), though the fact that the “important men in powdered wigs from past centuries” whose music she plays are all white is addressed only in the illustration. (Here young Simone is also depicted with white hair, which will probably require some assistance from caregivers to unpack.) When 12-year-old Simone gives a church performance, she refuses to play until her mother, who had given up her front-row seat for a white attendee, is reseated in the front row, setting a precedent for her activist future. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is cited as an inspiration (though without the honorific), and a spread with protest signs adds humor with Simone happily pointing to her own sign, which reads, “Young, Gifted, and Black,” a nod to her future song. Though the softly textured illustrations in this French import are sometimes obscure, they are always beautiful.

A good introduction to Simone’s life, from her early love of music to her rise to the status of legend. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Dec. 5, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-58089-827-0

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Charlesbridge

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2017

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Sincere and wholehearted.

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I PROMISE

The NBA star offers a poem that encourages curiosity, integrity, compassion, courage, and self-forgiveness.

James makes his debut as a children’s author with a motivational poem touting life habits that children should strive for. In the first-person narration, he provides young readers with foundational self-esteem encouragement layered within basketball descriptions: “I promise to run full court and show up each time / to get right back up and let my magic shine.” While the verse is nothing particularly artful, it is heartfelt, and in her illustrations, Mata offers attention-grabbing illustrations of a diverse and enthusiastic group of children. Scenes vary, including classrooms hung with student artwork, an asphalt playground where kids jump double Dutch, and a gym populated with pint-sized basketball players, all clearly part of one bustling neighborhood. Her artistry brings black and brown joy to the forefront of each page. These children evince equal joy in learning and in play. One particularly touching double-page spread depicts two vignettes of a pair of black children, possibly siblings; in one, they cuddle comfortably together, and in the other, the older gives the younger a playful noogie. Adults will appreciate the closing checklist of promises, which emphasize active engagement with school. A closing note very generally introduces principles that underlie the Lebron James Family Foundation’s I Promise School (in Akron, Ohio). (This book was reviewed digitally with 10-by-20-inch double-page spreads viewed at 15% of actual size.)

Sincere and wholehearted. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Aug. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-297106-7

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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A resplendent masterpiece.

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DREAMERS

Based on her experience of leaving Mexico for the United States, Morales’ latest offers an immigrant’s tale steeped in hope, dreams, and love.

This story begins with a union between mother and son, with arms outstretched in the midst of a new beginning. Soon after, mother and son step on a bridge, expansive “like the universe,” to cross to the other side, to become immigrants. An ethereal city appears, enfolded in fog. The brown-skinned woman and her child walk through this strange new land, unwilling to speak, unaccustomed to “words unlike those of our ancestors.” But soon their journey takes them to the most marvelous of places: the library. In a series of stunning double-page spreads, Morales fully captures the sheer bliss of discovery as their imaginations take flight. The vibrant, surreal mixed-media artwork, including Mexican fabric, metal sheets, “the comal where I grill my quesadillas,” childhood drawings, and leaves and plants, represents a spectacular culmination of the author’s work thus far. Presented in both English and Spanish editions (the latter in Teresa Mlawer’s translation), equal in evocative language, the text moves with purpose. No word is unnecessary, each a deliberate steppingstone onto the next. Details in the art provide cultural markers specific to the U.S., but the story ultimately belongs to one immigrant mother and her son. Thanks to books and stories (some of her favorites are appended), the pair find their voices as “soñadores of the world.”

A resplendent masterpiece. (author’s note) (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-8234-4055-9

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Neal Porter/Holiday House

Review Posted Online: Aug. 1, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

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