An intriguing new angle on an important story.

A historical picture book posits the question: what if blacksmiths used their hammers to communicate with runaways on the Underground Railroad?

When the African-American narrator wakes to find Pa sick but still at the forge (slaves didn’t get sick days), the child is worried Pa won’t be well enough to hammer out vital information to travelers on the Underground Railroad that night, “sending word to the folks in the woods, who are waiting to hear when it’s time to leave.” Wondering when their family will run, the child is comforted by Ma with one word—“Soon”—and an affectionate embrace, the pair backlit by the warm glow of a fire. The child’s anxious impatience is fascinating—it’s a familiar trope of childhood placed within the harsh realities of American slavery. Rich’s oil paintings evoke a sense of time and place, portraying various depictions of slave life. Later, when Pa doesn’t have the strength to pound out his blacksmith’s song, the child (who’s practiced the rhythm, tapping it out on the henhouse, dancing to it, etc., throughout the story) must take up the hammer. Then finally! It’s time for the family to run. Though believing a sick man could successfully run away requires some suspension of contemporary disbelief, the core of the story is completely credible: the ingenuity of communication among slaves and their intense commitment to freedom.

An intriguing new angle on an important story. (author’s note) (Picture book. 5-9)

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-56145-580-5

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Peachtree

Review Posted Online: Oct. 15, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2017


From the Rafi and Rosi series

A welcome, well-researched reflection of cultural pride in the early-reader landscape.

The fourth installment in Delacre’s early-reader series centers on the rich musical traditions of Puerto Rico, once again featuring sibling tree frogs Rafi and Rosi Coquí.

Readers learn along with Rafi and Rosi as they explore bomba, plena, and salsa in three chapters. A glossary at the beginning sets readers up well to understand the Spanish vocabulary, including accurate phoneticization for non-Spanish speakers. The stories focus on Rafi and Rosi’s relationship within a musical context. For example, in one chapter Rafi finds out that he attracts a larger audience playing his homemade güiro with Rosi’s help even though he initially excluded her: “Big brothers only.” Even when he makes mistakes, as the older brother, Rafi consoles Rosi when she is embarrassed or angry at him. In each instance, their shared joy for music and dance ultimately shines through any upsets—a valuable reflection of unity. Informational backmatter and author’s sources are extensive. Undoubtedly these will help teachers, librarians, and parents to develop Puerto Rican cultural programs, curriculum, or home activities to extend young readers’ learning. The inclusion of instructions to make one’s own homemade güiro is a thoughtful addition. The Spanish translation, also by Delacre and published simultaneously, will require a more advanced reader than the English one to recognize and comprehend contractions (“pa’bajo-pa-pa’rriba”) and relatively sophisticated vocabulary.

A welcome, well-researched reflection of cultural pride in the early-reader landscape. (Early reader. 7-9)

Pub Date: Sept. 17, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-89239-429-6

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Children's Book Press

Review Posted Online: July 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019


Having put together a band with renowned cousin Duck Ellington and singer “Bee” Holiday, Rooster’s chances sure look...

Winning actually isn’t everything, as jazz-happy Rooster learns when he goes up against the legendary likes of Mules Davis and Ella Finchgerald at the barnyard talent show.

Having put together a band with renowned cousin Duck Ellington and singer “Bee” Holiday, Rooster’s chances sure look good—particularly after his “ ‘Hen from Ipanema’ [makes] / the barnyard chickies swoon.”—but in the end the competition is just too stiff. No matter: A compliment from cool Mules and the conviction that he still has the world’s best band soon puts the strut back in his stride. Alexander’s versifying isn’t always in tune (“So, he went to see his cousin, / a pianist of great fame…”), and despite his moniker Rooster plays an electric bass in Bower’s canted country scenes. Children are unlikely to get most of the jokes liberally sprinkled through the text, of course, so the adults sharing it with them should be ready to consult the backmatter, which consists of closing notes on jazz’s instruments, history and best-known musicians.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-58536-688-0

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Sleeping Bear Press

Review Posted Online: July 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2011

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