A must-read, must-discuss that will speak to children and linger with adults. (Picture book/biography. 8-12)

STRANGE FRUIT

BILLIE HOLIDAY AND THE POWER OF A PROTEST SONG

Lynching: a strange and difficult but important topic for a song—and for this picture book.

Golio crafts an honest biography of African-American jazz singer Billie Holiday, whose light skin, penchant for improvisation, and commitment to social justice often made her the center of heated controversy. As Holiday once said: “Somebody once said we never know what is enough until we know what’s more than enough.” As “one of the first black singers to work in an all-white band,” Billie excelled until her handlers asked her never to talk with customers or walk alone, to use service elevators, and to stay upstairs until performance time—all to convince white patrons that the venues where she sang remained racially segregated. When Jewish songwriter Abel Meeropol wrote “Strange Fruit,” about the lynching of blacks, for Billie to perform, Meeropol’s rendition of it failed to move her. Once she made it her own, however, she stunned audiences with her performance. This picture book emphasizes that the arts not only entertain, but can also be powerful change agents. Riley-Webb’s moving, richly textured illustrations, rendered in acrylics with tissue collages on canvas paper, reflect the constant motion of jazz and the striking excitement of improvisation. The informative backmatter expands upon Holiday’s biographical details and offers narrative explanations of source quotes.

A must-read, must-discuss that will speak to children and linger with adults. (Picture book/biography. 8-12)

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-4677-5123-0

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Millbrook/Lerner

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2016

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Falters in its oversimplified portrayal of a complicated region and people.

GROUND ZERO

Parallel storylines take readers through the lives of two young people on Sept. 11 in 2001 and 2019.

In the contemporary timeline, Reshmina is an Afghan girl living in foothills near the Pakistan border that are a battleground between the Taliban and U.S. armed forces. She is keen to improve her English while her twin brother, Pasoon, is inspired by the Taliban and wants to avenge their older sister, killed by an American bomb on her wedding day. Reshmina helps a wounded American soldier, making her village a Taliban target. In 2001, Brandon Chavez is spending the day with his father, who works at the World Trade Center’s Windows on the World restaurant. Brandon is heading to the underground mall when a plane piloted by al-Qaida hits the tower, and his father is among those killed. The two storylines develop in parallel through alternating chapters. Gratz’s deeply moving writing paints vivid images of the loss and fear of those who lived through the trauma of 9/11. However, this nuance doesn’t extend to the Afghan characters; Reshmina and Pasoon feel one-dimensional. Descriptions of the Taliban’s Afghan victims and Reshmina's gentle father notwithstanding, references to all young men eventually joining the Taliban and Pasoon's zeal for their cause counteract this messaging. Explanations for the U.S. military invasion of Afghanistan in the author’s note and in characters’ conversations too simplistically present the U.S. presence.

Falters in its oversimplified portrayal of a complicated region and people. (author’s note) (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-338-24575-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Dec. 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2021

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For every dreaming girl (and boy) with a pencil in hand (or keyboard) and a story to share. (Memoir/poetry. 8-12)

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  • Kirkus Reviews'
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  • New York Times Bestseller

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BROWN GIRL DREAMING

A multiaward–winning author recalls her childhood and the joy of becoming a writer.

Writing in free verse, Woodson starts with her 1963 birth in Ohio during the civil rights movement, when America is “a country caught / / between Black and White.” But while evoking names such as Malcolm, Martin, James, Rosa and Ruby, her story is also one of family: her father’s people in Ohio and her mother’s people in South Carolina. Moving south to live with her maternal grandmother, she is in a world of sweet peas and collards, getting her hair straightened and avoiding segregated stores with her grandmother. As the writer inside slowly grows, she listens to family stories and fills her days and evenings as a Jehovah’s Witness, activities that continue after a move to Brooklyn to reunite with her mother. The gift of a composition notebook, the experience of reading John Steptoe’s Stevie and Langston Hughes’ poetry, and seeing letters turn into words and words into thoughts all reinforce her conviction that “[W]ords are my brilliance.” Woodson cherishes her memories and shares them with a graceful lyricism; her lovingly wrought vignettes of country and city streets will linger long after the page is turned.

For every dreaming girl (and boy) with a pencil in hand (or keyboard) and a story to share. (Memoir/poetry. 8-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-399-25251-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books

Review Posted Online: June 25, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2014

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