Despite the cozy illustrations and interesting source material, this tale doesn’t thrill.

FLIGHT FOR FREEDOM

THE WETZEL FAMILY'S DARING ESCAPE FROM EAST GERMANY

An East German family escapes to the West in a homemade hot air balloon.

This account of a family’s clever escape from the German Democratic Republic opens by painting a picture of young Peter Wetzel’s East German world. From the beginning, Fulton does not show much confidence in her young readers, eschewing meaningful age-appropriate discussion of government suppression and violence for complaints of “scratchy uniforms” and the baffling suggestion that East Germany did not have children’s television programming. Readers watch through Peter’s eyes as his parents slowly and secretly build a hot air balloon to take them to the West. This surprising true story is accompanied by warm, accomplished illustrations that conjure a strong sense of place and time. There is some evocative description in the text, such as the shocking loudness of a car door when one is trying to be quiet. However, the overall tone feels affected and never quite climbs to a level of tension suitable for the subject. The author even leaves a potentially nail-biting moment—the Wetzels give up on the balloon only to be forced to make a final attempt under threat of discovery by the secret police—to the backmatter. Also hidden in the backmatter is the dubious implication that Ronald Reagan was ultimately responsible for the fall of the wall.

Despite the cozy illustrations and interesting source material, this tale doesn’t thrill. (historical notes, author’s note) (Informational picture book. 5-10)

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4521-4960-8

Page Count: 56

Publisher: Chronicle Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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A larger-than-life subject is neatly captured in text and images.

THURGOOD

The life journey of the first African American to serve on the United States Supreme Court and the incidents that formed him.

Thurgood Marshall grew up in segregated Baltimore, Maryland, with a family that encouraged him to stand for justice. Despite attending poor schools, he found a way to succeed. His father instilled in him a love of the law and encouraged him to argue like a lawyer during dinner conversations. His success in college meant he could go to law school, but the University of Maryland did not accept African American students. Instead, Marshall went to historically black Howard University, where he was mentored by civil rights lawyer Charles Houston. Marshall’s first major legal case was against the law school that denied him a place, and his success brought him to the attention of the NAACP and ultimately led to his work on the groundbreaking Brown v. Board of Education, which itself led to his appointment to the Supreme Court. This lively narrative serves as an introduction to the life of one of the country’s important civil rights figures. Important facts in Marshall’s life are effectively highlighted in an almost staccato fashion. The bold watercolor-and-collage illustrations, beginning with an enticing cover, capture and enhance the strong tone set by the words.

A larger-than-life subject is neatly captured in text and images. (author’s note, photos) (Picture book/biography. 5-9)

Pub Date: Sept. 3, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6533-0

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Schwartz & Wade/Random

Review Posted Online: June 10, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2019

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A unique angle on a watershed moment in the civil rights era.

I AM RUBY BRIDGES

The New Orleans school child who famously broke the color line in 1960 while surrounded by federal marshals describes the early days of her experience from a 6-year-old’s perspective.

Bridges told her tale to younger children in 2009’s Ruby Bridges Goes to School, but here the sensibility is more personal, and the sometimes-shocking historical photos have been replaced by uplifting painted scenes. “I didn’t find out what being ‘the first’ really meant until the day I arrived at this new school,” she writes. Unfrightened by the crowd of “screaming white people” that greets her at the school’s door (she thinks it’s like Mardi Gras) but surprised to find herself the only child in her classroom, and even the entire building, she gradually realizes the significance of her act as (in Smith’s illustration) she compares a small personal photo to the all-White class photos posted on a bulletin board and sees the difference. As she reflects on her new understanding, symbolic scenes first depict other dark-skinned children marching into classes in her wake to friendly greetings from lighter-skinned classmates (“School is just school,” she sensibly concludes, “and kids are just kids”) and finally an image of the bright-eyed icon posed next to a soaring bridge of reconciliation. (This book was reviewed digitally.)

A unique angle on a watershed moment in the civil rights era. (author and illustrator notes, glossary) (Autobiographical picture book. 6-8)

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-338-75388-2

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Orchard/Scholastic

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2022

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