While the author is otherwise quite respectful toward this beloved black poet, as many grandmas of various races and...

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JUMP BACK, PAUL

THE LIFE AND POEMS OF PAUL LAURENCE DUNBAR

Paul Laurence Dunbar’s words serve as a cornerstone for much of black literature and everyday lit-dropping conversations among black folks. But when they cross the color line….

Veteran author Derby has her heart in the right place. She states that she wanted to write a biography about Dunbar, with whom she shares the hometown of Dayton, Ohio, “for years.” Giving her narrator a “grandma voice,” the author molds the poet’s life story around his allusive verses. She explains his understanding why the caged bird sings when he takes a job as an elevator operator because the Dayton Herald refused to hire him due to their racist employment practices and Dunbar’s racial “mask” after working as Frederick Douglass’ personal assistant, and she covers his rising popularity as a correspondent and poet. What’s unfortunate is that the narrator’s affectation—from using variations of “jump back,” “honey,” and “ ’bout” to “scoot back,” “mama,” and “hmph”—makes readers wonder how the author envisioned the grandmother, specifically her race. Dialect is tricky, and well-intended voice can backfire, especially for parents of black children seeking books for them.

While the author is otherwise quite respectful toward this beloved black poet, as many grandmas of various races and ethnicities would say, it’s not what’s said but how it’s said. (timeline, source notes, selected bibliography, index) (Biography. 9-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 22, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-7636-6070-3

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: June 10, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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The car gets shortchanged, but comparing the divergent career paths of its (putative) two riders may give readers food for...

TWO MEN AND A CAR

FRANKLIN ROOSEVELT, AL CAPONE, AND A CADILLAC V-8

A custom-built, bulletproof limo links two historical figures who were pre-eminent in more or less different spheres.

Garland admits that a claim that FDR was driven to Congress to deliver his “Day of Infamy” speech in a car that once belonged to Capone rests on shaky evidence. He nonetheless uses the anecdote as a launchpad for twin portraits of contemporaries who occupy unique niches in this country’s history but had little in common. Both were smart, ambitious New Yorkers and were young when their fathers died, but they definitely “headed in opposite directions.” As he fills his biographical sketches with standard-issue facts and has disappointingly little to say about the car itself (which was commissioned by Capone in 1928 and still survives), this outing seems largely intended to be a vehicle for the dark, heavy illustrations. These are done in muted hues with densely scratched surfaces and angled so that the two men, the period backgrounds against which they are posed, and the car have monumental looks. It’s a reach to bill this, as the author does, a “story about America,” but it does at least offer a study in contrasts featuring two of America’s most renowned citizens. Most of the human figures are white in the art, but some group scenes include a few with darker skin.

The car gets shortchanged, but comparing the divergent career paths of its (putative) two riders may give readers food for thought. (timeline, bibliography) (Picture book/biography. 10-12)

Pub Date: March 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-88448-620-6

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Tilbury House

Review Posted Online: Jan. 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2019

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A detail-rich picture book best for readers who enjoy nonfiction and are interested in history or science.

COUNTING THE STARS

THE STORY OF KATHERINE JOHNSON, NASA MATHEMATICIAN

This biography of renowned mathematician Katherine Johnson featuring illustrations by Colón aims for elementary-age readers.

Cline-Ransome (Finding Langston, 2018, etc.) traces Johnson’s love of math, curiosity about the world, and studiousness from her early entry to school through her help sending a man into space as a human computer at NASA. The text is detailed and lengthy, between one and four paragraphs of fairly small text on each spread. Many biographies of black achievers during segregation focus on society’s limits and the subject’s determination to reach beyond them. This book takes a subtler approach, mentioning segregation only once (at her new work assignment, “she ignored the stares and the COLORED GIRLS signs on the bathroom door and the segregated cafeteria”) and the glass ceiling for women twice in a factual tone as potential obstacles that did not stop Johnson. Her work is described in the context of the space race, which helps to clarify the importance of her role. Colón’s signature soft, textured illustrations evoke the time period and Johnson’s feeling of wonder about the world, expressed in the refrain, “Why? What? How?” The text moves slowly and demands a fairly high comprehension level (e.g., “it was the job of these women computers to double-check the engineers’ data, develop complex equations, and analyze the numbers”). An author’s note repeats much of the text, adding quotes from Johnson and more details about her more recent recognition.

A detail-rich picture book best for readers who enjoy nonfiction and are interested in history or science. (Picture book/biography. 9-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5344-0475-5

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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