It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? From Picture Books to YA!
The exhibition hall at NCTE proved to be just as enticing as everyone had warned me it would be. I was there as often as I could be, and walked away with some amazing new books to share with my kiddos. One of my first stops was Booth 1106, Peachtree Publishers…
….where I walked away with so many wonderful titles, among them these two nonfiction picture books:
On Easter Sunday, 1939, Marian Anderson stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and lifted her voice in song to an audience of 75,000 people. The concert was a triumph for art, and also for Civil Rights. Anderson had been invited to sing in Constitution Hall, but The Daughters of the American Revolution, the organization that owned the site, refused to allow her to do so. Citizens across the country were outraged, but, what to do?
Deborah Hopkinson’s Sweet land of Liberty is the story of the man who came up with the solution – Oscar Chapman, Assistant Secretary of the Interior under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Why not move the concert to the Lincoln Memorial, a bigger and symbolic venue? The rest, of course, is history.
Sweet Land of Liberty Written by Deborah Hopkinson
Illustrated by Leonard Jenkins
Oscar Chapman grew up in segregated Virginia, surrounded by people who believed that the Civil War had ended unjustly. All through his boyhood, Chapman fought against the prejudice around him – and when he left, vowed to fight injustice every chance he got. One such opportunity was the chance to turn Marian Anderson’s concert into a triumph.
Deborah Hopkinson tells Chapman’s story beautifully, and Leonard Jenkinson’s illustrations are simply stunning. I love sharing stories like this with my students – it’s so important for them to read about real people doing really courageous things.
Keep On! The Story of Matthew Henson (also written by Deborah Hopkinson) is another unusual take on a well known story – this time, the adventures of Admiral Robert Peary, the great Arctic explorer. Here’s how the book begins:
“Matthew Henson was born in a Maryland cabin, at a time when boys dreamed of finding glory, of planting flags at the ends of the Earth, making the unknown known, and recording their names into history books.
Young Matt had that same hunger to explore, but most folks would have laughed at his dreams. For Matt was born in 1866, just after the Civil War, a time when poor black boys like him had few chances to roam the next county, to say nothing of another country, the seven seas, or the top of the world.”
But, Matt was able to do all that because one day Admiral Peary walked into the store he was working in in search of a hat…and discovered an able young man who would make a fine assistant. Matt trained hard and proved to be an invaluable companion on Peary’s dangerous expeditions, and although he was right by Peary’s side when their goal of standing “on top of the world” was finally (and arduously) achieved, he did not share in the glory.
Hopkinson weaves quotes from Henson’s memoir A Negro Explorer at the North Pole throughout her book, making the story all the more personal and powerful. And Stephen Alcorn’s illustrations – filled with light and movement – were just perfect.
Deborah Hopkinson has included notes about her background research, and links to more information about both Oscar Chapman and Matthew Henson. I love when authors do this, because my kids often come to the end of such books and are (in their own words) “dying to find out more.” Now, they can.