[review + recipe + giveaway] Kamala Harris: Rooted in Justice by Nikki Grimes and Laura Freeman

 

Kamala Harris is precisely the vice presidential nominee we need at this particular moment in time. Being chosen to run alongside Joe Biden in the most consequential election of our nation’s history is a notable, glorious, glass-ceiling-shattering triumph.

Senator Harris hadn’t fully entered my radar until I  saw her grill Brett Kavanaugh in the Supreme Court Senate Confirmation Hearings in 2018. Wow! She was tough, articulate, whip smart, and definitely someone to watch. Early last year, I eagerly read her memoir, The Truths We Hold: An American Journey (Bodley Head, 2019), and was wholly inspired by her compassion, work ethic, professional accomplishments, and steadfast commitment to social justice and public service.

 

 

Just two weeks after she was chosen to be Vice President Biden’s running mate, a new picture book biography, Kamala Harris: Rooted in Justice by Nikki Grimes and Laura Freeman (Atheneum BFYR, 2020), officially hit shelves. Talk about perfect timing!

But then, everything about Kamala’s life story (her immigrant background, family history of political activism, impressive barrier-breaking, step-by-step rise in the ranks) suggests she was almost divinely destined to be the first African-American and first South Asian-American female candidate to run on a major party ticket during these turbulent times of systemic racism, economic inequities, public health crises, criminal injustices, and gender discrimination.

Thanks to Nikki Grimes’s succinct, artfully crafted free verse narrative, and Laura Freeman’s vibrantly gorgeous art, young people not only have an engaging overview of Harris’s life from birth to her withdrawal from the 2020 presidential nomination, but also an inspiring portrait of her character and true essence as a human being.

Grimes frames Kamala’s story as a conversation between a black mother and daughter. First grader Eve is upset because a boy in her class called her stupid for wanting to be President when she grows up. Eve’s mom says he’s wrong, and proceeds to tell her all about Kamala, a girl from right there in Oakland who hopes to be President one day.

 

Life is a story
you write day by day.
Kamala’s begins with a name
that means “lotus flower.”
See how her beautiful smile
opens wide, like petals
fanning across the water’s surface?
But you don’t see the flower’s roots. Her roots.
They grow deep, deep, deep down.
Let me show you.

 

Freeman’s beautiful double page spread provides a dramatic entrée into Kamala’s world, depicting her amidst pink lotus blossoms as a happy toddler, sensitive child, intent student, and an adult glowing with confidence. Grimes uses the floral/roots metaphor to great effect, as it prepares the ground for tracing the origins of Kamala’s ancestry, guiding principles and political aspirations. We sense this story will be an edifying blossoming, as we dig below the surface to learn how Kamala grew into the strong, determined leader, truth seeker, trail blazer, and role model she is today.

Young readers will especially appreciate the many pages devoted to Kamala’s early formative years: how her Jamaican father met and married her Indian mother in Berkeley before Kamala was born in Oakland, how they took her with them on civil rights marches, where she repeatedly heard words like “freedom,” “justice,” and “peace” even before she understood what they meant.

After her sister Maya came along, they enjoyed “faraway adventures together,/like visiting their grandparents in Zambia,” soon learning that “fighting for justice/ran in the family.”

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[chat + giveaway] Ashley Wolff on Only the Cat Saw

 

Miao! We are so pleased and honored to welcome award winning Vermont author, illustrator and teacher Ashley Wolff to Alphabet Soup today.

We’re big fans of her adorable Baby Bear books, classics such as Compost Stew: An A to Z Recipe for Earth (Mary McKenna Siddals), Baby Beluga (Raffi), and of course, the wildly popular Miss Bindergarten series, written by Joseph Slate.

In all, she’s published close to 70 titles (as either author/illustrator or illustrator), showcasing her lifelong love of nature and animals, and her mastery of a variety of styles and mediums, including acrylic gouache, linoleum block print + watercolor, and collage.

Her most recent self-illustrated picture book, Only the Cat Saw (Beach Lane Books, 2020), is a refreshed edition of a perennial favorite (first published by Dodd, Mead back in 1985) with all new art for a new generation. In this gentle, calming story, a multiracial family of four go about their daily routine from sunset to sunrise, while their marmalade tabby observes the wonders and beauty of the natural world.

 

 

As they’re busy with supper, only the cat notices the colorful sunset outside the window. During bath time, the cat has wandered out by the barn to play with fireflies, and while the older child, Tessa, reads with her flashlight under the covers, the cat witnesses the drama of an owl hunting a mouse. Oh, the wonderful things people miss when they’re preoccupied!

Spare text + single page spreads tracking the family’s indoor activities alternate with double page wordless spreads showing what the cat is up to. With each block of text, the repetitive tag line, “So only the cat saw . . . ” signals a suspenseful page turn that rewards the reader with beautiful scenes rendered in rich colors and lush textures, immersing him/her in the cat’s world of tall grasses, sleepy farm animals, lightning and rain, even a shooting star.

 

 

I love what Ashley has done with scale, perspective, and composition to play up the cat’s point of view, and her lighting effects, from gorgeous sunset and sunrise, to lamplight, flashlight, fireflies, moon and stars underscore the simple joys of life indoors and out. Such a lovely reminder to take time to appreciate what we too often take for granted.

In addition to being cozy and heartwarming, this story is  reassuringly relatable with its depiction of breast feeding, sitting on the potty, and having both parents share equally in household tasks. Kudos to Ashley for initially including these somewhat unusual details in the earlier book from 35 years ago, clear evidence of her feminist, forward thinking! 🙂

 

 

We thank Ashley for dropping by to tell us what it was like to re-illustrate one of her earliest picture books, and for sharing a favorite recipe and so many cool photos. Enjoy!

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[tasty review] Follow the Recipe by Marilyn Singer and Marjorie Priceman

 

Hungry?

Then grab a seat at the table and put on a BIG bib. You’re just in time to sample a few literary treats from Follow the Recipe: Poems About Imagination, Celebration & Cake, a truly delectable, joyous “worldwide grand buffet” served up by Marilyn Singer and Marjorie Priceman.

First, I must mention that I’d been drooling over this book ever since I first heard about it in the latter part of 2019, because I’m a longtime fan of both Marilyn’s and Marjorie’s work. Marilyn’s talent and versatility are boundless; not only is she muy prolific, she’s an author and poet who continues to delight us with her inimitable ingenuity.

And safe to say, Marjorie’s, How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World (1994), shifted my understanding of what picture books could be, launching my ongoing quest to devour every food-related title I can get my paws on. I was equally thrilled when she later came out with How to Make a Cherry Pie and See the U.S.A. (2013), once again demonstrating her knack for presenting facts in an especially palatable and entertaining way.

 

 

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I Remember: Poems and Pictures of Heritage compiled by Lee Bennett Hopkins

“Heritage makes us who we are. It is an essential, important part of us — our inherited traditions, beliefs, values, and achievements, and how we identify ourselves. Heritage also conjures up remembrances of family, events, travels, songs, celebrations, goals, and challenges. It is our past, our today, and our foundation to build on for the future.” ~ Lee Bennett Hopkins

Our beloved Lee Bennett Hopkins would have turned 82 on April 13, and it’s only too fitting that his birthday falls during National Poetry Month. We’re happy to honor his memory by sharing two poems from one of his final anthologies, I Remember: Poems and Pictures of Heritage (Lee & Low, 2019).

While it is still hard to believe he’s really gone, reading a collection as inspiring as this one is a lovely reminder that the light of his enduring legacy shines on.

I Remember features poem and art pairings by a diverse group of eminent American poets and artists, all of whom were inspired by vivid childhood memories that made lasting impressions on their lives.

Look at this amazing line-up:

POETS

Kwame Alexander * Jorge Tetl Argueta * Joseph Bruchac * Nick Bruel * Margarita Engle * Douglas Florian * Guadalupe Garcia McCall * Marilyn Nelson * G. Neri * Naomi Shihab Nye * Cynthia Leitich Smith * Carole Boston Weatherford * Janet S. Wong * Jane Yolen

ARTISTS

Paula Barragán * Sawsan Chalabi * R. Gregory Christie * Julie Downing * David Kanietakeron Fadden * Insoo Kim * Rafael López * Janine Macbeth * Juliet Meńendez * Daniel Minter * Sean Qualls * Charlotte Riley-Webb * Jeanne Rorex Bridges * Simone Shin * Neil Walden * Michele Wood

 

Michele Wood’s art for Kwame Alexander’s “Here’s What I Remember”

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[review + yummy cake recipe] Saving the Countryside: The Story of Beatrix Potter and Peter Rabbit by Linda E. Marshall and Ilaria Urbinati

 

Once upon another time, I was lucky enough to visit England’s glorious Lake District, where vistas of pristine lakes, rolling green pastures dotted with sheep, lush vales, charming stone cottages, miles of slate and dry stone walls bordering fertile farmland, and magnificent fells rising in the distance took my breath away.

I was curious to see the area after learning that England’s greatest poets and writers had flocked there for three centuries. Though studying the Romantic poets in college had stirred my wanderlust (my “friends” Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats, Coleridge, Blake, and Byron enabled me to envision this paradise on earth), it wasn’t until I fully tuned into Beatrix Potter’s connection with Lakeland that I became totally smitten. Visiting Hill Top Farm made me a forever diehard fan.

 

Hill Top Farm, Near Sawrey

 

Beatrix didn’t just love the countryside, she helped preserve it for future generations. And she established this amazing legacy at a time when it was not proper for women to “travel, attend college, or work.” Her groundbreaking accomplishments are highlighted in this wonderful new picture book, Saving the Countryside: The Story of Beatrix Potter and Peter Rabbit, by Linda Elovitz Marshall and Ilaria Urbinati (little bee books, 2020).

Young readers will find it interesting that in addition to writing the beloved Peter Rabbit books, Beatrix was also a natural scientist, savvy businesswoman, sheep farmer, and ardent conservationist.

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