[review] the abcs of black history by rio cortez and lauren semmer

#59 in an ongoing series of posts celebrating the alphabet

A is for anthem, a banner of song
that wraps us in hope, lets us know we belong.
We lift up our voices, lift them and sing.
From stages and street corner, let freedom ring.

Surely there aren’t enough letters in the alphabet to describe all the goodness contained in The ABCs of Black History by Rio Cortez and Lauren Semmer (Workman, 2020). From its rallying Anthem to its triumphant Zenith, this abecedarian is, I dare say, letter perfect.

Now, if I absolutely had to choose one letter to capture the book’s essence, perhaps it would be “R,” as it’s rich, radiant, rousing, readable, and resourceful. But that would only begin to describe it, because in addition to being an inventive alphabet book celebrating Black history and culture, it’s also a story of strength, persistence, and resilience, a timely call to action, and a loving praise song of hope, creativity, and pride.

Written in lively rhyming couplets, the engaging, conversational text draws the reader in right away by addressing him/her directly with the letter “B.”

B is for beautiful — I’m talking to you!
Your voice, your height, your hair, your hue.

B is for brave, for bright, and for bold.
For those who STOOD UP — even when they were told
to step back, stand down, remember their place.

B is for brotherhood, for believing in grace.

Now that the reader feels seen and validated, the enthusiastic narrator continues by using the collective “we” as she shares the seminal events, iconic figures and big ideas, values, and beliefs that define and characterize the African American experience.

Cortez features visionaries from a wide variety of disciplines — heroes, heroines, innovators, explorers, leaders and role models such as the often lauded Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., George Washington Carver, Benjamin Banneker, Barack and Michelle Obama, Shirley Chisholm, and Malcolm X, along with lesser known names like organizers Fred Hampton and Diane Nash, and Dr. Patricia Bath, the first African American ophthalmologist.

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nine cool things on a tuesday

“The New Beautiful” by Carla Golembe

 

1. Isn’t it amazing how six months ago, face masks were the farthest thing from our minds, and now they’ve become an essential part of our daily lives? Such an important (and simple) way of showing care and respect for others.

No matter who you are, or what your tastes or needs may be, there’s a mask for you, from disposable surgical ones to different styles of fabric masks in every conceivable color and print, to those with funny pictures or sayings on them, to beautiful pieces of wearable art. With the right mask, you can even make a bold fashion or political statement.

In the beautiful art category, behold these masks featuring the exquisite work of award winning painter, illustrator and teacher Carla Golembe. Been a Carla fan since she illustrated my third picture book, The Woman in the Moon (Little, Brown, 1995), and I can’t get enough of her color saturated jewel-tone pictures, which embrace spirituality, female empowerment, the wonders of nature, and stewardship of the planet Earth. Love the mystical, magical, mysterious quality of her images.

 

 

If you must wear a mask, why not feel beautiful while doing it? Think also of the pleasure you afford those who see you. And of course it’s always great to support indie artists whenever possible. Win-win!

Do check out Carla’s wonderful designs at Fine Art America — all can be purchased as face masks. Don’t be surprised if you turn heads wherever you go . . .

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2.  New Book Alert! Just released August 4 is Jeannine Atkins’s latest collective verse biography, Grasping Mysteries: Girls Who Loved Math (Atheneum, 2020):

 

 

Learn about seven groundbreaking women in math and science in this gorgeously written biographical novel-in-verse, a companion to the “original and memorable” (Booklist, starred review) Finding Wonders: Three Girls Who Changed Science.

After a childhood spent looking up at the stars, Caroline Herschel was the first woman to discover a comet and to earn a salary for scientific research. Florence Nightingale was a trailblazing nurse whose work reformed hospitals and one of the founders of the field of medical statistics. The first female electrical engineer, Hertha Marks Ayrton registered twenty-six patents for her inventions.

Marie Tharp helped create the first map of the entire ocean floor, which helped scientists understand our subaquatic world and suggested how the continents shifted. A mathematical prodigy, Katherine Johnson calculated trajectories and launch windows for many NASA projects including the Apollo 11 mission. Edna Lee Paisano, a citizen of the Nez Perce Nation, was the first Native American to work full time for the Census Bureau, overseeing a large increase in American Indian and Alaskan Native representation. And Vera Rubin studied more than two hundred galaxies and found the first strong evidence for dark matter.

Told in vibrant, evocative poems, this stunning novel celebrates seven remarkable women who used math as their key to explore the mysteries of the universe and grew up to do innovative work that changed the world.

I’m ashamed to admit I was only familiar with two of the seven women included in this book — Florence Nightingale and Katherine Johnson. Thank goodness for Jeannine’s ongoing efforts celebrating the accomplishments of brilliant, fascinating, courageous, innovative women. Always a revelation to read about yet another female breaking gender stereotypes (yay for girl power!). And what better way to learn something new than by reading Jeannine’s exquisitely crafted verse? Of course, enough cannot be said about the importance of having strong female role models for today’s readers.

Congratulations, Jeannine! You’ve done it again!

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nine cool things on a tuesday

 

1. Since we’re definitely in a “spring is almost here!” mood, we’re starting off with some charming watercolors by Chicago-based artist, illustrator, educator, and writer Michelle Kogan.

I first saw Michelle’s work on the cover of the very first Today’s Little Ditty Anthology (2014-2015), edited by the indefatigable Michelle H. Barnes (there is definitely something magical about Michelles). Michelle K. then joined the Poetry Friday gang, and we’ve been treated to her delightful posts every week, where she shares both her poetry and art (doubly delish).

 

 

Michelle is a lifelong nature lover, and her paintings depict the interesting bits of flora and fauna she observes in her various ramblings. She likes to paint outdoors during the summer, either in her own garden or in other nature venues in the Chicago area.

 

 

 

Michelle also paints figures, some of whom appear in her children’s illustrations. A staunch advocate of preserving our natural environment, she hopes her work will continue to inspire more beauty.

 

 

 

Do check out Michelle’s Etsy shop, where you can purchase archival prints, mini-prints, cards, bookmarks, journals and postcards. And of course there’s more art at her Official Website, and poetry and art every week at her blog. Contact Michelle directly via her website for info about classes and workshops, or for poetry, children’s book, or painting commissions.

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[author chat + giveaway] A is for Astronaut: Blasting Through the Alphabet by Astronaut Clayton Anderson and Scott Brundage

#56 in an ongoing series of posts celebrating the alphabet

Clayton Anderson in the Destiny module of the International Space Station

 

“T minus 10, 9, 8, 7, main engine start, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 and LIFT OFF!”

B is for Blastoff, a powerful thing!
When those engines are fired, it’ll make your ears ring.
There is smoke — and vibration — as we launch into space.
And we do it with flair, with excitement and grace!

 

On June 8, 2007, Astronaut Clayton C. Anderson launched to the International Space Station aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis. As Expedition 15 Flight Engineer and Science Officer aboard the ISS for five months, he performed three space walks. He returned to the ISS in 2010 on a resupply mission, and in 2013 retired from NASA after 30 years of service — 15 as an engineer and 15 as an astronaut.

These days, Clay is an author, motivational speaker, and part-time Senior Lecturer in Aerospace Engineering at Iowa State University. In March 2018 he published his first children’s book, A is for Astronaut: Blasting Through the Alphabet, illustrated by Scott Brundage (Sleeping Bear Press, 2018).

In this entertaining and informative picture book, we are invited to fly with Clay on a fun, out-of-this-world A to Z tour that draws on his wealth of firsthand knowledge and unique insight.

From Astronaut and Blast-off, to Galaxy and Meteors, right through to Rendezvous and Zulu time, the short lively poems paired with fascinating info sidebars will appeal to spaceniks and science buffs of all ages, stirring their wanderlust and inspiring them to dig a little deeper.

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in which i share two excessively entertaining alphabet books

#54 in an ongoing series of posts celebrating the alphabet

Few things are more delightful than discovering good alphabet books, and by “good,” I mean those that have original hooks, are a little quirky, do justice to the tricky letters ‘q’ ‘x’, and ‘z’, and compel me to take a second and third look. Because there are so many alphabet books out there already, creators have to be extra clever and innovative. Here’s one that celebrates pasta under the big top, and another that’s alphabetically effusive in ways too numerous to count.

Juana Medina admits she ate a lot of pasta while making ABC Pasta: An Entertaining Alphabet (Viking, 2017). What could be better than an alphabet good enough to eat?! Love the circus theme and meeting all 26 of the perky performers, who gambol, juggle, race, pirouette, and cavort through the pages with the greatest of ease.

Medina created them using real photographs of pasta-related foods incorporated into zesty digital drawings, and they are introduced with temptingly toothsome alliterative phrases, fun-to-read tongue twisters that are quite a mouthful.

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