[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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soup of the day: mare’s war!


These are probably not your mother’s stilettos.

But they could be your grandma’s!

Just ask Tali and Octavia, whose grandmother not only wears red stilettos, but drives a red sportscar, dons flippy wigs and push-up bras, has very strong opinions, and tells them about her very surprising history.

Woo Hoo! The day I’ve been waiting for all year long has finally arrived: official pub day for Mare’s War, a young adult novel written by the one and only Tanita S. Davis!!

*stilettos all over the world clicking together in celebration*

       MARE’S WAR by Tanita S. Davis,
       (Knopf, 2009), Young Adult Historical Fiction,
       Ages 12+, 352 pp.

Tanita’s first book, A La Carte (2008), was so thoroughly delicious that I can’t wait to read Mare’s War. Mare is the grandmother in question; Tali and Octavia’s summer plans are ruined when their parents force them to accompany Mare on a l-o-n-g cross-country road trip.

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