[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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[juicy review] How to Read a Book by Kwame Alexander and Melissa Sweet


For hungry minds, there’s nothing like feasting on a good book, from that delicious anticipation of first cracking open the cover, to devouring each and every word, to basking in the afterglow of a story well told.

In How to Read a Book (HarperCollins, 2019), Newbery Medalist Kwame Alexander and Caldecott Honoree Melissa Sweet celebrate books with a tantalizing banquet of juicy words and captivating art, illuminating the sensory, intuitive, and wildly imaginative aspects of the reading experience.

In this lyrical ode, which began as a World Read Aloud Day poem and later appeared on a National Poetry Month poster, Alexander employs an extended food metaphor to mouthwatering effect. Reading a book, he suggests, is like consuming luscious, ripe fruit — something to savor with full presence of heart and mind.



First, plant yourself beneath a tree or (if you prefer) sit on a stoop like Langston Hughes:

Once you’re comfy,
peel its gentle skin,
like you would
a clementine.

The color of

The scent of morning
and sweet
butterfly kisses.

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[catTEA review] The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots by Beatrix Potter and Quentin Blake

Holy catnip!

It’s a big day for Beatrix Potter fans: The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots is officially out in the world (UK release September 1, U.S. release September 6)!

Ever since we first heard tell of this book back in January, all of us here in the Alphabet Soup kitchen have been counting down the days, hours, and minutes to this much anticipated event.

After all, it’s not every day that a long lost manuscript written over 100 years ago by such a beloved author is rediscovered and brought to life with brand new illustrations by celebrated illustrator Quentin Blake.

Potter wrote The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots in 1914, but had not finished illustrating it. Two years ago, editor and publisher Jo Hanks stumbled upon a reference to Kitty’s story in a letter from Beatrix to her publisher in an out-of-print collection of her writings. In the Warne archive at the Victoria & Albert Museum, Hanks found three Kitty-in-Boots manuscripts — two handwritten in children’s school notebooks and one typeset in dummy form — along with a colored sketch of Kitty and a pencil rough of foxy arch-villain Mr. Tod.

Supposedly Potter’s only finished illustration for the book, intended as the frontispiece. Courtesy Frederick Warne & Co./V&A.

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soup of the day: c.r. mudgeon by leslie muir and julian hector

Alphabet Soup Curmudgeons give this book a 3 pins up!

It’s Tuesday, it’s Tuesday!

For eminently sensible hedgehog C.R. Mudgeon, Tuesday is the day to pick a fresh fig for dessert.

For all of us here in the Alphabet Soup kitchen, this particular Tuesday is the day we get to shake shake shake our maracas, cause we’re celebrating the official release of C.R. Mudgeon, a brand new picture book by Leslie Muir and Julian Hector!

*cues in mariachi band music*

Before I tell you about some of the things I love most about this charming book, a couple of party favors. First, put on these hedgehog slippers if you’re like C.R. Mudgeon himself — a creature of habit who likes things just so and gets grumpy when faced with change:


If you’re a little firecracker who makes friends easily and likes to spice things up, put on these sassy red polka dot pumps, cause you’re just like C.R. Mudgeon’s new bushy-tailed neighbor, Paprika:


Yes, we have party hats! Team Celery for all you hideaway hedgehogs, Team Chili Pepper for you squirrely squirrels.


Now, I know you’ve been wondering about the maracas. Plenty to go around. Paprika wants you to choose your favorite design, but DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT shake them until instructed to do so.

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lunch box love (part one)

What’s in Cornelius’s lunch box?

For many kids, the best time of the school day is opening their lunch boxes to see what delicious treats are inside.

Will they find their favorite PB&J, baked chicken drumsticks, or a special bento? I can remember having only one lunch box as a child — it was a red and black plaid tin, and I might have taken it to school fewer than six times. I was enamored with the prospect of soup in the thermos, a baloney sandwich, Fritos, and a Hostess cupcake. But after facing a smashed or soggy sandwich once or twice (my mom insisted on including an apple), I went back to cafeteria food.

These days, I’m envious of kids who take their lunches in insulated totes and bags, or whose food is lovingly packed in divided plastic containers (there’s a whole new world of lunch box fashion going on). Sandwiches remain a traditional favorite, but in this day and age of smoothies, wraps, and rice balls, all it takes is thinking outside the box just a little to make lunch more varied, interesting and fun.


For some great ideas, check out MY LUNCH BOX, a cool selection of 50 recipes created by Hilary Shevlin Karmilowicz. They’re packed in a spiffy recipe box illustrated by Rebecca Bradley, and feature Mains, Sides and Treats. Mix and match recipes from each category for a healthy, balanced mid-day meal, or pick any one of them to supplement things you usually pack.



If you want to stick with sandwiches, consider reinventing them — what about a Cheesy Pleasy Pocket, Chillin’ Chicken Caesar Wrap, or a Banutty (peanut butter between two slices of homemade banana bread)? Choose a quick quesadilla, make sure your dogs are dapper, fill up on frittata after hamming around. Not into sandwiches? Go for soup or salad: Chicken Noodle in a snap, Chow-Down Chicken Chili, Pizza Pasta Salad. My favorite? Alphabet Soup (Ms. Karmilowicz is a wise woman). And for those days when you’re short on time or energy, there are some no-recipe suggestions, which require only two or three ingredients and a few minutes to pull together.


What about the sides? Choose from veggie dips to muffins to pinwheels to more salads to eggs to fruity cheese kabobs. Then top everything off with a healthy treat: yogurt fondue, granola bars, smoothies, and carrot cupcakes, to name a few. As with the Mains, you’ll find no-recipe ideas for Treats and Sides.

Each cheerfully illustrated recipe card will inspire budding foodies to experiment in the kitchen (steps requiring adult supervision are clearly marked). Extra recipe cards, colorful stickers and tips for keeping foods hot or cold round out the collection. Great for encouraging parent-child participation, likely to make lunch the most anticipated meal of the day. There’s something to be said for appealing presentation, lots to be said for family bonding and the satisfaction of mastering new skills. Kids seem to especially love something they’ve made themselves — what better way to engage, excite and nourish!

MY LUNCH BOX: 50 Recipes for Kids to Take to School
by Hilary Shevlin Karmilowicz
illustrated by Rebecca Bradley
published by Chronicle Books, 2009
Recommended for ages 9-12, 146 pp.


Ham and Cheese again?

♥ In Lunch Box Love, Part Two, kids learn about where their food comes from. Tune in next Monday!

♥ Related post: My Darling, My Bento



Copyright © 2011 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.