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Call and Response: The Story of Black Lives Matter

Veronica Chambers, with Jennifer Harlan. Versify, $21.99 (160p) ISBN 978-0-358-57341-8

With fellow New York Times editor Jennifer Harlan and other Times staffers, Chambers offers a stylishly organized visual history and exploration of the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as the protests that led up to its creation and global spread. The first few chapters profile movement founders Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi, and Patrisse Cullors, “who believed deeply that an antiracist movement would make life in the United States better not just for Black people but for all people,” and discuss what called them to action: the killings of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and George Floyd, among others. The authors go on to offer a timeline of civil rights and Black Power from 1954–1968, as well as a timeline of the BLM movement from 2012–2020, before delving into systemic racism, developing elements of the BLM movement, resonances between past and present, and more. Crisp, rich photographs add context and visual breaks to this engaging, accessible primer for adolescent and adult readers alike. Back matter includes brief interviews with BLM leaders, further reading, credits and photo credits, selected bibliography, and index. Ages 10–up. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 09/24/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Recognize! An Anthology Honoring and Amplifying Black Life

Edited by Wade Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson. Crown, $16.99 (208p) ISBN 978-0-593-38159-5

The married cofounders of Just Us Books join forces to edit another stunning anthology, featuring 22 Black authors and eight artists exploring Black identity, the Black Lives Matter movement, the long history and legacy of standing up for Black lives, and more, in poems, short stories, essays, and comics. In “The Storms and Sunshine of My Life,” author Lamar Giles writes, “I know I’m lucky because not all of us get to go on, unscathed, to life’s joys.” Poems by Lesa Cline-Ransome, Nikki Grimes, Denene Millner, and others offer declarations and affirmations. Interwoven, full-page quotes and excerpts from Black forebearers such as Frances Ellen Watkins Harper and Frederick Douglass provide historical context and emphasize the timelessness of some issues, while eight full-color inserts feature lush, multilayered art by illustrators including Vanessa Brantley-Newton and Ekua Holmes. An empowering, powerful compendium that asserts how “Black lives matter./ Black lives have always mattered.” Front matter features a foreword by the editors; back matter includes artist notes, sources, biographies, and more about the BLM movement. Ages 10–up. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/24/2021 | Details & Permalink

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When We Say Black Lives Matter

Maxine Beneba Clarke. Candlewick, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-5362-2238-8

With assured rhythm and poetic grace, Clarke offers this stirring epistle from a couple to their growing Black child, patiently enlightening them on the meaning of Black Lives Matter—surveying the phrase’s history and how it represents a call for justice, pride, compassion, and solidarity in Black experiences. Refrain-like repetition of “When we... that Black Lives Matter...” punctuates elegant text: “Darling, when we sing that Black Lives Matter,/ and we’re dancing through the streets,// we’re saying: fear will not destroy our joy,/ defiance in our feet.” A shifting typographic landscape highlights certain words in color while sentences dip and weave across the pages. Lightly tracing the maturing child’s journey from birth to graduation, dynamic watercolor pencil illustrations rendered in an earthy palette, and enhanced by jewel-toned stained glass motifs, follow abstract Black figures across textured cardstock. At once a solemn eulogy, stirring paean, and tender triumph of a book. Ages 6–9. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/24/2021 | Details & Permalink

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We Can: Portraits of Power

Tyler Gordon with Kasey Woods. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $18.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-374-38966-6

Prolific Black teen portraitist Gordon presents a collection of portrait busts of icons, mostly Black figures who have left—or are leaving—their mark on culture, through film (Chadwick Boseman, Viola Davis), literature (Maya Angelou), music (the Beatles, Bob Marley), and sports (Lebron James, Colin Kaepernick, Naomi Osaka), and via civil rights (Martin Luther King Jr.), political offices (Kamala Harris, John Lewis), and the presidency of the United States (Biden and Obama each make an appearance). Distinct, pop art–esque paintings, rendered in grayscale against colorful monochrome backgrounds, adeptly recall their inspirations; each likeness is appended by a brief paragraph about the figure portrayed, highlighting career milestones alongside personal connections or resonances in a conversational style: “Ms. Amanda [Gorman] and I have a lot in common: We both have a twin sibling, we were both born prematurely, and we both have similar speech impediments.” More gallery than resource, this picture book will pique the interest of those interested in art and biographical profiles. Ages 4–8. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/24/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Me I Choose to Be

Natasha Anastasia Tarpley, illus. by Regis and Kahran Bethencourt. Little, Brown, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-316-46154-2

Striking, imaginative photographic portraits of Black youth by Regis and Kahran Bethencourt, embellished in Photoshop, fill the pages of this picture book, which shows the figures’ unlimited potential. A mantra-esque refrain unites Tarpley’s rhyming statements throughout, encouraging readers to embrace their multitudes: “My creativity and curiosity/ flow without end,/ and if I meet an obstacle,/ I just begin again.” Metaphors beginning with “I am” open each page, centering Black children as “a maker, a creator,” “joyful,” “a tiny bird,” “the night sky,” and more. Suitably themed photos portray the models adorned with props, fanciful outfits, and intricate hairstyles against richly colored backgrounds, often in space, emphasizing a speculative Afro-futurist element. An empowering visual essay. Ages 4–8. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/24/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Justice Is...: A Guide for Young Truth Seekers

Preet Bharara, illus. by Sue Cornelison. Crown, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-593-17662-7

Bharara, the former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, personifies Justice in this picture book, simply and poetically describing the actions and goals that undergird it. In spare prose, Justice is defined and explicated: “Waiting for brave people to stand up together./ Because Justice can’t do it alone./ At times it needs an army at its back,” one spread reads, portraying protesters with signs on either side of the Washington, D.C., street painted with “Black Lives Matter” in giant yellow letters. Cornelison illustrates in painterly digital art, creating nearly photorealistic portraits of subjects including Frederick Douglass, Harvey Milk, and Malala Yousafzai, as well as people and situations, such as Japanese American internees and enslaved people, to whom justice has been “denied—for a time.” A heartening, if at points undercontextualized, introduction to justice-focused luminaries. Back matter includes information on the figures. Ages 4–8. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 09/24/2021 | Details & Permalink

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You Are Revolutionary

Cindy Wang Brandt, illus. by Lynnor Bontigao. Beaming, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-5064-7830-2

Narrating from an adult’s perspective to a child, Wang Brandt offers an uplifting, simply worded picture book about noticing injustice and making change in the world. Acknowledging that adults may disparage or discredit children’s aptitude, the narrative encourages young readers to use their talents and do what they can anyway, offering options (for big dreamers, math whizzes, and writers, among others) in uneven rhyme: “You can be fierce and feisty,/ or you can be soft and tender./ To fix the world’s big problems/ we need both defenders and menders.” Speaking up and using creativity to “change people’s hearts” are all promoted in turn. Bontigao’s bright, approachable illustrations trace a parallel narrative of children of varying abilities, ages, religions, and skin tones supporting unhoused neighbors by raising funds, writing op-eds, and holding clothing drives, reifying some actions any child can partake in order to promote change. Ages 4–7. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/24/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Liberty’s Civil Rights Road Trip

Michael W. Waters, illus. by Nicole Tadgell. Flyaway, $18 (32p) ISBN 978-1-947888-19-7

Inspired by a civil rights pilgrimage for faith leaders that the author led commemorating the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, this picture book follows the author’s young Black daughter Liberty and her light brown–skinned Muslim best friend Abdullah, both of whom attended the real trip through sites in the U.S. South. From the third-person perspective, Waters focuses on Liberty’s viewpoint and emotions at each stop, in particular, an author’s note clarifies, how she “turned these harrowing spaces into hopeful ones”: “Even though the Lorraine Motel was a serious place, Liberty imagined that Dr. King had liked to laugh, just like her dad.” Tadgell illustrates an interfaith tour group of varying abilities, ages, sizes, and skin tones in soft washes of watercolor; small inserts feature the historical figures mentioned. An accessible, anecdotal introduction to pivotal civil rights events and luminaries. Back matter includes an author’s note and supplementary information. Ages 3–7. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/24/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Our Skin: A First Conversation About Race (First Conversations)

Megan Madison and Jessica Ralli, illus. by Isabel Roxas. Rise x Penguin Workshop, $14.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-593-51939-4

This accessibly written, adroit primer prompts the youngest readers to consider how skin tone relates to race and ethnicity, societal treatment, and justice. Madison and Ralli open with several pages featuring simple sentences centering skin, each followed by a gentle, well-chosen discussion question on the facing page: “Our skin is beautiful, strong,/ and important just the way it is!// What do you love about your skin?” The duo then digs deeper, explaining melanin, race, and racism, with illuminating examples: “Racism is also the things people do and the unfair rules they make about race so that white people get more power, and are treated better, than everybody else.” Dot-eyed, clearly emotive characters by Roxas, vibrantly rendered and digitally collaged, are of varying age, ability, religion, and skin tone. An ideal conversation starter for any child. Back matter relays opportunities for adults to begin talks about skin color, race-related observations, family diversity, identity terms, and more. Ages 2–5. (May)

Reviewed on 09/24/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Skin of the Sea (Skin of the Sea #1)

Natasha Bowen. Random House, $18.99 (336p) ISBN 978-0-593-12094-1

In Bowen’s dazzling debut, rooted in West African mythology and mid-1400s history, Simidele is a mermaid, or Mami Wata, tasked by orisa Mother Yemoja to collect and usher to the afterlife the souls of deceased West African people thrown overboard from passing slave ships. When a living teen named Kola lands in the water during a violent storm, Simi defies Yemoja and Olodumare, the Supreme Creator, and saves his life. Haunted by the memory of the captured human girl she was before she was “remade” into a Mami Wata by Yemoja, Simi pleads with Yemoja for help returning the boy home, whatever the cost. To protect her Mami Wata family from certain death at Olodumare’s hand, she travels with Kola to make restitution. But there is something deadly pursuing Simi, and it has a terrible plan. Reinvigorating the image of West Africa as not merely a site of human suffering but a historical place of great invention, fellowship, and hope, Bowen relays a story as lushly described as it is cinematic, centering a brave, headstrong protagonist coming into her own power in an age of change. Ages 14–up. Agent: Jodi Reamer, Writers House. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/24/2021 | Details & Permalink

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