This is one in a series of monthly reviews of books for young people written by four area teachers of children's literature. Today's are by Alexa Sandmann, professor of literacy at Kent State University.
The Coretta Scott King awards, named for the late wife of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., are bestowed annually at the winter meeting of the American Library Association to both an African-American writer and illustrator. Honor books are also chosen, and while typically multiple Honor Books are named, this year there was only one in each category. The committee sometimes presents a Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Author award or a New Talent Illustrator award, or both, but this year, only an Author award was given. The chosen books commemorate Dr. King's lifelong mission of respecting and valuing each human being.
BAD NEWS FOR OUTLAWS. Written by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson. Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie. Carolrhoda Books/Lerner Publishing Group. Ages 8-12. $17.95
Subtitled "The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal," this picture-book biography does indeed highlight the spirited accomplishments of Reeves. Reeves' lifelong pursuit of justice as a marshal in Indian Territory is historically significant because it is true, although it reads, as Nelson notes, more like a tall tale. Dedicated to what was "right as rain," Reeves captured more than 3,000 outlaws during his career, killing only 14 in the line of duty. Nelson's words celebrate Reeves' life, with Christie's art capturing the clever, talented, smart, honest, dedicated, and revered man he was.
MARE'S WAR. Written by Tanita S. Davis. Alfred A. Knopf. Ages 12 and up. $16.99.
Much to their dismay, teenage sisters Octavia and Talia are required by their parents to accompany their grandmother - too cool to be called anything but Mare -on a cross-country trip from California to Alabama for a family reunion. Juxtaposed with chapters providing the siblings' commentary on the road trip, they learn how Mare escaped from a difficult home life into the challenges of World War II as a member of the 6888th African American battalion of the Women's Army Corps. Mare's courage and strength inspire her granddaughters. Readers will remain inspired as well as they share the tumultuous but ultimately joyful journey of Mare's life.
MY PEOPLE. Photographs by Charles R. Smith, Jr. Written by Langston Hughes. Ginee Seo Books/theneum Books for Young Readers. All ages. $17.99.
In a breathtakingly beautiful tribute to "My People," Smith uses photographs of African-Americans of all ages and colors, honoring the spare but eloquent lines of Langston Hughes' poem, which provides the text for the picture book. The nuanced images gracefully portray the strength in diversity. A book for all generations - of all cultures - to cherish.
THE NEGRO SPEAKS OF RIVERS. Illustrated by E. B. Lewis. Written by Langston Hughes. Jump at the Sun Books/Disney. All ages. $16.99.
Watercolor paintings capture perfectly the essence of this poem about water as the lifeblood of the African-American experience. As E.B. Lewis notes at the end of the book, water has played powerfully in the lives of black people: crossing oceans and rivers has sometimes meant oppression, sometimes freedom. Lewis' paintings provide a striking interpretation of Hughes' words.
THE ROCK AND THE RIVER. Written by Kekla Magoon. Aladdin/Simon and Schuster. Ages 9-14. $15.99.
Trying to decide if he is a "rock" or the "river," 13-year-old Sam finds himself drawn to both "sides" of the civil rights struggle of the late 1960s. While Sam believes in his father's philosophy of nonviolence, he succumbs to action when his brother is threatened by police. When many of those around him - his brother, his girlfriend, and his buddies - join the Black Panthers, he wants to do so also, despite his father's unyielding disapproval. Sensitively and realistically portrayed, oftentimes in near poetry, the influence of the Black Panther movement is revealed in a powerful coming-of-age story.