LET THE CHILDREN MARCH by Monica Clark-Robinson, Illustrated by Frank Morrison

July 4, 2020

This is a very different 4th of July celebration.  Rather than picnics and  fireworks, amid thousands of protests against police brutality and a pandemic that has disproportionately ravaged communities of color, many people are spending Fourth of July drawing attention to what they say is a hypocritical celebration of freedom. The Independence Day holiday “doesn’t really mean anything when Black people weren’t free on July 4th and those same liberties weren’t afforded to us,” said Kerrigan Williams, co-founder of Freedom Fighters D.C., who has been co-organizing marches in the city for at least three weeks.

“We’re still marching for the same things.”

The Birmingham Children’s March is an important historical event in our country and timely for context and understanding of the current marches.  There are several books that are wonderful additions to your anti-racist bookshelf. Let the Children March tops my recommended list; it is a stunningly illustrated, and highly readable historical account.  I especially appreciate the relevance for today’s young readers as they think about their roles in the on-going struggle for justice.  In 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was arrested in Birmingham after leading a non-violent protest without a permit.  He and other protesters were responding to Governor George Wallace calling for “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation  forever.”   Dr. King hoped to raise an army of peaceful protesters to fight for freedom; he said the time had come to march.  Many parents were hesitant to march; they knew they would lose their jobs if they participated and felt the responsibility to be able to support and feed their families. Amazingly, children began to speak and offer to be Dr. King’s army.  Though Dr. King didn’t want to have children in harm’s way, he respected them–and the children did march.  Thousands of children took part in the marches, bravely singing freedom songs, despite being sprayed with fire hoses, pushed to the ground, and being jailed.  The power of the children’s march cannot be over-estimated; it led to important new legislation and changes in people’s perceptions.  So much to read and discuss in this award-winning book. . . I could go on and on–and probably was a bit wordy in this blog, but it is an important event and story, crucial for us and our children to share and discuss.

A IS FOR ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE: A JOYFUL ABC BOOK by by Anna Forgerson Hindley, and illustrated by Keturah A. Bobo

June 20, 2020

I’ve always been a museum lover, and I appreciate the chance to keep learning about museum resources that have interactive elements that inform, delight, and inspire awe.  The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Cultures   tops my list of new favorites.  There is so much to check out at the site; you’ll want to browse artifacts, art, posters, and more.  I especially appreciate the books that they both write and recommend. A Is for All the Things You are: A Joyful ABC Book is written by Anna Forgerson Hindley, and illustrated by Keturah A. Bobo with support from The African-American History and Cultures Museum.  The “About the Authors” tells us a little more about this important foundation: “SMITHSONIAN NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AFRICAN AMERICAN HISTORY AND CULTURE’S mission is to provide for the collection, study, and establishment of programs and exhibitions relating to African American life, art, history, and culture. ANNA FORGERSON HINDLEY is the supervisory coordinator of the Early Childhood Education Initiative at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Her work focuses on supporting positive identity development for all young children. KETURAH A. BOBO is a BFA graduate from the Columbus College of Art and Design known for her vibrant illustrations.”

This board book is a celebration–both of what makes us unique as individuals and what connects us as humans. Each page invites interaction, as it describes and illustrates a trait, then invites the reader to think about–and talk about–how he or she experiences that attribute.  The illustrations are diverse and inclusive; children of all colors, cultures, and abilities and are illustrated with respect, delight, and love.

It’s not easy to find good anti-racist books for our youngest readers.  Too often, they are jargon-y and preachy and are really meant for the parents rather than the toddlers.  This book is a rare exception, as it invites discussion and discovery with each new reading.  Stay tuned for more suggestions for all ages, including the infant through toddler set.



Anti-Racist Book Recommendations for Children and Adolescents

June 3, 2020

It’s hard to know how to talk to our children about racism, protests, and injustice. “Not talking about it sends a message that maybe what (children are) feeling isn’t right,” says Dr. Jacqueline Dougé, a Maryland pediatrician and an author of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) policy statement The Impact of Racism on Child and Adolescent Health. “It also sends a message when it comes time to deal with hard conversations and hard issues … that perception that child has is, ‘I’m not going to be able to open up my (parents).’”  Adults don’t have answers, but it’s still so important to have conversations about what is going on. (Dougé, and colleagues Heard-Garris and Nunez share ways to talk to children about the protests, Floyd’s death and racism. ) As we all tread the difficult path of trying to figure out how to Do Somethingand make a difference, books and reading with our families can support our actions.  In the past, I have recommended some books that can form a basis, and I hope to add to them in the coming days.  Here are a few you might start with:

Read-Aloud for the Whole Family:

Let It Shine:  Stories of Black Women Freedom Fightersby Andrea Pinkney, illustrated by Stephen Alcorn

Portraits of 10 important women who were key player in the causes of  Civil Rights, Abolition, and Women’s Rights–painted in bright and vivid images and words in the dialect of “Spoken Soul” create a perfect inspiration for exploring the lives of  these brave and spirited personalities.  As readers, we are introduced to these women as children and learn about what influenced their lives as activists.  The narration includes excerpts from speeches, quotes, and references to key events, all woven into very engaging biographical sketches.  But the full-page paintings of each woman are more than a complement to the words–they are filled with symbols and metaphors that beg further exploration.

Young children will love the language and vibrant pictures; older readers will be drawn in to the fascinating and inspiring stories.

Picture Books for Everyone

Martin’s Big Words By Doreen Rappaport, illustrated by Bryan Collier

There are many beautiful and well-written picture book biographies of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but this one stands out.  Not only is it a great introduction to the words and work of Dr.King, but it is written with simple elegance and grace, and can be appreciated and understood by very young children.  Scenes from King’s life are illustrated by Bryan Collier’s simply stunning paintings and collages. Many pages have intricate stained glass backgrounds which serve as a backdrop to some of the most powerful scenes.


Sit-In:  How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down by Andrea Pinkney, illustrated by Brian Pinkney

Fifty years ago, four young black men decided to take a stand against the injustice of integration and began a sit-down strike at Woolworth’s luncheon counter, where “Whites Only” was the rule.  It’s not easy to tell their story simply, but the Pinkney’s write poetically, clearly, and with energetic pictures to show how these young people peacefully protested and changed communities in the South forever.  “Their order was simple.  A doughnut and coffee with cream on the side.”  At the end of the book, there’s a very informative Civil Right Timeline that shows how these four friends’ bravery was the beginning of a groundswell of support, friends coming together, to change the world.


Kids on Strike by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

Before the child labor laws, young children in the United States worked long hours, often in terrible environments alongside their older working companions.  And they were at their side as well during the labor strikes.  Children as young as 11-year-old Harriet Hanson took steps to change workers’ situations, joining in strikes, leading rent protests, walking hours in long marches.  Written as narratives, the stories are very accessible and filled with rich historical details. A wonderful resource as well as inspiring historical information.

Tweens and Teens:

Rosa Parks:  My Story by Rosa Parks

Often the most compelling versions of the lives of people who made a difference comes in their own voice.  This is definitely the case for Rosa Parks, who writes with wisdom, honesty, and grace.  Readers learn about her life as a child growing up in segregated America and how she became involved in the Civil Rights movement. Her words also show the importance of the many people with whom she worked, countering the misinformation in the media’s version of the Rosa Parks myth. Great black-and-white photographs bring her story to life.

Brwon-GirlBrown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (Newbery Honor Book 2015)

What was it like for writer Jacqueline Woodson to grow up in the 1960’s and 1970’s as an African-American with the remnants of the Jim Crow laws and the growing Civil Rights movement?  Her touching and eloquent poems tell the reader what she experienced in South Carolina and New York City as she came of age.  Her early literacy struggles are a revelation, yet it is no surprise she always loved words and story, spinning tales for her family and friends, and publishing her own little books of poems and stories.  As different as her experiences were, her memories spark connections for me and bring me back to my own youth during that time.  It’s truly a beautifully crafted work, a joy for families to share together.


Young Adults (and Older Adults, too!)

In My Hands:  Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer by Irene Opdyke

Irene Opdyke wrote this riveting memoir when she was only 23 years old, about her experiences as a 17-year-old during World War II in Poland. During her years in Nazi-occupied Poland, she is raped by Russian soldiers and forced to work serving German soldiers who are stationed at a hotel. Despite enormous risk, she worked to help Jews in the ghetto by smuggling in food and helping them escape.  Despite the heavy content, this book is a riveting story, and appropriate for early adolescents up.  We know 9th-grade classrooms that this book heads the list of top recommendations.


King of the World Muhammed Ali and the Rise of an American Hero by David Remnick

So much has been written about Muhammed Ali, world heavyweight boxing champion.  Yet this biography manages to offer new insights and also a framework for understanding Cassius Clay’s growth into the great Muhammed Ali,  hero and inspiration for pushing back against the establishment. The information is fascinating and presented in a readable style, interesting for boxing fans–and those of us who are non-fans as well. One 14-year-old read it and said, This is the best book I’ve read since The Cat in the Hat!” High praise indeed!


Americans Who Tell the Truth by Robert Shetterly

Yes, it’s a picture book, but definitely for all ages! Artist Robert Shetterly painted portraits of 50 people he greatly admired–all of them important activists and freedom fighters.  A wonderful range of important Americans are included–some are well-known, like Henry David Thoreau, Susan B. Anthony, Martin Luther King, Jr.  We also delight in the inclusion of Molly Ivins, Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn and others.  Besides the beautiful illustrations, the brief bios and quotes make this book a rich resource.

IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS by Cat Winters: Powerful YA Fiction Set During the 1918 Flu Epidemic

May 30, 2020

I’m not alone in recognizing this book as stunning:

014 William C. Morris Award Finalist
2013 Bram Stoker Award Nominee
A School Library Journal Best Book of 2013

Imagine if the tragedy of a world war were happening at the same time as millions of people dying from the influenza.  Cat Winters weaves a meticulously researched book about this dire time.  Her characters are also caught up in the Spiritualism craze that is gripping much of the world.  The madness of life at the time– sickness, war, and a desperate search for answers–is captured in this YA novel that is also a love story and a mystery.  Portlander Mary Shelley Black is our protagonist, and must travel from Oregon to San Diego to stay with her aunt when her anti-war father is imprisoned.  At 16 years old, she is looking forward to being reunited with her childhood friend (and penpal) Stephen Embers.  Their correspondence has blossomed into first love, and when they are re-united, she learns he has enlisted and will be leaving right away for the front in France.  As the plot unfolds, readers learn about the ways that the  grief-stricken population  is being duped by “spirit photography.”  But as events get stranger and stranger, Mary Shelley comes to believe that connection to “the other side”may be possible.  There are elements of the fantasy and horror genres in this historical fiction, and they are used (successfully, I believe) not only to enlighten about the historical period, but to create compelling metaphors for the times.

I appreciate the inclusion of historical photos , as well as the Author’s Notes, which tell of the events on which she based her tale.  Strongly recommended for the YA crowd.


May 23, 2020

The Long March by Marie Louise Fitzpatrick

“Mary Louise-Fitzpatrick tells a story of the heart–a story that holds the promise of life and keeps our eyes always focused on a brighter future.  The story is a lesson for all people around the world today Yakoke.”

~Gregory E. Pyle, Chief of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma

The story is indeed a moving one.  After the Long March, an enforced walk from Mississippi to Oklahoma, the Choctaw Nation gather to discuss an important issue for their tribe.  The year is 1847 and the impoverished tribe has heard about the Irish Potato Famine, and collected $170.00 to send to Ireland.  Choona, the narrator, is a boy and his great-grandmother Talihoyo is an elder who speaks convincingly of why they should help the Irish people:

“We have walked the trail of tears.  The Irish People walk it now.  We can help them as we could not help ourselves.  Our help will be like an arrow shot through time.  It will land many winters from now to wait as a blessing for our unborn generations.” 

The book itself is not only written with a lyrical grace, but the illustrations are stunning.  Mary-Louise Fitzpatrick traveled from Ireland to Oklahoma and illustrated the book with detailed pencil drawings, including portraits of the story characters sketching Gary WhiteDeer’s family.  Truly timeless truth and beauty in this incredible story.

But wait, there’s more!  That arrow that was shot through time?  Well, the Irish people have not forgotten the Native Peoples and their help so long ago.  During this pandemic, they have sent money to help now, “repaying” the favor.  Check out this article from The Washington Post a few days ago.  It gives me goosebumps.

“The Irish are repaying a favor from 173 years ago in Native Americans’ Fight Against Corona Virus”


Teaching During the Pandemic

May 12, 2020

There are a wealth of teaching materials that can inspire educators and students during the pandemic.  This month, I hope to highlight a few that have grabbed my attention and made me feel hopeful about the possibilities for teaching for social justice even in these strange times. The Zinn Education Project tops my list (especially appropriate for high school students):

Zinn Education Project: Teaching People’s History in the Pandemic

Howard Zinn’s education work is highlighted in the contemporary teaching strategies shared on the Zinn Education Project Website. Based on the approach to history in his ground-breaking book A People’s History of the United States, their teaching materials aim to “emphasize the role of working people, women, people of color, and organized social movements in shaping history.” The website offers free, downloadable lessons and articles.  I highly recommend the whole website, of course.   The special section on teaching people’s history in the pandemic is particularly timely. They share two guides to teaching with film during the COVID-19 crisis, along with some strategies for using films with students. I also appreciated the list of podcasts that might be of interest to teens. You’ll also find the link to articles and one short video for teaching about the history of pandemics and the connection between climate change and the coronavirus. There’s much more; I urge you to check it out!

WHICH SIDE ARE YOU ON: THE STORY OF A SONG by George Ella Lyon, illustrated by Christopher Cardinale

May 5, 2020

Pete Morgan’s May Day cloth art at Radical Tea Towels reminds us of the importance of the arts, in our world, and more particularly in social justice movements. We take our May photo for the Litforkids homepage from A Garland for May Day 1895.  It’s a perfect reminder of the original role of May Day for international workers, not to mention the importance of artists and musicians in the social reform movement, both historically and currently. Walter Crane, the designer of the poster, includes wonderful slogans in his art.  They’re impossible to read on our reproduction, but here are a few: ‘the land for the people’, ‘no child toilers’, ‘production for use not for profit’, ‘the plough is a better backbone than the factory’, ‘shorten working day and lengthen life.’  Crane’s work inspired us to look at other arts that have been crucial to social justice movements, and it’s clear that music is a key element as well as the visual arts.

Which Side Are You On: The Story of a Song by George Ella Lyons

I love books that explore historical events that are timely in our present day.  Twenty-first-century readers will appreciate this old song that has renewed relevance. George Ella Lyon, herself a native Kentuckian and daughter of a coal miner, brings us back to Depression-era coal country and the birth of the song that became a rallying cry for labor organizers.  This incredible true story tells of Florence Reese and her 7 children literally dodging  bullets in their home while her coal miner husband, a union man, is hiding in the mountains.  On the back of a calendar, Florence jots down the words to the song, hoping to give courage to the miners striking for better pay and working conditions.

The lyrics of the famous song appear in script that unfurls in golden banners: “Come all you poor workers,/ Good news to you I’ll tell,/ Of how the good old union,/ Has come in here to dwell.” Again and again comes the haunting refrain, which parents and educators will want to invite children to sing: “Which side are you on,/ Which side are you on?” For a moving rendition, I suggest playing Pete Seeger on YouTube.


DEATH BY AIRSHIP by Arthur Slade: Revisiting Steampunk Books

April 26, 2020

Death by Airship by Arthur Slade

Remember when we did a flight on steampunk reads for the whole family?  Pretty engaging, right?  Now that we are all home and looking for a subject that might be a little different, I thought it would be fun to return to the steampunk theme, and recommend a new book at the same time.  So checkout the Steampunk Family Flight, then come back for this short but very entertaining read:  Death by Airship.

In this alternate world, pirates fly the skies in airships.  But I must say, the pirate world is quite similar to what we imagine as taking place on the high seas.  Prince Conn is a young teen, but captain of his airship, leading his crew of misfits as they raid and plunder through the skies.  His father is king of the pirates, but Prince Conn has little chance of inheriting the throne, as he is ninth in line.  But he’s fine with that, enjoying his life, his friends, and his ship.  But his brothers and sisters are being murdered, and whoever is doing the killing is trying to frame Conn. To prove his innocence, Conn must make his way to Skull Island, navigating his airship through a gauntlet of villains, explosions and betrayals.There are lots of puns, high adventure, and enough silliness to please the young adolescent audience it is intended for.  And I really enjoyed it as well.  It’s a quick read, more like a novella than a novel. Perfect for a break from on-line schoolwork.

A Trip to the Monterey Bay Aquarium: Virtually, Of Course

April 20, 2020

I think we are all up for a trip to Monterey Bay Aquarium!  And it’s a visit we can do safely from home, thanks to the virtual tours that are an enticing part of the Aquarium’s website. I suggest you start with The Monterey Bay Jelly cam  which allows you to watch the stunning–and remarkably soothing–motion of the jelly fish from the camera.  There are actually ten live cams to choose from!  I liked the kelp forest, the jellyfish, and the otters at play best, but there are so many places you can visit virtually!  We urge you and your family to check them out.

At the Aquarium website, there is a wealth of information to help guide your family’s  digital “visit.”  For example, I loved reading all about the jellyfish on their information pages 

And here are a few additional books to guide your virtual trip to the Aquarium:

Jelly Fish: (A Day in the Life:  Sea Animals) by Louise Spilsbury

A perfect book for young readers in early elementary grades.  Thoughtfully written non-fiction with compelling photos.



Oscar:  A Sea Otter Pup by Carol Harrison

The artwork is the real winner of this book, but I found it worthwhile.  I thought the text rhyming was a bit forced, though I loved that it actually explores the environment for sea otters right at Monterey Bay



Kelp Forests (Monterey Bay Aquarium Natural History Series)by Judith Connor and Charles Baxter

I had never experienced these amazing underwater forests, that nourish and protect sea life in every nook and cranny, from swaying canopies to hideouts in the holdfasts. The illustrations are fantastic, and the whole family will enjoy delving into this magical world.




March 24, 2020

Mo Willems:  Lunch Doodles and More

We love Mo Willems, and have blogged about him often (see links below).  But right now, during social distancing times (2020!), what we want to talk about is his daily lunchtime live doodling show on YouTube.  You can also watch the recorded Lunch Doodles later in the day if you like.  Here’s what Willems says about his daily show:

When I became the Kennedy Center Education Artist-in-Residence, I didn’t realize the most impactful word in that title would be ‘Residence.’ With millions of learners attempting to grow and educate themselves in new circumstances, I have decided to invite everyone into my studio once a day for the next few weeks.Grab some paper and pencils, pens, or crayons.  We are going to doodle together and explore ways of writing and making.

Today’s episode (March 24th) is simply delightful.  Mo Willems dresses up in something fancy and silly and encourages his audience to do the same.  His rapport with children is wonderful; I appreciate his calmness and his acknowledgement that this is a strange time.  At the same time, he is comforting and funny and teaches some great little art lessons. Check it out!

And for your reading pleasure, a few posts from our archives:

Mo Willems, My Hero

Literary Vacations

More Mo:  Behind the Scenes with Mo Willems