I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark: A Non-Fiction Picture Book Chick Lit Wednesday Review

I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy, illustrated by Elizabeth BaddeleyRuth Bader Ginsburg was disagreeing and asking tough questions long before she became a justice of the Supreme Court. From an early age she challenged inequality, disagreed with unfair treatment, and stood up for what was right.

I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark (2016) by Debbie Levy, illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley, introduces readers to Ruth Bader Ginsburg as a child and follows her into adulthood and her time as a Supreme Court Justice.

Levy balances the picture book format with thoughtful text that provides just enough information without bogging down each page with large chunks of text. Baddely’s bold and colorful illustrations make this book arresting from page one with her combination of hyper-realistic figures and more whimsical hand lettering for some of Ginsburg’s bold statements throughout the book.

I Dissent includes many fun facts about Ginsburg (her husband did the cooking in the family, Ginsburg has a special collar she wears for dissenting opinions in court) which will surprise and delight readers who are learning about this remarkable woman for the first time. Because Levy covers aspects of most of Ginsburg’s life, the book also includes a lot of information even for readers who might already know a bit about the Supreme Court justice. The book closes with back matter that includes more information about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, notes on Supreme Court cases, a selected bibliography, and citations for the sources of quotes used in the book.

I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark is a must read for any young people  interested in the US court system (or even older people–I learned a lot, not to mention tearing up at the end because I loved it so much), fans of the Notorious RBG, and, of course, feminists everywhere. Highly recommended!

Possible Pairings: Spy on History: Mary Bowser and the Civil War Spy Ring by Enigma Albert and Tony Cliff; Fly High!: The Story of Bessie Coleman by Louise Borden, Mary Kay Kroeger, Teresa Flavin; Radioactive!: How Irène Curie and Lise Meitner Revolutionized Science and Changed the World by Winifred Conkling;  Girl Code: Gaming, Going Viral, and Getting It Done by Andrea Gonzales, Sophie Houser; Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World by Matthew Goodman; Wonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors, and Trailblazers Who Changed History by Sam Maggs; The Borden Murders: Lizzie Borden and the Murder of the Century by Sarah Miller; Ten Days a Madwoman: The Daring Life and Turbulent Times of the Original “Girl” Reporter, Nellie Bly by Deborah Noyes; Bad Girls Throughout History: 100 Remarkable Women Who Changed the World by Ann Shen; Boss Babes: A Coloring and Activity Book for Grownups by Michelle Volansky

March: Book Three: A Graphic Novel Review

March: Book Three by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, illustrated by Nate PowellThe March trilogy is a graphic novel series telling the story of John Lewis’s involvement with the Civil Rights Movement during the 1960s. When March: Book Three (2016) by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, illustrated by Nate Powell begins in September 1963 with the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham.

Although this novel focuses on Lewis’s experiences with him as the narrator and, of course, biographical information from his own life, this story also takes a wider lens to look at the movement as a whole. Lewis is the head of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) whose younger members are feeling disillusioned with the more mainstream activists who often take credit for SNCCs moves while sidelining their role. SNCC is on the verge of fracturing from within, and violence is increasing in the south as Lewis and others make plans for Freedom Vote and the Mississippi Freedom Summer.

March: Book Three is a thoughtful and engrossing conclusion to a trilogy that is already being hailed as a modern classic. This final installment was the 2016 National Book Award Winner for Young People’s Literature and the 2017 Printz Award winner.

Although it is the third part of a trilogy, most of this story makes sense on its own. Readers with a basic knowledge of the Civil Rights Movement and history of the time may have an easier go diving into this story than those without that background. Because this book is so visual, I will admit that I had a hard time identifying key characters early on which, I think, is partly from coming to this book without reading the earlier installments.

Lewis and Aydin have worked together to create a narrative that focuses on Lewis’s life experiences and his own changing feelings about SNCC and the movement as a whole. At the same time, the scope and breadth of the movement–the far-reaching hopes and the devastating violence–are also emphasizes both with the narrative text and with Powell’s moving illustrations and dynamic panel layouts.

The black and white illustrations work extremely well to highlight the injustice the Civil Rights Movement was fighting. The lack of color in the illustrations also has the interesting effect of flattening a lot of the skin tones and underscoring how similar we all are. Powell does a good job filling each panel and page with movement and action. Some of the panels are a bit frenzied but it’s a deliberate choice at key moments.

Having March: Book Three framed as a story told in retrospect was also a very effective choice. Readers go into this story knowing that Lewis makes it through–he survives–and also seeing immediately how far things have progressed (and how much work remains). Reading this story through a different lens with more immediacy to the narrative would have been unbearable and often devastating in the wake of the loss and danger faced by Lewis and everyone else in the Movement. I read this graphic novel near the 2016 election and it was very poignant and bittersweet to see the power of the vote in action while also realizing how much was undone in 2016 and how much still must be done.

While this book functions as a larger history of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, it’s also important to remember that this series is also an autobiographical text in many ways. Because of that, this story does set aside and gloss over certain moments. This selective focus is a flaw of any biographical text and it makes sense in the context of this series as the focus is clearly and deliberately on the main events and players of the Movement. That said, it is interesting to note the way Stokely Carmichael’s comments about women’s only position in SNCC being prone was glossed over. I am sure it was seen as a joke by a lot of people then (and still) but the way it was sidestepped here just highlights how anyone, even with the best intentions does have an agenda and bias in terms of scope and how events are presented. It’s also worth noting that this story stops short of SNCC’s dissolution and Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination.

March: Book Three is a powerful conclusion to a trilogy everyone should read. This series deserves every bit of praise it has received. It is a rare series that occupies the space between academic reading for school and pleasure reading quite comfortably. Recommended.

Possible Pairings: Before We Were Free by Julia Alvarez, Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose, We Are the Ship by Kadir Nelson, X: A Novel by Ilyasah Shabazz and Kekla Magoon, The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights by Steve Sheinkin, Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley, Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein

Samurai Rising: A Non-Fiction Review

“Few warriors are as famous as the Japanese samurai. We remember those beautiful swords and those fearsome helmets. We recall, with both horror and fascination, how some chose to end their own lives. But no one can understand the samurai without knowing Minamoto Yoshitsune.”

Samurai Rising by Pamela S. Turner, illustrated by Gareth HindsSamurai warriors occupy an unusual space between actual history and the stuff of legend. Immortalized in countless books and films, these warriors are sensationalized and idealized but rarely studied as historical figures.

Samurai Rising: The Epic Life of Minamoto Yoshitsune (2016) by Pamela S. Turner, illustrated by Gareth Hinds works to correct that with this biography of one of history’s most famous samurai.

Yoshitsune’s story begins in 1160 when his father tries to kidnap the Japanese Emperor and take more prestige and wealth for the Minamoto samurai by force. He fails thus forfeiting his life and placing his rival, the leader of the Taira samurai, in an influential position as the emperor’s right hand. Yoshitsune avoids execution thanks to his mother’s pleas and is instead exiled as a child at a monastery to become a monk.

As he grows older and learns more about his family’s heritage Yoshitsune rejects that path, runs away from the monastery, learns the ways of the samurai, and sets out help his family reclaim their supposed birthright.

This story begins in 1160 when the Minamoto abduction of the emperor fails. Turner bridges the more than 850 years between Yoshitsune and readers with thorough research and a healthy dose of supposition.

Samurai Rising opens with a listing of key figures in the story along with name pronunciations and a short description of their relationship to Yoshitsune. Detailed maps show readers Japan as a whole as well as key battle site and strongholds that will turn up in the story. The text is further enhanced with illustrations from Gareth Hinds that appear at the beginning of each chapter showcasing samurai in action or detailed images of their various equipment. Turner finishes this book with copious footnotes about her research and the details she has chosen to include and interpret in this story.

This book can appeal to a wide range of ages. It’s been discussed as a contender for both children’s and young adult awards and was named a finalist for the Young Adult Library Services Association’s (YALSA’s) Non-Fiction Awards.

Samurai Rising reads very young. The narrative voice feels decidedly middle grade as does the snappy tone and the witty asides peppered throughout the text. Turner’s writing is filled with pat language and anachronistic analogies to better situated samurai life and culture in modern terms. (Example: Saying the “cool kids” of the Japanese ruling class saw the samurai as “dumb jocks” or comparing Yoshitsune showing up at the Hiraizumi estate asking for samurai training to a boy who has never been to Little League showing up for spring training with the Yankees.) This information will work for some readers. I was not one of them.

Aside from pulling me out of the story–because really, even as a historical biography this book is essentially a story–these comparisons often highlighted very specific assumptions Turner makes about who will be reading this book (sports enthusiasts, people with the cultural knowledge to know the Yankees, readers familiar with the stereotypical social hierarchy of high school . . .). Seeing these assumptions at play is intensely irritating as it creates the effect of talking down to readers and, for me, placing me as firmly not within the target audience (which is okay, that happens when adults read YA but it could easily happen for kids and teens outside of the target area as well).

Writing issues aside, Samurai Rising is also a book that glorifies violence and war and doesn’t look to closely at the implications of writing a history about the “winning” side of this samurai battle. Why are the Minamoto the heroes? Why is violence and death acceptable within the ceremony of samurai culture? Turner never really says. I don’t have the background in Japanese history to say much of anything but I will point you to Leonard Kim’s review which raises a lot of these questions and points out some of the inherent flaws in this viewpoint.

The scope of Samurai Rising and the subject matter is especially impressive given the relative dearth of textual evidence from the time. Turner takes on a lot here and she successfully breathes life into Yoshitsune’s story making it engaging and approachable for readers. Whether or not that is a good thing is a matter open to interpretation and discussion.

If you want to hear more thoughts about Samurai Rising be sure to check out Sarah Couri’s review on Someday My Printz Will Come and the discussion in the comments on Heavy Medal as well. Leonard Kim’s review should also be required reading about this book.

Possible Pairings: The Nazi Hunters by Neal Bascomb, The Samurai’s Tale by Erik Christian Haugaard, The Notorious Benedict Arnold by Steve Sheinkin, Rurouni Kenshin by Nobuhiro Watsuki

Antsy Ansel: Ansel Adams, A Life in Nature: A (Non-Fiction) Picture Book Review

Ansty Ansel: A Life in Nature by Cindy Jenson-Elliot and Christy HaleWhen he was a child, Ansel Adams could not sit still. He fidgeted. He wanted to run. He did not like being indoors.

By contrast, Ansel loved the great outdoors–especially the parks surrounding his California home. When his father recognizes that his son will not thrive in a traditional school, he helps Ansel educate himself with access to books and also studying nature.

This choice will change the path of young Ansel’s life in Antsy Ansel: Ansel Adams, A Life in Nature (2016) by Cindy Jenson-Elliot, illustrated by Christy Hale.

This non-fiction picture book introduces young readers to an iconic American photographer and his work documenting the country’s National Parks. Jenson-Elliot’s text is long enough to be informative but brief enough to remain approachable for younger readers.

The biographical book also includes some little known facts about Adams such as his accomplishments as a pianist (and his subsequent choice between pursuing a career as a professional pianist or as a photography). The back matter in the book has additional details, resources, and some reprints of Adams’ actual photos.

Large page spreads work to bring natural wonders to life in this vibrantly colored picture book. Hale makes “antsy Ansel” immediately fascinating along with the stunning pieces of nature that captivate Adams for much of his life and career. Detailed illustrations also reproduce some of the photographer’s iconic photos throughout the book.

Antsy Ansel is a beautifully illustrated introduction to one of the foremost photographers in the United States. A great choice for anyone looking to introduce young readers to biographic texts and a timely read for the centennial of the National Parks System.

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

Just Being Audrey: A Picture Book Review

Just Being Audrey by Margaret Cardillo, illustrated by Julia Denos

Just Being AudreyAs the title suggests, this picture book is about Audrey Hepburn–her early life, her aspirations to become a ballerina, her success in Hollywood and her later-life work with UNICEF.

I love Audrey, who doesn’t? Cardillo’s text was an interesting insight into the background of an actress who many still remember as the epitome of style and elegance. The text offered an interesting but slightly unbalanced look at Audrey’s life from her childhood to her old age. (A timeline at the back details key events that were not mentioned in the narrative.) However there are very few transitions with each page spread seeming to have little connection to the pages that come before or after. The overall effect was a very choppy story albeit one filled with interesting tidbits.

Denos’  illustrations are gorgeous with beautiful details and color. The pictures all have a lovely sense of movement as Audrey “glides” through the pages.

There is certainly enough here to pique a child’s interest about Audrey Hepburn but fans looking for more thorough information will have to find a different book.

This would be a fun addition to a “non-fiction” or “biography” themed storytime with it’s large, bright pictures and relatively short text.