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Vera. B Williams’, Something Special for Me, follows Rosa, once again as she narrates a series of situations in her life. Even as a child, I grinned when stories contained nods to a protagonist’s earlier titles and several details including the reappearance of the chair and coin jar from A Chair for My Mother lent that special touch here. The accordion also brings the idea of family tradition to in this book.
After the coin jar from A Chair for My Mother, is filled once again, Rosa’s mother and Grandmother decide to use it for Rosa’s birthday present. Rosa comes close to buying herself roller skates, clothes, and even a red tent, but backs out of each buy (to be honest, I was hoping for the skates).
After she hears a man playing an accordion and finds out that her Grandmother also played the same instrument, Rosa chooses to buy an accordion. I really enjoyed this ending because Rosa found a way to make herself happy, and bring a small joy to her mother and Grandmother. It was enjoyable to see Rosa doing something for herself this time. This is different from the approach to family loyalty in A Chair for My Mother and Music, Music, for Everyone in which Rosa is solely focused on her mother and grandmother.
I found Williams’ artwork, although somewhat simple, engaging. I was so intrigued that with each page, I tried to see every item in the artwork. Young girls may enjoy Something Special for Me moreso than other readers but Williams writes a story in which gender is not significant to the plot.
Recommendation: Recommended. Ages 5+
Reviewer: Warren Stokes
A free verse prose poem tells the life story of the first black American international musical superstar Josephine Baker, born out of wedlock and raised in part by a single mother. Collage drawings give the book a rich tactile feel that almost transcends the flat page. The language, which tells the story of Baker’s creativity and success amidst the U.S.’s violent racism is continuously evocative. While the images are fun to look at for all ages, only children ready to learn about racism, race riots, and shadism should read the book, as those harsh realities made a huge impact on Josephine Baker’s life and career, and are represented in heartrending language and images in the book. This is a beautifully told story that will tempt both the child who loves, and the child who hates reading and poetry, to become a poet. Verse after verse, the reader will learn of Josephine’s courage, and her fierce determination to be center stage as the dancing star she believed she could become. Those afraid to move on to middle school, go off to boarding school, or attend a training camp for their sport or art will see in Josephine, a girl so committed to the fulfillment of dancing that she left home at thirteen-years-old to tour the country, and left her husband for Broadway when she was only fifteen-years-old. Those who never consider the power of humor will learn how Baker attracted the spotlight with her comedic facial expressions as she danced. Her dynamism will inspire the reader learning of her many landmark performances, as well as her choice to become a pilot and fight as a spy against the Nazis during WWII. With dramatic punctuations in the poetic language, the author tells of Baker’s economic fall, and how bankruptcy proved to be a painful lesson in excess for the generous humanitarian. But Powell makes sure the reader knows that Baker was a socially conscious performer. At one point the richest Negro woman in the world, Baker was a civil rights fighter who convinced the army and many venues to allow integrated audiences to attend her performances, and even convinced owners of segregated corporations to hire blacks. The language and illustrations will make you feel Josephine’s life— her ups and downs, her ultimate triumph in achieving every dream she had, including dying “breathless, spent, after a dance.” (buy)
Recommendation: Highly Recommended; Ages 10+
In what may be considered the third of Vera B. Williams’ “Rosa” series, Music, Music for Everyone, Rosa’s new found accordion hobby and relationship with her Grandmother continue. When Rosa’s Grandmother grows ill, Rosa and her friends try to make her feel better. They finally decide the best way to help her recover is to fill the coin jar again, by raising money as a musical band. After practicing and finding a party to play at, their performance not only brings Rosa’s Grandmother a sense of joy, but it also brings their families and the neighborhood even closer.
The illustrations in this book are as fun as those in Williams’ A Chair for My Mother and Something Special for Me. While the characters do not seem as physically active in the artwork as they were in the previous books, the art is still appealing. In this book, Williams used color as a strong medium to convey the emotional tone of the story, with scenes that seem gloomier than others painted darker colors. The illustration I liked the most was the two pages of family and friends dancing at the anniversary party. I even found myself spending a couple of minutes trying to see how each character was dancing. The artwork also included a wide range of ethnicities, which I thought I added to this story’s theme.
Family bonds is the primary theme of this story with music being used to bring each family closer, especially Rosa and her Grandmother. The story’s subtext conveys the importance of being able to use your own talents to help others and maybe bring people closer. Just as the other two Rosa stories are more female oriented when it comes to the characters, Music, Music, for Everyone, is focused more on female familial relationships than other relationships. However, the characters’ gender only adds to the overall strength of the story that all people would enjoy.
Recommendation: Recommended; ages 5+
Reviewer: Warren Stokes
What I like about this book more than anything is the idea. A single mother who lives in the United States with her son Justice, takes him on a trip to her Jamaican homeland where he is immersed in a new culture and learns a new language. While they are walking along the roads (pon di road), they meet a variety of adult characters running businesses from small shops or road side stands. Justice gets to try new types of food and meet people who instantly adore him as he learns new phrases. The tone of the narrative voice is fun and I find it appealing that there are positive representations of entrepreneurial black Jamaicans, as well as positive representations of African Diaspora people with uncombed, natural kinky, coily hair and dread locks. Also, there’s a great historical timeline and glossary in the back of the book, which are valuable teaching tools.
What is not appealing is that the narrative is just too long for this story; the illustrations which look like prematurely exposed film photos are often eerie, the detail is difficult to see, and are often not well paired with the narrative. The discontinuity of the illustrations often occurs because one page of the narrative will go on and on and the only thing illustrated is the experience Justice had in the first paragraph or first sentence. I think if a teacher is looking for a way to make a history lesson on Jamaica or the Caribbean fun, sharing the first few pages of this book and the rich glossary and history section in the back with a classroom would be valuable. The simple tone of the narrative and the stroller riding toddler protagonist indicate that the story is targeted to ages 1-5 but the length and history section are more appropriate for ages 7-9. I don’t know if the narrative will hold the attention of either age group for its entirety but an adult who reads the book in advance and edits the story for their child’s attention span will share a unique story with their child and learn more about Jamaica than just the music with which we are familiar.
Recommendation: Recommended for educational purposes to adults who will work around the narrative. Ages 2-9.
Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda
The Website, which founder Omilaju Miranda began as a page on facebook is now a full website with blog where you can find books with diverse protagonists by specific category. Books are easily locatable on a drop down menu. The site is dedicated to listing and reviewing children’s and YA books with protagonists who are either: biracial/mixed, transracial adoptee, bilingual, lgbt-parented, single-parented, or gender non-conforming. There is also a magazine where the site will feature writing for, and by children, and an opportunity for parents to send in photos and videos of their children reading or reciting stories and poems. Check out the book site and find the book for your little one today. If you are a writer or interested in communications and publicity, the site is actively seeking children’s book reviewers and interns to publicize and network with schools and libraries.
This board book is a first person narrative that lets you hear the defined voice of a child on a journey of loving herself led by her own mother’s love. The book doesn’t fall into the categories to which this page is dedicated however, it is a wonderful celebration of the realistic challenges and versatility of Afro-curly/ kinky coily hair that I think many on this page will find value in reading it with, and for, your children with Afro-curly hair. Discussing everything from necessary oils, the occasional tear-inducing pain of combing and the wonder of hair that braids well, curls into the air and afros out, If you are looking for a resource outside of yourself to validate the natural beauty of your child’s hair, this is one of the best books I’ve seen. As there is no father mentioned, single mothers can enjoy this book as a reflection of their relationship with their children as well.
Recommendation: Highly Recommended; Ages 4+
Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda
This book about the first six years of Oprah Winfrey’s life, being raised by her single grandmother has received strong reviews from the School Library Journal and Booklist. The book presents Oprah as a child who knew she was special and wanted to be paid to speak as her career; her childhood vision came to fruition once she was an adult. The illustrations are inspiring with language accessible and inviting to small children.
Recommendation: Highly recommended; ages 5+