The First Day of Winter by Denise Fleming (Henry Holt, $15.95). Ages 2 to 4. Denise Fleming's delicate, beautifully colored paper-pulp illustrations are always a treat. Here she offers a fun, lively cumulative tale of a snowman acquiring one gift after another (a red cap, black buttons, etc.). The book also serves as a fun counting lesson.
The Old African by Julius Lester, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney (Dial Books, $19.99). Ages 8 and up. An Old African slave with a mystical ability to remove others' pain leads his fellow slaves away from an evil master, to a beach and through the ocean back to Africa in this lovely and haunting story inspired by an old legend. With heartbreaking simplicity, Lester relays the full horror of the slave trade through the individual tragedy of Jaja, the young African abducted with his wife by a rival tribe and sold to white slave traders for the terrifying journey over the "Water That Stretched Forever." The detailed paintings are by longtime collaborator Jerry Pinkney.
Rosa by Nikki Giovanni, illustrated by Bryan Collier (Henry Holt, $16.95). Kids have heard of Rosa Parks, but Giovanni offers a fresh look at who Rosa Parks was and where she was going that fateful December day when she refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white man. (Parks was a seamstress and had left work a little hurry to get home to her mother, who had the flu.) Collier won both the Coretta Scott King illustrator award and Caldecott Honors for his spectacular watercolor and collage illustrations that depict Parks surrounded by an ethereal light. Collier says he also used a yellow, sometimes dark hue to convey the idea of the uneasy quiet before the storm.
The Return of Buddy Bush by Shelia P. Moses (Simon & Schuster, 160 pages, $15.95). Ages 12 and up. "The Legend of Buddy Bush" was a National Book Award finalist and Coretta Scott King Honor book and told the true story of an African-American man who was falsely accused of raping a white woman in North Carolina and narrowly escaped being killed by a white mob. Here the author again uses 12-year-old Pattie Mae Sheals to tell the story of the aftermath of Buddy's departure, of her grandfather's death and of her eye-opening trip to Harlem where she resolves to track down her uncle and clear his name. Moses uses dialect to bring to life the good hardworking folks of Rich Square, N.C., and casts a clear, hard light on the racism they endure. Moses was raised the ninth of 10 children on Rehobeth Road in Rich Square, where her story takes place.
-- Jean Westmoore