Frederick Douglass: The Lion Who Wrote History by Walter Dean Myers; illustrated by Floyd Cooper; Harper, $17.99. Ages 4 to 8.
The illustrious Walter Dean Myers, a five-time Coretta Scott King Award winner, teams up with acclaimed artist Floyd Cooper, also a Coretta Scott King Award-winner, for this excellent illustrated biography of the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who was born a slave in Maryland in 1818 and learned at a younge age that learning how to read was the path to a better life. He was hired out to shipyards where he met free black men and liberated himself at age 20, escaping on the train to New York City and then to New Bedford, Mass., where he was often asked by abolitionists to speak at their meetings. (Younger readers may be most interested in the details about his early life; later pages include rather massive blocks of text.) The book also notes Douglass' meeting with John Brown who tried unsuccessfully to enlist his help in the ill-fated raid on Harpers Ferry along with Douglass' eloquent arguments to Abraham Lincoln urging the Union to accept black soldiers. A note at the end includes a timeline, bibliography and the document signed by slave owner Hugh Auld officially freeing Douglass. The gorgeous double-page illustrations were created with erasers and oils on board.
The author of "Hold Still" offers a truly extraordinary novel of a girl struggling with grief, her "Before" and "After" separated by thousands of miles. When we first meet Marin, she is entirely alone, the only person left on a college campus in upstate New York during Christmas break. LaCour paints a vivid picture of Marin wrapped in solitude, completely cut off from her old life in California and panicking as she awaits the arrival of close friend Mabel for a visit. Although the novel is written as first-person narrative, LaCour slowly, carefully, through flashbacks reveals details of Marin's life at home - a mother who died young, a grandfather who became her whole family - leaving the reader in the dark until the end, about the true nature of Marin's grief and the sense of betrayal that comes from stumbling upon a shocking truth that completely upends one's world.
Let's Clap, Jump, Sing & Shout; Dance, Spin & Turn It Out! Games, songs & Stories from an African American Childhood collected by Patricia C. McKissack, illustrated by Brian Pinkney; Schwartz & Wade Books, 158 pages, ($24.99). All ages.
A Newbery-Honor winning author teams up with two-time Caldecott winner for this wonderful collection of games, jump rope rhymes, songs, hymns, poems and stories from the African-American experience. McKissack also provides welcome historical context for each section. For example, the hand clap "Shame" poked fun at stores that barred blacks in the 1950s in the Jim Crow South. It would have been nice if piano arrangements had been included for the slightly less-familiar songs, "Oh, Freedom," for one.