Gordon Parks: How a Photographer Captured Black and White America By Carole Boston Weatherford & Gordon Parks: No Excuses By Ann Parr

Gordon Parks1Gordon Parks, celebrated African American photographer known for his documentation of black poverty, is a good subject for juvenile biographies.  I found two juvenile biographies that I think are worthy of note, and I believe they are good for both the young and old to read, especially out loud.  In fact, I believe that adults should read children’s books and read them often.

The first one, illustrated in colorful drawings, is titled Gordon Parks: How the Photographer Captured Black and White America. The other (Gordon Parks: No Excuses) contains his very own, gritty black and white photographs, among others. I prefer the latter, but both have their value as junior biographies.

I thought that the first biography painted a good portrait of his life. It moved me so much the first time I read itGordon Parks2 that I was on the verge of tears, as emotions swept over me imagining the difficulty that he experienced as a black photographer in his day. The illustrations are good, but why use illustrations when one can look as his work instead?

That is why I preferred the latter entitled Gordon Parks: No Excuses. Throughout the book the reader is reminded of an encouragement that his mother gave him as a child: “What a white boy can do, you can too—no excuses.” I was inspired by what he accomplished despite all the obstacles he faced, and awed by the opportunities he received.

Please take a look at these biographies, especially in 2020 when black lives are at the forefront of our lives.

(Stella Oh, McGirt-Horton Branch Library)

The Moorchild by Eloise McGraw

Recently, my sister referred me to the author Margo Lanagan.  I do eventually want to read her books, and we have a couple of them here at the library, but I really wanted to read something lighter in the fantasy/folk tale fiction mode.  That’s when I found a favorable review to The Moorchild.

It’s a children’s book and is a retelling of the old theme of the changeling – a fairy child exchanged for a human baby.  In The Moorchild, Saaski is the changeling in question – at first, she grows up with “the Folk”, the fairies who live in the wild moorland beyond the village.  As she’s half-human, Saaski is unable to change her shape or become invisible when humans approach, which puts her group at risk.  As such, they switch her with a human, and she starts life anew as a baby to the village blacksmith and his wife. 

As Saaski grows up, her parents are at odds with her quirky behavior; they are harsh at times, but grow to accept her.  It’s not the same with their neighbors, who quickly see her differences to other children in the village.  She looks peculiar and has certain attributes that make her “freaky-odd” to the rest of the kids.  Needless to say, Saaski spends most of her free time away from the village and the taunts of others.  While wandering the moor, she meets Tam, an orphan boy who tends goats for Bruman, a lame ne’er-do-well who stays drunk and largely leaves Tam alone.  Tam notices Saaski’s peculiarities but is completely nonjudgmental – he’s pretty much the only friend she makes.  They are both outcasts in their own way.  

It takes a few misfortunes for certain villagers to start blaming Saaski and threatening her family.  She leaves the village and tries to redeem herself by returning her parent’s real child to them.  But first, she has to make deals with certain people, Folk and human alike, and get past the conjuring of the fairies.

I thought the ending was a little too pat, but overall,  McGraw writes a good fantasy tale, and genuinely gets you involved with Saaski’s life.  The Moorchild is a very worthy recounting of the changeling idea, and I’d recommend it to kids and adults alike – anybody who likes fairy tales and their motifs. 

For adult readers who want something a little more grittier about changelings, try The Stolen Child by Keith Donohue.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

The 3 Little Dassies

The 3 Little Dassies by Jan Brett, a retelling of The Three Little Pigs, features three dassie sisters (cute little squirrel-like rodents) dressed fetchingly in the traditional garb of the Herero women of Namibia, the setting for this story. Leaving home to make their way in the world, they encounter a hungry eagle that makes short work of one dassie’s grass house, another’s driftwood house but is defeated by the third’s secure home-made of rocks. There is a very happy & violence free ending to this tale, with many additional story elements to be found in the detailed and colorful illustrations.  An entertaining story with sideline stories on the borders that will keep readers going back to reread the borders themselves. Jan Brett has made a strong effort to portray a partnership of true animal behavior within the story. A nice change from her earlier works. 

Brandon Bensley -Children’s Librarian

Knuffle Bunny Free: An Unexpected Diversion

For the adventurous young soul in your life just weaning him- or herself from the security blanket of choice, whether it be literally a blanket or a teddy bear or a bunny, Knuffle Bunny Free: An Unexpected Diversion by Mo Willems is the perfect choice this winter season. Knuffle Bunny and Trixie go international in this third book about the oft separated (then reunited) duo, as the whole family goes to visit Oma and Opa in Holland. Knuffle Bunny gets left behind on the plane, sending Trixie into unrelieved moping as it seems this time he is gone for good. Finding that she is indeed “getting bigger,” as the grownups tell her encouragingly, Trixie thinks of the joy her bunny might be bringing to children around the world and begins to enjoy her own vacation. A surprise ending proves that Trixie has grown not only bigger, but brave and compassionate as well. This creatively illustrated picture book will entertain 4 to 6 year olds & the grownups in their lives.

Brandon Bensley

The Biggest Thing in the World by Kenneth Steven

A little bear wakes up from a long nap to find spring is coming and wants to look at the great big world outside his den. After many new sights the little bear still has yet to discover what is the biggest thing in the world? In the end he learns that love is the biggest thing in the world. For those who like warm and fuzzy cuddle time this book delivers. With illustrations suited to the theme of the story, The Biggest Thing in the World is an ideal book to share with young children.

(Mark Taylor, Benjamin Branch Library)

The Adventures of Nanny Piggins by R.A. Spratt

When Mr. Green plants a “Nanny Wanted” sign on his front lawn, he has no idea that the ad will be answered by a pig.  Nanny Piggins will end up taking 3 motherless children on a year of surprises, adventures and sugar highs that they will never forget. 

Even though The Adventures of Nanny Piggins seems a lot like Mary Poppins, it manages to reach its intended audience – children.  With a well laid out plot and character development that keeps the reader moving there is no doubt that the author has left the door opened for sequels to follow.  Certainly readers will be waiting to see what occurs next with Nanny Piggins.

(Mark Taylor, Benjamin Branch Library)

Children of God Storybook Bible by Desmond Tutu

Archbishop Tutu (winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984) retells more than fifty of the most beloved Bible stories in this wonderful collection. Beautifully illustrated by a variety of artists from around the world, each story from Genesis to Revelation is simply told and concludes with a brief prayer to help the young reader apply God’s lessons to his or her own life. Tutu encourages readers to “do what is right, be kind to one another, and be friends with God.” Throughout this book, he emphasizes that we are all unique and precious—an important message for the holidays and throughout the year. 

The Children of God Storybook Bible is written for children K-4.  For the very youngest readers, try the board books Jesus Loves Me and Rise and Shine by Tim Warnes.

(Marya Ryals, Hemphill Branch Library)

I Need My Monster

What do you do when your monster is not under the bed but you find monstera note that says gone fishing?  That’s the dilemma that Ethan finds himself and tries to solve by getting a substitute monster under the bed.  I Need My Monster by Amanda Noll is a nicely blended monster story that is both funny and entertaining.  The illustrations are not too over the top that would scare most readers and in fact are wonderfully creative in their presentations.  After all how many of us have ever thought of a monster under our bed whose name was Herbert?  Older readers may see more of the humor that is loaded into the story than younger ones but each will find something to laugh over.

(Mark Taylor, Benjamin Branch)

The Road to OZ

OZ Finally someone has written a biography about the author of one the world’s most favorite stories – The Wizard of OZ.  Frank Baum has long been in need of recognition not of his books or the movie (which everyone can recite lines from) but of the man himself.  The Road to OZ: Twists, Turns, Bumps and Triumphs in the Life of L. Frank Baum  by Kathleen Krull fills in that blank space.  Her highlights of Lyman (he could not stand this name) Frank Baum shows the path that he took which did not immediately result in the creation of the Wizard of OZ but rather the obstacles and misdirections that led this man to write about an imaginary place called the Emerald city.  And this came when he was at the young age of 44.  The formatting and illustrations nicely complement one another though some might find the font size a little small.  The author demonstrates her own interest in Frank Baum by her illuminating tale about the creator of Dorothy, the Scarecrow and the rest of the folks from OZ.  Try reading this not as a biography but more like an adventure  into place that exits only in our minds which is what Frank OZ did with his whole career.

(Mark Taylor, Benjamin Branch)

Enchanted Lions

enchantedBedtime stories are a dime a dozen these days, so it is a pleasant surprise to find one that peacefully portrays a bedtime tale without going over the top.  Enchanted Lions by David Greenberg is about a enchanted lion who takes a little girl to see the constellations prior to her drifting off to sleep.  What makes this a better story than most is the illustrations which are done in soft pastels that go along with the idea that this is nighttime and a time for rest.  The lion is drawn in proportionate size to the little girl.  And since this is after all a bedtime story, the lion is not portrayed as a ferocious man-eating animal.  All in all, this better-than-average bedtime story should become an instant hit.  Makes for an excellent book for one on one or for a group of sleepyheads.

(Mark Taylor, Benjamin Branch Library)