The message is clear and convincingly conveyed: Literacy is survival.

EMMA

Journalist Wills reaches back through her family tree for a story of freedom and self-determination.

Little Emma is enslaved on the Moore plantation in Haywood County, Tennessee, in 1858. She works in the house, caring for and playing with the white master’s children—but not learning with them. More than anything, she wants what they have but she can’t: freedom and literacy. With the end of the Civil War, she gains one but not the other. Emma marries a former black Union soldier and has children, milestones recorded by others. When he dies, she applies for survivor’s benefits but is denied twice due to bureaucratic quibbles about her husband’s name. (The use of this same tool to deny voting rights today goes unmentioned, but the parallels are clear for adults who wish to draw them.) Her third application, based on the records of her children’s births, is approved. It’s an unusual plot for a picture book, but Wills pulls it off, emphasizing both Emma’s unrealized desire to read and write and the importance of literacy to the successful negotiation of power structures. Cornelison contributes soft-focus paintings that linger on Emma’s determined, soulful face. Her differentiation of other African American characters is weak; most are the same shade of brown and have similarly round faces and cheeks. Copious backmatter includes a note on primary sources, discussion questions and activities, and a two-page glossary.

The message is clear and convincingly conveyed: Literacy is survival. (Picture book. 5-10)

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-68265-642-6

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Lightswitch Learning

Review Posted Online: Nov. 10, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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This story covers the few days preceding the much-anticipated Midnight Zombie Walk, when Stink and company will take to the...

STINK AND THE MIDNIGHT ZOMBIE WALK

From the Stink series

An all-zombie-all-the-time zombiefest, featuring a bunch of grade-school kids, including protagonist Stink and his happy comrades.

This story covers the few days preceding the much-anticipated Midnight Zombie Walk, when Stink and company will take to the streets in the time-honored stiff-armed, stiff-legged fashion. McDonald signals her intent on page one: “Stink and Webster were playing Attack of the Knitting Needle Zombies when Fred Zombie’s eye fell off and rolled across the floor.” The farce is as broad as the Atlantic, with enough spookiness just below the surface to provide the all-important shivers. Accompanied by Reynolds’ drawings—dozens of scene-setting gems with good, creepy living dead—McDonald shapes chapters around zombie motifs: making zombie costumes, eating zombie fare at school, reading zombie books each other to reach the one-million-minutes-of-reading challenge. When the zombie walk happens, it delivers solid zombie awfulness. McDonald’s feel-good tone is deeply encouraging for readers to get up and do this for themselves because it looks like so much darned fun, while the sub-message—that reading grows “strong hearts and minds,” as well as teeth and bones—is enough of a vital interest to the story line to be taken at face value.

Pub Date: March 13, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-7636-5692-8

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: Dec. 14, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2012

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An uncomplicated opener, with some funny bits and a clear but not heavy agenda.

BOOKMARKS ARE PEOPLE TOO!

From the Here's Hank series , Vol. 1

Hank Zipzer, poster boy for dyslexic middle graders everywhere, stars in a new prequel series highlighting second-grade trials and triumphs.

Hank’s hopes of playing Aqua Fly, a comic-book character, in the upcoming class play founder when, despite plenty of coaching and preparation, he freezes up during tryouts. He is not particularly comforted when his sympathetic teacher adds a nonspeaking role as a bookmark to the play just for him. Following the pattern laid down in his previous appearances as an older child, he gets plenty of help and support from understanding friends (including Ashley Wong, a new apartment-house neighbor). He even manages to turn lemons into lemonade with a quick bit of improv when Nick “the Tick” McKelty, the sneering classmate who took his preferred role, blanks on his lines during the performance. As the aforementioned bully not only chokes in the clutch and gets a demeaning nickname, but is fat, boastful and eats like a pig, the authors’ sensitivity is rather one-sided. Still, Hank has a winning way of bouncing back from adversity, and like the frequent black-and-white line-and-wash drawings, the typeface is designed with easy legibility in mind.

An uncomplicated opener, with some funny bits and a clear but not heavy agenda. (Fiction. 7-9)

Pub Date: Feb. 14, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-448-48239-2

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Grosset & Dunlap

Review Posted Online: Dec. 11, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2014

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