A beautiful book that tells a truth that needs to be told.

HARLEM HELLFIGHTERS

A rare look at how music made a positive contribution to World War I.

This picture book makes a striking first impression, opening with a double-page spread of sketched snapshots of 24 African-American soldiers that echo those in Shaun Tan’s The Arrival (2007). Each soldier, whether serious or smiling, gazes out at readers to introduce a story about all the ways the country for which they willingly fought still systematically discriminates against them even during wartime. Like these seemingly disconnected portraits at the beginning, episodic vignettes tell the story of how James “Big Jim” Reese Europe used music to motivate his troops under nearly insurmountable conditions; how the Harlem Hellfighters were often relegated to menial, “grunt work” jobs instead of being sent into battle, and how lynchings persisted at home despite their war efforts abroad. In the story’s most haunting image, the ship on which the soldiers sail passes through the ghostly images of slaves wearing neck shackles, reminding readers that the Middle Passage still affected these black men in 1917. The narrative gaps and Lewis’ focus on so many different individuals and situations make this a work that packs an emotional rather than an informational punch; it’s best when used to supplement a more extensive study of the Harlem Hellfighters.

A beautiful book that tells a truth that needs to be told. (bibliography, notes) (Informational picture book. 10-16)

Pub Date: Aug. 19, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-56846-246-2

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Creative Editions/Creative Company

Review Posted Online: June 10, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2014

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An arbitrary assortment of relics not likely to furnish either the insight or the glimpses of wonder that elevate companion...

HISTORIUM

From the Welcome to the Museum series

An oversized album of archaeological treasures, from an early Stone Age hand ax to a 19th-century tiki pendant.

Inviting readers to take a sort of virtual museum tour, Nelson gathers over 140 representative artifacts into geographical “galleries.” She presents them with both broad opening overviews of their cultural contexts and individual descriptive notes on their features and anthropological significance. The large illustrations are not photos but digital images that are drawn in painstaking detail, colored in subdued or neutral hues, and reproduced on smooth but not polished paper. With further antique formality of design, the dimly but evenly lit objects are suspended against monochrome backgrounds, often several to a “plate,” and well-separated from the text. Though the focus is largely on defunct civilizations—Egypt and Mesopotamia to Olmec, Korean Silla, and the Vikings—the author acknowledges survivors such as the Pueblo and indigenous Australians. Readers on this side of the pond may feel slighted, as the gallery devoted to the Americas is the smallest and contains nothing from South America, but both the Torres Strait Islanders and several Polynesian cultures receive nods in the Oceania section. Moreover, rather than usual suspects like the Rosetta Stone or the so-called “Mask of Agamemnon,” the objects on display are often less familiar funerary, religious, or decorative objects. Many of the artifacts, particularly the gold ones, look drab, though, and none are either shown to scale or consistently accompanied by measurements. Furthermore, there are no maps or leads to further information.

An arbitrary assortment of relics not likely to furnish either the insight or the glimpses of wonder that elevate companion volume Animalium (2014). (timeline, index) (Nonfiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-7636-7984-2

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Big Picture/Candlewick

Review Posted Online: July 27, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2015

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Plenty of work for sharp eyes and active intellects in this history-based series opener.

MARY BOWSER AND THE CIVIL WAR SPY RING

From the Spy on History series , Vol. 1

Using a provided packet of helpful tools, readers can search for clues along with a historical spy in the house of Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy.

Fans of ciphers and hidden clues will find both in abundance, beginning on the copyright page and continuing to a final, sealed-off section of explanations and solutions. Fictionalized but spun around actual figures and events, the tale centers on Bowser, a free African-American who worked undercover as a maid in Davis’ house and passed information to a ring of white Richmond spies. Here she looks for the key phrase that will unlock a Vigenère cipher—an alphabetic substitution code—while struggling to hide her intelligence and ability to read. As an extra challenge, she leaves the diary in which she records some of her experiences concealed for readers to discover, using allusive and sometimes-misleading clues that are hidden in Cliff’s monochrome illustrations and in cryptic marginal notations. A Caesar cipher wheel, a sheet of red acetate, and several other items in a front pocket supply an espionage starter kit that readers can use along the way; it is supplemented by quick introductions in the narrative to ciphers and codes, including Morse dashes and dots and the language of flowers.

Plenty of work for sharp eyes and active intellects in this history-based series opener. (answers, historical notes, biographies, bibliography) (Historical fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: Jan. 10, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7611-8739-4

Page Count: 96

Publisher: Workman

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2016

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