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Children's Books

Resilient reads

Nonfiction books for middle graders and teens

Torpedoed by Deborah Heiligman: This riveting but tragic World War II story chronicles the 1940 sinking of the SS City of Benares as it sailed for Canada with evacuee children aboard, all fleeing the German air raids on England. The government evacuation program had successfully relocated hundreds of English children to safety before a German U-boat torpedoed the Benares in stormy, frigid waters. Only 13 of the 90 children would make it home alive. Heiligman’s meticulous research showcases survivors’ courage and determination while black-and-white photos and illustrations help illuminate the story. (Ages 10-14)

The Radium Girls by Kate Moore: During the early 1900s, hundreds of young women eagerly applied for factory jobs painting watch dials with glow-in-the-dark radium. The pay was good and the work easy. But after they started suffering from odd ailments that mystified doctors, they would eventually discover their jobs came at a terrible cost. Moore’s gripping account follows the women’s fight for justice amid overwhelming odds. Because this young readers’ edition discusses the tragic and sometimes graphic details of radium poisoning, it is best suited for more mature readers. (Ages 13 and up)

Bee Fearless by Mikaila Ulmer: Teenager Mikaila Ulmer’s path to entrepreneurship started with a bee sting and the discovery that bee populations were disappearing. Ulmer decided to raise money for bee research: Using her grandmother’s secret recipe, she launched a lemonade stand. Over the next several years her lemonade business grew, culminating with an appearance on Shark Tank where she landed a business deal. Ulmer’s memoir weaves in business tips and strategies for budding entrepreneurs, encouraging kids and teens to find ways to make a difference. Note: Includes a brief reference to evolution. (Ages 10-14)

A Hopeful Heart by Deborah Noyes: Before Jo, Meg, Beth, and Amy, there were Louisa, Anna, Lizzie, and May. A Hopeful Heart charts the arc of Louisa May Alcott’s early life, with its many highs and lows, and her winding path to becoming a literary icon. It also profiles her parents and the family’s extremely hard life due largely to her father’s pursuit of visionary ideals rather than industrious work. Note: The book discusses Louisa’s earlier, financially lucrative writings, which many considered risqué for the time and she herself labeled “rubbishy.” (Ages 13 and up)

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Children's Books

Strength amid struggle

Picture books for Black History Month

The Oldest Student by Rita Lorraine Hubbard: Mary Walker was 15 when the Emancipation Proclamation declared she was no longer a slave. Life, though, was still hard: Mary had to work long hours for a meager wage, and there was no time for school. One day an evangelist gave her a Bible and said, “Your civil rights are in these pages.” Mary promised herself she’d learn to read it, but never found time. Then at 114, Mary decided the time had come. Note: Parents may want to edit out one phrase taking the Lord’s name in vain. (Ages 4-8)

Overground Railroad by Lesa Cline-Ransome: While many books recount how African Americans escaped slavery through the Underground Railroad, this one highlights the lesser-known story of families who fled north to escape the bondage of sharecropping perpetuated in the post–Civil War era. Poetic writing and mixed-media illustrations capture the emotion of one fictionalized family’s journey to New York: “‘No more picking,’ Daddy said mad. ‘No more working someone else’s land,’ Mama said proud.” A helpful book for discussing the injustices African Americans experienced post-slavery. (Ages 4-8)

The Secret Garden of George Washington Carver by Gene Barretta: Scientist and inventor George Washington Carver’s interest in agriculture began as a child with a garden that helped him become an astute observer of creation. At home he learned to be creative with natural resources and not to waste anything. As an adult, his ingenuity guided his research and eventually transformed Southern farming. Sadly, this picture book only briefly alludes to Carver’s Christian faith. It concludes with a New Age–inspired message of “Regard Nature. Revere Nature. Respect Nature.” (Ages 4-8)

A Ride To Remember by Sharon Langley and Amy Nathan: As Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, D.C., in 1963, Sharon Langley and her parents were making history in Baltimore. For years, Gwynn Oak Amusement Park had barred African Americans, but peaceful protests finally helped lead to its desegregation. The Langleys were the first black family to enter the park, and photographers captured Sharon’s historic ride on the park’s carousel. Although carousel horses come in all different colors, Langley writes, “Everyone is equal when you ride a carousel.” (Ages 5-8)

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Children's Books

Delightful discoveries

Four recent picture books

The Bear and the Moon by Matthew Burgess: A curious little bear spots something “red as a berry and round like the moon” with a long silver string attached to it. The balloon goes everywhere with him, providing quiet company and new excitement, seeming to smile back at him like a friend. But one day, it pops. The bear desperately tries to fix it, to no avail, and sorrow and loneliness set in. Nature has a way of providing comfort, and the bear realizes that all good things are a gift, and loss is not always a result of bad behavior. The book’s soothing tone, soft illustrations, and muted landscapes make it a good bedtime story. (Ages 3-5)

Over and Under the Rainforest by Kate Messner: A child and an adult companion traverse a Central American rainforest teeming with life. Above them, monkeys, birds, and insects make a symphony of sounds. Along the way, the child observes a host of exotic animals on the ground, down in the river, and up in the trees. Colorful illustrations and rich sensory details accompany each animal discovery, the afternoon rain and snack, and nightfall, when the jaguar comes out. Messner’s latest installment in her ecosystem exploration series lives up to previous titles. Its concluding notes give additional info about rainforests and animals featured in the book. (Ages 5-8)

The World Needs Who You Were Made To Be by Joanna Gaines: Gaines’ second picture book opens with a racially diverse group of children working to create a fleet of hot air balloons. As each child tackles his or her project, differences in personality abound. Gaines affirms the blessing of these differences and shows how together the children’s uniqueness creates a beautiful outcome. “We may not look or work or think the same, but we all have an important part to play. … You’re one of a kind, and it’s so clear to see: The world needs who you were made to be.” (Ages 4-8) 

The Song for Everyone by Lucy Morris: A beautiful melody drifts down from a small upper window and flows throughout the town, searching out “the lonely and lost, the needy and sad.” The music seems to give the townspeople something they have been missing: When they listen, it transforms them from lonely to delighted and from weary to lively. But one day the music abruptly ceases, and the town begins to suffer. After the people discover the source of the music, they must work together to restore it. Morris’ soft pencil, watercolor, and crayon drawings beautifully illustrate the power of music. (Ages 4-8)

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