For many of us in the book world, January is a strange mix. We’re looking forward to new spring titles. And we’re pondering our favorite books from the previous year with delicious hand-wringing in anticipation of the American Library Association’s award ceremonies, announced at the end of this month. There are several bookstores, libraries, and blogs that enjoy hosting mock Newbery Medal contests, deliberating and prognosticating and predicting. It’s one of the best ways to proclaim your book nerdiness.
However, on this blastedly frigid January day I choose to look forward, sharing some of this spring’s best children’s offerings, many of which are, not coincidentally, non-fiction books. Fueled by the Common Core Standards, there are some incredibly good pickings now on the shelves and on the way to publication.
Known for his riveting story of the three-way race to create the atomic bomb and subsequent attempts to steal it (Bomb), Steve Sheinkin has written The Port Chicago 50, another meticulously crafted and researched book about an explosion that incited racial unrest and exposed serious inequalities and inhumane conditions that plagued the segregated armed forces during WWII.
Sheinkin is a former textbook writer and he states that he decided to make up for his “previous crimes” by devoting his career to writing gripping narratives of American history. The Port Chicago 50 is another wonderful and important addition to American history and I would highly recommend his books to adults who like to read about historical events, too.
Maira Kalman is an artist and author who also teases out the interesting tidbits of history. Her two most recent picture books, Looking at Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Everything feature the complexity and humanity of two of our most revered Presidents.
These are not your typical biographies—Kalman has the ability to dig deeper and reveal the lingering contradictions of their legacies with enthusiasm and compassion. After providing a list of Jefferson’s slaves, she writes, “Our hearts are broken.” Her writing style is oddball and friendly, and her painterly illustrations are colorful, quirky and utterly unique.
Another biography worth sharing with kids is Grandfather Gandhi, written by Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson Arun Gandhi and Bethany Hegedus, and beautifully illustrated with rich watercolor, gouache and fabric collage by Evan Turk. The younger Gandhi’s first-hand account of his grandfather portrays him as an emotional being, as he explains to his grandson that anger “can strike, like lightning, and split a living tree in two… Or it can be channeled, transformed…Then anger can illuminate. It can turn the darkness into light.”
Never burdened by its message, this exceptional title works on multiple levels—it is both a striking introduction to a singular icon and a compelling story about the universal experience of a child seeking approval from a revered adult.
Tomorrow we’ll look at some compelling fiction titles coming out in 2014. Stay warm!