Category Archives: historical fiction

Smooooooooth Jazz


new-doc-2_3Take a trip back in time with Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph. Using a collection of original poems, writer Roxanne Orgill tells the stories of jazz musicians like Thelonious Monk, Rex Stewart, and Maxine Sullivan who all gathered one day on  126th Street.

This story started with an idea—all the good ones do—and this idea was a spectacular one in its own right. As told in the book’s introduction, Art Kane, in 1958, decided to take a picture. But not just any picture mind you, but rather a picture containing as many American jazz musicians as possible. Not even owning a camera, Art Kane partnered with Esquire magazine to help make this photograph a good one.


Armed with the Francis Vallejo’s tantalizing artwork, Orgill tosses us lightly onto those sun-bathed sidewalks, surrounded by laughter, chatter, and smiles. We are no longer viewing the book from 2016, because we are standing next to Rex Stewart as he passes a small cornet to a little boy named Leroy. We are standing next to a group of men wondering where Duke Ellington is at the moment. We are comforting a frantic photographer who is attempting, without prevail, to get everyone’s attention.

This is a great book to remind kids that history isn’t dead. Instead history is in the poetry found between the covers of a book, or in Vallejo’s exquisite illustrations, or in the smooth jazz that they might hear in an elevator, or even in a single photograph.


Post by: Stephanie Thompson

Winner Wednesday: “The Noisy Paint Box”


As a student I loved picture books, and the more pictures the better! When I was looking through a list of books to review I became captivated my the illustrations of The Noisy Paint Box.

The Noisy Paint Box by Barb Rosentock and illustrated by Mary Grandpré

The Noisy Paint Box by Barb Rosentock and illustrated by Mary Grandpré

The Noisy Paint Box by Barb Rosentock and illustrated by Mary Grandpré, received a Caldecott Honor in 2015. Lesser awards include the Amazon 2014 Best Books of the Year So Far and the Museum Store Association Buyer’s Choice. The illustrations of this book bring to life the historical fiction story, in which Vasily Kandinsky describes hearing a hissing sound as a child when he first mixed colors in the paint box his aunt gave him.

Vasily Kandinsky

Vasily Kandinsky

The author’s note provides detailed information that explains that it is likely that Kandinsky had a harmless genetic condition called synesthesia. This condition along with exposure to an exhibition of Claude Monet’s Haystacks of art that was not realistic, opened up his eyes to seeing the world differently. This background knowledge would be a great addition to a classroom conversation, not only about being comfortable in your own skin, but also in people being different (whether genetically, mentally, physically, or personality wise).

Screenshot 2015-09-15 21.25.36Mary Grandprés gorgeous illustrations allowed the content of the story to shine through. The early pictures of the book were in dark and more somber colors and then the first site of other colors was when Vasya received the paint-box palette. Colors flowed out of the box and really represented the sound that he heard. “The swirling colors trilled like an orchestra tuning up for a magical symphony” and this was expressed in the wonderful clouds of colors that contained instruments and music notes. Throughout the story you could feel Vasya, the main characters, artwork come to life as he struggled between conforming to the norm or following his own path.


Art can be an intimidating thing for young children, but I loved how Rosentock was able to bring artwork to life. It felt as if the colors and sounds were another character in the story. Vasya goes back and forth between following the structure and expectations that people are suppose to draw houses and flowers, or choosing to be himself. The result of him creating his own abstract art shows how children should be given the opportunities and space to use their own creativity.Screenshot 2015-09-15 21.24.28


“Art should make you feel, like music” said Vasya to his art friends. This is a very telling line and how children should feel about all things they are interested in. They should feel comfortable to explore their passions and live outside the box. This should be a message to all students and teachers.


Screenshot 2015-09-15 21.25.01The writing of this book was nothing extraordinary, but the message and pictures made it a page-turner and one I wanted to continue to read over and over again. Every time I flipped a page, I was captivated by a new image hidden within the colors and story of the young Vasya.

Check out this book trailer to see more of these great illustrations!

By, Jordyn Margolis

Marvelous New Picture Book Mondays: Once A Shepherd

Marvelous New Picture Book Mondays: Once A Shepherd

Once A Shepherd by Glenda Millard is a story of how war can can change the entire trajectory of a person’s life.  It is spell-binding and abrupt, but still an appropriate and humanizing introduction to the tragedies of war.


The story begins with blissful newly weds who tend sheep and spin wool.  Tom and Cherry live a peaceful life in a hilly countryside.  The characters’ affection–and, later, pain–in the story is tangible through the beautiful watercolor-based illustrations by Phil Lesnie.






Suddenly, World War I breaks out and skews their story.  Cherry stitches her husband’s uniform and prays.  The couple bids a heartrending goodbye as the audience discovers this soldier is leaving his future family–his wife and the baby she is carrying.  The words of the story make it clear how strong their bond is.  Tom leaves for war with dread and shock etched on his face.  Tom belongs in a pasture, not in a trench.  In an act of heroism, Tom dies while saving the life of an enemy soldier.

Remorseful, the wounded and grateful solider visits Cherry, offering her her late husband’s coat and closure.

The grieving wife crowns her child with forget-me-nots as her sweetheart once did her.  Wounds heal; peace returns.  This book offers more than just a war story like CNN or FOX broadcast.  It offers a story of healing and courage to children who might not get this side of the story otherwise.  Millard does a fantastic job of imbuing children with a perspective that not only countries fight wars, but people fight wars.  And people can heal from wars.

Winners Wednesdays: Freedom Summer


In Freedom Summer, Deborah Wiles tells the story of two young boys in the summer of 1964, right after the Civil Rights Act is passed.  This book received the Coretta Scott King / John Steptoe new talent award for Jerome Lagarrigue and the Simon Wiesenthal “Once Upon A World Award.”

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The story is told from the perspective of Young Joe who is best friends with John Henry.   Young Joe does everything with John Henry–except swimming in the public swimming pool, visiting the movie theater or buying ice pops at the supermarket.  Instead they help John Henry’s mother–Young John’s family’s maid–with chores around the house and swim in a local creek.  Young Joe accepts that this is the way things are in the segregated South yet doesn’t see John Henry as much different from himself.


When people in Mississippi organize to enforce the Civil Rights Act and register to vote, the boys don’t realize the magnitude of their mission.  The boys understand, however, how the new laws will effect them and are ecstatic to be able to do new things together–like finally swim in the glistening town pool.  They run to the pool early in the morning to be the first swimmers in the newly desegregated pool.  When they arrive, they watch in horror as tar fills the empty pool and workmen stomp it flat.  Almost defeated, they sit up on the diving board.  When Young Joe tries to comfort his friend, John Henry cries hot, angry tears and insists he wanted to swim.


Something clicks.  They both have quarters.  They have each other.  The boys walk into the convenience store, arm in arm, to buy ice pops.

The beautiful oil paint illustrations by Jerome Lagarrigue portray the bliss, excitement and disappointment of these two children who decide not to let their society mold them.   The art adds movement to the children’s laughter, pain to the city’s betrayal, and strength in the moment when Young Joe and John Henry realize they can make their own dream come true.

Deborah Wiles is also known for her 1960’s trilogy for upper elementary and middle school students, which includes another work about the Freedom Summer entitled Revolution.