Whether to educate or to entertain, this book succeeds on neither front, told as it is from a colonialist viewpoint

THOMAS JEFFERSON AND THE MAMMOTH HUNT

THE TRUE STORY OF THE QUEST FOR AMERICA'S BIGGEST BONES

An account of a presidential search for notoriety.

Colonists have settled America and declared independence from the British. President Thomas Jefferson embarks on a new war with a French naturalist, who declares that nothing worthwhile—people nor animals—exists in the New World. Determined to prove him wrong, Jefferson commissions an epic search that uncovers a giant sloth, which is named Megalonyx jeffersonii in his honor but doesn’t impress the Frenchman. When woolly mammoth bones surface on a New York farm, Jefferson finally has his notoriety, and they are immediately sent to the White House, with another set bound for a Parisian museum. Despite the extensive backmatter, the story lacks historical context for the characters and events. Moreover, the digital, watercolor-style illustrations perpetuate stereotypes: A Native American in a feathered headdress (the only one in the book) peers from behind a tree; enslaved black figures work next to white ones in a semblance of parity. People of color are voiceless and have indeterminate facial features, rendering them homogenous and secondary in importance to white characters. One strongly worded backmatter paragraph about slavery (with no mention of Native peoples) is insufficient; such a complex historical event warrants address in the primary narrative in order to merit the attention of young readers today.

Whether to educate or to entertain, this book succeeds on neither front, told as it is from a colonialist viewpoint . (Informational picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4814-4268-8

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Paula Wiseman/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2018

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A picture book more than worthy of sharing the shelf with Alan Schroeder and Jerry Pinkney’s Minty (1996) and Carole Boston...

BEFORE SHE WAS HARRIET

A memorable, lyrical reverse-chronological walk through the life of an American icon.

In free verse, Cline-Ransome narrates the life of Harriet Tubman, starting and ending with a train ride Tubman takes as an old woman. “But before wrinkles formed / and her eyes failed,” Tubman could walk tirelessly under a starlit sky. Cline-Ransome then describes the array of roles Tubman played throughout her life, including suffragist, abolitionist, Union spy, and conductor on the Underground Railroad. By framing the story around a literal train ride, the Ransomes juxtapose the privilege of traveling by rail against Harriet’s earlier modes of travel, when she repeatedly ran for her life. Racism still abounds, however, for she rides in a segregated train. While the text introduces readers to the details of Tubman’s life, Ransome’s use of watercolor—such a striking departure from his oil illustrations in many of his other picture books—reveals Tubman’s humanity, determination, drive, and hope. Ransome’s lavishly detailed and expansive double-page spreads situate young readers in each time and place as the text takes them further into the past.

A picture book more than worthy of sharing the shelf with Alan Schroeder and Jerry Pinkney’s Minty (1996) and Carole Boston Weatherford and Kadir Nelson’s Moses (2006). (Picture book/biography. 5-8)

Pub Date: Nov. 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-8234-2047-6

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Holiday House

Review Posted Online: Aug. 7, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2017

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Self-serving to be sure but also chock-full of worthy values and sentiments.

SUPERHEROES ARE EVERYWHERE

The junior senator from California introduces family and friends as everyday superheroes.

The endpapers are covered with cascades of, mostly, early childhood snapshots (“This is me contemplating the future”—caregivers of toddlers will recognize that abstracted look). In between, Harris introduces heroes in her life who have shaped her character: her mom and dad, whose superpowers were, respectively, to make her feel special and brave; an older neighbor known for her kindness; grandparents in India and Jamaica who “[stood] up for what’s right” (albeit in unspecified ways); other relatives and a teacher who opened her awareness to a wider world; and finally iconic figures such as Thurgood Marshall and Constance Baker Motley who “protected people by using the power of words and ideas” and whose examples inspired her to become a lawyer. “Heroes are…YOU!” she concludes, closing with a bulleted Hero Code and a timeline of her legal and political career that ends with her 2017 swearing-in as senator. In group scenes, some of the figures in the bright, simplistic digital illustrations have Asian features, some are in wheelchairs, nearly all are people of color. Almost all are smiling or grinning. Roe provides everyone identified as a role model with a cape and poses the author, who is seen at different ages wearing an identifying heart pin or decoration, next to each.

Self-serving to be sure but also chock-full of worthy values and sentiments. (Picture book/memoir. 5-8)

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984837-49-3

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Philomel

Review Posted Online: Jan. 8, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2019

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