Children’s Book News: July-August 2023

Children’s Book News / July & August

“All Together Now” is the theme of this year’s summer reading program. Whether it be within the confines of a family, a group of friends, or a wider community, the bonds that are formed and the roles each member plays can contribute to positive outcomes. Each of the books below center around community and the vital importance of individuals collaborating to achieve success.

Freewater by Amina Luqman-Dawson

Suggested ages: 10 years and up

2023 Newbery Medal winner

Inspired by the Great Dismal Swamp of Virginia and North Carolina where runaway slaves often found refuge, Freewater is a tribute to those whose bravery, ingenuity, and sense of community found escape

there. Twelve-year old Homer along with his younger sister, Ada, have run from Southerland Plantation, involuntarily leaving their mother behind. Soon they find themselves immersed in a mysterious swamp winding their way through vines, secret doorways, and across a “skybridge” before discovering Freewater, a community of runaway slaves. Here they are taken in by strangers who become like family. Each individual of Freewater has a unique set of attributes, both positive and negative, but together they make up a working society. When a threat is discovered that could decimate their community, Homer is determined to rescue his mother, who remains at Southerland, and contribute to the security of Freewater. 

Skillfully narrated, Freewater’s story is told in the many voices of its inhabitants from spunky Sanzi who acts before thinking and is determined to be an admired hero, to Billy, whose stutter and shyness, holds him back until he finds his vital role. Not only is Freewater a window to a segment of our country’s history, but a fitting example of the phrase, “All Together Now.”

Hey, Wall: A Story of Art and Community written by Susan Verde, illustrated by John Parra

Suggested ages: 4-8 years

Hey Wall illustrates that creating art can be a vehicle to bring community members together. The young boy, who is the book’s narrator, addresses his neighborhood wall, commenting on its coldness and emptiness. He regrets that no one has taken care of it over the years. The wall has become sad and lonely in the midst of a vibrant neighborhood.

But the boy recognizes he has the power to change that – “I am a writer, a creator, a game changer, a wall changer.” With sketches and memories, family and friends are committed to be those “wall changers.” The wall is transformed into a colorful canvas reflecting the joys and imaginations of its community artists. 

Verde and Parra’s book is a paean to the power of individuals to bring about change when working together. And it is a motivator to look around and be aware of the wall art gracing various buildings the next time one is in a city, such as Albuquerque!

Harlem Grown: How One Big Idea Transformed a Neighborhood written by Tony Hillery, illustrated by Jessie Hartland

Suggested ages: 4-8 years

Pura Belpré Honor Book

As in Hey, Wall, the book, Harlem Grown, illustrates a community coming together to transform an unsightly spot in their neighborhood. In this case, it’s an empty lot, the “haunted garden,” as a young neighborhood girl calls it, that had become a magnet for trash from old TVs to broken bottles. Across the street was a public elementary school. When Mr. Tony became part of the school community, his imagination took off, seeing a different future for the “haunted garden.”

The school’s students joined Mr. Tony in making his dream become a reality. They worked together as they emptied the lot of trash, added rich soil, and finally, planted seeds. It was a learning process, but at last they created a healthy garden on this once sad piece of land. And as they did, they learned about plants, soil, life cycles, nutrition, and most importantly, the joy of working together to create change.

In an end note to the reader, Hillery, the book’s author and founder of “Harlem Grown,” writes that this first garden plot has now expanded to 12 sites in Harlem. What an inspiration for any community! “All Together Now!”

Children’s Book Reviews are by Nancy Guist.

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