Books for Black History Month, pt. 2

You can read Part I of this series on the Story Warren website or the BirdsBooks blog.


Stories of those who have suffered injustice and resolved to reverse it inspire awe and admiration. Likewise worthy of respect are those who create profound art from sorrow and loss. In his treatise Art and Faith, painter Makoto Fujimura references artists who draw upon their own suffering to create works of deep significance.

Some of the historical individuals below were literal artists—painters, potters, musicians. Others created by shaping society, moving us toward a more just world. Still others left behind words from which authors and artists have crafted their own works of beauty and significance.

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Harriett Tubman’s Beautiful Mind

Moses: When Harriett Tubman Led Her People to Freedom, by Carole Boston Weartherford, ill. Kadir Nelson (Hyperion, 2006, 48pp, ages 4-8)

Weatherford’s picture book bio ranks alongside So Tall Within (Gary D. Schmidt, ill. Daniel Mintner, Roaring Brook, 2018) as one of my favorites for Black History Month. It might even be an all-time pick for outstanding children’s biography.

Weatherford pays tribute not just to the indomitable Tubman (c.1822-1913) but to her unquenchable faith. Tubman’s ongoing dialogue with God punctuates and often provides the vehicle for the narrative. Nelson’s paintings, rich with color and form, pair perfectly with spare poetic text, uniting action and emotion.

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Architects: Creating Natural Space

Cities, generally characterized by massive buildings and busy streets, are often conceived of as the antithesis of nature. But when I first began reading about architects and their work, I was struck by how frequently the theme of harmony with nature arose. Many if not all of the titles below describe how the featured architects drew inspiration from the natural world and sought to emulate it in their designs.

On reflection, it makes sense that artists whose work is built on the natural laws of physics would be firmly grounded in the study of nature. The Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí (1852–1926) avowed, “Man does not create … he discovers.” He went on to say that creators “collaborate” with the Creator—the one who originated the laws of nature.

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Windows on Korea: Nature, City, Myth

In recent years, classmates, family friends, and now an international student living with our family have put Korea increasingly on our radar. Friends have introduced us to K-pop rock, K-pop opera, and serialized TV K-dramas. The books below offer another window on recent history and contemporary life in Korea. 

When Spring Comes to the DMZ 
Written and illustrated by: Uk-Bae Lee
Translated from Korean by: Chungyon Won and Aileen Won
Published by: Plough Publishing House, 2019
Target Age: 5–8 years

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Art and Pandemic in Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel

Choosing an angle of approach for Emily St. John Mandel’s novels is like saying, “I want to learn to dance.”

What kind of dance? Ballet? Ballroom? Jazz? Hip-hop?

Folk, you say.

Fine. Irish clogging? Korean fan dance? Indian kathakali? American square dance?

One could examine Mandel’s novels with regard to pandemic, apocalypse, motherhood, biblical invocations, ethics, the nature of existence, regret and culpability, not to mention genre. Her three most well-known works, Station Eleven, The Glass Hotel, and Sea of Tranquility, are not sufficiently interrelated to constitute a series. But familiar characters turn up in each, and knowing their back story augments recurring themes.

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Mrs. Porter Calling, by A.J. Pearce

This third installment of the Emmy Lake Chronicles is a delightful choice for the long evenings and short, cloudy days of winter.

It’s 1943 London, and Emmy’s new husband is away fighting fascists offstage. The Blitz, fore-fronted in Dear Mrs. Bird, is now in the background. But enough bombings are still taking place to precipitate a tragedy among Emmy’s closest comrades. In its aftermath, Emmy, her neighbors, and we as readers wrestle with the fallout of war.

But as usual, Woman’s Friend has other causes to rally round as well. This time the staff must save save their beloved publication from the devastating “improvements” designed by its new owner, Mrs. Porter.

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More Gifts for Kids: a new Pilgrim’s Progress and a Christmas picture book

First an acknowledgement: Rousseaux Brasseur, the author of these books, was the much-loved children’s ministry lead at our church when our daughter was in elementary school. Last summer he served for a week as pastor at Camp Harlow, where our daughter volunteers as a teen counselor. Needless to say, I am hardly an unbiased reviewer. But I can attest to the character of the author as a clever, quirky, open-hearted individual with a deep love for Jesus and young people.

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I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith

I Capture the Castle (1948) came to my attention as a novel recommended for aspiring writers. The Austenesque plot features a quirky, down-on-their-luck British family in the 1930s. A thwarted novelist father languishes at the helm while the oldest daughter pursues a loveless marriage to save the family fortunes. Her intended is the wealthy young heir of a nearby estate.

The heir has recently returned from America with his brother, who is enamored with the American West. Thus the narrative straddles not only the 19th and 20th centuries but the Atlantic Ocean, flanked by British venerability on one side and American innovation on the other.

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Fantasy in the Heartland: Lepunia, Kingdom of the Gallopers, by Kevin T. Ford

Lepunia will catch you up, carry you away, and set you down—right back in Kansas. But conveyed from a rabbit’s-eye view, it might as well be Oz. It was with some surprise that I realized, on reflection, that no magic takes place in these pages. None but that conjured by Ford’s lyrical descriptions. One part Narnia and one part Little House on the Prairie, Lepunia offers up an enchanted middle America peopled with rabbits, squirrels, coyotes, owls, prairie dogs, ferrets, and more. Cottonwoods, hills, lakes, and burrows become ancestral palaces and legendary landmarks, skillfully rendered in Michael Genova’s lavish sketches and eye-catching cover art.

In this first book of a planned trilogy, the curtain rises on the eve of Founding Day in the township of Lepunia (from the Latin lepus—hare). The festival marks not only the anniversary of the settlement but graduation from the academy for jackrabbit friends Lily, Fluff, and Jackson. Lily hopes to be admitted to the artists’ guild. Fluff expects to follow his father’s profession of baker. And the dearest desire of fleet-footed Jackson is induction into the Gallopers, an elite guard of jackrabbits tasked with defending the kingdom and conveying messages to its farthest reaches.

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Compelling Historical Fiction: The Henna Artist, by Alka Joshi

It’s difficult to enumerate the many ways in which this historical novel impressed and delighted me. To begin with the most fundamental of fiction requisites, Joshi excels in conjuring the sights, sounds, scents, and savors of mid-twentieth century India. Descriptions of aromas (geranium, thyme, frangipani, jasmine, peppermint) and concoctions (pakoras, chapattis, masala, pilau, and lassis) grace the page and tantalize the reader. Having traveled in both North and South India on various occasions, such sensory details inevitably evoke familiar and fond associations.

But unfamiliarity with the subcontinent and its history won’t put readers at a disadvantage. Joshi deftly slips in bits of culture and history, intuitively sensing where explanation is required and avoiding excess. Readers are neither left in the dark nor overwhelmed with information. Nor does Joshi indulge in gratuitous detail. Personal narratives intertwine with the broad sweep of history; everything serves a purpose.

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