Never Forgotten

Never Forgotten, written by Patricia C. McKissack and illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon, is a nominee for the 2013-14 South Carolina Children’s Book Award.

Never Forgotten is a beautiful, poetic book that, in my opinion, fills a void when it comes to studies of slavery. This book of poetry takes a look at the relationship between a man, his son, the elements that were a huge part of their lives as blacksmiths in Africa, and how their lives were impacted by the slave trade.

When the young boy, Musafa, is taken as a slave and forced to cross the ocean in the Middle Passage, the father, Dinga, grieves and looks to the elements–Earth, Fire, Water, and Wind–to help him find his lost son. Each element searches for Musafa, and, while they do see him, they cannot bring him back to his father. They do, however, report to Dinga how Musafa is doing. Dinga is determined that his son never be forgotten.

When Wind gathers the strength to cross the Atlantic (as a hurricane), he learns that Musafa–who now goes by the name of Moses–has not lost the spirit instilled in him by his father, and he’s making a life for himself as a renowned, and soon-to-be free, blacksmith. Dinga, while still missing his son, is filled with joy at this news, and even though the villagers think he’s crazy, Dinga celebrates “the son who was taken but never forgotten.”

The author’s note at the end of this fantastic book gives a little background on the origin of the story. Not much is written about how African parents remembered their sons and daughters who were taken as slaves, so McKissack took what she learned about African history, the slave trade, and Caribbean legends to craft this amazing story. This book may be a work of fiction, but it’s easy to see how real it could be.

The President’s Stuck in the Bathtub

The President’s Stuck in the Bathtub: Poems About the Presidents, written by Susan Katz and illustrated by Robert Neubecker, is nominated for the 2013-14 South Carolina Children’s Book Award.

I found the poems about each president in this book to be very informative and, in several cases, funny. The notes explaining each poem’s content were also extremely helpful.

The cartoon-like illustrations were often humorous and depicted each U.S. President in a less-than-serious light. Most people view these leaders as super-serious, straight-laced politicians, but we often forget that presidents are also people. The poems in this book kind of highlight that and may even give students something to relate or even aspire to.

I will say that I was a bit disappointed with the poem for my favorite president, Theodore Roosevelt. It was all about one of his sons and didn’t even begin to touch on how awesome TR really was.

The notes on each president at the back of the book also provide readers with information. Each president is listed in order with his full name, birth and death (where applicable) dates, terms of office, nicknames, most notable quote, and a first for each man. Teddy Roosevelt, for example, was the first president to ride in an automobile, submerge in a submarine, and fly in an airplane. These little tidbits are kind of cool and could prove very useful in trivia contests!

This book of poems is a welcome addition to my library, and I foresee it becoming an integral part of Presidents’ Day celebrations.

What’s for Dinner? Quirky, Squirmy Poems from the Animal World

What’s for Dinner? Quirky, Squirmy Poems from the Animal World by Katherine B. Hauth and David Clark is a nominee for the 2012-13 South Carolina Children’s Book Award. For that reason alone, I will promote this book, but I have to say that I’m not a huge fan. (It probably didn’t help that I read the book right before lunch.) I’m not a big fan of most poetry anyway, and when poems are about the disgusting eating habits of animals, I’m even less of a fan.

My students will devour this book (pun intended). It will be a good addition to animal research projects and could encourage students to write their own poems about animal or plant life cycles.

Scarum Fair

Scarum Fair by Jessica Swaim and Carol Ashley is a picture book, but it may be a little scary for younger readers.  Upper elementary grade children, however, will devour this book, especially around Halloween. The illustrations remind me of the animation of Tim Burton (Corpse Bride and The Nightmare Before Christmas), so many students may make a connection there. The poems are clever and include some fairly sophisticated vocabulary that could lead students to explore what the words mean.

This book is a little scary, but the rhymes are clever, the illustrations are perfect for the text, and students will love it, especially those drawn to scary stories with touches of humor.