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February 01, 2017

Celebrate Black History Month!

Black History Month is a time to celebrate African American people, events, and achievements, as well as a time to recognize the pivotal role of African Americans in the history of the United States. We’ve rounded up a few teachable books to help you and your students learn about and celebrate Black History Month. If you have any book or lesson suggestions, let us know! Email us at slmarket@penguinrandomhouse.com. Enjoy, and keep reading!

Let’s Clap, Jump, Sing & Shout; Dance, Spin & Turn It Out!
by Patricia C. McKissack, illustrated by Brian Pinkney
Ages: All

Parents and grandparents will delight in sharing this exuberant book with the children in their lives. Find a partner for hand claps such as “Eenie, Meenie, Sassafreeny,” or form a group for circle games like “Little Sally Walker.” Gather as a family to sing well-loved songs like “Amazing Grace” and “Oh, Freedom,” or read aloud the poetry of such African American luminaries as Langston Hughes, James Weldon Johnson, and Paul Laurence Dunbar. And snuggle down to enjoy classic stories retold by the author, including Aesop’s fables and tales featuring Br’er Rabbit and Anansi the spider. This is a songbook, a storybook, and a poetry collection, all rolled into one, filled with the joy of childhood and ready to inspire a new generation to play.

Child of the Civil Rights Movement
by Paula Young Shelton, illustrated by Raul Colón
Ages: 4–8

Poignant, moving, and hopeful, this is an intimate look at the birth of the civil rights movement. In this Bank Street College of Education Best Children’s Book of the Year, Paula Young Shelton, daughter of civil rights activist Andrew Young, brings a child’s unique perspective to an important chapter in America’s history. Paula grew up in the Deep South, in a world where whites had and blacks did not. With an activist father and a community of leaders surrounding her, including Uncle Martin (Martin Luther King), Paula watched and listened to the struggles, eventually joining her family—and thousands of others—in the historic march from Selma to Montgomery.


My Name is James Madison Hemings
by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Terry Widener

Ages: 5–9

In this evocative first-person account accompanied by exquisite artwork, Winter and Widener tell the story of a boy who was both a slave and a son and, in doing so, illuminate the many contradictions in Jefferson’s life and legacy. Though Jefferson lived in a mansion, Hemings and his siblings lived in a one-room shack. While Jefferson doted on his white grandchildren, he never showed affection to his slave children. Though he kept the Hemings boys from hard field labor—instead sending them to work in the carpentry shop—Jefferson nevertheless listed the children in his “Farm Book” along with the sheep, hogs, and other property he owned. Here is a profound and moving account of one family’s history, which is also America’s history.

Lillian’s Right to Vote
by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Shane W. Evans
Ages: 5–9

As Lillian, a one-hundred-year-old African American woman, makes a “long haul up a steep hill” to her polling place, she sees more than trees and sky—she sees her family’s history. She sees the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment and her great-grandfather voting for the first time. She sees her parents trying to register to vote. And she sees herself marching in a protest from Selma to Montgomery. Veteran bestselling picture book author Winter and Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award–winning Evans vividly recall America’s civil rights battle in this lyrical, poignant account of one woman’s fierce determination to make it up the hill and make her voice heard.

Emmanuel’s Dream
by Laurie Ann Thompson, illustrated by Sean Qualls
Ages: 4–8

Yeboah’s story—which was turned into the film Emmanuel’s Gift, narrated by Oprah Winfrey—is nothing short of remarkable. Born in Ghana, West Africa, with one deformed leg, he was dismissed by most people—but not his mother, who taught him to reach for his dreams. As a boy, Emmanuel hopped to school over two miles each way, learned to play soccer, left home at age thirteen to provide for his family, and eventually became a cyclist. He rode an astonishing four hundred miles across Ghana in 2001, spreading his powerful message: disability is not inability. Today, Emmanuel continues to work on behalf of the disabled through organizations and scholarship funds. Thompson’s lyrical prose and Qualls’s bold collage illustrations offer a powerful celebration of triumphing over adversity.

Harlem’s Little Blackbird: The Story of Florence Mills
by Renée Watson, illustrated by Christian Robinson
Ages: 3–7

Zora and Langston. Billie and Bessie. Eubie and Duke. If the Harlem Renaissance had a court, they were its kings and queens. But there were other, lesser known individuals whose contributions were just as impactful, such as Florence Mills. Born to parents who were former slaves, Florence knew early on that she loved to sing. And that people responded to her sweet, birdlike voice. Her dancing and singing catapulted her all the way to the stages of 1920s Broadway, where she inspired songs and even entire plays! Yet with all this success, she knew firsthand how bigotry shaped her world. And when she was offered the role of a lifetime from Ziegfeld himself, she chose to support all-black musicals instead.

Stitchin’ and Pullin’
by Patricia McKissack, illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera
Ages: 5–9

For generations, the women of Gee’s Bend have made quilts for practical reasons—to keep families warm, as a pastime during which to share and sing, or to memorialize loved ones. Today, those same quilts hang on museum walls as modern masterpieces of color and design. Inspired by these quilts and the women who made them, author Patricia McKissack, recipient of a Newbery Honor and the Coretta Scott King Award, traveled to Alabama to learn their stories. The lyrical rite-of-passage story that was the result of her journey seamlessly weaves together the familial, cultural, and spiritual currents that run through this community.

February 01, 2017

Writing in the Margins of a Busy Life by Jeff Zentner


There are two tensions always at play in my life: the desire to create and the desire for material security. I’m not a Bohemian type personality who can cast cares to the wind and wait for a songbird to bring me the rent check through the window while I paint. If I don’t have material security, I obsess about fixing that problem (and I’m diagnosed OCD, so when I get on a thought track, I really get on a thought track) to such an extent that creativity takes not just a back seat—it gets bound and gagged and put in the trunk.

Which means that for me to create, I have to maintain a day job that proves for my material necessities. Which means that I have to really scratch and claw back the time for my creative endeavors and guard it like a dog guarding its food bowl. Which means that I write in some fairly unconventional ways. A lot of people imagine writers tapping out novels while sitting pensively in a gazebo, overlooking a lake, or sitting at a big oak desk, smoking a pipe, a couple of fingers of bourbon in a glass, surrounded by books.

My writing space looks a little different from that. For my first three novels (one unpublished), my writing space was the number 5 bus going downtown from West Nashville. I would get on the bus, find my seat (I didn’t always even get to sit in the same seat), hunker down, and start tapping away on my iPhone, using Google Docs. Between 70 and 80 percent of the drafting on these novels took place on my iPhone, using my right thumb, on a bus full of people. You learn to tune out distractions. Sometimes including your stop. Occasionally, when you’re writing difficult scenes (everyone who’s read The Serpent King knows which one), you have to pull the cord to get off the bus and sit in a parking lot, composing yourself while you wait for the next bus.

I would get to work and buckle down on my day job until lunchtime, when I would get my phone back out and put in another hour on my manuscript. Rinse and repeat for the bus ride home. If I had a little time left at night, I would work some more on my laptop. But before that, I would do something very important to this process: I would take a walk. No iPod, no headphones, just the sound of my own heartbeat and thoughts in my ears. And what would I do on this walk? I’d think about where I wanted to go next in the story. I’d listen to my characters telling me who they were and what they wanted. If you’re drafting under a time crunch, you don’t have much freedom to wander and fly by the seat of your pants. You have to work out beforehand what you want to write. I often get asked what I do to overcome writers’ block. The answer is walks. I’ve never gone on a walk where I didn’t bring home the answer to at least one problem in my story.

It wasn’t just walking time I’d use to do this planning. I’d do it while I was working out. While I was putting away laundry. While I was washing dishes. While I was in line at the grocery store. While I was in boring meetings. While I was at church. While I was driving for work.

And even before all this, I gave myself a few months just to get to know my characters. I invited them into my mind for what I’ve come to call “The Residency.” The Residency is when my characters move in and start talking to each other and to me in my head. I sit and eavesdrop. I carry them through my day—through my world—and ask them how they’d react to given situations. I know I’m ready to write when I feel like once I’m putting pen to paper, so to speak, it’ll be my characters telling me their story—with me acting as their scribe—rather than me telling my characters their story. When you have living, breathing humans with thoughts and desires and needs leading you by the hand, it’s a lot easier to make the most of your time when recording their story.

If all this doesn’t sound exhausting, then great. If it does, know that it is not in fact exhausting. It’s exhilarating. Every day that I create something with the scraps of time that would otherwise go wasted makes me feel like a superhero who gets 27-hour days.

It’s a great feeling.


Jeff Zentner in the Washington Post

January 27, 2017

Congratulations to our 2017 ALA Award Winners!

The Sun is Also a Star
by Nicola Yoon
Ages: 12 & Up


Editor: Wendy Loggia, Delacorte Press
HC: 978-0-553-49668-0 • GLB: 978-0-553-49669-7 • EL: 978-0-553-49670-3

The Michael L. Printz Award annually honors the best book written for teens, based entirely on its literary merit.

The John Steptoe New Talent Award is established to affirm new talent and to offer visibility to excellence in writing and/or illustration.


Uprooted: The Japanese American Experience During World War II
by Albert Marrin
Ages: 12 & Up


Editor: Michelle Frey, Knopf
HC: 978-0-553-50936-6 • GLB: 978-0-553-50937-3 • EL: 978-0-553-50938-0

The Robert F. Sibert Award honors an author, illustrator and/or photographer of the most distinguished informational book published for children.


The Serpent King
by Jeff Zentner
Ages: 14 & Up


Editor: Emily Easton, Crown

HC: 978-0-553-524024 • GLB: 978-0-553-52403-1 • EL: 978-0-553-52404-8

The William C. Morris Award honors a debut book published by a first-time author writing for teens and celebrating impressive new voices in young adult literature.



Six Dots: A Story of Young Louis Braille
by by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Boris Kulikov
Ages: 4 – 8


Editor: Nancy Siscoe, Knopf

HC: 978-0-449-81337-9 • GLB: 978-0-449-81338-6

The Schneider Family Book Award is for books that embody an artistic expression of the disability experience.

January 03, 2017

Hello, 2017! It’s Wonderful to Meet You!

Happy January, teachers and librarians! It’s time for those New Year’s resolutions, and we’ve found one we can definitely get behind: spreading the joy of reading! To help anyone who might have a similar resolution, we’ve rounded up a few of our favorite January 2017 titles, with recommended lesson connections and concepts for teachable moments in the New Year. Happy reading!

Picture Books:

A Greyhound, A Groundhog
by Emily Jenkins; illustrated by Chris Appelhans

Ages 3–7

When a greyhound meets a groundhog, wordplay—and crazy antics—ensue. The two animals, much like kids, work themselves into a frenzy as they whirl around and around each other. The pace picks up until they ultimately wear themselves out. With very spare, incredibly lively language, this is an entertaining read-aloud, with two amazing (and oh so adorable) characters at its heart.

Lesson Connection: Introduce your young readers to wordplay and tongue twisters!
Concepts: Friendship, rhyme and alliteration, repetition, animals


Let’s Clap, Jump, Sing & Shout; Dance, Spin & Turn It Out!
by Patricia C. McKissack; illustrated by Brian Pinkney

For all ages 

Find a partner for hand claps such as “Eenie, Meenie, Sassafreeny,” or form a group for circle games like “Little Sally Walker.” Gather as a class to sing well-loved songs like “Amazing Grace” and “Oh, Freedom” or to read aloud the poetry of African American luminaries such as Langston Hughes, James Weldon Johnson, and Paul Laurence Dunbar. And snuggle down to enjoy classic stories retold by the author, including Aesop’s fables and tales featuring Br’er Rabbit and Anansi the spider. This is a songbook, a storybook, a poetry collection, and much more all rolled into one, filled with the joy of childhood and ready to inspire a new generation to play.

Lesson Connection: This anthology helps students learn about and study games, songs, and stories from an African American childhood.
Fairy tales and folklore, country and ethnicity, people and places

Middle Grade:

The Uncommoners #1: The Crooked Sixpence
by Jennifer Bell
Ages 8–12  

When the underguard show up—officers brandishing toilet brushes—eleven-year-old Ivy Sparrow and her older brother, Seb, go tumbling into a world that is anything but ordinary. Welcome to Lundinor, a secret underground city where enchanted objects are capable of extraordinary things. There Ivy and Seb will come face to face with uncommon people who trade in uncommon goods—belts that enable the wearer to fly, yo-yos that turn into weapons, buttons with curative properties, and more. Ivy and Seb also learn that their family is connected to one of the greatest uncommon treasures of all time—and if they don’t find it, their parents’ lives will be forfeit. It’s a race against time and a host of mysterious creatures who are up to no good.

Lesson Connection: Use the descriptions of everyday magical objects to inspire creativity and imagination in students’ personal writing.
Fantasy and magic, action and adventure, good vs. evil, relationships


The Warden’s Daughter
by Jerry Spinelli

Ages 9–12  

Cammie O’Reilly is the warden’s daughter, living in an apartment above the entrance to the Hancock County Prison. But she’s also living in a prison of grief for the mother who died saving her from harm when she was just a baby. In the summer of 1959, as twelve turns to thirteen, everything is in flux. Cammie’s best friend is discovering lipstick and American Bandstand. A child killer is caught and brought to her prison. And the mother figures in her life include a flamboyant shoplifter named Boo Boo and a sullen reformed arsonist of a housekeeper. All will play a role in Cammie’s coming of age. But one in particular will make a staggering sacrifice to ensure that Cammie breaks free from her past. 

Lesson Connection: This book will spark discussion about everyday heroes around us, and how the secondary characters in the story assist Cammie’s development.
Emotions, death and dying, family relationships, coming of age

Young Adult:

The Murderer’s Ape
by Jakob Wegelius

Ages 12 & Up

With rich black-and-white illustrations throughout, Swedish author-illustrator Jakob Wegelius’s story of puzzling secrets and heinous crimes is paired with an unexpected friendship. Sally Jones is a loyal friend and an extraordinary individual. In overalls or in a maharaja’s turban, this gorilla moves among humans without speaking but understands everything. She and the Chief are devoted comrades who operate a cargo boat. A job they are offered pays big bucks, but the deal ends badly, and the Chief is falsely convicted of murder. For Sally Jones, this is the start of a harrowing quest for survival and to clear the Chief’s name. Powerful forces are working against her, and they will do anything to protect their secrets.

Lesson Connection: This unique, international text will help teach students about fighting injustice and what it means to be fiercely loyal to friends.
Mysteries and detective stories, friendship, action and adventure


Because of the Sun
by Jenny Torres Sanchez

Ages 12 & Up 

Dani learned to tolerate her existence in suburban Florida with her brash and seemingly unloving mother by embracing the philosophy Why care? It will only hurt. So when her mother is killed in a sudden and violent manner, Dani goes into an even deeper protection mode: total numbness. But when Dani chooses The Stranger by Albert Camus as summer reading for school, it feels like fate. The main character’s alienation after his mother’s death mirrors her own. Dani’s life is thrown into further turmoil when she is sent to New Mexico to live with an aunt she never knew she had. The awkwardness between them is palpable. To escape, Dani takes long walks in the merciless heat. One day, she meets Paulo, who understands how much Dani is hurting. Although she is hesitant at first, a mutual trust and affection develops between them. And as she and her aunt begin to connect, Dani learns about her mother’s past.

Lesson Connection: This is a great book to frame discussions about how forgiveness isn’t easy, but sometimes it’s the only way to move forward.
Family, grief, death and dying, acceptance and belonging, relationships

January 03, 2017

It’s time for ALA Midwinter in Georgia!

Stop by the Random House Children’s Books Booth, #1903, to browse our new books from spring and summer 2017, pick up a variety of free promotional materials and advance reader’s copies, and meet our staff!

RHCB Coupon Giveaway!
Look for this coupon in your School Library Journal packet, and bring it to our booth to receive an exclusive print!


Visit the Book Buzz Theater!
RHCB Book Buzz Presentation on Saturday, January 21!

ARCs to get excited about:

Picture Books

  • by Emily Jenkins; illustrated by Chris Appelhans
  • by R.J. Palacio
  • by Jonah Winter; illustrated by C. F. Payne
  • by Annie Silvestro; illustrated by Tatjana Mai-Wyss

Middle Grade

  • edited by Ellen Oh, contributions from Kwame Alexander, Soman Chainani, Matt de la Peña, Tim Federle, Grace Lin, Meg Medina, Walter Dean Myers, Tim Tingle, Jacqueline Woodson, and Kelly J. Baptist
  • by Melissa Savage
  • by Mark Siegel and Alexis Siegel; illustrated by Xanthe Bouma, Matt Rockefeller, and Boya Sun
  • by Adrienne Kress

Young Adult

  • by Jeff Zentner
  • by Cath Crowley
  • by Jennifer E. Smith
  • by Tanya Lee Stone