Melodic Biography: Women Musicians of Color (Part One)

November 17, 2018

Each fall in Savannah, Georgia, classical musicians from all over the world gather for the Colour of Music Black Classical Musicians Festival. Inspired by the man many have dubbed “The Black Mozart,” slave-trade era composer Chevalier de Saintes-Georges, they pay tribute to black excellence in music, especially chamber ensemble players.

In the spirit of #ColourofMusicFestival, we have compiled a reading list centered on accomplished musicians of color – women, specifically – and their manifold contributions. As in so many areas, the achievements of women of color have been underplayed, sidelined, and relegated to the marginalia of history. Some names will be familiar to many parents and a few kids, while others may be completely new. Such is the beauty of modern juvenile non-fiction!

For the next few weeks, Mia Learning’s blog will be shedding the spotlight on several of these titles at a time. Here is our master list:

  1. Ella Fitzgerald: The Tale of a Vocal Virtuosa by Andrea Davis Pinkney
  2. When Marian Sang: The True Recital of Marian Anderson, the Voice of a Century by Pam Munoz Ryan
  3. Celia Cruz, Queen of Salsa by Veronica Chambers
  4. Baby Flo: Florence Mills Lights Up the Stage by Alan Schroeder
  5. She Sang Promise: The Story of Betty Mae Jumper, Seminole Tribe Leader by Jan Godown Annino
  6. Sophisticated Ladies: The Great Women of Jazz by Leslie Gourse
  7. Little Melba and Her Big Trombone by Katheryn Russell-Brown
  8. Swing Sisters: The Story of the International Sweethearts of Rhythm by Karen Deans
  9. Red Bird Sings: The Story of Zitkala-Sa, Native American Author, Musician, and Activist by Gina Capaldi
  10. Odetta, the Queen of Folk by Samantha Thornhill
  11. The Little Piano Girl: The Story of Mary Lou Williams by Ann Ingalls
  12. Strange Fruit: Billie Holiday and the Power of a Protest Song by Gary Golio
  13. Mama Africa!: How Miriam Makeba Spread Hope with Her Song by Kathryn Erskine
  14. Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker by Patricia Hruby Powell
  15. Coretta Scott King by Kathleen Krull
  16. The Legendary Miss Lena Horne by Carole Boston Weatherford
  17. Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music by Margarita Engle
  18. Who Was Selena? by Max Bisantz
  19. Who Was Aretha Franklin? by Nico Medina
  20. Libba: The Magnificent Musical Life of Elizabeth Cotten by Laura Veirs
  21. Leontyne Price: Voice of a Century by Carole Boston Weatherford
  22. Nina: Jazz Legend and Activist Nina Simone by Alice Brière-Haquet
  23. Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer: The Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement by Carole Boston Weatherford

  24. Ada’s Violin: The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay by Susan Hood


Blog Post, Book Recommendation, Uncategorized

#FridayFive: November 9th, 2018

November 9, 2018

#FridayFive: November 9th, 2018

We’re back with another list of five recent releases worth your child’s (and your) time! This week ranges from biographies to graphic novels and nonfiction. If you missed any of the previous weeks’ lists, including graphic novel biographies of women and graphic memoirs by women, go to our blog archives for more recommendations by Mia and her staff.

Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library

Carole Boston Weatherford, ill. Eric Velasquez

If your child reads just one picture book biography this year, let it be this one. Arturo Schomburg isn’t a household name, but after finishing this extraordinary title, we think perhaps it should be. An Afro-Puerto Rican bibliophile and incredible self-taught scholar, Schomburg personally assembled what is now considered the world’s foremost collection of black excellence in the forms of books, art, music, and ephemera, aiming to debunk claims of racial inferiority. His superb life’s work is housed today in the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture at the New York Public Library. Why is this book important? It will make kids think about how history is made, shaped, and reshaped, encouraging them to question the narratives they encounter in school, in the media they consume, and elsewhere, and to think critically.


Lorena Alvarez

Spooky, gorgeous, and awash in atmosphere, this graphic short story may surprise you given the undeniable, Studio Ghibli-style cuteness of its protagonist and her artwork. Bright, inquisitive Sandy attends a strict Catholic school, where hypercritical nuns’ eyes constantly scan students to find fault, but all she wants to do is draw. Her mother is distracted and her dreams are filled with spectacular images that she puts down on paper upon waking. When a mysteries new classmate named Morfie takes an interest in Sandy and her talents, is something more sinister afoot? Best for older readers given the frightening qualities of the story.

Back from the Brink: Saving Animals from Extinction

Nancy F. Castaldo

When an animal is removed from the Endangered Species list, how exactly has that been accomplished? Castaldo provides detailed answers for kids who love animals and want to protect them, giving case studies of more than ten different species and speaking with the scientists committed to saving them. Side panels in the shape of spiral notebook pages are used to direct kids who’d like to help more to resources, give special anecdotes, and make other worthwhile side meanderings.

One Day a Dot: The Story of You, the Universe, and Everything

Ian Lendler, ill. Shelli Paroline and Braden Lamb

Cosmology and evolutionary biology are not exactly kid’s stuff, yet Lendler and his collaborators have managed to make both comprehensible to young elementary aged children without grossly oversimplifying the science. With a handy timeline at the back, lively and appealing earth-toned illustrations, and commendably clear language, readers can get a feel for how the planet came to be and how human beings came to be as well. A kind of kid’s primer before A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson, this one’s a well-crafted winner that curious minds will love.

Little Dreamers: Visionary Women Around the World

Vashti Harrison

A follow-up to Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History, Harrison’s focus here has shifted to women of all races and nations, with 40 profiles of scientists, artists, and more. Few names will already ring a bell with readers (Marie Curie and Frida Kahlo might), but that’s one of the best things about the book. With a glossary of key terms, this makes an excellent gateway book to more detailed biographies, although the uniformity of Harrison’s illustrative style is more of a hindrance than a help – why should such accomplished, bold women keep their gaze downcast? Still, this is a minor gripe with an inspiring volume.

Book Recommendation, Uncategorized

#FridayFive: November 2nd, 2018

November 2, 2018

#FridayFive: November 2nd, 2018

We’re back with another list of five recent releases worth your child’s (and your) time! If you missed the previous weeks’ lists, including graphic novel biographies of women and graphic memoirs by women, go to our blog archives for more recommendations by Mia and her staff.

I am Human
I Am Human: A Book of Empathy

Susan Verde, ill. Peter H. Reynolds

From the team behind I Am Yoga and I Am Peace, this celebration of compassion and universal experiences is just what is needed right now. All of us, at the end of the day, are human beings, which means, like the boy who narrates the book, we are “not perfect.” “I can hurt others with my words, my actions, and even my silence,” he reflects, going on to consider ways he can remedy it when he goes off-course. We can think of no message more necessary today.

Violette Around the World: 1. My Head in the Clouds

Teresa Radice, ill. Stefano Turconi

Originally published in Italy, this graphic novel romp stars Violette Vermeer, an adventurous, inquisitive 12-year-old and self-styled “citizen of the world” who makes the acquaintance of famed artist Henri de Toulouse Lautrec in Paris. Her father is an entomologist/insect trainer and her mother a human cannonball with the multilingual, ebullient Cirque de la Lune (“Circus of the Moon”), where Violette is a trapeze artist. With candy-colored, cartoonish illustrations and plenty of whimsy, this is a promising start to the series.

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Boy

Tony Medina (ill. by 13 artists)

This gorgeous ode is lyrical, dignified, and affecting, with poems ranging from joyous to wrenching (“Every breath I take is taxed/The kind of life where/I’ll have to take out a loan/To pay back them other loans”). In popular culture, black boys are so often reduced to stereotypes, and it’s wonderful to see Medina giving a wide swath of experiences and perspectives to counteract those harmful images. The wildly different thirteen black artists he recruited to illustrate his poems only serve to broaden his canvas further, and biographies of each are included at the book’s end.

Akissi: Tales of Mischief

Marguerite Abouet, ill. Mathieu Sapin

Acclaimed Côte d’Ivoire author Abouet has created an indelible character is Akissi, a little girl so mischievous and funny she could easily be taken for a mythical Trickster. This is a marvelous slice of Abouet’s Ivory Coast childhood, with plenty of humor, delightfully realistic family interactions, and gross-out situations (Akissi’s pet monkey, Boubou, is recruited to eat lice off her head at one point, for instance, and another episode has Akissi contracting worms) that give it an irresistible liveliness.

Space Cat

Ruthven Todd, ill. Paul Galdone

Technically not a new release (it was first published in 1952) but newly re-issued, this classic tale of a cat-stronaut will delight elementary-aged readers despite its vintage. After stowing away on a plane, intrepid and adorable kitten Flyball makes his way to the moon itself, where he explores in a custom-made space suit, makes up silly songs, and reacts to his new surroundings in a charmingly feline way. The first of four books about Flyball, this is a great read-aloud for parents and children to share together.

Diana's cat
Quiz, Uncategorized

Quiz: Which Literary Cat Are You?

October 29, 2018

Which Literary Cat Are You?

As early as the 9th century when an Irish monk wrote an ode to his beloved white cat, Pangur Bán, literature has featured a host of memorable felines. From Harry Cat in The Cricket in Times Square to Dr. Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat to the cast of T.S. Eliot’s Book of Practical Cats, there are so many kitties to read about and love (or hate!). But now you must be curious to learn: Which literary cat are you?? Take our quiz to find out!

Complete the form below to see results
Book Recommendation, Listicles, Uncategorized

Chocolate-Coated Reads

October 28, 2018

Get ready to salivate: October 28th is National Chocolate Day, and you know you want a tasty book to tide you over until the actual candy rolls in come Halloween night. This list has a morsel of everything: chapter books, nonfiction, picture books, and more. Here are some of our favorite chocoholic reads to tantalize your taste buds.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl

How could any list of chocolate-themed reads leave out this perennial classic? Poor and hungry Charlie Bucket wins a Golden Ticket to see his idol, Willy Wonka, in person and tour his amazing chocolate factory. The result is one of our all-time favorite stories.

2. The Chocolate Touch – Patrick Skene Catling

Wouldn’t it be amazing if everything you touched turned to chocolate? In a creative twist on the tale of King Midas, our hero, John, accidentally brings his gifts to bear on his mom and must find a way to get her back.

The Candymakers – Wendy Mass

Four kids must choose a winner in a confection competition that will make you green with envy. A fantastic choice for fans of The Westing Game and Escape From Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, this surprisingly heartfelt and tender read is often categorized as YA and best for older readers and is written from multiple characters’ perspectives.

Whopper Cake – Karma Wilson

This verse-based story is just plain fun: chaotic, messy, and perfect for younger readers to enjoy independently or by reading aloud to or with a parent. Crazy ingredients pile on as the titular confection increases as grandpa “traumatize[s] the kitchen” in his attempts to make a suitably spectacular cake for his wife’s birthday.

No Monkeys, No Chocolate – Melissa Stewart and Allen Young

Best for older elementary and early middle school readers, this nonfiction picture book is replete with humor and excellent information about the many plants and animals that must work together for cacao beans – and likewise, chocolate – to exist. Anyone who appreciates chocolate and wants to understand its origins should give this a read.

Chocolate Fever – Robert Kimmel Smith

First published in 1972, this classic wonders what would become of a boy who ate chocolate at every meal, to the exclusion of all else. Would he, indeed, break out in chocolatey brown spots, becoming an overnight medical curiosity? Though some of its language is dated, this is a charming read-aloud or independent venture.

Betty Bunny Loves Chocolate Cake – Michael B. Kaplan

“I am going to marry chocolate cake,” Betty Bunny declares, stashing a piece in her pocket. Thus begins a parable of patience starring a little girl whose own parents refer to her as “a handful” and who is not above smuggling cake in her sock. Betty is far from a heroine worthy of emulation, but just about anyone can relate to her.

Hot Fudge: Bunnicula and Friends #2 – James Howe

Remember, kids: in real life, chocolate is poisonous to dogs and should never be given to them. But for Harold Monroe, the scruffy hero of Bunnicula, chocolate is love; chocolate is life. Adult, longtime fans of Bunnicula may not know that an Easy Reader series based on the original novel was released starting in 2005; this chocolate-centric volume is the second in the series and will enable younger children to enjoy these beloved characters on their own.