Cover of Martí's Song for Freedom shows Jose Marti in front of the Cuban flagJosé Martí was an activist for Cuban independence in the late nineteenth century, but because of his political activities in Cuba, he was exiled. He ended up spending many years in the United States. Martí’s Song for Freedom tells the story of his life but also captures that duality of his movement between Cuba and the United States by including all the text in both English and Spanish on the same page. Almost every page includes excerpts (in both English and Spanish) from his poems:

I come from every place,

And I’m on the road to everywhere

Yo vengo de todas partes

Y hacia todas partes voy

One of the challenges of a bilingual text is the sheer amount of writing that needs to find a place on every spread. This book is carefully designed to solve that problem; every page has text on the left side, the first column in English, the second in Spanish, and a full-page illustration on the facing page.Spread from book shows text on one side, illustration on facing page.

The back matter is also in both languages, and includes, on one page, all of the excerpts (in both languages) in the book.

I loved learning about a freedom fighter that I only knew about vaguely, and I loved having both languages available to me.

Martí’s Song for Freedom/ Martí y sus versos por la libertad, by Emma Otheguy, illustrated by Beatriz Vidal. Children’s Book Press: 2017.

Children with book around a globe

I participate every Wednesday in the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge at Kid Lit Frenzy.


Cover of book showing prairie dogs peeking out of their burrowsElementary school children learn about living webs–that plants and animals interact with each other within an environment. There are some great books depicting ecosystem webs–High Tide for Horseshoe Crabs looks at the interactions of animals around Delaware Bay, No Monkeys, No Chocolate examines the interactions of animals and plants in the rain forest, Tree of Wonder explores all the life in a single tree. Prairie Dog Song follows in this tradition.

Prairie Dog Song looks at how plants and animals interacted to build the great American prairies and then what happened when those relationships were disrupted by farmers and ranchers. In a singsong cadence, we hear how “the grass turned to desert land.” The book ends hopefully, though, showing how keeping a “keystone species” like prairie dogs intact also keeps other parts of the ecosystem healthy. The text chants, “in one place lived prairie dogs,…and the grasses waved all around.”

The main part of the text can be sung as a cumulative song, based on an old tune titled “The Green Grass Grows All Around,” (music included in the back matter), but my favorite part of the book was the wonderful explanatory text on every spread. It gives rich detail about the science behind the page and also about scientists who have worked with prairie species.

The art on every page is collage. It reminds me a lot of Susan Roth’s previous work on Parrots over Puerto Rico. Her technique is especially successful when she’s depicting animals within a landscape, but even the collages with people in them have charm.

The great back matter for the book includes not just the music for the song but also “More Prairie Dog Facts,” a “Timeline of the Janos Grasslands,” a “Glossary and Pronunciation Guide,” a bibliography (with over 30 sources!), and my favorite–photographs of the animals, landscapes, and scientists depicted in the book.

Prairie Dog Song by Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trumbore. Lee and Low: 2016

Children around a globe.

rothThis inspiring book works at lots of different levels for lots of different readers. First, it’s a simple cumulative story for preschoolers, like “This is the house that Jack Built”:

“This is the tree, a mangrove tree.

These are the trees, mangrove trees, that were planted by the sea.”

And so on, we hear the story of mangrove trees being planted to reclaim marginal land.

This first, simple level, works as a read-aloud. But the authors also include on every page a sidebar that tells in more detail about the initiative to reclaim land in Eritrea to fight against famine. Parents and older kids would gobble up these details.

And finally, the back matter (8 pages of text and photos!) tells the story of the American scientist, Gordon Sato, who dreamt up the idea of relieving hunger by planting these trees and about how his experiences in an internment camp during World War II led to this idea. I felt inspired and uplifted by his vision and his tenacity.

The Mangrove Tree: Planting Trees to Feed Families, by Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trumbore. Lee & Low: 2011.