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Shirley Chisholm Is a Verb! by Veronica Chambers, illustrated by Rachelle Baker

Shirley Chisholm Is a Verb!

written by Veronica Chambers, illustrated by Rachelle Baker

You know the feeling you get when you hear the ice cream truck coming?  The anticipatory thrill, the bounce-on-the-balls-of-your-feet excitement when you hear the music from down the street?  That’s how I’ve felt while waiting to get my hands on this week’s book!

Shirley Chisholm Is a Verb!, written by Veronica Chambers and illustrated by Rachelle Baker, brings the vibrant boldness of its subject to every page.  Even the warm mustard endpapers signal the energy, the vitality of her story.  Chambers and Baker deliver a picture book biography of Shirley Chisholm that is every bit as action-oriented as she was.

The daughter of immigrants from Barbados and Guyana, Shirley Chisholm was born in Brooklyn, New York, and grew up to become the first Black woman to run for U.S. president.  Chisholm was a voracious reader who earned academic honors in high school as well as college scholarships.  She graduated from Brooklyn College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1946 and earned a Master of Arts in education from Columbia University in 1952.  Chisholm, an early childhood educator, ran for a seat in the New York State Legislature in 1964 and won.  She served until 1968 when she ran for the U.S. House of Representatives and won, becoming the first Black woman elected to Congress.  Her campaign slogan in that race, “Unbought and Unbossed”, became the theme of her 1972 campaign seeking the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination.  Chisholm served in Congress until her retirement in 1983 and was a founding member of both the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Women’s Caucus.

Shirley Chisholm was a doer, an activist who broke barriers and sought to improve conditions for families and communities.  Veronica Chambers introduces Chisholm to new audiences by capitalizing on her life of action, “Some words, when they connect with the right people, become…magical.  That’s the way it was with Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm and verbs.  She understood, almost intuitively, how and why verbs are not just words about being, but doing.  Verbs are words that move the world forward.”

On each page, Chambers highlights a portion of Chisholm’s life, highlighting in color and capital letters a verb related to the brief text.  The verbs anchor each page’s main thought, illustrating its point as effectively and vibrantly as Rachelle Baker’s artwork does.  Chambers chooses her verbs carefully, and they offer a fantastic starting point for further conversation.  They follow Chisholm on her life’s journey and, in addition to obvious choices (dreamed, campaigned, represent, voted, announced, inspired) the verbs reflect her rich experience (honor, listen, earned, help, challenge, convince, planted, pave).  Chambers ends the book with a powerful two-page spread showing a portrait of Chisholm paired with a page full of verbs each in a different, brightly-colored font.  In it, she issues her readers a challenge, “Shirley Chisholm accomplished so much, because she chose her verbs carefully…It’s your turn now. What verbs will you choose?”

Rachelle Baker captures Shirley Chisholm’s energetic spirit in brightly colored illustrations which give off a feeling of motion on every page.  Rich browns and tans ranging from caramel to mahogany to ebony join with piercing blues, lush greens, mustard yellows, and lively oranges to form a palette of saturated colors bursting with activity.  Baker’s art pulls you in as you read.  On the page highlighting a famous Chisholm quote, “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair”, I could almost hear the chair dragging across the floor as she pulled it behind her.  I caught myself looking twice to see if her hand really did wave to her neighbors outside the corner store.  Baker created her art digitally on an iPad Pro with spectacular effect so that it lives and breathes and moves on the page.

Shirley Chisholm Is a Verb! opens the door to an unexplored chapter of American history.  It’s a catalyst for important conversations about representation, perseverance, service, and inspiration.  It would be a great read-aloud for pre- and early-readers while independent readers might enjoy it on their own.  I couldn’t wait to read this book, and it was well worth waiting for–I hope you have a chance to read it, too!

We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga by Traci Sorell, illustrated by Frane Lessac

Pictures have such power!  Bright and bold or quiet and soft, the stories they tell vary as widely as those told by words alone.  What happens when powerful pictures and beautiful text meet in the same book?  Magic!

Traci Sorell creates magic with her first children’s picture book, We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga.  A citizen of the Cherokee Nation, she introduces Cherokee culture with a trip around the seasons giving thanks.  Otsaliheliga is a Cherokee expression of gratitude, akin to “we are grateful”, and Sorell infuses every page with the feeling.  Beginning with uligohvsdi, autumn, her sparse prose describes the natural world and ceremonies and food and art and games and music and history and agriculture–so much that is wonderful about life–in language welcoming her young audience. Sorell’s writing has a quiet beauty about it.  Her words have a rhythm that mirrors nature, “As bears sleep deep and snow blankets the ground…When showers fill streams and shoots spring up…Every day, every season.”

Veteran illustrator Frane Lessac takes Sorell’s text and punches it up all the notches without compromising its delicate delivery.  Lessac uses gouache on paper to create scenes full of zip and vigor that burst from the page in an explosion of color.  Her bold sunset on the book’s cover blends the spectrum of orange in ways that only nature can.  Inside, a summer garden invites you to dig in the rich, brown soil brimming with energy and to pick deep green and red vegetables under a sun so bright you expect the people on the page to break a sweat.  An interior scene bathed in shades of salmon and coral exudes the warmth of winter family visits and warm soup served with buttery bread while outside the window the cold weather gear of cousins feeding the birds pops against the snow.

We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga is tender and affirming.  A smiling elisi, grandmother, rocks a tiny, new family member amongst the fall leaves while others gather buckbrush to weave baskets.  Three generations brave the winter cold to honor an uncle who has died.  Extended family embrace a relative departing for military service.  Groups of children play a rollicking round of stickball in the summer heat.  The bold illustrations reinforce the text.  It’s a delight to read and to view.

It’s also an engaging introduction to contemporary Cherokee culture and a good OwnVoices title for little ones.  Key Cherokee words appear throughout, and each is presented written in the Roman alphabet, phonetic spelling, the Cherokee syllabary, and English.  The book includes helpful resources at the end–a brief glossary, an enlightening note from the author, and information about the Cherokee syllabary.

From the moment I saw it on the shelf, I couldn’t wait to read this title.  I wish I had had the opportunity to immerse myself in it as a child.  There’s something new to see with every visit, and I love the warmth and security found within the pages.  Traci Sorell has become a new favorite for me among picture book authors.  I can’t wait to see what she does next, and I can’t wait to find more of Frane Lessac’s illustrations!  I hope you have a chance to explore their work, too.