The first one is called "Like a Bird - the art of the American Slave Song". It's written by Cynthia Parker and illustrated by Michelle Wood. It's a collection of 13 slave songs and gorgeous paintings that depict them. There is some short text about the symbolism of the pictures as well as the history of the songs. I found it very interesting and the pictures are amazing. The artwork is full of details that will encourage kids to look and look again to notice all the details. This one would be great for some of those lessons where kids are expected to compare and contrast different kinds of media-in this case, art and music. The full text of the songs is also included. I think this one will be great in our library.
The second one is called "Sachiko" and it's by Caren Stelson. It's the story of the survivor of the bombing of Nagasaki. Sachiko was six years old in 1945 and lived with her extended family in Nagasaki. The story starts off by telling about the difficult time the Japanese people had during the war and continues through the dropping of the bomb as well as the aftermath. The story is interspersed with pages of important historical information, like there is a page about the emperor of Japan, one about Gandhi, one about the bombs. It also includes photographs of Sachiko's family as well as period photos. I thought this was great. The story goes very quickly-it's a very compelling story and it was surprising to me how the misery continued long after the bomb had been dropped. In addition to the radiation poisoning and cancers, Sachiko also had to deal with bullying because they were not allowed to speak about what had happened, so the kids at her school all thought she was weird that her hair had fallen out (from radiation) and that she was behind (because she'd missed a year of school). But it also goes on to tell how Sachiko survived and used her experiences to help others find peace. I think this is a really important book in the wide variety of stories about World War 2. Many of my students seem to think that World War 2 is only about Jews being murdered, but there was a lot of man's inhumanity to man going on during that time, and it's important for kids to know the full story. This one would be a good one to have as a part of that collection.
The last one is a picture book biography of Henri Matisse. It's called "Mr. Matisse and his Cutouts" by Annemarie van Haeringen. It tells in a very simple fashion how Matisse was inspired to decorate his very white hospital room while recuperating from abdominal surgery. He couldn't paint but there was a paper bag and he cut a bird out of the paper bag. His assistant brought him more paper and more scissors and soon he was directing how to place his cutouts all over the room. It's a really great story of persistence and perseverance as well as a commitment to art. I liked it a lot. The only thing I didn't like about the story was it felt like it was pandering to the kids. The story talks about Matisse's tummy and I think (ok it's the Montessorian in me) that feels like kids should have the correct nomenclature and they shouldn't worry if they have a tummy ache that they are going to end up in the hospital like Matisse. Other than that, I think this will be one that both classroom teachers and art teachers will like a lot.