News & Reviews

How Ben Shahn Fought for Justice with Art


Abrams Books for Young Readers

(pub.4.20.2021) 48 pages

Author: Cynthia Levinson

Illustrator: Evan Turk

Character: Ben Shahn

Overview: " 'The first thing I can remember,' Ben said, 'I drew.'

As an observant child growing up in Lithuania, Ben Shahn yearns to draw everything he sees—and, after seeing his father banished by the Czar for demanding workers’ rights, he develops a keen sense of justice, too.

So when Ben and the rest of his family make their way to America, Ben brings both his sharp artistic eye and his desire to fight for what’s right. As he grows, he speaks for justice through his art—by disarming classmates who bully him because he’s Jewish, by defying his teachers’ insistence that he paint beautiful landscapes rather than true stories, by urging the US government to pass Depression-era laws to help people find food and jobs." Tantalizing taste:

"And at school, Ben Stared at what seemed like thousands of letters in all different shapes and styles and sizes. All different from Hebrew. Even worse, bullies tormented him about his clothes and accent, and they called him names just because he was Jewish.

Sometime, though, they'd pause if he chalked their portraits on the sidewalk. No one drew people better than Ben."

And something more: Cynthia Levinson writes in the Author's Note: "I came to appreciate what Ben once told his student, children's author and illustrator Tomie dePaola: 'Being an artist is not only what you do, but also how you live your life.'"

How Vera Rubin Discovered Most of the Universe


Abrams Books for Young Readers

(pub.3.2.2021) 48 pages

Author: Sandra Nickel

Illustrator: Aimee Sicuro

Character: Vera Rubin


"Vera Rubin was one of the astronomers who discovered and named dark matter, the thing that keeps the universe hanging together. Throughout her career she was never taken seriously as a scientist because she was one of the only female astronomers at that time, but she didn’t let that stop her. She made groundbreaking and incredibly significant discoveries that scientists have only recently been able to really appreciate—and she changed the way that we look at the universe. A stunning portrait of a little-known trailblazer, The Stuff Between the Stars tells Vera’s story and inspires the youngest readers who are just starting to look up at the stars." Tantalizing taste:

"Dark matter, thought Vera. This mysterious stuff could fill the space between the stars. And then, like glitter caught in an invisible halo, all the stars would turn at the same pace. Dark matter might not burn bright like stars, but Vera could tell it was there by how it made the stars move."

And something more: Sandra Nickel writes in the Author's Note: "Vera Rubin never forgot being told that her ideas were ridiculous and outlandish. Like a young galaxy, she spread her arms wide and drew in young scientists. She carefully listened to their thoughts, encouraged them to continue, and if they stumbled along the way, she caught them. Vera was especially encouraging to young women. An entire generation of female astronomers viewed her as their 'guiding light.'"



Little Brown Books

for Young Readers

(pub.2.21.2021) 48 pages

Author: Julie Leung

Illustrator: Julie Kwon

Character: Hazel Ying Lee

Overview: "Hazel Ying Lee was born fearless—she was not afraid of anything, and the moment she took her first airplane ride, she knew where she belonged. When people scoffed at her dreams of becoming a pilot, Hazel wouldn't take no for an answer. She joined the Women's Airforce Service Pilots (WASPSs) during World War II. It was a dangerous job, but Hazel flew with joy and boldness.

This moving, true story about a groundbreaking figure will inspire young readers to challenge barriers and reach for the sky." Tantalizing taste:

"Once Hazel had a taste of sky, she couldn't let it go.

To pay for flying lessons, Hazel worked as an elevator operator at a department store.

It was one of the few jobs Chinese girls were allowed to have.

'Invisible jobs,' Hazel called them. Jobs where you were ignored.

Every day in an airless box, she shuttled shoppers from one floor to the next.

When she pulled the lever for different floors, she smiled, imagining she was moving a plane's throttle instead."

And something more: Julie Leung writes in the Author's Note: "Hazel was one of 132 women capable of 'flying pursuit,' meaning she was qualified to pilot superfast and powerful fighter planes such as P63 Kingcobras. On Thanksgiving day in 1944... a miscommunication from the radio tower caused Hazel and another pilot to try to land at the same time. The planes collided, and Hazel died from her injuries two days later, at the age of 32... In 1977, President Jimmy Carter finally gave the WASPs veteran status. And in 2009, President Barack Obama awarded all WASPs the Congressional Gold Medal in recognition of their service."

Today, Memorial Day, we honor and mourn Hazel Ying Lee and all other military personnel who died in the performance of their duties. I also chose this book to honor Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month -- as Julie Leung says, "I marveled at Hazel's bravery and passion to pursue the skies, regardless of the gender and racial barriers she faced."

Where to find Jeanne Walker Harvey books

Jeanne has reviewed over 150 picture book biographies here and

previously on her blog  titled  TRUE TALES