From the sights of the mercado to a girl who wears (horrors!) pants and a woman who helped send astronauts into space, our latest picks for Statesman Selects Kids showcase topics both everyday and exceptional. Statesman Selects Kids spotlights picture-book titles that entertain and inform in diverse ways. It’s a collaboration with BookPeople, whose Modern First Library effort includes a selection of books aimed at the same goal, as well as a blog series.
Versify, a new imprint curated by Newbery winner Kwame Alexander, also aims to diversify bookshelves. The first titles arrive next month, including “¡Vamos! Let’s Go to the Market!” (Versify/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $14.99) from Texas native Raúl the Third.
Little Lobo has many deliveries for the mercado, and so much to do. He spies Señora Amparo’s booth, with its herbs, medicines and candles. He chooses a bandera de coco from the sweets stand. And he picks a comic book with one of his favorite luchadores on the cover.
The book includes a glossary, although much of the Spanish text is easily decoded from context. The mix of dual-language prose and Mexican culture is invitingly depicted by Raúl — born Raúl Gonzalez in El Paso — who won the Pura Belpré award in 2017 for “Lowriders to the Center of the Earth.” Each page of “¡Vamos!” is rich with detail, from the army of piñatas populating one of the mercado’s stalls to the vendor selling aguas frescas in the plaza outside. It’s the perfect peek into an integral part of Mexican life.
It might seem difficult for children of today to imagine, but not that long ago girls weren’t allowed to wear pants. That vexes young Mary, who finds it exceedingly difficult to move and play in “tied-too-tight-and-can’t-bend-over dresses.” So she dons a pair of trousers and heads into town, much to her neighbors’ chagrin.
Keith Negley highlights the power of the right clothes in “Mary Wears What She Wants” (Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins, $17.99), inspired by a real-life Mary who not only wore pants but became a doctor and a Civil War surgeon. Mary Walker would go on to earn the Congressional Medal of Honor and fight for women’s right to vote — despite being arrested multiple times for wearing pants.
Negley borrows Walker’s famous defense for a snippet of his young Mary’s dialogue: “I’m not wearing boys’ clothes … I’m wearing my clothes! Now, if you’ll excuse me, please, I’m late for school.”
Her father supports her with compassion: “They’ve never seen a girl wearing pants before. … Sometimes people get scared of what they don’t understand.” Though his characters wear period-appropriate garb, Negley’s choice of a bright, modern palette lends a forward feel to “Mary.” Mostly pink and blue, save for Mary’s bright-yellow blouse, the illustrations underscore the message that gender norms need not be so strictly defined.
That’s a message likely shared by Katherine Johnson — one of the mathematicians profiled in the movie “Hidden Figures” and the subject of “A Computer Called Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Helped Put America on the Moon” (Little, Brown, $18.99), Suzanne Slade’s new picture-book biography. Veronica Miller Jamison makes her picture-book debut as illustrator.
Johnson loved math from childhood because it was easy to determine if her answer was right or wrong. What wasn’t so easy was convincing people that children with different skin colors should attend the same school, or that women could have the same jobs as men.
“Their arguments seemed wrong to Katherine — as wrong as 5 + 5 = 12,” Slade writes. “She believed everyone should be treated the same.”
Johnson started high school at 10, college at 15, and eventually became one of the many mathematicians at Langley Aeronautical Laboratory making calculations for airplane design and flight plans. The engineers noticed her math prowess and asked her to join the team that would send astronauts into space.
“Then she discovered that women weren’t allowed to attend the group’s meetings,” Slade notes. “She knew this was wrong — as wrong as 5 x 5 = 20.”
Once properly admitted, she helped plot the trajectories for spacecraft manned by Alan Shepard and John Glenn, and designed the flight path for the Apollo 11 rocket. “Computer” details these and other accomplishments, but most importantly, it showcases Johnson’s tenacity and determination. (All, ages 4-8)