My Bio

My Bio
My name is Sharon Levin and I've been reviewing children's literature for 20 years. I founded and run the Bay Area Children's Literature List. My biggest passion (outside my family) is getting books into the hands of children and teens. My favorite thing is getting non-readers to realize that they're readers. I also LOVE t-shirts that have to do with books or literature. As soon as I figure out how to do it, I'll have a click through on the above picture so you can see my entire collection (and where to get them).

February 16, 2016

Children's Books Make Me Smarter (please keep all smart aleck comments to yourself)

There are so many Children's and Young Adult books that I have learned so much from.  SO MANY that I think I will make this a monthly blog topic (assuming I post each week, as is my intention, if not my reality).

If you have ever heard me give a book talk (and if not, um HIRE ME! *This is the end of the shameless self promotion segment of this blog*) you will have heard me say that children's books make me smarter and I always give this example:

A few years ago my eldest asked me to take a community college course (with her) on the Civil Rights Era that was being taught by one of the Little Rock Nine,  Minnijean Brown Trickey and Jeff Steinburg who runs the AMAZING 'field trip' Sojourn to the Past       Yes, she did come to regret asking me, because I was that student who always, ALWAYS had her hand in the air.  Mr. Steinburg would think he was asking a hard or obscure question about 20th century African-American history or the Civil Rights movement, and I'd have the answer.  He finally said, "How? HOW do you know all this?"

I said, "I read children's books.  EVERY question I've answered has come from a children's book."  I wasn't kidding. Here's a partial list (partial, because my sieve like brain can't remember all the questions from four years ago) of the books that made me look smart.  :-)

When Marian Sang by Pam Muñoz Ryan and illustrated by Brian Selznick (Scholastic, 2007)  In the 1930's Marian Anderson was a world famous opera singer who had performed all over the world.  In 1939, concert promoters wanted to have her perform at Constitution Hall in Washington DC. Constitution Hall was run by the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) and they refused to allow an African American artist to perform in their hall. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt did everything she could to get them to change their minds, but when they refused, Mrs. Roosevelt resigned her membership in the DAR and offered the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall as the venue instead.  The concert was free, integrated and drew 75,000 people. Pam Muñoz Ryan's well researched story and Brian Selznick's inspiring illustrations bring this piece of American History to life in an interesting and accessible way.  You can read a more detailed account of this at

We all know about Rosa Parks, right?  If you don't, you have NOT BEEN PAYING ATTENTION!  Get thee to a library! So, I'm going to assume a knowledge of Mrs. Parks and move on from there.  I do want to preface this by saying that Mrs. Parks has my utmost respect and gratitude, I am not trying to diminish her heroic deed.

However, before Rosa Parks, who was an educated woman, whose protest was planned, and who had the backing of the NAACP, there was Claudette Colvin. Nine months before Rosa Parks, Claudette Colvin was tired and sitting on a bus.  She refused to give up her seat to a white woman (even under segregation laws, she was actually in a seat that was 'legal' for her to sit in).  She was dragged off the bus (having gone limp, precursor to many of the civil rights protests to come) saying "I know my rights." Sadly, instead of being hailed as a hero, she was shunned by her community.  Her story is heartbreaking and deserves to be told.  Phillip Hoose did tell her story, and tells it incredibly well, in his National Book Award winning book, Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2009)

My Mother the Cheerleader by Robert Sharenow (Harper Teen 2007) was a book I avoided for awhile.  I wasn't really interested in a book about someone's mother who was a Rah Rah (the term we used in high school for cheerleaders).  Oh no, this is not THAT kind of cheerleader.  These cheerleaders were the women who stood outside schools that were being integrated and yelling at the African American children as they tried to enter the school, specifically in New Orleans.  From the KnowLA website:

"Gangs of “cheerleaders”—young, white, working-class mothers—gathered in front of McDonogh and William Frantz to block the paths of the children and their parents heading into school. The cheerleaders also spat at the children, hurled racial invectives, slashed tires, and threatened much worse"

Now, before I go on about the book, I just have to share that this section on desegregation is titled, New Orleans School Crisis. Crisis is a loaded word and seems as if it could refer to the desegregation itself as the crisis.  Perhaps, "Unrest"  or "Debate" but not "Crisis"

I digress (yup again).  So, back to Sharenow's book.  Louise helps her mother run their boarding house and thinks that her home, the 9th Ward in New Orleans is pretty dull.  When desegregation starts, Louise is pulled from school and her mother enthusiastically joins the cheerleaders.  As things heat up, Louise questions her mother, her community and the truths she thought she knew.

As I said, this is just the beginning of books that make me smarter (and pretty damn good at Trivia Nights).  If you have title suggestions for me, by all means, send them my way.

Also, on a complete side note, the size of the photos of the book covers has nothing to do with how I feel about the books.  I just don't know how to make them all the same size.