What You Know First

by Dianne White on November 15, 2011

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WHAT YOU KNOW FIRST by Patricia MacLachlan, engravings by Barry Moser (Joanna Cotler Books 1995)

This book has been a favorite of mine for years. Its lyrical, poetic voice is soothing and hopeful, yet the pain of moving away from all that the young narrator has known is palpable. The story begins, “I could/If I wanted/ Tell Mama and Papa that I won’t go./I won’t go, I’ll say,/ To a new house,/ To the new place,/ To a land I’ve never seen.”

But being part of a family sometimes means exactly such change, and sometimes, the only way to leave a place you’ve known and loved is to bring a piece of it along.

AMAZING FACES, poems selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins, illustrated by Chris Soentpiet (Lee & Low Books 2010)

Family, friends, people – ordinary people – are amazing. This collection of sixteen poems by authors such as Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Janet S. Wong, J. Patrick Lewis, and Langston Hughes (and beautiful paintings by Soentpiet) remind us all of the unique and diverse experiences and emotions that connect one person to another, binding each of us, not only to our own families, but also to the larger family of humankind.

GHETTO COWBOY by G. Neri, illustrated by Jesse Joshua Watson, performed by JD Jackson (Candlewick on BrillianceAudio 2011)

When I first heard about GHETTO COWBOY, I was immediately fascinated by the source of the book’s inspiration¬† – an area in the middle of the busy city of Philadelphia where horses and a tradition of riding have been keeping kids out of trouble and giving them a reason to be proud of their local community.

Cole’s never met his father, who lives in Philly, but when Cole starts skipping school and getting into all sorts of trouble, his mom decides it’s about time his dad took over for while. She drives him all the long way from Detroit and leaves him in the care of this dad he’s never met. This dad who, we’re surprised to discover, is an urban cowboy of sorts, living on Chester Ave.¬† There’s even a horse in the house! It’s a world Cole would never have dreamed possible. But it’s a world full of possibilities. A world any reader will enjoy knowing more about. A world that sets Cole on the path of learning to stand up for only the best and most important things. Things like the heritage and tradition of the Black Cowboys before him who chose to honor the Cowboy Way. The audio version is highly recommended.

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