Democracy Dies in Darkness

Books | Review

A celebration of that famous pink hat and other best books for young readers

By Kathie Meizner, Abby McGanney Nolan, Mary Quattlebaum

January 2, 2018 at 2:13 PM

“The Pink Hat,” by Andrew Joyner (Schwartz & Wade/Schwartz & Wade)

The Pink Hat (Schwartz & Wade, Ages 2-7) Andrew Joyner's lighthearted celebration of the travels of a pink knitted hat is a tribute to the power of a symbol, a color, and to the millions of people who gathered around the world last January to demonstrate their solidarity. "First there wasn't a hat," begins the story and then, from the knitting needles of a happy-looking older woman in a city apartment, a hat is created. It is a lovely strong pink, a shocking pink, a Schiaparelli pink. The brightly attractive color of the hat and some pink accents here and there provide the only color in Joyner's amusing black-and-white cartoon-style illustrations. The hat warms the knitter's head, a teapot and toes before being taken by a playful cat. Out in the world the pink hat provides a cozy for a baby, and is carried away by a speedy small dog before it is rescued by the dog's companion, a young girl. Washed and dried, the pink hat adorns the girl's head as she marches in support of women's rights in a crowd of men and women — all wearing pink hats. Sharp-eyed readers will note that a photograph of the young girl rests on a table near the knitting older woman. This simple and cheerful tale suggests, with not an ounce of preachiness, values of care and comfort and the support women have for each other across generations.

Related: [These books can help build strong girls — and boys — for today’s world]

“Facing Frederick,” by Tonya Bolden (Abrams Books for Young Readers/Abrams Books for Young Readers)

The first chapter of Facing Frederick: The Life of Frederick Douglass (Abrams Books for Young Readers, Ages 10-14) opens with the earliest known photograph of the formerly enslaved American icon. He's in his early 20s, before becoming world famous, but he is serious, staring straight at the camera, and clearly in command. In this richly detailed and impeccably designed biography, author Tonya Bolden shows how Douglass's unshakable sense of purpose pushed him to become not only a driving force in the anti-slavery movement but also the 19th century's most photographed American. Bolden skillfully follows Douglass as he finds his voice as a speaker, writer and newspaper publisher who breaks away, during the 1840s, from the pacifist secessionism of his abolitionist mentors. The book also shows how Douglass's work was far from finished when Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. As Douglass said in May 1865, "Slavery is not abolished until the black man has the ballot." In presenting Douglass from many angles, Bolden provides plenty of close-up views of Douglass's family life, travels in Europe, advocacy of women's rights, and lifelong intellectual rigor. Many young readers will be impressed and inspired by the strength of purpose that Douglass carried till the day he died at his Washington home, readying himself to make another speech at the age of 77.

“The Hazel Wood,” by Mellissa Albert (Flatiron/Flatiron)

The Hazel Wood (Flatiron, Age 13 and up), Melissa Albert's eerie, assured first novel, opens with what seems to be a happy turn of events for 17-year-old Alice. Her beautiful, fiercely protective mother, Ella, marries Harold, and mother and daughter trade in their itinerant, bad luck lives for a "vacuum of wealth" in Manhattan. Alice settles into a posh private school and befriends fellow misfit Ellery, one of the few people who knows about the rare book of fairy tales written decades ago by Alice's grandmother. Soon, though, oddly familiar strangers begin to appear, including the young man who tried to kidnap Alice years ago. This time he flees when Alice spots him, leaving behind three clearly emblematic items: a feather, a comb and a bone. But emblematic of what, Alice wonders. And are they talisman, lure or warning? When Ella suddenly disappears, Alice and Ellery plunge after her, clutching at clues. Their search leads to Upstate New York and the hidden estate of the grandmother Alice never knew. Desperate to find her mother, Alice enters a frightening realm where the sun hovers "like a pinned insect," and she must confront her own dark origins. Albert occasionally entwines the haunting fairy tales of the grandmother's book through this mesmerizing narrative, creating a YA fantasy as lush and twisty as ivy.

Read more:

How to get kids to look away from their screens and take pleasure in books

Books that authors read to their own children

Young readers

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