Preaching to The Chickens – Perfect Picture Book Friday

I was going to save my review of this picture book for Black History month in February, then I thought, no, this book needs a spotlight today, 01/20/2016!

Title: Preaching to the Chickens  

Author: Jabari Asim  

Illustrator: E. B. Lewis  

Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books, 2016  

Ages: 5-8  

Themes: civil rights, John Lewis, justice  


Little John Lewis loved the spring. He loved it not only because it was the time when the whole planet came alive, but also because it was the season of the chicks. Winter was too cold to bring them safely into the world, and summer was too hot. Spring was just right.  

Synopsis: A glimpse into the boyhood of Civil Rights leader John Lewis.

John wants to be a preacher when he grows up—a leader whose words stir hearts to change, minds to think, and bodies to take action. But why wait? When John is put in charge of the family farm’s flock of chickens, he discovers that they make a wonderful congregation! So he preaches to his flock, and they listen, content under his watchful care, riveted by the rhythm of his voice. (Goodreads)  

Why I like this book:

As we have been reminded in the news this past week, John Lewis has been the U.S. Representative of Georgia's Fifth Congressional District since 1986. He is the only person to be a speaker at both the first march on Washington and the 50th anniversary of the March.

He learned to preach as a young boy and then he did what godly men do, he lived out those words through his deeds. We learn of a young boy who cared for his chickens. He got up early every morning to look after them, he protected them when there was possibility that one would be sold, and he saved Big Belle from a sure death when she fell into the well. They provided a wonderful little congregation as he practiced his preaching skills. This is a great biographical picture book about a boy from a farm in rural southern Alabama who became not only one of the key leaders of the African American community during the disturbing and ground breaking Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, but also of all Americans to this day as a proactive and concerned Congressmen.

Though the book is a snippet of John Lewis' childhood, the author manages to capture so much of the courageous and compassionate man he was to become, through his interaction with God's Word and his chooks. There is a strong underlying Christian message in this book, but it is sensitively shared and as essential a part of Lewis' life as it was Dr. Martin Luther King's.

Asim's language is a joy to read aloud, and Lewis' watercolor impressionistic portrayal of this simple farm childhood and the individuality of all these chickens is inspiring.  


A perfect read aloud in the classroom for Black History month. Make sure to share the author's note with your readers, which speaks of where the inspiration for this book came from and adds some detail about the adult John Lewis.  

Each week a group of bloggers reviews picture books we feel would make great educational reads. To help teachers, caregivers and parents, we have included resources and/or activities with each of our reviews. A complete list of the thousands of books we have reviewed can be found sorted alphabetically and by topics, here on Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

Dessert First – Book Recommendation

dessertTITLE: Dessert First
AUTHOR: Dean Gloster
PUBLISHER: Merit Press, September 2016
AGES: 12+ (YA)
THEMES/TOPICS: childhood cancer, family dynamics, leukemia. brothers & sisters, San Francisco, high school


I've thought a lot about what happens when we die, and I'm pretty sure it's not reincarnation. No loving and merciful God would put us through high school twice. SYNOPSIS: Upbeat--that's Kat, the girl in the family who everyone turns to when things get difficult. Especially now, when her beloved younger brother Beep is in his second leukemia relapse, and a bone marrow transplant from Kat may be his only chance. But Kat's worried that she and her bone marrow may not be up to the task: She can't even complete homework, and she's facing other rejection--lost friendships, a lost spot on the soccer team, and lots of heartache from her crush on her former best friend, Evan. Kat doesn't know if her bone marrow will save Beep, or whether she can save herself, let alone keep her promise to Beep that she'll enjoy life and always eat dessert first. Dessert First is a funny, moving story about coping, appreciating sweetness, and learning to forgive. (Goodreads) MY THOUGHTS: First off, it wasn't until I came to write my review that I realized the author is male so I must say he writes a persuasive good female POV. I feel the point worth making as it reinforces something pertinent to many book discussions at the moment that fiction writers are constantly writing from view points outside their personal experience, some much more credibly than others. Kat is sarcastic, prickly, falling behind at school and fighting with her sister. But what do you expect from a young teen facing the relapse and possible death of the little brother, Beep, she loves? Her complaining attitude grated a little at first, but slowly as the story progressed and we glimpse the web of worries of which her world is comprised, I grew to care about her. Her mother suffers from an anxiety disorder; she spends a heck of a lot of time in her sick brother's hospital room; her weirdness produces some classy bullying from girls at school and her two online friends accentuate her concerns (one is also a cancer patient and the other is suicidal.) Thank goodness that last year's breakup with her best friend is healed (maybe.) These subplots are intense, but well developed and make for a well rounded authentic protagonist and teen world. She spends a lot of her free time on line, which rang totally true.Using cyber connections as a means of dealing with the trauma felt therapeutic and plausible. I really like the addition of the online FB alter ego she creates. Humor and hope permeate this heavy topic and the author achieves a persuasive cancer narrative from the point of view of a sibling. The title is poignant; the opening sets the tone perfectly and the ending is 5 star. A great debut and good addition to YA shelves.

Leaping Lemmings – Perfect Picture Book Friday

28692023Title: Leaping Lemmings Author: John Briggs Illustrator: Nicola Slater  Publisher: Sterling Children's Books, 2016 Ages: 5-8 Themes: lemmings, following the crowd, individuality


Can you tell two lemmings apart? No? That's because all lemmings look alike, sound alike, and act alike.  Synopsis: Think before you leap! Lemmings look alike, they sound alike, and they act alike. So if one jumps off a cliff, the others will jump right after him . . . except Larry. Larry’s very independent-minded and he won’t follow his fellow lemmings blindly to their doom. But can he teach them to use their brains and stop making terrible group decisions? John Briggs has created a wonderfully funny, quirky tale about staying true to yourself, while Nicola Slater’s witty illustrations capture all the humor and pathos of Larry’s situation. (Goodreads) Why I like this book: This is full of quirk and wit for kids and adults and a hearty yes to being yourself and not following the crowd.. It reinforces both the importance and value of individuality and its solidarity and inspiration for others. Even if you don't explain to kids beforehand our lemming metaphor, they will totally get the heart of this picture book. From the interview I did with John on Tuesday, I enjoyed learning of John’s process working with the talented illustrator Nicola Slater, and the way they wove a compelling current issue into the story without losing any of the childlike innocence. I also have to give a huge shout out to author and illustrator for my favorite spread where the lemmings are trying to persuade the oddball lemming to conform and he asks them to call him Larry. Ultimately this is a celebration of individuality and community! Love! "What's a Larry?" "No lemming has ever been called anything." "I hear he wants to be called Mary." John and Nicola have managed to achieve a timeless and timely picture book. Activities/resources: Younger children can paint their own unique lemming and find out one fact about lemmings. Older children can research urban myths! Check out the interview I did this week with the author, John Briggs. Each week a group of bloggers reviews picture books we feel would make great educational reads. To help teachers, caregivers and parents, we have included resources and/or activities with each of our reviews. A complete list of the thousands of books we have reviewed can be found sorted alphabetically and by topics, here on Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.