In the picture book, Gwendolyn’s Pet Gardenby Anne Renaud, we know the problem from the opening line: “Gwendolyn Newberry-Fretz wanted a pet.” A very relatable problem indeed. Yet, Gwendolyn’s parents are not on board with the pet idea and, instead, get her some dirt which “smells of possibilities” to them. Gwendolyn thinks it smells like a swamp! Yet, once the garden gets underway, she reconsiders how she feels about this compromise.
Rashin Kheiriyeh’sillustrations peppered with bright accents pull you into Gwendolyn’s world, whether she’s suggesting various pets or plotting her planter. I feel the joys of gardening including the excitement of watching plants grow from seed.
I like how the back matter ties it all together, explaining what’s needed for kids to start their own gardens. Seed-lending libraries are explained and encouraged—a concept I hope catches on as well as the book-lending libraries we have in many neighborhoods. The idea of repurposing no-longer-needed library card catalog cabinets to house seeds brilliant!
Tell me there’s a story about cats and books and I’m in! New York Times Book Review editor Pamela Paul’s picture book, Rectangle Time, unfolds from the family’s calico cat’s perspective. Through humor and heartwarming moments, the cat and boy grow from lap reading to independent reading—the calico certainly has its opinions about which type it prefers. “Watch carefully: See how the man and the boy hold the rectangle together? That means they each have one hand free for me.”
As a parent, I appreciate the well-depicted bittersweet moments of a child’s independence as well as the clever commentary from the cat. “Look at the poor little guy. He’s just . . . staring at the rectangle,” the cat thinks when the boy picks up a book on his own. As any cat owner knows, it’s all about the cat; this comes through strongly in the calico’s continued need to be the center of attention.
Becky Cameron’s art will make you laugh as she captures feline moods from furry contentment to perplexed then miffed. The secret second cover (look under the book jacket) echoes the satisfying ending.
A Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection ★Starred Reviews – BookPage, The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, The Horn Book, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, Shelf Awareness
Andrea Wang and Jason Chin’snew picture book, Watercress, tells a story with that one word alone. This vegetable embodies a family’s experiences from the great famine years until today in the US. Wang’s spare, lyrical text shows us the range of emotions felt by the girl whose parents excitedly stop to pick watercress from the side of the road, much to the girl’s chagrin. Her feelings brew throughout the story until painful memories shared bring about an understanding.
Fans of Jason Chin’s gorgeous watercolor images will not be disappointed. The family’s many dimensions come alive on the page, reflecting today’s struggles and those long ago.
This book is relatable to people from immigrant families as myself, or any kid who’s been embarrassed by some things their family does—and who hasn’t?! Watercress is top-notch for its ability to convey a world of information and a wide range of moods.
The text and illustrations are flawless. There’s even a secret book cover image once the paper cover is removed. The accolades for Watercress are merited. It is definitely one of my top 2021 picks.
Before I even started reading, this four-book fairy-tale series intrigued me because the books will be written by four different authors, the story following one family (and the curse that plagues it) over several generations. Awesome, right? The first book in the Mirror series, Broken Wish by Julie C. Dao, delivers. Let me tell you a bit about sixteen-year-old Elva and her powers.
Set in 1865 Hanau, Germany, Elva has been taught to hide her magical abilities so her family is not cast out. That works—for a while. However, once Elva and her adorable brother, Cay, stumble upon their mother’s secrets, Elva seeks the Witch of the North Woods. She hopes to find answers, yet is scared the witch is the villain she’s proclaimed to be on the warning signs Elva’s village has nailed to trees.
I like how the book opens in a series of notes between Elva’s mother and the witch, introducing the complexities of characters; no one is all good or all bad. Elva’s mom’s prior connection with the Witch of the North Woods puts Elva and her family on a cursed path. Elva believes her community should be given a chance to understand the truth, but differences are feared and removed rather than accepted. This clever, multilayered storyline satisfied, yet left me wanting to follow the family to see what more will unfold from a simple, lonely wish shattered in the name of love.
The next three books will be written by Dhonielle Clayton, Jennifer Cervantes, and L. L. McKinney—all amazing female authors whose stories I’ve enjoyed over the years. I’m in for books two, three, and four
Let’s give a round of applause to moms everywhere on Mother’s Day with this great selection of Mother’s Day books that perhaps express what children cannot. The pandemic has been a challenge and moms, you stepped up to the plate, or should I say multiple plates, and made things work. Sometimes it wasn’t easy. You wondered if your hard work was appreciated or how long you’d be able to keep the smile on your face. Sometimes you didn’t smile and that’s okay. There were a lot of gray days but you never forgot what it means to be a mother, a grandmother, or caregiver. And those you love are taking this day to remember you and let you know how much they care. Thank you and Happy Mother’s Day!
The precious board book, a love letter to mommies, is a companion to Leo Loves Daddy, and a wonderful way to share the joy of reading together with mother and child. With diverse characters and warm tones in 18 delightful pages, Ruth Hearson illustrates the tender relationship Leo and Mommy share. Anna McQuinn’s gentle rhymes take the reader through the daily activities, “At yoga class, Mommy lifts Leo with ease. Riding home through the park, Mommy speeds like the breeze.” McQuinn’s Lola Reads series includes Lola Reads to Leo, Lola Gets a Cat, and Lola Loves Stories, all illustrated by Hearson. This is a great Mother’s Day read highlighting the special bond kids share with their moms. • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder
Part of the An Every Day Together Book collection, I Love Mommy Every Day is a sweet book celebrating moms. “Mommy feels like home, a comforting presence wherever I am,” says a blonde-haired child with large purple glasses as she snuggles in bed, while Mommy is reading by her side. Alicia Mas brings the reader in with her eye-pleasing art of various mommies with their children. Her blues, oranges, pinks, and reds surround Otter’s descriptions of all the different kinds of mommies. Turning to the last page, the reader comes across a list that reads, “What do you love best about your mommy?” Numbered from one to three, these questions offer the opportunity for parents to talk to their kids, or have them write (or dictate) on a separate paper, about what makes their mommy so special and lovable. They provide a fun activity for teachers to give students to create an unexpected yet personalized Mother’s Day gift. • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder
This picture book put a smile on my face as I read through each page trying to decide if I was Zen Mom or Organized Mom, while also wondering which one my adult children would choose. Aura Lewis’ colorful illustrations of trendy moms, outdoorsy moms, and working moms depict, page-by-page, all kinds of moms. Which one are you? The book opens with “What is a Mom?” then explains that moms are not just biological, they are stepmoms, adoptive, foster moms, and even moms-to-be. My favorite pages were under the heading Moms around the World, showing the reader that in Finland, Aiti, gives birth and then is given a box of essentials from the government, and babies can even sleep inside the box; and in India the new mom, Maan, often goes back to her own mom to help her adapt to parenthood. This playful book also conveys genuine gratitude, concluding with, “Thank you to your mom, their mom, and all the moms yet to come.” This is a great read throughout the year.• Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder
New York Times’ best-selling author Susanna Leonard Hill’s new picture book, Dear Grandma, recognizes all the ways grandmothers are awesome. Written as a letter that begins, “Dear Grandma, Do you know you’re the best?” Each scene shows funny and loving ways: “You’re a jungle gym climber, jump rope rhymer, / storyteller, secret hideout dweller . . .” Grandmas soothe the bad days and nightmares away. They’re also with you through the seasons, whether living close by or staying in contact across the miles.
John Joseph echoes the text’s positive vibes in his colorful illustrations capturing children of the world interacting with their grams. The two-page wordless spread where a toy dragon comes to life is my favorite piece of art; it’s quite funny.
A perfect gift book to show grandma how much you appreciate everything she does. • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt
Most of the time my family eats simply, but, sometimes, I want to make something special. Two yeast recipes I need to fine-tune are English muffins and focaccia so I was happy (and surprised) to find Claire Saffitz’s versions in her Dessert Person cookbook. Don’t fear, there are loads of delicious desserts including cakes, pies, tarts, bars, and cookies along with a category called Fancy Desserts featuring croquembouche and so forth. Check the Recipe Matrix, which plots out recipes on a grid by difficulty level and total time—an at-a-glance time-saver. Read the thorough instructions before beginning to ensure you have the ingredients, time, and equipment.
Because kumquats were in season, I made Ricotta Cake with Kumquat Marmalade. The cake was a hit with a flavor reminiscent of German cheesecake. Its kumquat marmalade topping elevated this dish from comfort food to showstopper. I’ll make the cake again, swapping in a different seasonal topping.
Another recipe my family really enjoyed was Clam and Fennel Pizza with Gremolata, which begins with the Soft and Pillowy Flatbread recipe. (Store-bought pizza dough can be swapped out, but freshly made flatbread is a treat.) After the flatbreads are parbaked, top with the previously cooked clam, garlic, fennel, olive oil, and crushed red pepper flakes mixture. Bake again, then finish off with a gremolata of flat-leaf parsley, fennel fronds, garlic, lemon zest, and kosher salt. There won’t be leftovers, guaranteed!
Beyond making these amazing creations, the photos are eye candy for us cookbook geeks. The gorgeous Black Sesame Paris-Brest is an image I’m drawn to. This bicycle wheel-shaped French pastry recipe replaces the traditional pastry cream for one made with black tahini. Other pastry cream options include chocolate or coconut variations.
I’ll keep looking at the beautiful pictures as I work my way through the recipes. From relatively simple Miso Buttermilk Biscuits to the two-months-to-make Fruitcake, there are dozens of delectable choices. This is a cookbook I will seek out—as the subtitle promises—to receive “guidance for baking with confidence.” What a wonderful treat for Mother’s Day. • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt
This middle-grade novel stands alone—in an amazing house that cares for three seemingly trapped sisters, Winnow, Mayhap, and Pavonine. Years ago, their parents left the girls this note, “Wait for us. Sleep darkly.” Outside, the house is surrounded by silver grass seeking opportunities to slither in—and it talks!
How have the stranded sisters gotten by? We learn in the opening line, “The house dressed Mayhap Ballastian in blue on the day her sister disappeared.” What a great way to start the story! I don’t want to reveal all the crazy-wonderful things, but have to share my favorite: the droomhunds, loyal doglike creatures. Since the sisters are unable to sleep (I can’t tell you why), each hund “could press itself into the tight space of a person’s mind.” Brushing them first helps because “the softer the droomhunds’ fur was, the more restful the girls’ sleep would be.” Cool stuff, right?
When fourteen-year-old Winnow, the eldest sister, leaves the house, problems arise. Upon her return, Mayhap (twelve-year-old middle sister and main character) questions the rift between them. However, Winnow falls into a troubled sleep, her eyes turning silver, her droomhund missing. Plot twists ensue.
Chewins’s writing is too lovely to rush reading through. This imaginative literary fantasy seeped in strangeness is also very much a siblings story. The relationship between the girls feels truthful and honest, even when set in such an unusual world.
★Starred Reviews – Booklist, School Library Journal
Meet Zonia who is Asháninka, the largest Indigenous group that calls the Peruvian Amazon home. While her mom nurses her new baby brother, Zonia frolics among the lush flora and fauna of her beautiful neighborhood, the Amazon Rain Forest, the world’s largest.
This slice of life story introduces young readers to a part of the world whose existence is in danger of extinction as its natural resources are abused. As Zonia plays on her own, she is joined by a butterfly, a sloth, a bird, a jaguar, a dolphin, an anteater, and other local animals whose lives are also in peril if the over-development of the Amazon continues at its current rate. This point is emphasized when at the end of Zonia’s outdoor adventure, she is shocked and angered to see a forest decimated by illegal logging. With their homeland threatened, the human inhabitants will have no choice but to fight back. The red face paint on Zonia’s face, shown “on the last page of the story,” signals strength and determination, symbolic of the struggle ahead.
In promotional material from Candlewick, I learned that Peruvian-born author-illustrator Martinez-Neal created her art on “paper fashioned from banana bark by the hands of the people of the Amazon.” The rich colors have a pastel quality and bleed a bit onto the page, with soft edges and a warmth much like the Amazon itself.
Zonia’s Rain Forest is a call to action to people everywhere. We need to pay attention to what is happening in not only Peru, but the other eight countries the Amazon occupies which includes Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana before their ecosystems are beyond repair. The extensive back matter goes into more detail about what is happening in Amazon and why. Children are given selected resources if they want to learn what they can do. There is also a translation of the story to Asháninka, one of the approximate “three hundred and thirty different languages spoken among the four to five hundred different indigenous groups living there.” The story ends with Zonia telling her mama that the forest needs help. “It is speaking to you,” says Zonia’s mama. “Then I will answer,” says Zonia, “as I always do.” And finally, “We all must answer.” – Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Dawn Babb Prochovnic’s picture book, Lucy’s Blooms, is an upbeat multigenerational tale. Lucy wants to win the town’s annual flower-growing competition and receives advice from Gram, but things don’t go as expected. I appreciated Lucy’s family’s love of nature and belief that’s it’s perfectly fine to do things your own way.
Alice Brereton’s vibrant illustrations enhance Lucy’s vivacious personality with facial expressions ranging from delight to frustration (pretty accurate, as any gardener knows).
This book’s joyful celebration of gardening and life resonates with me, as do its moments of humor. My favorite part is the ending—but you’ll have to read the book yourself, I’m not telling!
In Loll Kirby’s nonfiction picture book, Old Enough to Save the Planet, we meet twelve kids (age 7+) from around the world who are taking action against climate change and becoming environmental advocates.
Because bees are in trouble, nine-year-old Eunita in Kenya created a garden to attract pollinators. She posted signs in town, explaining what she was doing for community education and to encourage involvement.
Twelve-year-old Adeline in Indonesia also works with her community. When humans destroyed the natural habitat, flooding problems ensued. Adeline’s group replants native mangrove trees “to create protected areas in the sea to allow new coral reefs to form.”
Each child’s earth-saving contribution is illustrated in great detail by Adelina Lirius using colors found in nature. I appreciate how this book highlights global climate-change problems, while showing how we can pitch in to make a difference. Actions listed in the back matter include eating less meat, thinking carefully before traveling by airplane, setting up a group of people working toward a similar goal, and speaking out at every opportunity. While listed for ages 8-12, please note that it would still be appropriate for ages 6-9.
The Extraordinary Book That Eats Itself by Susan Hayes and Penny Arlon is a 64-page reusable, recyclable picture book. In each of the thirty activities, kids take action to safeguard the environment and have tearing the book apart!
Learn how to build a worm bin or bug hotel. Conserve electricity in a clever section called “Chase Away Vampires” which includes cut-out reminders: “Don’t forget to unplug!”
“Have an Eco-Picnic” and meet up with friends or family. (During the pandemic, maintain a safe distance.) Pack mindfully; opt for reusable bottles and cutlery. Skip the plastic and see if you can find a spot you within walking or biking distance—how about your backyard?
Each page has lively art by Pintachan. You’ll want to cut out and use the bookmarks because of their cute illustrations. The creative projects in this book will keep kids busy for hours while teaching them earth-friendly ideas.
Peter Wohlleben follows up his successful middle-grade nonfiction book, Can You Hear the Trees Talking?, with Do You Know Where the Animals Live? It’s clear that animals are important to him and he wants to share his love of them. When asked how young children can help make the world a better place for animals, Wohlleben replied, “The best thing is to be curious. The more we know about animals, the more we learn to treat them with respect. Every animal is a great wonder that deserves to be allowed to live their life.”
This book explores much more than just where animals live—that’s only the first section! You’ll also learn what animals eat, all about animal babies, how animals grow up, animal survival techniques, animal language, [note it’s not plural in the book for some reason] and animal emotions. My favorite section is Animal Language because it explores sounds, body language, sense of humor, and showing off. Remarkably, fish grind teeth and fart to communicate. I was also amazed that “scientists have to use special microphones to hear the laughter of rats.”
Something that’s not a laughing matter is the chapter about how harmful human garbage is to animals. Plastics are a huge problem, from the Texas-size floating mass in the Pacific Ocean to the microplastics ingested by many creatures. Pesticide use kills animals throughout the food chain because, when insects die, then birds starve. However, “farmers who grow food without using pesticides leave part of the fruit behind for animals like caterpillars. Because the animals don’t pay money for this fruit, people have to be willing to make up for the difference.”
With color photos on every page, this book is beautiful as well as informational. Who doesn’t like to look at cute animal pictures?! Throughout, short quizzes test your knowledge. Whether reading or admiring images, this book will entertain and engage kids for hours.
Lucy Bell’s middle-grade nonfiction book, You Can Change the World, belongs in every home and classroom. Problems we’ve created in the world are offset with simple steps we can take to make our planet a healthier place for everyone.
The 224 pages are easy to follow, filled with lively, full-color art and cleverly arranged content to keep kids engaged. Topics include plastic, ethical and environmentally friendly clothing, waste, food, gardening and the outdoors, energy, electricity, and water, animal activism, and an act of kindness. The Group Activities section offers suggestions on how to work alongside friends and family. For example, choose from the environmental documentaries listed and host a movie party offering plastic-free snacks, or just start a conversation about how you have made changes.
Young environmentalists from around the world are featured throughout. At age nine Felix Finkbeiner from Germany discovered that Wangari Maathai in Kenya planted thirty million saplings in thirty years to cover some of Africa’s bare land. Inspired, Felix founded Plant-for-the-Planet with the goal of one million trees per country to offset harmful carbon dioxide emissions. “More than seventy thousand of the children who help Felix are ambassadors for climate justice, and they are between nine and twelve years old.”
This is a book my family will turn to again and again because it offers many useful suggestions: sprout cilantro from those coriander seeds in the spice rack, pay attention to where our food comes from, and put a bucket in the shower to save a little water each time. We’ve given up plastic straws, but I’d hoped that paper to-go drink cups were recyclable—they’re not because most cups are plastic-coated paper! This book puts facts at my fingertips so our family knows the truth before ordering that next hot chocolate. “Worldwide, people use over sixteen billion to-go cups every year.” Think about what a difference we could make if we just used our own drink containers. I’ll enjoy my latte more, knowing I’m not part of this billion-cup problem.
Patricia Newman’s middle-grade nonfiction book, Planet Ocean, delves into our relationship to the sea explaining “how to stop thinking of ourselves as existing separate from the ocean and how to start taking better care of this precious resource.” Chapters explore the Coral Triangle, Salish Sea, and the Arctic. People worldwide are highlighted for their beneficial contributions. Eben Hopson started his own film company in high school to show how the melting ice affected his people’s (the Iñupiat) ability to hunt; at eighteen he became an Arctic Youth Ambassador to further explain the problems of climate change.
This 64-page middle-grade book is as informative as it is gorgeous. Photographer Annie Crawley captures the many aspects of the ocean, from its sheer beauty and wonderful creatures to people interacting respectfully with our environment. Crawley states, “We live in an absolutely incredible world which exists because of our ocean. But it is misunderstood, misrepresented, and undervalued by our society.”
The section “Go Blue with Annie” discusses committing to zero waste, taking climate action, thinking before you eat, and being the voice of our ocean. Examples of these items involve reducing or eliminating the plastics we use, choosing vegetarian meals, and joining with others to bring attention to the need to stop polluting the planet.
I’ll remember Crawley’s words, “What we do on land impacts our source of life. Every drop of water we drink and much of the food we eat starts with the sea. Breathe in and you breathe the ocean.” This book will help young readers better understand and appreciate our ocean’s importance, learning how our daily decisions have far-reaching consequences.
★Starred Reviews – Booklist, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal
Sometimes I just want to read something different. I was in that kind of mood when coming acrossNina LaCour’s YA, Watch Over Me. The striking cover caught my attention: a photo of a girl with downcast eyes and floating hair. When I opened the book, the image had altered slightly, showing her eyes and evoking an unsettling feeling. I couldn’t wait to get reading!
The story begins with Mila leaving her kind (but, having-their-own-baby-now) foster home. She’s found a job on an unconventional farm in Northern California. The couple running it has, over the years, adopted dozens of kids and taken in teens, like Mila, who aged-out of the system, assigning them as teachers for the little ones. Mila’s first student, Lee, is also a troubled outcast. Mila wants to reach him, but struggles to understand her new environment which is both welcoming and excluding.
Along with this self-chosen family comes a land filled with ghosts who dance and play in the distance when Mila returns to her cabin at night. The foggy, rocky coast’s strong atmospheric presence wraps around Mila’s pain. Flashback chapters give glimpses of her life before foster care as the loneliness, trauma, and guilt of Mila’s past escalate into inevitable confrontation.
LaCour’s spare, beautifully written, first-person chapters infuse flashbacks, allowing the reader’s immersion to slowly build in this moving, cerebral story. The dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship, revealed in fragments, is emotionally jarring. Yet, Mila’s resilience provides promise for redemption. Conventional lines of reality bend, perfectly suiting the blurred mindset of the plot.
This year World Butterfly Day is on Sunday, March 14 so we’ve rounded up three picture books that will help kids learn about these natural beauties, why they matter, and how we can help them since the Monarchs especially risk going extinct.
Blending story and facts, Deborah Hopkinson’s engaging 68-page picture book, Butterflies Belong Here: A Story of One Idea, Thirty Kids, and a World of Butterflies, takes us through a school year via girl new to the US. Just as monarch butterflies travel far, so did her family. The girl learns to read through books like her favorite one with a butterfly on the cover.
The text alternates between the girl’s journey from one spring to the next with her school class and that of the monarch butterfly. As seasons pass, she hopes to see a monarch but realizes that she may not. Monarch caterpillars only eat milkweed but butterflies have a hard time finding it. “Some people think of milkweed as a useless weed, so they’ve used chemicals to keep it from growing in fields and on farmland. In other places, climate change has been causing droughts that make it difficult for milkweed to grow.”
I can empathize with the girl as she realizes that the “problem is so big, and butterflies are so small.” Though uncomfortable standing in front of her class, the girl gains their support in planting a monarch way station which “needs at least ten plants, with two different kinds of milkweed, and nectar flowers.”
Throughout, Meilo So’s uplifting art enlivens the girl’s growth as she enacts the librarian’s words, “It’s surprising what such a tiny creature can do,” demonstrating the power when we come together as conservationists and activists. Monarch butterflies traverse up to 3,000 miles, from Canada through the US to Mexico. They do not recognize borders, seeking only safe passage to survive from one generation to the next.
Beyond being a heartfelt read, Butterflies Belong Here is a call to action, providing notes in the back matter on how to help by involving your community. This book belongs in your classroom or home, just as these beautiful pollinators belong in our lives.
Meeg Pincus’s nonfiction picture book, Winged Wonders: Solving the Monarch Migration Mystery, investigates where these beautiful butterflies travel, sweeping from Canada through North America, then seemingly disappearing. In 1976, through the work of people from all walks of life, the fact that millions of monarchs overwintered in Southern Mexico’s oyamel groves were finally officially documented because of tags placed on the butterflies.
Kids will enjoy how everyone pitched in: Fred the Canadian scientist, Norah a master organizer of collected data, plus thousands of “science teachers, backyard gardeners, and other curious souls.” The search unravels in a series of questions that figure out this fascinating migration. I appreciate that the back matter points out “history depends on who tells the story—Mexican poet and environmentalist Homero Aridjis asks: ‘Did the white scientists really “discover” the wintering sites that people in Southern Mexico knew about for centuries?’”
One of the book’s final questions, “So, who can make a difference for monarchs today?” is answered in Yas Imamura’s evocative art. The concluding “How to Help the Monarchs” section provides the shocking statistic that “habitats for monarchs are declining at a rate of 6,000 acres a day in the United States.” Steps we can do to help include planting pesticide-free milkweed (the only food the caterpillars can eat) and nectar plants for the butterflies, learning and educating others about the need for conservation, and treading more lightly on our planet—“use less plastic, electricity, water, chemicals; eat more plant-based, local foods.”
Zeena Pliska’s picture book, Hello, Little One: A Monarch Butterfly Story, shows the monarch butterfly life cycle through the eyes of a newborn caterpillar surrounded by the color green until Orange (a monarch butterfly) soars into view. A friendship grows with the caterpillar wanting to see and know everything while Orange provides gentle guidance. The expressive art by Fiona Halliday zooms in close, providing detail and personality.
Kids will enjoy this relationship story—barely realizing it’s also educational! While much of the book is uplifting, the truth of a monarch’s short existence is handled delicately, with Orange honestly saying they will not be back. The loss is acknowledged and mourned but the main character goes on, boosted by the remembrance of their time together.
I like the circular nature of the story and how personification makes the text accessible to even the youngest kids. Back matter includes detail about the stages: egg, larva (caterpillar), pupa (chrysalis), and adult (butterfly). Check under the book jacket for a second cover image.
This year choosing books to include in our Recommended Reads for Kids – Black History Month Roundup has been more difficult than ever because there are dozens of excellent ones being published and more on the way. Here is just a small sample of great reads, from picture book to graphic novel to young adult fantasy that are available for kids and teens to enjoy.
A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER ★Starred Review – Kirkus
The ABCs of Black History is the kind of inspiring book children and adults will want to return to again and again because there is so much to absorb. In other words, it’s not your mother’s ABC book. Written in uplifting rhyme by Pushcart Prize-nominated poet Rio Cortez, this gorgeous 60-page picture book is at once a look back in time and a look to the future for young Black children. However it is recommended reading for children of all races and their families.
Cortez has shined a lyrical light on places, events and figures familiar and less familiar from Black history with comprehensive back matter going more in depth. Take H for example: “H is for Harlem—those big city streets! / We walked and we danced to our own jazzy beat. / When Louis and Bessie and Duke owned the stage, / and Langston and Zora Neale Hurston, the page.” J is for Juneteenth and S, which gets double coverage, is for scientists and for soul. Adding to the hopeful tone of Cortez’s rhyme are Semmer’s bold and vibrant graphics which jump off the page. The dazzling colors pull you in and the variety of composition keep you hooked.
The ABCs of Black History is a book you’ll want to read together with your young ones and let your older children discover and savor on their own. It’s not only a visual and aural treat, it’s a sweeping celebration and exploration of Black culture and history that is beautiful, compelling, thought provoking and thoroughly unputdownable! • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
★Starred Reviews – Booklist, Kirkus, and Publishers Weekly
Adapted from the final chapter of Dovey Johnson Roundtree’s autobiography Mighty Justice, We Wait for the Sun is an intimate look at a tender moment in Dovey’s childhood. The book opens with a preface about the main character, Dovey, who grew up to be a legendary figure in the fight for racial equality-all through the influence of her beloved grandmother, Rachel Bryant Graham. Dovey loved to share stories of Grandmother Rachel; this book is the story she loved best.
In “the midsummer night” when it’s “dark and cool,” Dovey and her grandmother walk “through the darkness toward the woods” to pick blackberries. Lyrical language and textural illustrations awaken the senses and draw us into their adventure.
Other women join in and the trip goes deeper still into the forest. Staring at Grandma’s shoes, Dovey is literally following her grandmother’s steps into the darkness. But Grandma Rachel provides comfort and reassurance. “If you wait just a little, your eyes will learn to see, and you can find your way.”
Through such examples of wisdom and encouragement, it’s clear to see why Grandma Rachel was such an inspiration to Dovey and her later work as a civil rights lawyer. As they sit in the forest and listen to its “thousand sounds,” a double page spread shows an aerial view of their meditative moment, immersed in the magic of their surroundings.
And when they reach the berries, they’re every bit worth the wait-plump, juicy, and sweet-like the lush layers of purple, blue, and pink illustrations that display a beautiful berry-colored world as dawn, bit by bit, turns to day. Wrapped in each other’s arms, Grandma and Dovey watch the sun rise in its golden splendor. Grandma’s steadfast waiting for the light, despite the present darkness, is a moving message of hope, resilience, and bravery.
Back matter includes an in-depth note from co-author Katie McCabe chronicling Dovey’s fight against barriers in the law, military, and ministry. For anyone interested in the powerful ways family and history intersect, We Wait for the Sun is a must-have in every library. • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian
While white Americans eagerly embarked on carefree car travel around the country, in 1930s Jim Crow America the road was not a safe or welcoming place for Black people. In Opening the Road: Victor Hugo Green and His Green Book, Keila V. Dawson explores the entrepreneur Victor Green and his successful The Negro Motorist Green Book which was borne out of dire need.
Young readers will learn about the limitations that were in place restricting the freedoms of Black Americans to have access to the same conveniences whites did due to segregation laws. For instance, a road trip for a Black family meant bringing food, pillows, and even a portable toilet since most establishments along a route were for whites only. The same applied to hotels, service stations, auto-mechanics and even hospitals. And in “Sundown” towns, where Blacks could work but not live, those individuals had to be gone by sunset or risk jail or worse.
In this fascinating 40-page nonfiction picture book, Dawson explains in easy-to-understand prose exactly what obstacles faced Black travelers and why Green, a mail carrier, together with his wife Alma, decided to publish a directory. Inspired by a Kosher guide for Jews who also faced discrimination, Green began collecting information from people on his postal route about where safe places were in New York.
Eventually, with word-of-mouth expanding interest in Green’s book, he began corresponding with mail carriers nationwide to gather more recommendations for The Negro Motorist Green Book on more cities. Soon everyone from day-trippers to celebrities were using the Green Book. Green even made a deal with Standard Oil for the book to be sold in Esso gas stations where it “flew off the shelves.” Harris’s illustrations take readers back in time with colorful, realistic looking scenes of big old cars, uniformed service station attendants and locations in Black communities that opened their doors to Black travelers. Apart from a break during WWII, the book was sold until the need for it finally ended with the last edition in 1966-67.
Equality both on and off the road was the ultimate goal for Black Americans. That may have improved somewhat from when the first Green Book was published in 1936, but Victor did not live to see the Civil Rights Act of 1964 enacted, having passed away in 1960. However there is still a long road ahead because, unlike Victor’s Green Book, racism has not disappeared and being Black while driving can still be dangerous, even deadly.
Dawson dives into this in her five pages of back matter that include a clever roadway timeline graphic from the beginning of Green’s life in 1892 until the Green Book ceased publication. This is a helpful, thoughtfully written book to share with children to discuss racism, and a good way to begin a discussion about self-advocacy, ingenuity, and how to treat one another with respect. It’s also a welcome example of how Green channeled his frustration and dissatisfaction into a guide that ultimately changed people’s lives for the better. Click herefor an essential Educator’s Guide. • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Kadir Nelson, in his interesting introduction to James Otis Smith’s graphic novel Black Heroes of the Wild Westpoints out that cowboys, ranchers, homesteaders and other people from the Old West (west of the Mississippi River “during and after the American Civil War”) were historically portrayed in books, movies and TV through a white lens. In reality up to “a third of the settler population was African American.” I couldn’t wait to find out more about Mary Fields, known as “Stagecoach Mary” in her day, Bass Reeves, the first black Deputy U.S. Marshal west of the Mississippi, and “mustanger” Bob Lemmons, perhaps the original Texas horse whisperer.
All three individuals were forces to be reckoned with. First there’s Mary Fields, born into slavery in Tennessee. In her lifetime, she maintained fierce loyalty to friends, loved children, was generous to a fault, and had strength and energy second to none. She’s most noted, however, for her reputation as a banjo strumming, card playing, first African American female stagecoach driver who never missed a delivery and was not easily thwarted by wolves or bad weather.
I was blown away learning about Bass Reeves’s bravery in outwitting some murderous outlaws on the Most Wanted List. In the account Smith shares, Reeves single-handedly put himself into a dangerous situation by turning up as an impoverished loner looking for any kind of work to earn his keep. By cleverly offering up his services to the mother of the villains, earning her trust, and ultimately that of the bad guys too, he was able to capture them completely off guard. This plus thousands of other arrests cemented his place in history. The best part was how Smith’s illustrations conveyed Reeves in the particular scenario of capturing the outlaws by surprise which in turn surprised and satisfied me immensely.
Last but definitely not least is Bob Lemmons who was hired to corral wild mustangs and whose humane technique was not deadly to any of the horses, something other mustangers had not been able to manage. Smith takes readers on a journey of the senses along with Lemmons as he follows a group of mustangs he intends to wrangle, and details in both art and text how eventually Lemmons becomes one with the stallion leading the “manada” (mares and colts). “Bob knew their habits, their body language, their sounds. Like them, he flared his nostrils sniffing for danger.” You don’t have to be a horse lover to be impressed how Bob’s slow and steady approach made the mustangs think he was one of them.
Eight comprehensive pages of fascinating back matter round off this excellent middle grade read that will no doubt have tweens eager to find out more about these and other Black heroes. • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
★Starred Review – Booklist A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
The Gilded Ones is book one of a West African-inspired epic fantasy series that will grab you from its first page. When girls turn sixteen, they must undergo The Ritual of Purity where they are bled to see if they can become a member of their village. However, if a girl’s blood runs gold, then she’s found impure and faces a fate worse than death. If Deka’s father had the money, he would have sent her to the House of Purity the year before the ritual, keeping her protected from sharp objects. Instead, Deka must be careful while she worries and prepares.
When Deka fails, she’s tortured until a mysterious woman she names White Hands offers an option out. The empire’s being attacked by seemingly invincible Deathshriek creatures. Deka becomes an alkali soldier fighting alongside other girls like her with powers that make them nearly immortal.
Namina Forna says, “The Gilded Ones is a book about my anger at being a woman. Sierra Leone was is very patriarchal. There were things I was expected to do as a girl because I was a girl.” This emotion is harnessed into the story, revealing societal inequities in an intricately woven plot that will surprise and enflame you.
Deka has the best “sidekick” ever—a shapeshifter called Ixa. Though there are elements of romance, it’s strong females who rule the plot. This book provides a fresh look at the “gods and goddesses” trope. The Gilded Ones is fierce, brutal, and relevant. Read it. • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt (www.ChristineVanZandt.com), Write for Success (www.Write-for-Success.com), @ChristineVZ and @WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com
Click here to read another Black History Month review. e
Alex’s Good Fortune, a 32-page early reader, takes us through Alex’s day on Chinese New Year. She invites her best friend, Ethan, over and, together, they prepare for the holiday. Exciting moments (joining the parade and decorating) and mundane ones (sweeping away the bad luck) are illustrated expressively in vibrant colors that accentuate the kids’ emotions. I longed for dumplings as Nai Nai showed the kids how to fold and pinch, fold and pinch.
Back matter includes the pronunciation and meaning of several Chinese New Year wishes, more information about the holiday, and the Chinese zodiac.
Celebrate the Year of the Ox with Benson Shum’s likable book that’s suited for early readers or as a read-aloud story. Xīn xiǎng shì chéng (say: sin see-ang shee che-eng) / May all your wishes come true!
As a big Ivy and Bean fan, I’ve enjoyed two-time Caldecott winner Sophie Blackall’s art for years. Her author-illustrator 2018 picture book, Hello, Lighthouse, was a top book. Now, If You Come to Earth, follows with its amazing accomplishment of summing up, well, everything. This 80-page book is big in size and in heart. Addressed as a letter to “Dear Visitor from Outer Space,” the story includes factual matter such where our planet’s located (and that “the blue stuff is water”) to how “We live in all kinds of homes. / In all kinds of families.” The narrator Quinn’s voice is that of a helpful, insightful child who provides personal details about how “every body is different,” except for their identical-twins friends—yet even then the narrator notes one has a mole. The wide world comes together as a unit as Quinn explains and welcomes an unknown visitor. e This comprehensive yet personal explanation describes our world exceptionally well. In the back matter, Blackall reveals twenty-three kids gave her lots of ideas, and how she didn’t expect this book to take five years. To me, five years to create this sounds reasonable with its all-encompassing subject matter and massive number of illustrations. Blackall’s talents range the gamut, from her expertise in capturing facial expressions to lifelike renditions of plants and animals. If You Come to Earth belongs in classrooms, houses, and spaceships everywhere.
Coming out during the heated election year, The World Needs More Purple People, feels well-timed. Beyond stating, “purple is a magic color made when red and blue work together,” Kristen Bell and Benjamin Hart’s New York Times best-selling picture book avoids politics by simply stating, “the best things are purple.” As someone fond of the color (and the sentiment), I agree.
The story’s serious recommendations (ask questions, give good ideas, and help someone) are balanced with fun (“We laugh at donkey dances and hairy elephant knees”). Daniel Wiseman’s engaging, kid-friendly art accents the humorous text. My favorite lines: “Purple questions are the kind that help you learn something really BIG about the world or something really small about another person” and “Purple people come in every color you can dream up and every size you can think up.” This book engages young reader with important issues by encouraging curiosity and silliness.
★Starred Reviews – Booklist, School Library Journal
There Is a Rainbow by Theresa Trinder is a feel-good picture book filled with hope and reminders that we’re in this together. Inspired by the rainbows her children drew during while sheltering in place for the pandemic, the book expresses our universal experiences such as having to stay separated from family or friends, and attending online school.
Illustrations by Grant Snider perfectly fit the spare, lyrical text. A rainbow of colors glows against a white backdrop. Echoing a child’s style of drawing, Snider elevates that sentiment with details capturing this time in our lives.
Beyond the pandemic, this beautiful picture book “encourages readers to look past their immediate surroundings and find comfort, community, and inner courage—which are all closer than we might think.” And if that’s not enough, peek under the book jacket for a fun, different cover art!
Clickhereto read a recent picture book about hope reviewed by Christine.
Clickhereto read a review of another picture book about hope.
Forget the sourdough bread for now. This scrumptious roundup of family-friendly cookbooks for National Baking Month is meant to tempt you and your children to get cooking together! Start with recipes from Chef Junior, move onto Clean Treats for Everyone and then delight in the deliciousness of Now for Something Sweet.
Five young authors prove that kid’s food doesn’t have to be bland and boring in Chef Junior: 100 Super Delicious Recipes by Kids for Kids! And they cover it all: breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, desserts, and drinks. The creators range in age from twelve to fifteen, however, the cookbook is suitable for middle graders on up—adults, you will learn from this too! The authors’ definition of “real food” is awesome: “An easy rule of thumb is that if something doesn’t have ingredients, but IS an ingredient (one thing), it is generally healthy for you.”
After some “how-to” instruction, tasty recipes follow, thoughtfully flagged with skill level (easy, moderate, advanced). Because chocolate happens in our household, Mug Brownies were our eleven-year-old daughter’s first choice. Dark chocolate, cashew butter, honey, apricot preserves (or more honey), unsweetened cocoa powder, eggs, vanilla, salt, and baking soda come together, producing yummy brownies baked in six oven-safe coffee mugs. Thoughtful ingredients such as the preserves and cashew butter elevate this brownie to something special.
The second recipe tried was Strawberry Cheesecake. Both the crust and filling have only four ingredients each, making this recipe a snap. It received another thumbs-up from the family.
Savory recipes we want to try include Oven Pancake (one-container cooking = less dishes!), Egg-Drop Soup (why have we never made this?), Super-Quick Gravy (because my gravy skills are lacking), and gluten-free Blender Bread. There are also plenty of recipes that use meat, so browse and let your young chef spoil you with a delicious dish.
*The authors are between the age of 12 and 15 and hail from various states in the US (California, Florida, and Michigan), as well as Canada.
Laura Fuentes’s delicious cookbook, Clean Treats for Everyone, gives parents a way to provide healthy snacks for kids using real-food ingredients. Known for her successful MOMables.com and her Family Kickstart Program, Fuentes is a pro at focusing on whole-food family nutrition. This cookbook contains over-fresh and no-bake treats, plus warm drinks, smoothies, and frozen drinks. Clear coding shows which recipes are vegan and which ones omit gluten, dairy, eggs, or nuts. What’s never omitted is kid-approved deliciousness.
While there were many baked treats I couldn’t wait to try, I wanted a quick fix and dove right into making a Matcha Green Tea Frappuccino because I’m all about frozen drinks, no matter the weather. Creamy coconut milk perfectly balanced the matcha’s vegetal notes.
I also made the Coffee Popsicles using coconut milk, instant espresso powder, dates, vanilla extract, and salt. They tasted like a latte on a stick—only better! For kids, swap in decaf.
A two-ingredient recipe that quickly became a must-have in our household was the Homemade Magic Shell. Dark chocolate chips and coconut oil make this magical because it’s no hassle and you know exactly what’s in it. If you’re a label-reader, you’ll know how I feel about the “why are they in there?” list of ingredients found in many foods. This cookbook demonstrates that simple and clean can’t be beat!
The four fabulous women behind Monday Morning Cooking Club have a delectable new Jewish cookbook out called Now for Something Sweet—a title that called to the sweet tooth in me. If you don’t know these ladies, the sisterhood (formed in 2006) is comprised of Lisa Goldberg, Merelyn Frank Chalmers. Natanya Eskin, and Jacqui Israel. Their mission is “to uncover, to persistently test and tweak, and to preserve the many sweet recipes entrusted” to them over their years of collecting. And the results are awesome!
Though I have a long list of recipes I want to try, the one I started with was Hanna Geller Goldsmith’s Chocolate Meringues. Five simple ingredients—dark chocolate, egg whites, salt, caster (superfine) sugar, and vanilla extract—transform into you-can’t-eat-just-one meringue mounds. Bite through the crisp crust for a fudgy middle. These meringues are a step above and will become a welcome addition to my lineup of recipes. Next on my list? Debbie Levi’s Romanian Malai (Polenta Cheesecake), then, for a savory break Leah Koenig’s Onion Pletzels, described as a cross between an onion roll or bialy and a focaccia
I appreciate the specificity of the recipes, reminding me that much of baking is a science. Technical sections like Kitchen Notes (why they use unsalted butter or how to melt chocolate) are balanced with a lovely information about many of the people who contributed the recipes. At the end, in addition to the alphabetically organized index is one sorted into categories: dairy free, gluten free, and for Passover. This at-a-glance reference is truly a time-saver.
Funnyman Josh Funk’s picture books are huge hits and the third book in his fractured fairy tale series, It’s Not Little Red Riding Hood, is sure to connect with audiences everywhere. Little Red’s a smart girl who questions the narrator of the story. If Grandma’s sick, why isn’t Red taking her some medicine? And why send a kid into the woods alone in the first place? I like how the pulled-apart story is cleverly pieced back together. e Art by Edwardian Taylor elevates the story’s hilarity. Red’s expressions say it all. With a crazy cast of characters—did I mention the pirate and Pinocchio?!—kids will be laughing with each page turn. Yet, at the same time, this book teaches kids to think about stories on another level and creatively come up with their own ideas. And that’s a win-win situation for me.
Bao Phi’s Hello, Mandarin Duck! features a duck lost midst the bustling May Day parade. Twins, Hue and Hoa, help it out, meeting friends and neighbors along the way. The duck’s fear of not being understood or accepted in a new place feels genuine and represents the people in similar situations, relying on or hoping for the kindness of strangers.
Dion MBD’s illustrations showcase a diverse community. A sticker and the signs carried in the parade further reinforce the community’s openmindedness. And, though the twins are key, it’s the adorably spunky mandarin duck that stole my heart as it goes from uneasy to dancing with the crowd.
Sally Mallam’s stunning picture book, Dende Maro: The Golden Prince, depicts an African origin tale which begins when there was nothing except a longing. This longing becomes the wind, then a shape until “the sighing of the wind awoke the shape, and in its breath she heard the longing, and understood.” The story continues until everything exists. Beyond the journey, we’re shown how humans “learn and develop their arts, language and mathematics and their ability to settle all over the world; to remake the world.”
The illustrations differ from what’s in many picture books; inspired by ancient African carvings and paintings, Mallam rearranged and colored these collages. I found it fascinating that the “oldest-dated human-made image as yet discovered is a small piece of incised ochre from the Blombos Cave in South Africa that is between 75,000 and 100,000 years old.” Secret picture alert: peek under the cover. This book is a worthwhile addition to home libraries and classrooms as it offers a springboard into many discussions.
Idries Shah’s picture book, The Boy Without a Name, “belongs to a tradition of storytelling from the Middle East and Central Asia that is more than a thousand years old.” Parents of a newborn are told by a wise man to not name the child because he is a “very, very important boy.” Years later, “Benaam” (“Nameless”) and his friend, Anwar, take an insightful journey to visit the wise man.
Realistic illustrations by Mona Caron give the boys depth and character, elevating the tale. The pages at the wise man’s home are spectacular for their attention to detail and wealth of information. Caron has a gift for facial expressions that extends to the animals in the book as well. I would be happy just looking at the stunning images.
Siman Nuurali’s popular chapter-book series features Sadiq, an eight-year-old Somali-American boy living in Minnesota. In Sadiq and the Bridge Builders, Sadiq and his third-grade classmates join the school’s building club where they create a model city that can withstand a natural disaster. Using information from the teachers and sussing out things on their own, the kids succeed.
The book opens with facts about Somalia and Somali terms. Back matter includes a glossary and examples of how to take the story further such as talking about a problem the kids in the book have with their model, writing down examples of how teamwork helped, and drawing your own neighborhood. I like how the extras boost the book’s usefulness in classrooms and are also a boon for parents of bored, stuck-at-home kids.
Click here and here and here to read all of last year’s posts.|
Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2021 (1/29/21) is in its 8th year! This non-profit children’s literacy initiative was founded by Valarie Budayr and Mia Wenjen; two diverse book-loving moms who saw a need to shine the spotlight on all of the multicultural books and authors on the market while also working to get those book into the hands of young readers and educators.
Eight years in, MCBD’s mission is to raise awareness of the ongoing need to include kids’ books that celebrate diversity in homes and school bookshelves continues. Read about our Mission & History HERE.
MCBD 2021 is honored to be Supported by these Medallion Sponsors!
Join us on Friday, Jan 29, 2021, at 9 pm EST for the 8th annual Multicultural Children’s Book Day Twitter Party! This epically fun and fast-paced hour includes multicultural book discussions, addressing timely issues, diverse book recommendations, & reading ideas. We will be giving away an 8-Book Bundle every 5 minutes plus Bonus Prizes as well! *** US and Global participants welcome. ** Follow the hashtag #ReadYourWorld to join the conversation, connect with like-minded parts, authors, publishers, educators, organizations, and librarians. See you all very soon on Twitter! Hashtag: Don’t forget to connect with us on social media and be sure and look for/use our official hashtag #ReadYourWorld.
Sy Montgomery’sNew York Times best-selling memoir, How to Be a Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals, inspired the picture book, Becoming a Good Creature. Herein she conveys her beliefs that we can—and should—learn from animals. Montgomery’s fundamental messages include “respect others,” “find good teachers,” and “see for yourself.” She encourages us to take a closer look at the world and everything inhabiting it. In doing so, we are bound to “love little lives” and find ways to nurture them because we’re all in this together.
While naturalist and adventurer Montgomery has led an extraordinary life, traveling the world and living with animals, we don’t have to fly far away to find something worth exploring.
During the pandemic, my family has discovered and interacted with previously overlooked insects in our garden. Becoming a Good Creature reinforces such behavior. It also shows that women can make their own families and forge their own paths.
Rebecca Green’s paintings, full of delightful animals, depict Montgomery from girl through woman and showcase how curiosity inspired her positive interactions with animals around the globe. For example, alongside the beautifully poignant illustrations of an octopus, a young Montgomery wonders what could we possibly have in common with them; the answer is playing! This uplifting book stresses the importance of communication and caring—much-needed actions for successful coexistence on our planet.
Click herethen scroll down the page to learn more about Rebecca Green’s artwork.
Read a review of another picture book about animals here.