Adele has been a youth services librarian in public libraries for 20 years.
The New Everyday Diversity Books
Here is a roundup of books published in 2017 which show a variety of diverse characters in everyday situations of contemporary life. The publishers have been issuing more and more books that show children interacting with clothes, relatives, friends, toys, food, fears, hopes, and all the other things that go along with being a child. The message is that diverse people are all around us, and children can see themselves mirrored in these books in everyday situations.
Snowball Moon by Fran Cannon Slayton
I'm always on the lookout for evocative books with short text to read aloud to children, and Snowball Moon fits the bill quite nicely. At the beginning, we see a family cozy by the fire. Dad is playing Jenga with a boy and a girl, and the mom is reading a book on the couch. Outside, we see a snowy scene. "Snowy night...firelight. Cozy flames, friendly games," the text reads. On the next page, things change abruptly as the power goes out, leaving the family in a dim room. But, in the low light, they realize that a full moon is shining on the snow. The children pull on their warms clothes and head outside to do some sledding.The neighborhood children are all there joining in the fun. They sled, build a fort, and have a snowball fight.
Eventually the power comes back on and the children go inside to warm up with a cup of hot cocoa. It ends with the children counting sheep to fall asleep and the lines, "Sleepyheads, dream of sleds. Come back soon, snowball moon. " With rhyming text, Slayton conveys the joy of an impromptu evening in the snow with just a few words.
It's a book that's perfect for setting the mood of a snowy day, and the illustrations capture the magic of the luminous moon and snow.
Round by Joyce Sidman
I've seen quite a few concept books that talk about circles and spheres, but I've never seen one with as much poetry and appreciation of the natural world as Round.
At the beginning of the book, we see a young girl reaching down to the ground for an orange. "I love round things," the narrator tells us. As the girl reaches up into the tree, the text says "I like to feel their smoothness. My hands want to reach around their curves."
Ever so subtly, the book becomes a little more scientific, showing us how many living things start from something round: a pea seed, or a turtle egg. As the book progresses, we see the girl with her parent (most us us at the library think it's a dad, though it could be a short-haired mom), and they walk through the woods, passing mushrooms, blueberries, sunflowers, rocks in the river, dung beetles, tree rings, ladybugs, raindrops, bubbles, stars and the moon.
The illustrations are just wonderful, and the pure poetry of text helps us see round things in a new way. On a two-page spread, we see the girl blowing bubbles, and then looking through a telescope at night. The text reads "I love when round things pop up quickly...and last only a moment. Or spin together slowly...and last billions of years."
One particularly poignant illustration shows the girl and her friends lying in a circle, arms outstretched, holding hands. "I can be round, too...in a circle of friends with no one left out." On the next page, we see how she also likes to curl into a ball by herself, with her pets and her books.
At the end of the book, there is some supplementary matter that asks "Why are so many things in nature round?" The answers there might be enlightening to even some adults. We learn that round is cozy--no sharp edges. It's a sturdy shape and minimizes stress on any one point, like an egg. When things spread out--a tree or a raindrop--they tend to spread out equally and create a round shape. Round rolls, and is balanced. And then, the author points out that so many things we value are round :eyes, faces, food, sun & moon, hugs.
It's a poetic and beautiful book that can be read quickly, or can be savored for its new way of seeing things. It's one to buy and to keep. I hope it wins an award this coming season.
Grandma's Tiny House: A Counting Story! by JaNay Brown-Wood
This books has fun with a dilemma known to everyone who is part of a big family: "Grandma's house stays small as the family grows."
I was charmed when I saw the second 2-page spread of Grandma's Tiny House which shows Grandma looking at the collection of family photos that cover her walls. It reminds me of so many grandmas I know who put up every family photo they receive. The whole bunch is coming for dinner.
As the title says, this is a counting story, and we launch in to rhyming text which enumerates the food and the number of guests. We learn that Grandma has prepared 2 turkeys, and guests have brought things like greens and hamhocks, pear jam, lemonade, ten cheesecakes (my favorite) and eleven sweet potato pies. The counting goes all the way up to fourteen honeydew melons and fifteen hungry grandkids stampeding to the feast.
When they all get in, it's apparent that they wont all be able to sit down. Then one little granddaughter has an answer. "We've stuffed this old house, but the yard's long and wide. Why don't we move our big dinner outside?"
Fortunately, it's warm where grandma lives and all the neighbors, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews take everything outside for the feast.
The illustrations are exuberant and bright and capture the mood perfectly.
I Am Truly by Kelly Greenawalt
I am always on the lookout for books that are good for groups: punchy language and short amounts of text. This one fills the bill. I Am Truly is a celebration of a young girl who is confident in herself and loves exploring the world around her.
On the first page, we see a girl in roller skates and a tutu with pink sparkles in her curly ponytails. "I am Truly," she tells us. On the second page, she's put on star glasses, grabbed a guitar, and has her stuffed animal collection up in the trees with her playing rock music. "I like frogs and the color blue. I can climb trees and be a rock star, too."
Truly continues, showing us all the things she's proud of: building tall towers with blocks, tying her shoes, swimming, shooting baskets. And she also shows us the things she imagines when she's playing: leading her toy penguins to the top of a mountain, going sailing on a pirate boat, flying to the moon and dancing on the stars. The text rhymes, and one of my favorite segments reads, :I can sail the seas/on a little boat./ I can eat every bite/ of a root beer float."
The watercolor illustrations are bright, active, and just downright adorable.
At the end of the book, the authors include pictures of them and their daughters and tell us they created the book for their daughters. They tell us "We wanted them to see a strong, smart, problem-solving, confident young girl with beautiful curls who could do anything she set her mind to!"
If Your Monster Won't Go To Bed by Denise Vega
The cover of If Your Monster Won't Go To Bed caught my eye--and then I realized it is by an author who lives near me in Colorado. She's won quite a few Colorado Books Awards for her middle grade and young adult fiction, and now I see that she has gotten another picture book published.
The premise of this whimsical book is that a girl is telling you how to get a monster to bed. She starts with what won't work: bringing your dog in (the monster will just chase the dog) or counting sheep (the monster will just eat the sheep, and the wool will make him gassy.) And don't ask your parents for help, because they are just no good at it. (The illustration of the parents shows an interracial couple.)
The winning techniques for getting a monster bed follow a formula that will be familiar to human parents: a snack, a bath, a story, a song. Of course, there is a monster-y twist to all of these activities. The snack is "calming crunching, oozy bug juice," and the song is "Shock-a-Bye Baby."
The illustrations are bright and furry and add to the fun of the book.
Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall
I wasn’t much of a swimmer in grade school. Even though we had swim lessons most of my 6th-grade year, I didn’t get beyond a dog paddle, though I did get an A+ in floating. And when a rumor circulated that we would have to jump off the diving board, well, I thought the world was coming to an end. My father took me to the pool so that I could do the jump a few times and get used to the idea. I sat on the board until my swimsuit was dry before I finally slipped into his arms in the water.
So I’m familiar with the hesitation the main character feels in Jabari Jumps. Jabari, who looks to be about 7 or 8, has passed the swimming test, and he’s jazzed about jumping off the high board. “I’m a great jumper,” he tells his father, “so I’m not scared at all.” …Except that when he actually gets to the ladder, he lets all the other kids go before him because he needs some more time to think about what kind of jump he wants to do, an obvious stall for time.
His dad knows what’s going on, but gives Jabari the time he needs to process his fears by doing stretches and taking a little rest. Finally dad gives him some advice, telling him it’s OK to feel a little scared. He also points out that when he does something he’s a little afraid of, “it stops feeling scary and feels a little like a surprise.”
Jabari decides to take the plunge because he does love surprises. (Apparently, he’s an easier kid to convince than I was.) We follow him up and up and up the ladder and see the world from the high board. Finally, he jumps off the board and feels like he’s flying until he hits the water with an exuberant splash. We see him going down, down, down in the water, and then popping back up. This is one of the strengths of the book: it shows each step in the process and gives children a tangible idea of what it would be like to jump off the high dive. After Jabari and his dad celebrate, he announces that he’s going to do a surprise double backflip.
This is one of those books that is perfect for reading aloud to a large group. The story is fast-moving, the format is large, and the illustrations are active and easy to see from the back of the room. I love the color palette; it invokes the greens and blues of summer. I also like how Cornwall worked in little pieces of print in her illustrations. The strong relationship between a boy and his father is also a plus.
Green Green: A Community Gardening Story by Marie Lambda and Baldev Lambda
Green Green: A Community Gardening Story is a super-short book that would take less than five minutes to read to a group, but it packs a lot of meaning into its text and pictures.
Written in a poetic style, the first spread shows us a diverse group of children playing out in the grass in the countryside. "Green green, " the text says, "fresh and clean." On the next page, we see people in the suburbs planting a garden. "Brown brown," says the text, "dig the ground."
On the following pages, though, we see diggers and heavy equipment come in to dig the ground and turn the area into a cityscape. Here, there are a few flowers and weeds in a vacant lot, but everything looks drab and gray.
Once again, though, the text says "Brown, brown, dig the ground?" The people in the neighborhood work together to clean up the lot and put in a community garden which is quite beautiful by the last page.
The back matter includes more information about community gardens, including a website. There is also some information on protecting pollinators and on how to make a butterfly craft.
Shawn Loves Sharks by Curtis Manley
Most of us have a come across a kid like the one in Shawn Loves Sharks.
He absolutely loves sharks, to the point that he "knew all the shark movies by heart, and had 127 shark books." He thinks about them all the time, and runs around chasing the other kids with his mouth open wide.
When his teacher tells the class they are each going to get a different predator to learn about, Shawn of course jumps up and says "I get the shark! I get the shark!" But, alas for him, the children choose by picking slips of paper from a bowl. Shawn doesn't get Great White Shark. A girl named Stacy does. Shawn gets Leopard Seal.
He tries everything he can think of to get Stacy to budge, but she won't. What follows is a little rivalry in which Shawn learns some pretty cool things about leopard seals and Stacy chases him around with her mouth open wide.
At the end of the book, Shawn has decided that seals are pretty cool, too, and also that maybe he wants to get to know Stacy. He piles his 127 shark books in his wagon and goes to see her. The last illustration is sweet, with them in their seal and shark outfits looking at books together.
The illustrations are uncluttered and carry the emotions of the story quite nicely.
Over and Under the Pond by Kate Messner
Over and Under the Pond would serve as a great introduction to wetland ecosystems.
A boy and his mother head out in a canoe, and the boy asks his mom what is down there, under the pond. The mom responds, "Under the pond is a whole hidden world of minnows and crayfish, turtles and bullfrogs. We're paddling over them now."
The text goes on to describe a myriad of plants an animals, both over and under the pond: whirligig beetles, brook trout, red-winged blackbirds, moose beaver, herons, minnows, caddis flies, loons, dragonflies, raccoons and ospreys among them.
I always like finding out new information from a children's books, and I learned from this one that dragonfly larvae eat minnows. Who would have thought!
I can imagine reading this book to a class, and then having the children divide up the animals and do a small report on each of them.
In a note, the author talks a little about how the ecosystem works, and then she includes a one-paragraph description for most of the animals and insects she mentions in the book. (She's a former teacher, so you can see why she wanted to add this section.)
The illustrations are clear and realistic, with a variety of blue-green tones that match the feeling of being on a pond in a canoe.
Lola Gets a Cat by Anna McQuinn
If you want to get a group of children started talking, ask them about their pets. In Lola Gets a Cat, little Lola, who has amassed quite a collection of stuffed cats, is ready to get a real cat of her own.
I love how this book walks us matter-of-factly walks us through the process of getting a pet from a shelter. First, Lola and her mother check out books from the library so that she can learn about them. The mention of doing a little research warms the little librarian heart inside of me.
Then, they go to the internet and find out about a shelter to visit. While she is there, Lola finds a gray-striped tabby who seems to choose her. The shelter manager gives her a list of things to do to ease the fear the cat might have when it moves to a new place, and Lola and her parents go shopping and prepare their home to welcome the new arrival.
One nice thing about this story is that Lola realizes her cat isn’t ready to play right away as it adjust to its new surroundings. The other is that she gives her cat the name of an African queen—Makeda.
Rosalind Beardshaw’s illustrations are as adorable as ever. This charming, low-key book would be a perfect read to help any young child get ready for a new pet, even if that pet is not a cat.
Blue Sky White Stars by Sarvinder Naberhaus
Most illustrators would think to put people from a variety of cultures and age groups in the painting for the cover of this book, but the award-winning Kadir Nelson takes it a step further by putting a young African-American man at the center of the group in Blue Sky White Stars.
The short yet powerful text was written by Sarvinder Naberhaus, a woman whose family came from India when she was four years old. She wrote this poem to show the parallels between the US flag and the country it represents. On each two-page spread, Nelson's paintings show the parallels drawn in the text. For example, the blue sky and white stars on the left-hand page appear in a scene with the Statue of Liberty. On the right-hand page the blue and white are the stars on the US flag. On the next page, we see "red rows" of trees in fall juxtaposed with red rows of stripes on the flag.
A particularly clever spread shows a young woman in colonial days sewing a flag, and the text says "Sew together won nation." The next page shows a diverse collage of faces, and the text says "So together one nation."
Naberhaus and Nelson show typical symbols from our nation's history and show how our history unites us. As we turn the pages, we see covered wagons, a farm nestled against the mountains, the Grand Canyon, city fireworks, ocean waves, Abraham Lincoln, a Civil Rights march, a baseball game, a veteran on his porch, a diverse group of soldiers, a graduate in cap and gown, a rocket launching, and eagle, and the men on the moon.
The paintings are luminous, and the large format of this picture book shows them off to good effect. This is a book that will work with a wide range of age groups to introduce symbols and ideas behind this country we call the United States. Younger children can talk about the scenes and older children can talk about what the text is getting out with the parallels drawn.
In this time when the country seems more divided, it is good to see a book like this that concentrates on those things that unite us.
Love Is by Diane Adams
I was drawn in by charming illustration on the cover of Love Is, and--as a mother with a daughter in college--felt a little wistful by the end.
In the story, a girl finds a solitary duckling in a cityscape that looks quite a bit like the area near Central Park in Manhattan. Adams tells the story in rhyme: "Love is holding something fragile/tiny wings and downy head./Love is noisy midnight feedings/shoe box right beside the bed."
We can't help but sympathize with the girl lying wide-eyed while the duckling quacks loudly in the wee hours of the morning. As any parent knows, the job never eds. The girls feeds the duck, chases it at bath time, cleans up after its messes, and sometimes gets to settle down in front of the TV with a package of sunflower seeds.
Over time, she sees that her little duckling is growing up. She helps it to fly and encourages it to take off with other ducklings. But of course, once her duck is gone, she misses it quite a bit. "Love is missing, reminiscing/wishing things could stay the same" the text tells us as we see the girl drawing pictures of her duck and sadly sitting on the couch with the sunflower seeds.
The book ends on a decidedly cheerier note when the duck comes back to visit in a year--with ducklings of her own.
The illustrations are expressive and have an old-fashioned charm that is sweet, but not saccharine. Claire Keane is the illustrator, and on a hunch, I looked her up on the internet. As I suspected, she is the granddaughter of Bil Keane who created the "Family Circus" cartoon strip. She has studied art in Paris and has worked as visual development artist for several Disney films.
This is a lovely book, and I hope we will see more from this team.
The Thing Lou Couldn't Do by Ashley Spires
Children’s books usually telegraph exactly where they are going, but The Thing Lou Couldn't Do is a little different, providing a twist that gives children a more realistic outlook on the effort involved in doing many things that they aspire to.
At the beginning we meet a girl with some self-confidence and fearless attitude who plays with a group of friends who are brave adventurers. They run fast, they build forts out of cushions, and pretend they are wild animal rescuers. But, when they decide to climb a tree, Lou comes across the thing she can’t do. She’s afraid of heights.
I like the way the narrator tells the story here. Her friends want to climb the tree and pretend it’s a pirate ship. One friend tells her “It will be an adventure!” Then, we are told “Lou loves adventures, but this adventure is UP. She likes her adventures to be DOWN.”
From there, you pretty much know how the story is going to play out. After a lot of procrastinating, Lou screws up her pirate courage and decides to join her friends on the tree. The scene pulls in tight as Lou climbs up, grunting along the way. “She must be nearly there…” the narrator tells us, but then the scene pulls out and Lou is actually only about two feet of the ground. She falls with a thud. See? I told you it had a twist. Normally in these books, when children get brave enough to do something, they have no trouble pulling of the feat, whatever it is.
But this book shows us it’s not as simple as that. After Lou falls, the text says “She knew it. She CAN’T climb.” Don’t worry, though. This is not a book about giving up. Turn the page and the text says “NOT YET, anyway.” Lou is now brave enough to climb, but she hasn’t built up the muscles or the technique. “She’ll be back,” we are told. “Maybe even tomorrow.” Turn the page, and we see Lou once again trying to climb up the trunk of the tree.
The illustrations have a modern, 3-D look to them, and they capture the emotions of Lou and her friends quite well.
Quiet! by Kate Alizadeh
Quiet! has a simple premise, but it's a great book to help children notice their surroundings. It's also a very nice introduction to onomatopoeia.
At the beginning, a young girl is peeking through the door with her finger to her lips. "Sssh!" she says. "Listen, what's that noise?" We then follow her through her house: the kitchen, with the "bubbling of the pan and the humming of the fridge"; the living room, with the babbling or the TV and the purring of the cat; the bathroom with the splashing of the bathwater and the squeaking of the rubber duck--and so on.
In a change from the usual story line, the girl interacts with her dad, who is the one who blows her a goodnight kiss at the end of the night.
The illustrations are large and colorful, making it great to use with a group as well as one-on-one.
Be a Star, Wonder Woman by Michael Dahl
Oftentimes, books that trade on the popularity of a movie are quick jobs that don't have much kid appeal beyond the movie they tout. But, Be a Star, Wonder Woman is different. For one thing, it seems to understand the need for good art and shorter text. For another, it's a nice exploration of how a girl can be a "Wonder Woman" in her own neighborhoood.
At the beginning, a little girl is being walked to school by her father. At the same time, we see Wonder Woman standing at the top of a building, ready for her day. The text reads "At dawn, a new day begins. New challenges await." As the story progresses, Wonder Woman solves problems in her world (dragons have seemingly attacked the city) and the girl solves problems in hers (two children fighting over who gets to play with the stuffed dragon.) The girl overcomes obstacles like climbing a rope ladder and figuring out how to draw a picture. (And, I saw a girl in a head scarf among her friends.)
All in all, it's a cute concept, and the illustrations will draw children in to the world of this wide-eyed girl.
Tap Tap Boom Boom by Elizabeth Bluemle
I've always liked illustrator Brian Karas' work, and I was happy when I saw Tap Tap Boom Boom come into the library.
As its title suggests, this is a book that uses onomatopoeia to evoke the sound and feeling of a thunderstorm in the city. Once the rain, lightning and thunder start, a diverse group of people head to the subway station for shelter: boy scouts, construction workers, basketball players, dog walkers, kids and grownups. There, they share umbrellas and pizza and listen to music. In the words of the book, “The storm above makes friends of strangers.” It’s a fun story all in all, and Karas’ artwork fits it perfectly.
I'm going to share with you a little movement and imagination activity I do with a group of kids after reading a book about rainstorms. First, you tell the children "We're going to make a rainstorm." Then, you have the children rub their hands together and listen to the quiet sound they make. It sounds like just a few light raindrops falling on the sidewalk. Then, ask them to clap slowly (or snap, if they're older). That is the sound of a few big raindrops falling on the sidewalk. Then, you have them pat their thighs slowly at first, then faster and faster. The raindrops are coming faster and faster. As they are making the raindrop sound, I have them blow like the wind, make lightning sounds (Ksh! Ksh!) and thunder (Boom! Boom!) It's a wild thunderstorm! Then, you can have the kids start to quiet it down--less wind, fewer raindrops. Finally, you're back to the shhh sound of hands rubbing together. Then, at the end, I tell them that the clouds part, the sun comes out, and I have them all make put their hands above their heads to make an arch. It's a rainbow!
Everywhere Wonder by Matthew Swanson
I like Everywhere Wonder because it works on so many different levels for different ages of readers/listeners.
If you have preschool-age children, this is a nice book for encouraging them to notice what’s around them. You can talk with them about the items you see in the pictures, the shapes, the colors.
If you have children who are a little bit older, this is a nice introduction to some notable places around the world and can pique an interest in history or geography. It would also be a good book to introduce children to a writing unit, encouraging them to look for wonder all around them.
At the beginning, we see a young boy pull a book from a bookshelf and start to read. “I have a story to share,” the text begins (presumably, it’s the book talking to him). “It is a little gift from me to you. You might not know it, but you have a story, too. You’ll find it in the things you stop to notice.”
Then, the boy floats out of the window with his dog, and they travel to many wonders of the world: the pyramids, the Grand Canyon, the Brazilian jungle, Japanese gardens, the Kenyan savannah, the Alaskan ocean, the Coral Sea, the moon (where “there is a quiet footprint that no rains will ever wash away), Sheboygan Wisconsin, and the North Pole.
The boy sees a polar bear there, and the text says “…you noticed him, didn’t you? He walked off this page and into you head. Now he is part of your story.”
The boy goes on to notice things in his everyday world: a treasure at the bottom of a swimming pool, a line of ants on the playground,a cut glass doorknob that makes rainbows when the light shines through.
The artwork is bright, nuanced, and fits the theme of wonder perfectly.
The Library Book by Tom Chapin and Michael Mark
How have I been in the library profession for more than two decades and not known about this library song by Tom Chapin? Apparently the song was written and recorded back in 1989, and just this year they have turned it into an illustrated picture book.
It has become a pretty common practice to take a song and get some more mileage out of it by turning into a picture book. Some have worked successfully ("What a Wonderful World," "Happy,"), and some not so much. In its transformation, this one switched from "The Library Song" to The Library Book. I think this adaptation is in the successful category.
"Saturday morning and the rain is pouring," the lyrics begin. "Dad worked late last night, he's in there snoring. Same old stuff on the the TV--boring. So what if I can't go out and play; I know what I'll do today." Then the chorus begins, "I'm going down to the library, picking out a book, check it in, check it out."
The rich illustrations show us a bespectacled little girl looking sadly at the rain and her zonked out father until she hits on the idea of putting on her yellow raincoat and heading to the library. The double-page spread of the girl surrounded by luminous shelves of books should be turned into a poster and put into every children's librarians' office. It's adorable.
The girl tucks herself into a chair and looks around to see who's there among the books. First Winnie-the-Pooh shows up, then Sleeping Beauty, Madeline, Cat in the Hat, and Pinocchio. My favorite line in the book shows Pinocchio warning the little girl not to take the Cat in the Hat home with her. "Don't take that cat to your address; he always makes a mess."
Eventually, they all come to the checkout desk, and when the librarian asks if they want all of them, they shout together, "Oh, yes!"
That outburst earns them a "Shhhh!" from the librarian, and they tiptoe out, gathering more characters as they go. If you've been to a children's room lately, you'd be hard-pressed to find much "shushing" going on, a change in culture from 1989. That aside, it's a joyful celebration of libraries and reading brought to life with charming illustrations.
I'd recommend reading the book while listening to the song to get the full effect. I've included a link for on of the videos below.
"The Library Song" Video
Singing in the Rain, illustrated by Tim Hopgood
When she was young, my daughter was given a little bear dressed in a yellow rain hat, coat and boots. If you pushed on the bear's foot, you'd activate an inner mechanism and the bear would tap his toe and swish his umbrella while a little music box inside would play "Singin' in the Rain." It made me smile every time I passed by it.