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.
Even if you don't have an adorable stuffed bear, you probably smile when you hear the song if you've ever seen Gene Kelly's exuberant performance of the song. And the brightly-colored retro photos in this picture book adaptation, Singing in the Rain capture that exuberance perfectly. On the first 2-page spread, we see a girl on a lamppost with her yellow slicker and umbrella, a definite homage to Kelly. I love that! Some yellow musical notes dot the page and the birds on the branches in the foreground are watching her intently.
As the song progresses, we see more children splashing through puddles dressed in red, orange, blue, and green. (The little fella in a green raincoat with frog eyes is especially adorable.) They travel through a cityscape and wonder at yellow flowers and puddles. Eventually, they are borne through the wind and land in a jungle with toucans, parrots, leopard, and monkeys. Even the alligators are lulled by the song as the children trip barefoot over them, umbrellas in hand. Eventually the children float back to the city, still smiling.
Tim Hopgood, the illustrator includes a note that urges adults to remember the "...joy of rain. We tend to view it as an inconvenience rather than the wonderful thing that it is. ...Go outside and soak it up like the children in this book."
Hello Goodbye Dog by Marian Gianferrrari
I've become a real fan of Patrice Barton's charming and gentle illustrations since I first saw them on Andrea Cheng's chapter books featuring Chinese-American girls.
They make the story all that more adorable in Hello Goodbye Dog.
A young girl, Zara, has a devoted dog named Moose who is reluctant to abide by the goodbyes that are necessary when the girl goes to school. "There was nothing Moose dislike more than goodbye," the text reads. "Goodbye was an itch that couldn't be scratched."
When the parents first drop Zara off, it takes both of them to wrangle Moose back into the minivan and take her home. But when mom goes outside to check the mailbox, Moose zooms outside and back to the school. Zara convinces the teacher that Moose can lay at her feet quietly while the teacher reads a story. Then, it is time for Moose to go goodbye, but she puts on the brakes, and it takes the two parents and the teacher to get her back home. The pattern repeats with Moose repeatedly escaping and coming back to the school to participate in another activity that involves reading, with subsequently more adults needed to take her back.
Finally, Zara hits on the idea of taking Moose to a therapy dog school and have her tested on temperament, obeying commands, interacting with children and being around wheelchairs. In the last pages, we see her welcomed back as a class reading dog who cuddle up with the children in the reading corner.
It's nice to see a book that features a mixed-race family and a girl in a wheelchair as a matter of course and focuses on the story of a reading therapy dog.
An author's note explains how dogs provide a "pawsitive" association with reading and especially reading aloud since the dog is attentive an non-judgmental.
The Ring Bearer by Floyd Cooper
We often think of childhood as an idyllic time free of worries, but if we are being honest when we remember, we realize that kids are often anxious about a number of things.
In The Ring Bearer, a boy named Jackson has lots of worries on the eve of his mother’s marriage. His long term worries include wondering what it will be like to call the new man, “Dad,” and how he’ll adjust to having a new little sister to share things with. He knows that things won’t be the same.
His short-term worry is that he’ll trip and drop the rings he is carrying as the ring-bearer for his mom’s wedding. Hi new step-dad drops by and tries to cheer him up, but he’s still worried. Then his grandpop shows him how to walk down the aisle slow and steady. Jackson is still worried.
As he walks with his new sister, the flower girl, she trips on the step and falls backward. Jackson catches her before she falls to the ground and everyone in the wedding cheers for him. When his mom has finished walking the aisle, she whispers to him, “You’re a great big brother, Jack. Sophie is lucky to have you around.”
Jackson has a newfound confidence, and he knows he doesn’t need to be so nervous when important jobs come to him.
Cooper has won Coretta Scott King awards for his illustrations, and he poignantly brings to life a joyous—but nerve-wracking—day in a young boy’s life.
I Love You Like a Pig by Mac Barnett
Mac Barnett is known for his offbeat humor, and this one is certainly offbeat, leaving a few readers scratching their heads and trying to figure out what he's getting at.
As advertised, the first sentence is "I love you like a pig." We see a boy bring a huge birthday cake to a pig, and on the next two-page spread, we see children and the pig with slices of cake to a chorus of "oinks." I guess it's meant to be absurd, the idea of bringing a cake to a pig. At any rate, any child hearing this book probably be more than happy to join in the "oinking."
Some of the similes make more sense when you see the accompanying pictures. For instance, "I'm lucky like a window," makes sense when you see that the child (and the pig) are eating a pie that was cooling on the windowsill. Likewise "You're sweet like a banker" shows a girl getting a lollipop, something most children surely associate with banks. And "I like you like a tree" makes sense as children use the tree for swings and tree houses. But, "I'm happy like a monster," and "I'm smiling like a tuna" take a little more of a stretch of the imagination.
At any rate, the book is liberally sprinkled with "oinks" and is bound to tickle a few funny bones with its unexpected juxtapositions. The illustrations are simple and carry the tone of the story, as well as illuminating the text.
Rulers of the Playground by Joseph Kuefler
I like Rulers of the Playground for the way it portrays the power struggles that seem to happen on every playground.
One morning, a boy declares himself ruler of the playground and all the children agree to obey him because his "kingdom" has slides. But one feisty girl doesn't like this idea and claims one side of the playground as her queendom. The kids agree to obey her because her side has swings.
Of course, the two of them get way too bossy, and all the other children decide to go and play by themselves in a field, rather than submit to the whims of the two. "Conquering is complicated," says the boy. "Yeah." says the girl, "Super complicated." In a maybe-too-easy resolution, they both agree to give up their crowns and say they are done conquering.
The illustrations have a charming retro-prep-school look to them and complement the story well.
Lucia the Luchadora by Cynthia Leonor Garza
Lucia runs into an obstacle familiar to lots of girls on the playground; when she tries to join in with the boys who are pretending to be superheroes, they tell her “Girls can be superheroes! Girls are just made of sugar and spice and everything nice!”
Lucia, of course doesn’t feel sweet or nice when she hears that. She feels mad, “Spicy mad. KA-POW kind of mad!” It is up to her abuela, her grandmother, to tell her about the tradition of luchadoras, women who participated in the theatrical and acrobatic style of wrestling, Lucha Libre, which is popular in Mexico. Abuela has her shiny cape and silver mask from her own days of being a luchadora and she gives them to Lucia, explain that a luchadora is agile, brave, and fights for what is right.
When Lucia wears her outfit to the playground the next day, she starts a trend and inspires everyone else to come in their own costumes. One day, a luchadora comes in a very pink and sparkly outfit and gets the same line from the boys that a girl can’t be one of them. Just then, Lucia rescues a dog from the tall, twisty slide and unmasks herself, showing that one of the most adventurous and bravest of them is a girl.
The illustrations are colorful and vibrant and capture the Lucha Libre spirit.
Lily's Cat Mask by Julie Fortenberry
This is a sweet little book that is one of the few to show a father-daughter interaction.
Little Lily is unsure about going to school for the first time until her father lets her pick out a cat mask to wear. Shy Lily feels braver when she gets to face life from behind her mask, and she participates in lots of things as a cat.
But when she goes to school, the teacher finds the mask a distraction and only lets her wear it at recess. Lily learns to cope, and she is especially happy when Halloween rolls around and she can wear her cat mask during school. She discovers that a boy in her school has a cat mask of his own.
Green Pants by Kenneth Kraegel
Almost every parent has had at least one child who fixates on a certain items of clothing. My daughter had a 3-year stage in which she only wanted to wear red dresses.
In Green Pants a boy named Jameson has a similar focus on green pants. When he wears them, he feels he can do anything: dunk, dive, dance.
Then, one day, his cousin Armando drops by with his fiancée and asks Jameson if he will be the ring-bearer at their wedding. Jameson is all in until he learns he’ll have to wear a tuxedo to the occasion, complete with black pants.
He is so conflicted about wearing pants of a different color that he shows up at the wedding undecided, wearing green pants but carrying the black pants with him. He continues to agonize until the bride-to-be pops out, smiles, and tells him, “I’m so glad you’re here! I’ll see you inside.”
Jameson shows up at the wedding, right on cue, wearing the black pants. He poses nicely for photos and behaves impeccable during the dinner. But when the dancing starts, the green pants appear once again, and James is free to express his individuality.
Besides being a fun story, this book could also nudge children towards being more accepting of wearing different clothing for special occasions.
Little Bitty Friends by Elizabeth McPike
I like to read this book to story time groups once the weather starts to get warm in the spring. Children are amazingly observant, and they are curious about all the little creatures they see stirring on the ground.
This book is a celebration of nature that children can come across in their own back yards. The illustrations are just precious and show a diverse group of children encountering ants, caterpillars, buttercups, snails, and all manner of things in the outdoors. The rhyming text is short, a good match for little ones’ attention spans.
We Love You, Rosie by Cynthia Rylant
When I was young, I was inseparable from our family’s two dogs. We lived on a ranch, and whenever my mother wanted to figure out where I was, she’d call out my name, and one of the dogs’ heads would pop up. She knew that wherever the dogs were, that’s where I was.
The two children in this book, who seem to be brother and sister, have a similar relationship with their dog, Rosie. Even though this book is a large-format picture book, the text is really that of an early reader. The stories in the book use a small vocabulary of short, easy-to-read words. For instance, the first “chapter” is called “Rosie Day and Night.” It reads, “Hello, Rosie. Did you just wake up? Do you love the DAY? Look at Rosie run! Look at Rosie play! Rosie runs and plays and runs and plays ALL DAY!”
The repetition is typical of books which are aimed at children just learning to read. The short words, picture clues, and repetition help them to reinforce their reading skills and give them a sense of accomplishment.
The illustrations are colorful, simple, and charming, a good accompaniment to the text.
Billy Bloo Is Stuck in Goo by Jennifer Hamburg
This is a cumulative story reminiscent of "The Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly." A small boy, Billy Bloo, is indeed stuck in pile of green shiny goo, and the books asks, "What would you do?
We don't know why he came to be stuck in the goo, but we do find out everyone who tries to come to his rescue: a cowgirl, acrobats, an octopus, a wizard, a pirate, a queen, and a noble crew of knights. Alas, they all become stuck in the goo as well. Finally, a little mouse goes by and frightens the octopus with "one sneezy squeak." The octopus leaps out, taking the entire gooey retinue with him, including little Billy Bloo.
Children who have this book read to them several times will enjoy seeing if they can remember all the characters who have gotten stuck so far. They will also appreciate little side jokes, like the wizard who misfires and turns a talking ewe into a cat. I also liked some of the lines from the characters. The queen says, "Unruly goo, you stand NO chance," and the pirate asks "Has anybody seen me pants?"
The illustrations highlight the absurdity. It's a fun and "goo"-fy little book.
If I Had a Dinosaur by Alex Barrow
There are some motifs that show up over and over in children's picture books. One is the rooster who can't find his crow. One is the friends who fight and then make up. And one, surprisingly, is children who want a dinosaur for a pet. Children love dinosaurs and pets; why not put them together? (There are also quite a number of books that combine dinosaurs and heavy vehicles, but that's a topic for another day.)
In this book, a young girl expresses her wish for a pet that is the size of a house. The story is told in rhyme, and sometimes uses rebus in which pictures stand in for words. It would be fun for children to follow along when you are reading and supply the rhyme indicated by the picture.
The girl imagines all the the things she would do with her dinosaur: get rides to the playground, dig a massive pond for him, get a "dino-flap" for the door so that he could come and go like a dog or cat does. There's also a joke involving poo that will make the little ones giggle.
The illustrations are simple and colorful and portray a loving interracial family.
When God Made You by Matthew Paul Turner
This is an exuberant book which celebrates how special each person is in the eyes of God. The text begins, "You, you, when God made YOU, God made you all shiny and new, an incredible you, a you all your own, a you unlike anyone else ever known." The text goes on to say that God knew you before you were even born and encourages the reader to "Use your talents and passions, those gifts that God fashioned." The rhymes are clever and insistent on their message that each person is one of a kind, full of creativity, hope, kindness, and love.
Catrow's illustrations are like no other, and he uses his trademark splashes of color to take the girl who is the center of the book to a floating journey of art and unbridled creativity. It may be odd to say that artwork has a relentless dreaminess, but those are the words I thought of to describe the feel of the illustrations in this book.
If you are looking for a religious book to make a child feel special and full of potential, this is it.
I Won a What? by Audrey Vernick
Here is a charming take on the “child wants a pet” story. A boy is trying hard to win a goldfish at the carnival, but when he gets the ball in the bowl, the carnival barker tells him he won a whale by the name of Nuncio.
The parents hadn’t allowed him to have anything fluffy or feathery, being the practical sort, so a fish was the boy’s only option. When the parents object to the whale, the boy reminds them that they promised. “My parents are practical,” he tells us. “But they are also very, very fair.” They agree to take it home on a trial basis.
The picture of them towing the whale through the city in a car that looks a little like a Volkswagen Beetle is priceless. They fill the swimming pool with salt water and at first the whale seems to be too much trouble. But then they realize that he can help out with chores like lifting heaving objects and splashing water for washing the car. At the end the boy is happy with the whale, and in a little twist at the end, we find out that the whale is happy, too.
The bright, colorful illustrations highlight the comedy of the tale.
Where’s Rodney? by Carmen Bogan
This book is part nature advocate, part national park cheerleader and part concept book. We start with a boy named Rodney who daydreams in class, always wanting to be outside. When the teacher asks him what majestic mean, he hasn’t been paying attention. He is a restless class cut-up, and even when the teacher tells him that his misbehavior might cost him a class outing to the park, he isn’t worried. The only park he knows is one near his house, a patch of yellow grass, benches and a trash can. He doesn’t think there is anything to look forward to at a park.
After he boards the yellow school bus for the class trip, Rodney is surprised when they keep on driving past the park he knows, and out of the city. He looks out the window and seas birds floating above the fields and workers harvesting fruits and vegetables. When they get to the park (presumably Yosemite), Rodney runs around exploring. Here is where the concept of opposites come in. He is higher (climbing a rock), lower (at the bottom of a canyon), bigger (looking at an anthill), smaller (at the base of a tree), louder (cupping his hands to yell), quieter (looking at a small bird’s nest with eggs), faster (running with classmates), slower (climbing rocks).
Rodney revels in the outdoors, and when the teacher asks him what he thinks of the park, he replies that it’s majestic.
The illustrations have a pastel pointillist glow to them and realistically capture an antsy boy discovering nature for the first time.
Out! by Arree Chung
I've always liked books that tell their stories with just a few words. If I am reading them to preschoolers, I show them the letters in the word and tell them they will be able to read the book by the time we are done. This one has particularly short words. It's about a toddler and a dog, but it will take children who are preschoolers or older to interpret what is happening in the pictures.
A baby is in his crib and wants "OUT." The dog, who seems to be sympathetic, is there when the toddler manages to climb up on the crib rail and lands on the dog when he jumps off. The two of them take a ride down the stairs in the laundry basket and them manage to pull down a cake from the table. After enjoying the cake, they sit on the back porch for a while looking at the stars and the moon. When the toddler becomes drowsy, the dog carries him back to bed.
The joke of the story is that the dog gets in trouble for the escapades, but the boy manages to crawl out of view before his parents can see him.
The pictures capture the feeling of late evening quite well, and the expressions of the dog carry the story.
The Frog Prince Saves Sleeping Beauty by Charlotte Guillain
This mashup of the two fairy tales works out pretty elegantly. The princess needs a prince to kiss her so that she can wake up. The frog needs to kiss a princess so that he can turn back into a human. Why not get the two of them together?
The book is part of Capstone's "Read and Learn" series, meant for children who are beginning to read. I'd say the reading level is for a typical 2nd or 3rd grade reader. There are two or three sentences on each page, the font is large, and there is quite a bit of space between the lines of text. The story gets to the point quickly and is done in 19 pages. The back matter includes a little background on the two fairy tales, a glossary, writing prompts, and a list of additional books to read.
The illustrations are colorful and sweet.
Sam Sorts by Marthe Jocelyn
First off, I love the cut-paper/montage illustrations. They are just right for portraying the kind of flotsam and jetsam that can accumulate in a child's room.
Secondly, I love that this is a concept book of so many types. As Sam sorts his piles of things, he discovers lots of categories: bugs, animals, round things, things of the same color, things that come in pairs, things that can float, and so on. I can envision lots of companion activities that a classroom teacher or home schooler could do with all the different categories. To top it off, this book is subtitled One Hundred Favorite Things, and so adds counting as a skill that can be practiced along with recognizing sets.
Sam is an engaging little fellow, and children will have a great time talking about the wealth of pictures in the book.
Haley from Baltimore, MD on October 26, 2018:
These are some great suggestions, I can't wait to try some of these with my son.
Linda C Thomas on December 12, 2017:
These books all sound great.
Clever, and imaginative they made me feel like a kid again.
Your descriptions put a smile on my face.
Cheers to you!