I really believe that creating readers starts when kids are little. It’s the trips to the library, the cuddles on the couch with a book and the talks we have as we read that mean so much. I am a library lover and not only work in a library but visit our local public libraries frequently as well. Here are some of my most recent favorites that I have read. Not all are new, not all are award winners but they stood out to me as ones I enjoyed and I know other little friends have enjoyed as well.
Undefeated by Kwame Alexander
This book succeeded beautifully in weaving stories of our past with the perseverance of the present and the hope for our future. Illustrator, Kadir Nelson was awarded the Caldecott Medal for best picture book for his artistic interpretations of Kwame Alexander’s poetic words. This book was also the Coretta Scott King Illustrator winner for 2020. The use of shadows and light reveal the emerging strength of so many African Americans from our past that helped lead the way for those in our present who are continuing the fight for social justice and civil rights. One of the most compelling pages to me was a blank page representing the ones who didn’t survive, the stories we are left unable to finish. It left me with such a profound feeling of loss for those lives but also gratitude that their lives were filled with meaning and had and will continue to have an impact on all of us. The biographic illustrations in this book are not labeled as we proceed through the pages, but the end of the book does provide identification for those that you may not immediately identify. Reading this in a class of students, many were especially drawn to the athletic role models mentioned which served to captivate their attention and keep them engaged.
Little Fox in the Forest by Stephanie Graegin
This wordless picture book in which a young girl chases after a small fox that has just taken her stuffed fox is full of magical surprises. The illustrations depict her journey to find her sweet stuffed animal and all she encounters along the way. I have really enjoyed wordless picture books with my four year old. Together we look at all the details and ask questions, make predictions and create a story together of all that is happening. I love the way my son is able to pick up on details presented by the illustrator and make sense of them in conjunction with the context in which they are presented.
The Good Egg by Jory John and Pete Oswald
I related to this book on a few too many levels! I am a bit of a perfectionist and often try to control things that are simply not within my control. So the story of the good egg struggling to live his life within a carton full of eggs so different from himself is wonderful. I love how the egg decides he needs to get away from the rule breakers, to meditate, to look within and practice self-care. When he is ready to return to his carton it is with fresh perspective and new found patience. I feel like while I related to this book as an adult, plenty of young children can also connect here. I know so many students in my school who are the caretakers, the rule followers and the ones that try to keep everyone together and that can become exhausting. This sweet reminder to take care of oneself is so adorable!
Because by Mo Willems and Amber Ren
I loved how this book takes the reader on a journey of chance, persistence and shows us the way the world comes together to create so many magical things. A young girl is exposed to the orchestra and we learn about how all the moments that led to that production and how she is able to fulfill a dream and let a moment of inspiration guide her. I especially appreciated the attention Mo Willems pays to those behind the scenes players such as the train conductor and the ushers who play vital roles in orchestra performances. The reader also realizes the work and commitment that is needed to make it to the stage. there is a bit of a tone reminiscent of If you Give a Mouse a Cookie books by Numeroff as we are seeing the if this…then that… story line here. I think this book is one of the best of Mo Willems.
After the Fall by Dan Santat
This adorable look at the story of Humpty Dumpty is filled with hope and messages of perseverance. When Humpty falls from his favorite spot up high on the wall, he lets fear keep him from doing the very thing he always enjoyed. It took time and courage, but Humpty Dumpty finds his inner strength and the end of the book leaves the reader feeling great joy for the character!
Be a Maker by Katey Howes
“In a world of possibilities, today, what will you make?” I have always loved watching my kids as they build, design and create things. I often think of boredom as an invitation to build for my boys. If I leave them to be without screens or a toy, they embrace the open-ended nature of using random objects such as boxes, tubes and strings. Part of the message within this book is that with a friend, with a community we can make a difference. I love the illustrations and the rhyming nature of this book that I believe will inspire any reader.
The Dot by Peter Reynolds
Struggling with finding her creative side, Vashti follows her teachers advice to “Just make a mark, see where it takes you.” OFten kids are so expressive and feel no hesitation when given a blank paper and a crayon, but occasionally a child will feel the pressure to “create” to draw something special and freeze to the point of inaction. I loved how Vashti was given permission to explore her creative spirit and found her inner artist.
by Jonathan Stutzman
The beautiful illustration and the color pallete on the cover drew me to this book, but the inside story made me so happy. We can all relate to the problem T. Rex is going through, we all have faced obstacles and felt like we needed practice in order to accomplish a goal. The sweet part about this story to me, is how T.Rex is working so hard in order to be able to make a friend feel better with a hug. In the process of seeking advice from his family, he learns about persistence but also so very random things, like math, ping-pong and yoga?? I found the advice from family a bit strange, but the overall message was a sweet one.
by Juana Martinez-Neal
What’s the story behind your name? We learn from Alma’s conversations with her dad, that all the parts of her name have a story. Six names is a lot for little Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela but she learns how each name has a history. A great book for looking at ancestry, family connections and creating your own story! I adored the illustrations in this book, how they had a sketch like quality and differed as each name was discussed.
A Book with No Pictures by B.J. Novak
This humorous book that always makes kids giggle as the person reading it aloud is speaking nonsensical words! I’m always drawn to interactive books that give the reader and listener some sort of engagement. This book really only works if read-aloud, but kids will enjoy watching a grown-up say foolish things over and over.
This book brought tears to my eyes. A story about kindness and the power of helping others in whatever ways we can is so moving. While there are references to church (chapel) and the preaching of a reverend I didn’t feel that the religious tone was overt or too strong to prevent sharing with any religion or non-religious person. The message was one that can be felt and understood by all, young and old alike. Sweet James Otis and his mama give to a family in need and do so from the heart, in return their hearts were filled.
by Matthew A. Cherry
This New York Times bestseller is a sweet tale based on the Oscar winning short film by the same name. This book helps fill a gap in children’s literature that allows young children to see themselves in the books they read. We watch as Zuri and her dad struggle to style her hair and it’s humorous but also heart-warming. We see in the book that she is getting ready to welcome her mom home, but the video delves in a bit deeper to show that her mom has been in the hospital and lost her hair. When I watched the video with my 4 year old he got visibly sad when he saw a sick mama, but cheered up as Zuri and her dad showered her with love. The representation in this book that embraces natural hair and the bond between a girl and her dad is something to be appreciated!
by Richard T. Morris
I adored this sweet story about how a hodge-podge of animals ended up together riding along a river. The illustrations by LeUyen Pham were so beautiful and the watercolor and ink technique drew me into the story. In a world where we are often separated and distant this story reminds us that together we are more, together our differences can look like strength. “So many different animals living their separate lives, but they didn’t know they were in it together…”
Chick and Brain #1 Smell My Foot by Cecel Bell
Newbery honor winner, Cece Bell created a silly comic accessible to new readers. This humorous tale of a chick, a heart boxer wearing brain exposed man and a dog named Spot. What I loved most about this book is how it takes a format loved by so many older kids and allows emerging readers to enjoy it. The repetition of words, the simple vocabulary and the humor will work wonderfully for younger children. The reader will enjoy chick’s insistence on manners and enforcing proper social behaviors to the ever forgetful Brain. While Brain is reminded that he is not as smart as he looks, it is actually his intellect that saves Chick from Spot at the end of the story.
This is a tale of two friends who enjoy dance parties, knock-knock jokes and their pet fish named Python. However, when secrets get revealed, feelings are hurt and their friendship is severed. When both boys realize that life without their best buddy is not so wonderful, they decide to have a DO-OVER and be friends again. I loved the illustrations and style of the book – as if the boys had written it themselves. I also like the message that even when friends fight, it’s not worth destroying a special relationship. Maybe it’s the mom in me, but I wanted the boys to apologize to each other and address what happened, rather than just ignoring how they made each other -feel! Oh-well! I suppose that could be a talking point with your child if you feel the same way!
by Louie Chin
For anyone who grew up in an urban area the bodega is a central part of most neighborhoods. As someone who now lives in the suburbs, this book made me long for the days of life in an urban area! This adorable story is told from the perspective of the cute cat that claims himself to be the boss of the store. From his perspective, running a bodega is a lot of work and we get to see all the visitors, all the sales and all the fun that can be had in this neighborhood -shop. I especially enjoyed meeting Ja-Young, the boss of the Asian grocery store across the street. While these two cats, run similar grocers we see the differences as well. I enjoyed the culturual references and the glimpse into urban life.
by Jonty Howly
As Levi gets ready for his first day at his new school he is told by his father that ” big boys don’t cry” but on his way to school Levi is exposed to all kinds of men who shed tears for so many reasons. It turns out Levi enjoyed his first day of school, but needed to remind his dad when he got home, that big boys, do indeed cry and that is ok!
I loved this message that can remind our young boys that emotional expression is acceptable and beautiful! I adored the illustrations in this book that made me living in a coastal town surrounded by piers and poets!