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Posts Tagged ‘diverse children’s books’

A friend of mine recently related that she had been stopped cold one day when her four-year-old daughter declared, “Girls can’t be heroes. Only boys can.”

This shocked young mama promptly sewed her daughter a cape and held a Hero Day. Together they found lots of ways that even a four-year-old could be a hero-in-training.

Little girls (and boys) pick up the most unfortunate things at such early ages from the ocean of air they live in called our culture. One of those is, sadly, a feeling of limitations on what girls are allowed to dream of doing and becoming.

Enter this gem of a book chock full of heroic women.

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls, compiled by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo, illustrated by sixty female artists from around the world
published in 2016 by Timbuktu Labs
203 pages

One hundred, one-page stories of heroic women are gathered in these pages and I am telling you, your heart will burn with gladness as you read them! Women from ancient times and in the news today. Women from all corners of the globe and every race.

Illustration by Elizabeth Baddeley

 Dancers and doctors and film directors. Spies and scientists and war heroes. A race car driver. An orchestra conductor. And my personal favorite, a poet/baker. 

Cora Coralina, Poet and Baker, illustration by Elenia Beretta

The stories are super short. Each takes about a minute to read. They’re written with a hint of the fairy tale about them. Once there was a curious girl…or Once upon a time there was a girl who…making them tasty as can be for a bedtime snack.

It is no small feat to capture these women’s lives and contributions in such a short passage, retaining her individuality, highlighting something that glints with fascination, and reading not like a wikipedia article but rather an enticing sneak peek at a life you’ll certainly want to explore further. I thoroughly enjoyed reading my way through the whole volume but be aware that these are far from in-depth. That’s how we get 100 of them!

Miriam Makeba, illustration by Helena Morais Soares

Accompanying the stories are a-ma-zing full-page portraits created by an international collection of women artists. Oh, their work is stunning. I love the variety of styles and immense strength exuding from each one.  Riveting. 

At the close of these accounts there’s space for the book’s owner to write her own story and draw her own portrait. A brilliant touch. 

I’d peg this book for ages 7 and up. There is one account of a young, transgender girl, but beyond that there is no discussion of sexuality. Issues such as depression, violence, child marriage, the Holocaust, are softened with tact. It was funded by crowdsourcing and is not available through Amazon. You can order a copy by heading to their website here, and I hope many of you will.  

Margaret Thatcher, Serena and Venus Williams, and Michaela DePrince, illustrations by Debora Guidi.

 

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The Journey, written and illustrated by Francesca Sanna
published in 2016 by Flying Eye Books

I’ll just tell you right from the start — this stunning book is one of my all-time favorites of 2016. 

The plight of the refugee.

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How hardhearted would a person have to be to not feel the anguish, the immense loss, the tearing away from home, perhaps forever; the distress, misery, vulnerability, and abject terror that heaves itself upon ordinary people — 

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young moms leading small, forlorn children;

elderly men and women straggling away from villages which sheltered them all their lives; traumatized ones still in mourning; desperate, anxious, young men, fleeing the threat of conscription into armies requiring unspeakable violence.

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Not a world any of them imagined being a part of.

And yet…the images and stories engulfing our world in the past several years are so relentless and overwhelming. Their sheer volume threatens to numb us against this grief.

Francesca Sanna’s phenomenal book, however, brilliantly, incisively sets us in the midst of just one family plunged into war, to experience along with them their chaotic nightmare.

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A loving family. The encroaching darkness of war spills into their lives like black ink flooding across a cherished picture, overtaking them.

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A father gone. A heartsick mother gathers her children to flee. Covert, exhausting, staggering — the phases of their journey unfold like ominous scenes from a Hitchcock film.

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Sanna’s gorgeous images — her minute figures set against an enormity of obstacles — set our nerves on edge. By contrast, the palpable love and togetherness of this mother and her children tenderize and warm our hearts. I was staggered by her work, the way she captures the tumult and emotion of the refugee experience.

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This image of the mother weeping after her children are safely asleep is superb, isn’t it?

This journey ends in hope. Anything else would be unbearable for the young children whose hearts will be moved, certainly, by this story. 

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As we head into a time of gathering together for various holidays, it seems the perfect time of year to share this gorgeous book in our households and consider together what small role we might play in the relief of suffering for the displaced.

Highly recommended for ages 3 to 100.

 

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I’ve got three books today, all short on pages yet long on interest.

Any of them could be read aloud to children ages 4-5 and up, or handed to an independent reader looking for something to finish in a sitting or two.

hippopotamister cover imageHippopotamister, a graphic novel by John Patrick Green
published in 2016 by First Second

Opening this jolly graphic novel is like opening a new pan of watercolors — colorful and anticipatory!

The City Zoo is in quite a sad state of disrepair, so Red Panda and Hippo set off  to find jobs and make new lives among the humans. Red Panda exudes confidence, though he leaves disaster in his wake, getting fired from one job after another. Hippo’s the trusting sidekick, oblivious to his mammoth talents in every assigned task.

Hippopotamister interior John Patrick Green

Eventually Hippo tires of the job hunt and returns to the zoo where his newly-acquired skills bear some surprising fruit!

hippopotamister interior2 John Patrick Green

The shortest word count on today’s list, plus cheerful illustration work and a warmly humorous story line combine to make this a breezy treat.  Grab it for reluctant readers, too!

wendel and the robots cover imageWendel and the Robots, written and illustrated by Chris Riddell
published in 2015 by Macmillan Children’s Books

This short adventure is sort of a disguised picture book. Its trim size — about 6″x7″ — makes it look like a Slightly-More-Important, tiny chapter book, just the ticket for a sturdy new reader, perhaps.

Chris Riddell is the master of the fantastical for youngsters. Unusual stories of quirky oddities seem to pour from his pen.

This one’s about an inventive mouse named Wendel who designs a couple of robots to help him keep his workshop clean and all manner of chaos results!

wendel and the robots interior chris riddell

Scrumptious language, with endearing and crazed illustrations that woo us effortlessly onward make this a winner.

saluki hound of the bedouin cover imageSaluki, Hound of the Bedouin, by Julia Johnson, illustrations by Susan Keeble
published in 2005 by Stacey International

By far the longest of today’s stories at 55 pages, this jewel comes from the UK, from the hand of an exceptional storyteller with extensive time spent in the Middle East. It reminds me quite a lot of the short, international stories created by Mal Peet and Elspeth Graham such as Cloud Tea Monkeys.

That’s because the setting — the Sahara Desert — and its Bedouin cast of characters are gorgeously embroidered upon the fabric of the storyline, as it were, while silky-smooth language effortlessly unreels a fascinating tale.

saluki hound of the bedouin illustration susan keeble

Hamad is a Bedouin boy, eager to join the men hunting with their Saluki hounds and hooded falcons. Join him as he awaits a new litter of pups, discovers which is to be his, learns the patience necessary to train her, and encounters serious testings for both himself and his devoted dog, Sougha.

Copious cultural details are masterfully woven into the story. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting Hamad and learning about this vanishing way of life. Keeble’s gorgeous watercolors gleam with sunlight and heat and further our understanding of these people and their homeland.

saluki hound of the bedouin illustration2 susan keeble

Read this one to ages 5 and up in installments, or hand it to a reader undaunted by the sprinkle of Arabic vocabulary. A glossary is included.

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While we wait for the new 2016 picture books to come into our libraries and book shops, I thought I’d remind you of a few older titles full of happy surprises and smiles.

They come from one classic American author, as well as a few Brits, Swedes, and one Kiwi…

I’ll start with one of Ezra Jack Keats’ lesser known picture books:

hi cat cover image

Hi, Cat! written and illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats
published in 1970 by Viking

Archie and Peter are two brothers with vivid imaginations, and they’ve cooked up a grand surprise for the other kids in the neighborhood. It is quite a show!

hi cat illustration ezra jack keats

Along the way, a little dog named Willie (who pops up in other Keats titles) and a stray cat barge into the performance. Alley oops! Laugh along at the chaos, and wink at the irony on the final page. Pure Keats delight, for ages 2 and up.

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Down the Back of the Chair, by Margaret Mahy, illustrated by Polly Dunbar
published in 2006 by Clarion Books

As we all know, the dreaded depths Underneath the Chair Cushions tend to be an Aladdin’s cave of murky treasures. Usually it’s stray kernels of popcorn, the odd pencil, a Cheerio or three, and a grimy penny.

down the back of the chair illustration polly dunbar

You will never believe what this family finds down the back of their chair as they search for Dad’s car keys! Margaret Mahy’s preposterous humor careens through this story, illustrated with Dunbar’s zoingy, riotous, color and line. A blast for ages 2 and up. 

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Eat Up, Gemma, by Sarah Hayes, illustrated by Jan Ormerod
published in 1988 by Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books

Little Gemma has turned into a bit of a finicky eater, tossing breakfast on the floor, squishing her grapes, feeding her cookies, even, to the birds.

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But oh, dear! You won’t believe what ends up looking tasty to her!! Or how her clever big brother saves the day. This is one of our family’s all-time favorites. Read it again and again with children 18 months and up.

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Boo and Baa Have Company, written and illustrated by Olof and Lena Landström, translated from the Swedish by Joan Sandin
first American edition 2006 by R&S Books

Boo and Baa are just trying to rake up the leaves, but their work is snaggled by a stray cat. (How did two troublesome cats sneak onto the list today?!)

boo and baa have company illustration landstrom

From one obstacle to the next, Boo and Baa have quite a muddlesome day. I give them an A+ for effort, but I think after all, the cat wins. There are a number of Boo and Baa stories, though my library has only this one. It’s a delight for ages 2 and up. Maybe you’ll have luck finding some of the others.

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Alfie Wins a Prize, written and illustrated by Shirley Hughes
published in 2004 by The Bodley Head

Finally, I can’t resist urging more of you to find your way to the Alfie stories, if you haven’t already.

In this episode, Alfie and Annie Rose are off to the Harvest Fair, a lovely jumble of cake contests, second-hand toy booths, neighborhood pet show, and most importantly for Alfie, a children’s painting competition.

alfie wins a prize illustration shirley hughes

All our old, dear friends — Bernard, Maureen MacNally, Min — are here enjoying the day. And Alfie, whose big sister Bella has modeled generosity so dearly in the Dogger story, finds a way to win at kindness today, too. All the joy of this multicultural neighborhood and the authentic childish outlook are here, along with Hughes’ brilliant artwork. Ages 3 and up.

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I’ve met a bunch of awesome kids recently in the three novels highlighted today, all of whom I’d love to introduce to you.

They’re coming from widely different locations — a farm in the American South, an island off the coast of India, a ranch in Oregon. Each of them encounters substantial adversity and meets it with an authentic mixture of courage, reluctance, fear, and deep questions about life. All great choices for middle-grade readers and book clubs.

ruby lee and me cover imageRuby Lee & Me, by Shannon Hitchcock
published in 2016 by Scholastic Press

Sarah Willis has her life turned upside down in one split second when her younger sister, Robin, is critically injured on Sarah’s watch.

Over the next months, Sarah is engulfed in guilt and terrified about her sister’s injuries. She longs to experience peace and forgiveness, but isn’t convinced it’s possible for her, not while Robin still lies in a hospital bed. 

Sarah moves to her grandparents’ farm during this crisis, into their warm, accepting embrace, and just down the road from her best friend, an African American girl named Ruby Lee.

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As Sarah and Ruby start school, more difficulties await them. School integration has come to Shady Creek, and along with it the area’s first African American teacher for the predominantly white students.

Sarah navigates all this with some huge missteps, then has to find her way back with the help of her teacher, her faith, and her solid heart. Beautifully written characters interact with honesty in this great read for ages 9 and up.

tiger boy cover imageTiger Boy, by Mitali Perkins, illustrated by Jamie Hogan
published in 2015 by Charlesbridge

Neel lives on an island of the Sunderbans, a tropical home of salty creeks, flowering jasmine, and wild guavas off the coast of India. It’s a home Neel loves to the core of his being, but it’s a tough place to make a living.

That’s why when the corrupt businessman, Gupta, pays men to harvest rare sundari trees or bully widows for rent payments, even good men like Neel’s father turn their backs on long-held values to earn his rupees.

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Now, a tiger cub, normally protected in a reserve, has gone missing and Gupta is offering a huge reward for it. Neel and his sister know Gupta means to sell the skin and body parts on the black market if anyone captures it for him. Despite the immense dangers, they’re determined to find it first and return it to safety.

Meanwhile, another treasure is at stake: Neel’s future. He’s a bright student, who could bring honor and success to his family if he’d agree to move far from home for a good education. But the loss of his home-life is not something Neel is willing to accept. 

Mitali Perkins weaves Neel’s inner turmoil and outward adventure together brilliantly in a marvelously diverse setting. Excellent, fast read (132 pages) with an environmental message and resources to learn more about efforts to save Bengal Tigers and bring about holistic development to the Sunderbans region. Ages 9 and up.

heart of a shepherd cover imageHeart of a Shepherd, by Roseanne Parry
published in 2009; a Yearling Book from Random House

Brother is 11 years old,  the youngest of five boys living with his dad and grandparents on their ranch in Eastern Oregon. As his story opens, his father has just received orders to head with his Army Reserve unit to Iraq for 14 months. That seems like an eternity to Brother.

With his older brothers off at their own military assignments and schools, Brother finds himself the only one left to help his grandparents keep the ranch going. Those tasks are brutally hard, and Brother has never been so sure that he’s cut out for either ranching or the military anyway, as generations of Aldermans before him seem to have been.

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So there’s a raft of anxieties snarling in Brother’s heart and mind — about his dad’s safety, his grandparents’ health, the bum lambs he’s tending, the promise he made to his dad to keep the ranch in good shape, and his own misgivings about who he is meant to be. Brother doggedly moves forward with the wise help of his extraordinary grandparents — his Catholic grandmother and Quaker, pacifist grandfather — and the new priest in town, Father Ziegler.

This story is unusually deep, honest, and tender, probing issues of faith, calling, and identity in children. Deep chords of grief run through the story, yet the strength of these characters support us all the way through. Ages 10 and up.

P.S. Can I just say that I really dislike the cover of this book? I don’t like to make negative comments here, but if you look at the cover and say, “Hmmm…not for me,” I just want to recommend that you ignore it and give the story a chance.

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il_570xN.848762486_49ptI remember that as a child, each New Year’s Day felt immensely consequential. With one flip of the page, an entire calendar, a year stuffed with life, was over; past instead of present. A weirdly sacred finality accompanied the rite of taking it down from the nail on my bedroom wall and chinging it into the garbage can. Voop. Gone. And a tingly new year lay ahead, shadowy with mystery,  vintage-calendar-januarystretching out long and somehow both empty and full at the same time.

January in northern Minnesota was always, predictably, frozen. A time to head to the ragged, outdoor rink night after night for frosty-breathed ice-skating. We knew we were in for months more of winter before the briefest of springs, a short summer, one glorious blast of fall, and then… winter again. You had better love winter to live in the North! 

Every season has its loveliness. As we begin 2016, here are six books that call our attention to the beauty of the seasons:

a bear's year cover imageA Bear’s Year, by Kathy Duval, illustrated by Gerry Turley
published in 2015 by Schwartz & Wade Books

A bulky, frowsy, Mama Bear and her two snuggly cubs mosey and grow through the year in this fetching book.

Brief, poetic text guides us from their quiet den under northern lights, out into spring carousing, summer feasting, autumn sheltering, before tucking them back into a cozy den in a snowy, sleepy world.

a bear's year interior duval and turley

Gerry Turley’s wonderful illustrations capture the galumptious bears and the glories of their rambling wilderness — frosty nights, spring glades graced by elegant paper birches, bushes spangled with persimmon berries, mountainsides garbed in glowing russets and golds. Really gorgeous work here, in bold, up-close views that plant us right in their midst.

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A fabulous treat to share with children 18-months and up.

a child's calender cover imageA Child’s Calendar, poems by John Updike, illustrations by Trina Schart Hyman
poems first published in 1965; published with new illustrations in 1999 by Holiday House

John Updike was a Pulitzer-prize winning, every-award-winning, American novelist who also wrote this joyful volume of children’s poetry in 1965.

His twelve, brief poems explore the gem-like qualities of each month, both in the natural world and in the children’s world of activities. So, in January, The days are short/the sun a spark/hung thin between/the dark and dark. Fat snowy footprints/track the floor/and parkas pile up/near the door. Nature and recreation, side by side.

a child's calendar illustration2 trina schart hyman

One of the lovely elements of these poems, then, is the children’s interaction with the outdoor world, the active, playful, creative, pastimes which occupy them throughout the year. Idyllic and refreshingly naive.

They were originally illustrated by Nancy Ekholm Burkert, then republished 30 years later with a tiny bit of editing by Updike, this time illustrated by the masterful Trina Schart Hyman.  She won a Caldecott Honor for her work.

a child's calendar illustration trina schart hyman

It’s gorgeous, as all of her work is, and what I find especially appealing is that she incorporated a multiracial cast in a book set firmly in small town/rural New England. Far too often African American children in picture books are limited to urban scenes, yet here we have a beautiful mish-mash of folks sledding, gardening, tumbling in deep drifts of Maple leaves, and wading through reedy ponds.

It’s a timeless collection for children ages 2 and up.

antler bear canoe cover imageAntler, Bear, Canoe: A Northwoods Alphabet Year, written and illustrated by Betsy Bowen
published in 1991 by Houghton Mifflin

Betsy Bowen is a Minnesota artist, an exceptional woodblock printmaker from wayyyy up north in the tiny, picturesque, Lake Superior town of Grand Marais.

You’ll fall in love with her artwork in this alphabet book which walks us through the seasons in the north woods.

Dominated by her bold, striking woodcuts, the pages move from winter, to spring, summer, fall, and close in the frozen depths of winter again. Fitting, for a home town perched at such a northerly latitude.

antler bear canoe illustration betsy bowen

Whether it’s D is for Dogsledding, K is for Kayak, or S is for Saw, Bowen adds just a few lines, chatting about how this is part of her experience living in this place. In September, “we cut firewood to keep us warm all winter. When we stop our chain saw to add gas and oil, we can hear our neighbor’s saw way off through the woods.”

antler bear canoe illustration2 besty bowen

Immerse yourself in the beauty of the northwoods and in the vigorous, outdoor activities loved by folks who live there. I hope you’re inspired by the sense of community she relates as well as the close-to-nature life she describes. Ages 3 and up.

snowy flowy blowy cover imageSnowy, Flowy, Blowy: A Twelve Months Rhyme, written and illustrated by Nancy Tafuri
published in 1999 by Scholastic Press

Nancy Tafuri is a genius at books for the very young; this one is perfect for the youngest of bookworms.

Each month gets just one word. That’s it. Based on an old poem by Gregory Gander, a poet who lived from 1745-1815, the rhyme progresses in 3-word triplets: Snowy, Flowy, Blowy. Showery, Flowery, Bowery.

snowy blowy flowy illustration nancy tafuri

Double-spreads on big pages bloom with glorious, wall-to-wall illustration. Tafuri’s clear, bold art grabs our attention and rivets it to her simplified, endearing forms. Every month we spy children playing out of doors, and also meet beautiful birds and other wildlife and plant life.

There’s also a little black dog to spot in every scene. It’s got a sweet, old-fashioned feel, for kids ages 1-3.

cozy light cozy night cover imageCozy Light, Cozy Night, written and illustrated by Elisa Kleven
published in 2013 by Creston Books

Elisa Kleven’s color-spattered, jubilant scenes carry us through a cozy, happy year, this time beginning with Autumn and closing out with Summer. So, if you’re tired of beginning with January and wintertime, here’s a nice change of pace.

Cozy Light Cozy Night interior elisa kleven

The months spin by to the tune of a skippety, frolicsome, boundlessly-happy, rhyming text. Again, I love that Kleven features children of diverse races, indoors and out, urban and rural, engaged in a marvelous, kaleidoscope of creative activities — baseball and beachcombing, popcorn parties and pumpkin patches, singing and swinging. There is so much to look at on every page.

Cozy Light Cozy Night interior2 elisa kleven

I just dare you to read this and feel grumpy. It’s a splendid choice for ages 2 and up.

my year cover imageMy Year, by Roald Dahl, illustrated by Quentin Blake
published in 1993 by Viking Penguin

And finally, this lovely journal/memoir written by Roald Dahl during the last year of his life and published posthumously more than 20 years ago.

It’s a conversational meandering through the months. I felt myself to be sitting, relaxed, in Dahl’s home, Gypsy House, nestled in the Chiltern Hills between London and Oxford, hearing about the countryside he loved over a cup of tea. He is pointing out many English birds, telling me their names — willow my year illustration quentin blakewarblers and chiffchaffs and hedge sparrows — and describing their small habits including all the nastiness of the cuckoo, a bird Dahl loves to hate. The trees and hedges, too, are not simply a mass of green but a beloved collection of individuals: hawthorns with blossoms like snow, guelder-roses with their scarlet berries, and horse-chestnut trees whose conkers were just the thing for epic contests among Dahl and his schoolfellows.

So, there’s an outpouring of nature lore here, expressed with palpable fondness, clearly the result of many, many hours quietly observing and relishing the open spaces around him. Dahl is no lover of the city.

Mixed in with these almanac-type comments are rabbit trails of remembrances of various escapades from his youth. Hair-raising adventures collecting birds’ eggs, annual Easter vacations, an illicit motorbike stashed away and ridden in gleeful disguise during his my year illustration2 quentin blakelast school term, and a humorous story of a booby trap he built with his Meccano set at around age nine. Bit of A Child’s Christmas in Wales feel.

Dahl does not hold to a sentimental view of life. At times he sounds just a titch like your grandfather who walked seven miles to school in the snow barefoot…but we’ll grant him that. For what a life he led, and what a world he saw, and how he upends our pretentions with his wild storytelling.

This book is clearly aimed, by Dahl, at young readers, maybe ages 12 and up. I don’t know how many kids out there are interested in memoir per se. For those willing to give it a try, and for adults, this is a quiet gem. Quentin Blake’s loose, tender watercolors are the perfect, final collaboration between two giants of children’s lit.

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