The 2021 Notable Children’s Books have been announced by ALSC (Association for Library Service to Children). The notable titles are listed by age. Here are the selected books for Middle Readers, grades 3-5, ages 8-10.
Over the Shop by JonArno Lawson, illustrated by Qin Leng (9781536201475)
In this wordless picture book, a little girl lives with her grandmother at their general store. One day, the grandmother posts that they have an apartment for rent above the shop. Soon people are arriving to view it. But the apartment is worn out and ragged with shelves ready to fall off the walls, cracked walls and chipped tiles, boarded up windows and a bare lightbulb. Lots of people come to see it, but no one rents it. Then a young interracial couple sees the rental sign, but the grandmother doesn’t approve of them. The little girl points out that they should give them a chance. Soon the couple is hard at work transforming the apartment with the help of the girl. Their help doesn’t stop with their own space, they also smarten up the front of the store by giving it a new coat of paint and fixing the sign. Even the stray cat in the neighborhood benefits and finds a new home. As the acceptance of this queer interracial couple grows, their positive impact on the entire neighborhood does too.
I love the wordless nature of this book, allowing the illustrations to tell the entire story. Leng’s illustrations are done in watercolor and show both the loneliness of the girl and her grandmother and then the steady transformation and rebirth of the apartment and the general store. The queer nature of the couple is shown via Pride flags as well as mentioned in the dedication at the beginning of the book. I particularly adore the wild-haired grandmother, who is so stuck in her own ways and her own grumpiness that one almost loses hope, but this book shows that growth is possible, change can happen, and it can open one up to new possibilities.
This wordless picture book speaks volumes about acceptance and transformation. Appropriate for ages 3-5.