Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry, illustrated by Vashti Harrison (9780525553366)
Zuri has hair that can do almost anything. It curls all over when she gets up in the morning. She wears it in all different styles. In braids and beads, she is a princess. With two puffs, she is a superhero. Then one day she wakes up and it’s a very special day. Her father is still asleep, so she decides to try to do perfect hair herself. After a little accident in the bathroom, her father joins her. Together they figure out how to get her hair just right, but not without a few mishaps along the way. All in time for her mother to return home!
This picture book celebrates African-American hair. Offering all sorts of styles, the book exudes warmth and self-esteem. Creating an opportunity for a father to try to do hair, makes this book all the more lovely, also adding just the right dash of humor too. The use of modern technology to help is also something you don’t see a lot in picture books. The digital art is full of bright colors, humor and light.
Fall in love with this family and their hair. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Kokila.
Up, Up, Up, Down! by Kimberly Gee (9780525517337)
A toddler’s day is filled with opposites in this adorable picture book. Being lifted up out of their crib and set down on the ground the play. Saying no to all kinds of breakfast and then yes to blueberries. Clothes go on and then come right back off again. They hurry up and then slow down. There is making and breaking things. Balloons are “yay!” and then “uh-oh!” Sadness becomes better again too.
Filled with all kinds of little kid action, this book will resonate with toddlers and their parents alike. The concept of opposites is nicely woven into the activities of a normal day out and about. The text has a rhythm to it as the words repeat. The illustrations show an African-American father and child who spend their day together. The end of the day shows an exhausted father and a mother home from work.
A concept book ideal for toddlers, this one is a joy. Appropriate for ages 1-3.
Reviewed from copy provided by G.P. Putnam’s Sons.
When Aidan Became a Brother by Kyle Lukoff, illustrated by Kaylani Juanita (9781620148372)
At birth, everyone thought Aidan was a girl. But as Aidan grew up, he didn’t like his name, the way his room was decorated, or wearing girl clothes. Aidan cut his hair off, realizing that he was a boy. He told his parents, and they learned from other families what having a transgender child is all about. Aidan picked his new name, they changed his bedroom into one that felt right, and he liked his new clothes. Then Aidan’s mother got pregnant. Aidan loved helping pick clothes for the baby, paint colors for the nursery, and even the baby’s name. But when people asked Aidan if he wanted a little brother or little sister, Aidan didn’t know how to answer. As the big day approached, Aidan worried about being a good big brother. Happily, his mother was there to explain that no matter who the new baby turned out to be, they would be so lucky to have Aidan as a brother.
Lukoff has created an #ownvoices picture book that truly celebrates a child who deeply understands their gender identity to be different from the one they were assigned at birth. The reaction of the supportive parents is beautiful to see in a picture book format as they work with Aidan not only to be able to express himself fully but also to be able to work through natural fears with a new baby. Those fears and the inevitable discussions of gender of a baby are vital parts of the story and allow readers to realize how deeply ingrained gender is in so many parts of our lives.
The illustrations by Juanita are full of energy and show a child with a flair for fashion who expresses himself clearly as a boy. His facial expressions change from his deep unhappiness when he is being treated as a girl to delight at being able to express himself as the boy he truly is. The depiction of a loving family of color handling these intersectionality issues so lovingly is also great to see.
As the parent of a transgender person, this is exactly the sort of picture book our families need and other families must read. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Lee & Low Books.
With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo (9780062662835)
In her second novel, Acevedo cements her place as a master author for teen readers. Emoni’s life has not been easy, getting pregnant as a freshman in high school was not part of her plan. Now as a senior, her life is filled with work, caring for her daughter, and taking care of her Abuela. There is room too for her love of cooking, but not enough room for big dreams for her future. When a culinary class is offered for the first time at her school, Emoni hesitates to apply even though she longs to. The class includes a trip to Spain, which Emoni knows she will not be able to afford, nor could she leave her daughter or ask that of her grandmother. Still, she signs up for the class. It’s not easy, learning to not improvise in the kitchen but follow the rules and recipes. She can’t add the small touches that make her cooking magic. As Emoni opens herself up to new experiences, her life begins to open in other ways too, allowing herself to find romance and new connections.
In this novel, Acevedo gifts us with a story in prose where you can see her skill as a poet shining through often, taking words and making them dazzling. The fierceness of her first book is still here, with some of the short chapters taking on issues like racism and poverty. The entire work is such an incredible read. Emoni takes up a place in your heart and mind, insisting on being heard and believed.
The portrayal of a young mother who is ferociously caring and loving of her daughter, is something not seem often in our society. Emoni stands as a character speaking for women, a teen caring not only for her daughter but also standing alongside her grandmother as they care for one another. Throughout the book, there is a strong sense of community and extended family that are supportive of Emoni and her dreams.
A stellar and important read, let’s hope this one wins more awards and attention for Acevedo. Appropriate for ages 16-18.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by HarperTeen.
The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Kadir Nelson (9781328780966)
Two amazing book creators come together in this nonfiction picture book celebrating the resilience, talents and perseverance of African-Americans throughout history. The text of the book is a poem by Newbery-medalist Alexander that leads readers through the horrors of slavery to athletes and artist. The black Civil War soldiers carry forward into the Civil Rights Movement and the tragedies that accompanied it. It touches on police violence towards African Americans and moves forward to continue to celebrate those that excelled despite the odds, changing America as they did so. The poem ends with a call for all of the children of color to realize that this is them too.
Alexander’s poem is a powerful call to remember the beginnings in slavery, the battles along the way, and the impact of continuing to hope and dream despite what America has done. It calls for hope and inspiration, it calls for action. And it does not shy away from modern or historical issues, placing them right in front of the reader. His words are influenced by other great African-American writers too, paying homage to those who went before.
The award-winning illustrator and author, Nelson depicts so many historical figures on the pages of this book. Some are individual portraits, standing strong against the stark white backgrounds. Others are groupings of people and readers can recognize many of them on sight but will need to refer to the appendix for others. Nelson’s images are stirring in their beauty and the fierceness he captured his subjects.
This one will win awards, let’s hope it’s a Caldecott for Nelson! Appropriate for ages 7-10.
Reviewed from library copy.
Caterpillar Summer by Gillian McDunn (9781681197432)
Cat and Chicken live in San Francisco with their mother who works several jobs, but one is to be a children’s book author with books that feature Cat and Chicken as a caterpillar and chicken. When they head across the country for a summer job, their plans suddenly fall through. Now Cat and Chicken must stay with grandparents they have never met before while their mother works in Atlanta. Their grandparents live on Gingerbread Island, a place their mother hasn’t returned to since before Cat was born. Lily, their grandmother, is warm and maternal, quickly adapting to Chicken’s special needs. Macon, their grandfather, is more distant and gruff, working in his workshop and going on long walks alone. As Cat and Chicken get to know them, they find a wonderful pair of grandparents who love them immensely, so Cat tries to figure out how to bring her family back together again. She hopes that entering a fishing contest, a sport her mother used to love, with give them an opportunity to bond. But things don’t quite work out as planned, just like in her mother’s books.
McDunn has written the ideal summer read. It has a lightness to it that is pure summer sunshine, one that invites reading with sand between your toes or a flashlight in a tent. At the same time, the characters and story wrestle with larger issues of what family means, how a family can form a rift, and how the pressure of having a little brother who is neurodiverse can be challenging for an older sibling. I deeply appreciated Chicken as a character. He is not labeled in any way in the story but shown as having specific challenges that make looking after him different from other children.
Cat herself is a very strong young woman who holds her family together. Her grandmother recognizes that and helps Cat understand better what she is doing. As her grandparents step in to allow Cat to have a summer as a child, she fights them, trying to retain her role as Chicken’s caretaker. That process of letting go is beautifully shown, given time and patience. Throughout the book, nothing is simple, not even Cat’s enemy on the island, whose own story provides reasons for his actions.
Richly drawn and yet still summer light, this novel is a delight. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Bloomsbury.
New Kid by Jerry Craft (9780062691200)
All Jordan wanted to do was go to art school, but instead his parents decided to send him to a private school full of opportunities for his future. Starting the school in seventh grade on financial aid, Jordan is also one of the only students of color there. Jordan is soon trying to figure out how to navigate from his Washington Heights neighborhood to the Riverdale Academy Day School. As he travels to school, he steadily changes his outfit to fit in more. He also does code switching to fit in better. Still, with some teachers it doesn’t work at all and they continually get his name wrong as well as that of other kids of color. As Jordan’s frustration grows, it shows in his art as he creates pointed social critiques of a school he is starting to really enjoy though he wonders if he will ever fit in.
This is one of the best books for middle school age that deals with microaggressions, bias, privilege, and racism. Given that it is a graphic novel too, that makes it all the more appealing as a source for discussion. Craft takes on all of these issues with a forthright tone, frustration and a willingness to engage. He doesn’t make all of the white people clueless, but many of them are just like in real life. Jordan’s struggle to codeswitch and fit in is beautifully conveyed in the art and story line.
Jordan serves as a catalyst in the school, crossing lines to make new friends, avoiding the school bully, and having serious conversations with other kids. At the same time, the book is filled with humor, which offsets the serious tone about racial and biased incidents which are never laughed off. The inclusion of all sorts of pop culture references makes the book all the more fun to read.
A strong and compelling work of graphic fiction. Appropriate for ages 10-13.
Reviewed from library copy.
Maisie’s Scrapbook by Samuel Narh, illustrated by Jo Loring-Fisher (9781911373575)
Maisie is sad that she can’t play with the bull by the fence. After all, her father tells her tall tales about little girls who are heroes. As the seasons change, Maisie has characteristics that are similar to each season. She is as “relentless as spring rain.” In the summer, she sees turtles in the stars with her father and she is as bright as a summer day. Fall comes and Maisie is scared of the bull in the field. Her parents love her in similar ways, making her food and spending time with her. She imagines that the rocking chair is a bull she can ride. In the winter, her parents play music together and Maisie is as pure as snow.
While the book follows the arc of the seasons, this picture book is less about seasons or a firm storyline and more about one little girl growing up beloved by her parents who come from different backgrounds and are of different races. The book highlights both the ways her parents are different from one another and the ways that they are the same. Love and food are very much the same while skills and languages are different. It’s a rich and personal look at a family.
The illustrations by Loring-Fisher are done in mixed media and have a feeling of collage combined with the softness of watercolors. The illustrations show the tales the Maisie’s father tells in all of the seasons, looking together into the sky to see the clouds and stars that paint the stories. From wide landscapes to intimate family scenes, this picture book invites readers to explore.
Warm, diverse and full of love, this picture book tells one little girl’s story. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Lantana Publishing.
The Bell Rang by James E. Ransome (9781442421134)
This new book from a Coretta Scott King Award winner is a stunning look at slavery and freedom. Told over the course of a week, the book depicts the monotony and toll of the grueling work that never changes or abates. On each day, the bell rings to wake them and the narrator’s older brother indicates that he is going to leave and run away to freedom. Each touch of his hands says it, he says it aloud and he leaves her a gift. When he does run, the days become even harder, being unable to eat and unable to stop crying because he is missed and he is in danger. When the other boys who ran away with him are brought back and whipped, he is still free. And another week begins.
Ransome is a master storyteller and his skill is evident the verse in this picture book. Told with a spareness that allows readers no ability to look away or take solace in niceties, the book lays bare the human cost of slavery and what it takes to escape to freedom. The book is abundant in family love with all of the family taking time to be kind to one another and love one another through difficult and impossible situations.
The illustrations are just as powerful as the text. They illuminate the lives of this family, focusing on the people who are enslaved. Many of the scenes are filled with love and grace. But they are all shadowed by slavery and lack of freedom.
A harrowing look at slavery and freedom, this picture book reveals the truth of our American history. Appropriate for ages 6-8.
Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum.