Nubia: Real One by L. L. McKinney

Cover image for Nubia.

Nubia: Real One by L. L. McKinney, illustrated by Robyn Smith (9781401296407)

When Nubia heads into a store to talk to Oscar, a boy she likes, everything goes wrong. The store is robbed, and Nubia finds herself using her Amazonian strength to stop the robbers and protect everyone in the store. The problem is, that Oscar witnessed what she did. Nubia and her mothers have had to move multiple times when people have seen her feats of strength just to protect her and let her have a normal life. Her mothers get advice from D, who helps relocate them and assess the dangers. As one of her best friends is targeted by a predatory classmate, Nubia learns that she can’t just sit by and let things happen to those she loves. But as a Black woman, the world sees her as a threat already, it’s not as simple as Wonder Woman has it.

McKinney, author of A Blade So Black, has created the voice of this graphic novel, focusing on modern issues like Black Lives Matter and the problem of being a super hero in a world that sees Black people as the problem, not the solution. McKinney centers the problems that Nubia faces into these larger societal problems, giving them a serious weight. Her text is lively and her dialogue is natural and deeply explores what Nubia is experiencing as a Black woman.

The illustrations by Smith are marvelous. I love the height and strength of Nubia. I adore the messy look of Wonder Woman, as if she has run her hands through her hair in frustration several times on her way into the room. The images of Nubia’s mothers are great, from their determination to their deep caring to the celebration of Nubia despite what the world might say.

A graphic novel for our times and for our future. Appropriate for ages 11-15.

Reviewed from library copy.

My Day with the Panye by Tami Charles

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My Day with the Panye by Tami Charles, illustrated by Sara Palacios (9780763697495)

Fallon is invited by her mother to head to the market together. Her mother wraps her hair in a mouchwa and then sets the panye on her head. Her mother lets Fallon try to carry the panye on her head, but it quickly falls off and crashes to the floor. So they set off together with the panye on her mother’s head. She encourages her daughter to take learning the skill slowly and not rush it. She explains that one must move gracefully under the weight of the panye, one must be strong. After they visit the market, the panye is full of food. Fallon knows that to carry the panye is to care for her family. Now she is ready to try once more. But the panye falls again. Her mother encourages her to build her nest and try again. This time Fallon stands tall and takes her time, walking like her mother all the way home.

Set in Haiti, this picture book celebrates the ancient act of carrying a basket on one’s head to handle a heavy load. It’s a skill taught at a young age, just as Fallon is learning it in the book. Fallon’s mother shows patience with her daughter and encourages her to take her time, filling their walk to the market with lessons on what carrying the panye means to the family and also to Fallon herself. It’s an empowering lesson, one that speaks to the strength and resilience of the Haitian people.

Palacios fills the pages with bright and deep colors that show the bustling market and beauty of the hills outside of Port-au-Prince. The grace of carrying the panye is conveyed in the images too, the women tall and upright, full of strength and balance.

A picture book that speaks to tradition and patience when you’re learning a new skill. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy provided by Candlewick Press.

Northbound by Michael S. Bandy and Eric Stein

Cover image for Northbound

Northbound by Michael S. Bandy and Eric Stein, illustrated by James E. Ransome (9780763696504)

Michael has always stopped work to watch the trains go by the farm he lives on with his grandparents in Alabama. Then one day he gets his dream and takes a train trip north with his grandmother to Ohio to visit cousins. Though Michael has caught sight of a boy his age on the train, he isn’t allowed to go into the car where the boy is riding, because it’s closed to Black people. As the train leaves Atlanta, the “Whites Only” sign on the door is taken down and now Michael is allowed to enter the car. The two boys quickly start to play together and explore the train. They discover they have all sorts of things in common. But when the train reaches Chattanooga, Tennessee, Michael has to return to his own car and the sign goes up again. Luckily, his new friend knows it is fair and shares a final drawing of all people riding in the same train car together.

In a book that starts with the wonder of trains and the joy of a train ride, this picture book shows the impact of arbitrary race laws throughout the United States in the early 1960s. While consistent racism in Alabama is an everyday occurrence for Michael, it is the on-again, off-again rules that will catch readers’ attention as well as that of the train passengers. It clearly demonstrates the differences in the way racism impacts lives in different parts of our country, speaking clearly to today’s issues as well as that of our past.

The art by Ransome is a grand mix of train travel with tunnels, bridges and cities together with a diverse group of passengers and staff on the train. There is a sense of frustration and limits in the illustrations with the closed doors and signs that is replaced with a joyous freedom as the two boys explore the train together.

A critical look at our shared civil rights history and a call for us to do better. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Candlewick

Time for Kenny by Brian Pinkney

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Time for Kenny by Brian Pinkney (9780060735289)

Told in four short chapters, this picture book shows readers a day in the life of a small boy named Kenny. Kenny must first get dressed. He tries on all sorts of other people’s clothes, like his dad’s shirt, his mother’s shoes, and his grandfather’s hat. Then he is finally dressed and ready to go. In the next story, Kenny doesn’t like the vacuum cleaner. After all, it eats all of the food he drops. Could it eat his stuffed animal? Could it eat Kenny?! The third story shows Kenny’s sister teaching him to play soccer. At first, Kenny tries a lot, but misses. Then he starts to get the hang of not using his hands and even makes a goal. The last story is about how Kenny isn’t tired at all when it’s his bedtime, or is he?

Told in simple language, these stories show the universal experiences of toddlers and younger children. From creative clothing choices to learning new skills to having to go to bed, each of these is wonderfully accessible. The book also shows a loving Black multigenerational family, depicted with Pinkney’s signature illustrations that are full of bright colors, swirls of motion and a great use of white space.

A charming picture book that reflects a day in a toddler’s life with warmth. Appropriate for ages 1-3.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Greenwillow Books.

Milo Imagines the World by Matt de la Peña

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Milo Imagines the World by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson (9780399549083)

The award-winning team that brought us Last Stop on Market Street have returned with another picture book together. This picture book is also about traveling on public transportation with Milo and his sister traveling on the subway together. Milo passes the time on the long ride by looking at the people around him on the subway. He imagines what their life is like and then draws it in in his book. Looking at a man with a crossword puzzle, Milo imagines him in an apartment with lots of pets. When a little boy in a suit comes on the train, Milo imagines that the boy is a prince who lives in a castle. A woman in a wedding dress, Milo pictures as soaring up in a hot air balloon after her wedding ceremony. When a group of dancers whirl aboard the train, Milo imagines that they are not welcome in stores or in fancy neighborhoods. When they reach their destination, Milo and his sister head into the prison, where he sees the boy in the suit in line too. Milo rethinks his image of the boy and all of the others he drew on his trip.

This is one of those marvels of a picture book that is told in a straight forward way and also manages to insist that readers think again, assess themselves. It is done without lecture or shaming, an exploration of assumptions made from people’s appearances and then how wrong they can be. Milo himself is a great protagonist for this, creative and thoughtful. He shows how race and economic status factors into stereotypes and how different the truth can actually be.

Robinson creates a diverse urban setting for Milo to experience, filled with people of all races. His cut paper images are full of characters of all ages and different cultures. Readers will find themselves thinking about the others on the train just as Milo does, making their own assumptions.

Another gem of a picture book from two masterful artists. Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from copy provided by G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers.

We Wait for the Sun by Katie McCabe

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We Wait for the Sun by Katie McCabe, illustrated by Raissa Figueroa (9781250229021)

This picture book is based on one of Dovey Johnson Roundtree’s favorite stories of her childhood and her grandmother, Rachel Bryant Graham. Born over 100 years ago, Roundtree grew up to be a renowned civil rights attorney. She and her grandmother headed into the night in midsummer. They move through the darkness to the woods to gather blackberries. As they walk through the night, other women join them, silent in the dark. The darkness gets thicker as they move into the woods, and Dovey’s grandmother encourages her to hold onto her apron strings and let her eyes adjust. They reach the blackberry clearing and everyone gets to work but not before Dovey gets the first and best berry to eat. They pick berries, the women chatting, until the sky turns pink and at her grandmother’s command the sun rises over the horizon.

McCabe takes a powerful moment in Roundtree’s life and turns it into a picture book that invites children to explore the woods at night and not be afraid. There is a sense of adventure throughout the book illuminated with the wonder of being out in a summer night. The profound silence of the night and its darkness make for a book full of mystery with text that asks to be read in a hushed tone to share the moment with one another all the way through sunrise.

Figueroa’s illustrations are rich and beautiful. She takes the darkness and tinges it with blue, teal and purple to show paths, faces and the women walking together. She also sweeps the path with fireflies and glimmers, adding to the wonder of the book.

A story that serves as an allegory for resilience, going through the darkness and knowing the sun will rise. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Roaring Brook Press.

Stella’s Stellar Hair by Yesenia Moises

Stella’s Stellar Hair by Yesenia Moises (9781250261779)

Stella’s hair was not doing what she wanted at all. It was the day of the Big Star Little Gala, so Stella wanted her hair to be special. Her mother suggested that Stella visit her Aunt Ofelia who lived on Mercury for a special style. So Stella hopped onto her hoverboard and headed over. Aunt Ofelia gave her a soft and elegant style, but Stella wasn’t sure it worked for her. Next she visited Aunt Alma on Venus, who created a straight lion’s mane style that took up too much space. Then she tried Aunt Rubi on Mars who gave her a crown of hair that was a bit too much for Stella. Auntie Cielo on Jupiter splashed around while Aunt Iris on Saturn gave Stella space buns. On Uranus, her twin aunts, twisted and braided. Neptune’s visit got her waves. Finally, Stella ended up with her Aunt Solana near the sun, who encouraged her to see her wild hair as a positive. Stella finally incorporated all of the elements of her aunt’s styles into her own plus some of her very own curls too.

Full of positivity, this book celebrates the many, many ways that Black hair can be styled with real flair. It’s great to see a science fiction picture book that focuses on a Black girl exploring the universe and visiting Black women for support. The ending with a focus on individuality and self-expression sets just the right tone of encouragement too. Turn to the back of the book for some information on the different planets in our solar system.

The art is bright and vibrant with the various Black women characters wearing their hair in all sorts of colors and styles. It’s great and funny to see them each style Stella in their own preferred style, until she reaches the final aunt who tells her to be herself.

Inclusive and vibrant, this book explains that we all need to simply be proud of who we are and what our hair does. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Macmillan.

Take Back the Block by Chrystal D. Giles

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Take Back the Block by Chrystal D. Giles (9780593175170)

Wes is always being taken to protests by his parents. But Wes wants to focus on his shoe collection, video games and hanging out with his friends, who all live or used to live in the Oaks with him. The Oaks is a special neighborhood that is mostly Black and full of events and neighborliness. But when a real estate developer moves in and tries to buy the properties from the owners, everything about the Oaks changes. Suddenly neighbors aren’t talking any more and are arguing and even screaming at one another as some of them take the money and others decide to stay. It even impacts Wes’ friend group, since some of their families need the money while others have already left. Still, Wes knows there is something he can do to help if he just keeps on trying, even if it means disobeying his parents telling him to let them handle it.

With its strong focus on gentrification and justice, this middle-grade novel shows young readers that they can have a positive impact on their communities by using long-standing social justice techniques but also new technologies. The erasure of Black history is central to this story as well, as Wes steadily uncovers how his beloved neighborhood came to be and turns it into a way to fight for it to continue to exist.

Wes is an engaging character with his history of protesting and his strong connection to his community. His group of friends are a fascinating mix, including one who has left the neighborhood and another who was forced out of where he had been living. They all show aspects of the impact of gentrification on historically Black neighborhoods but also the fracturing of long-term friendships as they find themselves on different sides of the conversation.

A book that shows the power of young voices in social justice. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Random House Books for Young Readers.

21 New and Upcoming #OwnVoices Books to Celebrate Black History and Black Lives

The Awakening of Malcolm X by Ilyasah Shabazz and Tiffany D. Jackson

Chlorine Sky by Mahogany L. Browne

Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas

The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna

Happily Ever Afters by Elise Bryant

Highest Tribute: Thurgood Marshall’s Life, Leadership and Legacy by Kekla Magoon, illustrated by Laura Freeman

J. D. and the Great Barber Battle by J. Dillard

Jump at the Sun: The True Life Tale of Unstoppable Storycatcher Zora Neale Hurston by Alicia D. Williams, illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara

The Life I’m In by Sharon G. Flake

Like Home by Louisa Onome

Love Is a Revolution by Renee Watson

One of the Good Ones by Martiza Moulite

Root Magic by Eden Royce

Runaway: The Daring Escape of Ona Judge by Ray Anthony Shepard, illustrated by Keith Mallett

Separate No More: Brown v. Board of Education and the Fight for Equality in School by Lawrence Goldstone

Stella’s Stellar Hair by Yesenia Moises

Take Back the Block by Chrystal D. Giles

Time for Kenny by Brian Pinkney

Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Floyd Cooper

We Wait for the Sun by Katie McCabe

When You Look Like Us by Pamela Harris