All We Need by Kathy Wolff

Cover image for All We Need.

All We Need by Kathy Wolff, illustrated by Margaux Meganck (9781619638747)

This picture book explores what we need to live. That includes essentials like air, food and water, then the book also explores the importance of learning opportunities, having a home, and the joy of family and friends. Told in poetic text, the book explores the necessities in ways that show how they bring special moments to our lives. For example, air is explained first as stillness and deep breaths. Food is explored both for filling bellies but also through the illustrations as cultural connection. This picture book takes simple essentials and shows the way they allow us to form community and inclusion.

Wolff’s poetic writing establishes those connections clearly, exploring the deep connection we have to air, water, food and one another. The book ends by establishing what we should do when we have enough or more than we need. Sharing becomes just as essential as the other elements here, connecting to new people and a larger community through generosity and giving.

Meganck’s illustrations are bright and colorful with a diverse cast of characters, including diverse races, religions and LGBT representation. The illustrations tell a lot of the story, showing playful elements of air and water. The images are given several full-page wordless spreads that reveal new ways to connect and form community with one another.

A look at sharing, connection and being human. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

I Is for Immigrants by Selina Alko

Cover image for I Is for Immigrants.

I Is for Immigrants by Selina Alko (9781250237866)

This alphabet book is a celebration of diversity and the immigrants who come to America. The book is a series of double-page illustrations that include words that match each of the letters. For example, A is ancestors, abuelita, African dance, ambition, art and aspire. F contains flags, food trucks, fish & chips, falafel, frankfurters, families, friends, freedom, a father with a fez, fields and flea markets. The book is joyful and moves effortlessly between cultures, often showing the connections between them and also the unique elements they have brought to our country.

The illustrations are paintings that appear to include collage elements as well. They use a variety of fonts to share the various words for each letter, allowing the words and the images to swirl together into a beautiful mix. So much food is celebrated here that your mouth will be watering by the end for samosas, sushi, spices and more on just one page!

Joyous and inclusive, this is a beautiful alphabet book celebrating the best of America. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Henry Holt & Co.

Milo Imagines the World by Matt de la Peña

Cover image

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.

If You Come to Earth by Sophie Blackall

If You Come to Earth by Sophie Blackall

If You Come to Earth by Sophie Blackall (9781452137797)

Inspired by Blackall’s travels for UNICEF and Save the Children, this is a picture book guide to our planet. It offers a first-time visitor to earth useful information, such as directions to our planet in the solar system. The world is looked at through the people who live here, the homes we live in, the families we grow up in. It also features the world’s weather, schools, transportation, jobs and hobbies. Then the book turns to animals around the world and under the sea. It finishes looking at creativity, art, science and medicine. It’s a celebration of all that makes us unique, fascinating and worth the visit.

While the list above may sound mundane, in Blackall’s hands it is warm and energetic. Each item is marveled at for a bit, rather like picking up a gem and then moving on to the next amazing jewel. The entire book is a delight, looking at the earth and at humans as something to be proud of, to care for, and to adore.

As always, two-time Caldecott Medal winner Blackall’s art is remarkable. She shows diversity of humans and animals with such joy. Her characters always have a little extra sparkle in their eye or in the tilt of their head.

A grand tour of earth that invites us all to slow down and love our planet and one another. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy provided by Chronicle Books. 

 

Love Your Body by Jessica Sanders

Love Your Body by Jessica Sanders

Love Your Body by Jessica Sanders, illustrated by Carol Rossetti (9780711252424)

With a clear focus on self-acceptance and body positivity, this nonfiction picture book celebrates all girls and young women. The book is filled with images of girls of all sizes, races, religions and abilities. Readers are told to start loving their bodies now, not waiting. Bodies are more than just there to be admired: they are strong and active no matter their size or shape. The book encourages readers to make a list of what they appreciate about their body, offering help and ideas. The book then recommends that if that did not help it might be a good idea to seek help from an adult or organization. Self care is also emphasized along with dressing your body the way it feels best to you. Self-love is a process, and this book shows a clear way forward.

Sanders’ text is clear and fierce. She demands that readers take action, not see themselves as objects, and deeply understand that no matter our size, race or ability that our bodies are ours to treasure and celebrate. The focus on self kindness and self care is an important one, nicely moving readers away from perfectionism towards habits that will serve them well for their entire lives.

The illustrations are tremendous. I particularly love the groups of girls and young women gathered together in their underwear and fully clothed. It’s a visual sisterhood, a commitment to loving ourselves and one another. The girls throughout the book are diverse and active. I particularly appreciate that it is often the larger girls as well as those of different abilities who are doing the activities.

Fierce, kind and compassionate, this book insists that all girls are valued. Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Frances Lincoln.

Your Name Is a Song by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow

Your Name Is a Song by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow

Your Name Is a Song by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow (9781943147724)

A little girl tells her mother that she won’t be going back to school because no one could say her name, not even her teacher. So her mother explains that names are actually songs, and offers various examples, each accompanied by phonetic help in pronouncing them. The little girl goes on to explain the bullying behavior of some of the other students, pretending to choke on her name. Her mother explains that some names are not pronounced in the throat, but in the heart. Some of the children at school were scared of her name too, but her mother explains that certain names contain fire because they are so strong. What about the children who said her name was made up? Names come from dreamers who create new names when old ones were stolen, explains her mother. The next day, the little girl heads back to school, ready to sing her name for her teacher and class.

This picture book is completely inspiring, both for children with unique or unusual names but also for teachers and classmates to help lead everyone to inclusion of diversity in their classrooms. I love the help in pronouncing the rainbow of names shared in the story, particularly when that same pronunciation help extends to names that are not unusual such as Benjamin, Olivia and Ms. Anderson. It’s a clever way to show that we all have interesting names and we have learned to pronounce them all.

The illustrations show a diverse class of children in an urban setting as the little girl and her mother walk home together. As her confidence in her name grows, the world around becomes filled with colors, streaks of pinks and golds, clouds of pastel. These same bursts of cloud and fire return when she goes to school, declaring her griot-inspired name for everyone: Kora-Jalimuso.

A book that shows how powerful inclusion is, simply by saying someone’s name with care and conviction. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Innovation Press.

The Diverse Book Awards 2020 Longlist

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This new UK award was created by The Author School. It is awarded to UK based authors only  and focuses on books published in 2019 that feature “Black, Asian, Latin American and and/or inclusive main characters.” Below are the longlists for the juvenile categories. The shortlists will be announced in September with the winners announced in October.

CHILDREN’S 

Son of the Circus - A Victorian Story

Son of the Circus by E. L. Norry

My Hair by Hannah Lee, illustrated by Allen Fatimaharan

The Mysterious Melody by SP K-Mushambi, illustrated by Kudzai Gumbo

Planet Omar: Accidental Trouble Magnet by Zanib Mian, illustrated by Nasaya Mafaridik

The Star Outside My Window by Onjali Q. Rauf (coming to the U.S. in January 2021)

Tin Boy

Tin Boy by Steve Cole, illustrated by Oriol Vidal

Toad Attack!

Toad Attack by Patrice Lawrence, illustrated by Becka Moor

 

YOUNG ADULT

All The Things We Never Said

All The Things We Never Said by Yasmin Rahman

Becoming Dinah

Becoming Dinah by Kit De Waal

The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta

The Boxer by Nikesh Shukla

Chinglish

Chinglish: An Almost Entirely True Story by Sue Cheung

The Deathless Girls

The Deathless Girls by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

Oh My Gods

Oh My Gods by Alexandra Sheppard

The Tunnels Below by Nadine Wild-Palmer (coming to the U.S. in February 2021)

 

Our Favorite Day of the Year by A. E. Ali

Our Favorite Day of the Year by A. E. Ali

Our Favorite Day of the Year by A. E. Ali, illustrated by Rahele Jomepour Bell (9781481485630)

When Musa started kindergarten, his teacher explained that the other children around him would become his new friends. Musa wasn’t sure about that, they were strangers! His teacher also said that her favorite day of the year was the first day of school and that show-and-tell that year would center around each child’s favorite day of the year. Musa was thrilled, he knew that everyone would pick Eid along with him! Musa soon found out that the other children celebrated different holidays. A few weeks later, Musa and his mother brought in food and told the class about Eid. On Mo’s turn, he talked about celebrating Rosh Hashanah. Moises explained that his family celebrated Los Posadas on Christmas. Kevin’s family of scientists enjoyed celebrating Pi Day with plenty of pie. Each child had their own celebrations and all the children got to learn about one another’s cultures in a very celebratory way.

Ali’s story is focused on inclusion and demonstrates how that can look in a classroom filled with children from various cultures, countries and faiths. The story is straight forward and powerful, clearly showing that not all children celebrate Christmas and even when they do, it may not look the same. Readers will enjoy seeing not only the celebrations shared in the story, but others shown on the class calendar.

Bell’s illustrations are done digitally but also incorporate handmade textures, giving them a marvelous organic quality that warms them. The children and families here are diverse with multiracial families, grandparents raising children, and gay parents represented in the story.

A beautiful look at diversity and inclusion through family celebrations and holidays. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Salaam Reads.

 

Nana Akua Goes to School by Tricia Elam Walker

Nana Akua Goes to School by Tricia Elam Walker

Nana Akua Goes to School by Tricia Elam Walker, illustrated by April Harrison (9780525581130)

When Zura’s teacher announces that next Monday is Grandparent’s Day, Zura isn’t as enthusiastic as her classmates about her grandmother visiting the class. Her grandmother, Nana Akua, is one of her favorite people on earth, but Zura was worried that the other children and families might laugh or be mean. Her grandmother looks different than most people in the United States. She has marks on her face representing her tribal family as well as beauty and confidence. When Zura admits to being worried for her grandmother, the two work together on a plan which involves bringing Zura’s quilt with its Adinkra symbols from Ghana. Monday arrives quickly and several other grandparents do their presentations. Zura introduces her grandmother who explains the marks on her face and the important tradition they represent. Then it’s the class’ turn to do their own marks in removable makeup.

Walker explains in her author’s note how she learned about the Adinkra symbols and the tradition of facial marks in Ghana. She uses these elements to tell the universal story of children of color whose parents or grandparents immigrated from another country and whose culture carries through in stories and traditions to the present day. Walker shows how such visible differences can cause pain and worries but also how they serve as a bridge to a deeper understanding as long as we take the time to listen and learn.

Harrison’s art is beautiful. She fills Zura’s classroom with children from a variety of races and cultures. She uses patterns and colors, almost creating the effect of stained glass on the page. The faces of her characters shine, sometimes looking right at the reader, as Nana Akua does when explaining her marks.

A celebration of diversity that show how openness to being different creates community. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Schwartz & Wade.