Mary Wears What She Wants by Keith Negley (9780062846792)
Based on the real-life story of Mary Edwards Walker, who turned heads and drew ire when she dressed in pants mid-1800’s. This picture book shows a little girl of that time deciding to wear pants herself. The book firmly sets itself in the time period by explaining about societal expectations and the limitations that dresses placed on girls. The strong reaction of the townsfolk makes Mary question whether wearing pants is worth their anger. With her father’s support, she decides to continue wearing the clothes that make her happy. It turns out, she started a new trend!
Negley includes an author’s note that explains the story of the incredible Mary Edwards Walker who was also one of the first female doctors in the United States. The picture book focuses on gender expectations and how dressing as yourself is an important decision to make even if others in society don’t appreciate it. This is a strong statement for all youth and particularly for children who are gender nonconforming or transgender.
The art by Negley lifts the book into the modern era. Filled with bright colors and patterns, the illustrations have a great edge to them and a strong graphic quality. There is a playfulness to the illustrations that matches the tone of the book overall as well.
A great pick for discussions about gender expectations and clothing. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Amazing Idea of You by Charlotte Sullivan Wild, illustrated by Mary Lundquist (9781681191836)
Inside every apple is the idea of a tree wrapped inside a tiny seed. If you plant it, that idea starts to grow and bloom. This picture book explores the ideas that are inside you! Just like the tree inside the seed or the chick inside an egg, ideas are inside of you and waiting to come out. It’s like the frog inside the tadpole, the flight inside a gosling or the butterfly inside the caterpillar. Ideas are personal and transform our world. What is inside of you?
Written with an inspirational tone, this picture book encourages children to think deeply about what they want to grow into. The message is empowering and personal, giving children the space and time to dream and think. In the story, the little girl creates an apple orchard from apple seeds which serves as a metaphor for how small things can grow large and make big changes to the world around us. The illustrations are positive and bubbly. Featuring a child of color though not a specific ethnicity, the illustrations have a warmth about them.
An appealing book with a focus on self-esteem and personal growth. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy provided by Bloomsbury.
Hands Up! by Breanna J. McDaniel, illustrated by Shane W. Evans (9780525552314)
A police phrase is turned into something much more positive in this picture book. Starting with being a small baby and lifting her hands to play peek-a-boo, an African-American girl grows up on these pages. Along the way, she raises her hands for all sorts of positive reasons like getting dressed, reaching high, and doing her hair. She takes action with her hands up: getting books from a shelf, dancing, playing basketball, and worshiping. The book ends with the girl joining her family in a protest march.
McDaniel has written a book about the joy of life, the small and big things, and the important aspects of a life well lived. It is a book about not living in fear and not being seen as a problem because of the color of your skin. It is a book that reads as a celebration and its own protest against racism and prejudice.
The illustrations by Evans are so bright they almost blind. Pages are filled with sunshine and lemon yellows. He uses textures for clothing that make the book more tactile and organic. Throughout, he depicts a loving multi-generational African-American family.
Powerful and standing in its truth, this book is exactly what is needed right now. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Dial Books.
I Am Small by Qin Leng (9781525301155)
Mimi is very small for her age. She’s the shortest in her class at school and the shortest in her family too. Mimi thinks about all of the problems with being the shortest, like viewing pastries in the bakery or being unable to write higher on the blackboard. Her friends see it differently. They point out that she wins at hide-and-seek, that she gets to be first in line at lunch and gets the biggest piece of cake. At home there are advantages too. Mimi can fit between Mom and Dad in their bed, she can swim in the bathtub, and she can even ride on the back of their dog! So when someone even small than Mimi joins the family, Mimi knows just what to say.
Leng has illustrated many several books for children and this is her first time authoring a book. She has created an ode to the challenges and beauty of being small that children on the small side will easily relate to. As the book progresses, Mimi’s tone about her size changes to a much more positive one, just in time for her new little brother to appear. There is a focus on self-acceptance in this picture book that will shine no matter what your size.
Leng’s illustrations are whimsical and fresh. In Mimi, she has created a wonderfully androgynous little girl grappling with her size. Leng populates her pages with small touches and details that bring her scenes to life. Just the feel of characters clothing and the play of movement on the page are special.
A book about self-esteem that proves that size doesn’t matter. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Lost Girl by Anne Ursu (9780062275097)
The author of The Real Boy and Breadcrumbs returns with a new marvelous read for middle graders. Lark and Iris are twins. It’s the thing that everyone notices about them. They are very different underneath their physical similarities. Iris is rational, protective and always willing to argue. Lark is dreamy, creative and sensitive. When the two girls are separated for the first time into different classrooms at school, Lark retreats into herself. She has several humiliating experiences that Iris can’t find a way to help with. Meanwhile, Iris finds herself being quieter without Lark to speak up for and has difficulty finding her own way. She is drawn to a strange new antiques shop and begins to spend time there reading old books that belonged to a mysterious “Alice.” The man in the shop is extremely odd, talking about magic and collections. Other odd things are happening as well with art disappearing around the city and crows gathering in the trees. When Iris finds herself in real danger, the mysteries begin to make horrible sense, but she isn’t sure that anyone will even care she is gone.
Ursu once again weaves an incredible tale of magic. This one is set in Minneapolis and Ursu beautifully shares elements of the northern Midwest and the Twin Cities in the story. The setting of anchors this tale in reality which works particularly well as the reveal of the magical part of the book is so gradual. The book is nearly impossible to summarize well or concisely because there are so many elements to the story. As you read though, it is a cohesive whole, a world that Ursu builds for the reader with real skill where the elements click together by the end of the book.
While the book is about both Lark and Iris, the focus is primarily on Iris, the more prickly and outspoken sister. Lark is seen through the lens of Iris’ concern for her and Lark’s opinion of her own role with her sister isn’t shared until towards the end of the book. That reveal is one of the most powerful elements of the book, demonstrating how Iris has not been seeing things clearly at all. The narrator voice is just as well done, creating a feeling of a tale within a tale, where magic is real all along.
A grand adventure of a book full of magic and girl power. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Walden Pond Press.
Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams (9781481465809)
Genesis keeps a list of things that she hates about herself. Some of it is the color of her skin and the way that others tease her about how dark she is, unlike her light-skinned mother with good hair. Some of it is about the way that their family keeps getting kicked out of the houses they live in because they don’t pay the rent. Some of it is the way her father speaks about her when he is drunk. Some of it is based on her grandmother’s hurtful comments about Genesis. So after being kicked out of yet another house, Genesis’ family moves to a more affluent neighborhood outside of Detroit. Genesis discovers that she likes her new school and even finds herself making real friends for the first time. The house is the nicest they have ever lived in too. But other things aren’t any better. Her father keeps on drinking. Genesis is still as dark-skinned as ever, but she has plans to try to lighten her skin, thinking that will make her entire life better. As Genesis discovers her own talents, she must learn that learning to accept herself is a large piece of moving forward in life.
In this debut novel, Williams writes with a strong voice, taking on difficult topics including verbal abuse, racism, skin tone, alcoholism and co-dependency in an unflinching way. Williams reveals the deep pain and lasting scars that cruel words and verbal abuse can have on a young person, particularly when it is about a physical characteristic that is beyond their control. With Genesis’ parents caught in a marriage filled with anger and substance abuse, Williams offers other adult figures and also young peers who model a way forward for Genesis.
Genesis’ growth is organic and well paced. She learns things steadily but has set backs that end up with her damaging herself. She is a complicated character who looks at life through a specific lens due to her upbringing. She is constantly judging others before they can judge her, placing distance where there could be connections, and making poor decisions when offered compliments. Still, she is a good friend, someone willing to look beyond the surface and see what others can’t. But only when she allows herself to do that. Her complexity is what makes this book really shine.
Strong and vibrant, this book takes on the subject of skin tone in the African-American community as well as other heavy topics. Appropriate for ages 11-13.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Atheneum.
Don’t Touch My Hair by Sharee Miller (9780316562584)
Aria lovers her fluffy, touchable hair but others love it a bit too much for her comfort. It seems like every time she leaves the house, someone is reaching out to feel her hair. She tries going to the ocean to get away from everyone, but even the mermaids want a touch. The same thing happens when she heads to the jungle or the castle. The only place she can find peace is on a deserted island, but she gets too lonely there. When she returns home, Aria figures out the power of setting boundaries and not allowing others to touch her without her permission.
Written in a wonderfully accessible way, this picture book will speak to children who are always having their hair touched, particularly African-American girls who wear their natural hair. The incorporation of whimsical settings makes the entire book feel lighter and a bit playful. The seriousness of being able to say no to others, even adults, is the final part of the book and is handled perfectly with just the right tone. The art in this picture book is bright and friendly. Aria’s hair is depicted in a most touchable way adding to the appeal of the book.
Humor adds a nice touch to this book about the importance of being able to demand respect for your body and hair. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Giraffe Problems by Jory John, illustrated by Lane Smith (9781524772048)
Edward the giraffe hates his long neck. It’s ridiculously long and bendy. There’s no other animal with a neck like his and he just wishes it was more normal. He has tried hiding his neck under scarves and bushes, high water and trees, but nothing works. All of the other animals just stare at him, noticing his neck all of the time. Then one evening, Edward meets Cyrus, a turtle. Cyrus loves Edward’s long bendy neck and asks for Edward’s help in fetching a high banana from a tree. The two end up praising each other’s necks and figuring out that a different perspective is very helpful, particularly if bow ties are involved.
From the team that created Penguin Problems, this picture book has a great mix of humor and empathy. The writing is pitch perfect, told in the voices of Edward and Cyrus directly. Edward’s worries about his neck are presented in a conversational tone that begs to be shared aloud. Cyrus’ voice is entirely different, offering lengthy monologues about bananas but then shifting to become conversational too.
Smith’s art is textural with graphical elements that are compelling. The characters stand out strongly against the light background that hints at bright sun. Visual humor adds to the silliness of the book, creating just the right balance. The book uses different page turns and perspectives that make for a dynamic read.
A great read-aloud pick for any stories about self-esteem or giraffes. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Random House Books for Young Readers.
Darius the Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram (9780525552963)
Darius can’t seem to fit in anywhere. He is teased at school for being fat and Muslim. He’s never really had a friend. His father doesn’t approve of anything he does and often seems ashamed that Darius is his son. Darius is nothing like his younger sister who is adorable, outgoing and speaks flawless Farsi. So when Darius and his family take their first-ever trip to Iran to see his ailing grandfather, Darius wonders if anything will be different there. There he finally gets to meet his grandparents. His grandfather is intimidating, still watering his trees from up on his roof and driving at breakneck speeds. At the same time, he also gets lost sometimes and has outbursts of temper. Darius’ grandmother is pure love and kindness, creating meals and sharing tea. So when Darius meets Sohrab, a boy from the neighborhood, they cautiously make friends. There are bumps along the way, penis jokes taken too far, but soon they are fast friends who share a special spot overlooking Yazd. When tragedy strikes Sohrab’s family though, Darius is unsure how to help and ends up driving a wedge in their friendship that may not be able to be mended.
This book entirely stole my heart. I enjoyed Darius himself from the very beginning as he struggled with American teenage culture. However, the book truly begins when they get to Iran. It is there that Darius blossoms, but slowly and naturally. The entire book clicks together, beautifully depicting Yazd, carefully leading readers through new experiences and new foods, and celebrating the culture of Iran.
In many ways this book is a love letter to the city of Yazd and Iran itself, but it is also deeply about Darius and his growth as he finds a best friend and a place he fits. There are profound statements here about depression, stress to fit in and the sudden magic of discovering what true friendship is. There is also great humor, struggles to be understood and to understand, cultural issues and family tensions and joy. It’s complicated, just like every good novel should be.
Come fall in love with Darius and Iran at the same time in this amazing debut novel. Appropriate for ages 13-17.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Dial Books.