Pioneering African-American astronaut Mae Jemison’s childhood love of space and supportive parents led to her illustrious career.
Little Mae’s pastoral childhood home is presented in warm yellows, blues, and greens, visually establishing the atmosphere promoted by her loving parents, who encourage her dreams. When Mae’s school assignment asks her to write about what she wants to be when she grows up, Mae responds that she wants to see Earth from space. Her parents tell her she must become an astronaut to do that, and when Mae asks if they think she can, their response weaves its way throughout the narrative: “Of course you can. If you can dream it, if you believe it and work hard for it, anything is possible.” Thus begins Mae’s obsession with space: reading about space, creating homemade astronaut costumes and spaceships, and drawing spacescapes. But when she shares her dreams in school, her white teacher discourages her, and her mostly white classmates laugh. Mae is crestfallen, her despondency captured with deceptively simple lines and a blue wash. Her dismay is short-lived, as she is buoyed up by her parents’ continued support and encouragement. Uplifted, Mae promises to wave to her parents from space one day—and she does just that, as the first African-American astronaut.
An enchanting, inspirational account of Jemison’s early life that illustrates the importance of encouraging and supporting children’s dreams.
(Picture book/biography. 4-8)
Sandwiched between endpapers of yellow-lined paper showing the upper- and lowercase cursive alphabet, this quiet story shouts the pricelessness of literacy.
In an unnamed rural country, three brown-skinned children dance in the streets because the war has ended and they can finally return to school. No one feels more excited than Ayobami, the young protagonist wearing a checkered blue-and-white dress and with cornrowed, beaded hair. On her way to school, clever Ayobami negotiates her way out of becoming breakfast for a hippo, a crocodile, a leopard, a snake, a spider, and a mosquito by promising each she’ll give them their names on paper when she returns from school. She delivers on her promise, but, having given away all evidence of her newly acquired literacy, she has nothing to show her disappointed father at home—but the wind’s magic reveals Ayobami’s accomplishments. The book’s surreal illustration style varies widely throughout, keeping readers engaged with shifting colors, patterns, moods, and textures. Paced differently from most American picture books, this one also has hefty, durable “stone paper” pages that are “waterproof and tear resistant” and “produced without water…trees and…bleach,” making the book a green choice. Letters appear in unlikely places throughout this story—among the leopard’s spots; in the spider’s web—emphasizing that reading can always help expand our understanding.
A marvelous tale of one girl’s passion for reading, writing, and learning
. (Picture book. 4-8)
A young trans girl solves a mystery and finds her people.
Zenobia July hasn’t had an easy go of it: Her mom died when she was little, and her religious, conservative dad has just died in what might be a hunting accident but was probably suicide. She’s shipped off to Portland, Maine, into the loving arms of her aunts Phil and Lu, an eccentric but competent hippie/academic lesbian couple. Zenobia makes friends with a gang of misfits fairly easily, but she still doesn’t want anyone to know that she’s trans (even after new friend Elijah is outed and her main confidant, Arli, genderqueer with vo/ven/veir pronouns, cringingly tries to convince Zenobia to be a better ally). Zenobia’s hacker skills come in handy when a mysterious troll posts transphobic and anti-Muslim memes to the school’s website, and her new friendships are put to various tests. Zenobia is an endearing white trans girl heroine, with an accessible amount of angst and anxiety that never tips over into titillating tragedy. Her community of weirdos and queers (including her aunts’ drag-queen friend Sprink) offers desperately needed representation. Hijab-wearing Congolese immigrant Dyna and Asian Elijah provide some racial diversity, though the default is white.
A fun read that manages to feel solidly traditional while breaking new ground (Fiction. 8-13)
According to 12-year-old Nora, “A home does not have dead people inside it.”
Nora lives in the North Cemetery, Manila’s largest, with her mother, Lorna, after having lost her home and father to a disastrous fire. Now impoverished, Nora sells dried flower garlands by the cemetery gates and helps her mother wash laundry for others to get by. More than anything, Nora wishes to return to her old life and go back to school. Past hardships with family have made Nora reluctant to depend on others for help. But when her mother goes missing and she must confront a street tough named Tiger who may have the answers she needs, Nora learns to accept help from those in her community, including her spirited friend Jojo and his kind grandmother, Lola Mercy. Nora is an impressive young heroine whose extraordinary self-awareness helps her to bravely take on adult responsibilities to support herself and Lorna. Even when frustrated with her mother’s poor choices and conflicted about whom she can trust, she remains resilient. Nora’s story is a tribute to Filipino children, and readers of all backgrounds will find themselves immersed in the culture, learning bits of Tagalog and longing to savor the delicacies described throughout such as biko, champorado, and banana-que.
Cruz’s touching debut breathes life, beauty and everlasting hope into a place where danger lurks and the dead rest.
(glossary, author’s note, activity guide)
Twelve-year-old aspiring astrobiologist Sarah Greene digs into a dark history to help heal her family, both those present and from the past.
Sarah’s thieving cousin, 11-year-old Janie, a “citified” Chicago native, stays with her family in their small, country town of Warrenville, Georgia, for the summer and continuously uses her “five-finger discount” whenever she wants. When Janie disturbs the town’s haints, restless spirits with unresolved business on this spiritual plane, by taking a necklace from the haunted ruins of a black church burned down by the Klan, Sarah must lead her cousin, little brother, Ellis, and their friend Jasper into the woods during the dangerous Witching Hour in order to communicate with and save the souls trapped there. Strong’s prose pours from her pen like iced sweet tea on an August afternoon—it’s refreshing, steeped in tradition, and mixed with love. Many characters are familiar Southern staples in black communities. Devoted deaconess Mrs. Greene, the children’s paternal grandmother, whom they always address formally, with her loose, wavy hair and light skin, leans deep into colorism; her nemesis, Mrs. Whitney, the town conjuring woman, is dark-skinned and always adorned in all white, and she memorializes the victims of lynchings in their county. No punches are pulled when these personalities collide in this sometimes-spooky ode to how an unacknowledged past can come back to haunt us.
A stirring Southern middle-grade book that burns brighter than fireworks on the Fourth.
(Supernatural adventure. 8-12)