Safe to say, there’s nothing like the feeling of the fresh cut. You feel so extra visible with a fresh new cut, and this book built from that experience translates it in a way never before brought to the children’s bookshelf.
Basquiat-inspired king insignias and a bit of Kehinde Wiley flair shape portraits of all the various ways men (and women too!) come into the black barbershop to restore their cool, leaving the chair with high self-esteem, self-pride, and confidence—if only for as long as their hairlines remain crisp. It’s sacred. The all-important line and the diverse styles take center stage here. The Big Daddy Kane–homage flat-top. The part. The light shape-up surrounded by cornrows and locs. The taper. The classic wavy dark Caesar. Barnes’ imaginative prose mirrors the hyperbole and swagger of the barbershop. No cut is just good. It will have you looking “presidential,” “majestic.” Like you own “a couple of acres of land on Saturn.” The swagger is on a million. The sauce is drippin’. James’ oil-based portraiture will send many readers reminiscing. This book oozes black cool and timely, much-needed black joy, using the unique and expansive experience of the barbershop to remind young boys that their inner lives have always mattered there.
One of the best reads for young black boys in years, it should be in every library, media center, and, yes, barbershop.
(Picture book. 5-12)
A racially and ethnically diverse sampling of children exemplify the grief and discomfort that come with losing a parent to incarceration. Lacey’s scared with one of her moms in jail; Rashid’s mom is in jail for the second time; both Juana’s mami and her papi are in prison, so she and her siblings are spread out among foster homes. Yen has hard questions only her mother can answer, so she mails them to her. Rafael must fend off intrusive questions from the other kids. In Birtha’s direct, sympathetic text and Kastelic’s muted pencil-and-watercolor illustrations, these children and more evince loneliness, anger, shame, and fear. Birtha gives them sympathetic adults, such as a coach who won’t let Jermaine’s teammates mock him and the teacher who listens to Atian, who’s been acting out. Tips on talking to children with incarcerated parents and further resources are included in the backmatter; these, combined with the direct, role-modeling text, make this book as valuable for adult readers as it is for children. The purposeful inclusion of a white child and an Asian-American child helps to dispel stereotypes, while the inclusion of African-American and Latino children reflects U.S. prison demographics. Class disparities are only hinted at; the children are not obviously well-to-do but all seem to inhabit reasonably comfortable settings.
With more than 2.7 million American children experiencing the incarceration of a parent, this book is a necessary one.
(Picture book. 4-8)
As the book starts, readers see a dark-haired, light-skinned family starting their day. A girl in a red, hooded parka bids goodbye to her dog, and with snow beginning to come down, she’s off to school. As it happens, a wolf pack is also on the move. On her way home the snow has intensified. In a dramatic two-page spread the wolf pack can be seen walking in the girl’s direction, clouds of steamy air coming out of mouths filled with pointy teeth. As the girl trudges on, head lowered to the falling snow, and the wolf pack also trudges on, a wolf cub is left behind. Eventually, the girl and the scared, lost cub meet. Hearing the wolf pack howling in the distance, the girl takes the cub and, facing many perils, reunites cub and pack. Now exhausted and unable to move on, she collapses in the snow. The grateful pack returns favor for favor, and as its members surround and protect the girl, they howl in a call to her family, who has been out looking for her. The last page shows the family warm and safe back home. What distinguishes this book are the many feelings that Cordell’s pen-and-ink–with-watercolor illustrations capture so well—cold, fear, courage, exhaustion, relief—keeping readers hooked to the end.
Little Pig’s still too small to do everything his brothers and sisters do…but it turns out that’s not a problem.
Little Pig’s four older siblings are going to sailing camp, but Little Pig’s not old enough. Eldest sibling Tiny gives him a rope to practice knots, but one whole day of tying knots is enough. Thankfully, Poppy and Grandpa come over, and Poppy brings a model ship he’s carving. Little Pig helps Poppy finish the ship. They sail it on Monday and Tuesday and in the rain on Wednesday. They build a dock Thursday and sail it all the way across the river Friday. On Saturday it gets away from them and goes over a waterfall in a dramatic sequence that’s perfectly gauged for the audience. Poppy can’t catch it. Little Pig runs to the bridge, remembers the rope Tiny gave him, and makes use of those knots he practiced. He saves the day just in time to share sailing stories with all his siblings, home from camp. Costello’s second title starring Little Pig’s as charming as his earlier Little Pig Joins the Band (2011). The inviting watercolor-and-ink illustrations are a well-paced mix of full-bleed, spot, and cartoon panels dotted with speech bubbles that illuminate the close, intergenerational relationship between Little Pig and Poppy. Young listeners will identify with being too little but still quite capable.
Here’s hoping Little Pig will take his time growing up and gift readers with a few more tales of being smallest.
(Picture book. 3-7)
When Grandpa tells his granddaughter he has lost his Cree words, the 7-year-old asks for an explanation.
The little girl leaves school elated that she has created her own dream catcher and anxious to share it with Grandpa, who meets her. Interested in her Cree culture, she asks if he’d tell her the Cree word for “grandfather.” He tells her the truth: long ago, he lost his Cree language when he was forced to attend a residential school with other children of his village. When the two arrive home, they sit on the porch stairs together so he can answer her many questions about the way in which his first language was stolen from him and his classmates. Distressed, his granddaughter comforts him and later finds the perfect way to help. Florence’s tender text soothes the harsh reality of having Native language stolen while attending one of Canada’s former residential schools for Indigenous children. Grimard’s equally emotive illustrations show the stark realities of the experience in symbolic images, as when a crow that embodies their words is locked in a cage, and literal ones, as in a heartbreaking picture of grieving mothers stretching their arms toward the bus that takes their children away. At the same time the soft colors and nuanced expressions enrich Florence’s text. Images from the past are rendered in sepia tones, while bright blues, greens, and russets suffuse the contemporary tale.
Wearing her long red cape, Lucía goes POW and BAM better than the rest. The brown-skinned Latina’s a daredevil on the playground, leaping from the top of the monkey bars and conquering that dreaded dark, swirly slide. But: “Girls can’t be superheroes,” say the boys that refuse to play with her. Lucía doesn’t give in to their taunts. “I feel mad. Spicy mad. KA-POW kind of mad!” Garza shines in her children’s debut. The text bursts with infectious energy and Lucía’s endearing personality. When her abuela reveals a luchadora past, Lucía discovers a new outlet for her superhero aspirations. In a flashy white cape and fearsome silver mask, the budding luchadora makes her debut on the playground, introducing a lucha libre frenzy among her peers. Soon, masked faces are everywhere. But when a boy teases a fellow luchadora, Lucía faces her first real challenge as a lucha libre superhero. Can she stand up for what is right like a true luchadora? A madcap pace keeps the story moving along with humor, heart, and bravado in equal measures. Likewise, Bermudez’s colorful, buoyant illustrations radiate pure joy. Nifty text placement, variations in type color, and use of sound effects add to this delightful package, making it a joy for readers to root for this plucky young girl.
A KA-POW kind of wonderful.
(Picture book. 3-7)
A small child, a fox, and the deep forest: not a grim tale at all but rather a magical journey culminating in an act of mutual kindness.
Front endpapers show a shelf with dolls, stuffed animals (including a stuffed fox), and books, including Adventures of a Small Fox and The Magical Unicorn, which foreshadow the story to come. The protagonist, a brown-skinned child with a black pageboy, brings the much-beloved fox to show and tell and then takes it out to the playground at recess. But when the child plays on the swings, a real fox takes the stuffed fox and runs off with it through the woods. Up to now the wordless panels have been tinged with blue; the live fox is a vivid orange. The child and a light-skinned friend with close-cropped hair and glasses follow, the pages becoming more varied in hue and highly saturated before bursting, Oz-like, with color when they reach the fairy-tale town where the fox lives. The little fox and the child exchange hugs and stuffed animals, the child returns home, and the endpapers now show a polka-dot unicorn in place of the stuffed fox. (Unfortunately, this unicorn, crucial to the arc of the wordless narrative, is mostly covered by the flyleaf.) The illustrations are rendered in pencil, watercolor, and ink, assembled and colored digitally. Young children will pore over this wordless picture book again and again, finding something new to enjoy each time.
A wordless picture book that makes a great read.
(Picture book. 3-7)
A lone skater, pale-skinned and dark-haired in a red knit cap and mittens, swoops across the white expanse of each double-page spread in this wordless picture book that celebrates companionship and play.
At first reveling in solitary freedom, the figure flies across the ice, skates carving a symphony of lines in the surface with graceful spins, leaps, and turns. Eventually tumbling and crashing to the ground, the skater comes to a skidding halt. Next readers see a crumpled piece of paper, the little skater apparently no more than the figment of an artist’s imagination. But wait! The wad of paper is flattened out, and there’s the skater, alone and forlorn, on a smudged and wrinkled background, until another child comes along, then another and another. Soon the page is filled with joyful children of varying skin tones and hair colors—and even a bounding dog—skating and throwing snowballs on a pond surrounded by snow and trees. The deft pencil illustrations convey movement and emotion so effectively that words are superfluous.
Readers are transported into a wintry wonderland of exuberant bliss in this picture book that speaks to those who like to explore the boundaries of creative expression.
(Picture book. 4-8)
A poem by a celebrated Chicago playwright and long beloved within the Black History Month tradition about the achievement, potential, and ancestral joy incubated within the black experience.
Readers who Google “Hey Black Child” will come across bevies of joyous videos of children as young as 3, both solo and in chorus, reciting this poem to enthralled crowds of families and friends. First penned in 1975, it’s often been attributed to such black literary greats as Countee Cullen and Maya Angelou (a phenomenon discussed in the author’s note). Yet the real genius behind this poem is Perkins, a longtime committed poet, playwright, and social worker in Chicago. He writes: “I’m honored that my poem has been associated with these two gifted writers, but I’m glad the world can now learn about the poem’s true roots.” To accompany the poem, Caldecott honoree Collier brings the amazement with beautiful, brilliant, full-color illustrations. By showing present-day children, their future accomplishments, and the legacies that have enriched and will continue to enrich their lives, as he explains in his note, Collier achieves strong and layered images that make sitting with the rhythmic and repetitious words of Perkins’ poetry a grand occasion. This book dazzles in every way and is bound to inspire so many more viral videos of black children speaking their abundant futures into existence.
All black children need to know Perkins’ prideful poem, possibly by heart, because it’s really that doggone good.
(Picture book. 3-10)
Humpty Dumpty, classically portrayed as an egg, recounts what happened after he fell off the wall in Santat’s latest.
An avid ornithophile, Humpty had loved being atop a high wall to be close to the birds, but after his fall and reassembly by the king’s men, high places—even his lofted bed—become intolerable. As he puts it, “There were some parts that couldn’t be healed with bandages and glue.” Although fear bars Humpty from many of his passions, it is the birds he misses the most, and he painstakingly builds (after several papercut-punctuated attempts) a beautiful paper plane to fly among them. But when the plane lands on the very wall Humpty has so doggedly been avoiding, he faces the choice of continuing to follow his fear or to break free of it, which he does, going from cracked egg to powerful flight in a sequence of stunning spreads. Santat applies his considerable talent for intertwining visual and textual, whimsy and gravity to his consideration of trauma and the oft-overlooked importance of self-determined recovery. While this newest addition to Santat’s successes will inevitably (and deservedly) be lauded, younger readers may not notice the de-emphasis of an equally important part of recovery: that it is not compulsory—it is OK not to be OK.
A validating and breathtaking next chapter of a Mother Goose favorite.
(Picture book. 4-8)
A new mother describes her dreams for her son, her hopes for his future, and her prayers for his safety.
The book opens with the mother, a black woman, cradling her newborn and looking ahead to his future. She imagines holding his hand as he learns to walk, reading to him, and teaching him the golden rule. But as her son grows, she knows he will move away from her protection and face the dangers of the wider world, and so her words shift to prayers for her son’s future. She asks God to hold her son in his hands, a metaphor reflected in the cover illustration with huge, protective hands above and below the figure of a solemn little black boy. The moving, poetic text captures the mother’s fears for her son while framing her thoughts in a hopeful way, countering worries with positive outcomes. As the prayers move to a conclusion, she prays that her son will avoid perils and grow up to raise his own sons and grandsons. She adds to her prayer the profound words: “Black lives matter. Your life matters.” Her heartfelt words will appeal to adults even as they offer both love and reassurance for children and a way to explore some difficult social issues. Pinkney’s striking, loose illustrations in watercolor and gouache use a palette of pastel greens and blues, with swirling strokes of ink indicating movement or change.
Insightful, poignant, groundbreaking—and a reminder that the lives of all children are also in our hands.
(Picture book/religion. 5-adult)
Despite having only three legs, Trio the cat lives a full, happy life.
Trio is born “different.” But different is definitely not less-than, as the narration points out. Trio may struggle at times, but in general, he can do what other kittens do: “pounce…sneak…[and] jump, whoops, well sort of!” Trio and his siblings share their home with a flock of chickens. Trio, in particular, enjoys emulating the chickens’ behavior, though he discovers that he does not like eating bugs. After figuring out how to climb up into the nesting boxes, Trio regularly makes himself at home. Then one day his cozy snoozing is interrupted by an unexpected event. Wisnewski’s astonishingly beautiful illustrations combine paper cutting, printing, and watercolor to bring Trio’s story to life. Her technique works particularly well for texture and shading, as seen on the flowers, fabrics, feathers, and fur. Trio, the other kittens, and Uno the chick are all utterly adorable, and the beady-eyed hens are equally appealing. The matter-of-fact tone of the text keeps the story from sounding sentimental, while gently humorous asides add to its charm. Simple declarative sentences have a pleasing rhythm and conversational tone, allowing the story to flow naturally.
Lovely to look at, a pleasure to read aloud, and offering plenty of details to pore over, Trio’s story seems destined to become a favorite for many families.
(Picture book. 4-7)