Two people, one big and one small, negotiate a relationship in this Swedish import.
Little Koko has long yellow hair and is a frequent user of the expression, “I DON’T WANT TO!” Large Bo, who might be elderly, has very little hair and wears thin wire-rim glasses. Their story unfolds in a series of snapshot moments, text on the left-hand page describing the exchange illustrated on the right. They’ve been at the playground for four hours when Bo declares that it’s time to go. Koko says no. Bo calmly responds, “Don’t then,” and leaves. After Koko returns home (“It was boring staying out alone”), the duo eats bedtime snacks and does crossword puzzles together. Koko puts up a fuss over bedtime, but Bo is unperturbed. The next day, Koko’s resistance pops up over getting out of bed, finishing breakfast, and riding on their bicycle to the store to buy groceries. Koko tries to steal some marshmallows, and when Bo insists that they be returned, Koko refuses. Bo, who lets the store guards deal with Koko, has already purchased some marshmallows for later. Stern Bo’s deep love is shown through actions. Adbåge’s pictures are square and simple, depicting both Koko and Bo with pale, pinkish skin. No gender is given to Koko, and, until the book’s end, readers might assume that Bo, in pink, patterned top and full red slacks and purse, is female. Adbåge assigns Bo a “his” near book’s end. This, and the author’s choice to present life without lecturing, shows uncommon respect for her readers.
A young child copes with the fallout of her broken family in Buitrago and Yockteng’s (Walk with Me, 2017) latest collaboration.
Isabel and her father drive to the country. She hardly pays attention to his words on the way over. Dropped off at her grandmother’s house, she watches him leave. She observes her room that’s not her room. At night, Isabel lies in bed and remembers her dad and the city, when she notices an owl, a frog, and a mouse staring at her through the window. In such a case, “all you can do is open it and talk to them.” Buitrago’s translated text hides complexity beneath its directness, which is traced with humor and charm. Together the girl and creatures take a nighttime stroll. She feels the cool grass against her feet, while the owl names the flowers and the frog calls out the stars. The mouse just wants to eat. Slowly, Isabel opens up about her family, her absent mother and now her father, and the grandmother she barely knows. It’s a story in fragments. Yockteng’s textured digital pictures start as moody snapshots in dark blue ink with occasional flecks of color, mirroring the girl’s inner turmoil. More color creeps in as morning comes and the story nears its poignant finale. Grandmother, pale-skinned as her granddaughter and clad in work boots and jeans, waits by the door, ready to embrace Isabel. Her reassurances (“This is your house, too”) say it all.
A prince of marriageable age looks far and wide for a partner who sings the same tune.
“Handsome and sincere,” the prince accompanies his parents to meet ladies from nearby kingdoms. While the royals are away, a fire-breathing dragon ravages their home kingdom. The prince races home to protect his realm only to find a knight in shining armor battling alongside him. The two work together to defeat the dragon, but in the process, the prince loses his grip and nearly falls to his doom. The visored knight sweeps in to catch the prince, takes off his helmet to reveal his identity, and the two instantly realize their connection. Villagers and royals alike cheer for the two men’s relationship and, soon, wedding. Lewis’ lush colors and dramatic sequencing clearly show her background in animation and lend a timeless, Disney-like quality to the story. The art notably does not shy away from depicting the intimacy between the men, keeping it on par with images of heterosexual relationships that already dominate children’s media. Though the royal family is white, the happy villagers and the prince’s new betrothed add some necessary racial diversity to the mix.
Victorious—it may even usurp King & King (2001) as the premier queer-friendly fairy tale for this age set.
(Picture book. 4-8)
On her birthday, a young girl accompanies her brother on his errands for the first time and makes a wish, but not exactly in the way she was expecting.
When readers meet 7-year-old Carmela, she is scootering past workers in fields, excited to tag along with her older brother on her birthday. It’s fun for her, but it’s also necessary: Their mother works in housekeeping for a fancy hotel, and their father was a day laborer who is no longer home. As they run errands, Carmela plays the annoying little sister, but when she falls off her scooter and loses a dandelion wish she was counting on, her brother takes her to a place where her wish is carried further than she could have imagined. This second de la Peña–Robinson collaboration after Last Stop on Market Street is no less powerful and beautiful. It touches on immigration, class, and loss without belaboring each. And it’s full of rich details, sharp and restrained writing, and acrylic paintings that look textured enough to rise off the page. In one brilliant sequence, Mexican papel picado depicts what Carmela imagines, ending with “her dad getting his papers fixed so he could finally be home” and a cutout of a kneeling father embracing his daughter. It’s a bracing page, the best in the book, and just as sublime as the text.
It’s another near-perfect slice of life from a duo that has found a way to spotlight underrepresented children without forgetting that they are children first. (Picture book. 3-8)
The first night of Hanukkah brings initial disappointment but finally great happiness to the youngest of the family.
It is 1912 on New York City’s Lower East Side, and two sisters are hurrying home to their family to prepare for Hanukkah. Gertie is especially eager because Mama will be making potato pancakes—a once-a-year treat for her “all of a kind” five daughters. At 4, the youngest, Gertie wants to help her older sisters, but Mama will not let her peel or grate the potatoes, chop the onions, or fry the pancakes in the schmaltz, triggering a tantrum. After Gertie’s fit of anger, Mama takes her daughter to the bedroom, where she hides under the bed. It is Papa, a very wise father indeed, who knows what to say and how to make Gertie feel so special. She will recite the blessings with Papa and light the first candle. A festive dinner of chicken and latkes for the entire family follows. Writing with the support of the Sydney Taylor Foundation, Jenkins expertly captures the warm family spirit of the classic books and their time for a new generation of readers. Zelinsky’s digital artwork brilliantly evokes the crowded but cozy tenement world of the early 20th century, while his use of perspective lovingly draws readers into the drama.
Share this joyous holiday tale of a Jewish immigrant family all year long.
(glossary, author’s note, illustrator’s note, link to latke recipe, sources)
(Picture book. 3-7)
The power of art takes center stage in this cleverly titled story of a Thai-speaking grandfather connecting to his assimilated American grandson.
The title page introduces readers to a sullen-faced Asian boy as he walks up to a door and rings the bell. After a traditional bow of greeting, the grandfather, dressed like Mr. Rogers in a white shirt and red sweater, wordlessly welcomes the grandson inside. In paneled artwork, the two unsuccessfully attempt conversation over dinner, with the grandfather speaking in Thai script and the boy speaking in English. Sitting in the uncomfortable silence that cultural divides create, the awkward boy finally walks away to doodle on paper. He draws a wizard with a wand and a conical red hat. Grandpa, recognizing this creative outlet, fetches a sketchbook and, surprisingly, draws his version of a wizard: a tightly detailed warrior clothed in traditional Thai ceremonial dress. The young boy is amazed, marveling that “we see each other for the first time.” The two begin a battle of imagination, wands and paintbrushes thrashing like swords. One draws in energetic colorful cartoons, the other with fierce black-and-white, precisely brushed drawings. Santat elevates their newfound shared passion into energetic, layered, and complex designs, separate and entwined at the same time. They clash with the dragon that divides them and build a new world together “that even words can’t describe.”
Lê’s compelling storyline is propelled forward by Santat’s illustrations, each capturing both the universal longing to connect and the joy of sharing the creative process. (Picture book. 4-8)
On the el with his abuela, Afro-Latinx Julián looks on, entranced, as three mermaids enter their car. Instantly enamored, Julián imagines himself a mermaid. In a sequence of wordless double-page spreads, the watercolor, gouache, and ink art—perfect for this watercentric tale—depicts adorable Julián’s progression from human to mermaid: reading his book on the el with water rushing in, then swimming in that water and freeing himself from the constraints of human clothing as his hair grows longer (never losing its texture). When Julián discovers he has a mermaid tail, his charming expressions make his surprise and delight palpable. At home, Julián tells Abuela that he, too, is a mermaid; Abuela admonishes him to “be good” while she takes a bath. A loose interpretation of being “good” could include what happens next as Julián decides to act out his “good idea”: He sheds his clothes (all except undies), ties fern fronds and flowers to his headband, puts on lipstick, and fashions gauzy, flowing curtains into a mermaid tail. When Abuela emerges with a disapproving look, readers may think Julián is in trouble—but a twist allows for a story of recognition and approval of his gender nonconformity. Refreshingly, Spanish words aren’t italicized.
Though it could easily feel preachy, this charmingly subversive tale instead offers a simple yet powerful story of the importance of being seen and affirmed.
(Picture book. 3-8)
Based on her experience of leaving Mexico for the United States, Morales’ latest offers an immigrant’s tale steeped in hope, dreams, and love.
This story begins with a union between mother and son, with arms outstretched in the midst of a new beginning. Soon after, mother and son step on a bridge, expansive “like the universe,” to cross to the other side, to become immigrants. An ethereal city appears, enfolded in fog. The brown-skinned woman and her child walk through this strange new land, unwilling to speak, unaccustomed to “words unlike those of our ancestors.” But soon their journey takes them to the most marvelous of places: the library. In a series of stunning double-page spreads, Morales fully captures the sheer bliss of discovery as their imaginations take flight. The vibrant, surreal mixed-media artwork, including Mexican fabric, metal sheets, “the comal where I grill my quesadillas,” childhood drawings, and leaves and plants, represents a spectacular culmination of the author’s work thus far. Presented in both English and Spanish editions (the latter in Teresa Mlawer’s translation), equal in evocative language, the text moves with purpose. No word is unnecessary, each a deliberate steppingstone onto the next. Details in the art provide cultural markers specific to the U.S., but the story ultimately belongs to one immigrant mother and her son. Thanks to books and stories (some of her favorites are appended), the pair find their voices as “soñadores of the world.”
A resplendent masterpiece.
(Picture book. 4-8)
According to storyteller Sorell, the Cherokee people always express gratitude for the little things they are given by saying the phrase, “Otsaliheliga,” or “we are grateful.”
Raised in the Cherokee Nation, Sorell intentionally crafts a narrative that simultaneously embraces modernity and a traditional presentation of Cherokee community and way of life. Throughout, the measured text reminds readers that in all things “we say otsaliheliga.” Colorful, folk art–style illustrations show Cherokee people during ceremonies, in family gatherings large and small, and outdoors enjoying each of the four seasons, always expressing gratitude. The scenes are contemporary; one shows a father taking care of his children, engaging in a positive parenting role, while another depicts a family seeing off a relative who is leaving for deployment in the military, underscoring that Cherokee people serve their country. Children participate in rites and in family outings with adults, and they also play traditional games such as stickball and plant strawberries, a practice that reminds their people to embrace peace with one another. The variety of skin tones represented in the illustrations likewise depicts a present-day reflection of the diversity that exists within the Cherokee people. Occasional Cherokee words are written in Romanized form, phonetically, in Cherokee characters, and in English—a lovely grace note.
A gracious, warm, and loving celebration of community and gratitude.
(glossary, author’s note, Cherokee syllabary)
(Picture book. 4-8)
From a debut author-and-illustrator team comes a glimpse into a young American Muslim girl’s family and community as she walks around in “Mommy’s khimar,” or headscarf.
The star of this sunny picture book is a young girl who finds joy in wearing her mother’s khimar, imagining it transforms her into a queen, a star, a mama bird, a superhero. At the core of the story is the love between the girl and her mother. The family appears to be African-American, with brown skin and textured hair. The girl’s braids and twists “form a bumpy crown” under the khimar, which smells of coconut oil and cocoa butter. Adults in her life delight in her appearance in the bright yellow khimar, including her Arabic teacher at the mosque, who calls it a “hijab,” and her grandmother, who visits after Sunday service and calls out “Sweet Jesus!” as she scoops her granddaughter into her arms. Her grandmother is, apparently, a Christian, but “We are a family and we love each other just the same.” The illustrations feature soft pastel colors with dynamic lines and gently patterned backgrounds that complement the story’s joyful tone. The words are often lyrical, and the story artfully includes many cultural details that will delight readers who share the cheerful protagonist’s culture and enlighten readers who don’t.
With a universal message of love and community, this book offers a beautiful representation of a too-often-overlooked cultural group
. (Picture book. 4-8)
A leisurely paced, lushly illustrated story about a boy’s first fly-fishing trip.
Straightforward yet descriptive text portrays an intergenerational excursion in which young Art embarks on his first fly-fishing trip with his angler mother and grandfather. Partly told through remembrances of Art’s mother’s first such trip, the tale emphasizes the importance of family and learning from one another. Unlike his mother, Art does not hook a fish on his first try, but his persistence pays off when he catches a beautiful brown trout, depicted dramatically on its own spread. On the final spread, Art continues this fly-fishing tradition as a grandfather himself, the white man leading his interracial family to the same waters where he learned, eager to pass along this family experience. Warm, immersive illustrations change perspective to add drama and tension, even depicting that of an osprey overhead. The illustrations are rendered in charcoal pencil with digital coloration, creating a watercolor effect. Informative, accessible backmatter will appeal to children eager to take their own turns with the rod, providing guidelines, emphasizing conservation, and depicting both men and women anglers. Endpapers display and label nearly 80 different, brightly colored flies set against a background of light brown, water-stained paper, evocative of the book’s river setting.
No tall tale, this book delivers an authentic, heartwarming story with a focus on family and togetherness
. (Picture book. 4-8)
In a story that’s reminiscent of “The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse,” a young mixed Japanese-white girl savors creating summer memories with her cousins.
“The night before the cousins came, I couldn’t sleep.” Country girl Lila is excited to host city cousins Rosie and Takeo, who sport hair styled in “two puffy balls” and “a little shark fin,” respectively. Her bucket list is full of simple pleasures, such as painting and camping outside. Luckily for her, her cousins are game, and they take turns teaching each other new things, such as skateboarding, riding a bike, and how to eat with chopsticks, “ ‘Hold them like this,’ said Takeo. I tried…and tried.” (The page offers four amusing scenes of Lila first awkwardly using the unfamiliar utensils and then finally gaining mastery.) Lila also introduces her cousins to fireflies. “ ‘What is that?!?’ asked Takeo. I caught a firefly and cupped it in my hands. The firefly bumped gently against the walls of my palms. ‘Just look,’ I whispered to Rosie.” Yamasaki uses deceptively simple, carefully chosen language for the brief blocks of text on each page. The rest of the story is told through her paintings, which are defined by bright brush strokes of color. The overall effect is a quiet story that captures all those small cherished moments in childhood.
A rare find about family featuring a mixed-raced protagonist.
(Picture book. 4-7)