March 24, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Make Room for Debut Picture Book Authors and Illustrators | JLG’s On the Radar

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In a season of amazing new picture books, first-time kid lit writers and illustrators offer wonderful additions to the growing wealth librarians can include in their collections this fall. From an internationally acclaimed illustrator who joined forces with an ALA-ALSC Notable Children’s Award-winning author to an international advertising agency’s creative director who “let the story” come to him, the following titles, selected by the editors of Junior Library Guild, have already won star reviews.

See what a seal can doBUTTERWORTH, Chris. See What a Seal Can Do. Illus. by Kate Nelms. Candlewick. 2013. ISBN 9780763665746. JLG Level: NEK : Nonfiction Early Elementary (Grades K–2).

“You might think a seal’s just a slow, dozing creature that spends its time lazing around. But you’d be wrong!” The gray Seal has two fur coats that keep him warm as he spends his days in the sea, flicking and twisting his tail, as he scours the ocean floor in search of food. Though gray seals are mammals, they can stay underwater for at least 15 minutes. Once ashore, the Seal rests in the sun, until he’s ready to dance in the water all over again. In her first book, Kate Nelms’s illustrations bring a magical light to a beautiful creature.

Deep in the saharaCUNNANE, Kelly. Deep in the Sahara. illus. by Hoda Hadadi. Random/Schwartz & Wade. 2013. ISBN 9780375970344. JLG Level: E+ : Easy Reading (Grades 1–3).

Winning international prizes for illustration, Hadadi’s first picture book published in the United States, transports readers to Muslim West Africa, where Lalla begs to wear a malafa. Everyone thinks that Lalla is too little. She doesn’t understand the purpose of the garment―it’s more than for beauty, mystery, or being a fine lady. Cunnane’s story explains tradition in a thoughtful, positive view of the Muslim culture for women.

When the beat was bornHILL, Laban, Carrick. When the Beat was Born: DJ Kool Herc and the Creation of Hip Hop. illus. by Theodore Taylor III. Roaring Brook. 2013. ISBN 9781596435407. JLG Level: CE : City Elementary (Grades 2–6).

Little Clive lived in Jamaica where he was too young to participate in dance parties, but he watched the DJs set up. At 13, his family moved to Harlem where he grew big playing sports. Then he learned to make big sounds with his father’s speaker system. Kool Herc, as he now called himself, began to throw his own dance parties. All around the neighborhood, folks came to dance to his records. His music even made street gangs dance during the breaks. They became known as break dancers. Little Clive had grown up to become DJ Kool Herc. Theodore Taylor III illustrates his first picture book about the man who would become the founder of hip hop.

Lost catMADER, C. Roger. Lost Cat. Houghton Harcourt. 2013. ISBN 9780547974583. JLG Level: P : Primary (Grades K–1).

Someone once told Roger Mader to let the story come to him. A gray and white abandoned kitten showed up on his doorstep. Wondering where she came from, he wrote Lost Cat. Slipper once lived with a little old lady and slept on the woman’s fuzzy slippers. “Life was good.” One day Mrs. Fluffy and Slippers must go to live with the owner’s daughter. In the confusion of moving day, Slippers is left behind. She tries to chase the van, but she just can’t keep up. By the time the family realizes what happened, Slippers is gone. She is lost. Mader’s first contribution to the picture book world is remarkable and heartwarming. A must-read―but bring a tissue.

Tap the magic treeMATHESON, Christie. Tap the Magic Tree. HarperCollins/Greenwillow. 2013. ISBN 9780062274458. JLG Level: PK : Pre-Kindergarten (Grades PreS-PreK).

Reminiscent of Hervé Tullet’s Press Here (Chronicle. 2011), Matheson creates her first picture book for young children. “There’s magic in this bare brown tree. Tap it once. Turn the page to see.” A leaf appears. The reader is given direction for tapping the tree, while the following page magically depicts a transformation. Young children will beg for this interactive tale to be read again and again. Perfect for storytimes on the seasons.

For audio/video versions of these booktalks, please visit JLG’s Shelf Life Blog.

Junior Library Guild is a collection development service that helps school and public libraries acquire the best new children’s and young adult books. Season after season, year after year, Junior Library Guild book selections go on to win awards, collect starred or favorable reviews, and earn industry honors. Visit us at



Deborah B. Ford About Deborah B. Ford

Deborah is the Director of Library Outreach for Junior Library Guild. She is an award-winning teacher librarian with almost 30 years of experience as a classroom teacher and librarian in K–12 schools.