February 18, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Celebrate Black History Month Every Month with Picture Books

We started celebrations early with nonfiction and middle grade and YA fantasy—now here are 16 recent picture books to share with little ones throughout the year but especially during Black History Month. Created by titans of kid lit and debut authors alike, the selections featured on this list encompass the everyday and the fantastical. They also exemplify hashtags such as Chance the Rapper’s #BlackBoyJoy, CaShawn Thompson’s #BlackGirlMagic, and Marley Dias’s #1000BlackGirlBooks in that they are all stories that center Black characters and portray their myriad experiences with care and affirmation.

Stay tuned for roundups on realistic and historical fiction, poetry, and more in the coming weeks. If there are any titles that we miss, please do not hesitate to leave comments below.

redstarBARNES, Derrick. Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut. illus. by Gordon C. James. 32p. Agate/Bolden. Oct. 2017. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781572842243.

K-Gr 3 –Rhythmic text describes the feeling of a young African American boy as he gets a “fresh cut” and how a trip to the barbershop changes the way he feels about the world and in turn how the world perceives him. He might just “smash that geography exam” or “rearrange the principal’s honor roll” and, of course, the cute girl in class won’t be able to keep her eyes off of him. The protagonist spends time looking at black men in chairs next to him and creating vivid stories about their lives: “the dude to the left of you with a faux-hawk…looks presidential…maybe he’s the CEO of a tech company.” Oil paintings illustrate the intricacies of the haircuts, details in the characters’ faces, along with the sense of well-being that is conveyed along the way. While a trip the barbershop is the main story line, the themes of confidence-building, self-esteem, and joy of young black boys are the important takeaways, and the illustrations jump off the page and invite readers to share in the experience. VERDICT A super fun read-aloud, this title is a recommended purchase for all picture book collections.–Kristen Todd-Wurm, Middle Country Public Library, NY

This review was published in the School Library Journal September 2017 issue.

BOGAN, Carmen. Where’s Rodney? illus. by Floyd Cooper. 32p. Yosemite Conservancy. Aug. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781930238732.
PreS-Gr 2–Rodney has trouble being inside and sitting still at school. Though he acts like a clown in his diverse classroom, the boy is also a careful observer of his urban environment, noticing small insects and birds gliding overhead. Rodney enjoys being outside but is less than thrilled when his teacher announces that the students are going to visit a park. The African American child imagines they will be going to the nearby small, seedy green space his mother forbids him to enter. On field trip day, Rodney is surprised when the bus leaves the city, travels through the countryside, and climbs high onto a mountain. For the first time in his life, the boy really feels “outside” as he explores nature and many of its wild wonders. Rodney discovers he can change from fast to slow or loud to quiet, depending on the situation. Illustrator Cooper uses his trademark oil wash technique to reveal views of Rodney’s city, then depicts the beauty of a vast mountaintop park. The small boy’s world is greatly enlarged by his unexpected joyful experience. Readers are left to hope that this is just the first of many eye-opening, and perhaps life-changing, adventures for the boy. VERDICT A lovely book to share one-on-one or with a class preparing for an outing.–Maryann H. Owen, Children’s Literature Specialist, Mt. Pleasant, WI

This review was published in the School Library Journal July 2017 issue.

BRANTLEY-NEWTON, Vanessa. Grandma’s Purse. illus. by Vanessa Brantley-Newton. 32p. Knopf. Jan. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781524714314.
PreS-Gr 2–A little African American girl eagerly awaits her grandma Mimi’s arrival, because when Grandma comes, there is always a treasure in her purse! This visit is no different. With each item she removes from the purse comes an explanation from Grandma about how that item will come in handy (“You never know what you’ll want to have with you!”) or a bit about its sentimental value (“This coin purse holds my coins, of course, but it also holds memories”). Brantley-Newton’s vividly colorful images paint the happiness the little girl feels in her grandmother’s presence. By story’s end, the child has taken everything out of grandma’s purse and either tried it on or played with it, except for that very last thing in the bottom of the purse that has the girl’s name on it! That special gift could lead to another book about this delightful family, or at least, we can hope so. This grandmother confidently seems to impart self-confidence and style to her granddaughter. VERDICT A strong intergenerational choice for any picture book collection.–Jennifer Steib Simmons, ­Anderson County Library, SC

This review was published in the School Library Journal November 2017 issue.

BROWN-WOOD, JaNay. Grandma’s Tiny House. illus. by Priscilla Burris. 32p. Charlesbridge. Aug. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781580897129.
PreS–Grandmother has prepared two turkeys and invited a cast of diverse friends over for a feast. After the last one arrives, “That’s when the walls bulge. There is no space! How will we all eat in this too-tiny place?” Rhymed couplets with a delightful lilt explain a common problem. As the verses count various items on each page up to the number 15, the dilemma is elucidated. Burris uses Photoshop with a soft pencil outline to capture the grandmother with her hot pink blouse, pink headband, and pink ballet flats. At the appropriate moment, the granddaughter solves the problem with “I KNOW” in a close-up perspective on a spread. VERDICT This counting story will have repeated readings during the holidays and all year round.–Blair Christolon, Prince William Public Library System, Manassas, VA

This review was published in the School Library Journal September 2017 issue.

redstarCORNWALL, Gaia. Jabari Jumps. illus. by Gaia Cornwall. 32p. Candlewick. May 2017. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9780763678388.

PreS-Gr 2 –An African American boy and his baby sister and father head to an urban community pool. Jabari has completed his swim lessons and tests and is ready to jump off a diving board. In his zigzag swim trunks and swim goggles, the boy tells his dad that diving looks easy. But when he stands at the ladder and looks up, up, and up at the diving board, he starts stalling for time, saying that he has other things to do before he can make the big leap. His father reassures him that it is OK to be scared, encourages him to take deep breaths, and tells him that he might just be surprised. With renewed determination, Jabari climbs the ladder and jumps into the pool. He’s flying and splashing and sinking down and swimming back up and he’s done it! Jabari is a great jumper. Just enough conversational text accompanies each illustration, including several smaller vignettes on a single page that help build suspense. Mixed-media images in serene muted colors, high-rise buildings above the tree line, and the intriguing addition of faded newsprint accents strengthen the urban feel of the illustrations. VERDICT Jabari’s story will help assuage the fears kids experience when faced with a new and daunting adventure. A terrific seasonal storytime read-aloud that’s perfect for one-on-one sharing.–Mindy Hiatt, Salt Lake County Library Services

This review was published in the School Library Journal May 2017 issue.

HOHN, Nadia L. Malaika’s Winter Carnival. ­illus. by Irene Luxbacher. 36p. glossary. Groundwood. Sept. 2017. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781554989201.
PreS-Gr 2–Malaika is back and she is in for a change of scenery. In this follow-up to Malaika’s Costume, the girl is transported from her Caribbean community to Quebec when her mother meets and marries Mr. Frédéric. Mr. Frédéric is French Canadian, with “different talk” than Malaika is accustomed to and he comes with a daughter named Adèle. Malaika must adjust to many changes in Quebec, the biggest being loneliness for her family and culture. “When I get there, the children speak a different way. The teacher speak a different way. No one understand me. I hate it.” The story, written in a blend of English and Caribbean patois, includes vocabulary like breadfruit, chinep, and toque. The words are highlighted in a short glossary at the beginning of the book. The patchwork illustrations create a bright glimpse into Caribbean and city life.  VERDICT Good introductory text to highlight the significance of moving, blending cultures and family, and life in a different country.–Megan Egbert, Meridian Library District, ID

This review was published in the School Library Journal September 2017 issue.

in-plain-sightredstarJACKSON, Richard. In Plain Sight: A Game. illus. by Jerry Pinkney. 40p. Roaring Brook/Neal Porter Bks. Sept. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781626722552.

PreS-Gr 2 –Sophie’s grandfather lives in her house, and while his mobility is restricted, his tender feelings for his granddaughter know no bounds. He waves her off to school from his second-floor window, and she comes to visit him every afternoon. Their daily routine includes the man asking for the child’s help in retrieving an everyday object that has somehow “gone missing.” All of the items are in plain sight, if, that is, one knows where to look. Bright-eyed Sophie is always up for the challenge and is thorough and methodical as she searches through Grandpa’s room—neat but chock-full of a busy lifetime of acquired books and mementos—to locate the paper clip, rubber band, straw, or paintbrush. Sharp-eyed viewers will glean that this man, now in a wheelchair, was once a soldier and an athlete and reads poetry and paints. The simple text is largely made up of the good-natured conversations that surround the game and reflect the warmth and joy that Sophie and Grandpa find in each other. Pinkney’s lush and lovely watercolors are by turns delicate, energetic, and effusive as he captures his engaging African American characters and their homey domicile. VERDICT This appealing story about a dynamic intergenerational relationship is large enough to share with a group, but individual children will want to pore over the art to spot all of the details in plain sight.–Luann Toth, School Library Journal

This review was published in the School Library Journal September 2016 issue.

redstarKAHIU, Wanuri. The Wooden Camel. illus. by Manuela Adreani. 32p. Lantana. Oct. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781911373131.

K-Gr 2 –Etabo dreams of racing camels, even though his siblings think he is much too small to ever accomplish this. It is devastating news to Etabo when his father informs them he will have to sell the camels so they can have money for water. Instead of fulfilling his dreams, Etabo is sent to watch over the goats. One goat, Keti, brings him some entertainment, but he doesn’t provide the thrill Etabo is looking for. When camels are no longer in his future, he searches for an alternative. “So instead Etabo tries to ride…Chickens…Cats…And even Keti…But none of them will have it.” After a kind gesture from Etabo’s sister and a repeated message from Akuj the Sky God, Etabo realizes that dreams can take many forms and can always be adjusted. This evocative story, illustrated by Adreani, transports readers to the desert of northwestern Kenya with sweeping landscape images and dreamlike spreads. VERDICT The beautiful illustrations and message about resilience will resonate with a variety of readers young and old. Perfect for one-on-one and small group sharing.–Megan Egbert, Meridian Library District, ID

This review was published in the School Library Journal October 2017 issue.

MILLER, Sharee. Princess Hair. illus. by Sharee Miller. 32p. Little, Brown. Oct. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780316562614.
PreS-Gr 2–The premise of this delightful picture book is that underneath their crowns, princesses have a variety of hairstyle choices. From Afros to curls to dreadlocks, youngsters are shown reveling in all the different ways to wear their tresses. Puffs, twist outs, and frohawks are just a few of styles that are celebrated. Lovely rhyming text and vibrant illustrations depict how kids can achieve that perfect look. For example, little princesses with braids are shown joyously marching in parades, while others with head wraps dreamily take long naps. The message of choosing whatever style brings happiness promotes poise and self-confidence. This book, with its theme of the beauty of diversity, will resonate with princesses everywhere.  VERDICT A strong choice for picture book collections.–Mary Jennings, Camano Island Library, WA

This review was published in the School Library Journal February 2018 issue.

NELSON, Vaunda Micheaux. Don’t Call Me Grandma. illus. by Elizabeth Zunon. 32p. Carolrhoda. Feb. 2016. lib. ed. $19.99. ISBN 9781467742085.
Gr 1-3–Great-grandmother Nell is 96 and prickly, and her great-granddaughter admires her very much. Little by little, the girl learns bits and snatches about her great-grandmother’s life, including one of the things that caused her broken heart: when Nell’s best friend told her they couldn’t be friends anymore because of her brown skin. Nelson weaves tension into the text as the little girl wants desperately to have the attention of her great-grandmother, but the elderly lady just isn’t one for giving out affection. The eccentric nonagenarian eats fish for breakfast, wears pearls everywhere, and takes sips of an amber liquid that are so tiny that one glass lasts all day. The story’s perspective is from the child, who finds her great-grandmother “scary” but also intriguing, outspoken, and glamorous. Zunon’s lively, colorful illustrations balance the serious tone of the text with warmth and saturation. The two characters may seem very different, but Zunon gives each the same birthmark on her right cheek, indicating they may not be so different after all. VERDICT An appealing intergenerational story.–Jennifer Steib Simmons, Anderson County Library, SC

This review was published in the School Library Journal February 2016 issue.

OKORAFOR, Nnedi. Chicken in the Kitchen. illus. by Mehrdokht Amini. 32p. Lantana Publishing. Sept. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781911373155.
K-Gr 2–The night before the New Yam Festival, Anyaugo is wakened by a noise and finds a giant chicken in her kitchen. Worried that the chicken will spoil the special food that her mother and aunties prepared for the festival, Anyaugo seeks help from the Wood Wit, a nature spirit who can travel through anything made of wood. The Wood Wit teases Anyaugo a bit, telling her that she must speak to the chicken in Chickenese, ‘“Say buck buck CLUCK,’ the Wood Wit suggested. ‘But you have to say it just right!’ It burst out laughing, amused with itself.” Readers know what Anyaugo doesn’t—that the Wood Wit has been there all along, aggravating the chicken out of Anyaugo’s sight. The child summons her courage, and faces the chicken with a brave, “Hello!” The chicken smiles and the Wood Wit hums a soft drumbeat. Anyaugo realizes that this is not an ordinary chicken, but a powerful masquerade spirit visiting her ahead of the New Yam Festival. Amini’s jewel-toned illustrations are richly textured, providing readers with much detail outside of the text. Sweet Anyaugo’s round face perfectly expresses her changing emotions on each page, and her feline companion adorably echoes Anyaugo’s feelings.  VERDICT A sweet and satisfying story set in Nigeria that may inspire readers to learn more about the New Yam Festival and masquerades. A recommended general purchase for all libraries.–Anna Haase Krueger, Ramsey County Library, MN

This review was published in the School Library Journal September 2017 issue.

PAUL, Baptiste. The Field. illus. by Jacqueline Alcántara. 32p. glossary. North South. Mar. 2018. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9780735843127. POP
K-Gr 3–An open field in a lush Caribbean setting calls to a group of children. They chase away grazing animals, bring out the soccer ball and goals, and begin a spirited game of soccer. Rain and a muddy, slippery field cannot stop their game; only the repeated calls from the mamas and a setting sun can. Dirty but satisfied, the children return home for baths and bed, knowing that the field will call again for another rousing game. Illustrations in deep, saturated colors with energetic lines accompany a spare but rhythmic English text, sprinkled with Creole. The narrative and images evoke the islands and the joy of playing a game regardless of weather. In a concluding note, Paul recalls his native Saint Lucia where, he explains, Creole is spoken but is rarely written down. A brief glossary is included, though most of the words will be understandable in context and in the animated paintings.  VERDICT This engaging book is sure to resonate with children who are passionate about soccer and even those who simply enjoy lively play.–Maria B. Salvadore, formerly at District of Columbia Public Library

This review was published in the School Library Journal January 2018 issue.

redstarPEOPLES-RILEY, Daria. This Is It. illus. by Daria Peoples-Riley. 32p. HarperCollins/Greenwillow. Feb. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062657763.
K-Gr 4 –A spunky, endearingly gawky girl leaps across the cityscape on the cover of this simple, but profound picture book about being brave and taking chances. It is audition day, and a lone girl inhabits the streets of New York City with her shadow challenging her to a dance-off to boost her self-confidence. She starts off pouting, stiff, and unsure among the menacing gray columns of concrete buildings. Her shadow reminds her how everything in her life has prepared her for this day and encourages her to go forward and greet her destiny. Gradually, colors seep in to the illustrations. Full-bleeds done in ink, gouache, and watercolor portray the brilliant hues of tree-lined streets contrasted against murky buildings. The free verse moves fluidly in and out of rhyme and features the occasional concrete poetry stanza. No word is forced and the message is clear: you can do this! By the end, the dancer is ready, hair pulled into a bun, and one eyebrow raised as she grand jetés across the dance floor in an image parallel to that on the cover. VERDICT This well-crafted book celebrates the joy of dance and shows a girl gaining confidence in herself—an important message for all children. Recommended for purchase for all picture book collections.–Clara Hendricks, Cambridge Public Library, MA

This review was published in the School Library Journal January 2018 issue.

redstarPERKINS, Useni Eugene. Hey Black Child. illus. by Bryan Collier. 40p. Little, Brown. Nov. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780316360302.

PreS-Gr 3 –Collier’s characteristic watercolor-and-collage masterpieces bring joy and gravity to Perkins’s inspirational poem. With a compelling rhythm that begs for recitation, the verse (often misattributed to Countee Cullen) celebrates the power and potential of black children. The illustrations pair young black faces with visions of their successful futures as astronauts, artists, politicians, and more and feature some of the artist’s favorite motifs, including soaring balloons and rays of light. The visuals also contribute historical heft to the lyrical affirmation, layering images from African civilizations, the civil rights movement, and Black Lives Matter into the spreads, connecting the book’s triumphs to African Americans’ roots and ongoing struggles against racism and oppression. The poem closes with a reminder of the importance of the contributions of black children and the adults they grow up to be: “Be what you can be/Learn what you must learn/Do what you can do/And tomorrow your nation/Will be what you want it to be.” Author and illustrator notes ensure that dedicated readers can appreciate all the fine details in the text and visuals. VERDICT A rousing celebration and call to action, this book is a great choice for every library.–Robbin E. Friedman, Chappaqua Library, NY

This review was published in the School Library Journal September 2017 issue.

redstarVELASQUEZ, Eric. Looking for Bongo. illus. by Eric Velasquez. 32p. Holiday House. Feb. 2016. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9780823435654; ebk. $16.95. ISBN 9780823436026.
PreS–An Afro Latino boy searches for his missing stuffed toy in this tender tribute to family, music, and childhood. The adorable narrator, depicted charmingly with a puffy Afro, protruding tummy, inquisitive eyes, and pj’s, inquires after the whereabouts of his beloved Bongo. With Spanish-peppered text, the toddler asks his parents, the family pets, his Wela (abuela), and even the delivery man for help but finally finds the toy dog on his own. When his grandmother suggests that Bongo’s disappearance is due to his owner’s negligence, the boy comes up with a plan to figure out the mystery. Small clues sprinkled throughout will invite repeat readings, and savvy children may guess the identity of the true culprit. The warm, vibrant oil paintings illuminate in obvious and not so obvious ways the family’s love of music, literature, and their African roots. Pinterest-worthy bookshelves, African art on the walls, and rhythm instruments, such as congas and bongos, are present throughout, and they offer an inviting backdrop. The mostly brown and orange palette invokes a 1970s vibe, though the story takes place in the present, and the narrator’s mother’s Audrey Hepburn style gives this tale, inspired by the author’s own upbringing, a nostalgic undertone. Velasquez’s Grandma’s Records (Walker, 2001) makes a cameo during the boy’s bedtime ritual. And as in that previous title, this work’s celebration of the diversity within Latino culture will warm hearts.  VERDICT A sweet tale recommended for diverse toddler storytimes and one-on-one sharing.–Shelley Diaz, School Library Journal

redstarWEATHERFORD, Carole Boston. In Your Hands. illus. by Brian Pinkney. 32p. S. & S./Atheneum. Sept. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481462938.

PreS-Gr 3 –From award-winning Weatherford (Voice of FreedomMoses), this poem from a black mother to her firstborn son will resonate as a prayer for all black boys. A mother holds her child’s hand while expressing her hopes for his safety, his confidence, and a world that will see him as a “vessel to be steered rather than a figure to be feared.” The narrative moves through the child’s life and the struggle most parents go through when they realize that they can no longer hold their children close and protect them, but acknowledges that extra worry that parents of black boys face as the mother asks God to hold her son in his hands. The book ends with the mother adding her prayer to the chorus: “Black lives matter. Your life matters.” The text is given the space to shine opposite Pinkney’s art, with font size changes for impact. The illustrations, loose and fluid pastel watercolors with India ink outlines, offer a sense of warmth and comfort with swirls around the images projecting the mother’s love. Hands are integral to each picture, with larger hands at times representing God embracing the young boy. A final image shows God’s hands enveloping a world where everyone holds hands as the mother ends, “Hold my son in your hands.” VERDICT An exceptional gift to black families, and with its important underlying messages of our times, this title should be added to most library collections. Best shared one-on-one with a loved one.–Danielle Jones, Multnomah County Library, OR

This review was published in the School Library Journal July 2017 issue.

Della Farrell About Della Farrell

Della Farrell is an Assistant Editor at School Library Journal and Editor of Series Made Simple

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