by Denise Brennan-Nelson and Rosemarie Brennan, illustrated Cyd Moore
Sleeping Bear Press, 2008
Ages 5- 8, Grades K-4
Honors: Comstock Read Aloud Honor Book
Willow is a little girl with an incredible imagination. She paints and draws what she sees when she closes her eyes much to the distress of her very rigid teacher, Miss Hawthorn. Miss Hawthorn wants everyone to be the same, do the same things, see things the same way. Willow has a difficult time following these rules and gets fussed at a lot but doesn’t let it upset her or change the way her imagination soars.
Willow is also the only student to give Miss Hawthorn a present at Christmas, her favorite art book. Miss Hawthorn starts to look at the book and realizes the importance of how a strong and vivid imagination can take you places. She starts to paint, draw, and be creative. When the students come back to school after the holidays, they see their dreary room has been transformed. It is now bright and colorful. There are pictures everywhere, but the willow tree in the middle is the most special—a dedication to Willow for showing everyone the power of creativity, being yourself, using your imagination, and helping others find theirs.
by Monique Gray Smith, Illustrated by Julie Flett
Orca Book Publishers, 2016
Ages 2-4, PreK-K
Honors: Christie Harris Illustrated Children’s Literature Prize * BC Book Prize Finalize
“What fills your heart with happiness?” asks this inspiring board book that opens with a little girl stroking her mother’s cheek, and, in her mother’s beauty, also seeing and touching her own. Each scene depicts sources of joy within self, family, community, and culture. The illustrations, in a rich and earthy palette, ground the story and resonate a happiness that is simultaneously culturally-specific to First Nations and infinitely transcendent.
This book, while printed in a sturdy format made for the very young, is a precious gift for readers of all ages. Monique Gray Smith and Julie Flett remind us how at our core human beings are meant to be together, connecting in ways that allow us to show and share our truest selves through song, dance, food, and story – across generations, in harmony with creation and each other.
by Sylvia Liu, Illustrated by Christina Forshay
Lee & Low Books, 2016
Ages 5-8, Grades PreK-3
Honors: Lee & Low Books New Voices Award
One morning, Mei Mei observes Gong Gong practicing his tai chi, and Gong Gong invites her to practice with him. When Gong Gong shows her such motions as Pick up the Needle or White Crane Spreading Its Wings, his moves are smooth and sweeping, “like seaweed brushing the ocean floor.” Mei Mei watches and tries the movements herself, but her energy hops and bops and bounces into Grandpa. She soon offers to teach Gong Gong her favorite yoga poses.
This uplifting, energetic picture book celebrates adventures in lifelong learning that occur when children and elders discover common interests. Mei Mei and Gong Gong accept each other just as they are! In some ways, they are not alike at all: Mei Mei’s energy is like a bouncing ball; Gong Gong’s energy is like a cool breeze.
by Jacqueline Woodson, Illustrated by E. B. Lewis
Nancy Paulsen Books, 2012
Ages 5-8, Grades K – 3
Jane Addams Children’s Book Award * Coretta Scott King Honor Book * Charlotte Zolotow Award * School Library Journal Best Book of 2012 * Pennsylvania Young Readers’ Choice Award
Each Kindness is a story of growth and regret told from the perspective of Chloe, a young girl who refuses to accept small gestures of friendship from Maya, the new girl at school.
Maya wears spring shoes in the snow and plays alone, snubbed by classmates who laugh and name her “Never New” for her hand-me-down wardrobe. Yet she continually reaches out, extending a glance, a smile, some jacks, a ball–ever optimistic that one day her affection will be returned. It never is. Chloe and her classmates turn their backs and refuse to smile at Maya.
One day, when Maya is absent from school, their teacher gives a lesson in compassion. She drops a small stone into a bowl of water, observes the ripples, and says, “This is what kindness does. Each little thing we do goes out, like a ripple, into the world.”
Chloe is moved and resolves to be kind and make the world better by simply returning Maya’s smile. But her realization comes too late, and Chloe’s left to grapple with the sting of kindnesses withheld.
by Dean Robbins, Illustrated Sean Qualls and Selina Alko
Orchard Books, 2016
Ages 4-8, PreK-3
Two Friends visits a fascinating corner of 19th Century American history, when slavery still gripped the nation and when women hadn’t yet won the right to vote. Even then (and still today!) Americans were fighting for equality for all, which is promised to us in the Declaration of Independence.
In the midst of freedom movements, people draw together to share ideas, to lift each other up, and to help each other keep trying to make change. So, it shouldn’t have been surprising for me to learn from this picture book that Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass found solace and support between them in Rochester, NY.
But, it was a delightful surprise to learn that by candlelight, over tea and cake, Anthony and Douglass imagined what change might look like and feel like and what it might take. They never doubted that enslaved people would become free or that women would vote.
Two Friends reminds me that at the heart of any kind of change we will find friendship and shared dreams.
by Ruth Behar
Nancy Paulsen Books, 2017
Middle grade, fiction
Ages: 10-13, Grades 5-8
A heartfelt story of hope and healing
Rich in detail, heart, and imagination, Lucky Broken Girl follows Ruthie Mizrahi, a Jewish Cuban immigrant in 1960s New York, as she struggles to navigate family tensions, forge friendships, and work her way out of the “dumb class” at school.
When an accident confines Ruthie to her room, her whole family reels. Baba blames herself. Mami resents the caretaking load. Papi works three jobs to pay her medical bills. Meanwhile, Ruthie’s left to stare at the ceiling and read Nancy Drew, Alice in Wonderland, and the poems of Emily Dickinson and José Martí to pass the time.
Up to her waist in a body cast, Ruthie battles shame, helplessness, and isolation to make a comeback. The ice-cold steel of her bedpan and the seemingly endless stretch of days on her wall calendar mark the time and distance to recovery. An unlikely cast of characters—including a hippie tutor, a tough nurse, and a buoyant neighbor—emerges to help her tap into the creativity, compassion, and perspective she needs to persevere. With a paintbrush and Royal typewriter in hand, Ruthie begins to write—and illustrate—a beautiful new chapter in her life.
Based on the author’s own childhood experience, Lucky Broken Girl explores trauma with a deft, forgiving touch.
“This story is etched into my physiology, my nerves and my many fears,” Behar writes. It’s a triumph that the author released the pain in the form of one poignant, charming novel.
by Ann E. Burg
Scholastic Press, 2015
Middle grade, poetry, fiction
Ages 8-12 years, Grades 3-7
Honors: Kirkus Best Book of the Year * Parent’s Choice Gold Award Winner * School Library Journal Best Book of the Year
Serafina is an eleven-year-old girl living in Haiti. She works hard on her daily chores and at school but spends most of the time dreaming of becoming a doctor. One day, a devastating flood washes away her family home. While Serafina and her family try to come to grips with this horrible ordeal, an earthquake destroys the city of Port-A-Prince, where her best friend lives and her father works. Now there is no home, no money, and a group of people whose lives have changed forever.
While Serafina struggles to help her family rebuild, her dreams of becoming a doctor dwindle. Her mother tells her that her life should be about taking care of family and home, not daydreaming about something that will never happen. Fortunately, Serafina is strong in her beliefs. She teaches her family, friends, and community about hope and dreams. She teaches them the importance of never giving up. If you want something to happen, make sure to do it yourself.
This book is written in verse with beautiful language, Haitian proverbs, and rhythmic Creole. It does an incredible job of capturing life’s hardships and the struggle to carry on, stand up for your dreams, and to rely on yourself.