Poems by Haitian Schoolchildren
Illustrated by Rogé, Translated by Solange Messier
Fifth House, 2014
Picture book, poetry
Ages 6 and up
ISBN-10: 1927083230/13: 978-1927083239
Honors: New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Books
When I was just out of college, I visited Haiti for a couple of weeks with a group from my city, Richmond. We stayed in Port-au-Prince, the capital, and in Hinche, the capital of the central plateau.
How I remember the people in Port-au-Prince is that they shouted at me on the boldly painted taxi-trucks, called tap taps, about very specific policy issues related to the U.S. that I knew nothing about and cannot now recall. I will never forget how that experience redefined my understanding of citizenship and human rights.
In all the places of the world I have visited, there is no place where the clouds have felt so close or the stars so crystal as in Hinche, Haiti. We visited in the dry season, but even so, water tumbled down from the mountains into clear, deep pools. The people in Hinche shared goat stew and plantains and pumpkin soup on the Feast of the Epiphany. They sat down with us and talked about all people working together, sharing the heavy load, making change one step at a time, and never giving up.
I believe that some of the strongest girls in all of the world must be Haitian girls. Some of these girls are poets, praising their homeland in Haiti My Country, a collection of fifteen poems by Haitian teenagers, all from the village of Camp-Perrin in the southern part of the country.
The young poets bring the beauty and hardship of Haiti into focus, and Rogè’s introspective portraits of them reveals youth full of generosity, joy, skepticism, inquisitiveness, and determination.
They write lovingly of trees—mango, soursop, papaya, avocado, pomegranate, mahogany, and giant oak. Of red birds and hibiscus. Of honey and hard labor. Of course, they write of roosters! And, they write of lost smiles and worries and better tomorrows to come. – Gigi
By Monica Brown, illustrated by Sara Palacios, translated by Adriana Domínguez
Picture book, ages 4 – 7
Children’s Book Press, 2011
Honors: Junior Library Guild Selection *Pura Belpré Honor * 2012 International Latino Book Award * 2012 ALSC Notable Book
Ever try a peanut butter and jelly burrito? You just might find out it’s wonderful—especially if you read Marisol MacDonald Doesn’t Match/ Mariso McDonald No Combina.
Red-head Marisol McDonald is a little bit of everything. ¡Un poco de todo!
A little Peruvian. A little Scottish. The thing she likes best is not matching—at all.
Written by beloved Latino picture book author Monica Brown, this is a bi-lingual romp that celebrates being multi-cultural but also being true to your own originality. Marisol is a combination of things, so why not make room for all the things that don’t normally go together in her world?
The text is offered in Spanish and English—a great way to brush up on your language skills—and the illustrations feature children across all ethnicities. Two of my other favorite books by Monica Brown that feature strong girls are her picture book biographies. Try Me Llamo Celia: The Life of Celia Cruz, and My Name is Gabriela: The Life of Gabriela Mistral. – Meg
By Kelly Cunnane, illustrated by Hoda Hadadi
Schwarz & Wade Books, 2013
Picture book, Ages 4-8
ISBN: 0375870342 / 978-0375870347
Honors: Junior Library Guild Selection * Kirkus Reviews Best Books of the Year
Set in Mauritania, West Africa, Deep in the Sahara explores how multiple generations of family can help us grow in faith and in understanding of ourselves and the world. In a graceful story of growing up, author Kelly Cunnane and illustrator Hoda Hadai explore a young Muslim girl’s desire to emulate the women around her by wearing a traditional veil, but first, she must come to understand its meaning.
Lalla wants to wear a malafa. She sees Mama and her sister, Selma, wearing colorful, expressive veils and wants to be just like them. Cousin Aisha wears one, too, but she says Lalla is too young—just a child. From Grandmother, Lalla learns that a malafa stands for far more than beauty or mystery, and even more than old tradition.
The experience of girls learning from the women around them transcends country or culture or religious tradition. The story made me remember how, as a five-year-old, I begged to sit in “big church” with my Grammy and Aunt Mary instead of going to Sunday School.
With Deep in the Sahara, the author and illustrator transport readers across the globe to West Africa and, once there, make us feel right at home in Lalla’s family. This is a beautiful book in every way. Back matter includes an author’s note and a glossary of included Hassaniya language (a dialect of Arabic) . – Gigi
By Nikki Grimes, illustrated by Floyd Cooper
Mulberry Books, 1994
Picture book/ Poetry Ages 4-8
Honors: ALA Notable Book *Coretta Scott King Award Honor Book * ABA-CBC Backlist title * 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing *Sequoyah Children’s Book Award Master List* Tennessee Volunteer State Book Award Nominee * Pennsylvania Young Readers’ Choice Master List
I love the story called Meet Danitra Brown
about two best friends scootin’ around town.
I’ve read it 100 times, memorized all the rhymes.
Danitra and Zuri don’t care about boys
who tease and taunt and make too much noise.
They just walk on by, heads tilted high.
The story unfolds wholly in rhymes,
written by Miz Nikki Grimes.
Poems short and long, words sweep you along.
That nice Floyd Cooper drew the book.
He gave Danitra a snazzy, summer look.
To purple she’s always loyal, because purple is simply royal.
The story makes me so happy to see
girls who can say, I love being me!
You oughta read Meet Danitra Brown, because she’s the most “splendiferous” girl in town.
By Julie Kraulis
Picture book, all ages
Tundra Books, A Division of Random House of Canada, 2013
Other formats: e-book
Every once in a while, I come across a picture book that speaks as clearly to the heart of an adult as it does to that of a child. That’s the case with Whimsy’s Heavy Things, a beautifully illustrated picture book about overcoming sadness.
Whimsy is dragging around “heavy things,” but try as she might to ignore them, hide them, or “stuff them,” they stubbornly come back. How will she let them go?
A young child knows what it feels like to be sad—and so do teens and adults who sometimes get battered by the ups and downs of life, too. Julie Kraulis’ illustrations are haunting—giving elegant shape to gloom and later to joy. Whimsy moves past her heavy things with the help of friends and her own cleverness. Turns out, dragging all those heavy things offers her the tools to get to the other side.
I’d love to see this book in every classroom and in every guidance counselor’s collection. As girls and women, we do see heavy times occasionally, and it would do us good to have Whimsy’s tale to keep us company when we need some comfort.
By Patty Lovell, illustrated by David Catrow
Picture book, ages 4 – 7
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group, 2001
Molly Lou Melon is the shortest girl in her class—only a little taller than a dog. And that’s just one of her physical peculiarities. Buck teeth, a bad-voice, you name it.
But are those really problems? Not at all. Molly’s grandmother gives her good advice about standing tall and moving through the world with confidence. The question is, will confidence save Molly Lou when she moves away and starts at a new school?
This little classic is over a decade old, but it still feels fresh and funny to me. It captures school life with just a few scenes and celebrates a little girl who dares to move through the world embracing her dents and dings. I’m especially fond of Grandma—an elder strong girl—who we see only once, though her wise presence is everywhere.
Prepare to have lots of giggles over this one. A lovely little gem. -Meg
By Donna Jo Napoli, illustrated by Amy Bates
Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2014
Picture book /Poetry Ages 3 – 7
ISBN: 1419710222/ 978-1419710223
I was initially drawn to Hands & Hearts for nostalgic reasons. During my daughter Judith’s early childhood, we often retreated to the Outer Banks, just the two of us—laughing, running, building sandcastles, and fighting waves like the mother-daughter in this tender book.
If there is any place on Earth where words are unnecessary, perhaps where words even get in the way, that place must surely be by the sea. If there is anywhere on our planet that gives a girl the courage to glide from prose into poetry, it must be the ocean.
Such is the experience depicted in Hands & Hearts. A mother and daughter spend a rich and silent day at the ocean using the poetry of American Sign Language to communicate as they bury their toes in the sand, dive into whitecaps, and hide from the sun. Poems, pictures, and a sign language key unite to make Hands and Hearts an enchanting read. – Gigi
By Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, Illustrated by Sean Qualls
Random House, 2009
Picture book, Ages 4 and up, Pre-K and up
Additional formats: e-book
Honors: 2010 Charlotte Zolotow Award
In Who Will I Be, Lord?, a young girl reflects on what she will be like when she grows up, as she traces her family tree through story after story of multiple generations. She recounts what she knows about Great-Grandpap, who was a mailman and a radio-show banjo player. The story deepens when the girl recalls the family history of how Great-Grandma, who made the best cakes ever, married Great-Grandpap, and their inter-racial marriage prompted people to say Great-Grandma was crazy.
Along the story goes, meditating on all the people in the family: a preacher, a teacher, a pool shark. A jazzman, a mama, a papa. A dreamer. The girl asks after each, “What will I be, Lord?”
This picture book would be a great read aloud for parents or teachers to kick off a conversation about how family shapes who we are and who we want to be. The refrain that echoes through the text—“what will I be, Lord?”—invites readers to pause and consider how they are connected to those who came before them.
The personal stories of the child’s relatives portray individuals with dreams and struggles and love for each other. The illustrations do such a fine job of connecting the physical traits of each family member to one another down through the generations.
At my grammy’s house, she devoted the hallway to displaying portraits and photographs of our family, all the way back to my great-great grandparents and up to and including my sister, my cousins, and me. I loved to look at the faces of all my people to see who looked alike and who looked like me. I loved to hear the stories of farmers and teachers, shopkeepers and preachers. Who Will I Be, Lord? swept me up into that same wondrous feeling. – Gigi
Back when I was little, I went to Hannah Krohner School of Dance in Queens. I would tap dance in our bathroom until the neighbors banged on the ceiling to quiet me. Then, I’d slip into my ballet slippers and head to the edge of the kitchen sink (my barre) and practice pliés. I had no talent to speak of. Just enthusiasm.
Maybe that’s why I’m so drawn to the newest Ian Falconer picture book, Olivia and the Fairy Princesses. In this seventh adventure, we find our bovine darling depressed and facing an “identity crisis.” Must she be a Degas-style ballerina like the other girls?
Uh-oh. Olivia is a strong girl, and she was bound to discover the awful limitations of aspiring to be a princess or another delicate thing. Life as a part of the gentle herd simply isn’t bold enough for a pig who can pull off matador pants and pearls. No, what Olivia wants is a rebirth of her soul, a real future as a girl of substance.
As usual, Falconer (whose work you might recognize from The New Yorker) has created a new picture book with plenty of punch lines for both the child and the adult. The vocabulary absolutely requires a partnership for reading and conversation, but I think that’s a good thing. What works best in my view are the visual gags for both the parent and child, including a gorgeous two-page spread of Olivia as a Martha Graham contemporary dancer.
Who needs pink tulle when what you really want is to rule your world? MM
By Doreen Rappaport, Illustrations by Matt Tavares
Picture book, biography
Ages 6 and up, Grades K-4
Disney Hyperion, 2012
ALA Notable Book for Middle Readers *Charlotte Zolotow Award *CCBC Choices Award *Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Platinum Award *Oppenheim SNAP (Special Needs Adaptable Products) Award *ABC Best Books for Children *Entertainment Weekly Great New Historical Books For Kids
Most everyone is familiar with Helen Keller and her teacher, Annie Sullivan. Maybe you’ve read about Helen in school or seen the play The Miracle Worker. Here, Doreen Rappaport’s story and Matt Tavares’ illustrations ignite to give us an electrifying account of Helen Keller’s life story. In her trademark style, Rappaport intersperses Helen’s own words with the unfolding story, and the result is an intimate, moving conversation between biographer and subject. For example, Rappaport tells us, “Once Helen learned to write, she would not stop.” Then, three journal entries by Helen reveal how over the course of just eighteen months, Helen mastered the written word to express her impressions of the world. About astronomers, Helen writes, “When we are sleeping quietly in our beds, they are watching the beautiful sky through the telescope. The stars are called the earth’s brothers and sisters.” Every panel painted by Tavares calls us into Helen’s world, a complex, interior world that evolves from fury and confusion into discovery and ecstasy. We feel the water’s splash and the horse’s whicker in our very own palm. Let the laughter and the tears flow as you read this picture book. I’m so grateful to the author, illustrator, and Helen for reminding me that we all share this big world. And now, we’ll remember to share Helen’s passion and curiosity, too. GA
If there’s one thing a strong girl needs, it’s her voice. And no one of her era had a lovelier voice than Florence Mills, the legendary singer and stage actress of the early 1920s.
In Renée Watson’s picture book, Harlem’s Little Blackbird, we meet Florence in Washington DC, where she was born to formerly enslaved parents. As she grows and plays in school, she discovers the power of her singing voice to take her from her modest Washington DC neighborhood all the way to the grand stages of Europe.
“If my voice can take me around the world, what else can it do?” she wonders.
Lots, as it turns out.
Florence Mills’ impact went beyond entertainment. She refused performances at whites-only establishments, and at her death, she was mourned not only for her talent and beauty but also for her convictions during the Harlem Renaissance.
Christian Robinson’s illustrations are simple and collage-like, infused with the bright colors and cityscapes that Renée Watson calls up in the text.
For me, the book works as history, as biography, and as a doorway into learning about music. But more than anything else, it works as a book about a strong girl who stands up for what she believes MM
Read more about Florence Mills.
By Nancy Wood, Illustrations by Timothy Basil Ering
Ages 5 and up, Grades K and up
Candlewick Press, 2006
Cooperative Children’s Book Center Choices Award
Have you ever tried reading the familiar and comforting Psalm 23 with a tiny change in pronoun from ‘He’ to ‘She’? Try it! Adding that one letter ‘s’ is like watching a flower open right before your eyes. The same kind of joyful surprise unfolds here in Mr. and Mrs. God in the Creation Kitchen. The Bible includes masculine and feminine images of God. In Nancy Wood’s re-imagining of the creation story, these aspects of God toil side-by-side as a married couple collaborating on their greatest work yet – Earth. Timothy Basil Ering’s water color illustrations play light against dark with just enough color that the story explodes into illustrations that are scientific and inspired, mysterious and simple. The ultimate strong girl, Mrs. God, pretty much rules the Creation Kitchen and, clearly, Mr. God adores her. He makes the sun, which inspires her to whip up the earth. To please his wife, Mr. God makes hideous dinosaurs, but Mrs. God is not happy and sets about to make something beautiful to counter his “mistake.” But, a bigger mistake follows and another until at last, Mrs. God is pleased with her husband’s efforts to please her. In the Creation Kitchen, Husband and Wife are equal. They bake alongside each other, sharing their opinions and suggestions lovingly, doing their best work when they do it together. Every year for Christmas, I pick one picture book to share with the children in my life. In 2006, I gave out Nancy Woods’ and Timothy Basil Ering’s Creation Kitchen because this book invites us to explore new images of God, deepen our experience of God, and celebrate a God who rejoices in laughter, mistakes, starting over, and working together. GA
Author, poet, and photography Nancy Wood passed away on March 12, 2013. Read more about her life and her work in School Library Journal’s tribute.
By Patrick McDonnell
Little Brown Books for Young Readers, 2011
ISBN: 0316045462/ ISBN: 798-0316045469
Awards/Recognitions: *2012 Caldecott Honor *Charlotte Zolotow Award Winner *New York Times Notable Children’s Book *2011 Bank Street College Children’s Book Committee Outstanding Book
Me…Jane is warm and inspiring picture book biography about Dr. Jane Goodall’s childhood. Taking his inspiration from Dr. Goodall’s biography, author-illustrator Patrick McDonnell invites us to experience the wondrous imagination of a girl named Jane who spends her days climbing trees, observing nature, and helping animals. From an early age, we learn, Jane knew she would devote her life to helping animals. With her stuffed chimpanzee, Jubilee, ever by her side, Jane records and illustrates the world around her and fills her waking and dreaming with thoughts of Africa.
With simple, vivid language, Patrick McDonnell lets us peek into the world of Jane, a passionate girl devoted to following her dream from the beginning. Me…Jane is a book for wandering around in on a Sunday morning. Take all morning! Each read invites you to absorb the savory watercolor illustrations that express the artistic side of Jane and notice the 19th Century engravings that reflect her devotion to science. Childhood photos of and artwork by Jane Goodall are also incorporated and help make this book a keepsake.
For every girl who keeps a diary under her pillow or a dream in her heart, there is Me…Jane. Every page invites readers to celebrate our planet and to listen the beating of their own hearts. GA
By Maribeth Boelts, illustrated by Lauren Castillo
Candlewick Press, 2012
Awards/Recognitions: *Publisher’s Weekly, Starred review
In Happy Like Soccer, Sierra has just made a new soccer team and she loves it, but Sierra’s team plays across town, far from her apartment, and games take place on Saturdays. That’s the day Sierra’s auntie works long hours. While it’s nice to hear people cheering for her jersey number, Sierra wishes her auntie could see her play just once. Just once, Sierra wishes she could hear someone cheer for her by name.
Finally, her auntie gets a day off to watch Sierra play soccer. Under gray skies and the threat of rain, they take two buses to get to the field across town. Sierra can’t hide her disappointment when the game is called before it starts; she knows that Auntie’s boss will never allow her to take off two Saturdays in a row. Later that night at home, Sierra thinks of a way to play the rescheduled game that just might work for her auntie and the team. She’ll need some help to make it happen. Does Sierra dare to share her plan with Coach and ask for his help?
One of the most important skills for girls to learn is self-advocacy. For Sierra, the desire to join the two things she loves most – family and soccer – helps her speak up for herself. Author, Maribeth Boelts, and illustrator, Lauren Castillo, are perfectly paired in Happy Like Soccer. The inviting call and response of words and pictures bring both the light and shadows of Sierra’s story to life. GA
By Mac Barnett, Illustrated by Jon Klassen
Balzer + Bray, 2012
Awards/recognitions: *Junior Library Guild Selection *New York Times Bestseller *An IndieBound Top 10 Kids Next List Pick
If you’re familiar with Mac Barnett (writer and self-proclaimed strong man for hire), you know he’s a comedy master who is especially good at the inside joke in writing and beyond. To illustrate: He’s the founder of The Echo Park Time Travel Mart – a sort of 7-11 convenience store for time travelers. That he’s collaborated with Jon Klassen, last year’s 2012 Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor winner for I Want My Hat Back, is a stroke of genius.
But guess what? You won’t get the side splitter you’d imagine. Instead, we get something better.
Annabelle finds a box of yarn and starts knitting. It looks like a plain box of yarn – except that it isn’t. The yarn never runs out. So begins the adventure of a little girl with a heart big enough to knit hats and sweaters (and, um, other stuff) for the whole world, just because she can. No amount of bullying or negativity can stop her.
There are plenty of funny moments (and inside jokes about suspiciously familiar characters), but what I love about this little gem isn’t the comedy. It’s the allegory. Annabelle knits happiness on her own terms, and it’s so pure and strong you might just wish to go hunting for your own ball of yarn, too. MM