Covid and quarantining has made my book purchasing habits change. Which is annoying. I love sitting on the ground at my local indie and browsing slowly through all the books that catch my eye on the shelf—the booksellers handing me their favorites so I can read those, too. I haven’t been able to do that. This has not slowed my book buying habit, but I don’t love that I was more inclined to purchase books that were getting press and I was less able to find as many hidden gems.
This year, instead of a theme like “poetry” or “backmatter,” I am going to choose books I purchased during the last 6 months (all from my local indies, a couple Black owned bookstores, and bookshop.org) that I hope you don’t miss because of our inability to get to bookstores. No real theme. Just great books.
And, soon, I will get back into the bookstores and sit to read all the books on the shelf and I will find time to share those picks with you, too.
Your Place In the Universe by Jason Chin
This is so child friendly, beginning with a simple comparisons 1 book, 1 kid, 1 ostrich. So, that’s 5 books = 1 kid = .5 ostrich. And it grows exponentially from there into, as the title implies, the universe. What I love about this book’s text is its simplicity. It’s curiosity. It’s straight forwardness. Also, 5 pages of stelar (pun intended) backmatter.
--Read it for the straight-forward child-centered language.
Birdsong by Julie Flett
This gentle text glides so smoothly between seasons that you barely notice a whole year passing. It is lilting and lovely and is a reminder that quiet books DO sell if you do them right. And, this is so right.
--Read it for the beauty of language.
When Grandpa Gives You a Toolbox, by Jamie L.B. Deenihan, illustrated by Lorraine Rocha
This book (a follow up to When Grandma Gives You A Lemon Tree) is a fun fictional how-to for kids receiving a gift they don’t quite want. Written directly to the reader “First, be patient. Grandpa will want to show you every single tool…” this text is condensed perfectly using gentle humor to deliver a perfect lesson.
--Read it for the unique narrator’s voice.
We are Water Protectors, by Carole Lindstrom, Illustrated by Michaela Goade
This lush, stunningly illustrated book uses a lyrical voice which is, in turn, a song, a chant, and a rebellion. Told in the sparsest of text, (less than 300 words) this tale has roots in legend and soars through today and to our future. It’s a brilliantly beautiful story of empowerment with a green message for our Earth.
--Read it for the expansive yet condensed language.
The Next President, By Kate Messner, illustrated by Adam Rex
This book takes the child reader through history from George Washington to today, giving small bits of information about each of president, either as president or as a child within the context of time when one man was in the highest office. This is a completely unique way of looking at the passing of time and power. It gives every child the ability to look to the future and wonder what he/she/they could become. I do hope they will be updating the ending in future printings to add President Biden and Vice President Harris.
--Read it for its completely unique take on history.
You Matter, by Christian Robinson
This simple text is just right for this very confusing world. Though the art is the star here, it’s paired with the briefest of text that is, at times, funny but always loving.
--Read it for its simplicity.
Love Is Powerful, by Heather Dean Brewer, illustrated by LeUyen Pham
In her first protest (the Women’s March), the main character is worried her small voice won’t matter. “Will the whole world hear?” she asks her mom. Told in 3rd person, this text is a real love letter to the women AND girls (and men and boys) who marched that day. It really captures the feeling of a movement but also the very real pieces that went into that day—the creating, the getting to the actual event, the worry, the power of it all.
And, as a side note, LeUyen drew real people (including me!) into the illustrations of this book.--Read it for its narrative structure.
Your Name Is A Song, by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow, illustrated by Luisa Uribe
A girl with a name everyone stumbles over is encouraged by her mom to love her name and the power that comes with it. There is fire in some names, stars in others. And, all names are songs. In this way, Kora-Jalimuso teaches her teacher and classmates her name. I love everything about this book (especially as someone who has problems pronouncing some vowels—just ask Tara Lazar whose name I have been getting wrong for years). But, the most brilliant thing is that all the names, from Bob to Kora-Jalimuso are written phonetically. This is a book with a lesson that is never pedantic or prescriptive—the death of any picture book text in my opinion. The author’s note ends with a suggestion to “Ask people how to pronounce their names and let them know that getting it right is important to you.”
--Read it for the balance of story and lesson woven together perfectly.
How to Find a Bird, by Jennifer Ward, Illustrated by Diana Sudyka
I love any book about birds. So, that, alone, would have sold me on this book. But, beyond that, it’s also fun and filled with nuggets of information any budding birdwatcher needs to know. It’s a great read aloud for even the youngest bird lovers and there are so many things to find in the art to supplement the text.
--Read it for the read-aloud-ability.
Additional book that you need for the art alone:
The Women Who Caught the Babies by Eloise Greenfield, illustrated by Daniel Minter
I cannot stop looking at the art in this poetry book about the history of Black midwifery. It’s so stunningly beautiful. I do wish the poems were one (or two) per spread instead of running for several spreads—but that is a small organizational complaint, because the poetry is both lush and informative.
Heidi is donating a copy of her newest book, I AM THE STORM, to a U.S. winner. To be eligible for prizes throughout the challenge, you must be registered by March 1, comment on each post, consistently read mentor texts, and enter the Rafflecopter drawing at the conclusion of ReFoReMo.
Heidi E.Y. Stemple is the author of more than 30 books, mostly for children. Her newest book I AM THE STORM launched during the pandemic—so she feels your pain. She wrote as much as she read during the quarantine year. Look for her picture book about being alone together called ADRIFT coming this summer from Interlink Books.
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