Picture Book Round-Up
So, this summer I've jumped into the #BookADay challenge and I'm SO INTO IT. It's recharged my reading life in a way that I badly needed. In the busy clutch of the school year, I just fall away from reading, and fall into habits of mindlessly watching TV or scrolling endlessly online in the evening. But man, do I respond to a challenge, and do I love filling out a chart! (I assigned myself the same reading log I gave my kids for the homework, and my geeky self loves filling it out every day.) I decided to interpret #BookADay for myself as reading a book a day, if not finishing a book a day. That made me feel like it's an achievable goal. I've been on my pre-summer-school break for six days now, and I've finished three middle grade books, and I'm working on another, plus Happy Teachers Change the World (which is incredible, more on that later).
I'm all about this version of #BookADay. And. I also want to supercharge it with SO MANY PICTURE BOOKS, because it's fun, and because I want to win my own #BookADay, and because I want to go into next school year with a ton of new mentor texts options. So on one of my free afternoons this week, I took myself to my local independent bookstore, and pulled myself a stack of books. Spoiler alert, it was wonderful.
(And in case you're worried about my bookstore, after reading this stack, I bought three books for my nephew's birthday, plus Awkward by Svetlana Chmakova, since I started the series earlier in the week and fell in love with Brave. More on that to come, too.)
On to the picture books!
The Word Collector, by Peter H. Reynolds
I saw this book on Scholastic, during the school year and it's so sweet, and all about word magic. Jerome is such an endearing main character, and he does he love words! The book walks through a journey of Jerome collecting words, organizing them, spilling them and learning to put them together in new ways. By the end, he learns how to give them away and share them with the world. I think The Word Collector and it's word magic would fit really well as a mentor text in a launching unit, either reading or writing.
I Am Enough, by Grace Byers
This is a truly lovely book about being who you are, and all the things we're here to do and feel and be. The pictures, starting with the cover art, are beautiful. Its message would make it a wonderful addition to anyone's collection.
Juliån is a Mermaid, by Jessica Love
Juliån lives with his abuela, and one day riding on the subway, he sees three people in stunning mermaid costumes, and he LOVES them, and immediately recognizes them as his people. "I'm a mermaid, too, Abuela," he tells her. And while Abuela is in the bath, Juliån creates a mermaid costume for himself out of things he finds around the house. The expression on her face when she comes out to see him in his costume is priceless, and precisely the look you wear when you've left a kid alone for three minutes and they've undressed, taken down the curtains, reimagined a houseplant, and are now proudly modeling their handiwork. In a lovely outcome, Abuela sees Juliån, and takes him off to see the mermaid parade and be with his people, the other mermaids. It's a simple but poignant story of a child being themself, and a grandmother's love and acceptance. My only reservation about this book is that it's not #ownvoices, and addresses the gender expression of a little boy in a Latinx family. It's well written, and doesn't ring false or problematic to me, but I'm also outside of that experience, and I can't help but think that I'd like to hear this story, or one like it, from an author's own voice.
Saturday is Swimming Day, by Hyewon Yum
What a cute book. The main character is scared of starting swimming lessons, and her fear causes a stomach ache that keeps her out of the pool. Her teacher is patient and lets her feel her fear, while gradually coaxing her into the class. It ends, of course, with the child successfully participating in the class, coming to love it, and the disappearance of fear-induced stomach aches. The main character is probably six or seven, and the book feels a little young for my upper elementary kids. For younger students in grades K to 2, it would be a nice mentor text for writing personal narratives, giving a concrete and relatable example of a small moment, and an overcoming-an-obstacle theme.
The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth, and Harlem's Greatest Bookstore, by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson
As the subtitle says, this is the true story of the National Memorial African Bookstore, an institution in Harlem for the better part of 40 years. The story is told through the eyes of Lewis, son of the owner, which brings a child's perspective to this fascinating story. In addition to the history of a bookstore that brought people in the black community together to read, learn, and share ideas, The Book Itch also includes an appearance by Malcolm X, a friend of the elder Lewis and frequent visitor to the store. It seems that Malcolm is so often left out of children's books about the Civil Rights Movement, and his inclusion here is a moving way to introduce him and his story to young readers. This is a book I'd definitely like to add to our collection. We have another of Vaunda Micheaux Nelson's books, Almost to Freedom, which I included in our fiction units as an example of historical fiction, and I can see tying this one into nonfiction, Black History Month, or possibly launching reading, since it's all about the love and power of books.
I Walk With Vanessa, by Kerascoet
This wordless picture book shows the story of a new girl who is bullied and then left out, the children who see her suffering and want to help, and the way that they reach out to her and pull the community together. It's simple, and skews on the young side (probably K-2), but I think it would make a nice addition to Month of Respect activities or other social-emotional instruction. It's wordlessness makes it uniquely accessible, and I can also see drawing students in to either write their own text, or orally provide dialogue and internal thoughts for the characters. The book is not #ownvoices, but does feature a diverse cast.
This house, once, by Deborah Freedman
This is a beautifully drawn story of the origins of a house. It could potentially be incorporated into a personal narrative unit as mentor text about special places, or in a lesson about alternative perspectives.
Cinnamon, by Neil Gaiman
This book is absolutely gorgeous, compelling...and very strange. I just went to look it up on Amazon to see if I could find out if it's a retelling of a fairytale or if it's an original. I didn't find that information, but did find many recommendations to read this book aloud, share it with students, gift it to young family members, and I very much disagree. I mean, I guess it's not worse than other traditional fairytales, but that doesn't mean we should be spreading it around. The main character is Cinnamon, a princess who is blind (because she has pearls for eyes) and does not speak (for reasons left undisclosed). The tiger is one of many who try to get her to speak, which she ultimately does, and then uses her voice to announce that she's leaving home to explore the jungle with him. I'm uncomfortable with many parts of the story, including the fact that the elderly aunt who speaks truth is unceremoniously eaten, the parents are willing to leave their daughter alone with a self-identified man-eating tiger to force her to speak, and the tiger goads her into speaking by first hurting her, then scaring her, then expressing love when he comforts her from the first two. What?? No thank you. It's beautiful, which just makes me want to seek out more work by the talented illustrator, Divya Srinivasan. (Great news, she did this series of Little Owl picture books. Let's get those instead.)
a Letter to my Teacher, by Deborah Hopkinson
This is SO delightful. Although, full disclosure, I think part of the reason it got me is the teacheriness of it (and the charmingly-illustrated teacher with curly dark hair and a fondness for scarves). It's indeed told as a letter to a favorite 2nd grade teacher, and the revelation at the end about the writer of the letter gave me a little chill. (It wasn't totally shocking, it just got me where I live!) One thing in particular that I love about it is that school isn't this child's favorite thing. She loves running around and exploring things and being busy and active. She does not love sitting still, and she especially does not love being called on to read, because reading does not come easily to her. She betrays the tricks she uses to get out of reading, and shares the ways her teacher helps her. In addition to helping her read, though, her teacher also helps her see the other ways that she shines, and makes her feel loved and supported and understood. (The teacher also fishes her out of a stream on a field trip, because sometimes things happen.) I think this would be a good book for kids who don't always feel like school is for them, and it would be a nice back-to-school read.
Love, by Matt de la Peña
Oh, this book. I loved Matt's Last Stop on Market Street (illustrated by Christian Robinson, one of my absolute favorite illustrators), and this new book is deep and touching and real. It received some criticism for being too real; namely, a scene depicting parents fighting while a child and a dog huddle together under a piano. Matt wrote a beautiful reflection about not shielding children from darkness , and Kate DiCamillo wrote an equally beautiful response to the question he posed to her in his essay, about how honest writers should be with their young readers. This book lives in that critical, stunning space of lifting up its readers, and entering into the darker moments with them. The powerful, clear text overlays illustrations depicting all different kinds of lives and families. To me this is a must-have.
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Writing about practicing literacy and freedom with my small humans.