As usual, I have a LOT of good picture books to share…and more on my to-read pile to share with you next month.
New Picture Books, September 2021
Song of Frutas by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Sara Palacios
HISPANIC HERITAGE MONTH
Celebrate Cuban culture and a loving grandparent relationship in this lyrical story about a little girl’s visit with her fruit-selling Abuelo. When the little girl visits her abuelo in Cuba, she loves helping him sell frutas, singing the names of each fruit as they walk with his cart. They fill baskets lowered down on ropes. Other vendors sing their own melodies and rhymes about tamales, yerbas, and dulces so Abuelo must sing even louder. As her trip wraps up on New Year’s Eve, the girl eats twelve grapes at midnight, making a wish for each month, especially wishing for more visits and open borders. When she returns home, she feels happy that she can send Abuelo letters “back and forth, verses on paper, all our hopeful poems flying like songbirds who glide and soar through wild sky, each syllable un abrazo, a hug made of words.”
Paletero Man by Lucky Diaz, illustrated by Micah Player
HISPANIC HERITAGE MONTH
In this exceptionally written and colorfully illustrated story, follow a boy as he takes a savory trip around the neighborhood searching for Paletero José and a refreshing Mexican frozen treat. As he searches, a familiar refrain repeats, “Can you hear his call? Paletas for one! Paletas for all!” When he finally finds Paletero José, the boy realizes that his money is gone! But his neighborhood friends help –and to honor their kindness, José makes all the paletas free for all. I LOVE this book– the Spanish words, the value of community and kindness, and the festive illustrations.
The Gumbles: A Story About Gratitude by Tricia Goyer and Amy Parker, illustrated by Monica de Rivas
A captivating, relatable story about a sweet, likable family who learns to reframe difficulties with new eyes and find their gratitude in all situations…well, most situations. This family grumbles a lot until Grandma Grateful arrives and reacts differently to their frustrating situations. She shows the family members to see the blessings in the bills and piles of laundry and does it in a joyful, fun way. Instead of stomping his foot, now “When Daddy read the water bill, he thanked God for his job.” Instead of whining, Brother whistles and waits. A wise, positive, and meaningful book. Use this to teach perspective-taking and gratitude!
The Chupacabra Ate the Candelabra by Marc Tyler Nobelman, illustrated by Ana Aranda
I adore this goofy story about three scared goats who are terrified of the chupacabra who is coming to eat them. But don’t worry, it turns out much differently than they expect when the chupacabra arrives! Because the chupacabra eats the candelabra, cucarachas, and goat…cheese. Funny dialogue and a surprising new friendship.
Tomatoes for Neela by Padma Lakshmi, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal
FOOD / INDIAN CULTURE
Experience the smells, colors, and flavors of tomatoes in this flavorful story about a girl named Neela and her mama who love cooking together. First, they go to the market to buy tomatoes for Paati’s famous sauce. Amma shares the history of tomatoes and stories of Paati. Their time cooking is joyous and loving. culminating in a warm, savory sauce that they can enjoy all winter. Lyrical, descriptive writing plus illustrations that explode in color and beauty, make this a must-read addition to your bookshelves.
Clovis Keeps His Cool by Katelyn Aroson, illustrated by Eve Farb
Learn about anger management and kindness! Clovis runs his late grandmother’s china shop where everything is breakable. When his old football friends taunt him for his new job, to keep his cool, he uses strategies like counting to ten, petting the cat, and repeating the mantra, “Grace. Grace. Nothing. Broken. To replace.” But even with his strategies, he loses his temper and everything in the shop gets broken. Clovis stops and remembers his grandma’s mantra. He asks the hecklers if they’d like to join him for a cup of tea and it turns things around.
The Cot in the Living Room by Hilda Eunice Burgos, illustrated by Gaby D’Alessandro
A little girl feels jealous of the kids who stay overnight at her apartment because their parents work nights. Those kids get to sleep in a cot in the living room. One day, she gets to sleep there and realizes that it’s not that fun. This helps her feel more empathic towards the visiting kids. Her selfish “it’s not fair” becomes an empathetic “it’s not fair” when she realizes that the kids probably prefer being in their own beds.
Becoming Vanessa by Vanessa Brantley-Newton
Vanessa picks out an outfit that expresses her personality. But at school, it seems like it’s too much for the other kids and she feels not special and upset. She wraps up in blankets and doesn’t talk about it. The next day, she picks out a plain outfit without any special touches. Before she leaves for school, her mom explains that her name means metamorphosis — to mean that she could become whoever she wants to be. Vanessa sees that she’s special, changes into a butterfly shirt, and shares about her name with her classmates at school, proud to be a butterfly. A great book to read to address identity, the meaning of your name, and being yourself.
Big Bear Was Not the Same by Joanna Rowland, illustrated by John Ledda
This gentle story explains PTSD in a way that young children can understand–and I highly recommend it. One day Big Bear experiences a scary fire. And after that, Big Bear is not the same. He doesn’t want to climb a tree, loud noises startle him, and sometimes he makes a loud roar that frightens animals, including Little Bear. Little Bear offers to hold his hand. He reminds Big Bear that he is sorry for what happened to Big Bear and that he will always be there for him.
My Two Border Towns by David Bowles, illustrated by Erika Meza
HISPANIC HERITAGE MONTH
Oh, my heart! I adore this heartfelt story with lyrical writing and vibrant illustrations about a boy and his father’s trip to El Otro Lado, a border town in Mexico that mirrors their own town on the U.S. side. It’s a wonderful day of traveling the streets, stopping for savory food, chatting with friendly vendors, playing with primos, and buying a checklist of items including medicine. Before they leave the Other Side, the boy and father prioritize stopping at the refugee encampment to share a bag of supplies with their gente. As they wave goodbye to travel across the border again, the father remarks that the refugee situation is not fair and reminds his son when new friends eventually are allowed, they can welcome their friends into the U.S. with open arms. I”m sure this picture book will spark many discussions and be a new favorite. (4 starred reviews!)
Home Is In Between by Mitlali Perkins, illustrated by Lavanya Naidu
A beautiful story about a girl finding a home in between two cultures. The first is the village, Bangla, and Bollywood while the second is an apartment, English, and ballet. Comparisons and contrasting elements she runs back and forth, again and again in between. She feels so tired. As she rests in between, she realizes that she’s home anywhere even in the space between two cultures. Sweet, appealing illustrations.
Run, Little Chaski! An Inka Trail Adventure by Mariana Llanos, illustrated by Mariana Ruiz Johnson
HISPANIC HERITAGE MONTH
You’ll love the lesson in kindness set in ancient Peru where a young Inka boy named Chaski gets to be the newest messenger for the queen. His task is to run fast and deliver a khipu to the temple. Run, run, Little Chaski, phaway! Along the way, he stops to help animals in need — and tries to run even faster because of the delay. When he arrives at his destination, Little Chaski realizes that he’s lost the khipu along the way. Luckily, his animal friends bring it to him and to his surprise, the King explains that by helping the animals, Chaski has passed the messenger test and has earned the name Big Hearted. Gorgeous, colorful illustrations!
Amara and the Bats by Emma Reynolds
ENVIRONMENT / ACTIVISM
Amara loves bats! When she moves to a new town, she sees no bats because of the buildings and pollution. She rallies her new friends and the community to help her create a bat-friendly sanctuary. Teamwork, positive environmental themes, bat information, and inclusive characters make this story of a kid activist an inspiring choice to read.
Heads and Tails Underwater by John Canty
Easy riddles for kids! Three written clues plus a hint in the illustration will get kids thinking and making educated guesses (deductive reasoning) about the answers. Turn the pages to see if your guess was correct. Example: “I am gentle. I can sing. I am the biggest animal in the world. I am…” (“A whale.”)
Leila in Saffron by Rukhsanna Guidroz, illustrated by Dinara Mirtalipova
Leila isn’t sure of who she is. At her Naani’s house, she looks around for what she likes and notices the books written Arabic, the Pakistani ornaments, her family that makes her feel snug and happy inside. Leila helps makes a curry dinner to the delight of her family. Before she leaves, her Naani lets her try on a silky saffron scarf. The weekly dinner helps Leila celebrate her strengths, her culture, and herself.
Lottie & Walter by Anna Walker
FEAR OF WATER / IMAGINARY FRIEND
Lottie misses out on swimming lessons because she’s scared of sharks. One day, a gentle walrus named Walter appears and helps Lottie learn that swimming can be fun and safe — and that there are no sharks in the swimming pool.
The Longest Storm by Dan Yaccarino
QUARANTINE / FAMILY
Reflective of our recent time in quarantine, this family of a dad and three kids stay inside. At first, they get sick of each other and spend time alone. Eventually, a loud thunderstorm helps the family come back together, apologize to each other, and stay connected in the following days even though they had to stay in quarantine inside…and things got a little better every day. Readers will relate to this emotionally resonant story about family, quarantine, and relationships.
What the Animals Saw by Louise Greig, illustrated by Nicola O’Bryne
ANIMALS / PERSPECTIVE
See what the animals see from their eyes and in their lives in this lyrical, descriptive read aloud story. It might be the sight of their family or prey or predators. “A rhinoceros sees a rival. A mirror of himself. A hulk of head and horn.” Use this beautiful, interesting book to teach perspective, learn more about animals, and encourage a discussion of what it might be like to see things through other’s eyes!
Change Sings by Amanda Gorman, illustrated by Loren Long
I LOVE the illustrations in this song of change and hope. It’s metaphorical and abstract but the illustrations make Gorman’s words more concrete. For example on the page with this text, “I also walk our differences to show we are the same. // I’m a movement that roars and springs, There’s a wave where my change sings,” the illustrations show diverse kids marching along and playing instruments.
Lola Sleeps Over by Anna McQuinn, illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw
In this positive sleepover story where the child stays the entire night, Lola gets to stay overnight at her cousin’s house– and it’s lots of fun.
Negative Cat by Sophie Blackall
Based on her family’s own cat, Max is excited to get a cat and expects cuddles and cuteness when he adopts one. Instead, his new cat, doesn’t like to do anything, prefers to be alone, and doesn’t want to play. But that changes when Max reads a book to the cat to practice his reading. This prompts visits to the shelter with his entire class to read to them, making the cats, shelter lady, and parents happy.
A House by Kevin Henkes
Simple text and illustrations plus an interactive element of questions for the readers about the house such as “where is the door? What color is it?” Read the simple descriptions including “a house in the snow” and “a house in the morning” and observe the precise illustrations that show a traditional-looking free-standing house which eventually becomes “a home” when a family with two parents, three kids, and two pets arrive at the house. The simplicity of the text and the interactive questions are perfect for toddlers preschoolers. However, many children’s families don’t look like this and might not have homes that look like this.