I try to read the medalists and honorees of the major ALA book awards every year, so you can be sure I took notice when The Undefeated earned recognition in the Caldecott, Newbery, and Coretta Scott King award categories. Inspiring and beautiful, The Undefeated deserved its many wonderful accolades.
Here are three things I like about this book:
Kwame Alexander’s triumphant text. I’ve read several of Alexander’s books, and I have yet to encounter another author whose words pop off the page the way his do. He captures so much life in a few short lines per page.
Kadir Nelson’s luxurious illustrations. This is one of those books that you really must see in physical form to fully appreciate the gorgeous illustrations. I was stunned by the difference between what I could see in a digital preview versus what I could experience through the physical page.
The universal appeal. The short text and illustrations make this book accessible to young audiences, but the biographical stories in the back matter are both engaging and educational for older children. This book isn’t afraid to confront difficult history, but it is done in such a way that it can pack a powerful punch for all ages, which is an incredible feat.
The Undefeated is probably best for ages 6 and up. I think it could initiate some wonderful conversations particularly for kids 8-10 years old.
I love reading picture book biographies of people I have never heard of. Especially if they are seemingly ordinary people who accomplished extraordinary things. My kids and I recently enjoyed learning about the amazing Mary Walker, who not only lived to an incredibly old age, but learned to read when she was 116. Incredible. Author Rita L. Hubbard and illustrator Oge Mora have honored her story in The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read.
Here are three things I like about this book:
Hubbard presents Mary Walker’s persistence in an honest but hopeful way. Readers learn of Mary’s hardships but also feel her joy when she finally achieves her great goal of learning to read.
Mora’s youthful and vibrant illustrations seem to mirror the energetic soul of a person who lives to 121 years of age.
Stories of persistence are great for kids, and I love how this book can relate to kids in a very tangible way, since many young children are learning to read themselves.
This book is great for all ages, but I think it will land especially well with six to ten year olds.
After taking a break from the blog for several months due to personal reasons, I look forward to posting about books again soon.
Like others around the country, I am doing my best to listen and learn from the black members of my community. For me, this education includes reading books that were created by black authors and illustrators.
For the rest of this year, I will only feature books by black authors and illustrators in my posts. I believe their voices must be heard. This doesn’t mean that I will stop highlighting their work when the year is finished. I have tried to be racially inclusive of books I feature here, and will continue to work towards this goal.
I believe reading promotes compassion and empathy. It helps us see another’s point of view. To understand their circumstances. To walk in their shoes. I look forward to reading books that help me do this, and I hope you will join me.
I love the current trend of infusing lyrical storytelling into non-fiction picture books. In picture book biographies, it is also becoming more common to feature people that history has previously ignored.
What Miss Mitchell Saw, written by Hayley Barrett, illustrated by Diana Sudyka, demonstrates all that is lovely in this golden age of children’s non-fiction. The poetic text is as lovely on the ears as the gorgeous illustrations are on the eyes. The story in and of itself is wonderful, and I consider it a bonus that my children and I could learn about real-life astronomer Maria Mitchell while enjoying a compelling story about a woman who bucked the conventions of her time.
I recommend this beautiful picture book for all ages, though I would suggest the target age is 6-10 years old. What Miss Mitchell Saw would make a lovely accompaniment to a history study (particularly during Women’s History Month) or a unit on astronomy.
Confession: I read The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart in May of 2019. I loved this book so much that I couldn’t think of how I could adequately do it justice in a blog post. To the point that I went through a freeze in writing any blog posts at all.
I still feel this way. So rather than share a synopsis, I want you to know this book has all the feels and moved me in a way no other novel has. Readers will find hope, despair, adventure, intense friendship, humor, community, and even a goat on a bus. Most of all, they will find love. Love for those we have lost and love for those we have now.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough. If it were up to me, I would cover it with every award sticker for which it is eligible. This middle grade novel is probably best for ages ten and up, and I do mean “and up” – this one is for readers of all ages.
It’s a good sign any time my kids ask me to re-read a book as soon as I finish it the first time. Adding a little science in the text makes it even better. Top it all off with a protagonist who reminds me of Mo Willems’ Pigeon, and the book must be a winner.
The Very Impatient Caterpillar by Ross Burach is a laugh-out-loud story of metamorphosis. In a classic case of “Is it ready yet?”, an impatient caterpillar doesn’t think he can hold out for two whole weeks in his chrysalis to become a butterfly. Much hilarity ensues as he tries to talk himself up to complete his mission.
The text is simple while seamlessly incorporating sophisticated vocabulary, such as metamorphosize and chrysalis. The vivid illustrations provide additional humor to the story. (See the spread with the squirrel overhearing the caterpillar arguing with himself, and you’ll know exactly what I mean!)
The Very Impatient Caterpillar is a wonderful choice for all ages, but I think it is particularly suited for ages 6-8. For younger children, it is a humorous and simple introduction to the concept of how a caterpillar becomes a butterfly. For older children, it would make a light-hearted read-aloud supplement to any scientific metamorphosis study.
Padma Venkatraman’s The Bridge Home is both beautiful and heartbreaking. This book confronts the difficult realities of poor, homeless children in India, much as Linda Sue Park’s A Long Walk to Water did for showing readers the lives of young people who don’t have access to clean water.
Main character Viji persuades her disabled sister Rukku to run away with her, in order to escape their abusive father. With nowhere to go and no one to run to, they are homeless children in a big city and face dangers at every turn. After befriending a loving, stray dog, the girls look for shelter. They have the good fortune of bumping into Arul and Muthu, two young boys in circumstances similar to theirs, but who have more knowledge about the workings of the big city.
The four children and the dog quickly unite to become their own family. They work together, often scouring for recyclables in the city’s massive trash heaps. Loyal to one another, they pool their resources together and share all their earnings, food, and supplies. I appreciated how Venkatraman highlights the children’s pride in earning their keep – they don’t want charitable handouts from anyone.
The Bridge Home is ultimately an urban survival story for a middle grade audience. Venkatraman masterfully portrays the atrocities of the children’s lifestyle while also making it appropriate for younger readers. Though fictional, elements of the novel are based on true stories, and this book could be used to initiate discussion about how many children around the world live incredibly difficult lives. I think The Bridge Home is probably best for ages 10-14, due to the difficult life circumstances of the children, but mature eight- and nine-year-olds may handle it all right.
I love numbers, patterns, and all things mathematical. (Which is a good thing. I studied math for ten additional years after high school!) I find that picture books incorporating math can be hit or miss, but I love the ones that do it well, especially those that present complex concepts for young readers in unique ways. Is 2 A Lot? (written by Annie Watson and illustrated by Rebecca Evans) does a fabulous job of conveying how numbers take on even greater meaning when we attach units to them.
While driving to their destination, Joey has a lot of questions for his mommy. To kick things off, he wants to know if two is a lot. Mommy’s answer is thoughtful. “Well, two is not a lot of pennies… but it is a lot of smelly skunks.” And so begins the journey to determine how much is a lot.
Watson has written a clever text that is beautifully structured and maximizes the effect of page turns. Evans’ illustrations are full of life, with some of the action scenes including multiple panels, as in a comic book.
Is 2 A Lot? is an excellent choice for kids ages 3-7. The beauty of this book is that while it is centered on a mathematical principle, it doesn’t come across as a book on math. I think kids would enjoy this story as a supplement to a classroom math study, but equally as a bedtime story.
Bare bear is missing something… his underwear. His dad points out it’s over there, on the chair. This premise – the evergreen battle of parents trying to get their kids to bed – kicks off Jenn Harney’s comical picture book, Underwear.
With an ongoing rhyming scheme that seems to include all words rhyming with “bear,” Underwear is fun to read aloud. The pre-bed synopsis makes it a great choice to read before tucking your own kids into bed, with one caveat: all the giggles may have the opposite effect you wanted and make it more difficult for your kids to snuggle into their covers. It’s worth it.
We read this book multiple times in my house, and it garnered laughs each time. Harney’s illustrations add another layer of humor and energy to the clever text. If you’re looking for a quick and funny picture book to enjoy with little ones, I recommend Underwear. I suspect the target audience is ages 2-6, but don’t let that stop you from enjoying it with older kids, because Underwear is entertaining for all ages.
Although I have traveled to many areas in the contiguous United States and various countries in Europe, I have never been to New York City. After reading A Green Place to Be: The Creation of Central Park by Ashley Benham Yazdani, I would love to visit the Big Apple and see this world-famous park.
Yazdani does a wonderful job of bringing to life the historical account of Central Park’s inception and construction. She includes interesting facts without bogging down the reader with too much technical terminology or trivial information. The illustrations are full of life, making the historical scenes appear fresh and present. From the broad, lush landscapes to the complete survey of the various bridges inside the park, the detailed illustrations are a feast for the eyes, welcoming multiple readings.
I recommend A Green Place to Be for readers who are looking for a beautifully illustrated slice-of-history story. It will probably be best for ages 6-10, though I do think artists of all ages will enjoy the beautiful illustrations.