The Undefeated

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.

The Oldest Student

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.

What Miss Mitchell Saw

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.

The Very Impatient Caterpillar

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.

Is 2 A Lot?

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.

Underwear

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.

A Green Place to Be: The Creation of Central Park

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.

Poetree

Poetree, written by Shauna LaVoy Reynolds and illustrated by Shahrzad Maydani, is a sweet friendship story that melds a love of poetry and a love of nature. Young Sylvia writes poems that she then takes to her friend, the birch tree. She never imagined the tree might write back.

And so begins the origin of the Poetree. In what appears to be a magical exchange of verse, Sylvia leaves poems with the tree and receives poems in return. When Sylvia finally discovers the truth behind her leafy pen pal, she has difficulty hiding her disappointment, but soon finds she may have made a new and unexpected friend after all.

Maydani’s lovely illustrations create a serene and gentle mood. Young readers would enjoy creating poems and illustrations of trees, flowers, birds, and other natural scenes after reading this lovely story.

I think Poetree is best for ages 4-8, though older kids will likely enjoy the story as well. There are many useful teaching tie-ins, including the topics of poetry, nature, and friendship.

Scranimals

Every year, my family does something to celebrate D.E.A.R. Day. (Drop Everything And Read was first mentioned in Beverly Cleary’s Ramona books, and is now observed on April 12, Cleary’s birthday.) This year, we did a Library Bingo of sorts, where we selected one book in each of 10 genres. With it also being National Poetry Month, one of our categories was poetry. While in the juvenile poetry section at our library, we stumbled on Scranimals by Jack Prelutsky, illustrated by Peter Sis.

While familiar with both Prelutsky and Sis, I had never heard of Scranimals, but it looked fun enough, and we gave it a try. It turned into a quick favorite. Each spread features a “scranimal” – an creature made of a mash up of animals, vegetables, and fruit, such as a Spinachicken, or my favorite, the Avocadodo. Scranimals reads well as a picture book as there is a hint of story arc to it, but you can certainly choose to read the poems of one or two creatures if you prefer to not read it all in one sitting.

Nothing about this book is serious or stuffy. The illustrations are fun, the poems are witty.  It’s playful poetry at its best, and of course, Prelutsky does it masterfully. I recommend this book for kids of all ages, but especially for those ages 4-8.

The Dress and The Girl

Talk about a picture book with an old soul. The Dress and The Girl, written by Camille Andros and illustrated by Julie Morstad, has a nostalgia about it, but in a way that is fresh and beautiful.

It’s the story of “an ordinary girl wearing an ordinary dress,” and their everyday comings and goings. One day, the time comes for the girl and the dress to leave home and set out for new adventures in a new land. Sadly, they are separated when the trunk holding the dress is not reunited with its owners after the long journey. The dress and trunk travel the world, unable to find the girl, until one day a woman pauses to look at a dress hanging in the window of a used clothing store.

Andros’s lyrical text rolls off the tongue, making this a beautiful book to read aloud. Morstad’s illustrations are understated but vibrant, which seems to bring the past into the present. With inviting cover and printed on thick, smooth paper, The Dress and The Girl is all around a beautiful book.

I recommend this book for ages 4 and up (though it certainly could be read to younger children as well). It could make a nice Mother’s Day gift or baby girl shower gift as well.