The Field

The Field, written by Baptiste Paul and illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara, bursts with energy and neighborhood fun. The synopsis is straightforward: kids gather for a pick-up game of soccer. Although the premise seems simple, Paul and Alcántara pack in so much emotion and life so that it makes the reader feel they are a part of the game.

Here are three things I like about this book:

  • Paul draws on his childhood experience of growing up in the Caribbean. Creole words seamlessly mix into dialogue and narrative, giving the reader a sense that they are part of the neighborhood pack.
  • With so much color and action in her illustrations, Alcántara makes the reader feel like they are running, kicking, and getting dirty right alongside the others.
  • People sometimes think that picture books showing a slice of life are easy to pull off, but the opposite is true – if you want them done well. And Paul and Alcántara have done it so well in this book, which is a testament to their craft. They get bonus points for creating a book that feels inclusive and will make kids want to start a pick-up game of their own.

The Field is a wonderful choice for a read-aloud, particularly for soccer lovers in the four to eight years old age bracket.

Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer

I knew very little about Voices of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer: Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement before checking it out from my public library. Nor did I know much about its titular hero. I am thankful to author Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrator Ekua Holmes for telling Fannie’s story and sharing this book with the world.

Here are three things I like about this book:

  • I love that it reads like a mini novel-in-verse. In a compilation of 21 illustrated poems, this book manages to give the reader a sweeping survey of Fannie Lou Hamer’s life. Weatherford’s language is exquisite, and the book earned a Sibert Honor, which recognizes achievement in nonfiction books for young people.
  • Ekua Holmes painting and collage artwork is rich with color and intricate in detail. Holmes received a Caldecott Honor for Voices of Freedom, which is an amazing feat for a debut picture book.
  • I love that this is a picture book made for older readers. I think we forget that tweens benefit from the beautiful artwork and rich language that we find in picture books.

I believe Voices of Freedom is best for readers ages 10 and up. Younger kids could also listen along, but I think a slightly more mature audience will benefit more from the content. This book would make a wonderful addition to any U. S. History curriculum or study on the Civil Rights in the United States.

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.