As we lean into the warmth of the changing seasons, I am excited to share some important new picture books on shelves now, or arriving very soon. These books are for the kids on the margins, and also for the rest of us learning how to be their best allies. The messages conveyed in these pages are direct and compassionate. They are inclusive, never preachy, and best of all invite rich discussion. Library and classroom bookshelves will make the perfect homes for these titles.
I hope many of you and the children in your life will find encouragement and acceptance within these pages. Let’s dive in.
Julian Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love
While riding the subway home from the pool with his abuela one day, Julian notices three women spectacularly dressed up. Their hair billows in brilliant hues, their dresses end in fishtails, and their joy fills the train car. When Julian gets home, daydreaming of the magic he’s seen, all he can think about is dressing up just like the ladies in his own fabulous mermaid costume: a butter-yellow curtain for his tail, the fronds of a potted fern for his headdress. But what will Abuela think about the mess he makes–and even more importantly, what will she think about how Julian sees himself? This lavishly illustrated book emphasizes acceptance and exudes the importance of self-love.
Dreamers by Yuyi Morales (published in October)
In 1994, twenty-five-year-old Yuyi Morales traveled from her home in Yelapa, Mexico, to the San Francisco Bay Area with her two-month-old son, Kelly, in order to secure permanent residency in this country. Her passage was not easy, and she spoke no English whatsoever. But due in large measure to help and guidance provided by area children’s librarians, she learned English the same way her young son learned to read: through the picture books they shared together. In spare, lyrical verse and with the vibrant images for which she has become legendary (Viva Frida, Ladder to the Moon), Yuyi has created a lasting testament to the journeys, both physical and metaphorical, that she and Kelly have taken together in the intervening years. Beautiful and powerful at any time–but given particular urgency as the status of our own Dreamers becomes uncertain. This is a story that is both topical and timeless.
A Church For All by Gayle Pitman
This simple, lyrical story celebrates a Sunday morning at an inclusive church that embraces all people regardless of age, class, race, gender identity, and sexual orientation. The huge cast of characters entering the church includes gay and lesbian couples, several people with canes, a child using a wheelchair, interracial families, and people with all sorts of looks, including shaved heads, mohawks, and tattoos. The church choir and the black pastor wear traditional robes, but the décor of the church is colorful and contemporary, with banners proclaiming the welcoming and inclusive philosophy of this Christian congregation. An author’s note explains the story was inspired by the Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco. This is a humorous, upbeat look at a contemporary church community where all are welcome.
Something Happened in Our Town by Marianne Celano PhD, Marietta Collins, PhD, Ann Hazzard, PhD
Age-appropriate discussions about race and bias are important to introduce in elementary school. A traumatic event–a police shooting–is examined from the perspective of a White family and an African American family. This story models productive conversations around racial-ethnic socialization and social-emotional learning, and provides an excellent platform for discussing social justice and race relations with children. Includes a “Note to Parents and Caregivers” with conversation guides, child-friendly vocabulary, and lists of related resources. This is the perfect follow-up to Pat Thomas’s The Skin I’m In, which was first published in 2003, and has been one of the very few picture books that looks at racism with young children.
The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson (due in August)
The Day You Begin is a moving letter of encouragement to kids who feel alone. The book opens with a somber reflection that many of us can relate to: “There will be times when you walk into a room and no one there is quite like you.” From there, we follow a series of students who feel like they stand out and don’t fit in with their classmates. The Day You Begin started with an observation from Woodson’s own past and inspired by a poem about her grandfather in her beloved children’s memoir Brown Girl Dreaming. “Reading can be a way of belonging. To open a book and see some part of yourself on the page makes you realize you are not alone, that somewhere in the world, maybe pretty close by, is something who feels, thinks, sees the world as you do.” Brava, Ms. Woodson.
I Walk WIth Vanessa by Kerascoet
This almost wordless picture book tells the story of one girl who inspires a community to stand up to bullying. Inspired by real events, I Walk with Vanessa explores the feelings of helplessness and anger that arise in the wake of seeing a classmate treated badly, and shows how a single act of kindness can lead to an entire community joining in to help.
Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller
When Tanisha spills grape juice all over her new dress, her classmate wants to make her feel better, wondering: What does it mean to be kind? She struggles to get it right, and eventually comes to understand that being kind doesn’t always come naturally. It means different things to different people.This exploration of how to be empathic, and how to step up even when you don’t know how to begin is a gentle nudge to each one of us.
The Rabbit Listened by Cori Deerfield
When something terrible happens, Taylor doesn’t know where to turn. All the animals are sure they have the answer. The chicken wants to talk it out, but Taylor doesn’t feel like chatting. The bear thinks Taylor should get angry, but that’s not quite right either. One by one, the animals try to tell Taylor how to process this loss, and one by one they fail. Then the rabbit arrives. All the rabbit does is listen, which is just what Taylor needs. A simple story of the power of listening.
Jane Knight is a member of CLiF’s Board of Advisors and the children’s book buyer at Bear Pond Books in Montpelier.