Saturday, March 13, 2021

2020 Pandemic Picture Books We Enjoyed Reading - Part One

My young readers and I read some wonderful picture books over the course of the last year and today, I would like to share with you some but not all of our favorite books (there's more to come). These were curated by my 5 and 6 year old readers. 
Julián at the Wedding (Julián #2)
written and illustrated by Jessica Love
*Candlewick Press, 2020, 40 pages
Our favorite mermaid, Julián, is back and so is his wonderfully loving abuela. They are going to the wedding of two young women in a park in Brooklyn. Julián is in the wedding party, along the brides' dog, Gloria, and a new friend named Marisol, the flower girl and granddaughter of his abuela's old friend. A wedding, Julián explains, is a party for love, but sometimes the reception is not very exciting for kids. Soon, Julián, Marisol, and Gloria sneak off to play under a willow tree that he says is a fairy home. But when Marisol's dress gets really dirty playing, Julián comes to the rescue, fashioning her an outfit using his dress shirt and tying it with a willow branch, all the while wearing Marisol flower crown. Marisol's abuela is as understanding as Julián's grandmother, not getting angry about the dirty dress when the kids and dog return to the reception. Instead, everyone hugs and when the music begins, it is time to dance - after all, it is a party for love. This is a beautiful book about celebrating love, accepting people for who they are, and continuing the exploration of gender expansiveness begun in Julián is a Mermaid. The main characters all appear to be Afro-Latinx and Black. The text is spare, letting the illustrations tell most of the story. The watercolor, gouache, and ink illustrations are done on heavy brown paper, giving the colors an unusual vibrancy. I love that a picture book with such an open message about being your authentic self is done with the Statue of Liberty looking on in the background. Approvingly? I think so.  

No Ordinary Jacket by Sue-Ellen Pashley,
illustrated by Thea Baker
*Candlewick Press, 2020, 32 pages
Amelia wore she new jacket everywhere. It was warm and comforting - until the day it didn't fit any more and mom suggested she pass it down to sister Lilly. Amelia was sad to let her favorite jacket go, but reluctantly did it anyway. Soon, Lilly was wearing her new old jacket everywhere, too - until the day it didn't fit her any more either. So Lilly passed it down to her favorite doll, who wore it everywhere with Lilly - until Lilly went to school and stopped playing with dolls. By now, the jacket was pretty worn out and missing a button, forgotten about under Lilly's wardrobe. Until - the family cat found it and made a bed for her new kittens with it. Dirty, missing two buttons, with paint on the elbow and covered with cat hair, mom decides it is time to throw the jacket out. But Lilly remembered how special it was and didn't want to let it go. Clever mom knows just what to do and creatively gives the jacket new life and a new form to hand down to the new baby. The collage illustrations are done using fabric and paper adding texture and color to the otherwise muted background.  This is a story that my young readers particularly liked, especially the end, but the whole story is as warm and cozy as the jacket itself. 

Kaia and the Bees by Maribeth Boelts,
illustrated by Angela Dominguez
*Candlewick Press, 2020, 40 pages
Kaia, a biracial child, is quite brave with one exception - she is very afraid of bees and has been ever since she stepped on a bee and got stung. And now, there are bees living on the roof of Kaia's building. Her dad is a beekeeper. Bees, he explains, are dying and no one knows why, but he does know that the world needs bees to pollinate fruits and vegetables. But as often as he invites her to join him, Kaia simply will not go on the roof with him. Outside, she hides her fear of bees by telling her friends everything her dad has told her about them. But when a bee lands on her arm, her friends realize she's actually afraid of bees, calling her a liar. What's a kid to do? Face her fear, naturally. After zipping her into her beekeeper suit, Kaia and her dad head to the roof. But facing her fear isn't as easy as she had hoped, but Kaia has to decide what she is - a liar or a brave girl? Sweating and scared to death, Kaia takes the bee frame covered with a thousand bees from her dad. But when she gets stung, Kaia is done with bees - again. Well, except for the honey they make. When two bees make their way into the apartment with jars of honey, Kaia grabs the fly swatter and must once an face to bee fear. What will she do? The large illustrations, done with pencil and digitally colored, capture the many emotions Kaia goes through trying to come to terms with her fear of bees. A lot of young kids have that fear and this is a great book for helping them deal with it. 

Catch That Chicken! by Atinuke,
illustrated by Angela Brooksbank
*Candlewick Press, 2020 32 pages
Everyone, including brother Bilal, friend Fatima, sister Sadia, Nana Nadia, Daddy Danlami and Anuty Aisha, agrees that Lami is the fastest and best chicken catcher in their whole Nigerian village. Lami is so fast that the aunties in her village compound are always shouting Sannu! Sannu! Slow Down! as she chases chickens. But one day, Lami chases a chicken up the big baobab tree, and reaching for that runaway bird, she suddenly slips and falls. Oh dear, how can Lami chase chickens with a sprained ankle? After Nana Nadia tells her that quick thinking, not quick feet, is the way to catch chickens, can Lami come up with a new idea to do that? My young readers and I really loved this book, and not just because Lami is such an strong character, but it is a story is also a story about a close knit community, one that encourages and looks out for each other. The colorful mixed media illustrations tell Lami's story, but the milieu in which she lives was so detailed that it was fun for my young readers to explore and talk about what they revealed about the different aspect of life and culture in this village in Africa on almost every page. This is a book we've read over and over again and which is now part of our permanent class library. 

Salma the Syrian Chef by Danny Ramadan,
illustrated by Anna Bron
Annick Press, 2020, 40 pages
Salma and her mother are living in Vancouver, Canada, far from their home in Syria. Her father is still there and while she and her mother both miss him, her mother is particularly unhappy with this temporary separation. Salma tries everything she can think of to bring a smile to her mom's face, but to no avail. Finally, she decides to make some foul shami (a fava bean dish) after remembering the smile on her mother's face the last time she served it to Salma and her father. But how do you make a Syrian dish when you don't even know the English words for the ingredients? Even with the help of everyone at the Welcome Center where they live, Salma discovers that things can and do go wrong. After the most important ingredient, sumac, gets spilled all over the place, it is Granny Donya who saves the day for the disheartened Salma. Setting this in a center that welcomes refugees from all over gives this book its nice flavor of diversity, while at the same time showing readers the difficulties faced by new immigrants. From learning the language so they can navigate everyday life to dealing with homesickness and separation from loved ones, this book is all about empathy and kindness. The sweet illustrations are done in a palette of pastels, with a decidedly Middle Eastern geometric mosaic pattern framing them. This book is a real winner with my young readers and we have returned to it many, many times.

What favorite books did you share with your young readers in 2020?

*Thank you to Candlewick Press for providing their books free of charge in exchange for a review.

1 comment:

  1. I've read them all but Salma, Alex. What a great idea to re-visit these favorites! Have a great weekend!


Imagination Designs