Too Small Tola

Too Small Tola
By Atinuke
Illustrated by Onyinye Iwu

This short, three-chapter book shares stories from the life of Tola, the youngest of three siblings who live with their feisty grandmother in the megacity of Lagos, Nigeria. Tola may be small, but at every turn she proves herself to be mighty.

Tola is such a compassionate and diligent person, despite being small and “not as smart” as her sister and “not as athletic” as her brother. Her counting skills are her known superpower, but she is also empathetic and a hard worker.

The writing is simple but still detailed and descriptive, helping the reader experience what life is like in Lagos for Tola, her family, and her neighbors.

Clark the Shark

Clark the Shark
Written by Bruce Hale
Illustrated by Guy Francis

Clark the Shark is that kid in school who is so enthusiastic about everything, he gets a little too carried away. His energy and lack of boundaries start to get in the way of his friendships. His teacher advises, “Stay cool”, but it takes him a few tries to put it into action. When Clark finally finds a way to contain himself, he is ready to help a new, equally energetic classmate.

Any kid like Clark the Shark needs a patient teacher like Mrs. Inkydink to help him find balance. When Clark meets his match in Sid the Squid, it’s good for both of them to have an outlet for their energy, so they can go back to “playing it cool” with their other friends.

This book is such a joy, because Clark is unbelievably cheerful and loves his life. His toothy grin sparkles on every page.

Prietita and the Ghost Woman/Prietita y La Llorona

Prietita and the Ghost Woman/Prietita y La Llorona
Story by Gloria Anzaldúa
Pictures by Christina Gonzalez

When her mother falls ill, Prietita braves darkness, wilderness, and trespassing to find the right curative herb. She is brave about all of these things, but she is most afraid from scary stories she has heard about La Llorona, the Ghost Woman. Successful completion of her task involves learning that perhaps there is another side of the story.

Prietita is truly a curandera in training. She is dedicated and committed to her quest, while remaining calm, curious, and considerate of the animals she encounters. Upon meeting La Llorona, she is mature, respectful, and full of gratitude.

Written in English and Spanish, this book deeply creates a sense of place. Prietita’s adventures bring her into contact with a variety of wildlife and local plant life. The illustrations – though stylized and artistic – along with the prose truly provide the feeling of being in an ecosystem on a dark ranch.

Parker Looks Up

Parker Looks Up
By Parker Curry & Jessica Curry
Illustrated by Brittany Jackson

Parker Curry, along with her sister and best friend (and their moms), spend a rainy day in the museum. Just as they are getting ready to leave, Parker sees an extraordinary portrait of a woman who looks real and magical all at the same time. As she beholds the painting of Michelle Obama, Parker gasps, “She is a queen!”

It is possible to be entranced by several pages of a small girl looking at a painting. Mirrors and windows, hopes and dreams – all come to life as the story shares the importance to a young Black child of seeing a portrait of a regal-looking, accomplished Black woman.

It’s hard to describe how magical this book is, without seeing it. I love that these small children love visiting an art museum almost as much as dance class. The illustrations do an amazing job of depicting each painting through the children’s’ eyes.

Brother Juniper

Brother Juniper
By Diane Gibfried
Illustrated by Meilo So

Brother Juniper lives in the hills of Assisi with Father Francis. The other friars know him to be good, simple, and overly generous. One day, when Father Francis and the brothers go away and leave Brother Juniper in charge of the chapel, his generosity goes unchecked – to the initial dismay of the friars but the ultimate celebration and gratitude of all the townspeople.

The story of Brother Juniper teaches us how an adult might have childlike empathy, openness, and delight in service to others.

The illustrations of Brother Juniper at his chapel chores are a joy – an example to us all to take pride and pleasure even in the most menial tasks.

Violet the Pilot

Violet the Pilot
By Steve Breen

Violet Van Winkle, a mechanical genius, builds and pilots her own airplanes. The only people who appreciate her interests are her parents. Finally the day comes when Violet can prove her talents – and it turns out a bit differently than she expected.

While Violet is a positive role model for females in STEM, this book will captivate children of any gender. The various flying machines are imaginatively created from a variety of unexpected materials. The message: Anything is possible.

There are a couple of moments of schoolmates being mean to Violet, but the book does a good job of “show, not tell” – not narrating every unkind word. Violet’s outward response, ignoring them, is balanced by her inward dialogue about wanting the kids at school to be nice to her.

The Lost Package

The Lost Package
By Richard Lan, Illustrated by Jessica Lanan

A girl in New York mails a package to San Francisco. Instead of accompanying the rest of the shipment onto the plane, the package falls to the side of a New York street. Fortunately, it is discovered by a boy, his dog, and his mother – who happen to be moving to San Francisco, where the package is hand-delivered along with new friendship.

It is very touching how the boy and his mother use the opportunity to deliver the package as a way to make connections in their new home.

This story is a love letter to the US Postal Service. In the author’s note, Richard Lan shares how his father’s job with the USPS provided the foundation for his loving upbringing.

Amos and Boris

Amos and Boris
By William Steig

Amos, an adventurous mouse, sails out to sea only to be washed overboard while napping. When he is rescued by Boris the whale, the two become lifelong friends. When Boris returns Amos to shore, they hope yet doubt they will see each other again. Years later, Boris finds himself in need of rescue. Fortunately, Amos is there and ready to help his dear friend.

Amos and Boris are both models of openness, generosity, and kindness. Boris is on his way to a conference in Ivory Coast, but he makes an unplanned detour to rescue a mouse. Later, Amos is delighted to be reunited with his friend, but immediately enlists help to send Boris back home.

Two unnamed characters make a cameo at the end. I think that is my favorite part of the book.

The Paper Kingdom

The Paper Kingdom
By Helena Ku Rhee
Illustrated by Pascal Campion

Daniel would rather stay home and sleep, but his parents have to take him to work with them in the office building where they are night janitors. There he learns all about the Paper Kingdom, the demanding King and busy Queen, and the little dragons (who don’t mean to be messy).

Mama and Papa work hard, late at night, in an unseen thankless job. Yet their other job they do with great creativity and humor: raising a young son to be a compassionate, imaginative leader.

So many kids can see themselves and their parents in this story; this book is for them. For children who don’t have this lived experience, the story is an imaginative peek into a different perspective. May it lead to great appreciation for all who clean up our messes.

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