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.

Yours Sincerely, Giraffe

Yours Sincerely, Giraffe
By Megumi Iwasa, Illustrations by Jun Takabatake

A bored giraffe hanging out in Africa convinces an equally bored pelican to deliver a letter to “you, whoever you are, who lives on the other side of the horizon”. A pen pal relationship unfolds in an unpredictable way between (on the Africa side) the giraffe and pelican and (on the Antarctica side) a penguin, his whale professor, and a seal.

I really love how much Penguin and Giraffe are trying to understand each other. They do their best to create pictures for each other using only words. And the giraffe really puts his body on the line trying to recreate the characteristics of a penguin. A heart-warming cross-cultural relationship.

These animals are so philosophical! What is the nature of looking? How can a bucket help us explore the persistence of color? What is a neck, and what does it look like to not have one? A short tale that can spur children to deep thinking.

Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type

Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type
By Doreen Cronin; Pictures by Betsy Lewin

Farmer Brown’s cows have discovered a typewriter in the barn, and they are using it to write letters demanding improved conditions. Understandably, Farmer Brown wants things to be the way they’ve always been. In the end, the cows, the hens, and the devious duck get the upper hand.

Who knew? Cows and hens have leverage to change their one-sided relationship with the farmer. The story unfolds quickly and is hilarious, while providing a fantastic case study in negotiation and collective action.

I think it’s very funny that the animals are able to communicate among themselves, but when the cows have a secret emergency meeting, the other animals can’t eavesdrop because they don’t “understand Moo”.

The Gigantic Turnip

The Gigantic Turnip
By Aleksei Tolstoy, Niamh Sharkey, & Imelda Staunton

This Russian folktale unfolds with a rhythm and repetition that unfailingly delights small children. The illustrations are quirky and engaging, with a soothing autumnal color palette that matches the couple’s stage of life as well as the turnip’s harvest season.

Much like Little Blue Truck, it is “all hands on deck” to accomplish a big task, requiring at last the smallest team member to achieve the goal.

Despite knowing the enormity of the turnip, the old man attempts to harvest it himself at first. With much pulling, heaving, tugging, and yanking, it is not until the old woman applies her wisdom and creativity that the community finally enjoys its delicious turnip stew.

The Second Sky

The Second Sky
Written by Patrick Guest, Illustrated by Jonathan Bentley

Gilbert the penguin emerges from his shell inspired by the birds he sees flying in the sky. Alas, all his attempts to glide gracefully through the air meet with failure. Just when it seems Gilbert has pushed too far past his limitations, he discovers where he is meant to gracefully dive and soar.

I love Gilbert’s vision combined with his hard work and stick-to-it-iveness. He tries, he fails; he grows up a bit and tries again—and fails; he rethinks his approach, and tries again.

This is a great book for the very smallest children. Gilbert’s clumsiness is very similar to the trials and tribulations of toddlerhood and early childhood.

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