By Loren Long

Otis is a hard-working antique tractor. He befriends the new calf who comes to live on the farm, but before long Otis is “put out to pasture” with the arrival of a shiny new tractor. When the calf gets into trouble on a special day, Otis shakes himself out of his forced-retirement malaise to save the day.

The overt message of the book is the special friendship between Otis and the calf. Different groups take turns attempting to muscle the calf out of her predicament. Success comes from Otis and his calm, playful attention to his friend.

What I really love about the Otis books – besides the beautiful art and typeface – is the celebration of work and play. Otis loves to work, and he is very sad when he’s no longer allowed to work. Yet he also loves to play and to rest. A good role model for us all.

Bunny Built

Bunny Built
By Michael Slack

LaRue, the handiest bunny in Westmore Oaks, runs out of carrots. As he inquires for carrots among his neighbors, he comes across what appears to be an enormous carrot seed! He patiently waits as the planted seed grows into a gigantic carrot. What LaRue does next is not what one might expect.

This book is so simple, yet each reading reveals a new layer of the tight-knit Westmore Oaks community. For example, as LaRue asks his neighbors if they have carrots, he learns that Ivy gave her table to someone else. LaRue takes note of each neighbor’s need, and makes it a priority to restore what they have been missing.

Note that the cookie jar is one of the places LaRue stores his carrots. *smile*

Sheila Rae, The Brave

Sheila Rae, The Brave
By Kevin Henkes

Sheila Rae defies the norms of safety and security. She is fearless. She is brave. But one day she goes a little outside of her comfort zone. Fortunately, her sister has been learning from the best.

It is obvious from the book’s title that this story features a strong female character. As it turns out, there are two! The sisters’ relationship is a delight.

Little sister Louise gets the last word, and she is generous and sweet.

Home is a Window

Home is a Window
By Stephanie Parsley Ledyard
Illustrations by Chris Sasaki

The plot of this story is primarily told through pictures, with the text providing poetic support. As her family relocates from the city to the suburbs, a young girl reflects on the true meaning of home.

The story provides few details about why the family is moving. It is clear that home in the city was good: warm and full of close connections. And, home in the suburbs is good: the same warmth and close connections, but with new opportunities as well.

This book was a gift from the family of one of my son’s nursery school friends, upon the occasion of our own move from the city to the suburbs. It was a sweet addition to our own transition process.

Mighty, Mighty Construction Site

Mighty, Mighty Construction Site
Sherri Duskey Rinker and Tom Lichtenheld

The crew from “Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site” wakes up to realize that today’s job is much too big for just the five of them. They quickly enlist a supplemental crew to get the job done.

The theme of this book is teamwork and cooperation. Work is fun for the construction trucks, but it’s even more fun with a partner who fills in the gaps of each one’s weakness. It’s amazing what a team can do when everyone employs their individual strengths.

One disappointment of the original book is the consistent application of male gender pronouns to all of the trucks. This book introduces trucks with female gender pronouns. Women do construction, too!

Feivel’s Flying Horses

Feivel’s Flying Horses
By Heidi Smith Hyde
Illustrated by Johanna Van Der Sterre

Feivel leaves his family in the old country to immigrate to America. To make money to enable his family to join him, he finds the ideal job: he carves carousel horses and names each one after his wife and children.

Aside from the glimpse into how carousel horses are crafted, an endearing aspect of this book is how Feivel creates intricate, customized sculptures to mirror the unique love he has for each member of his family.

My favorite aspect of this story is Feivel’s ability to recognize how his professional passion, paired with a skill set honed in a completely different context, could be useful and fulfilling for a completely different purpose.

I Am Human

I Am Human
By Susan Verde
Art by Peter H. Reynolds

What does it mean to be human? I wouldn’t know where to start, in answering that question. Fortunately this lovely book encapsulates a hopeful description of what it means to be human – curious, flawed, relational.

With colorful, cheerful, simple illustrations, “I Am Human” celebrates many of the universal positive traits shared by billions, while compassionately naming the challenging aspects of being human.

As I read this book, I think of others living in conditions much more difficult than mine, and try to hear their voices speaking these words. It connects me to that spark of the human spirit that drives human beings to seek thriving, even in unimaginably dark situations.

My Grandfather’s Coat

My Grandfather’s Coat
Retold by Jim Aylesworth
Illustrated by Barbara McClintock

A Yiddish folktale is brought vividly to life, following a man and his beloved garment through several generations.

I love the understated way in which this book celebrates intergenerational relationships. The grandfather starts out the story as a young immigrant. While the text itself says very little about the man’s life, the illustrations beautifully depict his life as a young husband, father, grandfather, and ultimately great-grandfather.

The ecology lesson implied in this book resonates with me more than anything else. A garment – or any other well-made beloved item – can have a long and useful life, with just a little bit of care and attention.

Whistle for Willie

Whistle for Willie
By Ezra Jack Keats

An often-overlooked developmental window in a young child’s life – working on learning how to whistle – is the focal point of this story. The context is a normal afternoon in Peter’s life. He keeps himself entertained on the sidewalk with his dog, with his shadow, with a box… maybe for minutes, maybe for hours. Meanwhile, the reader accompanies Peter in his quest: to be able to whistle.

If only every small black child in America could have the life that Peter does! The freedom to play outside, to run an errand for his mother, to draw on the sidewalk with chalk… this book is an invitation to imagine a different world.

My favorite moment in the book is when Peter pretends to be his father. His mother, covering her face with her hands to hide her laughter, conducts the conversation as though she is, indeed, talking with Peter’s father. It’s adorable.

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