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.

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.

Miss Maple’s Seeds

Miss Maple’s Seeds
by Eliza Wheeler

Each autumn, Miss Maple gathers up the little lost seeds that did not get planted. She spends fall, winter, and spring teaching them how to be seeds. Then she releases them to the wide world.

Miss Maple is paralleled in the real world by all the wonderful teachers who see the potential in their students, nurture their little seeds, then release them to the next steps on their journey. It seems to me a kind of graduation tale, told from the teacher’s perspective.

The art in this book manages to be both fanciful and earth-bound.The motion in each drawing leaps off the page and carries the reader along.

Bramble and Maggie

Bramble and Maggie: Horse Meets Girl
By Jessie Haas
Illustrated by Alison Friend

Bramble is a horse planning her exit from a life giving riding lessons. Maggie is a girl actively seeking a horse to call her own. When the two meet, Maggie’s parents consent surprisingly quickly. To get Bramble to feel comfortable in her new home, Maggie has some work to do.

Maggie is such a lovely character: humble, empathetic, respectful, kind, and curious. Her patience and delight with Bramble is a good model for anyone who takes an animal into their home.

I’m not a horse person, but this story seems to have captured quite well the relationship between a child and her horse. This is the first book in a short series of early reader chapter books, and the high quality holds throughout.

Have You Filled a Bucket Today?

Have You Filled a Bucket Today?: A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids
By Carol McCloud
Illustrated by David Messing

Everyone in the world has an invisible bucket. It gets filled by giving and receiving acts of kindness, and emptied by acts and words that are unkind.

This is an incredibly helpful metaphor – not just for a small child, but perhaps for everyone!

While the book, its illustrations, and its examples are not subtle, it spells out some important nuances. The best way to fill your own bucket is to fill someone else’s. And, dipping into someone else’s bucket will not help you fill your own empty bucket.

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.

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.

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