Thursday, February 18, 2016

5 New Picture Books to Honor Black History Month

With February being Black History Month, I wanted to check out some of the newer picture books (all released in 2015) that feature diverse characters and life circumstances. Today's selections aren't historical stories, but stories set in our modern age. They are all wonderfully engaging, well-designed, and highly acclaimed.

1. Last Stop on Market Street

I was so excited to finally get my hands on this book. The buzz surrounding it has been incredible, so to finally bring it home was such a thrill. Winner of the Newbery Medal, a Caldecott Honor, and a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor, Last Stop on Market Street tells the story of CJ and his grandma on a weekly routine after church. They ride the bus to serve at a soup kitchen, and CJ wonders why they have to wait in the rain, why they don't have a car, and why they always have to go to the soup kitchen. Grandma answers each question reassuringly (you will LOVE Nana!), and she teaches CJ what an honor it is to mix with the people that they do. Matt de la Pena's text is rich and moving ("The outside air smelled like freedom, but it also smelled like rain, which freckled CJ's shirt and dripped down his nose.") And Christian Robinson's illustrations show an urban landscape that is vibrant, varied, and beautiful. This book is truly a gem!

2. Lizard from the Park

Leonard decides to cut through the park on his way home from school one day, and he discovers a very unusual egg. He takes it home, and the next day a baby lizard pokes through. In time, as the lizard grows and grows, Leonard cannot make enough room for him, and the lizard seems sad. So Leonard devises a plan to return the lizard to its real home...and the reader is left wondering what exactly was real. Mark Pett's text is simple but engaging, and combined with his sweet and silly illustrations, make a book a young child will smile about.

3. Monster Trouble

This delightful story, written in verse, tells of Winifred Schnitzel and her trouble with monsters. She's not afraid of them -- quite the opposite: she finds them amusing! -- but they are really interrupting her sleep. She's rendered too tired for math, she studies up on how to make monsters go away. She sets traps....and nothing works. Until, quite by accident, she discovers what it is monsters hate most of all!

This is another great story with a strong, smart, female lead. I could see Winifred being made into a TV show. :)

4. One Word From Sophia

Oh I adore this book! I read this book before I read it to my kids, and I wondered if the language would be too "over their heads." wasn't! They loved it, too.

Sophia has one true desire: a pet giraffe. As her birthday approaches, she argues her case with each member of her family: her mother, a judge; her father, a businessman; her uncle, a politician; and her grandma, who was very strict. :) Each argument is very wordy and well-thought-out, with support for her cause. But each person tells her to be less wordy, until she is left with the most moving argument of all.

Yasmeen Ismail's illustrations in this book are soft and playful, and they depict a family of mixed races. Author Jim Averbeck said, "I was surprised by the multi-racial cast, because it wasn’t evident in the line sketches. But I was also completely delighted, since I actually believe that #WeNeedDiverseBooks. Plus, the multi-racial family in the book reflects my own family, to whom I’ve dedicated One Word from Sophia. I wondered how Yasmeen knew that." (Full interview here.)
Sophia is one smart little girl.

5. The Red Bicycle

The final book on today's list tells "the extraordinary story of one ordinary bicycle." Leo has saved and saved to buy a bicycle, and he names his bike Big Red. He rides it everywhere, until he outgrows it. He wants someone who will love his bike as much as he does to have it, and learns about an organization that sends used bikes to a faraway country to those who need transportation. Big Red lands in Africa, where it serves Alisetta and her family, and then serves as a bicycle ambulance. The final pages of the book outline "what you can do to help" and contain ideas for parents and teachers. This is a meaty book with a lot of heart that will hopefully inspire acts of service in those who read it. 

Have any of these books been meaningful to you? I'd love to hear about it!

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