Inclusive Picture Books

I accidentally started a new book-buying passion – overseas books. Other countries are clearly ahead of us in depicting medically diverse children in picture books.

Which is a surprise after Wonder by R.J. Palacio has spent 383 weeks on the NYT best seller’s list. Much of that book-love comes from being required reading for middle grades, but it is time to also embrace the empathy developed through picture books.

On a lucky day last month, two books arrived: What Happened to You? by James Catchpole, illustrated by Karen George and Sometimes by Rebecca Elliott. And, in doing my post bookfair shopping I noticed that Alexandra Strick and Steve Antony’s You Can! is now available through US booksellers.

As realistic fiction, these books fill a need that talking animals cannot. Children who have never seen themselves in a book, now have a mirror. These stories show that differences are a part of life, but they do not have to be the main plotline of our story. These books showcase a variety of people and situations without defining their challenges.

When in a waiting room, the main question running through my head is “What are you in for?” as if we are serving a sentence. At first my curiosity was desperation to find others who understood Neurofibromatosis. Now, I have fellowship and literature to offer.

Yet, some days I don’t have that energy, or I need to focus on something other than the “why.” I love the way that the back matter of What Happened to You explains that sometimes people don’t want to be a “teachable moment.” I think of this sentiment often, wearing a shirt to identify our sentence for those searching but focusing on the child’s interests when starting a conversation.

The cover of What Happened to You helps us see that some kids have body differences. And the message of the book shows that knowing the “why” is not as fun as enjoying the person. The questions the kids ask are direct and often impolite. But as the book progresses, a new friend asks something that shows understanding – it would be boring to have the same conversation with everyone you meet.

Sometimes shows us siblings who spend a significant amount of time together in hospitals. Printed in 2011 by the author famous for Owl Diaries, this book would be considered “quiet.” I prefer other terms: powerful, important, and inclusive.  We see the kids use imagination to pass inpatient time along with images of medical equipment and other friends in the hospital. The emotions associated with hospital life are shared, and the love between the siblings is both described and visible. Buying a new copy might not be an option, but Sometimes can be ordered through library loan, and gently used paperbacks are still available through online retailers.  

You Can follows fourteen children from birth to adulthood. Their situations are never labeled but the images throughout the book reveal some of the challenges kids face. Each two-page spread begins with “You can…” showing kids what they can (and should) aim for in life. For example, there is an image of children fanning a smoking oven that suggests learning from our mistakes. I especially love the picture of the children in the library with the words “You can…love a good picture book whatever your age.”

Depicting the childrens’ challenges is done gracefully. The page of a track event includes a guide connected to a vision impaired runner and the line “You can…do almost anything anyone else can do – even if you have to do it differently.” This sentiment supports thriving kids of all abilities.

The subtlety of Steve Antony’s illustrations might cause the casual reader not to recognize some of the situations depicted. Just like real life. However, the children affected by those conditions will notice. This might be the first time they “see themselves in a book.”

When it arrived, I quickly noticed that the end paper images include a baby with a cleft lip.  You Can is the first mainstream picture book I’ve read that depicts this condition, even though it affects one in 1,600 children. We need to do better. (Capstone just sent an ARC of Liam the Lion, so soon two books will be available. I hope this is the beginning of a trend.)

Years of being a librarian didn’t help me find these books. They came through affiliation with the Writing Community. I know there are thousands of other spectacular and inclusive books that I have missed. Anyone reading is invited to send recommendations. Especially if it is for your own book. Quiet books are often overlooked and need more attention. Please send your recs my way!


Cancer Awareness

This cancer awareness season (Gold in Sept & Pink in Oct), I’ve been searching for picture books about cancer. The three books I chose to highlight introduce an image of what some cancer journeys are like. As more people share their stories, the picture will become more complete and those outside of the experience (as well as those new to cancer) will better understand the diagnosis.

My favorite is Catherine Stier’s When a Kid like ME Fights Cancer. The book starts abruptly, parallel to the “drop everything” interruption that happens when cancer becomes reality. In this book, a child shares what he learns after his diagnosis – the first thing being “that cancer is something you fight.” Interactions with his community are essential and that community grows to include the hospital and even strangers wanting to fight cancer with him. As a mom who has frequented Children’s Hospital Oncology Departments for the past fifteen years, this book is the best description I’ve seen of what life is like on the inside.

Angel Chang’s vibrant illustrations include emotions, subtly visible on the faces of those involved. And I especially I love her details, like a worker wearing a tag that reads “Child Life Specialist,” and paper cranes over the child’s bed. Printed in 2019, this book shows what oncology clinics were like pre-Covid. After attending chemo this week without any social interaction, I hope we get to a place where oncology playrooms and volunteers can return.

Cancer Hates Kisses by Jessica Reid Sliwerski is about a mom with cancer and is written for preschool aged children. It declares that mom is a superhero and describes what she does to fight cancer. The repeated phrase “kicks cancer’s butt” is rebelliously appropriate for the target age bracket. The descriptions of things that cancer hates are expressions of love (such as kisses) that will help children feel that they are a part of the battle. Mika Song’s watercolor and ink illustrations compliment the message and describe the mother’s cancer experiences through pictures readily recognizable to those who familiar with cancer treatments.

The Goodbye Cancer Garden is a happily ever after sort of story – the kind we need to read from time to time to see evidence that some cancer battles are won within a year. Janna Matthies beautifully describes how the family grows a garden to pass the time while the mother experiences her stages of her treatment. We do not know the long term challenges the family still faces, but the celebrations as treatment ends bring hope.

Kristi Valiant’s illustrations? Wow. They perfectly highlight the feelings found during the blur of cancer chaos. Her characters’ range of emotions enhance the story and show sincere joy in addition to fear and sorrow.

Two of these three books are published by Albert Whitman & Company. They are also the source of other diverse books in our school collection such as What’s Silly Hair Day with No Hair? about a child with alopecia and I’m a gluten-sniffing service Dog. Leaving behind September and October for the gratitude of November brings hope. As does companies that are using their strength to represent medically diverse children. It felt good to open my query letter to Albert Whitman & Company with a sincere thank you. Whether or not they respond, it felt right. I am back to querying.


Welcome to my book blog :-)

On the first day of working at a school, the most important question to answer is…

“What do you want the students to call you?”

For a classified employee, a common option is to add “Miss” to your first name, combining the expected display of respect with the intimacy of first name usage.  During my years as a preschool teacher, I was “Miss Maria.” However, when I became a librarian after sixteen years of marriage and the birth of five kids, “Miss” didn’t feel like the right fit.  And my last name isn’t difficult to say, so I opted out of the “first letter of the last name” option. (Besides, does anyone working with first graders, really want to be known as “Mrs. Pee?”) So, now at school, my first name is “Mrs.” And my last name is “Powell.”

As much as I thought that “Mrs. Powell” would be easy to say, many kids get confused.  You see, the first three letters of my last name match the first three letters of our school assemblies – “Pow Wows.” Because that term is more familiar to the students, being called “Mrs. PowWow” is a daily occurrence.  As is “Library Teacher.” And at the grocery store, I often hear an excited “That’s the Library!” when kids see me.  Being referred to as a building isn’t meant disrespectfully – it shows that the kids are also excited about my job – and they know where to find me when they want a book.

The spontaneous things kids say provide great opportunities.  Like when I grab a story to read and the class says, “We’ve already read that one.”  I love to say “Me too.  I’ve read it more than 100 times!” Some books are worth reading more than once.

The book I have read most often is the same one my mom read to me most often – Dr. Seuss’s “The Sneetches.” But last week I chose to present another childhood favorite, “The Monster at the End of this Book.”  I remembered that I had a copy hidden in my closet when I learned a new word in my Children’s Literature class. (Pastiche – when one work of art celebrates another.)  As I read modern children’s literature, I love seeing glimpses of Jon Stone’s influence. His legacy is vast.

How “good” a book is also depends on the audience.  For example, I never bought my own kids “I’ll Love you Forever.”  The stalkerish tendencies of the mother never felt right to me. (I’ll admit those actions are especially tempting during my almost-empty-nest stage of motherhood, but no.  Just no.  Even location sharing with my grown kids feels like an inappropriate invasion.) However, when I read “I’ll Love you Forever” to my elementary students, they see it as funny. And it becomes so fun to read out loud. We get to do that gasp of anticipation, while making big eyes and covering our mouths in surprise as the mom crawls across her teenage son’s floor. 

I love being a librarian, and I am excited to take this love of books one step farther.

Adults often ask children…

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

In elementary school, I would answer that I wanted to be a text book writer. I loved writing (and thought I could do better than the authors of the bland books we were compelled to read). Because I was painfully shy, my goal was to remain behind the scenes. I’m still not a fan of the spotlight, but there is now something I want more than anonymity. I want to be a real author.

Fourteen years ago, I accidentally wrote my first non fiction children’s book.

When my fourth child was diagnosed with Neurofibromatosis, we left the office with just the phone number of a national NF support group written on a scrap of paper. That’s it. A phone number. I needed more information. I needed something tangible. And, the internet was an unreliable place to look for answers.

Plus, I knew that at some point I would need to explain NF to my son. At that age, he loved and memorized his scrapbooks. So, I made a medical scrapbook explaining the condition through photos of my son and one of his buddies with NF. When doctors saw the booklet the boys carried to their appointments, we were encouraged to expand it and make it available to other families. Wanting to remain behind the scenes (and hoping to protect his identity), I left the book authorless.  If I had any idea that “NF Buddies” would last this long, I would have held out for better photos and begged for graphic design help. 

Now, the children in the book are preparing for college, and I’m left with the question…

“What do you want to be now that the kids are grown up?”

I know what I want to be and feel ready to take the steps necessary to become a published author. When submitting manuscripts, one of the prescribed steps is showing publishers an online presence.  As usual, I am late to the game.  Blogging is old school now.  As is reading paper books.  And, even writing paper books. 

But, I want to write those paper books so I am following the outlined steps, and I am creating a digital footprint. Follow me if you want to help in my quest… 


Joyful Animal Books

A beautiful cat climbed fences and dodged screaming kids to enter the library seven times on a cold February day. Three months later she needed a home – and was pregnant. So we are a cat family now, drawn to all things feline.

Around that same time, I found Dianna Wilson Sirkovsky’s book, James’ Reading Rescue. With scenes of sadness juxtaposed with joy, this cat book is a wonderful read aloud. An added bonus is that Sara Casilda’s illustrations cause the kids to “awwwww, so cute” in unison when I turn a particular page. Like many of my students, James needs encouragement to read out loud. And, like many cats, Shadow needs socialization. This book is perfect for emergent readers, stimulating in depth conversations about which animals at home (or stuffed animals) could help us better practice our reading.

Although cats are my new favorite animal, giraffe books still catch my eye.

Imara’s Tiara is so much more than just a giraffe book; scientific facts and sparkles are involved. It includes two distinct voices: Imara the giraffe and Naomi the future zoologist. And, Imara’s Tiara’s back matter even includes the name for Ross Burach’s “Whatever these things are…” at the top of a giraffe’s head! (Spoiler – they are called ossicones.) Susan R. Stoltz and Melissa Bailey co-wrote this book with Melissa Bailey as the illustrator.

After spending an excessive amount of time on a cargo ship off the California coast, The Butterfly Pig is now available! Seeing (and hearing) the kids’ reactions to the beautiful artwork brings joy. They are as mesmerized as I am by its vibrant colors and unexpected animals. Billie, a pig born with butterfly wings, meets others with genetic anomalies and realizes that fitting in is overrated. Both the author, Mary Jenner, and the illustrator, Ilona Sula were at the book launch party; it’s a treasure for the library to have copies with two creators’ signatures!

I met Mary Jenner at a SCBWI get together earlier in the year and have been fascinated by her focus on helping all children feel included. In addition to the book, TheButterflyPig.com sells inclusive accessories for dolls and stuffed animals. I do not own a doll, but it feels like my Kohls Cares character collection might suddenly develop health conditions to earn the right to utilize a porta Cath, hearing aid, and/or white cane. Someday picture book fiction characters will better represent these conditions kids face, but until that day happens, I hope that Clifford isn’t too crushed when his vision begins slipping; he will look most dapper with a white cane.

Optimistic Favorites

This week we received happy news at school. Teachers are now allowed to check out books for classroom use. Whoo hoo! Tangible books can be circulated again! That’s one step closer to storytime and reading with students!

As I have helped kids of multiple ages with Zoom classes and assignments, the underlining frustration they have expressed (in word and behavior) is that they are burned out and are looking for change. As adults, we get that – we are too. 

On burned out days, we tend to reach for sensory experiences as an escape…which often compounds frustrated feelings with carb crashes and the lost time of binge watching or endless scrolling.

Today’s book reviews are for three titles that can provide a mental reset with fewer side effects. Like our stash of emergency chocolate or chips, keeping these titles on hand for days of need (or for a friend in need) is a good investment.

If a cheerful but direct pick-me-up is needed, find That’s Life! by Ame Dyckman, illustrated by Cori Doerrfeld. This book’s motivational speaker attitude brings a smile and provides hope. The blend of words and pictures is so perfect that I found myself searching for more information about the collaboration between the author and illustrator. And if poster prints are available. Displaying the book is a cheerful reminder, but what’s inside is truly special. 

The next book also has me searching for accompanying bookswag. Zoe Persico depicts anxieties as fuzzy bug-like mini-monsters in Emily Kilgore’s The Whatifs. I’m imagining them in stuffie form scattered throughout the library as a reminder of the book’s powerful message. When our mind wanders with anxiety, we often run through frightening hypothetical “What if” questions, focusing on what could go wrong. This book invites us to embrace the concept that “What if” questions can have happy endings. The Whatifs reminds us that good things can grow out of stressful situations and encourages us to invest our energy on possible positives.

Another book to share with friends feeling anxious is It Will be OK by Lisa Katzenberger, illustrated by Jaclyn Sinquett. Their story about a spider, a frightened giraffe, and a patient zebra friend teaches us about friendship, empathy, and patience. When logic doesn’t persuade his terrified friend, Zebra waits. The ending of this story is delightful, and the extra two page spread with suggestions adds follow up value to this important book. 

So many sweet optimistic books about emotions are being printed “these days.” I would love to learn of your favorites…

Board books

I will be a Grandma soon!  It’s time to add to my board book collection!

My mom bought me The Sneetches when I was 17 and inscribed it with a message about starting a collection for her future grandchildren. So, when a high school daughter and I were in an art museum gift shop and felt drawn towards the board books, buying them for her future family brought nostalgic optimism. I liked A Picnic with Monet while my daughter wanted Dancing with Degas. With the affordability of board books, we bought the boxed set.

Prior to this, we had board books, but they were the well-loved classics the kids had read (and chewed on) since they were little: The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, Owl Babies, and Goodnight Gorilla. At that time board books were usually just smaller and more durable copies of popular titles. But there are so many new options.

Quite a few fall into the category I call “warm and fuzzy books.” These are books with a theme of “I Love You” or “You are amazing.”  I enjoy the quest to find my favorites within this theme.

But then there are alphabet books. Lots of alphabet books. It’s hard to buy just one. (Or, in Baby Boy’s case, just four.)

My new favorite board book is called A is for Apple because it fills a need. Many children miss the joy of learning the ABCs while in the board book stage of life, plus their desire for sensory input is high. A is for Apple has a tactile component for finger tracing capital letters and lifting a flap for an additional word that begins with each letter adds fun to learning letter sounds. 

Many of the new board books are categorized as “Concept Books.” These books introduce babies to interesting topics like music, science, and history. Their titles feel humorous because they are often more advanced than expected. Baby Loves Gravity and Baby’s Big World Chemistry are exciting additions to the family collection.

Having concept themes for alphabet books adds variety, especially when it comes to choosing words for less common letters like Q and X.  (Does anyone else check those pages first hoping to see something other than quilt, queen, x-ray, and xylophone?)  

A is for America has a historic approach and includes a quill, while science themed alphabet books highlight academic words like question, quark, and quantum. I bought the culinary A is for Artichoke because so much of it is unpredictable – like Caramelization as the choice for the letter C and a mention of kimchi on the “S is for Sauerkraut” page. A is for Artichoke includes three text sizes with corresponding reading levels to allow adding more details as the child’s attention span develops. What a great technique for a board book!

As I read about anticipated 2021 and 2022 books, it’s been fun to think of reading to a younger set of children. And there are so many board books printed in the last 20 years that I’ve missed.  If you have family favorites, please share. I would love suggestions as to what books to add to my collection, especially if someone knows of a great fabric crinkly book with a plot. I love ABCs, but this collection needs variety – and sensory books that do not require batteries.

Holiday Celebrations

When I first heard the phrase “Happy Holidays,” I loved it. It was the 70s. At that time, the greeting wasn’t seen as anti-Christmas, it was simply a phrase that included everyone. I love including everyone. Plus, Kwanzaa was relatively new, and as a child, I was all for an extra holiday. I still am – I love that Diwali is celebrated in our area and am excited to learn more about it.

I love learning what others believe. It helps me get to know people better and understand their perspective. If only we were more graceful at sharing information without judging or debate. I enjoy passionate exchanges of opinion – just not about something so personal as religion or politics because hurt feelings often follow.

That’s one more thing to love about books. They are a statement without the follow up interrogation or argument. If there is a sequel, it happens in such slow motion that it doesn’t feel like a debate; it’s another statement we can enjoy or ignore. If we do not agree with a book we read, we can return it to the library. If it’s our own copy, we can donate it to a person or organization we feel would appreciate it more. If the book has out of date information or feels immoral, we can end that copy of its circulation. This responsibility is my least favorite part of being a librarian. Even parting with 1980 Pluto and USSR books felt like a Velveteen Rabbit related challenge, but weeding is an important part of an elementary school collection.  

Gratefully, so is book shopping. It was wonderful to visit bookstores again. Fresno’s local bookstore “Petunia’s” is open by appointment and the other brick and mortars need our support too. It’s been a difficult year for debuting authors, so I appreciate all forms of book distribution still in place.

As holidays approach, I enjoy moving the associated books to a noticeable spot. I’m not one for extensive decorating, so for some holidays, books are my only décor. Adding two books by #WritingCommunity friends has added joy to my at-home collection.   

Happy Llamakkah!

My first holiday purchase this year was a preschool title, Happy Llamakkah. It is a rhyming peek into the celebrations of a family of Jewish llamas. (The idea of animals with religious affiliations makes me smile as I ponder what denominations our pets would choose if given a chance.) The vivid illustrations add to the joy, but as someone who appreciates learning the history behind holidays, my favorite part is the two-page Author’s Note at the end. Happy Llamakkah is written in a way that feels like it could be in an elementary library without offending the most picky parent.

It was the promise of recipes from around the world that drew me to The Great Holiday Cookie Swap. And, the argument about what cookie is best is the type of debate I enjoy. The cookies bring up valid points, like the mess of the powdered sugar-coated cookie and the potential for peanut allergies with Buckeyes. No modern day recipe book would be complete without a mention of refined sugar, and the value of nut free, gluton free options. The Great Holiday Cookie Swap does this with humor.

The best way to enjoy the rhymes of this book is to save the additional treat information (found in scrolls at the bottom of the page) for a second, separate reading. The flow of the cookie conversation is exhilarating when not interrupted. Then, returning to each page for the extra details feels like dessert. Prior to buying the book, my 19-year-old asked about Buckeyes so that’s likely the recipe I will try first, although the spicy hot chocolate cookies seem like they would be especially fitting for Christmas light watching nights. 

Here’s to hoping that we all find joy in the lights (and the food) of this holiday season! Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Comp titles

Despite posts on not procrastinating joy, I put off writing – just until the obstacles were tackled. Except these obstacles involve the slow climb of a mountain that seems to grow whenever I begin making progress.

Preparing for our upcoming move uncovered evidence that slow climbs can be accomplished.  I found the index card I used to plan courses for UCSD’s Children’s Book Writing program – a certificate that now rests on my desk.

It’s time to write a new goal on the back of that card – “Get published.”   

A friend commented that she’s learning about publishing through my blog. So, I thought I would discuss the idea of “comp titles.” Agents and publishers want to know that there is a market for a book before making an investment, so many expect submissions to include a list of comparative titles already in print. For authors who write books to fill a specific need, comp titles are a challenge. If a similar book existed, the need wouldn’t exist, and we wouldn’t have written the manuscript. I can’t picture myself reading a book and thinking “Oooh, I want to write something just like THIS!” 

That said, I am excited by Mo Willems’ book Because. It’s especially moving when read to a room full of children. I love seeing students build on experiences they enjoy, finding hobbies and skills that become their passion. Because captures that theme, highlighting a child’s journey and the efforts which lead to her success. This book also introduces my small-town farming community students to the concept of music lessons and symphonies. The discussions that happen because of Because are a delight.

It feels presumptuous to include Because as a comp title, but its existence is evidence that a manuscript close to my heart has relevance. Our themes are similar. Yet, picture book professors advocate compressing manuscripts to happen within a single day because children have short attention spans. That guideline underestimates elementary school children. My students might not be able to tell time on an analog clock, but they understand the concept. They are frequently told that effort and choices determine their future. Because is a successful modern, coming of age picture book that shows students that truth.  It also gives me hope that my title has a chance of doing the same.

Another comp title quest involves a picture book about siblings, inspired by the relationships I saw at school and by my own children separating for college. The search for cheerful books about families led to finding the Sofia Martinez series. Their emphasis on school events and on extended family relationships has me looking forward to when bookfairs (and the resulting earnings) return so that we can invest in multiple hardcover copies of each title. I’m also looking forward to having students help me with pronunciation of Spanish words integrated into the story line. They especially love showcasing their authentic accents and having a chance to teach a teacher. 

My current challenge is to find comp titles for the books coauthored with Jaxon – it’s his voice that the world needs to hear. Curious George and Franklin have both taken trips to the doctor, but those picture books feel a little too fiction. Specialty books distributed by support groups and hospitals offer great encouragement but are given after the child has already experienced the initial shock of hospital life. The best way to provide true support for these children, their friends, and their family is before the crisis – a What was I Scared of? that happens in the real world rather than in Dr. Seuss’ dystopia.

I love awareness and sensitivity books like We’re All Wonders and titles about specific conditions, but it feels like our Jax books aren’t directly comparable to mainstream titles. Children with ongoing conditions might be in the minority, but they are of all races. The #ownvoices movement and the desire for diverse books should extend to medically challenged children too. Sonia Sotomayor’s Just Ask book does a beautiful job of highlighting and naming many conditions. But I don’t want the Jax books to be about Neurofibromatosis, cancer, or brain tumors. I don’t want children called out for the specific challenges they face. I want these books to apply to all children – whether they are scared of an escalator, or of a haircut, or of a medical needle.  They need tools to prepare them to thrive and to overcome fear.  Children need to see that there can still be a happily ever after, even when today doesn’t go as planned. 

I can’t wait until…

How often do we hear that?  “I can’t wait until…” followed by an upcoming event that is going to make everything better.

Instead of waiting for future happiness, let’s follow the advice of Julie Berry in Happy Right Now.  What would life be like if we didn’t procrastinate joy?  

The book begins with a young girl claiming she will be happy when she has “a puppy, a unicorn, an ice cream sundae, and a castle with a friendly dragon.” How often do we do this to ourselves? Procrastinate joy until certain events happen first? What a shame it would be if a puppy came our way, and we didn’t stop to enjoy it because it wasn’t ours.  Or, if we neglected the joy of ice cream because it didn’t have a cherry on top.  The message of being “happy right now” is a great reminder.

What I love most about Happy Right Now is Berry’s respect for bad days and actual challenges. She acknowledges them and includes suggestions. Some days, feeding our “worry monkey a banana” might be all it takes to turn things around. Other days, sad experiences – like a friend moving away – might not have a solution and justify a cry. Although I can (and will have to) wait, I do look forward to reading this book with a classroom full of children to see how they react to the breathing exercise Berry includes. I expect to see them “shaking their bones turned to jelly” throughout the following weeks.  

Holly Hatam’s pictures add to the joy of the manuscript. Seeing monkey on the back of a child trying not to acknowledge it represents how many of us handle stress. And the facial expressions throughout the story help set the tone for Berry’s important message.   

Hatum’s end paper illustrations also remind me of another book about joy – 100 THINGS that make me HAPPY. Amy Schwartz’s rhymes are list of things that bring delight. Many of those things aren’t things as much as they are experiences, like twirling in circles or sitting on Grandma’s lap for a story.  This title has extra value as a read aloud for elementary schools which celebrate the 100th day of school.      

A third book that I would like to highlight brings a smile every time I see it.  

Look what a cheerful book this is! The main character is an actual exclamation mark!  

(If this makes you as giddy as it does me, I am guessing you also spend your days attempting to share your love of writing with K-2 graders.)  

In Exclamation Mark the characters are all forms of punctuation. 😊  Exclamation mark doesn’t understand why he/she is different than the nearby periods and is miserable until getting to know an inquisitive question mark. In a moment of frustration, Exclamation Mark accidentally stumbles onto his/her purpose and excitedly embraces the role.  

Finding and acting on one’s purpose in life brings lasting happiness – the kind that doesn’t disappear when medical appointments don’t go as we hope or when we no longer get to enjoy the swings at recess. We will have sad moments, but the goal would be to keep them temporary – to embrace our inner Winnie the Pooh more often than our Eeyore.  And to focus on the things that bring joy. If we need a reminder of what those things are, we can follow Amy Schwartz’ lead and make a list.   

Sharing your Voice

I miss the days of browsing the library, reading new books displayed on top of the shelves.  And the days of sitting on the floor of the bookstore, finding treasures for my collections.  Not that sitting on the floor is the intention, but some books justify reading them immediately.  Walking to the tiny chairs in the children’s section, just isn’t fast enough.

Bea Birdsong’s I Will Be Fierce is one of those books.  It is clever, empowering, and is the perfect book to help quiet students find their voice. 

The book jacket describes the story as girl on an “epic fairytale quest.” School is that quest and the bravery this book inspires is an important tool for academic success.

In this picture book, the intimidating parts of a school day are depicted as challenges found in a traditional storybook quest. For example, the “many headed serpent” is large, yellow, noisy, and strikes fear in countless modern-day children.  

Those children often enter endurance mode when faced with things outside of their comfort zone – for example, riding the school bus or entering the cafeteria. With this book as a tool, I believe children will be better fortified to overcome their fears and see school as an uplifting challenge rather than a chore.

This book is designed for children ages three to six, but as a grown up, it helps me want to embrace the challenges of this school year.  It makes me hope that I can share this book with students even if school isn’t at school in August. Book delivery with front yard story time would be fun.  Or, pop up story times from the top of a playground structure at the park.  Or reading aloud with students sitting at the socially distant red tables under the beautiful tree outside our library. Books like I Will Be Fierce are amazing enough to even make me anticipate live streaming story time. The protagonist and I have shyness in common. I too need boosts like I Will Be Fierce to help me accomplish my goals. 

Another book to help us find our voice is Say Something by Peter H. Reynolds. Not only does he advocate for children to use their voices, he shows ways for children to express themselves through action.  Service and creativity are encouraged as many different talents are showcased. Reynolds’ illustrations represent children of all shapes, sizes, cultures, and abilities. Watching children discover characters who look like them (and words written in other languages they recognize) adds to the fun of reading it to a group. If you do not yet own this book or if you simply want to enjoy the author reading Say Something out loud, it can easily be viewed through Reynold’s You Tube clip supporting the #ReadTogether movement. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d4waMR24zsI 

With as difficult as it has been to stay home from the library, the pandemic has opened access to many other avenues to literature and listening to stories. Seeing authors present their own masterpieces has been a fun distraction during these stay at home days! 

And if you need help finding access to books, feel free to leave me a message or call your local public library. Many have librarians available by phone to assist patrons even when their libraries remain closed.

Goodbye 2019-2020

Schools often celebrate their annual ending with field day, assemblies, graduations, and parties – a two-week conclusionary hurrah.  With or without the celebrations, it’s time to say goodbye. 

Highlighting books that include sentimental hopes for future endeavors feels like a good way to close out this school year – books that substitute for the yearbook messages left unwritten.

Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld’s I Wish you More provides that feeling.  From the summery outdoor pictures to the reference to “more hugs”, the illustrations bring the feeling of a pre-Covid 19 end of the school-year goodbye.  The list of wishes include acknowledgement that success will require effort on the recipient’s part and that happiness requires occasional pauses to enjoy the joys of life. 

Another children’s book that encourages students to grow into their best selves is Be You by Peter Reynolds. The cheerfully vibrant illustrations help convey attributes children need to develop into who they want to be. Reynolds goes beyond the traditional “be kind” message and includes instructions on how to be curious, persistent, and connected to others while also taking alone time to be alone. 

As librarians we chose books like these that share messages we think the students need to hear.  Christian Robinson’s perfectly timed new book answers his question, “What do I most want to say to young readers?” The answer is his title, You Matter.

Robinson’s belief that children need to see themselves when they read a book caused him to depict “as many different kids as possible” when he wrote and illustrated You Matter.  Hearing him describe this philosophy four months ago highlights his sincere hope. https://vimeo.com/387817641

Many of the illustrations in You Matter do not depict children and caught me by surprise.  For example, a dinosaur unable to scratch a mosquito bite, and the world needing to start over after a disaster are not the expected “warm and fuzzy” pictures found in a sentimental story book.  However, these images fit his overall theme and add depth that might not be noticed by younger readers.  This book really is written for everyone.  And hopefully if you haven’t read You Matter yet, you will now feel so inspired.

If you have the means, now is the perfect time to add new books to your collections – local bookstores are beginning to open, and they need our support.