Summary: Each page of this alphabet book is a collage of immigration-related words that begin with the featured letter. For instance, A is for ancestors, African dance, Abuelita, ambition, and aspire; the Z page shows zest, a ziti dinner, Zen, a zither, and a sleeping mother and child (“Zzzzzzzzz”). An author’s note tells of her own immigrant experience. 40 pages; grades K-4.
Pros: This would make an excellent introduction to immigration, whether it’s for a preschool class or the start of a third- or fourth-grade social studies unit. The colorful collage illustrations and words will get readers thinking about all the contributions immigrants have made to American culture. Students could make their own collages as an extension activity.
Cons: There’s not much context for the individual words, and younger kids will undoubtedly need some help with understanding some of them.
Summary: Horses first appeared on Earth fifty-six million years ago, and although the earliest ones lived in North America, they eventually died out. They survived in Europe and Asia, though, and their domestication revolutionized societies there. Eventually, horses found their way back to North America in Spanish ships, and became part of life for both European settlers and indigenous people. Horses allowed people to travel faster and work harder, and were a key part of the Industrial Revolution. At the end of the 19th century, though, they began to be replaced by cars, and today are used by humans mostly for sports, fun, and entertainment. Includes an author’s note timeline, and list of sources. 48 pages; grades 2-7.
Pros: Anyone who has enjoyed a Jennifer Thermes book knows that maps are a key part of her illustrations, and this one is no exception. Her maps and diagrams help show horses in local settings as well as how they have traveled around the world. Horse lovers everywhere will enjoy this book and undoubtedly learn a lot from the text and illustrations.
Cons: As with any nonfiction picture book that covers a huge topic and span of time, this one is necessarily a little brief on the details. It’s a good introduction, but kids seeking more information will need to delve into other sources.
Summary: Areli Morales tells her story, beginning with her childhood in Mexico where she lived with Abuela. Every Saturday her parents would call from the United States, and Areli dreamed of the day she could join them there. Her older brother Alex lived with her, but eventually was able to leave, because, unlike Areli, he had been born in the U.S. Finally, when Areli was in kindergarten, she got word that she would be able to join the rest of the family. When Areli arrived, she was thrilled to be with her parents and Alex, but struggled to learn English and fit in at school, where kids sometimes called her “illegal”. As the years passed, things got easier, and a fifth grade field trip to Ellis Island made Areli realize how many other immigrants had come to America just like she had, and helped her to dream of a bright future in America. Includes an author’s note about her DACA status: how she obtained it, what opportunities it opened up for her, and how it has been threatened. 40 pages; grades K-4.
Pros: Areli’s story is told in a way that will engage younger readers but also show older kids the experience of immigrating to the U.S. and what it means to be a DACA recipient. Kids who have had an experience similar to Areli’s will appreciate her story, and those who haven’t will get a child’s perspective on what it’s like.
Cons: I liked Areli’s author’s note, but I would have liked even more information or additional resources about DACA.
Summary: Since turning eight, Victor and his twin sister Linesi have different morning routines: Victor heads to school, but Linesi sets off to spend the day fetching water for the family. When Victor’s teacher talks to the class about inequality, Victor starts to notice how unequal life has become for him and Linesi. He tries teaching her after school, but it’s hard for him to explain math concepts, and Linesi is exhausted at the end of her work day. Finally, Victor presents a plan to his mother and sister, and the next day Victor is the one getting the water while Linesi goes to school. They alternate days for school and work, and before long other kids have noticed and implemented similar plans in their own homes. Includes an author’s note; a list of organizations working on water scarcity and gender inequality in Malawi (where the story takes place); and a glossary of Chichewa words used in the story. 32 pages; grades K-4.
Pros: I’m always happy to see a new Citizen Kid book, and I found this one as inspiring and feel-good as many of its predecessors. Like other books in the series, this one tells a story of a kid who has made a difference for his own family and the larger community. The resources at the end will help readers find more information and think about what they can do to help.
Cons: Many of the Citizen Kid books are about real children, but Victor and Linesi seem to be fictional, although the author says she was inspired by a 13-year-old Malawian boy. I wish the story had stuck closer to the real-life kid.
Summary: Slovenian author Igor Plohl has drawn on his own experiences to create Lucas, a lion who loses the use of his legs after falling off a ladder and injuring his spine. Lucas goes through a period of sadness, feeling like he has lost his independence and ability to work. With the help of therapists, friends, and family, he learns how to use a wheelchair and drive a car, gets his own apartment, and returns to his job as a teacher. Photos on the endpapers show Igor doing many of the activities that are described in the story.
In Lucas At the Paralympics, Lucas meets a fellow cyclist named Eddie, and the two of them decide to travel to the Summer Paralympic Games. Sidebars give additional information about the different competitions they attend. At the end, Lucas decides to train for the Paralympic Games in four years. Includes two pages of information about different events at the Winter Paralympic Games. Both books are 32 pages and recommended for ages 4-8.
Pros: Some much-needed picture books featuring a character with a disability. Readers will learn about some of the challenges faced by a person in a wheelchair, as well opportunities to compete in sports that are open to those with many different types of disabilities.. The book about the Paralympic Games is timely, since the 2021 Games take place at the end of the summer.
Cons: Given the restrictions of a picture book, Lucas’s journey to independence appears deceptively simple. Also, the photos of the author were on the endpapers, which meant some of them were covered up by the library dust jacket.
Summary: The text of this book consists of questions to America: “Do you love me when I raise my hand? My head? My voice? When I whisper? When I SHOUT? Do you love my black? Do you love my brown?” Spanish and Creole words are interspersed throughout the text. Includes an author’s note, describing her childhood growing up as one of the few Black kids in her class and with a Louisiana Creole background that sometimes made her feel on the outside of things. There’s also information on Louisiana Creole and Spanish, and photos of the author with her two grandmothers who spoke both languages; the Pledge of Allegiance is written on both endpapers. 40 pages; ages 4 and up.
Pros: A thought-provoking read as we move toward the flag-waving patriotism of Independence Day, asking questions about what the American experience is like for all of its inhabitants.
Cons: The affectionate title felt a little dissonant from the rest of the book.
Summary: It started with Ibram X. Kendi’s book Stamped from the Beginning. Then Jason Reynolds did a “remix” for teens: Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You, and now there is this version for elementary kids. In keeping with Reynolds’ assertion that Stamped isn’t a history book, Cherry-Paul writes that her book talks about history but is “directly connected to our lives as we live them right this minute.” She suggests using rope as a metaphor when learning about race: a rope can lift climbers, join people together, or be used as a weapon. In 24 chapters she traces the history of racism in America from 1415 to the present. Throughout the narrative there are boxes inviting readers to pause and think more deeply about an idea that’s been introduced and how it relates to them. The final section, “An Antiracist Future” calls kids to lead their generation in learning all they can about the “tree of racism” and to finally be the ones to chop it down. Includes a timeline, glossary, and lists for further reading. 176 pages; grades 3-6.
Pros: Every bit as compelling as Jason Reynolds’ book, written at a level that will be accessible to kids as young as eight or nine. Essential reading for kids, teachers, and parents.
Cons: Similar to my “Con” for the Reynolds book, this felt like a whirlwind tour through history; readers will only get a taste of many different interesting people and events. Hopefully, they’ll be inspired to use the reading lists to learn more.
Summary: On September 29, 1909, Wilbur Wright flew for six and a half minutes around the Statue of Liberty, the first time either of the Wright Brothers had flown over a body of water. His feat was witnessed by a large crowd of New Yorkers, including 10-year-old Juan Trippe, whose conversation with his father bookends the main narrative of this story; Trippe would grow up to found Pan Am Airways. The story is supplemented by extensive back matter, including an author’s note with additional information about the Wright Brothers and their New York flights (a few days later, Wilbur took a longer flight down the Hudson River). There’s also a list of facts about other aspects of the story, an illustrator’s note, and a bibliography. Front end papers show a newspaper article reporting the event, and back papers show a map of the flight. 40 pages; grades K-5.
Pros: This veteran author-illustrator team has created a picture book that perfectly captures the tension and excitement of Wilbur Wright’s flight, while also conveying the peacefulness of flying. The extensive back matter adds a lot of information, and is written in a way that is accessible to younger readers.
Cons: I wish the back matter had included a few photos.
Summary: A Callery pear tree narrates its experiences, beginning with its earliest days in a plaza near the World Trade Center. It was buried on 9/11, and near death when discovered in the rubble several weeks later. Moved to a different location, it survived against expectations, and in December 2010, it was dug up and replanted in a new plaza near its former location. Surrounded by other trees that give it strength, the Survivor Tree helps the people who come to see it by giving them peace, hope, and the promise that spring will always come again. Includes an author’s note; a two-page history of the World Trade Center, 9/11, and the Survivor Tree; a note on the illustrations; and a list of six sources. 48 pages; grades K-5.
Pros: A beautifully written and illustrated story that makes a unique introduction to the events of 9/11 and also speaks to anyone who has survived a traumatic event.
Cons: The events of 9/11 are not described at all (“It was an ordinary morning. Until it wasn’t”), so kids will definitely need an introduction before reading this book.
Summary: Eli misses his dad, who’s been working long days for the last week and a half. He wants to help, but his parents tell him school is the place for him. Now that the family is free, Eli’s parents want him to get all the education he can. Finally, on day 10, he’s allowed to go paint the fence surrounding the new cemetery where Union prisoners of war are buried. The next morning, everyone dresses in their best clothes, arms full of flowers, to march together in honor of those dead soldiers. The children lead the way to the cemetery, where everyone decorates the graves with the flowers. They spend the rest of the day listening to speeches, praying, and celebrating their hard-won freedom. Includes an author’s note, additional information on the origins of Decoration Day, a timeline, two photos; notes, and a bibliography. 48 pages; grades 2-6.
Pros: A fascinating look at an early (maybe the earliest; the history is unclear) celebration of Decoration Day, the holiday that eventually became Memorial Day. Coretta Scott King Award winner Floyd Cooper has captured the day magnificently, and the text, combined with the extensive back matter, will give kids a new perspective on the day.
Cons: There was a of information covered for a picture book. If you’re doing this as a Memorial Day read-aloud, plan on spending some time…I had to go back for a second read to get it all.