The Undefeated

This picture book, The Undefeated, by Kwame Alexander and Kadir Nelson, is profoundly beautiful. My library has it categorized under poetry, and it is that, too. Every word hits home, powerfully, meaningfully, the cadence spot on with the page turn. But it’s also nonfiction, each double page spread showing historical figures such as Jesse Owens, Trayvon Martin, and Ella Fitzgerald, and historical events such as black soldiers in the Civil War. The Undefeated is also a book about ideas: freedom, justice, resilience.

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The Girl and the Wolf

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m interested in Little Red Riding Hood versions, and Katherena Vermette‘s The Girl and the Wolf is an interesting one. Vermette, who is Métis, was inspired by both traditional stories and European fairy tales. Beautiful illustrations by Julie Flett make the forest and darkness come alive. The girl in the red dress is lost, and the wolf is not evil. This story has more of the natural world in it than most retellings, and it strays further from the Grimms than most, as well (to its credit).

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The Digger and The Flower

Digger, Crane, and Dozer are busy building up the monochrome city with tall skyscrapers and bridges and wide roads. When Digger finds a lone flower, he protects it, until it’s the very last space available and then it, too, gets buildings on it. Digger finds seeds in the rubble and carries them away to where “no big truck had ever been.”

Joseph Kuefler’s stark city is in contrast with the lush green landscape where the seeds are planted, and visually, both city and landscape are pleasing. I can’t help wishing there was some place within the city for the seeds to be planted, the way Sidewalk Flowers or The Curious Garden shows city and greenery together, but this is Kuefler’s book, and it’s very good.

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Camo Girl

Kekla Magoon‘s middle grade novel Camo Girl is unexpected in all the best ways. Ella, the narrator, is friends with Z, the strangest boy in the whole grade. Both of them are ostracized, and they cope by creating an imaginary world where nothing bothers either of them. But when Bailey shows up, the cool new kid (and this is just one of the tropes Magoon upends: sometimes the new kid is instantly cool), he lets it be known that calling Ella “Camo Face” is not okay. They strike up a friendship that threatens Z’s delicate grip on reality. So much is tied into this story: race, middle school cool, middle school mean, and family. It was published in 2011, and I don’t know why I haven’t read it earlier.

For teachers that want to extend the learning, here are some activities.

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Thank You, Omu!

Oge Mora has written and illustrated a vibrant picture book about sharing and community. Omu has made a big pot of stew, but when the scent wafts out the building, hungry visitors come by for a bowl. Omu is generous–but there’s none left for her at dinner time.

The illustrations are vivid, expressive, and the ending is sweet but unexpected. No wonder this received a Caldecott Honor!

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A Big Mooncake for Little Star

A Big Mooncake for Little Star by Grace Lin is a 2019 Caldecott Honor winning picture book, and for good reason. The artwork pops against the lush black night background, and the sweet but mischievous Little Star’s facial expressions add another dimension to the story. Little Star and her mother make a Big Mooncake, and every night, Little Star sneaks out of bed to eat another delicious bite…until, one night, there’s nothing left except a luminescent crumble. Little Star’s mother follows the trail back to Little Star, and they make another Big Mooncake.

Rooted in the “quiet joy, love, and beauty” of the Chinese Mid Autumn Moon Festival, Grace Lin has created a story with legend-like qualities. A beautiful book, indeed.

Do some fun activities related to the book, or make mooncakes of your own.

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Let’s Have a Dog Party

When Frank’s well-meaning human throws him a surpise party, Frank is confused about where his quiet spot went. The partiers are loud, and Frank likes quiet. The partiers are rambunctious, and Frank wants calm. But never fear, Frank’s human finally understands and celebrates in a more Frank-like style. Adorable and perfect for discussing differing temperaments, Let’s Have a Dog Party! by Mikela Prevost is a sweet treat for dog-lovers and quiet-lovers.

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The Patchwork Bike

The siblings in this book are used to making their own fun, including a bike made of branches and tin-can handles. Each of the parts of the bike are listed, and the art echoes the patchwork nature of the bike. The layered art also mimics the stunning choices of language: the “fed-up mum” and the “shicketty shake” bike are rendered exactly right. The text is spare, but the endnotes from author Maxine Beneba Clarke and illustrator Van Thanh Rudd are meaningful extentions for both kids and adults.

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Adrian Simcox Does NOT Have a Horse

If you’ve spent time with kids that aren’t your own, and watched how they interact, and then you read this book, and you will see the truthful way this book represents real kids. Real kids who struggle with truth and kindness and poverty. How kids talk to and about other people. How sometimes parents don’t get it, and sometimes they do. How kids can figure out really complex things like compassion and symbols. Marcy Campbell and Corinna Luyken have created something masterful in Adrian Simcox Does NOT Have a Horse.

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The Rabbit Listened

This lovely book about listening is a needed addition to the picture book world. When Taylor’s creation comes crashing down, several animals come by with advice. The bear wants Taylor to shout about it, the elephant wants Taylor to remember, the snake wants to knock over someone else’s creation. The rabbit is different: the rabbit doesn’t offer any advice, and instead, cozies up to Taylor and then listens. Purely listens. What a gem.

Written and illustrated by Cori Doerrfeld.

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