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.
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!
A Big Mooncake for Little Starby 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
There aren’t many picture books about being sick, probably because being sick is not fun for kids (or anyone). But when Little Louie’s nose is so stuffed, no one can understand what he says or what he really needs. And it’s funny! So enjoy Bob, Not Bob!by Liz Garton Scanlon and Audrey Vernick, illustrated by Matthew Cordell.
First off, Júlia Sardà’s illustrations are the perfect mix of shadowy angles for a biography of a horror writer. The double page spread of Castle Frankenstein (a real place! and inspiration, perhaps, for Mary’s famous title) uses a limited dark palette to great effect.
The text, by Linda Bailey, begins when Mary Shelley is a girl, and shows all of those influences that may have sparked her masterpiece, Frankenstein. When she gets older, Mary meets writers and spends stormy evenings reading scary stories. She writes her own scary story as a challenge, and it takes nine months! The importance of imagination and daydreaming, as well as the persistence of a woman (in the early 1800s when men were the writers), are strong themes throughout.
A thoroughly enjoyable picture book biography for all ages.
I don’t often review easy reader books, however, Corey R. Tabor‘s Fox the Tigermade me and my family laugh aloud. Laughing is a precious thing, and besides, this book covers a theme we all know about: wanting to be someone else. In Fox’s case, he wants to be a Tiger so he paints on stripes and insists he is Tiger. Turtle follows suit and becomes Race Car. Rabbit becomes Robot.
I won’t tell you what happens next, but the plot does come full circle, and all of this with short sentences, limited vocabulary, and plenty of subtext. This book won the 2019 Theodor Seuss Geisel Award.