If You Plant a Seed

With very few words and gorgeous paintings, Kadir Nelson tells a beautiful story of mediumsharing and bounty. A bunny and a mouse plant a small garden, and are all set to eat the produce when the birds show up. A fight ends only by sharing, and when the birds share back, a garden bigger and more lush than ever is made.

If You Plant a Seed shows us the value of compassion and working together.

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Little Roja Riding Hood

bc_rojaWe needed a modernized version of the classic fairy tale, and Little Roja Riding Hood is a funny, bilingual take. Even non-Spanish speakers will love the text, because all of the Spanish words are worked expertly into the rhyming text (a bonus to help with pronunciation). A glossary is provided, also.

As for the story, no woodcutter is needed to save the day: Abeula and Roja can take care of Wolf, and at the end, they install a security system to prevent the fiasco from happening again.

Written by Susan Middleton Elya and illustrated by Susan Guevara.

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Separate Is Never Equal

I knew about Brown v. Board of Education, but I did not know about Mendez v. Westminster.

Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation by 9781419710544Duncan Tonatiuh is a gorgeously illustrated non-fiction picture book about a girl’s experience in the 1940s California school system. Many unfairnesses are shown, including the sign posted by the public swimming pool: “No dogs or Mexicans allowed,” and in the back are photos of the Mexican school and the neighbourhood school. Sylvia and her family won the right to attend Westminster public school, seven years before the more famous case desegregated schools in the entire United States.

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Open Mic

Open Mic: Riffs on Life Between Cultures in Ten Voices, edited by Mitali Perkins, includes 0763658669.medstories by Mitali Perkins, Gene Luen Yang, Francisco X. Stork and more. Each of the ten stories for teens explore race and culture–all with humour. Perkins’ introduction sets the tone, and offers important insights about humour, “especially in a tension-filled arena like race”.

This book is an important read, and a fun one.

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My Chinatown: One Year in Poems

My Chinatown: One Year in Poems tells a child’s story of Chinatown in New York, and 0060291907missing his Hong Kong home. Each spread shows one poem and one illustration, both by Kam Mak. The journey this child makes begins in winter, and he’s missing home. As he travels through the seasons, he finds more to enjoy in Chinatown, and ends on an excited note.

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The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend

In a world where every child has an imaginary friend, there is one imaginary friend who 020115 ALA Midwinterdoesn’t have a child. Follow Beekle as he does the unimaginable and searches for his very own friend. Dan Santat‘s Caldecott winning The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend is a sweet story of friendship and longing, and the ending is perfect.

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The Crossover

I don’t think I’ve ever read a novel-in-verse with this sort of pace and feel to it. Usually novels-in-verse are on the quieter side, but this book changes the whole genre. There’s 9780544107717movement and depth. After reading it, I know exactly why Kwame Alexander just won the Newbery for The Crossover.

Everything about The Crossover just fits, from the title to the language (and the font and the layout–read only the first poem, “Dribbling” and you’ll know exactly what I mean), and oh, those characters. I’ll give you a tidbit, but only that, because you have to go read it yourself: Josh Bell and his twin brother are middle-school basketball kings who practice daily with their dad, a former basketball-pro. Josh’s troubles begin when his twin brother falls for a girl and his mom grounds him from playing ball.

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Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba

Beginning with June of 1939, Daniel, a German Jew, flees Germany by boat. He is alone because his parents only had enough money to pay for one person’s passage. The boat’s 9780805089363passengers are refused entry to the United States and Canada, and end up in a Cuban harbour for several days, waiting for permission to land.

Tropical SecretsMargarita Engle‘s historical novel-in-verse, explores the survival and political plight of Jewish refugees in Cuba. Alternating poems from the perspectives of several characters, including Daniel and Paloma, a  daughter of a Cuban official who secretly helps several refugees, provide a well-rounded story.

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El Deafo

9781419710209_custom-27fa9edbf6ebfdeb7eafce38453e6fe6b85d8775-s400-c85At first I was a little shocked at the title. Then I read El Deafo, Cece Bell‘s graphic novel/memoir of her childhood: how she became deaf and how she felt about it growing up. Bell shows us the many friends and a pseudo-friend, but most importantly, Bell tells us straight-up how she felt about her hearing aids, other peoples’ reactions to her deafness and everything in between. At one point, Cece is watching a television show with her siblings where a character is called “Deafo”. Cece processes this, laughs, then goes upstairs and has an interesting conversation with herself where she calls herself “Deafo”, gets a little angry and then changes the term and herself into her very own superhero called El Deafo, a superhero who can act on her feelings when Cece herself  is too shy.

El Deafo made the rounds through my family quickly, from my ten-year-old on up to my fifteen-year-old, and it won a Newbery Honor for 2014. There isn’t anything else out there like this book and it’s fabulous.

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The Iridescence of Birds: A Book About Henri Matisse

This lovely picture book biography, The Iridescence of Birds, by author Patricia 9781596439481MacLachlan and illustrator Hadley Hooper poses questions to a young child. What if you grew up in a gray French town and found colour wherever you went? Would you grow up to be Henri Matisse? Would you paint what you see and what you remembered?

The language is soft and lilting and oh so beautiful to read aloud, and the art was inspired by Matisse’s work. Read the notes, too, where both author and illustrator give their ideas about understanding Matisse.

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