The Wanderer

  • Title: The Wanderer
  • Author: Peter Van Den Ende
  • Illustrator: Peter Van Den Ende
  • Publisher: Levine Querido distributed by Chronicle Books
  • Publication year: 2020
  • Brief Summary: From Levine Querido: “…Van den Ende presents one little paper boat’s journey across the ocean, past reefs and between icebergs, through schools of fish, swaying water plants, and terrifying sea monsters. The little boat is all alone, and while its aloneness gives it the chance to wonder at the fairy-tale world above and below the waves uninterrupted, that also means it must save itself when storms approach. And so it does. We hope that readers young and old will find the strength and inspiration that we did in this quietly powerful story about growing, learning, and life’s ups and downs.”
  • Ideas for using this book in classroom or library – While I am not sure if art teachers get involved with the school library or not, I can’t help but think this book would be a lovely merger of art and print as it is essentially a book of art. There are no words here so this book could not be read-aloud, however using the knowledge of art techniques, a art teacher could bring this book into a discussion of how art can make one feel just as rich emotions as much as text can. I would even argue that this book could be paired with a music teacher as well. I am thinking a collaboration of all the arts could make this book enticing to children (think of what Disney’s Fantasia as an example).
  • Whatever additional notes you’d like to add about this book and why you liked or didn’t like it. – While I loved this book simply for Van Den Ende’s rich, multifaceted illustrations, the lack of text makes it hard to recommend for a school library. However, the magnificent illustrations are a story unto themselves. Children can imagine themselves sailing along with the paper boat into a fantastical world full of otherworldly sea creatures and sea life. The fact that the illustrations are only done in black and white with varying shades of grey really make this book incredibly detailed. One of my particular favorite illustrations is a two page spread of all the miscellaneous sea creatures surrounding the little paper boat as it floats away.

Small in the City

  • Title: Small in the City
  • Author: Sydney Smith
  • Illustrator: Sydney Smith
  • Publisher: Neal Porter Books, Holiday House Publishing
  • Publication year: 2019
  • Brief Summary: From Penguin Random House: “It can be a little scary to be small in a big city, but this child has some good advice for a very special friend in need.
  • Ideas for using this book in classroom or library – I think this book would work in a public library setting, but I am not sure that it could used in any sort of curriculum. It is an ideal read-aloud book but I don’t know how I would correlate it for a school library setting.
  • Whatever additional notes you’d like to add about this book and why you liked or didn’t like it. –What makes this book interesting is the POV. This book is set in second-person and while reading it is unclear to whom our protagonist is talking to. It is both a lovely and heartbreaking surprise when it is revealed to be his lost animal, and that our brave protagonist has traveled through the city in search of his furry friend. The illustrations at first are arranged similarly to a comic book, in small frames, but as the story goes on, larger illustrations either take up the entire page or are given larger frames. The colors are interesting, rendered in grays, blacks, and somber colors. And as the day in the story progresses, steadily more snow exists in each frame, leading to a blizzard, the climax of the story where we learn to whom our protagonist is speaking. The last frame shows little cat paw prints in the snow, giving the reader the sense that his friend is nearby.

Freedom in Congo Square

  • Title: Freedom in Congo Square
  • Author: Carole Boston Weatherford
  • Illustrator: R. Gregory Christie
  • Publisher: Little Bee Books
  • Publication year: 2016
  • Brief Summary: From Little Bee Books: “A poetic nonfiction picture book about a little-known piece of African-American history that demonstrates how New Orleans’ Congo Square was truly freedom’s heart.”
  • Ideas for using this book in classroom or library – This is another book to celebrate African American culture, and would be especially useful when addressing The Civil War (there is an interesting article I found from EducationWeek on the implications of improperly teaching about slavery and it’s haunting legacy). This would be a particularly vibrant voice to bring in opposition to the one dimensional overview of slaves and slavery.
  • Whatever additional notes you’d like to add about this book and why you liked or didn’t like it. –One wonderful thing about this book besides the marvelous illustrations by Christie, is the really unique writing of Carole Boston Weatherford. Weatherford uses eloquent language, i.e. “Women in gauze, silk, and percale, men in fringe and furry tails shook tambourines and shouted chants as rhythms fueled a spirited dance.” This just proves that children are capable of observing and retaining more than we give them credit for, and that advanced vocabulary is not too difficult for a child to grasp. There is a beautiful transition from where the slaves, toiling under the hot sun, bend their backs to pick cotton, or grasp their hoes and axes painfully, to the exultant dancing and raising of hands that takes places in the later pages in Congo Square.

A Different Pond

  • Title: A Different Pond
  • Author: Bao Phi
  • Illustrator: Thi Bui
  • Publisher: Capstone Young Readers
  • Publication year: 2017
  • Brief Summary: From Capstone: “A Different Pond is an unforgettable story about a simple event – a long-ago fishing trip. Graphic novelist Thi Bui and acclaimed poet Bao Phi deliver a powerful, honest glimpse into a relationship between father and son – and between cultures, old and new. As a young boy, Bao and his father awoke early, hours before his father’s long workday began, to fish on the shores of a small pond in Minneapolis. Unlike many other anglers, Bao and his father fished for food, not recreation. A successful catch meant a fed family. Between hope-filled casts, Bao’s father told him about a different pond in their homeland of Vietnam. Thi Bui’s striking, evocative art paired with Phi’s expertly crafted prose has earned this powerful picture books six starred reviews and numerous awards.”
  • Ideas for using this book in classroom or library – Much like My Grandfather’s Coat or even Nana Akua Goes to School, the immigrant experience present in this book could be a great teaching tool. I find this book especially interesting during this time of COVID-19, where there have been many anti-racist movements, including a #StopAsianHate movement. This book in particular would be a healthy representation of Asian culture, especially the Asian immigrant culture. This book could be used in a history class, or even for older children in their study of the Vietnam War.
  • Whatever additional notes you’d like to add about this book and why you liked or didn’t like it. –Thi Bui’s illustrations adds so much to the story. In particular, the two page spread where our protagonist is staring out the car window and marveling at the early morning streets, is evocative. The reader can feel the heat that the father puts on, can smell the wet leaves and see the light as it refracts on the road. Additionally, the illustrations that are in panels make for a fast pace. The color scheme of blues and greens, punctuated with bright, yellow artificial light really allow the reader to feel that it is really is night.

Big Cat, Little Cat

  • Title: Big Cat, Little Cat
  • Author: Elisha Cooper
  • Illustrator: Elisha Cooper
  • Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
  • Publication year: 2017
  • Brief Summary: From the publisher, Roaring Brook Press, MacMillian Publishing: “This is a poignant story, told in measured text and bold black-and-white illustrations about the act of moving on.”
  • Ideas for using this book in classroom or library – Unfortunately, as simply poignant as this picture book is, I don’t know that I could incorporate it into any classroom. This book would be ideal for a read-aloud for children in a public library setting.
  • Whatever additional notes you’d like to add about this book and why you liked or didn’t like it.-The simple black and white illustrations, the rhyming, word repetition and the quick pace of this picture book all contribute to making this an enjoyable read. I foresee children engaging with this book just due to the illustrations and rhyming. What is so moving about this picture book is Cooper’s subtle way of dealing with loss (by using a beloved animal). Cooper also introduces the reader to the other great thing about life, that it goes on in a circular way (by introducing the kitten).


  • Title: Why?
  • Author: Adam Rex
  • Illustrator: Claire Keane
  • Publisher: Chronicle Books
  • Publication year: 2019
  • Brief Summary: From the publisher – “A sweet and appealing tale for anyone familiar with the universal tendency of young children to always ask WHY? When supervillain Doctor X-Ray swoops in threatening to vanquish an innocent crowd, the only one brave enough not to run away is a little girl, who asks him simply, “Why?” He is taken aback—but he answers. She keeps asking. And he keeps answering—until a surprising truth is uncovered, and the villain is thwarted.”
  • Ideas for using this book in classroom or library – Although I enjoyed this book, I am not sure that it could be used for any particular curriculum. I do think this book could be ideal for pre-school through 1st grade. I believe those age ranges could truly identify with the unnamed protagonist who’s inquisitive nature turns the mind of the “villain” Doctor X-Ray. However, at the core of the story is a lesson in not giving up on one’s dreams or what one is truly good at. So, personally, I think this lesson is transcendent of age. I think even middle-school age children would get a laugh at the irony found when Doctor X-Ray suddenly agrees with the little girl’s “Why?” to say, “Exactly! Why?! Knitting is amazing!” As an adult, I laughed out loud when on one page, the little girl sits in a huge armchair, and Doctor X-Ray lounges on a long couch, mimicking a psychiatrist and their patient.
  • Whatever additional notes you’d like to add about this book and why you liked or didn’t like it. – The images in this book, all digitally created, resemble the fast paced flow of an early comic book or perhaps a 60s cartoon (think The Jetsons). There are bright colors and a lot of white intermingled in the background, and within Doctor X-Ray’s coat. This is in sharp contrast to Doctor X-Ray’s memories, which are given a subdued yellowish wash. However, his “bad” memories are alternately rendered in dark purple or blue, the sadness palpable. I read this book out loud, and found there is a cadence between the little girl protagonist’s “Why?” and Doctor X-Ray’s answers.

We Are Water Protectors

  • Title: We Are Water Protectors
  • Author: Carole Lindstrom
  • Illustrator: Michaela Goade
  • Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
  • Publication year: 2020
  • Brief Summary: From MacMillian Publishers: “Inspired by the many Indigenous-led movements across North America, We Are Water Protectors issues an urgent rallying cry to safeguard the Earth’s water from harm and corruption.”
  • Ideas for using this book in classroom or library – There is a place for this book in a classroom or school library in many ways, just one of them on the subject of environmentalism. This would be an excellent book to bring about a discussion of environmental efforts. Or this book could be used after or during a lecture or teaching about things that can be done to help the environment. Additionally, I wondered about how Native American culture is being taught in school today and whether this book could help in showing a particular Native culture/people. See this very interesting article from the Smithsonian on the changes in how Native American history and culture is starting to be rendered by teachers and administrators alike.
  • Whatever additional notes you’d like to add about this book and why you liked or didn’t like it. –The absolutely gorgeous work of Michaela Goade is not to be missed. When I read the author and illustrator notes at the back of the book, I was interested to read that Goade honored Carole Lindstrom’s Ojibwe heritage by making several details in the illustrations, such as the protagonist of the story “changes into her traditional ribbon skirt as she rallies her people.” Also, the animals in the book “reflect Anishinaabe/Ojibwe clan symbols or hold special significance in traditional teachings…” As the book begins, the reader sees a lot of serene blues and greens punctuated by rich purples, corals and pinks that symbolize the water protectors and their relationships to the water and what survives because of the water. One of my favorite illustrations is the on third page, and it shows a pregnant woman, and the child inside of her, being nourished by and from water. In contrast to these illustrations, is the oil pipeline represented as a “black snake,” and the imagery is vastly different. A two page spread of fiery red with a molted black snake in which has pointed edges and bands of gray representing a pipeline’s sections. On the page flip, our protagonist, armed with a feather, strides passionately, proclaiming “I must rally my people together.” Her hair flows behind her like a river in a beautiful array of water lilies, lily pads, and fish.

Nana Akua Goes to School

  • Title: Nana Akua Goes to School
  • Author: Tricia Elam Walker
  • Illustrator: April Harrison
  • Publisher: Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House
  • Publication year: 2020
  • Brief Summary: From the publisher: “In this moving story that celebrates cultural diversity, a shy girl brings her West African grandmother–whose face bears traditional tribal markings–to meet her classmates.” From Random House Children’s Books.
  • Ideas for using this book in classroom or library – As this book literally takes place in and around a classroom event, i.e. Grandparent’s Day, it would be ideal to bring up before or during a similar event. Is there a multicultural day? This book could also be useful for an event such as that. Regardless, this book could also be used to teach children that people who have different beliefs and traditions may not look like, or dress like you, but you are united by the fact that we are all human. The touching end of this book, where Nana Akua face paints all the children in the class with the traditional Adinkra symbols, reminds us that we can all celebrate each other’s differences with joy, an act that would be beneficial to instill in growing minds.
  • Whatever additional notes you’d like to add about this book and why you liked or didn’t like it. – The illustrations in this book are rich in a multitude of colors and textures. Many of the illustrations feature multiple patterns, textures, and bright colors all in one image. I can’t help but compare the illustrations to that of a quilt, which I think is intentional on the part of Harrison. The quilt that Nana Akua made for Zura, which features the symbolism of the Akan people, is an essential component of the story. When there are more words present on the page, there is generally only one illustration, which I found interesting. When Nana Akua arrives in Zura’s classroom, there is a beautiful two page spread, with Nana Akua as the reader’s focal point, indeed even drawing the audience in the book, to her in an astounding kaba and matching skirt and head wrap.

The Proudest Blue

  • Title: The Proudest Blue
  • Author: Ibtihaj Muhammad with S.K. Ali
  • Art by: Hatem Aly
  • Publisher: Little, Brown, and Company
  • Publication year: 2019
  • Brief Summary: From the publisher- “With her new backpack and light-up shoes, Faizah knows the first day of school is going to be special. It’s the start of a brand new year and, best of all, it’s her older sister Asiya’s first day of hijab–a hijab of beautiful blue fabric, like the ocean waving to the sky. But not everyone sees hijab as beautiful, and in the face of hurtful, confusing words, Faizah will find new ways to be strong.” From Little, Brown, and Company.
  • Ideas for using this book in classroom or library – This picture book is a great example of a picture book for older children, one that could be used for grades 3-4 as well as for smaller children. This would be a wonderful book to introduce to children as they are learning about different faiths and beliefs. However, this book could also be used to open a safe dialogue about bullying, and show a child, by quoting Mama, that the words of bullies do not have to hurt you: “Mama: Don’t carry around the hurtful words that others say. Drop them. They are not yours to keep. They belong only to those who said them.”
  • Whatever additional notes you’d like to add about this book and why you liked or didn’t like it – I would be lying if I didn’t mention that this book caused me to cry a bit. The richness of the text is only heightened by the outstanding images that Halem Aly created digitally and then, as noted in the back of the book: “the textures were done with ink washes and pencil on watercolor paper.” On the page I quoted above, the words of Mama are overlaid on a beautiful image of Asiya and her blue hijab spanning two pages. On the opposite page, with the sun in the distance, and her blue hijab acting as a background, Asiya and her friends run away from the painful words spoken by the bullies. The bullies, who are shadowed in a lackluster brown drawing (like that of a child’s drawing) are drawn small, on the page before. The images in this book are captivating, done in greens and bright colors which only parallel the “brightest” blue of Asiya’s hijab. One of my favorite illustrations is a full two page spread of Asiya’s hijab which extends into an ocean. Faizah, carried in a small paper boat upon this ocean, looks on, staring proudly at the serene face of Asiya.

My Grandfather’s Coat

  • My Granfather’s Coat
  • Retold by Jim Aylesworth
  • Illustrated by Barbara McClinktok
  • Publisher: Scholastic Press
  • Publication year: 2014
  • From the publisher: “A rollicking, rhyming, fun rendition of a favorite folksong about a many-times recycled coat.” From Scholastic. com.
  • Ideas for using this book in classroom or library – This book could be used to provide a beautiful story of the immigrant experience, how immigrants naturally had to become frugal. What frugality meant for the immigrant life in terms of how they had to save money to provide for other necessities, such as in the book, the grandfather is providing a life for his child and wife. This book could be incorporated into conversations about immigration, or about what hard-work looks like in diverse families.
  • Whatever additional notes you’d like to add about this book and why you liked or didn’t like it. – I thought the rhyming, as many reviewers pointed out on my search in the Children’s Literature Comprehensive Database (CLCD), contributed to this being an excellent book to read aloud. Additionally, the watercolor and ink illustrations in muted greens and blues contributed to a sense of safety and peace. For the most part, every other page is divided into three or more smaller illustrations, which helped move the story along without missing the impact. The smaller illustrations contain movement or a cozy family scene, such as the family eating a meal together, a menorah in center, for Hanukah. The opposite page is a bigger illustration with a small bit of text either above the illustration or below or both.