Tag Archive for: cmatekel-gibson


J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan has been told and retold many times over the years, both in print and on screen. Some iterations have been better than others, to be sure (personally, Robin Williams’ Hook is the peak and the animated Disney classic is much further down on the ladder). As an adult, however, my perception of Peter, Tinkerbell, and the Lost Boys has shifted. The women and girls are treated pretty terribly and I frankly find Peter to be pretty insufferable. Nevertheless, it is a cultural touchpoint and the fact that I have so many opinions about Peter Pan proves it.

Tiger Lily and the Secret Treasure of Neverland was published in March 2023 as a media tie-in to the new live-action movie Peter Pan and Wendy, though it is not necessary to have seen the movie before reading the book. The Secret Treasure is a standalone adventure with Tiger Lily and her family and friends in Neverland. In fact, Peter is away in London for most of the story

While the original character of Tiger Lily is reduced to a vague stereotype, modern creators have taken steps to be more thoughtful and nuanced in their depictions. When I saw that award-winning author Cherie Dimaline, who is Métis, was publishing a book about Tiger Lily, I was thrilled. I knew that Tiger Lily would finally be given her due.

Tiger Lily’s family has lived on the island of Neverland for generations. Her grandmother, the matriarch of the family, has taught her everything she knows about riding horses, which plants to use for which ailments, and communicating with and respecting the other inhabitants of the island, including the fairies. Tiger Lily and her best friend, Sashi, who is a fairy, are at the center of this story. 

This standalone adventure follows Tiger Lily as she traverses the island in search of a secret treasure called Andon. When she overhears Peter say that Tiger Lily could use the Andon to better help the people she cares about, she sets out to find out what it is and where she can find it. Along the way, she crosses paths with Jolly and Jukes, two of Captain Hook’s cronies. Though much less intelligent than Hook, they are equally unkind in their dogged pursuit of the same treasure. When they capture Sashi and use her as bait to get the Andon from Tiger Lily, she seeks out the help of four Lost Boys to save her friend. Tiger Lily and the Secret Treasure is a fast-paced, coming-of age adventure story. Tiger Lily is a nuanced character; though it is a fairly short novel, readers witness significant growth by its conclusion. With the elders gone on a fishing trip, Tiger Lily must use her own knowledge and bravery to defeat the pirates and protect the people and places dearest to her. It is through this defeat that she comes to significant realizations about who she is. 

The bigger concept behind the plot is the idea that Tiger Lily, like Peter Pan and the Lost Boys, is not sure whether she should grow up. In Neverland, the characters can decide if and when they want to grow up. As Tiger Lily learns more from her grandmother, she realizes that she enjoys caring for others and feels empowered in doing so. However, after failing to help those she loves in the way she wants to, she knows that she must embrace getting older to become who she wants to be. 

In an author’s note at the beginning of the book, Dimaline shares a bit about her development of Tiger Lily’s Native identity. Rather than rooting her in a particular tribe or nation, she develops the identity of Neverland’s indigenous inhabitants based on an amalgamation of the original character and the real-life indigenous inhabitants of people who might have lived in the areas where the story takes place. I would recommend this book to readers looking for a good adventure story with a dash of growing up, friendship, family, and fairy dust. 

Find in catalog.


“The Night Before Freedom” by Glenda Armand and “Nic Blake and the Remarkables” by Angie Thomas

Summer is here! At the Joplin Public Library, that means the all-ages summer reading challenge has started. Along with that, we have a whole range of events including concerts, magic shows, art programs, STEM workshops, and much more. Our summer reading theme this year is “All Together Now” and we are celebrating kindness, unity, friendship, and community. 

One of the best books I’ve read this year on friendship and community is Angie Thomas’ middle grade debut Nic Blake and the Remarkables: The Manifestor Prophecy. I don’t typically go for fantasy or speculative fiction but Thomas’ young adult books are some of my favorites. Her first foray into books for the younger set did not disappoint. This novel follows the aforementioned Nic Blake, a newly-minted twelve year old girl living as a Remarkable (a person with powerful abilities, also known as the Gift) living undercover in an unremarkable Atlanta, Georgia. It’s always just been Nic and her dad; her mom left without a trace when she was little and they have no other family. Anytime someone discovers her family’s abilities, Nic and her dad move off to a new city. Needless to say, it’s hard to make friends. Things finally feel like they are coming together in Atlanta. Nic and her best friend, JP, are immersed in the fandom of a popular book series and her dad is finally going to teach her how to use her abilities on her birthday. But when she turns 12 and her dad stops her from going to the book signing and backs out on teaching her to use her skills, she has to take matters into her own hands. When Nic’s dad is charged with a crime she is sure he didn’t commit, she sets out to clear his name. 

Nic Blake and the Remarkables is fantasy, yes, but it’s also a story about friendship and relationships and the things we do to protect the people we care about. Thomas has created a story that’s both exciting and filled with heart. The action– from the werewolf to the devil’s daughter to the skyscraper-sized dragon– legitimately surprised me and the connections between Nic and her dad, as well as other important characters (no spoilers!) kept me emotionally invested. I think the latter is what I enjoyed most about this book, as I tend to gravitate towards books about family and friendship. I also loved the age-appropriate discussion of civil rights and Thomas’ weaving of African American mythology and fantasy into the fantastical world of the Remarkables. I highly recommend Nic Blake and can’t wait for a sequel. 

I also want to share a new title related to our newest federal holiday, Juneteenth. Gloria Armand and Corey Barksdale’s The Night Before Freedom: A Juneteenth Story is a joyous retelling of the story of Juneteenth or Emancipation Day. Modeled after The Night Before Christmas, this historical picture book instead tells of the freedom won by the last enslaved African Americans in Galveston, Texas. The Night Before Freedom begins with a multigenerational family gathering around their matriarch to hear her retelling of her own grandmother’s account of Emancipation Day. 

The story begins with, “‘Twas the night before freedom and all through the South long-whispered rumors had spread, word of mouth.” This is one of the few lines that directly follows the verbiage of the original holiday story, though the cadence matches it throughout. Author Glenda Armand’s story feels digestible for a preschooler or early elementary-aged student, though more could be gleaned from this book with older readers. Many historical picture books tend to be more text-heavy and more appropriate for one-on-one reading with older children. The rhythmic nature of The Night Before Freedom, however, will keep even the youngest listener’s attention. This format does simplify some of the more complex or difficult parts of the history of slavery, but the Library has many other books about Juneteenth and the emancipation of individuals who were enslaved to answer questions for older readers. This book is mostly about joy, and you can feel it in the buzzy excitement of the family gathering around to hear the story as well as the narrator’s exclamations and descriptions of dancing, hugging, and dreams of flying away. 

Illustrator Corey Barksdale’s oil pastel paintings illuminate that joy through the grins of the newly and “forever free” individuals with arms outstretched in praise, joy, and dancing, as well as in the way the family members look at each other with love and care. Barksdale’s illustrations are reminiscent of late 19th-century African American folk art, particularly through the use of bright colors and joyous movement. One of my favorite illustrations comes halfway through the book and features several Black men and women with wings on their back flying toward what appears to be a type of paradise. This page calls to mind the cover of the award-winning collection of folk tales, The People Could Fly, by Virginia Hamilton (to whom Nic Blake’s Angie Thomas dedicates her book). Armand and Barksdale’s The Night Before Freedom is a celebration of freedom, family, love, and community. Although Juneteenth has passed, this would be a worthwhile and enjoyable read year round.

“Elbert in the Air” and “Babble!”

I want to share about two of my favorite new titles in the Children’s Department. The first is the picture book Elbert in the Air by Monica Wesolowska with illustrations by Jerome Pumphrey. I am not sure what I loved more about this book–the breezy, old-fashioned illustrations or the heartwarming story of acceptance and self-love. Elbert’s story begins with the line, “Shortly after he was born, Elbert floated into the air.” This simple line sets the tone and plot of the story very effectively. The text on the first page is accompanied by a happy looking Elbert reaching out to his surprised mother whose arms are also outstretched as if to catch him. As people are wont to do to a new mother, neighbors gather around to offer advice; in this case, the advice consists of methods of catching or containing Elbert. Elbert’s mother simply responds with “If Elbert was born to float, I will let him.” The story carries on in much the same manner, with Elbert floating higher and higher as townspeople offer more and more well-meaning but unhelpful pieces of advice.

Once he is old enough to go to school, Elbert becomes very aware of the fact that he’s different. Throughout the story, his mother continues to vocally support and love him for who he is. She never tries to change him and he does eventually find his people. This is the type of parent I hope to be as my child grows up (though he has not shown any signs of floating–yet!). It feels hopeful to read about a child perceived as different who finds happiness and self-acceptance in a community of their peers. While it would have been a perfectly nice story if it ended with the townspeople accepting Elbert rather than trying to fix him, the actual ending was that much better. There is joy in finding people who are like you, people to whom you don’t need to explain yourself.

I love this book for its illustrations as well. They feel very old-fashioned, reminiscent of the aesthetic and style of the 1950s. Pumphrey paints primarily in soft reds, yellows, blues and greens, with simple, black-lined facial expressions. Though the illustrations are simple, they don’t minimize the story in any way. In fact, they seem to enhance it, giving soft edges to an emotional story.

The second book I would like to share is Caroline Adderson’s Babble! And How Punctuation Saved It. Admittedly, I am a bit of a grammar nerd, but this punctuation parable would be a fun read for anyone. It tells the story of an unnamed stranger who arrives in town with an odd gift– a period. By the time the reader gets to this event, they will likely be begging for it to be inserted into the story. The first several pages are to be read as one long, meandering sentence because, as you will discover, you can’t stop reading unless there is a logical place to do so. Hence, the glorious period. The townspeople are confused at first, though they quickly come to feel grateful for the humble period, the question mark, quotation marks, and exclamation points. They can communicate emotion! They can tell stories! They can take turns talking while doing so!

Adderson brings grammar to life and Roman Muradov’s simple black line drawings, filled in with light reds, add a cartoon strip-like feel that highlights the story’s levity. This treatise on the power of punctuation concludes with an important (though not pedantic) message about listening to and really understanding one another. Babble would be a delightful read aloud for elementary students learning about punctuation or listening skills. It also feels similar in style to B.J. Novak’s The Book With No Pictures, which is beloved by early elementary-aged readers.

Freewater by Amina Luqman-Dawson and Standing in the Need of Prayer by Carole Boston Weatherford and Frank Morrison

Awards season is here — not the Grammys or the Oscars, but the American Library Association’s Youth Media Awards.

Every January, the ALA announces the most esteemed books of the previous year published for young readers:

• The Newbery Medal is awarded to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American Literature for children.

• The Caldecott Medal is awarded to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.

• The Coretta Scott King Award Author Award and Illustrator Award are given to an outstanding young adult or children’s book by a Black author and illustrator that reflect the Black experience.

This year, both the Coretta Scott King Author Award and the Newbery Medal were awarded to Amina Luqman-Dawson’s “Freewater,” which tells the story of 12-year-old Homer and his sister Ada as they escape from the Southerland plantation.

The children, who were born into slavery, leave in the night with their mother. When their mother is caught, they must figure out how to survive on their own. While escaping deeper into the swamps, they encounter Freewater, a community of formerly enslaved people and freeborn children.

Homer experiences fear and excitement in equal measure. He misses and worries about his mother. Once he realizes she is not following behind, he devotes most of his time to crafting ways to rescue her. At the same time, he and his sister learn swamp survival skills from people like Daria, Solomon, and Sanzi and Juna, freeborn sisters who have only known life in Freewater.

Luqman-Dawson’s immersive world building paints a picture of Freewater through its sounds, its flora and fauna, and its people. Though much of the story is told from Homer’s perspective, readers often hear from Sanzi, as she yearns for adventures outside the swamp community

Freewater, at its core, is a story of freedom and resistance and what a life built on those things can look like.

In her acknowledgments, Luqman-Dawson talks of how little is known of life inside maroon communities. Her imaginings, though, are rooted in anthropological evidence.

The research and work she put into developing the characters and the setting is incredible and essential. Because of Homer, Ada, and the other characters, readers are provided with a more full glimpse of what life was like for both the freeborn and formerly enslaved individuals in these communities.

Flashbacks and the perspective of the slave owner’s daughter bring readers back to the Southerland plantation often. Though the author does not gloss over the horrific nature of slavery, it is presented in a way that will be digestible for upper elementary/early middle school readers.

The Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award was given to Frank Morrison’s “Standing in the Need of Prayer: A Modern Retelling of the Classic Spiritual.” Morrison’s illustrations in this book are incredible.

The cover itself is rife with symbolism and emotion. It shows a young Black girl, her face lifted toward the sky and eyes closed, with her hands raised in prayer. In her Afro, you can see reflectionlike paintings of Martin Luther King Jr., Ruby Bridges, the March on Washington, a cotton flower and Florence Griffith Joyner.

Morrison uses his illustrations to show vivid depictions of glimpses of African American history. Award-winning author Carole Boston Weatherford adapts the classic African American spiritual to include bits of Black history as well, from the “freedmen seeking kin at Emancipation” to “the first Black students walking into all-white classes” and “record-breaking athletes.”

The juxtaposition of the front and back endpapers alone tell the story of both Weatherford’s words and Morrison’s other illustrations throughout the book. The opening pages show a young enslaved person standing on the steps of a ship, hands chained behind their back before a whip-wielding enslaver. Conversely, the back endpapers show a curly-haired Black child, shown a few pages prior, walking into the sunset, protest sign slung over a shoulder with a hand casually placed in a pocket.

My favorite illustrations are the ones that, like the cover, are big, bold, and tell multiple stories or facets of a story at once.

I love the image of athlete-activist Colin Kapernick that takes up nearly an entire page. Its grand yet humanizing qualities call to mind the art of Kadir Nelson, another award-winning Black illustrator.

On the aforementioned double spread, a somber Kapernick looks down at a football field, his Afro taking up three-quarters of the page. In his hair, you can see a smaller reflection of Olympic runner Florence Griffith Joyner in motion.

Overall, “Standing in the Need of Prayer” is a hopeful book. Though it certainly confronts hard history, it does so while looking forward.

Everything in its Place by Pauline David-Sax and Berry Song by Michaela Goade

A young girl discovers the connecting power of books in Pauline David-Sax’s Everything in its Place: A Story of Books and Belonging. Nicky is an introvert who feels most comfortable in the presence of books. She spends her lunch hour shelving books and visiting with the kind librarian.

When Ms. Gillam announces that she’ll be gone at a conference for the week, Nicky’s heart sinks at the idea of spending her recess on the playground. Throughout the week, through conversations with diners at her mom’s cafe and on the playground, she realizes that books can be a way to connect with others and build community.

My librarian heart warmed at the lyricism David-Sax devotes to the Dewey Decimal System. Yes, the 800s (poetry) are a delightful section to visit! But it’s not just the organization of information that sets my heart aflutter. It’s the delicately descriptive way Nicky observes the playground, the patrons at her mother’s cafe, and the camaraderie amongst the very cool all-female biker crew that visits.

Illustrator Charnelle Pinkney Barlow melds hand drawn illustrations with cut paper scraps (including old library borrowing and catalog cards) to emphasize the power of books to make a person feel less alone. Hand-drawn flowers appear at the bottom of the pages as the books go along, offering gentle visual cues of Nicky’s blooming. With its myriad opportunities for conversation and extension activities, Everything In its Place would be a great classroom or one-on-one read aloud.

In my second pick, a young Tlingit girl goes berry picking with her grandmother near the sea, learning about and thanking the earth in the process. In her newest picture book Berry Song, Caldecott medalist Michaela Goade brings the Alaskan landscape to life through a conversation with a young girl and her grandmother. The unnamed protagonist describes the berry picking process and takes care to name and show each berry. Theis evident on her face as she names the berries in song. These names (“Salmonberry, cloudberry, blueberry, nagoonberry” and others) act as the bridge and her grandmother’s gentle reminders of gratitude are the chorus.

Goade’s illustrations are lushly painted with greens, reds, and blues. The water is vibrant, with white highlights bringing the water to life. The green of the trees and leaves blends into the animals and people, driving home the message that, as the narrator says, “the land is a part of us.” Berry Song is a book to read again and again.

The book ends with an author’s note about life in Sitka, Alaska, as well as Tlingit values and the importance of berry picking. Goade gives gentle advice about connecting with the land by thanking it for what it gives us and by learning the name of the plants and animals that grow where we live.

I love books that boost confidence and make you feel less alone. Books that empower kids and remind them of their unique characteristics have become more common in recent years. Kids should be listened to as they discover themselves and validated as they learn to deal with big emotions, and I think both of these books do so in different ways. Berry Song acknowledges the important role a child can play as a steward of the earth and a member of a family. Everything in its Place reminds kids that they don’t have to handle big feelings on their own and they can find solace in a book or a like-minded friend. The Children’s Department has many picture books focusing on self-esteem and actionable ways to care for our planet. We also have many picture books by Native authors, like Michaela Goade, that highlight the past and present of Indigenous people in the Americas.

Find Everything in its Place: A Story of Books and Belonging in our catalog.

Find Berry Song in our catalog. 

Back to School Picture Books

For most area kids, school starts this week. In light of that, I would like to share a few of my favorite back-to-school picture books.

My first two titles feature the unofficial symbol of going back to school: the school bus. Grant Snider’s One Boy Watching takes a quiet approach, following the first bus rider of the day as he rides from his country home to school. As he rides, the sun rises, with the colored pencil-sketched sky going from dark blue to purple to red and then, finally, to yellow. The text is minimal, an effect that matches the quiet scene through the window. As he gets closer to town, more houses appear and the bus fills up. Finally, at ten ‘til eight, the boy arrives at school. Both the text and the illustrations strongly evoke the quiet of the early morning, making this a soothing bedtime read in preparation for the real thing.

Find One Boy Watching in our catalog. 

My second bus-related title may feature the same mode of transportation, but the similarities end there. Josh Lieb and Hannah Marks’ The Monster on the Bus is an interactive read along that will not help anyone calm down before bed. On the contrary, this slapstick take on “The Wheels on the Bus” will make the audience giggle and give them much to talk about afterward. The book begins tamely, with brown-skinned Angelique waiting for the bus with her mom and waving to a friend. After the first verse of the song, however, the situation becomes increasingly outlandish. Subsequent verses include a hungry monster, an evil villain, a wizard, and a ride through outer space. Eventually, the children band together and demand to be taken to school. Marks’ monsters are cute instead of scary, and the cartoonish illustrations lend to the book’s humorous tone. What a ride.

Find The Monster on the Bus in our catalog. 

One of my favorite back to school books is Derrick Barnes and Vanessa Brantley-Newton’s 2019 title The King of Kindergarten. Thankfully, the self-esteem boosting book has a sequel of sorts just in time for the ‘22-23 school year. The Queen of Kindergarten follows MJ Malone, a young Black girl, as she hypes herself up for the first day of school. She is all confidence as she gets ready, and her mom deftly channels that confidence into a list of “royal duties.” A queen brightens every room, her mom tells her. A queen is always kind, caring, and helpful to others. As MJ goes throughout her day, tiara proudly atop her head, she seeks out opportunities to cheer up new friends, help classmates, and find joy in the small moments. Whether or not your kindergartener is as confident as MJ, they will likely walk away with lessons on kindness and the fun that can be had at kindergarten. Brantley-Newton’s illustrations, as ever, exude joy. Her use of bright colors and ability to portray love between characters affirms Barnes’ joyful story. The Queen of Kindergarten would be an excellent solo read or group read aloud for any child.

Find The Queen of Kindergarten in our catalog.

Ocean Books for Summer Reading

It’s June, which means Summer Reading 2022 is in full effect at the Joplin Public Library. This year’s theme is “Oceans of Possibilities,” and we have planned a summer’s worth of fun ocean events and activities for families. Although we live far from any ocean, books featuring the sea and marine animals abound and are well-loved in the Children’s Department.

I have selected a few of my favorite ocean titles to share, with the common thread being a message of self-esteem and acceptance.

One might feel less than if they don’t have an obvious talent or are not the best at what they do. Your cute and cheerful axolotl friend Dewdrop is here to remind you that you don’t have to be the best to be important. In the end, all that matters is whether you tried your hardest. K. O’NEILL‘s 2020 picture book debut “DEWDROP” follows the eponymous axolotl as they visit and encourage their friends training for a sports fair. A self-described cheerleader, Dewdrop visits Turtle, who thinks she’s no good at lifting weights; Newman the newt, who thinks he stinks at singing; and three minnows, who aren’t sure they are the best chefs.

O’Neill is also the artist behind the lushly written and illustrated “Tea Dragon Society” series for middle graders, and their foray into books for younger children does not disappoint. The illustrations in this picture book are bright, incorporating a lot of emerald green, bright pink, sunshiny yellows, and purples. Dewdrop and their friends, which include a turtle with a headband, a musical newt and culinary minnows, have a Kawaii quality to them, so cute you can hardly handle it. Thankfully, the story and the message are as sweet as the pictures.

Find DEWDROP in our catalog. 

Another ocean title that excels at spreading a message of self-acceptance is JESSIE SIMA‘s “NOT QUITE NARWHAL.” This 2017 book follows Kelp, a unicorn born and raised in the ocean as a narwhal. He knows he can’t do things that his narwhal friends can do, but everyone likes Kelp just the way he is. When a strong current pulls him into shore, he spies a unicorn high on a cliff and realizes he may not be a narwhal after all.

Kelp spends time on land, learning how to walk and, eventually, finding the other unicorns. Naturally, they live under rainbows and frolic through flowers all day. However, Kelp starts to wonder, with a tinge of homesickness, whether he belongs with the unicorns either. After encouragement from both sets of friends, he realizes he is perfect just the way he is: not quite narwhal, not quite unicorn, but fully and perfectly Kelp. The illustrations are reminiscent of newspaper comic strips, and the colors are all soft pinks, blues, and purples, with pops of neon colors. Follow-up book “Perfectly Pegasus” was recently released and is now available at the Joplin Public Library.

Find NOT QUITE NARWHAL in our catalog.

My third affirming ocean title is MOLLY IDLE’s “PEARL.” This picture book tells the story of a young mermaid yearning to be given a job as important as those held by her big sisters. When her mother informs her that she must watch over a single grain of sand, she is crestfallen. Though her mother assures her “the smallest of things can make a great difference,” she feels let down. Over time, Pearl comes to realize the grain of sand is much more significant than she thought. More importantly, she realizes how significant she is.

With “Pearl,” Idle excels at matching the words to the imagery; the story reads like a poem or, more appropriately, a series of waves rolling in. The ocean setting takes center stage, with blues ranging from midnight to turquoise. Pearl stands out with a neon pink tail and flowing, white-blonde hair. Several pages show Pearl’s tail changing direction in front of the blue background, giving the impression of slow-moving, kelp-like waves.

Find PEARL in our catalog. 

I love the gentle affirmations these books provide and am thankful that so many children’s authors are making books like these. For more suggestions, come see us at the library. Don’t forget to sign up for summer reading and check out our summer events!

Donna Barba Higuera’s THE LAST CUENTISTA

I recently finished the Newbery Medal title, Donna Barba Higuera’s The Last Cuentista. This medal is awarded to the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. At some point, I suppose I will stop being surprised at how excellent award winners are, but today is not that day.

The book follows Petra Peña and her family as they prepare to leave Earth due to an impending, life-ending comet. Because her parents are renowned scientists, the Peña family is selected to travel 380 years away to colonize a planet called Sagan. Upon boarding the large space ship, Petra, her younger brother Javier, and her mom and dad are separated and placed into a comatose state that preserves their bodies during the long trip. While in this state, they will receive knowledge through a port; this knowledge will ensure they can sufficiently contribute to the Collective upon arrival on Sagan. Petra is very unsettled by it all. She misses her grandma Lita, the stories they would tell together, and her old life back home in New Mexico.

The procedure should cause her to forget her old life when she wakes up. But nearly four centuries later, nothing is the way it is supposed to be. She remembers every bit, and her family is nowhere to be found.

Petra attempts to conceal this from the ship’s leaders while seeking out her parents and younger brother and working to get the others in her cabin to remember their former lives. Stories are how Petra has always made sense of the world, and they become even more of a lifeline as she seeks to find a way out of this strange future and get back to her family.


The Last Cuentista is full of twists and turns. I found myself racing ahead to find out what would happen, as if by speed reading, I could head off any negative outcomes that might occur. As Petra sneaks around the ship, trying to collect clues about her family and find a way off the ship, she retells her grandmother’s cuentos to the others and accidentally captures an unintended audience in Voxy, a young boy born and raised on the ship. To avoid any differences in human appearance, all members of the Collective, including Voxy, look the same. All have translucent skin, purple lips, and bright red veins. People like Petra, who has brown skin, a vision problem, and freckles, no longer exist. Individuality and diversity are not prized in the Collective.

The ship’s frightening leaders, Nyla and Crick, sacrifice Petra and the other original humans to explore Sagan. As she navigates the planet’s jungle-like climate and looks for a way off the ship, she comes to heartbreaking realizations and encounters some very unexpected people.

I will be thinking about this story for a long time. Higuera has crafted an engaging, edge-of-your-seat, dystopian tale that also emphasizes the importance of stories as a form of connection to yourself and others. I recently re-read Lois Lowry’s The Giver, and I felt a lot of similarities between the two. Both are a little bit heavy with characters that are undeniably human. This would be an excellent read for fans of plot-driven dystopian tales, though The Last Cuentista is not nightmare-inducingly scary. Instead, it presents a terrifying reality where only a single story gets told, where we try so hard to get rid of the bad parts that we allow history to repeat itself. As Petra reflects at the novel’s end: “I know stories can’t always have happy endings. But if there are chances for us to do better, we have to say out loud the parts that hurt the most.”

Watercress by Andrea Wang & Jason Chin

Happy book awards season!

Every January, the American Library Association announces award winners and honorees in a whole host of categories. The most well-known awards include the Newbery Medal, the Caldecott Medal and the Coretta Scott King Award, though there are over 30 awards for young adult and children’s books.

The Caldecott Medal is awarded to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children. It makes sense, then, that “WATERCRESS,” illustrated by JASON CHIN and written by ANDREA WANG, bears the shiny medal on its cover. Wang tells a story based on her experience growing up as the child of Chinese immigrants in Ohio in the shadow of Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution. The young girl at the center of the novel resents her parents for being different, for making her different. When they pull over to the side of the road on a drive, they make the whole family climb out to pick watercress. For her parents, the “snail-covered plant” is a delicacy, reminiscent of their lives in China, when any food was good food and free food was even better. For the protagonist, it’s another glaring difference between herself and her classmates. When her typically private mother tells the girl and her brother about their uncle, a child taken by the famine, she gets a glimpse into the importance of the plant and, more than that, a glimpse into her parents’ past and how it affects their present.

With “Watercress,” Caldecott honoree Chin proves that he is as effective at painting minute details — those of a home in the 1970s, of the shame on a young girl’s face — as he is at painting landscapes. His watercolor art beautifully captures the cornfields of Ohio, and I especially appreciate the spread a few pages where the cornfields seamlessly fade into the bamboo in the background of a hillside above a Chinese village.

Another favorite page depicts the girl’s family sitting around a metal-legged, Formica-top table eating a meal that includes the foraged watercress. The girl sits with her arms crossed, a scowl on her face. As explained in his endnotes, Chin sought to reflect Chinese and American heritage, as well as the 1970s aesthetic. The scene, from the details of the table to their clothes to their dishes, feels reminiscent of that time period.

The free verse structure of “Watercress” makes it an excellent choice for a read aloud in a group setting. Wang’s words read like a poem, evoking emotion and vivid scenes on each page, a perfect example of the English teacher’s mantra: “Show, don’t tell.” Chin’s illustrations only serve to amplify the story rather than overshadow.

In the book’s endnotes, the author discusses her own experience as the daughter of Chinese immigrants as well as the importance of memories and their ability “to inform, to inspire, and to heal.” Wang’s encouragement to talk about the hard things, to tell your story and to take pride in your heritage is crucial, and she sends those messages seamlessly throughout. “Watercress” is well deserving of the Caldecott Medal.

Find it in our catalog.

WE ALL PLAY by Julie Flett & JOJO MAKOONS by Dawn Quigley

I love to set both small and larger reading challenges for myself throughout the year. In November, I chose to primarily read titles by Native authors. I encourage you to explore the growing number of titles in this category at the Joplin Public Library. I will share two of my most recent favorites.

The first title is JULIE FLETT‘s picture book “WE ALL PLAY.” Flett is a Cree-Metis author and illustrator who has won numerous awards. “We All Play” is a simple book, told mostly in English with Cree words throughout, that depicts children playing in ways similar to bison, beluga whales, geese and other North American animals. The text is a pattern; three to four pages show animals hopping, peeking or wobbling, and every fourth spread shows children moving their bodies in similar ways with the repeating refrain “We play too! (‘Kimêtawânaw mîna’)” at the top of the page.

In the reader’s note at the end of the book, Flett describes the ways in which her father taught her about her relationship to nature as a young girl. “We All Play” depicts a most basic connection between us and nature: Children of all species playing together outside.

Once you have seen it, Flett’s art is instantly recognizable. She works primarily with earth tones; this title in particular utilizes many shades of beige, white, gray and green, with pops of clay red, sky blue, and goldenrod appearing occasionally. Animals, humans and the landscape have only the most basic of features, and the edges are soft and smudged.

At the conclusion of the story, Flett includes a list of animals featured in the book. Each animal name is listed in English and three variations of the name in Cree (one, more than one, and “younger, smaller, cuter”). The author also includes a bit of linguistic education on the Plains Cree dialect, including the pronunciation of words and sounds. This would be an excellent group read-aloud, as it lends itself well to movement and conversation. You can find “We All Play” in the picture book category at the Joplin Public Library.

Another excellent book I read this month is DAWN QUIGLEY‘s “JOJO MAKOONS: THE USED-TO-BE-BEST FRIEND.” This first book in the forthcoming series follows the plucky 7-year-old narrator JoJo, an Ojibwe girl living on a fictional reservation (Pembina Ojibwe) learning to navigate friendships, life with her mom and kokum (grandmother), and figuring out how to rescue her home best friend, her cat Mimi, from getting shots (among other things). JoJo is funny and earnest, and she often wonders why people — her family, her teachers, her best friends — think differently than she does. Why can’t she bring Mimi to school? Why don’t “couch” and “touch” rhyme when they obviously look the same? Why isn’t Fern saving her a seat at lunch anymore?

JoJo’s problems feel both real and urgent, as problems tend to feel whether you are 7 or 37. The spunky young protagonist is similar in voice to Junie B. Jones, another beloved first grader with her own series.

JoJo Makoons is published by Heartdrum, a Native-focused imprint of HarperCollins created in partnership with We Need Diverse Books. JoJo’s Ojibwe culture is woven into every aspect of the story, from JoJo’s hilarious pronunciation tips (“If you can say Tyrannosaurus rex, you can say nindizhinikaaz”) to Tara Audibert’s grayscale art in JoJo’s classroom. JoJo’s funny narrative style lends itself well to a family or classroom read aloud, though I found myself laughing out loud while reading solo. I love JoJo Makoons, and I know you will too. You can find “JoJo Makoons: The Used-to-be Best Friend” in the easy fiction section of the Joplin Public Library.