I know the actual Super Bowl just happened, but I did not watch any of it. Instead, let me tell you about my Super Bowl: the Youth Media Awards.

Every year, the American Library Association announces the best books and media in a variety of categories. For picture books and illustrations, it’s the Caldecott Medal. For children’s books generally, it is the Newbery. For the best books by African American authors and illustrators, it is the Coretta Scott King Award, and the Pura Belpre follows the same guidelines but for Latino authors and illustrators.

TAE KELLER’s “WHEN YOU TRAP A TIGER” won the Newbery Medal this year; the Newbery committee didn’t ask me, but I do approve of this decision.

The novel follows 12-year-old Lily, who has just moved from sunny Southern California to rainy Washington with her mom and teenage sister to care for her sick Halmoni (“grandmother” in Korean). Halmoni has always made Lily and her sister Sam feel special. When they were young, she would tell stories of “long, long ago when tiger walked like man” stories just for them that always included two very special sisters. However, the move isn’t an entirely welcome one, especially because Lily discovers Halmoni is more sick than her mom let on — and she keeps spotting a giant tiger around town. With the help of her new friend Ricky, Lily works to uncover what the tiger wants and, by that effort, heal her grandmother.

“When You Trap a Tiger” shows readers the power of stories, both in giving us hope and in changing us. When Lily first meets the tiger, no one, with the exception of Halmoni, believes her. Her sister and mom both blame stress or her wild imagination. But when the tiger proposes a deal in exchange for her grandma’s recovery, Lily knows what she must do.

As Lily works to give the tiger what it wants, she realizes she is not who she thought she was. She discovers a different, stronger view of herself. The typically reserved and quiet Lily feels empowered to make big decisions, strengthen relationships and say she’s sorry. At the novel’s start, Halmoni warns Lily that the tiger characters in Korean folktales are not always what they seem. But neither, Lily learns, is she.

Find in the catalog. 

For the first time, the Caldecott Medal was awarded to an Indigenous author-illustrator team. CAROLE LINDSTROM and MICAELA GOADE’s “WE ARE WATER PROTECTORS” tells of the connection between people and the land and our duty to protect and preserve water. Lindstrom’s poetic call to action portrays oil as a black snake that can destroy our water if we let it.

The Ashinabe/Métis author was inspired to write this book following the widespread protests of the Keystone XL pipeline in South Dakota, but its message of our connection to and responsibility for the earth is a timeless one.

Goade’s watercolor illustrations are lush and include a broad spectrum of colors and shades reminiscent of water. The young girl featured on the cover appears with her chin raised proudly and her black-blue hair flowing into the swirling water. The rich blues and greens are calm, even as our narrator speaks in dramatic tones and passionate pleas. I feel the most calm when I am near the water; Goade does an excellent job communicating its tranquil nature.

In “We are Water Protectors,” the young narrator encourages readers to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves and to care for our earth and other living things. That is a sentiment I can get behind.

Find in the catalog. 

For a full list of award-winning titles and honorees, check out the School Library Journal award article:


My Favorite Picture Books and Middle Grade of 2020

The year 2020 was a great year for books. I reviewed many of them here in previous columns, but it was impossible to share them all. I am going to highlight some of the best picture books and novels that I have yet to share.

DERRICK BARNES and GORDON C. JAMES’ “I AM EVERY GOOD THING” is one of the best books I read this year and maybe one of the best picture books I have read in a long time. Barnes and James won a multitude of awards (including the Newbery Medal) with “Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut,” their last picture book, and they did not disappoint with the follow up.

The last few years have offered a great deal of self-esteem themed picture books with many notable titles — including “Crown” and “I Am Enough,” to name a few — but “I Am Every Good Thing” somehow feels uniquely fresh. Even the best picture book encouraging self-confidence runs the risk of relying on cliches or overwrought phrases. The power here lies in the mundane, in the personal aspects of what the narrator (in this case, a young Black boy) believes he is good at, as well as in the boldness and confidence of the broader proclamations. I read this book as part of a library program designed to encourage children to think about what makes them special. While I was not the target audience, I found myself reading and rereading passages of this book because it made me feel good about myself. The best picture books are universal, offering something for every reader.

James’ illustrations are similar to those in “Crown,” and they excel here for similar reasons. The oil paint portraits feel as grand as the bold proclamations the narrator makes throughout. James paints the children in the book as they see themselves or how they wish others would see them.

Another picture book I loved in the latter part of 2020 was the FAN BROTHERS’ “THE BARNABUS PROJECT,” which follows a group of misfit pets (or “failed experiments”) as they try to break out of the Perfect Pets secret lab. Barnabus, a hybrid mouse-elephant, acts as the leader in this epic escape story that begins in an underground lab where perfectly cute, fluffy and well-behaved pets are created.

Barnabus and the other failed experiments sit alone under bell jars until they are recycled into something cuter. The lush illustrations lend a weight to this (very cute) escape story, making Barnabus’ experience feel both real and grave. The Fan Brothers (Terry, Eric and Devin) create adorably strange neighbors for Barnabus as well, including birdlike creatures with long legs and puffball bodies, a box turtle with a fuzzy body and a tiny monster with the stripes, wings and antennae of a bumblebee. The full-page spreads showing the underground pipes connecting the laboratory to the pet shop up above, as well as the breakout scene, are layered, complex, and beautiful. This is one to own.

JERRY CRAFT’s 2019 debut graphic novel, “The New Kid,” won a multitude of awards, including the Newbery Medal for the best children’s book. I enjoyed the fun, funny and insightful book well enough, but I have to admit that I loved the 2020 companion even more. “CLASS ACT” picks up where its predecessor left off, with protagonist Jordan navigating his second year as one of the few Black students at a prestigious, all-white private school. This time around, we get to hear from his new friend Drew, a darker-skinned boy at Riverdale on a scholarship, as well as their wealthy white friend Liam. Drew in particular struggles with what it means to be Black and poor when most of his friends are not. His grandmother’s words echo in his brain (“You have to work twice as hard to be just as good”) as he works to make good grades, navigate friendships and figure out who he wants to be. If “Class Act” were not a graphic novel, it would read much differently. Though the subject matter is often serious, the accessibility and humor of Craft’s illustrations gives it the feel of a (really great) sketchbook over a weighty memoir. Each chapter illustration borrows from a popular comic or graphic novel (some favorites include Jeff Kinney’s “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” and Shannon Hale’s “Real Friends”), and the award-winning author/illustrator includes directional cues when it may be difficult to know which way to read.

The last middle-grade novel I loved this year was KELLY J. BAPTIST’s “ISAIAH DUNN IS MY HERO.” This book, which began as a short story for the middle-grade anthology “Flying Lessons and Other Stories,” follows preteen Isaiah, a sweet kid who is faced with serious challenges as he and his family endure homelessness, wrestle with grief and battle substance abuse. His writing and the notebooks his dad left behind serve as a buoy that keep him from going adrift. He spends Saturdays in the library, writing poems and reading his dad’s stories, all of which are about Isaiah the superhero. The actual Isaiah may not be sure if he is a superhero, but his dad’s love for him gives him the confidence to keep going when it seems as if life has turned against him. I love Isaiah as a character — he is sweet, a good friend, a good son and a good big brother. The circumstances mean he has to be stronger than a kid should have to be, but Baptist still lets him be a kid. Finally — though I may be biased here — I appreciate that the library is an oasis for Isaiah, a place where he can get lost in books and in his writing. This is an excellent debut novel about growing up, loss, the power of words and the importance of community.

Reading for Change: Books by Black Authors

All of these titles can be found via the JPL catalog

Picture Books

M is for Melanin

Concepts ABC Rose

That is my dream! : A picture book of Langston Hughes’s “Dream variation”

People Diversity Hughes

What’s the Difference?: Being Different is Amazing

    People Diversity Richards


    People Mom Mora

Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut

    Self Self Esteem Barnes

Just Like Me

Self Self Esteem Brantley-Newton

Magnificent Homespun Brown: A Celebration

    Self Self Esteem Doyon

I am Enough

Self Self Esteem Byers


    Self Self Esteem Nyong’o

Hey Black Child

    Self Self Esteem Perkins

You Matter

    Self Self Esteem Robinson

Freedom Soup

    Stories Food Charles

The Undefeated

Stories History Alexander

Let the Children March

    Stories History Clark-Robinson

The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read

    Stories History Hubbard

Before She Was Harriet

Stories History Ransome

Easy Fiction and Easy Nonfiction

Make Way for Dyamonde Daniel

    Easy Fic Grimes Nikki

Jada Jones series

    Easy Fic Lyons Kelly Starling

The Amazing Life of Azaleah Lane

    Easy Fic Smith Nikki Shannon

Let’s Talk About Race

    Easy Nonfic 305.8 L56L c. 1

Child of the Civil Rights Movement

    Easy Nonfic 323.11 Sh4c

Trombone Shorty

    Easy Nonfic 788.9 An2t

The Stone Thrower

    Easy Nonfic 796.332 Ea5r

Juvenile Fiction and Juvenile Nonfiction

The Crossover

    J Fiction Alexander Kwame


    J Fiction Draper Sharon

The Parker Inheritance

    J Fiction Johnson Varian

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky

    J Fiction Mbalia Kwame

Ghost Boys

    J Fiction Rhodes Jewell Parker

Betty Before X

    J Fiction Shabazz Ilyasah

Piecing Me Together & Ways to Make Sunshine

    J Fiction Watson Renee

Genesis Begins Again

    J Fiction Williams Alicia

Brown Girl Dreaming

    J Fiction Woodson Jacqueline

My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich

    J Fiction Zoboi Ibi

New Kid

    J Nonfic 741.5 C84n

We are the Ship: the story of Negro League Baseball

    J Nonfic 796.357 N33w

Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets

    J Nonfic 808.1 AL2o

Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement

    J Nonfic 817 H11w

The Women Who Caught the Babies: A Story of African American Midwives

    J Nonfic 973.0496 G82w

Little Legends: Exceptional Men in Black History & Little Dreamers: Bold Women in Black History

    J Nonfic 973.0496 H24L

Teen Fiction

Tyler Johnson Was Here by Jay Coles

     Teen Coles Jay

Let Me Hear A Rhyme by Tiffany D. Jackson

     Teen Jackson Tiffany

How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon

     Teen Magoon Kekla

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

     Teen Reynolds Jason

Dear Martin by Nic Stone

     Teen Stone Nic

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

     Teen Thomas Angie

If You Come Softly and Behind You by Jacqueline Woodson

     Teen Woodson Jacqueline

Teen Non-Fiction

Teen Graphic Novels

March, Books 1-3 by John Lewis

      Teengn Lewis John March

I Am Alfonso Jones by Tony Medina

      Teengn Medina Tony I Am


The Vanishing Half

    Fiction Bennett Brit

The Water Dancer

    Fiction Coates Ta-Nehisi


    Fiction Yaa Gyasi

The Broken Earth series

Fiction Jemisin N.K.

Such a Fun Age

    Fiction Reid Kiley

Real Life

    Fiction Taylor Brandon

Sing, Unburied, Sing

    Fiction Ward Jesmyn

The Nickel Boys

Fiction Whitehead Colin

Red at the Bone

    Fiction Woodson Jacqueline


Bad Feminist

    305.42 G25 2014

How to be an Antiracist

    305.8 K34h 2019

Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America

305.8 K34s 2016

Heavy: An American Memoir

    305.896 L45h 2018

How We Fight For Our Lives

    811 J71h 2019

The Yellow House

    921 B79y 2019

“A Polar Bear in the Snow” by Mac Barnett & “In the Half Room” by Carson Ellis

2020 has been a roller coaster of a year, but books have been undeniably good.

This year, all three of my favorite picture book authors/illustrators have released new titles — two debuted on the same day. I wrote about Christian Robinson’s “You Matter” a few months back, so I will reserve this review for the two most recent titles.

One of my favorite artists, Caldecott honoree CARSON ELLIS released her third solo book last month. “IN THE HALF ROOM” is a nod to Margaret Wise Brown’s infamous “Goodnight Moon,” both textually and visually. Like much of Ellis’ work, though, it leans toward the strange, a trademark effect that makes her art both beautiful and unique. “In the Half Room” is textually simple. Each page names half of an item with an accompanying illustration (“Half chair, half hat/Two shoes, each half/Half table, half cat”). Admittedly, the premise sounds a bit sleepy, but Ellis’ gouache paintings are so beautifully detailed that some of the illustrations feel like fine art. The watercolor paint effect gives her art a human touch, replete with undefined edges and misshapen freckles on the “half a face.” The book takes a strange turn midway through, however, with two halves of a person joining together with a “SHOOOOOP” and running out the front door into the night. In the acknowledgements, Ellis credits her young son Milo with the idea, “though he’s not sure about the ending” (I will let you decide). The image after the ending may be my favorite, though: half a cabin sitting in an empty field with a full plume of smoke puffing out of the half-chimney to hang over the full, twinkling stars.

Find in catalog.

The second title I want to share features two return guests. MAC BARNETT (author of “Mac B., Kid Spy”) and SHAWN HARRIS (illustrator of “Everyone’s Awake!”) have known each other since childhood, though “A POLAR BEAR IN THE SNOW” is their first collaboration. Barnett, like Ellis, has a reputation for funny books that make you feel as if you are part of a secret club, and this picture book, though simple, fits that mold. In “Polar Bear in the Snow,” we follow the eponymous creature as it lumbers through the snow as the narrator wonders aloud where he is going. The text is fun and will lend itself well to storytime, but the real star here is Harris’ illustrations. The musician/illustrator (Harris also fronts the rock group, The Matches) used an ink pen and scissors to create a 3D effect that makes the polar bear pop from the page. The first page reads: “There is a polar bear in the snow,” though all we see is a textured white page. As we turn the pages, bits of the polar bear appear; first a nose, then eyes, then a full body. The snow on which he trods is actually carefully torn layers of white construction paper, and the animals (and a very scared man) he meets are simple shapes cut out of white paper. The description sounds simple, though maybe that is where the genius lies.

Find in catalog.

Both Ellis and Barnett created wildly successful virtual followings during quarantine. Ellis’ #transmundanetuesdays on Instagram began as daily art challenges ranging from self portraits to drawings done with your nondominant hand. In fact, one of the best things to come from that time for my household is our collection of Transmundane Tuesday art. I can also credit Barnett for the idea for our Mac B. book club, as we worked to model bits of it after his “Mac’s Book Club Show” book club (Harris was also a key collaborator here).

Both “In the Half Room” and “A Polar Bear in the Snow” are available to borrow from the Joplin Public Library, and I would highly suggest doing so if possible. For more excellent Carson Ellis art, check out her award-winning 2018 title, “Du iz Tak,” also available at Joplin Public Library.

Mac B. Kid Spy by Mac Barnett and The Only Black Girls in Town by Brandy Colbert

Sometimes you just want to read a good mystery. In fact, I would say that a significant percentage of the “What should I read next?” types of questions from upper elementary students fall into the mystery genre. (Roughly 50% are “I finished every Dav Pilkey book, and now I don’t know what to read!” If this is you, come see us.)

Luckily, I have two excellent mysteries to recommend. In another stroke of luck, my first recommended title is both a mystery and a Captain Underpants/Dog Man read-alike If you are a parent of a child under 10, you have likely read or seen a book by MAC BARNETT. He is children’s literature royalty at this point. If you haven’t yet read any of his picture books, I would recommend every single one. Really.

The mystery/Dav Pilkey read-alike in question is his chapter book series, “MAC B., KID SPY.” The series is loosely based (but not if you ask the author …) on his childhood growing up with a single mother in Northern California in the 1980s. The book starts on a boring Saturday afternoon; Mac has already read, played his Gameboy and watched TV, and only 40 minutes have passed. Suddenly, he receives a call from the queen of England (as one does) ordering him to come to England promptly to track down the missing crown jewels. The plot only gets more outlandish as he flies across the Atlantic and dodges KGB spies, meets the French president and attempts to steal from the Louvre. “Mac B., Kid Spy” is laugh-out-loud funny and completely ridiculous in the best way.

The story is perfectly enhanced by Mike Lowery’s thin, pen-sketch drawings peppering each page. The specific combination of detail and simplicity in his illustrations lends to the slapstick comedy effect of the plot; for example, the chapter 15 cover image shows a straight-faced, outlined Mac B with his wobbly arm around Freddie the corgi. A straight mouth belies his nerves but overall, it’s just a simple drawing of a kid and a dog. In contrast, the illustration’s framing is fanciful and resembles a coat of arms and reads: “Chapter 15: KGB HQ.” Lowery draws primarily in black pen, with orange and blue details, and he is able to express a multitude of emotions with simple lines and geometric shapes. (If you need a recommendation for a good Mike Lowery picture book, the library has those as well.)

If this all sounds appealing, consider signing up for the Children’s Department’s Chapter Book Club. Sign-ups launched back on September 7. We’ll read chapters from the book, pass on confidential files for top secret missions, and end with a kung-fu party. Of course, for now, this will all take place on the internet because it’s what the queen wants. Queen’s orders, after all. Call the library for more information and check out the “Mac B.” series (there are five in all) at the library or on Libby.

Find Mac B. in the catalog

I am going to switch gears entirely to share the second mystery, BRANDY COLBERT’s middle grade debut, “THE ONLY BLACK GIRLS IN TOWN.” This middle grade novel follows Alberta, a 12-year-old surfer in a coastal California town who, for the first 12 years of her life, was the only Black girl in town. She has had the same best friend for years, but lately, Laramie seems more interested in boys and being popular than watching Alberta surf or visiting the comic book shop together. So when Alberta discovers that the Black family moving into the bed and breakfast across the street includes a girl her age named Edie, she is thrilled. They click quickly, and Alberta begins spending weekends at her huge, old house while her parents work. It is during one of these said weekends that Alberta and Edie discover a box full of old journals in the attic. The journals are penned by a woman named Constance who moved to San Francisco in the 1950s. They become determined to find out who Constance is, especially because no one on their street seems to recall a woman named Constance who, if the journals are correct, was harboring a secret about her identity.

Colbert is well-known for her young adult novels, and it is clear that her ability to write for and about teenagers is not exclusive to the more mature end of the spectrum. “The Only Black Girls in Town” is a book about growing up, forging and maintaining friendships, and figuring out who you are in the midst of it all. I sped through this book, and thought about it for days afterward. I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a consuming novel about friendships, identity and a touch of history. You can find “The Only Black Girls in Town” and Colbert’s young adult titles at Joplin Public Library.

Find in catalog.

“You Matter” by Christian Robinson and “Everyone’s Awake” by Colin Meloy

I am bursting with picture book recommendations! The last few months have been challenging, to put it mildly, but one of the things I have been able to look forward to is the steady stream of excellent picture books.

The first title is one I pre-ordered as early as I could. Award-winning illustrator (and author) Christian Robinson’s YOU MATTER was released on June 2nd alongside glowing reviews, and is the second that he has done solo. YOU MATTER tells two stories: the first is a reminder, as it states in the acknowledgements, “to anyone who isn’t sure if they matter. You do.” Each full-page spread reiterates this message to those in situations in which they may feel less than: when you’re slow, when you make a mistake, when no one listens to you, when someone you love is far away, and “even if you are really gassy.” Robinson’s trademark collage illustrations, which include a combination of handmade illustrations and papercut drawings, add levity to a message that could be saccharine if done differently.

Through these illustrations, Robinson cleverly weaves a second story in with the first. This second story begins on a grand scale, telling the history of the earth from the first living bacteria to the first living creature on land, touching on the extinction of the dinosaurs and the various phases of Earth’s evolution along the way.

Christian Robinson has been one of my favorite illustrators for a long time. His illustrations just feel special, and his attention to detail feels like a labor of love. Here, Robinson’s attention to detail is amplified. The astronaut overlooking Earth holds a picture of a young child; on the next page, that child is seen looking forlornly out of an apartment building window while holding a brightly colored rocket ship in one hand. This is just one instance where, If the reader looks closely, they can follow one character through several pages and perspectives.

Robinson has a knack for bringing to light the overlooked and underappreciated aspects of life; with YOU MATTER, he excels at doing both visually and textually. The characters in this book are diverse in ethnicity and ability, thus extending the message to those reading the book who may not often see themselves represented in the media they consume.

My favorite thing about YOU MATTER is that it is adaptable for a variety of ages. If your child is very young, you can read the words and identify the pictures. If they are a bit older, you can discuss the visual story Robinson tells, though the depth of the conversation depends on the child’s age and comprehension level.

Robinson has won many awards for his work; most notably, his 2015 picture book with author Matt de la Pena won the Newbery Medal for Excellence in Children’s Literature.

Find YOU MATTER in our catalog.

For another fun read-aloud, try Colin Meloy and Shawn Harris’ lyrical, outrageous, and hilarious un-bedtime story EVERYONE’S AWAKE. It is no surprise that Meloy’s (of the band The Decemberists) second picture book is witty and fun to read aloud. If you have listened to his music, you have likely felt the same way about his songwriting. The book reads as a litany of outrageous behaviors the largely unseen narrator’s family engages in in lieu of sleeping, and the list gets more ridiculous as it goes on. It begins mildly, with the sister locking herself in the bathroom to braid her hair and the brother reciting lines from a movie. By the book’s middle, the grandmother is playing cards “with long-dead Grandpa Paul” and the cat is giving “poke tattoos and prank calling the cops.” Each rhyming couplet ends with an emphatic, “EVERYONE’S AWAKE” that lends itself well to a mildly amped-up bedtime or an engaging storytime. Grown-ups will enjoy this book as much as younger readers, and they will likely enjoy the sometimes obscure pop culture references throughout (Prince, Frank Sinatra, and a slew of classic children’s books all make an appearance).

Shawn Harris’ illustrations are a perfect fit for Meloy’s musical and wildly enjoyable story. The bright color palette consists of mostly neon or nearly-neon greens, blues, yellows, and oranges and feels just as loud and fun as the house seems to be. The characters are diverse and whimsical and funny, and Harris’ interpretation of the chaos in the large, multistory house is humorous in its own right (see the mouse browsing the internet on a tiny laptop while reclined on the father’s back for one example). I love this book, and I look forward to reading it at storytime. In the meantime, you can borrow it from the library and add an exciting spin on your own family’s bedtime routine. But get some sleep.

Find EVERYONE’S AWAKE in our catalog.

Priya Dreams of Marigolds and Masala by Meenal Patel

Did you know that May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month? In honor of this fact, I want to share one of my favorite newish picture books by a Southeast Asian American author and illustrator.

“PRIYA DREAMS OF MARIGOLD AND MASALA,” written and illustrated by MEENAL PATEL, is a sweet story of a grandmother, named Babi Ba, sharing vivid memories of India with her granddaughter Priya as they make rotli, a type of Indian flatbread. As they roll dough, Priya asks, “What is India like?” This inquiry serves as the catalyst for a journey through the grandmother’s birthplace — a sensory journey of food, sounds of the city and sights of the market. Patel’s descriptions are tangible; Priya (and the reader) can smell the cumin and masala at the market as it “tickles your nose.” We can feel the “hot sun on (our) face” after it rains, and we can hear the “quiet swish-swish” of a sari as a woman walks through a shop.

The grandmother’s joy and comfort in these memories is infectious, both for Priya and the reader. These stories spur Priya to action, calling on her classmates to help design a marigold garland for her grandmother to hang over her door during winter. Upon receiving this gift, Babi Ba tells Priya that the best way to carry your home — or your memories of such a place — with you is to share it with others.

Every time I go back home to California, I bring my family to my favorite place by the ocean. At this point, I could describe the sound of the waves crashing on the rocks as you stand overhead. I could describe the burning thigh muscles as you ascend the stairs back to your car. I could describe the cold rush of air across your face as you walk the dusty trail closer to the overlook. Though my home is not quite as far as Babi Ba’s, I understand the joy inherent in memories of home and in the sharing of those memories.

Patel’s illustrations are just as colorful as Babi Ba’s memories. The spreads that include people milling about the city feature a diverse array of skin tones. The saris worn are both colorful and simple in detail, and most characters are featured with round, rosy pink or red cheeks. The spreads featuring cityscapes are sharply angled, mashing colors and patterns purposefully and carefully. Patel’s color palette manages to be both muted and colorful simultaneously; the collection of browns, oranges, pinks, red, yellow and navy are delightfully twee. (Somewhat relatedly, if you have ever seen Wes Anderson’s 2014 film “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” you will likely notice the similarities in color there.)

In the author’s note, Patel describes visiting India as an adult and recognizing how the things that made her feel different back home were parts of daily life there. This visit allowed her to interweave the various threads of her identity and to understand how those “unique threads” make up who she is.

You can find “Priya Dreams of Marigolds and Masala” here. If you’d like to see more of Patel’s art, you can follow her on Instagram @meenal_land.


It’s been a while since I rounded up my favorite picture books for a review, so I am eager to share one of my most recent favorites.

On a good week, I bring home approximately 10 picture books to read with my son. They typically fall into three categories: books my son wants to read over and over again, books he is through with after one reading and books we all love. Sometimes, though, they fall into a fourth category: books that make me cry.

The most recent book to fall in that fourth category is “BIG PAPA and the TIME MACHINE” by DANIEL BERNSTROM and SHANE EVANS. This sweet story about a grandparent’s love was inspired by Bernstrom’s relationship with his own grandfather; don’t skip on the illustrator’s note at the end to hear more about it.

“Big Papa and the Time Machine” follows a young boy and his grandfather as they travel back in time to glean lessons on bravery and love. The story begins with the boy and his papa driving to school in the titular time machine, a 1952 Ford. On the drive, the boy admits to his grandfather that he’s scared to go to school. His admission sparks a time-traveling journey through one African American family’s experience in the 20th century. They visit a younger version of the grandfather, hugging his mother as he prepares to leave home. They stop at a 1957 club, just as his grandfather and grandmother meet for the first time. Each trip back in time ends with the same question: “Was you scared?” Big Papa’s response as they watch a younger version of himself leaving home is the first of many musings on bravery. As they watch the boy’s mother hand a newborn baby off to Big Papa, the weight of his love for the boy becomes clear; the newborn baby is that boy, and the mother never returns. Big Papa admits to his own fear here too: “You was so little, and I was so old … but sometimes you gotta love the unexpected if you ever gonna find love at all. That’s called being brave.”

As someone whose child is very loved by his grandparents, I felt myself getting emotional at this point. But as a parent who sends her child to preschool every day (and as a human being with working tear ducts), I was done getting emotional by the end of the book; I had fully arrived.

The last lesson on bravery comes when the boy looks over at Big Papa as they pull up to school and sees a tear rolling down his cheek. “You scared right now?” he asks, and his grandfather responds, “I’m scared you grown’ up too fast … and I already miss you.”

Shane W. Evans’ illustrations are simple yet poignant. His drawings consist of sharp outlines and soft colors, with soft white swirls stretching across each page, signifying a dreamlike journey back in time. Evans portrays feelings between grandfather and grandson in subtle ways, as with Big Papa’s bunched up shirt sleeve when they share a long hug before they finally say goodbye. Admittedly, I am a sucker for a good intergenerational story, and Bernstrom and Evans do it well. I would recommend this book for families, obviously, but I would also recommend it to anyone with a heart.

Never Caught, the story of Ona Judge by Erica Armstrong Dunbar & Kathleen Van Cleve

In preparing for the library’s Black History Month celebration on Feb. 22, I chose to read Erica Armstrong Dunbar and Kathleen Van Cleve’s young readers edition of “NEVER CAUGHT: THE STORY OF ONA JUDGE.”

Ona Maria Judge was born into slavery around 1773 or 1774 at George Washington’s Mount Vernon to Betty, an enslaved woman, and Andrew Judge, a white indentured servant. Dunbar and Van Cleve tell the story of her birth, early life and eventual escape from her owners, George and Martha Washington.

As a young girl, Ona becomes one of Martha’s favored slaves, a fact that brings her to Philadelphia and New York with the Washingtons as George prepares to lead a young United States of America out of England’s shadow. While in Philadelphia, Ona meets free black people for the first time and learns about Pennsylvania’s Gradual Abolition Act, which enables enslaved people to be freed after six months if they move from another state to Pennsylvania. After she returns to Mount Vernon, freedom weighs heavily on her mind: “While she understood that some slaves at Mount Vernon looked at her with envy because she was Martha’s favored attendant, she now had seen for herself that there were black people who lived without being anyone’s slave, favored or not.” Her experiences in Philadelphia remain with her for several years until 1796, when she finally makes her escape.

Although Ona’s story is largely absent from our historical texts, the authors pull from a sparse historical record to construct an engaging story of a courageous and determined woman.

In the author’s note that precedes the story, Dunbar states that Ona’s story “will make you think differently about everything you have learned regarding American history.” While that is a tall order, I do believe that Ona’s story adds nuance to a very polished period of history.

In “Never Caught,” readers learn about the ways in which slavery shaped this nation in its infancy. Most importantly, we learn individual details about people who, thanks to Dunbar and Van Cleve, are no longer relegated to a distant, fading past. In addition to Ona Judge, readers learn about Hercules, an enslaved chef who was highly favored by the Washingtons, and Richard Allen, a free black preacher and abolitionist in Philadelphia.

Dunbar and Van Cleve do not make concessions for George and Martha Washington in regard to slavery. The authors note how they and their paid staff made a concerted effort to keep the Gradual Abolition Act out of the Presidential House, going so far as to rotate Ona and others between Philadelphia and Mount Vernon on a six-month basis to avoid emancipation. They acknowledge the gaps between the president’s comments on slavery and his actions. The authors are also blunt in their condemnation of slavery, stating, “Human nature was allowed no outlet in the emotional life of the enslaved,” and, “Slavery was brutal. Slavery was immoral.”

Acknowledging the sins of important historical figures can be challenging; at times, one may feel that they must choose between disregarding the person or their negative acts.

In “Never Caught: the Story of Ona Judge,” Dunbar and Van Cleve show how to discuss historical figures with nuance. George Washington was a revered military leader and president, and he also owned slaves. There is room in his legacy for both things to be true.

The book’s front and back matter are also worth mentioning. Dunbar and Van Cleve include a map of relevant places, a table of contents, a timeline, a newspaper interview with Ona Judge as well as a bibliography detailing the resources used in writing this book. The book is a captivating and important account of a woman largely absent from historical texts.

Finally, the young readers edition was adapted for middle school-aged readers. While it doesn’t shy away from the brutality of slavery, the authors manage to explain difficult ideas in an age-appropriate manner.

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Why? by Adam Rex and Claire Keane & Saturday by Oge Mora

The end of the year is always a scramble to chip away at my TBR (to be read) list in order to meet an arbitrary goal I set for myself when I was feeling much more ambitious — sometime around the first of January. I never include picture books when I track my reading; considering how many I can read in a week, maybe I should start doing so to meet my goal before the ball drops on Dec. 31.

Whether you choose to include picture books in your official tracking, you should carve out a few minutes to read the ones mentioned below.

On occasion, you read a book that you know will win all of the awards. (On other occasions, you will have read none of The New York Times’ top 10 titles. But that is neither here nor there.)

Adam Rex and Claire Keane’s inquisitively titled “Why?” is one of those books. The story follows a bored little girl tagging along behind her mom at the mall. As preschoolers are wont to do, she peppers her mother with a near-constant string of “Why? Why? Why?” as they shop.

As the girl dawdles behind, she encounters supervillain Doctor X-Ray threatening nearby shoppers. As he releases the fire in his heels and floats down to survey the damage, he receives his first, “Why?” from the brave little girl. Doctor X-Ray explains the details of his plot, growing more animated with each “Why?” — an effect that leads to an eventual existential crisis. Why is he trying to take over the world? What does he hope to accomplish?

“Why, indeed,” asks the dejected supervillain at the story’s end. The moral of the story, then, must be that inquisitive children can save the world if their questions are taken seriously, right? Of course, that’s a bit of a leap and very tongue-in-cheek, but curiosity and persistence have achieved great things — why couldn’t they help thwart evil?

Keane’s illustrations are a natural companion to Rex’s story. The Disney animator’s art adds effects that feel vintage, realistic and, at times, fantastical. Doctor X-Ray looks exactly how you would expect a supervillain to look, with a long, white lab coat, goggles on his forehead and a bushy, red handlebar mustache. The story is primarily told through conversation, and their text is handwritten and placed in comic-style text callouts — again, lending a vintage, comic book feel.

Overall, the story is delightful, and it’s one of those special books that both children and their grownups will undoubtedly enjoy.

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The second picture book I want to share is Caldecott honoree Oge Mora’s sophomore release, “Saturday.” I was a big fan of her debut book, “Thank You, Omu,” and I gladly recommend it to all families looking for a good read aloud.

“Saturday” follows a little girl named Ava and her mom as they attempt to make the most out of the most special day of the week. Ava’s mom works Sunday through Friday, so every Saturday must be perfect. Unfortunately, grand expectations such as this are inevitably met with disappointment, as is the case with Ava and her mother. Plan after plan is ruined, even as the text emphasizes repeatedly: “The day would be special. The day would be splendid. The day was Saturday.”

When they get to the library, story time is canceled. When they leave the salon, their new hairdos are promptly ruined by an errant puddle. Finally, Ava’s mother has enough; Saturday has been ruined, she proclaims. However, as Ava gently reminds her, the splendid and special part of Saturdays is not what they do — it’s who they are with. As a working parent, this reminder from a wise and precocious child hit home.

I might venture to proclaim that Oge Mora is making some of the best, most distinctive art in the picture book world. The illustrator mixes several artistic methods, from collaging to hand lettering to small details done in pen. Her collages themselves are unparalleled; Mora often includes small details from vintage publications, including newspapers, recipes and other books, making each page feel special in its own right.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that Ava and her mother are black. Of the 3,653 picture books reviewed in 2018, only 400 featured African or African American protagonists (per the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, 2018). More importantly, Ava is not placed in the story to teach or to represent her race as a whole — she just gets to be herself, and that fact feels important.

I would recommend “Saturday” to all families looking for a fun read-aloud, and it’s sure to be added to my ever-growing suggestion list — (if I can bring myself to return it).

Find Saturday in our catalog.