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. 

MLA Conference 2022

In an effort to better serve our patrons, Library staff are continually learning and growing in their fields. Recently, several Joplin Public Library staff attended the Missouri Library Association Conference, held in Springfield, MO. The focus of this year’s conference was reconnection with a goal of envisioning what is next for libraries, engaging staff, and empowering patrons.

Each staff member was able to choose which lectures to attend with choices like Performers Showcase, Library Outreach 101, Readers Advisory, and more! JPL’s Library Director, Jeana Gockley, was a featured presenter. Her talk, “From the Ground Up: Creating a Friends of the Library”, was well attended.

Another highlight from the conference was that Christina Matekel-Gibson, JPL’s Children’s Librarian, was awarded the Patt Behler Call-to-Conference Award. The Patt Behler Call-to-Conference Award is sponsored by the Youth Services Community of Interest (YSCI) and is offered to introduce working librarians to the activities and programs of Missouri Library Association (MLA) and YSCI and to encourage involvement and on-going participation in the professional activities of those organizations.

In speaking about the conference, Matekel-Gibson said, “I enjoyed being able to connect with librarians from all over the state to share ideas and celebrate our mutual love for libraries and literacy. The opening keynote with Marlene Chism about moving from conflict to connection was especially impactful!”

Each staff member is excited to put into practice what they have learned, and are already looking forward to next year’s conference!


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.

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 

    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

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.

Beginning Reader Titles in the Children’s Department.

Summer Reading 2021 has come to a close at the Joplin Public Library. With over 1,300 participants, it is safe to say that it was a successful summer. Of course, the end of summer means a new school year, and we are all full of anxious excitement about what the new season will bring. In my own household, we are eagerly anticipating kindergarten. Starting kindergarten means a lot of changes, both big and small: meeting new friends and a new teacher, learning a new routine, losing a tooth, learning to tie your shoes and learning to read.

In the children’s department, we frequently work with parents and caregivers to identify the best books for these burgeoning readers. With the variety of reading levels and options, it can be difficult to know where to start. I have identified a few series for a variety of readers, both in regards to interest and reading levels. Most of the titles are focused on sight words, letter blends and word sounds, as well as entertaining stories, engaging illustrations and diverse perspectives.

My favorite beginning reader books are part of the BRIGHT OWL BOOKS imprint by MOLLY COXE. Each book focuses on a different vowel sound or blend. My favorite part of these books, however, is the visual aspect. Each book features hand-felted creatures photographed in realistic nature scenes. “Greedy Beetle” includes a family of felted beetles, replete with tiny scarves and handkerchiefs, eating a meal in the forest. They may be the cutest beetles I have ever seen. In addition, the story has a plot and a conflict, all within the confines of the “long E” sound and no more than three- or four-word sentences.

Books for beginning readers can sometimes heavily favor individual words over engaging illustrations or plot, but Coxe’s books are a delightful exception. Other titles in this series include “Go Home,” “Goat,” “Blues for Unicorn” and “Cubs in a Tub.”

Find these titles in our catalog. 

Another series I enjoy is Holiday House Publishing’s I LIKE TO READ imprint. Each book in the series is illustrated by a bevy of excellent and well-known artists. The back cover of each book also includes a letter indicating reading level, and explanations for their leveling system are included on the back cover. I recognize that reading levels should not be the sole determinant for any child, but they can be a helpful guide for parents of beginning readers who may be intimidated by too many words on a page. (It is also important to note that actual reading levels can vary widely from book to book. While one “Level 1” may be appropriate for a child just learning to sound out words, a “Level 1” from another company may be more appropriate for an already independent reader comfortable with more complex sentences.)

The “I Like to Read” books range from two word sentences to 3-4 sentences per page, which makes them a helpful tool to utilize regardless of your new reader’s skill level. Award-winning illustrator Joe Cepeda wrote and illustrated several books for the earliest readers; these include titles, such as “I See” and “Up,” that feature simple sentences and nature themes. Paul Meisel, another award-winning artist, has written several dog-themed books that subvert the repetitive Dick and Jane titles with fun art and even funnier stories. Though most of the sentences rely on Dick and Jane-esque refrains (“See me run,” etc.) they all end with the dogs in silly situations that will guarantee a belly laugh from your child.

Find these titles in our catalog. 

Finally, I highly recommend the DIVE INTO READING imprint by publishing company Lee and Low. Started in 2015, Lee and Low primarily focuses on sharing books by and about people of color. The beginning reader series focuses on a diverse group of students (the “Confetti Kids”) engaging in a range of activities, from playing music to gardening to participating in a parade. The story includes a beginning, middle and end with active participation from the characters. In other words, we aren’t just getting a bland play-by-play of characters’ actions. Currently, Joplin Public Library only offers three of these titles (“Music Time,” “The Protest” and “Rafi y Rosa”), though we have plans to purchase more.

I appreciate the reading guide explanation on the back cover of these books. Levels range from “early emergent,” “emergent,” “early fluent,” and “fluent,” with a discreet color-coded system.

Find these titles in our catalog. 

All of the aforementioned titles can be found in the Easy Fiction section of the Children’s Department. As always, children’s department staff are more than happy to help identify these or other titles. With any new reader, we will often provide a few options while pointing out the level structure to the caregiver, and encourage them to work together to determine which book is the best fit for the child.