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.