children's books

Big Red Lollipop by Rukhsana Khan

Earlier this year, I listened to both Bryan Collier and Andrea Davis Pinkney talk about the impact The Snowy Day had on them as young readers. For both, The Snowy Day was the first time they saw a little black child who looked like them featured in a picture book. The Snowy Day was a mirror, finally, and they saw themselves on the page as Peter reveled in the snow and explored his winter white neighborhood.

The lack of diversity in children’s books, both in representation and by picture book creators impacts the stories that are published, and more often, the stories that aren’t being published, the voices that aren’t being heard. It’s important for children to see themselves on the page, and in this big world we live in, it’s also important for children to read stories about characters and people who look different and whose life is different than your own. Big Red Lollipop, published in 2010 by Viking Children’s Books, is a multi-cultural story about two sisters, Rubina and Sana, and some of the hurdles and social awkwardness of being children of immigrant parents.  

Rubina is invited to a birthday party. Her mother doesn’t understand what a birthday party is, and doesn’t see an issue with Rubina’s little sister, Sana, tagging along.

This seemingly simple story by Rukhsana Khan brings much more depth. Readers can identify with the annoying younger sibling, the burden of being the oldest and most responsible, and following parent’s orders, especially when you don’t want to. That’s all present on the surface. Deeper into the story, young readers are able to understand and encouraged to ask about cultural differences and similarities.

Sophie Blackall illustrates the mother, Ami, in more traditional clothing, while Rubina and Sana wear more western style clothing. Similar to how important it was for Bryan Collier and Andrea Davis Pinkney to finally see themselves in a picture book, I imagine for middle-eastern children, how reassuring it might be to see a family similar to yours on the page. And for children who don’t have immigrant parents, this book is a lovely introduction to both Rubina and Sana, whose trials are easily understandable no matter your background or culture. Pakistani-Canadian author, Rukhsana Khan, has a wealth of information about teaching and sharing this story on her official website. This story is about her own life and her own experience tormenting her older sister, told and illustrated in a lovely way.  

You can find a copy at your local bookstore, Powell’s, or your local library.

comics · non-fiction

MARCH by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell


I talked about this graphic novel series everywhere else on social media and in person, I can’t believe I didn’t share it here! I was so surprised and embarrassed that I forgot to include it on this page. MARCH is a powerful graphic novel trilogy by civil rights leader and Georgia Senator, John Lewis. Lewis shares his story and his involvement with SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) from training for nonviolent protests to integrating public spaces with sit-ins, to the Montgomery bus boycott, the Selma march, and the push to register black voters in the south.

The series is autobiographical, and reminds and educates readers about the fight and struggle to obtain not only equal rights, but a seat at the table. As a primary source, the emotion and experience of the civil rights movement captured in this series is immediate and powerful. The hatred experienced and loss shared in MARCH is a harsh reminder of the physical and murderous assaults that were met with nonviolence and peaceful protests.

The images, line work, and cartooning by Nate Powell are absolutely wonderful. The graphics are powerful, and add to the emotion and tone of this necessary story. Graphic novels and comics are excellent resources for readers, and that this story is told in this medium means that MARCH can and will find an even wider audience than a traditional autobiography.

There’s a beautiful thread throughout each book that jumps forward to the inauguration of former President Barack Obama— juxtaposing the legacy of John Lewis and the civil rights movement with Barack Obama’s presidency, a symbol of hope and healing for a nation with such an abusive racial past.

In the current political climate, and the many reports of emboldened discrimination, the rise of white supremacy, and local terrorism, MARCH is a heartbreaking reminder of the discipline and dedication needed for nonviolence resistance. John Lewis’ life work is an example of the perseverance and sacrifice necessary to fight and demand equality for the continually oppressed.

You can find a copy at your local bookstorePowell’s, and your local library.

children's books · non-fiction

SIT-IN: How four friends stood up by sitting down by Andrea Davis Pinkney

Sit-InSit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up By Sitting Down by Andrea Davis Pinkney and illustrated by Brian Pinkney is a wonderful book to teach children about the Civil Rights Movement and the work of young African American students as they fought against the injustice of segregation. The illustrations are vibrant and energetic, filled with the hope and energy of the students standing up for their rights by sitting down.

I was able to hear Andrea Davis Pinkney speak about picture books earlier this month, and she talked about how she presents this book to the young students she visits. Asking them to raise their hand if they’ve ever been to a restaurant, and asking again if they’ve ever been to a restaurant but were refused service, and then the hands drop.

How might that make you feel?

What would you do?

Sit-In is filled with beautiful language and rhythm, the oft repeated refrain, “their order was simple. A doughnut and coffee, with cream on the side.” Andrea Davis Pinkney does a wonderful job of including the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the text, as well as the work of Elle Baker in developing SNCC, that help illustrate different parts of the movement working together. We are not given a book just with Dr. King, Jr.’s words, but a book that incorporates his words and how they helped shape a call to action.

A civil rights timeline and additional information about the sit-ins is included as well as a bibliography. A great poetic book to share with young readers and begin a conversation about the civil rights movement, the importance of integration, and how this world is a better place when we’re treated equally.

“Their order was simple: A double dose of peace, with nonviolence on top. Hold the hate. Leave off the injustice.”

Find it at your local independent bookstore, Powell’s, or your local library.

Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up By Sitting Down, published in 2010 by Little, Brown and Company, Hatchett Book Group


Ages: 6 and up

Grades: 1 and up

children's books · non-fiction

Their Great Gift: Courage, Sacrifice, and Hope in a New Land


“My family came here from far away  . . . because they dreamed of more,” begins the photojournalistic story documenting the experience of American immigrants. In Their Great Gift: Courage, Sacrifice, and Hope in a New Land, John Coy’s text accompanies Wing Young Huie’s photography as the two work together to explore the varied and diverse life and experience of immigrants of America.

The photographs show immigrants at work, with their families, communities, both young and old. The photographs are diverse in the communities and experiences represented. What a wonderful book to share how unique and yet similar we all are. Let’s look for similarities and compassion rather than excluding each other and closing our borders.

The end of the book features each contributor’s own immigrant experience either personally or within their family history. John Coy’s family is from Poland, Bavaria, Ireland, and Scotland. His great grandparents were both born in Bavaria, but met in Minnesota in the 19th century. Wing Young Huie, who is the only one of his siblings born in America, is a first generation Chinese American. Wing has been documenting the immigrant experience throughout his photography career, and you can see more of his photography on his professional website.

To get a copy of Their Great Gift, check you local bookstore, Powell’s, or your local library.

comics · non-fiction

Rolling Blackouts by Sarah Glidden

51m7cipixol-1-_sx365_bo1204203200_I recently read Sarah Glidden’s nonfiction comic, Rolling Blackouts, published by Drawn & Quarterly in 2016, and it is one my favorite books this year. Glidden travelled through Turkey, Iraq, and Syria in 2011 along with two friends, reporters who had founded a journalism non-profit, and a Marine Iraqi War Veteran. Glidden documented their experience in beautiful watercolors and inked cartoon panels. The topics that Rolling Blackouts explores covers everything from the middle east refugee crisis, the rebuilding or lack of rebuilding in middle eastern cities, the difficulties immigrants and refugees have experienced from their displacement, as well as how journalism and reporting fits in with all of it. Glidden’s traveling companions and journalists are as much her subjects as the Iraqi refugees they meet in their travels. What I thought was unique about Rolling Blackouts  was the documentation of the journalist experience— what kind of story her companions were hoping to find, what kind of experience they had, and how that informed their perspective and either the stories they told or hoped to tell.


In a time when journalistic integrity is constantly attacked and citizens are having difficulty distinguishing between fake news and real news, or even recognizing bias in the news they read, it’s an important topic to investigate— who’s telling the story, how are they getting their information, is there a different perspective? are views represented from differing sides, are there different sides to tell? So many of these ideas are explored by the reporters that Glidden travels with.

Glidden manages to capture so much in Rolling Blackouts. The quality of life or lack there of, the daily habits and experiences they have. The reader becomes a fly on the wall in the rooms where Sarah’s companions interview people about their experiences and begin to record and create a narrative about Iraqi refugees and the displacement the war has caused and the repercussions. Whether Glidden recorded conversations and interviews with UN employees, volunteers, refugees, or their taxi drivers, each bit of information adds to a more complete and diverse perspective. The people interviewed have had their lives forever altered, and it’s something that Americans need to read. These stories are also a part of the American war on terror. These are part of the repercussions to distant wars that we’ve been fighting for so long.

You can find a copy of Rolling Blackouts at your local independent bookstore, Powell’s, and your local library.



The Tiger Who Would Be King by James Thurber

61qi9zq46blJames Thurber’s The Tiger Who Would be King was originally published in The New Yorker in 1927. Nearly a century later, the fable was illustrated by JooHee Yoon and published by independent publisher, Enchanted Lion Books, as a picture book in 2015.

One morning, the Tiger awakens and decides that he should be king of beasts. He confronts the Lion. The Lion, defending his crown, charges at the Tiger, the beginning of an all-encompassing fight as all beasts join the battle.

“All the animals of the jungle joined in, some taking the side of the tiger and others the side of the lion. Every creature from the aardvark to the zebra took part in the struggle to overthrow the lion or to repulse the tiger, and some did not know which they were fighting for, and some fought for both, and some fought whoever was nearest, and some fought for the sake of fighting.”

JooHee Yoon’s two color illustrations are beautiful and dynamic as they illustrate the Tiger’s ego-driven desire for power and the subsequent destruction of the beasts he’s claimed to rule. Thurber ends his fable with the moral: You can’t very well be king of beasts if there aren’t any.

This fable and picture book bridge so many age levels and readers. Whether you’d like to read more of Thurber’s fables in a Further Fables for our Time, or pick up this beautiful picture book from your local independent bookstore, Powell’s, or your local library.


children's fiction · middle grade

The Seeds of America Trilogy by Laurie Halse Anderson


I started reading The Seeds of America Trilogy during the Thanksgiving holiday, and although I’m not done with this series, I had to share because it’s beautifully written and passionately explores the irony of a country trying to free itself while at the same time denying freedom to so many.

Chains is the first book in Laurie Halse Anderson’s The Seeds of America Trilogy. Chains begins when the protagonist, Isabel Finch, an African American slave, and her sister are wrongfully sold by her late-master’s brother to a wealthy Loyalist couple, Eluhi Lockton and his cruel wife, Anne. The novel is predominantly set in New York City and due to Isabel’s rebel sympathies and her loyalist home, the reader is purview to a wide range of information and scenery from both sides of the revolutionary war. Isabel befriends a young slave, Curzon, who works for a patriot and enters the rebel army in place of his master with the hopes of earning his freedom.

Curzon is the narrator of the second story, Forge, which is set in Valley Forge and explores the difficulties faced there by the Revolutionary Army as well as the difficulties specific to Curzon, a young black man. There’s a passage in Forge where Curzon is trying to explain to his friend and fellow soldier, Eben, the mistreatment of black people and slaves in America which I found particularly relevant to the way that systemic racism is pervasive in modern day America.

“Let me ask you something. We’re fighting for freedom, right?” I picked my words carefully. “So why is that man allowed to own Baumfree and Bett?”

“Well,” he said slowly, “we’re fighting for our freedom. Not theirs.” He crossed his arms, uncrossed them, put his hands on his belt and crossed his arms again. “Nobody in my family owns slaves, you know.”

“That is not the point. Do you think only white people can be free?”

“Of course not. There are plenty of free blacks, like you and those other fellows in Saratoga and Albany. We had a family two villages over from mine, they were all free black people.”

“But the colonel’s slaves are not allowed to be free.”

He frowned. “They can’t be free, Curzon. They’re slaves. Their master decides for them.”

“What if they ran away?”

“Then they’d be breaking the law.”

“Bad laws deserve to be broken.”

“Don’t talk like that!” He kicked a rock deep into the field. “You want to get in trouble? Laws have to be followed or else you go to the jail.”

“What if a king made bad laws; laws so unnatural that a country broke them by declaring its freedom?”

He threw his arms in the air. “Now you are spouting nonsense. Two slaves running away from their rightful master is not the same as America wanting to be free of England. Not the same at all.”

[. . . . ]

“If you were that tall fellow back there,” I asked, “wouldn’t you want to be free to live your own life?”

“I don’t like talking about this,” he said. “But since you ask, no. If I were that fellow, I’d be happy for the food and clothes and good care my master gave me. I would know that God wanted me to be in bondage and I would not question His will.”

The wind blew down the narrow strip of dirt between us, sending dust into the air and giving me the answer I needed.

“You’re not my friend,” I said.

(Anderson, Forge, 65-67)

The third and final book, Ashes, was released earlier this year. I hope you find the series at your local independent bookstore, or Powell’s, or your local library. It’s a remarkable work of historical fiction by Laurie Halse Anderson.


The Sixth Extinction


lgcover-9780805092998 I read Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction: an Unnatural History in June of 2014, and I think about it more often than any other book I’ve read in the last two years. The Sixth Extinction explores the five mass extinctions in earth’s history, and the man-made sixth extinction currently underway.

Kolbert builds off the research from scientists across different practices, often following them into the research field whether they’re researching the mysterious deaths of bats, the disappearing Panamanian golden frog, or the Great Barrier Reef. Despite the immense amount of scientific research and scientific subject, this book is written for the general reader. I am not a scientist, nor do I understand or speak in a scientific jargon– and Elizabeth Kolbert doesn’t write in one. She makes a case for our natural world illuminating the destruction currently happening and using Earth’s brutal history as a framework.

It’s a horrifying history and the scariest book I’ve read.

The Sixth Extinction: an Unnatural History was the 2015 winner of the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction. It’s an incredible book that changed the way I think about the world, what my role is in this destruction, and what I can do to change it.

You can buy a copy of The Sixth Extinction here and here, or borrow it from your local library here.

children's fiction

Where’s the Elephant?


Barroux’s Where’s the Elephant? begins innocently enough as an image-search picture book— looking on each page for an elephant, a snake, and a bird. They’re camouflaged in the forest and initially pretty hard to find, but when parts of the forest are cut down it becomes easier to find the animals on the page as more of their forest is cleared.

Man-made structures: homes, roads, and larger buildings begin to creep into the cleared land until little wildlife is left.

Where’s the Elephant? is told primarily through vibrant images and with dramatic effect. Young readers can understand the images and the story being told. It’s an excellent example of deforestation and the consequences of urbanization for even the youngest reader.

You can find a copy of Where’s the Elephant? here, here, and here, or from your local library.

children's fiction

The Journey


The Journey by Italian author-illustrator Francesca Sanna, is an emotional and poignant picture book about a family forced to leave their war-torn home. Francesca Sanna does a beautiful job in telling and illustrating a story that shares so much of the refugee crisis that is currently reshaping western and world politics.

In her author’s note she says, “The Journey is actually a story about many journeys, and it began with the story of two girls I met in a refugee center in Italy. After meeting them I realized that behind their journey lay something very powerful. So I began collecting more stories of migration and interviewing many people from many different countries. A few months later, in September 2014, when I started studying a Master of Arts in Illustration at the Academy of Lucerne, I knew I wanted to create a book about these true stories. Almost every day on the news we hear the terms ‘migrants’ and ‘refugees’ but we rarely ever speak to or hear the personal journeys that they have had to take. This book is a collage of all those personal stories and the incredible strength of the people within them.”

It is difficult to understand the complexities of politics and wars, but it is not difficult to understand basic human rights, which children so frequently excel at—understanding right from wrong, recognizing kindness or the absence of. The Journey is a testament to the physical and emotional hardships that come with fleeing your home. It provides an opportunity to share and discuss with children the complexities of the world, home and safety, and a reminder that we are all human.

You can find a copy of The Journey here and here, and your local library.