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.

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.