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


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.