Monthly Archives: February 2019

Winner Wednesdays: Dreamers, Yuyi Morales’ Authentic Immigrant Narrative



This year, the esteemed Pura Belpre recognition for illustration in Latino Literature was awarded to Yuyi Morales’ Dreamers. A heartfelt picture book with eloquent style and lovely illustrations, Dreamers tells the story of the author/illustrator when she and her infant son migrated to the United States from Mexico. Morales’ own experience shines through in her artistic retelling, which is accompanied by meticulous multimedia illustration and poetic word choice. The cover, pictured above, is marvelous, and depicts the author and her son alongside imagery that evokes Mexican artistic tradition and themes of immigration (migrating birds and butterflies).

Thanks to Morales’ stylistic choices, the reader floats through her story. The reading experience is heartwarming and familiar. It inspires in the reader a longing to more deeply understand the plight of immigrants. Specifically, the imagery, which contains elements of traditional Mexican art, conveys the cross-cultural themes of the book. Morales’ use of multiple mediums draws the reader in, and moves the eye skillfully across the page. Through her illustrations, Morales subtly refers to themes of resourcefulness, improvisation, craft, and minimalism. The imagery feels cozy and safe, and creates an overall environment of comfort and hope throughout the book.


The use of bilingual Spanish and English writing underscores the theme of cross-cultural experience.

Dreamers is an important example of cultural and experiential representation in children’s literature. Sims Bishop explained how books serve as both mirrors and windows for the readers, reflecting an experience that the reader shares or propelling the reader into an experience that is different from their own. Morales’ award-winning book is a wonderful example of how an immigrant experience narrative in children’s literature can inspire hope and a sense of commonality of experience for immigrant children. Children who speak both Spanish and English will see their experience reflected by the bilingual nature of the book, which uses words from both of the author’s language intermittently to convey cross-cultural experience. Importantly, it can also serve to teach young readers who have not experienced something similar about the immigrant experience. For all readers, the themes of libraries and storytelling will hopefully spark a love for reading.


One of the first scenes when Morales and her son arrive in the U.S. The illustration effectively conveys both the welcomeness and the unfamiliarity.

While one book alone cannot serve as a comprehensive lesson on a certain experience, and while immigrant experiences are each unique, Morales’ work here can provide important insight for young readers who are beginning to understand complex themes like culture, tradition, and living around people from diverse backgrounds. It is my hope that readers will enjoy the beautiful piece of art and important narrative that is Dreamers, just as I did.

-Hannah Salaverry

Trendy Tuesdays: Tidy by Kate Gravett



“I did not have an intended theme, I just wanted to write the book about the badger.” says Emily Gravett, author of the post-modern fable “Tidy”. In it, Pete the Badger becomes increasingly distressed with how untidy the forest is and vows to clean it up. In his quest to sanitize nature, Pete bags up all the leaves in trash bags, digs up all the trees, and ends up destroying the forest, leaving it all concreted over and neutered. The anachronistic dust pans, mops, toothbrushes, and brooms throughout the pages offer a silly warning against imposing industrial cleanliness standards on our natural world.

The beauty of “Tidy” is that it’s didactic without being imposing. It doesn’t seek to shame it’s reader and it doesn’t force a reading as anything other than a fun, silly story about a badger. But it is, at heart, an environmental tale. We face huge repercussions when we misuse and neglect our environment, and while Gravett does caution that “if he succeeded is anyone’s guess”, it’s really a sobering thought that in real life we can’t just put trees back into their stumps. Gravett is making huge claims, but she’s not forcing them on anyone. Kids as young as 3 could enjoy the silliness of this book, but it can provoke thoughtful discussion at any age.


It should also be noted that the illustrations are absolutely delightful, but we’d expect nothing less from a multiple-time Kate Greenaway Medal winner/nominee. I’d cheerfully recommend anything Ms. Gravett produces.

All in all, Tidy manages to be extremely fun and extremely thoughtful, and if you haven’t read it, I suggest you tidy up your bookshelf and make space for it, because it’s a keeper. Cheers!

-Josiah Pehrson

Winner Wednesday: Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race


For my Winner Wednesday blog post I chose one of the 2019 Illustrator Honor books for the Coretta Scott Kind Book Award. This book is Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race written by Margot Lee Shetterly and illustrated by Laura Freeman. “The Coretta Scott King awards are given annually to outstanding African American authors and illustrators of books for children and young adults that demonstrate an appreciation of African American culture and universal human values. The award commemorates the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and honors his wife, Mrs. Coretta Scott King, for her courage and determination to continue the work for peace and world brotherhood.” I loved that this book is based on the New York Times best-selling book and Academy Award winning movie and takes the content and transforms it into the media of a children’s book. By making this book in picture book form it really opens up the audience that can read this book and I could see applicable teaching lessons made for children in middle elementary school all the way through high school. The picture book presentation allows young children to learn about the discrimination that women, particularly Black women, faced. This book still contains nuanced understandings of what each of the women did and could be central to a comparative study of the New York Times best selling book, or the movie in a high school English classroom.Screen Shot 2019-02-20 at 2.02.32 PM

I loved the illustrations in this book as they were so great at highlighting some of the challenges that Black women faced in visual form. One such example is the different treatment that white women and Black women faced in the work place. Despite having the same job descriptions and responsibilities Black women were segregated and given inferior work spaces to white women. The contrast between Blacks and Whites is made clear on several pages, but the one included below highlights the separation of these groups and the inequality of that separation.

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Another spread that really resonated with me is the one shown below. On these pages it talked about how Katherine wanted to be allowed to attend meetings about the work that she was doing. This was unprecedented and her boss told her no. Despite barriers in place Katherine continued to ask her boss for a seat at the table. This page spread shows the numerous times that Katherine approached her boss and shows the expression of Katherine and her boss so clearly. Katherine’s grit and persistence paid off and her boss agreed to invite her to meetings.

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A final page spread that I really appreciated in this book, both for content and illustrations, was the spread shown below. This spread talks about other events that were taking place at the same time these Black women were getting involved in the space race. I think that situating these events at the same time as other events that students would be familiar with is so important to understanding the reality that these women were living.

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-Emily Bean

Trendy Tuesdays: The Importance of Black History Month and connections to literature


In honor of Black History month, it is important to introduce our students to the lived experiences of Black Americans in the past and the present. The book I, Too, Am America by Langston Hughes and illustrated by Bryan Collier illustrates and brings to life the poem “I, Too, sing America” by Langston Hughes. This book takes apart the poem and, by adding illustrations to the words, gives the reader a modern-day interpretation of the poem. Focusing on the title change from “I, Too, sing America” to I, Too, Am America it is interesting to see the shift in power that both present. By changing “sing” to “am”, the illustrator of I, Too, Am America makes an explicit statement about being American despite the difference in skin color.

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Throughout the book, the illustrations take the reader on a journey through time. The illustrations begin depicting a train car and a Black man who is the server on the car. Over the image of the man in uniform, there is an American flag covering him. Based off interpretations of the poem, the reader can infer that the speaker feels smothered and silenced by America.

As the poem continues, the illustrations uplift the beauty of the poem and beautifully depict the strength and courage emitted from the speaker. The illustrations depict an image of freedom, liberty, and happiness. Also, as the poem continues, so do the illustrations begin to depict more modern times hinting at the progression of time.

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As the poem comes to an end, a young boy is with his mom in a subway train looking out the window. The same flag that was present over the young man in uniform at the beginning of the book is also present here, yet this time, the young boy is able to peer through the flag.

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This book would be great at a discussion on civil rights, or the history that follows Black Americans today. The illustrations and format of the book also make it very age friendly where students from a wide range of ages can access the content with the support of the illustrations. Overall, this read is a great reminder and introduction to a discussion about Black History Month, and its importance in our world today.


-Maria Aguilera

“Big and Bad” – but mostly bad


This Traditional Thursday, I got the exciting opportunity to read a Three Little Pigs adaptation called “Big and Bad”. This well-loved tale had me eager to see a fresh take on it. Instead, what we get is a fairly bland retelling with somewhat terrifying illustrations.


As someone who had nightmares over “Where the Wild Things Are” as a child, I can assure you those EYES would not have sat well with me. Also note the rather bland font. Later, some character names are emphasized with color, but it doesn’t seem to serve any kind of meaningful purpose with regards to the text.

In terms of narrative, we have a straightforward retelling of the traditional fable, with the exception that the houses are built as a trap for Big Bad devised by the various woodland creatures. Eventually when he gets scared up out at the chimney, he becomes a comet in the night sky. My biggest gripe with the narrative is that, being so blase, I never reached a point where I felt engaged with the mythos of a Just-So Story, so the only significant adaptation felt tacked on.


The issue with this book, aside from the borderline surreal illustrations, is not that it’s that bad, it just really doesn’t offer much worth reading.  A story needs a reason, it needs to want to be given life, and frankly I found myself only bored or annoyed as I worked through the text. And with something so well-worn as The Three Little Pigs, there are already so many fun and thoughtful adaptations, I don’t know why you would choose this one. A few that I love include “The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs” by Jon Sciezka and Lane Smith as well as “The Three Pigs” by David Wiesner.

If you’re going to read a classic fable, I definitely recommend the two pictured above instead!

-Josiah Pehrson

Winner Wednesday: Last Stop on Market Street


For Winner Wednesday, I chose the 2016 Newbery Medal winner, Last Stop on Market Street. This book has also been praised as a Caldecott Honor Book and a Coretta Scott King Honor Book for its illustrations. Last Stop on Market Street is a colorful story filled with strong, but subtle messages about appreciating the beauty in life, even in places that may not seem as beautiful at first, such as a bus or the part of town with “crumbling sidewalks and broken-down doors, graffiti-tagged windows and boarded-up stores.”

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This book starts off with a boy and his nana waiting for the bus in the rain after church. The boy, CJ, asks many questions throughout the book, such as “How come we gotta wait for the bus in all this wet?” and “Nana, how come we don’t got a car?” His nana always responds to these hidden complaints with answers that give CJ a new way to look at the world. Despite his grumbles and his desires to conform to what everyone else is doing, Nana is able to start to modify his thinking to see the beauty in the small things, such as bus riding, guitar playing, joke telling, and greeting people, on their way to the last stop on Market Street. They ride the bus experiencing these new ways of thinking about the world until they reach their destination.


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The overall message of this book is very inspiring. Looking at each situation through a positive lens can cause one to lead a very different life than if one conforms to what everyone else is doing, such as riding in cars or just listening to music in headphones. Without the experiences of riding the bus or listening to live music from a guitar (see picture 2), CJ’s eyes would not have been opened to these new ideas. The other brilliant part of this book is that the message, while quite pervasive, is subtle in the text. Nana provides a new way to look at everything, which is surprising to readers, but not until the end does the reader realize the extent of the message.

I think the colors in this book also add to the message. Even in the gray rain or in the more worn down part of the neighborhood that Nana and CJ get off the bus at, there are still bright colors throughout the pages (see the rainbow in picture 3), showing that even in times or places that are not usually seen as very beautiful, there is still beauty to be seen. I really loved this book and found it to be both enjoyable and motivating to the reader. I would recommend this book for reading in many settings and with many audiences!

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-Katie Sopp

Juno Valentine and the Magical Shoes


Juno Valentine and the Magical Shoes was published in November of 2018 and has received praise for being a “fresh take on a fairy tale” (Forbes). The book was listed on the New York Times best seller list and was featured in Oprah Magazine’s Holiday Gift Guide this past holiday season. The book centers around young Juno Valentine whose favorite shoes do not light up or have wheels. Juno’s shoes are frankly the “tiniest bit boring.”  On a search to find her “every day is an adventure shoe,” Juno stumbles into what the reader can interpret as a dream sequence or Juno’s imagination as she tries on the shoes of several famous women from history.

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One of my favorite parts of this book is that it does not shy away from the use of color or the use of unique words. So many times, in texts for young children vocabulary is simplified. This is not the case with Eva Chen’s book as she eagerly includes descriptive words such as cornucopia. The illustrations on this spread, and many others, is breath taking and gives an ethereal feeling that reminds me of fairy tales that I grew up on.

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In the midst of Juno’s search to find her shoes, Juno comes across the shoes of several famous and influential women from history, past and present. In the story Juno tries on the shoes of famous artist, Frida Kahlo. The illustrations on this page reflect Frida’s famous appearance as well as mimic the aura of her artwork as the page includes lush green leaves, vibrant flowers, and lots of animal life.

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At the end of the text Juno finds her own shoes and draws elements from each of the famous women’s shoes in order to make her shoes truly unique and hers. I really enjoyed that this book suggests that Juno looks to notable women from history as her role models for her shoe fashion, but also presumably in her life. At the back of the book there is a “glossary” of famous women’s shoes. I loved this feature of the text as it provides an excellent talking point to learn more about each of the famous women featured in the text.

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Winners Wednesday: The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles (Erin E. Stead)


Rather than discuss one of this year’s award winners, I thought it’d be interesting to highlight to literary work of a previous Caldecott winning illustrator whom I admire. Erin E. Stead has a unique illustrative style that is delicate and whimsical, detailed yet simple, and filled with lovely muted colors. Her work in The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles by Michelle Cuevas is no exception.


The story tells the tale of a man whose job is to deliver all the letters sent to sea in glass bottles. The reader uncovers his love of the job and the inherent loneliness of a man with no name who never receives letters of his own. That is until he comes upon a letter with no labelled recipient. The remaining story follows the Uncorker’s quest to find the letter’s intended destination.

The book contains almost entirely full-bleed spreads, but in an unexpected way. The drawn elements often take up only a small portion of the page. Meanwhile, the background color(s) is/are blended seamlessly across wide expanses giving the illusion of larger illustrations.


Stead also creatively condenses her artwork to indicate changing perspective. This occurs when the reader is exposed to examples of the Uncorker’s working conditions through mesmerizing depictions of varying natural environments. While not an imperative aspect of the illustrations, it is a creative touch that could be a great point of conversation with children.


I was drawn (pun intended) to this book because of the name of its illustrator and I was not disappointed. Ultimately, the Uncorker reveals a well written, feel-good story about friendship in unexpected places while pleasuring the eye with the gorgeous, muted drawings for which Erin E. Stead is known and praised.


-Rita McLaughlin

Marvelous New Picture Book Mondays: Islandborn



“Islandborn” documents the struggles and successes of 6-year-old Dominican immigrant Lola. Her teacher asks the members of her class to draw pictures of where they live, but Lola has no living memory of The Island where she grew up. Instead she has to reconstruct the experiences of her elders living in the community.



She learns about the hot sun and the coarse sand, about coconut juice and mangos, and about the music that permeates The Island’s culture. She listens to these stories and creates more and more intricately detailed drawings as she reaches back into the recesses of her subconscious and engages with her cultural heritage. The drawings are rich and vibrant, reflecting a shared past that seeks discussion.



Lola’s relatives are afraid to explain the darkness and fear that gripped the island and forced them to leave, but eventually Mr. Mir explains Rafael Trujillo’s dictatorship using the metaphor of a Monster that terrorized the community. Only by banding together were they able to see restoration. Lola has to try to understand things in 6-year-old terms, but in many ways these metaphors of the Island and the Monster are much more powerful than the gritty, objective details of their history.


Sometimes loss and trauma can crush a person to pieces, making them freeze up and leaving memory cold and empty like a blank page of paper. Lola, as a second-generation immigrant doesn’t even have the luxury of memory to lose.  But through her family bonds, her vivid imagination makes up for the lost years on the Island and offer hope of rejuvenation and restoration.

All in all, Junot Díaz has crafted a gripping, engaging tale that is accessible and thought-provoking for audiences of any age. I would highly recommend this story and will definitely be reading this to my children someday.

-Josiah Pehrson