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Free Fridays: Malala’s Magic Pencil


Author Malala Yousafzai writes this autobiography about how she found her voice to speak out for women’s education in Pakistan.  At 10 years old, the Taliban had forbidden girls in Malala’s community from attending school. However, she believed that all children should have access to education.  And so, she began writing for BBC Urdu about her life under the Taliban using the pen name Gul Makai and speaking publicly about the need for all children to have access to education. Even after being targeted and surviving an attack by the Taliban, she continued to speak up.

This story begins with a simple question, “Do you believe in magic?”  It is such a simple question, yet it can be hard to answer.  But, Yousafzai writes about why we all have magic.  She, then, describes a television show she used to watch as a child in which a young boy has a magic pencil that could make anything appear if he drew it.  She writes that she wanted a magic pencil to “…erase war, poverty, and hunger…” and a to “…draw girls and boys as equals.”

However, even though Malala wished for this magic pencil every night, it never came. After seeing a girl her age sorting trash into piles and boys fishing for metal scraps, Malala decides that instead of wishing for the magic pencil, she was going to work hard in school every day to be one of the top students in her class.  Even when “powerful and dangerous” men who walked the streets carrying weapons forbid girls from attending school, Malala continued to work hard.

Furthermore, she began to speak out. She wrote about how it felt to be scared to walk to school, how some of her friends had moved away because of the dangers in the community, how much she loved school, and how much she loved her uniform. After writing and sharing her story, she began to write speeches and travel around her country to share her story.  Then, the dangerous men tried to silence her— but they did not succeed. Her voice became even more powerful because people had joined her.

Malala’s final sentence says, “One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world.”  This is written in the same metallic gold font as Malala’s drawings with the magic pencil— demonstrating that the pencil is, indeed, magical.  It is magical because the “…magic is always in you, in your words, and in your voice.”

Kerascoët’s illustrations are bright watercolors that perfectly accompany and depict the text’s language.  Some of the most integral aspects of these illustrations are the gold embellishments layered over the watercolor to illustrate Malala’s drawings with the magic pencil.  These metallic drawings really add to the hopefulness of Malala’s dreams and wishes.

Paxton Robinette


Winner Wednesday: The Lion and the Mouse


This Winner Wednesday will throw back to a slightly older (but beloved nonetheless) Caldecott Winner: The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney, published in 2009. With very few words, Pinkney manages to retell a classic Aesop’s Fable, bringing new life to the story and creating a classic of his own.

Set in the African Serengeti of Tanzania and Kenya, Pinkney creates the perfect backdrop for beautiful
illustrations full of heart and realism. Jerry Pinkney has won an incredibly impressive six Caldecott medals and he shows himself worthy in the remarkable illustrations of this book. Through a mix of watercolor and colored pencils, Pinkney created full spread images that tell the story of a lion sparing a mouse and being richly rewarded for it in a way that allows the reader to imaginatively process the story without relying on narration. In fact as far as narration goes, Pinkney includes solely onomatopoeia in order to create a rich and vibrant animal kingdom.

Regardless of words, the reader becomes involved in an engaging and compelling story full of tension, friendship, and prevailing. The characters actions speak for themselves as the reader comes to realize that the smallest of animals and hearts can be crucial even to the king of the jungle. Pinkney encourages all to see themselves in the place of both the lion and the mouse, both of whom have done a loving and selfless deed for the other regardless of traditional hierarchies or norms.

Pinkney himself says of the book, “I’ve come to appreciate how both animals are equally large at heart… Each commanding powerful space and presence.” Pinkney expertly coveys this idea throughout the book, from cover to end pages to jacket.


-Annagayle Lance

Winner Wednesday: The Right Word: Roget and his Thesaurus


A1PGy2kNScLFor this Winner’s Wednesday, I chose Jen Branyt’s The Right Word: Roget and his Thesaurus.

This book is about the life of Peter Roget, the creator of the first thesaurus. It follows Roget from childhood into his adult life, opening with the death of Roget’s father and closing with the popularity of his newly-published Thesaurus.

Going beyond a simple biographical account, the book notes several consistent themes throughout Roget’s life, including his struggle to find the right word for every situation and his sincere passion for creating lists. This continuity gives the text a feeling of fluidity and clear closure when Roget solves his own problem by creating the thesaurus.

With each piece of the story, Branyt comes back to Roget’s passion for making lists, an explicit pattern that is both accessible and exciting for young children to read. Branyt’s style of writing is fast-paced and intentional, with each line working to culminate in Roget’s success at the end of the book.

The book would be highly engaging for readers of all ages, because of its topic and captivating style of writing. It highlights difficult issues that readers may have faced such as moving and the death of a family member, while also reflecting quintessential experiences of childhood, like playing outside and learning new things. The book importantly emphasizes Roget’s value of the written word and learning, both morals that are necessary to instill in children at a young age. The book tells an accessible and interesting story that is heavily supported by its unique illustrations.

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The Right Word is illustrated by Melissa Sweet, and won the 2015 Caldecott Honor for its notable style. Sweet’s style is beautifully integrative – with a wide range of fonts, imagery and styles coming together to tell the story. For a book focused on words, Sweet certainly was intentional in her effort to highlight them, with a use of typography and imagery to depict the words that Roget was writing and thinking about throughout his life.


Sweet uses depth and soft lines to create inviting images that encourage the reader to relate to Roget and dive into his world. She uses illustrations of people on top of real-world artifacts, such as maps, in order to make Roget’s story feel as real as it is. She even includes Roget’s actual first list, which might provoke an interesting classroom discussion about sources and artistic styles.

The layout of each page is different and unpredictable, encouraging the readers to spend just as much time on the pictures as they do the text. Sweet’s illustrations are a beautiful integration of the literary and natural worlds that encourages readers to step inside Roget’s story, inviting them on his quest for “just the right word.”

– Olivia Horne

Trendy Tuesday: She Persisted Around the World


As I write this post scheduled for Election Day, the concept of persistence seems particularly appropriate, so this Trendy Tuesday will feature the book She Persisted Around the World: 13 Women Who Changed History written by Chelsea Clinton and Alexandra Boiger.

Even from the cover of the book, it is apparent that this book will not fall victim to the whitewashing or disability-erasing history that we become accustomed to learning. Chelsea Clinton immediately acknowledges that although severity of gender inequality and misogyny varies across the world, being a girl always carries its own difficulties and challenges, that many women before us have faced and successfully fought against

Each spread features a different woman that has defied gender norms and fought for a more equal world, some well-known, like J.K. Rowling and Malala Yousafzai, and others more obscure, like Caroline Herschel and Mary Verghese. In addition to a short biography of each woman and her accomplishments, the book includes a noteworthy and inspiring quote that can surmise the spirit and attitude of each woman.

A few motifs reappear throughout the book. Nearly every description of the women emphasizes the importance of education as a major tool and motivator in the women’s lives and accomplishments. In this way, She Persisted encourages young girls to value and pursue education by showing them all they can accomplish with knowledge and understanding of the world around them.

Clinton manages to emphasize education without shaming those less fortunate, however, when she tells the stories of women like Viola Desmond. Girls reading this story need not be intimidated by the exceptional intelligence of the previously described experts in astronomy or physics, but can realize that all they really need to make a difference is heart and determination. In each story, regardless of how they have impacted the world or fought for equality, the words she persisted are repeated, in bold. The namesake of the book drives home the point that in order to make change, one cannot give up and this determination can be just as important, if not more-so, than traditional means to success, like education and job experience.

One last thing that I appreciated about this book is the way that the disabled characters are portrayed and illustrated. Rather than seeing disability or use of a wheelchair as a limitation, the author and illustrator show a young girl and a woman living a strong and fulfilling life. Particularly, the way the young girl is shown racing ahead of her friends in the end pages shows how
boys and girls with disabilities should not be pitied or seen as victims, but celebrated and appreciated for how they adapt and live a life just as full and joyful as anyone else.



-Annagayle Lance

Trendy Tuesday: Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness



Today’s Trendy Tuesday will focus on a very new book that focuses on race and white supremacy: Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness by Anastasia Higginbotham.  This is just one book in Higginbotham’s collection “Ordinary terrible things” which covers difficult (and often controversial) topics such as divorce, death, and sex. In the foreword, Higginbotham shares with the reader that her inspiration to write this book were her two white sons who she hopes to “dismantle white supremacy” with.

In this picture book, the reader follows the experiences of a young boy who is watching television when he sees a white police officer shooting a person of color. When he asks his mother about this event, she calms him down and reminds him that he is safe and assures him that he does not have to worry. With that, she says “we do not see color.” However, the young boy cannot come to terms with this statement. How can we notsee color?

We follow the boy who enters a local gift shop to purchase something for his aunt. The illustrations depict another boy of color (wearing the same thing as our protagonist) who is being closely watched by the security guard. When the protagonist arrives at his aunt’s home, he again sees the protests on television full of individuals demanding justice for people of color. Instead of explaining the seriousness and complexity of this issue, his mom defends the police officer and refuses to watch the television. The protagonist is deeply saddened and confused by the recent events. On the car ride home from the aunt’s house, illustrations depict his mom clutching onto her wallet as they pass through a predominantly black neighborhood. The protagonist becomes more aware of these microaggressions in light of the recent events and becomes curious. They stop at a library where he starts to read about historical times in which racism was prevalent and black people were denied basic human rights. Finally, the protagonist asks his mother to be honest with him about what is really happening. They stop at a playground to get some fresh air where a young black girl and her mom are playing on the swings. The story ends with the protagonist looking as if he wants to engage with them. Higginbotham leaves the reader with the question: “Your history’s not all written yet. What do you want it to say?” 

Higginbotham utilizes scraps to form realistic and beautiful illustrations that portray the protagonist’s experiences and emotions as he grapples with pressing issues in our country.  The use of real-life objects makes the story connect with the reader on an even deeper level and seem even more realistic than it already is.

The story ends with a call to action to both the children and parents reading this book. In this “Activities” section, the reader can answer the questions that are being asked of them. They can engage with various prompts and conversation-starters with whomever they are reading with. I found this part of the book to be a very “trendy” aspect of the book because rather than a traditional author’s note following the conclusion of the book, Higginbotham includes an interactive section to really engage the readers and get them thinking about what they can do to end racial discrimination and inequality.

This book allows both children and adults to think about their own perceptions of racism and personally reflect on how they can create a safer and more accepting world.  This book explains the harsh realities in a fairly
kid-friendly manner. While it delves into the oppression of people of color, racial discrimination in a historical context, and white supremacy, it also suggests the reader to take action and “make history.”




-Emma Bernstein

Traditional Thursdays: One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish


When asked to think about classic children’s literature, my mind immediately jumps to the work of Dr. Seuss.  Considered by many to be one of the most popular children’s authors of all time, Dr. Seuss wrote over 60 children’s books during his career.  One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish is a prime example of the magic and whimsy that Dr. Seuss worked into all of his books; it does not surprise me that the same book that entertained my parents as children was read to me countless times as a child and continues to be read to young readers.

After several pages describing the many types of fish that can be seen, the reader is introduced to a pair of children who are narrating the story.  The book is about more than just fish, and the children bring the readers along with them here and there and everywhere.  The children invite the readers into the story with them and draw you into the world of magic that is unfolding before your eyes.

As is the case with many Dr. Seuss books, the appeal lies not only in the whimsical characters and story lines, but also in the rhyme and text used to tell the stories!  Dr. Seuss is truly a master of rhyme, making the books fun to read and even more engaging to listen to.  While any child is bound to be entertained by this book, One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish is especially useful in contexts where the children are beginning readers.  This book teaches children that reading is fun and invites them into a world of fantastical creatures.  When children are first learning to read, this book will make them feel confident as a reader because the rhyme on each page makes the text memorable and melodic.  

In many books that are aimed at young readers, the rhymes come at the cost of the quality of the content.  Dr. Seuss manages to transport you into a world where each page is both connected to the overall story but delightful on its own.  This book follows two children here and there and everywhere, discovering many creatures of Seuss’ imagination, which gives readers a basic plot line to follow.  At the same time, most pages are an isolated description of some new character.  And with how many pages are in this book, you certainly get to meet a lot of characters!









In a world where kids are expected to grow up too quickly, there is a need for books that draw children into a world that is silly and nonsensical and imaginative.  One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish is a classic that appeals to readers because readers know it’s whimsical and they love that.  The illustrations of the characters are comical but show real emotion, and children (and adults) are drawn in by the magic that is radiating off of the pages.  One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish has mesmerized readers for generations and I don’t see that stopping any time soon.

-Heather MacIntyre

Winner Wednesday: Black Dog



I chose Levi Pinfold’s Black Dog for this Winner’s Wednesday. This Kate Greenaway winner is about a black dog that visits the Hope family one morning. First seen outside “the size of a tiger,” the dog grows with each turn of the page, eventually becoming the size of the home. This terrifies everyone inside. One by one, every member of the Hope family wakes up, sees the dog outside, and hides from it. Finally, the youngest child, nicknamed Small, sees the family cowering in fear and decides to handle the situation herself. Small determinedly braves the cold and leads the dog on an adventure through the forest.

Small sings, “You can’t follow where I go, unless you shrink, or don’t you know?” as the dog follows her. Mysteriously, the dog begins to grow smaller as it follows her through the woods, over a frozen pond, down the slide at the playground. After their adventure, Small leads the now normal-sized dog into the house, showing her family that he is not scary after all.

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The text itself is playful and whimsical, reading like a fable or storybook. The mystery of the plot is supported by the fable-style of writing. The typography supports this connection in genres, with the first letter on each page written in a larger, bolded font. Pinfold writes Small’s taunts to the dogs in a rhyming pattern, giving the book its playful tone.

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The book won the Kate Greenaway Award in 2013 for good reason. Its illustrations are incredibly creative, lifelike and detailed. Pinfold’s illustrations support the whimsical feeling of the text, with light pastel colors and soft shading. Pinfold is able to capture the chaos of the Hope household, with drawings created by the children throughout the home (and even on cabinets) and toys scattered on the floor and in the bathtub. Intricate details from the wallpaper to the family’s patterned pajamas work to give readers a feel for the Hope family and support the quirkiness of the book as a whole.

The illustrations are greatly supportive, also, in the creativity of their layout. On the beginning pages describing the family, Pinfold draws sepia-toned boxes filled with images that support and summarize the action in the text. On the following page, Pinfold draws a full color image of the individual person reacting to the dog’s size. This creates a sharp contrast when Small Hope is introduced, as the panels on this page depict her putting on her winter clothes with determination.

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As the text continues and Small ventures out to confront the dog, Pinfold begins using two pages to highlight the dog’s changing size. This gives the readers a better sense of the comparison between Small and the dog, and further immerses readers into the text. Pinfold continues to use the sepia-toned boxes as the story unfolds, supporting the older feel of the book, despite its 2012 publication date.

IMG_3344 3The quality of the book was heavily supported by its beautiful illustrations and whimsical text. Pinfold emphasizes the importance of bravery in the face of fear in the character of Small Hope. Through his illustrations and text, Pinfold reminds readers that all they need to shrink their fears is a little bit of hope and a whole lot of bravery.

– Olivia Horne