Finding Your Own Way With Words, and Images

Finding Your Own Way With Words, and Images

Written by Sara O’Leary
Illustrated by Qin Leng

Instead of a teacher in a classroom posing the discussion-sparking question to children, as in “A Family Is a Family Is a Family,” here children outside in the schoolyard question the questions other children ask them. “I can think of better things to ask than if I’m a boy or a girl,” a poignantly rendered “new kid” mutters. A spunky brown-skinned girl who jumps rope chimes in: “I get asked where I come from. Here. I come from here.” “Ask me if you can try my lunch,” a happy-to-share Asian boy volunteers, before the new kid wraps it up with “one question we all like. ‘Hey kid, do you want to play?’”

32 pp. Groundwood. $18.99. (Ages 3 to 6)

Written and illustrated by Beatrice Alemagna

Five-year-old Pascaline is a small bat with a big personality. She yells so loudly about not ever going to school that her parents “shrivel up” and become “as tiny as two peanuts.” Hilariously, so does the type size of their dialogue, to fit their newly “squeaky voices.” “Now I don’t have to go to school by myself!” Pascaline proclaims as she tucks them, against their will, under her crimson wing. What a brilliant premise. Unlike the other little bats, who are sobbing and whimpering, Pascaline is now confident. If only her pesky parents weren’t such a hindrance.

48 pp. Harper. $17.99. (Ages 4 to 8)

Written and illustrated by Kathryn Otoshi

This is a story about a bully who takes another boy’s lunch every day. (No way is he standing in the FREE LUNCH line.) And unlike most such stories, it’s narrated by the bully. Lonely Jimmy is himself bullied, by his older brothers. Since “Skinny Kid’s” lunch is “better than mine,” Jimmy bets his home life is, too. We’ll see about that. Jimmy is a deep purple silhouette, set apart from everyone else, in Otoshi’s strikingly impressionistic gouache and colored pencil scenes, until Skinny Kid’s mom truly “sees” him and offers to send a “second lunch” for him, “every day.” The real-life Jimmy is now a leading educator and bullying prevention advocate.

40 pp. KO Kids. $17.99. (Ages 4 to 7)

Written and illustrated by Sophie Blackall

“Words only make sense when I read them out loud slowly,” our boy narrator confides. “The kids at school stare and laugh.” But when his family has had enough of his “negative” cat (a moniker that Blackall’s son gave to their family pet), he tries one last thing. Success! “Max stares, but he doesn’t laugh.” Soon the whole class is reading to cats at the local shelter. Blackall thanks a rescue league for supporting “animal welfare and literacy,” so who knows — maybe cats can read, too!

32 pp. Nancy Paulsen. $17.99. (Ages 4 to 8)

Written by Lana Button
Illustrated by Carmen Mok

A resilient girl looks on the bright side as she makes her own breakfast, though there’s nothing to pour on her cereal. “No milk means no spilling — and I don’t need a spoon.” Bread for a sandwich to pack in her lunch? “Just ends. So the last two pieces of pepperoni and a mustard smile.” But her waitress single mother hasn’t left her field-trip money either, nor checked the “I can’t pay” box. This tender tale imparts that asking for help shows toughness, too.

32 pp. Tundra. $18.99. (Ages 3 to 7)

Written and illustrated by Hudson Talbott

Drawing was “like diving into my own world,” Talbott writes in this fast-paced, highly visual autobiographical tale. Reading was terrifying — “too many words coming at me at the same time.” One minute he’s running for his life as books swarm after him like Hitchcock’s birds; the next he’s in a dark wood that’s downright Dante-esque. While tempted to give up, Talbott “loved stories too much to quit.” So he “pictured” a way out: steppingstones. “I jumped over the words I didn’t know, and let the words I knew lead me into the story. After a while, I wasn’t thinking about reading. I just wanted to know what happened next.”

32 pp. Nancy Paulsen. $17.99. (Ages 4 to 8)

Written and illustrated by Phung Nguyen Quang and Huynh Kim Lien

It’s rainy season in the Mekong Delta, “where the great river … tumbles into the endless sea.” A young boy named An (“peaceful,” in Vietnamese) climbs into his open wooden boat and paddles out upon the waves, weaving alone through floodwaters and the “unfamiliar hallways” of a forest. We see a crocodile and a python. Like a teacher, the jungle “calls your name, asks you to be brave.” Quang and Lien’s large-scale art goes edge to edge across double pages, and their words are spare, to show how tiny humans are in relation to nature, and how much some will risk to get an education.

40 pp. Make Me a World. $17.99. (Ages 4 to 8)

Written and illustrated by Rashin Kheiriyeh

A joyful, wildly imaginative girl named Rashin, in whom we see the seeds of this joyful, wildly imaginative book, embarks on her first day of school in America, where everything is a different shape, including the letters of the alphabet. She’s nervous and it’s raining, but happy memories of walking to school in Iran carry her, as if on a cloud, to her new classroom, where everyone comes from somewhere else. By the end of the day, the classroom is “shaped like home.”

40 pp. Levine Querido. $17.99. (Ages 4 to 7)

Jennifer Krauss is the children’s books editor for the Book Review.

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