You Get What You Get by Julie Gassman
This book was a hit! So much so that I wanted to make it count for twelve books on the list. Maybe just make March’s reading list all about it? Reading it out loud made all the difference. It’s hilarious and drives home a critical lesson: You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.
A squirrel named Melvin does not handle disappointment well at all. He has meltdowns. Except at school because his teacher has a simple rule: You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit. So Melvin grits his squirrely teeth and abides by the rule, glad that at least he can pitch a fit at home where his family is completely unaware of such a rule. Until one night….
You can guess where it goes from there. Or, better yet, go get the book and read it out loud. There was only one spread where the writing didn’t flow well when read out loud, but it was early on and barely a hiccup of a problem.
Loud Lula by Katy S. Duffield
Oh Loud Lula was a family favorite. Everyone, my husband included, loved this book. This is the story of a girl who has an outside-voice all the time. Even when she finally considers using her inside-voice it is still loud enough to alert several counties.
The writing is brilliant. There are colloquialisms and regional-dialect-esque (is that even a thing?) phrases that combine effortlessly to create the character, the setting, and the volume into one overall experience. Reading it out loud is all kinds of fun.
Zero by Kathryn Otoshi
I didn’t want to like this one. I checked it out because it sounded similar to a plot in one of my manuscripts. It is similar, but thankfully not identical. When I reread it and relaxed, I appreciated the art, the story, and the character of Zero.
This is the story about Zero. She doesn’t feel like she counts. Until she explores value. (If those sound like they might be math plays-on-words, you’d be correct.) She goes through a number of attempts to find her place, and they all end in a mess. Then number Seven tells her to be “open” and Zero realizes that her hole is not about absence but about acceptance.
Otoshi does a great job of building empathy for Zero and resolving the tension. A good book to read and a math introduction to boot.
Nerdy Birdy by Aaron Reynolds
One nerdy birdy joins a group of other nerdy birdies after being rejected by the cool birds. A good story in and of itself, but Reynolds takes it one step further. He takes it to the level that it needs to be taken. Rather than celebrate that the nerdy birdy found a group of like-minded nerdy-birdy friends, Reynolds introduces Nerdy Birdy to Vulture. Here, the protagonist discovers that his group of friends is not much different than the cool kids. He learns that every group has boundaries.
Nerdy Birdy does not accept this. He befriends vulture. The “moral” is obvious, but it is not one that is often developed. Narratives usually focus on the rejected bird finding a group. Authors, children, and parents tend to shy away from acknowledging that their own groups might have exclusionist standards best left alone.
Balloons Over Broadway by Melissa Sweet
This is the story of Tony Sarg, the puppeteer of the Macy’s parade. Even if you’ve never wondered how those floats originated, you will want to read this story. Author/Illustrator Melissa Sweet pairs collage-esque pictures and colorful drawings with a narrative arc laced with tension, challenge, and passion. She starts with a story from Sarg’s youth that got him out of chores for the rest of his life. She follows his travels, his plans, his creative designs, and his progression from marionette-maker to parade-balloon engineer.
What is particularly wonderful about this book is that Sweet has answered questions that only a child would ask: How do those balloons work? Who made them so big? Who came up with that idea? How do they float? Why? Now there are answers and exploring them is biography and science and entertainment and history all rolled into one fascinating tale.
Big Sister, Little Sister by Leuyen Pham
I’m the oldest of four. My siblings were equal part amazing and atrocious making them perfect siblings. This book extols the virtues and great parts of being a little sister (of which I have no experience). Pham highlights differences as well as areas of cooperation. And, she nails all the truly great aspects of big/little sisterhood with short sentences and expressive drawings in varying shades of brown and pink. She covers new clothes/hand-me-downs. She writes, “The Big Sister thinks she’s always right. I’m the Little Sister. I know I’m right.” This book was given to us when our second daughter was born, and it could not be a more perfect book for a little sister. In the end, the Little Sister acknowledges that the Big Sister is very good at being a Big Sister. But she’ll never be better at being a Little Sister.
For sisters everywhere-regardless of your place in the pecking order-this is a must read. You’ll find yourself in more than one example.
Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt by Deborah Hopkinson
A story of a slave girl, separated from her momma, and determined to reunite and escape. Clara learns to be a seamstress and from her position in the Big House she keeps scraps from her work and overhears conversations about comings and goings. She begins to create a quilt that is, in fact, a map. I love stories that show someone coming through adversity with creativity, cleverness, and determination. Clara is such a heroine. Using dialogue as a key technique, Hopkinson involves other slaves in the story. Though Clara is the main focus, there is no doubt that many were involved before her and that she, as well as others, thought of the many to try to come after her.
There are references to vicious realities of slavery in the United States: forced separation, cruelty, and escape. These topics are included as part of an otherwise hopeful and inspiring story, but they should not be dismissed. For older readers, 7-12, this is a good story to prompt discussions of these aspects. Younger readers will appreciate the creativity involved in making a quilt that serves as a map even if they don’t yet fully grasp the purpose.
The Story of Little Babaji by Helen Bannerman
Oh what fun! A little boy is doted on by his parents and given wonderful clothes to wear. As he parades about the jungle he negotiates his death four times with various hungry tigers, each time giving away one of his beloved outfit pieces in exchange for not being eaten. Very quickly he has nothing and there are four tigers prancing around the jungle thinking they are just fine and dandy.
Spoiler alert: he gets his clothes back and eats the tigers instead.
But if you want to find out how that all comes about you’ll have to get the book. It’s great fun.
The Seeing Stick by Jane Yolen
Set in ancient China, this is the story of the emperor’s daughter Hwei Ming. She is blind. She has everything the world and her father can give her, but she cannot see. Her father offers a large sum to anyone who can give her sight. Of course, there are many people from many vocations who come and try. And not one is successful.
An old, blind man picks up his walking stick and carving knife and begins the journey to the palace. Along the way he touches faces and whittles on the stick. When he arrives, he teaches Hwei Ming that there are other ways to see the beauty and stories of life.
The illustrations are elegant and detailed without being distracting.
My Two Blankets by Irena Kobald
A young girl moves to a new country where everything is different. She finds solace in what pieces of her old self she can keep together as a blanket. One day a girl at the park walks over and through the magic of children they play together on the swings without understanding the words they speak. As the play together again and again the native girl gives new words to the refugee girl. She takes the words home and creates a different blanket that, over time and practice, becomes comfortable as well. In the end, the new girl has two blankets and gains the confidence to be fully herself with either one.
This book is magic. If you’ve ever watched children on a playground you are certain to see at some point the magic of children take over. They just smile and join together to play without needing to know all of the others’ words. They can laugh and play and swing and engage without the language that so often and obviously trips up their adult counterparts. The metaphors in this book are powerful. The story and illustrations (particularly the illustrations of words/meanings) are equally gripping.