Author: Jacqueline Woodson
Illustrator: E.B. Lewis
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
Date of Publication: October 7, 2004
Awards: Caldecott Medal Nominee (2005), Charlotte Zolotow Award Nominee for Honor Book (2005), California Young Readers Medal Nominee for Picture Books for Older Readers (2007)
Age Range: 5 – 8 years
Grade Level: Kindergarten – 3
Set in America during World War II, Coming On Home Soon is about a young girl named Ada who lives with her grandmother who is trying to make do as the men have all left for the war and Ada’s mother has left too to find work in Chicago. As Jacqueline Woodson unfolds her story we feel the same loneliness, sadness, and worry that Ada feels as she waits for her loved ones to come home. The illustrations are done so with muted watercolors, which expertly conveys the same feelings of loneliness and melancholy. While this is a book full of raw, often unfortunate, human emotion it does end on a hopeful note. Historical fiction is valuable because it allows its audience to step into someone’s shoes from history, to experience what they must have experienced so long ago. These experiences, albeit most likely different from your modern day life, will show how constant and universal human emotions are. Any reader who has ever lingered in the unknown, yearning for someone they miss, will read about Ada with a tightened heart.
Author: Ellen Levine
Illustrator: Kadir Nelson
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Date of Publication: January 1, 2007
Awards: Caldecott Medal Nominee (2008), Pennsylvania Young Readers’ Choice Award for Grades 3-6 (2010), California Young Readers Medal for Picture Books for Older Readers (2012), Comstock Read Aloud Book Award Nominee (2008)
Age Range: 5 – 11 years
Grade Level: Kindergarten – 6
This is no easy book to digest, nor should it be when considering the harsh reality of its subject matter. This book will wring your heart out as we follow Henry Brown’s story. As a child he was separated from his family, upon growing up, marrying, and forming a family of his home he finds himself once again separated from his family when they are sold to different owners. It is then he decides to escape to the north by mailing himself within a crate. Through this saga we are shown the inhumanity of slavery and the desperate methods through which humans tried to escape it. Kadir Nelson’s stunning illustrations are so detailed and expressive it will only further bring about more emotion and sympathy for our dear Henry Brown. This book is for the reader who wants to learn more about slavery and the slaves who had to survive through all the unforgivable injustices, this book does not shy away from any of those horrors. Some may find this subject matter too mature for young children, but for others it may serve as a great tool to discuss slavery and its victims.
Author/Illustrator: Shaun Tan
Publisher: Hodder Children’s Books
Date of Publication: 2006
Awards: Hugo Award Nominee for Best Related Book 2008, Angoulême International Comics Festival Prize for Best Comic Book, Boston Globe-Horn Book Award 2008
Age Range: 7 – 14
Grade Level: 2 – 9th
The Arrival is a wordless graphic novel that follows an immigrant leaving his home for a new life in another country, the setting parallels the history of 1900s American immigration, but nothing is ever specified. Shaun Tan communicates wordlessly through his realistic and powerful sepia-toned illustrations. I love the symbolism that is laced throughout the book. The illustrations look like they’re straight out of sci-fi and fantasy, but that is only to convey the alien like world that must be stepping off a ship onto new land. It is one thing to read about the immigrant experience, but through his illustrations Shaun Tan masterfully expresses the lost confusion and at times scary environment of a foreign home. Through this unique method of storytelling you are able to feel these emotions in such a genuine and visceral way. This book is for the reader who wants to understand their immigrant ancestors, whether separated by one or several more generations, all of us have an immigrant history other than the Native Americans.
Author: Elisa Bartone
Illustrator: Ted Lewin
Date of Publication: April 26th 1993
Awards: Caldecott Honor Book, ALA Notable Children’s Book
Age Range: 6 – 10 years
Grade Level: 1 – 5
This book, according to the about the author blurb, is based on Elisa Bartone’s family histpry. The emotion and personal connection is evident in the text, while the story is often quite sad and upsetting at times it finds an uplifting voice as it progresses. The author never sugarcoats the truth of her history away, and thusly this is an important book for any child to realize the reality of the immigrant’s plight encouraging empathy amd compassion. Peppe is an immigrant in early 1900s New York City, and his family is very poor. Against his father’s wishes he begins a job as a lamplighter, which his youngest sister Asunta so sweetly remarks, chases away the darkness. Ted Levin’s expert watercolors communicate the grim yet cheerful atmosphere of the times. Elisa Bartone’s writing also flows so wonderfully alongside those illustrations, and is able to communicate such universal human emotions. That being said, even if one is not an immigrant, anyone who has ever pesevered through hardship, felt a responsibility to care and provide for a family, and has felt disappointment from their parents can relate to this book.
Author/Illustrator: Ben Hatke
Publisher: First Second
Date of Publication: September 1, 2015
Awards: Illinois Gryphon Award, Kirkus Reviews Best Books of the Year, Eisner Award Winner
Age Range: 6 – 10 years
Grade Level: 1 – 5
This is an imaginative and captivating story told through barely any dialogue at all, uncommon for most graphic novels. Unique characteristics don’t end there, the nameless female protagonist is very diverse: non-white, lives in a trailer park, is skilled with tools and invention, and without caring or attentive parents. Upon exploring a local dump ground our protagonist finds a little robot. A lovely friendship forms and she works hard to take care of her only friend and shows him the world he inhabits, but the little robot yearns for creature like him. Readers who have ever felt lonely and isolated in the world will relate to the joy and excitement of finding a true friend. Small lovely moments are plenty in this graphic novel, enhanced by Hatke’s sweet and expressive illustrations. The two friends sit and enjoy a sunset together, stopped to listen and feel the rumble of a passing train, and observed a vulnerable squirrel who has passed away. This book isn’t not only chock full of fantastical adventure, it’s also a genuine look into the beauty and small details of our world.
Author/Illustrator: Aaron Becker
Date of Publication: August 6, 2013
Awards: 2014 Caldecott Honor Book, Kirkus starred review, Publisher’s Weekly starred review, School Library Journal starred review, Booklist starred review
Age Range: 4 – 8 years
Grade Level: Kindergarten – 3
With a red marker clutched in her hand a lonely girl draws a door on her wall, this begins a fantastical journey into a world full of adventure, and danger. This is a wordless picture book, and because of this the story is told in an unconventional way through its colorful and imaginative illustrations. Readers of all ages will delight in this flawless depiction of a child’s imagination, as most everyone has had a boring day made special and exciting by one’s creative journeys through their mind. It is also a wonderful homage to the classic Harold and the Purple. Crayon. On the back jacket flap we learn about the author and his diverse destinations. He’s lived in rural Japan and East Africa, backpacked through Sweden and the South Pacific. It is clear these vivid illustrations are inspired by real locations all over the world!
Author: Kelly Barnhill
Publisher: Workman Publishing Company
Date of Publication: August 9, 2016
Awards: 2017 NCTE Charlotte Huck Award for Outstanding Fiction for Children, 2017 Newbery Medal, 2017 Kids Wings Top Flight Award Book, Texas Bluebonnet Award Nominee, Entertainment Weekly Best Middle Grade Book of 2016, New York Times Best Seller
Age Range: 10-14 years
Grade Level: 5 – 9
When Luna was a baby she was taken from her family offered up as the annual sacrifice, but what the elders don’t know is that a good witch saves all of the babies and raises them with love. Xan, the good witch, accidentally embues Luna with magical powers, but does not let them manifest before her 13th birthday. Multiple storylines weave as Luna discovers and harnesses her powers. This is a classic fantasy book, it is about witches and magic after all, but Kelly Barnhill writes with impeccable lyrical flow. She also writes with a varied vocabulary, often including words the audience most likely has not come across yet which builds and strengthens young vocabulary in a fun way. The story also follows a diverse protagonist, Luna is described as having amber skin and curly black hair. Both good and evil characters are explored, paralleling the realities of the real world. This is for readers who love fantasy elements of magic, and who believe in the triumph of good over evil.
Authors: Kwame Alexander with Chris Colderley and Marjory Wentworth
Illustrator: Ekua Holmes
Date of Publication: March 14, 2017
Awards: 2018 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award Winner
Age Range: 8-13 years
Grade Level: 3-8th
This is a poetry book celebrating poets, the artists of the world that express all the beauties, sorrows, and everything-in-betweens of life. These original poems penned by three authors pay tribute to 20 influential poets who have inspired the authors’ artistry and wonder. This is a book that immediately hooks the reader based on the passion that exudes from the pages. This book was born from love and admiration. Each illustration reflects that message, they are beautiful and go perfectly with each poem. This book encapsulates diversity, both in its varied styles of poetry, and the poets that inspired the poetry. Children will delight in learning of these important literary figures: Maya Angelou, Bashō, Gwendolyn Brooks, Sandra Cisneros, Billy Collins, e.e. cummings, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Chief Dan George, Nikki Giovanni, Terrance Hayes, Langston Hughes, Walter Dean Myers, Pablo Neruda, Naomi Shihab Nye, Mary Oliver, Okot p’Bitek, Rumi, William Carlos Williams, and Judith Wright.
Author/Illustrator: Shel Silverstein
Date of Publication: 1964
Awards: 14th on a list of “All-Time Bestselling Children’s Books” from Publishers Weekly, 3rd on“Teachers’ Top 100 Books for Children” poll by the National Education Association, 85th on “Top 100 Picture Books” of all time by School Library Journal.
Age Range: 4 – 8 years
Grade Level: Preschool – 3rd
This book needs no introduction. Shel Silverstein brings us a classic already loved by so many generations past, and countless more generations are left to fall in love with this book as well. The language is simple, but the symbolism and message is profound. The illustrations are simple, but all the needed imagery is present. This is a story of a tree that loves a boy. She loves him to the point that she will give all she has to give. There are many different interpretations of this text, some positive, and some negative. This is a book many experience as a child and grow to love deep into adulthood. It is a book that we ponder for the rest of our lives. Young children first introduced to it can discuss the implications of loving someone, what is loving but justified sacrifice, and what is a total submission of self? Even if such deeper discussions are not present, this story of love and devotion is enough to warm anyone’s heart.