Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters

Stunning illustrations and characters of color make this Cinderella-story stand above the rest.

by John Steptoe
Caldecott Honor Book
Picture book, fiction
Interest level: elementary
5 out of 5 stars

John Steptoe’s detailed and rich illustrations grab your attention from the very start. For me, they turned an okay version of a Cinderella story into a more worthwhile reading experience. His intricate lines and rich colors match the elegant style of the tale he was inspired to write.

I am somewhat unclear about how authentic Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters is to the genre of African tales. A paragraph at the start of the book indicates that it is merely the inspiration for Steptoe’s book, so I would caution against using this book as an example of an African folktale.

I do see that it would be a great addition to a study of Cinderella-stories. The story of conflict between siblings to be chosen by royalty is seen in many children’s books, but the main characters are usually white. Steptoe features black characters and the image of African royalty, which needs to be seen in more folktales and literature studies.

Leave Me Alone!

Kids will love the humor in this story about a grandmother looking for a quiet place to knit.

Interest Level: K-3; Reading Level: 2.1
Caldecott Honor, 2017
5 out of 5 stars

The best way to judge a picture book is to read it aloud to a classroom…Leave Me Alone! passes the read-aloud test with flying colors! 2nd-graders laughed and loved this story!

The basic plot is very simple–a grandmother wants a little quiet time in order to spend some time knitting, but her loud, large family makes that impossible. She decides to shut everything down and escape to the wilderness, but a family of bears spoils that plan. She climbs to the top of a mountain, but mountain goats apparently love to snack on yarn. So she climbs onto the moon where the constant scanning by aliens drives her crazy. Where to go from there? A wormhole.

This story will resonate with anyone who has ever had trouble finding a little time alone. Brosgol has transformed that experience into a delightfully fun story. Will grandma enjoy the void she finds in the wormhole? Or will she miss her family? Or like many things in life, is balance the key to happiness?

Some interesting conversations can be started with this story. You can talk about personal space and the importance of family. And adults should be prepared to define for young readers what a “wormhole” is. Brosgol’s illustrations help students imagine a wormhole, but I found they needed a little more explanation.

Leave Me Alone!
by Vera Brosgol
Roaring Brook Press, 2016
ISBN 978-1-62672-441-9