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.

Marlon Bundo’s: A Day in the Life of the Vice President

Truly well-done picture books are incredibly difficult to write. I am always skeptical when politicians or celebrities publish a children’s book, because it is usually not high quality. My guess is that they see an audience of children and feel it will be easy to write for them.

In this case, throw in a bunny and the thought was that a truly boring story would be interesting. Unfortunately, it is not. The plot follows the family rabbit as it accompanies the vice president through the day’s duties. We learn that the vice president meets with the president, presides over a vote (this wording will be meaningless to young readers), meets with people, and then heads home. There is very little substance and no specifics to provide interest.

The text is written in a rhyming fashion. In places it is awkward and falls out of rhythm, which makes it difficult to do as a read-aloud. The watercolor illustrations and the main character are charming.

The back of the book features a section titled “Resources.” There are no further resources for additional information, instead this section is really an author’s note that provides a few more details about places mentioned in the story.

I Got It!

I like the message of this wordless story — how it feels to want to do something that feels overwhelming (in this case, a child wants to join a baseball game) but how if you persevere you can overcome obstacles that feel huge at first.

Wiesner’s illustrations depict a child struggling to catch fly balls during a game. The obstacles that trip the child up, and the other players, grow larger and larger as the child struggles with insecurity. Then the child uses those things that are blocking his way to actually catapult himself into a position to catch the ball.

The first reading of this wordless book was somewhat confusing for me, so I have some concerns with the concept and illustrations resonating with younger readers. This would be a good story to share with a child so you can discuss what is happening in the illustrations and what it means.

Welcome Precious

Beautiful picture book to welcome a new baby to the world.

Picture book
Interest level: Pre-K, new parents
4 out of 5 stars

Nikki Grimes has written a beautiful poem that shows family welcoming a new baby. It is full of love and warm moments, and highlights the joy of new life in a family. Bryan Collier’s illustrations show the baby engaged with the family in everyday moments, and also special connections between a grandmother and each parent.

This book would be a perfect gift to families expecting a baby, or who have recently had a baby. It makes a good bedtime read with the soft, flowing text and gentle illustrations.

The United States v. Jackie Robinson

Picture book, biography
Interest level: elementary and middle school
5 out of 5 stars

It is well-known that Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball, but this book does not focus on that part of his life. The author has chosen to focus on Robinson’s time in the military and the stand he took against racism during that time.

This story is important for children so they can see that Robinson was more than a gifted athlete, and that he faced racism while serving in the U.S. military. It makes him a multidimensional civil rights icon.

The United States v. Jackie Robinson
written by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen; illustrated by R. Gregory Christie
Balzer + Bray, 2018
ISBN 978-0-06-2287847

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

Picture book, autobiography
Interest level: grades 1 through 5
5 out of 5 stars

This is the autobiography of a young boy who taught himself how to turn trash into a working windmill to generate electricity and pump water for his family’s farm in Malawi, Africa. During a famine, his family can no longer afford to pay for William Kamkwamba to attend high school. He discovers the local public library, where his fascination with machines and how they work leads him to read about windmills. His perseverance and ingenuity enable him to help his family and village learn to survive the seasons of drought.

Kamkwamba’s story is a story in perseverance and using resources around you. The story makes a perfect addition to a maker space and is ideal for a real-world example of the engineering design process.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind
by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer; pictures by Elizabeth Zunon
Dial Books for Young Readers, 2012
ISBN 978-0-8037-3511-8

The Big Bed

Someday, the main character of this book will rule the world…Today, she just wants to rule The Bed.

Picture book; fiction
Interest level: Pre-K through grade 2
5 out of 5 stars

The main character and narrator of this story is a young girl who has identified a problem in her family. She deftly identifies the issue, researches it, and creates a very persuasive presentation of possible solutions. It boils down to the fact that Mommy’s bed is not big enough for all three of her family members to fit, so, even though Daddy is “gifted at the art of the horsie ride,” he has to go.

While this book can be used for families with young children who do not want to sleep in their own beds, it also would make a good mentor text in writing workshops that focus on persuasive writing or opinion writing. The book could also be a fun way to kick off a research project, or use it in a maker space to highlight the engineer design process in a fun way.

The Big Bed
by Bunmi Laditan; pictures by Tom Knight
Farrar Straus Giroux, 2018
ISBN 9780374301231