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All That I Am

M.H. Clark, illus. by Laura Carlin. Compendium, $18.95 (32p) ISBN 978-1-970147-46-9

Poetic language knits together this uplifting picture book, which follows a black-haired, brown-skinned narrator who finds strength in nature and pride in their identity. Sensory and figurative language by Clark, relayed in elegant rhymes, shows how the child relates to their surroundings: “I am bold as the river that makes its own way,/ I am huge as the high mountain peaks./ Like the sun, I bring color and light to the day,/ but there’s still more than that inside me.” Bold washes of watercolor by Carlin bleed across pages as colored pencil detailing adds fluid figures, flora, and fauna, conjuring a dreamlike, amorphous quality that reflects the narrator’s limitless potential. While the sheer number of abstract images may lose the interest of younger readers, adults may find this affirmative book useful in helping children consider their relationships with nature. Ages 5–9. (June)

Reviewed on 07/30/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Magic Like That

Samara Cole Doyon, illus. by Geneva Bowers. Lee & Low, $18.95 (32p) ISBN 978-1-64379-070-1

Framed by a bespectacled Black mother doing her dark-skinned child’s hair, this affirming series of lyrical vignettes draws immersive parallels between a Black child’s varying hairstyles and myriad elements from nature: on each spread, her hair is variously compared to “regal pine trees,” “a million ocean currents,” “a bouquet of hydrangea blossoms,” and more. Doyon’s deservedly confident narrator employs a wealth of sensory and figurative language to describe her changing hairdos: “Piled high, it gathers together/ like billowing thunderclouds/ threatening to break loose in a sudden storm,/ releasing a cascade of relief and revival./ My hair is fresh like that.” A satisfying final-act turn reveals how the child can be anything, the hairstyles representing a queen, an explorer, a warrior. Bowers augments the text with vibrant digital spreads, centering close-ups of the smiling figure amid bright, expansive landscapes. Readers will revel in this glorious celebration of Black hair. Ages 5–8. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/30/2021 | Details & Permalink

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I Affirm Me: The ABCs of Inspiration for Black Kids

Nyasha Williams, illus. by Sóf’ya Glushkó. Running Press Kids, $17.99 (56p) ISBN 978-0-7624-7560-5

Williams delivers a powerful anthem in this abecedarian picture book, presenting a brief paragraph of affirmations beneath capital and lowercase letters on each left-hand page. Simple prose is both straightforward and exacting, firmly asserting the strength and hope inherent in each child: “R is for Rally. I know when I lift another,/ I am raised, too. I am working to build/ a brighter future for all. Love flows/ in and around my community.” On each right-hand page, Glushkó offers a complementary association in fluid, visible digital brushstrokes: facing “C is for Challenge,” four Black football players take a knee, honoring Colin Kaepernick’s protest against racism and police brutality. With differing hairstyles, skin tones, and abilities, the richly varied Black cast wears T-shirts whose slogans offer even more empowerment: “Education, not incarceration,” “I’m rooting for everybody Black,” and “BLK BOY JOY.” An uplifting homage to Black potential, resilience, and achievement. Ages 4–8. (May)

Reviewed on 07/30/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Remember to Dream, Ebere

Cynthia Erivo, illus. by Charnelle Pinkney Barlow. Little, Brown, $18.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-316-49615-5

Emmy, Grammy, and Tony Award winner Erivo presents an endearing bedtime story in dialogue that will ring true for many children and their guardians. Ebere, a Black girl who wears glasses, has a difficult time sleeping through the night. As her mother patiently encourages Ebere to “dream some more,” after each successive wake-up chat, Ebere envisions a rocket ship, one that grows to be “as big as two houses—and as red as a fire engine,” named The Light Chaser, and has Ebere as its captain. Barlow’s illustrations, created digitally with handmade watercolor textures, provide an engaging visual divide between the fantastical dream space and the warmth of home through layers of soft color and light. A tender, well-paced model of an enduringly supportive parent-child relationship, and an encouraging reminder to keep building upon one’s dreams. Back matter features an author’s note. Ages 4–8. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/30/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Beautifully Me

Nabela Noor, illus. by Nabi H. Ali. Simon & Schuster, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-5344-8587-7

It’s the first day of school for exuberant narrator Zubi Chowdhury, a round, Muslim Bangladeshi American child. That morning, she witnesses her family bemoaning their weight: Amma calls her tummy “too big,” Zubi’s older sister Naya turns down parathas because she’s dieting for a school dance, and Baba says it’s “not good” that he’s “up to a large now” in shirt size. At school, a classmate says that a nonbinary student looks fat in their silk dress. Zubi’s confusion comes to a head at dinnertime, with an outburst leading to a valuable family conversation: “Sometimes we can be mean to ourselves without even realizing it. And when we hurt ourselves, we hurt the people we love and who love us.” Ali adds vibrant, expressive digital illustrations to this candid primer on body acceptance, a salient reminder to guardians of children’s emotional osmosis. Back matter includes a Bengali-English glossary. Ages 4–8. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/30/2021 | Details & Permalink

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I Will! A Book of Promises

Juana Medina. Versify, $14.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-358-55559-9

Pura Belpré Award winner Medina offers a compilation of self-affirmations for young readers in this colorful picture book series starter. Each spread features a page with a hand-lettered “I will” promise against a bright monochrome background, with each opposing page featuring a corresponding illustration outlined in black lines. On one spread, “I will learn!/ I will/ explore!” stands out against a light orchid background on the left, while a light-skinned blond child peers through a magnifying glass at a ladybug on the right. The volume’s end strays from form, breaking the fourth wall to address “you” and drawing the lessons together in a cohesive conclusion. Digital art in bold colors warmly portrays a cast of varying abilities, ages, religions, and skin tones. An accessible guide to becoming a more compassionate global citizen. Ages 4–7. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/30/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Adrift

Heidi E.Y. Stemple, illus. by Anastasia Suvorova. Crocodile, $17.95 (32p) ISBN 978-1-62371-909-8

In a picture book that is more parable than plot-driven, Little Mouse, a big-eared, gray anthropomorphic rodent dressed in a charcoal scarf and goldenrod slicker, feels fearful and alone, lost in a one-person skiff in an angry sea. But as the sun rises, Little Mouse sees another animal captain, then realizes that he’s surrounded by other captains and crews in their own small boats, which transforms his insular feelings and helps him to realize he isn’t facing the storm unaccompanied. Stemple utilizes a solemn, fabulist tone: “Even when it grew dark, the other boats were there—/close enough to feel them near, but not close enough to crash./ Little Mouse didn’t feel alone at all.” Suvorova’s palette evolves to reflect mouse’s mood in atmospheric digital art, which reflects Little Mouse’s gradually lightening mood in multi-textured spreads. Readers will take heart in this tender volume’s message of finding comfort and hope in community. Ages 3–12. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 07/30/2021 | Details & Permalink

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My Voice Is a Trumpet

Jimmie Allen, illus. by Cathy Ann Johnson. Flamingo, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-593-35218-2

Country music singer Allen presents a rhyming ode to the range of voices people have, varying in volume, tone, and age, and extending to those conveyed internally and through sign language. Sharing positive ways in which one’s voice can be used, the book highlights words throughout in different colors: “I will learn to SPEAK UP/ to show I am strong,/ TO STAND FOR WHAT’S RIGHT,/ and to know what feels wrong,” reads one spread, which shows a Black child with purple glasses introducing themselves to a light-skinned, curly-haired child eating alone at lunch. Johnson supplements the lyrical text with soft-hued, gently textured art, featuring a cast inclusive across ability, age, hair texture, skin color, and religion that occasionally mirrors the text and occasionally diverges. This short, optimistic picture book urges children to steward their voices well. Ages 3–7. (July)

Reviewed on 07/30/2021 | Details & Permalink

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What I Am

Divya Srinivasan. Viking, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-593-20401-6

Based on a scenario that Srinivasan’s sister once faced, the author-illustrator offers an empowering, accessible response to the often racially motivated question, “What are you?” After affirming that “I am a girl. I am a human,” an unnamed Indian American protagonist speculates on her relationships with others: “I am a daughter. I am a granddaughter.// I am an Amma to my guys.” She is a vegetarian, and the darkness of her skin color depends on who she’s comparing it with (“I am dark. I am pale”). Next comes a series of opposing qualities: “I am mean,” one page asserts, as she sticks her tongue out at Amma’s cooking; “I am kind,” reassures the opposite page, which shows the child holding up a picture reading “I love you” to her mother. Art rendered in pencils, watercolor, and digitally features appealingly childlike art that expounds upon the text. This volume succeeds in restoring the dignity and nuance to identity that an all-too-common microaggression often condenses. Back matter features a stirring author’s note. Ages 3–7. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 07/30/2021 | Details & Permalink

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We’re All in the Same Boat

Barney Saltzberg. Creston, $18.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-939547-96-5

Saltzberg offers a comedic take on a fable-like situation: a goat, a pig, a cat, and a dog set off in a rowboat together. What follows is a series of questions in the first-person plural that present differing scenarios, with an answer provided, a page turn later, in an eye-catching collective speech bubble. “What happens when someone rocks the boat?” one spread asks, showing the grinning goat standing on the stern and waving its oar in the air. A page turn later—“WE ALL GET SEASICK!”—each of the animals (goat included) are shown leaning over the craft’s side with green-tinged cheeks. Soon, however, the group learns to work together, allowing them to survive through a boat leak, a rainstorm, and more. Sequential ink-lined art against simple washes features expressive animals, lending a lighthearted feel to this teamwork-affirming picture book. Ages 2–8. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/30/2021 | Details & Permalink

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