Picture Books About Finding - and Celebrating - One's Unique Place in the World 🌎
by Pam Martin
Several picture books released this year touch on themes of belonging. It’s no wonder, as our innate sense of security has been sorely tested in the wake of re- cent events, which have fanned the flames of the Black Lives Matter, Me Too, and Own Voices movements. But though the cultural climate has often felt heavy this past year, the following blue-ribbon picture books help inspire young readers, while providing tools to help them navigate the thorny feelings that stem from our very human tendency to dismiss others who are different from ourselves.
If you’ll remember, Amanda Gorman burst on the scene with her performance of The Hill We Climb at President Biden’s inauguration. Fans of the first-ever National Youth Poet Laureate will be happy to learn she has a new picture book, Change Sings, with illustrations by Loren Long, which released in late September.
Subtitled, A Children’s Anthem, the book’s text is a rhythmic groundswell celebrating how actions, both large and small, can elevate an individual and, in time, can grow to impact a whole community. Two children (a black girl and a Jewish boy) work to clean up a park, to feed the home-bound, and to spruce up a building, and as they work, more neighborhood kids join in, their combined efforts creating the wave where change becomes a foregone conclusion. The book closes with a stirring call to action: We’re what the world is becoming,
And we know it won’t be long. We all hear change strumming.
Won’t you sing along?
Also new in 2021, Over the Shop by JonArno Lawon—with illustrations by Qin Leng—tackles issues of LGBTQ+ diversity in charming, wordless picture-book style. Lynne Milot, own
er of Grandrabbit’s Toy Shoppe in Boulder, is a huge fan of the wordless storytelling technique, as young readers must rely on interpreting visual cues to understand a story’s message.
Over the Shop follows a young girl and her grandmother who put up a sign advertising an apartment for rent in the front window of their building. But the apartment is run down, and one potential renter after another walks away. That is, until a special young couple arrive whose generosity change the entire building and its inhabitants for the better.
By the best-selling creators of Be Kind, Pat Zietlow Miller and Jen Hill’s new picture book covers the elusive concept of what it means to Be Strong. Released in August, the picture book asks the question—what does it mean to be strong?—the message going well beyond the phrase’s physical definition.
For the main character, Tanisha’s father, it means show- ing up for others in need. For her mother, it means speak- ing up and taking action, and for her grandmother, it means not giving up. Grandma Zee is a jogger, and to her being strong means to keep going, day after day, block after block—even when it rains. In the end, Tanisha understands that sometimes, if she can’t be strong enough alone, it’s also a strength to know when to ask for help.
From the author of the beloved classic, Julian is a Mermaid, is Jessica Love’s follow-up picture book released in October of 2020, Julian at the Wedding. Bright illustrations on brown paper bring out the vibrancy of this story about the expansiveness that comes from joyful self-expression at any age.
Julian is in a wedding with his new friend, Marisol, and together, with the brides’ dog, Gloria, they head out on some magical and muddy adventures. When a creative change of clothes is met with affectionate acceptance, the reader, too, feels the joy in the final festive scene, where the guests kick off their shoes and...dance.
Ten Ways to Hear Snow by Cathy Camper (with pictures by Kenard Pak), follows Lina on her journey through muffled snowy streets. “The world sounded softer,” Lina thinks, “but the noises...were clearer.” From the snyak, snyek sounds her boots make, to the swish-wish of the brushes cleaning off cars, she listens on her way to her grandmother Sitti’s home to make stuffed grape leaves.
Lina’s surprised to learn Sitti knows it snowed the night before because she’s nearly blind. “Sitti, did you hear the snow?” [Lina] asked. Sitti smiled. “...No noise is the sound that means it’s snowing.” Like Lina, it’s in the quiet when one is truly listening that we have the best chance at seeing the truth—the truth about our surroundings in all their rich diversity.
Pam Martin is the Book Specialist at Grandrabbit’s Toy Shoppe in Boulder. For more information about Grandrabbit’s Toy Shoppe please check out their ad on page 1 of this Issue or check out grtoys.com.