Lubna & Pebble (by Wendy Meddour, illus. Daniel Egneus) is a gorgeously illustrated picture book that tells the story of connection, imagination, and hope in two young refugees. The story is simple and beautiful, showcasing children’s imaginations and perseverance in difficult situations. It is a mirror for kids who may recognize the same feelings of loneliness and fear as both young refugees in the story, as well as how their friendship and an imaginary friend in the form of a Pebble helps them cope with their situation. It also opens the window for young readers to learn more about refugees with the kindness and compassion they need from the world and each other.
– Tildy Banker-Johnson, Belmont Books, MA
Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly follows Iris, a Deaf girl, as she seeks to connect with Blue 55, a whale who communicates at a different frequency than other whales. While Iris’s parents and brother are hearing, her maternal grandparents were both Deaf and her bond with them has lasted beyond her grandfather’s pre-book death. Iris is the only Deaf character at her school, but she is by no means the only Deaf character, allowing Kelly to show different profundities of Deafness and involvement in Deaf culture. Kelly draws on her experience as a sign language interpreter to inform the writing of ASL and the characters. An engaging read with delightful characters.
– Gwendolyn Baltera, Buttonwood Books and Toys, MA
Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me (by Mariko Tamaki, illus. Rosemary Valero-O’Connell) was such a quietly lovely story encompassing all of the confused emotions of teenagedom and how deeply we feel everything when we’re young. The themes of toxicity in relationships, discovering and realizing one’s self-worth and self-acceptance, learning to be a better friend, and the balance of relationships in life were all so present and affirming. Combined with a cast of queer, often POC characters, and a storyline where queerness wasn’t the main issue or the whole of the characters’ identities, made loving this an easy decision.
– Ciera Burch, Trident Booksellers and Cafe, MA
Meredith Russo’s Birthday perfectly captures the experience of struggling with figuring out one’s gender, the fear of coming out, and the visceral feeling of wrong that is dysphoria. Morgan’s story is hard, and sometimes ugly—which makes her happy ending so rewarding. This is a powerful mirror book; it reflects so well not just the experience of coming out, but the emotional beats both small and large along the way. For cis readers, it allows a view into the complex juggling of internal conflict, confusion, and social expectation that so many trans people go through and live with. On top of all of that there is a lovingly crafted story of best-friendship-turned-romance that joyful and real. (Trigger warning for intense depiction of attempted suicide)
– Read Davidson, Harvard Book Store, MA
In an era where “hands up” has become associated with police violence, author Breanna J. McDaniel and illustrator Shane W. Evans reframe the expression in this gorgeous picture book.Hands Up! is a celebration, following the different ways Viv, a Black girl, uses her hands as she grows from baby to young woman. From her first game of pattycake to marching in protest, Viv is supported by her parents, elders, teachers, and the larger community every step of the way. The ordinary is extraordinary in this affirming book, reflecting that strengths, joys, and even struggles are best shared. Perfect for preschoolers, Hands Up! will also lead to valuable conversations with older children.
– Beth Wagner, Phoenix Books, VT
This terrific middle grade graphic novel is a window/mirror because it’s written by a person of color, and features kids of color. Perfect for any kid who has had to start over in a new school,New Kid by Jerry Craft is a story of friendship, of learning to fit in, and learning to stand up for oneself. Jordan is one very few students of color attending a prestigious private middle school. This story will help all readers get a better understanding of bias and microaggressions, as they join Jordan and his friends navigating this new school environment. And while it touches on themes of race and class and privilege, New Kid is also funny, accessible, and compulsively readable. The illustrations are fabulous, and will hook any reader, whether they are a regular consumer of graphic novels or not.
– Liz Whitelam, Whitelam Books, MA
Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling
I loved Aven’s candor about the realities of her disability, and that she’s not saintly about it: she’s not above using her lack of arms to pull pranks and invent outlandish tales for classmates at her new school. Connor, a classmate with Tourette syndrome, introduces Aven to a support group for other kids with Tourette, offering a nuanced depiction of how these adolescents all experience Tourette differently. This charming novel serves as a mirror for readers with various physical disabilities, and Aven’s plucky first-person narration and honest, hilarious blog posts (featuring, for example, lists of the best and the worst things about not having arms), offer readers a fascinating, thoughtful window into Aven’s life.
– Amy Andrews, The Children’s Book Shop, MA
Hurricane Season by Nicole Melleby
Fig wants, more than anything, to see the world the way her father does. The once-renowned pianist hasn’t composed a song in years, and sometimes goes looking for music in the middle of storms. Trying to experience life like an artist, STEM loving Fig takes an art class. But when her dad shows up at school, confused and having one of his bad days, Fig’s world starts to fall apart. The true beauty of this story is in the evolution of Fig’s relationship with her dad. At the start, Fig both protects and idolizes her father, unreservedly. As his mental illness begins to affect relationships at school, and brings social services to their door, Fig begins to feel frustrated and resentful. Then, in the midst of it all, like they eye of a hurricane, a new person joins their family and is able to bear much of the weight of adult concerns that were threatening to press Fig flat. Realizing that she isn’t alone, Fig is able to accept help and see her dad as a full person; someone with flaws, challenges, dreams, and unwavering love for his daughter.
– Lauren D’Alesso, Wellesley Books, MA
Juana and Lucas: Big Problemas by Juana Medina
Juana’s life is just about perfect. She lives in the best neighborhood in Bogotá with her two favorite people-her mami and dog, Lucas. Well, her life used to be perfect. Now Mami has a new hairdo and friend named Luis; and they’ve been spending a lot of time together. Luis is nice, and teaches Juana about photography and jazz music, but why can’t things go back to the way they were before? More changes follow when Mami announces that she and Luis are getting married and they’ll all be moving to a new house. Not everything will change though, Mami will always love her and Lucas will always be by her side, ready for the next adventure. It’s easy to be drawn back into Juana’s world. The same charming, energetic illustrations and text keep the reader in rapt attention from the first page to the last.
– Lauren D’Alesso, Wellesley Books, MA
The Moon Within is a beautifully written novel in verse that follows Celi Rivera as she copes with getting her first period, her attraction to a boy, and understanding true loyalty to her friend, Mar, who is genderfluid. To complicate matters, Celi’s Mima wants her to have a moon ceremony, a tradition in the Mexica community, but Celi is hesitant. Aida Salazar’s writing is powerful, reflecting and revealing the struggles of many young people as they discover who they are. Readers will find the novel’s portrayal of a Latinx community, and of gender identity relatable, and Celi is a character that readers could see themselves in, empathizing with her uncertainties as she tries to find happiness in her own way.
– Clarissa Hadge, Trident Booksellers and Cafe, MA
I believe it’s past time the world had a picture book biography of Pura Belpré–and Planting Stories is excellent in its own right. Belpré was a groundbreaking librarian (the first Puerto Rican hired by the New York Public Library) as well as the groundbreaking author of Perez y Martina, one of the first Spanish-language children’s books published in the US, and her name lives on as an ALA award category celebrating distinctive works for children by Latinx authors and illustrators. The book’s lyrical text, written in an accessible narrative nonfiction style, is accompanied by lush, inviting digital illustrations that resemble watercolors. The English text incorporates Spanish words and phrases without italicizing or explicitly defining them, which makes the book versatile as a window or mirror for young readers.
– Sabrina Montenigro, The Eric Carle Museum Bookshop, MA
Through illustration and poetry that embodies the music of the person the book is talking about,Birth of the Cool by Kathleen Cornell Berman, illus. Keith Henry Brown takes us through the life of Miles Davis and the creation of his album of the same name. The story emphasizes more than just Davis’ skill at his craft and his popularity, but his uniqueness and willingness to listen to and appreciate the people around him. Interspersed with quotes from Davis’ autobiography, you get a sense of his personality, love of music (both the making of and admiring other people’s works), and humility. A beautiful book to both read and admire and a great addition to the growing shelf of wonderful children’s biographies of people of color!
– Ji-Eun Alice Ahn, Water Street Bookstore, NH